Archive for the ‘Easy Readers’ Category

Review of Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

story by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
pictures by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2018. 192 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 5, 2018, from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out #2 in Picture Books – Silly Fun

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is the sort of book I hand to co-workers and insist that they read immediately. As The Invention of Hugo Cabret was something new in a children’s novel by telling much of the story with pictures, so Baby Monkey, Private Eye is something new in a book for beginning readers — by telling much of the story with pictures.

Now, I’m writing this before I’ve talked with anyone on the Newbery committee about the book, so this is only my opinion. So much of the brilliance of this book depends on the pictures, I doubt that it’s really a Newbery prospect. (Who knows, maybe I will be convinced later.) In fact, the pictures and text work so beautifully together, I’m already hoping this book will be next year’s Geisel Award winner – for books for beginning readers. That award can consider illustrations and text and how they work together to help kids read. [*Note added later*: I learned that alas, the Geisel Award has a page limit — so exactly what makes this book most distinguished — a long book beginning readers can read themselves — is the thing that makes it ineligible.]

If you wrote out the text of this book, I think it would be about the same as many other books for beginning readers. But Baby Monkey, Private Eye takes up far more pages with the same amount of text – spacing out the words, and providing more pictures.

Here’s the first chapter, coming after we’ve already met Baby Monkey, who is a baby and a monkey who has a job.

First, we see Baby Monkey sitting on the couch in his office, reading Famous Jewel Crimes. An opera singer bursts in.

Baby Monkey! Someone has stolen my jewels!

Baby Monkey can help!

Baby Monkey looks for clues.

Baby Monkey writes notes.

Baby Monkey eats a snack. [Mmm.]

Baby Monkey puts on his pants. [9 pages of pictures.]

Now Baby Monkey is ready!

[Aha!] Baby Monkey solves the case!

Zebra!

Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Every sentence above has its own 2-page spread, and some have extra pages of pictures in between.

This wouldn’t be extra-special if this relatively short chapter were just printed on a few pages. But it actually takes up 35 pages. And that’s where it’s brilliant.

See what I mean about the text not necessarily being distinguished all by itself? But when you put this with the pictures, including many things to find on repeated readings – the result is utter brilliance. Come on, this is one you’re going to have to check out and see for yourself!

By the way, this same format repeats in chapters two and three, so then we appreciate how it changes in chapters four and five when we are reminded that Baby Monkey is actually a baby.

Why has no one done this before? Why do people always stick to the standard beginning-reader format?

Well, no one else is Brian Selznick, illustrator extraordinaire, who routinely breaks out of standard formats.

The end result is that young beginning readers will get to read a big fat book! Oh, the sense of accomplishment when they finish reading all five chapters!

In even more fun, the authors have put an Index and Bibliography at the back. The Index has entries like “Carrots, baby (see also Snacks).” The Bibliography includes all the books Baby Monkey has been reading, and additional invented titles such as Predators Who Eat Pizza.

Baby Monkey is something very special. You don’t even have to have a beginning reader in the house to enjoy this book. But if you do, go out and buy a copy today!

scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Flubby Will NOT Play with That, by J. E. Morris

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Flubby

Flubby Will NOT Play with That

by J. E. Morris

Penguin Workshop, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

The cover of this book made me laugh. It shows a cat looking dubiously at a fish toy on a string. The picture says it all. Who of us doesn’t know a cat (or a child) who isn’t remotely interested in the flashy toy purchased for them?

This book is a beginning reader about this universal experience. Flubby’s owner (of indeterminate gender) has purchased four different toys for Flubby, each more elaborate than the one before. Flubby isn’t at all interested.

The owner walks away, saying there are no more toys, but leaves the paper bag on the floor that the toys came in. You can guess what happens next.

The storyline is simple but relatable. The words used are realistically simple and easy to read. The pictures reinforce the story and add plenty of personality and humor. It’s all you could wish for in a book for a child to confidently read to themselves. There’s a punchline you’ll see coming but still enjoy.

Good news is this seems to be part of a new series about Flubby.

penguin.com/youngreaders

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Harold & Hog Pretend For Real! by Dan Santat

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Harold & Hog
Pretend for Real!

by Dan Santat

Hyperion Books for Children, May 7, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 27, 2019, from an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

This is another book in the series Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!. Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggie characters appear at the beginning and end to introduce a book written by someone else. This one is delightfully meta, because the book they’re introducing features an elephant and a pig – Harold & Hog – who want to pretend to be Gerald and Piggie.

Harold and Hog are drawn by Dan Santat, much more realistically than the cartoonish Gerald and Piggie. They have glasses to pretend to be Gerald and a cartoon nose to pretend to be Piggie.

But there’s a problem when they try to carry it out. Because Gerald is always very careful – but Harold has trouble with that. And Piggie is always very carefree – but Hog has trouble with that. Their efforts in that direction are tremendously fun.

I’m writing this in my Seattle hotel room while at ALA Midwinter Meeting. We chose our Newbery winners last night but don’t announce them to the world until tomorrow morning. I’m feeling a little giddy ever since I realized that I can write a review of this book – a 2019 publication – and post it this very day!

Of course, the book won’t be published until May, but this is one to watch for! Watch book characters pretend to be each other! Too much fun!

dantat.com
pigeonpresents.com
hyperionbooksforchildren.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I picked up at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Cookie Fiasco, by Dan Santat

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

The Cookie Fiasco

by Dan Santat

Hyperion Books for Children, 2016. 60 pages.
Starred Review

First, let me talk about the new series this book introduces: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading. There are four pages at the front and four pages at the back where our beloved Gerald and Piggie talk about reading the book. The title page has a picture of Gerald holding the very book, ready to open it up and read it.

Now I’m not crazy about this frame – Just a little bit of Elephant and Piggie is not enough! Fortunately, they did choose excellent authors for the books-within-a-book, so this wasn’t a way to pass off any old thing and sell it with the Mo Willems brand. The Pigeon is even hiding on the back end papers, just as he does in the regular Elephant and Piggie books.

But what I love about The Cookie Fiasco are the mathematical implications! This book reminds me of the classic The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchens. Like that book, it’s a simple story that small children can enjoy – but you can pull it out later when they’re learning about fractions and make multiple applications and elucidations.

The story is simple: Hippo, Croc, and two Squirrels have three cookies. Four animals, three cookies.

They discuss how to share the cookies, but nothing seems fair. While they are discussing the options, Hippo nervously starts breaking the cookies in half.

Then they have six cookie pieces, but still four friends. It’s still not fair. While they continue to discuss, Hippo continues to break the pieces. After a while they have twelve pieces, and realize that each one can have three pieces. Problem solved! Equal cookies for all!

There is a grand page of munching cookies – and then a cow shows up with three glasses of milk. Uh-oh!

The only thing wrong with this book is the one Gerald points out in the frame at the end – It may make you hungry for cookies.

It’s a simple, silly story. You don’t need to talk about the math behind it at all. But someday, when a child is learning to divide three by four, you can use this as a lovely illustration. And similar fractions. There’s even room for talking about common denominators. I’d love for this book to get a mention in the next set of Mathical Awards, I liked it so much.

dantat.com
pigeonpresents.com
www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Good for Nothing Button, by Cherise Mericle Harper

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

The Good for Nothing Button

by Charise Mericle Harper

Hyperion Books for Children, 2017. 60 pages.

The Good for Nothing Button is part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series. It features a bit of metafiction, with the start and end of the book showing Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggie reading the story by Charise Mericle Harper and reacting to it.

That would annoy me if the story itself weren’t an excellent beginning reader tale.

Yellow Bird has something to show his friends Red Bird and Blue Bird. It’s a button!

But this button does nothing – or so Yellow Bird says.

But when Blue Bird presses it, he’s surprised the button is so easy to press.

Being surprised is not nothing.

When Red Bird presses it, he’s not surprised, which makes him sad.

Blue Bird points out that being sad is not nothing.

Red Bird and Blue Bird come to believe that the button can do many things. Yellow bird is not convinced. His efforts to explain that convince Red Bird and Blue Bird that the button has made Yellow Bird angry!

And the whole conversation and argument is good, silly fun. I suspect you may find kids playing with the concepts of “Nothing” and “Something” after reading this book.

It’s all easy to read, and our friends Elephant & Piggie introduce the story and play off of it. Fantastic for beginning readers.

chariseharper.com
pigeonpresents.com
hyperionbooksforchildren.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Duck, Duck, Porcupine, by Salina Yoon

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Duck, Duck, Porcupine

by Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, May 2016. 70 pages.

This has the feel of another classic beginning reader. We’ve got friends in everyday situations — with a payoff ending. The story is told using speech bubbles (as well as pictures of lists). There are three stories, so it’s preliminary to chapters.

Classic beginning readers have two best friends. In this book, we’ve got a trio. There’s Big Duck, Little Duck, and Porcupine. Big Duck seems to think she’s the leader, but in all three cases, Little Duck figures out a solution.

The bright colors and thick line drawings are visually pleasing. The pages of this book reach out to the reader. Yes, the text is in speech bubbles, but there are only a few words on a page, and even the youngest reader will not have any trouble following which speech comes next.

The promise is that this is the first of a new beginning reader series. I love seeing books that not only help a child who’s beginning to be able to read on their own, but also give them something they will be happy to read. This story is good enough that kids not able to read yet will enjoy it just as much as those who gain the pride of reading it all by themselves.

salinayoon.com
bloomsbury.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, by Jonathan Fenske

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

pig_fox_box_largeA Pig, a Fox, and a Box

by Jonathan Fenske

Penguin Young Readers, Level 2, 2015. 32 pages.
2016 Geisel Honor Book

This beginning reader has the pay-off kids learning to read will love.

Pig and Fox are friends, but Fox likes to play tricks. In the first two parts, Fox tries to be sneaky and play tricks on Pig and both times, it backfires badly. In the third part, we see that Fox has learned his (painful) lesson.

First, this book manages to use rhyme well, a thing that isn’t easy. The story is never sacrificed for the rhyme.

I also like the way the author has the reader make inferences from the pictures. After the first part, Fox has a Band-Aid and a mark on his tail. After the second part, he’s got a cast, a black eye, and two large bandages. Also, when we see a box in the second part, it’s been taped back together after its collapse in the first part.

It’s also fun the way the reader will see that it’s not Pig’s fault at all that Fox gets hurt. The whole book is an exercise in seeing things from another perspective.

There’s also repetition, which is nice for beginning readers. In this case, it adds to the humor when each part starts the same way — but Fox, who is in bad shape, decides in the third part that he’s had enough hiding and playing today.

penguinyoungreaders.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Supertruck, by Stephen Savage

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

supertruck_largeSupertruck

by Stephen Savage

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2015. 32 pages.
2016 Geisel Honor Book
Starred Review

When I first read this book, I gave it a glance through, and wasn’t tremendously impressed. I automatically cringe from anthropomorphic trucks, so I missed it’s charm.

Then Supertruck won a Geisel Honor. Then I was scheduled to do a Mother Goose Story Time (for ages 0 to 24 months) the day before a blizzard was expected. I checked Supertruck, and it was absolutely perfect.

The text is simple, with only a sentence or so on each page. This is perfect for reading to very little ones, and also perfect for kids just learning to read.

Yes, the trucks are a little bit anthropomorphic, but it’s very simply done. Stephen Savage’s typical graphic design look adds a simple and friendly face to each truck. I love the way the garbage truck wears glasses.

The story is simple. We meet three colorful, important trucks: a bucket truck, a fire truck, and a tow truck. They do important things, while the garbage truck just collects the trash.

Then it starts snowing, and the city is caught in a terrible blizzard.

Just then, the garbage truck sneaks into a garage and becomes . . .

SUPERTRUCK!

The glasses have disappeared, and he now sports a plow blade in front. He digs out the city, makes a path for the other trucks, and saves the day.

The next morning, the trucks wonder about the mighty truck who saved them. Where could he be?

He’s just collecting the trash.

The final picture has snow falling again, and Supertruck heading into a garage with a sly smile on its face. Kids will love being in on the secret. Grown-ups will love the deft play on superhero tropes.

This book is brilliant. Wonderful reading during a storm, but I predict it will still get turned to when the weather is hot. For any kid who loves trucks, as well as any kid who dreams of secret super powers. Or any kid who enjoys a well-told, simple story.

mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler

Monday, September 5th, 2016

dont_throw_it_to_mo_largeDon’t Throw It to Mo!

by David A. Adler
illustrated by Sam Ricks

Penguin Young Readers, 2015. 32 pages.
2016 Geisel Award Winner

The publisher labels this book “Level 2” for the “Progressing Reader.” It uses simple sentences and lots of pictures – but tells a story with a plot and a twist.

Mo loves football, but he’s the smallest and youngest player on his team. He doesn’t play often. Then Coach Steve carries out a plan to get the other team undervaluing Mo. He puts Mo in and tells him to go deep – but tells the team, “Don’t throw it to Mo!”

After a few plays like this, the other team’s not worried about Mo – setting him up to catch a long pass and win the game.

That summary, of course, doesn’t do the book justice. The author uses the simple sentences of an early reader as an asset, building the suspense and making the result believable. I told you what happened. Readers will see and understand what’s happening. And when they read the words themselves, they’ll get a big pay-off when Mo wins the game.

Mo’s not the only winner from this book.

davidaadler.com
samricks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, by Bob Shea

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

ballet_cat_largeBallet Cat

The Totally Secret Secret

by Bob Shea

Disney Hyperion, May 2015. 56 pages.
Starred Review

Big thanks to Travis Jonker for pointing out to me the genius that is this book. I had just gotten an Advance Reader Copy at ALA Midwinter Meeting, but I might have overlooked it since it is so thin.

This is a delightful choice for beginning readers. Cartoon illustrations with the dialog in speech bubbles keep the focus on the interaction between characters. And this is friendship drama as it really happens, folks!

As the book begins, Ballet Cat asks her friend Sparkles the Pony to pick what they should play today. At first things sound good – Crafts, checkers, a lemonade stand. But then Ballet Cat thinks of objections to each one. They shouldn’t leap with scissors; their kicks might knock over the checkerboard; and the lemonade will splash when they spin.

Sparkles’ body language is eloquent – and it’s lovely to see how Ballet Cat completely misses it. (But the reader will see it loud and clear.)

Sparkles says, “What if, maybe, we don’t spin today?”

Ballet Cat’s answer is, “HA! Don’t spin? Good one, Sparkles.”

Here’s the scene where they decide what to play:

Ballet Cat: Now, let’s see. What goes well with leaping, kicking, and spinning? Think, cat, think!

Sparkles the Pony (in very tiny print, with drooping eyes): We could play ballet.

Ballet Cat: Ballet? There is an idea! Leaping, yes. Kicking, yes, yes. Spinning, yes, yes, YES!

Great idea, Sparkles. How did you ever think of it?

Sparkles: We play ballet every day, Ballet Cat.

Ballet Cat: Oh, right.

After some play, which Ballet Cat enters into exuberantly, she figures out that something’s wrong with Sparkles. It turns out that Sparkles has a totally secret secret. He is afraid that if he tells the secret, Ballet Cat will not be his friend.

Well, the reader is not surprised by the secret, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to give it away. Sometimes Sparkles doesn’t want to play ballet.

Can their friendship survive this disaster? Well it helps that Ballet Cat has a secret secret of her own.

This is a wonderful addition to books for beginning readers. I stand in awe of cartoonists like Bob Shea who can express so much emotion in such seemingly simple pen scratches.

Absolutely brilliant. And the best news is that it’s the start of a new series. I plan to booktalk this book with the younger elementary grades, because I can’t imagine a better way to entice kids to reading.

bobshea.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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