New Books for New Readers

    “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”  This saying, attributed to Pascal, applies perfectly to books for beginning readers.  Writing a seven-hundred-page novel is quite an accomplishment, but some writers might argue that writing a thirty-two page reader with limited vocabulary is even more challenging.  Here are a few recent examples of the best.

Stephen Krensky’s “Snack Attack,” a Level One book in the Ready-to-Read series published by Aladdin, tells an action-packed story in just a few words.  On the first three pages, we encounter “A cat.  A cat and a snack.  A cat and a snack in a shack.”   What’s next?  A rat that plans to attack the cat for the snack.  But the cat is more than ready for him.  

 Beginning readers depend on the pictures to provide clues to the story, so Curtis’s broadly funny cartoon illustrations are a perfect match for Krensky’s clever word repetition and simple sentences.

 Jon Scieszka, a former elementary school teacher, knows just what kids like.  As he says “…if you were a loud and funny and excited young reader, what do you think you would want to read?  Exactly – books about trucks.”  Using just a few more words than Krensky, Scieszka shows readers what happens when big trucks get a snow day in “Snow Trucking!”  While kids may build snowmen, drink hot chocolate, and watch cartoons on a snow day, these trucks have even more fun.  They play soccer, build snow trucks, and stage snowball fights between a pair of fire trucks.  They even manage to clear all the streets of snow by the end of the day.

 This book is a Level One entry in Scieszka’s “Trucktown” series.  Kids who like this will also enjoy “Pete’s Party,” told almost entirely in road signs, and “Zoom! Boom! Bully,” about a big truck that loves to smash things.  

 Readers who have progressed a bit beyond these early readers will like the new Toon Book series.  Each book is told in a comic book format, providing instant appeal to young readers.  In Eleanor Davis’s “Stinky,” a creature who loves smelly things, including his pet toad and his favorite snack of pickled eggs, is worried when a kid arrives in his “muddy, slimy, smelly swamp” and puts up a tree house.  Stinky does his best to make him leave, from masquerading as a ghost to hurling the boy’s hammer deep into the swamp, but nothing works.  The kid and the monster make friends in the end, though Stinky thinks the boy’s apple is yucky, and the boy is not crazy about Stinky’s offer of a pickled onion.  

 Though the traditional comic book format, with panels and dialogue balloons, is used throughout, the designers have used a simple font and plenty of white space to help young readers navigate through the book.

 Arnold Lobel’s beginning readers about Frog and Toad have been favorites of young readers for generations.  Now comes a new entry, “The Frogs and Toads All Sang,” found twenty years after Lobel’s death, filled with jaunty verses about the two friends.  In one poem, they have a party that’s so much fun that they end up dancing in the lemonade “just to cool their feet.”  Lobel’s daughter Adrienne has added washes of color to the original line drawings.  Readers and listeners four and up will have fun with this.

Originally published in the Free Lance-Star on September 15, 2009.