The first Fancy Nancy book was adorable. The sequels have been mixed, however, and none more so than the Early Reader series. Fancy Nancy’s vocabulary is a large part of the humor and charm of the little girl, but her big words can be hard for beginning readers. The latest in the series, Every Day is Earth Day, is possibly the most solid early reader. There are few complicated words that will trip up a new reader.
I can think of several parents who will be pleased at the plot of this book: Fancy Nancy becomes enthusiastic about being green, but her overboard efforts cause havoc until the family reaches a compromise. Even the hardiest tree-hugger adult cannot compare to an enthusiastic grade schooler, and I know a lot of parents who want to encourage their budding environmentalist without having to use the second hand on their stop watch while taking a cold shower in the dark. This book suggests a middle ground in which a family will work harder to “be green”, but also won’t sacrifice what they feel to be important, such as using a nightlight for a toddler who’s afraid of the dark.
In 1960 Ruby Bridges was just starting school. But she was not just any student: she was the first African-American elementary student to attend an all-white school. Not everyone was happy about this turn of events, and Ruby learned alone in a classroom that contained only herself and her teacher. She walked past crowds of protesters every morning on her way to school. Fifty years later, she has written an early reader talking to young children about this period of her life, as well as her work with children today.
This is a Scholastic Reader Level 2 book, intended for the developing reader, roughly grades 1-2. Most sentences are simple, but there are some longer and more complex sentences as well. The illustrations are all photographs from the period.
The story of Ruby Bridges is a powerful one, and has been already documented in picture books and biographies. The material has been written here in a manner that clearly has its young audience in mind. In the section where Ms. Bridges talks about the protesters, she says simply “They yelled at me to go away.” No mention is made of the daily death threats. I can’t decide whether this is a good choice in view of the fact that the average child reading the book is probably going to be about six years old, or whether the omission of these hateful actions somehow diminishes the impact of Ruby’s courage at at time when she herself was only six years old.
This is a great book to start a discussion with a first or second grader about racism and the ways in which racism can affect everyone, both young and old
Max Spaniel is not a dog, he tells us. He is a dinosaur hunter! Max looks around the yard for dinosaurs, and, not finding any, creates his own.
This early reader would be appropriate for very beginning readers. For most of the book there is only one sentence for every two page spread. The illustrations add to the text, filling in information that the words do not supply. For instance, when Max says that the dinosaur walks again, it is up the illustrations to supply the fact that Max has built a dinosaur out of spare parts.
The illustrations are colorful and exuberant, if a little busy in places. The facial expressions of Max are spot on, as is his relationship with a cat, whose presence is not mentioned in the text at all, but who is present in most scenes and adds to the humor.
Katie Woo is a lively little girl. When she and her friends Pedro and JoJo go to the beach, Katie has a hard time remembering that her friends are trying to have fun too. Instead she is “a meanie”, demanding that they carry water for her sandcastles, and hogging the french fries. But when her friends turn the tables on her, Katie realizes her mistakes and tries to be friendlier.
This easy reader book is somewhat didactic in its message, but considering the constraints of the early reader format, this book is by far not the most blatantly preachy book I’ve seen. Katie is likable and will probably win over some fans despite the messages.
The book contains a glossary at the back, in addition to discussion questions and writing prompts. I’m not entirely sure who the intended audience for these are, since I very much doubt first and second graders are going to spontaneously start doing homework, and a teacher would probably be using the book in a way that would more closely align with what s/he was teaching.
Duke is a sad dog, sitting in the pet store. When Sam comes to take him home, he is ecstatic. But then he realizes that, unlike the other dogs near the farm, he doesn’t know how to dig, having lived on a cold stone floor his entire life. Once he does learn, though, he finds out the meaning of too much of a good thing.
This book suffers a bit from being dated. Originally published in 1967, the book features a few off-handed lines that might raise the hackles of modern parents, such as a suggestion that Duke has caused so much trouble that he should simply be allowed to drown. I did not much care for the attitude that when Duke does not meet the expectations of his new owner – first because he can’t dig, then because he digs too much – he should be summarily abandoned to the pet store. Since Duke is digging in part “to please my master”, this betrayal is all the more distressing.
The text is rhyming, and the rhythm is sometimes strained in order to make the words rhyme. The illustrations are slightly old-fashioned, but in a charming, rather than a dated, way. The thought of the dog digging up the entire town is funny, even if the rest of the book might have some weak spots.
Henry has no brothers and sisters. There are no kids on his street. So when he begs his parents for a dog, they say yes. Henry picks out a small little puppy, but he doesn’t stay small for long. When Mudge is done growing, he weighs 180 pounds! But Mudge is the best thing that ever happened to Henry, and vice versa.
Henry and Mudge are an unbeatable team that have become stock favorites of beginning readers. First written in 1987, this first book about the winsome duo has aged very well. The clothing is simple enough that major fashion changes aren’t an issue, and while Dad’s mustache is a bit out of date, this small detail is not glaringly anachronistic. I doubt many kids today will even realize that the book is over twenty years old or that (scary thought!) their own parents may have learned to read on this series.
Moffie and Morgie are twins. Moffie is very bossy, so Mama declares that Morgie needs to be able to do what he wants. The next day Morgie is declared boss for the day. Moffie is more than happy to show him how to be a boss, but in doing so, she takes over completely, such that nothing has really changed.
This is an All Aboard Reading book, level 1, intended for children Pre-K through First grade. There are one or two sentences on each page. Contractions and dialog are used.
I liked that the reader was left to recognize that Moffie is still being bossy, even in the guise of helping Morgie learn to be in charge. Some books would have hit the reader over the head with this. Instead, the author simply makes it obvious through the character’s actions, which is quite a bit funnier. Tomie DePaola does not have heaps of awards and accolades for nothing.
Buzz has a pet fly, which he brings to school. Fly Guy’s favorite part is the lunchroom, where he makes friends with the lunch lady, Roz. But the principal doesn’t want flies in the cafeteria, so he fires Roz and hires a terrible cook. What can Buzz and Fly Guy do to save the situation?
This book has two to three sentences on each page. There are no contractions. The illustrations are largely against a white background, leaving plenty of room for the black text.
The story is cute, and ends happily. The image of Fly Guy drinking a soup of fish heads and sour milk is gross enough to make any first grader grin. The cartoon illustrations match the tone of the book very well. This is an excellent choice for children beginning to read, particularly for boys. If you enjoy this book, look for more titles about Fly Guy, of which there are several.
A new boy named Albert joins Oliver’s class. He is very tall, and can already read! Some of Oliver’s friends make fun of Albert, becuase he can’t kick or catch or run fast. But Albert and Oliver both like bugs, so they become friends.
This is a Dial easy-to-read book. It is appropriate for more advanced beginning readers. There are 6 to 10 sentences on each page. Dialog is used. Contractions are used.
The illustrations reflect the text. It did annoy me, however, that after the boys discuss how big Albert is, the picture of Albert is about the same size as all of the other children in the classroom.
I liked that the boys have a friendship based on scholarship and mutual interest in insects, rather than one based on sports. (Not that there is anything wrong with a friendship based on sports, but those are a dime a dozen when it comes to early fiction.)
Biscuit the puppy is going to learn a new trick. His girl wants him to fetch a ball. But Biscuit is more interested in chewing on his bone, chasing cats, and making mischief. Will he ever learn the trick?
This is a My First I Can Read book, intended for emergent readers. There are one to two very simple sentences on each page, with a lot of repeated words, making the book accessible to even the most beginning readers. The very cute illustrations reflect the text.
While the commands “Fetch the ball, Biscuit!” and so on are presumed to be dialog, they are not presented as such in the text, i.e. there are no quotation marks used. This could possibly be confusing in terms of who is talking, as when the command to fetch the dog is followed by “Woof, woof!” However, I’m pretty sure that even beginning readers will be able to sort out that the dog is barking and the girl is talking.