Woo hoo! Sara Pennypacker’s latest book in the Clementine series is now available (Hyperion, $14.99)! These books, illustrated by the incomparable Marla Frazee, are my top recommendation for any early reader, who is ready for chapter books. Clementine and the Spring Trip is the 6th book in the series and there is due to be one final installment. Clementine, the first volume, is still my favorite, but this new one had me giggling all the way through. Clementine has the most delightful perspective on the world around her and I love love love that the adults in her life (parents, teachers, even the principal) recognize her uniqueness and support her, even when she’s challenging them. As many times as she has been sent to the principal’s office for not paying attention, the principal pays close attention to Clementine. Her parents encourage her to expend her energy in constructive venues (art, building projects, growing a garden) and never try to stifle her creativity. Her mother, the artist, and father, the building superintendent, have found happiness in their own lives and therefore are comfortable helping Clementine find her happiness. I admire the lack of DRAMA in these books, even as they are delightful to read and filled with clever stories and narratives. Pennypacker is excellent at recognizing the priorities of a third-grader (spring trip? great! but, not on bus 7, it smells!) and Frazee adds a tremendous amount of insight as well as humor into her illustrations: the image of the class gagging at the mere thought of riding bus 7 is perfect! Can’t wait for the final book. No! Stop! I don’t want this series to end!
In keeping with the early reader/read aloud concept that has developed this week, I must say that authors and publishers have gotten smart about this niche. Mary Ann Hoberman has written a number of books using the “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You” refrain (Little, Brown, $6.99). These books, illustrated by Michael Emberly, contain two columns of text perfect for two-part dramatization. The text columns — in different colors — are meant for reading aloud and have a nursery rhyme quality (rhythmic and rhyming), entertaining for both the tongue and the ear. The number and level of words is the same for both readers, so there is not a hierarchy and it doesn’t matter which part each person reads. While these books certainly do lend themselves to adults and children, they could also be read by two emerging readers.
In addition to You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You Very Short Stories to Read Together, there are also Fairy Tales, Fables, Scary Stories, Mother Goose tales, and 20th Century Stories to read together.
On day three, I’m already tripping over books and gender. It’s an ongoing issue and one I want to address quickly. Are there ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’? What kinds of limits are we placing on children and books when we use these types of filters? On the other hand, I, like many booksellers I’m sure, have seen boys reject a book because it’s about a girl and many, but certainly not all, girls seem to prefer Daisy Meadows’s Fairy series over Captain Underpants. I’ve really enjoyed seeing articles lately recognizing that sometimes boys like to wear dresses, and sometimes boys want to read fairy books. What is even more gratifying is to see their parents happily buying fairy books for them. When the child is in the store, I generally try to point out a few different types of books and let them decide for themselves, but the issue is exceptionally tricky when someone is buying a gift for a child they do not know. I often wonder if I’m doing a disservice to boys and girls, when I send grandparents home with non-fiction for their grandsons, gift-wrapped in blue paper, with a robot sticker on the front. Although I expect these questions to surface regularly, this blog will strive to remain gender neutral, and I’ll let you decide for yourselves. But what do you think about books and gender?
I often recommend Scholastic’s series Geronimo Stilton ($6.99, translated from the Italian) for kids who are old enough to read chapter books, but reluctant to move beyond the early reader step series that so many publishers offer. Geronimo Stilton is a mouse detective and the books are full of adventure and humor. However, it’s the page lay-out that really distinguishes this series. While not a comic book, various words are printed in a wide variety of whimsical fonts, small color illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, and there are numerous full-page illustrations. This approach engages kids who might be put off by too much text and I firmly believe that learning to read images is just as important, and equally complicated, as learning to read text. Enthusiasts will be kept busy reading for a while as there are over 50 books in the series, and his sister, Thea, has her own spin-off series.