I don’t have exact statistics, but other than requests for new baby recommendations, I feel as if I get a lot of inquiries about early readers. It must be scary, or a bit sad, for parents to realize that their kids are starting to read on their own, so parents seem to rely on recommendations. In my experience, parents are often looking for books that children can read themselves, but that are also enjoyable read alouds. Some publishers have gotten rather smart about this phenomenon, but more on that another time. For very new readers, let’s say several steps before chapter books, when kids are sounding out words and can read sentences, but not full paragraphs, I highly recommend Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books.

Kids who enjoyed his Knufflebunny and Pigeon picture books will love the irreverent humor in this early reader series. The text is sparse, but Willems plays with words, often delighting in words themselves. Elephant & Piggie laugh and laugh at the sound of the word ‘banana’. Say it over and over again; you’ll start laughing, too. The two characters display a range of emotions and have hilarious conversations, with occasional misunderstandings, but one of the most interesting feature of this series is that they also engage directly with the reader and serve as guides for conceptualizing reading and books. In We are in a Book! (Hyperion, $8.99) they comment on their own status as characters in a book. They then discuss what makes up a book, instructing readers about the different pieces. Anxiety about the “end of the book” is humorously alleviated by the perpetual present tense of books. Start over and the story is still there. Willems series is as much about introducing the phenomenon of reading to children as it is about practicing reading. I find that quite an amazing feat for a book with approximately one sentence on each page.

A few weeks ago, a customer told me that she reads the books out loud with her son, each taking one of the characters, which I thought was a wonderful idea. The books are primarily dialogue and offer unlimited possibilities for discussion. Oh, and don’t forget to look for the Pigeon.