This post is contributed by Jamie Holcomb, a reference librarian at the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales branch of Denver Public Library. She recently co-presented on reader's advisory for beginning readers at CAL's 2017 conference.
This year, Holiday House is adding several new titles for its I Like to Read series. New with items appearing later in the year is a Guided Reading Level printed on the cover. This move is helpful for differentiating titles in the series from each other--they have always varied in the level of difficulty--but will be controversial.
For the purposes of this review, I’ve divided the titles into two groups: the very first reads; and slightly more advanced entries.
Four different titles have been released as Guided Reading Level A, the starting place. When a child has only a handful of sight words, anything more than a few repeated words is likely to cause frustration. It may be helpful to know “start here.”
All the titles share strong supportive characteristics. There is ideal repetition--just one phrase, with only the last word changing. Picture support is concrete and clear, and, like all I Like to Read works, they use kid-friendly “ball and stick” As and Gs. Some, though, offer up more in the way of motivation and page-turning dynamic.
I Like the Farm: Full-page photographs draw in young readers, and since they are on a separate page from the text, they do not distract from the words. They have been learning farm animals since before they could walk, so the subject is likely to inspire confidence. Oh, a cow! I know about cows! The alternation between mother animals and baby animals is fun, and the diverse group of children shown snuggling with the animals is engaging. There is, however, a lack of plot; the animals appear in no logical order aside from the mother/baby pattern.
I Hug: Here, there is something more of a plot; at least, the story moves toward night time. The muted, old-fashioned drawings, however, offer little to motivate little readers to keep turning the pages.
I See a Cat: A dog waits by the back door, watching animals go by. Finally, he sees a boy, and gets to go outside that chase that pesky squirrel he’s been watching. The illustrations are colorful and attractive and fill the whole page; they offer motivation to keep going. Children may also relate to the appearance of the boy (a child like themselves) as the highlight of the story.
I Can Run: Another strong very-first reader. With just three words on the page--”I can” and a concrete verb--this tale manages to contain an entire plot. A squirrel, serving as the I narrator, is menaced by a hawk! I can see! I can run! I can hide! Squirrels are very familiar to young children, who are often fascinated by them, and the full-page photographs draw them right into the story and keep them coming back.
There are three titles in the slightly harder range (still for very early readers), one with a Guided Reading Level D and two that were unleveled.
Pip Sits: In arguably the weakest of this group, a young bear is asked to sit on a duck nest, but doesn’t quite know what to do when the ducklings hatch and follow him.The old-fashioned drawings do not engage young readers effectively, nor does the plot. Pip and the ducks flail around a bit and then they are all rescued by their respective mothers.
Pizza Mouse (level D): A mouse navigates the perils of a major city, stumbling across a slice of pizza that he brings home to baby mice who happily greet their daddy. Colorful, enticing pictures offer lots of motivation for small readers. Pizza! Mice! These are familiar and appealing subjects. There is some supporting repetition, but more variation from page to page as befitting a next-level reader. With the pictures covering almost the full two-page spread, though, finding room for the words was a challenge, and occasionally they are hard to see. The most difficult words (subway and pizza) are not repeated.
Peeper and Zeep: A baby bird and young alien find themselves stranded after bad falls; they seek help from a frog and make themselves comfortable until their families arrive to take them home. The two title characters have names that are very fun to say, and the sci-fi plot is more interesting and complex than is often conveyed with just one short sentence on a page. Helpful repetition and strong relationship between words and pictures supports young readers. The kid-friendly page layout includes interesting full-cover pictures, reminiscent of an animated film, that help hold interest over repeated readings. Again, unfortunately, the most difficult words (spaceship and everyone) are not repeated.
This year’s Holiday House titles are sensible additions to your beginning reader section serving the relatively underserved very-new-reader segment. While none of them have the spark of originality that sets apart an award winner from a merely interesting book, some of the stronger entries may be “honor book” contenders.