Summer is the perfect time for settling into a reading groove with familiar characters in a series. Early readers can share their older siblings’ (and parents’) pleasure in immersing themselves in book worlds that continue through several stories (see our recent new series recommendations for tweens and teens). Here are a few of our recommendations for younger kids who appreciate the chance to read, read, read the books of authors whose characters have become their friends.
Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Teague
Used to life in the big city, Poppleton the pig is making a transition to country life. Each of the stories in this early chapter book series resonates with younger readers as well as adults, who may find the vignettes surprisingly familiar in their own lives. In “Neighbors,” for example, Poppleton has to find a way to learn to say “No,” to over-enthusiastic Cherry Sue, the llama who invites him out to every meal in an attempt to become friends. Like many passionate readers, Poppleton also has to struggle with how to save precious “alone-time” reading for his daily ritual. But this pig is no anti-social introvert; Poppleton also makes time for his friends, the llamas, goats, and other animals that populate his world. Love the subtle humor in both the words and the delightful watercolor illustrations–be on the lookout for subtle touches, like a chicken on rollerbades, or a framed painting of a tin can on his goat friend’s wall. Poppleton is the first of the series so you may want to start here, but read the other 7 (so far!) in any order. There’s plenty of stories to read and reread over the summer.
Pinky and Rex by James Howe, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Pinky and Rex and best friends. Pinky got his nickname because pink is his favorite color; Rex has always loved dinosaurs since she was a very little girl. It’s a challenge to write realistic dialogue and write with warmth and humor in books that are “just right” for early readers, but James Howe is a master. The books deal with real issues–like remaining true to yourself or handling going way from home for the first time–without being sappy. Start with any of the books–there’s a dozen. You may want to choose one that fits a current situation for the child or children in your life, like Pinky and Rex and the New Neighbors, Pinky and Rex and the New Baby, or Pinky and Rex Go to Camp. A great series for both boys and girls.
Minnie and Moo: The Case of the Missing Jelly Donut by Denys Cazet
Looking for a beginning mystery novel for your young reader? Look no further! These two silly –but lovable–cows make a wonderful team of bumbling sleuths. While on a summer picnic, Minnie’s jelly donut has gone missing. A blue feather becomes the clue they focus on, and disguised as chickens, the two friends hide out in the henhouse. Their deductions are far from on target, but they end up saving the chickens themselves from the fox, and discover the true thief as well. The story is told with a kind of slapstick humor that both kids and adults can chuckle over together. And if young readers and their families enjoy this story, there’s a wealth of other Minnie and Moo books: they travel (Minnie and Moo Go to Paris); have scary adventures (Minnie and Moo: The Night of the Living Bed); and even try to save the world in a hilarious Zorro spoof ( Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro).
Big Max and the Mystery of the Missing Giraffe by Kin Platt, illustrated by Lynne Cravath
Big Max, the “Greatest Detective in the World,” is a character. He travels by umbrella, seems to be independently wealthy (he accepts no pay for his sleuthing), and makes brilliant deductions a la Sherlock Holmes. The first “Big Max” book came out 40 years ago; The Missing Giraffe story was published posthumously with a new illustrator whose drawings complement the whimsical stories as well as Robert Lopshire, the original illustrator. While there are only 3 books in this Big Max series, there are dozens of terrific Kin Platt books for older readers that your beginning reader can look forward to, mostly in the genres of science fiction and mystery for early adolescent readers.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Cowgirl Kate is a cowgirl from the toes of her boots up. Cocoa is a cowhorse from his mane down. They make a perfect team, in more ways than one. Kate is a smart and determined little girl, who knows just how to work with her always hungry and slightly stubborn horse. One of the appealing things for kids in this book is that the little girl takes the slightly parental role, gently leading the horse to do the right thing, while the horse can display some of the temperament (loosely logical logic with exuberant lovingness) of a preschooler. Another aspect that new readers appreciate is that the book is not made up of stories, but chapters, making it a great candidate for a first read-to-myself chapter book. Did we mention the utterly delightful watercolor illustrations by Lewin, already familiar to most young children from the Click Clack Moo books? There are (to date) 6 Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa stories, and with the latest just published in April of 2010, hopefully there will be many more to come!
Lily’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes
Lily is one of our all-time favorite characters-for any age reader. Who wouldn’t love this feisty and funny heroine who enters every situation with drama, self-confidence, and fashion sense! She has been a hit with young readers since her debut in Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, where we meet her beloved teacher Mr. Slinger. In this continuation of the Lily saga, Mr. Slinger is getting married–and of course, Lily decides she would be the perfect flower girl! Luckily, Mr. Slinger saves the day by allowing Lily to be the assistant to his niece, securing a role at the ceremony. Lot of fun in this adventure, as Lily practices her “special” walk, attempts to grab the spotlight, and basically is her own special Lily self. You may think there are only three Lily books, but don’t worry! Besides Lily’s Chocolate Heart, the intrepid mouse heroine also plays a leading role in Chester’s Way, and Julius the Baby of the World.
Fox and His Friends by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall
Marshall has a multitude of early readers to his credit, but Fox stands out. Marshall is able to include twists and turns in his appealing Fox tales despite the more limited vocabulary he uses to write books accessible to young readers. If your children love George and Martha and Three by the Sea, take note. This book ranks up there along with these favorites for its cleverness, humor, and very appealing drawings. Check out the other Fox titles, too; Fox Outfoxed and Fox in Love top our list of recommendations and there are many more to choose from, all with their own special charm.