Easy Readers

Easy readers are the books that you move to once your child starts showing interest in independent reading. Also known as “I Can Read” books. There are lots of illustrations, they can be longer than picture books, and they feature short sentences, designed to introduce early important vocabulary terms to kids.

Sesame Street Book Club: A My Name Is Annabel

Sesame Street Book Club: A My Name Is Annabel

I’ve made a lot of mistakes while trying to build a library for my daughter. I bought a lot of “classics” that I’d never read before, only to discover that neither my daughter nor I particularly enjoyed them. I purchased a big stack of 300-page Disney storybook collections from an outdoor Borders’ bargain table, thinking I was getting a deal, only to discover that being forced to read a barely literate retelling of Beauty and the Beast20 times in a row to a mildly-addicted 3-year-old just isn’t worth a 70% markdown. And I spent way too much time picking out titles that I personally found cheeky and clever rather than, you know, trying to figure out what a kid might actually like to read. I’ll totally admit it – mistakes were made. And I continue to make mistakes on an almost weekly basis.

But, every now and again, I lucked into making one or two tremendously awesome decisions – decisions for which I still occasionally pat myself on the back. At the top of that list is my decision to buy a whole lot of 1980s Sesame Street Book Club books on eBay.

Parents – you need to buy some of these titles for your kids. They’re perfect for children ages 2-5 (they make nice early readers for older readers too), they’re fun and engaging, they’re (for the most part) extremely well written, and, here’s the best part, they’re usually cheap. Honestly, you can normally find whole lots of Sesame Street Book Club titles on eBay at a cost of $1 to $2 per title (if not less). Any home library worth its salt is going to include some percentage of used books, and these books – both economically and creatively – are the deal of the century.

Sesame Street Book Club

Our house is covered in Sesame Street Book Club titles...

If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s probably because it’s been out-of-print for years. There isn’t a ton of information on the 1980s Sesame Street Book Club online – the best resource is this page on the Muppet Wikia, which does a fantastic job collecting information on the series. The very cool Dad Aesthetic blog also did a nice write-up of the series, summarizing it thusly:

The Sesame Street Book Club was a series of mail-order hard cover books for young readers released in the early 1980s. This collection of 62 books forms an excellent library of bedside reads for toddlers and young elementary students. The books cover a range of basic conceptual themes (The Sesame Street Circus of Opposites), vocabulary (Don’t Forget the Oatmeal!), math (The Count Counts a Party) and social skills (Molly Moves to Sesame Street). However, the observational and life-learning topics sit the best with my toddler. Those include Farley Goes to the Doctor, The Twiddlebugs’ Dream House, When I’m as Big as Freddie and The Case of the Missing Duckie. [read the rest of the post…]

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I have a big, big geek-dad crush on Toon Books, a fascinating publishing company that has the ridiculously admirable job of making readable comic books for young readers. And, Little Mouse Gets Ready, their Level One comic for beginning readers by Bone creator Jeff Smith, is quite simply one of my favorite books that I’ve ever bought for my daughter.

Toon Books

Toon Books: Comics 'R Good for Kids

But let me backtrack a little and explain why I’m about to so effusively gush over Toon Books.

I’m a comics fan and have been since I was a kid. My house is filled with comics and graphic novels, so, of course, my daughter started to show interest in these cool, colorful books with lots of pictures that are stacked up in piles all around Daddy’s office. And that made me incredibly excited. I was dying to share my love of comics with her and quickly started taking her with me to our local comics store (Detroit Comics – GREAT store). I let her pick out some kids’ titles she was interested in – Muppets and Fraggle Rock comics, Monsters Inc., Tiny Titans, Scooby-Doo – and it didn’t really bother me that they were mostly commercial property spin-offs.

I knew enough to steer her away from the really heinous stuff, and I knew that even dorky media tie-in comics can act as great gateway drugs into real, honest-to-god comics comics. My own pathway into comics fandom began with Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe, a comic based on a toy property, which drew me in, taught me how to read and appreciate comics, and eventually led me to the X-Men, the Avengers, Captain Britain, Milk & Cheese, Plastic Forks, Sam & Max, Dark Knight Returns, and so on and so forth, onwards and upwards. So, sure, I didn’t want to let my daughter think that Scooby-Doo was the pinnacle of kids comics, but I knew I had to let her get interested in comics on her own terms. Nothing will turn a kid off comics faster than a parent shoving titles at them and complaining, “No, no, you don’t want to read that – that dumb book YOU’RE interested in. THIS is the one…”

So we bought her a stack of her own comics and she loved them. LOVED them. She’d flip through them endlessly and read them at night under her covers with a flashlight. I was in geek-dad heaven. Until…

Until she asked me to sit down and READ the comics with her. And then, very, very quickly, something horrible – something I really, really didn’t want to admit – became readily apparent.

Reading comic books with a kid can be a huge pain in the ass. [read the rest of the post…]

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The 16th Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems, Happy Pig Day!, is being released today and, in honor of its publication, I spent last night composing this long-winded ode to the Elephant and Piggie series, a collection of easy reader titles that have had a big impact on our household. I’ve wanted to write about Elephant and Piggie for a while now, but it’s hard to know where to begin. Because, at this point, the way I feel about Mo Willems as a children’s book creator is the same way I feel about the Coen Brothers as film directors. It’s not a question of which of their works are good and which are bad. It’s pretty much just a question of measuring excellence.

There Is a Bird on Your Head

There Is a Bird on Your Head

Quick semi-related diversion: In my opinion, the Coen Brothers have never made a bad movie – yes, Ladykillers wasn’t Raising Arizona, but it was way better than most average film comedies (for Hanks’ lead performance alone), and Intolerable Cruelty is an unheralded gem – so, when discussing their films, I mostly just find myself ranking favorites. The same thing happens when I talk about Mo Willems. I simply have yet to meet a Willems title that my family hasn’t enjoyed. So, when looking at his whole body of work, I’ll admit, it turns into a semi-pointless exercise of pure fanboy-esque categorization, with me ranking his titles from “the very best” to the “normal best.” (Ooh, aren’t I a harsh headmaster? Grading his books from “A+” all the way to “A-“.)

That being said, although I love the Pigeon (like many others, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus was our first Willems title), the large bulk of my Mo-love is reserved for the Elephant and Piggie books, a remarkable series for beginning readers. The E&P series, which began in 2007 with There Is a Bird on Your Head!, falls under the category of “easy readers”, a term that generally describes books designed for children who are just starting to read on their own. Easy readers are equal parts illustrations and large, easy-to-read text, and their vocabulary is normally limited to words that appeal to kindergarten to second-grade reading levels.

The Elephant and Piggie books boil down the easy reader to its essential components. The lead characters, Gerald the elephant and Piggie the pig, stand in front of a plain white backdrop, acting out their stories with just their body language and bare minimum of props. The earnest duo – like a more affectionate animal version of Laurel and Hardy – communicate through sound effects and large-text word balloons that make it easy for kids to pick out key words and follow the action. The dialogue-driven E&P books are, actually, a lot like wonderful, condensed one-act plays for kids. There are series of engaging verbal volleys between Elephant and Piggie in each volume, replete with knowing humor, repetition, and facial expressions that really help the young readers understand the inflection and emphasis of the words. [read the rest of the post…]

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