March 02, 2006


Green Light Readers, Level 1: The Picnic; Tick Tock. By David K. Williams. Illustrated by Laura Ovresat. Harcourt. $12.95 each.

Green Light Readers, Level 2: My Robot. By Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Dagmar Fehlau. Harcourt. $12.95.

Green Light Readers, Level 2: On the Way to the Pond. By Angela Shelf Medearis. Illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley. Harcourt. $12.95.

     The Green Light Readers series remains one of the best ways to get kids started reading on heir own.  The books are consistently high-quality, written in age-appropriate language, nicely illustrated, and created with enough age overlap so you can choose Level 1 (ages 4-6) or Level 2 (ages 5-7) based on your child’s own skills and speed of progress.  The books are available in handsome hardback editions that stand up well to repeated use, or can be kept for younger siblings to use in their own time.  They are also available – for only $3.95 each – as paperbacks, for parents less concerned about preservation than about stretching the family budget.  In either form, they include interesting end-of-book activities that build on the stories.

     The latest Green Light Readers continue the high standards for which this series stands.  The Picnic features decision making, food preparation, a trip to the picnic area, and of course outdoor eating – described in simple, rhythmic text and illustrated with lots of smiles.  Among the activities here is a particularly nice one: creating a wreath of popcorn and dried fruit to hang in a tree for birds, then drawing the birds that show up to eat the morsels (the book does not say so, but kids should be prepared to draw squirrels, too!). Tick Tock is not about telling time, despite the title, but about cleaning up the house while watching the clock so as to be finished before Mom gets home.  David K. Williams tells this story in rhyme, and Laura Ovresat’s illustrations are somewhat more elaborate and amusing than in The Picnic.  One enjoyable activity at the end of Tick Tock is making a make-believe clock from a paper plate.

     Official age target aside, the Level 2 books are significantly more complex in writing and story structure than those at Level 1.  Eve Bunting’s My Robot is about a smiling birthday-present robot named Cecil – drawn by Dagmar Fehlau as one of the old-style science-fictional ones with square head and rectangular body, but with wheels instead of legs.  The story is about all the things Cecil can do, and contains a pleasant little mystery as the boy narrator explains that each accomplishment is not the best thing Cecil can do.  This keeps kids guessing about what is the best thing – while enjoying watching Cecil give rides, play hide-and-seek, bake cakes, and more.  After reading the book, kids learn how to make robot puppets to act out their own stories.

     On the Way to the Pond features Tess Tiger (who looks more like an overgrown house cat) and Herbert Hippo, a somewhat unlikely pair of friends.  You can think of Angela Shelf Medearis’ story as a more advanced version of Level 1’s The Picnic.  Here at Level 2, Herbert packs and brings the lunch, while Tess takes several objects whose value is a bit mysterious – until each of them turns out to be needed during the walk to the pond.  Lorinda Bryan Cauley nicely balances realistic elements of the animals’ appearance with purely playful ones: a hippo in overalls is really something to see.  One post-story suggestion here is literally delicious: a recipe for a picnic snack.  Come to think of it, some Green Light Readers would make a yummy activity during an early-spring family picnic.

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