June 05, 2008


What’s That, Mittens? By Lola M. Schafer. Pictures by Susan Kathleen Hartung. HarperCollins. $16.99.

My Little Pony: Tutus and Toe Shoes. By Ruth Benjamin. Illustrated by Lyn Fletcher. HarperTrophy. $3.99.

My Parents Think I’m Sleeping. Poems by Jack Prelutsky. Pictures by Yossi Abolafia. Greenwillow/HarperTrophy. $3.99.

Jamberry. By Bruce Degen. HarperCollins. $7.99.

New York, New York: The Big Apple from A to Z. By Laura Krauss Melmed. Illustrated by Frané Lessac. Collins. $6.99.

Magic Pickle. By Scott Morse. Graphix/Scholastic. $9.99.

      There are plenty of quick-read books that can help children along the road toward reading on their own, and give them pleasure once they develop the confidence to select things for themselves. Among the many offerings in the HarperCollins I Can Read! series are ones for a variety of reading levels. What’sThat, Mittens? is at the “My First” stage, for use by parents before children have started reading on their own. It’s a cute, simple story about a kitten that hears a scratching sound in the back yard and tries to find out what it is – eventually making a new friend. My Little Pony: Tutus and Toe Shoes is a “Beginning Reading/1” book, for kindergartners and advanced pre-kindergartners who are just starting to try to read for themselves – and who are fans of the My Little Pony franchise. It’s a ballet story, of course, with pictures used in place of some words so young readers can follow the action more easily. My Parents Think I’m Sleeping is a “Reading Alone/3” book, featuring 14 nighttime poems by Jack Prelutsky, dealing with issues from curiosity (“What happens to the colors/ when night replaces day?”) to difficulty falling asleep (“Tonight is impossibly noisy,/ it’s filled with a horrible sound,/ as if dozens of ogres and tigers/ are stuck on a merry-go-round”). Yossi Abolafia’s amusing illustrations are a big part of the fun here.

      Beyond the books that come in stages, developing readers have a world of pleasure to explore. The 25th-anniversary edition of Jamberry shows the book to be as delightful today as it was in 1983. It’s a boy-and-his-bear story filled with delicious nonsense rhymes: “Hatberry/ Shoeberry/ In my canoeberry” – that illustration showing boy and bear in a berry-filled canoe, the bear wearing a hat out of which berries are bursting. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and more make the book berry wonderful indeed.

      Or a young reader may want to try something nonfictional, such as New York, New York: The Big Apple from A to Z. From the American Museum of Natural History, through Jones Beach, to Rockefeller Center and the Zoo (Bronx Zoo, that is), Laura Krauss Melmed takes kids on a tour of the city’s sights, with basic information given in simple poetry and a lot more details offered on each page, in smaller type, for kids and families to enjoy if they want to explore New York’s attractions in greater depth.

      Or perhaps young readers would rather see something completely silly than something serious. Then they might gravitate to graphic novels, such as the thoroughly ridiculous Magic Pickle, whose hero is…yes, a pickle. Named “Weapon Kosher,” the pickle is given powers by Doctor Formaldehyde so he (it?) can fight the Brotherhood of Evil Produce, among whose members are the Phantom Carrot and Chili Chili Bang Bang. Kids won’t get the Ian Fleming reference (he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as well as the James Bond novels), but they won’t need to in order to enjoy Scott Morse’s superhero sendup and watch the battles between Weapon Kosher and the Romaine Gladiator (that’s Romaine, not Roman). And Jo Jo Wigman, the human sidekick who wants to be called the Sweet Tomato, is a lot of fun, too – as is all sorts of reading for kids of all sorts of ages.

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