March 01, 2012


Kingfisher Readers: Level 1—Butterflies; Baby Animals; Level 2—What Animals Eat; Level 3—Dinosaur World; Level 4—Pirates; Level 5—Ancient Egyptians. By Thea Feldman (Level 1), Brenda Stones and Thea Feldman (Level 2), Claire Llewellyn and Thea Feldman (Level 3), and Philip Steele (Levels 4 and 5). Kingfisher. $3.99 each.

     There are plenty of sequential learn-to-read series out there, but the new one from Kingfisher is special. Instead of going for the typical simple stories about kittens and puppies, suburban families, back yards, school and the like, these books are fact-focused and illustrated with very attractive photos and, in some cases, well-done drawings of historical events. All the books contain glossaries, which are helpful vocabulary builders. The progress through the five levels is logical and natural. Level 1 (“Beginning to Read”) has short and simple sentences: “This is a moth. Moths and butterflies look a lot alike. But they are different.” In Level 2 (“Beginning to Read Alone”), the writing is slightly more complicated: “A shark eats fish and other animals in the sea.” Level 3 (“Reading Alone with Some Help”) has text written in paragraphs and with greater complexity: “An animal this big that eats plants has to eat a lot. It spends the day tearing leaves with its teeth. Plants are hard to digest. So Diplodocus swallows stones. The stones in its stomach help grind up the plants!”

     By Level 4 (“Reading Alone”), the information is more complex and the sentence structure more sophisticated: “Pirate ships have always looked a lot like other ships. After all, they were often ordinary ships that the pirates had stolen and given new names. Pirates preferred ships that were fast and able to change direction easily in case they had to make a quick getaway.” And in Level 5 (“Reading Fluently”), the books themselves are longer (48 pages instead of 32), the concepts more complex, and the information presented in greater detail: “To make a mummy, the priests first cleaned the body. Then they pulled the brain out through the nose using a hook. They cut out the guts, liver, lungs, and stomach and then dried them and put them in jars.”

     The subject matter of the first six books in the Kingfisher Readers series is the sort of material that is likely to appeal to the reading levels at which the books are targeted. The illustrations are adjusted from level to level, too. In Butterflies and Baby Animals, the pictures take up full or almost-full pages, with the text being minimal. In What Animals Eat, most pictures take up half to two-thirds of a page. In Dinosaur World, which includes both photos (of fossils and of paleontologists in the field) and color illustrations (of dinosaurs as they might have appeared when alive), text and pictures share pages more or less equally, and captions and fact boxes are used to break up the layout. In Pirates, which contains mostly drawings but also some photos of artifacts, the text dominates, with pictures scattered throughout the pages. And in Ancient Egyptians, there is even more text (in slightly smaller type), drawings and photos are mixed throughout, and there is a greater variety of page layouts. The result of all the attention to presentation detail is a fact-oriented early-reading series that looks good, is written in an age-appropriate way, and offers families an approach to reading education that is well-designed and carefully thought out. Parents looking for an alternative to the simple fictional stories that usually fill books for the youngest readers will find Kingfisher Readers uniformly informative and instructive, as well as entertaining.

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