• Grace McKinney

Parades and Pancakes: Early Readers You Actually Want to Read

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

Ah, the early reader: Simple enough for the young reader gaining independence, but interesting enough to keep that spark of interest ignited. Striking the right balance of simple and interesting tends to be a tricky feat, but we've scoured the library to find some that you'll be able to pass on to your blossoming reader without a worry knowing they're practicing their skills, building their confidence, and enjoying a good story (supporting engagement and comprehension) all at the same time.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” A familiar refrain for readers of Atinuke's early reader series, this opening line precedes short slice-of-life chapters about the everyday life of Anna Hibiscus and her great big family. Each installment of this series brings the reader into Anna's adventures with an overall tone of welcome and whimsy, aided by Lauren Tobia's warm illustrations. Though this book gets some flack for merely offering a generic locale of "Africa," Atinuke's series opens a window into modern life on another continent.

Juana & Lucas, by Juana Medina

Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia, with her beloved furry friend Lucas. At the beginning of a new school year, Juana finds that she'll have to learn "the English." She bemoans the difficulty and uselessness of learning such a confusing language. And, well, she's not totally wrong: “Why are read and read written the same way but sound different? How can I know when people are talking about eyes or ice when they sound about the same? And what about left hand and left the room? So many words, so little sense."But when an exciting travel opportunity means English could be important after all, Juana has a change of heart. Dynamic in page design and all-around charming, Medina's Pura Belpré Award-winning reader is sure to capture your heart, too.

Nate the Great (series), by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Gaby wanted to review this one specifically:

"And here, in the oldies-but-goodies column, Nate the Great steals the show. I came back to this book in my first primary classroom and was cracking up at the turns of phrase in Sharmat's 1972 book, as well as garnering a deep respect for the gravitas with which Nate conducts his detective work. This first episode follows Nate as he investigates his friend Annie's mystery: a drawing of her dog, Fang, has vanished. Will he find the drawing? Will he discover the culprit? Will he get distracted by delicious pancakes? There's only one way to find out."

Bink and Gollie (series), by Kate DiCamillo

Oh, if only we could all be friends with Bink and Gollie. This short series of early readers walks, and sometimes mountain-climbs, the reader alongside an unlikely pair of friends. The vocabulary is a little more mature and less repetitive than some early readers for true beginners, but the bite-sized chapters and belly-laughable shenanigans are sure to charm young people reading with an adult or on their own at last. This one is best enjoyed with your own stack of pancakes (are you sensing a theme?), otherwise you may leave hungry.

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Jamie Hogan

In a village in Bangladesh, young Naima lives with her mother, father, and sister, and spends her time painting alpanas around her home. She finds herself in a predicament when she accidentally breaks her father's rickshaw—her family's only source of income. Limited by the expectation that only men and boys can work, she must think creatively to earn enough to help make ends meet. A beautiful beginning reader and an equally satisfying read-aloud, Rickshaw Girl invites young readers into potential conversations about gender, poverty, and cross-cultural connections.

Ling & Ting Share a Birthday, by Grace Lin (Ling & Ting series)

Ling & Ting are twins, so it's no real surprise that they share a birthday. But how will they celebrate? How will their cake turn out? What will they get, and give, on this special occasion? The second book in the series starring this playful pair is the perfect addition to any collection of beginning readers; the books grow with the child in complexity as the series progresses.

Mr. Putter & Tabby See the Stars, by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard

Where many early readers star raucous talking animals or other creatures, one finds the Mr. Putter & Tabby on the other side of the spectrum. When Mr. Putter overindulges on some tasty treats, he deals with a bout of insomnia and takes a nighttime stroll. Playful and wondrous, Mr. Putter and his beloved cat remind us that sometimes simply stargazing is enough to soothe an aching tummy. Mr. Putter & Tabby See the Stars is a later installment in a broad series, all of which are worth a read.

Tippy and the Night Parade, by Lilli Carré (a TOON book)

Tippy and her mother have no idea how all these creatures got into her room while she was sleeping -- did she leave the window open? The mystery unravels when it's revealed Tippy has been sleepwalking, and a whole parade of animals joins her to make sure she makes it safely home. This simple story with stunning monochromatic illustrations is a great introduction to sequential storytelling, and will be a gateway to many a comic book and graphic novel.

Snail & Worm, by Tina Kügler

Okay, okay, so we know we're working to find books that focus on reality (fewer talking animals, per se), but Snail & Worm are a simply irresistible pair, and one you won't regret adding to your shelves. With belly-laugh inducing humor (no, really), Kügler's unlikely pair of invertebrate friends navigate the great wide world. From climbing flowers' great heights to tag with sticks and rocks, Snail and Worm's adventures have slotted themselves high on our list of favorites. Be sure to check out the equally engaging (and Geisel-decorated) sequel, aptly named Snail & Worm Again.

Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, by Joy Cowley

Grace and I were camped out at the Cambridge Public Library, on a mission to find as many brilliant early readers as possible. We hadn't found anything that really sang to us -- until we discovered this series by Australian author Joy Cowley, whose name you might recognize if you were a Mrs. Wishy Washy fan.

Agapanthus is an energetic girl who bizarrely refers to her parents as "Good Little Mommy" and "Good Little Daddy," who loves gymnastics and her scruffy dog, who has endless energy for hijinx but always strives to do her best. We laughed, we were confused by this strange but charming comedy, and we immediately read every Agapanthus book available to us at the library. Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses was our favorite: Agapanthus gets new glasses, but doubts she can do acrobatics in them. After all, she's never seen an adult acrobat with eyeglasses -- how do they do it? Her parents take her to a performance to find out.

We found this series to potentially be an acquired taste; the humor is offbeat, to be sure, but also undoubtedly charming. If you're looking for more, we suggest trying Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark next.

Print this list! Click here for a link to a condensed version of this list in Google Drive.

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