a list of…five books just peachy for a blossoming reader

So, your beginning reader is well beyond “Pat had ham.  Sam had ham.  Pat and Sam had ham.”  She has zoomed past Mr. Silent E.  He has mastered the rascals “would-could-should.”  She is ready for something with juicy words like cinnamon biscuits and peppermint-scented soap.  He is itching for plots involving adventure, intrigue and a dash of humor.  But the book can’t be too long.  The pages can’t be an overwhelming, pictureless flood of words.  Depending on how long this stage lasts, it can be challenging to find books that fit these budding readers.  Here are five books which are invitingly-thin, yet packed with dynamite stories we have loved.

A Toad for Tuesday, story by Russell E. Erickson, illustrations by Lawrence Fiori 

Warton and Morton are two very likeable toads.  Bachelor brothers, they keep house together.  Morton is the domestic sort, who makes an especially delicious Beetle Brittle.  Warton is an adventurous fellow, who determines to deliver some of that tasty stuff to their Aunt Toolia.  Despite the fact that it is mid-winter, when toads really belong in cozy quarters, Warton bundles up, makes himself some slick skis, and sets out.  Alas!  Shortly he is captured by an owl.  A hungry owl.  The owl decides not to gobble Warton immediately, but to save him until Tuesday, his birthday, for a special treat.  That’s five days away.  Can Warton keep his wits about him and save himself?  Will pleasant conversation and cups of tea soften the heart of a grumpy owl?  Or is the owl a bit too smart for all of Warton’s schemes? 

This is a truly delightful story!  High adventure, great suspense, charm, and some surprising plot twists.  Appealing to boys and girls.  There are about half a dozen more Warton and Morton stories, and we have enjoyed them all.  Each one involves a hair-raising escapade of the two brothers and an assortment of quirky or threatening or ridiculous characters met along the way.  Sadly, they are out of print, but if you have access to a library you may be in luck.

The Cobble Street Cousins, series by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin 

Here is a series tailor-made for young girls!  It is a pink, frothy concoction of flower shops, doll houses, tea parties and whispered secrets, illustrated so charmingly, the books look as sweet as rosebuds.  Lily, Tess and Rosie are cousins who live for a year with their pretty, young Aunt Lucy in a darling blue house with red geraniums by the door.  There are six books in the series, which proceed chronologically as the girls bake cookies to sell, learn to sew, start their own newspaper, plan garden parties and generally enjoy delightful, girl-ish days.  Running like a pink ribbon throughout the stories is the sub-plot of the cousins’ matchmaking between their loved Aunt Lucy and the charming Michael, which culminates in being bridesmaids in their wedding.  Ahh…romance at its best. 

These books are as sweet as cotton candy.  They are not complex in plot or character, so don’t expect even a snitch of gravity or realism!  Just pure fun for little girls.  My girls loved them.  If you have a 7-9 year old twirly-dress girl, I’ll bet she’ll love them, too.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, written by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell 

This is a Newbery Honor book from 1952, based on a tale much older than that.  In other words:  it is a classic story that has stood the test of time.  Jonathan is an eight-year-old boy who lives in a gray stone farmhouse at the foot of Hemlock Mountain.  His mother has the reputation of being a right good cook, and because of that she finds herself expecting 23 relatives for supper.  23!!!  So Jonathan is sent over to the other side of Hemlock Mountain to borrow a huge iron kettle from Aunt Emma.  Trouble is…they say there are BEARS on Hemlock Mountain.  “Stuff and nonsense,” says his mother, but Jonathan is not so sure.  Are there bears on Hemlock Mountain??  And if so, how can Jonathan defend himself and deliver the kettle to his mother? 

Jonathan’s brave chant, “There are no bears on Hemlock Mountain, no bears, no bears at all” will lodge its rhythm in your memory as will this whole brave tale.  One nice feature of this book is the excellent page layout, with Sewell’s distinct illustrations sprinkled in clever places and never too much text per page.  For beginning readers, this type of approachable design can greatly add to a book’s appeal.

Lotta on Troublemaker Street, by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Julie Brinckloe 

You may only know Astrid Lindgren as the author of Pippi Longstocking.  Lindgren, though, wrote dozens of children’s books, received the Hans Christian Andersen prize, has book prizes named after her, is one of the world’s most translated authors, and is celebrated in Sweden with her own museum, theme park, and more.  We have discovered a number of her titles that we like far better than Pippi, and several of them will make their way into this blog to be certain.  Today we look at this one about Lotta. 


Lotta is five.  She is stubborn.  Spunky.  And on this particular morning she definitely seems to have arisen on the wrong side of the bed.  After refusing to get dressed, fussing over breakfast, and sassing her mother, Lotta stomps off to her room and does something soooo naughty that the only thing she can think of is to move out of the house forever.  So she packs up some things and heads next door to old Mrs. Berg’s place.  Mrs. Berg is a special friend of Lotta’s and finds a dusty, cluttered room over her garden shed for Lotta to move into.  For awhile, this new “househole” of Lotta’s seems a jolly spot, and she bravely insists that she has no intention of moving back home.  But, as night falls, and the friendly yellow lamplight shines in her family’s windows, her own place feels awfully lonely and dark.  How Lotta is tenderly reunited with her family makes a lovely ending to a temper-tantrum-laden day.  Great read.

Esio Trot, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quetin Blake 

Two crazy guys collaborate on this zany-but-charming book.  Mr. Hoppy is a lonely old man who happens to be desperately in love with Mrs. Silver, a charming widow who lives in the apartment just one floor down.  Every morning while he is out watering his plants on his balcony, he exchanges friendly greetings with Mrs. Silver on her balcony below.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Silver’s affection seems entirely focused on her very small pet tortoise, Alfie.  One day Mrs. Silver confesses that she is quite worried about Alfie as he has not gained more than 3 ounces in all the eleven years she has had him.  Quick as lightning, Mr. Hoppy hatches a plan to relieve Mrs. Silver’s distress and win her heart.  Secret Turtle Language messages, a sneaky long-handled tortoise-catcher thingamajig, and many cabbage leaves later, Mr. Hoppy achieves glorious victory in every way! 

Roald Dahl is, of course, a fabulous writer who takes eccentric characters and unpredictable storylines and performs his amazing wordsmithing magic.  Teaming up with him is Quentin Blake, who has been mentioned in Orange Marmalade before (see: Mrs. Armitage on Wheels).  His lively, humorous illustrations perfectly complement the peculiar particulars in this book.