a list of…five catchy books to hook those early readers

Iris and Walter, by Elissa Haden Guest, illustrated by Christine Davenier

Iris is drooping.  She’s a city girl, but she has just moved to the country.  With one whoosh, she has left behind bustling streets, comfy front stoops where she can watch the world walk by, music drifting from the neighbor’s window, subways spilling people onto sidewalks, and friends available to play any ol’ time.

Her mother and father are perfectly happy in the countryside, where a person is free to cartwheel in the grass or swing from tree branches.  But Iris is lonesome for company.

Thank goodness for Grandpa, who takes Iris on a walk, scouting for kids.  And thank goodness for Walter, Iris’ new friend, discovered in a keen house perched high in the branches of a great tree.  Together, Walter and Iris explore, climb, roller-skate, and day dream.  Walter’s friendship is just what Iris needs to make this new place feel like home.

This is a pleasant, happy story about friendship and new beginnings, illustrated in lovely, loose, pen and ink illustrations that have a slight French countryside air.  There are a bunch more Iris and Walter books to check out of this one tickles your fancy.

Mouse Tales, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Papa Mouse’s seven sons are all neatly tucked into bed.  Papa has promised to tell seven tales, one for each, as a bedtime treat.  And off we go…

Papa spins seven eccentric, original tales, such as the tale of a wishing well that winces each time someone tosses in a coin; an exceedingly gusty sailing expedition; a little mouse who literally walks his feet off on a long journey to his mother’s house; an overflowing bathtub that floods the whole city.

These seven quirky stories are lavishly sprinkled with Lobel’s fabulous, tiny illustrations, done mainly in grays, pinks, and yellows.  Clever layouts of the stories and illustrations contribute a good deal of fun to the reading process.  The tiny, adventurous mice in each vignette are appealing in size and style, and the story lines are so unusual and whimsical, they never become tiresome.  Besides, it’s so delicious for young readers to have seven tiny stories sandwiched between a short introduction and conclusion!   Written back in 1972, this classic was definitely one of my kids’ favorite early readers.

There Is a Bird on Your Head, written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Hum-dum-dee-dee…Elephant and pig are blissfully sitting together, enjoying the day when…

…huh?!  A little, green bird has fluttered down and landed on elephant’s head!

“There is a bird on your head,” Piggie helpfully tells his buddy, Gerald.  Yikes!  Gerald panics! He shouts!  He scrams!  And phew!  The bird flitters away.  Gerald has his bare, gray head back to himself.  But, not for long.  You’ll never believe what happens there next.  And next.  And next!

This sensational, silly story has not-so-many words, but is packed with humor and energetic nonsense.  If “A cat sat on the mat” is tapioca-bland, Mo Willems’ story line is chocolate-peanut-butter-fudge-delightful!  Fantastic, especially for reluctant readers.  Willems illustrates in simple cartoon-style graphics, using conversation bubbles for all the text. Why is it always more fun to read a conversation bubble?  My son, in particular, would have enjoyed these at about age 6.

Sam and the Firefly, written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman

It’s night time.  The moon is up, but the only one who seems to be awake is Sam.  He’s an owl.  Sam is feeling a bit forlorn, until suddenly he sees a zigzagging, darting light and meets…Gus!

Gus is a firefly, and my, oh my, he can do lots of fab tricks with his little tail-light!  He can even spell words in the sky!  This is a great deal of fun until Gus becomes irresponsible with his sky-writing, resulting in major bedlam in the countryside below.  When someone finally puts a stop to it, trapping Gus in an jar, things are looking quite dismal.  In a hair-raising finish, though, Sam and Gus team up to save the day!  Hoorah!

This classic first appeared in 1958. If you like the retro look, you’ll love the pick-up trucks, Movie House, and dapper styles of the guys at the hot dog stand!  It’s a long, exciting story, with a very controlled vocabulary,  AND you get to read all of Gus’ words emblazoned in yellow across the turquoise night sky!  Too much fun!

Three by the Sea, by Edward Marshall, pictures by James Marshall

Lolly, Spider and Sam, three great friends, are enjoying a day at the beach.  They’ve just stuffed themselves on a lovely picnic lunch.  Indeed, Lolly pronounces herself, “full as a tick.”  Like good girls and boys, they aren’t about to go swimming immediately after eating.  (Didn’t your mother pass this tip along to you?) So, to pass the time, Lolly offers to read a story from her Reader.  It’s a story about a rat, a cat, and a dog.

Well.  It is sooooo boring.  Sam bets he can tell a much better story than that!  He spins a long, harrowing story about a rat and a cat that seems like it’s heading for a gruesome ending but…whew! …a last minute twist turns things sweet.

So sweet, that Spider is disgusted.  Spider picks up the story and quickly turns it into a golly-whopping, monster tale that scares the bejeezers out of Lolly and Sam!  When they’ve recovered,  it’s time for some more swimming, a perfect ending to an excellent day .

Excellent humor.  Silly pictures.  Spicy stories.  There are several more easy readers starring this same troop of kids by the one and only (James) Edward Marshall.

Here are Amazon links for these early readers:

Iris and Walter

Mouse Tales (I Can Read Book 2)

There Is a Bird On Your Head! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Sam and the Firefly

Three by the Sea: Level 2 (Easy-to-Read, Puffin)