Learning to read isn't easy. But learning to read with humor-filled books can make the process less frustrating and much more fun.
Here's a look at some recent books that will help beginning readers laugh as they learn:
• Elephant and Piggie are pretty different and not just because they're two different types of animals. Elephant, formally known as Elephant Gerald, is cautious, while Piggie often leaps before looking. Despite their differences, Elephant and Piggie are best friends who enjoy spending time together.
In their latest adventure, the two decide that it would be fun to head off on a road trip. But, as author/illustrator Mo Willems shows in "Let's Go for a Drive!" (Hyperion, $8.99, ages 4-7), nothing is simple when it comes to these two friends. Elephant says they can't leave until they have a map; fortunately, Piggie has one. Then, Elephant says they need sunglasses, and Piggie brings those. Elephant's list of needed items goes on -- umbrellas in case of rain, suitcases to carry their gear, etc. Each time, Piggie is easily able to fill the need.
When Elephant realizes that they can't go anywhere without a car, their luck runs out. Piggie doesn't have a car, and neither does Elephant. It looks like their idea is a non-starter until Piggie comes up with a brilliant alternative: taking all their gear and playing pirate.
As always, Mr. Willems' simple story is packed with comedy that is further enhanced in his humorous artwork.
• Maya's bad table manners are the despair of her parents. As her father tells her, "You need manners! What if you were eating dinner with the Queen?"
Just at that moment, the doorbell rings, and in walks a brightly dressed herald with an invitation for Maya to dine with the Queen. What happens next is the stuff of childhood dreams, as author/artist Rutu Modan shows in "Maya Makes a Mess" (TOON Books, $12.95, ages 5-8).
Not only does Maya get to dine with the Queen and her court, but also she convinces the Queen that messiness makes the food taste better. Soon everyone in the court is showing disgusting manners, with the Duke eating chicken with his hands, the Princess putting her face into her soup bowl and the Countess using her hands as salad utensils. The Queen, meanwhile, outdoes them all by grabbing the ketchup bottle and gulping down its contents.
Ms. Modan's outlandish story, told in comic-book style, will have kids howling with laughter. The format also can make it easier for many kids to learn to read as the entire story line can be gleaned from the illustrations, with the text providing additional detail. This is the opposite of most beginning readers, where the text is paramount and the illustrations provide clues.
If your beginning reader enjoys the comic-book format, you'll want to check out the many other wonderful -- and prize-winning -- volumes in the TOON Books series.
• The "I Like to Read" series for beginning readers published by Holiday House also uses a different format to help make it easier for kids to master the process of reading. In this case, the "I Like to Read" books are published in a larger, picture-book-sized format than traditional beginning readers, which are more the size of regular hardback novels, only thinner.
There are several new entertaining offerings in the "I Like to Read" series. Most of the books are $14.95 (the last one is $15.95) and aimed at ages 4-6 (although younger kids also would enjoy these in a read-aloud session with a favorite grown-up): "The Fly Flew In," written and illustrated by David Catrow; "Sick Day," written and illustrated by David McPhail; "Pig Has a Plan," written and illustrated by Ethan Long; "Mice on Ice," written and illustrated by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley; and "Bus Driver," written and illustrated by Nancy Poydar.
• Cynthia Rylant won the Newbery Medal in 1993 -- given annually by the American Library Association to the best written children's book -- for her novel, "Missing May." But Ms. Rylant also has used her considerable writing talents over the years to create several critically acclaimed beginning-reader series, all with short chapters: "Henry and Mudge," "Poppleton," "The High-Rise Private Eyes" and "Mr. Putter & Tabby."
The latest book in the "Mr. Putter & Tabby" series, "Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance" (Harcourt, $14.99, ages 5-8), finds Mr. Putter and Tabby joining their neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and her dog, Zeke, at a ballroom-dancing event. At first, neither Mr. Putter nor Tabby is very excited about the outing, but by the end of the evening, Ms. Rylant writes, "they all felt like wonders."
As always, Ms. Rylant's appealing story is perfectly complemented by the loose-lined colorful watercolor illustrations by Arthur Howard.
• Dixie is a dog who tries hard to please, especially her young owner, Emma. Despite her best efforts, however, Dixie sometimes just can't help getting into trouble.
In "Dixie Wins the Race" and "Dixie and the Class Treat" (HarperCollins, $16.99 each, ages 4-6), author Grace Gilman and illustrator Jacqueline Rogers chronicle Dixie's adventures. Young readers will enjoy getting to know Dixie and Emma in these books in the popular "I Can Read!" series.
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.