School's back, and a new set of kids will be facing the often-daunting task of learning to read. Parents can support -- and add some fun -- to the process with these new books for beginning readers:
• There are several good new entries in Holiday House's "I Like to Read" series.
The books in the "I Like to Read" series are an unusual size: larger than traditional beginning-reader books but somewhat smaller than the typical hardcover picture book. That makes these books -- each priced at $14.95 -- just right for kids ages 4-6 who are starting the process of learning to read.
One new standout book in the series is "Me Too!," written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. With a text full of good humor, paired with energetic watercolor illustrations, Mr. Gorbachev details how Chipmunk likes to copy everything Bear does. Young readers will enjoy repeating Chipmunk's refrain of "Me too!" until the final page, where there's a perfectly timed twist on the theme.
"Come Back, Ben" is set in a world in which inanimate objects, such as windows, hills and kites, have faces and even personalities. The story, written and illustrated by Ann and John Hassett, revolves around a boy named Ben, who finds himself lifted out of his window and into the sky by the red balloon he's holding by a string. The cut-paper artwork is unusual and charming, and the story ends with a surprise that will leave readers chuckling.
Author/illustrator Emily Arnold McCully tackles the familiar problem of the picky eater in "Pete Won't Eat." In this case, Pete refuses to eat the "green slop" cooked by his mother, who in turn forbids him to leave the table without at least tasting it. It's a lengthy standoff until Pete finally tries it and finds that he likes green slop.
Ms. McCully, who won the 1993 Caldecott Medal for her picture book "Mirette on the High Wire," complements her story with her usual loose-lined, colorful watercolor illustrations.
Other new books in the "I Like to Read" series include: "Happy Cat," written and illustrated by Steve Henry; "What Am I? Where Am I?," written and illustrated by Ted Lewin; and "Fireman Fred," written and illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed.
• The comic-book-style TOON books offer kids a different way of learning to read. In traditional beginning readers, the text is paramount, and the illustrations provide interest and perhaps a few clues to the story. TOON books turn that idea on its head and tell the main story through the illustrations, with the text giving more details and information.
As a result, TOON books eliminate the frustration that some readers feel as they lose track of the story in their quest to sound out the words. Many kids also love the comic-book-style illustrations. But parents shouldn't be worried about the quality of TOON books as they have won a number of critical awards, including the Theodor Geisel Award, given annually by the American Library Association to the best beginning reader.
A bonus: At the end of each TOON book, parents will find suggestions for reading comics with kids.
Three new TOON books, each priced at $12.95, have just been published. In "Patrick Eats His Peas" (ages 4-7), author/illustrator Geoffrey Hayes brings readers further tales of the mischievous bear named Patrick, who was first introduced in "Patrick in a Teddy Bear's Picnic and Other Stories." Mr. Hayes won the 2010 Geisel Award for "Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!," the first graphic novel to be selected for the honor.
"The Big Wet Balloon" (ages 4-7) details how two sisters amuse themselves on a rainy day. The book was written and illustrated by Ricardo Liniers Siri, who goes by the moniker "Liniers."
Otto the cat is back and as comically headstrong as ever in "Otto's Backwards Day" (ages 5-8), written and illustrated by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch. Fans of "Otto's Orange Day" will delight in seeing the adventurous feline trying to make his way through a world turned topsy-turvy.
• Several new books in the "Ready to Read" series published by Simon & Schuster will get new readers off to a good start as they enjoy an entertaining story.
Two of these four "Ready To Read" books are adaptations of picture books written and illustrated by Eric Carle. There's "Rooster Is Off to See the World" and "Pancakes, Pancakes!" Young fans of Mr. Carle will revel in his colorful illustrations as they read each story.
Two other "Ready to Read" books are "Inch and Roly and the Very Small Hiding Place," written by Melissa Wiley and illustrated by Ag Jatkowska, and "Friday the Scaredy Cat: The Scariest Day Ever ... So Far," written by Kara McMahon and illustrated by Maddy McClellan.
All four books are priced at $3.99 for the paperback version ($16.99 hardcover) and are great for readers ages 4-7.
• HarperCollins has a couple of new books in its "I Can Read" series. The books cost $3.99 each in paperback ($16.99 each in hardcover) and are great for kids ages 4-6 who are just beginning to learn to read.
In "Axel the Truck: Beach Race," author J.D. Riley and illustrator Brandon Dorman shine a spotlight on Axel the Truck's fun day racing monster trucks and playing with fish.
Fans of Mia, the ballet-dancing cat, will enjoy reading about her latest adventure in "Mia and the Girl With a Twirl," written by Robin Farley and illustrated by Aleksey and Olga Ivanov.
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.