Books to engage a child in reading; Talk Along Books - Help Jumbo Escape, Name Patty's Pets, Name Lizzy's Colors, Count the Possums, by Dick Punnett. Illustrated by Tom Dunnington. Chicago: The Children's Press (1461 Ninth Avenue, 60607). 30 pp. $6.95 each.
In an age when many parents want to ensure early academic achievements for their toddlers through the use of flashcards, computers, gymborees, etc., it's gratifying to discover an author who genuinely knows how to engage and maintain a child's interest in a very natural way.
Dick Punnett's ''Talk Along'' books are thoughtfully constructed so that the interplay between reader and child becomes a dynamic learning process. Children from 2 to 6 will love being given a ''voice'' or role in each story, by supplying the missing word which saves a character, identifies an animal, names a color, or numbers a rescued baby possom. The child's attention is guaranteed because he or she isn't seen as a passive receiver but a decisive and vital part of the reading team.
The format is the same in all four books. The ''missing word'' always rhymes with the last line and is represented or displayed on the following page like a dictionary or encyclopedia entry. This format allows a child to become increasingly confident of his own ability to respond to all the clues while at the same time absorbing such information as colors, numbers, animal names, etc. One might think such a repetitious format would become boring, but herein lies the merit of Punnett's thoughtful construction.
Balancing the repetitive element are stories that are full of adventure yet different from one another, with illustrations children will love. Most children will know intuitively what the missing words are, because the clues Punnett provides are cleverly suggestive. In ''Name Lizzy's Colors,'' for example, where a chameleonlike lizard must change colors to escape danger, Lizzy is always perched on something that is the color she must change into.
Since I first read Punnett's books to our five-year-old, who refers to them as the ''teach books,'' we have read and looked at them daily. He gets a wonderful feeling from the action of the stories, the rhythm of the sentences, the excitement of guessing the missing words, and of being a part of the books. These four books are a welcome addition to any young person's library. Dick Punnett and the illustrator, Tom Dunnington, have given us real children's books and not, as so often happens, an adult's version of what a child's book should be.