Kids' books a neck above the rest

Baseball, swimming - and reading.

A LUCKY THING By Alice Schertle Illustrated by Wendell Minor Harcourt Brace Unpaged, $17 Ages 8 and up

MY FIRST WORD BOOK By Angela Wilkes Photographs by Dave King and Tim Ridley Illustrated by Pat Thorne DK Publishing 64 pp., $16.95 Ages 1-4

THE BIRD, THE MONKEY, AND THE SNAKE IN THE JUNGLE By Kate Banks Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki Farrar, Straus & Giroux Unpaged, $16 Ages 3 and up

WILD HORSES I HAVE KNOWN By Hope Ryden Clarion Books 90 pp., $18 Ages 9 and up

Now remember, keep reading this summer." That phrase will echo in many classrooms later this month. Teachers know that leisure reading is a wonderful way to build and solidify newly acquired reading skills. More important, unprogrammed summertime reading is fun. It's the sort of thing that will keep kids involved with books well beyond childhood.

Here's a handful of books for adults to share with pre-readers, for very young readers to try on their own, and for independent readers to simply enjoy.


In A Lucky Thing, Alice Schertle uses words - the building blocks of poetry - with skill and inspiration to promote a quiet communing with nature. This picture book of verse traces her own creation of nature poems.

Wendell Minor's realistic paintings illustrate these pieces beautifully. And his natural settings will encourage budding poets to closely examine their own surroundings.

By viewing farmyard, field, and meadow scenes, readers sense how the poems emerged. Some came slowly and cautiously like a turtle along the riverbank. Others were more timid, like a nibbling rabbit. Some arrived fully formed, for instance the scene of a doe and her fawn. All are gentle, well-crafted pieces.

Concept books

Here's a great volume to drop into the book bag before heading out of town. Originally published in 1991, My First Word Book, by Angela Wilkes, has been newly updated and reissued.

This glorious, oversize book is perfect for little ones beginning to pick up the wonders of language. It's packed with bright, colorful photographs on a stark white background - DK's hallmark style.

Familiar items like shoes, cameras, and telephones are clearly labeled in easy-to-read type. More than 1,000 words are covered in sections ranging from "Things to eat and drink" to "At the seaside" and "Pets."

Looking at the book in tandem, parent and child can review a day's activity or make up a bedtime story. Interesting photos and thematic organization make the book equally valuable for independent viewing. It's appropriate for very young children just learning to name things, for early grade-schoolers starting to recognize the written word, and for older kids prepared to use the index.

Picture books

For the pre-reading set, one way to enjoy books is to look at the pictures. The Bird, the Monkey, and the Snake in the Jungle, by Kate Banks, is a picture book that gives children a satisfying way to "read" a story by using the images.

This sweet tale combines an exciting plot with a lesson in friendship. Its animal characters share a tree in the jungle. When it's washed away by heavy rains, they have to search for new dwellings. Each wants his own tree until all realize there is safety - and community - in numbers.

The rebus "dictionary" at the side of each page makes this a large-size book even older siblings will enjoy. Illustrations by Tomek Bogacki add great appeal. His animal characters are beguiling, his pages interesting. He creates delightful layouts, playfully mixing colors, shapes, and text.

What is it about trucks, especially garbage trucks, that attracts little kids? It's hard to explain, but easy to predict that Trashy Town will appeal to these tiny truck-lovers. Wife-and-husband team Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha have created a delightful story about garbage collector Gilly. The rhyming refrain is catchy: "Dump it in, smash it down, drive around the Trashy Town!" Repetition of this and other lines gives listeners the rewarding experience of anticipating the story line.

Illustrator Dan Yaccarino uses a pallet of city colors: taxi yellow, asphalt black, stop-sign red, and garbage-can gray. His simple, stylized art provides modern, very urban imagery to this fun, quirky book.

Most adults know Hans Christian Andersen's classic story The Ugly Duckling, and many children have spent some time feeling like just such a creature. This summer's break from school may provide a good opportunity to share that cherished story with a child.

Author-illustrator Jerry Pinkney has adapted and illustrated the timeless tale for another generation. This rich version sends the same reassuring message: The "duckling" was never really ugly, he was simply a beautiful swan who hadn't found his place.

Pinkney's illustrations give readers a close-up view of the little cygnet's experience. Often perspectives are so low to the ground that the viewer is almost in the nest with the newly hatched ducks - and practically jostled about in the barnyard. Watercolors fill most of every page and spill off on all four sides to create an intimate and involving format.

Books for young readers

As children embark on that exciting time of independent reading, it's important to provide books that are interesting, challenging, but not too difficult.

Harcourt Brace is one of several publishers offering a series for beginning readers. One gem on its new Green Light Readers list is Big Brown Bear, by David McPhail. Lumpy, huggable Bear, rambunctious Little Bear, and a charming text make this a sure-to-be favorite. In fewer than 100 words spread over 20 fully illustrated pages, McPhail tells the story of Bear's attempts to do some outside painting. The simple plot provides tension, anticipation, and resolution. It has plenty of humor and a few satisfying "I knew it!" moments.

Information books

Animal lovers of all kinds and horse-crazy readers, especially, will enjoy Wild Horses I Have Known, by Hope Ryden. Page after page, striking color photographs enrich the description of wild herds in the Pryor Mountains on the Wyoming-Montana border.

Ryden is considered one of the leading authorities on America's wild horses, and she has helped draft legislation to protect them. Her knowledge of and affection for these magnificent animals is clearly evident in the very personal narrative. She explains many of their behaviors in touching and exhilarating stories.

*Karen Carden regularly reviews children's books for the Monitor.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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