"Spilling the Beans in Chicanolandia"
Weekend Reading 5/12

Beginner Reader Recommendation: Big Brown Bear

Reading is hard. I forget that sometimes. Recently I've been reading with some first-graders in a nearby town. They are enthusiastic, excited about their choices of books, and diligent in sounding out words.  They finish one book and immediately select another from their basket of books (assembled to match reading levels).  They work steadily at mastering the task of reading. Word by word. I am impressed.

Last week's favorite book was Big Brown Bear, by David McPhail, and it's the kind I might have overlooked. It's a much simpler book than, say, Mr. Putter and Tabby or Fox at School, two of my favorites. But enough about me. A title that children enjoy is worth hollering about.  Big Brown Bear made the two girls I was reading with laugh, and they read more fluidly because of that. They wanted to see what goofy situation was coming next.

Big Brown Bear is a manageable length, not too overwhelming at 18 pages. We first see Bear near a bridge and  carrying a ladder. The first page has no words. Hmm. What's up? The text on the next two pages reads "Bear is big. Bear is brown." The type is invitingly large, announcing, hey, you can read this. McPhail's watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations reminded me of Sendak's work; this is a bear a kid might like to know. The pictures accurately reflect the words: "Bear gets paint. The paint is blue." In another  illustration Bear then starts to climb a ladder with the paint. "Bear goes up. The paint goes, too." Aha! The beginning of a possible problem. Then, on the next page—"Little Bear is playing. She has a bat."—McPhail shows in his illustration how close Little Bear + bat + ball are to Big Bear on the ladder, with the full can of blue paint. So, in just a few pages, McPhail has gone from "Bear is big" to the verge of chaos.  I won't reveal the rest of the plot, such as it is, but the words and pictures work in tandem to create a satisfying little book.

I've been following Gail Gauthier's comments on her blog Original Content about what children like to read. Gail writes,

To me, there will always be a wall between kids and true, authentic kid literature and that wall is the adults who write, publish, review, and sell it. We can only guess at what we're doing.

To those of us adults involved with children's books, whether we're a parent or a publisher, this gives us plenty to ponder. In the case of Big Brown Bear, I'm glad I slowed down a little bit and listened to the kids. 


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