Book Review: Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig is the fifth easy reader that made it to the 2009 CYBILS Finals.

Elderly sisters Baby and Eugenia Lincoln live next door to the Watsons, owners of the title character, Mercy. The grumpy Eugenia Lincoln decides the sisters need to beautify their yard, planting pansies along the garden edge. Mercy smells something delightful coming from next door and finds the freshly planted treats. Later, when Eugenia decides to take stock of their hard work, she finds her flowers missing except for a few petals left on Mercy’s chin!

The chase is on as Eugenia takes off after Mercy. Baby alerts the Watsons of Mercy’s actions so Mrs. Watson decides to call Mercy in for some hot buttered toast. Eugenia is irate and calls Animal Control. Baby calls the Watsons again and warns them of the “Unmentionable Horror” that is on its way.

In the meantime, Mercy’s other neighbors, kids Stella and Frank, invite her to a tea party. Of course, Mercy can’t resist the offer of cake, cream and other scrumptious goodies, but is later disappointed when she finds that it’s all pretend. While this is happening, Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet makes her way to the Watson home. Her effort to capture Mercy ends when she accidentally falls from a tree onto the imaginary tea party.

Mercy’s clueless owners, the Watsons, hail Officer Poulet a hero for finding their dear Mercy, and treat the entire neighborhood to a hot buttered toast party.

Kate DiCamillo adds another title to her successful Mercy Watson series. Chris VanDusen’s charming and colorful artwork adds to the appeal of this fluent reader. This is a solid story for kids who are still reading easy readers, but are ready to take on multiple chapters and a more complicated plot.

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig by Kate DiCamillo/Illustrated by Chris VanDusen/ISBN-10: 0763632651/2008/Candlewick.


Book Review: Maybelle Goes to Tea

Okay, I have to admit that when I realized this story was about a cockroach my toes curled. A cockroach? Are you kiddin’ me? Ugh. Memories of my college housing flooded my mind. But as a CYBILS judge, I had to read what was put before me. So I read on. And to my delight, I loved this story. It was totally hilarious.

Maybelle, the pink-bowed cockroach, lives at 19 Grand Street where everything is JUST SO. The Peabodys are absolutely positive there are no bugs at their house. This is because Maybelle always behaves herself and follows The Rules: When its light, stay out of sight; if you’re spied, better hide; and never meet with human feet. Life is fine and proper for Maybelle until Maurice, a rather large fly, comes into the house. In her attempts to get him out of the house, the bugs are discovered and chaos ensues. Ultimately, Maybelle learns that even if you do behave, life is full of surprises.

Katie Speck uses an unusual subject as a main character to give a unique perspective of what life could be like for those critters that hide from human eyes. The story is full of action and humor that will have kids turning the pages. With its pen drawings and thirteen chapters, this is a fun early chapter book (IMHO, a bit advanced to be classified as a traditional easy reader).

So, pour yourselves a spot of Earl Grey, pull out the scones and settle down for a fun read with your child and join Maybelle as she goes to tea.

Maybelle Goes to Tea by Katie Speck/ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8093-3/2008/Henry Holt

Book Review: Houndsley and Catina

This charming easy reader was another finalist for the 2009 CYBILS Awards.

Houndsley (a dog) and Catina (a cat) are two best friends who see the best in each other. Catina dreams of being a famous author. Houndsley is a wonderful cook. But what happens when each friend is faced with telling the other that things aren’t as good as they think? How does one be honest without hurting feelings?

Catina writes a seventy-four chapter memoir, which Houndsley feels is horrible. Catina convinces Houndsley to enter a cooking contest where his nerves get the best of him and not only does he undercook the rice, but also forgets to put the beans in this Three-Bean Chili. In the end, Houndsley figures out that cooking for the mere pleasure of cooking is enough, and Catina admits that she doesn’t like to write. Houndsley suggests that she could be famous for being something else. Food and fame aside, the friends relish in the quiet joy that comes from true friendship.

James Howe writes a tale of two friends with a charming quality that is sure to please. Marie-Louise Gay’s gentle watercolor illustrations add to the cozy, snuggle-down feeling of the story that took me back to the days of Frog and Toad. This 48-paged story would be a delight for an early reader who is ready to take on smaller text and more words per page than an emergent reader.

Houndsley and Catina by James Howe/Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay/ ISBN-10: 0763624047/2006/Candlewick.

Book Review: I Will Surprise My Friend!

This story was another finalist in the 2009 CYBILS easy reader category.

I WILL SURPRISE MY FRIEND! is a delightful surprise. The humor is laugh-out-loud terrific as Mo Willems once again creates a fun scenario involving two young friends. It begins when Gerald and Piggie observe two squirrels playing “Surprise!” from behind a rock (jumping out at each for a fun scare). The lead characters want to have the same kind of fun, so they find a big rock to hide behind. The only problem is that they each are expecting the other to do the surprising. As they wait for the surprise, time passes and concerns grow. Where is Gerald? Where is Piggie? Their imaginations and hungry tummies take control until they each decide to leap from behind the rock and…well, you can just imagine their surprise!

This is another delightful story in the Elephant & Piggie series by author/illustrator Mo Willems. The simple illustrations assist in telling this high-action story and Willems again shows a knack for capturing perfect facial expressions. I should note however, that while the text appears to be extremely simple for an emergent reader, it does have quite a few difficult words for a beginning reader to work through (i.e., “idea, giant, scary, save”) so I would recommend that new readers have an adult nearby for guidance.

I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems/ISBN 978-142310962-4/2008/Hyperion Books for Children.

Book Review: I Love My New Toy!

This easy reader is easy to love and the winner of the 2009 CYBILS!

In a humorous storyline that all youngsters can relate to, Piggie gets a new toy and his best friend Gerald wants to plays with it. But as things can happen with young children, an accident occurs and the toy is thought to be broken. Piggie is upset and shows an array of emotions, ultimately ending with both friends in tears. It’s not until a squirrel appears and notices Piggie’s “cool” new toy that is meant to break apart and snap back together. Piggie and Gerald both realize their mistake. In a gesture of kindness, Piggie offers his toy to Gerald, but Gerald decides that friends are more fun than toys.

Author/illustrator Mo Willems has created another fun story in I LOVE MY NEW TOY! In traditional Willems’ style, the illustrations are simple, humorous and assist the child in following the story. The text includes many sight words, phonetic words and repetition to assist a beginning reader. My only caution for parents is that there are some difficult words for an emergent reader to determine (such as “idea” or “break”) but a nearby adult could certainly help with that.

Congratulations to Mo Willems for creating I LOVE MY NEW TOY! Winner of the 2009 CYBILS Easy Reader Category.

I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems/ISBN 978-142310961-7/2008/Hyperion Books for Children.