Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rookie Toddler Series

Sadly, Frances and Gloria are too old for board books now.  We still have a few of our favorites on our shelves - I mention Dinosaur's Binkit in my post, but we also love Baby Cakes and the Sandra Boynton series about Pookie.  They are read pretty infrequently, but I still catch Gloria reading them every once in a while.  I miss having board books in our house.  That was a pretty special time for us.  So it made me happy this spring to see the Rookie Toddler series featured on a School Library Journal webcast.  Side note:  I love those webcasts, and this isn't the first time I've learned about new books from a webcast that I've reviewed here.  In this case, I am excited to say that my request for some books to review has led to a relationship with Scholastic Library Publishing, and I'll be featuring many more of their titles in the future.

But back to the Rookie Toddler series.  I requested this series because I was interested in seeing how nonfiction could be created successfully for the youngest readers.  How could they be simple enough for toddlers to understand, hold up to repeated readings, and also impart information to young children?  The good news is that they do all of those successfully. I was also pleasantly surprised to realize that while they are board books, they can expand to be used with children up through preschool.  As you'll see in the next few paragraphs, some of the concepts that are covered are a little more sophisticated (like It's Time For...), but that doesn't mean that the subjects won't be meaningful to younger children.

The books are very durable.  They are, of course, board books.  They have die-cut scalloped edges along the right-hand side.  This makes it easy for chubby hands to grasp and hold on.  The glossy clovers are smooth, so pieces won't bend off, like has happened with many of our other well-loved books.  All of the books are illustrated with photographs.  The photos are primarily on white backgrounds, which help the photographs stand out even more.  The choice of a plain, stark background makes it easier for young eyes (even babies) to focus on the photos.  This series is very well designed!

The first individual title that I'd like to talk about is Shapes That Go.  On each double-paged spread, the left hand page shows a shape.  The shapes are vibrantly colored, which pop against the stark white background.  The shape is identified under the picture.  On the right, the shape is highlighted on a vehicle.  For example, the triangle is highlighted on a picture of a bicycle, along with the text "See the triangle."  The color is consistent to help toddlers track what is going on in the spread.  The triangle on the left (and the word underneath) are yellow, and so is the sentence on the right (and the highlighting around the triangle on the bike).  My only minor disappointment with this title is that it doesn't identify the vehicles.  But in a fourteen page book, it is teaching children the concepts of colors, shapes and vehicles in a simple, easy to follow format.  It's very impressive!

The next title is Counting 1 to 20.  This one divides the double-paged spread into four columns, using a line of little pawprints.  They are all a cheery blue color, and again, it helps train the reader's eye to move down the column.  Each column shows a certain number of the same animal; for instance, "6 six pandas".  Toddlers see the number and see it spelled out.  Again, color is used repetitively (and effectively) to match the text and send the subtle message that the number and words are related.  There is plenty of white space surrounding the animals being counted, which means that children can put their finger on each animal as they count.  While I love this one for its cuteness factor (and Gloria is still enjoying counting with it), it might be a bit too picky to mention that some of the animals are clearly baby animals, and perhaps should have been described with that name (foals, kids, kittens, etc.).  However, not all of the animals were noticeably babies, so maybe that was a conscious decision.

One of the most ambitious titles is It is Time for... .  This is the book that I mentioned earlier would work with preschool-aged children too.  There is a label to identify the general time of the day - morning, noon, evening.  There is a sentence describing the activity the child is performing in the photograph.  There are also both a digital and an analog clock to help children connect to the specific time of day.  This book is unusual in that the photographs fill the whole page.  But the photographs are sharp, and it is easy to identify the activity.  The photographs focus on the child, but also show many different families and parents.  It adds a feeling of warmth and caring to the book.

The Seasons mixes some of the hallmarks of this series in a new dynamic way.  From the cover on, each season is associated with a color.  So winter, for example, is matched with the color blue.  On the spread that talks about winter, the word 'winter' is in bold blue print.  There are three short sentences that describe the weather conditions for that season.  There are also four pictures framed in that same blue color to tie everything together.  Children are performing a variety of tasks and activities that can be done in that season too.  In spring, children are walking in the rain, gardening, playing baseball, and flying a kite.  I like how in all of these photos children are outside and active, even in the snowy winter.  And the photos include a diverse group of children and adults, making it feel fairly inclusive.

Can You Say Please? is another book that could be used at any time up to kindergarten.  The concept here is manners (obviously).  Each double-paged spread includes one full-page photograph.  On the other page is a sentence describing what the child would say in that situation.  "When I want a turn to speak, I say 'excuse me'".  The important words are in a different color, so they are emphasized.  The other thing I appreciate about this title (although this applies to the other titles too) is that the photos are very carefully chosen.  Even a very young child can grasp why that child needs to use that word at that time.  Again, there is a multiculturally diverse group of children included in these pictures.

Finally, Red Pepper Yellow Squash is probably my favorite in the series.  It combines the concept of colors along with a variety of vegetables.  In this book, the background of each page matches the color of the vegetables and the word in the text.  The brown page features potatoes, with the sentence "The potatoes are brown."  The background, actual potatoes, and text are all a subtly different brown, but close enough that they "read" as the same color.  I think that is very effective.  Plus, the vegetables look shiny and yummy without looking too perfect.  I love that the book includes eggplant and cauliflower along with those kid favorites, peas and carrots.  Again, Gloria loved identifying the various vegetables that we eat on a regular basis.

One other thing that I love about these books is that the last spread in each book is that the last spread reviews the concept again, along with a storytime tip.  In It is Time For...that last page shows a lineup of thumbnail shots of the day's activities, along with a digital and analog clock for each time.  The storytime tip recommends that the reader could go back through and talk about what that particular child's family does at each time.  This helps give some suggestions for book use and how to extend its use beyond its own pages.  I love this series and am grateful to Scholastic for allowing me to review it!  Look for more Scholastic books to come.

Can You Say Please?  Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.
Counting 1 to 20. Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.
It is Time for... Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.
Red Pepper Yellow Squash: A Book of Colors.  Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.
The Seasons. Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.
Shapes That Go. Children's Press: Scholastic, 2014.

All books sent by the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

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