Book Review: Birds and Pups and Bears, Oh My

As a literacy passionista, I am always on the lookout for books that will engage new readers. I happened upon the award-winning Funny Bone Readers Family Fun Pack during BookExpo America, 2010, and it was love at first sight.

It is very easy to fall in love with these books. That two-page spread to the left is not your average easy reader imagery. Yes, lots of easy readers use bright colors and simple sentences. But more often than not each page is its own panel … this book has the feel of a picture book.

Going back six years to when my daughter was learning to read, picture books were her “comfort food.”  Even as a new reader she wanted a story not just a collection of sentences. I’m sure my daughter was not alone in seeking out books that most closely resembled a picture book in shape, often with rhyme, and didn’t look like the books with Reading Level letters on them.

I wish I would have found these books sooner! They are the kind of books parents and librarians look for: they have a long shelf life.

  • The stories are meant to be read aloud, so they are perfect for sharing with young audiences (e.g., preschoolers) and then letting developing readers read independently.
  • They have “big questions” at the back that help adult readers who want help with ways to measure comprehension or start a discussion.
  • Each book has a theme that relates to character, choices, and personal growth …. life lessons we are always looking to promote.

Here are several books – all available to read on Big Universe – that I have also fallen in love with. The cover images and title link to the book on

Bobby’s Big Bear Hunt
by Gwendolyn Hooks
illustrated by Alessia Girasole

Its not much fun when your sister catches a fish and you don’t! So Bobby stomps off into the woods in search of a bear … he’s not afraid. Luckily the only bear is his sister growling! The story includes lessons in listening to one’s parents, wandering off, and sibling relationships.

  • Parents and teachers alike can use this as a discussion-starter about the importance of sticking together and following directions.
  • It is easy to parallel this scenario with others that kids will know: getting separated from a parent in a store, hearing “scary” noises, et al.
  • The story is realistic without “dumbing down” the lesson and beating kids over the head with it.

A Zany Zoo Day
by Barbara Bakowski
illustrated by Mike Brownlow

Anna and Max are bored. Even television isn’t much fun, so when mom suggests going to the zoo, the kids get very excited. As they visit each of the exhibits, Anna and Max try to copy the animal not just in sound, but in movement. To imitate a snake, for example, Max practiced the Cobra pose.

  • Wiggly, wobbly, active kids will enjoy listening to this book. Kids who are trying to read it independently will likely get up and copy Max and Anna.
  • Incorporating Yoga poses into the story is a wonderful way to engage the reader. Stretching = improving attention span.
  • The book is “shaped” like an easy reader, but can definitely be shared for story time with younger audiences. It would be a wonderful selection for teaching animals, colors, counting (how many flamingos?), etc.
  • Note: Although the title is alliterative, this is not a rhyming story.

Best in Show
by Barbara Bakowski
illustrated by Fian Arroyo

When you want to find a dog … the perfect dog for you, the best place to go is your local dog show. As she searches for a dog of the “very best kind,” a young girl introduces us to and describes all of the pooches she sees at the show. The “Big Question” at the end helps kids extrapolate the dog theme into how each of us is unique.

  • The rhyme scheme for this easy reader is excellent, deftly mixing multi-syllabic and single syllable words.
  • This easy reader expands a young reader’s vocabulary. You don’t often see Chihuahua or Dalmatian in books for emergent readers.
  • The bright illustrations are fun but don’t overtake the girl’s search for a dog.

I could go on for days talking about these books, but I’ll stop here.

Instead, I’ll invite you to read all of the Red Chair Press books at There are 32 titles in the collection that you can read online. Visit to learn more about their award-winning books and easy readers:  Problem Solved! Readers series, Funny Bone Readers, and interactive eBooks.

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I first learned of Red Chair Press via the Mom’s Choice Awards. The Reading Tub, my nonprofit, is the official literacy partner of the Mom’s Choice Awards. During shows like BookExpo America, I work in their booth promoting literacy, reading, their award-winning products and interviewing Honorees.

‘What Makes a Rainbow?’ – A Reading Circle Find

I just ran across the most delightful book for babies and toddlers. It’s been around for a while, so I don’t know what took me so long to cross paths with it.

“What Makes a Rainbow? A Magic Ribbon Book” is one of the books that my 3-year-old nephew brought with him when family gathered for a post-Christmas reunion. The book was lying on a couch, so I flipped it open out of curiosity. The smile was instantaneous. I know a good book when I see one. What a fun introduction to reading, I mused. It’s also a good way to teach colors.

Written by Betty Ann Schwartz and illustrated by Dona Turner, the book features colorful artwork and a real string rainbow that magically grows each time a page is turned. If that weren’t cute enough, the last page includes a pop-up rainbow – which will definitely catch the eye of a pre-reader.

I think this would make a perfect book to share in a daycare reading circle or when a grandparent wants some snuggle time with a grandchild. Because the shiny strings and pop-up might get mangled, I would suggest that you not toss this board book in the basket with the rest of the toys. I’d save it for special supervised reads.

I discovered another set of board books in a little children’s boutique in town. They were first produced in The Netherlands, but are now published by San Francisco’s Chronicle Books. I decided the “Little” Finger Puppet Books would make a sweet introduction to story time, so I got enough to give to the new moms that I mentor. (Sh-h-h! They are a surprise.)

In each book, a soft three-dimensional finger puppet pops through a hole on each page. The books are visually stimulating and offer tactile appeal.  I counted 17 different versions in this book series. “Little Puppy,” “Little Bunny” and “Little Giraffe” are particularly cute ones. The books are pint-sized and sturdy, making them a good candidate for hands-on “reading.”

While Big Universe can’t offer finger-puppets or magic string books, it does offer a huge variety of online picture books – some of them animated and with audio, too. The books are organized by age, topic, language, and reading and grade levels. If you want the book for your permanent collection at home or school, Big Universe makes that easy with links to the publishers’ websites.

 Big Universe offers a free 14-day trial of its online library, which includes thousands of premium publisher books, member-written stories, and an Author Tool to write and illustrate a book.

UPDATE:(March 16, 2011) My nephew’s honorable mention in this Big Universe blog garnered the attention of Lee Becknell of Piggy Toes Press, who invited him to be featured as the Fan of the Week this week. You’ll see him pictured on her blog, reading “What Makes a Rainbow” — one  of his favorite picture books. Keep reading, Michael!