Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear, published in 1957, was the first book in the “I Can Read” series, which includes such wonderful books as the Frog and Toad series, Grasshopper on the Road and Mouse Soup, all by Arnold Lobel, and A Bargain for Frances, by Russell Hoban. Often called “easy readers” or “early readers,” the books serve different purposes depending on whether you are reading aloud to your child or whether your child is actively learning to read (I say “actively” because I believe that being read to is one of the many ways children learn to read). For children who are being read to, they serve as a bridge between Picture Books, which typically have fewer words and more pictures, and Chapter Books, which, logically enough, are the opposite. For children actively learning to read, they can serve as first books, because they typically have short easy-to-read words in them. The words are carefully chosen for early readers and they are often easier to read than picture books which may have more complicated words.
I had many early readers in hardcover as a child and due to the efforts of my parents, they remain in great condition. We started reading them aloud to Atticus a little over a year ago, and he immediately fell in love with Little Bear. The great thing about early readers for read-aloud is that they have a picture on each page, so there is something for children who can’t read yet to focus on while you are reading. The illustrations for Little Bear are by Maurice Sendak, and as you can imagine, are a delight for both children and adults. Atticus went through a period of several months where he asked to hear one of the books in the series every day. His favorites at that time were the story told by Grandfather Bear in Little Bear’s Visit about a little goblin who was scared of his own shoes, “Birthday Soup” from Little Bear about how Little Bear cooks up Birthday Soup for his friends, and “Hiccups” from Father Bear Comes Home about how Father Bear helps Little Bear get rid of his hiccups. I look forward to the time when Atticus is able to read these to Rosemary while she looks at the pictures.
More recently, we’ve been reading the Frog and Toad series. On his fourth birthday, he received a copy of Frog and Toad Are Friends (thank you Nonna and Granddaddy!) on CD and was so excited that I ordered the CD collection of Little Bear, told by Sigourney Weaver. It came in this week and once he discovered it, insisted on playing it on his cd player. He sat in his room for the entire CD (she reads all five stories), looking out the window and listening, completely enthralled.
A quick update on the chapter book search. After Stuart Little, I’ve decided we will read The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo. I read this several years ago and it seems like such a wonderful modern fairy tale. Now I need to go and find Stuart Little for bedtime reading…