If I was pressed and could only choose one category of books that bring me the most joy, it would be easy readers. When a new reader discovers the power of reading, it is like watching a child open their gifts on Christmas morning … or an adult meeting their idol, be it a favorite author, movie star, or sports figure.
Last year, as a Cybil’s panelist for the Easy Reader category, I met Gerald and Piggie, the elephant and pig who are the main characters in this Mo Willems series. We read two of them: I Will Surprise My Friend and I Love My New Toy (which ultimately won the Cybils for the category).
Needless to say, I was excited to see three new Elephant and Piggie nominations for the 2009 Cybils. Spending some time with Gerald and Piggie has given me a chance to catch up with these two friends, enjoy a laugh (or two or three), and – most fun of all – witness my daughter squealing “Elephant and Piggie” and run off with ALL THREE titles so she could start reading them.
Now, truth be told, this is easy-peasy reading for Catherine. Still, Gerald and Piggie are friends and it is always fun to reminisce with the people we hold most dear! Here’s what Elephant and Piggie have been up to this past year.
Are You Ready to Play Outside
When a sunny day becomes a rainy one, Piggie turns into a grumpy little swine. What could possibly be fun about playing outside in the rain? When Piggie realizes that rain can be fun, the skies dry up. The sun may not make him happy, but Gerald can.
Elephants Cannot Dance
When Piggie doesn’t believe that elephants can’t dance, Gerald shows him the manual (it’s on page 11). Phooey! Piggie encourages Gerald to try and even teaches him some moves. What Gerald sees as a failed attempts, the squirrels think are the best dance moves ever, and we have a new dancing king!
Pigs Make Me Sneeze!
ACH-OO! Could it be the end of a beautiful friendship? Every time Piggie gets near Gerald, he sneezes. When Gerald goes to see Dr. Cat, he starts sneezing again. Oh, no! Just as Gerald concludes he’s allergic to everything, he learns that he has a cold … and shared it with his best friend.
In my post at Booklights last week, I talked about how easy readers came to be, what they look like, and places you can go to find them. Although The Cat in the Hat was not the first easy reader, it was the first of its kind: a book that combined an engaging story with the structured learning new readers need.
In his Elephant and Piggie series, Mo Willems has taken the easy reader one step further. Let’s look at two sentences
But, if pigs do make me sneeze …
PIGS MAKE ME SNEEZE!!
There are 11 words in these two statements, and four of them are repeated, yet there is plenty of variety in the presentation. The repetition reinforces word recognition and in doing so, offers the new reader confidence. Yet by using capitalization and italics, Willems changes the dynamic of how the story is read. Even the newest reader knows how to add emotion to the statements. So it sounds different even though it doesn’t look much different.
With Gerald and Piggie, I believe that Willems will be for this generation what Dr. Seuss was to many of ours: the first books you remember reading and liking. Elephant and Piggie are not the only great easy readers, but they are excellent models of how you can help new readers build their skills, gain confidence, and enjoy reading and wrap it in a fun story. Over the next few weeks, as I make my way through the other Cybils nominees, I’ll talk about some other easy readers.
1. The opinions expressed are mine and only mine. They should not be construed as representing the Cybils.
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