Sunday, July 29, 2007


KEEKER series by Hadley Higginson, illustrated by Maja Andersen (Chronicle)

They say a horseshoe is good luck, and it certainly is a lucky day for second grade booklovers who have ever dreamed of having their own pony (this encompasses quite a few little girls, by the way). The dream is vicariously realized in this truly charming series featuring Keeker, a little girl clip-clopping in and out of adventures in the Vermont countryside with the help of her trusty four-legged sidekick, Plum. Straightforward stories use some old plot chestnuts (is the neighbor lady a witch? Is mom having a baby?) but always underscore familiar feelings, independence and the making and keeping of friendships, all fodder for future Girl Power. Every page has illustration, drawn with such clear, round lines that the artwork looks like stylized versions of drawings girls actually do make, with long-eyelashed girls and curlicue hair. Each book is short enough for emergent readers to find confidence, a picture-book amount of text in a chapter book format, so slightly older kids who still need skills won't feel stigmatized. I don't bandy the word "delightful" around lightly, but the retro flavor with contemporary appeal wins the Delightful Derby, and I am so happy to be able to recommend a romp down a reading trail that little girls will really enjoy. A few faves: KEEKER AND THE PONY CAMP CATASTROPHE, KEEKER AND THE SUGAR SHACK, KEEKER AND THE SNEAKY PONY, and KEEKER AND THE HORSE SHOW SHOW-OFF. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
My all-time favorite horse scene in a book is from Beverly Cleary's sleeper ELLEN TEBBITS , in which Ellen talks big in front of a friend about her equestrian knowledge, only to be scared out of her saddle when that friend takes her riding. Ahhh, I'm always a sucker for realistic fiction, but more seasoned fans of animal fare will find what they are looking for in HORSE STORIES edited by June Crebbin, illustrated by Inga Moore (Candlewick). I was never one of those "horsey girls," but even so, I could not resist this handsome volume of fourteen stories divided under such enticing headings as "Difficult Horses," "Dream Horses," "From the Horse's Mouth," "Horses in Danger" and "Horses to the Rescue." It includes selections from such classics as Marguerite Henry's MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE and Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY, as well as tales that gallop through history and geography, like the moving Native American legend of the Mud Pony, the Horse of Milk White Jade of fourteenth century Mongolia, the legend of the steed chosen to carry Alexander the Great and the loyal gray palfrey that serves a knight of Medieval times. The equestrian backgrounds of both author and illustrator are evident in the loving care of the selections and the elegant full color plates capturing every flick of tail and toss of mane. Prepare for adventure and romance as you gallop through the pages of this gorgeous gift book. (8 and up)

Though KEEKER is a charmer, maybe you need a series with just a little more testosterone/gender balance? Find the ANDREW LOST SERIES by J.C. Greenberg and illustrated by Debbie Palen, adventures that take place in the harrowing microscopic world with the help of a shrinking machine. Excitement unfolds in a variety of settings (on pets, in the water, in the garden, in the kitchen and bathroom, caves, desert, and ...ugh!...garbage can ) and will open kids' eyes to the diminutive drama unfolding all around them. Imaginative and highly exclamatory, the author really did her homework, and as children learned a lot of history via Mary Pope Osborne's MAGIC TREE HOUSE, so will they learn a lot of science via ANDREW LOST. (7 and up)

On a personal note
When my son was very little and I groaned over Barney, my father, overhearing, gently corrected me by pointing out, "if a child likes something, there must be some good in it." Now I try to look for the good in what children like, and in doing so, I happily find more and more of what's good and likable in children. Affirming children's choices whenever possible really does seem to bring out their best.
I think both KEEKER and ANDREW LOST, like Barbara Park's good old JUNIE B. JONES, are books that adults may deem imperfect, but kids enjoy. (Though I am always wary about getting my news from the newspaper, see recent New York Times article, "Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?" for the peek-a-boo at the generational divide. By the way, I didn't fall in love with Junie until I heard the audio version read brilliantly by Lana Quintal, making clear to me the study of voice that is Junie...have you tried it?) What books have you found kids really like that don't float your boat, and vice versa? Please feel free to share in the comments section!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Kate said...

Keeker would have been my dream book back in the day!

Franki said...

I haven't sen Keeker and I am always looking for new series books for my classroom. Can't wait to check these out. Sound like they will be quite popular with my 3rd and 4th graders.
Thanks for sharing.

AMY T said...

I don't think they're the "IN" thing anymore, but 4 years ago I had a whole big group of fourth grade boys go gaga over the Dragon Ball Z graphic novel series. I'm pretty open to many boyish things, but couldn't get into the series myself. Their devotion to the books, though, translated into a remarkable lift in reading skills.

miss pea said...

I was one of those adults who was very freaked by David of No, David! fame. I thought he was well, psycho. I could not understand why children kept asking for and circulating those David books until I had my aha moment as a librarian. Why do they love David so? I sat down with David with as little fear as I could muster and got to know him. To this day I share him with as many children and adults as I can. Of the hundreds of readings of No, David! there isn't a one that does not end with a welling in my heart and a dewing of my eye.

ElsKushner said...

I have never been able to get into the Artemis Fowl, Charlie Bone, or Molly Moon series, but a quatrillion kids I know love them. On the other hand, I've never been able to get a kid to read Enchantress from the Stars no matter how hard I try to shelftalk it. And when I reread books I loved as a child, I'm sometimes stunned by how mediocre they are. I figure there's no way I'll be able to think the exact same way as kids, or like the same things, but I try to listen to what they do like and help them find more.

Corey said...

Walter the Farting Dog has to be on that list. As well as the Captain Underpants series. They looked like terrible books until I saw kids devour them.

Amy @ Literacy Launchpad said...

When I was younger, I remember all the boys reading the Calvin and Hobbes books. The teachers always gave them a hard time about it, and I think they eventually banned those books from SSR time.

As I got a little older the Sweet Valley (Twins and then High) books were big with the girls. But I had some friends whose parents didn't like them reading those series.

McDonnellDoodles said...

How about collections of Garfield comics? I don't get it! He's not funny!!

Anonymous said...

madame esme, i miss your book-love, your face, and long, happy days folding protective covers over the books in your bookroom... where are you these days, and how does one make an appointment to squeeze you in person? loving your book recs, as always, your trusty ex-volunteer

Unknown said...

Hi there,

Nice stuff you got, very interesting to read.
Well, I do have also in my sleeves, if you have time don't forget to visit

Many thanks

Anonymous said...

What a great idea!

The Teaching Enthusiast said...

I know my first grade daughter is going to love the Keeker series...thanks for sharing them!! My third graders just read The Tale of Despereaux, and absolutely love it!! We have been doing it as a class novel unit. I highly recommend this book!!


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