It’s a little disconcerting after a son who really only likes speculative fiction, but so far, my daughter seems to prefer realistic fiction. It’s a good opportunity to reacquaint myself with the world of Ramona-like quirky girl protagonists. We had previously listened to nearly all of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park. These were a big hit, but we had to reluctantly conclude that as funny as Junie B. is, our five-year-old wasn’t quite old enough to separate the funny-in-a-book naughty behavior from good to emulate behavior.
So, on to something else. We just finished going through all ten books of the Ivy and Bean series. These are short books – one disc long on audio or a little over a hundred pages with lots of pictures in print. My library’s early chapter book section has a strict cut-off of 100 pages, which puts these in youth fiction instead – but if these aren’t early chapter books, they’re the very next baby step up, and perfect for my five-year-old, who’s just getting used to listening to books that can’t be read in a single sitting. We listened to all but one of these on audio, and I read her the last one aloud because my library’s audio copy had gone missing. (It’s now back, of course.)
Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Read by Cassandra Morris Chronicle Books (print) and Recorded Books (audio), 2006.
Ivy + Bean and the Ghost That Had to Go, 2007.
Ivy + Bean Break the Fossil Record, 2007.
Ivy + Bean Take Care of the Babysitter, 2008.
Ivy + Bean: Bound to Be Bad, 2008.
Ivy + Bean: Doomed to Dance, 2009.
Ivy + Bean: What’s the Big Idea? 2010.
Ivy + Bean: No News Is Good News, 2011.
Ivy + Bean Make the Rules, 2012.
Ivy + Bean Take the Case, 2013.
Bean is an outdoorsy, active play kind of girl with a disregard for all things girly and bookish. That’s why she’s always ignored her mother’s suggestion that she should be friends with that prissy Ivy across the street, who always has her nose stuck in a book, just because they’re both seven. But when circumstances push them together, Ivy and Bean discover that they really do have a lot in common. They set off on a series of adventures that involve playing pranks on Bean’s mean older sister, Nancy, as well as playing with the other kids in their second-grade class and on their street, Pancake Court. (Pancake Court seems to be relatively diverse – my biggest quibble with the series is that all the diversity is kept to the sidelines.) Through subsequent books in this lighthearted series, their adventures range from trying to find a way to set a world record to convincing adults to care about global warming to opening up a PI office. Sometimes they are on the side of chaos, sometimes of order, but they are always entertaining.
Cassandra Morris does an excellent job of reading with a variety of convincing little-kid voices and very clear diction – always, for instance, clearly separating the two “k” sounds in “Pancake Court”. This might sound trivial, but kids usually aren’t easy to understand. Making the narration easy to understand while at the same time engaging and sounding like a wide range of kids is a feat for which I have the utmost respect. I really appreciated the illustrations in the one volume that I read aloud. Sophie Blackall’s cartoony illustrations have expressive faces that really convey the characters’ emotions and add to the fun feeling of the series, even when the characters are clearly upset.
This is a deservedly popular series, perfect for both reading aloud and reading to self for kids new to chapter books. It’s obviously marketed to girls, but the humor makes it equally appropriate for boys interested in everyday sorts of adventures. Even my ten-year-old son, usually interested in more epic fiction, laughed aloud to the books in the car and crept into my daughter’s room to listen when I read it to her at bedtime.
Other short chapter books my daughter has enjoyed include
- Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale
- Lulu and the Dog by the Sea by Hilary McKay (see my review of Lulu and the Duck in the Park)
- The Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne (link to my son’s four-year-old audiobook favorites)
- Yes, Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones.
We’re currently reading El Deafo by Cece Bell, which I’d guess to be aimed at a slightly older audience – but she is loving it anyway.