I don't usually review beginning reader books, because I don't like many, and I'm frustrated by the lack of publisher consensus on what constitutes the levels.* I've seen harried parents grab a selection of "Level 2" books off the shelf and assume that their second grade child will be able to read them (not a totally unreasonable assumption). However, aside from the obvious fact that not all children in a particular grade read at the same level, not all "Level 2" books are the same level of difficulty. I intervene with assistance whenever possible, but pity the poor child whose parent doesn't receive assistance and returns home with insistence that the child slog through a book that doesn't match her ability. This is not the recipe for an enthusiastic reader!
Choosing books for Kindergarten children can be even more frustrating. "Pre-level 1," "Emergent reader," "Ready to read," "Level 1" -- the choices are endless and the books often much too difficult for the earliest of readers. I love David Milgrim's Pip and Otto books, but ours are coming out of circulation due to age-related wear and tear. BOB Books are wonderful, but too flimsy for library circulation.
Aggravated is an understatement for my feelings about the whole easy reader situation.
And then along comes What Does Otis See?
What Does Otis See? by Loren Long
Penguin Young Readers, 2015
Level 1, Guided Reading Level C (for those of you keeping score - I'm not)
What Does Otis See? features Otis the tractor exploring the farm. Here's what I like about it:
- There are only three or four simple words to each double-spread illustration, "Otis sees a calf."
- The illustrations are detailed, but simply presented with ample use of white space - not busy or distracting.
- The illustrations offer foreshadowing and invite examination. The page preceding "Otis sees a calf," depicts Otis examining a flowery meadow with the calf partially obscured by grass and flowers.
- Otis and the dog are adorable.
That Otis is an old tractor might make him unfamiliar to urban and suburban kids, but any child who has watched Disney/Pixar's Cars will certainly remember the tractor tipping scene.
Until publishers come to an agreement on a standard of leveling, I will continue to ignore the numbers on the book jacket. I'll look on the inside and find the right book for each reader. It takes more time, but it's what needs to be done. If you're looking for a very easy, "easy reader," What Does Otis See? is worth checking out.
*In 2010, I wrote a piece for Children & Libraries titled "The Conundrum of Choosing Book Levels." My frustration level hasn't changed much.