Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

Rejoice! Deckawoo Drive, home street of the beloved pig Mercy Watson, is now open to stories once again! My son loves Mercy Watson, and every time he rereads the series (he’s read them all 5 or 6 times, I think), he asks, “Has this author written any more about Mercy Watson? I want more!”

It is easy to see why. First off, Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson books are humorous (they star a pig, of course). In what other stories do beds nearly fall through the floor and pigs go trick or treating? Besides that, the reading level is perfect for beginning readers, those who have just barely graduated out of the easy readers. The books have short sentences, short chapters, and clear dialogue and description. Plus, the Mercy Watson books have been illustrated by the marvelous Chris Van Dusen, which only adds humor and interest to the stories.


Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Tales from Deckawoo Drive Number 1) by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014) is the first of a new series of stories relating to Mercy Watson. Although our favorite “porcine wonder” only makes a cameo at the end, the star of the show is Mercy’s friend Leroy Ninker, who works at the drive-in theater. (He previously appeared in Mercy Watson #6.)Continue Reading

Classics for Young Kids

Just a few weeks before my second child, a daughter, was born, I stopped at a bookstore with my son and we bought her a book. It was Pride and Prejudice: A Babylit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. In just 10 pages, we visited the story of Pride and Prejudice by learning about some of the important countable nouns in it: FIVE sister, TEN thousand pounds. The pictures are modern, and for this particular “primer” the nouns highlighted are lots of fun. Will a baby “get” the plot of the classic novel? No, but it sure is fun for a mama who loves the book!

New to the classics for babies scene is the Cozy Classics series by Jack and Holman Wang (Simply Read Books, 2012). In a similar way, these books share the plot with the youngest people, but these books do with just one word on each page. It’s amazing how they manage to share so much of the story in one word per page! The accompanying pictures are photographs of needle-point felt dolls and scenes. I am not able to sew in anyway so this is very impressive to me too. I read the Pride and Prejudice and the Moby Dick Cosy Classics as digital review copies from the publisher. Does a child need to know “peg leg”? No, but the format is a fun one for the parent who loves the classics!

And then there is a more complete picture book version. I discovered Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale by Eric A. Kimmel and Andrew Glass (Feiwel and Friends, 2012) as a part of the Cybils 2012 fiction picture book judging process. It is a poetic sea shanty retelling of the story of Moby Dick. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I love reading the classics, so I was delighted to see a picture book about a favorite book of mine, although I must admit I was surprised to see Moby Dick, of all classic books, retold in picture book format. The book is so much fun for someone who enjoys Moby Dick. It begins with “Call me Ishmael” and it really does capture the feeling of the book in some respects: the desire to go whaling, the night in the inn with a man with a tattooed head, meeting Captain Ahab, the anticipation of the chase. The illustrations are gorgeous paintings, and one can see the brush strokes in the marvelously rich pages. I really enjoyed seeing the story come to life in the pictures. And yet, there is something odd as a whole about this as a picture book. One of the things I love about Moby Dick is the rich language; so much of my enjoyment of the book depends on the eloquent ponderings of the narrator.

As a whole, the story of Moby Dick is rather gruesome: sailors hunting down a large animal and killing it in a brutal and disgusting way. In the picture book, the language is reduced to a sea shanty rhyme, and the illustrations do the talking. It’s a nice introduction to Moby Dick’s plot but do young children really need the plot? I also took exception to the “moral” added to the end of the picture book. Herman Melville’s creation is certainly not something that ends with a trite moral: it’s far more complicated than the plot suggests, and his purposes in writing it (the “moral” if you will) is something to explore in doctoral length dissertations, not picture books. I don’t believe it was necessary to sum up the book in such a trite way: I believe it detracts from the whole.

In the end, then, I’m rather conflicted about this picture book: I love it since I love the original, but I wonder as to the necessity of it for children. Do we really want to talk about chasing and killing whales with our young ones? Why not wait until children can experience Melville himself?

Note: I received digital review copies of the Cozy Classics books for review consideration.

(Raisin Reads) Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

Raisin Reads is a column with thoughts on children’s literature straight from the mind of a kid!

About the author: Raisin is five years old. He likes to read, and he wants to be a construction worker when he grows up.

I like Mercy Watson to the Rescue because when the fire department comes, Mr. and Mrs. Watson think Mercy called the fire department! But she did not! Eugenia Lincoln called the fire department instead!

Mercy is a pig. In Eugenia’s opinion, pigs belong on a farm. Mercy does not live on a farm. She lives in a house. Eugenia does not like Mercy because of that. At the end, Eugenia still does not like Mercy. But Mr. and Mrs. Watson like Mercy. They think she is a porcine wonder because they think she called the fire department.

My favorite part is the very end of the book. I think other people would like the book too.

Mom’s thoughts: Raisin read this book by himself, then he listened to it and read it at the same time. I am a big fan of audiobooks, and for a beginning reader, listening and reading together helped him recognize words, learn correct pronunciation (he had not encountered phrases like “porcine wonder” before), and better grasp the big picture of the story. The Mercy Watson series is a perfect follow up to shorter early readers like Mr. Putter and Tabby and Henry and Mudge. Mercy Watson’s story is longer (it has twelve chapters) but the sentences are well geared toward a young child beginning to read. There are a few sentences on each page, and the type is large. As in the early chapter books I mentioned, most two-page spreads have a color illustration. In Mercy Watson, these are illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and there are also a few full two-page illustrations in the book. This makes it very accessible for the early reader too. There is something about color illustrations and large text that say “Come read me, I’m not that hard!” Besides all that, the story is fun!

What other chapter books for early readers are like this? We’re looking for large text and color illustrations, and yet less than 100 pages and plenty of easily accessible amusing story!

Raisin narrated the above review to me. Do you have any comments for him? I’ll pass along any messages.