Touchstone recently started publishing a column by Kathie Johnson entitled "First Books". Kathie has a deep love for children's literature, and she has a truly amazing library in her house, available to children in Berkeley. In this month's article, she reviewed some of the "just-beginning-to-read" books that she has found the most children to respond to, and discussed why different children might be drawn to different kinds of beginner books. One of the series' was Puddle Lane, by Sheila McCullagh.
Puddle Lane books are written specifically to be read together with an adult (or older sibling). They are small hardcover books with wonderful illustrations, easy to hold and very attractive. You just want to pick them up! In "Stage 2" (where we're currently reading) the left hand page holds the adult text, which reads like a good children's story. The right hand page has one or two sentences of the same part of the story, the same or very similar to part of what was just read. The beauty of this is twofold: you get a real story, and the beginning reader gets some help from his memory as he reads his page. This allows him to read more fluently, which is far more rewarding than sounding everything out all the time.
And the stories are just a lot of fun! They include such delights as talking mice, Griffles and Gruffles, a Magician, various townspeople, and children with names like Peter Puffle ("Hey, it rhymes with Gruffle!" says Jonathan.) I'm not worried about the magical elements, as we've been reading fiction since Jonathan was about 2 years old, and he has a firm grasp on real vs. story. Besides, eventually I want him to read C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. :)
Learning to read has been a struggle for Jonathan after the first week of "wow" wore off. He's very bright, and he can pick things up quickly, but he hated the slogging along. As he informed me, "it isn't really reading, not like Daddy does!" To some extent, we just had to muddle through that part...but Puddle Lane has come along at just the right time. Jonathan is watching for the mail to arrive to see if a new Puddle Lane book comes. He asks to read them with me. And after only a few days, he's realizing that he knows more than he thinks he does, and that it transfers. This afternoon he asked me where The Big Red Barn (another wonderful book!) was, and sat himself down to read it.
Thank you, Kathie, for your heart for children and their books. And thank you, Touchstone, for publishing her wisdom.