So school started this week… and soon enough, you’ll be seeing those familiar Scholastic flyers. And now you’ll know what to pick. You’re welcome!
Elf (Pre-K – K)
My First Library – sometimes the packs are a fine balance of the good stuff and the weak spots, but this set is full of very good stuff at a very good price. There are some real favourites in here, and even the weakest few are at least middling. Definitely a worthwhile buy.
Go Away, Big Green Monster! – This is pretty much heading for classic status, a is a favourite for sharing. I like to use it for Hallowe’en, and it’s a perfect device to teach kids for banishing nighttime fears.
About a Bear – This is a very cute book about feelings, with gentle text and adorable illustrations that I really, really like. it’s a nice one for sharing with little guys.
Eric Carle Listen and Learn Pack – Eric Carle is always a good bet – a favourite of many, a good storyteller, and skilled at weaving concept teaching into a story, not to mention an easily-recognized illustrator. This set of four includes one of his biggest titles, as well as three less-common ones. The CDs are a nice addition if you’d like your child to be able to enjoy listening to the stories on his/her own, but do mean this set costs a bit more. Carle does come up a few times in the year, so if you don’t want them, you could wait.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – One of the best alphabet books around, I think, in terms of simple familiarity with the letters, though not for matching sounds. I like that the letters are lower-case, as well, which is unusual, but the real appeal lies in the fantastic rhythm and rhyme. Kids love this and it’s a solid pick if you don’t have it yet.
Steam Train, Dream Train and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – These two goodnight books are strong picks for the vehicle lover, and the gorgeous illustrations convey a softer side of Lichtenheld’s cartoony style. Myself, I much prefer the construction site title, but train fans will be quite happy with Steam Train.
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly – This standard little kid song is presented in bright, bold colours with die cut pages. I like books of songs for sharing – they help with the words for singing along, and remind us that singing is actually excellent for literacy.
Franklin Classics Library – This is the original series of Frnaklin stories by the author, rather than those based on the TV shows – and these, I like. if you’ve got a Franklin fan, grab these ones and ignore the rest.
Pigeon Pack – The first 4 pigeon stories all together. These are hilarious, and highly interactive – they make a great read-aloud for those willing to get a little silly, and are also a massive hit with kids. Can’t go wrong with the series that made Mo Willems a household name!
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? – Another super example of rhythm and rhyme from Bill Martin, Jr., and another book that should be on the shelf of every young child. This one teaches colour as well as providing perfect patterning for reading along.
Little Critter: I Am Helping – Little Critter is one that takes the right sense of humour, for sure, but I quite enjoy him and his exasperating but well-meaning foul-ups. he’s been around forever, so you may even remember him from when you were a kid, and that nostalgia may be a little part of why I love him so, as well as the laughs. I’d skip the phonics set, though – these licensed sets created with the intent to teach are never good reads, and not great at phonics, either.
SeeSaw (K – 1)
Hi! Fly Guy – This series is funny, focused on friendship, and a great hit with kids in the grade 1-2 range. If they like this one, there are a few to follow, too, which is always fun.
The Kissing Hand – This is a standard start-of-school story about easing separation anxiety for wee ones. If this is an issue in your house or you are a fan of lovey stories, this is a nice one.
The Magic School Bus Readers Set – I love the Magic School Bus series – you learn about some interesting stuff in a very fun and readable story in each book, with a class full of kids that you come to know for their personalities, as well. It’s a formula, to be sure, but it’s a winning one.
Monster Mash – This classic Hallowe’en song is illustrated by the hilarious David Catrow, and what could be better for the holiday? Though I do think that it should maybe have come with a CD, since that song really has to be heard, in my opinion. This, I want to add to my shelf.
Klutz Face Painting Kit – I am a big fan of Klutz kits. They have clear, easy-to-follow instructions, contain everything you’re going to need, and I’ve always gotten good results from these obviously well-tested projects. They aren’t all about reading, but it’s worth noting that following instructions is its own particular reading skill. I like buying these from the flyers, too, because they make great gifts, and come a little cheaper this way.
National Geographic Kids First Book of The Ocean – Non-fiction on a topic of interest is a great way to get kids’ noses into books – and ocean creatures are fascinating! Nat Geo, of course, does a solid job on the info and features gorgeous photos, so even the discerning fish fan should be happy with this pick.
Elephant & Piggie: A Big Guy Took My Ball! – I (and kids everywhere) LOVE this beginning reader series from Mo Willems. Hilarious, told in comic style with speech bubbles and fantastic facial expressions, and starring a pair of fast friends, these are wonderful. My kids are old enough to be into bigger stuff, but they still love them, and so do I.
Count the Monkeys – This is a new favourite of mine for reading aloud. Starting out looking for monkeys to count, this book is quickly taken over by anything but monkeys, and becomes interactive as it (and the reader) try to figure out how to get rid of the interlopers and get back to counting monkeys. It DOES turn into a counting book, just not the one advertised…. and it’s a really silly, enjoyable ride.
Lucky (grades 2-3)
Charlotte’s Web – I doubt I need to say this, but this is a classic every kid should read. it’s simply magical, even if it is a tear-jerker at the end. If you don’t own this, buy it and start reading it aloud together.
Magic Tree House – #50 (!) – This long-running series is still going strong, and I’m still enjoying the adventures of Jack & Annie as they explore times, places, and major historical figures. It’s a nice bridge between fiction and non-fiction, and though definitely on formula, still an enjoyable, decently-written read.
The Usborne Big Book of Experiments – I love science for kids. They learn about the world, get to try out something hands-on, and get good practice at following instructions. These Usborne books have simple-to-follow instructions and fun projects that are well-suited to kids abilities and interests.
Ramona Pack – Ramona is the original sassy girl for this age group, and still one of the best. She’s funny, and lacking impulse control, but not an obnoxious kid, like some. She was always my favourite as a kid, and I still love her now. This pack is not the complete set, but a good solid bunch of them to get going with. You should read these!
Ivy + Bean – Think spunky girls that come in a pair that complements each other nicely. These two are besties, which I love, and the writing is fun, while the illustrations are fantastic. This is one of the better new series about girls of this age around, along with Clementine. This is just the series starter, but a good way to try it and see.
National Geographic Kids Space Encyclopedia – Non-fiction on a topic of interest is a great way to get kids’ noses into books – and space is a pretty amazing topic. Nat Geo, of course, does a solid job on the info and features gorgeous photos, so even wannabe astronauts are likely to really enjoy this.
Diary of a Fly – This picture book is more sophisticated than what the format brings to mind at first, written like a diary and filled with very funny takes on what an insect’s life might be like. This one is for a kid with a sense of humour and has appeal for reluctant readers intimidated by chapters.
Encyclopedia Bro0wn Spy Pack – I love Encyclopedia Brown books. Thye are collections of short little mysteries that are solved by factual discrepancies that are picked up by a kid nicknamed Encyclopedia. Each mystery gives kids the opportunity to solve it themselves before reading the answer – fun stuff! These do show up a few times a year, though, so if you’d prefer more books and no gadget, you could hold on for a different pack.
Klutz Make Clay Charms – I am a big fan of Klutz kits. They have clear, easy-to-follow instructions, contain everything you’re going to need, and I’ve always gotten good results from these obviously well-tested projects. They aren’t all about reading, but it’s worth noting that following instructions is its own particular reading skill. I like buying these from the flyers, too, because they make great gifts, and come a little cheaper this way.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid – #8 – This series has been a massive hit with kids, and while it may be a bit older than this age, they will have heard of them, and may want to try them out. They are funny, to be sure, and the half-graphic format is a hit with reluctant readers and may help readers of this age bridge to older fiction books.
A note on series – series are, more often than not, not great writing and follow a formula pretty closely, but they do have their place in the evolution of a reader. They are the book equivalent of comfort food, letting kids get comfortable and confident with chapters in a book with familiar characters and patterns. As they grow older, they are also brain candy, letting them escape into something fluffy between more serious school reading. Let me put it this way – I read tons of Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High, and hey, I’m a librarian. If they crave these, they may fill a needed role for now. It’s okay, they’ll find something better later!
Arrow (grades 4-6)
Frindle – This is a fantastic book. I love Andrew Clements’ school stories for their combination of interesting, thought-provoking situations, smart kids, and impressively three-dimensional adults. Frindle is certainly his best known, and definitely one of his best. It’s one I recommend to any kid, though it is certainly at the lower end of this age range, maybe more grade 3-4 than 5-6.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid – (#8, also pack w #1-7) This series has been a massive hit with kis and spawned a few imitators, as well. It is very funny, and the half-graphic format makes it a favourite with reluctant readers. The newest is on offer here, as well as the first 7 in the series. This is a pretty nearly monthly offering, so you can count on being able to pick them up at any point through the year.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – Not quite as good as the Guinness Book which is on frequent offer through the year, but in a similar vein, this is a browser’s paradise, chock full of wild and fascinating facts and people to pore over and share with friends and family. It’s a fun recreational read, and a perfect hook for the reluctant reader, not to mention a gift that is sure to get some mileage.
I Survived – kids who thrive on action and adventure in their reading gravitate toward these tales of surviving disaster. This is the perfect example of tapping into something they love and running with it!
Percy Jackson & The Olympians – This series has been HUGE, and with very good reason – it’s excellent. The writing is solid and fast-paced, to almost cinematic effect, the characters are enjoyable, and the action is based on Greek mythology, which I love. They are a pretty classic quest story, and a perfect follow to other fantasy series if you haven’t read them yet. (And you really should.)
Son of Neptune – This is the second book in the series that follows Percy Jackson, above. This series doesn’t involve Percy himself, but takes place in the same world, where children of the gods learn to be great heroes and champions, and take on many a mythological monster.
Icefire Pack- This weighty fantasy series about dragons has been a hit among the kids who love fantasy. This pack is a worthwhile buy if that’s your kid, especially given that these books should keep your kid busy reading for a while! This is the entire series of seven serious volumes.
McDonald Hall Pack – Gordon Korman’s original series has stood the test of time well, and is still hilarious. These are boy favourites, but good, fun reading for everyone. The school setting is also a popular choice with kids who are realizing how much of their life they spend there.
I Am Canada / Dear Canada – These series are written by some seriously top-shelf authors, and tell the stories of some big moments in Canadian history in the format of diaries of young people who lived through the events. For kids who are interested in history or drawn to historical fiction, these are very well done and really let them imagine what it might be like to live during interesting times. The Dear Canada series are written as diaries of girls, and the I Am Canada series written as if by boys – they are, of course, marketed accordingly.
Holes – This Newbery winner is an example of an award-winner that kids love as much as adults. Amazingly, I’ve had several kids ask for it on the recommendation of other kids, and the truth is that it starts out weird and ends up wonderful – a quite incredible book that I’ve seen enjoyed by both boys and girls. This would, I think, make for a great one to read together, too.
Best of Arrow Value Pack -It’s pretty hard to argue with 3 medalists and an honour book – and this is a solid pack, to be sure. I can’t say I find Island of Blue Dolphins as interesting as the others, though it is definitely a solid classic, and some love it. Still, I adore Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, enjoyed Esperanza Rising, and Terabithia, well, it’s one of those books. Sad as all-get-out, but should be read by everyone. This is a very good pack.
The Hypnotists – I’ll be honest and tell you – I have not read this. So why recommend it? Quite simply, Korman is a reliable author, and a safe bet to be a fun read and fairly popular. There are a handful of authors who I am willing to bet on this way, and he’s one of them.