What makes a good book for new readers?

I am currently serving on the Cybils Easy Reader/Early Chapter book panel, so I am knee deep in books for emerging readers. Now that I’ve read a few (or twenty) of these types of books in a pretty short time, I’ve found myself looking for hits and misses when it comes to this category. Here are some thoughts:

Pictures tell the story. When you are trying to tell a story with very basic language, let the illustrations do most of the work. This works for David Milgrim. His Adventures of Otto series has lots of action and humor, but the text is easily accessible for new readers. Milgrim’s newest series, Adventures of Zip, is more of the same, and I mean that in a good way.

Silliness is king. When in doubt, go for something funny. Elephant and Piggie are hilarious. Kids love them. They seek them out on their own, without their parents pushing them to “practice reading.” Now that’s a successful easy reader. Now introduce kids to Harold and Hog to capture some of that same energy.

Speech bubbles work. Stories with a lot of dialog (or only dialog) have an immediacy to them that can really draw readers in. Not to mention, the graphic-novel-like format probably helps it feel more like a big kid book. Personally, I liked to turn these kinds of books into reader’s theater style read-alouds with my daughter when she was young. She loved to read the dialog with great drama. I suppose it’s no surprise that she eventually became a theater kid. ;)

Unlikely friends never go out of style. I suppose this is right up there with silliness, since that’s the way these stories seem to go. But who doesn’t love putting opposites together and seeing what happens from there? Case in Point: Bruce and Nibbs in Bruce’s Big Fun Day.

Relatable characters are always nice. I’m thinking of Yasmin and Katie Woo here. They are cute stories that feel like they could really happen to kids. Animal characters abound on the easy reader shelves, but sometimes it’s nice to read something familiar.

If you need me, I’ll be reading and discussing books for new readers with my fellow Cybils panelists. Watch for our shortlists at Cybils.com on New Years Day!