Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Mark Teague 48pp RL2
I always knew that Cynthia Rylant was a prolific writer, but I never realized how many books by her I had read until I began writing reviews. And, again, I get to review a book with pictures by another one of my favorite illustrators. Mark Teague, who may be best known for illustrating the "How Do Dinosaurs" books by Jane Yolen, is a wonderful picture book author/illustrator in his own right. However, my all-time favorites are the books he did with Audrey Wood, The Flying Dragon Room and Sweet Dream Pie. The stories and illustrations are brilliantly imaginative and perfectly creatively matched. Don't forget, picture books are still appealing to and great reads for 2nd and even 3rd grade readers. Just because they are shorter than a 70 page chapter book doesn't mean they aren't worth reading.
Poppleton is one of my all-time favorite characters, a pig I think I could be friends with. I would say his nearest literary relatives would have to be the inscrutable Frog and Toad, created by Arnold Lobel. While Frog and Toad play off each other, Poppleton can hold his own, despite his wonderful assortment of friends, Cherry Sue the llama, Filmore the goat and Hudson the mouse.
There are seven books in the series, each one having three chapters, although some of them are no longer in print. Each book begins with a map of the small town Poppleton lives in, and in every book the map and the characters on the map are different depending on the season. Most of the stories are about Poppleton and his relationships with his friends, although there are several about Poppleton and his habits and interests he pursues when he is alone. One of my favorite stories is "The Library," in which we follow Poppleton on his his weekly library visit which is always on Monday. We see him as he finds the right table, selects his books then unpacks his bag in preparation for a day of reading. He always brings his eyeglasses, his tissues, for sad stories, his lip balm, for dry parts, his pocket watch, and his book marker.
For economic reasons, buying beginning reader books isn't a good investment. Kids read them quickly and only a handful of times. However, kids are reading at this level for a period ranging from six months to a year, so you want to make sure they are interested in what they are reading and don't get burned out. Even though the word content is readability is of utmost importance during this stage, you don't always have to sacrifice a quality story and illustrations to meet those needs. The Poppleton books, along with all of Arnold Lobel's books, are great examples of interesting, thoughtful, entertaining stories in a beginning to read format. And that is the true sign of a gifted author - like a poet, they manage to convey a well crafted story with a minimum of words.