The Cool Crazy Crickets Club written by David Elliott, illustrated by Paul Meisel, 47pp RL 1.5

The Cool Crazy Crickets Club and The Cool Crazy Crickets to the Rescue are (hopefully) a new series of beginning reader chapter books from author David Elliott and illustrator Paul Meisel. Besides his many other chapter and picture books, you may recognize David Elliott from last year's superb picture book, Finn Throws a Fit, illustrated by the magnificent Timothy Basil Ering, illustrator of the Newbery winning Tale of Desperaux by Kate diCamillo. Finn Throws a Fit perfectly chronicles the the impossible to anticipate moods of a toddler that, in the best cases, are weathered with patience and love by mystified parents.

The Cool Crazy Crickets series, along with Jennifer Richard Jacobson's Andy Shane series, both of which are published by the always excellent Candlewick Press, really deserve a Reading Level label of their own, which I have now bestowed upon them! Reading Level 1.5! These books are shorter and a bit easier to read than the average second grade reading level book (think Magic Tree House, Junie B Jones, Daisy Dawson and The Time Warp Trio) but more difficult than a traditional first grade level book like Mercy Watson, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa and Poppleton.  While there are increasingly more and more beginning to read books that also make great read out loud books (Elephant and PiggiePoppletonMercy Watson and Frog and Toad) books written at this level are best for reading alone because the plots are more basic, the vocabulary a bit more simplistic and they are meant to appeal specifically to their intended six or seven year old audience.

Two boys and two girls make up the main cast of characters in this series. In book one, The Cool Crazy Crickets Club, Leo is sitting on his front porch with his friend Marcus and his dog, Noodles when they decide to start a club. Phoebe and Miranda show up, join the club and start suggesting names. There is a back and forth between the boys and girls about what a good name would be and a great team effort in choosing the name. Next, the club needs to find a club house and a mascot. An empty refrigerator box and Leo's dog Noodles prove perfect for these goals. In book 2, The Cool Crazy Crickets to the Rescue, the action picks up a bit when the club decides to earn money for snacks instead of charging dues. There is a funny scene where the kids share some wordplay with "do's," "dues," and "don'ts." The Crickets babysit, pet sit and sell lemonade and are trying to figure out how to spend their earnings when they discover the neighborhood stray cat sleeping in the clubhouse. When Phoebe notices that the cat is sick, they know how to spend their money - taking their new mascot to the vet.

The Crickets and Andy Shane series take experiences and concerns from the lives of kids and present them in a format that these very kids can read and appreciate on their own.  I hope that there are more books of this variety to begin filling the shelves soon!

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