In May of 2013, Boris on the Move, the first book in Andrew Joyner's fantastic new series was published, followed by three other titles before the year was out. Boris is part of a new line of books (seven series and counting) from Scholastic called Branches. I've been a children's bookseller for almost 20 years now and, about 10 years ago when my oldest son started reading, I began to notice the huge gap between leveled readers and the chapter books that were popular at the time (and still are) like Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House. I also began to notice that many emerging readers had older siblings and they knew what chapter books were and were very eager to read them like their older brothers and sisters, but achingly unready to make the jump. The books in the Branches imprint are exactly what I have been looking for all these years, and, with a mission statement to nurture independent readers by "bridging the gap between leveled readers and traditional chapter books," they are perfectly poised to do this.
I'm kicking off my week of reviews of a new category of books I'm calling Bridge Chapter Books with Boris because I think that Joyner's series is a great example of what I mean when I say "Bridge Chapter Book," along with being the easiest read of the series in this category. Joyner's books feature colorful, engaging illustrations and interesting, likable, sweet characters perfectly suited to the average age of readers who have reached this stage in their reading careers. Admittedly, Joyner, an Australian, has hit a home run with the creation of Boris, a warthog, who lives with his parents in Hogg Bay in an old bus that used to travel all over the world but seems permanently parked in their garden. Boris is a dreamer, and adventurer and an animal loves. His wishes that the bus would take to the road again. Boris also aspires to bake the perfect carrot cake and get a komodo dragon for a pet. The story possibilities are endless, but the great thing is that Joyner also infuses Boris with a thoughtfulness and creativity rather than the obnoxiousness, zaniness and potty humor that is the usual hook for emerging (boy) readers.
The superb characters and playful, cartoonish illustrations draw readers into Joyner's Boris series, but it's the format of these books that will keep them reading and not feeling overwhelmed. Each book is broken into chapters, giving emerging readers a feeling of stepping up, but each page rarely has more than five lines of text on it . The quasi-graphic novel format breaks the text into bite-sized chunks and allows for word bubbles, which also break up the text. Also, in a really great move, each book in the Boris series ends with a "How to" section that can feature anything from a simple science experiment to a lesson on how to make a shadow portrait, as found in Boris Sees the Light, the fourth and most recent (in the US) book in this series. And, each book begins with an "Introduction" which, while starting with a great portrait of Boris, his favorite items noted with arrows, is just a little bit different in each book. The great thing about this is that the Boris books do not necessarily have to be read in numerical order to be understood and appreciated.
In Boris Sees the Light, we find Boris and his best friends Alice and Frederick preparing for a camp out in Boris's backyard. The tent is pitched, marshmallows are toasted and assurances are made by Boris's parents that there is plenty of room in the bus should anyone have a change of heart. After Frederick plays his recorder and songs are sung, a burping contest is had and shadow puppets are made, the three warthogs begin to feel a bit anxious about the sounds and lights outside the tent. I hate to give the plot away, but it's so brilliant that I just have to share it here. When the three cautiously approach a strange light in the backyard, they discover Mr. Blume, Boris's neighbor. Turns out Mr. Blume couldn't sleep so he slapped on his caving helmet and went out into the backyard to try out his new putter! Reassured about the true nature of things that go bump in the night, the three friends decide to head into the bus for the night anyway, pitching their tent over Boris's bed and snuggling up in their sleeping bags.
I can't tell you how excited I am about Boris and Branches - I just wish they'd been around two or three years ago when my youngest was learning to read! That said, I am so happy knowing that I now have a great selection of chapter books to suggest to kids and parents when they come looking for chapter books for their emerging readers.
Source: Review Copy