Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Emma (series) by Jean Little, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Have you ever thought about how many easy readers are, well, not realistic or relevant to the reader? Lots, lots, lots of anthropomorphic animals, most of them behaving as adults, series like Mr. Putter feature elderly adults, Amelia Bedelia (the classic ones at least) feature almost exclusively adults, etc. I can't think of many easy readers that feature everyday children going about their everyday lives. I'm happy to be proved wrong of course - shoot me suggestions if you have any!

Jean Little's Emma series is one of the few realistic fiction easy reader series I've found, but I like it for lots of other reasons as well. Little's characters are sympathetic and realistic, dealing with issues that many children will face as well as broaching a topic that's rarely seen in realistic children's fiction - adoption.

In the first Emma story, Emma's Magic Winter, Emma overcomes her paralyzing shyness with the help of her parents, her new friend Sally, and her own stubbornness. Unlike many new friend stories, Sally isn't the complete opposite of shy Emma. She has a distinct personality and contributes to their friendship, but Emma is definitely the leader. With some suggestions from Sally, Emma uses her own imagination to solve her problem.

In the second Emma story, Emma's Yucky Brother, Emma is thrilled when she finds out she's going to get a four-year old brother, just like Sally! But Max isn't at all what she expected. He's not the cute little boy she thought would look up to her - he likes Sally better and he doesn't respond to her overtures or appreciate her gifts. Max wants to go back to his foster mother - not stay with a new and unknown family. Jean Little draws a realistic portrait of a small child dealing with the difficulties of adjusting to a new home and Emma's disappointment and struggle to befriend Max are presented sympathetically and in a way that young readers will understand.

In the final Emma story, Emma's Strange Pet, Max is now firmly part of the family and desperately wants a furry pet. But Emma is allergic to fur and Max isn't old enough to have a pet anyways. When Emma gets a very strange pet, will Max like it after all? This story shows how Max and Emma, now adjusted to being siblings, still have their fights and squabbles. Emma is upset by Max's behavior and Max just can't face his disappointment over not getting a furry pet. After some compromise, they work out their differences and are friends again.

These aren't just issue books dealing with shyness, making new friends, adoption, and pet allergies. The Emma stories are a realistic look at life that many children can relate to, even if they don't have an adopted sibling or allergies. The writing conforms to the necessary standards for easy readers, simple vocabulary and a plot that is easy to follow, but still manages to incorporate many ideas as well as sympathetic and strong characters. Jennifer Plecas' illustrations add to the text with her depictions of ordinary children enjoying everyday adventures or dealing with the problems that loom large on the horizons of children everywhere; overcoming difficulties, making friends, adjusting to major changes in life, and facing disappointment.

Verdict: Highly recommended for easy reader collections in every library.

Emma's magic winter
ISBN: 978-0064437066; Published August 2000 by HarperCollins (out of print); Borrowed from the library and my personal collection; Purchased for the library

Emma's yucky brother
ISBN: 978-0064442589; Published April 2002 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library and my personal collection; Purchased for the library

Emma's strange pet
ISBN: 978-0064442596; Published October 2004 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library and my personal collection; Purchased for the library


Anonymous said...

Good point about these readers. I frequently recommend Emma's Yucky Brother in my classroom. It is always well liked. What about the Iris and Walter series by Elissa Haden Guest? They have chapters but are definitely still in that beginning reader category.

Jennifer said...

Ooh, I don't know those - I'll have to check them out!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

We love the Emma books--Iris and Walter, too! What about the Gus and Grandpa series by Claudia Mills? Granted, there's Grandpa, but the focus is on their relationship (as opposed to Mr. Putter and Tabby).

Brimful Curiosities said...

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! is one of my daughter's favorites. She's intrigued by the twins.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! More new-to-me books. It is so nice to find more realistic stories for new readers. I think even they get tired of cute and silly.

Kerry Aradhya said...

I haven't seen these, either. They look great. Thanks, too, for hosting the Carnival. I'm glad I found out about it!

Anonymous said...

I'm sold. I'll have to see if my library has these.