Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From picture book to easy reader: A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle

I have something a little different today. I've been noticing a growing trend in publishers of taking classic and popular picture book series and reissuing them as easy readers. It started with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious and now Jackie Urbanovic's Duck, Rob Scotton's Splat the Cat, Tad Hills' Rocket, and more have jumped on the bandwagon. Going back to the classics, authors whose classic picture books have been made into easy readers so far include Alexandra Day's Carl (which is especially weird since the original is wordless), Leo Lionni, and, of course, Eric Carle. So, today I'm looking at both the original picture book and the new easy reader edition.

If you're not familiar with the story, Hermit Crab grows too big for his shell. He quickly finds a new house, but it's plain and boring. One by one, he adds new friends to his shell - sea anemones, starfish, coral, a snail, sea urchins, a lanternfish, and he ends by building pebbles into a wall around his shell. Of course, by that time his perfect shell is too small. He's worried about all his friends, but then finds a smaller crab who is happy to move in and promises to take care of all his friends. Hermit Crab finds a bigger shell and sets off to new possibilities, thinking of all the things he can add to his shell. There is an introductory list of facts about hermit crabs and at the end there are facts about the different friends the hermit crab collected. Eric Carle's signature art is colorful and distinctive, the creatures are easily distinguished, but still have a definite representational quality.

The easy reader version is listed as a level two "super star reader" with "longer sentences, simple chapters, high-interest vocabulary words." The easy reader does not have the swirling paint of the endpages, or the introductory information on the hermit crab. The basic text is the same with only a few minor alterations. The facts at the end are kept as well.

The art is the same, but has been, of course, shrunk to fit into the easy reader. The text is rearranged to fit into the smaller format and some of the pictures are cut or in the case of the last picture, combined into a new page to fit the story. The pages don't have the glossy finish of the picture book, dimming the vibrant colors of the art.

I do feel that the text is generally more advanced than most beginning readers can handle with vocabulary including "debris," rearranged," and "possibilities." Then there's the specific names of the various creatures like anemones, etc. The art doesn't have the same impact once it's compacted into the smaller format and some details of the pictures are lost down the gutter of the book as well.

I can understand why publishers are going this route; with more kids being pressured to read at younger ages, the audience for the classic picture books with longer text is being lost and this is way to introduce them to a new generation as well as generate a new market for these properties. However, I can't help but feel it's a pity to give kids the watered-down version and I doubt that kids who have the higher reading ability necessary to tackle these books will really be interested in the subject matter. They do circulate briskly at my library, but I believe that most of that is parents choosing the titles, not kids.

Verdict: From an aesthetic and librarian perspective, I don't care for these. However, the majority of patrons enjoy them and since I frequently struggle just to keep the easy reader shelves stocked, let alone worry about quality, I will continue to purchase these and would generally advise most libraries to hop on the bandwagon and do the same.

Picture book
ISBN: 9780887080562; This edition published 1991 by Simon and Schuster; Purchased for the library (replacement for worn out copy)

Easy Reader
ISBN: 9781481409162; This edition published 2014 by Simon Spotlight; Purchased for the library

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