Friday, September 12, 2014

Huff and Puff by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Gill Guile

I never seem to be able to get enough easy readers to satisfy my patrons, especially in the summer. The books just fly off the shelves, leaving behind only the worn and ancient titles that should really be weeded and/or replaced. Most popular are the very beginning, just a few words per page, titles - which, of course, are the most difficult to find. Anyhow, I am on several publisher newsletters and will pretty much try anything new that comes out. This is a new series from the ever-growing I Can Read line.

Huff is an engine, Puff is the caboose. They work together well until one day they each decide the other train has it easier and they want to try switching. Of course, they both discover that they're better suited to their own jobs and the other train really does work hard. If you want to get really picky, you could dissect the socioeconomic implications of the cliched plot, which basically says that everyone has one specific thing they're good at and you can't deviate from that role. It's a pretty common plot in children's books and I think it stems from folktales - there are quite a few about sticking to your own role in life, not surprising since most of them sprang from feudal societies. It would have been more interesting, to me at least, if Huff and Puff had discovered that, with a little hard work, they could both enjoy doing a different job now and then and been able to switch off in the future. I mean, come on, has the train never heard of cross-training?

However, for a beginning reader the plot isn't really the point - the combination of text and art and how well it does its job of giving kids a simple plot that they can follow while still decoding the words is paramount. How well does it do this? Not very well, to be honest. The pages are full-color, with cute, rounded illustrations of the anthropomorphic trains and their cargo, a collection of brightly-colored animals. The illustrations are certainly cute, but they overshadow the words and make it difficult to pick them out from the pages. On one page the sentence is placed against a railroad tie, on another it's buried in the grass, etc. When the trains switch places, it gets even more confusing as they fill the page, bulging around the words, and making it difficult to keep track of which is Huff, which is Puff, and where they are on the train. The refrain "Click-ity clack, click-ity clack" or "Click-ity, click-ity clack" is repeated multiple times, and I can't help but wonder if there weren't better words to reinforce through repetition.

Verdict: If you are in urgent need of easy readers it's a decent filler series, especially for a library like mine where I'm having to look for easy readers to appeal to younger and younger kids, but if you're watching your budget or looking for high-quality easy readers this isn't a necessary purchase.

ISBN: 9780062305022; Published 2012 by HarperCollins; Purchased for the library

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