"Mom, I want that one book, you know that one."
"Kiddo, you need to be more specific."
"That one I like so much, Mom. That one with the boy, and he's always running everywhere."
"Um -- is it this one?" (holding up Ready? Set. Raymond!)
"That's what I said, Mom." (delivered with just a hint of "duh, how could you not know that?")
The above is a transcript of an honest-to-goodness conversation I had with Sprout the other night. Every night's an adventure picking out books, mostly because we always have a lot to choose from, with overflowing bookshelves and a basket full of library selections. But sometimes it's even more so, as I play guess-the-plot with him while he gets impatient waiting for me to figure out what he's asking for. (And at the end of a long day, let's just say sometimes even the obvious choice doesn't come easily to me!)
Here lately he's been quite attached to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's easy reader Ready? Set. Raymond!. And I can absolutely see why - from the first peek at that cover, with its appealingly active hero rendered by illustrator Derek Anderson, readers know this is going to be a lively one. Inside we've got three short stories featuring Raymond's exploits; this is done much like other beginner books, where you could read each story on its own or all three together. We always go for the gusto and read the whole thing, because Raymond's so fun to root for.
Nelson knows what boys are made of, and she shows off that knowledge in Raymond, who's somewhat of a perpetual motion machine. For example, in the first story, Raymond's running through his day, despite everyone telling him to slow down. He even falls asleep fast -- a plot point which totally reminds me of Sprout, who drops off so quickly any more that he's often in the middle of a sentence. The other two stories have Raymond meeting a new friend and competing in a race (will he dare to get his new sneakers dirty?!).
These simple plots are just right for readers getting to know their way around a story, and the large format illustrations help set off the print and draw beginners through the text. I love that Raymond's always wearing a t-shirt with some sort of emblem on it -- a whirlwind in one, a lightning bolt in another. Raymond's a guy who's going places, that's for sure. I also love a story where the white characters are background filler for once. Such a refreshing change from what we usually see in books for this age range, where the characters with brown skin so often feel like an afterthought!
Unfortunately there appears to be only one outing with Raymond, which is really too bad as it's an outstanding book for lots of reasons. Ready? Set. Raymond! came out in 2002 from Random House, and I for one would love to see another title by Ms. Nelson in this series, should she ever have the opportunity to publish one. But for now, I'll be bookmarking Raymond on my library list and looking for a copy to add to Sprout's shelves -- this is one character who's absolutely worth chasing down.
Ready? Set. Raymond! by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, published by Random House
Sample: "Raymond does things fast. / He brushes his teeth fast. He eats breakfast fast. / 'Slow down, Raymond. Chew your food,' Mama says. Raymond slows down -- but not for long!"
Bonus: Interview with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson at The Brown Bookshelf