Friday, April 26, 2013

Series Spotlight - Shanna's First Readers by Jean Marzollo

I've mentioned before that I'm always on the hunt for series that have diverse characters. A similar hunt is for diverse reads for beginners - it seems like there are plenty of picture books, and novels for middle grade and teen readers, but where the multicultural children's literature field falls short is in board books (more on that another time) and books for beginners. Beginning readers are tough because they already have to accomplish so much: be readable for those just starting to decode the written word, but at the same time be colorful and inviting, have plots that are easily understood, and be interesting enough to compel those beginners to pull them off the shelf. Tall order indeed!

But there are choices out there, if you're willing to look. Libraries are one of the best places, as are used bookstores, for the simple fact that some of these series start out strong and then don't get the backing from their publishing houses that one might hope. (Lots of thoughts on that, again, for another time.) Today's pick is a series that I unearthed by rooting around in the library catalog. It's one I hope will stick around for a while on our library shelves because Sprout loves them now, and I know he'll be thrilled to read them on his own one day.

The series in question is Jean Marzollo's Shanna's First Readers. We've read three of the titles: Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!; Shanna's Bear Hunt; and Shanna's Party Surprise. Each of the books is fairly shimmering with energy and excitement, from the cover right on through, which makes them a perfect selection for catching and keeping a beginner's attention. They're also fairly simple, so perfect for low level readers, and make use of speech bubbles and other comic-inspired devices. There's so much going on here, but each spread is carefully constructed to move beginners sequentially through the story.

And the plots, while easy to follow, are fun too. In Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!, Shanna and her brother Shane are putting on a show with their animal friends. Everybody's dancing and moving to the beat, which readers can't fail to catch on to - it's infectious, to say the least! Illustrators Maryn Roos and Shane Evans keep the backgrounds uncluttered so the focus is on the characters and the action, just as it should be. At the end of each story, Marzollo gives kids a fun word game to help reinforce the skills learned in the book. For Shanna's Bear Hunt, for example, the game is matching up rhyming words, underscoring the rhyme scheme occurring in the text -- just what a beginner needs to succeed.

Sadly this series is out of print (come on, Jump at the Sun, bring it back, will you?) but you can find used copies if you hunt around. Our library copies have seen better days, but I'm hoping they can hold on a bit. Fun, engaging titles just right for a beginner, featuring an adorable girl and her equally cute little brother? What's not to love?!

Shanna's First Readers:

Shanna's Animal Riddles
Shanna's Bear Hunt
Shanna's Hip, Hop, Hooray!
Shanna's Lost Shoe
Shanna's Party Surprise
Shanna's Pizza Parlor

also look for the Shanna's Show titles:

Shanna's Princess Show
Shanna's Doctor Show
Shanna's Teacher Show
Shanna's Ballerina Show

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