I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there is a huge need for early reader books featuring characters of color. Series titles in particular are thin on the ground. If you don't believe me, take a look at your local library or bookstore next time. Beyond Diego and Dora, and the occasional Little Bill title, it's pretty darn white over in the easy readers. And yes, I realize that there are excellent choices like "Frog and Toad" and "Little Bear" - but there's also a real lack of representation of diversity in this section of most collections.
Enter Adria F. Klein, a professor in the Education department at California State University and the author of the Max books, published by Picture Window Books. These are entries in the "Read-it! Readers" series, a set of leveled readers that is similar to "I Can Read" or "Step into Reading". The Max titles we've read are at the beginning end of the spectrum: purple and red, the first two steps in the "Read-it!" system.
There's a lot to love about Max. For starters, here's a character with some color! The Library of Congress info page lists Max as "Hispanic-American", which fits, but quite frankly Sprout thinks Max looks just like him, and we are good with that. In the titles we've read there aren't any cultural details clearly linking Max to a particular ethnicity, though if there were we'd welcome that too. What's important is that for once we have a series character of color who is book-based only. Love it! And bonus: many, if not all, of the Max titles are available in bilingual English/Spanish editions. Whether your focus is bilingual education or ESL, these books provide a high-quality option.
So far we've read three Max titles: Max Goes to School, Max Goes to the Barber and Max and the Adoption Day Party. Each one is charmingly simple, with vivid and bright illustrations that support the text in meaningful ways. These are great books not only for fostering reading readiness and supporting emerging readers, but also for introducing kids to new and different situations. Sprout's fascinated by the School title, as it walks kids through the essentials of Max's day: meeting his teacher, finding his desk, eating his lunch, playing at recess. Adoption Day Party provides a basic familiarity with adoption celebrations; while it focuses more on the party aspect rather than on the notion of what adoption means, the book's greatest strength comes from showing that being adopted doesn't mean you're different from everyone else.
A quick online search reveals lots more titles in the Max series. Name a situation, and Max probably has it covered, from staying overnight to going to the dentist to taking his dog to the vet. Fortunately our library carries several Max titles. If yours doesn't, I'd strongly recommend making a purchase suggestion, as these provide much-needed depth and diversity to the early reader section. We're looking forward to exploring more titles with Max -- can't wait until Sprout's reading these to me on his own!