We're in transition around the Kinser household. Reading-wise, that is. Whereas we were once a 3-4 (or 5, or 6) picture-books-at-bedtime kind of family, now we appear to have moved on to chapter books, in a big way. This all started with our family vacation in May/June, where I read Sprout his first chapter books. To be honest, I thought it would take a while for it to stick but he's embraced this new format wholeheartedly. And so now, Mommy often finds herself reading maybe one picture book, as a prequel to the chapter-book-of-the-day.
I'm both strangely unnerved by this transition, and absolutely okay with it. It's a process.
This sea change means that we're visiting a whole new section of the library now. (Moment of huge librarian-mommy pride: when, during our most recent library visit, Sprout approached the desk and asked the clerk, "Excuse me, do you have any dinosaur chapter books?" Swoon.) Thankfully there are some really great early chapter books out there, and we're enjoying the vast majority of the titles we've brought home. But, as with other areas of publishing, diverse characters are few and far between, so we do have to do a fair bit of hunting.
One recent series that I can wholeheartedly recommend are the Lulu books by veteran children's author Hilary McKay. Best known for her award-winning Casson family series, McKay dips her toe into different waters with these books for younger readers. Happily, McKay's knack for creating enthralling characters translates beautifully. The story is peopled with types that readers will find familiar but not boring, a balance that isn't easy to strike by any means. The plot, while easy to follow, offers just enough uncertainty that a preschooler or early elementary kiddo will be on the edge of his/her seat (or in Sprout's case, pillow).
And best of all, Lulu and the Duck in the Park is the kind of book for younger kiddos that doesn't try to be more than it is. It's a simple story about two girls: Lulu, who loves animals, and her cousin/best friend Mellie, who's really quite a character. The friends are in the same class, and their teacher, Mrs. Holiday, is decidedly NOT an animal person. In fact, she even threatens to trade the class guinea pig for a pair of stick insects! So when Lulu unexpectedly begins fostering an abandoned duck egg, it's up to the two girls to keep the egg safe without letting pet-unfriendly Mrs. Holiday know about it. And as you might expect, there are more than a few risks involved in doing so.
Laced with humor and realistic observations (not to mention super-cute illustrations by Priscilla Lamont), Lulu and the Duck in the Park is a great match if you're looking to add some diversity to your classroom or library shelves, without having a heavy message involved. Naturally books on African American history or Latino holidays are important, but so too is the example of people of color living everyday lives - and this title is a lovely instance of that, a light adventure that's familiar enough for most kids to find it relatable. What's even better is that Duck in the Park is only the first of the Lulu adventures, with several out already in the UK and Lulu and the Dog from the Sea just out in hardcover here in the US. I know we'll be reading the rest of the series - if Sprout has his way, probably as soon as they hit the library shelves!
Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay, published by Albert Whitman and Company
First lines: "Lulu was famous for animals. Her famousness for animals was known throughout the whole neighborhood."