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October 2009 Archives


Thursday Three: Monsters

Posted by Pam on October 29, 2009 at 11:02 AM in Picture BooksPoetryRecommendations
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In the library, these are the days when we get frantic parents looking for a Halloween book to read at their child's school and finding that all the books are gone. This may be you. But no fear, there are some great monster books around that will fill the Halloween gap and that are often overlooked by parents heading only to the shelf with the big pumpkin sign.

Where's My Mummy?
by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders
Where's My Mummy?When Baby Mummy heads outside for a late-night game of "Hide and Shriek," he ends up searching for Mama Mummy in the deep, dark woods. Different monsters advise the little wrapped guy to go to home, but he trudges on unafraid, until a tiny creature gives him a big scare. But Mummy - or mommy - is there to give him comfort and take him to bed. The wonderful illustrations have just the right comical touch to take the edge off the spooky subject, and the story adds just enough suspense to the fun. Great for preschoolers.

Inside the Slidy Diner
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
Inside the Slidy DinerEdie is trapped inside the Slidy Diner for stealing a lemon drop, and gives a youngster a tour of the scary restaurant where patrons eat pig's heads and pies are garnished with eyeballs. This is definitely a book for the gross-out crowd, who will delight in the bug-filled flooded restrooms, the wall-mounted huge cockroach, and the most-questionable "chocolate milk." Detailed illustration supports the story with odd-looking patrons and clever visual jokes. Gruesome, creepy, and loads of fun for the school-age set.

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
Frankenstein Takes the Cake
by Adam Rex
Frankenstein Makes a SandwichFor some reason, people insist on giving these books to their preschoolers and then denouncing them because their precious tots aren't interested in these poems about various monsters. The smaller ones somehow fail to grasp the cultural and literary references or get the jokes. They aren't wooed by the detailed and varied artistic styles. So clearly, these parents claim, these books are not all that. HAH! And I say again, HAH! While shaking my head, of course, and noting that just because a book has pictures, it does not make it a "picture book." Sure, read it to your preschoolers if you feel the need, but it's the bigger kids who are going to appreciate the brilliance, the humor, the artistry of these amazing books. These are the perfect books to share in higher grades when the kids are wanting stories - especially to mark special times like Halloween - but parents don't think about sharing books in the classroom. I read the first one to my daughter's fifth grade class and they loved it. It was apparently very popular for the week I left it there, and I heard groans when I picked it up. Don't miss these fabulous poetry books, but do think about the right age of the reader. By the way, adults fall into that "right age" group.


Bedtime from Afar: Sharing Books When You Can't Cuddle Up Close

Posted by Terry on October 27, 2009 at 8:00 AM in Recommendations
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One of our favorite daily rituals is sharing bedtime stories with our daughter. In addition to it being a nice way to end the day, sharing a book is a nice way to reconnect and say "I love you."

When Catherine was an infant, my husband had long workdays, so he really looked forward to having that daddy-daughter time each day. When he moved into his new job, he traveled more, and he hated the separation as much as Catherine did. Because he was often in a different time zone, it wasn't always easy to sync our schedules so that he could read to her over the phone. So we started "taping" books so he could read her a bedtime story.

For our first recordings, we hooked up a microphone to the computer, read a book into a music program, and then burned the recording onto CD. It worked, but was cumbersome. Neither of us are gadget geeks which probably added to the awkwardness of the process.

About six months ago, we purchased a hand-held digital recorder ($10). We bought it for another purpose, I went to Book Expo America, I recorded a bedtime story (and a few night-time messages). The digital recorder works MUCH better. Because I am old enough to remember cassette recorders, I like that the gadgetry is identical to the play, stop, record buttons I know. The recorder can hold more content than a CD, so we can read more books. What I really like, though, is that you can easily change out individual stories in the collection. Although we use the recorder to stay connected when one of us is traveling, there are other ways you can use it. These are just three ideas ... I'm sure you've got some suggestions, too.

Send a recorded gift. Grandparents could read a story or stories and send it along with the actual book(s). They might even add personal stories about growing up, too.

Try a reverse gift. Select a picture book or chapter book and have all the kids take turns reading them ... and have them autograph the book, too. Adults LOVE to hear the sound of their little relatives.

Create a book club. Send the recorder back and forth, with each recipient taking a turn reading a book or chapters from a book. This makes great practice in reading aloud for kids, too.

Ultimately, this is an easy, fun way to get in that daily dose of read aloud. Any book that is fun to read together is perfect. The sound of your voice is what makes it special. In sharing a recorded book with a child, you are enriching their world. Not only are you giving them wonderful memories, you are helping them grow as readers. Because the recorders are portable, kids aren't tied to their computer or their boom box and they can carry that little bit of love with them anywhere!

I'm always on the lookout for new book ideas, so if you could have a friend or relative read a children's book, who would it be and what book would you want to hear?


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Reading with Kids of All Ages

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 26, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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Here are some recent articles about encouraging young readers that I thought would be of particular interest to Booklights readers.

Cathy Puett Miller has a great post at Parents and Kids Reading Together about finding time to read with your young child. Cathy recognizes the difficulties that families have sometimes, with today's busy lives, in finding time to read aloud everyday. She says: "carve out time in 10-20 minute increments. Your schedule may not allow more or your child may need small doses so that he leaves with a pleasant taste in his mouth about the experience instead of a negative one because he was asked to sit still for too long." Cathy also makes a strong argument for continuing to read aloud to your child even after the child can read on her own. I've always been a big proponent of this (see my Ten Tips for Growing Bookworms, for example), but Cathy does a nice job outlining multiple, concrete reasons.

Cindy Hudson at Mother Daughter Book Club shares reasons why your children are never too old for you to read aloud to them. Among many great reasons, she says: "Talking about what you read lets you broach topics that may not come up otherwise. If the characters in the book are having trouble with a friendship, your daughter may be encouraged to open up with you about a difficult relationship she's having as well." I agree with her completely. See also a post at 5 Minutes for Books by Ann Wright Rossouw about the joys of continuing to read aloud with older children.

Another must-read post this week comes from Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer, on the subject of boys and reading. Although written from a teacher's perspective, I think that Donalyn's defense of boys as readers has relevance for parents, too. She says: "Instead of blaming our boys for their gender, or lowering our expectations for their literacy development, we should scrutinize any system where boys are hailed for their achievement in science and math class and allowed to define themselves as nonreaders." She also offers some recommended titles that have been catching the attention of boys in her classroom this year, and has sparked a tip-filled discussion in the comments. Dawn Morris has also shares some helpful links for finding books for boys at Moms Inspire Learning.

Homeschooling mom Sarah has a lovely post at In Need of Chocolate in defense of picture books for older readers. She notes: "Some parents encourage a steady diet of chapter books, ridding their homes and library bags of picture books as they children age, dismissing them as the reading material of babes, but I believe that one is never too old for picture books." Just a couple of her reasons include: "Picture books create and sustain family memories" and "Picture books provide an opportunity to learn more about art and how feelings and stories can be conveyed through pictures".

Do your kids eat Cheerios? Are you familiar with the Spoonful of Stories program, by which children's books are available as prizes in specially marked Cheerios boxes? I love the idea of kids getting books instead of little plastic prizes, don't you? Brimful Curiosities reports that you can now vote for which titles are included in the 2010 program. You can vote once a day from now through Friday for any of 13 titles (including a couple by Kidlitosphere friends of mine, but I'm not a believer in telling other people how to vote, so I'll just send you over to the contest). This article was a tip from Terry Doherty.

Another suggestion from Terry was this Wake County SmartStart article with five tips for raising a reader. "Anna Troutman of Wake County SmartStart and Laura Walters of the Literacy Council of Wake County offer ... five simple ways to start your child on the road to reading even before your child can read to himself." None of the ideas are novel, but I think it's good to keep talking about the importance of reading aloud, modeling reading behavior, visiting the library, etc. I also find, via Book Dads, ten tips for helping your child learn to read from Michael Levy at Literacy News.

Last but not least, at Reading Rockets, Joanne Meier responds to a question from a parent looking for practical tips for those times when kids just don't want to read. Joanne says: "if I were to pick one piece of advice to help during those times, it would be this: make sure your child is reading at his or her independent level at home. A child's independent level is the level at which the material is relatively easy for the student to read, and can be read with at least 95% accuracy."

Have you run across any interesting articles about encouraging your readers? I'd love to hear about them.


Thursday Three: Halloween

Posted by Pam on October 22, 2009 at 2:40 PM in Middle Grade BooksNonfiction BooksPicture BooksRecommendations
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I usually forget to talk about Halloween books until it's too late for parents to find them at the library or bookstore, but not this time. With the candy and costumes in the stores for weeks, it is getting hard to ignore what used to be a one day event with homemade costumes and sugar-frenzied children. So if we're going to extend the festivities, let's get a little reading in there too.

The Hallo-wiener
by Dav Pilkey
The Hallo-wienerThis is my absolute favorite Halloween book because it works for preschoolers to fifth graders. It's the story of a dachshund who is always teased by his doggie classmates, but especially after his well-meaning mother gives him a hot-dog costume for Halloween. But when his doggie friends are spooked by a ghoul, it's the little dog who saves the day. It's a funny book, but you can add a little spooky suspense when the ghoul comes into the picture.

The Halloween Book of Facts & Fun
by Wendie Old
The Halloween Book of Facts & FunThis weekend I was introduced to this book, to which I had to say, "Where have you been all my child-rearing years?" What I love about this book is right there in the title - it's facts and fun. There are instructions for carving a pumpkin and having a Halloween party. There are safety tips and riddles. There are chapters about traditions, witches, jack-o-lanterns, Dracula, and more. There's even a full page bibliography. A perfect book for the classroom or home, maybe doling out a chapter a day in the build-up to the Big Event.

The Squampkin Patch
by JT Petty
The Squampkin Patch Speaking of build-up, you'll find it in spades in this suspenseful, creepy and sometimes scary book for older kids. In the story, the Nasselrogt children hide from their parents, and end up getting shipped off to the Urchin House. When their parents show up to find them, their odd last name makes the files lost to the director. After a horrible time at the Urchin House, the children escape and end up at a mysterious house surrounded by a pumpkin patch -- or so they think. It turns out that patch holds something strange and frightening that is coming to a head on Halloween. Filled with dark humor and interesting characters, the book shows a very strong Lemony Snicket influence in the writing, which should make it a natural pick for lovers of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. A little odd, but certainly unforgettable.

Susan T.


Posted by Susan T. on October 20, 2009 at 11:55 AM in Easy ReadersMiddle Grade BooksPicture Books
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From preschool through second grade or so, my son loved to read about volcanoes. A while back, I rounded up some of our favorites, most of which I read aloud. For all of you with young scientists (aged about four to seven) in the house, here's our list, with some notes:

Why Do Volcanoes Blow Their Tops? by Melvin Berger. Picture book, lots of facts, Q. & A. format. Includes directions for making a grand baking soda/vinegar/dish-soap explosive concoction using an empty soda bottle. Because of this book, "magma" has been a part of my vocabulary for the last seven years.

Hill of Fire, by Thomas P. Lewis. Illustrated beginning reader about the farmer who stumbled across a volcano (the beginnings of one) while plowing. About the 1943 eruption of Mexico's Paricutin. A Reading Rainbow selection.

Volcanoes, by Stephanie Turnbull. From the Usborne Beginners series, a nice introduction to the subject, short bits of text, index, glossary, recommended web sites--all in 32 pages.

The Magic School Bus Blows Its Top: A Book About Volcanoes, by Gail Herman, with illustrations by Bob Ostrom. You can't go wrong with Ms. Frizzle, the extraordinary science teacher, and her class.

An Island Grows, by Lola M. Schaefer. A colorful picture book for preschoolers and early-elementary kids.

Magic Tree House #13: Vacation Under the Volcano, by Mary Pope Osborne. Early chapter book about Pompeii, from the popular series.

Volcanoes! Mountains of Fire, by Eric Arnold. Advanced beginning reader about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Volcanoes! by Jeremy Caplan. Another advanced beginning reader, with photos.

Volcano, by Nicholas Harris. Pompeii from the Ice Age into the present, with tabbed pages. Picture book for older readers. Part of a series called Fast Forward. Vesuvius included, of course.

For older readers, there's Seymour Simon's Volcanoes, a Smithsonian picture book with vivid photographs.


Show and Tale: Where the Wild Things Are

Posted by Gina on October 20, 2009 at 9:38 AM in ClassicsPicture BooksRecommendationsShow and Tale
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200px-Where_The_Wild_Things_Are.jpgMom Betsy's pick for Where the Wild Things Are comes at a good time, with the movie making its debut last weekend. She loves the book because "Max was a wild child like me!"

Betsy nails a big reason why Maurice Sendak's book is such a classic -- we all have a little (or a lot) of Max in us. Anyone else out there identify with Max? And what about the movie? Should true fans avoid it or give it a try?


Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature

Posted by Jen Robinson on October 19, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Recommendations
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Lots of people responded positively to my recent post about favorite fictional towns from children's literature. A number of people commented and Twittered to share their favorites. Carol Rasco (from RIF) mentioned Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden. And I thought "great suggestion, that's one of my favorite houses from children's literature." And that, naturally enough, led me to thinking about my other favorite fictional houses. In the interest of fairness (or at least of not being overly repetitive), I've excluded any authors who I previous mentioned in my favorite fictional towns or favorite fictional rooms posts. And yes, that excludes Hogwarts, because I've already mentioned Hogsmeade, and Green Gables, because I've already mentioned Avonlea, and the many great houses created by Elizabeth Enright and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are still lots of wonderful houses to choose from. In each case, I've decided to let the author describe the house in question. After all, they can do this far better than I could.

Secret Garden.jpg1. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden (with thanks to Carol Rasco) by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"Not but that it's a grand big place in a gloomy way, and Mr. Craven's proud of it in his way--and that gloomy enough, too. The house is six hundred years old and it's on the edge of the moor, and there's near a hundred rooms in it, though most of them's shut up and locked. And there's pictures and fine old furniture and things that's been there for ages, and there's a big park round it and gardens and tree with branches trailing to the ground--some of them." (Chapter 2, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, description by Mrs. Medlock)

2. The Hall family's house in Concord, MA from Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window (reviewed here).

"All of the other houses on the street were neat square white buildings with dark shutters and simple pitched roofs. Out from among them mushroomed the Halls' house like an exotic tropical plant in a field of New England daisies. It was a great wooden Gothic Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting. Big as it was, it looked airy and light, as though the wind might pick it up and carry it away. Screened porches ballooned and billowed out of it all around, and domes and towers puffer up at the top as though they were filled with air." (Chapter Two, The Hidden Chamber)

Hobbit.jpg3. Bag End, Bilbo's house (later Frodo's house) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill -- The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it -- and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another." (Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit)

LionWitchWardrobe.jpg4. The Professor's house from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

"It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armor; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out onto a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books--most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church." (Chapter One, Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe)

LittleHouseBigWoods.jpg5. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. (This house is technically not fictional, but since the series is generally shelved as fiction, I'm going to allow it.)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them." (Page 1-2)

I think it's telling that all five of the passages quoted above are from the first chapter or two. These houses play a central part in the books in question. In thinking about these houses (and the ones from my other posts), it's clear that my favorite fictional houses fall into two basic categories: big houses with lots of corridors and cupolas and hidden surprises, and homes that evoke a cozy, safe feeling. How about you? What do you look for in a favorite fictional house? Do you crave turrets and long passageways to explore? Or do you care more about finding a cozy nest?


Thursday Three: Hispanic Heritage

Posted by Pam on October 15, 2009 at 1:59 PM in Middle Grade BooksPicture BooksRecommendations
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For the last day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, here are three books for preschooler to tween.

What Can You Do with a Rebozo?What Can You Do with a Rebozo?
By Carmen Talfalla, illustrated by Amy Cordova
Bright, lively pictures show the many ways you an use a rebozo - a traditional Mexican woven shawl - from a cradle to a cape. The rhymes are a little labored, but the cultural portrayal is well-done and the feeling is fun. The artwork won the 2009 Pura Belpré Illustration Honor, and the book contains a brief historical discussion about rebozos.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School
by Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson; illustrated by Hernan Sosa
Armando and the Blue Tarp SchoolThis book is based on the true story of a teacher who set up a school in Tijuana, Mexico with only a blue tarp. The poverty of the children is harsh, and their garbage dump surroundings vile. But with hard work and hope, the children begin to go to school. This is a picture book, but due the the theme and length is intended for school-age children. Interesting and inspirational, it manages to teach without being preachy. The real story is included at the end of the book, as well as a glossary of Spanish words.

Confetti Girl
by Diana Lopez
Confetti GirlWith lots of Spanish words and Hispanic culture, this isn't an issue book about being Latina. It's just the world that Lina Flores occupies with her boy-crazy best friend, her quiet, studious dad, and her own school worries. Gentle is a good word to describe this middle-grade book. It's gentle on conflict, issues, humor, and culture. Sweet and fun, the book also shares dichos - little sayings - that form the chapter titles and appear through the book, like "Los amigos majors son libros." Books are your best friends.


Show and Tale: Eloise

Posted by Gina on October 13, 2009 at 11:59 AM in ClassicsRecommendationsShow and Tale
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eloise.jpgMom Jessie loves the classic Eloise, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, and she's in good company. This memorable character, who first saw publication in 1955, has captured the hearts of millions, adults and kids alike.

"My favorite book is Eloise, because of the whimsy and she's naughty," Jessie says.

What naughty book character has stuck with you? And are there any books where you've preferred the crafty villain to the hero?


Learning to Read: Dr. Seuss Started Us Off with Mischief

Posted by Terry on October 13, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Easy Readers
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cat_in_the_hat.jpgDo you know the story of The Cat in the Hat? Not the one about hat-wearing mischievous feline, but how he came to be the world's most recognized cat. In 1954, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist John Hershey wrote an article for Life magazine called "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R?" In his article, Hershey said that the primers given to kids to help them learn to read were "antiseptic." For one thing, the children were "unnaturally clean." He said what they needed were better illustrations ... like the kind Walt Disney and Theodor "Ted" Geisel created.

As a result of the article - and Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About It (1955) - publishers Random House and Houghton Mifflin joined forces and hired Ted Geisel (known for his illustrations) to create a primer using new-reader vocabulary. The result was the 220-word story known the world over as The Cat in the Hat. This book catapulted the writing career of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

green_eggs_and_ham.jpgThrough repetition and rhyme, Dr. Seuss' books not only have given us hours of pleasure reading with our kids, but they helped many of us become accomplished readers. Many of the Dr. Seuss books we love sharing with our kids are, in fact, what we now call easy readers.

So what IS an easy reader? They are books designed for children learning to read. These are books with short, simple sentences. Many of them have a banner or label that says "learning to read" in some form, but others look like picture books. Here are some clues. Look for ...

• books sized for the reader's comfort, usually 6 inches by 9 inches.
• lots of white space on the page and the print style is larger.
• illustrations or images that match up with the text so kids can "decode" the words in the story.

You can sometimes gauge the "level" of an easy reader by the illustrations. In the basic books (sometimes called level 1), illustrations are still a prominent feature. Usually they fill most of the page and there is a word or a sentence or two at the bottom. As you "move up," the illustrations shift. First, they may move to one page while the text is on the other. Then there may be half-page illustrations on both pages and then smaller illustration on one page of a two-page spread.

Fifty years later, you can still find "antiseptic" books that take the fun out of learning to read. Luckily, there are authors and illustrators who have followed in Dr. Seuss' path, creating engaging books that help kids grow as readers and have fun learning, too. Here are two places you can go to find some of the best easy readers available.

mo_play_outside.jpgVisit the American Library Association (ALA) Website and see the Geisel Award Winners. Each year, the ALA sponsors the (Theodor Seuss) Geisel Award to recognize and celebrate the legacy created by Dr. Seuss. The award, first presented in 2006. "recognizes the "the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year." In addition to a medal winner, the ALA commemorates honor books, too. The 2009 medal winner is Are You Ready to Play Outside? By Mo Willems. This is the latest addition to Willems' Elephant and Piggie series.

Check out the 2008 Cybils List . Since 2006, the Kidlitosphere has had an award program to recognize distinguished books for children. The Children's and Young Adult bloggers Literary Awards, aka "Cybils," annually recognizes books that combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." For the first two weeks in October, nominated by parents, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, nominate "favorite" for the year in one of nine categories.

mo_surprise.jpgEasy Readers was a new category last year. The panel winnowed 31 Easy Reader nominees to a list of 5 Easy Reader finalists to 1 winner: I Love My New Toy (Elephant and Piggie series) by Mo Willems. The 2009 nominations won't close until Thursday, but already there are more than 35 titles in the Easy Reader and Short Chapter Book category.

I could do a whole post on Mo Willems, but I'd have to arm wrestle Pam, and I know I would lose. I'll just say this: I love introducing kids to Elephant and Piggie. The stories are wonderful, engaging, and always have a little twist. What I like best is that they are "built" to give new readers confidence. Willems uses different sizes to help kids visually recognize how the word should be read. They can instantly see the difference between what? And WHAT?

When you are ready to for new stories to sit side by side with The Cat in the Hat and his friends, you can't go wrong using these lists for recommended reading. Do you and your kids have a favorite Dr. Seuss book or easy reader? I would love to hear about them!

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