Thursday, August 23, 2012

Easy Reader Radar: Review: Mittens at School by Lola M. Schaefer

Mittens at School. by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung. June 26, 2012. HarperCollins. 32 pages. ISBN: 9780061702242

Mittens at School is a My First I Can Read book, which the publisher has labeled as “Ideal for sharing with emergent readers.” Mittens the cat goes to school with his owner, Nick, who plans to show him for show-and-tell. Unfortunately, before show-and-tell, Nick has to do some writing and go to gym class. Mittens can’t keep still for all that time, so when the class is gone, he does some exploring, resulting in a big mess!

It seems that every author of books for beginning readers has at least one story in his/her bibliography about bringing animals to school. I have never known a school that actually allows animals to come in for show-and-tell without all kinds of permission slips and special dispensations, but schools like that are pretty common in children’s books. What happens in this book really isn’t all that different than what happens in any of the others, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good story. In fact, for such a short story with so few words, it does a wonderful job of breathing new life into this somewhat tired topic.

The best thing about the text is its use of onomatopoeia. When Mittens counts the beads on an abacus, the sound is written as “Clink clink clink.” Then there is the “plink plink plink” of the piano keys beneath his paws, and the “flip flip flip” of the pages in a book. These incidents featuring the different sounds also follow a particular pattern. Mittens explores the object, making a gentle noise, then accidentally makes a mess, which makes a loud noise written in all caps (“CRASH!” “SLAM!” and “BAM!”) Things come full circle on the last page when Mittens purrs in response to the attention the class gives her.

Despite being a very short story, this book also makes great use of dialogue. The spoken words in the text keep the plot moving swiftly along, while keeping the reader clued into exactly what is happening. Because the main character of the story is a cat who does not speak, the dialogue between the human characters provides context the story might otherwise lack, and it also keeps the writing from becoming too bogged down in details that would require more complicated and difficult-to-read words.

Mittens at School should appeal to readers who enjoy the Dixie books by Grace Gilman (I Can Read Level 1) and the Biscuit books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (My First I Can Read). There are also a number of other titles about Mittens: Mittens (2007), Follow Me, Mittens (2008), What’s That, Mittens? (2009), Happy Halloween, Mittens (2010), and Mittens, Where is Max? (2011).

I borrowed Mittens at School from my local public library.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

NOTE ADDED 10/9/12: This book was nominated by Rebecca Kai for the 2012 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks! 


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