31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Easy Books
When I make these lists, I normally do so to recommend all the books on them. But once in a while I’ll use the lists for a different purpose. The most controversial children’s book of 2018 didn’t come from the areas you might usually expect. One of them was, as it turns out, an easy book.
As for the other easy books, I think you’ve heard me say before that in many ways they’re the most difficult titles to write. They are most perfect when they are most simple. And they are most simple, when they limit their text complexity. Can you make complex characters and plots with such small words? You can. These did.
2018 Easy Books
Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Here is the deal. Of all the books that could show up on a Best Of list, this is the one that sparked the most attention in 2018 (with the possible exception of that Gantos book that wasn’t – but that was slated for ’19 anyway). Part of my job as a children’s literature blogger is to inform. And what I have found this year is that a LOT of people did not hear about the objections that were raised about Baby Monkey. And, even more importantly, some of those people unaware of the discussion were publishers. If we are going to have discussions then we need to be informed and you need to know why people are not happy with monkeys in children’s literature. The problem with the internet is that a lot of the time it can feel like you’re running into a conversation midway through. So here, as much as I can, is a timeline. In 2017 blogger and academic librarian Edi Campbell wrote a post called Voices that called into question the use of anthropomorphized apes in children’s literature. Her point was that there is a longstanding history in America of people equating black people with apes and monkeys. As a result, books featuring anthropomorphized simians are potentially harmful. She wrote, “Publishers have to be able to trust marginalized people when we say ‘this is wrong’. Yet, when do we really know whether an image is being used to exoticize human diversity (and reinforces age old stereotypes) or simply to express creativity?” Later, Edi wrote the posts On Negroes, Apes and Monkeys, OutOut Damn Monkeys, Monkey Business, and a review of Baby Monkey. Edi is not alone in her criticisms, she’s just done the most research on the topic. So to include this book on any list at all is to understand that it does not exist in a vacuum. And when you hear people talking about objections to monkeys in children’s books, these are the reasons why, and this is one of the books at the center of the discussions.
Bright Owl Books – Cubs in a Tub, Hop Frog, Princess Pig, Rat Attack, Wet Hen by Molly Coxe
Now under normal circumstances I would limit all easy books on today’s list to titles originally published in 2018. And yes, technically, this easy book series appeared already on the picture book reprints list. But you know what? This series is just so doggone good I have to mention it again. I have to! My hands are tied! Because please, if you can name a series that goes through letter sounds with as much aplomb and doggone fun as these books do, name it. Can you think of one? Does it also involve hand felted models and a wallop of humor? I tell you, man. There’s nothing to compare.
Fox Is Late by Corey R. Tabor
Feeling a little bad here. Apparently Mr. Tabor’s been writing these Fox books since 2016, and I just came late to the party. The guy’s got this keen feel for the easy book style. It’s hard to pack a surprising story in as few/as simple words as these, but the man has it down.
Fox the Tiger by Corey R. Tabor
Takes the old “be yourself” motto and gives it context and just a hint of kookiness. Plus, how can you resist a fox covered in tiger stripes? It even manages to have a twist at the end. In an easy book! Imagine!
The Itchy Book by LeUyen Pham
I would cross deserts of fire and molten lead to see anything LeUyen Pham has worked on. This book, however, I should warn you, is very itchy. It’s also an interesting experiment in the power of suggestion. If I tell you something is true (like, say, that dinos don’t scratch) what do you lose in believing me? What do you gain? Is that too deep for an easy book? What can I tell you, man. They bring out the social scientist in me.
Kick It, Mo! by David A. Adler, ill. Sam Ricks
Love those Mo books! Two reasons for that. 1) Each Mo book is a sports book. And I don’t care what age level you’re talking about – sports books for kids are rarities. 2) Mo is black. And a boy. Now go and find me ANY easy book series about a black boy. I can name one other off the top of my head: The Little Bill books by Bill Cosby. You see the problem? More like this, please!
King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth by Dori Hillestad Butler, ill. Nancy Meyers
Good old, King & Kayla. I was besotted with these mini-mysteries when they debuted last year, so this year I have to deal with the fact that there was only one in 2018. That’s okay. I have it on good authority that more are in the works. Butler is no stranger to the doggie mind-set, so these books are just that much more charming as a result. A true winner.
Min Makes a Machine by Emily Arnold McCully
Stop. Stop right there. I see you with your STEM-girl lists full of well-intentioned books. I am a true believer in getting girls into science and math, but you gotta be smart about it, man. The best kind of book of this ilk shows a girl solving a problem in a clever way. THAT is how you make STEM look appealing. Appeal to their sense of cleverness. For example, there is Min. Min has a problem (she needs to move water) and she comes up with a crazy smart solution using engineering . . . in an easy book! This is part of Holiday House’s I Like to Read series, and it is far and away my favorite of theirs of the year. Go, Min, go!
The Missing Donut by Judith Henderson, ill. T.L. McBeth
This is part of a new series called “Big Words, Small Stories”. Basically they’re Easy Books in a picture book format (just to make things weird) with one long vocabulary word each. The books reiterate the words in various ways, in little separate stories. Then, at the end, they’re all brought together into one big story. Neat, right? Plus, there are donuts. Nom nom nom.
My Toothbrush Is Missing by Jan Thomas
Oh, Jan Thomas. Never stop making your books. It was a delight to me when I realized that a lot of Jan’s backlist picture book titles were finding new life in easy book formats. But, even better, she’s writing original easy books. Remember the combination that makes an easy book a true winner for me? Smart writing and humor. No cheating on the text complexity, and an honestly gripping story. It’s not something everyone is good at, but Jan Thomas is. Very good. At. It.
The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier
Woohoo! Who says easy books can’t be beautiful to boot? Sergio’s watercolors and wry sense of humor bring to life this interesting series between a fox and a chick. It’s gotten a lot of praise. I just hope it gets a Geisel along the way as well.
Poof! A Bot! by David Milgrim
I can’t help it. I’m kooky for the Zip books that Milgrim conjures up. It all goes back to my belief that writing a good easy book is hard, and writing a funny easy book is even harder. And sure, I can commend the fact that in the back of this book you’ll find comprehension and even math questions there. But the real reason I want your kids to read this on their own? There are robots throwing pies at aliens here! And it’s hilarious when they do! What’s not to love about that?
See Zip Zap by David Milgrim
Zapping Zips = zowie!
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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