There's a discussion on the Amazon boards about that age when kids feel they're beyond picture books, but may not feel ready for chapter books. It's pretty much of a moot point, because there are lots books with pictures AND short easy-to read chapters ("Henry and Mudge," "George and Martha"). However, the thread is a good place for readers to share favorites, and for authors to plug their books ("oh, by the way, you might like MY book....").
"Aggie and Ben" bridges the alleged gap between picture and chapter books with three short chapters about young Ben choosing and playing with a pet animal. The sentences are simple and the words are short, yet author Lori Ries keeps things interesting and cohesive. In the first short chapter, Ben visits a pet store and deliberates over the pros and cons of each animal. He likes birds, mice, cats, and snakes, but he's thoughtful enough to consider the potential negatives: "A cat would chase things. A cat would play. But a cat would not play with me at the park. 'I do not think I want a cat,' I say." The language is straight on, with no twisty clauses or confusing tenses. ANd, as simple as the narrative is, Ries' protagonist actually shares his thoughts with the reader. SOmetimes those thoughts are humorous, especially when coupled with Frank Dormer's light, airy pen and watercolor illustrations: "But a snake might make Mommy scream," says Ben while thinking about a pet snake. We see mommy in the shower (behind a curtain, of course), her hair covered in a huge shower cap as she faces a green snake wrapped around the shower head!
By chapter two, Ben has chosen his pet, a brown and white Beaglish sort of mutt whom he names "Aggie." THey play copycat (or dog): "'Look, I'm a dog,' I tell MOmmy. 'I am just like Aggie....' Aggie sniff the couch. I sniff the couch, too. She sniffs the couch. I sniff the couch too." But Ben must teach Aggie some limites: Daddy's shoe is not a toy, a clothes dryer is not a bed, and, when Aggie drinks out of the toilet (all tastefully drawn), Ries writes this gem: "I am done being a dog." The last chapter is called, "The Scary THing," promising something a little more dangerous. That's another good thing about this book; you can read one chapter and skip others depending on your child's mood. This last story deals with kids' fear of the dark. Aggie gets cozy on Ben's bed, but when the lights go out, they seem to see things, somewhat...scary things. However, Ben and Aggie discover that they're just toys, or shadows (Ben's silhoetted bathrobe looks like a shadowy person),, or Aggie himself pulling on the bed cover! ADults will love the soft, gentle conclusion as they ready their own kids for bed:
Aggie lies down to sleep, too.
There is nothing scary.
Just me and Aggie.
It's difficult to pack so much into a simple story, but Ries and Dormer succeed. A few times, I wished the pictures were somewhat more color saturated, but by the last page, I saw that it fit with the light, comforting tone. This is a book that respects kids' intellectual and emotional needs, and its warmth is palpable.