Series Review: The Cobble Street Cousins

Guiding a budding reader into chapter books can be a confusing experience, so finding an appealing series is like striking gold. If this sounds familiar, you might try The Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin.

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This series of six short chapter books follows three cousins who live with their lovable Aunt Lucy for a year while their parents tour with the ballet. Tess, Rosie, and Lily have very different talents and interests, but they get up to tremendous fun living together in the attic of Aunt Lucy’s old house. Each book features a creative activity that the girls take on together as they make friends and memories in their temporary home: a cookie-baking business, a community newspaper, and finally, preparations for a very special wedding. The individual stories stand alone but the series arc expands encouragingly on the girls’ relationships with neighbors young and old. It’s hard not to want to go along with the three when they take tea cakes and oranges to visit old Mrs. White.

If these books have a fault, it is perhaps that they are too idyllic. It’s difficult to imagine a community of adults dropping everything to attend a program put on by the new neighborhood kids, or the local nonagenarian taking them all in for sewing lessons. If the three friends struggle with missing their parents or adjusting to their situation, no mention of it is made. And apparently on Cobble Street there is always time for tea and cookies. Unrealistic? Probably. But wouldn’t it be pleasant if the world could be just a little more like that?

Children learn to read at different rates, and they only need the ready-for-chapters level for a short time. But chances are that, even as they strike out with more independence, they are still at an age that values reassurance. Some children who can read beyond their years are frightened by coming-of-age themes like playground bullying or the death of a parent. These issues are real and there is time enough (and plenty of good books) to deal with them. But if you know a child who is eager to read and still has that precious innocence, you may safely trust this series.

These books, so sweetly illustrated with Halperin’s lovely drawings, will resonate primarily with girls from ages six to nine. They are a welcome reprieve from the somewhat sassy heroines who tend to fill the genre, and will beautifully bridge that gap between easy-readers and the joy of children’s chapter books. Just don’t be surprised if your daughter asks to bake cookies for an elderly neighbor.

If you liked this series you might also enjoy: The Mandie Collection by Lois Gladys Leppard

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Series Review: Ladybug Girl

Summertime is full of adventure, but sometimes it all gets to be a bit much for little folks. If you know someone under the age of five who is more comfortable with a literary excursion than a physical one, introduce them to the Ladybug Girl  series by David Soman and Jacky Davis.

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The title character is a spunky preschooler named Lulu who loves ladybugs (what preschool girl doesn’t?). Dressed in her signature Ladybug Girl outfit, she discovers that she has amazing superpowers of kindness, determination,  helpfulness, and optimism. When she meets a new friend or encounters a new situation she sometimes feels uneasy or afraid, even frustrated. But when she remembers her true identity as Ladybug Girl, she overcomes her insecurities and reaches out to find a solution.

With the family Bassett hound by her side as a trusty companion, Lulu faces a believable scenario and learns a valuable skill in each book. Her family is stable and supportive (admittedly suburban middle-class, which might not resonate with every child) and her parents lovingly allow her to face her challenges with a refreshing degree of autonomy within a safe environment. Lulu is thoroughly endearing, her thoughts and feelings are fun to read aloud, and her development is upbeat and heartwarming.

My own small daughters were gifted the original Ladybug Girl book when it first came out, at a time when a lot of major changes left them feeling shy and uncertain. We read that volume until it fell apart, and eagerly collected each new book as it came out: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad, Ladybug Girl at the BeachLadybug Girl and Bingo and more. I loved the reality of the story plots, the emphasis on imagination and creative play with friends, and the healthy confidence they encouraged. Not overconfidence or rudeness, just positive assertion. My son has devoured these along with his sisters, and now my second pair of girls is running around with wings and antennae. At a stage when getting out and about in the world is so much fun – but kind of scary too – Ladybug Girl is a superhero we can all get behind.

If you liked these books you might also enjoy: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban

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Series Review: Pleasant Valley Farm

The beautiful month of May is here, and it seems only right that we should find a nice spot to enjoy it. Allow me to suggest a literary visit to Pleasant Valley Farm with Helga Moser and Nadia (Brover) Gura.

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The Pleasant Valley Farm series is a collection of four (so far) stories that follow the animals who live on the farm. Each volume features a different main character, with other favorites forming a lovable supporting cast. We meet Danny the Workhorse, Snoopy the Sheep, Chester the Rooster, and Shadow the Barn Cat; all under the gentle and joyful care of Farmer Don and Missus Dora. The animals are described and illustrated in charming detail as they learn the lessons that help them to take their places in the busy life of the farm.

On the title page of each book is a short Bible verse and a note to parents about the theme presented in that story. This provides a helpful and formative resource, but the stories stand on their own. They are beautifully written, and skillfully convey their lessons about hard work, contentment, humility, and diligence in a way that is realistic and engaging. Didactic stories are not popular just now, but this series does it right. The animals learn much as our children will; they make mistakes, but with patient care in a nurturing environment they develop into members of a community where integrity and mutual respect brings productivity and peace.

For children familiar with farming, these books are a heartfelt tribute to their way of life. For children who have never seen a farm, they are a detailed glimpse of the green and quiet places where their food is raised, and the relationships that thrive no matter where you live. (And lest anyone think these books excessively nostalgic, I know quite a few families who grow much of their own food or choose to farm with horses; what is depicted here may be rare but it is authentic.) Each story grows at a rhythmic pace amid lush illustrations, with lots of fun tidbits about the farm and the animals. Delightful to read aloud with toddlers; independent readers will also be seeking these out to read on their own. I only hope Dolly the Milk Cow gets her own book soon.

If you liked this series you might also enjoy: Cynthia Coppersmith’s Violet Comes to Stay and Violet Goes to the Country, written by Melanie Cecka and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

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Please note: these two books, based on the work of a fictional character from Jan Karon’s bestselling Mitford series, are unfortunately out of print. However if you can find a used copy for sale or at the library, they are well worth picking up.