Amidst the slew of awards announced last week, I was thrilled to see Mo Willems’ Are You Ready to Play Outside? named the Geisel Award winner (given for the most distinguished book for early readers.) One of a series of books featuring Elephant and Piggie, these books are TRUE beginning readers. And they are TRULY distinguished.
Every element of the books works to facilitate understanding by a new reader: the pictures, the text, the font size, the font color. The simplicity of Willems’ drawings is so deceptive; they are doing so much! The plain background gives emphasis to the text and the two main characters (occasionally another joins, and if so, is given their own color). Gerald the elephant naturally is gray, and Piggie pink. When they speak, the background of their text boxes is the respective matching color.
The text is appropriately sparse, and the font size varies according to the emotional import of the story. When Piggie is sad, the text is small; when she is mad, it is large and then even larger. The uncluttered layout, varying typefaces, and oh so expressive faces of Elephant and Piggie make it easy for a young reader to decipher their emotions and even to read with expression.
And if this wasn’t enough, the story is funny, engaging, warm and something almost all children can relate to — wanting to play outside (yea!), then a rainstorm (oh no!), loving to splash in puddles (yeah!), then sunshine (oh no!). My first grader loves to read these books to his younger brother, and both usually end up rolling around with laughter! Some are a bit more absurd (There’s a Bird on Your Head!) in their sense of humor, others more universal (I Love My New Toy!), others delightfully quirky (I Will Surprise My Friend) but all are so full of child appeal. May Elephant and Piggie’s friendship be long-lived!