Ready ... set ... go to it!
That's the excitement generated by these Early Readers, geared toward encouraging young children to do it themselves. All three books provide stories and illustrations that will lure kids beyond the simple picture book genre and get them involved in learning to read on their own.
"Doodle Dog," written and illustrated by Eric Seltzer (Aladdin Paperbacks, $3.99) presents a very simple verse storyline and comic pictures that sometimes look a little like doodles. The title character is an artist whose adventures include a trip to a fortune teller (Madame Hare) and a visit to the Ritz - ventures that will surely open up new realms to kids.
Simple art supplies and procedures are the story's focal points, inspiring readers to dabble in more than just words. There is even gentle guidance for creating modest masterpieces rather than messes.
A message about helping friends also is introduced, but subtly. "Doodle Dog" goes a long way in showing the rewards of good attitudes without hammering the topic.
"Ruby Bakes a Cake" (HarperTrophy, $3.99) has all the ingredients that will cause readers to devour the domestic tale many times over. Written by Susan Hill with pictures by Margie Moore, this book humorously shows what can happen when someone asks for a little too much advice.
For Ruby Raccoon, baking a cake requires consulting all her friends first. The resulting lumpy fiasco becomes palatable, however, because Ruby finds that all of her advisers have offered something important to them. So when she shares the result, each has something good to say.
Never has a cake looked so bad yet brought so many cheery words. Children who have tried their best to produce something special will appreciate the taste of kindness that comes with this book.
At a slightly more advanced level, "Best in Show for Rotten Ralph" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15) is a hardback that will stand up to lots of use - which it certainly will get. Rotten Ralph has been around for nearly 30 years, thanks to the combined talents of Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel, and the devilish red cat is still as rambunctiously appealing as ever.
Rotten Ralph provides the perfect example of why it's OK to break from the pack and be an individual. No sugar coating here; Ralph is definitely an untraditional hero who decides that winners don't necessarily have to be outstanding at everything.
But he still has a bit of traditionalist in him. The sometimes-fiendish feline closes the book purring as he celebrates. And he make the purr-fect comment: "I love being me!"
He'll surely make kids feel that way, too.
- Lois Henderlong is a freelance writer who has reviewed children's books for publications across the Midwest. She lives in La Porte, Ind., and can be reached at email@example.com.