Some books are so amazingly put together that one can’t help but wonder if the author and illustrator were totally aware of what they were doing–or if they got a little lucky.

I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.

Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.

Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.

The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.

What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.

What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.

Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?

Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.

Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.

The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!

So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).

Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!

Babette

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