I really wanted to love this new book written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown. Born to Read is about a boy named Sam who knows from the time he's a tiny baby that he's "born to read". And I do love parts of it, like when Sam's patient mother reads him book after book after book, and when a slightly older Sam reads at the mall, and while playing basketball. I also quite liked Marc Brown's gouache on wood illustrations. Sam is adorable, with red hair that sticks up in an enormous cowlick and big blue eyes. I like the combination of colors and texture of the illustrations, and the way that the illustrations are liberally sprinkled with pictures of books (specific books, in some cases, like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom).
And yet .... although I am a huge proponent of reading, I found the pro-reading message a trifle heavy-handed. Sam enters a bicycle race and wins handily against a bunch of older, more experienced cyclists because he has read extensively about everything from motivation to bike repair. He's not shown practicing at all (though he is shown on his bike on an earlier page), and the message seems to be that if you read enough about a sport, you can not only compete, but win races. I actually found this more absurd than the subsequent Sam-the-giant-tamer story (although that story was a bit tough to swallow, too, coming as it did at the end of an otherwise fairly realistic book). I did like the contrast that the book displayed by having a giant baby returned to a medieval-looking castle by a "cargo jet from UPS". But it was still kind of an odd mix.
The text makes extensive use of rhyme, which I believe is a trademark of the author. Sometimes this rhyme works ("And while the giant ate his snack up, Sam discreetly called for backup") and sometimes it doesn't ("Fee, fie, fo, fum" the giant said. I'll grind your bones to make my bread." "No, no," said Sam. "Have cake instead."). There were sentences that I had to read multiple times, to figure out what was going on with the rhyme and meter.
So, in summary, I think that this book is well-intentioned, sometimes fun, and gorgeously illustrated. I think that parents who want to encourage young readers will buy it and read it to their kids, and that they will enjoy it. But my personal recommendation, if you're looking to encourage a child to love books, is to not push this particular book too hard. I think that the strong "read, read, read" message, combined with the implied message that reading is sufficient, could backfire. I think it's better to concentrate on bringing great stories to your children's attention, and to let them learn to love books naturally.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 12, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Young Readers (Becky), Cheryl Rainfield
Author Interviews: Powell's Q&A
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.