In a sad commentary on how behind I am, by the time I was ready to review Harry Bliss' Bailey, the sequel, Bailey at the Museum, had arrived. So I decided to discuss the two books together (though the second book won't be available until September 1st).
Harry Bliss' Bailey is a huge hit in our house. Bailey is a small, spotted dog, who (apparently) lives by himself and attends elementary school. All of his classmates are kids, and the running gag is the way that the kids (and teacher, and principal) accept Bailey as a member of the class, despite his frequent demonstrations of dog-like behavior (digging around in the trash, licking people, etc.).
Bailey is chock-full of humor, some of which may be over the heads of young readers. This is consistent with Bliss' work as a New Yorker cartoonist / cover artist, and with his illustrations for the Diary of a Worm series by Doreen Cronin. He clearly wants his books to appeal to parents as well as to kids. My favorite is a page in which Bailey's teacher asks for his homework. A thought bubble shows Bailey eating his own homework, a delightful riff on "the dog ate my homework".
I think that Bailey is also a great title for promoting early literacy. Much of the text is conveyed in dialog bubbles and thought bubbles (with the latter including everything that Bailey "says" - he doesn't actually speak out loud). Pointing to each bubble while reading it aloud is a great way to show kids that there are words there, in a completely seamless manner. You have to point, to show which kid (or dog) is saying what. In light of recent research that touts the benefits of pointing at the text, this format seems like a real win-win. The dialog bubbles also give the books a bit of a graphic novel feel. And they are frequently funny. For example, when the principal tells Bailey not to lick anyone today, a fellow student thinks: "That's good advice!"
Bailey is definitely more a book for active sharing than for, say, a soothing bedtime read-aloud. All of the dialog bubbles make the reading a bit choppy. The sentences are all short and straightforward, with no fancy vocabulary. In fact, it would probably be a good early reader, too.
Bliss' illustrations are crisp and colorful. Bailey's features are expressive, as is his frequently wagging tail. The kids have a tendency to look like mini-adults, particularly the ones with glasses (through which the eyes are never seen). But there's still a kid-friendly joy to the pictures.
[I do, after many, many read-aloud sessions of Bailey with Baby Bookworm, have one complaint about the illustrations. Bailey is shown (see cover image above) as an off-white dog with brown spots. His spots are large and irregular, and Baby Bookworm (age 2) can not accept that they are not dirt. Every time we read the book we have to explain, again, that he's not dirty - this is just the way his fur is. But she'll get it eventually ;-) ]
All in all, though, Bailey is a can't miss title. It worked immediately for my two-year-old, and for me, though I suspect that the real sweet spot is more with 3-5 year old preschoolers. Top-notch illustrations, kid-and-parent-friendly humor, and an engaging protagonist. What more could one want from a picture book for pre- and new readers?
Bailey at the Museum features, as one would expect from the title, Bailey going with his class on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History. The temptation of dinosaur bones results in Bailey having to be accompanied by his own personal museum guard. But our hero charms the guard, and still has an excellent visit.
Bliss continues to add entertaining details for the alert reader. For example, at lunch the guard is reading a book called "Guarding Stuff" by "Don T. Touch". The children and adults walk along in height order in front of a painting of monkeys evolving to upright men (in height order). Bailey is unable to resist drinking from the fountain in front of the museum, and a pigeon muses "Looks like trouble!".
I didn't find Bailey at the Museum quite as funny as the original book, though. Perhaps the joke of a dog engaging in regular kid activities (but being tempted to bad behavior by his doggy nature) is wearing a little thin. But it's equally well-illustrated, and equally well-suited to promoting early literacy. I think that fans of the first book will definitely want to give Bailey at the Museum a look. I do highly recommend both books for preschoolers and the adults who read with them.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 1, 2011 (Bailey) and September 1, 2012 (Bailey at the Museum)
Source of Books: Review copies from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).