Best Season Ever (Katie Woo Series). Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). Boo, Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). By Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Tammie Lyon. Picture Window/Capstone, 32 pp., $19.99 each. Ages 5-8.
By Janice Harayda
Early readers — short chapter books with a limited vocabulary — are hard to write, and Fran Manushkin just clears the bar in this series about Katie Woo, a 6-year-old Chinese-American first-grader and her friends Pedro and JoJo. Tammie Lyon’s upbeat watercolors lack subtlety, and they get little help from the mundane plots and serviceable prose of these three books, which find the trio debating which season is best, celebrating the Fourth of July, and trying to scare people on Halloween. Each book has a glossary and other material at the end, and in Boo, Katie Woo! the back matter includes a recipe for a Halloween punch made from grape and orange juice, which apparently turn black when mixed. “Witch’s Brew might look pretty gross,” Manushkin writes, “but it will taste terrific.”
Best line: A party idea in the supplemental material for Boo, Katie Woo!: Make an “Icy Hand” for a Halloween punch by filling a non-powdered latex glove with water, freezing it, and removing the glove before floating it in the bowl.
Worst line: No. 1: A picture of Pedro heading a soccer ball and the words, “He backed up to hit the ball with his head” in Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo!. Katie is 6 years old, and her friends are about the same age. American Youth Soccer discourages children under the age of 10 from heading, and U.S. leagues generally don’t teach it before then. No. 2: A picture of Katie standing outdoors in a sleeveless dress in a snowstorm on the cover of Best Season Ever. This seems to be a fantasy when the other pictures are realistic, and it sends a confusing sign about what the book contains. No. 3: These books don’t explain why they phoneticize the Chinese surname “Wu” to “Woo.” Would a two-letter word have been harder for children to grasp than a 3-letter one?
Consider reading instead or or in addition these books: The “Henry and Mudge” early-reader series by Cynthia Ryant and Suçie Stevenson, which includes Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days.
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