Bridging the Gap

Bridge Books.

No, not books about bridges. Bridge Books are those that carry a child over from picture books to early chapter books.

Picture books are often beautifully illustrated and tell a story a young child can relate to. The picture holds their interest while they process the story about the picture. The elaborate illustrations can fire their imaginations and make them howl with laughter. No one expects a preschooler to read them by themselves.

But by the age of four or five, the simplicity of a picture book story may bore a child. They want more, but sitting and listening to a long story with no pictures is also not the solution. Enter the Bridge Books, short, easy-to-follow stories that are more involved, but still full of captivating drawings and pictures that keep a child’s attention. Like a picture book, no one expects an emergent or new reader to read these books on their own, but they provide a deeper and longer story than a picture book, and it’s no stretch to finish a chapter or two before bed every night.

Bridge books come in a wide range of abilities for both the very beginning reader and the more advanced. Perhaps the very first one to start with is Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznick. My four year old couldn’t get enough of Baby Monkey, and still loves to carry the book around, even though she can now decode the words. Baby Monkey, though shelved in with the graphic novels, is the perfect first reader – simple repetitive words, very short sentences, and full illustrations which are loaded with easter eggs. From Baby Monkey we went right to Selznick’s more famous story, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is much longer but just as beautifully illustrated with pictures that capture the imagination – and ties into actual film history that you can find on YouTube for added bonus. The movie version of the book, Hugo, is just as wonderful.

Every child learns and processes information differently, and there is a bridge book for almost every type of learner. Some have color illustrations as clear as a cartoon, others well-rendered pencil drawings, to simple outline drawings or comic-book style artwork. Some are in full-color, others just black and white. Some have illustrations on every page, others every 2-3 pages. If your child is bored by one, let them choose the style of illustration they prefer. As always, nudge your child to go a little deeper into the story – can they predict what will happen on the next page? What would they do instead? If they were best friends with the character, what would they tell them? Draw a picture about the story. Make some toast for Mercy.

For early reading practice, give your child easy readers such as Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems, Dr. Seuss, or Pete the Cat, but for lengthening that attention span and jumping to the next level of story depth, check out these series of early Bridge Books to read with your child. The picture content is large and frequent, and unlike some of the more advanced bridge series, will not leave you weeping from unbearably painful story lines and prose (You know I’m talking about you, Purrmaids). You might just find yourself sneaking a read on your own!

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty story.  Sleeping Beauty and the people in her castle have been asleep for years. However, this sleeping sickness seems to be spreading. First, the nearby villages fall asleep, then the villages near them, and so on. Soon, the entire kingdom is asleep, and it’s up to three dwarfs and the queen of the neighboring kingdom to figure out how to put an end to the curse.

This story has an ingenious blend of fairy tales. For instance, the queen is a character from another story. I’ll just say that she is someone who has also been asleep for a long time and let you figure out who she is. There are also additional elements to the story that help flesh it out. Those who are asleep do more than sleep, an old woman who is trapped inside the castle and immune to the curse, and the more one delves into the story, the more it becomes apparent that the details of the Sleeping Beauty that appear in each retelling are not what they seem. Not to mention that the ending will leave you thinking, “Wait, what? What just happened?” Overall, this is a quick read that goes more in-depth than one would think the amount of pages would allow.

Genre: Fantasy

Setting: A fairy tale land in an unspecified historical era.

Number of pages: 66

Objectionable content? A small amount of violence, one death, an occasional corpse, and unsettling factors (i.e. the sleepers)

Can children read this? Yes, as long as they are not easily upset by unsettling elements in stories. However, this book is best for teenagers and adults.

Who would enjoy this? Anyone who enjoys Neil Gaiman’s other works, and anyone who enjoys fairy tale remakes.

Themes: Beauty, power, loss, choices, strong women, and the need to control other’s emotions vs. the strength of only feeling your emotions.

Rating: Five stars

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley is a funny and interesting biographical graphic novel about Lucy’s relationship with her boyfriend, John, and their wedding. This book takes you through how they met in college, moved in together, broke up, dated other people for three years, then abruptly became engaged.

Then, it takes you through a year of a DIY wedding. DIY: decorations (ALL the decorations), music playlist, ties for the men in the wedding party, photo booth, personalized gifts for every single guest, personalized gifts for everyone in the wedding party, and the list goes on. What they could not do themselves they worked out as cheaply as possible: a wedding dress that was on sale (it had pockets!), a backyard barn built for the occasion, and a friend of the family to cater everything.

There is also plenty of wedding stress. Lucy’s mother had her own list of guests to invite that mostly consisted of people who were strangers to Lucy and John, and it was longer than Lucy and John’s list of guests. The mother-of-the-bride also kept insisting on other things such as hiring a wedding planner without consulting the bride and groom, changing the size of the intended barn which forced the couple to remove guests from their invitation list, a band instead of their DIY playlist, and her badly-behaved dog walking down the aisle at the wedding. As Lucy and John worked through all of this stress, Lucy also reflected on what weddings used to be, what they have become, what marrying a man means for her bisexuality, and what she wants most in a marriage.

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: Most of the story takes place in modern-day Chicago and New York state.

Number of pages: 291

Is this good for a book club? Yes, if the club is willing to read a graphic novel. This book contains a lot of good discussion material about an important cultural milestone. It is also very quick to read, despite the number of pages.

Themes: The history of weddings, the modern wedding industry’s influence on what people think weddings are supposed to be (and what they are supposed to cost), how weddings can negatively impact people who are not heterosexual, what it means to have a good marriage, different types of relationships, and how wedding stress can bring out the worst in people.

Objectionable content: Suggestive themes, sexuality, and alcohol.

Can children read this? Teenagers would enjoy this.

Who would like this? Anyone who is preparing for their own wedding, preparing for someone else’s wedding, has gone through a wedding, thinks weddings are overrated, thinks weddings are wonderful, or enjoys examining the wedding industry.

Rating: Five stars

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