Up today are a series of books recommended by the Montgomery County (MD) Public Library System. The series is broken in to two parts. The first part is known as the “Humphrey’s Tiny Tales” books; these are recommended for second graders or low-reading third graders. The second part is the “Humphrey Adventures” books; these are leveled for third-grade readers. All the books are written by Betty G. Birney and are told from the point of view of a hamster named Humphrey, who is one of the classroom pets in Room 26.
“Humphrey’s School Fair Surprise” is one of the Tiny Tales. The words are relatively simple, the text is large and easy-to-read, and the plot is basically a straight story line from beginning to end. The book is also simply illustrated, with basic shapes instead of extensive detail, reinforcing the idea that this it is geared for younger readers. As Humphrey narrates the tale of Room 26’s participation in the upcoming school fair, he and the students learn valuable lessons about what makes each of them and their class special, as well as the importance of working together to achieve their goal, ideas completely appropriate for students of this age.
“Imagination according to Humphrey” is one of the Humphrey Adventures, and it is clearly aimed at a third-grade (or even a fourth-grade) audience. Birney uses more sophisticated vocabulary, a smaller text font, and a plot consisting of a number of different elements. Third-grade students are at the point where they have stopped learning to read and are, instead, reading to learn. Birney uses her plot to describe situations that third-graders should find reassuring and familiar (i.e. the kids’ home lives, reading and writing stories in the classroom, taking care of the classroom pets, etc.). She also uses her plot to foster learning. As the title suggests, using one’s imagination is the key to unlocking the secrets or solutions to most of the obstacles or difficulties the kids face. Kids can learn from the examples set by Humphrey (who learns a lot from his classroom friends), Mrs. Brisbane (the teacher), and the classroom students as to how to tackle difficult situations in their own lives. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Humphrey is lovable and a wonderful storyteller! In his own words, he knows what kids REALLY-REALLY-REALLY like.
All told, we found both of these books to be great examples of on-level reading, and it’s nice to see that one series can accommodate two different levels, so that students can start with the easier books in the second grade, and, when they’ve graduated to the third grade, they can pick up with characters they already know and love to learn more.
[Editor’s note: We found this series to be SO-SO-SO enjoyable, that we secretly snuck back to the library and took out a couple more books, just for enjoyment’s sake.]
Have you read these books? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share with other readers? Please leave comments in the section below.