Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review: Love is in the Air by Jonathan Fenske (2012)

Love is in the Air by Jonathan Fenske is a new (December 2012) Level 2 easy reader published by Penguin Young Readers. It is designated for the “progressing reader” and its Guided Reading Level is H. After a party, Balloon is left all alone, tied to a table. Just as he starts to droop, along comes Kite, a new friend who invites Balloon to fly with her. Balloon manages to break free, but then he flies higher than Kite. Once they are side by side, they have lots of fun... until the wind dies down and Balloon runs into a bird with a sharp beak. Is this friendship doomed to deflate?

In this, his very first book, Fenske has done everything exactly right. He creates lovable characters out of everyday objects, and gives them personality and significance in just a few simple words and images. Each word of the text is important, and none is extraneous; his writing is aptly economical and perfectly suited to the reading abilities of his audience. There are also some great artistic moments that set the writing apart. Repeated letter sounds in poetic phrases like “rose on the breeze,” “cool clouds” and “down drifted Kite” give the text a pleasing sound. Onomatopoeia enhances but does not take over the text, appearing only in speech bubbles to express sounds such as “Doink!” and “Plop!” This approach works so well, because readers get both the rich vocabulary of the story and the fun of those silly sound words.

The use of panels and speech bubbles give the book great visual appeal, and they work well with the cartoonish facial expressions of the two main characters. Fenske also makes great use of white space, giving the characters lots of room to move around. The result is that the illustrations feel almost animated. Visual hints that the story is set in the sky are minimal, but that sense of movement makes it impossible to forget that we’re meant to be floating on the breeze.

The relationship between the two characters is also perfect for the easy reader audience. Romances aren’t great for early elementary school kids, but gentle friendship stories still appeal to them. Kids will be intrigued by the idea of a balloon and a kite becoming friends, and they will be excited by the problems they have in being together, and ultimately comforted by the story’s sweet and happy ending. This sweetness also makes it a perfect easy reader for preschoolers who start reading early.

Love is in the Air is definitely one of my new favorite books, and I can’t wait to see more of Fenske’s fresh style.

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