Little Fish just started his first chapter books, the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo. In regards to his reading level, he really could have used more practice with easier leveled readers, but he seemed bored by them and loves to have me read chapter books to him. Thankfully, I noticed the Mercy Watson books at the library and remembered they were the first chapter books that Big Fish read. We got out the first one in the series and he loved it. He pushed himself through each chapter and wanted to read 3-4 chapters each time he sat down to read. He is now on the third book in the series, Mercy Watson Fights Crime, and will bring it to me frequently and ask me to sit with him so he can read it. And his big brother has been excited to see them come in the house and has been re-reading them, too. Now in under 10 minutes a book! So why do we all love Mercy Watson? Read on…..
Little Fish loves that there are pictures, mostly in full color, on almost every set of facing pages. In fact, in Mercy Watson Fights Crime there are only 2 sets of facing pages that do not have a single picture. Little Fish has struggled with a visual processing disorder since birth and part of that is that he doesn’t always form an accurate picture in his mind based upon information he reads or hears. Therefore, he studies the pictures carefully in the book to help him understand the story. This often helps him “guess” the right word when he has to sound out a word he does not recognize immediately. Yes, sometimes he gets lost in the pictures and has to be reminded to return to reading the words, but he is easily redirected. And believe me, he notices when he gets to one of those pages without pictures. He will tell us he does not like it when there is not a picture.
The Mercy Watson books are also suited to Little Fish’s visual needs because they contain large type with lots of white space between the lines. To give you an idea of how much text there is: on a page with no pictures, there are only 13 lines and typically no more than 7 words in a line. This makes reading each page fairly quick. Occasionally words are italicized or written in big, fun bubble letters for emphasis. There are enough of these instances to teach the purpose of the change in font without being so much that it slows down decoding.
For those that are familiar with specific reading levels, Mercy Watson is a level K in the Fountas & Pinnell system, which correlates to level L in Reading A-Z Levels, a 501-550 Lexile and ages 7-8. They contain many sight words and words that can be easily sounded out. They also contain some repetition of phrases to decrease the amount of decoding needed. However, they are not overly simplified and contain some challenging names such as “Eugenia” and “Officer Tomilello”. They also contain some higher level vocabulary words such as “porcine”, “reforming”, “contentedly”, “folly”, and “menace”.
So we have talked about all the technical aspects, but what about the story itself? The books are about 70 pages each and the main characters are Mr. and Mrs. Watson, their pet pig Mercy, who is treated as a person, and their neighbors, sisters Baby and Eugenia Lincoln. Eugenia is portrayed as grumpy, which Little Fish finds to be funny. Police officers, fireman, and even a robber make up some of the supporting characters. The stories are set in a small town and contain a short sequence of events that includes a problem and a resolution. The sequence is easy to follow and very little inference is needed to understand the plot. And spoiler alert: most, if not all, the books end with hot, buttered toast!
Since these are books that are read in Little Fish’s free time, I do not really push him to tell the story back or answer comprehension questions about the story, but you could easily incorporate that. Hope you enjoy the Mercy books as much as we do!