#WorldKidLit Wednesday: Shout Hooray, Here Comes Lolo!

As an early childhood literacy specialist and library professional, I have a secret to share with you. An industry secret, if you will.

Ready?

Children’s librarians are not the biggest fans of “easy reader” books.

Also known as “emerging readers” or “beginning readers,” these very short books or stories are targeted toward children just beginning to read and decode text on their own. They may be useful, but they are not always examples of what teachers and librarians would call high quality literature.

Because of the constraints of easy readers, such as vocabulary, sight words, phonics, and length, they can sometimes be boring to read. In other words, easy readers do not always have engaging narratives. And if a child is not interested in what they are reading, they will not want to read. Parents will want to read it (aloud) even less. Not to mention librarians, who dread giving children required–yet uninspiring-books for school.

The Lolo easy reader series from Catalyst Press, however, is anything but uninspiring, boring, or second-rate. In fact, the books in the series thus far are charming, touching, and captivating. I loved reading these books, and I cannot wait to pass both titles on to my 8 year old niece. I hope that she enjoys this window into a South African girl’s life, and sees herself in Lolo’s own experiences.

Lolo is in elementary school, and lives with her mother and gogo (her grandmother), a dressmaker. Although not explicitly identified as such, Lolo and her family are apparently Xhosa, as evidenced by the Xhosa words included in the text (along with their translations into English). The grayscale illustrations showcase the diversity of present-day South Africa, and lend a timeless feel to Lolo’s adventures.

The first book in the series is Here Comes Lolo. Here we first meet our protagonist as she strives to earn a gold star for reading in her classroom’s weekly Star Awards. The day seems interminable, and Lolo finds waiting for the Star Awards painful. Finally free time arrives, during which Lolo decides to read-one book after the other. Her dedication pays off, as her teacher calls her name for gold reading stars! Lolo cannot wait to show Mama and Gogo the gold star now decorating her forehead.

But when she gets home, the gold star is gone! Lolo bursts into tears. Will she be able to find the gold star for which she worked so hard? Like all children, Lolo experiences strong emotions, and bursts into tears on more than one occasion. However, her mother and grandmother never discount her feelings or tell her to stop crying. They listen to their girl, and help her work through her big feelings. Mama and Gogo, in fact, are wonderful role models for parents.

In the follow-up Hooray for Lolo, Lolo deals with more serious challenges, such as getting her appendix removed. My favorite story in this volume, however, is when Lolo gets her first library card. Lolo and her Gogo visit the new library, with its “new building” smell, shelves of books, and shiny tables. Lolo wants to find a picture book, and she finds the perfect one-it’s “about a terrible monster with horns and and tusks.” Gogo tries to dissuade her granddaughter from her choice, but Lolo is sure.

Lolo’s instincts were right; even Gogo likes the story, as well as Lolo’s classmates. One of them likes it so much that he takes it home, and from there the very popular book changes hands again and again, until finally Lolo and her grandmother find it being thoroughly enjoyed by an elderly man, even though he cannot read. But now the book is overdue! Lolo is worried that the librarian will be upset, but what happens next is a wonderful example of the power of good books and public libraries (and their staff) to bring a community together.

There are four short stories in each book, each numbering no more than 20-odd pages. The illustrations break up the text so that it is not in large blocks, and the vocabulary is accessible (the most challenging words perhaps are some of the proper names-but it is always important to learn how to properly pronounce someone’s name).

The stories in each book are an ideal length for the elementary school reader who may not be quite ready for chapter books but is indeed ready to explore a more complex text on their own. The stories can also be shared as read-alouds, and include instances of onomatopoeia that can draw a listener in.

Teachers looking to use Lolo in the classroom can consult the Teaching Guides available on the publisher’s website, along with a fun activity sheet. There is also an interview with author and illustrator Niki Daly, detailing how he got started writing and illustrating children’s books, and his creative process for the Lolo series. The third book in the series, You’re a Star, Lolo, will be published in 2021, and I am looking forward to spending more time with kind, curious, and creative Lolo.

Here Comes Lolo

Written and Illustrated by Niki Daly

Catalyst Press, 2020

Originally published 2019, Otter-Barry Books

ISBN: 9781946395368

Reviews: Kirkus

Awards: Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Hooray for Lolo

Written and illustrated by Niki Daly

Catalyst Press, 2020

Originally published 2019, Otter-Barry Books

ISBN:  9781946395382

Awards: Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.

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