From the publisher: Rook is about a cunning young thief who takes whatever she wants. But one day, she steals from the wrong witch and she’s caught! The witch takes her in, and teaches her how to create, not take.
Rook came as one of three in a set of easy readers from Castor Tales. I got them through a Kickstarter campaign. The purpose was to put out easy reader fantasies with diverse characters. Last year when I went through our easy reader collection (you can see the stats here) I was unsurprised to discover it was very homogenous and focused almost entirely on talking animals and/or realistic fiction. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of kids who love those kinds of stories, but if we’re trying to get kids interested in reading we need to be sure we can serve all kids, including those that like nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. I think this is especially true for roping in reluctant readers.
When I set out to improve the collection, I struggled to find high quality easy readers that featured diversity in their genres and characters. It often worked out that I could get one or the other but rarely both. I gave to the Kickstarter campaign because I saw first hand the lack of variety and diversity and realized there is a need for books like these.
Rook was a lot of fun. She’s a thief with a pet corvid and, in the beginning of the story, we see her stealing from a variety of people. Then she steals from a witch, oh poo. But instead of a cruel witch, she wants to help Rook change her ways. While you could focus on the theme of making better choices or even friendship, I saw an opening for a discussion around society’s current obsession with consumption. Rook begins by proudly announcing she is a thief who always takes. But with the support of a friend, someone who wants to accept her, she is able to shift to creating. Not to sound like the grumpy old man shouting about getting off the lawn, but kids do a lot of consuming, particularly of online content. I think it’s healthy for us to have conversations with them about not only consuming, but also creating their own content to put out into the world.
Other great features of the book are bright and lively illustrations. They feel like they come right out of an animated series. I especially adore Rook herself. She’s got jewelry, henna or tattoos, a partially shaved head and dirt smudges. I appreciate when characters in picture books don’t conform to some clean, White ideal of what people should look like. Showing girls that they can be strong and beautiful no matter how they choose to look (or are born looking) is an incredibly powerful and important message we need to send.
The book also features a list of the sight words used in the story on the back cover. These are easy readers with some thought put into them. I am tired of books marketed as level one easy readers that have way too many words on a page or really complex spelling patterns. Even a classic like Frog and Toad is not for emerging readers. Rook has a few more difficult words that have more complex spelling patterns in them (“create”), but, by and large, the book uses simple sight words (as seen on the back) and basic, predictable spelling patterns. My own daughter should be able to read it with me in a few months (she recently started reading). Even the harder words are repeated so children will have a chance to see them several times in the course of the story. The text also cleverly repeats which allows them to draw on their memory and shows new readers that, while they are reading the same words again, the meaning has changed.
So, I definitely recommend Rook for classrooms and libraries that serve emerging readers. Unfortunately I don’t think you can buy them just yet. You can visit the website and Kickstarter campaign, but I couldn’t find anything about when or if they would be available outside the campaign which ended last fall. In the meantime I would suggest keeping your eye out for them or contacting the publisher.