Monday, February 15, 2010

Classic Monday: Nate the Great

"I, Nate the Great,
am a detective.
This morning I was a cold detective.
I was standing in the snow
with my dog, Sludge,
building a snow dog
and a snow detective.
They looked like Sludge and me.
They were cold and white and wet.
And so were we."

Nate the Great and the Snowy Trail

You gotta love Nate the Great: his hard-boiled monologue, his love of pancakes, his determination to solve the case. He's been around for nearly 40 years and still stands as a classic chapter book for readers beginning to read independently.

Kids today aren't going to get the Joe Friday tone to Nate's speech, the short, clipped sentences, the just-the-facts-ma'am attitude, but parents who grew up on Dragnet re-runs or have caught them on cable will recognize the similarity.

Line lengths are short, but there are quite a few per page. Often an entire page is covered in text. The stories are accessible, always involving other kids and their mysteries. The stories offer the opportunity to stop and predict what might happen -- a good higher-order thinking skill. The books are usually under 50 pages.

Lots of sight words here, and lots of repeated words, mainly because of how Nate talks. The repetition is nice for early readers because they get practice with the same words. However, this repetition makes them not a good choice for reading aloud -- you, the parent, will find yourself getting either a little bored with or annoyed by the text -- wonderful practice, but a slow read for competent readers.

There are about 25 books in Marjorie Sharmat's series, though several since the 1990s have been co-written with Craig or Mitchell Sharmat, who are presumably her sons. Nate the Great remains a good choice for beginning readers.

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