Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Mark Teague
Publication Date: 1997
Publisher: Blue Sky Press
Format: Early/Easy Reader
Plot summary: In this first book that starts Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton series, Poppleton adjusts to small-town living. In “Neighbors”, the readers are introduced to Cherry Sue, a llama who insists on inviting Poppleton over for meals and can’t seem to take “no” for an answer. In “The Library”, we get a glimpse of Poppleton’s love for the library — and his desire for routine. In the last story, “The Pill”, Poppleton tries to hide a pill for a sick friend, Fillmore.
Audience: Ages 4-8 (approximate, based on various reviews and my experience using this in school library setting)
-Simple plot lines are easy to follow for preschoolers and beginning readers
-Short, punchy sentences that keep the plot moving
-In this book and throughout the other books in the series, Poppleton’s rather stiff, serious personality and mannerisms lead to many opportunities where he learns to relax and have a bit of fun. He struggles between “acting like a pig” and being polite, and makes many faux pas along the way.
-Albeit all of Poppleton’s misadventures, he remains loyal to his friends and they always forgive him.
-Both adults and kids will enjoy the matter-of-fact, dry humor. There aren’t punchlines, per se, but Poppleton’s quirks will amuse readers.
-Mark Teague’s illustrations are endearing. Many of the illustrations — especially those of the characters’ facial expressions — add to the text.
-The plot lines are simple and somewhat predictable, and the lack of action in some stories may turn readers off. In a sense, the series comprises of a bunch of vignettes about “nothing” (reminds me of TV sitcom Seinfeld), so readers who do not enjoy this type of observational/subtle humor might not like this series. Some kids might not get the irony that Poppleton, a pig, acts like a pig sometimes.
-To fully appreciate the idiosyncrasies of Poppleton and his friends, one would have to read more than just one book. In that sense, the book and its character development can’t stand alone…the reader benefits .
-Because the books don’t have obvious storylines or themes, they don’t necessarily support or fit into curriculum/lesson plans well. For example, though some books in the series deal with seasons, they would not one’s go-to book to read on that topic.
-Based on my experience in the school library setting, Poppleton and others in the series make great read-aloud for kids preschool to 3rd grade. Kids seem to join the friendships in the series, the misunderstandings, and the general silliness of Poppleton.
-I have also used this book (and others in this series) as part of the author study on Cynthia Rylant. For younger kids, I pair this with Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter and Tabby books.
-For older readers (grades 1-3), I have used this book, in conjunction with other Cynthia Rylant books, to discuss literary concepts such as genre, tone, writing style, and audience. For example, I would read a Poppleton book, and then contrast that with something like Dog Heaven (1995) or The Old Woman Who Named Things (2000) to show that the same author can create different tones/moods from one book to another. The kids sometimes vote for their favorite, and explain why.
- Best Children’s Books of the Year, 1998 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
- Books to Read Aloud to Children of All Ages, 2003 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
- Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
- Children’s Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
- Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, December 1996 ; Cahners; United States
- Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
- ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award, 1998 Winner Beginning Readers United States
Other: AR Points 0.5; Interest Level: Lower Grade; Book Level 2.7; Lexile Measure 370 (CLCD)