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English with Abby and Zak Review by Donna Campos

Tracy Traynor, Illustrated by Laura Hambleton
Milet Publishing
814 N. Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60610

The Abby and Zak books are designed to help children (age five to ten) start learning English or French or improve what they already know. Each 48-page book is sturdy, colorful, and well illustrated. Each book contains a section for parents/teachers, 15 two-page spreads of instructional topics, four quizzes, the answers to the quizzes, and a list of words used in the book. A very helpful audio CD is also included in the back of each book in a soft, plastic storage envelope. The CD announces each two-page spread in the book, reads through all conversation balloons outlined in red, verbalizes words included in illustrations, and then reads through the word list found in the back of each book. The parents and teachers" section explains the intended use of the book and gives tips on using it with your child. The book covers basic phrases and words related to introducing oneself, the alphabet, numbers, family, various community locations and activities, feelings, colors, pretend play, and toys. The word list in the English book is in English only; the French book provides the French words and the English translations.

French with Abby and Zak is written completely in French (with the exception of the parents/teacher section). There are no translations as you read through the book, and students glean the meanings from the illustrations. [It is worth noting that there are times the illustrations do not offer full representations of the words listed; the food on plates had fish sticks and pasta, but not the strawberries and ice cream also listed. On a different page the clock is showing 9 o'clock, but Abby reads through every hour up to 12 o'clock, with no reference to the actual time of 9 o'clock. And when presenting optional endings to a sentence stem, only the additional endings were verbalized. We would have preferred to hear the entire sentence spoken again.] Whether it is used as an introduction to a language or as a review of a more extensive course already being taught, this book is intended for use in a one-on-one environment between teacher/parent and student. The teacher and student read each section together, listen to the CD (repeating as desired), and work on verbalizing the words and phrases. French with Abby and Zak is an ideal tool for families who have young children as well as older children learning French, as it lends itself to introducing the younger children to the French language while offering simple practice for older children. Our 15-year-old has been learning French and found this book to be a nice way to sit with her 8-year-old brother and introduce him to a few of the words and phrases she has been learning.

English with Abby and Zak is a welcome option for families learning English as a second language. This book would be a great lap reader for children and their grandparents whose first language is not English. The illustrations are bright and lively and offer a good representation of the meaning of the words. The book provides a great overview of conversational English, including numbers, letters, time, basic household and family words, and more.

Although these two Abby and Zak books are presented as two separate books with different intentions, one for learning English and one for learning French, I believe they could actually be used together as companion books. Parents could first read the English one with their child and then read the French one. This would be especially helpful for those who do not have any background in the French language.

Our family enjoyed these two books, although having some prior knowledge of French was definitely helpful. The audio CD is an excellent tool for teaching an appropriate accent. The Abby and Zak characters come across as "bubbly" and vivacious, making them friendly speakers of the new language. We would recommend these books together, as a combination tool, for review of French, or for families with members learning French or English as a second language.

Every two-page spread in Monkey Business: Fun with Idioms offers a whimsical illustration depicting possible literal meanings for a well-known idiom. Eleven idioms are included, and the book ends with a list of those idioms and their intended meanings. There are no instructions or teacher comments in the book, as it is fairly self-explanatory. The illustrations are very colorful and are presented as if they might have been drawn by an elementary-aged student (playful and cartoon-like without grand realistic detail).

We found this book to be very fun and convenient for discussing idioms and their meanings. Some children may enjoy coming up with drawings of their own to represent the different idioms; others will simply learn from discussions that arise as they read the book with their parents. Some of the illustrations seemed almost odd to us, but none of us can see into the mind of a child and imagine how they picture the idioms we commonly use. Monkey Business: Fun with Idioms offers us an opportunity to discuss the subject matter without the pressures of an academic environment. For autistic spectrum children, who often interpret things so literally, parents will want to preview this book before sitting down to read it together. Some of the illustrations may cause a fearful reaction (angry teeth, heads drawn with lightning bolts, etc.). We will add this book to our language arts curriculum and use it as a springboard to imaginative drawings of our own. This book will be useful for all children fascinated by the English language and its silly sayings and for parents who want to help them understand it all. 

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2007