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The superhero craze in my house shows no signs of dying down yet. My oldest loves his graphic novels, but they are a bit too complex for my youngest ( age 3). So we've made do with a number of small story books, which seem better suited to his age. Spiderman is his all time favourite super hero, but he does seem to like a good villain as well. I'm not sure if like is the right word, but he certainly enjoys books with a well developed - somewhat scary villain. Perhaps it is more that he loves to hate them. Venom just happens to be a perfect comic book villain. There is no depth to the character, no struggle between good and evil, he is just plain out and out bad --- something that appeals to my youngest in a "bad guy". Venom looks wicked too, he has muscular hulking body with huge white teeth and insect like eyes which stand out all the more with his body colour being jet black. The artist has drawn him quite well in this book, and he has an air of menace about him, and usually appears poised and ready to attack.
This book is level 2 in a series called "I Can Read". These are all short, simple stories, with an effort made to use words that developing readers will already be familiar with. For this reason it often criticised as promoting sight reading, or whole language, but I don't see it that way. I think this is just a good book for children who have already started to read, which helps makes reading fun. It does not really matter what method the child learned reading with, only that they have reached a level of proficiency that will allow them to read slightly longer more complex sentences and a fair number of medium length words like "suddenly", "scientist" and "waste basket". Although my oldest did not use this particular book when learning to read, he did use several others in the series, and the fact that phonics formed the backbone of my reading instruction did not make any difference at all.
At seven though, my oldest is really a bit too old for this. He was happy to read it once when it first arrived, and will read it to his brother for me now and again, but it is a bit too far below his reading level now. At age 3, my youngest is a long way from starting to read, so while I anticipate this being used to develop reading skills a couple of years down the line, at the moment, this book has only one purpose in our house, and that is as a story book. Many books designed for new readers are so dull they really can not be used for anything else, but this book really does make an excellent bedtime story for a young Spiderman fan.
This book begins with Peter Parker happily sitting down to a large stack of pancakes, when a news bulletin catches his attention. The television screen shows a black and white image of Venom on a rampage in the city. I've no idea why it is in black and white, it isn't like many children today have ever seen a black and white television. Peter Parker rushes off to get pictures for the newspaper. His Aunt May insists that he take a snack though, and the next page shows Spiderman swinging through the air with a banana saying he feels more like a spider monkey. My son especially likes this, as even before reading this the first time he was laughing at Spiderman looking like a monkey in the picture. Spiderman catches up with Venom in J. Jonah Jameson's office. I think the rest of the story is obvious, falling into standard comic book format. There is a fight, as is to be expected, but no blood, no deaths and nothing to frighten children except for the appearance of venom himself. My son quite likes venom, but I can see this character being just a bit too scary for some very young children. If the child likes scary creatures though, this short and fast moving story would be appropriate for very young children, perhaps even a bit before age 2.
One niggle I have with I Can Read's Spiderman books is that they keep changing Peter Parker. This means that the Peter Parker in one book is completely unrecognisable as the Peter Parker in the next book, and this has confused my youngest to some extent. I explained that different artists have drawn Peter in different books, but I wish they had made some effort and continuity here. That complaint aside, this Peter Parker does look like a teenager, as he is meant to, and a boy - which isn't quite so obvious in some of the books. The pictures are of a reasonable quality, but the legs on the last one look very disproportionate and Peter seems to have a look on his face that would make one wonder if the teenagers smokes - and I'm not thinking of tobacco. The artwork is far better where Venom and Spiderman are concerned, and I believe J. Jonah Jameson is very well captured as well, looking very much like a crotchety old git, but that is how he is meant to look. Aunt May is skeletal, to the point that I could see some children being frightened of her, but she is a kind person, and I think it beneficial for children to see kind people that look a bit scary too. The idea being that they won't shy away from a pensioner in the last stages of a grievous illness - which is very much the way Aunt May appears. I did consider knocking off a star for the artwork, but it is excellent where it counts the most, Spiderman and Venom, and my son has no issues with it other than the fact that Peter Parker keeps changing. And all complaints aside this isn't the best Peter Parker - but it isn't the worst either.
In considering the rating, I am taking into consideration the fact that I do feel this book is ideal for emergent readers, as it easy enough to read, and interesting enough to make boys want to read. I really think this series has been a wonderful addition to our library, and while this book hasn't been used yet for development of reading skills, I'm sure it will be in time. I also have to consider the fact that my son really loves this book. Venom fascinates him, and he still laughs at the spider monkey page, despite have read this dozens and dozens of times. I paid £2.59 for this book new, as a used copy would have ended up costing me more. In my opinion, this book has already paid for itself , as many nights my son can't wait to get into bed to start hearing his stories, and this one is well loved. The fact that he can use it again when learning to read is an added bonus. Therefore, despite a few niggles with the art work - I am still giving this a full five stars.