Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words: Reading about Learning to Read
Written by Ruth Rocha, Illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Reviewed by Danielle Rodino
Pedro understands a lot about the world. He understands the pictures on posters and signs in his hometown: pictures of apples, tigers, and chickens. Pedro knows, too, that there are some things he doesn’t yet understand, like the street signs he sees on the corner. His mother tells him they show the names of the streets, but Pedro doesn’t quite understand how that can be. At least, not yet.
In Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words, popular Brazilian author Ruth Rocha (in this translation from the original Portugese) takes her readers on a journey of inquiry and discovery. We see the world through Pedro’s curious eyes, noting odd lines along the tops of buildings and beside pictures on signs. We can only make as much sense of the world as Pedro is able, and Rocha’s storytelling is so intriguing that we want to know more.
One day, Pedro’s mom announces that it is time for him to start school, so he can begin to understand the letters and numbers that have so long piqued his curiosity. That morning, the teacher introduces them to the letter A—and what an introduction it turns out to be. “Look at all the A’s on the wall!” he exclaims proudly on the way home from school. We, through Pedro (and helped by Madalena Matoso’s vibrant illustrations) begin to recognize that one letter “A” on the bus, the newspaper, a pedestrian’s shirt. That “A” opens up a whole new world for our hero. A few days later, after learning the letter “D”, he arrives home and tells his dad, “When I’m at school, they paint the books, signs, packages, and walls with the letters I’m learning!” And indeed, both “A” and “D” are now revealed in his surroundings.
This book speaks directly to the preschool and kindergarten set. A boy filled with questions and a desire to discover their answers—we’ve all been that boy. Children about to begin or just starting school will identify with Pedro as he begins to acquire the tools of early literacy. Rocha’s story is only told from Pedro’s perspective, which allows the reader to empathize with his excitement and curiosity. The bright, collage-and-pen illustrations, paired with simple mother-son dialogue, will invite them in to a familiar landscape and help them feel right at home exploring the world of literacy with Pedro.
Rocha’s tale takes place in Brazil, but the illustrations accompanying her text depict such a variety of skin tones, hairstyles, and individual expression that Pedro could be any young child in a modern, urban environment. Of slight concern is the singular depiction of the learning-to-read process. While many students will find Pedro’s experience relatable, some for whom reading does not come as easily may find this sole perspective isolating. Hopefully, they can draw inspiration from Pedro’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.
In short, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words will engage our youngest learners and make them excited to start reading. A must for any family preparing for the first days of school!