Category: Chapter Books

Review: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng (InfoSoup)

Released August 4, 2015

Piper is heading off to her first day of second grade. She looks forward to much of it, from riding the boat to school from the tiny island where they live to the donuts and other treats they get each morning on the way. But she is also desperately missing her older brother Erik. So she puts on his earmuffs and refuses to take them off. She’s sure that her teacher will understand, however when she gets to school she has a new teacher who looks like a princess but can also be awfully grumpy about things like earmuffs. The next day, after promising everyone that she would take the earmuffs  off when she got to school, Piper decides that it’s best not to go. Unfortunately, sirens go off and she is stuck up in a tree waiting for everything to calm down. Everything is getting worse and worse until Piper discovers the treasure in the fairy tree outside her house.

Potter writes consistently wonderful books no matter what age she is writing for, so it should be no surprise that she also excels at writing for elementary-aged children. These simple chapter books offer a charming mix of reality and a dash of magic in the form of the fairy tree and the treasure it offers. In Piper, Potter has created a great girl character who is determined and wonderfully creative in the way she solves problems. This of course is what lands her in all kids of trouble, much to the delight of the reader.

Leng’s illustrations are simple and friendly. They capture both the dynamic Piper and her family as well as the unique island they live on. The adult characters too are wonderfully warm and human. I particularly enjoy the neighbor Mrs. Pennypocket in her overalls and her boots, the one who introduces Piper to the magic tree.

A strong new series for elementary-aged kids, this book and the second book in the series will be enjoyed by fans of Clementine and Judy Moody.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon

Dory and the Real True Friend
This is the second book featuring Dory, better known as Rascal by her family. In this book, Dory is headed to school. Her older siblings insist that she leave her best friend, Mary, who happens to be a monster that only Dory can see, at home. Dory agrees, since Mary had caused so much trouble at school the year before. Dory is going to try instead to be a regular girl and not get into trouble, but that’s not very easy when a new adventure comes her way. She also meets a girl in her class who appears to be a princess and talks about the castle she lives in and her pet dragon. Her siblings don’t believe that Rosabelle isn’t imaginary though. As Dory figures out that this may be a new real friend, thanks to their shared huge imaginations, she may also need help rescuing Mr. Nuggy, her fairy godmother, from the clutches of Mrs. Gobble Gracker.
I adored the first book in this series thanks to its embracing of a character who is wonderfully quirky and entirely unique. Dory is a girl with a huge imagination and also one who does not bow to social conventions easily. From wearing her nightgown all of the time at home to packing salami for lunch and then eating it like cookies, Dory does what makes her happy and doesn’t care for what others think. That is tested when she tries to befriend Rosabelle and while Dory works to make friends she still doesn’t change herself for it. Instead the two create a great synergy of imaginative play together where fairy godmothers with beards, evil sharp toothed women, dragons, monsters, and knights fight an amazing battle.
The illustrations are in the same style as the first book, drawn as if Dory herself was doing them as she tells her story. The entire book bursts with energy and funny moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing favorite characters from the first book return and the consistency of Dory’s imaginative play. While Dory may be entering a new year in school, all of the wild characters she invented in the first book are back in the second.
Fans of the first book will love this second one. Dory is exactly who I’d love as a friend! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

meet the bigfeet

The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers.  It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal.  He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on.  He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world.  So Blizz almost never sees his family.  But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion.  Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet.  It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them.  Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way. 

Sherry has such a great touch for humor.  Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore.  He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format.  Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone.  He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story.  The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.

The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books.  With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly.  One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids,  They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.

Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

dory fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all.  So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun.  Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play.  There are also other monsters all over their house.  When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory!  So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her.  Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her.  In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.

Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan.  Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.

Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read.  Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day.  On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.

Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

princess in black

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded.  Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom.  After all, princesses don’t wear black!  Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black.  The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats.  Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!

Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life!  This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego.  The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats.  Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom.  Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.

Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way.  Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all.  The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.

A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke

emma and the blue genie

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke, illustrations by Kerstin Meyer

Emma often spends her nights out by the sea with her dog, away from her pesky brothers.  One night she finds a bottle floating in the waves and opens it to discover Karim, a very small blue genie inside.   Karim has had most of his magic stolen away when Sarim, the huge yellow genie, stole his nose ring and trapped him in the bottle.  Now Karim has to head back to avenge himself and to save the kingdom from the evil rule of Sarim.  Emma decides to go with him and she sets off aboard his magic carpet for the kingdom of Barakash.  There, she is quickly caught up in the battle against Sarim, but once he sees her yellow hair, he immediately takes her prisoner.  There’s not much that a girl can do to escape from an evil genie who keeps you in a cage, but all is not lost when you have a blue genie and a brave dog on your side!

Funke has written a wonderfully original book for young readers.  The Middle Eastern setting comes alive as Emma walks through the busy castle on her way to see the young king.  Funke incorporates many references to the desert into people’s vernacular, even more firmly setting this book in a specific place.  Emma is a great female character, filled with plenty of gumption and not scared of much.  She doesn’t shrink away from anything in the book, enjoying flying on a magic carpet, seeing new places and having wild adventures.

The illustrations are in full color and add a lot of life to the book.  Used differently from one page to the next, they add a dynamic piece to the book design.  The differences between the two genies could not be more clearly shown, with the calm blue and the wild yellow.  Meyer also manages to show the opulence without things becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eye. 

Fun and original, this book will share aloud well with a class and will be an inviting pick for children reading chapter books.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

tales of bunjitsu bunny

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school.  They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to.  This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day.  Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked.  She outwits pirates who want to steal from her.  She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story.  In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor. 

This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts.  First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here.  Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand. 

Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text.  The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size.  The illustrations are done in black, white and red.  They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.

A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.