Category: Chapter Books


fly away

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Every year Lucy and her family head to North Dakota to help Aunt Frankie on her farm.  This year the farm is being threatened by a flood, and they are heading to the farm even though Frankie told them it was dangerous.  On the way, Lucy’s family stops and camps, listens to opera, and sings.  But Lucy can’t sing at all and she knows it.  Her little brother is a different story, no one else believes Lucy but Teddy can sing perfectly and even talks a bit, though he refuses to do so except with Lucy.  Though she can’t sing, Lucy loves to write and she is trying to create a poem to prove to her father that a poem can be just as nice as a cow.  Her father had dreamed of being a poet himself, but became a farmer instead.  As the family gets to North Dakota, they face a dangerous river and Lucy has to find her own strength to save her little brother.

Told in a strong and clear voice, this novel invites readers into a family that is pure joy to spend time with.  All of the family members have their own specific gifts and quirks, they communicate effortlessly with one another, and the entire book feels like you have entered someone’s home and are spending time with them.  MacLachlan creates dialogue that feels real, but even more so she has created characters that are alive and honest on the page.

Thanks to the larger font and short chapters, this book will be welcoming for newer readers who may be trying their first chapter book without pictures.  The warmth of the characters, the riveting danger of the river, and the thrilling ending will keep young readers fascinated until the end.  This is also a great pick for sharing aloud with an elementary class.

MacLachlan has created a simple book that contains bountiful riches in setting, character and voice.  It is a stellar read.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Here are my picks for the best children’s fiction of the year.  Let me know what yours were with a comment!

bluffton counting by 7s doll bones

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Strong characterization, a glimpse of summers gone by, and one amazing true story create a graphic novel that is pure radiance.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

This is a tragic story with an indomitable heroine that will leave you smiling through the tears.

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Friendship, a creepy doll, and adventures, what more could one want in a book!

flora and ulysses fortunately the milk garden of my imaan

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell

A great read-aloud, this unlikely superhero pair are sure to fly off the shelves.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

Hilarious, wacky and wonderful, get this into the hands of elementary aged kids now.

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Filled with giggles between girlfriends, this book reveals the warmth of family and faith in a completely approachable and joyful way.

great trouble hokey pokey hold fast

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

This is a dark and thrilling novel that will not let you escape until the epidemic is over and the mystery solved.

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Gloriously fun to read, this book was impossible for me not to love.  Spinelli writes with a lovely playfulness and yet beneath it all is truth.  A truly outstanding read for middle graders.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans.  It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family.

jinx life of ty listening for lucca

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Blackwood has written an impressive fantasy novel for middle grade readers that is both dazzling and dangerous.

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry

Perfect for both reading aloud and for a child reading on their own, this book will be enjoyed by fans of the Stink series as well as those who like Clementine.

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur

This lovely book transcends genres with its mix of mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy.  It’s a winning combination.

one came home real boy rooftoppers

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

Beautiful with a strong heroine, this book is a dazzling read for tweens.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Ursu weaves such beauty into her books.  She lingers over small things, taking the time to build a world in which her characters live.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Profoundly original and filled with shining prose, this novel is a wondrous read.

salt seraphinas promise thing about luck

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

An exquisite verse novel that fills history with real people and war with real loss.

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

This is a powerful look at the Haitian earthquake through the eyes of one extraordinary young woman.

The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck.

water castle year of billy miller

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Complex and multilayered, this middle grade book will be embraced by historical fiction, science and fantasy fans.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

A tip top chapter book, this one is destined to be a classic.  I’d think that sharing it would be a great way to start any 2nd grade school year.

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

When Mum left to give a presentation on lizards, she made sure that Dad knew just what he had to do.  One item on the list was getting milk, but that didn’t happen.  So when the family woke to dry cereal and no milk for tea, Dad headed out to get the milk.  He didn’t return for a long, long time.  But when he came back he had quite a story about why he was late.  It involved time travel, a brilliant dinosaur, pirates who don’t have a plank to walk, wumpires with long teeth, and lots and lots of silliness.

Gaiman is a chameleon of an author, keeping us guessing what his next book will be like because one never knows what style he will try next.  Here he is in pure farce mode, something that will enchant young readers even as they can’t read because they are giggling too much.  The humor here is nonstop, one maniac moment after another until you can’t quite tell which way is up.  It’s a grand adventure filled with outright one-liners and puns.

Young’s illustrations are such a part of this book, it is like Gaiman illustrated it himself.  The results are wacky and purely funny.  The father character seems to me to be a marvelous mix of several Dr. Who characters with his dangling striped scarf, wild hair and rather dapper approach to things. 

Hilarious, wacky and wonderful, get this into the hands of elementary aged kids now.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

lulu and the cat in the bag

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay

This third Lulu book continues the story of Lulu’s love affair with any type of animal.  In this story, a cat is dropped off on Lulu’s doorstep in a bag.  Lulu opens the bag over her aunt’s objections.  Her aunt is watching her while her parents are on vacation and is not fond of animals at all.  When the bag is opened, the cat goes running off and disappears.  Though Lulu searches for it, she is unable to find it.  When she returns to her room later, the cat is there on her bed, having climbed in through her open window.  Steadily, the big orange cat starts to become part of the family, even changing Lulu’s aunts thoughts on cats in general.  It dominates the two dogs, scares the bird and even gathers flowers from the garden to scatter about the house.  Then the cat simply disappears, they search for it with Lulu’s aunt’s help, but no one can find it.  Until Lulu makes a surprising discovery!

I’ve enjoyed all of the Lulu books so far and this just adds to the delight that is this series.  Lulu is a wonderful protagonist.  It is a pleasure to see a child character so into animals who does her chores and takes good care of her animals with no complaining.  Lulu is also quite a scamp, so the book are filled with a natural childhood zest and Lulu’s own special take on things.  This is another great treat of a book from McKay.

A series to rival Clementine, get this into the hands of those readers and they will find a new feisty young heroine to love.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from

life of ty

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry

Ty is seven years old and has a pretty complicated life.  He has a new baby sister who is taking all of his mom’s time and attention.  His older sisters won’t walk him into school like his mom used to, insisting that he can do it all on his own.  His best friend is in the hospital battling cancer, and Ty’s other friends can be confusing and even alarming.  Ty keeps getting into trouble at home for things like chasing the cat with a Dustbuster.  Then on the school trip to the aquarium, Ty takes a baby penguin home with him.  This is one wild boy who is also big hearted and caring, just not sure how best to show it. 

Myracle, who writes teen books primarily, has created a truly exceptional book for younger readers.  Ty is a character who is easily relatable, even when he does some extremely unusual things, like stealing a penguin.  His home life will be familiar to many children, who will have older siblings and babies in their families too.  Add to that the universal feelings of being asked to do big-kid things too early and also being treated like a baby, and you get a book that is universally appealing.

Myracle’s writing has an outstanding humor throughout.  In the more dramatic moments, children will understand that things will be alright in the end.  The black and white illustrations by Henry convey that humor and lightness as well. 

Perfect for both reading aloud and for a child reading on their own, this book will be enjoyed by fans of the Stink series as well as those who like Clementine.  This book would pair well with The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.

year of billy miller

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

After getting a big lump on his head from a fall during their family vacation, Billy is worried that he’s not going to be smart enough for 2nd grade.  And when he starts 2nd grade, he still has a lump on his head!  The year doesn’t start easily with Billy accidentally insulting his new teacher on the very first day.  He has to figure out how to fix the misunderstanding before she gets the wrong idea about him.  Then Billy’s father who is a stay-at-home dad and an artist is trying to find his next breakthrough in his art.  It is Billy who has to learn how to deal with a grumpy father but along the way he also serves as inspiration for his dad.  When his parents go to his father’s gallery show, Billy tries to stay up all night, keeping his little sister up with him for as long as he can.  Finally, he selects his mother as the person he wants to write a poem about.  But it’s not that easy, since he has to make sure he doesn’t insult anyone with his choice and then has to read his poem aloud in front of an audience.  Along the way, Billy learns a lot about how to act in a family, how to support one another but mostly how to love each other.

Henkes has written a book about a boy that will be perfect for fans of Clementine and Ramona.  Happily, he does not resort to grossness, bodily functions, farting or any of the other plot devices so often used in books about boys.  Here instead we have a real boy, one who makes mistakes but also tries to do what is right for his family.  Broken into chapters that are focused on a single relationship: teacher, father, sister, and mother, this book is welcoming to young readers thanks to its logical structure and clear focus.

The black and white art in the book is done by Henkes.  Unfortunately, the digital galley I read did not include much of the art.  What was in the galley adds much to the book, nicely breaking the text into more manageable parts.

A tip top chapter book, this one is destined to be a classic.  I’d think that sharing it would be a great way to start any 2nd grade school year.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.

water castle

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

After Ephraim’s father has a stroke, the family moves to the Water Castle, an ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine.  Ephraim is convinced that coming from the big city, he will be more popular and seem smarter than he ever had before.  After all, his older brother has always been popular and his little sister is very smart.  But things don’t work out the Ephraim expects.  The house itself is unusual, filled with strange rooms and different levels; it glows blue at night and hums.  Ephraim is definitely not popular, quickly showing how awkward he is and then also demonstrating how little he knows compared to his classmates.  Luckily though, the mystery of the house draws in two other children his age who want to figure out how their own families are tied to the Water Castle and its connection to the Fountain of Youth. 

Blakemore writes with a wonderful mix of science and fantasy here.  The blend is compelling, making the book impossible to put down until the mystery is solved.  Readers will not know if they are reading a fantasy book or one that could have actually happened until the very end.  Told with flashbacks to the past that add to the understanding of the intertwined families as well as the fascination with explorers, this book is complex in the best of ways, keeping readers guessing right up to the end.

Ephraim is a character that has quite a few flaws.  Readers will flinch as he is too brash and too confident for his own good, especially when trying to make friends.  Happily, it is when he calms down and shows his feelings that Ephraim becomes entirely himself, a side that readers see long before the other characters in the book. 

Complex and multilayered, this middle grade book will be embraced by historical fiction, science and fantasy fans.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

my happy life

My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has a very happy life, something that she thinks about as she falls asleep every night.  She has a father who loves her very much and is about to start school for the first time.  At first Dani feels like she will never make any friends at school, but then she notices another little girl who is standing alone.  Soon Ella and Dani are best friends, inseparable.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t fight sometimes, but they never fought for long.  But all too soon, Dani discovers that Ella is moving away.  Now Dani has to figure out how to go on without her best friend and it’s not easy.  Dani ends up with a scraped knee and a bandaged head and even hurts a boy in her class by shoving him.  Yet, Dani is a naturally happy person and quickly apologizes for what she did.  It’s not easy, but she learns to move on from missing her friend to being happy once again.

Originally published in Sweden, this book has the feel of a European import.  It has a gentle feel to it but also a deep honesty that is wonderful to see.  Dani has had many challenges in her life, including losing her mother, but she is the epitome of a happy person who embraces joy in every way.  This is an uplifting book where there are challenges, lots of strong negative emotions, but in the end, happiness prevails in a very natural and unforced way.

The illustrations and text work together in harmony here.  I was actually surprised to see that they were done by two people rather than just one since they work so very well together.  The images of the two friends together are buoyant while those of Dani in more dark moods continue to shine with a subtle light even when sad or hurt.

Perfect for families who are trying to be more mindful and happy, this book is a joy to read and to share.  It would also make a great cuddling story for bedtime, leaving everyone smiling together.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

bink gollie best friends forever

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and Gollie return in their third book of escapades as best friends.  The first of the three stories in this book has Gollie wondering if she might have royal blood while Bink is much more interested in pancakes.  The second has Bink worrying about being short and buying the incredibly complex Stretch-o-matic that requires “excessive assembly.”  The third story has the girls wondering what collection they should start to get a record in Flicker’s Arcana of the Extraordinary. 

In all of these stories, we get to see Bink and Gollie as pure individuals.  It’s a relief as always to return to a storybook world where girls are not bedecked in glitter, ruffles and pink.  These are two girls who read as real and tangible and completely unique.  I also enjoy the way that the friendship between the two girls always has space enough for them to be themselves and not try to even mimic one another.  As always the stories are clever with great endings and completely readable by young readers.  The illustrations continue to have the same freshness as the stories and characters, with wonderful humor embedded in them.

Fans of Bink & Gollie will be clamoring for the third book and thanks to the unique characters and easy reading format, these books belong in every library.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Lulu and the Duck

Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay

Lulu loves animals, so she can’t understand it when people don’t love every animal, like her teacher Mrs. Holiday.  In fact, Mrs. Holiday has asked Lulu to never bring an animal to school again after an incident with her dog.  When their class is heading back through the park after swimming, something awful happens.  Two dogs run rampage through the ducks’ nests in the park, scaring the ducks, ruining their nests and smashing eggs.  So when Lulu sees the duck egg rolling down the hill, she just does what comes naturally and puts it into her pocket.  Once back at school though, it is hard to figure out how to hide an egg without smashing it.  It becomes even harder when the duckling decides to hatch!

McKay is one of my favorite British authors, capturing the unique qualities of her characters with a distinct merriment.  In this short novel perfect for beginning readers, she changes the perspective up sometimes by offering Mrs. Holiday’s point of view too.  It is done with a lot of humor and children will easily make the transition between Lulu and her teacher. 

The writing is simple but great fun to read.  There are plenty of jokes and moments of seriousness too that both help keep the book moving forward.  It is a trick to offer depth of story in such a brief book, but McKay manages it.

I look forward to the next Lulu book and the trouble that she gets into there.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

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