Category: Chapter Books


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

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

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