Category: Chapter Books


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

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.

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