Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes (9781452131535, Amazon)
Based on Snyder’s own two sons, this early chapter book is a real delight. It perfectly captures the relationship of siblings who enjoy spending time together. The four stories in the book are alluringly short and yet immensely satisfying. The book begins with Charlie waking up to a lump next to him, a lump that isn’t ready to get up yet. The second story has the two boys deciding that it’s the day of a neighborhood party and gathering their parents and friends. In the third story, the brothers try to sell rocks for money and find that people would rather pay them to take rocks away. The final story brings the book full circle with the brothers getting ready for bed and the sleepy lump reappearing.
Snyder writes with a refreshing frankness about the children, depicting them playing without fighting and enjoying their time together. Still, these are real children who have silly ideas, strong personalities and a zany sense of humor. The two boys are wonderfully distinct from one another despite the shortness of the chapters.
Hughes is one of my favorite illustrators of children, showing them in all of their playful wildness. These two brothers are the same, their messy hair, interesting wardrobe choices, and outdoor play adding to the feel that these are real children. The illustrations also give a feeling of the neighborhood and community that the children are growing up in, a friendly feel with small town aspects.
We don’t see nearly enough stories about children who love spending time with their siblings. This book celebrates that as well as the silliness of childhood. Children will look forward to the next adventures of these brothers. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca (9780763648220, Amazon)
A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Medalist join forces in this wonderful mashup of princess tale and crocodile naughtiness. Cora is a princess who tries her best to do what her father the king and her mother the queen want. She takes three baths a day, studies dull books about finance, and exercises by jumping rope. Over and over again, day after day, until she simply can’t take it anymore. So she writes to her fairy godmother and asks for a pet. But when she opens the box, it’s an enormous crocodile rather than a dog. The princess and crocodile switch places for a day and chaos ensues. The princess has a lovely messy day outdoors exploring and playing. The crocodile meanwhile forces the nanny into the bathtub, locks the queen in the library with only the dull books, and chews on the king in a most sensitive spot! Still, a crocodile may be exactly what this royal family needs.
Schlitz is a chameleon of an author, moving with grace and skill from one sort of format to another. Here she seemingly effortlessly creates a chapter book for newer readers that reveals from the very cover that there is great fun inside. The brilliant and highly unusual combination of princess story with dresses and crowns with a crocodile who isn’t afraid to bite royal ankles and bottoms is pure brilliance. This is a princess book that I would merrily give to any child whether they enjoy princesses or not, after all, there’s a funny crocodile who makes it all wild and wonderful.
Floca’s art is an impressive pairing here. He runs with the mashup of princess and crocodile, the art having a serious tone at first as the royal family is depicted in all of their earnest childraising. The Victorian feel of the book is perfection, until the crocodile appears. Then a green wildness comes into the story, filling it with sharp teeth and plenty of attitude. Floca’s art though is broad enough to fit Victorian rules with crocodile play on the same page with hilarious results. It’s the play of the rules and formality against the silliness that makes the art such a joy.
A great chapter book pick, share this one aloud in a classroom because it will appeal to all readers! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.
A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson (9781776571086)
This is the third and last book in the Detective Gordon mystery series. In this book, Gordon has retired and Buffy is now the only detective in the police station. Buffy starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night. She’d love to have Gordon back to help solve the mystery of the scrabbling noises in the night. Meanwhile readers discover that Gordon is getting restless in retirement and that at night he heads to the police station to check on Buffy, making the noises that are scaring her. When a new case arrives, the two police officers are soon working together again to figure out what has happened to two little kindergarten animals who have disappeared. Yet Gordon can’t quite tell Buffy that it was him scaring her at night.
This Swedish early chapter book series has been a joy to read and share from the very first. While it is sad to see the series end, it goes out on a high note that finishes the series off with a solid win. Once again Gordon and Buffy are back, their dynamic maturing and growing as they work more together. The mystery here is serious and compelling as the detectives work to piece together where two young animals have gone and whether they are in danger. Readers get to see that the children are playing and safe, but the detectives don’t know that. It’s a smart way to make the mystery appropriate for young children. As with the entire series there is a focus on fairness, kindness and honesty throughout the book.
Spee’s illustrations add to the appeal of the series. The full color images make the book more approachable for children moving into chapter books. They also depict the forest world that the characters live in with lovely details like toadstools, flowers, and insects in the air. The autumnal feel of the book works well as a series closer as well, with sunset coloring throughout.
A wonderful ending to a top notch series, make sure to start from the beginning! And maybe have some cake on hand to munch along. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake (9781927271889)
Giraffe is bored and he’s just missing one thing: a best friend. So when he sees Pelican, who is also bored, offering a mail service, he decides to write a letter. He asks Pelican to deliver it to the first animal he sees past the horizon. Pelican sees that the horizon looks very close, so he agrees. Pelican meets a seal who also delivers mail and sends the letter on to the next animal, which happens to be a Penguin. Giraffe and Penguin become pen pals and steadily become good friends. Soon Giraffe is trying to figure out what Penguin looks like from afar, but doesn’t get it quite right.
First published in Japan, this book is a very friendly chapter book with plenty of illustrations to break the text into manageable chunks. There is a warm playfulness throughout the book, inviting readers to see the humor in boredom and the solution of taking some sort of action to break through the tedium. The characters are well drawn and interesting, each with a unique personality that plays through naturally in the book.
The illustrations by Takabatake are done in fine lined black ink. They have a cartoon feel that embraces the light tone of the book. The illustrations work well with the text, creating action on the page that is very appealing.
A light and warm look at boredom and friendship that is a great read aloud. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (9780763689759)
Developed from the short story that appeared in Half a Creature from the Sea, this children’s fiction version is illustrated in full color. Liam wants to be out with his friends practicing for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, but his mother wants him to come to help Harry clear out his home. As they visit with Harry, he shares the story of his own run as a boy when he and some friends ran from their town all the way to the sea. It’s a story of friendship, shared experience, a hot sunny day, and the wonder of ice cream at the end.
I enjoyed this short story immensely in the original short story collection and was very pleased to discover it again in this illustrated format. The story is immensely fun, beginning with the mistake of how far the boys were actually going to run and then their determination to finish anyway. Framed by the story of Harry as an old man telling the tale and Liam listening, the story within a story shines with the brightness of a summer day against the more somber tones of aging.
Rubbino’s illustrations make this version of the story accessible for younger audiences who will appreciate the text being broken up by bright-colored images. The illustrations reflect the story with the modern illustrations done in blacks and grays with a pop of blue provided by Harry’s cap. The illustrations for Harry’s memories suddenly turn into full color with Harry still in the same blue cap.
A lovely new version that makes this story available to more people, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
This Australian import is the first in a fresh new illustrated chapter book series. Wolf has decided that he’s tired of being a bad guy so he recruits three fellow baddies to his new gang where they do good deeds. But it’s not so easy for Shark, Piranha and Snake to give up their own ways, like eating meat and people. Their first mission for good is to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree, but what kitten wants to climb down if they see those big teeth smiling at them? Their next job is to rescue 200 dogs from the dog pound. It involves Shark dressing up as a little girl, Wolf making a great shot, and Piranha and Snake showing the dogs the way out. But the plan doesn’t quite work out they way they want it too either.
This book has the pep and feel of a comic book, filled with large fonts that add attitude to the pages and lots of illustrations. In fact, because of its many illustrations it will be a welcome early book for new chapter book readers who will love the humor as well as the pictures that nicely break up the text. There is a great zany energy to the entire book with one joke leading nicely to the next. The pacing is cleverly done with just enough time to catch your breath from laughing before the action starts again.
Blabey’s illustrations are a large part of that manic charm. They are hugely funny. Emotions are shown broadly and wildly on characters’ faces. The shark barely fits into the car and not without a bump out for the dome of his head. There are incidents of eating one another and being bashed against walls. Each one is hilarious and children will love the slapstick comedy of it all.
A funny delight, this illustrated chapter book will have young readers begging for the next in the series. I know I can’t wait! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (InfoSoup)
Gertie doesn’t know her mother at all, since she left Gertie and her father behind. Gertie lives with her aunt and father, who is often gone working on an oil rig. But when a For Sale sign goes up on her mother’s home and she expects to leave town soon, Gertie discovers that she wants to prove to her mother that she should never have left. So Gertie goes on a mission to become the best fifth-grader in the universe. When school starts though, there is a new student in her class, Mary Sue Spivey, who seems to be a lot more likely to be the best. She gets perfect grades, their teacher loves her, and even Gertie’s best friend befriends Mary Sue. When tryouts for the play come though, Gertie is selected as the lead, but can she actually become the perfect fifth grader and get her mother to witness it?
Beasley has created a story filled with characters who are vastly human. Gertie herself struggles with success, has trouble keeping her strong personality under wraps, sets herself immense goals through her missions, and yet has a huge heart and a desire to do the right thing. That right thing though is often warped under her reasoning into something that many people might see as overtly wrong.
The book has plenty of twists and turns, all based on Gertie herself and what she is creating around her. Sometimes that is good things and other times it is pure trouble. She also discovers that young people can be “fickle” and uses that word to keep herself from being too overly concerned when they turn against her and also too caught up in when they like her again.
Ideal for children who enjoyed Clementine, this book has humor, pizzazz and one great heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes (InfoSoup)
Benny and Penny return in another graphic novel perfect for new readers. In this story, the two mouse siblings start the story by jumping in piles of leaves. Penny worries that Benny will hurt the leaves, but Benny explains that the leaves are already dead. Then Penny discovers a dead salamander in the yard. Penny wants to bury the salamander but Benny gets angry and tries to stop her over and over again. As Penny moves ahead with burying the salamander with the help of another friend, Benny listens in and then starts feeling sad rather than angry about the little dead creature.
Hayes speaks to the experience of death for young children in a gentle and understanding way. He captures the movement from anger at loss to grief in a way that is organic and natural, allowing Benny the ability to feel his emotions and contrasting those with the way his sister is reacting. Both reactions are supported by the book, allowing children to think about their own emotions.
Hayes sets the book in autumn, showing seasonal aspects throughout the story. There are fallen leaves, bare trees, and a sense of change throughout the book. As always, Hayes beautifully illustrates his graphic novels, allowing them to be an ideal bridge between picture book and chapter book.
A lovely look at a child’s first experience with death, this graphic novel is gentle and filled with kind understanding. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.
Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina (InfoSoup)
Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia with her family. She loves things like reading, drawing, Brussels sprouts, and Astroman. She also loves living in Bogotá and in particular having a best friend like Lucas, her dog. Still, there are some things she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like the school uniform she has to wear, doing classwork, and in particular she doesn’t like learning “the English.” When Juana complains about having to learn English and how hard it is, the adults around her encourage her to keep trying. She is also told about a special trip that her grandparents are planning to the United States and Juana will get to meet Astroman there! But in order to be allowed to go, Juana has to do better in her classes, particularly English.
Filled with lots of pictures and even some infographics, this book is particularly approachable for children. With the same humor and heart as series like Clementine, this picture book offers a glimpse into another culture as well as a smart and independent heroine. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text, making it just challenging enough that readers will understand how hard it is to decode a different language and yet how rewarding it is too.
The illustrations are bright and cheery. The infographics, used to label different characters with their unique characteristics are funny and nicely designed for clarity. The city of Bogotá and the people in Juana’s life are shown in bright colors with lovely humorous touches.
The first book in a new series that offers diversity, Spanish and lots of heart. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.