Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Cover image for Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062970428)

Marisol is the only one in her family who hates the big magnolia tree in their back yard. She has named the tree Peppina, and doesn’t like it because Marisol is scared of climbing trees. Her best friend Jada isn’t scared of anything. She can climb the tree like a flash and so can Marisol’s older brother. Marisol though worries a lot. She even worries about worrying too much. She is scared of learning to swim and almost didn’t learn to ride a bike either. Marisol is the only person in her class whose mother was born somewhere else. Her mother was born in the Philippines. She’s also the only person whose father works on an oil rig during the week. That’s why she also worries about Evie Smythe, a mean girl in her class who seems nice but makes fun of Marisol and her family. So what will happen when Marisol decides she has to climb Peppina after all? Maybe something amazing!

Award-winning author Kelly based Marisol upon herself as a child. Marisol’s worries and internal voice ring so true because of that connection to the author. As Marisol frets, she finds herself up in the middle of the night often and spends the time watching silent movies so no one else wakes up. She loves Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, naming some of the objects around her home after the actors she sees on screen. These are the clever moments in the book that fully bring it to life.

Readers will enjoy Marisol who may be worried, but also is entirely her own person. While she keeps some of her quirks between herself and Jada, others are more obvious in her life. Marisol is funny and filled with imagination, allowing her to become a bird even if she doesn’t like heights.

A charmer of a chapter book that “may be” just the one you are looking for. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Cover image.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu (9781536211276)

Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her older brother and sister and her grandmother. Tola is the youngest and quite small, though she notices throughout these three stories that often the smallest people turn out to be the strongest too. In the first story, Tola goes with her Grandmommy to the market because she is the best at counting change. She and her grandmother carry the heavy groceries and items back on their heads, stopping along the way for treats. In the next story, the water stops working in their apartment, so Tola wakes her siblings to get water from the well early so they aren’t late for school. But her clever idea doesn’t quite work out as expected. In the last story, Tola and her brother help their neighbor the tailor after he gets into an accident and can’t ride his bike. Thanks to her way with numbers, Tola can measure the clients for their new clothes and her brother is strong enough to pedal them all over the city.

Any new book by Atinuke is a treat, but one that introduces a new character and her family is a particular delight. As always, Atinuke shows both the poverty in Nigeria but also the strength of the community. Tola works hard throughout the book, making sure that she is taking care of her grandmother, her siblings and her neighbors. She uses her own particular skills to help, including her ability to notice small things, count correct change, and measure closely. She also uses her innate kindness and love for others to motivate herself.

The illustrations are done in friendly and often funny line drawings. These drawings show vital elements of the story such as the size of the rice bag that Grandmommy carries on her head and the length of the line at the well. They also help to break up the text, making this early chapter book approachable and adding clever humor.

Another charmer from a master Nigerian storyteller. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

10 Best Elementary Fiction Books of 2020

It was a great year for elementary fiction. Below you will find easy readers and chapter books that I consider the best of the year:

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)

“It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.”

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon (9780062962522)

“There is a wonderful sneakiness to it, inviting children to scheme along with the narrating voice about how to stop reading.”

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin (9780375974328)

“Take those lines from untold stories and pair them with images that create something incredibly moving, bright glimpses into one story and then the next. These are tales you long to be completed, where girls perch on the moon and libraries are filled with music and animals.”

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)

“Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates.”

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)

“Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable.”

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536204278)

“The result is a book that is silly and a delight, something that could be read again and again by new readers who will giggle every time.”

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (9781643750057)

“Cracking this book open and reading the first page will have even the most jaded readers of children’s books realizing that they are reading a new classic.”

Ty's Travels All Aboard by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata (9780062951120)

“There is real challenge in writing a good easy reader and Lyons meets that challenge head on here.”

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson (9781547600564)

“A rival to Ramona, get this one in the hands of young readers.”

What about Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

What About Worms? by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368045735)

“Smart, funny and fast, just what you want in an easy reader. “

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt

Cover image for A Long Road on a Short Day

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (9780544888364)

One January morning, Samuel’s mother mentioned that she wished they had a cow. His father smiled, took his best knife, and invited Samuel to come along to find a cow for his mother. So the two headed out into the cold and snow. At the Snow’s place, they traded the knife for two tin lanterns. Samuel got to play with their dog a bit too. At the Perry’s house they traded the lanterns for a book of poetry. Samuel got to visit some kittens in the barn and got a doughnut too. They traded the book to Widow Mitchell for a pitcher, then the pitcher for a sheep when Dr. Fulton went by. At the general store, the sheep was traded for a pocket watch after Samuel struggled to get it into the pen. He was glad they weren’t keeping the sheep! The pocket watch was traded for a pony and cart. With the storm brewing and night coming on, they almost stopped, but decided to keep trying for a cow. Soon Samuel was picking out a cow in trade for the pony and cart, and he got to choose something else besides!

Schmidt fills this simple story of trading with neighbors with so many small details that the entire small community is populated with characters. Each has a reason for needing to make the trade and often a treat for Samuel along the way. While the road is long and cold, it is also filled with a merry sense of community and shared responsibility. When Samuel makes the hard choice to not keep the little pony and cart, he is rewarded with more than a stubborn sheep for his sacrifice.

Yelchin’s illustrations are done in full-color in this chapter book. They show Samuel meeting each animal along his travels, each animal (except the sheep) one that he longs to keep with him. The illustrations have a marvelous old-fashioned, country quality to them.

A great wintry chapter book with lots of animals and a series of marvelous smart trades. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.

Best Elementary Fiction 2019

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Fun and frustrating at the same time, much to everyone’s delight.

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works.

Gittel's Journey An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates

A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child.

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want.

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story.

This Is MY Fort by Drew Daywalt

This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

A wild and interesting new easy reader series.

Review: Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell (9781984835482)

The book begins with Chapter One, of course, where it is discovered that Chapter Two is missing! A phone number for the police, an email and even a place to tweet is offered to the reader. When the page is turned to Chapter Two, the reader only sees some erased and illegible text on a few pages. Then the book picks up again in mid-story. The chapters move past quickly, with even the characters noting the brisk pace. The detective arrives, the janitor redecorates with M’s and messes with punctuation. Another story merges in for some chapters and then some are blank as characters think hard about the mystery. In the end, the culprit is identified but not caught. Perhaps the reader though can find proof in their own home. Take a look!

Lieb has written a chapter book full of wild humor and a twisting mystery. The book has only three characters: the first person narrator, the detective and the janitor. So the potential suspects are limited. The joy of the book comes with the silliness of the premise, the jaunty pace and the knowledge that each turn of the page will bring something fresh and different. Lieb uses blank pages, inserts a different genre, mirror writing, and messes with punctuation to great effect.

While this may present as a chapter book, it actually bridges between a chapter book and a picture book as it is filled with illustrations and often the chapters are single pages. Done in black and yellow-orange, the illustrations are very funny, often interacting directly with the text on the page.

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Razorbill.

Review: Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina (9781536201314)

The first book in this series won the Pura Belpre Author Award in 2017. This second book continues to use the author’s own childhood in Bogota, Colombia as inspiration. Juana’s life is wonderful. She has her dog, Lucas, and her mother. But lately, her mother has been making some changes. Her hair is different and she has a boyfriend. Luis is nice and kind to Juana, but it’s a lot of change to deal with. When the two decide to get married and move to a new home, Juana is brokenhearted. But even though things are changing, some things will always be true, like how much Juana is loved.

Medina shares how traumatic major life changes can be to children without minimizing their emotional strain. At the same time, Juana is a resilient child, who is constantly facing life with an inherent optimism that pays off. Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Throughout this early chapter book, Spanish words are sprinkled in a way that makes sense to English-speaking readers. The setting is used nicely in the story and factors heavily into the illustrations which are friendly and have a warm cartoon feel.

Another winner from Medina! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (9780062686237)

King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table love to tell tall tales of their adventures, but they are all lies. There just aren’t enough mythical beasts for them to battle. When Sir Erec brags that he’d slain forty dragons, he knew that he’d pushed the storytelling too far. It caught Merlin’s attention and Merlin suggested that Sir Erec, Sir Bors, Sir Hector and the Black Knight explore one particular cave. As they did so, along with Bors’ brave squire, they are transported back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now there were more than enough “dragons” to battle! But they may just prove to be too much for our hearty knights. The question becomes who would win in a battle, a knight or a dinosaur?

Phelan clearly has had a ball writing this book. It is filled with jaunty references to King Arthur’s court and has a humor that children will love. The knights have distinct personalities from one another and beautifully grate on one-another’s nerves. The knights enter a world of real peril where Phelan creates moment after moment of battles, dangers and sword-swinging good times.

There are a couple of reveals here that invite young women to see themselves as knights too. In fact, the female knight completely rocks! The dinosaurs who battle one another with a joyous abandon add so much to the tale, something that dinosaur fans will love to see. The book has illustrations sprinkled throughout, breaking up the text for young readers.

A boisterous, battle-filled book that will appeal to young knights and young dinosaur experts and anyone looking for a good read. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss (9780763689797)

Released on September 4, 2018.

Rosie is a dog who lives with George. She gets lonely without any other dogs to play with. Still, George takes her on walks and that makes her less lonely. When George sees a dog in the clouds in the sky one day, he is inspired to take Rosie to the dog park. There are lots of dogs there, but Rosie isn’t sure how to make friends. She doesn’t like big Maurice who is too loud. She also doesn’t like Fifi with her sparkly collar and jumping around. But when Maurice plays too roughly with Fifi, Rosie knows just what to do. Soon all three dogs are learning to make friends and play together.

As always, DiCamillo’s storytelling is skilled and warm. She introduces us to a new heroine here, a little friendly dog who is just not quite sure how to make friends yet. Children will relate to the struggles to make new friends on a playground. The two very different dogs that Rosie meets are also a pleasure. One bumbling in his enthusiasm and the other yipping around for attention. Rosie remains firmly a dog throughout the story, not becoming overly anthropomorphized along the way.

The illustrations by Bliss give the book the feel of a graphic novel. They are multi framed and yet the dialogue is not in speech bubbles, so this is a mashup of a chapter book and a graphic novel that is very successful. It is partly the illustrations that keep Rosie firmly a dog. They are realistic and lush, the sort of illustrations that make you want to reach out and pet the dogs on the page.

A dog-gone good chapter book with graphic novel appeal. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.