Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni (9781338318548)
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. The book has five individual stories, each a stand-alone tale which also makes this a great pick for smaller and shorter reading sessions. The book begins with a box left at someone’s door full of items for stories. Those objects are then the basis of each tale. There is a scary house and dare to enter it. There are neglected toys that seek revenge. A scratchy throat proves to be something truly awful. A statue insists on being warm. Scratching at the window may not be a tree branch after all.
The easy text works really well here, the simplicity of the words building a sense of not quite being told the entire tale and details being held back from the reader. Brallier builds suspense nicely in each story and readers will notice a nod to classic scary story tropes in the tales that doesn’t impact the delicious scariness of them at all. The illustrations are used liberally throughout the book and also will appeal to older readers. Their dark shadows add to the shivery nature of the book. It’s also great to see a diverse cast of characters in the stories.
A great pick to use in reading classrooms and to offer parents looking for easy readers for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn (9781632172228)
Growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, Beverly spent her days on the family farm with animals for friends. She only had two books growing up, so she made up her own stories instead. When her mother got a children’s library created in Yamhill, Beverly finally had access to more stories. After moving to Portland, Beverly started school, determined to learn to read in class. Numbers were easy for her, but reading was hard. It didn’t help when she had to stay out of school for weeks due to smallpox. It wasn’t until the following year that she got a teacher who put in extra effort with Beverly to help her learn to read. Soon she was writing too and eventually became a librarian. When Beverly heard children asking for stories about kids like them, she was inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books!
Conrad has created an engaging biography where readers can see Cleary’s inspiration from her own childhood reflected in her books for children. The difficulty that Cleary had learning to read is shown in great detail, echoing the immense effort it took to learn. It is inspirational for children who may be having difficulty learning to read to see someone who eventually became one of the most famous children’s authors of all time having the same problems.
The art by Hohn is bright and friendly. The use of period clothing really helps place the book in the past visually and keeps the bright-eyed Beverly from feeling too modern. It also shows the great sense of humor that Cleary had throughout her life.
An inspiring story of triumph and achievement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368022811)
Nibbs, the mouse, wants Bruce to have a fun day, but Bruce doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Breakfast in bed turns into a messy disaster. The long walk is exhausting. A picnic turns into a feast for the ants. The boat ride is wet, particularly when Nibbs uses Bruce himself as the boat. They do make it back home in time for supper, but supper is too dainty and fancy for Bruce and dessert is even worse. By the time they are in bed, Bruce is very, very grumpy. Which is really nice, since Bruce loves to be grumpy. It might have been the perfect day out after all.
Higgins cleverly turns his picture book series about Mother Bruce into an easy reader format. His use of limited vocabulary is done seamlessly with the story. It helps that there is zany action on many of the pages that can be explained in Higgins’ rather dry tone in just a few words. The illustrations help too. Done in full color and with Higgins’ signature style, they show the story playing out on the page with great clarity and additional moments of silliness.
A great addition to easy reader shelves, this one is big fun. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat (9781368027168)
Harold and Hog decide to pretend to be Elephant and Piggie in this easy reader that pays homage to the genius of Mo Willems while making something entirely new. The two characters put on Gerald’s glasses and Piggie’s nose to help them pretend. Harold starts to describe what Piggie is like with Piggie’s carefree exuberance. Harold can’t wait to try to be Gerald with his carefulness too. Harold wants to be careful as he dances, flies and does so many things! Suddenly Harold realizes that he can’t be Gerald and Hog can’t be Piggie, they just can’t pretend that much. Perhaps though there is a solution!
Filled with exactly the right dialogue and humor, this is a very clever take on the classic Elephant and Piggie. The art itself pulls the story far enough away from Elephant and Piggie to make it clear that this is different. Add to that the juxtaposing attitudes of Harold and Hog and you have a set up for pure delight. The book even includes a touch of Pigeon to round it all out.
Smart, funny and just what Mo would want. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781338143867)
This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781338143904)
These are the first two books in the rather surreal new easy-reader series Monkey & Cake. Monkey and Cake are friends. In the first book, Monkey has a big box that he won’t let Cake open. Inside the box is a cat, but it’s a cat that disappears when the box is opened. This bothers Cake immensely, certain that the cat must be imaginary. But is it? In the second book, Cake builds a fort that he won’t let Monkey enter. Monkey though finds another wild solution to the problem, declaring that the entire world then is Monkey’s fort and turning Cake’s fort into a trap of sorts. Soon it is Cake who is begging to share forts.
With the two premises being unique and fascinating questions about perspective, trust and ownership, this series is great fun but also unusually deep. Even the two characters are a delightful and rather zany mashup where pie is the snack of choice, definitely not cake! The writing is done entirely in dialogue, making the reading snappy and fast paced. There is little extraneous here, as it’s a concise look at big questions. Tallec’s art is bright and friendly. The two main characters are always center stage and interacting with one another, arguing as only friends can.
A wild and interesting new easy reader series. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copies.
Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin (9781338180619)
The amazing Selznick has taken on easy readers with this new book written with Serlin. Baby Monkey isn’t just a baby and a monkey, he also has a job (and an amazing office) as a private eye. He is asked to solve several crimes in the course of the book, but first he has to have a snack and put on his pants! Filled with eye-catching details and others that are worth poring over the pages to discover, this is a funny and smart book for new readers to explore on their own or with an adult helping out.
The book has the heft and weight of a full chapter book, but upon opening it the letters are large, the language repetitive and it’s just right for children learning to read. It is the illustrations by Selznick that make this book so special. Using his signature style, he fills the pages with details that are entrancing. At the same time, there is a lovely repetitive nature to the story that plays out in the simpler images as well with the snacks, writing notes, and putting on pants. This adds to the humor of the book as these elements play out again and again.
A winning new easy reader that pushes the boundaries of the format, this book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
(Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.)
The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper (9781484726464, Amazon)
Part of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, this early reader is a philosophical joy. Yellow Bird has a button that does absolutely nothing, or does it? He shows it to Red Bird and Blue Bird. When Blue Bird tries the button, it surprises him. And that’s not nothing! It doesn’t surprise Red Bird, which makes Blue Bird sad, also not nothing. Then Yellow Bird gets angry at their responses, which is also not nothing. Soon the button can make them do lots of things, even get funny and silly. Perhaps the button does everything?
Harper has created a wonderful mix of humor and philosophy in this early reader. Done with just the right jaunty humor and wild zaniness, the book moves at a fast pace towards its philosophical conclusion. The ties to Elephant and Piggie are clear and this feels like a natural extension of their humor and attitude, making it exactly the right kind of book for this series.
The illustrations are bright and simple. Done with similar speech bubbles to Elephant and Piggie, they convey the emotions of the birds clearly, something that is very important in this book in particular.
A zingy riot of an early reader, this one is a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si (9781101918203)
Renata Wolfman doesn’t have friends, she’d much rather play all alone because then you don’t need to share or compromise with others. Even her parents can’t get her to go out with them, she’d rather stay home and read her factual books about sea life. When Renata is left alone at home one day, a boy comes over. Livingston Flott, known as Fly at school, wants to hide from his older brother. Renata, called Wolfie by Fly and others at school, reluctantly lets him in, interrupting her building of a submarine out of a refrigerator box. Soon the two of them are starting to play imaginary games together, something entirely new for Wolfie. But when real water starts to pour into the windows, can they imagine their way right into the sea?
This early chapter book features a girl who loves control and facts and a boy who wants to create songs and loves to imagine. The two together are a dynamic mix, creating just the right amount of tension between them and showing how opposites can actually make the best playmates as long as ideas are shared and there’s a willingness to try new things. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the water turns out not to be entirely imaginary, something that underlines that fact that imagination and reality mix to something entirely extraordinary.
Si’s illustrations are playful and add exactly the right amount of pictures to break up the text, making this a great pick for newer readers. Her art is playful, done in black and white and shows the submarine that Wolfie made and the adventures that the two have together with a jolly merriment.
A strong pick for early chapter book collections, fans of Ivy & Bean and Bink & Gollie will find another pair of playmates worth knowing here. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Tundra Books.
My Kite Is Stuck by Salina Yoon
This second Duck, Duck, Porcupine! book continues the refreshing humor of the first. Familiar characters return with Big Duck leading the way, often into confusion. Porcupine joins in. Little Duck is quiet and wise, though no one ever pays him any attention. The book is made up of three short stories. The first story faces the problem of a kite stuck in a tree and their unique and very silly solution to the problem. The second story is about what happens when the characters make new friends, with bugs. Finally, there is the problem of the excitement of the lemonade stand and Big Duck and Porcupine forgetting one important ingredient: the lemonade!
Yoon has a great touch with humor. She allows each joke to play out just long enough to get all of the joy out of it and then briskly moves along to the next story. The stories are entertaining and fun, each of them written for beginning readers to enjoy with adult help or on their own. The three characters play beautifully against one another and will appeal to young readers.
The art is bold and bright. It reminds me of comic panels with its thick black outline on each double-page spread. The speech bubbles add to that feeling as well, making this almost a graphic novel for new readers, but not quite. I particularly enjoy the moments when Little Duck breaks the fourth wall and looks out directly at the reader for sympathy.
Funny and full of laughter, this emergent reader almost-graphic-novel is just right. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.