El Toro and Friends by Raul the Third

Cover image for Tag Team.

Tag Team by Raul the Third (9780358380399)

Cover image for Training Day.

Training Day by Raul the Third (9780358380382)

These are the first two titles in the new early reader series by the talented Raúl the Third. The books feature the Luchadores El Toro and his group of friends. In Tag Team, the stadium is a mess after last night’s match. El Toro is feeling very overwhelmed by the mess until La Oink Oink arrives and helps him. She talks him into doing it as a tag team, turning on some music and working together with brooms, mops and more. The second book, Training Day, shows how El Toro trains to get ready for his next match. But he isn’t feeling like training, even though his coach, Kooky Dooky, wants to keep him in shape and ready. Kooky tries to think of cool exercises that will get El Toro out of bed, but it isn’t until El Toro is truly inspired that he is ready to train.

With a mix of Spanish and English, these beginning readers are marvelous. The writing has just the right mix of humor and emotion. El Toro’s situations are relatable, since sometimes children don’t want to do their chores or get out of bed for a busy day. There is a lot of empathy here combined with empowering messages about the importance of friendships to keep us going.

The illustrations are detailed and delightful. Featuring Raúl the Third’s signature style, they share characters that readers will have met in Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! The colors are bright and full of tropical colors of orange, purple and yellow.

A vital addition to all libraries’ early reader shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copies.

Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson

Cover image for Chirp.

Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9781534470026)

Chipmunk spends her days chirping on top of her rock. Her songs can be happy, or bittersweet or very sad. Her rock was very good at listening, but didn’t sing along. So Chipmunk set out to find a new friend. She found a pinecone that she scooped up and brought back to where the rock was waiting. But the pinecone was also a listener and not a singer. So Chipmunk set off again. She found a log that she thought would make the perfect addition to her group of friends. The problem was, Chipmunk couldn’t move it. So she sat in the log and sang a sad song. Raccoon heard her singing and offered to help her move the log. But even with both of them trying, it wouldn’t budge. Chipmunk and Raccoon sang a bittersweet song together and Moose heard them. With Moose’s help they managed to pop the log free and it rolled right next to the pinecone and rock. Chipmunk still spends her days singing, now though Raccoon and Moose join in too.

A search for friendship makes for a poignant look at how it can be a struggle to find the right friends. At the same time, Chipmunk never gives up on her rather silent friends, framing it instead that they are good listeners. It’s a charming take on loneliness. The bridge of music to share emotions and find new friends weaves throughout the book and brings Raccoon and Moose into the story where they share their voices too. The ending is lovely and satisfying.

Magoon’s illustrations convey Chipmunk’s emotions with colors and movement. The pastels of happiness, the orange and dark moments of bittersweet feelings, and then the blackness of sadness that still has some light within it. The forest setting of the picture book is shown in lovely small details of ferns, grasses, leaves, rocks, dirt and light.

A book about finding friends who truly hear you. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.

To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel

Cover image for To Tell You the Truth.

To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel (9781534478596)

Gran told Trixy stories from the time she was born. No one else believed Gran’s stories were true, but Trixy knew they were. After Gran’s death, Trixy holds on to her stories, particularly the one she promised to never tell. Gran told Trixy that stories weren’t meant for everyone, because sometimes they can’t be heard. When her teacher tells her that she needs to write down a true story, Trixy borrows one from Gran. It’s a story that is unbelievable, combining cake, theft and Liberace. Soon Trixy is telling lots of people Gran’s stories and submitting some for publication. Deep down she knows the stories are real, but can she prove it? It’s going to take telling some lies, doing some sneaking, and traveling across the state to meet people who knew Gran and can tell Trixy the real truth.

Vrabel has created a novel wrapped around a series of delightful short stories told in Gran’s voice. Through those stories and Trixy’s memories, readers gain a deep sense of who Gran was. The novel is an exploration of the power of stories that are shared, a question of what truth really is, and then an ending that will require a few tissues. The writing is marvelous with just the right amount of Southern charm. The play between the novel itself and the stories works amazingly well, combining richly together.

Trixy is a character who is holding not only stories but also secrets. Her relationships with others are difficult thanks to her prickly way with others. Trixy regularly believes that she is right, doesn’t listen to others, and in the process speaks hurtfully to them. At the same time, her pain over losing her beloved Gran is evident as is her need to connect with other people. She manages to transform those around her with her stories while at the same time also changing herself too.

A charming Southern novel about stories, loss, love and truth. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Sonny Says Mine! by Caryl Hart

Cover image for Sonny Says Mine.

Sonny Says Mine! by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9781547605804)

When Sonny finds a pink, soft bunny toy in the sandbox, he falls in love with it. He names it Bun-Bun and they spend lots of time playing together. Meemo, the dog, sniffs Bun-Bun but Sonny insists that Bun-Bun is “Mine!” Later, Honey and Boo come by. Boo is crying, because she has lost Suki, her favorite pink bunny. Honey searches everywhere for Suki, but Sonny keeps Bun-Bun out of sight. Honey even asks if Sonny has seen Suki, but Sonny says No! Sonny hides Bun-Bun in a safe place and then heads to help Boo feel better, but she doesn’t want to play. She is even too sad to eat cake. Now it is up to Sonny to see if he will do the right thing or not.

This is the first in a new series of books featuring these four characters. This first book looks at sharing and telling the truth. Hart’s animal characters have big personalities and their relationships with one another are well drawn and interesting. They are written as small children and show the same mistakes and learning.

OHora’s illustrations work really well here with their bright colors and simplicity. The emotions on their faces are clear and add to the understanding of how difficult the choices are for Sonny as he struggles with his desire for the toy and the need to make his friend feel better.

A charming new series starter that will start conversations about sharing and choices. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Monster Friends by Kaeti Vandorn

Cover image for Monster Friends.

Monster Friends by Kaeti Vandorn (9781984896827)

When Reggie arrives at his cousin’s home to housesit during their summer vacation, he gets a warm welcome from the huge monster family who are all busy in the cave complex below the main house, making clothes, fixing pipes, and playing cards. Reggie has left his life of exploring and finding treasure for a quiet summer alone. When his first morning is interrupted by a vivacious doglike monster named Emily, he is a bit overwhelmed and not ready to stop being alone and grumpy. Emily though persuades him to head out into the field and explore his new surroundings, discovering a beach but also a rather intimidating cave. Reggie heads over to Emily’s woodland home a little later, meeting her large family and enjoying a spiced apple for his return home. When Emily goes missing, it is Reggie who knows just where she might be, but he has to face his fear of dark caves and revealing his fear to find her.

This graphic novel for chapter book readers offers a world full of furry monsters who are marvelously human, full of self doubt, a need to prove themselves, and struggles to be honest with one another. Readers will love the small world that is built here, full of wonderful nature like the woods, beach and cave. The world is populated with all sorts of monsters, some scaly, some furry, and some shapeshifters. The art style is full of small details that fill out each of the settings. The mushrooms on the shelves in the family cave complex, the spilling bathtub, the toys spread all over the room.

The writing is just as joyous as the illustrations. Reggie is a grand grump of a character, ready to sulk his summer away until Emily literally bounds right into it. Emily is the perfect foil for Reggie, both visually and in personality. But Emily too has her own struggles with her siblings and family that play out on the page. The two become friends naturally, bridged by warm drinks and shared snacks.

A fuzzy monster of a graphic novel full of caves, serpents and surprises. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.

Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman

Cover image for Dear Treefrog.

Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9780358064763)

When a girl moves to a new home, she hides in the garden and discovers a treefrog there. When she watches how still the frog is, she slows down too. Looking closely at the frog, she notices his sticky toes and long feet. Iin order to find the frog, she has to take deep breaths and look closely. The frog helps her feel less lonely. He hides when a group of kids visits, something that the girl is thankful for since they were loud and trampled the garden. When a storm blows through, the frog not only survives it but is refreshed by the water. Heading to school, the girl curls up like a frog on her yoga mat. That’s when she meets a classmate who is quiet too, someone she can trust to show the treefrog, another friend.

Told in a series of poems, this picture book is a stellar mix of verse, exploring nature, and treefrog information. The verse is from the little girl’s perspective and readers get to know her quiet well as she is worried at first about the move, finds solace in the treefrog in her garden, and eventually is brave enough to make a new friend who is thoughtful too and wants to spend time outside watching. The treefrog facts are offered in the corner of the page, supported by each poem and celebrating the unique elements of this creature.

The illustrations by Sudyka are lush and full of green. They show a wild garden by the house with plants taller than the girl herself. The frog is there for readers to know on the first pages. The garden frames the girl and frog with plants and greenery, offering them an almost tropical paradise in which to form their friendship.

Fantastic froggy friendship and facts. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Line and Scribble by Debora Vogrig

Book cover.

Line and Scribble by Debora Vogrig, illustrated by Pia Valentinis (9781797201870)

Though they are very different, Line and Scribble are great friends. They love to show one another what they are creating with ruler-straight lines or dreamy swirls. Line travels by straight roads, railroad tracks or planes that head straight to their destination. Scribble wanders, creates roller coasters. Line makes straight fur on dogs and straight elegant hair on people. Scribble makes fluffy cats and people with curly hair. Line likes breadsticks while Scribble enjoys cotton candy. Line likes to drink with a straw and Scribble makes bubbles. Together the two of them also combine to create a very dramatic visual storm full of straight rain, swirls of tornadoes, and plenty of wind. When the entire page is dark, Line sweeps it all away and the two friends start again.

This Italian import is joyous and full of ways to celebrate differences between friends where you can stay entirely yourself and still play together. Mostly told in the illustrations, this picture book is marvelously stylized with its almost entirely black and white images made of simple lines and swirls. Readers will enjoy exploring shapes and ways to make entire pictures with just a line or curl.

A lively and touching book about friendship because of differences. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

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.

What’s the Matter Marlo? by Andrew Arnold

What’s the Matter Marlo? by Andrew Arnold (9781250223234)

This picture book about friendship explores what happens when a best friend is grieving and angry. Told in the first person, the book draws readers directly into the tale. Two children are best friends, and they do everything together from hide-and-seek to joke books. No matter how well Marlo hides, his best friend can find him. But then one day, something was wrong and Marlo didn’t want to play. He told his friend to go away. Sharing a joke made it even worse and Marlo got angrier and angrier, until his anger took up all the space. But his friend remembered that no matter what they could always find Marlo. That’s when they found out what was going on and did just what a best friend should do, they cried together.

Arnold captures the beauty of a young friendship based on shared humor, a great dog and playing games together. He shows the richness of the friendship and how connected these two children are. That gives the platform for Marlo’s deep anger and anguish to appear. While it is confusing, his friend does just the right thing, staying around and offering comfort and empathy. Remarkably, the book is told in short and approachable sentences, allowing the images to tell a lot of the story too.

The illustrations are full of green grass, backyard spaces, and play. When Marlo’s anger appears, it is a black scribble of emotion that steadily grows to turning all of the pages to pitch black. It is in that moment that his friend finds him. That friend who speaks in first person is marvelously androgynous, able to be either girl or boy and it doesn’t matter at all.

A resonant friendship story about empathy and grief. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.