Archive for the ‘Beginning Chapter Books’ Category

Review of Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Knights vs. Dinosaurs

by Matt Phelan

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 150 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

This one is silly fun with speculation: What would happen if knights had to fight dinosaurs?

Erec is a knight in King Arthur’s court, and he’s been bragging. The truth is, he’s never seen even one dragon. But all the knights start bragging when they get together, and he got carried away and claimed he’d defeated 40 dragons.

That gave Merlin an idea. He suggested that Erec go defeat a “Terrible Lizard” in a cave the next morning – Merlin would give him a map.

It’s probably just as well that some other knights didn’t want Erec to get all the glory. Because it turned out that Merlin put a time-traveling spell on the cave – and sent them all back to the time of the dinosaurs.

(Okay, the truth is that not all the dinosaurs that appear in this book lived at the same time. But that’s admitted at the back of the book and kind of beside the point. We’ve got knights fighting dinosaurs and living to tell the tale.)

There’s a nice twist that it turns out the strongest knight of them all is female. It’s a lot of good-hearted fun, including battles with dinosaurs.

This is an early chapter book and includes plenty of Matt Phelan’s illustrations. Some of the battles are told with panels, in fact.

Knights fighting dinosaurs and realizing they’re going to have to work together. What could be more fun?

mattphelan.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Father’s Words, by Patricia MacLachlan

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

My Father’s Words

by Patricia MacLachlan

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 135 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 29, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

My Father’s Words is a stunningly beautiful book.

It’s a beginning chapter book about the death of a father. But it’s beautiful.

Fiona and Finn’s father Declan was a psychologist, gentle and wise. The book begins with him making omelets for his kids, and on page 7 he’s killed in a car accident.

The book is about dealing with his death.

Their mother and their friends gather round. Even one of their father’s patients helps Fiona. But the biggest help, especially for Finn, is when they go to an animal shelter and spend time with the rescue dogs.

Their father’s will said not to have a funeral, but to have a party.

The party for my father was somehow both joyful and sad, with laughter and tears all mixed up. Finn and I were confused at that. My grandparents were ill and far away and couldn’t come. My mother spoke to them every day on the phone. But cousins and aunts and uncles came. And friends.

The book is full of memories. Those are set apart in a different font. And from their father’s patients, we learn many wise things that their father said. And those wise things help them heal as well as show love and receive love from the rescue dogs.

It’s hard to explain how beautiful this little book is. But I was thoroughly blessed and uplifted by reading it.

It’s hard to recommend to young readers a book about a father dying. But this lovely book is about healing, and I think kids will respond to it. After all, they know more about sadness than we realize – so why not read about dealing with sadness?

Note: I ended up posting this review exactly six months after my own father died. When I read it, I had no idea it would so soon be so applicable. Yes, it’s good to read about dealing with deep sadness and appreciating those you’ve loved who are no longer here.

harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Penny and Her Sled

Sunday, February 9th, 2020

Penny and Her Sled

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 56 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 4, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 in Picture Books

Another Penny book by Kevin Henkes! Huzzah! These are all beginning chapter books with plenty of pictures and concerns that mirror those of other young mice or children.

In this one, Penny is waiting for snow because she can’t wait to use her new sled. But – Spoiler Alert! – she waits all winter and it does not come.

Now, there may not be too many parts of the country where this really happens, but I had a special connection to Penny, because the last winter I lived in the Seattle area, when I was five years old, the winter before our family moved to California – it didn’t snow at all except for briefly when I was supposed to be taking a nap but was instead looking out the window at the falling snow that was gone by the time I got to go outside.

You see how it traumatized me?

So I have nothing but sympathy for poor Penny, waiting and waiting for snow!

[Alas! I’m posting this with winter winding down — and this year in the DC area, very little snow has fallen. Would be a great choice here this year.]

Penny finds things to do with her sled while she’s waiting.

And eventually, Mama suggests Penny might wait for snowdrops instead of waiting for snow.

“What if the snowdrops are like the snow?” said Penny. “What if the snowdrops do not come up this year?”

“They will,” said Mama.

“That is what you said about the snow,” said Penny.

Mama was quiet for a moment.

“I remember a few years when it did not snow,” Mama said. “But I do not remember a year without snowdrops.”

I do love how Penny responds when the snowdrops finally do come up. She makes sure that her sled is involved.

This is great for beginning readers. There are five chapters and pictures on every page. And it talks about a universal concern – waiting.

KevinHenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of A Is for Elizabeth, by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Paige Keiser

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

A Is for Elizabeth

by Rachel Vail
illustrated by Paige Keiser

Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2019. 121 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 21, 2019, from a library book

I picked up this new book because I didn’t have very many beginning chapter books to talk about when booktalking in the local elementary schools this year for the Summer Reading Program. This one is exactly what I was looking for.

Elizabeth is starting second grade at the start of this book, so it’s perfect for the rising second graders. She has her first homework assignment – to make a poster about her name. She doesn’t think this is fair, since ELIZABETH has so many letters.

To be even more unfair, the posters will be presented in alphabetical order. That means Anna is going to go first. But that doesn’t seem right. After she makes the poster, she talks with her brother Justin:

“Sometimes the name Elizabeth starts with the letter A,” I explained to Justin.

“No it doesn’t,” he said.

Justin is in fifth grade, so he thinks he knows everything.

“Sometimes it does,” I said.

“Never,” he said.

“Haven’t you ever heard of sound it out?” I asked.

Justin looked confused. Ha! Even fifth graders don’t know everything.

Annoying. Amazing,” I said. “Sound it out. What letter makes the uh sound at the beginning?”

“An A,” Justin said.

“AHA!” I said. “And my name starts with the same sound! A-lizabeth!”

As a mother, I especially enjoyed the part where Elizabeth tells her parents that she needs poster board for a project due tomorrow.

There is a rule in our family that I forgot all about.

It is:

No saying the words Poster Board after 6:00 p.m.

“You said it, too,” I told Mom.

“Said what?” she asked me.

“The words that rhyme with toaster sword . . .

“Toaster sword?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

I whispered the words poster board.

“You said those words at least five seconds later in the night than I did, Mom.”

Mom shook her head.

Dad shook his head.

They both did loud breathing.

That is what they do when I make a good point and win the argument.

A Is For Elizabeth is a fun look at the challenges and triumphs of second-grade life. It has fifty very short chapters and illustrations on every spread. Reading this book will not be daunting, but will give a sense of accomplishment.

rachelvail.com
paigekeiser.com
mackids.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: The Pest in the Nest, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear
The Pest in the Nest

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

Silver Dolphin Press, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2017. 102 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 30, 2019, from a library book

This second book about Rabbit and Bear finds continued humor in Rabbit’s grumpiness – and even has some practical lessons about finding peace.

The situation Rabbit finds himself in might make anyone grumpy – there’s a woodpecker building a nest in a tree nearby, making a huge racket.

After Rabbit tells Bear that Woodpecker is driving him crazy, and then that Tortoise is driving him crazy, too, they have this exchange:

Bear thought about this. “So noisy, happy things drive you crazy?”

“Yes!” replied Rabbit.

“And quiet, sad things drive you crazy?”

“Yes! Yes!” said Rabbit.

“Bear thought about this some more. “But … the only thing those things have in common,” she said, scratching her head, “… is you.”

Rabbit gave Bear a Look. “So?”

“Well,” said Bear, “I think the creature that is driving you crazy isn’t Woodpecker. And it isn’t Tortoise. It’s …”

Hmmm. Bear didn’t want to say it. Rabbit had a FIERCE temper.

“It’s YOU, isn’t it Bear?” said Rabbit, and raised his right foot to kick Bear.

“Er, no,” said Bear. “It’s you.

But Bear thinks of a way to help Rabbit see the situation differently, and they end up making a new friend while they’re at it.

This book is the length of a beginning chapter book without actually having chapters. But young readers will enjoy being able to read it themselves, with plenty of pictures and lots of humor to speed them on their way. And they may pick up a little wisdom and ideas of things to do when they’re feeling grumpy.

I’m looking forward to more adventures with Rabbit and Bear.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

story by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
pictures by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2018. 192 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 5, 2018, from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out #2 in Picture Books – Silly Fun

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is the sort of book I hand to co-workers and insist that they read immediately. As The Invention of Hugo Cabret was something new in a children’s novel by telling much of the story with pictures, so Baby Monkey, Private Eye is something new in a book for beginning readers — by telling much of the story with pictures.

Now, I’m writing this before I’ve talked with anyone on the Newbery committee about the book, so this is only my opinion. So much of the brilliance of this book depends on the pictures, I doubt that it’s really a Newbery prospect. (Who knows, maybe I will be convinced later.) In fact, the pictures and text work so beautifully together, I’m already hoping this book will be next year’s Geisel Award winner – for books for beginning readers. That award can consider illustrations and text and how they work together to help kids read. [*Note added later*: I learned that alas, the Geisel Award has a page limit — so exactly what makes this book most distinguished — a long book beginning readers can read themselves — is the thing that makes it ineligible.]

If you wrote out the text of this book, I think it would be about the same as many other books for beginning readers. But Baby Monkey, Private Eye takes up far more pages with the same amount of text – spacing out the words, and providing more pictures.

Here’s the first chapter, coming after we’ve already met Baby Monkey, who is a baby and a monkey who has a job.

First, we see Baby Monkey sitting on the couch in his office, reading Famous Jewel Crimes. An opera singer bursts in.

Baby Monkey! Someone has stolen my jewels!

Baby Monkey can help!

Baby Monkey looks for clues.

Baby Monkey writes notes.

Baby Monkey eats a snack. [Mmm.]

Baby Monkey puts on his pants. [9 pages of pictures.]

Now Baby Monkey is ready!

[Aha!] Baby Monkey solves the case!

Zebra!

Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Every sentence above has its own 2-page spread, and some have extra pages of pictures in between.

This wouldn’t be extra-special if this relatively short chapter were just printed on a few pages. But it actually takes up 35 pages. And that’s where it’s brilliant.

See what I mean about the text not necessarily being distinguished all by itself? But when you put this with the pictures, including many things to find on repeated readings – the result is utter brilliance. Come on, this is one you’re going to have to check out and see for yourself!

By the way, this same format repeats in chapters two and three, so then we appreciate how it changes in chapters four and five when we are reminded that Baby Monkey is actually a baby.

Why has no one done this before? Why do people always stick to the standard beginning-reader format?

Well, no one else is Brian Selznick, illustrator extraordinaire, who routinely breaks out of standard formats.

The end result is that young beginning readers will get to read a big fat book! Oh, the sense of accomplishment when they finish reading all five chapters!

In even more fun, the authors have put an Index and Bibliography at the back. The Index has entries like “Carrots, baby (see also Snacks).” The Bibliography includes all the books Baby Monkey has been reading, and additional invented titles such as Predators Who Eat Pizza.

Baby Monkey is something very special. You don’t even have to have a beginning reader in the house to enjoy this book. But if you do, go out and buy a copy today!

scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Cinderella Liberator, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Cinderella Liberator

by Rebecca Solnit
with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Haymarket Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 10, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this is a marvelous retelling of Cinderella! Modifications have been made, with the result being a thing of delight even to the young feminist heart. No, Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince, but the prince gets a happy ending, as do the stepsisters. Everyone in the story gets to become their best selves.

She chose silhouettes done by Arthur Rackham in 1919 for the illustrations, which are exquisite and add to the fairy tale feeling – which is there all the way, even though the details are tuned to more modern sensibilities.

This is a story I’d love to read to an attentive audience. In fact, I will probably choose portions to read aloud when I’m doing booktalks in the local elementary schools. I’m going to quote here a few of the many passages that delighted me.

The beginning of Chapter 2, “Dresses and Horses”:

And then one day came the news that the king’s son, Prince Nevermind, was holding a great ball, which is what they called dance parties in those days. The stepmother made sure that Pearlita and Paloma were invited, and they spent days trying on clothes and ordering dressmakers to make them new dresses out of satin and velvet and glitter and planning how to put up their hair and stick it full of jewels and ornaments and artificial flowers.

Cinderella came upstairs to bring them some ginger cookies and saw all the piles of jewels and all the mirrors and all the fabric and all the fuss. Pearlita was doing her best to pile her hair as high as hair could go. She said that, surely, having the tallest hair in the world would make you the most beautiful woman, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest.

Paloma was sewing extra bows onto her dress, because she thought that, surely, having the fanciest dress in the world would make you the most beautiful woman in the world, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest. They weren’t very happy, because they were worried that someone might have higher hair or more bows than they did. Which, probably, someone did. Usually someone does.

But there isn’t actually a most beautiful person in the world, because there are so many kinds of beauty. Some people love roundness and softness, and other people love sharp edges and strong muscles. Some people like thick hair like a lion’s mane, and other people like thin hair that pours down like an inky waterfall, and some people love someone so much they forget what they look like. Some people think the night sky full of stars at midnight is the most beautiful thing imaginable, some people think it’s a forest in snow, and some people . . . Well, there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas about beauty. And love. When you love someone a lot, they just look like love.

This section comes after the ball:

The blue fairy godmother opened the door, and asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said Yes, and No, and It was very interesting to see all the fancy clothes and the fancy plates with fancy cakes and the fancy mirrors and the fancy lights. And then she said, It was even more interesting to see lizards become footwomen and mice become horses. The fairy godmother replied that true magic is to help each thing become its best and most free self, and then she asked the horses if they wanted to be horses.

Five of the horses said, in horse language, which fairy godmothers speak and most of us do not, that they loved running through the night and being afraid of nothing and bigger than almost everyone. The sixth horse said she’d had a lot of fun but she had mice children at home and wanted to get back to them. The fairy godmother nodded in understanding, and suddenly the sixth horse shrank, and lost its mane, and its shaggy tail became a pink tail with a fine fuzz like velvet. And there she was: a tiny gray mouse with pink feet, running back to her tinier pink children in the nest in the wall to tell them all about the enchantment that had made her a horse for a night.

And then the lizards said, in the quiet language of lizards, that nothing was better than being a lizard, being able to run up walls and to lie in the sun on warm days and to snap up flies in the garden and never worry about anything except owls and crows, and though they loved wearing silver satin, and going to parties, and they had been happy to help Cinderella, and they would tell all their lizard friends about it, they would rather be lizards again. And suddenly they were, running off toward the garden on their little lizard legs, trailing long lizard tails, the moon making the scales on their lean lizard bodies shine like silver.

If I copy out anything further in the story, I might give away too many crucial changes at the end, but I hope this gives you the idea. There’s an Afterword at the back that describes the author’s thoughts about the tale.

Here’s a retelling of Cinderella for our current times, and it is utterly delightful in every way.

haymarketbooks.org

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear

Rabbit’s Bad Habits

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

SilverDolphin, San Diego, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 101 pages.
Starred Review

I want to call this a charming beginning chapter book, but it doesn’t actually have chapters. It’s got the format and length and skill level of a beginning chapter book, though, and is perfect for those readers. (I find myself wishing they’d stuck chapter breaks in just so the kids could say they’d read a chapter book.)

The story is about Bear waking up early in the middle of winter and deciding she’s going to build a snowman. She meets Rabbit, who knows much more about making a snowman than Bear does, and has plenty of advice.

Along the way, they make friends, even though Rabbit has done some not-very-nice things. But he has given Bear a carrot for her snowman, so when a Wolf is after Rabbit, Bear uses what she’s learned to save the day.

And we learn that you can be friends with someone who may have some quirks and may not be nice every moment. Not that you should be friends with someone who’s mean, but read the book! It manages just the right balance.

What’s more, we learn why rabbits eat their own poo! (Their food is only half-digested. But it’s all explained clearly.)

The overall product is a making-friends story with charmingly flawed and friendly characters.

And it’s the start of a series! I can’t wait for more.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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Review of My Pet Human Takes Center Stage, by Yasmine Surovec

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

My Pet Human Takes Center Stage

by Yasmine Surovec

Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 100 pages.

Oliver’s back! He’s the cat with the pet human, Freckles.

In this book, Freckles goes to school and Oliver decides to tag along. This gets Freckles to join the Fur-Ever Friends Club, where she decides to foster a kitten.

Oliver is not excited about sharing his human with a kitten! To make matters worse, Freckles has plans for Oliver and the kitten to participate in a pet talent show put on by the club.

This book has five chapters with pictures on every page. The dialog is all done with speech bubbles, but there is some narration from Oliver’s perspective as well, so it’s not quite a graphic novel.

But it is a delightful and funny chapter book for beginning readers. They will enjoy how the world looks from the perspective of a cat.

catversushuman.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, by Rebecca Bond

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

Pig & Goose

and the First Day of Spring

by Rebecca Bond

Charlesbridge, 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review

This is a beginning reader in the classic “two friends” tradition. We learn how Pig meets Goose on the first day of Spring.

Here’s the start of the book and the story “A Spring Morning”:

It was spring at last.
Pig was in a good mood.
“The sun is shining!” said Pig.
“The sky is blue!” said Pig.
“Goody gumdrops!” said Pig.
“I am going to have a picnic by the pond.”

Pig is anthropomorphic, wearing a dress and gathering things from her cozy home into a picnic basket. On the way to the pond, Goose lands beside her. She admires how well Goose flies, so Goose offers to teach her.

You can figure out how the flying lesson will end up! But I like the way they collapse into a pile of good-hearted laughter after they try it. And then they go together to eat the picnic by the pond.

The second story is “A Picnic Lunch.” They share lunch and talk about how spring is the best season but then agree that all the other seasons are best, too. Pig naps in the sunshine and dreams of flying like Goose. When she wakes up, she learns that Goose can also swim. What an amazing new friend she has!

That story ends with Pig inviting Goose to the party she’s having that evening, her First-Day-of-Spring Party.

The final story is about the party. Pig introduces Goose to her many friends. Pig made wonderful food to eat, tells delightful stories and jokes, and laughs and dances with her friends.

After the party, Goose tells Pig how wonderful she is – and I like that the author doesn’t have to explain to the reader why that is, they’ve already seen how delightful she is. Even her exuberant cry (repeated often) of “Goody Gumdrops!” tells us how enthusiastic she is about her joys.

[I used to like to say “Goody Gumdrops!” when I was a kid. Made me wonder if Rebecca Bond is the same age as me. Well, she’s 8 years younger, but that’s not too far off. Do kids today say “Goody Gumdrops!”? Maybe now they will.]

This is a picture book about friendship and about simple joys. And I like the way it shows us that each friend has something of their own to offer.

I’m glad we can peek in on the start of this beautiful friendship.

[Note: I was looking up Rebecca Bond’s website and discovered, sadly, that she died August 2, 2017, at 45 years old. So the friendship of Pig and Goose will only be developing in our imaginations.]

charlesbridge.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?