Pig and Pug by Lynne Berry, pictures by Gemma Correll

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Pig and Pug, being carried in a pocket and purse respectively, meet and introduce themselves.  Pug is sure Pig is really a pudgy Pug, which makes Pig mad.  A fight ensues, followed by a chase.  Finally Pug falls into a mud puddle, and Pig calls him, “Pug, the muddy pig”, which makes both animals laugh.  They return to their pocket and purse, and part friends.  Ages 3-7.

Pros:  Kids learning to read will enjoy the simple text, with lots of cartoon bubbles and tongue twisters.

Cons:  That’s the whole plot.  Really.

Water Is Water by Miranda Paul, illustrations by Jason Chin

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is water unless…it heats up.”  Each page has a rhyme to show a different form water can take—steam, clouds, rain, snow, etc.  The brief text is beautifully illustrated by incomparable nature artist Jason Chin.  Kids will connect with the brother and sister as they experience the different forms of water in their everyday lives.  End pages give a brief explanation of the stages of the water cycle, a comparison of what percent water different animals are (humans=65%), and resources for further reading.  Preschool-grade 2.

Pros:  A perfect pairing of text and pictures that will explain the water cycle to even the youngest reader.

Cons:  The title struck me as a bit inane, but it makes more sense when you read the book.

Space Taxi: Archie’s Alien Disguise by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Archie and his dad are transporting an alien named Bloppy in his dad’s space taxi, when a call comes in that there’s an emergency princess rescue to be made.  The taxi gets damaged in the landing, so Dad has to stay with it to make repairs.  Archie and their talking cat Pockets are on their own to rescue the princess.  In order to blend in on the planet, Pockets disguises Archie as an alien with three arms and eyes.  Will he be able to find the princess, get her out of the haunted castle, and return her to the king before the evil B.U.R.P. organization catches up with them?  Ages 6-9.

Pros:  This is a new direction for Wendy Mass, who usually writes for upper elementary and young adult girls, but she hits the mark just as well for younger readers.  Plenty of action and humor, all interspersed regularly with comic style illustrations.

Cons:  You might want to start with the first book in the series, Archie Takes Flight, before reading this one.

If I Had a Triceratops by George O’Connor

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  A boy imagines life with a triceratops, which resembles an oversize dog, complete with lolling tongue, leash, and doghouse.  Readers will enjoy illustrations of the boy trailing after his pet on a walk with a shovel and trash bag, and of two triceratops sniffing at each other’s tails when they first meet.  “If I had a triceratops,” concludes the narrator, “I would be the luckiest kid in the world.”

Pros:  This would be a good writing prompt for kids to write persuasively about why they should have a triceratops (or other animal) as a pet.  The information about the author mentions that there is an earlier book, If I Had a Raptor that is based on cat ownership.

Cons:  That whole shovel and bag thing.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page.

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  Did you know there are approximately 19 billion chickens on earth?  Or that chicken can run as fast as the average human (9 miles per hour)?  Learn this and much more about everyone’s favorite fowl in this informational picture book.  Most of the text is in question-and-answer format, answering the narrator’s questions when a chicken follows her home.  What do I feed my chicken?  Will my chicken lay eggs?  How can I get the eggs to turn into more chickens?The answers are straightforward and brief, most just two or three sentences.  The large, simple illustrations are the perfect complement to the text.  The final two pages answer more chicken questions and provide additional resources.  Recommended for ages 4-9.

Pros:  This is the first solo effort by Robin Page, collaborator and wife of author/illustrator Steve Jenkins.  She has put together a near-perfect informational book, simple but packed with facts.  I didn’t realize exactly what I wanted to know about chickens, but Robin did, and she got all the answers just right.

Cons:   19 billion chickens running 9 miles per hour = a nightmare.

Breaking the Ice by Gail Nall

Published by Aladdin

Summary: When shy Kaitlin has an uncharacteristic temper tantrum at an ice skating competition, she finds herself banned from her own skating club and most of the other clubs in the area.  The only place that will take her is the run-down Falton “Fall Down” Club, but Kaitlin is desperate enough to follow her Olympic dream to try it.  Despite the bumpy ice, ancient Zamboni, and eccentric coaches, she finds herself making new friends and learning a whole new way of skating.  Greg, her new coach, encourages her to express herself through her skating, which just confuses Kaitlin.  Braedon, the cute ne’er-do-well of the club, encourages her to skip classes and pull pranks that she’s sure will get her in trouble.  Kaitlin and her friends end up at Regionals, where a secret party almost gets Kaitlin kicked out of the competition.  Will she be able to put her new experiences into skating a winning program?  Grades 4-7.

Pros:  Middle grade readers will root for Kaitlin to come out of her shell while enjoying a great sports story.

Cons:  The stock middle school characters (loyal best friend, potential crush, misunderstood mean girl) are not particularly original.

Use Your Words, Sophie! By Rosemary Wells

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Sophie has a new baby sister, and she’s decided to try out some different languages to communicate with her, like Jellyfish, Hyena, and Baboon.  Each time she makes the attempt, her parents urge her, “Use your words, Sophie.”  Meanwhile, Sophie’s mother and father are having trouble agreeing on what to name the baby.  To add to the chaos, the baby starts crying, and no one, not even Granny, can figure out how to make her stop.  Finally, Sophie uses her words.  “Give her to me, please.”  Then she uses them again to sing quietly to the baby.  Miraculously, the baby stops crying.  “Her name is Jane,” says Sophie.  “So I sang to her, Jane, Jane, don’t be a pain.  Now she’s happy.”  And so is everyone else.

Pros:  Rosemary Wells has created another memorable character for preschoolers.  This is Sophie the mouse’s third book.  It would make an excellent sibling gift when a new baby arrives.

Cons:  I was sorry that Jane was the final name choice for the new baby.  Just adding a “t” would have made it so much better.

Where Are My Books? By Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Every night, Spencer hears a bedtime story, and every morning, the book is missing.  His parents don’t know where the books are (plus, they’re busy), and he gets in trouble when he accuses his little sister of stealing them.  Finally, he sets a trap by rigging up his stuffed narwhal to one of his books.  In the morning, he follows the narwhal to a clump of bushes where he discovers a squirrel reading the book to his friends and family.  Spencer gets his books back, but he invites the squirrels to come any time to borrow, and the final page shows him reading his favorite book, Night, Night, Narwhal to the squirrels and his sister.  Ages 4-8.

Pros:  Spencer is an ingenious boy who is able to figure out how to solve his own problems.  This would be a great introduction to the whole borrowing-books-from-the-library concept.

Cons:  Those squirrels are nuts.

Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Barry Blitt

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Who were the men who helped start America, and what exactly did it mean to be a Founding Father?  Jonah Winter takes an irreverent look at fourteen of them, giving each one a page of information that includes height, weight, shoe size, career and wealth, slaveholding status, position on the Boston Tea Party, famous quotes, and a few other facts and anecdotes.  Each page is accompanied by a full-page portrait.  The introduction or “Preamble” tells a little about this group and draws some comparisons to present-day politics and arguing over issues.  The final few pages take a closer look at some of the issues including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, religion, slavery, government, foreign wars, and taxes, then concludes with a full page of additional resources.  Grades 2-5.

Pros:  The writing is heavy on humor and kid-friendly facts.  Yet this is a great introduction to the whole concept of “Founding Fathers” (a term coined by Warren G. Harding in 1918, in case you were wondering).  It might also make you feel better about today’s Congress to learn that so much was accomplished in spite of 18th-century partisan bickering.

Cons:  There’s not much depth.  The additional resources will be needed to cover the history of the period more thoroughly.

Kate & Pippin: An Unlikely Friendship by Martin Springett, photograph by Isobel Springett

Published by Square Fish

Summary:  When Isobel Springett found an abandoned fawn in the woods, she brought it home and put it near her Great Dane, Kate’s dog bed.  Kate immediately took to the fawn, who the family named Pippin, and Pippin followed Kate everywhere.  Before long, Pippin began spending her nights in the woods, but would return every day to play with her friend.  Pippin grew into a doe, and one day she appeared with two fawns of her own.  Although the fawns were too wild to come near a dog, Kate and Pippin continue to be friends, and still enjoy daily visits.  Ages 4-8.

Pros:  Animal lovers will enjoy this easy reader, illustrated with photos of Kate and Pippin.  For more information, they can read Kate & Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story by the same authors.

Cons:  The author flirts a bit with the anthropomorphic line.