This Little Piggy: An Owner’s Manual by Cyndi Marko

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  What’s the perfect pet?  A dog?  A hamster?  A turtle?  No, a pig, of course!  Well, you may know that, but it’ll take some work to convince other family members.  The girl narrator offers some wild and crazy tips, first getting her brother on board, then beginning a long, laborious process for showing her mother what a wonderful pet her new pig Snowflake will be.  There are six chapters in all, but most pages only have a couple of sentences, accompanied by illustrations with cartoon bubble dialog.  And don’t worry, pig fans, one of the final bubbles is Mom’s, containing the words “Our family could use a pig like that.”  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Another crowd-pleaser from the author-illustrator of the Kung Pow Chicken series, this is sure to be a hit with the newly-independent reading crowd.  This could also be used as a mentor text for procedural writing.

Cons:  There isn’t much of a story–it’s more of a how-to manual.

Double Take! A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood, illustrated by Jay Fleck

Published by Candlewick Studio

Summary:  A boy, a black cat, and a blue elephant explore the concept of opposites with rhyming text.  At first it seems easy.  Yes, no, stop, go, in, out, asleep, awake.  But then a new idea is introduced.  There can’t be a big unless there is a small.  Who knows what’s fast if there’s no slow?  And there’s relativity: “Who’s strong and who’s weak is hardly perplexing/But strong can look weak when a new champ is flexing.”  Ahead and behind are different for each person in a line.  Point of view can be everything, and readers are encouraged to look closely to recognize their own perspective in a situation.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Kids will be flexing their critical thinking muscles in this intriguing look at opposites and how they’re not always concrete.  The somewhat retro-looking illustrations and font are fun; readers will enjoy watching what the cat and elephant do on each page.

Cons:  Some of the more abstract concepts may be difficult for younger readers to grasp.

Mighty Moby by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young

Published by Little, Brown

Summary:  The sailors are longing to be homeward bound, but when the lookout spies the great white whale, the captain’s orders come through and the chase is on.  A harpoon is thrown and hits its mark.  The whale dives deep, dragging the boats with it.  Then the magnificent white whale rises again to the surface, only…it’s bedtime.  The narrator protests, but Dad’s word is a law above Captain Ahab, and the tale literally goes down the drain.  The boy falls asleep to the sound of one more sea chanty.  An author’s note gives more information about Moby-Dick and the process of how this book was created, along with a link to her website.

Pros:  A picture book based on Moby-Dick?  I was skeptical, but, call me Ishamel, it works!  The story is appealing and understandable to kids, and the amazing collage illustrations will surely be considered by the Caldecott committee.

Cons:  Kids inspired to move directly from this book to Herman Melville’s original may encounter a struggle worthy of Ahab.

Lights, Camera, Cook! (Next Best Junior Chef) by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Aurelie Blard-Quintard

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  Rae, Tate, Caroline, and Oliver all want to be the Next Best Junior Chef, but only one can win the title.  They’ll have to survive three big competitions in which one chef will be eliminated.  Along the way are field trips and mini contests that allow them to choose kitchen gadgets or get private cooking lessons that may help them in their quests to be the best.  They’re surrounded by professional chefs and strict rules about TV behavior.  Friendships are formed and rivalries develop as the four kids try to do their best under the pressure of trying to be the best.  Includes tips for how to use a chef’s knife and a preview of book two.  192 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A series based on a reality cooking show in which one contestant is eliminated at the end of each book…how has no one thought of this before?  Kids will love this quick and easy read, with plenty of illustrations and illustrations of each character talking to the reader in cartoon bubbles every few pages.

Cons:  Who will be next?  Readers have to wait until mid-February to find out!

Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Moose the dog loves hellos and hates good-byes.  When his friend Zara goes to school, he finds ways to join her.  Each time he gets into school, it takes more and more people to get him to leave again, until finally, Zara’s parents and teacher, the principal, the librarian, and the lunch ladies are all in on the act.  One of Moose’s favorite parts of school is listening to books, and this gives Zara an idea.  She signs Moose up for therapy dog training, and he proves to be a natural.  With his new certification, he is welcome in school, listening to kids practice their reading each day.  An author’s note gives more information about therapy dogs and how they differ from service dogs; two websites are included for more information.  40 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Moose is pretty irresistible, and his antics will amuse young readers.  Zara is in a wheelchair, but this is scarcely touched on in the story and she is fully integrated into her classroom and a capable trainer for her dog.

Cons:  Moose’s behavioral turn-around seemed overly optimistic to me.

Shell Beak Tusk: Shared Traits and the Wonders of Adaptation by Bridget Heos

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Porcupines and echidnas both have spiky spines.  Turtles and snails both have shells.  Yet these animals aren’t related to each other, and, in the case of the porcupine and echidna, don’t live on the same continents.  Animals often evolve with shared traits, even if they’re not closely related.  Each two-page spread shows a photograph of both of the animals with a paragraph about that animal and the trait the two share.  The first and last page give additional information about adaptation and evolution.  Includes a pretty extensive bibliography and an index.  32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The large, colorful photos provide a draw to pick up this book.  The idea of shared traits is an interesting concept that could be extended by having kids think of and research other animals who have shared traits.

Cons:  The writing and format are pretty straightforward, and may not have as much appeal as some flashier books about animals.

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

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  Pig is excited to be heading out for a picnic on the first day of spring, when she’s surprised by a goose who lands at her feet.  She admires his flying, and he tries (unsuccessfully) to teach her to fly.  She invites him to join her on her picnic; they enjoy it so much that she extends the invitation to a first-day-of-spring party at her house that night.  During the day, Pig has wished for Goose’s abilities to fly and to swim, but at the party, Goose gets to see Pig’s talents as she keeps her guests entertained, well-fed, and happy.  They part ways with the promise of a picnic the next day, and the hope that there will be a sequel featuring these two friends.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Fans of Poppleton and Frog and Toad will enjoy this new three-chapter book for emergent readers.  The watercolor illustrations are cute and cheery, and the friendship and humor will keep kids reading.

Cons:  The humor is more of a smile than Frog-and-Toad laugh-out-loud.