Best Friends-ish Audrey L. & Audrey W. book 1) by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann

Published by Chronicle Books

Audrey L and Audrey W: Best Friends-ish: Book 1 (Audrey L & Audrey W, 1):  Higgins, Carter, Mann, Jennifer K.: 9781452183947: Books

Summary:  Audrey is struggling a bit with second grade, since her former best friend Diego has found himself some new friends.  Audrey feels like she’s kind of average, and wishes she could be the best at something.  When her teacher announces that there’s going to be a new girl in the class, Audrey’s not sure how she feels, especially after learning that the new girl’s name is also Audrey, and the original Audrey will now be known as Audrey L.  Audrey L. is chosen to be the Welcome Ambassador for Audrey W.  She bakes the new girl a cake (baking being something that she is actually good at), but then drops it on the floor.  Audrey W. is nice about it, though, and before long it seems like the two Audreys might become friends.  But second grade is not always easy, and the new friendship proves to be something of a roller coaster ride.  Things are cemented in the final chapters, and the ending offers promise that a book 2 could be in store.  184 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A winning early chapter book that really captures the emotions of early elementary school.  Both Audreys suffer some insecurities, but are basically kind, and you will be rooting for their best friendship to emerge after a series of false starts.  The illustrations by Jennifer Mann add excellent visuals to the story.

Cons:  I did not know that it was bad for hermit crabs to paint their shells (although it makes sense), so the horror the girls felt in that part of the story was kind of lost on me.

Cranky Chicken by Katherine Battersby

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Cranky Chicken | Book by Katherine Battersby | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster Cranky Chicken (1): 9781534469884: Battersby, Katherine,  Battersby, Katherine: Books

Summary:  Cranky Chicken is constantly…well, cranky.  Then along comes Speedy, a worm with a perennially upbeat attitude, and things begin to change.  In five chapters the two slowly become good friends, and Speedy is occasionally successful in changing Cranky’s outlook on life.  The final chapter sees Cranky overcome a fear of heights to help Speedy realize his dream of flying, and even Cranky has to admit that it was pretty great.  116 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Fans of Narwhal and Jellyfish will happily embrace this new pair of friends and their comic-style adventures.  There’s plenty of humor, friendship, and good simple watercolor art in mostly pastels with a few bright highlights (like Cranky’s expressive unibrow).  I hope there will be some sequels!

Cons:  The font looks like hand-lettered printing, which may take some getting used to for early readers.

Harry versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by Anne Schwartz Books

Harry Versus The First 100 Days Of School - By Emily Jenkins (hardcover) :  Target
Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School: Jenkins, Emily, Oswald, Pete:  9780525644712: Books

Summary:  Harry is super nervous on his first day of first grade: he worries about his too-short haircut, having a guinea pig in the classroom, strict teachers, and making friends.  As the story unfolds day by day, Harry learns to overcome all of these concerns.  His teacher is strict, but kind, gently guiding Harry to do the right thing.  His older sister introduces him to her class’s guinea pig, and he learns that they aren’t scary after all, but pretty adorable. He meets Mason, who becomes his best friend.  And he learns to stand up to the class bully, who eventually turns out to be a friend as well.  By day 100, Harry considers himself a first grade expert, with these words of wisdom: “Try to make new friends. Keep reading even when the words are hard. Speak up when something’s wrong. And help when someone’s sad.”  240 pages, grades K-3.

Pros:  I zipped through the first half of this book in one evening, then held off on the rest so I could savor it later.  It’s such a realistic look at what first grade is like, and Harry is an imperfectly perfect narrator (he gets in trouble for talking, pukes all over his desk, and isn’t always nice to the other kids at his table).  There’s plenty of classroom diversity, and lessons about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving that are a bit different than what I remember from first grade but well-delivered by his compassionate teacher.  Pete Oswald’s illustrations add plenty of humor.  This would be a perfect first-grade read-aloud, and I hope it captures the attention of the Newbery committee.

Cons:  I would have liked a little more background on Harry’s guinea pig phobia.

The Secret Explorers and the Missing Scientist by SJ King

Published by DK Children The Secret Explorers and the Missing Scientist: 9781465499899:  King, SJ: Books

Summary:  Kiki is tinkering with a bicycle near her home in Ghana when she gets the signal that the Secret Explorers have a mission.  When they’re all gathered, they learn that they’ve been assigned to the Arctic, and Kiki and marine specialist Connor are the two chosen to go.  When they get there, they find a ship stuck in the ice and learn that one of the scientists has gone missing.  As they carry out their rescue mission, they learn a lot about the polar environment, and have a close encounter with a polar bear.  Not only do they find the scientist, but Kiki’s engineering skills allow them to free the ship from the ice as well.  Includes additional information on the Arctic, the people who live there, and polar bears; a quiz; and a glossary.  128 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Somehow I’ve missed this series until this book, #7, which got a starred review from School Library Journal.  Kids who like science and reading nonfiction will enjoy learning all the facts that are woven into the story and given in the backmatter.  There’s a diverse cast of characters that apparently answer the call from all around the globe when there’s a new mission. I was a little vague as to the group works, so definitely start with book 1.

Cons:  Even though there are plenty of illustrations, there’s no credit given on the cover or title page. Unless SJ King is also the illustrator?

The Haunted Mustache (Night Frights, book 1) by Joe McGee, illustrated by Teo Skaffa

Published by Aladdin

The Haunted Mustache (Night Frights Book 1) - Kindle edition by McGee, Joe,  Skaffa, Teo. Children Kindle eBooks @ The Haunted Mustache (1) (Night Frights): 9781534480889: McGee,  Joe, Skaffa, Teo: Books

Summary:  Every year, the residents of Wolver Hollow grow mustaches or wear fake ones on October 19.  When Parker and Lucas get to fifth grade, they’re old enough to finally learn why.  According to local legend, many years ago Wolver Hollow resident Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an explosion, with only his mustache surviving.  Every year the haunted mustache goes out looking for a hair-free lip to rest on.  The two boys decide to investigate to find out if the tale is true, reluctantly including their classmate, ghost expert Samantha von Oppelstein.  The three of them have a series of hair-raising adventures, but finally succeed in defeating the mustache.  Or do they?  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This first of a three-part series is just the right blend of funny and scary for new chapter book readers.  The cliffhanger ending will have kids eagerly seeking out book 2.  Book 3 comes out in February.

Cons:  I hope the boys will eventually feel comfortable enough with Samantha von Oppelstein to drop the von Oppelstein and simply call her Samantha.

Monster Friends by Kaeti Vandorn

Published by Random House Graphics

Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827: Books
Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827: Books

Summary:  Reggie is spending his summer house sitting for relatives, living by himself after what seems to have been some unsettling events in his recent past.  He seems torn between enjoying his solitude and feeling lonely.  When gregarious Emily the rabbit shows up, he has a good time hanging out with her.  Emily’s got her own troubles with four sisters, one of whom makes fun of her for her vivid imagination.  As the summer progresses, Reggie starts to make more connections and to accept that he may not be as adventurous as the best friend he left behind.  By the end of the summer, he and Emily are good friends and he has decided on a new life path for himself.  272 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Younger graphic novel fans will love Reggie and his friends, all of them monsters with some surprising abilities.  The illustrations are adorable and the “be true to yourself” message that Reggie learns is a good one.

Cons:  I found the first chapter confusing.

Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business by Bree Galbraith, illustrated by Morgan Goble

Published by Kids Can Press Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business (9781525303272):  Galbraith, Bree, Goble, Morgan: Books

Summary:  Five important things about the narrator (from Chapter 0): 1. Her name is Wednesday August Wilson. 2. She has two moms and is mixed race. 3. She has a little brother named Mister. 4. Her best friend is Charlie Lopez. 5. She is going to be an entrepreneur.  When Wednesday tells two of her mean girl classmates that her new invention is called the Secret Keeper, she has to come up with an actual product.  With the help of Charlie, Mister, and a new friend named Amina, her invention sweeps the third grade.  The downside is that she destroys some library books in the process and winds up with half the field trip money in her desk.  But Wednesday is clearly a girl who doesn’t give up easily, and the final page indicates there will be more big business ideas (and books about them) in the future.  144 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  A promising early chapter book series opener with an interesting heroine, a diverse cast of characters, and an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship (words like overhead and negotiation are marked with an asterisk and defined at the bottom of the page).  Lots of illustrations and a fast-paced story make this a great chapter book for those just venturing into the genre.

Cons:  I’ve been noticing lately how many early chapter books feature either a shy girl who finds her voice or a spunky girl whose well-intentioned actions are misunderstood.  While I appreciate both of these types of books, I’d love to see more early chapter books with boy main characters.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old (Twig and Turtle, book 4) by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Paula Franco

Published by Pixel + Ink

Twig and Turtle 4: Make New Friends, But Keep the Old: Jacobson, Jennifer  Richard: 9781645950530: Books

Summary:  Twig is starting to settle into tiny house living with her family, and to enjoy school with her new friend Angela.  But when Angela’s former best friend Effie moves back to town, Twig starts to feel like she’s losing Angela.  Fortunately, Grandma, who is babysitting while Mom and Dad are out of town, has some wise advice, and Twig finds the courage to speak up to both Angela and Effie.  As the title suggests, the last few pages assure readers that the girls expand their friendship to include all three.  112 pages; grades 2-4. 

Pros:  I missed this series when book 1 came out last year.  Book 4 is charming, though, and I may have to go back and read the first three.  The family has recently moved to a tiny house, which I found fascinating, and the friend and family problems, happily resolved in a way that felt realistic, make this a great early chapter book.

Cons:  Although the series title is Twig and Turtle, most of the stories seem to be focused on older sister Twig.  As a younger sister myself, I’d like to see some more Turtle action.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey (Maybe Marisol, 1): Kelly, Erin Entrada, Kelly,  Erin Entrada: 9780062970428: Books
Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey (Maybe Marisol, 1): Kelly, Erin Entrada, Kelly,  Erin Entrada: 9780062970428: Books

Summary:  Marisol’s active imagination helps her to enjoy silent movies, name inanimate objects (like Buster Keaton, the refrigerator), and make up stories about her collection of stuffed cats.  But it also means she can imagine falling out of Peppina, the huge magnolia tree in the backyard that she longs to climb like her best friend Jada does.  Marisol has other fears, like mean girl Evie Smythe and Daggers, the dog she has to pass on her bike ride.  But at one point Marisol was too afraid to even ride a bike, and her dad stayed with her until she learned.  By the end of the story, with plenty of parental and best friend support, Marisol has made it to the top of Peppina.  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This is one of those rare gems, like Billy Miller or Stella Diaz: an illustrated chapter book, clearly written for elementary kids, that beautifully portrays the challenges ordinary kids face to get through the day.  Marisol is an introspective, imaginative girl, and many readers will relate to her fears, and how she slowly but steadily works to overcome them.  I’m always rooting for books like this, geared to younger readers, to get some Newbery love.

Cons:  Kids raised on a diet of Dog Man and Scholastic Branches books may need a little help getting into a less frenetic book like this one.

The Used-to-Be Best Friend (Jo Jo Makoons, book 1) by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert

Published by Heartdrum

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend - Kindle edition by Quigley,  Dawn, Audibert, Tara. Children Kindle eBooks @

Summary:  Jo Jo Makoons has plenty to worry about in first grade: her at-home best friend Mimi needs to get vaccinated (and a kid in school told Jo Jo cats deflate like a balloon when they get shots), and her at-school best friend Fern seems like she doesn’t want to be best friends anymore.  Jo Jo’s struggling a bit in school, too, and her somewhat clueless teacher doesn’t always pick up on what’s going on around him in the classroom.  Jo Jo has her own way of handling her problems, but in the end she figures out what to do with both of her best friends and gets some of the recognition she craves at school. Includes a glossary of Ojibwe and Michif words, an author’s note with additional information about the Ojibwe people, and a note from author Cynthia Leitich Smith introducing the series.  80 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Although it’s still too rare a phenomenon, it is nice to see a few books this year with Indigenous characters in everyday settings and humorous situations (shout-out to HarperCollins’ Heartdrum imprint and Cynthia Leitich Smith for being a driving force behind this).  Readers not quite ready for Smith’s Ancestor Approved will enjoy meeting spunky Jo Jo and learning about her life on the Ojibwe reservation.

Cons:  Fern seemed like a great friend, and I didn’t really get why Jo Jo was worried about losing her.