Snoozie, Sunny, and So-So by Dafna Ben-Zvi, illustrated by Ofra Amit, translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

Snoozie, Sunny, and So-So: Ben-Zvi, Dafna, Amit, Ofra, Appel, Annette:  9781592702824: Amazon.com: Books
Snoozie, Sunny, and So-So: Ben-Zvi, Dafna, Amit, Ofra, Appel, Annette:  9781592702824: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Snoozie is a cat who likes to, well, snooze, and Sunny is her playful dog friend.  On a walk one day, they discover So-So, a small black dog whose only friend has gone “to the other side of the world”.  So-So is extremely timid, but the other two entice her to play with them and invite her to Snoozie’s birthday party the next day.  So-So is apprehensive about going, but when Sunny comes to pick her up, she has no choice.  The party turns out to be great fun, and So-So gives Snoozie a birthday poem she wrote to celebrate their new friendship.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Written by Israeli poet Dafna Ben-Zvi, this early chapter book is sure to enchant readers with both the story and the charming illustrations.  Despite its brevity, the story doesn’t talk down to kids, and anyone who has experienced social anxiety or been grateful for a new friendship is sure to appreciate it.

Cons:  After reading the book, I realized it was originally published in 2016, with the English language version released in December 2020.  So it doesn’t meet my usually strict criteria of being published in the current year; I was so charmed by the story, though, that I am making an exception.

Little Claws (Animal Rescue Agency, book 1) by Eliot Schrefer, illustrated by Daniel Duncan

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Case File: Little Claws by Eliot Schrefer

Summary:  When a polar bear cub gets stranded on an ice floe, his anguished mother contacts the Animal Rescue Agency: the unlikely duo of Esquire Fox and her rooster partner Mr. Pepper.  The two head up to the Arctic, where they are pursued by a villainous man in a white hat and barely survive a series of narrow escapes.  With the help of various polar animals, they manage to outwit this man, rescuing the cub and reuniting him with his mother.  Back home in Colorado, Esquire posts the man’s picture on the wall of villains, surrounded by question marks that seem to indicate there will be other villains…and other books in the series.  Includes information about climate change and its threat to polar bears and a recipe for the mushroom jerky Esquire eats to curb her appetite for chickens.  176 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Like Eliot Schrefer’s books for older readers, this one mixes humor, adventure, and information about animals and the threats humans pose to them.  With plenty of illustrations, animal characters, and bantering dialog, this is sure to be a popular series with elementary readers.

Cons:  Obviously, it’s for a different audience, but I missed the awesome world building of Schrefer’s The Lost Rainforest series.

Billy Miller Makes a Wish by Kevin Henkes (released April 6)

Published by Greenwillow Books

Image result for billy miller makes a wish

Summary:  Billy Miller’s wish, made while blowing out the eight candles on his birthday cake, is that something exciting will happen.  Almost immediately, an ambulance rushes down his street, and he later learns that an elderly neighbor has passed away.  Billy is filled with guilt, but Papa assures him that Mr. Tooley’s death was not his fault.  The next day, Papa leaves for art camp, leaving Billy, his mom, and little sister Sal to cope with a few more exciting events including a bat in the basement, love letters falling into the wrong hands, and a chimney fire.  When Papa returns, it seems like life has returned to normal…until Mama and Papa announce the most exciting news of all.  192 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Ever since I used to read Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and other mouse picture books to my own kids, I have admired Kevin Henkes’ ability to tell a story that perfectly captures the ordinary moments and emotions of childhood without ever talking down to kids.  He has pulled off this feat once again in this sequel to the Newbery honor book The Year of Billy Miller. This would be a perfect read-aloud for first, second, or third grade.

Cons:  I hope Kevin Henkes will not wait another eight years to write book three in this series.

The Pet Parade (Dear Beast, book 2) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (released February 2)

Published by Holiday House

Dear Beast

Summary:  Simon the cat has heard that Baxter the dog is going to be marching in the pet parade with their boy, Andy.  Simon has been in this parade with Andy in years past, and writes a letter to Baxter trying to convince him to back out.  Baxter refuses, and Simon launches a spy mission to determine what their costumes are going to be, enlisting the help of a skunk, a snail, a crow, a squirrel, and the pet goldfish, Gradually, Simon comes to understand that he and Baxter have different roles in Andy’s life, and that Baxter might actually be the better choice for the parade.  The parade concludes happily, and it looks like book 3 of this series is in the works.  Includes a “Doggy Dictionary” to help decipher Baxter’s misspelled words.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Butler has come up with a winning idea to tell an entire story through animals’ letters.  Early chapter books readers will find the format appealing, the writing humorous, and the colorful cartoon-style illustrations helpful in figuring out what’s going on in the story.

Cons:  Thank you to Holiday House for sending me this advance copy, but I wish I had read book 1 first, since I wasn’t completely able to figure out Andy’s, Simon’s, and Baxter’s situation from this book.  This seems like a weakness since kids don’t always read books in order. Also, some may object to Baxter’s frequent misspellings which may cause some struggles for beginning readers.

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Deborah Hocking (released February 2)

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Amazon.com: Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World (9780358106319):  Davies, Jacqueline, Hocking, Deborah: Books

Summary:  Sydney the skunk and Taylor the hedgehog live in a burrow under Miss Nancy’s potting shed.  Sydney’s pretty happy staying at home, warming his feet by the fire, but Taylor has an itch to explore.  So Sydney, a supportive friend, agrees to go on an adventure with Taylor.  After a few packing mishaps, the two set off, map in hand, to explore the world.  Danger awaits them everywhere, as they get lost, face down an angry dog, and almost get run over by a truck.  Taylor has an unfortunate tendency to roll himself, hedgehog-style, into a ball, and it’s up to Sydney to figure out a solution to their problems.  Miss Nancy proves herself an unexpected ally as well.  They finally make it safely back to the burrow, where Sydney proclaims it “the best expedition ever,” before adding, “Promise me we’ll never do it again.”  80 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  This cozy friendship story will undoubtedly charm those just beginning to read chapter books.  I loved the opening illustration of the two friends’ burrow, and the pictures throughout were pretty appealing.  I couldn’t help wondering if the animals’ names were an homage to All-of-a-Kind-Family author Sydney Taylor.

Cons:  As animal friendship stories for beginning readers go, this one didn’t feel terribly original.

Five favorite early chapter books

I wish there were more books published that fit into this category: chapter books for the 7-to-9-year-old crowd that are substantial without being too heavy, that still have illustrations, and that are great to read aloud or independently. Here are five of my favorites that fit that description this year.

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Silver Arrow: Grossman, Lev: 9780316539531: Amazon.com: Books

At 272 pages, this is pretty long for the “early chapter book” genre, but I’m including it on this list because it would make a great read-aloud for that audience. It’s also perfect for those precocious second- and third-grade readers who have out grown the true early chapter books but aren’t quite ready to tackle some of the topics in a lot of middle-grade fiction. And it has a lot of great illustrations!

Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Amazon.com: Real Pigeons Fight Crime (Book 1) (9780593119426): McDonald,  Andrew, Wood, Ben: Books

We here at A Kids Book a Day take pride in our eclectic tastes and are not tied to some pretentious definition of “great literature”. So yes, Real Pigeons is on this “best of” list, okay? It’s funny, it straddles the graphic novel/chapter book divide, and there’s plenty of action. I would be proud to recommend this to any second grader who asks me.

A Collie Called Sky (Jasmine Green Rescues) by Helen Peters, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon

Published by Walker Books/Candlewick

Jasmine Green Rescues: A Collie Called Sky: Peters, Helen, Snowdon, Ellie:  9781536215717: Amazon.com: Books

I haven’t seen too much of this British import series, but I really liked it and would recommend it to any kid who loves animals. Jasmine seems poised to follow in her veterinarian mother’s footsteps, being smart and passionate about animals. It’s a bit long for an early chapter book (160 pages), but has plenty of illustrations to keep things moving along.

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Clarion Books

A Long Road on a Short Day: Schmidt, Gary D., Stickney, Elizabeth, Yelchin,  Eugene: 9780544888364: Amazon.com: Books

Short enough (64 pages) for a second- or third-grader, yet with enough substance to keep a fifth grader engaged, this is a perfect introduction to historical fiction. I think Gary D. Schmidt and his late wife Elizabeth Stickney are the only authors to make it on to two of my favorites lists this year.

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel, 1): Watson, Renée, Mata, Nina:  9781547600564: Amazon.com: Books

Another longish book (192 pages), but with a large font and enough illustrations to make it a perfect third-grade read. This book felt like a modern-day Beverly Cleary book and would be great to read aloud, as each chapter is its own small story. Be excited book that 2 coming out in the spring of 2021!

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us: Castillo, Lauren: 9781524766719:  Amazon.com: Books
image3_OFH.jpg

Summary:  Annika Mae kicks things off with this introduction: “Sometimes you make a friend, and it feels like you have known that friend for your entire life.”  That’s how it is with her and Hedgehog, Mutty, Owl, Beaver, Mole, and Hen and Chicks…but it hasn’t always been that way.  Before he meets Annika Mae and the others, Hedgehog lives on an island with his friend, a stuffed dog named Mutty.  One stormy day, Mutty is blown away, and Hedgehog leaves home to find her.  In his quest, he meets the other animals one by one, gathering clues about Mutty’s disappearance, until all of them end up in Annika Mae’s yard.  She helps Hedgehog reunite with Mutty, and he repays the favor, sealing their new friendship and possibly starting a series of new adventures. 128 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This charming chapter book would make a great read-aloud or first book for newly independent readers.  The illustrations, by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo, are sure to win plenty of fans to what will hopefully be a new series.

Cons:  Kids who are looking for a lot of humor and/or action might find this story a little slow.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

King of the Birds (Arlo and Pips, book 1) by Elise Gravel

Published by HarperAlley

Amazon.com: Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds (9780062982223): Gravel, Elise,  Gravel, Elise: Books
CanLit for LittleCanadians: Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds

Summary:  When Pips meets Arlo, the crow immediately sets out to impress the smaller bird with his many abilities: he can count, he has a big brain, and he can do imitations.  He’s new to the city, and Pips offers to show him around.  As they explore, Arlo continues to share the amazing things he (and all crows) can do.  His love of shiny objects leads the two birds on a trip to the beach, where Arlo demonstrates his ability to outwit the seagulls they meet there.  The two birds part ways at the end, with Arlo wondering, “Who am I going to brag to now?”  Guess we’ll find out in book 2, advertised on the final page, but not yet listed on Amazon.  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Marketed to fans of Narwhal and Jelly (Ben Clanton raves, “This book will fly off the shelves!” on the front cover), this new series will be popular with younger graphic novel fans.  Arlo’s bragging is funny, and there’s quite a bit of information about crows woven into the text.

Cons:  I found Arlo kind of obnoxious, and Pips a bit nondescript, neither quite matching the charm of Narwhal and Jelly.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Fancy Friends (Bunbun & Bonbon) by Jess Keating and Fish Feud (Squidding Around) by Kevin Sherry

Published by Graphix (Scholastic)

Amazon.com: Fancy Friends: A Graphic Novel (Bunbun & Bonbon #1) (1)  (9781338646825): Keating, Jess, Keating, Jess: Books
Fish Feud! (Squidding Around #1) - Kindle edition by Sherry, Kevin, Sherry,  Kevin. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Two new graphic series exploring friendships.  Bunbun the bunny doesn’t have a friend until he meets Bonbon, a bonbon (candy).  The two of them discover their mutual love of fancy music, fancy food, and fancy friends and decide to throw a fancy garden party.  By the end they are celebrating the beginning of a best friendship.  In Fish Feud, Squizzard is a squid who likes to be the class clown, but his shark friend Toothy doesn’t always appreciate his jokes and bossiness.  When Squizzard takes things too far, he has to figure out a way to apologize and win back Toothy’s friendship.  64 pages and grades 1-3 (Bunbun); 96 pages and grades 2-5 (Squidding)

Pros:  Watch as these new series openers from Scholastic Graphix fly off your shelves.  They’re cute, funny, and graphic…what’s not to like? Bunbun is simpler in both language and illustrations, while Squidding is more of a real chapter book and includes bits of information about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Cons:  While fun, these aren’t quite the graphic masterpieces that some of the Graphix series are (e.g., Bone, Amulet, Baby-Sitters Club).

If you would like to buy Bunbun on Amazon, click here. For Squidding Around, click here.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1): Timberlake, Amy, Klassen, Jon:  9781643750057: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Badger is satisfied living by himself in his aunt’s brownstone: doing Important Rock Work, eating cold cereal, and ignoring Aunt Lula’s letters.  So he’s surprised one day when Skunk shows up on his doorstep, informing him that he’s been sent by Aunt Lula to be Badger’s roommate.  Skunk disrupts Badger’s routine in ways that are both good (cooking breakfast, making Badger laugh), and not so good (taking over Badger’s box room, bringing dozens of chickens to the house).  At first Badger is desperate to get back to his solitary lifestyle, but slowly the good begins to outweigh the bad.  When Badger goes too far and alienates Skunk and his chickens, he realizes he’s made a big mistake and has to learn how to apologize and repair their burgeoning friendship.  136 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An endearing friendship story for those who cut their reading teeth on Frog and Toad books.  The Jon Klassen illustrations are a great addition–that cover picture perfectly captures both animals’ personalities..

Cons:  I had high hopes for this book with its multiple starred reviews and the Klassen illustrations, but it never really took off for me.  It’s quirky to the point that I wonder if it will have wide kid appeal.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.