Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  When Nicky’s Uncle Everton leaves for some around-the-world travel, he drops of his dog Barkus for the family to look after.  It’s love at first sight for Nicky, and  each short chapter tells a humorous tale about the girl and her dog: Barkus sneaks into school, throws himself a birthday party, and adopts a kitten.  In the final chapter, the family goes camping, and Nicky tells them a bedtime story about their family as they snuggle together in their tent.  This book is billed as book #1, so readers can look forward to more Barkus tales ahead.  56 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A perfect choice for beginning or reluctant readers, written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan, and illustrated with bright cartoon-style pictures.

Cons:  Librarians may have a tough time deciding if this belongs with the easy readers or chapter books.

The Amazing Crafty Cat by Charise Mericle Harper

Published by First Second

Summary:  Birdie is an imaginative girl with the alter ego of Crafty Cat, a confident cat who is an amazing crafter and uses her crafts for good.  When Birdie drops her panda cupcakes on the way to school, they are ruined and she has nothing to offer for her classroom birthday celebration.  A call home for more treats is unsuccessful, and Birdie must use her own creativity to find a solution.  Crafty Cat saves the day, with a Panda Pals craft that the whole class loves.  Anya, the mean girl, gets her comeuppance, and Birdie declares it “a great birthday”.  A 10-page section at the end includes directions for four panda crafts and panda cupcakes.  128 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Lots of fun for early graphic novel fans.  Birdie is a strong, resourceful, and funny protagonist, and the extensive crafting directions are an added bonus.

Cons:  The color palette is a little blah.

Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Laura Zarrin

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  Wallace and Grace are two owl friends and partners in the Night Owl Detective Agency.  Wallace is a careful rule-follower, and Grace is an enthusiastic go-getter, but each one appreciates the qualities of the other.  In this first installment, the two friends are hired by Edgar the rabbit to investigate a ghost-sighting in the kale patch.  Carefully gathering and clues and using a bit of logical reasoning, they are able to work together to uncover what’s going on.  Readers can look forward to a couple of sequels, as well as some similar series in Bloomsbury’s Read & Bloom imprint for newly independent readers.  80 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A perfect first chapter book, with plenty of colorful illustrations and gentle humor.

Cons:  Wallace comes across as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

Maggie and the Flying Horse (Magic Animal Rescue book 1) by E. D. Baker

Published by Bloomsbury USA

Summary:  Maggie is a kind-hearted girl who lives in the Enchanted Forest with her father, stepmother, and many step-siblings.  Her father has to be away a lot for his job as a woodcutter, leaving Maggie at the mercy of her wicked stepmother.  Maggie’s greatest joy is finding magical animals in the forest.  When she accidentally injures the wing of a tiny horse-fly, she decides to go in search of the legendary Bob the Stableman, whom her grandmother has told her lives outside the castle and cares for magical creatures.  Defying her stepmother’s orders, she sets off to find Bob.  Along the way, she encounters a griffin, some goblins, and a nasty troll.  She makes it to Bob’s, though, and gets help for the horse as well as for herself.  Stay tuned for more adventures in book #2, Maggie and the Wish Fish.  128 pages, grades 1-3.

Pros:  Don’t be fooled by the page count–the font is large and there are lots of pictures.  Fans of Rainbow Magic and other fairy tales will be eager to read about Maggie and her magical animal friends, and the reading level is manageable for those just moving into chapter books.

Cons:  Maggie occasionally comes across as a bit of a goody-two-shoes.

Wild Cards by Jeff Szpirglas, illustrated by Dave Whamond

Published by Orca

Summary:  Matt loves Monster Zap cards and plays with them every day at recess.  But when the cards lead to problems on the playground, Principal Leon bans them.  Matt and his friends try to get around the ban by making their own cards, even getting encouragement from their cool teacher Miss Casey.  But when bad boys Mark and Steve make cards portraying Mr. Leon as a monster, it looks like there will be even more trouble.  It’s up to Matt to find a solution that will work for everyone in the school…and maybe even bring back the real Monster Zap cards.  88 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun slice-of-life school story for kids ready to move up to chapter books.

Cons:  Clearly, Miss Casey is not adhering to the Common Core curriculum.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Princess Cora’s parents are determined to train her right, which to their way of thinking includes three baths a day, endless studying of dull books, and a lot of skipping rope in the basement.  Cora tries to do what they ask of her, but what she really wants to do is play.  Certain that a dog would help her cause, she writes a letter to her fairy godmother requesting a pet.  The next morning, a box arrives with a large crocodile inside.  Sympathetic to Cora’s cause, the crocodile offers to pose as her for the day, while the princess takes off for some outdoor play.  The predictable chaos ensues, and when Princess Cora returns, her nanny is stuck in the bathtub, her mother is locked in a tower, and her father has been tied up with the jump rope.  Cora sets things to rights, but that night she tells her parents how she really feels, and her life begins to change for the better.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A perfect skewering of 21st century overachieving parents.  Some readers may be wishing for their own crocodile.  The illustrations are perfect.

Cons:  Will the message be lost on the intended audience?

Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  Lady Miranda and her pug Pug have been invited to a birthday party at the lake.  Despite his new captain’s uniform, Pug’s not crazy about the water, but he likes the fact that there’s lots of picnic food around.  He dives into a basket for a closer look, but accidentally gets stuck inside and carried off by the Picnic Lady onto a bus.  Thus begin Captain Pug’s adventures.  He serves as the coxswain on a crew boat, and gets rowed out to a cruise ship where he meets a real sea captain.  All the while, Lady Miranda is searching everywhere for her beloved pet.  An errant seagull finally leads her to Pug’s ship, where she makes quite a splash.  Girl and dog are reunited and head back home…until their next adventure.  128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Mercy Watson and Princess in Black will enjoy this funny early chapter book, with plenty of illustrations and not a lot of text on each page.

Cons:  I just can’t warm up to pugs.