Trapped in Room 217 by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

Published by Jolly Fish Press

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Summary:  When Jayla and Dion’s father gets a last-minute request to come do some work in Rocky Mountain National Park, the family goes on a week-long trip to Estes Park in Colorado.  They stay in Room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, which they soon learn is allegedly the most haunted room of a hotel rumored to be full of ghosts. On the first night, both kids see the ghost of a maid who seems to be looking for something in their room.  Further investigations and interviews with staff lead them to other ghostly encounters, including a creepy incident where they are trapped in a dark basement. Jayla’s wrong guess about what Room 217’s guest is looking for almost results in disaster, but with the help of some friendly hotel staff, peace is restored.  Includes a note from the author with more information about the Stanley Hotel. 136 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Goosebumps fans will love this new series, which features real-life haunted places across the U.S. (Stephen King got the idea for The Shining when he stayed in room 217 of the Stanley).  The books are pretty short, with quite a few illustrations, making them a good choice for younger students and reluctant readers.

Cons:  The writing is a bit stiff, and there are some unexplained plot holes.

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Five favorite early chapter books

Some of the books on this list are borderline early chapter/middle grade.  I have several third grade book clubs at my school, and I either have used or planned to use these books with those groups.  I would say they are good choices for enthusiastic readers in grades 2-4.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Published by Joanna Cotler Books

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Louie and Nora save Winslow the donkey, and deal with their own grief in the process. This book packs an emotional wallop in 176 pages with big font and a fair amount of white space.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win a few awards.

 

Survivor Diaries series by Terry Lynn Johnson

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Fans of the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis will enjoy these contemporary survival stories of kids who have to stay alive in the snow, the ocean, the rain forest, and a dust storm.

 

Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream series by Hena Khan

Published by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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The dream Zayd is chasing is to be the first Pakistani-American player in the NBA.  His family is supportive, but doesn’t always understand why basketball is so important to him.  At 144 pages each, the first three books in this series are perfect for sports fans and will also broaden the horizons of readers who may not be familiar with the immigrant experience.

 

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

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At 240 pages, this is the longest book on the list, but the characters and illustrations make it a good choice for third or fourth graders to read to themselves, or for younger kids to enjoy as a read-aloud.  Alix’s week at the beach with her family makes a satisfying summer read.

 

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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A year in the life of Flora, a quiet, introspective fourth-grader growing up in Rosewood, Indiana in 1972.  There’s not a lot of action, but plenty for kids to connect to as Flora deals with a multitude of changes and learns to draw on her own strength.

 

 

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  When a group of boastful knights regale each other with slightly exaggerated tales at the Round Table, Merlin sends them off on a mission to slay the Terrible Lizard.  Knights Bors, Hector, Erec, and the mysterious Black Knight are joined by squire Mel on a quest that unexpectedly takes them back in time to the days of the dinosaurs. There they have one adventure after another with spinosauruses, triceratops, and more, all the while seeking the tyrant king, Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Along the way, some surprises are revealed about the knights and their squire, and they slowly learn to stop competing and start working as a team. After they finally meet and defeat their enemy, they learn that Merlin has been up to his old tricks, but they can’t help being pleased with the results. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  With lots of illustrations and a few comic-style pages, this would be a good choice for those still getting their feet wet in the chapter book realm.  There’s plenty of humor and a couple of unexpected strong female characters.

Cons:  I probably didn’t appreciate the humor as much as, say, a nine-year-old might.

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Dragons In a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Published by Random House

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Summary:  Jaxon’s not happy when Mama has to go to court to fight their eviction and drops him off with a strange and somewhat unfriendly older woman.  He can’t help but feel curious, though, when she receives a mysterious package from Madagascar that seems to contain something alive. Before long, he learns that the woman, Ma, is a witch with a long-term connection to his mother that Jax never knew about.  He gets drawn into a fascinating world of magic, meeting an unusual cast of characters that includes his long-lost grandfather, and finds out that Ma’s mysterious package contains three tiny dragons. When he and Ma travel back in time, though, things start to go wrong, and Jaxon fears he may have ruined everything.  By the time Mama returns, he’s found a way to begin to fix his mistakes and has agreed to become Ma’s apprentice. His mother isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, but an invitation from Ma to move in with her sets the stage for an interesting sequel. 160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This would make a good first fantasy book–the magic is fairly straightforward and the book is fairly short with quite a few illustrations.  Kids will relate to Jaxon as he tries to figure out the strange circumstances he is thrust into, and will be curious to find out what happens to him and his new dragon friends.

Cons:  It felt like the story was just getting going toward the end; here’s hoping the sequel will be out soon.

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The Cat Who Ate Christmas by Lil Chase, illustrated by Thomas Docherty

Published by Running Press Kids

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Summary:  When Lily, Rose, Alex, and their parents go downstairs on Christmas morning, they discover that their cat, Jingles, has torn all the wrappings off their presents and is hiding on top of the tree.  Dad tries to get her, but Jingles leaps off, bringing the whole tree down with her.  The family rallies, enjoys their gifts, and goes off to pick up Grandma, leaving the holiday turkey sitting on the counter.  Jingles can’t resist, and when the family returns, their dinner is in ruins.  Jingles goes into hiding, and is still missing on December 26th.  Wanting to lure her back home, the family goes shopping, where they run into Grandma.  The reader will have to look carefully at the illustrations to see where Jingles has been hiding, but he finally reappears, and there’s a happy ending for everyone.  96 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun holiday tale that would make a good quick read-aloud or independent reading book for a chapter book beginner.

Cons:  Not sure I would have been quite as forgiving of Jingles as this family is.

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Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann

Published by NorthSouth Books

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Summary:  The Professor teaches at the University of Mice, located behind the shelves of a bookstore.  One day, a new student named Pete approaches him with a request for help in finding out more about an ancestor who supposedly lost a treasure at sea.  It’s unclear whether or not the ancestor went down as well. The Professor is reluctant to help much at first, but when he discovers Pete experimenting with a submarine, he gets caught up in the adventure.  After many trials and occasional missteps, the two of them manage to create a sub and two diving suits. Hitching a ride on a cargo ship, they travel to the spot where the sunken boat lies. They’re able to launch their submarine and go aboard the ship, where they discover the treasure–Pete’s ancestor’s journal.  They learn that he created the light bulb, then managed to get to America where he was able to share his plans with Thomas Alva Edison. And the rest is history–for both mice and humans. Includes historical facts about the history of the light bulb and Edison. 112 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  I’ve somehow missed Kuhlmann’s other books on famous mice (Lindbergh and Armstrong), but was enchanted with this book, particularly the illustrations.  The details of the mouse world and their creations are amazing, and the hard work and serendipity required to come up with a successful invention are well documented.  This would be a great read-aloud, allowing plenty of time to take in all the artwork.

Cons:  The story and writing aren’t as strong as the illustrations.

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Stealing the Sword (Time Jumpers) by Wendy Mass, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Chase and Ava are at a flea market with their parents when they discover a mysterious suitcase.  The woman who sells it to them acts kind of odd, and when they buy it, a man chases after them to try to get it back for himself.  Inside are several artifacts, including what they think is a dragon doorknob. It leads them back through time to Camelot, where they meet up with Merlin and discover that Arthur is in danger.  Turns out the dragon is no ordinary doorknob, but actually the hilt of Excalibur. The two children prove instrumental in reuniting the sword and its hilt just in time to save the king. The man from the flea market shows up again, still after his suitcase, but the kids manage to elude him and return to the present.  The other artifacts in the suitcase, as well as the pictures on the back cover, assure readers that there will be at least three more books in this series. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  There’s plenty of action in this latest entry from the Scholastic Branches imprint.  Fans of The Magic Tree House may find this a fun series to try for a change of pace; it’s right around the same reading level.  The Branches books always find a ready audience in my libraries.

Cons:  As much as I love Wendy Mass and want to praise everything she does, this is a little too close to The Magic Tree House.  A bookish brother and his slightly younger adventurous sister travel back in time.  Seems like Scholastic could have tried a bit harder for originality.

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