Pug Blasts Off! (Diary of a Pug, book 1) by Lyla May

Published by Scholastic

Image result for pug blasts off

Image result for pug blasts off

Summary:  Pug Baron von Bubbles, a.k.a. Bub, relates an adventure with his human, Bella, in which she enlists his help to win an Inventor Challenge.  Her first idea is to build a rocket, which Bub, due to a misunderstanding, inadvertently destroys. In his attempts to make amends, he gives Bella a new idea.  Her invention benefits Bub, and he ends up at the fair with her to help demonstrate how it works to the judges. The two of them win a prize for Best Pet Invention, and head off to book 2, due out at the end of December.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Another winning Branches book from Scholastic.  This one is written and illustrated like a diary (always a popular format), and is sure to be snapped up by kids who have enjoyed the Owl Diaries series, as well as May’s previous Lotus Lane books.

Cons:  It would have been fun to see a few more humans in the book.  Maybe some of Bella’s friends will make an appearance in book 2.

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I Am a Super Girl! (Princess Truly, book 1) by Kelly Greenawalt, illustrated by Amariah Rauscher

Published by Scholastic

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Summary:  In this new entry in Scholastic’s Acorn books for early readers, Princess Truly uses her super powers to fix a ruined birthday cake and to rescue a dog and cat who have gotten tangled up in the birthday balloons and floated away.  Her cape, rocket boots, and magic curls allow her to fly and create things with her magic. She always uses her superpowers for good and encourages her friends to find their own powers. Readers who want more can look for Princess Truly’s two picture books and look forward to books 2 and 3 in this series, available in December and March.  48 pages; ages 4-6.

Pros:  Rhyming text and fun adventures make this a good choice for beginning readers.  As always, Scholastic seems to have a good sense of what kids love to read.

Cons:  I wish the majority of the Acorn and Branches books were not quite so gender stereotyped.  The sparkles, rainbows, and purple tulle throughout this book were just a little too sugary sweet.

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The Magic Mirror (Once Upon A Fairy Tale book 1) by Anna Staniszewski, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

Published by Scholastic

Image result for magic mirror anna amazon

Summary:  There’s a heat wave hitting the kingdom, and when Kara and Zed intercept a message meant for the Ice Princess, they learn why: her magic mirror has been broken, and she can’t make winter happen without it.  The two kids go on a mission to help her, but when they get to the palace, they discover there’s more broken that just a mirror. Princess Aspen and her sister, Princess Sola, the Sun Princess, have had a falling-out, and it’s thrown the seasons out of whack.  It’s up to Kara and Zed to help them patch things up and get the climate back on track. Fortunately, like all good fairy tales, this one ends happily, although it looks like another adventure (The Stolen Slipper, due out in early December) awaits Kara and Zed.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  The Scholastic Branches imprint has produced about two dozen different series, and they’re all popular with the early chapter book crowd (mostly grades 2-3 in my schools).  I have no doubt that this one will keep pace with the others, as the story was engaging almost from the start.

Cons:  The discovery of an unbroken piece of glass on the bottom of the princess’s shoe seemed a bit unlikely, even for a fairy tale.

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Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories (Mister Shivers book 1) by Max Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

Published by Scholastic

Image result for mister shivers brallier amazon

Image result for mister shivers rubegni

Summary:  Mister Shivers begins his book with a letter to the reader, relating how he found a box on his doorstep that contained a tree branch, a doll’s eye, a piece of an old quilt, and a toy’s rusty head.  Beside the box was a dead mouse. He is sharing the five stories that were in that box. A brother and sister go into a house and find a creepy doll…that talks. A girl is annoyed with a long hair in the back of her throat…until the doctor grabs it and pulls out a dead mouse.  A boy’s mother buys a creep statue that always has to be wrapped in a quilt. When Oliver forgets to bring his toys inside, the unhappy toys seek revenge. Finally, a girl is told that the nighttime scraping sounds he hears is caused by a branch, but she wakes up to find her window scratched on the inside.  Includes instructions for drawing Buddy [the creepy] Bear. 64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Most scary story collections for this age group are silly, but some of these tales are genuinely creepy.  I confess that those vengeful toys freaked me out a bit, and the endings of that and the scratched window one were certainly unsettling.  The dark, somewhat gothic illustrations channel Edward Gorey, adding to the spooky fun. I can almost guarantee this series will be a huge hit with newly independent readers.  Book 2 is due out July 2020.

Cons:  While many will love this book, some kids may be truly scared by these stories.  Proceed with caution!

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Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Rachel is excited about Rosh Hashanah, but not as thrilled to be wearing last year’s skirt.  When her aspiring dressmaker mother offers to add new buttons, Rachel goes to the store to see what she can find.  The cheapest solution is to get one card of buttons for her and her little sister Hannah, but Rachel wants something of her own.  When she finds three beautiful rose buttons, she arranges with the storekeeper to buy them when she’s earned the money–if she can get it before the holiday.  Rachel’s entrepreneurial spirit works well for her until she gets so busy with her errands that she loses Hannah. Finding her sister and discovering a surprise her mother has created help Rachel to understand what’s really important as she gets ready for a new year.  112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The close Jewish family and tenement living reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family series that I loved as a child.  There’s not a lot of historical fiction available for third graders, and this would make an excellent and accessible introduction to the genre.

Cons:  I was hoping for more information about Rosh Hashanah.  There’s a brief author’s note at the end, but not much detail about the history and traditions of the holiday or how it is celebrated.

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A Is for Elizabeth by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Paige Keiser

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  Elizabeth is excited to be in second grade and getting homework, just like her big brother Justin (from Vail’s Justin Case series).  But she’s dismayed when she finds out the homework–posters showing everyone’s names–will be displayed in alphabetical order, meaning that bossy Anna will get to go first, like always.  When Anna tells Elizabeth “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” Elizabeth decides to make her poster by gluing sticks and stones to form the letters of her name.  She also uses a phonetic (sort of) spelling, which means her name now starts with a double A. The poster doesn’t come out quite as she planned, and when she has to show it to the class, she deflects attention from it by staging a protest against alphabetical order.  The whole class gets involved in the discussion, and their wise teacher leads them to a decision about how to make sure everyone gets to go first sometimes. First in a four-book series. 128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Junie B. Jones fans will enjoy meeting this spunky narrator who deals with difficulties in a very second-grade way.  Short chapters and plenty of illustrations make this a good first chapter book.

Cons:  I’m normally a fan of short chapters, but many of these are only a few sentences, which felt just a bit too choppy.

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Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

Image result for mr. penguin and the lost treasure amazon

Image result for mr. penguin and the lost treasure amazon

Summary:  Mr. Penguin has invested his life savings into a new business: becoming a Professional Adventurer.  He’s just beginning to feel nervous about his quiet office when the phone rings. It’s Miss Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, and she’s on a quest to save her falling-down building.  She and her brother have learned there may be treasure buried on the grounds, so Mr. Penguin and his trusty (spider) sidekick Colin go off on their first adventure. They find plenty of it at the museum: an underground jungle, an alligator, and jewel thieves.  After more than one narrow escape, Mr. Penguin and Colin manage to solve the mystery, recover the treasure, and get the thieves behind bars. A ringing phone on the final page indicates this won’t be Mr. Penguin’s last adventure! 203 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap will enjoy this longer, but just as zany, illustrated chapter book.  Filled with plot twists, narrow escapes, as well as a protagonist who’s likely to be a step or two behind the reader, this is a promising start to a new series.

Cons:  I wasn’t a huge fan of the illustrations or the black and orange color scheme.

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