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.

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.

Ivy by Katherine Coville

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Ivy and her grandmother live in the messiest cottage in Broomsweep…messy, because her grandmother is Meg the Healer, whose large garden and knowledge of plant medicines have made her a famous doctor of humans and animals.  Rumor has it that the new queen is traveling through her kingdom to find the best town.  Ivy and Grandmother are under pressure from the mayor’s wife to get their property up to the standards of the rest of Broomsweep.  When an injured griffin, a dragon with a severe head cold, and a flock of pixies arrive, cleaning up seems like an impossible task.  But Grandmother assures Ivy it will all work out.  And when four trolls invade the village at the same time the queen shows up unexpectedly, it all (eventually) does.  144 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  A cozy fantasy with a fairy-tale feel and a happily-ever-after ending.  A large font and plenty of illustrations make this a good choice for early chapter book readers who are ready to move on from the Magic Tree House.

Cons:  Not too many surprises in this fairly predictable tale.

Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy! (Press Start! series) by Thomas Flintham

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  King Viking has not only kidnapped Singing Dog and taken him back to Boom Boom Factory, but he has left his Robot Army behind to stamp out all the fun of Animal Town.  It’s up to Super Rabbit Boy to get through the six levels required to make it to Boom Boom Factory.  Of course, this is all part of a video game.  The boy who is playing it can’t get through all six levels on the first try…or the second, or the third.  Finally, after many, many attempts, and great persistence, Super Rabbit Boy succeeds, and there is a happy ending for Animal Town.  The video game is put aside, with the words “Game Over” coming from it.  And then the boy’s sister picks it up….  74 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Another entry in Scholastic’s Branches imprint that is sure to be a hit with the early chapter book crowd.  Lots of video game-inspired illustrations and cartoon bubble dialogue add to the appeal.

Cons:  This story was a little simple even for my low-brow taste.  Still, I’m confident it will be loved by those in the intended demographic.

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Mr. Wolf is attemptng to turn over a new leaf, going from Bad Guy to Good Guy.  He tries to recruit a few other reputed Bad Guys to join him: Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Shark.  It’s pretty clear these three are okay with being bad, but they reluctantly agree to go along with Mr. Wolf’s plans.  After a crazy rescue of a cat from a tree, they decide to liberate 200 dogs from the local pound.  The plan, involving a flying snake and piranha, a shark in drag, and a love-struck gorilla, eventually succeeds…after a fashion.  In the final chapter, the Bad Guys admit it felt pretty good to be Good Guys, and offer a preview of the next book, in which they will rescue 10,000 chickens from a high-tech cage farm.  144 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Reminiscent of the Bad Kitty chapter book format (almost a graphic novel, with just a few sentences per page, mostly dialogue), this is a guaranteed laugh-out-loud hit for readers of a certain age.  Yes, there’s a fart joke (or two), but even I, a good 40+ years past the target demographic, found the whole thing pretty darn funny.

Cons:  This book was released on December 27, so technically it’s a 2016 book, not 2017.

Agnes and Clarabelle Celebrate! By Adele Griffin and Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary: Agnes Pig and Clarabelle Chicken are best friends who help each other celebrate holidays.  When Clarabelle struggles with the Maypole dance, Agnes makes her feel better.  When Agnes gets stage fright at the Fourth of July parade, Clarabelle helps her out.  They also enjoy Halloween trick-or-treating and trying to stay up on New Year’s Eve together.  Each of the four chapters highlights their holiday adventures.  80 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  A perfect first chapter book, full of cheerful illustrations.  Part of Bloomsbury’s new Read and Bloom series for newly independent readers.

Cons:  I somehow got the second book in the series instead of the first one.  Fortunately,  I was able to pick up the storyline pretty quickly.  In the interest of full disclosure, the pages shown above are from the first book.