Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Published by Henry Holt and Co. Monster and Boy (Monster and Boy (1)) (9781250217837): Barnaby,  Hannah, Syed, Anoosha: Books
Monster and Boy | Hannah Barnaby | Macmillan

Summary:  A monster who lives under a boy’s bed loves the boy.  When he hears the boy’s mother tell him there’s no such thing as monsters, he decides to reveal himself.  After Mom leaves, he comes out and introduces himself.  He sees that the boy is about to scream, so he panics and does the first thing he thinks of…swallows the boy.  There seems to be no way of getting the boy out again, but finally they both fall asleep.  When they awaken, the boy is out of the monster, but he’s tiny.  Can he get back to his full size again?  Many adventures await as the two of them try to figure out how to do this.  144 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun, quirky early chapter book with plenty of illustrations, and even some bathroom humor (although maybe not what you’re expecting).  This is sure to find lots of fans, and they can look forward to a second book in March.

Cons:  Although the author (sort of) explains this, I didn’t like that the boy and the monster didn’t have names.

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Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ... Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ...

Summary:  Baloney’s introduction to his book is interrupted by his friends: Peanut, a blue pony; Bizz, a cheerful bee; and Krabbit, a grouchy pink rabbit.  Once introductions are (finally) out of the way, the friends move on to three more stories: Baloney’s somewhat lame magic show, how his friends help him overcome his fear of swimming, and attempts by Peanut to cheer up Baloney when he’s feeling blue.  In between the longer stories are two-page mini-comics.  The last few pages show kids how to draw the four characters so they can create their own comics.  96 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  The straight-guy narrator with the goofy friend(s) has proven a winning combination before (Narwhal & Jelly, Peter & Ernesto, etc.), and undoubtedly will again with this crew.  I found myself laughing out loud a few times, particularly at Krabbit, and I’m sure kids raised on Elephant and Piggie will find this new series (I think it will be a series) delightful.

Cons:  It kind of bugged me how Baloney’s nose seemed off-kilter, like it was being shown in profile, but his eyes and mouth weren’t. 

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Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel, book 1) by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel) - Kindle edition by ...

Summary:  Ryan Hart is a fourth grader–and yes, she’s a girl, “a girl with a name that a lot of boys have.”  Her name means “king”, and her parents often remind her to live up to that name by being a leader, which can be tough at times.  Her dad recently lost his job at the post office, and has taken another job working the midnight shift, which also pays less.  At the beginning of the book, when Ryan’s parents offer her and her older brother Ray ice cream before dinner, Ryan knows there must be bad news coming.  It turns out the family is moving.  The new house is much smaller, which takes some getting used to, especially when one of Ryan’s best friends moves to a much bigger, fancier house.  As spring turns into summer, Ryan deals with other ups and downs: stage fright about reciting a speech in church on Easter, figuring out what to do with her hair, and trying to decide what to do in the fourth grade talent show.  The end of school brings the biggest surprise of all, but Ryan takes it (pretty much) in stride, and paves the way for book 2.  192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This book is being compared to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books: it takes place in Portland, Oregon, features a spunky girl protagonist, and offers slice-of-life stories instead of one major plot.  Ryan is funny, honest, and endearing; her insights into family, friendship, and race ring true for a ten-year-old.  This book would be just right for a third- or fourth-grade book club; the illustrations and larger font make it feel manageable, but there’s also plenty for kids to relate to and want to discuss.

Cons:  Some kids might be turned off by the slightly sappy title.

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Jasmine Green Rescues: A Collie Named Sky by Helen Peters, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon

Published by Candlewick (released September 1)

Jasmine Green Rescues: A Collie Called Sky by Helen Peters ...

Jasmine Green Rescues: A Piglet Called Truffle by Helen Peters ...

Summary:  Jasmine loves animals and seems to have a penchant for rescuing them (the pig and duck that she rescued in books 1 and 2 are introduced in the first chapter).  When she finds a half-starved puppy in a hedge, she immediately goes into action to save him, calling her mother at her veterinary office to order an IV and special dog food.  Mom predictably warns Jasmine not to get too attached, but we all know how that goes, and Jasmine proves herself to be an excellent vet’s assistant and dog trainer.  She names the puppy Sky and teaches him all sorts of commands, including how to find her and her friend Tom.  This proves critical when Jasmine gets hurt far from home, and must depend on Sky to get her help.  When the previous owner is found, it looks like Jasmine will have to give Sky back, but don’t worry, there’s a happy ending for all.  My advance copy had a note reading, “Final book will contain bonus material”; I’m hoping that means some pet care tips at the end. 160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Originally published in the UK, this series will appeal to animal lovers who are ready to move to slightly longer, but still illustrated, chapter books.  As per usual these days, I couldn’t get book 1 (which is already available; the pages shown above are from that book), so I had to start with book 3, but I found it an engaging read, with Jasmine a strong and likeable heroine.  There are also plenty of tips woven into the story on what it takes to be a good owner, and some subtle warnings to not take on the responsibility of dog ownership unless you’re ready for a 15-year commitment.

Cons:  Sky is referred to interchangeably as a collie and a border collie, and there seems to be a significant difference between the two breeds.  Based on context clues and the illustrations, I’m going to go with border collie.

To pre-order this book from Amazon, click here.  To order book 1, click here.

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

Published by Clarion Books (Released November 10)

A Long Road on a Short Day: Gary D. Schmidt, Elizabeth Stickney ...

Summary:  When Samuel’s mother mentions that she’d like a cow so that the baby can have some milk, Samuel’s father gets his best Barlow knife and tells Samuel to bundle up.  The two of them head out on a journey as a snowstorm approaches.  Samuel guesses that Dad will trade the knife for a cow, but instead he gets two lanterns.  As they go from house to house, the lanterns are traded for a book, which gets exchanged for a pitcher, and so on, until finally Samuel’s father is able to secure the cow.  At many of the houses, Samuel enjoys playing with a dog or cat, so he is delighted that a border collie puppy is part of the deal for the cow.  His father includes him in all the trades, and Samuel must give up something he really wants (a cart and pony) for what the family needs (the cow).  As they travel, the snowstorm builds in intensity, until they are able to head back to their cozy home with their new cow, which Samuel names Blizzard.  64 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent first historical fiction book, with an award-winning author and illustrator.  Small details in the text and illustrations give hints about the time and place, allowing readers to draw inferences.  Samuel’s parents treat him with respect, but still allow him to enjoy being a kid.

Cons:  An author’s note with a bit more information about the actual setting of this story would have added to the historical value.



Happy Paws (Layla and the Bots, book 1) by Vicky Fang, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama

Published by Scholastic Happy Paws: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots ...

Summary:  Layla is a rock star and inventor who lives with three Bots that she built, Beep, Boop, and Bop.  They’re scheduled to perform in a big show at the Happy Days Amusement Park, but when they arrive to set up a few days beforehand, the owner tells them he’s closing the park and their show is canceled.  Turns out no one is coming to the park anymore, and he can’t afford to keep it running.  Layla and the Bots set out to investigate the reason, and discover a whole bunch of humans at the dog park.  They remember that there used to be a doggy daycare at the park–the dogs didn’t like it, but it got the humans there.  Layla has an idea: why not make the park fun for both humans AND dogs?  She and the Bots get to work, planning ideas for doggy rides, designing and building them, and testing them out.  When one idea is deemed unsafe, she has to go back to the drawing board and start again.  But there’s a happy ending for everyone–the park attracts big crowds again, and Layla and the Bots get to do their show.  Includes instructions for building your own robot and discussion questions.  80 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Like all the Scholastic Branches books, this has plenty of appeal for newly independent readers, with colorful graphics, cartoon bubbles, and limited text on each page.  The story delineates the problem-solving process, and Layla uses her brain and perseverance to get the park back on its feet.

Cons:  This didn’t quite match the humor, originality, and charm of other comparable Branches series like Owl Diaries or Kung Pow Chicken.  It felt like the story was created to show how to solve a problem, rather than creating a great story in which a character solves a problem.

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Blue Daisy by Helen Frost, illustrated by Roy Shepperson

Published by Margaret Ferguson Books Blue Daisy (9780823444144): Helen Frost, Rob ...

Summary:  Neighbors Sam and Katie want to befriend the stray dog that’s been wandering around their neighborhood.  She’s starting to trust them when one afternoon she falls asleep under a table that Sam’s dad has been painting.  Thoughtlessly, the kids experiment with using some of the paint on the dog, who wakes up in the middle of their fun.  She’s then marked with a “blue daisy” which gives her her name, but causes her to be mistrustful of the two kids.  They immediately regret their actions, and are dismayed when Blue Daisy starts hanging out with the mean Tracy twins.  The two have to come up with a way to win back the dog’s trust…and that just might mean reaching out to their enemies as well.  Includes recipes for the snickerdoodles and dog biscuits that are part of the story.  96 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Sam’s narration is in the form of poetry, while Katie’s is prose (although quotes are in italics without quotation marks, more like poetry), making this a good introduction to reading novels in verse.  Readers will relate to Sam and Katie’s mistake, and who doesn’t like a dog story with a happy ending?

Cons:  Kids who have only read traditional chapter books may struggle with the unusual format at first.

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Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Fox and Rabbit, book 2) by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Gergely Dudás

Published by Amulet Books (Released September 15) Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Fox & Rabbit Book #2 ...

COVER REVEAL and Interview: Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry | Mile High ...Summary:  Fox and Rabbit enjoy each other’s company and make some new friends in this five-story graphic novel.  They take a trip to the ice cream store, enter a bubble-blowing contest (with disastrous results for Fox’s fur), make an imaginative new friend, get lost in a corn maze, and carve jack-o-lanterns with all their friends.  One story leads into the next, giving the whole book some continuity.  Their friends, a sparrow who loves to eat and a turtle who usually misses out on most of the action, make cameo appearances in each story.  Book 1 was released last week (April 21) and the graphic above showing a sample page is from book 1.  96 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  These gently humorous stories will undoubtedly be a big hit with young graphic novel fans.  The full-color illustrations and animal characters are appealing, and kids will connect to the everyday events and friendships in the stories.

Cons:  Due to the strange state of the world, I was only able to get an advanced reader copy of book 2, so I’m not able to review book 1, which would generally make a lot more sense.

Fox & Rabbit: Ferry, Beth, Dudás, Gergely: 9781419740770: Amazon ...

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The Cool Cat Club (Jasper & Scruff book 1) by Nicola Colton

Published by Stripes Publishing The Cool Cat Club (Jasper and Scruff) (9781680102024 ... The Cool Cat Club (Jasper and Scruff) (9781680104608 ...

Summary:  Jasper aspires to get into The Sophisticats, a society for exceptional felines.  He invites the group over to his apartment and plans a fancy dinner for them. On the way back from grocery shopping for the big event, a puppy starts following him.  Try as he might, Jasper can’t seem to lose Scruff, who eventually sneaks into his apartment just as The Sophisticats are arriving. It’s a losing battle trying to keep Scruff hidden and impress the cool cats, but Jasper eventually begins to see that they’re not really worth impressing, and that Scruff is the better friend.  Jasper and Scruff get a bit of revenge on the obnoxious Sophisticats, then Scruff builds a cozy blanket fort and the two friends enjoy the rest of their evening together. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  A fun first chapter book for newly independent readers with plenty of humor, illustrations, and an odd-couple kind of friendship.  Book 2 was published simultaneously.

Cons:  While there is fun to be had, it’s not the kind of uproarious humor found in other books for this age like The Bad Guys and Dog Man.  

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Katarina Ballerina by Tiler Peck and Kyle Harris, illustrated by Sumiti Collina

Published by Aladdin (released May 5)

Thanks to Aladdin for providing me with a free review copy of this book.

Katarina Ballerina (1): Peck, Tiler, Harris, Kyle, Collina, Sumiti ...

Summary:  Katarina dreams of being a dancer like her late mother was, but her father is struggling to make ends meet.  She teachers herself enough ballet though YouTube to put together a routine for the school talent show. Her performance is less than stellar, but her dad sees her passion for dancing and offers to pay for some lessons.  Katarina is thrilled until she goes to the first lesson and feels completely in over her head. Fortunately, a girl in the class named Sunny offers to help and the two become good friends. They agree to perform together in a competition for a ballet camp scholarship, but a series of obstacles puts their dream of winning in jeopardy.  Katarina and Sunny make a good team, though, and help from supportive adults brings about a happy ending for all. 192 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Budding dancers will enjoy reading about Katarina’s experiences and everyone will root for her as she tackles one problem after another with resourcefulness and determination.  Illustrations throughout the book will make this appealing to younger readers.  

Cons:  Many of the situations seemed unrealistic, like Katarina and Sunny being allowed to dance by themselves in front of Lincoln Center to raise money for Katarina’s lessons, then having an usher invite them to a free performance and get them backstage passes to meet one of the dancers (Tiler Peck, one of the authors).

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