A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  Bixby Alexander Tam is known as Bat, not only because of his initials, but also because he loves animals, has a tendency to flap his hands like wings when he gets nervous, and is sensitive to sound, sometimes leading him to don his sister’s earmuffs at school.  When his veterinarian mother brings home an orphaned baby skunk, Bat is thrilled, and sets out to be the best baby skunk caretaker ever.  His teacher helps him send an email to a skunk expert, and Bat is excited to get an encouraging reply from him.  Although it’s never stated, it’s pretty clear Bat is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and he must find his own way to navigate the world, dealing with his divorced parents, occasionally annoying older sister, and a boy in his class who just might be a friend.  208 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A thoughtful and humorous story told through the eyes of Bat, a sympathetic character with difficulties that many young readers will recognize.  I hope there will be more stories forthcoming about Bat and his family.

Cons:  The whole skunk-as-pet premise seems unsustainable.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence, pictures by Elizabet Vukovic

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary:  As Jasmine’s family prepares for the new year, she is frustrated that her older sister Sophie gets to help the women in the kitchen preparing the mochi balls.  Not only that, but mean cousin Eddie is old enough to help pound mochi with the men in the backyard.  Unwilling to be relegated to babysitting her younger cousins, Jasmine decides to prove that she is strong enough to join the mochi pounders.  Her patient and understanding family helps her along, and she is able to contribute to the festivities in her own unique way.  Includes an author’s note about mochi, a mochi recipe, and a preview of the next book in the series.  128 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Jasmine is a spunky, likable character who will appeal to fans of Ramona and Junie B. Jones.  Each of the first three books in the series focuses on some aspect of Japanese culture.

Cons:  The recipe for mochi didn’t look appealing enough to make all the preparations in the book seem worthwhile.

This Little Piggy: An Owner’s Manual by Cyndi Marko

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  What’s the perfect pet?  A dog?  A hamster?  A turtle?  No, a pig, of course!  Well, you may know that, but it’ll take some work to convince other family members.  The girl narrator offers some wild and crazy tips, first getting her brother on board, then beginning a long, laborious process for showing her mother what a wonderful pet her new pig Snowflake will be.  There are six chapters in all, but most pages only have a couple of sentences, accompanied by illustrations with cartoon bubble dialog.  And don’t worry, pig fans, one of the final bubbles is Mom’s, containing the words “Our family could use a pig like that.”  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Another crowd-pleaser from the author-illustrator of the Kung Pow Chicken series, this is sure to be a hit with the newly-independent reading crowd.  This could also be used as a mentor text for procedural writing.

Cons:  There isn’t much of a story–it’s more of a how-to manual.

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring by Rebecca Bond

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  Pig is excited to be heading out for a picnic on the first day of spring, when she’s surprised by a goose who lands at her feet.  She admires his flying, and he tries (unsuccessfully) to teach her to fly.  She invites him to join her on her picnic; they enjoy it so much that she extends the invitation to a first-day-of-spring party at her house that night.  During the day, Pig has wished for Goose’s abilities to fly and to swim, but at the party, Goose gets to see Pig’s talents as she keeps her guests entertained, well-fed, and happy.  They part ways with the promise of a picnic the next day, and the hope that there will be a sequel featuring these two friends.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Fans of Poppleton and Frog and Toad will enjoy this new three-chapter book for emergent readers.  The watercolor illustrations are cute and cheery, and the friendship and humor will keep kids reading.

Cons:  The humor is more of a smile than Frog-and-Toad laugh-out-loud.

The Great Art Caper by Victoria Jamieson

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  GW the hamster and his class pet friends Sunflower and Barry are back for another adventure, this time in the art room. GW wants to make a special gift for his friend Carina, one of the girls in the classroom where he lives.  The three pets sneak into the art room one night in search of inspiration.  They find some, but before their projects are complete, they are attacked by Harriet and her minions.  These evil mice have hatched a plot to sabotage the school art show, and they won’t let three pesky rodents get in their way.  When GW finds out that Carina is one of the winning artists, nothing will stop him from taking down the mice and saving the day. There’s a happy ending in store for all, and a hint of another adventure ahead.  64 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I don’t usually review sequels, but I so loved The Great Pet Escape that I wanted to see what the furry friends were up to next.  No disappointments, the humor is just as sharp as in the first book, and the pets are as irrepressible as ever.

Cons:  Sunflower, who was hilarious in the first book, had a much smaller role here.

Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner, illustrated by Heather Ross

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Fergus is a mouse who lives in a classroom and enjoys participating in all the routines and activities of Miss Maxwell’s class.  When he hears they are going on a field trip to the museum, he can’t wait, and is disappointed to find out he won’t be joining them.  Undaunted, he stows away in Emma’s backpack and rides on the bus along with the rest of the class.  The museum is everything he expected and more, as he makes a new mouse friend, Zeke.  Zeke is more of a daredevil than the rule-abiding Fergus, and he takes Fergus on a behind-the-scenes adventure that almost causes them both to miss the bus back home.  They make it, though, and when the class gets back to school, they are amazed to see two mice instead of one in Fergus’s cage.  56 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Readers not quite ready for the Humphrey books will enjoy this illustrated chapter book with endearing mouse characters and plenty of action

Cons:  If I were Miss Maxwell, I’d be a bit more thorough in my investigation into how a second mouse mysteriously appeared in the classroom.  

Lights, Camera, Middle School (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker) by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm

Published by Random House

Summary:  Our little girl is growing up:  Babymouse has started middle school, and she finds some of the universal difficulties: bad cafeteria food, mean girls, and difficulties managing her curly whiskers.  Things start to look up, though, when she joins the Film Club and is chosen to direct the club’s first movie.  Backed by a remarkably supportive group of friends, Babymouse dives into the process with her usual enthusiasm, extracting herself from one embarrassing situation after another.  The final screening is an unexpected hit with the middle school crowd, but when Babymouse is introduced as the director, she trips over her new dress and falls on her face as she tries to get onstage.  Typical.  Much of this new series is a regular chapter book, but there are plenty of illustrations, as well as occasional comics.  208 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Babymouse fans will cheer at the advent of a new series, and the format will allow readers to move up a notch from the graphic novels.

Cons:  Librarians will have a tough time deciding whether to shelve this with graphic novels or regular fiction.