Five Favorite Early Readers/Chapter Books

Writing a good book for newly independent readers seems deceptively difficult, and I always appreciate finding a good one.

Acorn Books by various authors

Published by Scholastic

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Image result for acorn books scholastic

Image result for acorn books scholastic

Scholastic’s been dominating the early chapter book market for the last few years with their Branches imprint.  This year they rolled out several new series under the Acorn label, targeting slightly younger readers.  Lots of humor and cartoon-style illustrations with speech bubbles are sure to be a hit.


Smell My Foot! (Chick and Brain book 1) by Cece Bell

Published by Candlewick

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What the heck?  Only Cece Bell would think to pair a chick and a brain, but somehow it works, with plenty of goofy humor in the writing and illustrations.


What Is Inside THIS Box? (Monkey and Cake book 1) by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Tallec

Published by Orchard Books

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Drew Daywalt simultaneously entertains and raises philosophical questions in this new Elephant-and-Piggie-inspired series.


Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

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I enjoyed book two of Juana and Lucas every bit as much as book one.  For some reason, I’ve had trouble getting kids to read these books, but I will keep trying in 2020.


Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Published by Candlewick

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Candlewick gets the prize for oddball friendships this year, including this pairing of introverted hot dog Frank and his new jokester pal Bean.

The Quest for the Golden Fleas (Zeus the Mighty, Book 1) by Crispin Boyer

Published by Under the Stars (imprint of National Geographic)

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Summary:  Zeus the hamster lives with his friends Demeter (grasshopper), Athena (cat), and Ares (pug) at the Mount Olympus Pet Center.  Artie is the human who runs the center, but when she’s not around, the animals live a secret life, re-enacting the myths they hear on Artie’s  “Greeking Out” podcast.  When Zeus hears the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, he hears it as Golden Fleas, and becomes determined to go on a quest for the Fleas. But when a dragon (lizard) gets loose in the pet shop, it seems as the Demeter and her insect pals may be in danger.  Zeus has to choose between his quest and helping his friend. It’s one adventure after another as the animals survive dangers and learn the true meaning of friendship. Includes additional information on Greek mythology and the gods and goddesses referenced in the story.  187 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Combining Greek mythology with a bunch of lovable pets is sure to be a winning formula for elementary readers.  Lots of illustrations add to the appeal. Look for book 2 coming in May 2020.

Cons:  Zeus isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  A new sled has Penny eagerly anticipating the first snowfall, but day after day the ground remains bare.  Her parents both assure that it will snow eventually, and Penny tries some snow-making tricks like wearing mittens to bed and sitting on the sled in the living room.  Nothing works. Trying to make the best of her situation, she uses the sled to make a house for her younger siblings and a bed for her doll Rose. As the days grow longer, it seems as though the winter will be snow-less, and her mother encourages Penny to look for a different type of snow–the snowdrops in the garden.  One exciting day, the flowers are blooming, and Penny runs into the house to tell her mother. They go out to look together–with Penny wearing her scarf and mittens and pulling Rose behind her on the sled. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s been six years since the last Penny book, but well worth the wait.  Kevin Henkes does his usual masterful combination of storytelling and illustration, perfectly capturing a child’s point of view and painlessly inserting a few lessons about resilience.  Pretty impressive that he has managed to produce one of my favorite easy readers and one of my favorite chapter books in the same year.

Cons:  I really thought it would snow eventually.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Meet the House Kittens (Kitten Construction Company book 1) by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Marmalade has drawn up some pretty impressive blueprints for the new mayor’s mansion, but no one will take her seriously because she’s a kitten.  When she goes to drown her sorrows (“One saucer of milk! And keep ‘em coming!”), she meets a dishwashing cat who’s looking to ply his trade as an electrical engineer.  They decide to form a construction firm, and eventually hire a kitten plumber and kitten carpenter to join them. Since they’re never taken seriously (“How cute!” all the humans say, staring with adoring eyes), the kittens go to work in secret.  When the humans’ mansion collapses at the grand opening, the kittens are there to save the day with their own solid structure. The mayor still refuses to believe kittens built her house, but the city manager hires them on for a new job. 80 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  From the creator of Hippopotamister comes this delightful new series about some seriously talented kittens.  Children (and some adults) will relate to the feeling of not being taken seriously.  However, I have to add my voice to the chorus of “Awww!”s. These kittens are unquestionably skilled construction workers, but they are also super cute.

Cons:  Some of the humor (like the “saucer of milk” comment above) may be over some readers’ heads.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Published by Candlewick

Image result for frank and bean jamie michalak

Image result for frank and bean jamie michalak

Summary:  Frank is enjoying a solitary camping trip, working on his writing, when Bean pulls up in his RV and starts tooting his trumpet, banging his drum, and singing.  Frank is annoyed, but Bean is so unrelentingly upbeat that the hot dog starts to unwind a bit. He enjoys one of Bean’s jelly-filled donut holes, and even secretly writes a poem about it.  When Bean discovers this, he makes up a tune to go with it, and the two new friends decide to form a band: The Chili Dogs. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A friendship story in the spirit of Frog and Toad, with Frank playing the straight man to Bean’s jokester.  Although the text is perfect for new readers, the chapters will make them feel like they’re reading a “real” book.

Cons:  Although this is billed as book 1, I don’t see a sequel available yet.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Kitty’s mom is a superhero, and Kitty knows she has special powers.  She doesn’t feel ready to go out at night the way her mother does, though.  But when a cat named Figaro comes to her bedroom window one night and tells her he needs help, she decides to be brave and go exploring with him.  First she rescues a cat from a tree. But the real issue is a loud wailing coming from a clock tower. They discover a kitten stuck at the top. Kitty has to figure out a way to climb up before the clock strikes midnight and scares the kitten into falling.  Assisted by her three cat helpers, she makes a successful rescue. The next morning, the cats all gather around Kitty and her family, ready to go off on another adventure.

Pros:  An exciting early chapter book adventure with cute black and orange illustrations, sure to be popular with Princess In Black and Owl Diary fans.

Cons:  It’s a sweet story, but lacks the slight edge that makes the Princess In Black books so much fun.

If you would like to buy this on Amazon, click here.

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

Published by Scholastic

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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.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.