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.

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

Published by First Second

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Image result for meet the house kittens john patrick green

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Published by Scholastic

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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

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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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