Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us: Castillo, Lauren: 9781524766719:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Annika Mae kicks things off with this introduction: “Sometimes you make a friend, and it feels like you have known that friend for your entire life.”  That’s how it is with her and Hedgehog, Mutty, Owl, Beaver, Mole, and Hen and Chicks…but it hasn’t always been that way.  Before he meets Annika Mae and the others, Hedgehog lives on an island with his friend, a stuffed dog named Mutty.  One stormy day, Mutty is blown away, and Hedgehog leaves home to find her.  In his quest, he meets the other animals one by one, gathering clues about Mutty’s disappearance, until all of them end up in Annika Mae’s yard.  She helps Hedgehog reunite with Mutty, and he repays the favor, sealing their new friendship and possibly starting a series of new adventures. 128 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This charming chapter book would make a great read-aloud or first book for newly independent readers.  The illustrations, by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo, are sure to win plenty of fans to what will hopefully be a new series.

Cons:  Kids who are looking for a lot of humor and/or action might find this story a little slow.

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

King of the Birds (Arlo and Pips, book 1) by Elise Gravel

Published by HarperAlley

Amazon.com: Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds (9780062982223): Gravel, Elise,  Gravel, Elise: Books
CanLit for LittleCanadians: Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds

Summary:  When Pips meets Arlo, the crow immediately sets out to impress the smaller bird with his many abilities: he can count, he has a big brain, and he can do imitations.  He’s new to the city, and Pips offers to show him around.  As they explore, Arlo continues to share the amazing things he (and all crows) can do.  His love of shiny objects leads the two birds on a trip to the beach, where Arlo demonstrates his ability to outwit the seagulls they meet there.  The two birds part ways at the end, with Arlo wondering, “Who am I going to brag to now?”  Guess we’ll find out in book 2, advertised on the final page, but not yet listed on Amazon.  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Marketed to fans of Narwhal and Jelly (Ben Clanton raves, “This book will fly off the shelves!” on the front cover), this new series will be popular with younger graphic novel fans.  Arlo’s bragging is funny, and there’s quite a bit of information about crows woven into the text.

Cons:  I found Arlo kind of obnoxious, and Pips a bit nondescript, neither quite matching the charm of Narwhal and Jelly.

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

Fancy Friends (Bunbun & Bonbon) by Jess Keating and Fish Feud (Squidding Around) by Kevin Sherry

Published by Graphix (Scholastic)

Amazon.com: Fancy Friends: A Graphic Novel (Bunbun & Bonbon #1) (1)  (9781338646825): Keating, Jess, Keating, Jess: Books
Fish Feud! (Squidding Around #1) - Kindle edition by Sherry, Kevin, Sherry,  Kevin. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Two new graphic series exploring friendships.  Bunbun the bunny doesn’t have a friend until he meets Bonbon, a bonbon (candy).  The two of them discover their mutual love of fancy music, fancy food, and fancy friends and decide to throw a fancy garden party.  By the end they are celebrating the beginning of a best friendship.  In Fish Feud, Squizzard is a squid who likes to be the class clown, but his shark friend Toothy doesn’t always appreciate his jokes and bossiness.  When Squizzard takes things too far, he has to figure out a way to apologize and win back Toothy’s friendship.  64 pages and grades 1-3 (Bunbun); 96 pages and grades 2-5 (Squidding)

Pros:  Watch as these new series openers from Scholastic Graphix fly off your shelves.  They’re cute, funny, and graphic…what’s not to like? Bunbun is simpler in both language and illustrations, while Squidding is more of a real chapter book and includes bits of information about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Cons:  While fun, these aren’t quite the graphic masterpieces that some of the Graphix series are (e.g., Bone, Amulet, Baby-Sitters Club).

If you would like to buy Bunbun on Amazon, click here. For Squidding Around, click here.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1): Timberlake, Amy, Klassen, Jon:  9781643750057: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Badger is satisfied living by himself in his aunt’s brownstone: doing Important Rock Work, eating cold cereal, and ignoring Aunt Lula’s letters.  So he’s surprised one day when Skunk shows up on his doorstep, informing him that he’s been sent by Aunt Lula to be Badger’s roommate.  Skunk disrupts Badger’s routine in ways that are both good (cooking breakfast, making Badger laugh), and not so good (taking over Badger’s box room, bringing dozens of chickens to the house).  At first Badger is desperate to get back to his solitary lifestyle, but slowly the good begins to outweigh the bad.  When Badger goes too far and alienates Skunk and his chickens, he realizes he’s made a big mistake and has to learn how to apologize and repair their burgeoning friendship.  136 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An endearing friendship story for those who cut their reading teeth on Frog and Toad books.  The Jon Klassen illustrations are a great addition–that cover picture perfectly captures both animals’ personalities..

Cons:  I had high hopes for this book with its multiple starred reviews and the Klassen illustrations, but it never really took off for me.  It’s quirky to the point that I wonder if it will have wide kid appeal.

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

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Silver Arrow - Kindle edition by Grossman, Lev. Children Kindle eBooks  @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Kate’s life is basically satisfactory, but she sometimes feels like she’d like something more.  When her mysterious Uncle Herbert appears on the morning of her eleventh birthday with a full-size steam engine named The Silver Arrow, she begins to understand that what has been missing is adventure and a sense of purpose.  She and her younger brother Tom are sent on a journey around the world, picking up animals and transporting them to their natural habitats.  As they get to know the animals and learn about the trouble they’re in, Kate and Tom realize their job to protect their new friends will extend long beyond their train trip.  The journey proves difficult, and the two kids almost give up on it before it’s over, but in the end their persistence pays off.  They’re happy to get home safely, but Uncle Herbert assures them their adventures have just begun…potentially paving the way for a sequel.  272 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This illustrated story hits the sweet spot for third and fourth graders, who will love the two kids, their adventures, and all the animals–and the train, which can communicate and becomes an important character as well.  The environmental message is nicely embedded into the story and could lead to some interesting discussions. This would make a great read-aloud or book club selection.

Cons:  Tracy Nishimura Bishop’s illustrations add a lot to the story, but she’s not credited on either the cover or the back flap.

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

Agent Moose by Mo O’Hara, illustrated by Jess Bradley

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Agent Moose - Kindle edition by O'Hara, Mo, Bradley, Jess. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Agent Moose | Mo O'Hara | Macmillan

Summary:  Agent Anonymoose is recovering from the failure of what would have been his 100th case (he thought the moon was missing, but it was really a lunar eclipse).  When he hears that his rival Camo Chameleon has just solved his 100th case, it just rubs salt in the wound.  But then a chipmunk arrives with an important message: a key witness in Camo’s last case has disappeared.  Agent Moose and his wise sidekick Owlfred head to the chameleon’s 100th-case celebration to investigate.  There are adventures and red herrings a-plenty before the two of them manage to crack the case.  The mystery is solved, but the villains make a last-minute escape, setting up a second adventure for Agent Moose and Owlfred.  128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap, rejoice!  This is sure to be a hit with the many readers who love graphic novels with plenty of action and zany humor.  

Cons: There were a lot of characters to keep track of.

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

Astrid & Apollo and the Starry Campout by V. T. Bidania, illustrated by Dara Lashia Lee

Published by Capstone

Astrid and Apollo and the Starry Campout: Bidania, V.T., Lee, Dara Lashia:  9781515861317: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Astrid and Apollo are getting ready to go camping with their parents and little sister Eliana.  Apollo is excited, but Astrid is nervous, having heard horror stories from a cousin about mosquitoes, bears, and nasty toilets.  When they arrive, though, Astrid finds a lot to enjoy as the family makes a campfire, cooks dinner, then watches the stars come out.  Even the dark tent seems cozy, and she’s ready to fall asleep when she hears a scratching sound outside.  The whole family goes out to investigate.  They find a group of raccoons, and Astrid shines her flashlight at them, scaring them away.  The next morning, she learns an important lesson about food storage when she discovers the raccoons stole their sausages, but fortunately Mom brought ingredients for her famous egg rolls.  Astrid discovers that camping is fun and an adventure.  Includes facts about the Hmong, popular Hmong foods, a glossary, and prompts for discussion and writing.  64 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Kids will enjoy getting to know Astrid and Apollo and their Hmong family in this series opener.  The full-color anime-inspired illustrations help move the story along, and it looks like more aspects of the Hmong culture are explored in later books.

Cons:  The story was pretty run-of-the-mill.

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

Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Amazon.com: 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.

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

Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Amazon.com: Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ...

Amazon.com: 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. 

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


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.

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