5 favorite early chapter books

Maddie and Mabel by Kari Allen, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

Published by Kind World Publishing

Two independent sisters work, play, fight, and make up without adults around to mess things up.

Cornbread and Poppy by Matthew Cordell

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Cornbread’s careful planning and Poppy’s spur-of-the-moment adventurousness prove to be a good mix for a successful friendship.

The Puppy Problem by Laura James, illustrated by Charlie Alder

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Gizmo helps his friend solve her puppy problem in this series opener about a dog-run newspaper called The Daily Bark.

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan, illustrated by Wastana Haikal

Published by Salaam Reads

Zayd Saeem’s sister Zara gets her own series with a book inspired by Beverly Cleary’s stories about neighborhood kids.

Sir Ladybug by Cory Tabor

Published by Balzer + Bray

Sir Ladybug is a modest knight who likes to hang out with his friends, Pell, a roly poly bug who serves as his herald, and Sterling, his trusty squire, who’s a snail with a shell that’s bigger on the inside than the outside. 

Boo! Hiss! By Cyndi Marko

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  Phyllis the ghost and Sheldon the snake have a pretty good life together in an old abandoned house, until–horrors!–a human family moves in.  The two of them flee to the attic where they make plans to take the house back again.  They start with the baby, who thinks they are a couple of fun toys, then move on to the older boy, who’s too absorbed in his book and science project to pay any attention.  Back in the attic, Phyllis and Sheldon get in a huge argument over who is scary or not scary, and the family hears lots of strange noises as a result, convincing them to move out.  Suddenly, the snake and ghost start to notice the humans’ more endearing traits and decide they’ve been wrong.  Their “un-scare plan” does the trick, and everyone settles back into the house–all together.  80 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A cute graphic early chapter book that makes a perfect not-too-scary book just right for this time of year.  

Cons:  This seems like a great series starter, but I don’t see any evidence of book 2.

Crab & Snail: The Invisible Whale (Crab & Snail book 1) by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Jared Chapman

Published by HarperAlley

Summary:  Crab and Snail are BBF’s (best beach friends), who hang out with a couple of barnacle sidekicks named Drip and Grip.  When a mysterious rain shower starts following Crab and Snail around, they can’t figure out what’s happening until a know-it-all gull tells them an invisible whale is following them around.  They send their friendliest smiles out to the ocean and are rewarded with a new friendship with Isabel who is, in fact, an invisible whale.  She ends the book by serenading them with a lullaby as the sun goes down.  Look for book 2 in November.  64 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  There are plenty of laughs and celebrations of friendships in this graphic series starter that will definitely be a hit with Narwhal and Jelly fans and other beginning readers. 

Cons:  I would have preferred the structure of a chapter book.

Gigi and Ojiji by Melissa Iwai

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Gigi is excited that her grandfather, Ojiisan, is coming from Japan to live with her and her family.  She makes a picture to give him at the airport, but when they finally meet, Gigi is disappointed.  Ojiisan doesn’t hug her, he struggles with English, and when Roscoe has an accident, Ojiisan says that dogs belong outdoors.  Fortunately, Mom explains a few cultural differences, and before long Ojiisan has become Ojiji and he and Gigi are having a great time together.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An engaging early reader.  Kids with families who come from other countries or who speak different languages will appreciate some of Gigi’s hesitancy and can learn from her how to overcome cultural obstacles.

Cons:  I’m hoping this is a series starter, but I can’t find any evidence of book 2.

Maddie and Mabel by Kari Allen, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

Published by Kind World Publishing

Summary:  Maddie and Mabel are two sisters who (usually) love to play together.  Their story is told in five chapters, each of which could stand alone, but which also tie together.  In one of the chapters, Mabel gets tired of Maddie’s bossiness and the two have a fight.  Maddie shows readers how to apologize and before long the sisters are happily back together.  A few pages at the end offer suggestions for discussion.  Book 2 is due out in October.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This beginning chapter book reminds me of Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse series.  There are no adults around, so the two girls have to work things out on their own.  Each page has just a few sentences, but the stories are emotionally satisfying despite their brevity.

Cons:  Those older siblings sure can be bossy. And those younger ones can be a pain in the neck.

Sir Ladybug by Corey Tabor

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Sir Ladybug is a modest knight who likes to hang out with his friends, Pell, a roly poly bug who serves as his herald, and Sterling, his trusty squire, who’s a snail with a shell that’s bigger on the inside than the outside.  Sir Ladybug claims that he will go on a quest when one presents itself, and soon enough his path crosses with a panicky caterpillar being chased by a “monster” (actually a chickadee).  The insects head inside Sterling’s shell to strategize and come up with a perfect solution: Sir Ladybug will bake his famous lemon cake which will take care of the chickadee’s hunger and save the caterpillar.  Surprisingly, this plan works, and the satiated chickadee declares them all friends.  68 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Caldecott honoree Corey Tabor has created this fun new early graphic novel starring creatures who resemble some of the characters in Mel Fell.  The bugs are pretty cute, the story is pretty funny, and this is sure to appeal to graphic novel fans who enjoy books like Narwhal and Jelly.  Look for books 2 and 3 coming later this year.

Cons:  No lemon cake recipe.

Hide and Go Beak (The Great Mathemachicken, book 1) by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Charlie Alder

Published by Pixel + Ink

Amazon.com: The Great Mathemachicken 1: Hide and Go Beak: 9781645950325:  Krulik, Nancy, Alder, Charlie: Books

Summary:  Chirpy is an adventurous chicken, who, unlike her siblings, wonders about life outside the coop.  One day, the kids who feed the chickens leave the gate open for a minute, and Chirpy sees her chance.  She escapes from the coop and ends up following the kids on to the school bus.  At school, she’s fascinated by lessons on simple machines and counting by twos.  Returning home, she discovers that her brother Clucky has followed her lead and escaped the coop.  A fox is rumored to be on the loose, and the chickens are anxious to help Clucky get safely home.  Chirpy uses her new STEM skills to lead a team of chickens in making a fox trap.  When Clucky comes running with the fox hot on his tail, the chickens spring into action and trap the fox under a basket.  Safely back at home, they congratulate Clucky and name her The Great Mathemachicken.  Includes instructions for making a wheel-and-axle whirly-swirly toy.  96 pages; grades 1-3.  

Pros:  With 11 chapters, this will make beginning readers feel like they’re reading a “real” chapter book, yet the large font and plentiful illustrations make it a manageable task.  Chirpy is a bold heroine who proves the value of learning about STEM topics.

Cons:  I struggled to spell “mathemachicken”.

See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat: 9781536216295:  LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: Books
Amazon.com: See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat: 9781536216295:  LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: Books

Summary:  In this sequel to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog, the cat fills in for the dog who is out sick.  The narrator (referred to as “book”) has stories about the dog doing un-cat-like things like digging a hole, swimming, and protecting a sheep.  The cat is not pleased to be given these assignments, but finds some interesting ways to carry out her duties.  Dog appears at the end, just as the cat is about to faint under the stress of having to protect a sheep from a wolf.  Dog takes over, and Cat retreats to a hammock under the trees with a cold beverage in paw; “Now, THIS is the way to end a story!”  64 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  See the Cat is one of my favorite early readers, and the author-illustrator team has created another winner with these three stories that are sure to give new readers some laughs.  The first book won a Geisel Award, and this one is worthy of a similar honor.

Cons:  I missed Dog.

Frog and Ball by Kathy Caple and Spring Cakes by Miranda Harmon (I Like to Read Comics series)

Published by Holiday House

Frog and Ball by Kathy Caple: 9780823443413 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Bound To Stay Bound Books, Inc. - Bookstore
Amazon.com: Spring Cakes (I Like to Read Comics): 9780823449354: Harmon,  Miranda: Books

Summary:  In Frog and Ball, Frog checks out a book about magic from the library.  On the way home, he comes across a deflated ball, and decides to try out the book to bring the ball back to life.  His magic works a little too well when the ball really does come to life and starts chasing him all over town, including a chaotic return to the library.  Frog finally manages to subdue the ball back into deflated submission, but when Rabbit comes along, it looks like things are going to start up again.

A family of cats has big cooking plans in Spring Cakes, but first they have to gather the ingredients: flour, honey, eggs, strawberries, and some magic roses.  Each item requires going to the source, so the kitties get a series of adventures, including a visit to the witch who has the roses.  Finally, it’s time to bake, and everyone who helped out gets to enjoy a picnic with some spring cakes.  Both books are 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I’ve long been a fan of the I Like to Read books, and was excited to hear that there was a new comic series (and grateful to Holiday House for the free copies!).  These are sure to be a hit with kids learning to read: the comic format is, of course, hugely popular and the stories are well-crafted with cute illustrations.

Cons:  One of the things I love about the I Like to Read series is that it includes books that look like “real books” (not like early readers) that are written at the earliest Fountas and Pinnell levels (A, B, C).  These comic books are at a higher F&P level (Frog and Ball is I and Spring Cakes is L).  I’m hoping Holiday House will come out with some that are for those earlier levels.

Training Day (El Toro & Friends) by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay

Published by Versify

Training Day | HMH Books

Summary:  El Toro has a big match coming up, wrestling The Wall.  His trainer, Kooky Dooky, has lots of ideas about how to get him ready, but first he must get El Toro out of bed.  This proves challenging, as El Toro doesn’t want to eat breakfast, stretch, or go for a jog…he just wants to sleep.  Finally, though, he is ready for action and, cheered on by his fans, he zips through every challenge Kooky Dooky puts before him.  When it’s time for the big match, El Toro defeats The Wall with one big “Pow!”.  56 page; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Raúl the Third brings the fun of his ¡Vamos! books to this new early reader series that is sure to be a hit.  There are many Spanish translations of English words and phrases in the text, with the Spanish in a purple font to make it readily distinguishable.  Book 2 (Tag Team) was published simultaneously.  Let’s hope this is just the beginning.

Cons:  After all that training, I wish the wrestling match had been longer than a single page.