Graduation Day! by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Ashley Evans

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A boy is excited for his kindergarten graduation.  He and his classmates go through their morning routine one last time, and he reflects on all the things he’s learned during the year, although one skill, tying his own shoes, has eluded him.  The kids don caps and gowns and line up to go on stage.  When he notices his shoe is untied, the boy tries to tie it himself and finds out he’s learned how to do that, too!  After graduation, there’s a round of good-byes, and the story ends with the boy picturing himself in first grade.  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  This rhyming early reader, with its illustrations of a diverse and happy school, would make an excellent gift for a preschool or kindergarten graduate. 

Cons:  In my experience, learning to tie shoes does not occur quite that spontaneously.

Show and Smell (Marshmallow Martians book 1) by Deanna Kent, illustrated by Neil Hooson

Published by Random House Graphic

Summary:  The Marshmallow Martians’ leader, G.L.O.W. (Galactic Learning Online Wizard), introduces them to P.E.E.P. (Polite Extraordinary Earth Portal), which can transport them down to Earth.  Due to a faulty transmission, the Martians believe that the Earth phrase “show and tell” is actually “show and smell,” and they plan a show and smell session for when they return from their trip to Earth.  An amusement park is chosen as the best place to collect smells, and the marshmallows collect odors from onions, shoes, burps, and a skunk.  Back on Planet Moop, the other marshmallows enjoy the show and smell presentation.  Includes instructions for drawing one of the characters (Snug). 72 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Pizza and Taco, Narwhal and Jelly, and other early comics will get a big kick out of the Marshmallow Martians’ antics.

Cons:  If the marshmallows live on Planet Moop, why are they called Martians and not Moopians?

Elena Rides by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Elena is learning to ride a bike, an experience that requires persistence and comes with a few falls.  Sometimes she can motivate herself to get back on the bike and try again; other times she needs some help.  In the end, her hard work pays off, and Elena rides!  Available in three editions: English, Spanish, and bilingual with both English and Spanish.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This cute early reader has plenty of action in the words and illustrations, with a big “KA-BANG!”, “KA-PLUNK!” and “KA-RASH!” when Elena falls.  Kids will relate to her experiences and see how persistence can lead to success.

Cons:  Ouch.

Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends by Kaz Windness

Published by Simon Spotlight

Summary:  Worm and Caterpillar are best friends share many similarities but also have some differences.  Worm is nervous when Caterpillar begins to change even more, eventually falling silent inside of a chrysalis.  When Caterpillar finally wakes up, he’s afraid that if he emerges, Worm will no longer like him.  Finally, Caterpillar reveals himself in his new incarnation as Butterfly.  At first Worm thinks he is a scary bird and hides deep underground, but eventually the two reclaim their best friendship.  Includes directions for drawing Worm and Butterfly.  64 pages; ages 4-7.

Pros:  A fun early reader, with a comic format that includes just a sentence or two of text on each page. The message is positive about keeping friends even when one or both parties go through some changes. There’s a nice introduction to reading comics before the main story begins.

Cons:  Early reader comics about two animal friends seem to be a bit of a glut on the market these days.

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.