The Itchy Book by LeUyen Pham

Published by Disney Hyperion

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Summary:  A bespectacled dinosaur comes across a rock reading “Dinosaurs Do Not Scratch”.  He shares his new knowledge with other prehistoric friends who come along, stopping them from scratching an itchy back, a bee sting, and the place where a tag rubs on the back of the neck.  The original dinosaur claims it is tough not to scratch, and proves his own fortitude when the others tickle him with a feather and wrap him in a woolly sweater.  Finally, the turtle lying in front of the rock slowly moves away, revealing the word “Alone” at the bottom of the message.  Relieved, the whole crew goes for it, scratching every itch they can find on each other.  Elephant and Piggie enjoy the story, commenting at the end that “A good story scratches an itch.”  64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Elephant & Piggie + funny dinosaurs = a winning combination.

Cons:  It was a tough book to read while suffering from poison ivy.

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The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Friends Fox and Chick share three stories for early readers.  In the first, Chick asks to use Fox’s bathroom, then proceeds to have a party with her friends there.  Next, Chick can’t understand why Fox prefers vegetables to small animals, but when she realizes she herself is a small animal, is happy to share his vegetable soup.  Finally, Chick asks Fox to paint her portrait, but can’t sit still look enough for him to do it.  56 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Early readers will love the cartoon dialogue and friendship reminiscent of Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad.  With any luck, this will be the beginning of a new series.

Cons:  A friendship between a fox and a chick makes me a bit nervous.

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Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Published by Scholastic

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Image result for baby monkey private eye

Summary:  Baby Monkey solves one case after another: missing jewels, missing pizza, a missing nose, a missing spaceship, and a missing baby.  For each one, Baby Monkey has a routine.  First he looks for clues, then he takes notes and has a snack, and finally, he puts on his pants, a difficult task that generally takes several pages.  The mystery is solved immediately after that, usually by looking no further than outside his office door.  The routine is disrupted in the final mystery, because the missing baby turns out to be…well, I’ll let you take a guess.  Or read the book to find out.  Includes a guide to the different works of art that appear in Baby Monkey’s office for each mystery and an unusual index and bibliography.  192 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Brian Selznick’s award-winning illustrations carry the day here.  Kids will crack up over Baby Monkey’s various struggles with his pants, while older readers will enjoy noticing all the details that change from one rendering of the office to the next.  The text is repetitive, making this a perfect choice for beginning readers.

Cons:  Librarians may have a tough time deciding where to put this book: chapter book, picture book, graphic novel, or early reader?

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My Friends Make Me Happy! by Jan Thomas

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  What makes Sheep happy?  He has his friends guess, giving them a hint that it starts with the letter F.  Is it fish? Fans? Turnips? (Pay attention, Duck, turnips does not start with an F!).  Finally, he has to tell them…it’s his friends!  Sheep’s friends make him happy.  And occasionally drive him crazy.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Part of a new (or newly revived) series for emergent readers, this cartoon-illustrated entry will surely live up to The Giggle Gang’s name.

Cons:  Sheep’s friends seem a bit slow on the uptake.

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Hi, Jack! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Viking

Summary:  Jack is a mischievous monkey in this three-chapter beginning reader.  In the first chapter, he steals a woman’s purse and puts on some lipstick.  The second chapter starts out being about Rex the dog, but when Rex’s lips suddenly turn red, Jack is revealed to be the culprit.  The final story takes place at the woman’s house (she’s known only as The Lady).  Jack shows his hands to convince her that he doesn’t have any lipstick; meanwhile, he’s writing his name on her wall with a lipstick held by his tail.  There seems to be the beginning of a friendship when The Lady offers Jack a cookie; Jack reciprocates with a kiss…but his version (involving Rex) is a little different from what she is expecting.  The final pages show how to draw Jack, Rex, and The Lady.  80 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Behold, the first book of 2018, from an advance reader copy I picked up at AALS.  The pairing of Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli is kind of genius, and I predict beginning readers are going to love this series.  The first two entries are scheduled for February, with two more to come in May.

Cons:  It’s a lot of pages for a beginner.

King and Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Published by Peachtree Publishers

Summary:  Anyone who has read Dori Hillestad Butler’s Buddy Files series knows that Buddy started life as King and lived with a girl named Kayla before being sent to the pound.  In this series for younger readers, Kayla and King work together to solve mysteries in their neighborhood.  As readers who are acquainted with Buddy know, King has many favorite foods and can understand humans, but can’t make them understand him.  In this first installment, Kayla and her friend Mason receive almost identical letters in code.  King can sniff out the identity of the sender, but the two kids have to rely on other clues.  They list what they know and what they need to know, and eventually are able to crack the code and solve the case.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Beginning readers will enjoy solving mysteries with the irresistible King, then moving on to read about his life as Buddy.  The humorous illustrations and fast pace will keep them engaged.

Cons:  It makes me sad to know that Kayla and King ultimately will be separated.

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring by Rebecca Bond

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  Pig is excited to be heading out for a picnic on the first day of spring, when she’s surprised by a goose who lands at her feet.  She admires his flying, and he tries (unsuccessfully) to teach her to fly.  She invites him to join her on her picnic; they enjoy it so much that she extends the invitation to a first-day-of-spring party at her house that night.  During the day, Pig has wished for Goose’s abilities to fly and to swim, but at the party, Goose gets to see Pig’s talents as she keeps her guests entertained, well-fed, and happy.  They part ways with the promise of a picnic the next day, and the hope that there will be a sequel featuring these two friends.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Fans of Poppleton and Frog and Toad will enjoy this new three-chapter book for emergent readers.  The watercolor illustrations are cute and cheery, and the friendship and humor will keep kids reading.

Cons:  The humor is more of a smile than Frog-and-Toad laugh-out-loud.