Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, art by Hatem Aly

Published by Picture Window Books

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Summary:  Yasmin is a Pakistani-American girl who lives with her extended family.  In the four stories that are part of this book, she explores the city with her mom and makes a map that helps her when she gets lost; wins an art contest despite feeling like she has no talent; helps her class design and build a miniature city; and puts on a fashion show with her grandmother.  Each story is also sold as a separate book, and the stories straddle the line between easy reader and early chapter book (with three chapters per story). Includes four discussion questions (one for each story); an Urdu glossary that includes words from the text; a recipe for a yogurt drink called Mango Lassi; and instructions for making a flower motif bookmark.  89 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Yasmin is a likeable character who will resonate with Pakistani-Americans and teach a few things about her culture to readers who are not.  The artwork by Hatem Aly (The Inquisitor’s Tale) makes a cheerful complement to the text and will help kids understand the meaning of possibly unfamiliar words like hijab and kameez.

Cons:  Yasmin spends a whole recess in her classroom with no adult supervision, and her teacher seems just fine when she comes in and discovers Yasmin there.

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

Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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Image result for mr. monkey bakes a cake amazon

Summary:  When Mr. Monkey decides to bake a cake, bananas figure heavily into the production.  So much so, that Mr. Monkey is too stuffed to sample his cake when it comes out of the oven.  No problem…he decides to take it to the big cake contest. The trip is fraught with peril, as Mr. Monkey encounters traffic, a deranged biker, and multiple chases by a variety of animals.  He manages to arrive safely with his cake, only to discover that the contest is over. Don’t worry, Mr. Monkey has a way of making pretty much any situation turn out okay. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Filled with slapstick humor, this is sure to be a hit with the newly independent reading crowd.  A second book, Mr. Monkey Visits A School is also available.

Cons:  64 pages seemed a little long to me.

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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.

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

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.

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

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?

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

 

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.