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.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! by Ben Clanton

Published by Tundra Books 

Summary:  Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky fellow with a perpetual grin on his face (right under his horn).  He meets up with the more serious Jellyfish (“Jellyfish? Hee hee! That sounds funny!”), and the two become unlikely friends.  There are three stories in this beginner graphic novel.  The friendship happens in the first one; Narwhal delivers horns to various sea creatures and creates a pod (“Podtastic!”) in the second; and Narwhal shows Jellyfish how a blank book can be an interesting read in the third.  In between the first two stories are two pages of Really Fun Facts about narwhals and jellyfish, and in between the third and fourth is “The Narwhal Song” which involves limited lyrics and a considerable amount of hand clapping.  Good news for fans: it looks like the second Narwhal and Jelly Book will be out next May.  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Elephant and Piggie aficionados will enjoy stepping up to the world of Narwhal and Jelly.  The humor is similar and the reading just a level or two above.

Cons:  The artwork is pretty primitive with a somewhat limited palette.

Snail Has Lunch by Mary Peterson

Published by PIX 

Summary:  Snail is happy living in his rusty bucket.  Filled with dirt and grass, it has everything he needs.  Every day his friend Ladybug stops by to tell Snail the news from the garden and to try to convince him to sample life outside the bucket.  But Snail is stubborn until one day, the pail is grabbed by a human, and Snail is unceremoniously dumped into the outside world.  Ladybug leads him to the garden, and there he learns what tasty treats he has been missing, and even makes a new friend or two.  At the end, Snail ends up back in the bucket (now filled with yummy strawberries), but with a lesson or two about the outside world under his belt (or shell).  64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A delightful book for beginning readers, illustrated with cute and humorous animals (I loved the sequence of the gopher eating an eggplant).  Kids will enjoy the mix of regular text and cartoon bubbles.

Cons:  At 64 pages, this will require some stamina from emergent readers.

We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems

Published by Hyperion Books for Children 

Summary:  Several blades of grass are astonished that they are able to grow.  Each one finds a reason to be superlative: tallest, curliest, silliest, crunchiest.  Only Walt has trouble thinking of a word to describe himself.  The other blades are supportive, but try as he might…nothing.  Meanwhile, a lawn mower is seen approaching, and before long, all of the blades have gotten a surprise trim.  No longer are they tall or curly.  A couple of pink critters (slugs?) assure them that they will grow again, while Walt grabs a rake and suggests a clean-up.  As he starts to rake, he realizes what he is…the neatest.  64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Part of a new multi-author series, “Elephant & Piggie Like Reading”.  Not only does this have the look and feel of an Elephant & Piggie book, but the famous duo is pictured at the beginning and the end, reading the book.  The illustrations are simple and cartoony, with the whole story told in dialog.  Sure to be immensely popular with the emerging reader crowd.

Cons:  Blades of grass just don’t have quite the personality of cute elephants and piggies.

Pedro, First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon

Published by Picture Window Books 

Summary:  Katie Woo’s friend Pedro has his own new series.  This collection contains four stories, which are also available as individual books.  Pedro collects bugs, tries out for soccer goalie, starts a mystery club with his friends, and runs for first grade class president.  Katie is a pretty prominent character in every story, along with several of their classmates.  The last four pages, “Joke Around With Pedro”, contain jokes in keeping with the themes of the four stories.  96 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A great choice for newly independent readers, this feels like a chapter book, but reads like an easy reader, with just a few sentences of text on each page.  There are plenty of cheerful illustrations, and an ethnically diverse cast of kid characters.

Cons:  First graders Pedro and Katie are way more civil in their presidential election than some other politicians we know.

Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell

Published by Candlewick Press 

Summary:  When Rabbit goes to visit Robot, he’s dismayed to find that Robot has another friend over, a frog named Ribbit.  Ribbit’s vocabulary is limited to a single word, “Ribbit”, which Robot is able to understand using his frog translation software.  Rabbit starts feeling jealous, and pretty soon Rabbit’s and Ribbit’s emotions are running so high that Robot overheats himself trying to interpret them all.  When Robot collapses, Rabbit and Ribbit have to work together to learn how to revive him.  In the end, the three friends discover that three isn’t really a crowd and learn to play together.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The sequel to Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover, this long easy reader/short chapter book with cartoon illustrations and silly dialogue is just right for emerging independent readers.

Cons:  Let’s hope Cece Bell doesn’t wait another 2 ½ years before writing another Rabbit and Robot book.