The Pet Parade (Dear Beast, book 2) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (released February 2)

Published by Holiday House

Dear Beast

Summary:  Simon the cat has heard that Baxter the dog is going to be marching in the pet parade with their boy, Andy.  Simon has been in this parade with Andy in years past, and writes a letter to Baxter trying to convince him to back out.  Baxter refuses, and Simon launches a spy mission to determine what their costumes are going to be, enlisting the help of a skunk, a snail, a crow, a squirrel, and the pet goldfish, Gradually, Simon comes to understand that he and Baxter have different roles in Andy’s life, and that Baxter might actually be the better choice for the parade.  The parade concludes happily, and it looks like book 3 of this series is in the works.  Includes a “Doggy Dictionary” to help decipher Baxter’s misspelled words.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Butler has come up with a winning idea to tell an entire story through animals’ letters.  Early chapter books readers will find the format appealing, the writing humorous, and the colorful cartoon-style illustrations helpful in figuring out what’s going on in the story.

Cons:  Thank you to Holiday House for sending me this advance copy, but I wish I had read book 1 first, since I wasn’t completely able to figure out Andy’s, Simon’s, and Baxter’s situation from this book.  This seems like a weakness since kids don’t always read books in order. Also, some may object to Baxter’s frequent misspellings which may cause some struggles for beginning readers.

The Great Bunk Bed Battle (Fox Tails) by Tina Kügler and A Magic Spark (Fairylight Friends) by Jessica Young, illustrated by Marie Vanderbemden

Published by Scholastic The Great Bunk Bed Battle: An Acorn Book (Fox Tails #1) (1)  (9781338561685): Kügler, Tina: Books
A MAGIC SPARK | Kirkus Reviews

Summary:  Two new series have been added to Scholastic’s Acorn imprint for beginning readers.  In The Great Bunk Bed Battle, Fritz and Franny are supposed to be going to sleep, but debate the merits of the top bunk vs. the bottom bunk.  After trying to convince their dog Fred to join one or the other, they wind up with a surprising solution for all three.  A Magic Spark features three fairy friends, Ruby, Iris, and Pip, who go to school together and work to figure out what each one’s special magic is.  Each book ends with a page showing how to draw a character and offering a discussion question.  48 pages and 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Once again, the Acorn imprint has come up with new series that are fun, imaginative, and just right for early readers.  The foxes are funny, the fairies will appeal to the fairy/princess fans, and everyone will enjoy the cartoon-style format.

A fun aside about author Jessica Young: We have her Haggis and Tank series in our library, and one of our second grade students told us the book was inappropriate. Turns out she was referring to the spine label: we use F for fiction, followed by the first three letters of the author’s last name.

Cons:  I like how Scholastic’s Branches books have two different levels, and it seems like that’s needed here.  Fox Tails has 48 pages and three sections (kind of like chapters, but not exactly), while A Magic Spark has 64 pages, five real chapters, and quite a bit more text on each page. 

If you would like to buy The Great Bunk Bed Battle on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy A Magic Spark on Amazon, click here.

Sun Flower Lion by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

Sun Flower Lion - Kindle edition by Henkes, Kevin, Henkes, Kevin. Children  Kindle eBooks @
The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children's Books of 2020 - 100 Scope  Notes

Summary:  Divided into six chapters, each one only a page or two, this book introduces the sun, which is as bright as a flower; a flower which looks a little like a lion; and finally, the lion.  The lion falls asleep and dreams that the flowers are cookies.  When he wakes up, he is hungry and runs home to his family.  The final page shows him resting, happy and well-fed, with his parents and siblings.  40 pages; ages 2-5.

Pros:  There’s a lot to look at in this simple story, and kids will have fun comparing the shapes of the sun, flowers, and lion (and maybe trying to draw them themselves).  The simple text and yellow, gray, and black palette make this a perfect choice as a first picture book or a first reader.

Cons:  The plot’s a little thin…

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

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

Published by Candlewick (Released September 8) See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog (9781536204278 ...

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

Summary:  “See the cat,” says an omniscient narrator (later identified as Book).  But all the reader sees is a dog, and he’s not happy.  He is NOT a cat.  He is NOT a blue cat.  He is NOT a blue cat in a green dress.  And his name is Max, not Baby Cakes!  But a surprise ending turns him into a red dog.  There are two more stories featuring a snake and a hippopotamus, in which Max ultimately takes matters into his own hands to make the stories go the way he wants them to.  And ultimately the way he wants the stories is to go is to let him take a nap.  64 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  I have a great deal of admiration for easy reader authors, particularly at this very beginner level.  David LaRochelle has created not one, but three stories that even the earliest readers will be able to read on their own.  The cartoon-style illustrations are fun, as well, and will help kids figure out the story.  

Cons:  A couple longer words, like “unicorn” and “embarrassed” may be a challenge for the intended audience.

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

Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ... Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ...

Summary:  Baloney’s introduction to his book is interrupted by his friends: Peanut, a blue pony; Bizz, a cheerful bee; and Krabbit, a grouchy pink rabbit.  Once introductions are (finally) out of the way, the friends move on to three more stories: Baloney’s somewhat lame magic show, how his friends help him overcome his fear of swimming, and attempts by Peanut to cheer up Baloney when he’s feeling blue.  In between the longer stories are two-page mini-comics.  The last few pages show kids how to draw the four characters so they can create their own comics.  96 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  The straight-guy narrator with the goofy friend(s) has proven a winning combination before (Narwhal & Jelly, Peter & Ernesto, etc.), and undoubtedly will again with this crew.  I found myself laughing out loud a few times, particularly at Krabbit, and I’m sure kids raised on Elephant and Piggie will find this new series (I think it will be a series) delightful.

Cons:  It kind of bugged me how Baloney’s nose seemed off-kilter, like it was being shown in profile, but his eyes and mouth weren’t. 

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


Frog Meets Dog (Frog and Dog book 1) by Janee Trasler

Published by Scholastic (Released May 5)

Frog Meets Dog: An Acorn Book by Janee Trasler

Summary:  Dog wants to be friends with three frogs, but he can’t hop or leap like they can.  When a poorly-aimed leap results in a collision between Dog’s head and a bee’s nest, the frogs send him on his way.  But when a bear appears, Dog does a repeat with the bees and saves the day.  The frogs learn to appreciate Dog for who he is, and the four become friends.  48 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  This is another entry into the Scholastic Acorn imprint for emergent readers.  This series is quite a bit simpler than others I’ve seen, probably a Fountas and Pinnell level C or D versus the G/H levels of other series.  The silly (in a good way) cartoon-style illustrations tell a lot of the story, which will appeal to readers at this level.

Cons:  This book seems to be only available in paperback or the $20+ library bound format, which is ridiculous for a simple book like this.  Follett has a version for $10.91, but that’s more geared to the library market.

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

What About Worms? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading) by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Hyperion Books for Children (Released May 19)

What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!) (Elephant ...

Summary:  Tiger is big, brave, and not afraid of anything…except worms.  He loves flowers, except that there may be worms hiding in the dirt!  He loves apples, except that worms sometimes live in them!  He loves reading books, but what if the book turns out to be about worms?! Tiger’s fear gets the better of him, and he throws the flowerpot, apple, and book on the ground.  Just then, who should come along but a bunch of worms?  After enjoying the dirt and the apple, they see the book, and discover that it’s about tigers!  The worms are scared of tigers, but as they start reading, they learn that tigers and big and brave.  They decide that they love worms, and want to give this tiger a big hug…if they can get him to stop screaming and running away long enough.  64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another fun entry in the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series.  Kids are sure to get a big laugh out of the tiger and worms, and there’s also a subtle message about reading and learning helping you to overcome your fears.  

Cons:  Is it just me, or does the tiger bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the stuffed Hobbes (not the “real” one) from Calvin and Hobbes?

What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!) (Elephant ...  to make a hobbes tiger stuffed toy for my daughter in 2020 | Best ...

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.


Five Favorite Early Readers/Chapter Books

Writing a good book for newly independent readers seems deceptively difficult, and I always appreciate finding a good one.

Acorn Books by various authors

Published by Scholastic

Image result for acorn books scholastic

Image result for acorn books scholastic

Image result for acorn books scholastic

Scholastic’s been dominating the early chapter book market for the last few years with their Branches imprint.  This year they rolled out several new series under the Acorn label, targeting slightly younger readers.  Lots of humor and cartoon-style illustrations with speech bubbles are sure to be a hit.


Smell My Foot! (Chick and Brain book 1) by Cece Bell

Published by Candlewick

Image result for smell my foot cece bell amazon

What the heck?  Only Cece Bell would think to pair a chick and a brain, but somehow it works, with plenty of goofy humor in the writing and illustrations.


What Is Inside THIS Box? (Monkey and Cake book 1) by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Tallec

Published by Orchard Books

Image result for what is inside this box daywalt amazon

Drew Daywalt simultaneously entertains and raises philosophical questions in this new Elephant-and-Piggie-inspired series.


Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

Image result for juana and lucas big problemas amazon

I enjoyed book two of Juana and Lucas every bit as much as book one.  For some reason, I’ve had trouble getting kids to read these books, but I will keep trying in 2020.


Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Published by Candlewick

Image result for frank and bean jamie amazon

Candlewick gets the prize for oddball friendships this year, including this pairing of introverted hot dog Frank and his new jokester pal Bean.

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

Image result for penny and her sled

Summary:  A new sled has Penny eagerly anticipating the first snowfall, but day after day the ground remains bare.  Her parents both assure that it will snow eventually, and Penny tries some snow-making tricks like wearing mittens to bed and sitting on the sled in the living room.  Nothing works. Trying to make the best of her situation, she uses the sled to make a house for her younger siblings and a bed for her doll Rose. As the days grow longer, it seems as though the winter will be snow-less, and her mother encourages Penny to look for a different type of snow–the snowdrops in the garden.  One exciting day, the flowers are blooming, and Penny runs into the house to tell her mother. They go out to look together–with Penny wearing her scarf and mittens and pulling Rose behind her on the sled. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s been six years since the last Penny book, but well worth the wait.  Kevin Henkes does his usual masterful combination of storytelling and illustration, perfectly capturing a child’s point of view and painlessly inserting a few lessons about resilience.  Pretty impressive that he has managed to produce one of my favorite easy readers and one of my favorite chapter books in the same year.

Cons:  I really thought it would snow eventually.

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

Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Published by Candlewick

Image result for frank and bean jamie michalak

Image result for frank and bean jamie michalak

Summary:  Frank is enjoying a solitary camping trip, working on his writing, when Bean pulls up in his RV and starts tooting his trumpet, banging his drum, and singing.  Frank is annoyed, but Bean is so unrelentingly upbeat that the hot dog starts to unwind a bit. He enjoys one of Bean’s jelly-filled donut holes, and even secretly writes a poem about it.  When Bean discovers this, he makes up a tune to go with it, and the two new friends decide to form a band: The Chili Dogs. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A friendship story in the spirit of Frog and Toad, with Frank playing the straight man to Bean’s jokester.  Although the text is perfect for new readers, the chapters will make them feel like they’re reading a “real” book.

Cons:  Although this is billed as book 1, I don’t see a sequel available yet.

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