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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 ...

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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.

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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.

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I Am a Super Girl! (Princess Truly, book 1) by Kelly Greenawalt, illustrated by Amariah Rauscher

Published by Scholastic

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Summary:  In this new entry in Scholastic’s Acorn books for early readers, Princess Truly uses her super powers to fix a ruined birthday cake and to rescue a dog and cat who have gotten tangled up in the birthday balloons and floated away.  Her cape, rocket boots, and magic curls allow her to fly and create things with her magic. She always uses her superpowers for good and encourages her friends to find their own powers. Readers who want more can look for Princess Truly’s two picture books and look forward to books 2 and 3 in this series, available in December and March.  48 pages; ages 4-6.

Pros:  Rhyming text and fun adventures make this a good choice for beginning readers.  As always, Scholastic seems to have a good sense of what kids love to read.

Cons:  I wish the majority of the Acorn and Branches books were not quite so gender stereotyped.  The sparkles, rainbows, and purple tulle throughout this book were just a little too sugary sweet.

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Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories (Mister Shivers book 1) by Max Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

Published by Scholastic

Image result for mister shivers brallier amazon

Image result for mister shivers rubegni

Summary:  Mister Shivers begins his book with a letter to the reader, relating how he found a box on his doorstep that contained a tree branch, a doll’s eye, a piece of an old quilt, and a toy’s rusty head.  Beside the box was a dead mouse. He is sharing the five stories that were in that box. A brother and sister go into a house and find a creepy doll…that talks. A girl is annoyed with a long hair in the back of her throat…until the doctor grabs it and pulls out a dead mouse.  A boy’s mother buys a creep statue that always has to be wrapped in a quilt. When Oliver forgets to bring his toys inside, the unhappy toys seek revenge. Finally, a girl is told that the nighttime scraping sounds he hears is caused by a branch, but she wakes up to find her window scratched on the inside.  Includes instructions for drawing Buddy [the creepy] Bear. 64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Most scary story collections for this age group are silly, but some of these tales are genuinely creepy.  I confess that those vengeful toys freaked me out a bit, and the endings of that and the scratched window one were certainly unsettling.  The dark, somewhat gothic illustrations channel Edward Gorey, adding to the spooky fun. I can almost guarantee this series will be a huge hit with newly independent readers.  Book 2 is due out July 2020.

Cons:  While many will love this book, some kids may be truly scared by these stories.  Proceed with caution!

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

Published by Candlewick

Image result for smell my foot chick brain

Image result for smell my foot chick brain

Summary:  Chick is a polite chick who meets the more literal-minded Brain.  In a series of humorous episodes, Chick tries to teach Brain manners, pretty much to no avail. What Brain really wants is for everyone to smell his foot.  Turns out, it smells pretty great…at least one of them does. Even Spot the dog agrees. What Spot really wants, though, is to lure Chick to his house so he can have a nice chicken dinner.  Fortunately, Brain is there to save the day…and it turns out his other foot doesn’t smell quite as good. 72 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Non-stop goofiness, a graphic novel format, and a character in heart-covered boxer shorts with a big brain sitting atop his head: I predict this new series will be flying off the shelves.

Cons:  I still haven’t gotten invited to dinner with husband-and-wife-children’s-book-superstars Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell.

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