Series are perennial favorites for readers of all ages. This column includes reviews of series books in a variety of genres and formats for young readers. There are first books in new series, much anticipated sequels, the latest books in some episodic series that can be read in any order, and the final books in a wordless trilogy and a long-running popular series.
Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf (Chicken Little #2). Sam Wedelich. (2021). Scholastic.
On the title page of Sam Wedelich’s clever picture book tale in cartoon format, Chicken Little, a cute, white-feathered chick with oversize, red eyeglasses and snazzy red cowgirl boots, empathically asserts, “I am so NOT scared of any wolf!” Just as she admits on the following double spread that she’s never even seen a wolf, she collides with a big, furry, gray creature. When the word about Chicken Little’s encounter with a big bad wolf gets back to the barnyard, the frightened fowl have a fight or flight debate over what to do. When they decide they must fly the coop (even though everyone knows chickens aren’t very good at flying), Chicken Little opts for a Sherlockian investigation and confronts the wolf. Learning that the wolf has been ostracized from his pack because he’s a vegetarian and is looking for a place to belong, Chicken Little convinces the other chickens that he is actually super nice. They decide to let the wolf join them and, at a pot-cluck dinner, they all agree with Chicken Little that fur and feathers are better together. Readers will also have fun reading Wedelich’s first picture book, Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale (2020). (PreK-Gr 2)
Curious About Insects (Discovering Nature #3). Cathryn Sill. Illus. by John Sill. (2021). Peachtree.
This third entry in the Sills’ board book Discovering Nature series offers preschoolers an introduction to basic facts about insects. Each page features a stunning realistic watercolor illustration showing a species of insect (identified by common name) and a simple statement about insects: characteristics, where they live, what they eat, and how they move. For example, an illustration of two common whitetail dragonflies hovering over cattails is paired with the sentence “Some insects fly.” The format of one short sentence along the bottom of the page focuses attention on the illustration. The final statement of the small book, “It is important to protect insects . . . and the places where they live,” encourages further discussion about insects. Young children curious about the natural world will also enjoy the earlier books in the series: Curious About Birds (2020) and Curious About Mammals (2020). Curious About Fish, the fourth book in the series, will be available in August. (Preschool)
The Farmer and the Circus (The Farmer Books #3). Marla Frazee. (2021). Beach Lane.
In this final book of Marla Frazee’s Farmer Books Trilogy, the little clown and the monkey who enlivened the solitary life of the farmer in The Farmer and the Clown (2014) and The Farmer and the Monkey (2020) are both back at the circus. Wordless, beautifully-crafted double spreads clearly show that they both miss the farmer and the farm. The little clown refuses to wear a clown costume, opting for overalls and the farmer’s big black hat. Together, the clown and the monkey mix playing farmer with circus activities. When the circus tent goes up on the prairie, they get a big surprise: The farmer, wearing the clown’s red hat, arrives for the first performance. After the little clown introduces the farmer to his mother, romance blossoms between the two. With a joyous send-off from the circus, the little clown, his mother, the monkey, and the farmer become a happy family on the farm. There’s a lot to discover in Frazee’s detailed black pencil-and-gouache illustrations. To fully appreciate how the books in the trilogy are linked, you’ll want to read them again and again. A boxed set of the Farmer Books is being released this week. (PreK-Gr 2)
Go Wild! Sea Turtles (Go Wild! #1). Jill Esbaum. (2021). National Geographic Kids.
Jill Esbaum opens this first book in National Geographic Kids new Go Wild! Series with “Graceful glider. / Seagrass nibbler. / Mollusk muncher. / That’s a sea turtle!” The engaging, accessible text, accompanied by full-color photographs of turtles identified by common names and labeled diagrams, introduces young readers to basic facts about sea turtles: habitat and global distribution, the seven types of sea turtles in the world’s oceans, characteristics, and life cycle as well as their endangered status and how people around the world are working to save them. There’s also a “How You Can Help” section, tips for parents, and a glossary. The second book in the series, Go Wild! Pandas, will be published in June. (PreK-Gr 2)
I Want My Mummy! (Ms. Frogbottom’s Field Trip #1). Nancy Krulik. Illus. by Harry Briggs. (2021). Aladdin.
Tony, the narrator of this first book in Nancy Krulik’s new chapter book series, welcomes readers to class 4A with an added “Beware of the map.” Students in Ms. Frogbottom’s class must be prepared at all times to have her dip into her copious backpack and pull out a giant Magic Map. When she points to a location, the class is whisked away to that faraway place where they’re sure to meet frightening creatures and get into all kinds of trouble. In I Want My Mummy! a spontaneous field trip to Egypt finds the class riding across the desert on camels and learning about the Nile, pharaohs, pyramids, and ancient burial rites. Things get scary when Tony and his friends are trapped in a tomb. They must get an angry mummy to return to his sarcophagus and solve an ancient riddle to unseal the tomb before reuniting with Ms. Frogbottom and safely returning to their classroom. Sidebars of “Frogbottom Facts” and a glossary add to what readers learn about ancient Egypt. They can immediately join class 4A on a field trip to Scotland in the simultaneously published Long Time, No Sea Monster and anticipate more misadventures later this year on trips to Romania in Fangs for Having Us! (out in July) and Iceland in Get Hold of Your Elf! (out in September).
Ivy and Bean Get to Work! (Ivy and Bean #12). Annie Barrows. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. (2021). Chronicle.
In the final installment of Annie Barrow’s popular early chapter book series about best friends second-graders Ivy and Bean (first introduced in Ivy and Bean in 2006), Emerson Elementary School is hosting a Career Fair, which the Principal explains is an opportunity for them to meet people with many different kinds of jobs. With “When I Grow Up, I Want to Be . . .” papers in hand, Ivy, Bean, and most of their classmates soon discover that Herman the Treasure Hunter has the only job they are interested in. They also decide not to wait until they are grownups to pursue treasure hunting. Without a metal detector like the one Herman uses, Ivy and Bean must rely on their “special senses” and shovels. While their classmates are having success, all Ivy and Bean have are lots of holes in their backyards. But in true Ivy and Bean fashion, when everyone displays their findings on Treasure Show Day, the best friends come up with a clever solution and can walk back to their classroom declaring “We’re rich, rich, rich!” (PreK-Gr 2)
King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring (King & Kayla #7). Dori Hillestad Butler. Illus. by Nancy Meyers. (2021). Peachtree.
Playing in the snow with their friends Mason and Asia leads King, a big, lovable dog, and his human, Kayla, to their seventh case. When they come inside to warm up with hot chocolate and marshmallows while Kayla’s mom puts wet coats, hats, and mittens in the dryer, Asia discovers that her gold ring is missing. As Kayla makes lists of everything they know and don’t know about their new case, King reasons that crows like to steal shiny things. His attempt to sniff out the location of the nest of his suspect, a crow that watched them while they played, leads to banishment in the laundry room and his discovery of the missing ring. Case solved. The King and Kayla books, told from exuberant King’s point of view in five lively and humorous chapters with expressive cartoon artwork on every page, are a great choice for readers transitioning from easy-to-read books to chapter books. (PreK-Gr 2)
Sad, Sad Bear (Bear’s Feelings #3). Kimberly Gee. (2021). Beach Lane.
Mommy is going to work. Bear is going to Cub Care. And this makes Bear “very . . . very . . . SAD. WAAAH!” But under the care of a supportive teacher, Bear makes friends, enjoys classroom activities, takes a hike, has a picnic lunch, sings the clean-up song, and naps during quiet time. When Mommy comes to pick him up, Bear is eager to tell her all about his day, says goodbye to his new friends, and looks forward to coming back again. This engaging picture book with its brief text and expressive illustrations, rendered in black Prismacolor and colored digitally, is perfect for reading to young children going to day care or preschool for the first time. Consider sharing Kimberly Gee’s earlier books about feelings, Mad, Mad Bear! (2018) and Glad, Glad Bear! (2020), too. (Toddler)
Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs. Leslie Bulion. Illus. by Robert Meganck. (2021). Peachtree.
In her latest science-poetry book, Leslie Bulion presents a “clutter of short verse” about spiders. An introductory poem, “Araneae All Around,” and a section on the differences between spiders and other members of the Class Arachnids are followed by topical double-page spreads with one to three poems and Robert Meganck’s realistic digitally-rendered illustrations of species exhibiting the special characteristics and behaviors introduced in several expository paragraphs. “Spectacular Silk” features three short, witty poems about the golden silk orbweaver, the spitting spider, and the desert blond tarantula that each weave prey-trapping webs. The golden silk orbweaver, for example, is described by the haiku “sun-shimmer silk / calls six-legged web guests— / dinner!’ Back matter includes a glossary, notes on poetic forms used by Bulion, identification of the spiders pictured in the illustrations by their common and scientific names, a guide to spider hunting, resources for further study, and a chart showing the relative size of the various spiders against a No. 2 pencil. Readers will also enjoy exploring Bulion and Meganck’s other science-poetry books: Leaf Litter Critters (2018), Superlative Birds (2019), and Amphibian Acrobats (2020). (Gr 3 Up)
Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World (Sydney & Taylor #1). Jacqueline Davies. Illus. by Deborah Hocking. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Young readers are introduced to two unlikely friends in Jacqueline Davies’ first book in a new chapter book series, complemented by Deborah Hocking’s colorful, richly-detailed illustrations done in gouache and colored pencil. Sydney, a skunk, is content to read and nap in the cozy burrow he shares with Taylor, a hedgehog, who sometimes has Big Ideas. When Taylor declares his desire to see the Whole Wide World, Sydney reluctantly agrees to an expedition to Places Unknown to make his friend happy. With Taylor plotting their route on his map of the Whole Wild World, they leave the burrow “feeling wild and fearless and free.” Leadership on their grand expedition shifts, however, as a series of misadventures, such as frightened Taylor rolling up into a spiky ball and Skunk dealing with a fierce dog by squirting it with his stinky musk, occur before they return safely to their burrow. Readers can look forward to more adventures with Sydney and Taylor in Sydney and Taylor Take a Flying Leap (out in August 2021) and Sydney & Taylor and the Great Friend Expedition (out in February 2022). (PreK-Gr 2)
Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
What began as a yearly celebration of National D.E.A.R. Day on April 12 (the birthday of popular children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who died on March 25, 2021) has become an annual month-long celebration in April. Here is a selection of recently published books to add to family, classroom, and library collections to encourage independent reading. Join in the 2021 D.E.A.R. celebration by reading for a period of time each day during April or, better yet, keep the celebration going throughout the year. To introduce D.E.A.R., consider reading aloud the chapter about Ramona Quimby’s favorite part of the school day, what her third-grade teacher calls Drop Everything and Read, in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Plan to have other of Cleary’s many books available for independent reading too.
Alone! Barry Falls. (2020). Pavilion.
In this hilarious cumulative tale, trouble begins when a squeaky mouse moves into Billy’s home and he brings a cat home to get rid of it. The plan backfires with the cat and mouse playing with each other, so Billy adds a rambunctious dog, a sleeping bear, an ailing tiger, a sheep to be shorn, a hairdresser with a fussy baby, and a red balloon to soothe the baby. Nothing works. He laments in between events, “This is my hill / I live here alone! / Always have, always will.” After Billy escapes the chaos to a neighboring mountain top where a thunderstorm strikes, he realizes it’s good to have friends. Returning home, peace is restored—except on Tuesdays when the mouse, cat, dog, bear, tiger, sheep, hairdresser, and baby come around to visit him. Vibrant, action-filled illustrations that complement the rhyming narrative make this a perfect book for independent reading as well as for reading aloud. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Beak Book. Robin Page. (2021). Beach Lane.
“Bird beaks come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes,” and Robin Page’s well-designed informational picture book introduces young readers to the many ways this common feature of birds is adapted. Double- and single-page spreads feature realistic head shots of twenty-one different birds in profile (rendered in Adobe Photoshop) paired with “This beak is for . . .” sentences against expansive white backgrounds. For example, a brown kiwi with its long beak and the declarative sentence “This beak is for sniffing.” A brief statement in smaller print adds that the kiwi’s nostrils are located at the end of its long beak, enabling the bird to sniff out worms and insects, and a small inset shows the bird using its beak and identifies it as a North Island brown kiwi. Back matter includes a double-spread chart with information about each of the featured birds and a bibliography. (PreK Up)
The Capybaras. Alfredo Soderguit. Trans. by Elisa Amado. (2021). Aldana Libros/Greystone Kids.
The hens lead a contented life in a pen with plenty of food and a comfy coop at the edge of a wetland until five hairy, wet, big strangers, capybaras, come seeking refuge during hunting season. To stay, the capybaras must accept some strict rules. Nearly wordless panels show the smallest capybara breaking the all-important “Don’t come out of the water” rule by befriending a chick and taking her for a swim on its back. The mother hen is outraged, but everything changes when the chastised chick sneaks through a hole in the fence and is chased by the farmer’s ferocious dog. And when hunting season ends, the capybaras prepare to go home, the hunters depart empty handed—and the chicken coop is empty. Young children will be delighted by the final double spread of this beautifully designed picture book with black-and-white drawings with touches of red and a gentle message about accepting others and community building. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Coldfire Curse (Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly #1). Jordan Quinn. Illus. by Ornella Greco. (2021). Little Simon Graphic Novel.
In this new graphic novel series opener, the coldfire curse, which began on the Island of Crestwood in the Kingdom of Wrenly, is leaving the dragons freezing and ill. Young dragon Cinder is sent to the northern border of Wrenly to find help. Upon arriving, she begs Rushkin, the pet scarlet dragon of the prince, “You’re the only one who can save us!” Pampered Rushkin doesn’t know that legend says he is either destined for greatness or ruin, but he decides it’s up to him to save Crestwood and the rest of the kingdom as the curse spreads, in spite of time running out and someone wanting him out of the way. Vivid, action-filled panels with short narratives and dynamic dialogue draw readers through this dangerous adventure. Shadow Hills (second book in the series) was published simultaneously. (Gr 3-5)
From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. Vivian Kirkfield. Illus. by Gilbert Ford. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The engaging narrative and full-color cartoonlike illustrations of this collective biography tell the stories behind inventions that changed the way human get from here to there by land, water, and sky. Among the innovators introduced are brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, who developed the hot-air balloon that made the first manned balloon flight in France in 1783; German Karl Benz, who patented the first gasoline-powered horseless carriage, the three-wheeled Benz Patent-Motorwagen, in 1886; and American Robert Goddard, who invented the liquid-fuel-propelled rocket in 1926. Sidebars provide additional information on the inventors and the significance of their inventions. Back matter includes a “Build Your Own Dream” section, source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. The endpapers feature a selected timeline of “inventions that changed the way the world moves.” (Gr 3 Up)
Ghosted. Michael Fry. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Twelve-year-old Larry, a shy loner, is devastated when his best friend, Grimm, dies while rescuing a cat in a tree during a lightning storm. However, it’s not long before he realizes that Grimm is still with him as a ghost that only he can see and hear. Larry decides that they need to complete their Totally To-Do List with unfinished tasks such as “sit in a bath of spaghetti” and “kiss a girl” before Grimm will be free to leave. As Larry works his way through the remaining tasks, coached by Grimm, he realizes that his friend had been a bully to Boogie, the biggest kid in class. Maybe this is where reparation needs to be made. Black line illustrations and quirky descriptions such as “feeding a stupid tiny hellhound” and “Terrible Taco and Tot Fight of 2021” add humor to Larry’s learning to say a final goodbye in this engaging middle-school novel. (Gr 6-8)
Hard-boiled Bugs for Breakfast and Other Tasty Poems. Jack Prelutsky. Illus. by Ruth Chan. (2021). Greenwillow.
Popular and prolific Jack Prelutsky’s latest child-pleasing anthology includes one hundred four delightfully humorous poems complemented by Ruth Chan’s black and white cartoon artwork. There are verses about icky food choices such as crunchy hard-boiled bugs and a stew of discontented vegetables, creatures both real and imaginative such has a poor revolving dormouse and a kangarooster, and quirky humans doing odd things such as kids bowling with Ping-Pong balls and a spaghetti lover spending a lifetime mining for spaghetti in the macaroni hills (and finding only gold). Included are some shape poems and a series of clever animal haikus. My favorite: “I know I’m slow, / But, sandwiched between two shells, / It’s hard to hurry.” Prelutsky is a master of clever rhymes and inventive wordplay. The rhythmic meter of his poems invites reading aloud. (PreK Up)
Never Show a T. rex a Book. Rashmi Sirdeshpande. Illus. by Diane Ewen. (2021). Kane Miller.
As a young girl (shown selecting the book Dinosaurs: Stuff You Never Knew You Never Knew from a bookshelf on the title page) settles down for some bedtime reading, she imagines the problems and possibilities that might arise from showing a T. rex the book. Reasoning that the dinosaur wouldn’t know what to do with it, she decides you’d have to teach the T. rex to read. This would lead to borrowing lots of books from the library and staying up at night to read, and read, and read. The dinosaur might become very clever and that would lead to more unexpected consequences, all imaginatively revealed in the colorful, giggle-inducing illustrations. “Amazing!! Can you IMAGINE?!” And when young children see her next choice from the bookshelf on the final page, they can ponder what the imaginative girl will make of it. (PreK-Gr 2)
Road Trip!: A Whiskers Hollow Adventure. Steve Light. (2021). Candlewick.
This romping road trip in Whiskers Hollow begins after Bear has a little accident with an acorn in his red 1940s Chevy pickup and needs a new headlight. “Rabbit, let’s go—road trip!” Along the way, Bear invites Mouse, a natural worrier, and Donkey, who leads them across a rickety bridge and through a bramble tunnel to Elephant’s Old Junk Tree, a junkyard filled with “tires, tricycles, a guitar with broken strings, a motorcycle, and lots of wrenches.” The hilarity continues when the friends serendipitously locate the headlight, and it’s time for the return trip. Steve Light’s colorful illustrations in pen, ink, and gouache will have young readers chuckling as they connect with this lively story dedicated “to friends everywhere.” (PreK-Gr 2)
The Thingity-Jig. Kathleen Doherty. Illus. by Kristyna Litten. (2021). Peachtree.
Bear discovers a heavy Thingity-Jig (“… a springy thing. / A bouncy thing. / A sit-on-it, hop-on-it, jump-on-it thing”) in the alley one night. When he asks his friends for help, they won’t get up, so he builds a Rolly-Rumpity to wheel it home, a Lifty-Uppity to put it on the Rolly-Rumpity, and a Pushy-Poppity to free the Rolly-Rumpity when it gets stuck in the mud. Once Bear gets home, he wakes his friends by plopping down the Thingity-Jig loudly beside them. They jump, bounce, hop, leap, and climb all over it before Bear flops down onto the couch, too tired to play and ready to “snorty-snore.” Penciled, ink textured, and digitized illustrations accompany the humorous storyline with its clever wordplay that will catch the imagination of young readers. (PreK-Gr 2)
Wild River. Rodman Philbrick (2021) Scholastic.
Twelve-year-old introvert Daniel Redmayne and classmates Mia, Imani, Deke, and Tony, chosen for Project Future Leaders from Byron James Regional Middle School, spend their first day white-water rafting down Crazy River in Montana under the supervision of rafting guides Sky Hansen and Cindi Beacon. That evening, nestled in their tents, they are awakened by the thundering roar of water rushing from a broken dam and destroying everything in its path. The campers escape, but their counselors don’t. They have dwindling supplies, few survival skills, no cell phone reception, and no search team looking for them. Over the next week, the odds escalate against them as Deke, a perpetual bully, and his protégé, Tony, sabotage their moves at every chance, resulting in another tragedy. Daniel and the remaining participants realize that they must work together if they are to survive. (Gr 6-8)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).