Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
Books in beginning-to-read and early chapter book formats support literacy development and leave readers looking forward to reading other books about the interesting characters they meet in them. In this column we review recently published first books in new series, much anticipated sequels, and the latest books in some popular long-running series for emergent to newly independent readers.
Anna Hibiscus (Anna Hibiscus Chapter Books #1). Atinuke. Illus. by Lauren Tobia. (2022). Candlewick.
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. In a country called Nigeria.” She lives in an old white house with her mother and father, her twin baby brothers (Double and Trouble), and her large intergenerational family. In this early chapter book first published in the UK in 2007, Nigerian-born master storyteller Atinuke introduces readers to charming young Anna Hibiscus in four short episodic chapters: “Anna Hibiscus on Holiday,” “Auntie Comfort,” “Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges,” and “Sweet Snow.” Lauren Tobia’s gray-scale drawings showcase the contemporary West African urban setting, add to the humor of Anna’s mini adventures, and enrich reader comprehension. Candlewick will release two more titles, Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! and Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus!, in January 2023. (PreK Up)
Ballet Bruce. Ryan T. Higgins. (2022). Disney Hyperion.
In this sequel to Ryan T. Higgin’s World of Reading Level 1 Bruce’s Big Fun Day (2019), the four geese who imprinted on Bruce in Mother Bruce (2015), the first of the popular picture books about the grumpy bear, want to do ballet after seeing a Swan Lake poster. They use sad goose eyes to cajole Bruce to ride his motorcycle to town through a congested construction zone to buy ballet shoes. The geese now want dancing pants. He makes a second trip to town and returns with them. but the geese still request one more thing. After a third trip, Bruce comes home with tutus, VERY tired, only to have the geese announce they no longer want to dance. They want Bruce to take them on a ride! (PreK-Gr 2)
Charlie & Mouse Are Magic (Charlie & Mouse #6). Laurel Snyder. Illus. by Emily Hughes. (2022). Chronicle.
In this latest book in the Charlie & Mouse series, the siblings first introduced in the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-winning Charlie & Mouse (2017) are involved in more fun-filled activities, which begin with Mouse mixing up a magic potion and making a mess in the kitchen while Mom is trying to make dinner. Mouse believes the potion works when he gets the cookie he wished for after putting a drop of the potion on his nose (Mom gave him a cookie and told him to scram). The four related short stories (“Magic,” “Invisible,” “Animals,” and “More Magic”) will engage the interest of beginning readers. Plan to have the earlier books in the series available for them to enjoy as they improve their reading skills. (PreK-Gr 2)
Click, Clack Rainy Day (Click Clack Ready-to-Read #8). Doreen Cronin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. (2022). Simon Spotlight.
The cows enjoy standing out in the rain. Farmer Brown, the mice, and the chickens, who do not like to be wet, stay inside. As puddles accumulate around the house and barn, Farmer Brown, worried about the cows, takes them umbrellas. The chickens take them rain boots, and the mice bring them sweaters. Back inside to stay dry, they watch as a strong wind blows away the cows’ rain gear. Soon the cows also blow over the farm before landing on their feet once more. Farmer Brown and all the farm animals join the cows, happily getting wet and muddy in the barnyard. Newly independent readers will enjoy reading other of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s Click, Clack stories that have been published as Ready-to-Read Level 2 books. (PreK-Gr 2)
Food Truck Fiasco (Frank and Bean #2). Jamie Michalak. Illus. by Bob Kolar. (2022). Candlewick.
Bean (an exuberant bean) invites Frank (a calm hot dog) to the Food Truck Friday contest to sell his Big Bean Candy Mountain donuts, but Frank shows up with his own surprise plan. He’s going to sell oatmeal. No one is interested in either Bean’s donuts with candy toppings or Frank’s plain oatmeal (they all want Mad Dog’s cupcakes) until a serendipitous collision creates a Friendship Bowl of oatmeal with zippy, zingy, sweet toppings. Everyone loves this unique food truck item, which is as unlikely and satisfying as the friendship between Frank and Bean with their very different personalities. Clever wordplay and colorful, digital artwork make this beginning chapter book a treat. (PreK-Gr 2)
Herbert on the Slide (Hippo Park Pals #1). Rilla Alexander. (2022). Hippo Park.
For Herbert, a purple hippo with a big smile, the best thing about going to the Hippo Park playground is the slide. “Herbert loved everything about the slide.” He loved the climb up the ladder, the sitting down and getting comfy, the test runs of his teddy bear and truck, the 3-2-1 countdown, the fluttery feeling, and then the slide down. ”Weeeee!” Herbert uses his imagination to make each climb up and slide down an adventure before lining up to start all over again. Fiona, Herbert’s sister who also loves the playground, is the star of Fiona in the Sandbox, the second book in a quartet of mini Hippo Park Pals books (out in February 2023). (Pre-K)
The Infamous Ratsos Live! In Concert! (The Infamous Ratsos #6). Kara LaReau. Illus. by Matt Myers. (2022). Candlewick.
Louie and Ralphie Ratso enlist musical friends Tiny, Millicent, and Velma to perform in a concert fund-raiser for a Big City Park restoration project in memory of their mother that began when she was on the Neighborhood Parks Committee. The Ratso brothers have gotten permission to use songs of their favorite pop group, Critter Kidz, but they need to persuade Chad Badgerton (even though he makes fun of the sparkly, girly costumes) to fill in when lead singer Tiny comes down with laryngitis. The song-and-dance performance is a success and ends with a surprise twist. Matt Myers’ humorous black-and-white cartoon illustrations add to the appeal of this chapter book series for newly independent readers. (PreK Up)
It’s a Sign! (Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie Like Reading!). Jarrett Humphrey. Illus. by Jerome Humphrey & Mo Willems. (2022). Hyperion.
This early reader story is told entirely in color-coded dialogue balloons that match up with foxlike cartoon characters (red One, orange Two, yellow Kat, and purple Four), who each contributes something based on what they can do with paper and markers to create a sign for their new club. The result is the perfect club name: “THE PAPER-FOLDING-LETTER-WRITING-WORD-FORMING-SIGN-MAKING CLUB!” It’s a Sign! begins with Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie seeing a sign advertising this “fun new book to read” and ends with the Pigeon joining them in starting their own club, a “FAVORITE THINGS CLUB!” (PreK-Gr 2)
Judy Moody and the Missing Mood Ring (Judy Moody and Friends #13). Megan McDonald. Illus. by Erwin Madrid. (2022). Candlewick.
Third-grader Judy Moody runs (literally!) into Mighty Fantaskey at the library, and they discover their common love of Nancy Drew, girl detective. When Judy visits Mighty in her haunted, old mansion, her favorite mood ring turns gray (for “I’m a Scaredy-Cat”), and something big and hairy jumps out at her in the attic. She escapes in a hurry only to realize after she’s home that her ring is missing. While searching for it in the attic, Judy and Mighty solve a real-life, ninety-year-old Nancy Drew-like mystery. Colorful, cartoon-like digital illustrations, diverse characters, a three-chapter format, and an enticing plot keep transitional readers reading to the end of this latest book in this popular series. (PreK-Gr 2)
McTavish on the Move (McTavish #4). Meg Rosoff. Illus. by Grace Easton. (2022). Candlewick.
When Pa Preachy comes home from work singing a jolly tune and being smiley rather than grouchy, Ma Preachy and the kids (Ollie, Ava, and Betty) worry he’s ill until he announces that he has a new job, one that will involve a move. Everyone in the family likes the new house and neighborhood except Betty, who will have to go to a new school. Not to worry, McTavish, the lovable rescue dog adopted by the Preachys, who has “rescued” the family in the first three books in this delightful read-aloud or read-alone transitional series, involves the whole school in a stop-that-dog chase that makes Betty’s first day of school a success. (PreK Up)
New Shark in Town (Harvey Hammer #1). Davy Ocean. Illus. by Aaron Blecha. (2022). Aladdin Quix.
Harvey (a young hammerhead shark) is busy drawing an episode of his comic about King Krusher, the Super-Fighting Crab, and his sidekick, Hammer-Boy, when his father hands him Baby Finn, who vomits all over him. In a rush to get to his new school, Harvey doesn’t change his shirt and is targeted for being stinky by Spike, a bully puffer fish. After Spike’s father (a doctor) and Harvey’s mother (the new chief of police) share embarrassing stories about their children at a school assembly, the boys bump fins. “Parents!” Back home, Harvey finishes his comic book story with his superhero and arch-enemy shaking claw and tail. Black-and-white digital illustrations, a Cast of Characters, Contents, Word List, and Questions enable smooth swimming through this Quix Fast-Fun-Reads chapter book. (PreK Up)
Ollie’s Hug (Gossie and Friends). Olivier Dunrea. (2022). Clarion.
Ollie, the gosling who hatched in Ollie (2003) and wanted boots like Gossie and Gertie’s in Ollie the Stomper (2003), is in a mood. “Nothing feels right!” Gosling friends Gertie, Peedie, Gemma, BooBoo, and Gideon each try to cheer him up, but nothing works. It is red-booted Gossie who comes up with what little Ollie needs, a hug. This board book ends with a “Meet Gossie & Friends” chart with portraits and brief statement about each of the 12 lovable goslings with big personalities who star in Olivier Dunrea’s series of small books. With their simple text with a repetitive pattern and expressive ink-and-watercolor illustrations, the Gossie and Friends books offer gentle messages about kindness and friendship. (PreS-K)
S’more Than Meets the Eye (Nugget and Dog #3). Jason Tharp. (2022). Simon Spotlight.
In this new book in Jason Tharp’s Level 2 Ready-to-Read Graphics series, Nugget (a chicken nugget) and Dog (a hot dog), best buds, are excited about going to Camp Lotta Pine and telling spooky stories around the Smoldering S’Mores Campfire. They’re not excited to find that Dijon Mustard, the evil mustard packet they encountered in the series opener, All Ketchup, No Mustard (2021), is also a camper. However, “Mean Green Pine Thing,” the scary story of Dijon mustard and his cousin, Honey Mustard, backfires to become the funniest story ever (even though Dijon continues to insist that he is “a true evil mastermind”). With text packed with clever wordplay and colorful cartoon artwork, this series is a perfect introduction to graphic novels. Each book contains a “How to Read This Book” guide with an introduction to panels, speech bubbles, and bubbly thinking clouds. (PreK Up)
True Creative Talents (Audrey L & Audrey W #2). Carter Higgins. Illus. by Jennifer K. Mann. (2022). Chronicle.
Just as best friends and “true creative talents” Audrey L and Audrey W are adding the final touches to their papier-mâché parade balloon of their teacher, Ms. Fincastle, “teamwork troubles” leads to the reorganization of table groups in Room 19. Audrey L is now at the Igneous Rock table while Audrey W is three tables away on the other side of the room. Audrey L worries about losing her best friend until Ms. Fincastle helps her realize her special talents—having lots of good ideas and making friends—in this humorous chapter book about activities and relationships in a realistic second grade classroom. (PreK-Gr 2)
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).