Yesterday, I posted the results of the Early Reader category for this years Cybils award. Our great group of panelist also worked hard to narrow down a wonderful selection of Early Chapter Books. Our top five are described below.
Early Chapter Books
Anna Hibiscus, her African father, Canadian mother, and her mischievous twin brothers live in Africa. These are Anna’s stories about her family life: wanting to have personal space, dealing with younger brothers, respect for elders, traditional African ways v. modern conveniences, hard work, and compassion. Although set in Africa, it has universal appeal and will resonate with young readers. Atinuke contrasts and compares customs and life in Africa with other parts of the world, artfully explaining how modern life and traditional ways can co-exist. The chapters can be read in sequence or as individual short stories, and the illustrations effectively distribute text and make this attractive to dormant and reluctant readers. This is a book you can read aloud with your kids early in elementary school and they can later read for themselves. It is an excellent choice for mixed audiences. —Terry Doherty
Frankie isn’t doing so well in Possum Scouts. He’s failed the knot-tying badge and can’t move from Pygmy to Shrew with everyone else. His only hope is to win the model car race, the Pine Run 3000. Except Frankie declines his father’s help and builds a creation that only somewhat resembles a functional car.
Frankie constantly gets distracted by his vivid imagination which is hilariously depicted in cartoons and when he becomes the awesome Frankie Pickle. “Wonder Pickle, we pronounce you a member of the League of Awesome. Go forth with your awesomeness,” says his imagination’s superhero mom in one graphic. Author and illustrator Eric Wight creates a thoroughly believable and lovable character – in fact, I’m pretty sure I know this kid. The book is half-and-half graphic and narrative novel, with cartoon black-and-white illustrations. There’s plenty of picture context clues as they read. —Melissa Taylor
Home on the Range is a delightful story about two city dogs and their masters on vacation at a dude ranch. Narrated by Down Girl, one of the dogs, each chapter provides another hilarious mix-up as she and her canine friend, Sit, meet barking squirrels (prairie dogs), gasoline-powered bulls (trucks), and fierce ugly dogs (coyotes). Along the dusty trail, they meet a sensible ranch dog named Git Along and discover that life on the other side of their neighborhood fence is full of wide open spaces and new surprises: pointy lizards, angry nostrils, chuck wagons, and cows without leashes. It’s challenging to write a short chapter book where the child reader knows more than the main character, but Lucy Nolan provides just the right touch and Mike Reed’s wonderful black-and-white illustrations carry the story along and guide understanding. Brimming with kid appeal, these witty, exciting, tail-wagging adventures with Down Girl and Sit will bring young readers stampeding to the fence. –Cynthia Lord
Posey is an upcoming first grader who has some concerns about the new school year. As a first grader, she will have to go to her class by herself instead of her mom walking beside her. Fortunately for Posey, she meets her new teacher at the ice cream store and soon learns that Miss Lee will help her make the beginning of first grade quite memorable.
Author Stephanie Greene has spent a lot of time working with kindergarten and first grade students. Posey is a delightful character who reminds me of students that I work with each day. Like Posey, they’re sweet kids who have some fears and need help in navigating this thing we call school. Greene’s connection to real students shows in Princess Posey and The First Grade Parade and makes it an engaging early chapter book. — Jeff Barger
Author Jules and illustrator Benitez have given us a completely fresh character in Freddie Ramos, a Latino grade-schooler whose father was killed in the line of duty and whose mother only recently graduated from community college, allowing her to get a better job and move her son out of their old, “bad” neighborhood and into a better one. One day Freddie receives a mysterious package containing a pair of purple sneakers with silver wings that give him super speed, and he immediately begins dreaming of using his “zapato power” to make his world an even better place. Even without his amazing shoes, Freddie’s kind heart and willingness to help would make him a hero, and I think that many readers–myself included–will be rooting for him for many years to come. —Julie Jurgen