April 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Early Chapter Books to Cheer About | SLJ Spotlight

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These books, many with short chapters, dynamic characters, and engaging artwork, offer perfect practice for newly independent readers to gain confidence and hone skills. A few laughs are added to the mix to make the whole cover-to-cover experience fun and satisfying.

humphreyBirney, Betty G. Imagination According to Humphrey. 128p. (Humphrey). Putnam. Jan. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780399257971; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698173484. LC 2014008871.

Gr 2-4 –The students in Room 26 at Longfellow School are on their way to becoming writers. Mrs. Brisbane is encouraging them to use their imagination and fill in the blank to the sentence “If I could fly, I would _____.” Humphrey, the class hamster, wants to try, too, but finds himself suffering from a case of writer’s block. All around him, imaginations are soaring while his seems to have flown away. When not scribbling in his hamster-sized notebook, Humphrey sneaks out of his cage to visit another pet and spends the weekend at a classmate’s home, where he tries to help with various problems. The theme of perseverance is prevalent throughout this pleasant early chapter book. It includes tips for budding writers and could spark a class discussion about inspiration. Purchase where “Humphrey” books are popular.–Beth Cuddy, Seward Elementary School, Auburn, NY

puppysbigdayBruel, Nick. Puppy’s Big Day. illus. by Nick Bruel. 160p. (Bad Kitty). Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Jan. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781596439764. LC 2014010357.

Gr 2-4 –Because Bad Kitty is in a terrible mood, Uncle Murray is enlisted to get Puppy out of the house, and the two set off to spend the day together. Right away, though, they get into trouble with an offstage police officer, who tickets Uncle Murray for violations like walking a dog without a leash and failing to clean up after the pup. They then head for the dog park, where they encounter a rather aggressive bulldog named Petunia, who quickly forms a crush on Puppy. After she chases Uncle Murray up a tree, Petunia and Puppy are picked up by Animal Control and taken to a pound. By the time Puppy is claimed, he has made friends with several of the odd characters at the pound, and soft-hearted Uncle Murray ends up as a dog owner. Scattered throughout the narrative are interjections from Bad Kitty about the yuckier habits of dogs, and the end matter includes information on adopting pets from shelters. As always, Bruel’s writing is hilarious, and his excellent illustrations make the story complete. Bad Kitty fans will enjoy this volume immensely.–Sarah Reid, Broome County Public Library, Binghamton, NY

bigbadHale, Bruce. Big Bad Detective Agency. illus. by Bruce Hale. 128p. Scholastic. Feb. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780545665377; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780545665384; ebk. $15.99. ISBN 9780545747288.

Gr 3-5 –This early chapter book mystery takes place in the kingdom of Fairylandia. Wolfgang, aka the “Big Bad Wolf,” is a misunderstood villain falsely accused of trashing the Three Little Pigs’ homes. Prince Tyrone has sentenced him to a life of eating porridge in a dungeon. Captain Kreplach informs him that if he were to catch the real culprit, he would be free, so Wolfgang has until sundown to clear his name. He squeamishly teams up with Ferkel, the fourth of The Little Pigs, and they search for clues and look for the guilty party. Classic fairy tale characters are suspects and introduced to readers in quirky 21st-century depictions, resulting in some unhappily ever after contemporary fairy tale legends. Likely suspects include sinister Hansel and Gretel; Ursula, the sultry sea witch; kooky Jack of Beanstalk fame; flakey Cinderella; flamboyant Goldilocks; brusque Puss in Boots; and Snow White and her staff of seven dwarves in the Hi-Ho Diner. Readers will snicker as they discover that some have alibis, some have no motive, and some aren’t bright enough to pull off the crime. Vocabulary includes hip, New Age terms that readers will relate to. Sporadic black-and white cartoons reveal genuine facial expressions. This book will charm readers who enjoy a good mystery and a distinctive approach to comical fairy tales. The ending is clearly a set-up for the next adventure.–Krista Welz, North Bergen High School, NJ

doryredstarHanlon, Abby. Dory Fantasmagory. illus. by Abby Hanlon. 160p. Dial. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780803740884; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698135932. LC 2013034996.

Gr 1-3 –Six-year-old Dory, known as Rascal to her family, wants more than anything to be included in her older siblings’s fun, but her endless questions and make-believe monsters drive them crazy. When Violet and Luke tell Dory a bedtime story about the evil Mrs. Gobble Grackle, who steals baby girls, they unintentionally feed her already overactive imagination. Dory and her imaginary friend, Mary (who resembles Maurice Sendak’s Max), are always on the lookout for monsters, and they thwart Mrs. Gobble Grackle’s attempts to kidnap her with banana peels and sleep-inducing darts. When Dory pretends to be the dog her brother has always wanted, she convinces Mrs. G that she isn’t the baby to kidnap and sabotages a trip to the doctor’s office. Hanlon effectively uses many childlike pencil drawings and word balloons interspersed with a good mix of short and long sentences in brief, episodic chapters full of Dory’s hilarious adventures. New vocabulary words are used in context within familiar settings and situations for the audience, creating a successful transitional book for new readers ready for longer stories. Dory ultimately finds a way to prove her bravery to her brother and sister, and readers will laugh at her entertaining antics.–Kristine M. Casper, Huntington Public Library, NY

mynewteamHoward, Ryan & Krystle Howard. My New Team. illus. by Erwin Madrid. 112p. (Little Rhino: Bk. 1). Scholastic. Feb. 2015. lib. ed. $16.99. ISBN 9780545674911; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545674904; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545674928.

Gr 1-4 –In this new chapter book series, third-grader Ryan, who prefers to be called Rhino, loves baseball. He plays catch and practices hitting as often as he can with his grandfather. While at school, he and his best friend, Cooper, join a new lunch table where they also get to talk about dinosaurs. Rhino loves learning facts and then sharing them with his friends. One day Grandpa James signs him up for a little league baseball team, and Rhino couldn’t be more excited. Then, he finds out that the meanest boy in his class is on the same team. Dylan takes every opportunity to belittle Rhino at school, in the neighborhood, and at practice. Rhino has some tough decisions to make about how to respond to Dylan and his taunts as he and his teammates prepare for their first practice game. The final satisfying chapters play out Rhino’s first exciting game with the Mustangs. The simple black-and-white illustrations support the text. Readers will be anxious for the second installment to see how Rhino’s first season plays out and to find out what becomes of him and his bully teammate. A solid purchase for most libraries.–Nancy Jo Lambert, McSpedden Elementary Frisco, TX

rescueMessner, Kate. Rescue on the Oregon Trail. illus. by Kelley McMorris. 144p. (Ranger in Time: Bk. 1). Scholastic. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545639156; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545639149; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545639163. LC 2014005485.

Gr 3-5 –Ranger is a golden retriever who trained as a search-and-rescue dog. Unfortunately, he never passes the final test due to those pesky squirrels he can’t help chasing. One afternoon, while playing outside with his owner, Luke, he comes across a buried first-aid kit that transports him back to the year 1850. Finding himself in Independence, Missouri, Ranger meets the Abbott family, who is making the treacherous journey on the Oregon Trail. Confused by the strange sights and smells, the dog decides that this must be some sort of new tracking test. Convinced that if he passes he will be reunited with his beloved Luke, Ranger takes on the challenge with gusto. He quickly becomes an invaluable family member by babysitting the Abbotts’s ever-wandering toddler, making fast friends with young Sam, and warning them of dangers along the trail. This excellent story contains historical details, full-age illustrations, and enough action to keep even reluctant readers engaged. A wonderful author’s note at the end is full of quotes from authentic journals, factual information on search-and-rescue dogs, and suggestions for further reading. This is a stellar choice for readers just starting full-length chapter books and would be a hit with young history buffs and dog lovers as well.–Amy Nolan, St. Joseph Public Library, St. Joseph, MI



  1. Cindy Austin says:

    I have been wondering how early it is to start with chapter books just on the side of comprehension. I have 2 kids ages 3 and 5. My 5 year old is really moving along well in reading so this may be a good read for him. The younger one is still into more picture books and short reads. Her book of choice Whiny Whiny Rhino, a gift from Grandma that she won’t put down. It’s good so I recommend that one, whinyrhino.com is the site for it, author is McBoop. I’d love to hear if anyone has ideas on when chapter books would be good to start. Thanks!