Looking for a fun series for kids who are just getting comfortable with longer books? I finally got a chance to read the first book in the Billy and the Mini Monsters series and it is fun!
“Billy is an ordinary boy until one night he finds five mini monsters living in his sock drawer. From the moment he discovers Gloop, Peep, Fang-Face, Captain Snott and Trumpet, Billy’s life will never be the same again…”
The first book, Monsters in the Dark, is the only book in the series that needs to be read in order. This is the book where we meet Billy and he meets the monsters. At 80 pages long with full color images throughout, this is a great book for kids who are getting Continue reading →
I am often shocked at how good books aimed at kids are these days. The one area that is still struggling, but getting better all the time, is books aimed at young readers who are quite strong. These are often considered transitional books and will have fewer pages and sometimes contain some pictures. So when I find a good one, I just have to share it.
The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French, is a very funny take at the concept of fairy tales and heroes and a great read for kids 7+.
The book opens by focusing on Aggie French. At the age of 10 she is given a book of fairy tales and they shape her life – she is going to live the fairy tale dream. When she realizes she isn’t going to marry a prince, she sets her sights on finding a hero who would bring back everything to allow her find her “Happily Ever After and Glorious Luxury.” Continue reading →
Thank you so much to the author for providing #KidLitExchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes! All opinions are my own (as always).
Back in April I discovered the Branches books published by Scholastic. These great books are a way to bridge the gap between leveled readers and chapter books. Or as my new 1st grader likes to say, these books are like picture books and chapter books smashed together! So when author Amy Marie Stadelmann sent copies of her series Olive & Beatrix to the KidLitExchange I jumped at the opportunity to check them out.
The Olive & Beatrix books focus on twin sisters Olive & Beatrix. Olive is “ordinary” and loves science, nature, and exploring. Her sister, Beatrix, is less than ordinary as she was born at midnight on a full moon and is therefore a witch. She has a brain full of tricks and uses her magical powers to play pranks on Olive and her best friend, Eddie.
These books arrived at our house on Saturday and by Sunday evening, E had read them both at least 2 times. Olive & Beatrix is a really fun series. There is a touch of mischievousness, a dash of science, and a balance of true sisterhood battles and friendship. Beatrix tends to take the easy way out by using her magic, but in the end, it is usually a combination of magic and science needed to solve the problem at hand. Even though the sisters look at life differently, they have to work together to make things work.
Book #1 is “The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders” in which Olive and Eddie attempt to prank Beatrix with a bucket of spiders and it back-fires on them when the spiders get into her growing potion. When the spiders escape out of their house, the three friends have to figure out what to do. When their first plans don’t work, some scientific thinking helps solve the problem.
Book #2 is “The Super-Smelly Moldy Blob.” In this book, Olive is tired of Beatrix always managing to win the science fair due to an unfair use of magic. She and Eddie come up with great entries, but a battle between the twins over which table to set up on ends in both of their projects falling to the floor and turning into a super-smelly moldy blob that starts oozing through the school swallowing up everything in its path. Once again, the twins and Eddie use a combination of magic and scientific know-how to stop the blob and get everything back in order.
These books are perfect for emerging readers, specifically those in kindergarten through 2nd grade. By combining a slightly longer story with a load of really fun pictures, kids just want to read them. There is a real sense of accomplishment for struggling readers and a lot of color and action for reluctant readers. As with all Branches books, there is also a page in the back with comprehension questions to help they understand what they are reading and to start talking points for parents. Our school and public libraries need to have more of these books available for our emerging readers.
For a long time, a lot of this blog has focused on my older daughter’s insatiable reading habits and my own adoration of all things children’s literature. But I have a younger reader who is finding her own way in the world of books right now and plowing through series like no tomorrow! It is great to be getting back into some of the younger chapter books to see how much they have changed in just a few years and how a different child approaches them.
When hanging out in a book store recently, we discovered the series Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliot. When E’s class was doing their latest Scholastic group order, I purchased a set of the first four books from the series in hopes that E would enjoy them. The books arrived Friday and by Saturday she had read through all 4. Continue reading →
Every January I look forward to participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day. This year, I’m even more excited to be a co-host, so be prepared for a slew of posts featuring great books as we get closer to the January 27th link-up event.
This year Multicultural Children’s Book Day is super excited to welcome Scholastic books as a Platinum Sponsor. I have watched Scholastic really make an effort to not only publish more diverse books in the past year or so, but to also promote them in the flyers that they send home (I’m such a sucker for those). One of the books that I received from Scholastic as part of this year’s event is Emma is on the Air: Big News!, the first book in a great new series aimed at 7-10 year olds. My 6 year old loved it so much that we’ve already placed an order for book two!
Emma is on the Air is written by veteran journalist Ida Siegal. The characters and plot lines are inspired by all the children who approach her in the field, asking what it’s like to be a reporter. The characters are also inspired by her home life in which she was born and raised in New York City, but her husband is from the Dominican Republic, so her children speak both Spanish and English at home.
In the first installment, Emma is on the Air: Big News!, young Emma is trying to find a way to become famous. When watching the news with her father one evening, she sees a journalist who completely catches her eye and she decides that that’s the key to her fame. From there her father, a journalist himself, gives her lessons in what kind of stories need to be told and how to go about collecting information. When a boy in her school find a worm in his hamburger the next day, the stage is set for her big break.
The story allows Emma to give a nice lesson in basic journalism by having her interview key witnesses, gather clues and write up her reports while getting tips from her father. When she manages to solve the mystery of the wormburger, she even thinks that “maybe the helping part felt better than the famous part…Nah that is silly.”
E and I read this story together and really enjoyed it. Young readers are grabbed by Emma’s excitement for life and for the gross factor in finding a worm in your hamburger. Emma is also all about style, something my 6 year old can’t get enough of. Even when she is writing her story, she uses a microphone with a big purple E on it, “a shiny purple feather pencil with extra-special sparkles and a special purple reporter’s pad to take notes.”
Emma is on the Air is a great series that just so happens to also feature a multicultural character. In my opinion, that’s exactly how it is supposed to be done. It is great to see an early chapter book that allows Latin American children see themselves in the pages and to bring the larger cultural world to all of our children. Well done!
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books
Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i
Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
About a week ago I received an email from a reader looking for good chapter book series for her young daughters. First, let me say, I LOVE getting emails like this. I can’t always help when it comes to great books for young boys, but girls, I have that covered! That said, there might be more people looking for similar books, so I wanted to share some series that might be lesser known to people.
Billie B. Brown & Hey Jack – I’ve talked about these series before. Billie B. is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process. There are two separate series that each have about 15 books to them. They are ideal for early readers with no more than 50 words per page and with challenging words in bold.
Lily the Elf – Lily the Elf lives with her dad in a tiny house in a busy city. Her granny lives in a cottage behind their house. In these charming books, join Lily as she finds lost treasures, makes wishes, meets new creatures, and masters new skills. As with the Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack books, Lily is aimed at newly emergent readers with only 50 words per page in a large font.
Rainbow Magic Series – Some series never grow old and this popular one by Daisy Meadows is constantly attracting young readers. This series is actually multiple series all under one common theme – young friends, Rachel and Kristy, discover the fairies and find that they are able to help them defeat their arch nemesis, Jack Frost. Each time there are seven books with a common theme – rainbow fairies, sports fairies, ocean fairies, party fairies, the list goes on and on. Young readers easily get hooked on these books, even when parents get sick of them.
The Secret Mermaid – This is a really fun series that appeals to fans of the Daisy Meadow’s Rainbow Magic series. The concept of this series, published by Usborne Books, is that a little girl’s grandmother gives her a magic necklace that allows her to join the mermaid world while she sleeps. It turns out that she is one of a long line of secret mermaids and now she is trying to save the mermaid world from an evil mermaid. A great early chapter book series that still incorporates images and doesn’t cram too much text into each page.
Fairy Ponies – In this series, young Holly and her pony friend, Puck, have wonderful adventures including rescuing missing royalty and saving the day from wicked plots and dark storms. With this series, kids get a bit more adventure than their average fairy books. The Fairy Ponies appeals to kids who are 5-8 years old.
Pony Crazed Princess – Princess Ellie is crazy about her ponies! Any time she can, she trades in her royal crown and fancy dresses for her riding helmet and boots, and heads out to the Royal Stable. Along with her best friend, Kate, Ellie takes her ponies for rides and jumps all around the palace grounds. Together, they go on adventures, solve mysteries, and, of course, spend lots of time with Ellie’s adorable ponies. This is a great book as an early chapter book
The Princess in Black – Shannon Hale, the writer behind the Princess Academy series and Ever After High, hit the nail on the head with her series staring the Princess in Black. The Princess in Black is a humorous and action-packed chapter-book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. Princess Magnolia appears to be a normal, perfectly dressed princess, but when her monster alarm goes off, she runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! This is a great book because it works well as a read-aloud to 4 and 5 year olds and has larger font and images so that a 6 or 7 year old can read it on their own. Super fun and featuring a girl who is unwilling to “just be a princess.”
The Magic Tree House – This is not a series that falls under the overly girly category, but there are few young children who have not been sucked into this fabulous series about siblings Jack and Annie who discover a magic tree house that whisks them away to places and times near and far to solve problems for Morgan Le Fay. Kids are able to learn a great deal about history from these fabulous books without it feeling like they are learning anything. My 6 year old has even decided that she is naming her children after them!
There are tons of books out there for every child’s pleasure. If at first they don’t enjoy a given book, don’t despair, they just haven’t found the right book yet!
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.”
So starts every Anna Hibiscus book. These books, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, tell the story of young Anna Hibiscus as she tries to maneuver through some of life’s challenges. They take place in Africa, but really they could be anywhere. They are a multicultural, multi-generational family, which is something we don’t see a great deal of.
We first discovered Anna Hibiscus in picture book format, but there are also chapter books for young readers available.
In “Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!” Anna’s mother has just given birth to twin boys. The day that the babies are born, Anna struggles with the fact that her normal routine has been completely upended by their birth. Anna’s cousins had teased her that boys were trouble and now Anna feels that they were right – her new brothers are nothing but double trouble.
The problem that Anna is facing is that no one seems to have time for her because everyone is focused on the new babies. When she finally breaks down and cries, her father finds her and explains that she will now have to share the family with her brothers, but that everyone still loves her. At that same time, miraculously, everyone finally has time for Anna. She realizes that her brothers aren’t so bad, it will just take some time for everyone to adjust.
This is a marvelous book for any child who is about to get a new sibling. Change can be very difficult, but the message is clear that while that first day is very far from normal, your family will continue to love you and be there for you.
In “Splash,” Anna and her family are enjoying a hot day at the beach. All Anna wants to do is splash in the waves, but no one wants to join her. She invites everyone, but they are busy playing in the sand, playing with their phones, braiding hair or simply napping. Anna gets very frustrated because she really wants someone to play with her, but no one wants to do what she wants.
She finally gives up on everyone else and dips her toes in the water. Her family might be too busy, but she realizes that the waves are jumping and splashing and they want someone to join them! She fully enjoys splashing in the water. Her laughter carries over the sand and entices her family to join her. Everything else is hot, but the water is cool and inviting.
This book surprised me because it was the first Anna Hibiscus book that I read and not only was it about Africa, but it focused on the beaches of Africa instead of the safari or desert. In terms of lessons, it is all about persistence and perseverance. Anna knows what she wants, tries every angle, and when she doesn’t get her family to get in the water, she goes in by herself and shows everyone how amazing it is.
Moving away from picture books, there are also chapter books aimed at younger children that feature Anna and her family.
In the first of the series, the book is made up of four short stories about Anna Hibiscus’s life in Africa. Join her as she splashes in the sea, prepares for a party, sells oranges, and hopes to see sweet, sweet snow! The stories move smoothly and comfortably through life in Africa. The reader learns a lot about a different culture almost without being aware of it. The reader quickly learns to like Anna Hibiscus and her extended family. The delightful illustrations beautifully compliment the stories.
In book 2 of the series, “Hooray for Anna Hibiscus,” Anna taking a big step: she has become old enough to attend school. As her father reminds her, growing-up children need to go to school so they can work to make Africa a better place. Anna certainly has her work cut out for her when she is selected to sing a solo for a visiting president from another country. However, she gets a major case of stage fright. Her learning also progresses outside of school, especially when she accompanies her aunty and uncle on an errand to another part of the city where children beg and scavenge through trash to survive.
There are a total of 4 books of the chapter series available at Usborne Books and More, but these two are a great place to start!
One of the really great things about getting involved with Usborne is getting to learn about books that don’t have the same kind of marketing that most of the big name, character driven books get. When I was getting ready for my first big book fair, I borrowed a number of books from a friend and my daughters found two series that they loved! What was even better about the whole thing is that they feature the same character, just at different reading levels and slightly different ages. Kids can get to know this charming character at a young age and grow with her and her friend Jack, who has his own book series as well!
The first time we came across Billie is when she is in preschool in the marvelous Billie’s Underwater Adventure (there is also a desert adventure). In this book, Billie’s teacher has the kids pretending to be sea animals. Billie is too slow to get the coveted mermaid costume, but she manages to use her imagination to create an even more wonderful outfit. Then she and her friends create an entire world to explore “under the sea.”
Similarly, in the desert story, Billie is annoyed when it is a rainy day and her preschool teacher tells her that rainy days are great to sit inside and read. She doesn’t want to read, she wants to stomp in rain puddles. But her friend Jack comes to her rescue and together they explore secret caves in the desert.
We have had a lot of fun with the Billie preschool books. So when my kids got a hold of the early reader books about her, they were thrilled! The first series, Billie B Brown is marvelous because it was designed for new and struggling readers. They feature large print with no more than 50 words per page. Billie B is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process.
My 5 year old absolutely loves the Billie and Jack books. We read them at bedtime and now she is also super excited that there are some audio-book versions. She tries to read pieces of them herself and I think these will be her first chapter books. These are two series that I’m happy to have found.
For the slightly older set, there are the great Billie B. Mysteries. She is slightly older and now she is using her smarts and general common sense to solve mysteries at school and in the neighborhood. These books utilize longer sentences and more words per page, but are still easy to read.
We’ve read one and ordered the complete set. Both my 9 year old and my 5 year old enjoy these together. They are the kind of thing where J can read them to E and mom doesn’t have to worry at all about content.
It is really great to find a character that we can grow with. She doesn’t feel overly girly and there is something endearing about the fact that her best friend is a boy. While being purchased mainly for E, we will all get lots of good reading out of these books!
There are a ton of intermediate reader series out there these days, but finding one that holds your child’s attention and is at the right level can be truly daunting. That was actually the reason that I started this blog a few years ago. It becomes complicated to write about chapter books, but I am making it a mission to focus on that more, especially since we are finished with the full Harry Potter series and expanding our own horizons.
A few years ago a good friend suggested that we read the series The World According to Humphrey. For whatever reason, at the time J wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was that she has always been more interested in books with princesses and fairies, and then when she moved from those, books had to have a strong female lead. A book with a hamster on the front cover did nothing for her. Fast forward to Christmas of this past year when her beloved second grade teacher gave her a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I was shocked when I went into her room one night to find her eating it up.
Humphrey is a hamster. In the initial book of the series he is purchased as a class pet by a teacher. That teacher winds up moving to Brazil and leaving Humphrey behind with a new teacher who is not so thrilled by his existence. Ms. Mac, the first teacher, brings Humphrey in because “You can learn a lot about life by observing another species,” as well as by taking care of another species. Now most would think that this is a statement for the the children to learn by taking care of Humphrey, but Humphrey also learns a great deal about the children and adults who take care of him.
The fun thing about the Humphrey books is that they are told from Humphrey’s perspective. Since the new teacher, Ms. Brisbane, does not initially like Humphrey, he gets sent home with a different student each weekend (although his first weekend is with the Principal, Mr. Morales). The students are able to learn by taking care of this amazing hamster, but he also learns a great deal about them by observing them in their natural habitats.
A great example from the book has to do with a little girl named Sayeh. Ms. Brisbane has been trying to get her to participate in class more often. They make a deal that if Sayeh raises her hand at least one time during a given week, Ms. Brisbane won’t send a note home about her lack of participation. Sayeh does raise her hand to volunteer to take Humphrey home. When he goes home with her, he learns that English is not spoken in her home and that she is afraid that the other kids will make fun of her accent. While Humphrey is home with her, Sayeh gets the courage to tell her family that since he only understands English, they have to speak English that weekend. Humphrey gets a better understanding of who Sayeh is as a person and Sayeh believes in herself a bit more.
The series continues in a marvelous fashion and the books don’t need to be read in any specific order. Some of the themes that are covered are friendship, doing the right thing, racism, and cultural differences. J likes to read the books and says “Even though all the humans hear is Squeak-Squeak-Squeak, Humphrey helps them solve their problems. He’s everyone’s favorite classroom pet!”
The Humphrey books tend to have a Lexile level somewhere in the 600s or 700s. Typically that is the 3-6th grade level. That said, I believe that these books are more age appropriate for 6-9 year olds. At 8, they are sort of perfect for J even if they are super easy reads for her. A great read aloud for a 1st grader and perhaps something to encourage them to read more on their own.
We are a household with a deep love for princesses. My younger daughter loves all things princessy and frilly, although her favorite Disney princesses are Tianna and Mulan. I love those choices since they are two “princesses” who are incredibly strong and independent. They don’t need a handsome prince to come and rescue them. They also both work hard to get what they want. In the world of princesses, however, that is not always the case, which is why I love finding books that also showcase the fact that a princess can be anything.
My older daughter has taken a real liking to Shannon Hale’s books. Ms. Hale definitely sees princesses through different eyes. J has utterly fallen in love with the Ever After High series. I wasn’t sure about this series, as I’m not a fan of the whole Monster High phenomenon, but it is a wonderful series. The concept is that the children of famous fairy tale characters all go to Ever After High to learn skills necessary to fulfill their destinies as “the next” in their line. When Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen from Snow White, comes back the year that she is supposed to sign the book of legacies, she questions the whole concept of destinies, instead wanting to choose her own. All of the princesses and other fairy tale characters not only consider if their intended “happily ever after” is what they want, but they also work together when other challenges come up. The television series that goes along is nice, but we have really enjoyed the three books that have been published.
The book that inspired me to write this post is Hale’s The Princess in Black. This is a perfect early chapter book for emerging readers who are ready for a new challenge. It is full of colorful pictures and feels longer due to the number of pages, a sure way to boost a new reader’s confidence. In this tale, a young princess is known for being perfect, frilly and dainty – everything that we have come to expect of a perfect princess. Princess Magnolia, however, has a secret…she is also the Princess in Black, a super-hero who stops the monsters from doing bad things, like eating goats. It is nice to see a princes who can be princessy and badass, although it would have been even better if she wasn’t hiding her fighting persona, but that following the lead of male superheroes. Definitely a book that thinks outside of the proverbial princess box.
Shannon Hale also wrote the Princess Academy series. The fabulous website A Mighty Girl actually just had a Facebook post about this book saying: “The story follows Miri who is sent with the other girls from her village to a special academy to learn the social graces required of a princess. Miri thrives in her new environment but not necessarily in the intended way — for the first time, she discovers the power of her voice and other unique gifts and, when bandits strike the academy, it’s Miri who rallies the girls to save themselves.” We have this on our list of books to read as it is supposed to be a great series for middle-grade girls.
A book that fits this category perfectly that I’ve been meaning to blog about for some time is Dealing with Dragons. In this book, Princess Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for. We absolutely loved this book and how fun Cimorene was.
Last year we also read Tuesdays At the Castle, a wonderful book of magic and mayhem. The story focuses on Celie, the youngest princess at the Castle Gower, which just so happens to have a mind of its own. Strong female main character, a family working together, and proof that respecting things around us pays off. We really loved this book, although we were not quite as enamored with the sequel.