Tuesday, February 14, 2017
This post is the second part of the 2016 Cybils nominees. To read the first post click here.
Beginning chapter books can be a little bit more difficult to identify. Though many books have chapters (including a lot of middle grade novels), only those books designed for beginning readers belong in this category. As compared with easy readers, chapter books are a bit longer (up to 160 pages or so), and they have fewer illustrations. Instead of full-color pictures on every page, they may have just a few black and white line drawings sprinkled throughout the text. Unlike novels, however, beginning chapter books use large print, short chapters, and simple plots, and they rely heavily on dialogue. Popular beginning chapter books include the following series: Ivy & Bean, Marty McGuire, and Magic Tree House.
*Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? by Kate DiCamillo - Third in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, this book is a spin-off from the popular Mercy Watson series by the same author/illustrator. Fortunately it works as a stand-alone volume, which is helpful for the uninitiated. Baby Lincoln, whose real name is Lucille Abigail Eleanor Lincoln, dreams of being on a journey and is startled to be jolted back to a reality of mouse-traps, to-do lists, and an overbearing older sister. In a moment of clarity, Baby Lincoln decides to take a necessary solo journey and finds herself at the train station, purchasing a ticket to Fluxom. Older readers might recognize elements of The Phantom Tollbooth and The Little Prince, while it provides beginning readers with a strong plot, interesting characters, and a smattering of black and white images to propel the story forward. I liked it. Both for its simplicity and satisfying strength that its daring protagonist seems to gather while on her journey. Definitely worth a read.
Weekends With Max and His Dad by Linda Urban - A refreshing mostly-male book. Three weekends, told as three stories, each with five chapters a piece. A manageable format for new readers. This was probably the most text heavy of all the early chapter books. But the narrative of a young boy, Max, figuring out what his weekends with his Dad look like, was a subtle take on divorced families, and what that scenario might look like. In fact, I especially appreciated that the book focused only on the Dad and son relationship, bringing in neighbors and a best friend as supporting characters. With more complex syntax, the book even alludes to this through one of its characters, Ms. Tibbets. Who uses words like retribution, fully expecting that her audience knows what she means. This book was touching without being sentimental. With likable characters and a spy thread, it made for an entertaining and age-appropriate read. Recommended ages 6-9.
The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Hoarde by Shannon Hale - The third book in a series, this works as a stand-alone story, although I think previous books must have expanded character development of Princess Magnolia and her unicorn, Frimplepants, who can alter their identity to The Princess in Black and her pony, Blacky, simply by riding through a secret cave. Which is necessary whenever they duo must dash to the rescue. In this case during an infestation of rabid rabbits. Short chapters, large text, dialog intermingled with plot development, and vibrant color images make this a strong chapter book. In truth, I have seen it touted as a fantastic series by many bookstagramers. To me, however, the plot never really developed beyond the fact that the Princess found the bunnies charming and wasn't the least bit worried about getting rid of them, that is until Blacky realizes that they actually want to eat the Princess and convinces them to leave of their own accord. After that the book seemed to end rather abruptly. In truth, I think the story could have been a little longer, with more conflict.
Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina - A chapter book that reads a bit like a graphic novel and travel guide combined. Each chapter features an aside with a particular character or place that is Good or Not-So-Good and Here's Why. Juana is much like any other third-graders and just wants to have fun with her friends/dog, enjoy her pastimes (reading and playing soccer), and avoid things she dislikes (itchy uniforms, math problems, and learning English). The trouble is all the faraway places that are important to her Abue (grandfather) require her to learn English. This semi-autobiographical take on childhood in Bogota, Columbia and learning English is peppered with Spanish words throughout. Which makes knowing a bit of Spanish useful when reading this book—a possible difficulty for younger readers. Whimsical color illustrations create an upbeat atmosphere, while variations in text size play to the strength of this chapter book. A couple places seem to struggle with phrasing, but overall I found this a refreshing newcomer to the early chapter book genre.
Dory Fantasmagory: Dory Dory Black Sheep by Abby Hanlon - Another third book in a series, this comes from a previous Cybils winner. Beginning readers will certainly relate to Dory living in two worlds: one real and one imaginary. One of the longest books in the early chapter books category, this story is about Dory struggling with learning to read, another relatable bit of information young readers will connect with. Black and white illustrations capture a great deal of emotion, perfectly depicting young Dory's spunk and dramatic flair, most notable in the text, which seems to have a great deal of yelling (illustrated both with exclamation points and all caps). Something that parents might want to take note of. The intermingled worlds might resonate with young readers, but I found some of the imaginary scenarios pretty outlandish and was a bit disappointed by the non sequiter ending.
*Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber - Mango Allsorts is the sort of girl who is good at a lot of things. We meet her as she is returning from a karate lesson, waiting to cross the street. However, traffic has obstructed her route. Or, rather, a tapir laying in the middle of the street has created a bit of a traffic muddle. Summoning her knack for smoothing over muddles, Mango gently coaxes the nervous animal to safety and invites him home with her for a breakfast of banana pancakes. Follow these two through a series of four mini-adventures, which involve swimming, hats, a rather prickly upstairs neighbor, and a clarinet concert. Young readers will appreciate the tri-colored illustrations and the way words move in a playful way across the page, while simultaneously enjoying the engaging dialog and plot. Readers may encounter some unfamiliar words, however that should not deter anyone from this dynamic duo. The first book in a series of three.
*Indicates my favorite books in the beginning chapter books category. Read this post for more about Cybils and the Easy Reader nominees.