Diane’s Picks: Best Early Reader Books of 2013 (so far)

Early reader chapter books is not a clearly defined category. My definition of this category is books that are an appropriate “next step”—in terms of content, type size, and length– for young readers (6-9) who are looking for longer chapter books. Many early reader chapter books include more illustrations than other middle grade books, and, as a result, they often make wonderful read aloud books for classrooms and for parents or siblings. Some of these books (for example, An Army of Frogs) are also wonderful choices for older (9-12) reluctant readers. There are, of course, a number of great early reader series (including, but certainly not limited to the Judy Moody and Stink books by Megan McDonald, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, Gooney Bird books by Lois Lowry, the Time Warp series by Jon Scieszka, and the Jack Stalwart books by Elizabeth Singer Hunt, and great new books are added to these series every year. In this blog, however, I’ll focus on books that may be the beginning of a series, a standalone book, or part of a lesser known series that you might not otherwise find.

An Army of Frogs by former NFL defensive end Trevor Pryce is the beginning of a great new series (the Kulipari series) for readers ages 8 through 12 and it is certainly the most beautifully illustrated book at The Reading Bug (illustrations are by Sanford Greene, who has worked in the comics industry for many years). As a result, it’s the perfect books for readers who love the Dragonbreath series and are looking for the next level of reading beyond that. Darel is a young wood frog who aspires to be a corroboree frog (the only frog in the world that can produce its own poison). When his best friend Gee is taken captive by the scorpions, Darel bravely follows into Scorpion Camp, where he learns that the scorpions have allied with the spiders and have plans to invade The Amphibilands where the frogs have lived in peace for a generation. You will not be able to put this book down until you find out whether Darel will be able to save his friend and his country. Amulet

Author Kiki Thorpe has come up with a brilliant idea for The Never Girls, a new early reader series. Kate, Mia and Lainey are best friends, and Gabby is Mia’s pesky little sister. In the first bookIn a Blink, Gabby finds Prilla, a small fairy in the garden. When Prilla tells her that she needs to go home, Gabby gently cups the fairy in her hands, “the way you would hold a butterfly.” The result is that Prilla winds up taking Gabby, Kate, Mia and Lainey with her back to Never Land, and the adventure begins. Never Land is the very same place where Peter Pan had his adventures. The girls don’t meet him (at least in the first book), but they are introduced to Tinker Bell and many other fairies, including the queen. The girls are enchanted with Never Land, where each fairy has a special talent, and they are learning to fly, but they are also worried about their parents’ reaction when they find out their daughters are missing. Will the girls be able to find their way back home? And if they do, will they ever be able to visit Never Land again? In a Blink sets the scene for a wonderful series full of magic, fairy dust and adventure—perfect for ages 6 to 8, and with enough pictures to be a great read aloud as well. Random House

Fancy Nancy Fan Alert! For those of you who know children who have loved the Fancy Nancy picture books, the new Nancy Clancy early reader series continues to grow. Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer by Jane O’Connor with illustrations by Robi Preiss Glasser) was published in January 2013 and it was as good as the first book, Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth. In Secret Admirer, Nancy and Bree decide to play matchmaker for Nancy’s babysitter, Annie. Although nothing works out as they planned, the book’s themes of friendship and love will make readers go “Ooh-la-la.” And on October 1, 2013, the third book,Fancy Nancy Sees the Future, will be released. In this book, Nancy tries her hand at fortune-telling, but learns that it is more complicated than she thought. These are fun books with positive messages for 6 to 8 year olds who love Ivy and BeanClementine and Judy Moody books. Harper.

Amber Brown is on the Move
is the second book in the charming Amber Brown series for early readers to be released after auther Paula Danziger’s untimely death in 2004 and it is as good as Danziger’s earlier books. The series, which began in 1994 with Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon, dealt with real-life problems of a plucky 7 year old—including her parents’ divorce and the move of her best friend. After her death, Danziger’s two best friends, Bruce Coville and Elizabeth Levy, decided to continue the series with Amber Brown is Tickled Pink, in which Amber’s mother remarries. Amber Brown is on the Move continues the story: Amber is now a 4th grader, her mother and stepfather are moving into a new house, and her dad is starting to date. This series, which deals with these issues with both sensitivity and humor, is a great read for all early readers, ages 6 through 10, but it is perfect for children whose families are going through divorce.Penguin

The Year of Billy Miller
by award winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes (Olive’s Ocean, Purple Plastic Purse) is a delightful new book for early readers. Billy Miller is a second grader, who loves to romp in the park, play with his best friend Ned, and tease his 3 year old sister, Sal. The book is divided into four sections, each of which focuses on one of the four major influences on his life. The first section is titled Teacher; the second is Father; the third Sister; and the last is Mother. I highly recommend this book for all early readers, especially boys who have liked the Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary, and the Stink series by Megan McDonald. HarperCollins

Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg is as delightful as the critically acclaimed Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. The narrator of both books is Eleanor. In Pickle Juice, Eleanor writes about her feelings when her babysitter, Bibi moves away. In Bug Juice, Eleanor expresses her feelings about camp. At first she is excited to carry on her family’s tradition at Camp Wallumwahpuck, but when she gets there, she hates it (“Being here is worse than bug juice on a burger. Or homework on Thanksgiving. Or water seeping into my shoes.”). Eleanor’s voice is strong and true, as she describes her experiences and begins to realize that there really can be silver linings in even the darkest clouds. Amulet

White Fur Flying
by Newbery award winning author Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) is a small gem of a book for dog lovers. Zoe’s dad is a veterinarian and her mom rescues Great Pyrenees dogs. The book begins with white fur flying as new neighbors, including one silent boy, move into the house next door. Zoe and her sister Alice soon discover that Philip, the boy, is staying with his aunt and uncle because his parents are having problems. Philip has gone silent: he won’t speak to anyone, and no one knows why. Will Zoe and Alice be able to help Philip find his voice? The book ends with a Mary Oliver poem I had not heard, but fully embrace: I have a little dog who likes to nap with me./ He climbs on my body and puts his face in my neck/ he is sweeter than soap.” Warning: I cried a little at the end of this book, but they were happy tears! A great book for early readers, 7 to 10 (or for reluctant readers who love dogs!). Simon and Schuster.

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