31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Nineteen – Early Chapter Books of 2017
I almost feel as though early chapter books are the Part Two to yesterday’s easy books. If one gently guides kids on the path towards self-sufficient reading, the other certainly drills home how capable child readers have become. And, like easy books, there’s a wide range of reading levels at play here. Some of these books are better suited to bedtime reading. Some are just a hair above easy books. Still others are very close to full-on novels. Variety! Is the spice of life, no? Oh, and I hope you like it when I yell at publishers because in spite of the fact that this is a list of praise, some publishers featured here need to step up their game a notch. Sorry Abrams, Henry Holt and Kane/Miller!
2017 Early Chapter Books
Bruno: Some of the More Interesting Days In My Life So Far by Catharina Valckx, ill. Nicholas Hubesch, translated by Antony Shugaar
I have Travis Jonker and John Schu to thank for the discovery of this little French gem. Were it not for their countdown of Top 20 books of the year I would have missed it entirely. It is, as you may be able to tell, very French. Even that subtitle has a certain effortless elegance to it. European children’s literature can be a bit more episodic than the stories we tell our kids here in the States. I blame Pinocchio. Doggone serialized children’s literature. That little wooden puppet (Italian, I know, but the whole of Europe seems obsessed with the guy) has a lot to answer for. You won’t find the nihilistic fervor of Collodi in this book, I’m happy to report. Split into six days (I just love that it isn’t seven) some are good, some bad, but all of them (even the boring one) are interesting.
A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson, ill. Gitte Spee, translated by Julia Marshall
Two Gecko Press books in a row? What can I say? They produce good early chapter fare. Now I’ve been a fan of the Detective Gordon series out of Sweden for years. Ever since Stieg Larsson got American interested in Sweden crime novels, Americans have been gaga for Scandinavian fare. This series isn’t exactly Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for kids, but I’m okay with that. Best of all, this chapter in the series deepens the relationship between Detective Gordon and his plucky young replacement. You know what these books remind me of? This is way too specific, but if you have a kid obsessed with Herbert Wong Yee’s charming Mouse & Mole books, this actually makes a pretty good companion series.
Counting Sheep by Jacqueline Kelly, ill. Jennifer L. Meyer
It was a risk to continue Jacqueline Kelly’s Calpurnia Tate series not in full middle grade novels but in early chapter books. Calpurnia hasn’t been aged down or anything. She’s still 12/13, dealing with her mother and brothers, and chafing against the times in which she lives. But I was very taken with this book in particular. It consists of two storylines, one involving an injured painted lady butterfly and the other a pregnant sheep. Few early chapter books allow their main characters to thrust their arms up birthing canals, but for those few that do, I salute! A good companion to those old James Herriot books for kids, that’s for sure.
And I’m including it on the list today, in spite of the fact that the cover artist completely botched the butterflies on the jacket. I mean, I have nothing against monarch butterflies, but the insects in this particular book aren’t monarchs at all but painted ladies. And while they are similar . . .
. . . they aren’t the same thing at all. Come on, Henry Holt! I’m no lepidopterist but even I saw that one right off the bat. Isn’t this entire series about accuracy and attention in observations about the natural world? Calpurnia would not approve.
Coyote Tales, by Thomas King, ill. Byron Eggenschwile
On the one hand I probably should have reserved this book for the Novel Reprints list coming up on December 29th. On the other hand the illustrations by Eggenschwile are new, as is the design, layout, and choice of tales included. Gosh I loved this book. I could read it a couple times over again for fun.
Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, ill. Salvatore Rubbino
The general consensus amongst my librarians as we considered whether or not to include Almond’s book on our 101 Great Books List was that while we all really loved and adored this book, it was difficult to know how to sell it to young audiences. The tale is mostly a memory, told by an old man about the time he and his friends engaged in a ridiculously long run. That doesn’t sound like much, but you just have to see how Almond pulls the whole thing off. I’m no runner, but even I felt like trying my hand at a block or two after reading through this book.
If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhöfel, ill. Nele Palmtag, translated by Matthew O. Anderson
I wish to high heaven I could remember which library’s Best of the Year list alerted me to this title. Ah! I have it! It was Multnomah County’s magnificent list. Without their care and attention to this German import, I’d never have stumbled across it. This book, taken alongside Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Sputnik’s Guide to Life On Earth, made it clear that 2017 was the best possible year to kidnap one’s grandfather from a nursing home. What could lead to disaster is instead a gentle, touching take on coming to terms with losing a favorite grandparent slowly. 9-year-old Max knows that his grandfather has good and bad days, but the boy’s greatest fear is that he’ll be forgotten by his grandfather forever soon. Happily, in a moment of lucidity the grandfather compares his situation to that of the sun and the moon. The moon is in the sky, even when you cannot see it. So too is the grandfather’s love, obscured though it might be. An accompanying CD includes classic music that you can play as you read different scenes. There’s really nothing to compare.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence, ill. Elizabet Vukovic
I like spunky heroines, but I like it a lot more when that spunk has a solid purpose and goal. And if you can say one thing about Jasmine, she’s good with goals. For instance, Jasmine is more than a little peeved that her older sister is old enough to make Mochi this year for New Year’s Day while she’s relegated to the realm of little kids. Sophie gets to do everything cool before Jasmine, so the younger sibling hits on the perfect solution. If she can’t make the mochi she’ll beat it into submission with the men. I like this girl’s moxie!
The Jolly Regina (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1) by Kara LaReau, ill. Jen Hill
I’m retracting points from Abrams from chickening out on the original title of this book (which involved the word “booty”, so you know it was superior), but giving full marks to Kara LaReau for effort. Particularly because this is the kind of story that’s amusing to kids and amusing to adults, but for entirely different reasons. The Bland Sisters are perfectly content to live out their days in dull certainty, so it’s a bit of a surprise to them when they’re kidnapped by an all-female crew of pirates. This the kind of book that’s going to contain a character named Captain Ann Tenielle. And if that made you snort then this is the book for you!
The New Kid by Karen English, ill. Laura Freeman
The truly remarkable thing about English’s Carver Chronicles (and Niki & Deja books too, for that matter) is that each book stands entirely on its own. Sure, you might technically get more out of this book if you read the titles that came before, but you certainly don’t have to. I was rather enamored of the moral behind this latest episode. We live in an age where jumping to conclusions with little evidence to support our suspicions is de rigeur (particularly online). In this book, that kind of thinking leads to trouble of a monumental kind. So do unkind assumptions for that matter.
Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Before reading this book (which has shown up on many a Best of the Year list in this very age range) I was under the vague impression that it was a kind of Daria-esque critique of the world at large. Nope. It is, instead, an utterly fascinating and more than slightly surreal tale of a girl that finds a new kind of creature. One that can only say “meh”. And if your brain immediately flew to Stranger Things Season 2 then you are not alone, though I am happy to report that no household pets get the devoured in the course of this short novel. Very much looking forward to more Olga books in the future.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, ill by Brian Floca
When Travis Jonker interviewed Ms. Schlitz and Mr. Floca about this book, this is what the author had to say about it: “It surprises me that there are so few picture books about the conflicts between parents and children. That’s odd, when you think about it, because this is where children live: with their parents, in a love-haunted combat zone. I’m not talking about abusive parents, or delinquent children; I’m talking about parents who are trying desperately to be good parents, and children who are trying hopelessly to be good children.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a far better description of the book than anything I’m likely to come up with anytime soon. I will now take that phrase “love-haunted combat zone” and carry it with me as I coexist with my own daughter and son for years to come.
Rafi and Rosi Pirates! by Lulu Delacre
I wasn’t sure quite where to put this one. It’s just a teeny bit too long to have it on the easy book list, so I think it’s safe to say that it’s the youngest book on today’s early chapter listing. You may recall its inclusion on the Bilingual List this year. Happily, I think we are guaranteed more books in the series if we are good and do our duty by buying it for all our libraries. All set over here! How about you?
Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers by John Dougherty
I have a hard time talking about this book because I love it so much and have such difficulty accurately conveying why it is one of the truly best books of the year. It’s a British import, a fact you probably could have figured out on your own when I mentioned that the shopping cart is named Eric. Can you get any more Monty Python-esque than that? There is also a sequence in this book where the badgers are failing marvelously at trying to convince the children that they are not, in fact, badgers. It doesn’t work, but boy is it fun to watch them try. I’m not going to say any more. This is simply the funniest little book. Please to read.
Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, ill. Zoe Si
We see a lot of boy/girl or girl/boy friendship pairings in early chapter books. This one’s a little different. It’s more along the lines of a reluctant friendship between a girl with better things to do and a boy of infinite good will. Wolfie is called that because she’s a science and reason loving lone wolf. Fly can be super annoying, with more than a small dose of Steven Universe in him, but there’s something infectious about his enthusiasm. Put ’em both together and you get stories you haven’t really seen elsewhere before.
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke
*sigh* Okay Kane/Miller. Come on over here. We need to have a talk.
So, I admire your commitment to not selling your books through Amazon or any Amazon associates. It can be difficult for library systems to get ahold of your books, but you’re doing it for good strong reasons and I commend you. The problem is that you have exclusive American rights to the Anna Hibiscus books and you seem completely uncertain of how to sell them. I don’t need to tell anyone, least of all you, that Anna Hibiscus is probably one of the most remarkable early chapter book series being published today. The writing is magnificent, and if you can name me any other series for kids set in any part of contemporary Africa, lay ’em on me. Through sheer good writing, Atinuke has made a name for herself in the States. And how do you thank her for sticking with you all these years? Kane/Miller, look at this new batch of Anna Hibiscus books you put out this year. Are you SERIOUSLY doing black & white covers? Yes yes, I see the colorful border. Guys, you should be shelling out clams to make the entire book in color. They should be produced with hardcover options! But in lieu of that, at the very least, simple decency dictates that you give the books above par jackets. Look, here’s what Walker Books did with this same title in Britain:
You see? That isn’t hard. So please, I beg you, do yourselves a favor, do Atinuke a favor, and do your child readers a favor and at least try to make these books look appealing. The title I’m featuring on the list today is my favorite of the newest batch. It deals with the death of a major character and manages to discuss how different people, even different ages, deal with grief. I adored it. I hope it somehow finds its audience, in spite of everything.
Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro, ill. Marion Lindsay
STEM + Magic = STEMagic? I’ll work on it.
The scientific method is put to good use when Zoey and her pet cat attempt to determine through trial and error the best ways to take care of various magical creatures. In this first book they need to figure out what to feed a baby dragon. There are plenty of false starts and even falser successes, and there’s a lot to like. Any book that makes it clear that you need to work through mistakes is good in my book.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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