I’m excited to be judging first round Cybils this year in the categories of Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books. There were over 50 entrants for Early Chapter Books this year and we just finished picking the short list. Now, round 2 judges will take over to pick the final winners — 1 in each category!
There were some standout Early Chapter Books that had diversity in the mix and I wanted to highlight the best Early Chapter Books I’ve read so far. How about you? What Early Chapter Books are you loving? Please share!
New Great Early Chapter Books with Diversity Characters
I’m not sure why but Early Chapter Book are like newborn clothes; they are either GIRL or BOY. What happened to gender neutral? My favorite book out of all these Early Chapter Book is Lulu and the Hamster in the Night but I can’t imagine a boy picking up this book and reading it. This genre of books felt a little girl audience heavy as well. I’m not sure if this is a new trend or just a fluke.
Lulu and the Hamster in the Night by Hilary McKay
It’s interesting that there were quite a few animal adoption themed Early Chapter Books this year but this is exactly the kind of Easy Chapter book that I wish there were more of. Lulu and Mellie just happen to be girls of color but that’s not the point. Their adventure as rescue pet adopters is perfectly pitched. I’m really impressed with this series — last year, another Lulu book made the short list.
The plot is a classic sit-com; the girls stay at their grandmother’s house but with their rescue hamster but as she doesn’t allow furry animals, they have to hide the hamster during their weekend stay. The hamster, of course, gets out and has to be rescued. What makes this book sing is the pacing of this very sweet story that is wonderfully descriptive without ever dragging the plot down. I hope this one gets a win this year! [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Princess Posey and the First Grade Ballet by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
I love that the characters include diversity as a small detail that reflects the world around but are not the point of the story. You see the children of color in the charming illustrations. It’s a sweet story that gently introduces the idea of poverty to a young audience. Instead of judging, the story models how to be kind. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
The Mystery of the Missing Lion: A Precious Ramostswe Mystery for Young Readers by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Iain McIntosh
I don’t care for the block print illustrations but they do a good job conveying a different culture, in this case, Botswana in the Okavango Delta where Precious’ aunt lives in a Safari camp. I love that this is a realistic portrayal of modern-day life in Africa. Precious visits her aunt where a tame lion used in movies returns to the wild where it is accepted. There’s a stilted quality to the writing that harkens back to an era from the past that may not be for every reader. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Emma is on the Air Big News! by Ida Siegal
Emma is a spunky budding journalist in search of big news which comes in the form of a worm found in Javier’s hamburger. Now, there’s a mystery to solve. I love that there are Spanish words sprinkled through the book, reflecting Emma’s Hispanic heritage. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Critter Club: Ellie and the Good Luck Pig by Callie Barkley, illustrated by Marsha Riti
This is an Early Chapter Book that really is easy and it happens to be about rescue animals with a diversity cast! Ellie and friends run an animal shelter in Ms. Sullivan’s barn and when a new pig arrives Ellie thinks it brings her extraordinary good luck so she’s panicked when the pig gets adopted. Will her luck disappear with Plum the pig? [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Battle Bugs: The Lizard War by Jack Patton
The reader has to infer that Max is a boy of color from a single illustration. He likes insects so when his mother who works at an auction house discovers, The Complete Encyclopedia of Arthropods, wedged behind the bookcase, she brings it home for him. There’s something weird about this book. When Max reads it, he falls into a battle between bugs and lizards. His vast knowledge about insects is about to come in handy if he is to save his new insect friends. Factoids about Arthropods are seeded throughout the book. It’s a nice way to teach kids about science. [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]
West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher by Liam O’Donnell, illustrated by Aurelie Grand
There’s a lot of diversity in this book: Myron is autistic, his teachers Mr. Harpel and Ms. Chu are of color, and Hajrah seems to have ADHD. When Myron’s school cafeteria gets repeatedly trashed and snacks go missing, his perspective being autistic makes him able to filter information and catch clues that others don’t see.
Is the culprit the school bully, Sarah “Smasher” McGuintley, or is something else going on? Liam O’Donnell also writes the excellent detective graphic novel series Max Finder. Max is mentioned in this book as well as other well-known fictional detective, Encyclopedia Brown. Readers with a nose for sleuthing will appreciate these kinds of details! [early chapter book ages 6 and up]
Scholastic sent me a book from each of the Branches series. These are new Easy Chapter Book series from more than a dozen authors. These three series were both engaging and had diversity casts.
Princess Pink and the Lank of Fake-Believe: Moldylocks and the Three Beards by Noah Z. Jones
I like fractured fairy tales and this one is fun because it’s markedly irreverant. The cartoon-y illustrations and dialogue bubbles also give it a graphic novel feel. Even though there’s a princess called “pink”, this still would appeal to a boy if he gives it a chance. Princess Pink, after all, is misnamed. She is not a princess, does not likes princesses and does not care for the color pink. [easy chapter book, ages 6 and up]
The Amazing Stardust Friends: Step Into the Spotlight by Heather Alexander
For every girl who has dreamed of joining the circus, this is the early chapter book for you. Marlo and her mother are joining the Stardust Circus; Marlo’s mom is the new cook. When Marlo meets the girls who perform, she wants to get in on the act but she has to find a special talent to be allowed to join the circus parade. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Kiki: My Stylish Life by Kyla May
This notebook novel would appeal to reluctant girl readers in older grades or even middle school because the plot that revolves around a friendships and girl bullying is more relatable to girls ages 10 and up than a first or second grader. Kiki wants to be a fashion designer and has a tight cluster of close friends. When Mika Maeda moves into town, suddenly she seems to have a rival because Mika is stylish too. Is there a communication problem between Kiki and Mika or are they too much alike? When Kiki’s dog goes missing and turns up at the fashion show, will it be a showdown or is it all a big misunderstanding?
Lily’s New Home by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez
Lily and her family move to New York City. On her first day settling in, she explores the neighborhood which is so different from her old home. There’s a public garden and welcome signs in Spanish! But some things are familiar too, like the public library. Lily gets a new library card and checks out some books. When she returns home, the little boy on the stoop reading becomes her first new friend. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Rafi and Rosi by Lulu Delacre
With Spanish words dropped in, this series about Rafi and Rosi, brother and sister Coquí frogs, introduces readers to Puerto Rican culture. Readers will be charmed by Rafi and Rosi’ adventures planting mangroves at the beach to the sparkling Parguera Bay. There’s also a scientific discovery from the sand at the beach. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Rafi and Rosi Carnival! by Lulu Delacre
This early chapter book series combines Puerto Rican culture with science. In this book, Rafi and Rosi, brother and sister Coquí frogs, introduce readers to Carnival. In the back pages, readers can make their own Vejigante mast and carnival float. There’s also a project to make a periscope! [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Want to Play? by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez
Pablo can read in English and Spanish, but when his sisters are playing loudly, he can’t read at all. he decides to go to the playground instead and play games with his friends. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
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