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!
#OwnVoices Early Chapter Books
For fans of Ivy and Bean, Clementine, and Dory Fantasmory, look no further for #OwnVoices early chapter book series. All these #OwnVoices series have the same elements of humor, heart, and adventure with the added benefit of learning about new cultures though osmosis.
Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic
This is a pitch-perfect early chapter book series with a strong relatable girl character who grapples with issues readers can identify with like friendship conflicts, keeping up with older siblings and annoying cousins. It’s also infused with Japanese culture that makes it a rich reading experience. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly
I love this early chapter book featuring a Pakistani-American 2nd grader with a knack for exploration and mischief. This is perfect for kids learning how to read independently. Yasmin is a strong girl character that kids can relate to, doing typical things that second graders do like dressing up, exploring their neighborhood, and painting. Small details about Pakistani culture enrich this lively early chapter book sure to charm those kids who like Ivy & Bean, Clementine, and Dory Fantasmory.
Lola Levine series by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Lola Levine is excited! This summer break she is getting a kitten. But Lola’s happiness soon turns to distress when she realizes her little brother might be allergic to her new pet.
I love that Lola is an animal lover, and while she makes a judgment error when trying to keep her pet, she realizes her mistake and makes amends. [early chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeYuen Pham
Both book series are laugh-out-loud funny with an interesting outlier cast of characters. Chinese culture is embedded into the text. [early chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
Clubhouse Mysteries series by Sharon M. Draper
Sharon M. Draper writes a solid mystery with enough suspense and danger to hook readers. She does a brilliant job of bringing in issues like gentrification and development in inner cities and the backdoor politics that accompany it shown through the lens of four friends, all African American boys. They form a club to solve mysteries with the first one landing literally next door when they unearth a box of bones. The answer to what they are and why they are there illustrates the hidden avarice that affects and plague their neighborhood. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Jada Jones series by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
As a candidate for class representative, Jada is ready to give the campaign her all. But when rumors start to fly about her secret fear of public speaking, she isn’t sure who she can trust. And the pressure to make promises she can’t keep only adds to her growing list of problems. Is winning even worth it when friendships are on the line? [early chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too) by Leslie Kimmelman
Sam and Charlie are neighbors and friends who just happen to be Jewish. Sam too is Sam’s little sister. I love the play on names with traditional boys names for the girl characters. Jewish culture is interwoven into sweet stories about sharing and friendsip. [early chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
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.
Sherlock Sam series by A.J. Low, illustrated by Adan Jimenez
Think of this series as Encylopedia Brown meets Foodie Boy set in Singapore. It has the same elements of humor, annoying older sister, but with a mystery twist. The cultural references to Singapore were all new to me and made this an especially rich read. [early chapter books series, ages 6 and up]
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]
Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills, illustrated by Rob Shepperson
Izzy happens to be African-American and this book, thankfully, doesn’t fall into easy stereotypes. Her issue will resonate with any kids who have a nuclear family. Izzy is frustrated sharing her father with her half-brother who only lives with them on weekends. It’s just that Izzy now has a sport she competes at too, but her father seems to make it to more of her brother’s games than her track meets. There’s also her running rival, Skipper Tipton, whose dad is the coach. With the big meet coming up, can Izzy resolve her issues with her father and beat Skipper? [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane by Nikki Shannon Smith
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Third grader Azaleah lives in Washington, D.C. area, and is enthralled by the pandas when her class visits the National Zoo. When her teacher offers extra credit for constructing a diorama with the pandas, Azaleah is thrilled, because she enjoys the STEM focus of her school.Her weekend ends up being very busy, with her mother running a local restaurant, her father being a lawyer, and her sister Nia having the leading role in her school’s production of The Wis. It doesn’t help when her Auntie Sam babysits and her younger sister Tiana’s favorite stuffed toy, Greenie, goes missing. Will Azaleah be able to touch base with her best friend Rose, get her work done, and find her sister’s toy?” [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 another 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 irreverent. 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 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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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.