Have you heard of the Cybils Awards?
The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.http://www.cybils.com/
Volunteer judges from the blogging community read nominated titles to choose an outstanding winner in 12 categories. Round 1 judges read through large lists of nominated titles to narrow each category for the Round 2 judges, who choose the winners. This year I had the privilege of serving as a Round 2 judge for Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books. What fun it was to learn about these brand new books (published in 2020)! Read on for my short reviews of the Early Chapter Books. (I checked them out from my local public library. All opinions are my own.)
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Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo
Hedgehog’s friend Mutty is blown away in a terrible storm. She goes on a journey to find him and makes some new friends along the way. Mole, Owl, Beaver, Hen and Chicks all want to help, each leading Hedgehog to the next new friend. Finally, they come to the house of a young girl who found Mutty after the storm. Hedgehog is so grateful, she bravely helps the girl locate her lost notebook. This last adventure solidifies the new friendships in this group of caring pals.
The illustrations, including the map/scenery on the end papers, help the reader follow the flow of the story. We feel like we are on the journey with Hedgehog, viewing the beautiful setting along the way. The sweet pictures also effectively communicate the emotion of the story. Highly recommended for an elementary classroom, library, or family read-aloud!
Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Kate DiCamillo still has a way with words in this early chapter book! And Chris VanDusen’s illustrations add details filled with the emotion of the story. Second graders Stella and Horace are in trouble after arguing about their poetry assignment. Although each of them is stubborn in their own way, they end up in a predicament that brings them together.
The author masterfully crafts a story in which the young characters learn to recognize the good in one another while allowing their own goodness to shine through. All with fun plot twists and turns that bring on the chuckles! Difficult vocabulary (metaphor, entombed, janitorial…) is repeated and used in ways that allow early chapter book readers to grasp meanings that will stay with them. A must-have for your elementary library collection, and a great read aloud for your classroom or family!
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho
7 ½ year old Mindy (Min-jung is her Korean name) has just moved to Florida from California with her dad. As she struggles to make friends at her new school, she begins trading, and then selling, her delicious Korean seaweed snacks. He trouble starts when she realizes it’s against the rules to sell anything at school.
A busy dad, a wish for a puppy, and conflicts at school make Mindy’s character relatable. She and her dad are also dealing with the recent loss of her mom to an illness. This is handled in a realistic and honest way that doesn’t feel too heavy for young readers. We learn about some Korean words and traditions, along with how it feels to have others not understand your culture. Black and white illustrations convey the events of the story with emotion. The Korean-American author used experiences and people from her own past to inspire her writing. The beginning of a promising new early chapter book series!
Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
The second graders at Blue River School are embarking on a real “Learning Experience.” They will be choosing a class pet. Miss Lila Greer’s plan includes raising money to buy and feed the new pet, and everyone will share in the responsibility of caring for it. But first things first – the class is having an election to determine what kind of pet they will get. Sofia Valdez has been chosen as election commissioner, and she finds this to be a huge responsibility. Readers learn along with Sofia and her classmates about journalism, activism, free & fair elections, editorials, and bias.
Readers who have enjoyed the Questioneers picture books will love running into the familiar characters. This early chapter book is a fun way to learn about free and fair elections. However, the back matter, while informative, is not well organized. This might be confusing to young readers, leading them to skip over the valuable information. Even so, I definitely recommend this early chapter book for your elementary library collection and as a classroom read aloud.
Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
The monster and the boy have never actually met, even though the monster has been living under the bed for quite some time. This all changes when the boy’s mother says there’s no such thing as monsters. The monster finally shows himself and nervously swallows the boy before he can scream. This causes the boy to shrink! As they struggle to find a solution to this problem, the little sister shows up with some unexpected wisdom.
Short, simple sentences, white space, and fun illustrations make this a good beginning chapter book. However, I wonder if some of the writing might be confusing to young readers (the author often switches from narrating the story to speaking directly to the reader). I do think this story is fun and would make a terrific read-aloud!
I sure enjoyed my experience serving as a Round 2 judge for Cybils Awards Early Chapter Books! You can read about all of the 2020 winners on the Cybils blog.
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Be the light!