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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Books: 2018 Early Chapter Books

At my library I run the children’s book list committee. We meet every month to discuss the books that we’ve been reading and to recommend titles to one another. And every year, when it is time for us to discuss the early chapter books, I have to make a little caveat. “Folks,” I’ll say, “I have to warn you about something. I like strange early chapter books. Imports and translations. Books that don’t fit into any category really, so I tend to throw them in with the Early Chapter Books. You have been warned.” And then I’ll spend approximately 20 minutes extolling the virtues of some Scandanavian bedtime book about a hedgehog that wants to study Kant.

That’s an exaggeration. No one has written that book yet (YET!). But that speech I give is pretty much verbatim.

The fact of the matter is that while Easy Books are hard to write, Early Chapter Books are hard to categorize. They’re also ideal bedtime books for older children, which means that with the European imports you get a lot of experimentation. American early chapter books are pretty much just written to please. Publishers particularly like it when they can be part of a series, and authors are always encouraged to think bigger and to never settle for a standalone. There are a couple series titles on today’s list, but for the most part it’s a celebration of the standalones.

Here is my collection of those books that are older than Easy but not yet novels, written with 6-9 year-olds in mind.

 2018 Early Chapter Books

Anna and Johanna: A Children’s Book Inspired by Jan Vermeer by Géraldine Elschner, ill. Florence Kœnig, translated by Paul Kelly


17th-century Holland! What could be better? Grab your wooden shoes and your tulips, folks as you read this tale of a milkmaid and a wealthy daughter that are fast friends. Inspired by two Vermeer paintings (The Lacemaker and The Milkmaid) the book makes zippo attempts to replicate the master’s style. Instead, it puts you right smack dab in the time period, and teaches you a bit about a famous painter along the way.

Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann, translated by David Henry Wilson


Straight from Germany, this is actually the third in a series of sorts that began with Lindbergh and continued through Armstrong. Edison is, if possible, even more ambitious than the first two, setting up a great grand story that involves submersibles (submersibles were hot in 2018), inventions, and a great grand mystery. I once said that Kuhlmann’s style is like a steampunk Beatrix Potter. I’ll stand by that.

Good Night, Sleep Tight: Eleven-and-a-half Good Night Stories with Fox and Rabbit by Kristina Andres, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer


Again with the Germans! This time it’s precisely what it advertises. Eleven-and-a-half small bedtime tales involving two good friends. There’s a pseudo-villain in there, and some mild misunderstandings, but on the whole it’s just sweet and gentle. Good beddy-bye fodder for sleepytime kids.

Houndsley and Catina and Cousin Wagster by James Howe, ill. Marie-Louise Gay


I never quite know where to put the Houndsley and Catina books. They look like Easy Books, but their storylines are just ever-so-barely in the early chapter book territory. Now this is hardly the first book in Howe’s series, but there was such a lag between books that I was flooded with this great sense of relief when I heard there was a new one in the works. More Houndsley! More Catina! That can never be a bad thing and, indeed, this book lives up to expectations.

It’s Not Easy Being Mimi by Linda Davick


Frothy. It’s a good word, isn’t it? Since I buy the adult books at my library I often encounter book reviews for adult titles that describe them as “frothy”. These are usually romances, but why should a word be so limiting? Frothy is the perfect way to describe books like Davick’s, after all. In this early chapter book you have this mildly surreal situation where a bunch of kids all live in the same apartment building (named “The Periwinkle Tower”, naturally). You’ve a nice diverse cast and some mild drama. Just perfect for those new readers who want some real chapter books under their belt.

Mac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett, ill. Mike Lowery


So glad I finally sat down and read this book. By my count, any book set in 1989 where a normal kid is called in by the Queen of England to defeat KGB spies and, quite possibly, try to cheer up the President of France is already my cup of tea. Kids love their funny books and Barnett and Lowery work in perfect synch here. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful to whatever editor it was over at Scholastic that realized that the two would be a good match. I’ve always like Lowery, but with this book he really gets to let go and be out-and-out funny. There’s stuff for old-timers (read: Children of the 80s) to enjoy, and plenty for the kids too. Deserving of its fame.

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, ill. Hatem Aly


It’s nice when you get a book that knows how to sell itself. Just look at Hatem Aly’s art here. Dude knows what he’s doing, and what he’s doing is sucking you into reading Ms. Faruqi’s tales of Yasmin and her family. I don’t need to tell you that contemporary Muslim-American stories aren’t exactly commonplace quite yet. This book marks a peppy, colorful, thoroughly enjoyable step in the right direction. More of this, please!

Megabat by Anna Humphrey, ill. Kass Reich


A fruitbat bonds with a shy boy and then proceeds to obsess over Star Wars. Parsing one early chapter book from the next is slow going. A lot of the time the books simply don’t distinguish themselves from the pack. Much of what makes this little darling stand out is the bat himself. The cover of this book advertises “MEGA personality” which, I have to admit, is dead on. You can’t help but love this guy and his speech inflections. Good villain too, come to think of it.

Mummies at the Museum by Wong Herbert Yee


I have this huge appreciation for Wong Herbert Yee. He’s one of those quiet author/illustrators that don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves. Instead, he just creates these fantastic books on the down low, and if you just happen to notice then count yourself lucky. This new series marks a bit of a departure for Mr. Yee. In the past he’s done books that were slower and sweeter (the whole Mouse & Mole series, for example). Here, he speeds everything up and gives voice to a hamster and a gerbil with this graphic novel/early chapter book hybrid. Kirkus said this contains “rodent high jinks”. Yup. That’s the long and short of it.

Murray the Race Horse by Gavin Puckett, ill. Tor Freeman


A rhyming British import in early chapter book form? Yeah, no. No no. How can that be any good at all? Dunno, dudes, but it actually is. But don’t let that blurb on the cover saying it won the “Greenhouse Funny Prize” lead you astray. Apparently that’s just a prize given out by an agency somewhere. The real draw here is the storyline and pictures. In this book, Murray is a failure as a racehorse. That is, until he realizes that he is built for speed only when running backwards. The rhymes actually work too, once you get into it. You wouldn’t want it to be a full-length rhyming novel or anything, but for these short chapters it’s no problem at all.

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Mélanie Rutten, translated by Sarah Ardizzone


RabbitShadowAh, the French. This book just baffled my committee this year, I will not lie. First off, it’s huge. Towering at a whopping 11 X 8.5 inches, it’s bigger than most of the picture books in your room. It certainly resembles a picture book as well, were it not for how much text it has inside. Text heck, read it! The themes at work here are deep and strange and sad. It’s about parenthood and letting go and how necessary and wrenching natural separations can be. Plus there’s a warrior in this book that turns out to be a bold little girl, so that’s a nice plus as well. Beautiful and odd.

Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther


Americans don’t know Kitty Crowther. Their loss. Winner of the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, there’s a great interview with her that you should read over at French Picture Books in English. Generally speaking she doesn’t get translated in the States very often. This year, this book was an exception and I rather loved it. These are bedtime stories within a bedtime story format, and somehow Crowther takes bright pink and makes it feel warm and sleepifying in the context of the tales. There’s a very classic feel to her art and writing. Worth discovering.

They Didn’t Teach THIS In Worm School! One Worm’s Tale of Survival by Simone Lia


I’m actually a bit baffled as to how this book flew under the radar this year. It came out way back in February and is funny funny funny. I actually had someone ask me for recommendations recently and when I mentioned this they got quite excited. Seems the granddaughter they were hoping to buy books for is really into worms. A perfect fit!

The Unicorn Rescue Society: Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot by Adam Gidwitz and Joseph Bruchac, ill. Hatem Aly


Because you can never have too much Hatem Aly.

It’s a little odd to mention the third book in a series, particularly when numbers one and two came out in the same year. Yet with this particular book, Adam Gidwitz is doing something very interesting. When I heard him speak at the SLJ Summit in Brooklyn this past fall, he discussed this series. In it, the main characters go about trying to aid and rescue various mythical creatures. The easy thing would be to stick with European critters, but Gidwitz decided that if he was going to do a series for younger readers then he needed to bring in experts. I like very much that Joseph Bruchac (the Abenaki author and poet) gets co-writing credit on this book. In this story you get a thorough history of the Muckleshoot to say nothing of the backmatter. Gidwitz intends to continue working with co-authors for these books since, as he knows from firsthand teaching experience, kids at this age are crazy about the series. If you want give them animals and magic, cool, but slipping in a little learning never hurt anyone.

Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!

December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups

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 Books for Kids

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – Translated Picture Books

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

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 Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.