Staid and predictable chapter books these aren’t. Oddball characters (a pair of hands?!), weird situations, and off-kilter settings make these selections stand out from the crowd.
In Sonya Hartnett’s Sadie and Ratz, the titular characters are the pair of hands that belong to Hannah — and get her into trouble. Most especially, they try to rub the ears off Hannah’s little brother, Baby Boy. But Baby Boy has his own impish side, blaming Sadie and Ratz for everything from spilled milk to a broken clock, and Hannah must learn not to strike back. This tale of temper and self-control is an original take on sibling rivalry. Sensitive drawings by Ann James add to Hannah’s psychologically sophisticated journey. (6–8 years)
At the start of Steve Voake’s Hooey Higgins and the Shark, young Hooey and his friend, Twig, spy the world’s largest chocolate egg. The price (sixty-five pounds) is daunting, but the boys figure they can raise the money by capturing a shark recently seen offshore, and Hooey’s older brother devises a plan involving ketchup, a cricket stick, and a bathtub. Emma Dodson’s wacky spot art helps readers pick up on the tone of this over-the-top screwball comedy. (7–10 years)
The protagonist of Diana Wynne Jones’s Earwig and the Witch is not your average orphan in distress. Adopted by an unpleasant witch, Earwig teams up with the witch’s familiar, a talking cat. Readers are treated to a nonstop plot, memorable characters, and fantastical details. An accessible page design incorporates Paul O. Zelinsky’s plentiful line illustrations, the best of which are showstoppers. (7–10 years)
In Dutch import Eep! by Joke van Leeuwen, Warren finds a rare creature — “a bird in the shape of a little girl. Or a little girl in the shape of a bird. Or something in between” — and brings her home, where he and his wife, Tina, care for her. Slowly Beedy walks, talks, and fledges — until one day she flies away. Tina and Warren set off to find Beedy to say goodbye. Insightful, affectionate humor and whimsy suffuse this fantasy, which is illustrated throughout with van Leeuwen’s clever, comic drawings. (8–11 years)