Following your dreams and dealing with family: these topics get hilarious treatment for primary readers in the following early chapter books. An added bonus? Some familiar faces from popular series.
In Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family, the titular kitty finds a family photo album and, nostalgic for his childhood, decides to visit his kin. His mother treats him well, but other relatives humiliate him — and poor Ralph realizes that he’s so rotten because his family was rotten to him! After a few Rotten Ralph picture books, the return to the longer early-chapter-book format leaves room for a more sophisticated story line to emerge. Never fear; Ralph’s rotten behavior, sure to bring a chuckle to fans old and new, is still front and center in Gantos’s freewheeling text and Rubel’s energetic illustrations. (Farrar, 5–8 years)
In Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Leroy (the “reformed thief” from Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books) makes ends meet serving popcorn at the drive-in, but dreams of being a cowboy. Sporting a cowboy hat, lasso, and boots, he watches raptly the Wednesday night Western double-feature but makes little progress otherwise. When he receives the advice that “Every cowboy needs a horse,” Leroy purchases “very exceptionally cheap” Maybelline and throws himself into horse-ownership — but acquiring a horse and keeping one turn out to be two different challenges. This entertaining tale balances comically exaggerated details and true heart. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
Pigsticks Pig — star of Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey — comes from a long line of august ancestors. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. He engages anxious, cake-loving hamster Harold as an assistant, and, in three generously illustrated chapters, we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and more. Alex Milway’s tongue-in-cheek text and slapdash-goofy pictures provide much humor. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
The eponymous brand-new next-door-neighbor kids in Quinny & Hopper couldn’t be more different: quiet, analytical loner Hopper is initially baffled (and a little appalled) by Quinny’s cutesiness and high volume. But in battling Hopper’s bullying brothers on his behalf, Quinny wins him over, and the two become friends — until snooty new girl Victoria barges her way between them. Debut author Adriana Brad Schanen nicely balances the alternating perspectives of Quinny and Hopper and paints a comically exaggerated but essentially truthful picture of life with siblings. Illustrator Greg Swearingen deftly captures each child’s emotions. (Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years)
From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.