Cheng, Andrea The Year of the Book
148 pp. Houghton 2012. ISBN 978-0-547-68463-5
Illustrated by Abigail Halpin. Nine-year-old Anna, who always has her head stuck in a book, sometimes uses reading as a shield against social exclusion (of the specialized fourth-grade-girl kind) and her own lack of confidence. Cheng’s telling is as straightforward yet sympathetic as her self-contained main character; Halpin’s often lighthearted pencil-and-wash sketches both decorate and enrich this perceptive novel.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Chinese Americans; Books and reading; Friendship; Schools—Elementary schools; Chapter books
English, Karen Skateboard Party
117 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-28306-0
Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Carver Chronicles series. Skateboarder Richard spends so much time mastering a flat-ground Ollie that other things fall by the wayside. After blowing off his report on howler monkeys — again — Richard finds himself staying in for recess; readers will cheer when he finally tackles the report. Kids will recognize themselves in this series entry (including the occasional black-and-white illustrations) starring a realistic, likable boy of color.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Chapter books; Sports—Skateboarding; Schools—Elementary schools; African Americans
Fleischman, Paul The Dunderheads
56 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-2498-9
Illustrated by David Roberts. Miss Breakbone is a piratical confiscator of treasures brought to class. Led by self-possessed narrator “Einstein,” her students set out to retrieve Miss Breakbone’s latest plunder — a one-eared cat statue. Roberts caricatures the formidable teacher and the amiably wide-eyed kids with a witty, agile pen and judicious splashes of color, an excellent foil for Fleischman’s terse and comical, action-packed private-eye send-up.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Humorous stories; Teachers; Schools—Elementary schools; Chapter books
Henkes, Kevin The Year of Billy Miller
229 pp. Greenwillow 2013. ISBN 978-0-06-226812-9 LE ISBN 978-0-06-226813-6
Billy Miller starts off on the wrong foot with his second-grade teacher; his seat isn’t next to his best friend; and he worries he may not be smart enough for school. Henkes divides his nuanced novel into four parts, each with a focus on someone in Billy’s life: Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. Together they offer a vivid portrait of a boy coming into his confidence.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Schools—Elementary schools; Family; Wisconsin; Humorous stories
Jamieson, Victoria The Great Pet Escape
64 pp. Holt 2016. ISBN 978-1-62779-105-2 PE ISBN 978-1-62779-106-9
Feisty class hamster GW completes his Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic invention and races to release bunny Barry and guinea pig Biter — but his friends aren’t eager to abandon their comfy lives as class pets. Jailbreaks, a food fight, and other hijinks ensue in this laugh-out-loud graphic novel. Pen-and-ink panels in a bright palette have a tidy feel, in neat contrast to the mischief and mayhem.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Graphic novels; Cartoons and comics; Animals—Hamsters; Schools—Elementary schools; Pets; Humorous stories
Lagercrantz, Rose My Heart Is Laughing
120 pp. Gecko 2014. ISBN 978-1-877579-52-3
Illustrated by Eva Eriksson. First grader Dani (My Happy Life) is still sad about best friend Ella moving away, but she’s a sturdy kid. Then things get sticky at school: classmates Mickey and Vicky both like the same boy, but he likes Dani. Lagercrantz’s text is funny and real; Eriksson’s line drawings brilliantly portray expressions and body language. Salty and sweet, this is umami for the emerging reader.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Chapter books; Schools—Elementary schools; Friendship; Books in translation
Look, Lenore Alvin Ho: Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night
185 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2013. ISBN 978-0-375-87033-0 LE ISBN 978-0-375-97033-7
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. In this fifth book, Alvin’s current anxieties include two that will resonate with lots of kids: burglars and babies (his mom is expecting). Though there’s one fear that only Alvin could come up with: he thinks he’s pregnant, too. Alvin is sure to come up with more worries for future installments; as usual, Pham’s illustrations capture both the highs and the lows.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Chapter books; Emotions—Fear; Pregnancy; Schools—Elementary schools; Chinese Americans; Massachusetts; Family; Babies; Robbers and outlaws; Emotions—Worry
McKay, Hilary Lulu and the Duck in the Park
93 pp. Whitman 2012. ISBN 978-0-8075-4808-0
Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Bringing outside animals into Lulu’s class is verboten. But when Class Three witnesses two dogs destroy ducks’ nests, Lulu keeps the remaining egg safe, and it begins to hatch — while at school. Animal-loving Lulu’s dilemma rings true, and no-nonsense Mrs. Holiday’s speech is humorously natural. Though all ends well in this fine beginning chapter book, gratifyingly the resolution is not pat.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Family—Cousins; Eggs; African Americans; Animals—Ducks; Humorous stories; Chapter books; Schools—Elementary schools; Animals; Friendship; Pets
McMullan, Kate Pearl and Wagner: Five Days Till Summer
48 pp. Penguin 2012. ISBN 978-0-8037-3589-7
Illustrated by R. W. Alley. Penguin Young Readers series. Pearl gets a glimpse of next year’s teacher, Ms. Bean, and thinks she resembles a “mean green bean.” Illustrations vary in placement and capture the myriad expressions on the characters’ faces. The language begins to bridge that territory between easy readers and chapter books, but the real beauty of this book is its own connection from one school year to the next.
Subjects: Easy Readers; Schools—Elementary schools; Emotions—Fear; Teachers
Michalak, Jamie Joe and Sparky Go to School
42 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-6278-3
Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. Giraffe Joe and best friend Sparky the turtle, who live at Safari Land, take an unexpected field trip to a school when they accidentally board a departing bus full of “noisy short people.” Limited but lively vocabulary, a large font, and carefully placed illustrations—all in a humorous, high-interest package — will make this a hit.
Subjects: Easy Readers; School field trips; Schools; Animals—Turtles; Animals—Giraffes; Humorous stories; Friendship
Mills, Claudia Izzy Barr, Running Star
136 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-33578-6 Ebook ISBN 978-0-374-33579-3
Illustrated by Rob Shepperson. Franklin School Friends series. This third installment focuses on Izzy Barr, the fastest runner in the third grade — until classmate Skipper beats her. Izzy desperately wants to beat her rival, first at the school field day and then at the citywide 10K. Mills presents and resolves problems in a winning story; Shepperson’s depiction of Izzy as African American adds welcome diversity to this group of friends.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Friendship; Family—Father and daughter; Contests; Chapter books; Schools—Elementary schools; Sports—Running; Sports—Track and field; Competition; Family—Siblings; African Americans
Pennypacker, Sara Completely Clementine
181 pp. Disney/Hyperion 2015. ISBN 978-1-4231-2358-3
Illustrated by Marla Frazee. In this series-ender, third grade is almost over, but Clementine isn’t ready to say goodbye. Meanwhile, she’s not speaking to her father, her new baby sibling is due any day, and her friend Margaret’s mother is getting married. All this change is handled with the series’ signature light touch. Breezy pen-and-ink illustrations capture Clementine’s goofy panache. A bittersweet sendoff for a beloved literary friend.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Chapter books; Schools—Elementary schools; Family; Babies; Humorous stories
Spinelli, Jerry Third Grade Angels
137 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-38772-9
Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell. In this Fourth Grade Rats prequel, Suds is becoming a “third grade angel.” One member of Mrs. Simms’s class per week will be the “boss angel” and Suds decides that he’ll be the first. Spinelli has his finger on the pulse of notoriously competitive third graders, and Suds’s first-person account rings true. Black-and-white illustrations move the story along while supporting unsure readers.
Subjects: Younger Fiction; Behavior—Determination; Behavior—Obedience; Competition; Schools—Elementary schools; Family—Siblings; Friendship; Chapter books
From the August 2016 issue of What Makes a Good: “What Makes a Good School Story?” For more recommended school stories, see “From the Guide: First-Day-of-School Picture Books” from the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.