Primary animal fantasy chapter books

These recent animal-fantasy chapter books will thrill, educate, and crack up new readers.

Willa the Wisp [The Fabled Stables]
by Jonathan Auxier; illus. by Olga Demidova
Primary    Amulet/Abrams    96 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-4197-4269-9    $12.99

“At the top of the world sat an island. And at the heart of that island lived a boy named Auggie.” So begins this early chapter book full of magical creatures, puzzling situations, and playful nonsense. Auggie’s job on the island is to take care of all the one-of-a-kind creatures at the Fabled Stables, such as the Long-Beaked Curmudgeon and the Yawning Abyss. Auggie has a unique rapport with animals as well as a Horn of Plenty that produces the appropriate food for each creature on command. He’s helped by a “stick-in-the-mud” named Fen, who begrudgingly mucks out the stalls. One day, the stables magically expand to make room for a new creature: a wisp. Unfortunately, the wisp needs to be rescued before it can move in, and adventures ensue. Plentiful illustrations with small bursts of text on the pages make for a high-energy story full of twists and turns. Many mysteries around the nature of the island and its inhabitants remain unsolved, including the motivations of Professor Cake, the island’s owner. “He was very old and very clever. He collected things that were one-of-a-kind. Things like Auggie.” Great for reading aloud, this lively first entry in a projected series offers a curious setting and an imaginative cast of characters. JULIE ROACH

Fox & Rabbit Make Believe [Fox & Rabbit]
by Beth Ferry; illus. by Gergely Dudás
Primary    Amulet/Abrams    96 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-4197-4687-1    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68335-983-8    $11.69

In their second volume, Fox and Rabbit return for five new loosely connected adventures as summer turns to fall. Flush with their lemonade-stand earnings from the previous book, they start by treating themselves and their friends to ice cream. This leads to a bubble-gum blowing contest (and an unfortunately necessary trip to the hairdresser for Fox), a playground adventure, a corn-maze escape, and an idyllic afternoon carving pumpkins. The brightly colored comic-panel art develops and helps clarify details and plot points in the story, and its soft, round lines give the characters and settings an endearing, huggable quality. Fox and Rabbit carry the tales, but other animal friends repeatedly show up — ever-hungry Sparrow, new friend Owl with the wonderful imagination, and Turtle, who tends to miss everything due to chronic tardiness — adding gentle tension and humor. The stories lightly touch on worries such as being embarrassed or feeling left out, but all the characters are innately sympathetic and kind to one another, making for a comforting graphic novel for younger readers. JULIE ROACH

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds
by Elise Gravel; illus. by the author
Primary    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    64 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-06-298221-6    $12.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-298222-3    $7.99

It’s an early chapter book! It’s a graphic novel! It’s a story about a creature with an overabundance of pride! It’s an unexpected friendship story! It’s a collection of strange-but-true facts about crows! Gravel (Disgusting Critters series) manages all this in three short graphic chapters marked by her signature sly humor. Her blocky cartoon birds on simple backgrounds in a limited color palette help keep things simple. Arlo, a boastful crow, finds an audience in a little yellow bird named Pips, who questions whether crows really are the very best birds, as Arlo claims. On finding that Arlo is new to the city, Pips offers to show him around, and a new friendship is formed. As their small adventures unfold — tricking other birds, visiting the beach, finding shiny things — facts about crows are sprinkled throughout in the form of footnotes. These facts are used to great effect, making the reader believe that maybe crows are truly as amazing as Arlo says. LAURA KOENIG

Skunk and Badger
by Amy Timberlake; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary, Intermediate    Algonquin    136 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-64375-005-7    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-64375-121-4    $15.95

Badger is perfectly content to live alone in a brownstone owned by Aunt Lula, which he’s arranged to suit his rather particular preferences, when a surprise roommate turns up. (It would have been less of a surprise had he not been too busy to read Aunt Lula’s letters.) Skunk needs a home — “Not everyone wants a skunk” — but the impetuous and sometimes literally effusive Skunk’s interference with scientist Badger’s Important Rock Work just won’t do. The personality pairing familiar to readers of Frog and Toad and the like should help ease the transition to this more challenging text, with its advanced vocabulary (“He’d shelved [the rocks and minerals] alphabetically with the most delicate specimens wrapped in tissue paper”), long paragraphs, and only occasionally interspersed illustrations. Those illustrations, some in black and white and some in warm color, echo the text’s old-fashioned feel. This new series, with its humor and understated (well, sometimes) emotions, deserves a far warmer welcome than the one Skunk initially receives. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the January 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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