Schemers, sleuths, and spies

The familiar characters and structures of these early-chapter-book series entries will help emerging readers build confidence; plots featuring mysteries and madcap plans will keep them turning pages.

The Infamous Ratsos return in Project Fluffy. BMOC Chuck Wood seeks Louie Ratso's advice in winning over his crush, Fluffy Rabbitski. Thrilled by Chuck's attention, Louie outlines a plan — while ignoring his brother Ralphie's own pleas for help. As in previous entries, the characters entertainingly navigate friendship, loyalty, and responsibility. Author Kara LaReau trusts readers to draw their own conclusions about the characters and their feelings — though Matt Myers's playful black-and-white illustrations offer some clues. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

Urgency Emergency! creator Dosh Archer kicks off a series of lively beginning-chapter-book whodunits with The Case of Piggy's Bank and The Case of the Stolen Drumsticks. In each Detective Paw of the Law series entry, Detective Paw (a dog) and Patrol Officer Prickles (a porcupine) follow the same procedural pattern — survey the scene, look for clues, interview persons of interest, and confront the guilty party — to solve a theft. Given the visual hints, young readers may well predict the outcomes, but in doing so they're also working each case and learning that reading is an active process. (Whitman, 5–8 years)

In Detective Gordon: A Case for Buffy (the fourth book in the Detective Gordon series by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee), Gordon's protégé Buffy suddenly realizes that before coming to the forest she was separated from her mouse family and doesn't know their fate. The detectives set off on an urgent mission to solve the case and reunite Buffy with her family. The adventure moves along briskly, but deeper issues permeate the story. The future is bright both for the forest police and for readers hoping for another installment. (Gecko, 7–9 years)

"When I was a kid, I was a spy…The story you are about to read is true," begins author Mac Barnett in Mac B., Kid Spy series-opener Mac Undercover. He then proceeds to spin an absurd yarn culminating in young Mac's face-off against a KGB agent. The story blurs fact and fiction, integrating actual history alongside goofy characterizations of real-world leaders and silly action scenes. Quirky situational humor, heartfelt sentiment, and Mike Lowery's frequent cartoony spot illustrations create a balanced (while still outrageous) early-chapter-book caper. (Scholastic/Orchard, 7–9 years)

From the January 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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