Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker

Aimed at young readers transitioning into chapter books, Beatrice Zinker is a quirky child with a friendship problem.

Beginning chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 1 through 3
4 out of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of books that are written for readers who are ready to transition from picture books to chapter books. Beatrice Zinker is 155 pages long, and almost every page features some type of drawing to break up the text. It is not overwhelming and can help readers build stamina.

Some of the text is written in a rhyming style, but the majority is prose. I must say that I was a little scared at first that the entire book rhymed, which would get old!

Beatrice is a child who thinks outside the box. “Beatrice does her best thinking upside down” is a tagline that is often used to promote the story. For Beatrice, the “upside down” is both literal and figurative. She loves to climb trees and hang by her knees, and she doesn’t necessarily think like her classmates, or want to participate in the same type of activities.

When her best friend Lenny returns to school at the end of the summer and has a new friend, this causes some turmoil in Beatrice’s life. Lenny wants to try new things, and Beatrice had planned on things being the same way they were before.

Beatrice will have to use some of her upside-down thinking to come up with a way to maintain her friendship with Lenny, but without sacrificing her fun and funky spirit.

Juana & Lucas

This is a shorter chapter book that is perfect for independent readers who are transitioning into longer reads than picture books. Juana is a young girl who lives in Bogota, Colombia and loves drawing, Astroman, brussel sprouts, reading books, and especially her dog Lucas.

Beginning chapter book
Interest Level: 1-3; Reading Level: 3.6
Pura Belpre author award winner, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

On the first day of school, Juana’s isn’t having a great day, but things go positively downhill for her when her teacher announces, “Today you are going to begin learning the English.” Juana struggles to learn all the strange words and figure out the weird sounds made by English letters. Juana dislikes learning this new language and can’t figure out why she even has to.

Juana & Lucas is a winner of the Pura Belpre award which is given to a work of children’s literature that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. Set in Bogota, Colombia, readers are given a glimpse of life in another country. What makes this story so exceptional is that young readers see a character who is not that different from themselves–struggles to learn in school, riding a school bus, playing soccer at recess…these are all experiences that children in Indiana go through as well.

Juana’s struggles to learn a second language will be familiar to anyone who has learned a foreign language. It doesn’t come easily and Juana sees no use for a second language. When Juana is told that she needs to get her grades up in order to go to Spaceland in the USA and see her favorite hero, Astroman, she suddenly has a reason to learn English. For many children (and adults) motivation to learn increases when learning is given a real-world context and meaning. Juana suddenly lives and breathes learning English and begins to excel.
Juana is a spunky main character who young readers will easily relate to and enjoy. Juana Medina’s illustrations are fun and engaging and the text contains many features that capture the eye and add visual interest to the page. Spanish words are interspersed throughout the text, but are easily translated through the context of the sentence.

Juana & Lucas introduces a main character who is from a different culture but doesn’t focus on the differences, and instead shows the commonalities among people. Juana is an energetic young lady who will appeal to a wide variety of children.

Juana & Lucas
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7208-9

We Are Growing!

Fans of Elephant & Piggie will love to watch the grass grow in this Geisel award winner!

Beginning reader, fiction
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.1
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, 2017
4 out of 5 stars

We Are Growing is one of the first books to be published in the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series. Elephant & Piggie make an appearance and provide an introduction and closing for the book, which will delight their young reading fans.

Watching the grass grow has never been as fun or interesting! As each blade of grass begins to grow, they discover that they are all different and have different strengths. Some are curliest or crunchiest…except for one who isn’t sure what he is the most at. His friends try to help him, and in the end he discovers his strength.

This book is excellent for beginning readers. It features a controlled vocabulary and fun story that will keep children interested. It also features the superlative form of words, so this could be a companion book to a grammar lesson.

Fans of Elephant & Piggie will enjoy this book. Don’t forget to look for the hidden Pigeons!

We Are Growing
by Laurie Keller
Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 2016
ISBN 978-1-48472-635-8

View all my reviews on GoodReads

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box

This is a humorous book for beginning independent readers.

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box
by Jonathan Fenske
Penguin Young Readers, 2015
ISBN 978-0-448-48511-9
Beginning reader, humorous
30 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm.
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Lvl: 1.1
Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

This book features two friends, Fox and Pig. The story is divided into three independent parts, that build on each other. Each part begins with the same repetition:

I am Fox.
I am Pig.
I am little.
I am big.

At this point the reader discovers that Fox likes to play tricks on Pig. But much like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, things don’t turn out well for poor Fox.

Children will love the humor and recognize the irony of Fox always getting injured by his pranks. They will especially enjoy his growing collections of bandages and scrapes as they go to each subsequent part.
The simple, repetitive language is used in a rhyme scheme that makes the story delightful to read. I especially like the humor and storyline that does not try to condescend to young beginning readers.

Fans of Elephant & Piggie, or who enjoy funny stories will enjoy A Pig, a Fox, and a Box.

Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!

Bob Shea has created a wonderful series that focuses on Ballet Cat and some of her friends. This friendship story will cause lots of laughs, because …. underpants!

Dance! Dance! Underpants!
by Bob Shea
Disney/Hyperion, 2016
Beginning reader, picture book, fiction
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars

Ballet Cat is practicing ballet with Butter Bear, who is fine with toe pointing, but very reluctant to practicing super-high leaps. In fact, Butter Bear comes up with every excuse she can think of not to practice high-leaps, until Ballet Cat gets fed up and demands to know what is going on. Is Butter Bear scared? Afraid to fail?

Young readers will delight to find out that the problem involves underpants! The ending of the story is silly and fun. This would make a great read-aloud to kindergarten or first graders.

Shea has also included one of the best jokes for any adults who may be reading this to a child. The book is dedicated “For Steph, who may or may not have written the funniest joke in the whole story.” I believe the answer lies here:
Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants! is the second book in the series by Shea. Fans of Elephant & Piggie will also enjoy these books of friendship and fun. These books will highly motivate beginning readers.

The Cookie Fiasco; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

The Cookie Fiasco
by Dan Santat
Disney-Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2016
ISBN 978-1-48472636-5
Beginning reader, fiction
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 0.8
4 out of 5 stars

The Cookie Fiasco is a mash-up of two amazing authors and illustrators — Dan Santat and Mo Willems. Elephant & Piggie are back and act as the introduction to a story by Santat. they sit down to share the new story together, which is where the switch to Santat’s story and illustrations begins.

The Cookie Fiasco is a fun beginning reader story about four friends trying to share three cookies. The friends realize the math just doesn’t add up to each person getting a fair share of the cookies. How will they work this out?

Hippo and his nervous habit of breaking things into smaller pieces becomes the solution to their problem. As I was reading, I kept thinking that this would make a great book to read as you introduce fractions in a math class for young students. The story introduces the idea of breaking the whole into parts, and redistributing them one piece at a time. Starting the math lesson with this fun story featuring the beloved characters of Elephant & Piggie would make it a lesson that was remembered.

Elephant & Piggie close out the book by sharing milk and cookies, and reminding us that good books make us feel big things! Don’t forget to look for Pigeon! He’s hiding in the pages somewhere!