I primarily feature picture books here, but I’ve been reading so many great chapter books over the last couple of years (plus, they have pictures too!), that I wanted to round up some recent favorites. I hope you’ll add in the comments any chapter book gems I’ve missed.
A range of page counts are included here, in no particular order, and many if not most of these are part of a series with more than one installment for kid readers to gobble up. (Disclosure that some of these I read quite some time ago and aren’t as fresh in my mind for fully fleshed out descriptions as others. But know I enjoyed them all!)
Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly (2018).
The first installment (with more in the series!) is a compilation of four delightful short stories with illustrations to match. The MC, Yasmin, who is Pakistani American, is creative and bold while also finding her way through sometimes being worried or unsure. Relatable and full of spirit and fun, this one is a true treat.
The ace design of this cover is a perfect preview to what lies inside this terrific book. I like the relatability of a girl who wants to do something designated for older kids, and for boys. I also like that this explores the tradition of making mochi for the new year, and other aspects of Japanese and Japanese American culture. The drawings complement the story beautifully.
A wonderful chapter book about friendship, flexibility, and change with a uniquely funny and charming character at its (upside down) heart. “Some losses were worse than others. A secret base was replaceable. Lenny Santos was not.”
In this sweet, engaging chapter book, Jada Jones is not the kind of rock star that first comes to mind. Nope, she loves rocks! A budding geologist, she’s navigating a science project and friendships after her bestie moves away, finding solutions and never giving up.
Juana is clever and funny as she tells the reader about her life. I adore how she introduces the characters (Lucas her dog, her friend Juli, the city of Bogotá where she lives, her tía, abuelo, and more) by way of illustrated diagrams. Plus, while Juana is learning English in the story, readers are either learning or recognizing the Spanish words weaved in.
An exceedingly funny chapter book about two dogs who, worried about this school place their boy has to spend his days, impersonate a student in order to protect and investigate. Turns out, these dogs LOVE school! Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Lucky for readers, Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Voice and several exquisite picture books, is bringing her writing to the chapter book arena. I was lucky enough to hear her present this book at Once Upon A Time Books in Los Angeles. A nicely paced story about basketball, following your passion, and a warm and well-drawn family you’ll definitely want to read more of.
I had the great pleasure of blurbing this book! Stella’s story is relatable, honest, and warm-hearted. She certainly has a lot to say to young readers as she learns that just like the starfish who shares her name—Estrella—she is stronger than she thinks.
Filled with family and positivity, this book was inspired by the story of real eleven-year-old Sarai Gonzalez. In the fictional story, Sarai’s grandparents are forced to leave their home so Sarai hatches a plan to raise money to help them—with chicha morada and cupcakes.
This one had me at the concept. Polly receives a book that makes anything she writes actually happen! Full of magical misunderstandings and charming illustrations, it’s perfect for developing readers (and writers!) who are fans of magic and imagination.
The most adorable illustrations and girl power adventures make this series another winner.
King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers.
Who doesn’t love a gentle mystery to solve? My favorite part about this series is that Kayla’s dog, King, is the one leading the way and figuring out clues before the human characters do. It’s a fun, inventive twist and has humor and repetition to boot.
A tittle to dance about! The stars of this series are super happy party bears indeed, but they live in the Grumpy Woods. Not to worry though, nothing gets them down and they get others to come around as well. A lively, bright, snappy story.
The first book was about forest animals who were afraid of the sights and sounds of the forest at night. Mama Elephant reassured them that the natural world was there to do its job and even nourish them. It was a lullaby of comfort.
In the follow-up, You’re Snug With Me, two bear cubs are born in the frozen north, in the den their mother has made them. They ask questions about the unknown outside their cozy home and their mother explains the seasons and the world, preparing them for what lies beyond and nurturing the need to take good care of it.
From the first book to the second, we go from summer to winter. Warmth to cold. Community to family. Forest to frozen north. Rich green to icy blue. While the setting has shifted and the cast of characters has gotten smaller, the comforting lullaby quality of security and snugness remains. These are perfect companion books, both grounded in nature and love and safety.
And… here’s the cover of You’re Snug With Me! In person, it glistens and sparkles like sun on snow!
And we’ve got a sneak peek of some beautiful interior spreads as well. Poonam Mistry uses the same exquisite style as the previous book, but this one with cool tones—butter yellow, lavender, crisp white, and ice-blue. And while the first book featured the dance of animals and natural elements on the page, this one zooms in on the relationship between mother and cubs, the sphere of family that feels to the very young like the whole world.
“The second story started with the idea of a hibernating polar bear and when I did the research to find out more, I fell in love with the scene of the cubs discovering their landscape for the first time. The challenge was to find elements that a polar bear cub should be introduced to and I had to go beyond the obvious – what’s underneath the ocean, what’s up in the sky. Also I couldn’t write about polar bears without worrying about the melting ice and somehow incorporating the role of every big predator in protecting it.”
“It was exciting working on You’re Snug With Me because it was outside of my usual comfort zone. I researched knitwear patterns and Inuit textiles and clothing and incorporated some of these patterns into my drawings so that it was different to the first book but there was still some continuity in the style of the artwork.
I don’t often work in pastel colours but it was important to reflect the wintry setting of the story and use these colours to highlight the beautiful landscapes of the Arctic.”
Breathtaking artwork and a beautiful story with a gentle environmental theme, this is a book to take in, to ponder, to read while snug with loved ones.
Look for it in October!
Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer and storyteller. She is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India, its diverse culture and its natural beauty. She has over 30 books in print worldwide and has been published by Otter-Barry Books, Walker Books and Red Robin Books.
Poonam Mistry is a UK-based illustrator of Indian heritage. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art. With a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, she produces artwork for clients around the world.
Big thanks to Lantana for images (and a review copy)!
You might want to check out the amazing paper star craft Poonam Mistry shared for the first installment in this series, You’re Safe With Me! There’s a template so you can make one too!
This book is a stunner—wordless and captivating. The colors! The cut paper! The journey from the uniformity of the everyday to the magic of story and art and imagination. All because of a book!
(click image(s) to enlarge)
The story is simple. A child finds a book with a blue horse on it on a city sidewalk. Back in her apartment building, we see her reading in her room, the rest of the windows around her opaque and beige. But she’s reading this bright blue book with a bright blue horse on the front.
And then, we glimpse the vibrant, exuberant horse inside! It’s mid-jump and kind of carries the girl away, and into the book. Out of everyday life. Pages continue like that—we are in the book with the child, the horse artwork getting more and more colorful and more and more abstract. Now, the child’s room (and world and imagination) are filled with art and color and shapes and possibility.
Geraldo Valério was inspired by the German Expressionist Group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) when making this book. It weaves in elements the group explored, like color and form having resonant meaning of their own. “The name ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ referred to Kandinsky and Marc’s belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.” (Quote found here.)
The child rider of the horse in the story certainly moves beyond—her surroundings, her modern, mundane world, her limits, by riding that horse out of the book and into her life. It moves her, it changes her, it shows her all kinds of possibility. Just the way reading and art can do.
I’m delighted to have Margaret from the wonderful literary kids’ craft blog, homemade city, here to share a truly exuberant Blue Rider craft with us! I’m a huge admirer of Margaret’s aesthetic and creations—her crafts are a must see (and make!).
Over to Margaret!
When you open the cover of Blue Rider by GeraldoValério, you’re met with delicious saturated color in an array of forms and shapes. It’s a treasure just like the book that the child character discovers on a city sidewalk in this wordless story. As the child opens the book, a blue horse leaps across the sky streaking the city’s gray grid with a spray of color.
When Danielle suggested I make a craft for Blue Rider, I happily took up my scissors and glue stick. But how best to reproduce the surprise and pleasure that a reader, like the child in Blue Rider, can find just by opening a book? How about a pop-up? With collaged bits of jewel-hued paper. And a blue horse, of course.
What you’ll need:
Card stock or construction paper
Paint color sample cards
First, fold a piece of paper in half. I used an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of dark blue card stock. Set it aside.
On a different piece of paper, trace and cut out a circle on stiff paper. I traced a circle about 4″ in diameter using a tin coffee can. Cut a spiral into your paper circle. It’s OK to freehand, lopsided spirals are as beautiful as uniform ones. (Spirals are the simplest way to create a pop-up–and their shape adds whimsy and movement as you open the fold.)
Dab glue to the center of your spiral. Place your circle (side with glue facedown) inside of your folded paper.
Apply glue to an inch or two of the exposed tail of your spiral. Press the folded paper closed so that the glued tail will adhere to the other half of the paper. When you open the card, the spiral will pop up like a spring!
Now for the fun—cut shapes or hole-punch dots or stars or flowers from your paint sample color cards. If you want to write a message, trace letters and cut them out—whatever pleases you!
Glue your shapes to the spiral, making sure nothing peeks out when you fold the paper closed.
I cut out a blue horse and fashioned a rainbow mane like the one that canters across the city sky in Blue Rider. Then I added abstract shapes to the dark blue background, inspired by Valerio’s pages of rich color and collage. It was so delightful, I quickly made another with abstract bits and tiny hole-punched blooms. No horse this time, just color, shape, and surprise.
Thank you, Margaret! This craft is bursting with joy!
Margaret is the author of Mabel One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) as well as Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight, a nonfiction picture book slated for Fall 2019 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as the children’s librarian at Hardy Elementary School in Arlington, Mass. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.
I’m so delighted to feature Julie Flett here! She is a Cree-Metis artist, illustrator, and author from Canada, creating some of the most beautiful children’s books ever.
Her art is so distinctive—the play of smooth solids and patterns, of muted tones and vibrant accents of color, all with ever present clean lines, bold shapes, and collage. Her projects explore and celebrate Native people and include themes of history, family bonds, culture, and nature. You know when you’re holding one of her books in your hands—her illustrations communicate so much feeling and connection to others and the world around us. Each one truly tells a story.
Julie Flett wrote and illustrated this one in which a boy and his grandmother pick blueberries in the woods. This book is filled with small, still, contemplative moments and details as well as bilingual vocabulary from the Cree language. Plus, there’s a recipe for wild blueberry jam at the back.
A lullaby to a little one, bursting with love and joy.
I’m interested in the everyday experience, in the intimacy of my subject matter. For Little You, I thought a lot about my son as a baby and toddler. The page with the hole in the mother’s sock reads, “Let’s all dance, let’s all sing,” and the image for this page came to me right away. I often played music for my son when he was a baby and we would dance around the kitchen or living room together.
This book fills my heart with happiness and is a wonderful exploration of the connective and special while simple things in life, incorporating elements of Native culture. Beautiful.
As an adult, I attended art school at Concordia University, where my major was studio art. The work I was producing at that time was installation based, painting, sound, and some film work. After graduating, I worked as an advocate and outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. During that period, my sister, who worked for First Nations publisher Theytus Books, asked me if I’d like to illustrate a book. They were looking for an illustrator for a children’s story and asked me to submit draft drawings. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have much of a chance to really think about not having experience as an illustrator. I discovered a love for this.
“Just look at the joy and the smile of the child on the cover! That kid is loved, and that’s what I want for Native kids! To feel loved by words, by story, by books. We Sang You Home is a board book that, with very few words on each page, tells a child about how they were wanted, and how they came to be, and how they were, as the title says, sang home where they’d be kissed, and loved, and… where they, too, would sing.”
My mom was a textile artist. She had a weaving shop when we were growing up, in the 1970s, and later a consignment-clothing store with a focus on vintage clothing from the ’20s and ’30s. I was around textiles a lot as a child. My sister and I used to spin wool for the weaving shop, and I developed a love for patterns, dyes, and materials. I think I approach the collage work similarly to composing a haiku. My collage imagery is often pared down, emphasizing simplicity, intensity, and direct expression. I’m also inspired by painters, filmmakers, and children’s bookmakers from earlier periods. I especially like Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle, artist Sonia Delaunay, Inuit print-maker Pitseolak Ashoona, and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, to name a few.
Without mentioning them outright, this book takes on the topic of Canadian residential schools in which Indigenous children were sent away to government facilities in order to assimilate into Canadian/European/English or French-speaking culture. “In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.” The conditions were terrible, and the children were isolated from their families, cultures, and languages for most or all of the year.
In this story, a child asks her grandmother a series of questions about her daily life and practices—her bright clothes, her long braid, her Cree words that “sounded just like a poem.” The answers illuminate the injustice of her grandmother’s past as well as the way she then and now strives to reclaim her heritage, pride, and self, courageously and poignantly. It’s an eye-opening, sad, and important book that’s perfectly crafted in a way for young readers to engage with.
Here’s an article that includes quotes from Julie Flett about the process of creating When We Were Alone.
Admittedly, I haven’t been able to get a copy of this one to read myself, but wanted to include it because it’s another book Julie Flett has written as well. A counting book that’s gorgeously illustrated and helps kids not only count, but learn the Cree language. Win, win, win.
Good news! Thanks to the generosity of Orca Books and Highwater Press, I’m giving away a pack of four of Julie Flett’s books to one lucky winner! One person will win all four books pictured (My Heart Fills With Happiness; Little You; We Sang You Home; When we Were Alone. Enter through the Rafflecopter below.)