Groundhug Day

Moose is having a Valentine’s Day party, and all his friends are so excited! Everyone except Groundhog, that is. If Groundhog sees his shadow outside, he’ll hide in his hole for six more weeks and miss the party!

Determined to help their friend join them, Moose, Squirrel, Bunny, and Porcupine put their heads together and come up with a plan. But will it be enough to get Groundhog out to play?

When Groundhog comes out of his den and sees his shadow, his animal friends discover that Groundhog is afraid of shadows. In order to get Groundhog to come out, the animals show him all the different ways shadows are “awesome.” The animals show Groundhog how to use shadows to draw silhouettes and create puppet shows. Watching shadows dance is fun too. Despite this, Groundhog goes back into his hole for six more weeks. And when he finally pops out of his den and is ready for a St. Patrick’s Day party, Groundhog discovers that Bunny is “holed up this time of year” because he’s painting Easter eggs.

Young readers will relate to Groundhog’s fear of shadows and love all the ways the animals use shadows for entertainment. The story comes to life with super cute illustrations that are drawn in natural colors. Readers will giggle as each animal plots a way to get Groundhog out of his hole, especially because each scheme is drawn on a chalkboard. Plus, Groundhog is super cute and his clothing resembles an English gentleman. When he finally comes out for spring, he’s dressed for a Saint Patrick’s Day party!

Even though Groundhug Day is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Readers may need help reading some of the text-heavy pages that have up to seven sentences per page. However, the adorable illustrations and the conversations between the animals make Groundhug Day entertaining enough for younger readers to enjoy.

Groundhug Day is a sweet story that will warm readers’ hearts and remind them that shadows are not scary. If you’re looking for another fun Valentine’s Day book, check out Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine by Rob Scotton.

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Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder

Captain Bling and his merry crew set off to find treasure, but they get blown off course and end up at the North Pole. When they spy the elves carefully wrapping presents, the pirates think they have found the ultimate booty! They quickly steal the presents and make their way back to the ship. By the time Santa Claus catches up to them, the pirates are well on their way to escaping. But Santa has a surprise for Captain Bling and his crew!

Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder will take readers on a swashbuckling adventure to the North Pole. The pirates’ plundering activities are told with humor, in rhyming couplets. The pirates attack Santa’s workshop, forcing Santa and the elves to fight, and “though Santa swung fast, the pirates swung faster, and a sack versus swords was a surefire disaster.” However, the gifts are saved because the pirates change their ways and help Santa on Christmas night.

The brightly colored illustrations show Santa’s magical land where pine trees are decorated, snowmen smile, and toys are stacked waiting for Christmas day. Young readers will love the illustrations’ fun details such as penguins watching the elves and pirates fight, and a shark happily waiting as Santa walks the plank. Each page has 1 to 3 rhyming sentences which include some advanced vocabulary. Even though Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.

Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder is a fun spinoff of The Night Before Christmas. Pirate-loving readers will enjoy seeing Santa and the pirates fight over the toys. Plus, the happy ending shows Santa and the pirates working together to deliver Christmas toys. If you’re looking for another humorous Christmas picture book, The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub is sure to make readers smile.

Sexual Content

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Violence

  • The pirates take Santa’s treasure, “so Santa gave chase, with his sack on his back, but the pirates were ready to face his attack.” The pirates capture Santa and “the pirates forced Santa to walk the gangplank.”

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The Circus Ship

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the circus animals stagger to the shore of a small island. At first the townspeople view them with suspicion, but it’s not long before the locals and animals are sharing the island in harmony. Then, when the greedy circus owner returns, the townsfolk and the circus refugees come up with a delightfully original way to outsmart the fiend, exacting hilarious revenge in the process. 

The Circus Ship uses wonderfully expressive caricatures that evoke the early nineteenth century. Young readers will love the humorous illustrations. For instance, when a man sees an alligator sleeping on his wood pile, he jumps into the air and pulls his hair. When the circus master comes looking for the animals, readers will have fun finding all the hidden animals. Many of the animals are disguised in silly ways, such as one woman who is wearing a snake as a scarf and has a monkey in a stroller. 

Even though The Circus Ship is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has eight to twelve rhyming lines. The story uses complex sentence structure and some difficult vocabulary words such as menagerie, tuckered out, and bothersome. Despite this, the story’s plot is easy to follow.  

Not only is The Circus Ship highly entertaining, but the illustrations are also wonderful as well. Plus, the story has a positive message about not judging others (in this case, animals) by their appearance. Anyone, young or old, who loves animals will enjoy The Circus Ship. If you’re looking for a silly picture book that young readers will want to read again and again, The Circus Ship is the book for you. For more stories with silly shenanigans with animals, check out the Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo. 

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Violence 

  • The boat hits a rock. “Then came a CRASH! An awful BASH! Things flew into the air! . . . The splashing, thrashing animals swam round and round and round.” The animals swim to the island.  
  • A little girl gets caught inside a burning building. The tiger “ran past all the people, and he leapt into the blaze.” The girl comes out of the fire unharmed and riding on the tiger’s back.

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The Right Track (Disney Frozen: Northern Lights)

Anna, Elsa, and their friends from Disney’s Frozen embark on a new adventure with the help of the Northern Lights. The friends travel to Troll Valley to help the trolls celebrate the Crystal Ceremony. Along the way, they meet Little Rock, whose tracking crystal will not glow. The friends encounter other obstacles as well. Will they make it to Troll Valley in time for the celebration? 

Readers will be drawn to The Right Track because it follows Disney’s Frozen characters. The story uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, but is intended for children who are familiar with words on sight and who can sound out new words. Each page has 1 to 3 simple sentences printed in large text. The action is illustrated with large pictures that show the friends’ adventures. The colorful illustrations will help readers understand the story’s plot. 

The Right Track uses familiar characters and full-page illustrations to engage young readers. The story is intended for preschool through kindergarten readers, but older readers will also enjoy the story. The plot is easy to understand. However, readers may be disappointed the story ends before Anna, Elsa, and their friends make it to the Troll Valley, so they don’t get to see if Little Rock is able to light his tracking crystal. Despite this, fans of Frozen will enjoy the winter wonderland and will learn about the importance of helping a friend. Readers who are ready to move up to chapter books will enjoy stepping into another winter wonderland by reading the Diary of an Ice Princess Series by Christina Soontornvat. 

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Supernatural 

  • Elsa uses her magic. “Elsa waves her arms. She makes a stairway of ice. It stretches across the river.” 
  • When the ice stairway begins “to fall. Elsa uses her magic. She makes ice sleds.” 

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Sweep

On a windy fall night, a young boy named Ed looks over his town. He has a broom in hand and is standing atop a towering mountain of leaves. The day began with him sweeping leaves, but below his mountain are all the other things he seemed to have collected along the way, including dogs, cats, bicycles, cars, buses, people, and buildings.   

The story of Sweep starts when a single leaf in the wind hits Ed’s face, causing him to trip over a broom. This puts Ed in a bad mood, but unlike all the bad moods he’s had before, this one grows and grows until he is ragefully sweeping every leaf around him into one large pile. His bad mood convinces him to go on, not accounting for all the animals, vehicles, or people in his way. Ed knows he is taking things too far. He even knows that if he looked up from the ground, he would see all the beautiful balloons, birds, and kites above it. But his bad mood is not satisfied until he has swept up his whole town. 

By the end of the day, there are no flowers left and the birds have stopped singing. Ed is tired, hungry, and questioning if he can really stop sweeping after going through all this trouble. As he ponders this, his bad mood begins to lift and a strong gust of wind picks up every person and thing in his pile. Not only does the wind put everything back to normal, but Ed believes the town looks even better than it did before.  

The wind gently lands a kite in front of Ed, who, finally looking up from the ground, flies it high in the air. He notices the beauty of all the other kites around him. The next time Ed finds himself in a bad mood, he makes sure to think twice and ask himself if there is a way to process it in a more constructive way. 

Sweep is a smart and funny story that teaches a valuable lesson about learning to process your feelings. The book has one to five sentences per page, making it a fast read. Readers of all ages will also enjoy the book’s art style, which makes use of bleaker autumn shades such as beige, gray, brown, and crimson during Ed’s rampage through his town and uses a wide spectrum of bright, vivid colors when his spirit lifts. The items and characters that amass in Ed’s constantly growing pile guarantee a laugh on every page, and the pile’s mountainous final form is full of clever gags and details for eagle-eyed readers to spot upon repeated readings. 

Younger readers will relate to Ed’s impulse to lash out when he’s in a bad mood. Plus, his journey will help them to understand the harmful nature of being negative. By reading Sweep, readers will also learn how to evaluate and express their feelings in a way that is beneficial to themselves and others. Readers who enjoy Sweep should also read Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, a sweet book that shows how one man’s grumpy mood changes when he meets an unexpected friend.  

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The Little Reindeer

On the night of Christmas Eve, a young girl named Ollie is awoken by a jingling outside her house. She hurries to her window but sees nothing out of the ordinary. With her reindeer pajamas and red sled, Ollie adventures into the snowy night to find the source of the sound.  

Stepping outside, she hears the sound again. She leaps onto her sled. Speeding down the hill outside her house, the sound becomes clearer. Eventually, Ollie traces the sound to the barren, dark woods outside of her neighborhood. Feeling brave, she runs into the darkness. There, she finds the source of the sound hanging from a tree branch. It is a red collar with silver bells. Ollie smiles and takes the collar but wonders who it belongs to.  

Just then, she hears a new sound –the sound of footsteps crunching through the snow. A real reindeer is approaching. He eyes the collar in Ollie’s hands, and Ollie understands that the collar belongs to him. Ollie kindly returns the collar to the reindeer, who gestures his new friend to climb onto his back. 

Suddenly, the two are soaring above the woods, over Ollie’s town, through the night sky. The reindeer softly lands in front of Ollie’s house. Ollie thanks her friend, but admits that she doesn’t want to say goodbye. However, she understands that this reindeer has a very special job to do tonight. Ollie goes back to her room, lies in bed, and pleasantly dreams of her adventure. Her reindeer friend jingles past her window once more, only this time, he is leading Santa’s sleigh. The next morning, Ollie is gifted a snow globe with a figurine of the reindeer inside. She smiles, knowing that she will always have something to remind her of that magical night and that she’ll see her friend next year. 

The Little Reindeer is a fast and fun read for the Christmas holiday, with one to four short sentences per page. Its illustrations are mostly drawn in black, white, and gray, with red being the only color to stand out. The backgrounds are typically entirely blank or black, with chalk-like dots of snow to enliven the winter spirit. Detail-driven readers can have fun searching for Ollie’s stuffed reindeer hiding in every page. 

Young readers who celebrate Christmas will relate to Ollie’s holiday spirit. However, all young readers will admire Ollie’s sense of adventure, her bravery, and her sparkling curiosity. Through Ollie’s journey, readers can learn that by following their bravery and curiosity, they can form their closest friendships and greatest memories.  

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The Carpenter’s Gift

One Christmas night, Henry sits in his house and thinks blissfully back to a special day in 1931. He was a child then, growing up during the Great Depression. The historical downturn left a significant impact on his family. His family lived in a small house, and both of his parents were out of work. They struggled to afford coal for the stove or blankets for the beds. Henry kept an optimistic mind, and occupied himself with thoughts of warm, magical places.  

On Christmas Eve of that year, Henry was surprised to see his father arrive at the house in a big rental truck. He calls for Henry to come along, and the two happily drive to a nearby forest to cut down its evergreen trees and stack them onto the back of the truck. When Henry asks why, his father joyfully replies that they’re going to New York City to sell Christmas trees. 

The thought of being in a big city like New York excites Henry, and he is immediately fascinated by Midtown Manhattan. Henry’s father parks the truck beside a construction site and asks a worker if they can set up shop there. Acknowledging the pair’s situation, the worker agrees. What follows is a heartfelt story of generosity and hope in the hardest of times. 

The Carpenter’s Gift is a sweet holiday tale that spans several generations before arriving at the message that there is no better present than kindness. Henry searches time and again for the warm, magical moments he dreams of, and finds that these moments are produced not by magic but by simple acts of giving. 

The warm atmosphere of the book is strengthened by its lavish, impressionistic illustrations that are passionately drawn in the beautiful colors of each season. The illustrator makes several uses of double-page illustrations to portray the sheer scale and beauty of the evergreen trees. The story is told with simple, easy vocabulary, and readers can expect four to ten sentences on each page.  

The Carpenter’s Gift is guaranteed to satisfy all readers who celebrate Christmas and is a comforting read for those looking for a warm story this winter season. 

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by Luke McClain 

Leif and the Fall

Leif is a small green leaf who lives in a tall oak tree. Being a leaf means being attached to a tree, but Leif doesn’t mind. He loves the view from his branch and getting to spend time with his best friend, Laurel. As the breeze gets harsher and the days get shorter, Leif realizes that it’s nearly fall. Leif has never seen fall, but its arrival worries him, as he knows that fall is the time when all leaves fall from their trees. Leif doesn’t want to be like all leaves. With the help of Laurel, he hatches a plan to catch himself. 

Leif and the Fall is a fun and pleasant read for the young reader who doesn’t let others tell them who they are and what they are capable of. It is also a testament to the power of thinking outside the box and surrounding yourself with the right people. While the other leaves mock and discourage Leif’s plan, Leif persists in his goal and chooses to surround himself with supportive friends like Laurel. While none of Leif’s plans work in the way he intended, the story tells a thoughtful message that all your hard work and skills will inevitably help you in some way, as all of Leif’s discarded contraptions form a pile big enough to soften his and Laurel’s fall. 

The book’s short and sweet story is well-matched with simple, charming illustrations.  The leaves are softly colored in shades of green, yellow, brown, and gray. Faces are drawn to personify them, while their stems are drawn as their arms and legs. The pages have blank backgrounds that are either white or colored with muted autumn shades. Readers can enjoy a second read-through to spot all the insects hiding on the tree’s branches. Each page has one to seven short sentences and easy vocabulary that makes it easy to understand for beginning readers.  

Leif and the Fall is an excellent book for young nature lovers and fans of autumn. Apart from being an enjoyable story, it is sure to help younger readers as they learn the importance of creativity, self-expression, and positive friendships. Readers ready to snuggle up with another fall-themed picture book with a positive message should add Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller to their must-read list. 

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Drummer Boy

In a wintery little town, a toy drummer boy appears mysteriously on a child’s doorstep. The child loves the little drummer boy, and the drummer boy loves the child. The drummer boy gives the child the only gift he can– He plays his drum– boom pum pum boom pum.

 But when he accidentally falls into the trash, the drummer boy is sent on a scary and snowy journey! Even so, as he is carried and flown, and almost buried in snow, the little drummer boy still gives the gift he can to a rat and a snowman and the nighttime stars.

Right from the start, young readers will be captivated by the drummer boy. When he falls into the trash, and is taken to the dump, the drummer boy begins a journey where he ends up in surprising places. Even when his circumstances seem dire, the drummer boy gives to others by playing his song. The ending is surprising and sweet and reminds readers that the reason for Christmas is because a little baby was born.

The snowy illustrations are in muted colors with beautiful details. The illustrations show the scale of the little drummer boy and how small he is compared to his surroundings. Even though Drummer Boy is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 2 to 9 sentences; however, some of the sentences are complex.

The story is surprisingly suspenseful, and readers will be curious to see where the drummer boy ends up next. If you’re looking for a holiday book to share with your family, Drummer Boy is an enchanting story that shows the importance of giving to others despite your circumstances.

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Snow

Everyone loves snow! It’s fun to play in and makes wonderful snowmen. But where does snow come from? The answer is at your fingertips. Just open this book and explore the wonders of snow. 

Readers will follow an unnamed girl who spends a day out in the snow. Between scenes of the young girl and her dog, information is given about how snow is formed, why it falls to the ground and the different types of snow. Readers will also learn how “snow melts into puddles, intro rivers, into lakes, and gives the earth a fresh, cool drink.” The last page includes six additional facts about snow. 

Each page has large illustrations with a blue sky in the background; this allows the white snow to show up clearly. Throughout the story, the girl makes a snowman, plays in a puddle, skates on a frozen pond, and sleds with her dog. However, she never smiles and in some of the pictures, she looks cold and miserable. This contrasts with the story’s theme, “while winter is here, snow makes the cold world beautiful and so much fun!” 

As part of the Ready-To-Read Level 1 Series, Snow tells a simple story through longer sentences. Some of the sentences begin on one page and end on another. However, each page only has 1 to 2 sentences that use simple vocabulary. Each page’s illustration matches the words on the page and helps explain some of the facts, such as “clouds are crystals of ice.” 

Snow uses a blend of storytelling and informational reading to teach young readers about the attributes and importance of snow. While the story lacks entertainment value, readers interested in snow will enjoy learning new facts. Readers ready to snuggle up with a snowy book should also read Max & Mo Make a Snowman by Patricia Lakin. 

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Red and Lulu

Two cardinals, Red and Lulu, have made a nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree overlooking a family’s house. The shade from the tree’s branches keeps the birds cool during the hot months, while its needles keep them warm during the cold months. Red and Lulu’s favorite time of year is winter when the family decorates their tree and sings O Christmas Tree. One morning, as that special season is arriving, Red flies out to find breakfast while Lulu stays behind. When Red returns, he finds that their tree has been cut down, and is being driven away on a large truck. Red can hear Lulu singing from somewhere inside the tree. He calls out to tell her to stay where she is. 

Red flies towards the tree, but he can’t keep up with the truck, which leads Red into a chase through highways, across the George Washington Bridge, and through crowded city streets. Before long, Red realizes he has lost sight of the truck, and finds himself in a strange new place unlike anywhere he’s ever been before – New York City. Red spends days searching the city for Lulu. He searches outside of the New York Public Library, through Times Square, and over the Empire State Building. During Red’s search, he and Lulu’s special season finally arrives. As snow falls, Red hears the faint sound of O Christmas Tree being sung from a distance. He hurries towards the sound, finally tracing it to a crowd of people surrounding a familiar tree standing at Rockefeller Center. The tree is covered from top to bottom in colorful Christmas lights, but Red immediately recognizes it as his and Lulu’s tree. 

He flies over the happy carolers and into the tree’s branches, where he is joyously greeted by Lulu. The two reside happily in their tree and smile at the large crowds of people who seem to love it just as much as they do. One day, the same truck arrives and takes their tree once again. This time, Red and Lulu find a new tree in Central Park, where they make their new home. Every winter since, Red and Lulu take a trip to Rockefeller Center to visit their first tree and listen to the crowd of people sing their favorite song. 

Red and Lulu is a sweet and touching story and a visually engaging read from start to finish. The book is rich with beautiful illustrations that are carefully and passionately drawn to convey the beauty of winter, as well as that of every season in the book’s opening pages. The background of each illustration tends to have more muted colors, from beige and yellow autumns to gray and blue winters, which allows the bright red cardinals and glowing holiday decorations to stand out. The font of the narration is notably smaller on some pages, but the straightforward narration allows for an altogether easy read. However, beginning readers may need help understanding some of the difficult vocabulary such as “frantically” and “marveled.” There are one to eight sentences per page, but some pages rely on the illustrations to tell the story.  

Red and Lulu’s narrative does an excellent job of getting the reader to care about the relationship between its two title characters, making their eventual reunion feel just as special. Readers who celebrate Christmas are likely to enjoy the book’s Christmas setting, but the book can also be enjoyed by readers who live in New York City or who are familiar with the area. Readers who have moved homes or are preparing to move can also find this story particularly endearing, as they may relate to the overwhelming change felt by Red and Lulu, as well as the story’s message of the home being defined by the presence of loved ones rather than a specific place.  

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Dad and the Dinosaur

Nicholas was afraid of the dark outside his door, the bushes where the giant bugs live, and the underside of manhole covers.

His dad was not afraid of anything.

Nicholas wants to be as brave as his dad, but he needs help. That’s why he needs a dinosaur. After all, dinosaurs “like the dark, bugs are nothing to them, and they eat manhole covers for lunch and everything under them for dinner.”

With his toy dinosaur, Nicholas can scale tall walls, swim in deep water, and even score a goal against the huge goalie everyone calls Gorilla. But when his dinosaur goes missing, everything is scary again.

Luckily, his dad knows that even the bravest people get scared, and it’s okay to ask for help facing your fears.  

Anyone who has ever been afraid will relate to Nicholas, who carries his dinosaur with him everywhere. Having his dinosaur helps Nicholas feel brave. But when the dinosaur is lost, Nicholas begins to be afraid. Suddenly, Nicholas notices that “the night was as black as octopus ink, giant bugs were everywhere, and their little car was nearly sucked under the street.” Illustrations help bring Nicholas’s fears to life by showing large bugs skittering across the road, and a large octopus crawling out of a manhole. When Nicholas goes to bed, a large octopus tentacle reaches out to touch him. But with his dad’s help, Nicholas finds his dinosaur and is brave again. 

The illustrations show the contrast between Nicholas’s toy dinosaur and his imagined dinosaur. Nicholas’s imaginary dinosaur is shown as a huge outline while the smaller toy dinosaur is often peeking out of a sock or sleeping under Nicholas’s pillow. Plus, Nicholas’s imaginary fears pop off the page because the illustrations of them are so large. Most pages have one to three simple sentences. However, even though Dad and the Dinosaur is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. 

The imaginative illustrations and the simple text allow readers to explore the things that cause fear—both real and imagined. Because of this, Dad and the Dinosaur is a relatable picture book that kids will enjoy. However, at the end of the book, Nicholas doesn’t tell his mom about how his dinosaur helps him be brave. Instead, it’s a secret between Nicholas and his dad. Some parents might not like that a secret is kept between Nicholas and his Dad.  

Overall, Dad and the Dinosaur’s wonderful illustrations will capture readers’ imaginations and show them how Nicholas overcomes his fear. 

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Fox Versus Winter

Fox does not like winter. None of his friends are around to play. He tries to make new friends with the other snow animals, but they’re not as fun as his other friends. So, he is still bored and alone. Then, Fox has an idea. If he cannot escape winter, he will fight it!

Fox’s story is told through adorable pictures that have a hint of humor. For example, when Fox goes to find his friends, Bear is cuddled up with a teddy bear and Frog is in a comfortable bed covered in leaves. Each page has 2 to 3 simple sentences that include word repetition. As a My First I Can Read Book, Fox Versus Winter is perfect to read to your little one because the story uses basic language, word repetition, and has large illustrations on each page.

Young readers will fall in love with Fox and want to read Fox Versus Winter again and again. Readers will relate to Fox, who just wants to play with someone. In the end, Rabbit tells Fox how to relieve his boredom. Rabbit says, “In winter I like to be alone. I like to sit still and listen.” The cute story shows how friends can enjoy being together even in silence. If you’re ready to snuggle up with a blanket, a book, and your child, Fox Versus Winter is an entertaining book choice. If you’re ready for more winter fun, add A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson to your reading list.

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Stacey’s Extraordinary Words

Stacey is a little girl who loves words more than anything. She loves reading them, sounding them out, and finding comfort in them when things are hard.   

But when her teacher chooses her to compete in the local spelling bee, she isn’t as excited as she thought she’d be. What if she messes up? Or worse, if she can’t bring herself to speak up, like sometimes happens when facing bullies at school?  

Stacey will learn that win or lose . . . her words are powerful, and sometimes perseverance is the most important word of all.  

Stacey’s Extraordinary Words is a fabulous story that introduces readers to new words by showing a protagonist who loves words. Stacey “adored fun words, long words, unusual words. Words with histories and weird combinations.” When Stacey encounters a new word, the definition of the word is included. However, because of the many words that Stacey loves, young readers will need an adult’s help pronouncing difficult words such as ptarmigan, onomatopoeia, persnickety, and perseverance.  

Unlike most books, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words doesn’t end with Stacey winning the spelling bee. Instead, the mean boy wins, and he makes fun of Stacey for misspelling a word. Despite the boy’s mean behavior, Stacey “stayed onstage like a good sport as Jake got his trophy and she received her second-place ribbon. Everyone congratulated Jake and so did she.” Through Stacey’s experiences, the reader learns the importance of being a good sport and the importance of perseverance.  

While Stacey’s story doesn’t have a happily ever after ending, Stacey learns that “words shouldn’t be used to hurt people.” But the most important part of all is that Stacey learns “new ways to speak up and help others.” The author’s note at the back of the book explains how the story was based on the author’s life experiences.  

Stacey’s Extraordinary Words tells an engaging story which is enhanced by the colorful full-page illustrations. When Stacey reads, many of her thoughts appear in the background, allowing readers to understand Staceey’s thought process. Many of the words that Stacy loves appear in large text and use fun fonts. Plus, when Stacey is at school, her classmates are a diverse group of students. In addition, her mother appears in several pages and is always encouraging and loving. Even though the story is a picture book, the pages are text heavy and the pages have as many as seven complex sentences.   

The educational and entertainment value of Stacey’s Extraordinary Words makes it a must-read book. Not only will readers learn important life lessons, but they will also enjoy the story and illustrations. The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds is another must-read picture book that features a protagonist who loves words.  

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Halloween Is Coming!

Halloween Is Coming! follows three unnamed friends delighting in the early signs of Halloween. Together, the friends enjoy the fall weather, hayrides at their town fair, picking pumpkins to carve into Jack-o’-lanterns, dressing up for their school parade, and several other activities. Finally, they make their own costumes to wear for trick-or-treating. Then, the long-anticipated night arrives. 

This sweet and short book is a celebration of autumn and Halloween, clearly written and illustrated by lifelong Halloween enthusiasts. Halloween Is Coming! is a great pick for younger readers who are looking for a story that captures Halloween’s fun side, while staying away from its scarier side. 

Most illustrations are spread across two pages, with monsters, ravens, and other symbols of the holiday hidden in the background. Typically using shades of orange and yellow, the illustrations feature multicolored trees, candy store windows brimming with detail, and unique costumes for every character. Younger readers will enjoy the characters’ diverse and elaborate variety of costumes, ranging from checkerboarded jesters to scaly dinosaurs. The narration is a passionate love letter to Halloween, told in rhyme and limiting itself to one to three sentences per page. 

Although the book does not follow a traditional story, readers will still detect themes of friendship, enthusiasm, and creativity. The relationship shared by the three main friends will teach kids that Halloween should be less of a day dedicated to scaring, and more of an opportunity for you to express your creative, unique self alongside the people closest to you. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Friendly ghosts and monsters appear in the background of several pages, but none are threatening.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Halloween Queen

It’s Halloween and time for trick-or-treating. But there is one little girl who is afraid to go near her neighbor’s house. However, the Halloween Queen has the best candy on the whole block and hosts a fun party too. What is the little girl to do?  

Young readers will relate to the little girl, who is excited to dress up for Halloween but scared by the neighbor house’s scary decorations. The person who lives in the house clearly loves Halloween, because “a ghost haunts her front yard, and bats hang out back. Wolves howl from her rooftop. Cats hiss from her trees.” Once inside the woman’s house, the little girl realizes there was no reason to be afraid. The cute conclusion reveals that the woman, who dressed as a witch, is actually the little girl’s teacher. 

The book’s full-page illustrations use all the fall colors and are full of black cats, orange pumpkins, and white ghosts. Despite skeletons hanging from the trees, flying bats, and a green witch with spiders on her glasses, the illustrations are not scary but are festive and cartoonish. Each page has two to four short, rhyming sentences. Even though The Halloween Queen is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.  

The Halloween Queen is best suited for young readers who are still frightened by the thought of monsters being out on Halloween night. Readers will enjoy looking at all the kids who are dressed up: a monster, a vampire, a cat, and a cowboy can all be found within the pages of the book. For a fun, Halloween read that reminds readers that there is nothing to fear on Halloween night, be sure to grab a copy of The Halloween Queen! For more wonderful, witchy fun, add The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low to your reading list. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • When the girl is afraid to go up to the door of a house, some of the kids call her chicken. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Square

Every day, Square takes a block from his cave and pushes it up a hill, where he has gathered a pile of blocks. This is his work. One day, his ritual is interrupted by his friend Circle, who mistakes the blocks for sculptures. Circle is amazed by Square’s talent and calls him a genius. She then asks if he can make a sculpture of her by tomorrow morning. With that, she leaves Square before he can tell her the truth.

Square starts to worry. He thinks that Circle deserves a sculpture that is just as perfect as her but he doesn’t believe he is capable of making such a thing. Nonetheless, Square fretfully starts chipping away at a block. The more progress he makes, the less perfect the sculpture is. To make matters worse a rainstorm starts!

By morning, all that is left of the block is rubble. When Circle returns, she is amazed by what she finds. The rubble forms a circle, and the rain has formed a puddle inside that reflects Circle. Circle tells Square that his work is perfect and that he is a genius. However, after Circle leaves, Square doubts that her praise was earned.

 Square is a charming picture book with one to six sentences per page, making it an easy read. Its watercolor illustrations are simple, but make great use of light to show glistening minerals in Square’s cave and darkening clouds before the climactic rainstorm that perfectly captures Square’s mood. Characters are drawn as shapes with only two eyes, but the illustrator makes their expressions easy to discern through these features. For example, as Square works on his sculpture, you can see his frustration from his narrow squint.

While the vocabulary and story are easy to follow, Square presents complicated personal issues such as insecurity, inferiority, and perfectionism. While Square gets away with his lie, his last thought of doubt sends an important message to the reader: they should embrace their differences and not pretend to be someone else. Square’s struggle with his sculpture also teaches readers not to obsess over perfection as such a concept can never be entirely attained and that they should instead do what they love. Square does not clearly state this message, but it allows parents the opportunity to discuss these ideas with their child.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence:

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Luke  McClain

Stitch-or-Treat!

It is Stitch’s first Halloween on Earth! Lilo has prepared a list to ensure that the day is perfect. First, they need to find the right costume for Stitch. After several tries, Stitch finally decides on a vampire costume. Next, Lilo shows Stitch how to carve a pumpkin. Impatient, Stitch carves his pumpkin with his laser blaster. Finally, it’s time for trick-or-treating. Unlike Lilo, Stitch prefers tricks over treats. To Lilo’s chagrin, Stitch scares every person they meet. Stitch delights in this, but all these scares mean no candy for him or Lilo. Disappointed, Lilo walks away, believing that her perfect Halloween has been ruined. However, her spirits are lifted when Stitch catches up to her, boasting a mountain of candy! 

Lilo is thrilled. Her Halloween may turn out to be perfect after all! However, her excitement ends when Stitch admits that he stole the candy from other trick-or-treaters. Together, Lilo and Stitch do the right thing—return the candy. They board Stitch’s spaceship and fly over the town, dropping the candy on the trick-or-treaters below. That night, Lilo and Stitch sleep happily, with Lilo’s list completed. It was a perfect Halloween after all. 

Stitch-or-Treat continues the story of Disney’s beloved Lilo and Stitch and is sure to charm fans of the film. Readers who are unfamiliar with the characters will nonetheless be entertained by the sweet and short misadventure of the unlikely pair. The book’s art style matches the style of the film, with decorations drawn in the background to create a proper Halloween spirit. Readers will laugh at the illustrations of Stitch trying on various costumes and his confused, frustrated expressions. Fans of other Disney films will also delight in seeing background characters dressed as characters like Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. 

The book is part of the Step into Reading Level Two series, which targets readers in preschool through first grade. Each page features 1 to 3 short sentences in large font, making it an easy read. While it is an entertaining Halloween story, Stitch-or-Treat also teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of considering the needs of others. Stitch shows kindness and maturity by choosing to stop scaring others. Plus, both Lilo and Stitch show the same level of maturity by choosing to return the stolen candy, even if it meant that they both went without it. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Hardly Haunted

After years with no residents, a lonely house on a hill comes to realize that she is haunted. The revelation scares her even more than any of the strange noises and rumblings inside her ever have. Who would ever want to live in a haunted house? The house starts to fear a lifetime of living alone, until she hatches a plan.  

The house believes that if she is on her best behavior, no one will know her secret. She tries her best to keep quiet, to keep her doors from creaking, her stairs from squeaking, and her pipes from rattling. After a long effort, she finally manages to hold still. Unfortunately, she is quickly ambushed by a rush of wind, and her efforts are immediately squashed. The branches of the tree beside her scratch at her windows. Her lights flicker. Her chimney howls. The wind passes, but the house thinks that the experience was fun. She realizes that she enjoys being noisy and haunted and does not want to pretend not to be. However, this doesn’t change her feelings of loneliness. After some thought, the house decides that she should look for people who like that she’s haunted. Just then, a family of ghosts approaches the house and steps inside. They make themselves at home, much to the haunted house’s delight.  

Hardly Haunted is a fun and delightfully scare-free picture book for the Halloween season. Each illustration is spread across two pages. The story takes place throughout one day, beginning in a sunny background with bright blue skies and ending in a dark violet background with twinkling stars and a glistening full moon. Young readers will enjoy the illustrations of the personified house with windows for eyes and a water pipe for a mouth. Plus, detail-driven readers will have a fun time finding the black cat in every page.  

The book uses simple and short vocabulary, with 1 to 4 sentences per page – though the font is relatively small on some pages. To help immerse the reader into the story, words such as creak and squeak appear in large, messy font and make the story fun to read aloud. 

By reading Hardly Haunted, readers will be introduced to such themes as loneliness and insecurity. The house’s decision to happily stay haunted will teach readers that they don’t have to change themselves to be accepted. The arrival of the ghost family at the end of the book shows that the right people will find you in time. This story will particularly appeal to those looking for a Halloween-themed story that is light on scares. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The narrator is a talking haunted house. 
  • At the end of the novel, a family of ghosts appears. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Poultrygeist

A chicken crosses the road and is promptly run over by a passing truck. When the chicken awakes, it realizes that it is now a floating spirit separate from its flattened body, and that the world around it is suddenly dark. From the darkness, the eyes of other spirits appear. The spirits explain to the confused chicken that while it was crossing the road, it got to what they call “the other side,” a realm where the spirits of animals exist. They tell the chicken that he has become a “poultrygeist.” 

Terrified, the chicken asks if he can be a friendly ghoul. His fellow spirits insist that they must haunt the living for eternity. The chicken declares that even though he’s a ghost, he will not haunt anyone, no matter what. When the chicken declares this, he suddenly takes on a form with disheveled feathers, furious eyes, and jagged teeth. When the chicken scares the other spirits away, he smiles and goes on his way, wishing the spirits good riddance. 

Poultrygeist is a fast and funny read with a darkly comedic twist on a familiar joke. The chicken’s violent fate might disturb younger readers, but his experience in the afterlife teaches them a thoughtful lesson about the dangers of peer pressure. Readers will be drawn to the vivid and colorful illustrations of the living realm, while the other side will interest them with a unique art style full of glowing, single-colored characters and muted backgrounds.  

The book does not feature any narration and instead uses illustrations and the characters’ dialogue to tell the story. Each character’s speech is distinguished by separate font colors that match the color of their spirit. For example, the font of the chicken’s dialogue is blue, matching the chicken’s blue spirit. Each page contains 1-6 sentences with simple vocabulary. Readers will enjoy the spirits’ habit of speaking in rhyme. Though the spirits’ furious eyes and sharp teeth may frighten younger readers, they can take comfort in the chicken’s unconditional kindness and ability to resist peer pressure. On one page, the chicken even breaks the fourth wall to check in on the reader, asking “Psst…you doing okay?” 

Poultrygeist is a particularly great read for readers adjusting to new situations and searching for the right crowd. The story teaches readers to be the version of themselves that they are comfortable being and to not allow the negative influence of others to change them. Poultrygeist readers will be amused by the exaggerations of the spirit world as well as the story’s wordplay. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The chicken’s body is shown after it is run over. The chicken is flattened with a tire mark across its body and crossed-out eyes. While it is not explicitly violent, it could upset younger readers, particularly animal lovers. 
  • The spirit of a rat tells the chicken, “Time for you to play dead . . . then twist your head!” 
  • The last page of the book shows a squirrel starting to cross the road while a truck quickly approaches, implying that the squirrel will share the chicken’s fate. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • The spirits use rude language when trying to pressure the chicken into joining them. They call him names such as “weak”, and (ironically) “chicken.” 

Supernatural 

  • The story revolves around the ghosts of animals.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Morris Mole

Beneath the Earth’s surface, a small mole named Morris lives with his big brothers. They spend their days digging for food and spend their nights eating what they found. However, Morris is not like his older brothers. He is the littlest of the group. He dresses nicely and prefers to think outside of the box.  

One day, the brothers come to a startling realization—they are out of food! The older brothers agree that the best solution is to dig even deeper, while Morris suggests that they look elsewhere. Not hearing him, the brothers start their dig. Morris has a moment of fear. He has never done anything alone before. Eventually, he gathers his courage, announcing that his size does not limit his abilities. With that, he does something no mole has ever done before—he digs up. He digs until he reaches the surface, and he is amazed by what he finds. 

Morris Mole is a short and sweet picture book with illustrations that put readers into Morris’ shoes. The underground is drawn as pitch black with the only color being the single-shaded brown dirt. Meanwhile, the outside has a blank background that allows the beautifully blended colors of the flowers, animals, and insects to shine. Plus, the characters’ heights and clothing display their personality. For example, Morris is well-dressed and small compared to his near-identical big brothers. On the other hand, the antagonizing wolf he faces outside is dressed in a hilariously stereotypical leather jacket and jeans. His towering height and razor-sharp teeth give him a menacing presence, making Morris’ kindness and bravery all the more impressive. 

Morris Mole will teach readers that even the smallest of creatures can do big things. Young readers can learn from Morris’ creative problem-solving and the unconditional kindness with which he treats his fellow animals. Plus, the book’s alliteration makes the story fun to read aloud. For another picture book that shows that someone’s small size doesn’t determine their destiny, check out Knight Owl by Christopher Denise. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Fox finds Morris and tries to “swallow him up in one gulp.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Bully Blockers Club

Lotty Raccoon is excited. This year she has a new teacher, new backpack, and new shoes. But her enthusiasm quickly wanes when Grant Grizzly begins bullying her. At the advice of her brother and sister, Lotty tries ignoring Grant and then tries to make a joke of it all, but neither approach works. When her parents hear about Grant, Lotty’s dad talks to the teacher. Although the teacher speaks to Grant and Lotty, now Grant just bullies her when no adult is around. 

After talking to her family again, Lotty comes up with an idea. She notices other kids are being bullied by Grant too. She gathers everyone together and they form a club—The Bully Blockers Club. Now when Grant tries to bully someone, the other kids speak up. That gets an adult’s attention, and Grant stops his bullying! 

The Bully Blockers Club will help readers understand what to do when someone is being bullied. Besides giving different ways to try to deal with a bully, the book also covers the topic of being a tattletale. The story reinforces the importance of telling an adult when you do not feel safe. Another positive aspect of the story is that Lotty and the other students are never mean to Grant, even when he is being a bully. The conclusion implies that Grant is going to stop his bullying ways, which may be a bit unrealistic.  

The book’s cartoonish pictures will appeal to readers and show the different ways Grant is bullying others. When Grant is being mean, the different students clearly show their anger and fear. Even though The Bully Blockers Club is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has three to 15 sentences and many of the sentences are complex. Because of the text-heavy pages, younger readers may have a difficult time sitting still until the end of the story. 

The Bully Blockers Club educates readers on bullying and encourages them to talk to an adult. Several times, Lotty’s family demonstrates healthy communication skills that require listening to each other. Plus, the teacher spends class time discussing bullying. On the chalkboard, readers will find a list of what characteristics makes a bully and what characteristics make a friend. The relatable topic and the educational value of The Bully Blockers Club make the picture book an excellent read. To explore more picture books that teach about friendship, check out Shawn Loves Sharks by Curtis Manley and Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Grant steals a classmate’s eraser and then “kicked the back of her chair all morning.” The girl ignores Grant’s “nasty whispers.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Grant loudly tells someone that a classmate is “so stupid she doesn’t even know when someone’s talking to her.” Then he yells, “Hey, Stupid.”  
  • Grant tells Lotty, “I’m allergic to ugly. And you’re giving me a rash.” Then he calls her “Stink-O.” 
  • Grant knocks Lotty’s books off her desk. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

First Grade Jitters

Here is the story of a young boy who is about to enter first grade and doesn’t know quite what to expect. Will his friends be there? Will he have to know how to read and spell? What if he can’t understand anything his teacher says? Looks like a case of the first grade jitters! 

An unnamed boy worries about school and all the what-ifs that could happen. While most of the boy’s worries are relatable, some are silly. For example, the boy asks, “What if I can’t understand what the teacher says? She might say, ‘Oogly, boogly.’” With the help of his parents and his friends, the boy realizes that he has nothing to be scared about. 

Bright, realistic illustrations use small details to highlight the boy’s worry. For example, in one picture his shoulders are slumped as he kicks a rock. By the end of the story, the boy is jumping with joy and has a big smile on his face. Even though First Grade Jitters is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has zero to seven simple sentences that make the story easy to understand. 

Any child who is worried about going to school will relate to the boy in First Grade Jitters. The story will reassure readers that there is nothing to be afraid of. If your child is worried about attending school, First Grade Jitters will help calm his or her fears. Readers may also want to read Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim, which is a school-themed story about friendship. 

 Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Fitz and Cleo #1

Meet Fitz and Cleo. They’re ghosts, siblings, and friends. This is their first book filled with eleven (that’s more than ten!) fun-filled adventures. Join them as they go to the beach, fly paper airplanes, play baseball, do science, and adopt a cat! 

Much like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Fitz and Cloe are adorable, friendly ghosts that readers will love. The two ghosts make everyday mundane events into something fun. The siblings’ adventures come to life in large, colorful panels similar to a graphic novel’s panels. The illustrations use bright colors and simple backgrounds that appeal to young readers. Although the illustrations are simple, the ghost’s emotions are clearly conveyed. Plus, some of the illustrations are humorous, such as a pink fairy pig with wings, and the cat Mister Boo who loves to sleep on Fitz’s head.  

Fitz and Cloe’s chapters range from three to eight pages. Each page has two to eight short sentences. The story is fun to read aloud because most of the text is comprised of dialogue; plus, there is plenty of onomatopoeia. While each chapter contains humor, there are also plenty of sweet moments. For example, while looking at other planets through a telescope, Cloe tells Fitz that Earth is the best planet “because you’re on this planet Fitz. And Mister Boo is on this planet. We’re on this planet TOGETHER. So it HAS to be the best!” 

If you’re looking for an entertaining book that will appeal to young readers, then Fitz and Cloe is the perfect book for you. The two ghosts and their cat make everything from playing baseball to flying paper airplanes into a fun adventure. Plus, young readers will relate to the siblings, who get brain freezes, spend a day at the beach, and play with a ball of yarn. Small details in the illustrations make the story even more engaging.  

Even though each chapter of Fitz and Cloe is short, readers will be eager to continue until they reach the end of the siblings’ adventures. The story has widespread appeal because of the everyday conflicts, the ghost protagonists, and an adorable cat. Another one of the story’s positive aspects is that the two siblings are kind to each other. For more fun reading, check out the Unicorn and Yeti Series by Heather Ayris Burnell. 

 Sexual Content 

  • None 

 Violence 

  • None 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

 Language   

  • None 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • None 

 

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