The 2021 Nerdies: Early Readers and Chapter Books Announced by Alyson Beecher

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Every year, I look forward to the email from Donalyn asking if I will write a post announcing the winners of the Nerdies Early Readers and Chapter Books. And every year, I scroll back through all of the previously recognized books from this category to see how the books have changed over the years. Though many of the themes have remained the same, the characters in our stories are more representative of the diversity of our readers. 

This year’s winners focus on themes of solving problems, finding surprises, learning to overcome fears, and speaking up for yourself.  Billy and Sona are faced with the responsibilities of being older siblings. Layla and Yasmin have problems to solve. Charlie & Mouse and Badger & Skunk go on big and small adventures to find things. Harry, Marisol, and Dominguita take on their fears and become braver and more confident as a result. J.D., Jo Jo, and Goat & Frog will leave you laughing. Ultimately, what I loved about each of these books was how our protagonists were given the space and support to learn and grow. Sometimes I worry that we have become so protective of our children that we fail to give them the chance to take risks and evolve. Thank you to each of the authors for reminding us of this important lesson.

*Book descriptions taken from GoodReads. 

I’m On It (Elephant and Piggy Like Reading) by Andrea Tsurumi (Hyperion Books for Children)

Goat likes to lead. Goat also likes Frog to follow.

When Goat jumps on it, Frog does, too. Soon Goat and Frog are on it, along it, above
it,inside it, beside it, around it, and under it-phew! How can their friendship get through it?

Charlie and Mouse Lost and Found by Laurel Snyder, Illustrated by Emily Hughes (Chronicle Books)

Charlie and Mouse are finding surprises in all sorts of unexpected places. After Mouse’s beloved blanket is lost and then found, they find a lost dog (and eventually her owner), seek out some ice cream, and discover a new puppy friend to take home at last.

Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix by Vicky Fang, Illustrated by Christine Nishiyama (Scholastic, Inc)

Layla and the Bots are building a SWEET new invention!

Pick a book. Grow a Reader!This series is part of Scholastic’s early chapter book line Branches, aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!Blossom Valley is opening a new community center! But they need to generate buzz for the grand opening. Layla and the Bots know how to help: they will build a cupcake machine for the party! But will their invention be a piece of cake… or a recipe for disaster? With full-color artwork on every page, speech bubbles throughout, and a fun DIY activity that readers can try at home, this early chapter book series brings kid-friendly STEAM topics to young readers! 

Yasmin the Librarian by Saadia Faruqi, Illustrated by Hatem Aly (Picture Window Books)

It’s library day, and Yasmin is the helper! She loves shelving books, but suddenly, Yasmin discovers that her own special book is missing. How will she find it among all the other books?

Harry Versus the First 100 Days by Emily Jenkins, Illustrated by Peter Oswald (Anne Schwartz Books)

A chapter book that follows, day by day, the first hundred days in one first grader’s classroom.

In just one hundred days, Harry will learn how to overcome first-day jitters, what a “family circle” is, why guinea pigs aren’t scary after all, what a silent “e” is about, how to count to 100 in tons of different ways, and much more. He’ll make great friends, celebrate lots of holidays, and learn how to use his words. In other words, he will become an expert first grader.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, Illustrated by Tara Audibert (Heartdrum)

Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons, a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore… 

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books)

Introducing eight-year-old Marisol Rainey!

Marisol Rainey’s mother was born in the Philippines. Marisol’s father works and lives part-time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And Marisol, who has a big imagination and likes to name inanimate objects, has a tree in her backyard she calls Peppina . . . but she’s way too scared to climb it. This all makes Marisol the only girl in her small Louisiana town with a mother who was born elsewhere and a father who lives elsewhere (most of the time)—the only girl who’s fearful of adventure and fun.

Will Marisol be able to salvage her summer and have fun with Jada, her best friend? Maybe. Will Marisol figure out how to get annoying Evie Smythe to leave her alone? Maybe. Will Marisol ever get to spend enough real time with her father? Maybe. Will Marisol find the courage to climb Peppina? Maybe.

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on nearly every page.

Sona Sharma Very Big Sister by Chitra Soundar, Illustrated by Jen Khatun (Candlewick Books)

Being a big sister to a new baby brings big responsibilities.

Sona Sharma’s house is full of people who joke often and argue sometimes. Relatives come unannounced, the phone rings frequently and friends drop in all the time. Then one day Amma tells Sona she is going to have a baby. Is that good? Sona isn’t sure – she has always enjoyed being an only child – and straight away she has a word with her best friend, Elephant. When Sona learns that there will be a baby naming ceremony, she is determined to find the perfect name for her new brother or sister. Because although she realizes that her life is about to change, and while she’s having some difficulty in coming to terms with having to share everything with the new baby – including Amma and Appa, her grandparents and her home – Sona Sharma wants to be the very best big sister she can be.

J.D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard, Illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts (Kokila)

Eight-year-old J.D. turns a tragic home haircut into a thriving barber business in this hilarious new illustrated chapter book series

J.D. has a big problem–it’s the night before the start of third grade and his mom has just given him his first and worst home haircut. When the steady stream of insults from the entire student body of Douglass Elementary becomes too much for J.D., he takes matters into his own hands and discovers that, unlike his mom, he’s a genius with the clippers. His work makes him the talk of the town and brings him enough hair business to open a barbershop from his bedroom. But when Henry Jr., the owner of the only official local barbershop, realizes he’s losing clients to J.D., he tries to shut him down for good. How do you find out who’s the best barber in all of Meridian, Mississippi? With a GREAT BARBER BATTLE!

Billy Miller Makes a Wish by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)

The stand-alone companion to two-time Newbery Honor author Kevin Henkes’s award-winning, acclaimed, and bestselling The Year of Billy Miller. Billy Miller Makes a Wish is a laugh-out-loud funny and accessible story about summer, family, and wishes that (almost) come true. A great choice for young middle grade readers. Illustrated in black-and-white throughout by the author.

On his birthday, Billy Miller wishes for something exciting to happen. But he immediately regrets his wish when an ambulance rushes to his neighbor’s house. Is Billy responsible? Award-winning author Kevin Henkes delivers a short, funny, and emotionally complex novel complete with misplaced love letters, surprising critters, art projects, misguided tattoos—and another surprise for Billy and his family, maybe the best one yet!

Illustrated throughout with black-and-white art by the author, this is a perfect novel for the early elementary grades and an essential choice for summer reading. A companion to The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery Honor Book.

Egg Marks the Spot by Amy Timberlake, Illustrated by Jon Klaussen (Algonquin Young Readers)

Buried in the heart of every animal is a secret treasure. For rock scientist Badger, it’s the Spider Eye Agate he found as a cub, stolen years ago by his crafty cousin, Fisher. For Badger’s roommate, Skunk, the treasure is Sundays with the New Yak Times Book Review. When an old acquaintance, Mr. G. Hedgehog, announces his plan to come for the Book Review as soon as it thumps on the doorstep, Skunk decides an adventure will solve Badger’s problems as well as his own. Surprisingly, Badger agrees. Together they set off on an agate-finding expedition at Badger’s favorite spot on Endless Lake.

But all is not as it seems at Campsite #5. Fisher appears unexpectedly. Then a chicken arrives who seems intent on staying. Something is up!

Indeed!

Secrets, betrayals, lies

. . . and a luminous, late-Jurassic prize.

Definitely Dominiguita: Knight of the Cape by Terry Catasús Jennings, Illustrated by Fatima Anaya (Aladdin)

Judy Moody meets Netflix’s One Day at a Time in this first book in a new chapter book series featuring a young Cuban American girl who tries to find adventure based on the classics she read with her beloved abuela—can Dominguita become a noble knight?

All Dominguita wants to do is read. Especially the books in Spanish that Abuela gave to her just before she moved away. They were classics that Abuela and Dominguita read together, classics her abuela brought with her all the way from Cuba when she was a young girl. It helps Dominguita feel like Abuela’s still there with her.

One of her favorites, Don Quixote, tells of a brave knight errant who tries to do good deeds. Dominguita decides that she, too, will become a knight and do good deeds around her community, creating a grand adventure for her to share with her abuela. And when the class bully tells Dominguita that girls can’t be knights, Dom is determined to prove him wrong. With a team of new friends, can Dominguita learn how to be the hero of her own story?

Congratulations to the 2021 Early Reader and Chapter Book winners.

Alyson Beecher is an educator in Southern California.  She has a serious book addiction and hosts the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on Wednesdays. You can find her on Twitter as @alysonbeecher and on her blog: Kid Lit Frenzy

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