I love it when you find the perfect book just when you need it. Pip Jones and Ella Okstad’s wonderful Squishy McFluff The Invisible Cat is one of those books for me. I discovered them last year when looking for some chapter books to share with my 5 year old daughter. The first book in the series was released in 2014 and five more chapter books followed, and one picture book. Told in rhyming verse, each book is a new adventure for Ava and her invisible cat, Squishy McFluff. Ava and Squishy get in to all sorts of mischief and the stories are so perfect for sharing with young readers who are ready for a longer story or are starting to read chapter books. I’ve loved every Squishy McFluff book and there is a new book in the series which has just been released. In Squishy McFluff: On with the Show! the circus is in town and Ava and Squishy get to enjoy the show.
The weekend looks like it is going to be super boring when Ava’s Mum announces that they’ll be tidying the shed. An advertisement for a travelling circus catches Ava’s eye and she convinces her parents to go. Ava has to help her parents tidy the shed first but Ava and Squishy spend the time finding things for their circus act. When the star clown doesn’t show up though, Ava and Squishy step in to take his place. It’s not long before Ava’s invisible cat becomes not-so-invisible and steals the show.
On with the Show is another great addition to this wonderful series. Like the other books in the series this is an absolute joy to read! The rhyming text flows so nicely and just rolls off your tongue. I’ve always thought authors who can write a picture book that rhymes while also flowing nicely have quite a skill, but to be able to do this for a 72 page chapter book makes Pip Jones a true wordsmith. Ella Okstad’s illustrations adorable illustrations adorn every page and she perfectly captures this magical friendship between Ava and Squishy.
The thing that I love the most about this series is the rich language that Pip uses. The language is perfectly aimed at her audience but the text is full of fantastic words like ‘apprehensive,’ ‘clout,’ and ‘stupendous.’ It’s the language and the rhythm of the text that makes these books so much fun to read aloud.
The Squishy McFluff books are great for newly independent readers to read themselves, for an adult to read aloud to a 4-6 year old, or for a New Entrant or Year 1 or 2 teacher to share with their class. The chapters are short (and so is each book), making them ideal for sharing at bedtime or in class. They are a great addition to a primary school library as I recommend them to the Year 1 and 2 children all the time. If you have a young reader in your life get them the Squishy McFluff books from your library or bookshop now.
Visit the Squishy McFluff website for more information about the series, the author and illustrator, and to find fun activities. Check out the book trailer for Squishy McFluff: Supermarket Sweep:
Illustrated fiction is perfect for newly independent readers because there are still pictures that help to bring the characters alive and show what is happening in the story. There are so many wonderful illustrated stories out there that are perfect for young readers to read themselves or to read aloud. Friendship, magic and animals are all common themes for books for this age group (roughly ages 5-7).
The books below are all ones that I have read for my own enjoyment or read aloud to my 5 year old daughter so they come highly recommended.
From the bright, sparkly cover to the story of a magical colouring book transporting Maya to another world, The Magical Kingdom of Birds series (written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Rosie Butcher) is sure to be a winner with young readers. It’s perfect for fans of Zanna Davidson’s Fairy Ponies series or readers who have loved the Rainbow Magic books and want something meatier to read.
Maya receives a magic colouring book that once belonged to her mother and it transports her to the Magical Kingdom of the Birds. Here she meets a fairy named Willow and a Magpie named Patch, who tell her she is destined to save the kingdom. This first book in the series focuses on the hummingbirds and a spell that has been placed on them. It is up to Maya, Willow and Patch to find an antidote and stop the villainous Lord Astor.
One of the things I loved about this book is the way that the author adds extra special details at the end of the story. There is a Bird Fact File with lots of hummingbird facts, and instructions for making a bird feeder and bird biscuits.
The Pearl the Unicorn series by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Adele K Thomas is a series that I will gladly read over and over again. They are super fun stories with perfectly matched illustrations. I’ve read all the books in the series so far with my daughter and they’re all great. Essentially, Pearl is a unicorn whose magic always goes wrong. A ‘toss, toss, wiggle, flick’ can end with hilarious results like yogurt falling from the sky. Pearl spends the days with her friends Tweet the fire bird and Olive the troll, getting up to all sorts of adventures. The nasty gobble-uns are never far away but Pearl’s misfiring magic saves the day.
What isn’t to like about the Kitty series by Paula Harrison and illustrated by Jenny Lovlie? It’s about a girl called Kitty who turns into a cat superhero at night, with cat superpowers like super hearing. Kitty and her feline friends, Pumpkin and Pixie, go on daring missions at night, like saving a secret Sky Garden from being ruined by bad cats. This is the perfect series for kids who have loved watching PJ Masks and are interested in superheroes. Jenny Lovlie’s illustrations are super cute, especially Kitty’s feline friends.
The Evie and Pog series by Tania McCartney has been one of my favourites to read aloud with my daughter. They’re funny and silly with characters that kids will want to keep coming back to.
Evie is six years old. She likes reading and baking and rolling on the daisy-spot grass. Pog is a pug. He is two and likes to drink tea and read the newspaper.
There are three books in the series so far – Party Perfect, Take Off and Puppy Playtime. Each book has three stories, that take about ten minutes to read aloud, making them perfect for bedtime. Pog reminds me of Gromit (from Wallace and Gromit) because he doesn’t talk but has very human-like qualities, like reading the newspaper or entering an art competition.
I’m a huge fan of the Miniwings series by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Kirsten Richards. Every single book in the series is totally fabo, from the silly antics of the Clara, Sophia and the Miniwings to Kirsten Richards hilarious illustrations. The Miniwings are small horse toys that come alive when adults aren’t around. They are always getting sisters Clara and Sophia in to trouble and getting up to lots of mischief, including destroying a delicious high-tea that the sisters get invited to.
The latest book in the series, Moonlight the Unicorn’s High Tea Hiccup is a finalist in the junior fiction category of 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It’s one of the best junior fiction series for young readers in New Zealand so it’s great to see it get that recognition.
Donovan Bixley’s Flying Furballs series is another brilliant junior fiction series from NZ that has just come to an end with the ninth book in the series. Flying Furballs is pussycats in planes in Paris. Donovan reimagines the First World War, with the CATS as the good guys and the DOGZ as the bad guys. There are daring missions, dramatic rescues, and action and laughs galore. They are such fun books to read and you can tell that Donovan had a lot of fun creating them. The Flying Furballs series is sure to hook young readers who are just starting on their reading journey.
In my opinion Stripes Publishing are publishing the best illustrated fiction for newly independent readers. Their authors are some of the best children’s authors around, their illustrators are superb and they are gorgeous books to hold and enjoy. Here are some of the best from Stripes.
I love this adorable odd couple. Jasper is a cat who is neat and tidy and a snappy dresser and Scruff is a scruffy dog who’s a little messy. They’re complete opposites but the best of friends.
In the first book, Jasper is desperate to join the Sophisticats and he does all he can to gain their favour. They finally accept his dinner invitation when Scruff comes in to his life and throws it in to disarray. In The Treasure Hunt (the second book) they open a bookshop together and find a treasure map in one of the books which leads them on a treasure hunt.
Both of the stories in the series are perfect for reading aloud or for newly independent readers to read themselves. There are illustrations on every page that make the story come alive. Nicola Colton writes and illustrates the stories and she really knows her audience. I hope to read more adventures of Jasper and Scruff.
Midge & Mo by Lara Williamson and illustrated by Becky Cameron is the perfect book about friendship for newly independent readers. Midge is starting at a new school. His parents have split up so he has moved. He misses his old school and his friends. A girl in his new class, Mo, becomes his buddy and tries everything she can think of to cheer him up and become his friend, but it takes a special present to bring Midge out of his shell.
The story is engaging and attractive, with sparse text and colour illustrations on every page. As well as being perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves Midge and Mo would make a great read aloud for 6-8 year olds.
I picked up Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow and illustrated by Alison Friend from the library to read to my daughter (who was 4 at the time). She loved this adorable story so much that we read it all in one go and read it 3 more times in the next few days. That, for me, is the sign of a great book! I’ve recommended it to lots of kids since and they’ve all enjoyed it.
Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise tells the story of a little rabbit who joins her grandfather on an outing one day and ends up helping out the animals that they meet. Alison Friend’s illustrations to Swapna Haddow’s story make this a super cute read. Like all of the Stripes junior fiction with colour illustrations there are no chapters so the story reads like a picture book in a chapter book format.
A Sea of Stories by Sylvia Bishop and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly is a story about Roo and her grandfather. Roo loves exploring the cove by her grandfather’s house but when he can’t get down the steep path any more Roo asks him about the treasures in his house. Each treasure has a story attached to it and through these stories Roo learns more about her grandfather. This is a lovely story about family and the stories our elders have to tell.
I hope you’ve found some new books to read or share in this post. If you’ve got favourite books for young readers I’d love to hear about them.