MerTales: The Best Friend Promise by Rebecca Timmis

Do you need a new series of books to hook the young mermaid lover in your life? Rebecca Timmis has exactly what you’re looking for! The Best Friend Promise is the first book in Rebecca’s new series, MerTales, and it’s out now.

Pearl the mermaid is turning nine and she’s super excited for her party. While escaping from a reef shark on her way to school Pearl sees a shooting star crash into the ocean, and everything changes. Pearl’s tail starts to glow and shimmer, and now she can talk to animals. Pearl tries to show her friends that she can talk to animals but none of her friends believe her. Pearl makes the most of being able to talk to animals, especially when it comes to riding her seahorse, Silverdust. When Pearl upsets another mermaid from her class, Pearl and her friends must venture into the Weeded Wood to rescue her. Pearl will have to hope that her magic power is enough to save them all from a hungry reef dragon.

The Best Friend Promise is a bright, fun story that will hook young readers on this series. It is bursting with Rebecca’s cute black and white illustrations, with splashes of colour, lots of sea puns, and short chapters, making it perfect for newly independent readers. The cover is bright and shiny, and it will make the book hard to resist. My 6 year old daughter loves mermaids and we loved reading this together. It was fun to read aloud.

MerTales is perfect for fans of Sally Odgers’ Pearl the Unicorn series and readers who love mermaids, magic and animals.

Graphic novels to hook the youngest readers

For the past 3 years the graphic novel section of my school library has been the most popular part of the collection. I struggle to keep up with the demand of my readers, especially the kids who will now exclusively read graphic novels. There are heaps of great graphic novels being published, for all ages, and some of the most fun ones are aimed at beginner readers. As you can see from the book covers above, many of them feature two main characters, and the humour in these stories comes from the interactions of the characters. Here are some of my favourite graphic novels for young readers.

Kitten Construction Company series by John Patrick Green

The Kitten Construction Company series are some of the first graphic novels created by John Patrick Green (also the creator of one of my favourite graphic novel series, InvestiGators). In Meet the House Kittens, we meet Marmalade, a cute, adorable kitten who is also a trained architect. She is sick of not being taken seriously, and so with some new feline friends, she sets out to show those ridiculous humans what they’re capable of. In the second book, A Bridge Too Fur, Marmalade and her Kitten Construction Company are in hot demand. Their latest assignment is to build the new Mewburg bridge, but they are forced to get help from a demolition crew of dogs. This series is adorable and seriously funny! The panels are big, there are puns galore and the characters are super expressive. They also read aloud nicely so they’re good ones to share.

Pizza and Taco: Who’s the Best? by Stephen Shaskan

Pizza and Taco are best friends and they have a lot in common. They both love water slides, and they’re both friends with Hot Dog and Hamburger. They can’t decide who is the best though. Maybe they need to have a debate and get their friends to decide. The illustrations are colourful (and make you hungry) and the text is simple but full of humour. Like pizzas and tacos, this is a tasty morsel of a book that kids will gobble up. They’ll be begging for more stories about these two besties.

Narwhal and Jelly series by Ben Clanton

Narwhal and Jelly are two of my favourite best buds. Every time I read one of their stories I grin the whole way through because they’re so adorably silly. Narwhal is bursting with happiness and he’s always super positive (and he’s also rather obsessed with waffles). Each of their books has a handful of stories, as well as some facts about narwhals, jellyfish and other sea creatures. The stories is perfectly pitched for young readers, Ben’s illustrations are simple and fun, and his characters are full of personality. Once you read one Narwhal and Jelly book you won’t be able to stop!

Shark and Bot by Brian Yanish

I know what you’re thinking – a shark and a robot couldn’t be friends. Wrong! Shark has just moved to a new place, all the way from Australia. Being a shark, he has trouble making friends, as anybody he meets just runs away screaming. Bot has trouble making friends too, especially with a blade for a hand. These two unlikely friends become best buds. When some bullies take over the playground, Shark and Bot think like their heroes, the Glo-Nuts, and confront the bullies the only way they know how – with the power of dance. The thing I like most about this graphic novel is that it pokes fun at itself. Shark and Bot’s dance moves had me laughing out loud! Any graphic novel that has step-by-step instructions on how to draw the characters is brilliant in my books, and kids can learn how to draw both Shark and Bot in the back of the book.

Arlo and Pips: King of the Birds by Elise Gravel

I love everything that Elise Gravel has created, so I was super excited to see that she had created a graphic novel for younger readers. Arlo believes that he is the greatest bird in the world. Pips is here to try and prove him wrong. There are plenty of birds more beautiful than Arlo, and Pips can certainly sing sweeter than him. Arlo tries to win Pips over by showing Pips the clever things that he can do, using his larger than average brain. As well has being a fun story, with a bit of adventure and suspense, you learn lots of interesting facts about crows along the way. Elise’s text and illustrations are perfect for beginner readers and the story is full of humour.

Honourable mentions – The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems and the Monkey and Cake series by Drew Daywalt and Olivier Tallec

While these two series aren’t technically graphic novels they are great stepping stones to graphic novels for beginner readers. In both the Elephant and Piggie series and the Monkey and Cake series, the authors and illustrators have two friends tackling a series of problems. There is no narration for these stories, rather it is the interactions of the characters that tell the story. The creators use speech bubbles for the conversations between the characters, there is lots of expression in the characters body language and the text, and the stories are hilarious. Both of these series are great to read together with beginner readers. My daughter and I take a character each and read or act out their parts. I also recommended this idea to a teacher at my school, who was looking for books to read with her 6-year-old son, and this worked brilliantly for her too.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race by Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians

Whether I’m looking for new and interesting books for the newly independent readers at my school or for books to read aloud to my 6-year-old daughter, I want a book that is going to be engaging. It’s got to have relatable characters, fun illustrations, and an eye-catching cover. Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians’ series, Magnificent Mabel, has all of these things and more. I read the first book in the series, just called Magnificent Mabel, to my daughter and we both immediately loved it. Mabel is a funny character who she really liked and I easily found the character’s voice. My daughter wanted me to get more Mabel stories, so thankfully they are being released pretty quickly. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is the latest in the series to be released here in NZ.

Like the other books in the series, Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race contains three short stories – the title story, Magnificent Mabel and the Class Play and Magnificent Mabel and the Dog Show.

Mabel is not a fan of sports day and things get even worse when she gets partnered with Edward Silitoe, a boy in her class who is always in a rush. Edward thinks that Mabel will ruin his chances of winning, but then comes the egg and spoon race, and Mabel is determined that no unhatched chicks will die because of her.

Mabel’s teacher is mad about acting so her class does a different play each term. Mabel loves acting, but she doesn’t like that some people (not her) get all the good parts. This term her class is doing a play about William Shakespeare and Mabel is very keen to be Shakespeare, especially because she would get to wear an interesting beard. Mabel is upset when she doesn’t get the part but she still finds a way to wear the beard.

Mabel thinks that dog shows are more fun than going on holiday. Her friend Lottie Clark goes to dog shows all the time, but Mabel has never been to one. Instead, her family drags her on holiday in the countryside. When Mabel discovers a dog show happening just down the road, her dad agrees to take her along. Mabel trains hard with her toy dog, Dermot, and when the day of the dog show arrives, she takes Dermot with her. Mabel and Dermot enter the dog agility competition, with surprising results.

I absolutely love the Magnificent Mabel series! Ruth Quayle has perfectly captured the voice of a 5 or 6 year old. Mabel is full of personality and has a view of the world that so many young readers will relate to. She gets fixated on certain things, like the Shakespeare beard, and can’t stop thinking about them. The humour is spot on, and both my daughter and I were chuckling our way through each of the stories. We couldn’t stop laughing reading the part where Mabel wears the beard everywhere!

Julia Christians has brought to life Mabel’s personality in her illustrations. She highlights how happy Mabel is and how much she likes to have fun. She also captures Mabel’s frustrations, especially when she has to do something that she doesn’t want to (like go on a boring holiday) or she doesn’t get what she wants (like a real dog of her own).

The Magnificent Mabel series is perfect for newly independent readers, as the stories are short but engaging and very relatable. They are also great to read aloud, either to a Year 1/2 class or to snuggle up and enjoy with your 5-7 year old. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is out now in NZ.

Brilliant fiction for newly independent readers

I’m always on the hunt for more great books to hook the youngest readers at my school. Having a 5-year-old daughter myself has helped me tune in to chapter books for 5-8 year olds, as I look for engaging books to read to her. This has also highlighted the imbalance of books aimed at boys and those aimed at girls for this age group. There are lots of great books and series aimed at girls, but not so much for boys. After searching through other blogs and publisher websites I found some new series that looked exciting and purchased these for my school library. After reading the first one or two books in the series below I can confidently say that these will be winners for the 5-8 year olds in your life.

Jasper and Scruff: Take a Bow by Nicola Colton

Take a Bow is the third book in the marvelous Jasper and Scruff series by Nicola Colton. In Take a Bow, Jasper and Scruff enter the Reach Fur the Stars talent show, hoping to wow the judges with their magic act. The horrid Sophisticats are back and are determined to win at all costs. They’ve messed with Jasper and Scruff before and they always come out with their tails out of joint, but they still haven’t learnt their lesson. Jasper and Scruff are delightful characters who I can’t get enough of. The book is illustrated in colour throughout, with illustrations on every page. This series is great to read aloud to Years 1 and 2 as the books are short and engaging.

Itty Bitty Princess Kitty series by Melody Mews, illustrated by Ellen Stubbings

This series is completely adorable and will make young girls squeal with delight when they see it (that was my daughter’s reaction). The first book (The Newest Princess) was released in February 2020 and there are currently 7 books in the series, with more to come soon. I bought the Itty Bitty Princess Kitty Collection, which includes the first 4 books in the series, and they have been gobbled up by my readers. I read the first one to my daughter in one night and we then read the three others over the rest of the week. Yes, they are super cute, but they are also funny and deal with things like coping with change and friendship. I especially love how, instead of knocking on doors, the cats scratch at the door, and there is a treat station in every room. Each book is illustrated throughout in black and white, with bright covers that jump off the shelf.

Jeanie and Genie series by Trish Granted, illustrated by Manuela Lopez

This is another series with a bright, colourful, girl-appeal cover. If the cover doesn’t scream ‘Pick Me!’ loud enough, the blurb will certainly grab readers. Jeanie is a girl who likes the ordinary and predictable, but her world is turned upside down when she meets the new girl, Willow. Willow is confident, friendly and fun, and after a bumpy start, Jeanie and Willow become good friends. Strange things start happening in class and it’s not long before Jeanie discovers that they have something to do with Willow. Willow is a genie! An actual, real-life genie, who grants wishes! She needs lots of practice to be able to earn her skill badges and pass her training. Together, Jeanie and Willow are going to have a lot of fun. I shared the first book, The First Wish, with my daughter and it was a winner for both of us. It is fun to read and very entertaining. We will be reading the rest of the series and I know that the girls in Year 1-4 are going to love them too.

Mack Rhino: Private Eye: The Big Race Lace Case by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender, illustrated by Karl West

The Mack Rhino: Private Eye series is just one of many in Simon and Schuster’s Aladdin Quix range of Fast Fun Reads. These Quix books are specially designed to be fast, fun-to-read stories, full of humour and colourful characters. The Mack Rhino: Private Eye series certainly lives up to this. Mack Rhino is a detective in Coral Cove and he’s never short of cases. He has just put away the Ant Hill Gang, but someone else is up to no good. It’s the day of The Big Race around Coral Cove, but the laces from everyone’s running shoes are going missing. It’s up to Mack to solve the case before the end of the race. This is another great series that will appeal especially to boys. The chapters are short, there are illustrations on most pages and there is a helpful glossary at the back, with words that may be unfamiliar and how to pronounce them.

Fort Builders Inc.: The Birthday Castle by Dee Romito, illustrated by Marta Kissi

Fort Builders Inc. is another series in the Quix range of books. This is such a cool idea for a series and it’s going to be a hit with kids. Caleb loves books, especially his favourite series, Castle Quest. When he sees a special edition of the first book in the series in a bookshop his parents aren’t able to buy it for him. Along with his best friend, Jax, Caleb comes up with a plan to earn some money, so that he can buy the book. Together, they set up their own fort building company, called Fort Builders Inc. They will build box forts for anyone who is interested and charge for their services. Caleb and Jax find that they need other skills to help them make their forts really great, so they recruit Eddie and Kiara to help. With the deadline looming for their first creation the friends need to work together to build the best one possible. I loved the first book in the series and can’t wait to see how their business develops in the next books in the series. I especially like how they have to ask other kids to join them, as they know different kids have skills that can help them. I also like that Dee didn’t have a whole team of boys, but included Kiara too. Once again the chapters are short, there are illustrations on most pages and there is a helpful glossary at the back, with words that may be unfamiliar and how to pronounce them.

For more suggestions of fiction for newly independent readers check out my post about illustrated fiction for newly independent readers, featuring books by Swapna Haddow, Donovan Bixley, Sally Sutton and Paula Harrison. I also highly recommend Swapna Reddy and Binny Talib’s Ballet Bunny series for those readers aged 5-8 who want a super cute series to read.

Squishy McFluff The Invisible Cat: On With The Show! By Pip Jones and Ella Okstad

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:

Ballet Bunnies by Swapna Reddy and Binny Talib

What do you get when you combine one little beginner ballerina and bunnies in tutus? You get the most adorable chapter book series for young readers ever! Swapna Haddow (author of the Dave Pigeon series writing as Swapna Reddy) and Binny Talib have joined forces to give readers a series full of friendship, mischief and tutus.

The first three books in the series have been released together, which is fantastic as young readers can really fall in love with Millie and her bunny friends. In The New Class we meet Millie, who has dreamed of going to Miss Luisa’s School of Dance for months. On her sixth birthday her Mum surprises her with lessons and she’s so excited to go. Unfortunately things don’t start smoothly. Perfect Amber is mean to Millie and she just can’t get the moves right. When she most needs a friend she discovers the Ballet Bunnies – Dolly, Fifi, Pod and Trixie. With the help of the Ballet Bunnies and her new friend Samira, Millie starts to improve her ballet skills and have fun while doing it.

In the second book, Let’s Dance, Millie is preparing to perform for the first time in her ballet school’s gala show. While Millie is excited at first to perform, once she sees the stage she becomes very nervous and worried. Luckily Millie has her Ballet Bunnies to give her some tips and help her prepare.

In the third book, Millie’s Birthday, Millie is getting ready for her birthday. All her friends and family are going to be there but Millie gets a funny feeling in her tummy when she thinks about all those people. The bunnies decide to sneak home in Millie’s bag so that they can be there for Millie’s party. They will have a lot of fun together, but they’ll have to keep hidden from Millie’s mum and the party guests.

I love absolutely everything about The Ballet Bunnies series! From the moment young readers see these books glittering on the shelf they are going to be smitten with the Ballet Bunnies. I read all three books to my 5 year old daughter and we giggled our way through each book. As soon as she saw the books she squealed with excitement and we had to read them one after another over three nights. She couldn’t pick a favourite bunny but I love Trixie because she keeps falling asleep. We both love Millie though and we had some good discussions about what happened to her in the stories.

The covers are loaded with glitter and Binny’s illustrations make your heart melt. The bunnies are absolutely adorable (I totally wanted to cuddle them all) but they all have a different personality. There are illustrations on almost every page.

I really love that each of the stories is quite different and doesn’t feel formulaic. So often with series for younger readers the stories can feel the same in each book. In each Ballet Bunnies book Millie is dealing with different emotions, whether it is sadness and frustration about not knowing the ballet moves, nervousness and worry about performing, or feeling anxious at her party. I love the way that Swapna includes strategies to help Millie cope with her emotions. These are all situations that kids find themselves in so kids will be able to relate easily to Millie and these strategies will maybe even help them in a similar situation.

If you have a young reader in your life, especially a girl, you must get them The Ballet Bunnies series. They are perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves or to read aloud to 5-7 year olds. There are more books to come in the series next year and my daughter and I can’t wait!