Monday 19 February 2024

What's new in chapter books and graphic novels?

My son is now deep in the realm of searching for books he wants to read independently and chapter books and graphic novels are always a great option for him because they are short, accessible and very often funny. Although we have read together since he was tiny and he's enjoyed a wide range of picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels, building up his own reading has been more of a challenge. Reading for pleasure and enjoyment is, for us as a family, the most important thing and so we're starting this round-up with something he loved:

Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th January 2024


Graphic novels are a great way of engaging reluctant readers and, after barely reading any graphic novels in my forty-something years, I have discovered a real love for them too! All of the ones we have read so far, including DogMan, Agent Moose, Bumble and Snug and Pea, Bee and Jay have been incredibly clever and hugely funny and this was no exception:

Pablo and Splash are the best of friends and totally different. Pablo likes his life in the Antarctic but Splash wants change and adventure! Fed up of the freezing weather, Splash persuades Pablo to go on holiday with him. But a series of unexpected events leads them on a time-travelling escapade to the dinosaur age instead. Was life in the Antarctic really that bad?

This is the first in a series of adventures for Pablo and Splash and we found them to be instantly loveable. If you're after a laugh-out-loud adventure that's fun and very silly then you've found the perfect pair of penguins. The illustrations are fab, the plot is twisty and turny and the humour is spot on for younger readers, whilst also appealing to anyone who fancies a giggle. Graphic novels really are the dream combination of words and pictures - exciting, unintimidating and totally page-turning.

The Dog Squad by Clara Vulliamy

Published by: HarperCollins, 18th January 2024


Perfect for dog lovers, this is the second in a really lovely series about dogs and journalism. It may seem like an odd combination but it really works! Penned by Clara Vulliamy, author of the Dotty Detective and Marshmallow Pie books, it's a simple but gentle story with a great twist. 

When Eva and her friends take Wafer to a whippet racing competition, Eva is super proud of her pet. But something is amiss - some underhand cheating is going on and Eva smells a new story...

We really loved the characters in this series. Wafer, of course, is star of the show but Eva and her friends have a lovely dynamic. The author creates an ominous sense of peril with some grumpier characters and there is also an element of mystery which Eva must uncover if she wants to write her story. This is great for anyone who prefers 'real-world' stories. Eva's love for her pet, Wafer, is really relatable and the books fit really well into the pet genre that is really popular with chapter book readers, whilst also offering a new and specific angle. 

The Magician Next Door by Rachel Chivers Khoo, illustrated by Alice McKinley

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 7th March 2024

If you're looking for something more fantastical, then this is the book for you. As with Rachel Chivers Khoo's first chapter book, The Wishkeeper's Apprentice, this has the magical and traditional feel of the stories I used to read as a child. With a magician and giants and spells going wrong, it is packed full of imagination, joy and delight. 

Ten year old Callie is struggling to settle into her new life in the mountains after living a life in London. But when a magical house crashes into her garden, Callie is pulled into an urgent mission. 

Winnifred, the owner of the house, has lost her precious Wanderdust and if Callie can't help her find it, then her house is in terrible danger. But soon Callie learns that she might be the reason for the Wanderdust going missing in the first place.

This story deals with big and relatable issues, such as grief, moving house and old and new friendships. And yet Rachel Chivers Khoo wraps these themes up in a captivating and immersive story that crackles with magic. The result is a rollercoaster ride of imagination, adventure, peril and emotion. There are high stakes and urgent missions at the same time as Callie is coming to terms with her past, present and future. However, none of it felt too heavy because there's a great balance of light and dark, humour and sadness mixed with a huge dose of imagination. 

There's a fabulous nod to folklore and famous stories too - giants, houses falling out of the sky, woodland and pixies all remind me of those old classics. And yet there's something incredible fresh and contemporary about the story too as well as a dynamic and exciting energy. 

Princess Katie's Kittens: Ruby and the Royal Baby by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Sam Loman

Published by: Piccadilly Press, May 9th 2024


The fifth book in this series is just as delightful as the others and this time it is Ruby's turn to have an adventure. The last of the five kittens finds herself getting into trouble as she explores the wider world around her...

The Queen is having a baby! Katie is over the moon that she is going to be a big sister again and she and her friend, Becky, launch themselves into preparing for the new arrival. 

But it's not long before Ruby the kitten interrupts their plans by unintentionally causing mischief and mayhem. The Queen isn't happy either... Will Ruby be allowed to stay? And can Katie fix everything before the baby is born?

Told in a dual perspective which cleverly switches between Katie and Ruby, these stories are perfect for encouraging independent reading. The chapters are short, the illustrations are delightful and there are strong themes of family, friendship and how to care for animals.  We really liked how some factual information is always woven into the text and, in this story there's a gentle warning about introducing cats to babies.

The 'princess' aspect of the series is also very appealing and adds another layer of specialness to the concept. Despite this, however, Katie and her family still feel very relatable to readers.

A big thanks to NetGalley and all the above publishers for allowing us review copies of these new and upcoming chapter books. All these books are avaiable to purchase or pre-order.

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