Book Reviews: #CYBILS2023 Early Chapter Book Finalists

Here we are, friends!

It seems only appropriate that Early Chapter Books be the “final chapter” in our posts sharing judges reviews of 2023 CYBILS Awards finalists and winners.

There are a few familiar series and new faces, too. These stories also welcome young readers into stories that may be comfortable and fun, and others that will expose them to unfamiliar experiences, too.

So let’s get to it!


Henry, Like Always: Book 1
Bailey, Jenn, illustrated by Song, Mika
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

Sandy @ Goodreads – I read the original A FRIEND FOR HENRY, a picture book, and I loved it. That important presentation of a neurodivergent boy at home and in school whose individual needs make him seem “different” did a wonderful job of connecting readers to Henry and recognition/acceptance of his differences as both familiar and even appealing. In this launch of a new chapter-book series featuring Henry, his intense concern for structure and consistency produces some stress in his life and among his peers. His teacher demonstrates strong understanding of his needs, his classmates display recognizable variations in their reactions, and the eventual resolution is both simple and satisfying in significant ways. Highly recommend this new title and I look forward to subsequent adventures from henry and his friends and school.

Linda @ Goodreads – Jenny Bailey and illustrator Mika Song start this easy reader series that Henry and lots of others will enjoy, “like always”!


Lola’s First Day of the Dead (¡Hola, Lola!)
Novales, Keka, illustrated by Vázquez, Carolina
Picture Window Books
Nominated by: Kidsbookreviewer

Sarah @ Goodreads – Lola is a loveable character. The author expresses her emotions so well, that it’s like we’re reading about our best friend. Lola knows her Mom is missing Guatemala, and in trying to help her Mom she wants to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The book follows Lola’s journey in conquering her fears in different ways from spiders to different foods. The story was relatable for my children in a gentle way. I loved exposing my children to Guatemalan culture without the textbook feeling. I will certainly be reading more books from this series.

Kirsten @ Goodreads – Lola is a sweet and thoughtful kid and I learned more about Guatemalan culture in this story. The writing was fun and the illustrations were cute as well.

Maddie and Mabel Know They Can: Book 3 (Maddie and Mabel, 3)
Allen, Kari, illustrated by Mai-Wyss, Tatjana
Kind World Publishing
Nominated by: Carrie Kruck

Kirsten @ Goodreads – Maddie and Mabel are back at it again! Each chapter tells its own story, though the beginning does come full circle in the end. They search for Mabel’s missing flowers, make a lemonade stand, and learn to ride a bike! The illustrations are breathtaking as always and the sisterly love is palpable. I highly recommend this story to everyone! I love this series.

Sarah @ Goodreads – Maddie and Mabel is a sweet sister story. There are five total short stories. The writing is poetic and my kids were captivated by it. The art is cheerful. The overall illustrations add to the story with playful moments and details that are fun to find. While the text is simple for new readers with lots of sight words the writing is still poetic. This is not an easy reader that parents will be bored with. I love how the sisters persevere and cheer each other on. The bike section of the book is very realistic and yet charming.

Saving Snakes (Naomi Nash)
Anderson, Jessica Lee, illustrated by Barajas, Alejandra
Picture Window Books
Nominated by: Lynna F.

Ellen @ On the Shelf 4 Kids –  I think readers will love this character and her budding business! Naomi’s mom is a veterinarian and they’ve recently taken in a Brown Rat Snake that swallowed not one, but two ceramic eggs (much harder to digest than the real thing). The snake is recovering at Naomi’s house and Naomi thinks of an idea to help those in her neighborhood remove snakes safely and humanely, and educate them (her neighbors, not the snakes) at the same time! 

Sarah @ Goodreads – Naomi loves snakes. What better way to prepare to be a vet than to rescue snakes! Naomi has an entrepreneur spirit with her brother as they start a business to rescue snakes from people’s homes. The book has lots of facts about snakes woven throughout the book. Naomi and Taylor have some friend conflict as well. The book displays different relationship issues and how to navigate them. Naomi has such an upbeat attitude when dealing with snake phobias that people have. I could read this book over and over with my kids.

The Magic Lunch Box (Ben Lee)
Kim (Ch, Hanna, illustrated by Paik, Emily
Stone Arch Books
Nominated by: Laura Mossa

Sarah @ Goodreads – Ben has to move to Michigan and go to a new school. He goes from being one of the group to being the only Korean kid at his school. He has to navigate being different. He wishes he could just have sandwiches and be “normal”. He gets granted his wish. He finds out subtly through a magic lunchbox what it would be like to be like everyone else. This book helps explain the topic of fitting in with your peers in an elementary context. This is an important book for all kids to help have more acceptance of eachother’s cultures and foods.

Kirsten @ Goodreads – I am not going to lie…I got a bit teary-eyed at the end of this book. This book was extremely well written, moved at a great pace, and had such a good lesson. I would highly recommend this book to anyone!

The Princess in Black and the Prince in Pink
Hale, Shannon and Hale, Dean, illustrated by Pham, Leuyen
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

Sondy @ Sonderbooks – I love the Princess in Black series! It’s great fun. Mind you, Prince Valerian is not a girl. But he’s a prince who enjoys a nontypical prince activity, decorating with glitter and sparkles, just as the Princess in Black enjoys a nontypical princess activity, fighting monsters. And it’s all done with so much fun. I love the way the characters wink at each other’s secret identities. This is a delightful story that shakes up gender stereotypes in beautiful ways.

Kirsten @ Goodreads – This was another adorable installment in a very popular series. Young children and fans of the Princess in Black are sure to love it.

Sarah @ Goodreads – Another great addition to the series. Princess in Black still shows how everyone can do everything. This book is just as empowering. When the decoration broke however I wish the author had portrayed the disappointment of Princess Magnolia a bit more. She didn’t cry or stamp her foot. It said she was upset but my kids didn’t pick up on it. I think it should have been emphasized a bit more to get the point across. The emus were a fun villain but yet not a villain. The illustrations were delightful and full of so much color. This series is a terrific read aloud.

Too Small Tola Gets Tough
Atinuke, illustrated by Iwu, Onyinye
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: literacyedprof

Sandy @ Goodreads – This is a unique early chapter booklet set in Lagos, perhaps one of the largest urban areas in the world but rarely portrayed in typical American texts. The most unusual part of this early chapter book is not the rarity of material in this locale, or this cultural portrait, but the fact that Tola is the central character yet the older siblings/family/characters carry the storylines through several chapters. Those sequences portray challenges that are much older than young Tola would have faced. In fact, though, this is a valuable presentation that proves to be engaging, appealing, and broadening in the natural and authentic way in which the story is told and the events unfold.

Sondy @ Sonderbooks – Yes, it’s a very tough situation. But yes, Tola gets tough. It’s all in a beginning chapter book package with three chapters and plenty of pictures. And American beginning chapter book readers can learn about an ordinary but clever girl living on the other side of the world with people who love her. This book, too, is sad. But I’ve decided that it’s a gentle way to help kids understand poverty and have compassion for people in tough situations.

Kirsten @ Goodreads – This was the most eye-opening, inspirational, yet heartbreaking children’s book I have read in a while. I think all children and adults should read it. This is a must-read for everybody just to see how other people live. The lockdown was hard for everyone, but I think a lot of people maybe didn’t consider situations like this and I know I didn’t. Tola is such a lovable character and this perspective is something I haven’t seen a lot in children’s literature. This book is a winner.