The Critter Club: Ellie's Lovely Idea, by Callie Barkley, illustrated by Marsha Riti, 115 pp, RL 1.5

The Critter Club by Callie Barkely, illustrated by Marsha Riti, debuted in January of 2013 and now, over a year later, is five books strong with three more scheduled to be published this year. Like Scholastic's Branches books, The Critter Club is part of an imprint, Little Simon, that has been doing a great job getting a wide range of Bridge Chapter Books onto the shelves and into the hands of emerging readers. What drew me instantly to The Critter Club series is the format of the books - the larger font and charming, crisp and copious full and half-page illustrations. The Critter Club reminds me of an old favorite when it comes to Bridge Chapter Books - Megan McDonald's Stink. This series was first published in 2005 and is a younger sibling series to McDonald's hugely popular Judy Moody books and a great way to make that jump from leveled readers to chapter books.

In the first book in the Critter Club series, Amy and the Missing Puppy, we meet Amy, a Nancy Drew reading, animal loving girl who is spending her Spring Break helping out at her mother's veterinary practice in Santa Vista while all her friends are off on trips. When the a patient, the puppy of millionaire Marge Sullivan, goes missing, Amy starts looking for clues. Her good detective skills result in Mrs. Sullivan letting Amy and her friends turn her barn into an animal shelter which she will fund and the Critter Club is born! Each book in the series features one of the four girls who make up the club, Amy, Ellie, Marion and Liz. The girls face challenges ranging from competing in school competitions for singing and clothing design to meeting a new step-sibling and coping with competitiveness and being over-scheduled.

In Ellie's Lovely Idea, Ellie has a great idea to help the Critter Club raise money for a charity called Puppy Love. When Ellie and her Nana Gloria watch an old musical called The Singing Telegram, Ellie gets the brilliant idea to have the Critter Club perform singing telegrams on Valentine's Day in exchange for donations to Puppy Love!

After giving their school a sample of their skills, the girls get lots of orders. One telegram even results in the girls getting Amy's mom, Dr. Purvis, to take a look at the sick bird of one of their recipients. But, all the talk of showing your love and singing telegrams makes Ellie wish someone would send her a telegram. By the end of the book, the girls have raised $100.00 for Puppy Love and, happily, Ellie gets just the surprise she was hoping for.

The Critter Club series is a stand out, both for being a Bridge Chapter Book, but also for being one of the few series on the shelves of the chapter book section that does not have fairies, magic or sassy girls as major plot points. The four girls in the Critter Club are diverse and have interests that will appeal to emerging readers, especially those who love animals. Ritti's illustrations add visual cues for emerging readers and overall interest to the books.

The complete Critter Club Series:

Source: Review Copy

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