Wednesday, December 12, 2018

12 Days of Giving: A Few More Favorites

I'll be posting themed book lists with book giving ideas for a variety of ages and interests every day Dec. 1 - 12. Check the label Twelve Days of Giving for all the lists. Shopping for someone specific? Drop me a comment with ages/interests (including adults!) and I'll be happy to make some suggestions. Don't forget your local indie bookstore and if you don't have a favorite indie, might I suggest ordering from The Bain Lair Bookstore

I've had so much fun putting together these lists of great gift books for you, but of course there are favorites that didn't really fit anywhere else, so my last list is going to be the rest of my favorites from 2018. Enjoy!

Picture Books: 

Goldfish on Vacation by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (Schwartz & Wade, 2018). This is a really cute book about some kids who want to send their goldfish on vacation and turn a city fountain into a goldfish pond for neighborhood goldfish. Based on a true story (!), this is a fun book for pet lovers. 

I Really Want to See You, Grandma by Taro Gomi (Chronicle, 2018). This sweet picture book perfectly captures that special relationship between a girl and her grandma. When Yumi and her grandmother each have the same idea - they want to see each other - they both set off and ending up missing each other completely. This would be a perfect gift from a grandma to a granddaughter (and yes, I bought it for my mom and niece!).

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick, 2018). On their way home, Julián and his abuela  see a group of ladies spectacularly dressed up and he can't stop thinking about dressing up like them, like a mermaid. He sets about making his own costume, but what will his abuela think when she sees? This is a celebration of individuality and loving who you are. 

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington (HarperCollins, 2018). This picture book biography shows Mae Jemison as a young child, dreaming of being an astronaut. I love the gorgeous illustrations. This would make a great gift for girls interested in science. 

Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T.L. McBeth (Henry Holt, 2018). Perfect for dinosaur lovers or word lovers, Stegothesaurus can't help but come up with synonyms for everything, much to the chagrin of his stegosaurus brothers. When he meets an Allothesaurus, he is happy/esctatic/joyous until he realizes that his new friend's idea of a good meal is a little dangerous to his health. 

Middle Grade: 

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018). An engaging story with a protagonist that kids will love to root for and also an important story about immigration experiences in this country told in a really kid-friendly way. Mia Yang helps out at the hotel her immigrant parents manage, running thr front desk while they clean the rooms. But their motel is more than meets the eye as Mia's parents offer rooms to fellow immigrants who need a place to crash... as long as the owner doesn't find out. 

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Penguin, 2018). After the partition of India creates the new nation of Pakistan, Nisha and her family must relocate. But Nisha, half-Muslim and half-Hindu, is no longer sure where she fits in. This historical novel would make a good choice for readers of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. 

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (Scholastic, 2018). Candice and Brandon undertake a mystery that has plagued their town for years - a search for a hidden fortune that will have them investigating the town's history. This is a great choice for fans of mysteries like The Westing Game. 

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb, 2018). This book starts out with Caleb accidentally trading his baby sister for a bag of fireworks. And then Styx Malone came around and Caleb's life was never the same. This is a book with lots of humor and heart, but also a serious side.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (Putnam, 2018). If you're shopping for a scary story lover this year, this is the one for you. On the way home from the field trip, the bus breaks down close to dark. The creepy bus driver warns Ollie "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." And Ollie's long-broken digital watch, a keepsake from her mother, starts displaying a countdown and one word: RUN. Shivers abound.


The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2018). Xiomara is a poet. She puts her feelings into poems that she writes in her notebook, helping her navigate the world she lives in. Her mother is a devout Catholic and wants her to be that way, too, but Xiomara has doubts. This novel in verse is a great choice for teens starting to question their world and figure out their place in it. 

And that's it for this year's Twelve Days of Giving! I hope you found something for a reader on your list!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

12 Days of Giving: Great Graphic Novels

I'll be posting themed book lists with book giving ideas for a variety of ages and interests every day Dec. 1 - 12. Check the label Twelve Days of Giving for all the lists. Shopping for someone specific? Drop me a comment with ages/interests (including adults!) and I'll be happy to make some suggestions. Don't forget your local indie bookstore and if you don't have a favorite indie, might I suggest ordering from The Bain Lair Bookstore

It's hard to go wrong with graphic novels. They have wide appeal and kids and teens who like to read them often can't get enough. My oldest niece has been into graphic novels for years, so I always know I can pick out my favorites for her for Christmas. Here are some of my favorite graphic novels for young readers. 

For elementary readers...

Comics Squad series edited by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House). These compilations include a bunch of comics written by today's hottest comic authors around a central theme. They are a great choice for comic enthusiasts who are new to graphic novels or for kids that you're not certain what kind of comics they would like (since each includes many different styles). 

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson (Henry Holt, 2016). This super cute and funny graphic novel features a trio of class pets determined to break out of school and regain their freedom... until the 4th and 5th grade pets come up with a dastardly plan to prank the students. There are tons of cute and funny details in the pictures that kids will enjoy looking for. This is an early chapter book graphic novel, perfect for the younger elementary set, though older kids may well enjoy it as a quick read. Hand this to your animal lovers. 

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (Tundra Books, 2016). My goal is to get everyone to buy the Narwhal and Jelly books this holiday season. They are so super cute and funny and a hit with a wide range of ages. This adorable friendship tale will appeal to kids who love to laugh and kids who enjoy friendship stories. And also everyone. 

Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (First Second, 2018). This is an adorable graphic novel about two best sloth friends who are very different - Ernesto has a very adventurous soul and he decides that he wants to see "all the sky" and sets off on a journey. Peter misses his friend and worries that something will happen to him, so eventually he sets off in search of Ernesto. They both end up having adventures and they both end up right where they belong.

For middle grade readers...

All's Fair in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (Dial, 2017). Victoria Jamieson presents a story about navigating middle school but with a twist. Imogene's grown up spending summers with her Renaissance Faire family. Now she's starting middle school (her choice) after years of being homeschooled. Middle school, it turns out, is trickier than Imogene had anticipated. This is a character-driven story with lots of great Ren Faire details woven throughout. It's great for readers who like stories about girls navigating middle school life. 

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (First Second, 2018). Vera, daughter of Russian immigrants, feels like she never fits in, especially when all the kids in her neighborhood go away to summer sleepaway camp. Vera wants desperately to go away to camp, but when she finally gets to go, the Russian culture camp is nothing like she thought. From outhouses and the threat of bears in the woods to the very real threat of mean girls in her tent, Vera may have gotten into more than she can handle. This autobiographical tale is a great choice for fans of Raina Telgemeier and El Deafo. 

Hilo series by Judd Winick (Random House). This is one of my favorite graphic novel series, a science-fiction story with tons of humor and adventure. When DJ's best friend moves away, he's feeling left behind when a new friend literally falls from the sky. Hilo crashes to earth with no idea who he is or what he's supposed to be doing. He'd better figure it out quick because there's something on the way to Earth, something bad. 

Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks (Disney-Hyperion, 2018). Sanity and Tallulah are best friends who live on a space station. When Sanity is caught doing a science experiment she shouldn't be doing, she's forbidden from continuing it. Unfortunately Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds, the three-headed cat Sanity biologically engineered, escapes and starts to wreak havok on the ship. Can Sanity wrangle her experiment or is there something else going on? This is a fun science fiction adventure story with two strong girl heroines, perfect for young scientists. 

For teens..

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (Abrams, 2017). This graphic novel memoir details one family's escape from war-torn Vietnam and their journey to America. Author Thi Bui, born in Vietnam and fleeing to the United States as a small child with her family, tells the story of her parents, their life in wartime Vietnam and their subsequent immigration to the United States. Bui examines how events in her parents' pasts have shaped who they are and who she turned out to be, issues she's reflecting on since she is now a parent herself. This is a great choice for readers of memoirs or anyone interested in refugee stories. 

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin (Image Comics, 2018). Hazel and Mari meet at church bingo in 1963 and fall for each other, but in 1963 it's impossible for them to be together the way they want to be. They connect years later when they can finally really be together in this sweet f/f love story. Hand this to teens looking for love stories. 

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (Graphix, 2018). This powerful graphic memoir is an important story as Krosoczka writes from his experience as the child of a drug addict, raised by his grandparents. This book is a testament to the power of art to save. This is one of the most talked-about graphic novels of the year - a good choice for teens who like intense family stories. 

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2018). This graphic novel adaptation, published on the classic YA novel Speak's 20th anniversary, introduces this powerful novel to a new generation. It's really well done with intense, black and white art that reflects the mood of the story. For readers who have read and love Speak or teen readers who are new to it, this is a great choice. 

If you are shopping for graphic novel readers this year, I hope you'll find something on here for the reader on your list. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

12 Days of Giving: Social Justice Tweens & Teens

I'll be posting themed book lists with book giving ideas for a variety of ages and interests every day Dec. 1 - 12. Check the label Twelve Days of Giving for all the lists. Shopping for someone specific? Drop me a comment with ages/interests (including adults!) and I'll be happy to make some suggestions. Don't forget your local indie bookstore and if you don't have a favorite indie, might I suggest ordering from The Bain Lair Bookstore

If you're shopping for socially conscious tweens or teens this year, there are lots of great choices for books that will make young readers think and that make for great discussions. 

For middle graders:

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018). When Amal has a run-in with a powerful man at her Pakistani market, she finds herself in debt to him. Her family is poor and the only way she can pay off the debt is by working in indentured servitude at the Khan estate. For kids who are interested in the plights of kids in other countries or reader's of Malala's book, this is a super choice. 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2018). Narrated by the ghost of a boy shot and killed by a police officer, this is a middle-grade novel for kids interested in The Hate U Give but not quite ready for teen novels. The only person who can see Jerome's ghost is 12-year old Sarah, the daughter of the officer that shot him, so we see how that tragic mistake has affected her family, too. This is a heart-wrenching book for kids ready to enter into some heavy discussion or who are concerned about stories they're seeing on the news.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy (Feiwel & Friends, 2018). Evie misses her big sister Cilla. Cilla did what no good Catholic girl does: she got pregnant and her parents sent her away to have the baby. Evie misses her sister and doesn't understand why Cilla won't write her back. Evie could really use Cilla's advice... because Evie's got her first crush... and it's on a girl. This middle-grade novel deals with a lot of big issues and I especially appreciated how Evie deals with all of it in light of the faith she's been raised in. 

Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic, 2017). Told in multiple perspectives, this novel shows refugee journeys from three different time periods in history. It's a riveting adventure story and a heart-wrenching drama that will appeal to kids who like action-filled stories or kids who have been hearing about refugees on the news. 

For teens:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, 2018). This is a riveting fantasy story that's great for fans of magical stories, but with its focus on class and oppression, this is also a great choice for teens noticing oppression in the world around them. When the magic disappeared from their world, the monarchy attacked the maji, making them into the lowest class. Zelie has a chance to bring the magic back to her world, but it's going to take a harrowing journey to make it happen. 

Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth (Scholastic, 2018). All Carson really wants to do is win Battle of the Bands and get a start on his music career. But when his brother has an altercation at the local, racist restaurant Custard's Last Stand (a particularly offensive name to the Indians living on the nearby Tuscorora reservation), Carson finds himself getting involved and his actions have repercussions beyond what he could have imagined. This is a particularly good choice for young musicians and fans of classic rock, but hand this to any teen interested in activism. 

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2018). Not only is this a great character-driven story about a teen figuring out what she wants in relationships and life, but I love how protagonist Louise stands up to the microagressions she experiences as a Muscogee (Creek) woman. This is a great choice for readers who like strong characters to identify with or books about contemporary teens figuring life out. 

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt, 2014). When 16-year-old Tariq is shot, different people have different ideas of how it went down. This novel is told from multiple perspectives and will really get teens thinking about how the same event can look different to different people as Tariq's community struggles to deal with the tragedy. 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (HarperTeen, 2018). Set in 2002, just post 9/11, this book is about a Muslim-American teen Shirin navigating high school in a hostile world. She knows exactly how cruel people can be, which is why she usually tunes them out, taking advantage of her hijab to hide her earbuds. But her new lab partner Ocean is impossible to tune out and before long Shirin wonders if she could actually be falling for him. But Shirin knows that it could never work out between her and a white guy. Even if her parents would accept him, she'd be putting him in the crossfires of racism that he's never experienced before. This is a good choice for readers who like love stories, but not necessarily romance. 

Any of these might make great choices if you're buying for tweens or teens interested in current events, social justice, and improving their world. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

12 Days of Giving: Laugh Out Loud

I'll be posting themed book lists with book giving ideas for a variety of ages and interests every day Dec. 1 - 12. Check the label Twelve Days of Giving for all the lists. Shopping for someone specific? Drop me a comment with ages/interests (including adults!) and I'll be happy to make some suggestions. Don't forget your local indie bookstore and if you don't have a favorite indie, might I suggest ordering from The Bain Lair Bookstore

When I was on the library front lines at the Children's and Teen desks, I can't tell you how many requests I got for funny books. Here are some of my favorites!

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic, 2017). I'm cheating because I've already mentioned this series over in the Chapter Books list, but this series is funny enough that it deserves more than one mention. It's easy enough for young readers, but has broad appeal for a wide range of ages and it's laugh-out-loud funny. 

Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess) by Ursula Vernon (Dial, 2015). This series is a super funny, highly illustrated fantasy adventure starring a hamster princess who sets out to have adventures before facing the curse placed on her at her birth. Each volume in this fun series retells a different fairy tale, so these are great for readers who like fractured fairy tales. 

It Ain't So Awful Falafel by Firoozah Dumas (Clarion, 2016). Zomorod and her family immigrated to the US from Iran and all she wants is to fit in. So she gives herself a new American name (Cindy) and tries to explain trick-or-treating to her parents (they find it hard to believe that Halloween is about children begging throughout the neighborhood), but fitting in becomes even harder when Iran starts to make headlines for its protests, revolution, and taking of American hostages. This one is definitely a mix of funny and serious, a story with a lot of heart. 

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (Tundra Books, 2016). This is a super cute, short graphic novel that's a sure crowd pleaser. It's almost picture-book length, but the format is smaller and thicker than a typical picture book. Narwhal is happy-go-lucky and his friend Jellyfish is pretty serious. They might not have a lot in common, but they have lots of adventures together. This is a fun take on your friendship stories, perfect for fans of Bink & Golly or Frog & Toad. 

The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtald (Feiwel and Friends, 2015). This one's a laugh-out-loud funny book about a girl obsessed with becoming a princess and her practical sister who has to rescue her when plans go awry. It's a quick, easy read with lots of cartoony illustrations and wacky, witty humor that reminded me of Monty Python and/or Cressida Cowell's dragon books.

Skinnybones by Barbara Park (Yearling, 1982). So, first let me confess that this book had me laughing out loud when I WAS A KID. So, yes, IT'S OLD. But it's one of the best readalikes for Diary of a Wimpy Kid that I have read. And it was recently rebranded with a new, much more modern cover. Alex Frankovitch has one desire: not to win the Most Improved trophy on his baseball team this year. Because he keeps winning that one. And he has figured out that if you KEEP winning Most Improved every year, it just means you must have been pretty stinky to begin with. His big mouth keeps getting him into trouble, but he can talk himself out of anything... can't he? 

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John (Abrams, 2015). Miles Murphy was the prank king at his old school and he's eager to make a name for himself at his new school. Only trouble is, his new school already has a master prankster. And so begins an epic prank war. Hilarious. Highly illustrated, so you'll want the book, but I have to say that the audiobook is great on this one, too. 

I hope this lists brings you lots of giggles this holiday season!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

12 Days of Giving: Fantasy Fanatics

I'll be posting themed book lists with book giving ideas for a variety of ages and interests every day Dec. 1 - 12. Check the label Twelve Days of Giving for all the lists. Shopping for someone specific? Drop me a comment with ages/interests (including adults!) and I'll be happy to make some suggestions. Don't forget your local indie bookstore and if you don't have a favorite indie, might I suggest ordering from The Bain Lair Bookstore

If you're shopping for fantasy fans this holiday season, this list is for you! Depending on the type of fantasy your reader loves, you may also want to check out the Mythology Mania list - there are some great Percy Jackson readalikes on there.


Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking, 2011 and 2017). Buy this for your middle school Harry Potter readers looking for a magical fantasy. I just love the world-building and the magical community set in modern day Nigeria. Sunny was born in America but her family has returned to Nigeria where Sunny discovers that she is part of a magic community known as leopard people. Her magical training can't start soon enough because she and her friends will be facing a super magical baddie, a serial killer who kills children. Don't skimp on this one - buy 'em both for greater reader satisfaction (we had to wait SIX YEARS for the sequel!). 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin, 2016). Every year, the villagers put out a baby as a sacrifice to the witch who lives in the woods. And every year, the witch sets out on a quest to save the baby that the villagers abandon for some reason. But when the witch accidentally feeds one of the babies moonlight instead of starlight on the journey, magic begins to grow inside the child. To protect Luna, the witch binds the magic tightly, but now Luna's coming of age and it's time for her to start protecting those who have always protected her. This is a rich, compelling magical story with wonderful, endearing supporting characters. This standalone is a sure bet for middle grade fantasy fans. 

Harriet the Invincible (Hamster Princess series) by Ursula Vernon (Dial, 2015). This series is so cute and great for fans of funny fantasy adventure, particularly fans of fractured fairy tales and/or highly illustrated books. When Harriet's parents tell her about the curse placed on her at birth - she will prick her finger on a hamster wheel on her twelfth birthday and fall into a deep sleep - Harriet is thrilled. She knows that curses are powerful magic and this one guarantees that she will live until her 12th birthday, so she sets off to live the life of adventure she's always wanted. Each book in this series gives a fresh take on a classic fairy tale and they're laugh-out-loud funny. 


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, 2018). Zelie lives in a world without magic, a world where her people were persecuted after the magic disappeared. But now she has a chance to bring the magic back. She'll only have to risk everything. This is an absorbing fantasy novel that will please fans of epic fantasy adventure. 

The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold trilogy) by Traci Chee (Speak, 2016). Set in a world without reading, Sefia discovers a magical, forbidden object - a book - that helps her on her quest to find her kidnapped aunt, the only surviving member of her family. This is a richly imagined fantasy that will definitely appeal to teens who appreciate the magic of the written word. The last book in the trilogy is out now, so scoop up all three to prevent cliffhanger desperation. 

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Ray, 2018). Naomi Novik is a must-read for me and her latest fantasy novel is a great bet for readers who love fairy tales. This richly imagined retelling of Rapunzel features a kick-ass heroine and a detailed, absorbing wooded setting. Miryem is the daughter of the moneylender, but her dad's too soft-hearted to be any good at it and her family lives in poverty until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. It turns out that Miryem is really successful as a moneylender. Maybe too successful, as she attracts the attention of the creatures that haunt her wood and start demanding that she turn silver to gold for them. Readers who love a detailed tapestry of a book will love this one. It'll make for great fireside reading this winter. 

Make your holiday giving magical this year for your favorite fantasy fans!