Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Merry!

I'm not gonna lie, one of the nicest things about having a more "behind the scenes" job is being able to schedule time off basically whenever I want. There are a lot of things I miss about being a front-lines children's librarian, but having to work at least part of every Christmas or New Years due to winter break coverage and allowing my staff time for vacations is NOT one of the things I miss. 

So I take advantage of that most years now and I'm currently off work until January 4. Honestly, for us it's a good time of year to be off as our business office is busily closing up the books, lots of my vendor contacts are also home with their families, and our ordering is paused until next year anyway. 

Of course, I'll be working here and there on committee work and side-gig stuff, but I'm also trying to take some time to relax and unwind. The next two weeks I'll be playing Animal Crossing, reading books, probably doing some writing, hopefully cleaning out some closets and dressers, doing lots of cooking, and just generally puttering around. 

I hope you have a holiday season as happy and restful as can possibly be expected and I'll see you here around the new year to talk about some reading resolutions. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Alphabet's Alphabet

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The Alphabet's Alphabet by Chris Harris, illustrated by Dan Santat. Ages 5-8. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This is not your toddler's alphabet book. Designed for an older set who are already familiar and comfortable with letter shapes, this book plays with how letters can look like other letters, imagining creative ways to connect them. In rhyming text, the book goes through every letter of the alphabet, explaining how it's related to another letter. Dan Santat's bright, expressive artwork really brings this book to life and makes it so much fun. 

Most of these connections are super clever and readers could easily imagine them even without the illustrations to guide them "A B is a D with its belt on too tight" Some depend more heavily on the illustrations, like "An R is a K with a mask where its face is", which shows a K wrestler wearing a luchador mask that covers the top part of its "head". Overall, this book is really great fun and kids will enjoy puzzling out the shapes of each of the letters and then coming up with their own ideas for connecting different letters. While I think kids already comfortable with letters will get the most out of this book on their own, it might be fun to read it with younger children and help them see the different letter shapes in the illustrations.

I would hand this to elementary age picture book readers who enjoy other books that play around with letters like E-Mergency by Tom Lichtenheld, Al Pha's Bet by Amy Kraus Rosenthal or Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

#LibFaves20, Reading Challenges, and Other Goings On

 It's a wonderful time of year - the time to celebrate all the amazing books that have come out over the past year and look forward to what next year's reading will bring. 

One thing that's been bringing me joy this past week is the annual LibFaves voting on Twitter. Follow the hashtag #LibFaves20 to see library workers' top 10 books of 2020. Since December 7, library workers have been shouting about one book a day with volunteer tabulators keeping tallies of the titles that have been mentioned. While it's centered on adult books, some folks are including YA and children's books, too. 

I'm eagerly following the hashtag because I have two Audible credits I need to use in the next month and I'm in need of great audiobooks to motivate my morning runs in the cold, so I'm keeping my eyes on what everyone is loving best this year. The fully tabulated list will be posted on EarlyWord when it's ready, so keep a look out for that! 

Another wonderful thing about this time of year is that the 2021 book challenges are starting to come out. I haven't participated in a book challenge in awhile and I doubt that 2021 will be the year for me. But I still love to see the prompts and challenges that others are undertaking. Do your patrons know about and participate in reading challenges? This might be a fun thing to share with them, especially this year when everyone's looking for socially distanced things to do. Challenges I love to spy on are: 

I have a January blog post for our staff blog devoted to highlighting some reading challenges because I think some of our patrons might enjoy them. Reading challenges might not be on their radars, so I like to spread the word. 

And it's not reeeeally a challenge (although it does have challenge elements this year!), but Everyday Reading's printable 2021 Reading Log was just released this week. If I could picture a place in my house where I could spread this out and color it (and if I could picture myself actually devoting time to keeping up with it), I would be ordering a large print of this gorgeous reading log. If you're in need of some stress relief coloring, I highly recommend checking it out! I'm almost convincing myself to give it a shot here. Maybe. 

Also not really a "challenge", but another exciting reading thing happening right now is all  the Mock Newbery discussions. I won't say I'm HAPPY about this because I hate the reasons behind it, but my favorite Mock Newbery run by the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne is going virtual this year on Zoom. It's 4 hours away from me, so I wasn't going to make it in person this year, but once they pivoted to virtual, I signed myself up. I'm approaching it with excitement and anxiety - what will a Zoom book discussion look like?! I guess we'll find out! And will I be able to finish (and reread?) all the books before our meeting? I'm going to give it my very best shot. 

School Library Journal's Heavy Medal Blog is also going with full force this year. Now's the time to be reading those 2020 books to be prepared to make ALL THE COMMENTS during the Youth Media Awards webcast on Monday, January 25. 

Are you following any Mock Awards this year? Are there any 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer

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Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz. Grades 4-7. Dial, 2020. 224 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Jamila's pretty sure that her summer is ruined. Her mom wants to send her to camp, but all Jamila wants to do is shoot hoops. When Jamila meets Shirley at a neighborhood yard sale, the girls strike up a tentative friendship and convince both their mothers to let them hang out together this summer. Jamila will get all the time she wants at the b-ball court, she just has to hang out with Shirley, who is nice, even if she's a bit odd. 

When a neighborhood kid shows up asking for Shirley's help in finding his missing pet gecko, Shirley is on the case and Jamila finds herself helping, too. But when Shirley starts taking the case too seriously and their new partnership hits a rough patch, Jamila's not sure that their new deal is working out.

Enola Holmes meets Shannon Hale in this graphic novel mystery that will please detective fans as well as fans of contemporary friendship stories. Shirley is a Sherlock-Holmes-ian detective and kids will enjoy looking for clues and learning about how she solves her cases. Middle grade readers will also relate to the girls' struggle to figure out a new friendship. I really enjoyed getting to know both characters and the realistic Toronto setting. 

Friday, December 11, 2020


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Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. Grades 3-6. Scholastic, 2020. 256 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Twins Maureen and Francine have always done everything together, but now they're starting middle school and they don't have one class together. Shy Maureen has trouble standing up for herself and making her voice heard and without her sister by her side, she's feeling lost as she navigates the all-new waters of sixth grade. Who will she eat lunch with? How will she survive Cadet Corp when she can't figure out the marching formations? 

When Maureen discovers that Francine asked their parents to put them in separate classes and that her parents requested she be placed in Cadet Corp to help build her self-confidence, she feels betrayed by her entire family. In a fit of rage, she signs up to run against Francine for sixth grade president. At first she enters the race just because she feels angry, but as she works on her platform she begins to feel like she can make a difference at her school. But how can shy Maureen win against charismatic Francine? And does she have the strength to make her voice heard, even if it shakes?

I loved this relateable own-voices graphic novel and I think it has high appeal to readers of realistic contemporary comics. Call your fans of Raina Telgemeier or Terri Libenson because they're going to want to check this one out, too. Lots of kids have trouble adjusting to middle school, so readers who are going through their own friendship or self-confidence struggles will identify with Maureen's story. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Place at the Table

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A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan. Grades 4-7. Clarion Books, 2020. 336 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Calling all young chefs! This is a really sweet, contemporary story about two very different middle school girls who meet at an after-school cooking club and become friends due to their shared love of cooking. 

Sara is new at school, having attended a local Muslim school up through fifth grade. She's not happy about switching schools and some of the kids are giving her a tough time because she's not white. She's not thrilled about having to tag along to the after school cooking classes her mom has started teaching, but there's nowhere else for her to go, so she sits in the back. But when fellow sixth grader Elizabeth needs a partner, Sara steps out from the shadows and joins her at her table. 

Elizabeth is struggling at home. After the death of her grandmother in England, her mom has been really depressed and that means that a lot of stuff around the house - including cooking - is not getting done. So Elizabeth joined this cooking class, hoping to learn some recipes to help out at home. While some of the kids in the class object to the Pakistani food that Sara's mom is teaching them, Elizabeth loves it. And when she learns that Sara's mom is studying for the American citizenship test just like her own British mom, Elizabeth is inspired to match up their moms. Maybe having a study buddy will help her mom take the test seriously and making a friend might keep her from wanting to move back to England. 

This book hits all the sweet spots in a realistic contemporary friendship story. It reminded me so much of the books I loved to read as a kid. It's mostly about the budding friendship between Sara and Elizabeth and how both of them grow as they get to know each other, but it tackles some tough topics like mental health and racism within the story. It's written with own-voices cultural details about both Sara's Pakistani-American household and Elizabeth's Jewish household. Both Sara and Elizabeth learn a lot from each other, not the least of which is to stand up for each other and what being an ally really means. 

And since the book is set in a cooking class, of course it contains lots of yummy details about the recipes they learn to make and the experimentation the friends undertake to develop a fusion recipe for a contest. It definitely made me hungry while I was reading and I think kids who are into cooking and baking would really enjoy this aspect of the story. 

Hand to young foodies who enjoy contemporary friendship stories. 


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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (Penguin, 2014). Young foodies will enjoy both books about tween girls who are rock stars in the kitchen. 

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Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (Scholastic, 2016). This book, which is also told in alternating voices and written by own-voices authors, is about two culturally diverse boys who become unlikely friends when they're united against the same bully. Readers who enjoy stories about two very different kids finding common ground and becoming friends may like this one, too. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Cozy Picture Books for Winter Sharing

 I've long been on the lookout for cozy picture books that capture the feeling of a winter sunset. You know, the light's all pink and gold, outside is hushed with snow or cold and crisp with the anticipation of snow, and you're cozy inside, bundled up and looking out. Books like that make me feel all hygge and I have finally come up with enough titles to put together a decent book list. Whether you're hunkered down with your own kids at home or putting together the coziest winter storytime known to humankind, these books will fit the bill. 

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Dusk by Uri Shulevitz (Farrer, Straus, & Giroux, 2013). I love, love, love the way the rich colors in Shulevitz's illustrations mirror the beautiful winter light of dusk in winter. This one has very slight references to winter holidays in the illustrations that depict a city street with Christmas and Hanukkah displays in the windows, but is otherwise secular. If you like this one, you may also want to check out Shulevitz's book Snow, another of my favorites for winter storytimes. 

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Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott (Simon & Schuster, 2020). Coco and Bear are good friends, but not everyone in the forest believes that a big, giant bear could be kind and gentle. When the two friends set out to spread cheer with gifts, they learn that the best way to share light is to help someone with no expectations in return. Between the dusk settling over the forest and their cozy gift of lanterns, the delicate illustrations in this book definitely give me that hygge feeling and the message of the story will warm the coldest heart. 

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Snow Falls by Kate Gardner, illustrated by Brandon James Scott (Tundra, 2020). Oh, the skies in this book! With super simple text and the saturated pinks and golds in the illustrations, I knew this was a book for this list the second I opened it. This one would make a great addition to toddler storytimes because the text is so short and simple, but the illustrations give lots of winter activities that you can talk about with older kids, too. 

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The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking, 1962). This classic Caldecott-winner is one of my all-time favorite picture books and the beautiful pinks and blues of the snowy pictures are a big reason. 

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Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer (HMH, 2006). This beautiful and creative picture book talks about all the ways that winter can be the warmest season. From enjoying hot cocoa to bundling up in sweaters, there's lots of ways that winter is warm. If you're cozied up inside, this might be perfect reading. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Lila and Hadley

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Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger. Grades 4-7. Scholastic, 2020. 256 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

This summer is not at all like Hadley hoped it would be. Instead of hanging out with her friends, she's moving to a new town in a new state to live with her sister after their mother goes to prison. To make matters worse, her pigmentosa retinitis is finally bad enough that her sister wants her to take mobility classes and learn how to navigate the world as if she has no sight at all. Hadley resists the classes just like she's resisted the move. 

And when Hadley meets Lila, a surly shelter dog who needs training before she can be adopted, Hadley resists Lila, too. Hadley's not a dog person. But for whatever reason, Hadley is the one person Lila seems to respond to. So Hadley takes on the challenge of working with Lila, getting her ready to be adopted. But when that day comes, it won't be easy. 

Dog lovers will eat up this wonderful own-voices story about a girl learning to love a dog she never thought she could and learning about herself along the way. Hadley's relationship with Lila grows stronger and stronger and seeing Lila take on the challenge of training helps Hadley feel better about taking on her own mobility training. Author Kody Keplinger is blind, so the details about Hadley learning to move around the town using a cane and handling her progressive blindness are authentic. 

I love a first person story written with a strong voice and this book is definitely one of those. Hadley's tough exterior and her Southern cadence leap off the page. This is one of those books that feel like the protagonist is sitting down with you and telling you their story. 

Hand this one to fans of Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard, or Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

'Tis the Season for Cozy Couch Watching (and Reading!)

You know what's a safe and socially distanced activity for the family this winter? Cuddling up and watching movies together and then reading books based on the movies your kids enjoyed. I've been busy writing up TV and movie readalike pieces for School Library Journal and I'm linking to some of the most recent ones here today. Grab some popcorn and a cozy blanket and settle in with these movies and books. 

Four Middle Grade Books to Read if You Like Black Beauty on Disney+ 

Four Readalikes for Young Sleuths Watching Enola Holmes on Netflix

Four Readalikes for the Funny Fantasy Film Upside-Down Magic on Disney+

Four Readalikes for The Witches on HBO

What movies are on your to-watch list this winter??

Monday, November 30, 2020

Three New Haunkkah Books

 Hanukkah is coming up on December 10 -18 this year and I've got three great new Hanukkah books for you today. While lots of Hanukkah books give you the formulaic eight-Hanukkah-activities spiel, all three of these picture books go beyond that basic premise for some really fun stories. 

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The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Galia Bernstein. Ages 4-8. Holiday House, 2020. 

Eight sibling knights must save the holiday for a community whose Hanukkah preparations are being interrupted by a dastardly dragon. As the knights quest to perform acts of "awesome kindness", they replace a scorched dreidel, help peel potatoes, perform mitzvahs, and fry donuts until they have a table piled high with treats, ready for a celebration. And of course the not-so-bad dragon attends as well (very handy for lighting menorahs with flame-breath). This is a sweetly funny story that capitalizes on the wordplay in the title. 

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Ages 4-8. Candlewick, 2020. 

With the aim of introducing a new mythological figure to Hanukkah (think about Rudolf or Santa Claus in regards to Christmas), this bright, own-voices picture book presents Nate Gadol, a magical being with the power to make objects stretch. From making one night's worth of lamp oil stretch for 8 nights to stretching out a meager portion of chocolate so there's enough for all the children or stretching much-needed medicine for a neighbor's baby, Nate Gadol is there. The name Nate Gadol is a play on the Hebrew phrase "New Gadol", which means "a great miracle". This is a clever addition to seasonal mythology. 

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Shahar Kober. Ages 4-8. Sterling, 2020. 

When the first night of Hanukkah falls just after their family moves to a new apartment, mom can't find the menorah and they just order pizza instead of making latkes. It's nice, but not quite the same Hanukkah they're used to. As they continue the search for their Hanukkah supplies in the moving boxes, the two children approach their new neighbors and find substitutes - birthday candles instead of Hanukkah candles, chocolate chips instead of gelt. The family's creative in their celebrations and then to thank their neighbors, they invite everyone over the night after the last night of Hanukkah and - miracle! - their lost moving box shows up with all their Hanukkah supplies. 

This is a sweet and clever story that may have special resonance this year as we're all figuring out new ways to have holiday celebrations and mark special events. I love the clever ways these enterprising kids find to replicate their Hanukkah traditions even though they don't have the things they normally would. And it has a wonderful message about helping and thanking those that help us. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

12 Days of Giving 2020 and Master List

ETA (11/28): Shop local this weekend! If you spend at least $15 at your independent bookstore of choice this weekend, will give you a FREE AUDIOBOOK from a selection of great ones! They're not paying me to say this, I just think it's an awesome deal! 

This year's 12 Days of Giving posts are all up and ready for your perusal. Books always make great gifts and I have ideas for all kinds of readers. Here I'm posting all the 2020 lists and a master list of subject-specific lists from previous years because books never go out of style! (They do sometimes go out of print, so just be aware. If you spot books on these lists that aren't available to purchase, consider requesting them from your local library instead!) 

Please support your local bookstores this year if you can; they need us now more than ever. And if you don't have a local bookstore, consider supporting my local indie Carmichael's Bookstore. You can order online and they are fantastic! 

2020 Favorites: 
If you are searching for brand new books or shopping for big readers who need the latest and greatest, these are the lists for you!

If you're shopping for a particular kind of reader or kids with special interests, you may find something in the lists below! I've specified what ages are covered in each list and what year they were originally posted to help you out. These lists will contain backlist titles, so be aware that some titles may no longer be available to purchase. 
Favorites Lists from Previous Years
Maybe none of my 2020 favorites struck a chord with you. Check out these past favorites lists for more titles to consider! Bonus: these make great library lists because they're more likely to be available without long holds lists. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

12 Days of Giving: Books for Grownups


Today's list is a little different from the previous 11 lists because today's list is for grownups. Do you have an adult reader on your list? Or maybe you deserve a treat for yourself after buying all those children's books. Either way, here are some of my favorite books of the year for adults along with what type of reader might enjoy them. If you want personalized suggestions for anyone on your list, leave me a comment and I'm happy to help! 

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Anxious People by Frederick Backman (Atria, 2020). Here's the book that says how we're all feeling this year! But seriously, this is a character-driven, feel good story about a group of very different people thrust together in a hostage situation. It's perfect reading for this year, not too suspenseful, super heartfelt, and a book that just reinforces a belief in the ultimate decency of people. 

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The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley (Pamela Dorman Books, 2020). This was one of the first books I could bring myself to read during the quarantine and it's another heartfelt, character-driven read that's a good choice if you need a feel-good book right now. Again, it features a cast of strangers, this one brought together by a found notebook called The Authenticity Project that calls upon those that find it to contribute by writing about their authentic selves. As a chain of strangers meet each other through this notebook, their lives become enmeshed in ways that will change each of them for the better. 

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Beach Read by Emily Henry (Berkley, 2020). If you're in need of an armchair vacation, this romcom is just the ticket. Romance writer January Andrews and literary darling Augustus Everett find themselves spending the summer in neighboring beach houses, both stuck on their latest projects. So they issue a challenge - Augustus will tackle a romance novel and January will try her hand at literary fiction. I don't know about you but romcoms are one of the few genres I can really get into right now and this was one of my favorites! 

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020). If a British romcom is more your thing, this is a super one. Laugh out loud funny and sensual rather than too sexy, this is the story of tangentially famous Luc O'Donnell who has trouble staying out of the tabloids. When his work issues an ultimatum - improve his image or find another job - he sets out to find a fake boyfriend to get him some better press. 

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The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2020). If you've got an urban fantasy fan or a New Yorker on your list, this is a fascinating and action-packed fantasy novel. New York is being born. As the city becomes cognizant, it's up to five people representing the five boroughs to protect the budding city from an otherworldly evil that threaten its very existence. This is a compelling, creative diverse fantasy read. 

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Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth (William Morrow, 2020). If something a little scary and atmospheric is what you're looking for, this queer, creepy novel is one that you can really sink your teeth into. Dual narratives - one in the early 1900s at the Rhode Island boarding school and one in modern day Hollywood - weave in and out, piecing together a creepy story of forbidden love, unjust consequences, and strong ladies getting revenge.

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The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown, 2020). If you're a historical fiction reader, this one is a timely choice. Set in 1918 Dublin during the throes of the influenza pandemic, this story might hit too close to home for some readers or it might be fascinatingly timely. Set over the course of three intense days, a maternity nurse manages a fever ward for laboring mothers infected with flu. It reads like the best episode of Call the Midwife ever and will appeal to fans of medical fiction. 

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf, 2020). For the literary fiction readers on your list, I found this to be a moving portrait of an immigrant family torn apart by addiction. It's a novel that puts faces on the opioid crisis and examines what it means to have faith and to love. Obsessed with her neuroscience lab work, fifth year PhD student Gifty spends her days experimenting on mice in hopes of unlocking the key to curing drug addiction. Her older brother Nana was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose when Nifty was 11, shaping her world in irrevocable ways.

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2020). Here's another one for your literary fiction readers. This is the tale of African American twins in 1960s Louisiana and what happens when one of them runs away and starts passing for white. This is a book that has a lot to say about family and race and presenting yourself to the world in the way that you want to be seen, and what that means for where you come from and who you are. A major bestseller since it was published in June, if you're shopping for a reader who loves to stay on top of the trending books, this is a great choice, especially for those interested in reading about race right now. 

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Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (Avon, 2020). One more light-hearted book for this list and this one is perfect reading for the holiday season. After a disastrous first date, social media astrologer Elle Jones and buttoned-up actuary Darcy Lowell both realize how convenient it would be to have a significant other during the holidays to take the pressure from their families off. So they make a deal. They'll be fake girlfriends through the holiday rush and go their separate ways at the new year. But you know how these things go. This is a warm, joyful romance set during the holiday season in Seattle and perfect for anyone who needs a light read right now. 

For the first 12 days of November, I've been posting a list of books perfect for gift giving this holiday season. Check out the full list of lists here to see what's been included. All the lists link to IndieBound to make it easy for you to find an independent bookstore to buy from (and as an IndieBound affiliate, shopping through those links supports me, too!). Independent bookstores need our support more than ever this year, so please shop local if you can or if you don't have a local independent bookstore, please consider ordering online from my local indie Carmichael's Bookstore

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

12 Days of Giving: Books to Screen 2020


Shopping for a movie lover? It's been a weird year for movies with many films slated for feature film release being delayed or converted to streaming services. A movie date may not look the same as it did last year, but you can pair these books with a subscription to the applicable streaming service and thematic snacks to make a special stay-at-home family movie night or movie date. It's the perfect cozy winter night gift!

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Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire genius criminal mastermind, but he doesn't know what he's getting himself into when he kidnaps a dangerous fairy. The movie adaptation of this fantasy adventure story was released this summer on Disney+. Ages 10-13. 

Pair with: A subscription to Disney+ and chocolate coins & lollipops. 

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The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer. When Enola Holmes, little sister to the famous detective Sherlock, discovers that her mother has gone missing, she sets out to find her in this girl-power Victorian mystery. The Enola Holmes movie was released on Netflix in September and stars Millie Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things fame). Ages 10-15. 

Pair with: A Netflix subscription for the Enola Holmes movie and tea and cookies. 

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Mulan: Before the Sword by Grace Lin. Set before the events in the Mulan movie, this story of a strong girl who values family above all will appeal to readers who enjoy strong female characters. Gift this adventure story and then enjoy the new live-action Mulan movie, which will be released on Disney+ on December 4. In the meantime, you can enjoy the animated version. Ages 8-12. 

Pair with: A Disney+ subscription for the new Mulan movie and Chinese take-out from your favorite place. 

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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan is a gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He's gotten used to living around humans, but when a baby elephant arrives at the mall, Ivan must decide whether to try to make life better for her and maybe himself, too. This is a heartfelt animal story that was adapted into a movie on Disney+. A sequel to the book was just released this year, so consider grabbing The One and Only Bob, too.  Ages 7-12. 

Pair with: A subscription to Disney+ and bananas & peanuts. 

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PS: I Still Love You by Jenny Han. This sequel to To All the Boys I've Loved Before (which is also a Netflix movie) is perfect for lovers of romantic comedies. Lara Jean is back and she's with Peter, who she never really expected to fall for. But when a boy from her past comes back into the picture, Lara Jean is torn. Can you be in love with two boys at once? These romcoms are both super cute, so why not make it a double feature or pick up a box set of the entire trilogy and cross your fingers for a third movie sometime. Ages 10 and up. 

Pair with: A Netflix subscription for the movies and ingredients to bake cookies or cupcakes together, just like Lara Jean would. Or Yakult (a Korean yogurt drink) and pocky. 

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The Witches by Roald Dahl or The Witches Graphic Novel by Roald Dahl and Penelope Bagieu. Witches are real and when a boy and his grandmother go on a trip, they find themselves staying at the same hotel as the world witch convention. As the witches plot to destroy all the children in the world, the boy must figure out a way to thwart their plan. The book was adapted into a movie in the 1990s, but this October a brand new movie adaptation was released on HBO Max starring Octavia Butler and Anne Hathaway. It's a little bit creepy and perfect for kids who like some shivers down their spines. Ages 9-12. 

Pair with: An HBO Max subscription for the movie and all the chocolates (as long as you're sure the witches haven't tainted them with Formula 86 mouse potion!)

For the first 12 days of November, I'll be posting a list of children's books perfect for gift giving this holiday season. Check out the full list of lists here to see what's coming. All the lists link to IndieBound to make it easy for you to find an independent bookstore to buy from (and as an IndieBound affiliate, shopping through those links supports me, too!). Independent bookstores need our support more than ever this year, so please shop local if you can or if you don't have a local independent bookstore, please consider ordering online from my local indie Carmichael's Bookstore

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

12 Days of Giving: Great Graphic Novels


I've shared a few graphic novels on the previous lists, but there have been so many great ones this year and lots of kids LOVE graphic novels. If you're not sure, take a chance with a graphic novel and you'll be the cool adult. And don't you worry about whether graphic novels are "real reading" because they definitely are. This year's Newbery medal winner was a graphic novel, too! 

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Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (Random House Graphic, 2020). This is a really fun, magical graphic novel, a French import that contains two seasonal stories - summer and fall - with another volume being published early next year. With its focus on nature and magic, this is a refreshingly odd fantasy story and young readers will enjoy exploring Aster's new woodland home along with her. Reading this was just as pleasant as taking a crisp autumn walk and I'd grab it for kids who are fans of the show Hilda on Netflix. For ages 8-12. 

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Class Act by Jerry Craft (Quill Tree Books, 2020). This standalone sequel to the Newbery-medal-winning graphic novel New Kid (which would also make a great gift - why not pick up both?) is a funny school story that will appeal to fans of Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And it manages to do that while still addressing some serious issues like racial microaggressions and police violence. For ages 9-13. 

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Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder (Dial, 2020). Okay, so this is a book about grief and it may seem like a really weird choice for a gift, but it may be just the thing for certain readers. Tyler was in college when she lost her mom to cancer. This isn't an easy read, but it is one of my favorite books of the year. Readers who have experienced the loss of a parent or other close loss will find recognition and acceptance here, but even readers who have not experienced this loss should tune in for just a well-crafted and emotionally vulnerable story. Ages 12 and up. 

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Dog Man: Grime and Punishment by Dav Pilkey (Graphix, 2020). If you're looking for a book that will be a sure bet with younger elementary school kids, you can't go wrong with Dog Man. This silly graphic novel about a canine police officer is super popular with that age group and this is the very latest installment. If your kids are new to Dog Man, you can't go wrong with this box set that collects Dog Man Books 1-6. Ages 6-10. 

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Logan Likes Mary Anne (Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel) (Graphix, 2020). Another sure bet for the elementary school and tween crowd is the latest Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel. Since the show debuted on Netflix this summer, this perennially popular series has seen an upsurge in popularity. Scoop up this latest volume or grab a box set that collects Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels 1-4 for readers who are new to the series. Ages 8-12. 

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Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (Random House Graphic Novels, 2020). Jen moves to a country farm and deals with new weekend stepsisters in this fictionalized comic memoir by graphic novelist Lucy Knisley. This is a story about a girl finding her own strengths when she feels like she doesn't quite fit in and I think it's a book that many kids in blended families will relate to. If you're shopping for fans of Raina Telgemeier, I think this one's a good choice. Ages 8-12. 

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohammad (Dial, 2020). This heartfelt graphic novel is Omar's memoir of growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Somalia. It's a compelling story, full of heart, and I think a must-read for fans of books like Refugee by Alan Gratz. Ages 9-13. 

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The Worry (Less) Book: Feel Strong, Find Calm, and Tame Your Anxiety! by Rachel Brian (Little, Brown, 2020).  Give the gift of calm this year! This graphic novel is not a story, but a nonfiction book that talks about worry (we all worry sometimes!), when worry gets in the way of our lives, and gives some techniques for combatting anxiety that's getting in the way. It's written in a conversational, approachable tone and the funny cartoon illustrations set this apart from other self-help books. It's not only helpful, it's a book kids will actually want to read. If you have a young worrier in your life, this might be just the thing. 

For the first 12 days of November, I'll be posting a list of children's books perfect for gift giving this holiday season. Check out the full list of lists here to see what's coming. All the lists link to IndieBound to make it easy for you to find an independent bookstore to buy from (and as an IndieBound affiliate, shopping through those links supports me, too!). Independent bookstores need our support more than ever this year, so please shop local if you can or if you don't have a local independent bookstore, please consider ordering online from my local indie Carmichael's Bookstore

Monday, November 9, 2020

12 Days of Giving: Books for Teens


Today's list is books for teens. Teens can be hard to buy for. These are some of my favorites, but remember you can't go wrong with a gift card (and honoring their choices for what they'd like to spend it on). Consider these for adults who enjoy reading YA, too. 

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Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (First, Second, 2020). I loved this graphic novel memoir from superstar Gene Luen Yang. Not only a self-deprecating memoir of Yang's learning curve with basketball and the changes that he and the team go through, this is an action-packed sports story and the book dips its toe into sports history, as well. Sports fans will definitely appreciate this book, but there's a lot for the nerdy quiet kids who don't care about basketball, too.

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Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (Balzer + Bray, 2020). This is a wonderful queer teen love story about finding yourself and really embracing your identity and declaring yourself worthy of love just as you are. Felix is trans, but still questioning his identity,  obsessed with applying to Brown University and just as obsessed with the idea that he might not get in, and desperate to fall in love and be loved in return, but he's equally afraid of even trying. This is a joyful book that doesn't shy away from tough questions about identity, but definitely ends on a hopeful note. Give this one to teens interested in genderqueer characters and realistic fiction. 

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Heartstopper Vol. 1 and Heartstopper Vol. 2 by Alice Oseman (Graphix, 2020). Charlie's gay and has been out at his all-boys school since last year. When Charlie meets Nick and Nick invites him to join the rugby team, Charlie's best friend makes fun of him - how could he hang out with a rugby guy? But there's something sparking between Charlie and Nick. The only problem? Nick is straight... or so he thinks. I devoured this delightful graphic novel and have been waiting not-so-patiently for volume 2 to be published in the US. You'll definitely want to pick up both volumes and a gift card for the third (due out in the US in May 2021) if you have a reader who enjoys queer graphic novels. 

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Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Balzer + Bray, 2020). This intense, moving novel in verse is a perfect choice for teens interested in social justice. Co-written by a member of the Exonerated Five, this is the story of a boy wrongfully incarcerated who turns to art to deal with his anger and despair. It's gorgeously written and would make a great choice for fans of The Hate U Give or Long Way Down

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A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (Balzer + Bray, 2020). Malik will do anything to protect his family, even making a deal with a vengeful spirit who tasks him with killing the princess of Ziran. Princess Carina has aspirations of her own and her plans include murdering Malik. This magical fantasy full of political intrigue has a plot full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing. I'd hand it to fans of Children of Blood & Bone or The Hunger Games

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We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020). Traci Chee explores the incarceration of Japanese American citizens during WWII through the eyes of 14 different Japanese American teens. Rounded up with their families and sent from San Francisco to live in horse stalls in Tanforan and then barracks in larger camps, these 14 teens range in age from 13-20 and give a wide range of perspectives as they grow up and start becoming the adults they will become all while being incarcerated without having committed any crimes. While some chapters are more lighthearted than others, this is a powerful book that is perfect for fans of George Takei's graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy or Ruta Sepetys's multiple-point-of-view historical fiction like The Fountains of Silence

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You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (Scholastic, 2020). If you're looking for something on the lighter side, You Should See Me in a Crown is the small-town-Indiana queer prom rom com of your dreams. Liz Lighty wouldn't be caught dead in her school's super serious competition for prom queen, until necessity drives her to enter the competition in search of the scholarship money offered as a prize. As she gets ready (makeover time!) and her friends help her campaign, Liz learns about herself and challenges her school's too-narrow idea of what a prom queen should and can be. Pick this one if you have fans of books like Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. 

For the first 12 days of November, I'll be posting a list of children's books perfect for gift giving this holiday season. Check out the full list of lists here to see what's coming. All the lists link to IndieBound to make it easy for you to find an independent bookstore to buy from (and as an IndieBound affiliate, shopping through those links supports me, too!). Independent bookstores need our support more than ever this year, so please shop local if you can or if you don't have a local independent bookstore, please consider ordering online from my local indie Carmichael's Bookstore