Thursday, December 12, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Great Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are a super high appeal format that make a great gift for the kids in your life. They are real reading, so please don't shy away from them. I wrote a graphic novel post last year, so check out that list if you want even more great suggestions!

For kids:

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (First Second, 2019). Shannon Hale is back with a standalone sequel to her excellent graphic novel Real Friends. This is a perfect choice for any elementary or middle schooler who's dealt with friendship struggles and/or anxiety. 

Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop (DC, 2019). This is a perfect choice for young superhero fans. DC superheroes answer fan mail in these sweet, funny shorts. 

Guts by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2019). Yup, bestselling comic author Raina Telgemeier is back and I'm here to tell you that her latest graphic memoir is awesome. Buy for the Raina fans in your life. If they already have this one, keep reading for another suggestion for them. 

New Kid by Jerry Craft (HarperCollins, 2019). Both funny and serious, this book tackles starting at a new school where you're different from everyone else. And although it deals with serious things like racial microaggressions, it uses a lot of humor. Grab this one for Wimpy Kid or Big Nate fans. 

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (Aladdin, 2019). This is billed as Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Rollergirl and I couldn't agree more. When Moth turns 13, her magical powers come in, a fact she discovers in the middle of a fight with some bullies. But magic is harder than it looks.

Share Your Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2019). Perfect for the Raina Telgemeier superfan, this book is about how Raina wrote her bestselling graphic memoirs and provides space for kids to brainstorm their own stories and comics. If you have a budding comic artist, this is a great choice!

Stargazing by Jen Wang (First Second, 2019). Christine and Moon are complete opposites, but when their lives collide they become friends. Soon, though, Christine wonders if all the kids like new kid Moon better than her. This is a poignant, funny friendship story perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier or Shannon Hale's graphic novels. Jen Wang is the author of last year's teen sensation The Prince and the Dressmaker.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (First Second, 2019). This modern fairy tale is atmospheric and perfect for fans of the non-scary parts of Stranger Things. Every year at their Autumn Equinox Festival, the townspeople release lanterns painted with fish into the river to be carried downstream. Local legend says that these fish go on to become stars in the sky. This year, Ben and his friends are determined to find out whether or not that's true. But what Ben will uncover will go beyond his wildest imagination.

For teens:

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (First Second, 2019). Ari desperately does NOT want to work at his family's struggling bakery. But his parents insist that they need his help, so Ari puts up an ad for a baker, someone he can train for the summer before he leaves for his big city life. When Hector answers the ad and turns out to be an awesome baker, it seems perfect. But there's a spark between them. Ari finds himself attracted to Hector and, even though he's always planned to leave, maybe he's changing his mind. This is a pitch perfect seaside love story and extra perfect for aspiring foodies. 

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second, 2019). From two superstar authors, this is a book that hits readers in the falls (see what I did there?). For teens who like pumpkin spice everything or teens who just appreciate a sweet, seasonal romance. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Diversify Your Bookshelves

You may have read about the importance of diverse books for kids. If not, check out We Need Diverse Books for more information. Keep in mind that diverse books are not just for families of minority races (although representation and making sure all kids see themselves in books is super important, too). Books are wonderful windows to expose kids to families that are different from yours, even if you live in a homogenous area. I have tried to include diverse books on every list I've made this year, but if you're in need of diversifying your kids' bookshelves, this is the post for you. These are sure-bet choices by #ownvoices authors that make great gifts.

This is only a smattering of the great titles available! For more suggestions, check out my We Need Diverse Books tag or my authors-of-color bookshelf on GoodReads.

For babies and toddlers:

Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Simon & Schuster, 2002). This sweet and funny book going through all the things babies do (both endearing and exasperating) is illustrated by the award-winning Kadir Nelson, so it's beautiful, too. It's available in board book format (which I have bought MANY times for baby gifts).

Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2019). This beautifully colorful board book endorses unconditional love for children who live in all different kinds of families. As it goes through the colors and meanings of the colors in the Pride flag, the book shows photographs of adorable children and families that your little one will love to pore over.

Besos for Baby by Jen Arena, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (LB Kids, 2014). This sweet board book incorporates Spanish words in a simple story perfect for sharing with the very young (along with many besos - kisses!).

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016). This lyrical board book makes an awesome gift for new parents or grandparents. It was the very first book read to my newest niece - I brought it when we visited her in the hospital - and its moving message of welcome for sure made my mom cry (not difficult). The illustrations feature a First Nations family and the message of celebrating a new baby in the family is universal.

Picture books:

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018). This darling picture book is perfect for kids who enjoy a pourquoi tale as this folktale-style picture book imagines why the moon changes shape in the sky. Pair this one with Grace Lin's newest that came out this year, A Big Bed for Little Snow, which is just as great.

Grandma's Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Knopf, 2018). My 3-year-old niece delights in nothing more than going through her grandma's purse. This adorable book shows granddaughter and grandma going through grandma's purse and all the wonderful things in there together.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila, 2019). A doting dad does his daughter's hair, taking a few tries to get it right in this adorable and super sweet book. I especially like the expressions on the little girl's face as her dad tries different styles before they settle on the perfect one.

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick, 2018). Riding on the subway, Julian spies a trio of ladies spectacularly dressed up. To him they look like mermaids and he wants nothing more than to look like them, too. He's not sure how his abuela will feel about him dressing up like a mermaid, but to his joy she reacts with nothing less than love and support. If you have a little dress-up fan in your life, this is a great book to read together.

NiƱo Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook, 2013). If you have a young wrestling fan in your life, this is a really fun and action-packed book. A young boy dons his luchadore mask and wrestles everything that comes his way. This is particularly fun for any kids who have seen luchadore wrestling, but I think any wrestling fans or kids of wrestling fans would enjoy it, too.
Easy chapter books: 

The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon Draper (Aladdin, 1994). Originally published in the 90s, but rebranded and repackaged in 2011, the Clubhouse Mysteries series is a great mystery series for readers who enjoy The Boxcar Children. A diverse group of African American boys build a clubhouse, but when they're building they find bones buried in Ziggy's backyard. Not only is this an engaging mystery series, but I love that the boys do research and learn things to solve each mystery in the books. A Clubhouse Mysteries box set would be a great gift!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbie Michiko Florence (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2017). Jasmine is a spunky heroine worthy of any comparison to Judy Moody or Clementine. In this series starter, she longs to be a part of her Japanese American family's mochi making, but the fun parts are reserved only for boys and men. Can she lift the mochi hammer and will she even be allowed to try?

Middle grade:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents, 2018). Aru Shah must save the world when she accidentally stops time in this fantasy adventure based on Hindu mythology. This is the first book from Rick Riordan's imprint and it's a phenomenal readalike for Percy Jackson. If you have fantasy adventure mythology fans, you can't go wrong with any of the Rick Riordan presents series, all of which are diverse and written by #ownvoices authors.

El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, 2014). Okay, this one has a special place in my heart, being one of my Newbery books. I bought it for my niece who was 9 at the time and she read it over and over again and even slept with it under her pillow. Cece Bell's anthropomorphized comic memoir takes young Cece through starting at a new school while wearing a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. It's hilarious and poignant at turns and a sure bet for readers who enjoy comic memoirs like Raina Telgemeier's.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018). Mia Tang helps her parents run a motel in 1980s California, working the front desk while they clean rooms, in this spirited novel based on the author's own childhood. This has been a super favorite with kids all over the country since it came out last year and it's a wonderful book.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Kokila, 2018). This historical novel takes place during the partition of India and Pakistan with one young girl caught in the middle. Hand this to readers of Anne Frank's diary or fans of Malala.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (Henry Holt, 2019). In this hilarious and highly illustrated novel, Jingwen writes about immigrating to Australia and feeling like he's on Mars. He can't understand the language, it's hard to make friends when you can't really talk to anyone, and the only thing that makes him feel better is baking elaborate cakes. This is a great choice for kids who enjoy humorous stories like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate.


The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, 2019). Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid, but by night she writes a column for an Atlanta paper, published pseudonymously as "Dear Miss Sweetie". Jo tells it like it is, but as her her column gains popularity she risks being found out. This historical novel has a fun, plucky main character and a ton of crossover appeal for adults as well as teens.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Putnam 2019). Frank Li, caught between his Korean immigrant parents and the expectations of his American culture, is in love. But not with a Korean girl, like his parents demand. With a white girl. So, to hide his relationship, he starts fake dating a Korean-American friend. What could go wrong? This is a funny and moving teen love story.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (Farar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2017). An overachieving high schooler makes a plan to win the guy of her dreams and her plan is based on the Korean soap operas her father loves to watch. This is a fun, funny light-hearted romance perfect for tweens and teens who loved To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen, 2019). Emoni keeps her head down and works hard to support her two-year-old daughter and finish high school. She finds solace in the kitchen and dreams of being a chef. When a new culinary arts elective is offered at her school she enrolls even though it would probably be smarter to stick with her study hall. The class is more challenging than she suspected, but it just might open up doors to her future... if she can afford them. This is a great choice for foodie teens.


Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World, 2019). This is a book that has stuck with me all year since I read it. I couldn't put it down once I started it. Through conversations with her young son, author Mira Jacob looks back on her childhood growing up as an immigrant, her young adulthood, her interracial marriage, and what it all means in the era of Trump. This one's not for your conservative friends, but it's a riveting, eye-opening true story for those ready to hear it.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books, 2019). After a terrible accident in the "miracle submarine", a hyperbaric chamber alleged to cure ailments as diverse as autism and impotence, two people are dead. But was it an accident or could one of the parents have set fire to the chamber on purpose? This courtroom thriller is a great choice for anyone who enjoyed Big Little Lies.

There, There by Tommy Orange (Knopf, 2018). The Big Oakland Powwow brings all kinds of people together for all kinds of different reasons. Readers meet a large cast of characters and slowly begin to find out how they're all connected as the story unfolds. But something unexpected will happen at the Powwow. This is a great choice for readers of modern literary fiction, particularly set in urban locations.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

12 Days of Giving: Books for Animal Lovers

Kids looooove animals. If you're not sure what to buy for a young child, an animal book is a pretty darn safe bet. Lots of older kids love learning about and reading about animals, too. So today, I'm giving you suggestions for the animal lovers in your life.

For babies and toddlers:

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (Little Simon). When a child writes to the zoo to please send a pet, all kinds of different animals show up in the mail. Are any of them good for pets? This lift the flap board book is fun because it has humor and interaction built right in.

Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton (Workman, 2008). Sandra Boynton is a master for young children, of course, and this one is one of my favorites. A little boy names all his pets... they're all named Bob... except for a surprise turtle at the end. This sturdy board book is a great choice to all to a young child's Boynton collection.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle (Harper, 1997). Available in either board book format or paperback, this book by beloved author Eric Carle is a good choice for young kids since every spread pairs an action with an animal.

Heads by Matthew Van Fleet (Simon & Schuster, 2010). This was one of the first books I gave my formerly youngest niece when I first started dating my husband. She was two at the time and got great joy out of pulling the tabs and making the animals in the book move. It's a sturdy board book with different textures to feel and tabs to make parts of the book move, going through all different kinds of animals.

For preschoolers and early elementary: 

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (Atheneum, 1970). Oh the giggles with this one! It turns out there are all kinds of reasons that animals should NOT wear clothing. A snake would lose it, a goat would eat it, it would always be wet on a walrus. The hilarious pictures depicting wacky scenarios of animals wearing clothes will definitely have kids laughing. And bonus, there are several other picture books about animals from this team, so bundle up a few of the paperbacks and you have a nice gift.

Bark George by Jules Feiffer (HarperCollins, 1999). Okay, this book is not everyone's cup of tea, but I happen to love it. When young George starts saying other animal noises instead of barking, his mother takes him to the vet who puts on his latex gloves and pulls out... a cat! And so on. I have had major storytime success with this one with ages 2 to about 7, so I think it's definitely a crowd-pleaser. It's a good bet for kids who like funny books that are a little offbeat. 

I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (Dial, 2007). This giant squid certainly likes to brag about being the biggest thing in the ocean... but is he? If you have young marine biologists who teethed on Baby Shark and are still fascinated by ocean animals, this funny book with large colorful pictures is a great choice. 

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (Roaring Brook, 2010). This Caldecott Medal winning picture book is a sweet story about zookeeper Amos McGee who stays home from work with a cold. Worried about him, his animal friends come to see him and cheer him up while he is sick. 

Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks by Skila Brown, illustrated by Bob Kolar (Candlewick, 2016). This collection of poems features all different kinds of poems about all different kinds of sharks. This is another one that's perfect for your young marine biologists and sharks are always a hit. 

Chapter book readers:

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook, 2008). This highly illustrated early chapter book series is seriously funny and super popular. Scoop up a handful of them and bundle together for a nice gift. 

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Walden Pond Press, 2017). Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat) has some trouble making friends, but he has always related to animals. When his vet mom brings home a baby skunk that's been abandoned, Bat falls in love and yearns to help take care of the skunk. He is super hoping that his mom will let them keep it, even though he knows that skunks are wild animals. Bat loves animals so, so much and young animal lovers, especially those who have longed for a pet, will relate. Bonus for gift giving: there are two more books about Bat. Bundle them up for your big book lovers. 

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.

The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney (Puffin, 2004). This is a really sweet, cute, funny story narrated by a hamster who lives in a classroom and loves to help take care of the humans there. Humphrey has a lot of heart and a great voice. This is a great choice for anyone who loves animals or has ever wanted a pet. And it's also a series, so feel free to pick up a couple of them for the animal lover in your life. 

Middle grade readers:

Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue by Peg Kehret (Dutton, 2012). Author Peg Kehret loves animals. I mean she loooves them! Enough that she and her husband built a cabin in the woods to be surrounded by nature and after her husband passed away, Peg turned his workshop into a "cat room" as she fostered abandoned animals. This true story will appeal to kids whose dream is to live surrounded by animals. 

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2019). Formerly homeschooled Emma is nervous and excited to start fifth grade at public school, but making friends and learning the school rules is harder than she thought. Each day, Emma longs to get home to the newest addition to her family: a pet rabbit that she and her game warden dad rescued and that Emma has named Monsieur Lapin in honor of the forest stories her Pepere used to tell her. Emma wants to keep Lapi, but what if he has an owner? This is a story with a lot of heart and it's perfect for young pet owners or kids who wish they could be pet owners. 

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Yearling, 2002). When Roy moves to Florida, he's not exactly thrilled about it, especially when he has to face bullies at his new school. But when he spots a boy running alongside the road, he senses a mystery, and when he investigates he finds himself caught up in an eco adventure he never could have imagined. This is a great choice for kids who like mystery stories and kids who are interested in saving the environment. 

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, 2015). Neel loves his home in an island village in India. He loves his mother’s cooking. He loves swimming in the nearby ponds. And he loves the tigers that live on the preserve on a neighboring island, the only place where wild Bengal tigers still live. So when a tiger cub turns up missing, Neel wants to help. And he'll do anything to get out of studying for his school exams - he's not even sure he wants to go away to school far from his family. This is an adventure-filled story that's great for kids who love wild animals and who look for ways to care for animals and the environment.