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Emmy loves handwritten letters and typewriters and Masterpiece Classic, and cameras that use 35 mm film. Basically, she's just taking the 21st century one day at a time. Reading helps — some of her favorites include memoirs and short stories and humorous essays — but her true passion is children's literature. She'll be thrilled to show you what the wonderful middle-grade section has to offer: especially stories about ordinary kids whose inner lives happen to be extraordinary. She counts Harriet the spy, Leo the late bloomer, Caddie Woodlawn, Winnie Foster, Cassandra, Holden, Matilda, and Anne Shirley among her kindred spirits.
Gumluck the wizard is a people-pleaser who dreams of being crowned town hero at the Harvest Dance. It's an honor bestowed upon whoever is most helpful to the town, which humble Gumluck certainly is—he does his absolute best to fulfill the wishes of the townspeople, even if they aren't always pleased with the results. A thankless task, if you ask his sassy friend Helvetica. For a crow—excuse me, raven—she has a lot of strong opinions. One of them is that Gumluck, as naive and bumbling as he is, is wondrously selfless, with a good heart. You won't find a funnier, charming, more optimistic story to share with your favorite budding reader this holiday.
On her eighth birthday, at sunrise, a little girl buries a secret treasure under her favorite tree. Many years later, she and her granddaughter go looking for it. What will the red tin box she hid reveal? This poetic picture book softly illuminates the stories of ourselves; those we keep and those we share, and with whom we choose to share them. The deeply saturated, painted illustrations are fuzzy around the edges, like our memories of the past. It's the bonds we make with loved ones that are the real treasure, and those fleeting—but precious—moments of childhood wonder.
I'm probably going to gift this book to everyone for Christmas, because who couldn't use a boost of self-love? Much like a crush, the topic of f e e l i n g s can be a bit overwhelming. Norris breaks it down into short chapters, addressing the reader with kindness and empathy while also gently poking fun at us all. Their relatable illustrations accompany the reassuring fact that (contrary to what we see in movies, or societal expectations) there's no one way to love. Whether you're looking for your other half (or just a good time), happy being single, happily paired up, or (oh no) heartbroken — this insightful, hilarious guide reminds us we're all equally vulnerable when sharing our heart.
Evergreen is on a mission: deliver Mama squirrel's healing soup to Granny Oak on the other side of the forest, without spilling one drop. If only she weren't so scared of—well, everything. Mama knows her brave girl can do it, even if Evergreen does not. This clever spin on Little Red Riding Hood asks if it's possible to be afraid but also excited, brave, even happy(!) at the same time. A surprise twist at the end makes this a perfect longer-read-aloud the whole family can share. Best of all: talking animals, clothed in tweed, evoke the old-timey coziness of Arnold Lobel.
Dan is a good kid. He's just survived his last year of middle-school, and is feeling apprehensive about the 3-week class trip to Europe he's about to take (not to mention starting high school after). He doesn't know it, but he's embarking on an era of firsts—first trip without his parents, first stout, first discotheque, first heartbreak. Through a whirlwind of unsupervised adventures, Dan builds his confidence and becomes the tiniest bit less afraid of jumping in. Santat hilariously captures the fickle maturity of teens: one minute rooting Dan on, seconds later mercilessly skewering him for mucking things up. This compelling and sensitive coming-of-age encourages kids to go for it, because with risk comes reward, or at the least, one more experience in finding out who you're meant to be.
The offer (two rabbits for the price of one) was too good to pass up. Except now there's a bit of situation: 200 bright orange rabbits, with a knack for getting into mischief. How to get rid of them? Luckily, this family is super creative in finding ways to distribute rabbits all over town. A clever counting book with illustrations that'll give you loads to look at laugh about on every page.
What's sweeter than a book that reminds you to slow down, appreciate simple pleasures, be thankful for the people you love, and bask in quiet, delightful moments when they appear? (Nothing. Enjoy)
An honest portrayal of the anxiety and depression (presenting as rage) of an 11-year old overwhelmed with family stress and grief.
Wolfie knows it's going to be a bad day from the second he wakes up. Absolutely everything is irksome (in a hilariously recognizable way). This picture book perfectly captures the frustration and loneliness of feeling like you're the only one who can't catch a break. Coppo gently illustrates how sometimes a bad day is all about perspective—and how finding an empathetic friend can turn a whole day around.
This book instantly reminded me of everything I love about swimming— and brought forth a rush of memories of childhood summers. It's a sensory feast of wrinkled fingertips and bare feet, and the growling hunger that comes after countless dives and underwater handstands. Cummins' illustrations capture the energy of the big-city backdrop and full public pool with bursts of neon brightness. The story ends with a sigh of a day spent perfectly. You can practically smell the chlorine.
When Kai's twin sister is swallowed by the ghost whale, she makes a bargain with the gods to save Kishi's soul. Her journey to retrieve a coveted jewel is one of breathless suspense, unspooling to become an epic of Japanese folklore that rivals the tales Kai heard as a child. Kai may see herself as the "bad twin", but her determination, born from love, proves she deserves her own legend. I read it too fast, so now I get the pleasure of reading it again. Like the Bakekujira, this story will swallow you whole.
I love this book. Growing up, countless adults told me to "stop worrying so much." I'm not sure they realized what an overactive imagination can conjure up in the face of the unknown. The mother in this book knows just what to say when her daughter asks if things will be ok—she uses her own imagination to turn each fear into a possibility, weaving stories of discovery and love. The ending is so reassuring, it made my heart swell. This is one to treasure.
Anna Hibiscus is curious and clever, so she doesn't always do what she's told. Whether she's climbing mango trees, traveling up the lagoon in a canoe, or investigating the crowded, smelly city bustling right outside her front gate, Anna wants to experience it all. These jubilant short stories bring to life family adventures in Africa, full of memorable details. How wild that despite the many differences between Nigeria and the U.S., Anna's many questions, worries, and triumphs feel so familiar! A perfect predecessor to Ramona Quimby, Clementine, Stella Diaz, or Ryan Hart.
Buffy Sainte-Marie's song of the same name and Julie Flett's soft illustrations are a love match in this ode to home from two very talented, indigenous artists. The gentle lyrics sweep you along through a year in passing: seasons changing, animals departing and returning (people, too), flowers bursting, grasses turning brown and brittle. Siblings, families, loved ones delight in sharing the splendor of mother nature—for the Cree, the endless rolling fields of their backyard. It's easy to forget how lucky we are to call this planet home, and how much our surroundings shape us as we're busy growing up. There's joy and comfort to be had in understanding you're a part of something much bigger than yourself.
Booger (aka Tommy), a lizard-boy from below the earth's crust, struggles to fit in with his 7th-grade classmates. Much like two other new students: immigrant Dung and alt cosplayer Scarlett. Could they accept him for who he really is, without the cover of his human mask? Even lizard boys can't escape the drama and growing pains of junior high. Wonderfully detailed art and relatable characters make this expressive graphic novel a satisfying read.
Benji wants a doll just like his friend Jenny's. And finally, he gets one! But then a boy at the playground grabs it away, and there's a terrible accident. This story isn't about Benji's choice of toy, or whether others approve, or (actually) even Benji himself. It's about the deep desire in all of us to be accepted and included. The illustrations are hilariously expressive and the ending's A+, but it's the simplicity of the message that reads like a breath of fresh air.
Peek beyond the veil in this clever picture book ghost hunt! The perfect pacing gives kids time to spot the ghosties ahead of our clueless narrator, and they'll delight in being in on the joke.
Ten-year-old Bug is an ocean of surging emotions, roiling at a big brother whose sudden need for "space" leaves her summer plans in ruins. Then there's her new upstairs neighbor Frankie, in town for the season, a closed book who doesn't even want to be her best friend. Venice Beach in the 80's is lovely in its grittiness, seen through Bug's eyes. Roller skating, muscle beach, outdoor meals with her found family . . . watching Bug earn Frankie's trust, and witnessing his courage. This is a summer composed of tiny moments of understanding, each one tightening Bug's focus on truths she didn't see before, nudging her closer to growing up. When I finished the book, I felt like I'd grown along with her.
Bob the alligator is too lazy to catch his own lunch. What if he could get the birds to come to him? He opens a birdseed restaurant on his nose . . . and it's a HIT. Soon Bob's schedule is packed, catering to his flocks of fans. But what will happen when he finally gets the chance to do what he'd planned all along? Will he eat his newfound friends? Shea's technicolor illustrations are the perfect fit for this funny, silly, big-hearted story.
Gratz's account of 9/11 is a heart-thumping, mad-paced survival story that you can't put down. Nine-year-old Brandon encounters one unimaginable horror after another as he descends from the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. His perspective alternates with Reshmina's, whose life in present day, war-torn Afghanistan remains affected daily by the events of 20 years before. Her grief and fear demands answers: why are her people caught in the middle between American soldiers and the Taliban? The emotional scars for both sides run deep, and for good reason. An unexpected twist will leave you raw, puzzling over what the war accomplished, and desperately wishing we'd come further in our shared understanding.
Time has stopped for Sila ever since her mother was deported back to Turkey to fix her immigration paperwork. The longer her family is apart, the more Sila withdraws from life. When an equally lonely lottery winner strives to cheer her up, a serendipitous encounter with a circus owner presents a giant solution. Sloan shapes her imperfect, instantly-knowable characters with compassion. She shows the power of giving everyone (including yourself) a chance; and how the smallest connections can lead to magnificent, positive change. I loved the brief chapters offering a funny peek into the supporting characters' points of view, including those of Veda the elephant. Animal-lovers needn't worry—the just, joyful ending makes this one of the most hopeful books of 2021.
My favorite picture books give adults just as much enjoyment as the child they're sharing them with. Bonus points if it's funny and you won't mind reading it aloud over and over. This book checks all three boxes. Pokko's parents can't hear themselves think ever since they gave her a drum. They send her out into the world to be heard. What happens next is pretty wonderful. Perfect for fans of Mac Barnett or Lemony Snicket!