Gifts for Kids, from Dino Fans to Teen Entrepreneurs
Our annual Children's/YA gift issue is always a ton of fun to put together. With only the one broad criterion, we get to highlight books that will excite, inspire, make readers laugh, make readers cry. Yet more fun: I get to use this space to call out a few extra gift titles for children and teens.
Obviously: Stories from My Timeline (Razorbill, $17.99) is Akilah Hughes's debut book for young adults. In a companionable writing style, Hughes walks the line between humorous and heartfelt, with chapters like "Eight Movies that Gave Me False Expectations About Living in New York" standing solidly alongside content such as "Weight" and "Being Sick." The audiobook is especially enjoyable, narrated by the comedian, writer and YouTuber herself.
When he was just nine years old, Moziah Bridges started a bow-tie business; eight years later, Mo's Bows Handmade Bow Ties works with retailers like Neiman Marcus and Cole Haan. In Mo's Bows: A Young Person's Guide to Startup Success (Running Press Kids, $14.99), the 17-year-old CEO (with co-authoring help from mother Tramica Morris) doles out tips and tricks for middle-school readers interested in building their own startups. With pictures and his own story woven in, Mo's Bows serves as both a how-to and early memoir.
Dennis Nolan's picture book Dinosaur Feathers (Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99) takes readers on an evolutionary field trip, matching gloriously illustrated dinosaurs with their names and phonetic spellings. That is, until they die and their bird ancestors take over. The birds then get the same treatment as the dinos. What is truly astonishing is that the rhyme--"They roamed the land/ And in the sand/ They left behind their tracks./ Apatosaurus... Stegosaurus... Saurophaganax"--almost never stumbles.
One more special mention: One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller by Kate Read (Peachtree, $16.95) is as charming as it is genuinely gripping.
Harry Potter Quiz
"Can you guess the Harry Potter book from a single line?" Mental Floss asked.
With the launch of the AppleTV+ series Dickinson, several "modern women writers reflect on Emily Dickinson's influence." (via the Hollywood Reporter)
"You'll love these other common words from ancient Rome!" Merriam-Webster promised.
"From Novel to Film to TV." Quirk Books considered "His Dark Materials and other stories that should be adapted."
"One of the foremost Sherlock Holmes collections is hidden away at a Toronto library," Atlas Obscura reported.
Rediscover: A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Elderly zookeeper Amos McGee does the same thing every day: he gets up, catches the bus to the zoo and cares for his animal friends. He plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise (and lets her win), sits with the shy penguin, shares a handkerchief with the rhinoceros and reads bedtime stories to the owl. One day Amos wakes up with an awful cold, and his concerned animal pals decide to take the bus to visit him. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, shows the lengths friends will go to when supporting one another.
Erin Stead illustrated Amos McGee at the request of her husband, Philip. She had been discouraged with her art and had not drawn for the previous three years. This was her first time illustrating a book. The couple and their editor, Neal Porter, expected only modest interest in what they considered a quiet story. Instead, Erin Stead won the 2011 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations, and A Sick Day for Amos McGee sold more than 300,000 copies. The Steads have since collaborated on several other titles, including Bear Has a Story to Tell (2012), The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine (2017) and Music for Mister Moon (2019). On November 5, Roaring Brook Press released a 10th anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee ($29.99, 9781626721050). --Tobias Mutter
Children's & Young Adult
Love and the Rocking Chair
by Leo and Diane
A couple purchases a beautiful rocking chair in anticipation of their new baby. They sing to their son and read stories together, and as he grows, he rocks "back and forth, pretending the chair [is] a wild horse racing across the plains." Over time the rocker is forgotten and put away. When the boy, now a man, marries and has a child of his own, he remembers the chair and "lovingly dust[s] it off and place[s] it back where it belong[ed]" in the nursery, continuing three generations of love and tradition.
Inspired by the rocking chair they purchased for their own son, Love and the Rocking Chair is the final collaboration of Caldecott-winning artists Leo and Diane Dillon, completed before Leo's death in 2012. The real chair was "a beloved member of [their] family and witness to many wonderful memories." Paired with simple language, the restrained, expressive illustrations effectively convey the joy, sorrow and love of the changing family. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A beautiful rocking chair ties together three generations of family.
The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic,
hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781338332650
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History
by Vashti Harrison, Kwesi Johnson
Inventors, authors, musicians, activists and others come to life in Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison (Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History) with Kwesi Johnson. In 35 brief illustrated biographies, Harrison highlights the achievements of black men through centuries of world history, including renowned figures like Frederick Douglass and Prince and lesser-known, but equally important, men such as Benjamin Banneker, who built the first full-sized clock in America, and Oscar Micheaux, the first black man to make a feature-length film.
These incredible men influenced both their contemporaries and future generations: historian Arturo Schomburg began preserving books by or about black people after learning about Banneker; activist Paul Stephenson was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the fight for civil rights in Britain. For young readers whose interest is piqued, Harrison includes some even mini-er biographies, an appendix of resources for further reading, and a challenge to draw your own little legend. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Discover: This collection of brief, illustrated biographies celebrates the achievements of 35 black leaders.
hardcover, 96p., ages 8-12, 9780316475143
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family
by Ibtihaj Muhammad, S.K. Ali, illus. by Hatem Aly
Olympic fencing medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad's debut picture book is the story of two sisters, Faizah and Asiya, and "the most beautiful" blue hijab. Faizah, the younger sister, narrates how the first day of the school year corresponds with Asiya wearing hijab for the first time. Faizah's pride and happiness for Asiya shine in Hatem Aly's vibrant, imaginative digital illustrations--"I'm walking with a princess," Faizah thinks. When bullies make fun of Asiya, Faizah doesn't understand, seeing the bright blue of Asiya's hijab as a scarf but also "like the ocean waving to the sky... always there, strong and friendly."
The Proudest Blue shows how the wearing of hijab is something common for many ("special and regular") that should not be seen as strange or scary. The final spread shows Faizah and Asiya unbothered by the bullying, their bond resilient like the connection between the ocean and the sky, "no line between them." --Clarissa Hadge, bookstore manager, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Mass.
Discover: In Ibihaj Muhammad's debut, two sisters overcome adversity and bond over the older sister wearing hijab for the first time.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316519007
by Katharine McGee
George Washington was America's first king. Now, the first female heir, Beatrice, prepares to take the throne. Before she is crowned, she must choose a noble husband (even though she loves her guard). When presented with a "terrifyingly slim folder" of suitors, she chooses Lord Teddy Eaton--who recently kissed Samantha, Beatrice's sister. But Samantha is "just the Other Washington Sister," denied Beatrice's privileges--including America's favor. Worse, the country's "sexist double standard" means they malign Samantha but "swoon" over her twin brother, Jefferson. Even Jeff's girlfriend, Nina, fears she's "not the type of girl" America wants for Jeff and bemoans their preference for his "perfect and proper" ex, Daphne (who is plotting to marry Jeff in order to become royalty).
Katharine McGee's (The Thousandth Floor) novel of alternative history gushes with electrifying emotion: Beatrice's "silent, screaming turmoil," Samantha's furtive moments with Teddy, Nina's buckling public composure, and Daphne's "terrifying" schemes. Mixing scandalous secrets and political intrigue, American Royals is thrillingly addictive. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: American Royals reimagines the U.S. as a monarchy, following the first queen-to-be and her siblings through delicious scandals.
hardcover, 448p., ages 12-up, 9781984830173
Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science Behind Your Favorite Monsters
by Carlyn Beccia
Science and history are scary fun subjects in Carlyn Beccia's fascinating dissection of eight storied creatures from film and folklore.
Vampires, zombies, werewolves and other mythical monsters have induced fear in audiences for ages. But in Monstrous, Beccia tickles her audience's prefrontal cortexes with eye-opening biology, riveting physics, savory nutrition and more, to prove that "Science is stronger than fear." Using gruesome history (like the story of Dracula's namesake, Prince Vlad Dracula, who impaled his enemies with stakes and left their remains to the vultures) or bizarre fun facts (such as pigs created with spinach genes), Beccia ingeniously pulls back the curtain on the supernatural. The infographics throughout help simplify the complex scientific concepts she explains, making them consumable--and enjoyable--for young readers. Even math becomes enticing when calculating why King Kong is too big for reality.
Whether a budding scientist or a horror film buff, middle-grade readers of all stripes will be captivated by the inner workings of these famous monsters. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: The joy of science is uncovered in Monstrous by examining eight of fiction's scariest creatures.
library binding, 148p., ages 9-14, 9781512449167
My Cat Looks Like My Dad
by Thao Lam
Author-illustrator Thao Lam (Wallpaper) celebrates the human-animal bond in a beguiling cut-paper collage picture book with an unspoken mystery that leads to a sneakily funny ending.
Despite the difference in species, the unidentified narrator's dad and cat have a lot in common: both love sardines and belly rubs, fear heights and "never replace the toilet paper roll." The narrator watches the man-cat duo as they do morning stretches, run from a skunk and sing at the piano. Lam's illustrations broadcast a groovy late-1970s vibe with mustard-colored and floral-patterned clothing and upholstery, not to mention Dad's oversize lapels, floppy hair and luxuriant mustache.
The enchanting surprise reveal of the narrator's identity at story's end might induce giggles in its preschool audience, and even savvy readers are unlikely to guess the joke. The humor plus the comforting message that "family is what you make it" is likely to solidify My Cat Looks Like My Dad as a new favorite. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Thao Lam puts a humorous, family-focused picture book spin on the time-honored idea that pets often resemble their owners.
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9781771473514
Lottie & Walter
by Anna Walker
No one else but Lottie knows a shark is "hiding in the swimming pool." The teacher and other kids don't notice because the shark wants to eat only Lottie--which means every Saturday, Lottie spends her swimming class safely on deck. And then Walter the walrus appears, happy to listen to Lottie's worries, to follow her home and never to leave her side. But Saturday looms again and back to the pool they all must go....
Australian author/artist Anna Walker (Peggy) draws on her own childhood fear of the water (she admits she enjoys swimming now), to create this charming adventure of a girl's brave dive into things unknown. Walker's courageous heroine gets a multicultural cast to share the pages, gleefully presented in watercolor-and-pencil illustrations filled with whimsical details (once-bitten donut floats, pom-pommed party hats) and expansive spreads, including a vast underwater scene that even features lionfish. Lottie & Walter proves to be an immersive delight. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Anna Walker's Lottie & Walter courageously plunges into unknown depths to discover aquatic glee.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9781328470386
Myths and Legends of the World
by Alli Brydon, illus. by Julia Iredale
Discover "21 dazzling stories of adventure, deceit, reward, and punishment," as reteller Alli Brydon puts it in Myths and Legends of the World, a vibrantly illustrated collection of global tales.
Storytellers and culture enthusiasts will surely enjoy immersing themselves in Alli Brydon's imaginative retellings of myths from Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas and the Arctic. Each section begins with a two-page spread that briefly describes the types of legends found in each part of the world, such as "myths steeped in reverence for mystical gods" in Asia and strong oral traditions with a "history of animism" in the Americas. All six regions have their share of creation myths ("The Creation of the World" from the Kuba people of present-day Democratic Republic of Congo), cautionary tales ("The Fisherman and His Wife" from German folklore) and origin stories ("Sedna, the Mother of the Sea" from Inuit mythology). Julia Iredale's stunning gouache, ink and digital artwork elegantly complements the myths and legends, the jewel-toned illustrations dramatic and subtly detailed. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: Alli Brydon retells folk tales from across the globe in this gorgeously illustrated compilation of myths and legends.
Lonely Planet Kids,
hardcover, 192p., ages 9-12, 9781788683081
by Meredith Russo
Born on the same day during a freak September blizzard in Tennessee, Eric and Morgan--and their families--"became friends for life." The shared birthday anchors them through life's most dramatic changes: Morgan's mother dies and Morgan's father shuts down, while Eric's once-perfect family implodes. At 13, Morgan desperately needs to tell Eric, "I'm supposed to be a girl," while Eric struggles to understand who Morgan really is--especially to him. Over the next six birthdays, the BFFs will reevaluate, redefine and reinvent their bond as they mature together toward adulthood.
#OwnVoices author Meredith Russo's follow-up to her 2017 Stonewall Award-winning debut, If I Was Your Girl, is another affecting examination of teens grappling with relationships, socioeconomic disparities, school challenges and mental and physical abuse--with an added layer of affirming gender identity. Russo seamlessly melds difficulties with joy and impossibilities with solutions, to create a resonating "love story eighteen years in the making." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: In Meredith Russo's Birthday, Morgan and Eric redefine their lifetime bond through various stages of friendship, separation and falling in love.
hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9781250129833
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment
by Parker Curry, Jessica Curry, illus. by Brittany Jackson
You've seen the photograph: an adorable African American toddler stares, gobsmacked, at Amy Sherald's portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama at Washington, D.C.'s National Portrait Gallery in 2018; now you can read the book.
In Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment, Jessica Curry, Parker's mom and coauthor, decides to take her young daughters to the museum, where they enjoy a range of portraits, as of Albert Einstein ("They saw... a bushy mustache"), before Parker freezes by Obama's image. Although this may seem like a slight premise for a picture book, it's the rare reader who won't be moved when Parker sees herself in Obama's likeness ("She had rich brown skin, just like Parker") and extrapolates her own power ("Parker saw more than just a portrait--she saw a road before her with endless possibilities"). The decorous dazzle of Brittany Jackson's illustrations recalls Mary Blair's work for golden-age Disney. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: The famous 2018 photo of a girl enthralled by Michelle Obama's portrait is the spur for this heart-tugging picture book.
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781534451865
Jon Klassen's Hat Box
by Jon Klassen
Jon Klassen and hats: they're a thing. In I Want My Hat Back (2011), a bear in search of its lid doesn't see it hiding in plain view on a rabbit's head. (The reader will.) In This Is Not My Hat (2012), a little fish swipes the hat right off a big sleeping fish, figuring "he probably won't notice that it's gone." (He does.) And in We Found a Hat (2016), each of two turtles wants to claim ownership of the nifty white chapeau they find together in the desert. All three stories are told in dialogue or interior monologue so spare and funny that the books' atypical brown and grayscale palettes haven't put off young readers, who have made Klassen a bestselling author/illustrator. Now Candlewick has created Jon Klassen's Hat Box, a hat-tastic boxed set containing the trilogy, plus a frame-worthy print from I Want My Hat Back. What could be better than (t)hat? --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Klassen's hat trick--three beloved picture books about animals and hats--now comes in a handy boxed set.
hardcover, ages 4-8, 9780763666972
I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage
by Lee Bennett Hopkins, editor
The poet and writer Lee Bennett Hopkins, who died earlier this year, compiles poems and illustrations from 30 individuals of diverse backgrounds, commemorating family, memory and life's happy and sad moments in I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage. This rich collection is greatly enhanced by the creators' personal statements, professional biographies and photographs, both youthful and contemporary.
Nick Bruel of Bad Kitty fame contributes an unexpectedly serious poem, "Pick One," about choosing a single ethnicity on an official form. Margarita Engle highlights an embroidery session with her abuelita in "La visita" ("The Visit"); an image of a girl and her grandmother accompanies the poem, done by Paula Barragán in a colorful, naïve style. Marilyn Nelson's "Route 66" comes from the perspective of the child of an Air Force officer, traveling to a new base: "What if somebody who hates black people/ drives past our car and shoots him in the head?" Strong feelings and sweet memories abound in this exceptional assemblage. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Young writers and artists will likely want to set down their own familial recollections after reading this uncommon anthology.
Lee & Low Books,
hardcover, 56p., ages 9-14, 9781620143117
No Place Like Home
by Ronojoy Ghosh
George isn't happy. He never smiles or speaks to anyone. He's a "grump" who doesn't "even like ice cream." What the polar bear really needs is "to go back home," though he can't remember where that should be. George leaves the city and tries the jungle, only to discover he's not a fan of "sleeping in trees." He tries a mountaintop, but isn't happy about heights; tries the hot desert, but gets thirsty. When George reaches the sea, he rows "sadly for days and days."
Eventually, he finds a place where he's not "grumpy anymore"--a place so "cold and covered with ice" that it feels perfect for a polar bear. Ronojoy Ghosh's winsome illustrations depict a sweet-looking George (despite being a grump), who is accompanied on his quest by some equally appealing tiny birds. George and bird-friends can be "sure of one thing. There is no place like home." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: The city doesn't feel like the right place for a polar bear, so George sets off to find where his home should be.
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers,
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780802855220
More to the Story
by Hena Khan
It's not necessary to be a fan of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women to enjoy Hena Khan's (Amina's Voice) More to the Story, but it does add a soupçon of literary gratification. Jameela (Jam) is a 13-year-old aspiring journalist. She and her three sisters are loosely based on the March sisters, with counterpart-corresponding names (Jameela/Jo, Aleeza/Amy, etc.). Life in their happy, bickering Pakistani American Muslim family has always been pretty uneventful--until now. A cute Pakistani British boy moves to town; Jam earns the coveted features editor position at the school paper but has to work under her nemesis; her father must go to Abu Dhabi for a six-month work contract; and sister Bisma falls seriously ill. Middle-school-aged readers will find the challenges Jam faces at school and with family realistic and eminently understandable. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Hena Khan returns in style with a contemporary Pakistani American riff on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781481492096
Poems to Live Your Life By
by Chris Riddell, editor
In Poems to Live Your Life By, former U.K. Children's Laureate Chris Riddell (The Edge Chronicles) has chosen an assortment of poems that have most affected him--Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" in childhood, Leonard Cohen's songs while falling in love--and surrounded each selection with his detailed and fanciful black-and-white sketches. He divides the volume into eight sections, such as "Musings," "Love," "Family" and "Endings," and includes works by William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, Imtiaz Dharker and Kate Tempest.
Riddell's intricate illustrations range from dreamlike to grisly, and forcefully capture the mood and tone of the verse; the dark blue leather-like cover of the volume is etched with gold embossing and smooth to the touch, making it even more enticing to readers. This curated gem gives readers an inside look into what has influenced Riddell as an artist and writer, but more than that, it is a collection of words and artwork that will hopefully provoke and inspire others. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library
Discover: A stunning collection of verses compiled and illustrated by Chris Riddell that is perfect for neophytes and longtime poetry fans alike.
hardcover, 208p., ages 12-up, 9781419741210