Mother/Daughter Book Club: One Year Anniversary

In February 2021, not long after our move across the state, we started a mother/daughter book club for friends old and new. Now we’re celebrating one year of monthly virtual meetings full of picture books and arts and crafts!

Cover images of picture books in caption
What A Lucky Day, A Butterfly is Patient, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, My Best Friend, Laxmi’s Mooch, Hansel & Gretel, A Small Kindness, The Very Last Castle
Cover images of picture books
I’m Done!, Extra Yarn, The Halloween Tree, Thank You Omu!, On Account of the Gum, Jabari Jumps

Through these books, we’ve encountered instant best friendship; how kindness can spread and generosity comes back around; the importance of perseverance, courage, and open-mindedness; and how a unique twist on a mainstream perspective can make things just right. Here’s to more reading and togetherness in 2022!

Reading Resolutions and TBR for 2022

I don’t make reading resolutions every year, but past ones that I’ve set and achieved (eventually) include:

  • Read at least one nonfiction book each month (circa 2008)
  • If I’m not enjoying a book, and it’s not for an assignment or book club, put it down (circa 2014)
  • Stop using important things as bookmarks (more recently than I’d care to admit)

This year I want to focus on reading more diverse books by BIPOC creators. Last year just over 20% of my reading fell into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks category; I’d like to get to 30% this year. (It might be that I’m closer than I think, since I don’t always know how an author or illustrator identifies.)

And here are some specific titles I’m excited about, but I’m sure that plenty more will come along during the year:

Children’s/YA

  • Amari and the Night Brothers #2 by B.B. Alstonamari2
  • Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang
  • I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat
  • When I’m With You by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler

Adult

  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel seaoftranquility
  • Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire
  • When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry
  • Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American by Wajahat Ali
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Have you made any reading-related resolutions this year? Are there any books you’re looking forward to? Leave a comment!

2021 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is 2020’s reading wrap up. Many of those books are ones I’m still talking about, thinking about, and recommending, especially:

  • The picture books On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex, Lift by Minh Lê and Dan Santat, My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki, and Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina and Sonia Sánchez
  • Early reader and chapter book series (Elephant & Piggie, The Princess in Black, Ivy & Bean, Dory Fantasmagory, Clementine)
  • Nearly all of the middle grade books I listed, including Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte, The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead, and Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Adult novels The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • Nonfiction: the History Smashers series by Kate Messner. Even more titles came out this year and I’ve been recommending them all to students and teachers alike.

Now, on to 2021. This year was another good year for reading, even if it wasn’t good by (m)any other metrics. Betsy Bird did her marvelous and comprehensive #31Days31Lists again, and though I’ve read many of the titles she mentions, I requested a bunch of others from the library – they’re already starting to roll in!

Total number of books: 743. Yeah, this is a lot, even for me – I was surprised when I counted them up, especially since the number of picture books stayed approximately steady from last year to this year. Early readers, chapter books, and YA went up a bit, while middle grade dropped some (that was a surprise, too); graphic novels went way up.

Partially read or started-didn’t-finish: 19. Again, a cookbook, a book of poetry, and some children’s books that the kiddo wasn’t into (or took away to read by herself).

Picture books: 327.

Note: I’m limiting my list of standout picture book titles to those published in 2020 and 2021, because…327 books! In the other categories below, I haven’t limited myself to books published in 2020-2021, though many of them were.

  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illus. Nicole Neidhardt Cover image of What A Lucky Day
  • What A Lucky Day! by Jashar Awan
  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
  • The Polio Pioneer by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illus. Lisa Anchin
  • All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel, illus. Nabi Ali
  • A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty, illus. Wendy Leach
  • Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illus. Nabi Ali Cover image of Laxmi's Mooch
  • Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick, illus. Jarvis
  • The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer, illus. Mariachiara DiGiorgio
  • Avocado Asks: What Am I? by Momoko Abe
  • Oh Look, A Cake! by J.C. McKee (reminded me of I Really Want the Cake!)
  • I Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong (reminded me of The Angry Little Puffin)
  • Watercress by Andrea Wang, illus. Jason ChinCover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom
  • Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison, illus. Daniel Wiseman
  • A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illus. Seo Kim
  • Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Floyd Cooper
  • The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom by Colleen AF Venable, illus. Lian Cho
  • Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki
  • Maybe… by Chris Haughton

Early readers: 42.

  • “Living In…” series by Chloe Perkinsflubby
  • Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel
  • Elephant & Piggie by Mo Willems
  • Fox & Chick by Sergio Ruzzier
  • Pea, Bee, & Jay by Brian Smith
  • Chick & Brain by Cece Bell
  • Flubby Will Not Play With That by J.E. Morris

Chapter books: 55.

  • Zoey & Sassafras series by Asia Citrotwigandturtle1
  • Twig & Turtle series by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
  • Ruby Lu by Lenore Look
  • Unicorn Rescue Society series by Adam Gitwitz and others
  • Princess Pulverizer series by Nancy Krulik
  • Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (graphic novels)
  • Book Buddies: Ivy Lost & Found by Cynthia Lord

Middle grade (some overlap with YA and GN): 56.Cover image of Starfish

  • Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar
  • Starfish by Lisa Fipps
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford
  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (all three Bat books)
  • Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy DavidowitzCover image of Imaginary
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo
  • Imaginary by Lee Bacon
  • The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
  • Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden
  • Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
  • Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRoccatroubledgirls
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
  • The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
  • Simon B. Rhymin’ by Dwayne Reed
  • Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
  • Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero by Saadia Faruqi

YA (some overlap with MG and GN): 51.

  • The Selection (series) by Kiera CassCover image Firekeeper's Daughter
  • I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (re-read)
  • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, & Nic Stone
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Graphic novels: 88.

  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Gareth Hinds (YA)Cover image of Witches of Brooklyn
  • Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte (MG)
  • Haylee & Comet by Deborah Marcero (early reader/chapter book)
  • Hildafolk (series) by Luke Pearson (MG)
  • Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani (MG)
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (YA)
  • Blancaflor by Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez (children’s)
  • Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (MG)sanitytallulah
  • Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (MG)
  • Bear by Ben Queen (?)
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson (MG/YA)
  • Friends Forever by Shannon Hale (MG/YA)
  • Act by Kayla Miller (MG)

Adult fiction: 34.

  • Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculiacloudcuckooland
  • We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
  • Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie
  • We Are the Brennans by Tracy Lange
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Nonfiction (adult): 28.

  • You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coesaynothing
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami
  • Candyfreak by Steve Almond
  • From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
  • Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Learning in Public by Courtney E. Martin

Nonfiction (children’s): 87.

  • The Great Stink by Colleen Paeff, illus. Nancy CarpenterCover image of If the World Were 100 People
  • Rescuing Titanic by Flora Delargy
  • If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann, illus. Aaron Cushley
  • Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty
  • Drowned City by Don Brown
  • Yummy: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliott (GN)
  • Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illus. Jos A. Smith

Short stories/essay collections: 13.

  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (stories)
  • The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken (stories)
  • Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith et. al. (linked stories)
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (essays)
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (essays)

Audiobooks: 16.

  • Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin, narrated by Kim Mai Guestboycalledbat3
  • Elana K. Arnold’s Bat books, narrated by Patrick G. Lawlor
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen, narrated by Nissae Isen
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, narrated by Jax Jackson
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by Graeme Malcolm
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by Judith Ivey
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

Five-star ratings: 33. Sometimes I’m blown away by a book when I finish it but it fades in my memory; others stay vivid. There were some of each this year; those that made a sustained impact include (in order from picture books to adult books) Sootypaws, All the Way to the Top, The Polio Pioneer, Haylee & Comet, Castle Hangnail, Amari and the Night Brothers, Red White & Whole, Imaginary, Winterkeep, The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Piranesi, Braiding Sweetgrass, Say Nothing, and Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Re-reads: Not so many this year, other than familiar series (Ivy & Bean, Lunch Lady, Clementine) and picture books (we revisited This Is A Dog, Bo the Brave, Binny’s Diwali, A Small Kindness, On Account of the Gum, The Last Loose Tooth, The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, and others), and the graphic novel Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 161. That’s about 20% of the total, which feels low to me – better next year. I use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag any time the creators of or characters in a book are outside the dominant narrative (white, straight). These stories are essential.

LibraryThing has changed their “stats” page to “charts and graphs.” As in previous years, I read more female authors/illustrators than male ones, and more living authors (1,560) than dead (304). And as the genre chart below shows (no surprise), I read a lot of children’s books!

Screen shot of LT genre statistics

LT also provides a map of authors’ nationalities. I read mostly American, Canadian, Australian, and UK authors, but some Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Mexican, Japanese, Russian, Nigerian, and others as well. If anyone has books to recommend by authors from outside the US/Canada/UK, please share your suggestions!

Screen shot of LT

And that’s the 2021 reading wrap-up. Onward to 2022! What books are you looking forward to this year?

What to read next?

How do you find the next book you’ll read, especially when you need a new book every one to four days? I gather suggestions from many places, adding titles to my to-read list faster than I can read them (even picture books!). Here are some of my best resources for finding books:

  • Recommendations from friends and colleagues: True, a lot of my friends are librarians, or teachers, or simply bookworms. After years of trading recommendations, we’ve learned each other’s tastes, so we have a good idea who will love a certain book (or not) and why. I also add to my to-read list monthly(ish) during my Adults Who Read Children’s Books Club meeting; it’s a group of school and public librarians, and their recommendations are incredible.
  • Reviews in trade publications: School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus are my go-to sources. Even if you don’t have access to these, most public library online catalogs have at least one or two review sources built into them, so if you look up a book, you can see a review (or two or three).
  • Other reviews: Larger public libraries often have free-to-the-public copies of BookPage, and there are a handful of sites I check in on occasionally, like BookRiot.
  • Wowbrary: Some public libraries use this service; I get a weekly e-mail from mine with a list of new books in different categories.
  • Book Twitter: I joined Twitter when I was in library school, and I mainly follow authors (and illustrators), bookstores, libraries, publishers, agents, editors, and other bookish accounts. It’s the one social media app I have on my phone, and often enough I’ll see book news there before anywhere else.
  • Publisher newsletters: What with one thing and another, I’ve ended up on a lot of publishers’ newsletters: I get notices from Candlewick, HarperCollins, Little Brown Young Readers, Penguin Random House, Chronicle, and more. These tend to promote upcoming titles or those that are topical in some way (e.g. for Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month).
  • Publishers Lunch: An industry newsletter I started getting in 2007 when I began working at a literary agency and never unsubscribed from. I no longer read it every day, but often find something good when I do.
  • Edelweiss and NetGalley: These two sites offer digital Advance Reader’s Copies (ARCs, or galleys) to librarians; they’re a good place to browse for upcoming titles and get an early look.

  • LibraryThing Early Reviewers: As an active LT user, I browse these offerings monthly and often request (and receive!) an ARC of a book I’m excited about.
  • Library Link of the Day: This is more for library news than specific book recommendations – and lately, sadly, a majority of the links have been about attempted challenges or bans at schools and public libraries throughout the country. (Then again, these are recommendations, in a way, since I’m definitely the kind of person who will seek out a book others are trying to limit access to.)
  • Library patrons: Working in a library, I’m not only surrounded by books, I’m surrounded by readers! Readers are happy to tell you when they think that you, too, would enjoy their most recent favorite book. And isn’t it my professional responsibility to see what all the fuss is about?
  • Logo of 31 Days, 31 Lists from Fuse8End-of-year lists: For #kidlit people, Betsy Bird’s “31 Days, 31 Lists” is a treasure trove; I think at least three-quarters of the books on my kitchen table right now are because of her. I also enjoy NPR’s Book Concierge, which has been renamed Books We Love; there are lots of filters to play with along the left side, so you can narrow down the many recommendations, or search past years (it goes back to 2013). Of course, every trade and popular publication does its own end-of-year list(s) as well.

Where do you get your book recommendations? Is there a fantastic source I could add to my list?

Edited 1/8/2022: Bookshops! I can’t believe I left them off my original list, but I’ve discovered many, many wonderful books through in-person browsing and recommendations from booksellers (especially at the Carle Museum shop) and bookstore e-mail newsletters. If you haven’t already, sign up for your favorite local bookstore’s newsletter.

Can you judge a book by its cover…or its title?

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While this is a great lesson when it comes to people (don’t judge someone’s insides by how they look on the outside) it actually doesn‘t apply so well to books. Cover design is someone’s whole job, and if they do it well, potential readers should be able to tell a lot about a book by its cover! A great cover is eye-catching in some way; it makes people want to pick up the book and learn more.

But what about a book’s title? There are perfectly good books with generic, forgettable titles; and there are excellent titles for mediocre books (fewer of the latter, though, I think). Below is a list of titles that have stood out to me over the years: some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are poetic, and some inspire instant curiosity. (I requested Wolfie the Bunny based on the title alone; I didn’t even need to read the review. How could a book called Wolfie the Bunny be anything but amazing? Likewise, those of a certain generation can’t help but laugh at Pluto Gets the Call. And with adult novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – well of course she’s not, you know that right away.)

Adult

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by Dave Eggers
  • How to Talk to A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
  • What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us: Stories by Laura van den Berg
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • That’s Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Above: Cover images of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Children’s

  • Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman & Zachariah Ohora
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
  • Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex & Laurie Keller
  • I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay

Above: Cover images of Wolfie the Bunny, Pluto Gets the Call, and The Rock From the Sky

What titles have made you laugh, made you curious, or otherwise compelled you to pick up a book?

Edited 1/8/2022: How could I have forgotten We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider? And Brita suggested some good ones in the comments as well, including A Tale for the Time Being and Nights When Nothing Happened.

Ms. Arch Changes Gears

Cover image of Merci Suarez Changes Gears
Hat tip to Meg Medina

I have been a bit quieter than usual on this blog since September (except for the Banned Books Week post) because I was somewhat overextended: taking two Master’s-level classes toward earning my school library teaching license, working three days a week in a school library (for grades 5-8), writing reviews for School Library Journal, parenting…and there’s still this pandemic going on. I never officially announced my shift from public libraries to school libraries, so…here it is!

So much of what I learned in grad school the first time around (not to mention in a decade of working at three different public libraries!) is transferable to school libraries, but there are some knowledge, skills, and abilities that are specific to working in K-12 school libraries, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) requires additional coursework, practicum work, and testing to certify K-12 library teachers. So, this year I took “Fundamentals of School Libraries,” “Collections & Materials for Children,” “Curriculum and Instructional Strategies” and “Evaluation & Management of School Libraries.”

Main takeaways:

  • School libraries usually have significantly less funding and staffing than public libraries (and public libraries are not typically rolling around in piles of cash). If there is one full-time certified librarian in a school, that’s good – even though a better guideline is one certified librarian per every 500 students, with appropriate paraprofessional support.
  • School librarians wear many hats: we are teachers, administrators, and leaders within the school. School librarians are responsible for managing the entire school library program, which means we’re in charge of the collection (choosing, ordering, and processing new materials, repairing damaged ones, and withdrawing old ones), programming and teaching, budgeting, displays, communications (e.g. newsletters), annual reports, advocacy, and more.
  • Collaboration is important. The more librarians and classroom teachers can collaborate in lesson and assignment design, the better outcomes for students! However, especially in elementary schools where a class’s library time is the classroom teacher’s prep period, this is difficult.

Photo of a Ms. Arch Recommends book display For me personally, I have also found that middle school is way better as an adult than as a kid! And fifth- to eighth-grade is a really interesting range. Our whole library is open to every student, so while we mostly collect materials targeted toward the 10-14 age group, some books skew a little younger and some are YA. In my book talks to each class, I take their age/grade level into account, and always try to provide a diverse array in terms of content, format, and level.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to! In the “spring” (mid-January through mid-May) I’ll be doing my first practicum, at the school where I’m already working, which will count for my grades 7-12 practicum. Then I will need to do an elementary practicum before my current provisional license becomes an initial license. I’ve really enjoyed entering the school library world this year; we’ll see what next year will bring.

If you’re interested in reading more about school libraries, check out my friend Maya Bery’s blog. Maya is an expert school librarian; I’m lucky to be in a book group with her (her recommendations are always fantastic), and I also got to interview her and observe her teaching (virtually) for one of my courses this year.

Banned Books Week 2021: Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us

Banned Books Week – misnomer though it may be – is probably my favorite display to put up every year, because I believe so strongly in the freedom to read (which is what we should probably call this week). This year’s promotional materials from ALA  feature the phrase “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” I made a small sign for the display with this logo and phrase and a quote (“The freedom to read is essential to democracy”); then Tall spinner rack display with challenged booksI looked up the ALA’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books by Decade and Top Ten Most Challenged Books List (top 10 by year) and pulled as many of those titles as I could find in our library to put on display.

I also put a small display on the desk near where students check out and return books: my “books change lives/books change lives” jar. This is something I’ve made part of my Banned Books/Freedom to Read display in public libraries for the past several years (see my 2017 post for the Robbins Library here, and the 2016 post here). With the jar, I invite patrons (students, this year) to write the title of a book that has meant something to them; the jar fills up with evidence of the importance of books to people’s lives. This year, I accompanied the jar with a quote from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz:

Mug with censored text, sign, glass jar, copy of Ban This Book“How do you say why you like a thing? …How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them?” (Alan Gratz, Ban This Book, p. 39)

Whiteboard with date, due date, and First Line Friday quote from Ban This BookThis whiteboard stands near the checkout/return desk; it always has today’s date, the due date of books checked out today, and a First Line Friday – the first sentence of a book. I change it out every week, and visitors to the library can guess the book or peek underneath the flap to find the source. This week – spoiler alert! – the quote is from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Ban This Book is about a girl named Amy, who, when she discovers that her favorite book, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, has been removed from the school library – over the protest of the school librarian and against the school library’s own established request for reconsideration policy – begins a secret “banned books library” in her locker at school. This builds into full-blown activism by Amy and her friends; they realize that “if you can ban one book, you can ban them all,” and they all show up at a school board meeting to advocate for their books’ return to the library shelves.

Below: Rotating spinner display rack featuring Speak, Monster, George, Bridge to Terabithia, Blubber, The Giver, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Golden Compass, Stamped, Ban This Book, Goosebumps.

Picture Book Biographies

When I was little, I had a set of picture book biographies. I haven’t been able to find them since, but I remember that the series included books about Beethoven, Ben Franklin, and maybe Nellie Bly (the set skewed heavily white and male, but there were a few women included).

While I know that hardcover sets like this still exist*, I love the beautiful, creative stand-alone picture book biographies (and collective biographies) that have been published with what seems like increasing frequency in the past few years. Our reading at home skews toward fiction, but I’ve always felt that biography, while technically nonfiction, has fiction’s appeal: it’s the story of someone’s life. Plus, you usually learn something else – about history, or outer space, how to make a vaccine, or the latest in bridge-building.

*I like the Little People, Big Dreams series; they’re pitched to a younger audience, and they do a good job introducing young readers to a diverse array of historical figures, like Agatha Christie, Josephine Baker, Wilma Rudolph, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie.

This list is not at all exhaustive, but includes many of the picture book biographies I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. I’ve separated them into a few loose categories, and some books appear in more than one category.

Authors

Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad & David HohnCover image of Just Like Beverly

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade & Cozbi A. Cabrera

You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid & Matt Phelan

Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM)

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed & Stasia Burrington

What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett & Diana Sudyka (Maria Mitchell)Cover image of The Spacesuit

The Spacesuit: How A Seamstress Helped Put A Man on the Moon by Alison Donald & Ariel Landy

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker & Tiemdow Phumiruk

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins & Lucy Knisley

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly & Laura Freeman

Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How A Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch & Teresa Martinezmarioholeinsky

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine by Linda Elovitz Marshall & Lisa Anchin

Dr. Fauci: How A Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner & Alexandra Bye

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret by Jess Keating & Katie Hickey

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe (Ken Nedimyer)

Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty

Musicians, Dancers, and Artists

Cover image of JosephineDancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle & Rafael Lopez

Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid-Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World by Kim Tomsic & Brett Helquist

Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson by Leda Schubert & Theodore Taylor III

Firebird by Misty Copeland & Christopher Myers

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell & Christian Robinson

The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock & Mary GrandPre

Activists and Politicians

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel & Melissa Sweet (Clara Lemlich)Cover image of All the Way to the Top

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, Nabi Ali, & Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner & Adam Rex

The First Woman To…

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming & Julie Downing

Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon by Kim Chafee & Ellen Rooney

herfearlessrun

What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett & Diana Sudyka (Maria Mitchell)

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed & Stasia Burrington

The Spacesuit: How A Seamstress Helped Put A Man on the Moon by Alison Donald & Ariel Landy

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret by Jess Keating & Katie Hickey

Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel DoughertyCover image of Secret Engineer

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker & Tiemdow Phumiruk

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins & Lucy Knisley

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly & Laura Freeman

Unique STEAM picture books

The majority of the picture books I read are fiction, but today I want to highlight some of the best nonfiction STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) picture books I’ve come across. Many of these books help readers understand big, abstract concepts, like time and space; others help to understand quantity; some have to do with biology or nature; and one is about music (not sure it totally fits under the STEAM umbrella but it’s too good to leave off).

I have a separate list of picture book biographies in the works, so if those are your jam, stay tuned.

TimeCover image of A Second Is A Hiccup

A Second Is A Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins & Kady MacDonald Denton

Just A Second by Steve Jenkins

Space

The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk Cover image of If Pluto Was A Pea

If Pluto Was A Pea by Gabrielle Predergast & Rebecca Gerlings

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman & Isabel Greenberg

“These kids are eight years old. They are about five times as tall as this book, but only half as tall as this ostrich.” -Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

Math

Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins & G. Brian Karas is2alot

Is 2 A Lot? by Annie Watson & Rebecca Evans

Nature/Biology

How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge

Nine Months by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin

Not A Bean by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez & Laura Gonzalez

Music

Cover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom BoomThe Oboe Goes BOOM BOOM BOOM by Colleen AF Venable & Lian Cho

Lately I have been thinking about how to incorporate picture books into instruction for all ages – not just toddler/preschool storytimes – and some of these books do such a beautiful job breaking down mind-boggling concepts and making them manageable through scale, juxtaposition, and outside-the-box thinking and imagery.

Do you have favorite STEAM books to use with groups of older students? I’d love to add to this list. Leave a comment!

Favorites of January-June 2021

To make my year-end recap a bit easier, I sometimes do a mid-year recap of favorite books I’ve read so far. “Favorite” is defined loosely (I’ve never been able to stick to a top ten), but these are books that I really enjoyed, that I will recommend enthusiastically to others, and that I think will stay with me. Over the past few years, my reading has skewed heavily toward middle grade fiction and picture books (as is obvious below), and as always, the books I read between January and June 2021 were not necessarily published in 2021 (though some were).

Adult FictionCover image of Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

  • Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia: If you liked The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin as a kid, your grown-up self will love this.
  • We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  • Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: If you liked Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller but wondered what the women in the story were up to…Cover image of Piranesi
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: Like unreliable narrators, journal-style narrative, and portal fantasy (e.g. Slade House by David Mitchell)? Enjoy.
  • The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
  • Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher: Wildly inventive fairytale fantasy adventure, both gruesome and hilarious. (T. Kingfisher = Ursula Vernon)
  • The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Adult Nonfiction

  • You Never Forget Your First by Alexis CoeCover image of Braiding Sweetgrass 2020
  • The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri (see also: Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri)
  • Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
  • Save the Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody
  • Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami
  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Young AdultCover image of Winterkeep

  • The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein
  • Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri (see also: The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri)
  • A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
  • Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
  • Kent State by Deborah Wiles (audiobook)
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulleyfirekeepersdaughter
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • Switch by A.S. King
  • Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli
  • Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Middle Grade

  • Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte (graphic novel)
  • Hamster Princess (series) by Ursula Vernon: Do not be silly like I was and avoid these books because of the glitter on the covers. Ursula Vernon is a genius, and these fractured fairytales with their hamster hero are perfection.
  • From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
  • Ruby Lu (3-book series) by Lenore Look: Ramona and Clementine, make room.
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
  • History Smashers (nonfiction series) by Kate Messner
  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan
  • Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable (graphic novel)
  • The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford
  • Starfish by Lisa Fipps (novel in verse)
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park
  • Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith (ed.)
  • Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Hilda (series) by Luke Pearson
  • Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn
  • The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
  • The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga
  • Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden
  • Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston: The magic and adventure and world-building of Harry Potter, but imagine if Harry was as smart and resourceful as Hermione (and Black and American)
  • Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
  • Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

Early Readers

  • “Living In…” (series) by Chloe Perkins (nonfiction, geography/history)Cover image of Haylee and Comet
  • Fox & Chick (series) by Sergio Ruzzier
  • Haylee & Comet by Deborah Marcero

Picture Books

  • There’s A Skeleton Inside You! by Idan Ben-Barak & Julian Frost
  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith
  • Sootypaws by Maggie Rudy: A brilliant and beautiful Cinderella retelling
  • Lonesome George, The Giant Tortoise by Francine Jacobs & Jean Cassels
  • The Polio Pioneer by Linda Elovitz Marshall & Lisa Anchin
  • All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel & Nabi Ali
  • Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham
  • Everyone Gets A Say by Jill Twiss & EG Keller
  • A Family Is A Family Is A Family by Sara O’Leary & Qin Leng
  • Just A Minute by Yuyi Morales
  • What A Lucky Day by Jashar Awan: Gives stereotypes a poke in the eye.
  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
  • Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand & Nabi Ali
  • Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang & Charlene Chua (sequel to Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao)
  • This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick & Peter Jarvis: If there was a Kid’s Choice Award at my house, Scarlet’s Tale would have the picture book category locked down. See also: Imogene’s Antlers by David Small.
  • The Farmer trilogy by Marla Frazee
  • A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty & Wendy Leach
  • Animals Brag About Their Bottoms by Maki Sato: A perfect storytime book for all ages.
  • Neville by Norton Juster
  • Watercress by Andrew Wang & Jason Chin
  • Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Finison & Brianne Farley
  • Let’s Dance by Valerine Bolling & Maine Diaz
  • My Tiny Life by Ruby T. Hummingbird by Paul Meisel
  • Dessert Island by Ben Zhu
  • Oh Look, A Cake! by J.C. McKee: It’s I Really Want the Cake meets A Hungry Lion, Or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals.
  • I Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong: See also The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young
  • There Must Be More Than That! by Shinsuke Yoshitake
  • Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe & Jos. A. Smith
  • In the Half Room by Carson Ellis
  • The Oboe Goes BOOM BOOM BOOM by Colleen AF Venable & Lian Cho: There are many wonderful picture books about musical instruments, but this one is louder than all the others, and I mean that in the best way possible.
  • Bird House by Blanca Gomez
  • A Second Is A Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins & Kady MacDonald Denton
  • Avocado Asks: What Am I? by Momoko Abe: For those that don’t fit neatly into checkboxes.

It’s been an excellent half-year of reading. What are some of your favorite books that you’ve read/listened to so far this year? What are you looking forward to? There’s going to be a great batch of new books published this fall (including, even, a few written for adults, from authors such as Lauren Groff, Sally Rooney, Amor Towles, Ann Patchett, and Mary Roach). Whatever else happens this fall, at least there will be books.