First day of school/back to school picture books

If the first day of school were a person, it might wear the t-shirt that says “I’m kind of a big deal.” This fall, especially, the first day of school (or first day back to school) is a big deal, after most schools moved to remote education in mid-March 2020, and some stayed largely remote until spring 2021.

This list on the topic of attending school for the first time, or attending a new school, includes books that focus on common fears and worries (and provide reassurance, and sometimes humor). Many books also have themes of inclusivity and kindness. A few books on the list are not specifically about the first day of school, but are thematically relevant.

Why am I posting this in July, with the start of school over a month away? Because kids are people, and people are different. Some kids do better with a lot of preparation; others would rather skip the anticipation/worry and dive right in when the time comes. Public libraries are likely to have back-to-school displays, which may get picked over quickly. Request a handful of titles that look good to you now, and you won’t be scrambling the last week of August. (Or if nothing on this list appeals, ask your local library or bookstore staff for more recommendations!)

wedonteatourclassmatesOliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Owen by Kevin Henkes

Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

Goose Goes to School by Laura Wall

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. HigginsCover image of School's First Day of School

Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee

So Big by Mike Wohnoutka

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-NewtonCover image of The Class

On the Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Wendy Leach

First Day of School by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

Time for School (Tinyville Town) by Brian Biggs

Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Peter Jarvis

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choismallkindness

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

Ways to Welcome by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Joey Chou

I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

What are your favorite first day of school books?Cover image of Danbi Leads the School Parade

Homeschooling in Middle Grade Fiction

Tonight in my #kidlit class (“Collections and Materials for Children”), we discussed two middle grade novels that featured homeschooled characters. I started building a list of others (see below), but I’m sure there are more out there. What did I miss? And what do you think of these portrayals of homeschool education in fiction?

Libraries, museums, and parks are all valuable resources that support lifelong learning for all ages. As a public librarian, I was always happy to see homeschool groups come in to use the library resources.

  • The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (sequel: The Lotterys More or Less)
  • All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (graphic novel)
  • Schooled by Gordon Korman
  • The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (the main characters are not homeschooled, but they have some friends who are)
  • For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
  • Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (part of the Track series, but works as a standalone)
  • The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss
  • Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern (decidedly YA and not MG!)

Picture perfect families

A few picture books we’ve read recently started me thinking about the theme of families. Once I started making a list, one book quickly led to another – and this is not an exhaustive list! Many of these books include grandparents and extended family; a couple include foster parents (Just Like A Mama and A Family Is A Family Is A Family); one explains “what makes a baby” in a way that includes all kinds of families; and many are multicultural and inter-generational.

I have a separate list of books about when new siblings are added to a family, which I’ll share in a future post.

How families get started…

  • What Makes A Baby by Corey Silverberg, illus. Fiona Smyth
  • Nine Months by Miranda Paul, illus. Jason Chin

GrandparentsCover image of Grandma's Tiny House

  • Grandma’s Tiny House by JaNay Brown-Wood, illus. Priscilla Burris
  • Maud and Grand-Maud by Sara O’Leary, illus. Kenard Pak
  • Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins, illus. Sara Palacios
  • I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illus. Julia Kuo
  • A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illus. Christina Forshay
  • Drawn Together by Minh Lȇ, illus. Dan SantatCover image of Mango Abuela and Me
  • Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina, illus. Angela Dominguez
  • Just in Case by Yuyi Morales
  • Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells
  • The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid, illus. Sarah Chamberlain

Mamas

  • Saturday by Oge MoraCover image of Saturday
  • Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. Sophie Blackall
  • City Moon by Rachael Cole, illus. Blanca Gomez
  • Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Dads

  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia CornwallCover image of Jabari Jumps
  • Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illus. Vashti Harrison
  • The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

Families together

  • A Family Is A Family Is A Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin LengCover image of A Family Is A Family Is A Family
  • Home Is In Between by Mitali Perkins, illus. Lavanya Naidu
  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illus. Nicole Neidhardt
  • Just Like A Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illus. Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
  •  All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky
  • Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illus. Charlene ChuaCover image of Just Like A Mama
  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (1983 Caldecott Honor)

Early readers/beginning chapter books

  • Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illus. Hatem Ali
  • Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy by Laurel Snyder, illus. Emily Hughes

I hope you discover something new on this list that you come to love and share. And please, feel free to add your favorite family books in the comments!

Let’s Talk About Feelings: Social-Emotional Learning Picture Books

Recently, a friend asked in a group text for books on helping kids identify and name feelings. We came up with several titles in our group, and I reached out to a couple of librarian friends for more suggestions of social-emotional learning (SEL) books. Kids experience all kinds of Big Feelings, and being able to identify and name them is an important skill. Books in the first category below cover a broad range of feelings; books in the second category focus particularly on feelings that can be overwhelming, like fear, anger, and sadness, and mCover image of The Rabbit Listenedany offer strategies to manage these strong emotions. Finally, there are a couple of nonfiction titles. If there’s a book you think belongs on one of these lists, please add it in the comments!

A range of feelings

  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton: This simple board book is great for babies and up – really exaggerate your facial expressions and tone of voice as you read.
  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain: This also comes in board book format; it identifies and describes a number of key feelings
  • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr: Feelings are always changing – share them with someone you love.
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld: When a child’s magnificent tower of blocks collapses, they don’t want to talk about it, or ruin someone else’s, or rebuild it just the same – they just want to be listened to.Cover image of I Feel Teal
  • I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille and Aimée Sicuro: A girl’s moods are rendered in different colors over the course of the day; the text encourages readers to let all their feelings through – “they’re the palette that makes you YOU.” (A librarian friend recommends My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss and The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, both of which likewise pair colors and feelings.)
  • The Color Monster by Anna Llenas: A little girl takes a monster by the hand and helps it identify its feelings, leading to a feeling of contentment.
  • In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek: Readers enter a little girl’s heart through these heart-shaped die-cut pages, where each page turn reveals a different emotion inside.
  • Wild Feelings by David Milgrim: “Do you ever feel _____? …Of course you do. Everyone does.” Both kids and grown-ups experience the whole spectrum of feelings.Cover image of The Color Monster
  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith: On each page spread, the author shows a different act, and how it makes the people involved feel. The text includes questions, encouraging discussion.
  • Random House Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Jack Prelutsky: Sometimes poems use fewer words to say more. This collection has plenty of funny, goofy, nonsense poems, but covers most feelings too.

Sad/mad/scared/worried

  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer: A grumpy penguin figures out how to wash away a persistent case of the grumps. (For a slightly longer picture book on the same topic, try Sophy Henn’s Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps.)
  • The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket: Illustrates how a bad mood can move from one person to another through the way that people treat each other.
  • Swarm of Bees by Lemony Snicket: The swarm of bees represent anger; a beekeeper calms them down.
  • Ruby Finds A Worry by Tom Percival: The worry starts out as a little scribble, but as Ruby ignores it, it grows. It’s only when she sees another kid with their own worry and they talk about them that their worries shrink.Cover image of Ruby Finds A Worry
  • The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright: A little worrysaurus goes into a worry spiral until he remembers his mom’s good advice and uses good coping tools to restore his equilibrium.
  • When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland: When a child opens the door to a large, amorphous, seafoam-green creature, it begins to follow them around. “Try not to be afraid of sadness. Give it a name. Listen to it. Ask where it comes from and what it needs.”
  • Dear Substitute by Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon: A student is taken aback by the unexpected presence of a substitute teacher; throughout the day, she slowly adjusts to the change.
  • When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Bangs: Sophie does get really angry, her anger rendered in intense bright colors – but she takes herself out of the situation and calms down by herself, without help, before returning, demonstrating that it’s possible to feel Big Feelings and recover.Cover image of When Sadness is at Your Door
  • The Big Angry Roar by Jonny Lambert: A lion cub needs to let his anger out, but none of the other animals’ suggestions work at first. Finally, the strategy of taking deep breaths, counting to ten, and making funny faces puts the lion cub in a calmer frame of mind.
  • The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young: In this comical story, a puffin stuck in the penguin exhibit at the zoo is deeply annoyed – until a little girl spots him and tells her dad all about puffins, and how they are different from penguins. Just being seen and understood changes his mood completely.
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney: Mama Llama displays calm and patience in the face of Llama Llama’s drama. Her most powerful tool? Empathy. (She doesn’t want to do the grocery shopping, either!)
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague: The comically oversize dinosaurs offer young readers a chance to critique and learn from their behavior.
  • Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri: This is a graphic novel for young readers about facing fears, with support and on their own.

NonfictionCover image of How Do You Feel

  • How Do You Feel? by Lizzy Rockwell: After an initial spread showing several kids on a playground, the subsequent pages zoom in on each child’s expression and identify their emotion; the final endpaper shows expressions labeled with their emotion.
  • What Are Feelings? by Katie Daynes: This short, lift-the-flap book from Usborne lets readers explore happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and worry
  • All About Feelings by Felicity Brooks: This Usborne title goes a bit more in depth, explaining how to recognize, manage, and talk about feelings; it also includes a note for grown-ups.

Mid-April, middle grade

It’s been a little while since I wrote about middle grade novels, which I continue to inhale because they are so good. Middle grade characters are at an age where they’ve got a little bit of independence, they’re figuring out their identities and their friendships and their feelings. They’re making mistakes, they’re learning, they’re having ideas, they’re testing boundaries. In short, middle grade is absolutely fascinating, and although publishing is still overwhelmingly white, it’s getting more diverse (and therefore more interesting) by the year. Reading fiction has always been one of my favorite ways to learn about history and about other cultures; I read nonfiction too, but it tends to be the stories in novels that stay with me. Here are a few recent (2019-2021) middle grade novels I’d love for more people to read:

Wash your hands and grab your aprons…

  • Cover image of A Place at the TableA Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan: Pakistani-American Sara’s mom runs a cooking club at school, and that’s where Sara meets Elizabeth, who’s Jewish, and whose mother is also studying for the U.S. citizenship exam. The girls orchestrate a study group of two for their mothers, and become friends in the process.
  • Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu: In this graphic novel, twelve-year-old Cici, who has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, enters a cooking competition, but is unsure if she can win by cooking Taiwanese food.
  • From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks: After receiving a letter on her birthday from her father in prison, Zoe strikes up a secret correspondence with him, enabled by her grandmother, and decides she must clear his name – all while winning a baking competition, and (maybe) making up with her best friend next door.

Now put on your dancing shoes (or not)…

  • Cover image of Lupe Wong Won't DanceLupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera: If “Chinacan/Mexinese” Lupe gets all As, she’ll get to meet her hero, pitcher Fu Li; but her A in P.E. is threatened when Coach announces that the next unit is…square dancing. Lupe goes on a campaign against it, roping her friends into helping her. Readers will see that it’s possible for kids like them to be activists and make change that’s meaningful to them. I did not get hooked immediately, but I kept going, and toward the end there was a part that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk for several minutes.
  • Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina: Anything new by Meg Medina is cause for celebration in my book, and Merci doesn’t disappoint. Adolescence keeps tossing Merci curveballs (“If I’m too young for it all, why is it happening anyway?”): her beloved grandfather Lolo has Alzheimer’s, her older brother is away at college, she’s stuck working in the school store with Wilson, and Edna Santos won’t shut up about the Heart Ball. Merci makes some big mistakes, but she still has the support of her family and friends.

On the road and Underground:

  • Clean Getaway by Nic Stone: Scoob’s dad cancels their vacation when Scoob gets in trouble at school, so when Scoob’s grandma swings by in a new RV, he hops in – and leaves his phone behind. But the road trip turns strange, with G’ma, who’s white, telling Scoob, who’s Black, about using the Green Book when traveling with his Black grandfather decades ago. Scoob learns some family truths before he returns home.Cover image of Planet Omar
  • Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian: Middle child Omar introduces his British Muslim family in a funny, relatable way. Sketches accompany the story, which includes getting lost in the Underground on a field trip with only the school bully for company.

New York and New Jersey:

  • Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable: Katie’s two best friends go off to camp, leaving her stuck in sticky New York, so Katie tries to earn the money to join them for the last week of camp. She gets a sweet cat-sitting gig for an upstairs neighbor, but begins to wonder…is Madeleine actually the supervillain known as the Mousetress? Super fun; I read it in one sitting.
  • Cover image of Like VanessaLike Vanessa by Tami Charles: Vanessa is elated when a Black woman is crowned Miss America for the first time, and a white teacher encourages her to participate in the first-ever Miss King Middle pageant, even though her skin is much darker than Miss America’s. Vanessa is skeptical, but Mrs. Walton isn’t the typical white savior, and she understands Vanessa better than Vanessa expects. Throughout, Vanessa writes in her diary, and works to solve the mystery of her mother’s absence.
  • Cover image The Year I Flew AwayThe Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold: Ten-year-old Gabrielle’s parents send her from their home in Haiti to live with relatives in New York, where she promptly makes an ill-advised deal with a witch called Lady Lydia. Gabrielle’s new friends – a talking rat called Rocky and a Latina classmate called Carmen – help Gabrielle regain what she’s lost. Readers willing to go with the flow will love this magical book about identity, language, culture, and what it means to be American.

Historical fiction (1930s, 1970s):

  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk: When the Great Depression hit, Ellie and her family move from a town to a mountain in Maine; Ellie and her father take to it, but Ellie’s mother and older sister haven’t adapted as well, and when Ellie’s father is injured and lies in a coma, the burden falls on all of them. Ellie takes the initiative to explore and meet others on the mountain – some of whom are already connected to her family in surprising ways. This immersive book reminded me a bit of A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.
  • Cover image of Dawn RaidDawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith: Thirteen-year-old Sofia’s diary entries show a dawning awareness of anti-Polynesian racism in Wellington, New Zealand. She writes about McDonalds and go-go boots, the Polynesian Panthers and dawn raids (police raiding Pacific Islanders they suspect are “overstayers,” though the 60% of overstayers who are white are never targeted), and eventually makes a speech at her school recounting her first-hand experience. A time and place rarely written about for the middle grade audience in the U.S.

Poetry/Novel in verse:

  • The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park: A teacher asks the class to think about the one thing they’d save in a fire (assuming people and pets are safe). The class muses, then shares; grayscale illustrations of their rooms and possessions accompany the modern Korean sijo poetic style.
  • Cover image of StarfishStarfish by Lisa Fipps: Ellie doesn’t mind that she’s fat – she minds that almost everyone, including her own mother, bullies her for being fat. Luckily for Ellie, she has two good friends – one old, one new – and a skilled, kind therapist to help her realize a way forward in the world.

Pacific Northwest, Native American #OwnVoices:

  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day: During a week of spring vacation in the Pacific Northwest, Maisie goes on a hiking trip with her family, but struggles with a healing ACL injury and with the idea that her dream future as a ballet dancer might not come to pass. Maisie’s family – mom, younger brother, and stepdad – are all Native American; both Maisie’s parents support her, gently explaining that “dreams change.”

Fantasy, Newbery Honor:

  • Cover image of A Wish in the DarkA Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat: Is life fair, or unfair? Characters’ beliefs change in this dreamy yet fast-paced Les Miserables-inspired Thai fantasy novel. Pong, born in prison, and Nok, daughter of the warden, start out on opposite sides but move toward similar conclusions. Absolutely original, hard to put down once you’ve started.

Many voices, many stories

As promised in my 2020 Reading Wrap-Up, a separate post about essay and short story collections.

Reading fiction – especially fiction about people whose lives are different from your own – builds empathy.

Meeting someone in real life can be the most effective way to break down prejudice against a group.

Even those who normally read voraciously have had trouble concentrating on reading, due to anxiety, trauma, or burnout this year.

How are these three things related? They all highlight the value of short story and essay collections, particularly anthologies. These collections have both breadth and depth: each piece of writing delves deep, and each has a different perspective. Together, each facet makes up the whole, and the reader comes away with more insight, more knowledge, more empathy.

Every person is only one person; we are all our own main characters. But we can do the work of learning about others’ lived experience, through fiction and memoir and essay. We cannot be considerate if what needs consideration is invisible to us; as Minh Lê writes in The Talk, “Obliviousness is not an excuse.” (My alma mater takes it one step further with its motto, Non satis scire – to know is not enough. And my husband’s alma mater continues with the motto Do something.) We cannot do something until we know.

So, for those who are short on time and/or attention, but who want to enjoy the reading experience again, delve deeply into others’ lived experiences, and hear from more and more varied voices, I recommend any and all of the following essay and short story collections.

Above: Cover images of A Map is Only One Story, Disability Visibility, and Come On In

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong – If I could choose a handful of required reading books for everyone, this would be one of them. “Stories are the closest we can come to shared experience….Like all stories, they are most fundamentally a chance to ride around inside another head and be reminded that being who we are and where we are, and doing what we’re doing, is not the only possibility.” -Harriet McBryde Johnson

A Map Is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary – The statue of liberty has one message for immigrants; our current media landscape and politics tell another. But, except for Native Americans, everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant or is descended from immigrants, and it is incumbent on us all to ensure that the doors that were open for us remain open for others. “Immigration is not, ultimately, the story of laws or borders, but of people.” -Introduction

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race, edited by Mariam Khan – If you’re a Muslim woman, this book may be a mirror; the rest of us should be grateful for the chance to peer through this incredible bank of windows (see “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990). “I believe the role of the writer is to tell society what it pretends it does not know.” -Mona Eltahawy

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson – Many of the pieces in this collection take the form of letters or poems to the authors’ children. The creators have different backgrounds and identities – African-American, Jewish, Cherokee, bilingual – but, as Duncan Tonatiuh writes, “Recognizing our similarities is a powerful way to combat prejudice.

The Moth and The Moth Presents All These Wonders, edited by Catherine Burns – The stories in these collections come from NPR’s “The Moth” radio show and podcast. The storytellers are wildly diverse in age, gender, race, class, socioeconomic status, career, geographic region, and any other way you can think of, but they have one thing in common: they can tell a story. “We live in a world where bearing witness to a stranger’s unfiltered story is an act of tremendous compassion. To listen with an open heart and an open mind and try to understand what it’s like to be them…takes real courage….And when we dare to listen, we remember that there is no ‘other,’ there is only us, and what we have in common will always be greater than what separates us.” -Catherine Burns

Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, edited by Adi Alsaid – The characters come from different places and have different experiences, every single one worth reading. “Don’t let anyone’s ignorance make you feel that you don’t belong somewhere. You belong wherever you are.” – Sara Farizan

Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed – Joyful stories of teens celebrating Eid with their families and friends. It reminded me a bit of My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins, but there are so many Christmas books published in the U.S. and not nearly enough about Muslim holidays. “Special days start when you run toward them.” -S.K. Ali

Do you have short story or essay collections you’d like to add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

2020 Reading Wrap-Up

Well, 2020 was a year. (As Sloane Crosley wrote in The Clasp, Was there a worse compliment than the one with no adjective?”) At many times during the year, the only good news was news from the publishing world: wonderful new books from debut authors and illustrators, and eagerly- (impatiently-) awaited new books from established authors and illustrators.

As always, I read many new books this year, as well as many new-to-me books published in previous years. In this post, I’m going to highlight only my favorites published in 2020, because this was a tough year for authors and illustrators and I want to cheerlead their books as best I can. Betsy Bird at SLJ is doing a superb and even more detailed/themed job of this over on her blog; see “31 Days, 31 Lists.”

Here’s my 2019 reading wrap-up. And now, on to 2020’s reading:

Total number of books read: 619. Fewer than last year! But we did a lot of re-reading.

Partially read/started-didn’t-finish: 12. Some cookbooks, some poetry, some children’s books that were over the head of the kiddo so we only read sections, or I skimmed.

Picture books: 324. There were so many outstanding picture books published this year. We also re-read many of the picture books we discovered last year and the year before, but I’m focusing on 2020 titles especially:

  • My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
  • One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole
  • Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
  • Maud and Grand-Maud by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Kenard Pak
  • If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall
  • On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
  • Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le
  • Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton
  • Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Early readers: 31. I still love Laurel Snyder’s Charlie & Mouse with my whole heart. We also discovered Saadia Faruqi’s fabulous Meet Yasmin this year. (If you are in charge of a school library or children’s section of a public library and don’t have Yasmin – get them!!) Mo Willems’ perpetually popular Elephant & Piggie books are even more fun now that the kiddo reads, so we each choose a part (I’m usually Gerald) and read aloud together.

Chapter books: 21. Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory was a huge hit with everyone in our family this year, in audio and print. We also read Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, more Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (with illustrations by Sophie Blackall), and the Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty.

Middle grade (some overlap with YA): 88. A few standouts published in 2020:

  • The Thief Knot (A Greenglass House Story) by Kate Milford
  • Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
  • The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
  • Wink by Rob Harrell
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
  • Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (novel in verse)
  • Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • A Place at the Table and A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi (of Yasmin fame)
  • The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman
  • Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar
  • Three Keys by Kelly Yang (sequel to Front Desk)
  • Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap
  • King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (National Book Award)

YA/teen (some overlap with MG): 41.

  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (graphic novel memoir)
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X, With the Fire on High)
  • Parachutes by Kelly Yang
  • Again, Again by E. Lockhart
  • Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Adult fiction: 51 (including about 16 romance novels, because if there was ever a year where a HEA was required, it was this one).

  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  • The Book of V by Anna Solomon
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • The Searcher by Tana French
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
  • Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)

Nonfiction: 35ish (some overlap with other categories; not including 9 how-to books; 87 total nonfiction books, including books written for children). A few standout 2020 titles in this category:

  • Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
  • How You Say It by Katherine D. Kinzler
  • You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
  • The Genius of Women by Janice Kaplan
  • The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantú
  • The Black Friend by Joseph Frederick
  • The Story of More by Hope Jahren
  • How to Be A Conscious Eater by Sophie Egan
  • It’s Not About the Burqa, edited by Mariam Khan (2019)
  • Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner (middle grade)

Graphic novels: 17. I heard New Kid author Jerry Craft speak (virtually, of course) and he mentioned that there are several storylines that are only depicted in the illustrations of his books, not in the text at all; careful readers (or re-readers) will pick up on those. Visual literacy is literacy! A few more 2020 titles to mention:

  • Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm) by Lucy Knisley (middle grade)
  • Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (middle grade)
  • Twins by Varian Johnson (middle grade)
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson (MG/YA)
  • Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (MG/YA)
  • Class Act by Jerry Craft (MG/YA)
  • Flamer by Mike Curato (YA)

Short stories/essay collections: 14. I have a whole separate post about this coming up, but to highlight just a few more 2020 titles:

  • Disability Visibility, edited by Alice Wong
  • A Map is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary
  • A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
  • Why Did I Get a B? and Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge by Shannon Reed
  • Come On In, edited by Adi Alsaid
  • Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Audiobooks: 15. We also do a lot of re-reading on audio – for example, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, narrated by Jessica Almasy; the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, narrated by Stockard Channing; the Dory Fantasmagory series by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson; the Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale, narrated by Julia Whelan.

Screenshot of LibraryThing Author Gender pie chart

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 132. And our reading life – and life-life – is so much deeper and richer for having these mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. More faces, more stories, more variety.

Five-star ratings: 17. (There are an awful lot of 4.5 and 4-star ratings as well.) Several of these were picture books, but there’s also a cookbook (Pastry Love by Joanne Chang, which I happened to have checked out from the library when everything shut down in March and kept – and baked from – for months) and Alix E. Harrow’s smashing new novel, The Once and Future Witches.

Re-reads: 8 according to LibraryThing, but I don’t have an accurate way of tracking this, other than to note “re-read” in my review. It was definitely more than eight, but they were mostly picture books, early readers, or chapter books. I did read Seanan McGuire’s In An Absent Dream twice this year – it’s my favorite of her Wayward Children series. And I’ll likely re-read Kate Milford’s Greenglass House or one of its companions between now and New Year’s, as is my December tradition – I just bought a copy of Bluecrowne.

None of us can be sure what 2021 holds, but I feel reasonably certain that whatever else, there will be books. Thank you to everyone involved in that process: the authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publicists, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers.

Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Native #OwnVoices

A version of this piece will be posted to the Winchester Public Library website later this month.

Thanksgiving and Gratitude, Past and Present

On Thanksgiving Day, the myth goes, we remember the “first Thanksgiving,” where Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated a good harvest and shared a meal. But that story is often told in an inaccurate or outright harmful way, and the history that followed is obscured, such that many families now choose to focus on the “giving thanks” aspect of the holiday rather than the historical one. 

As educator Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) writes, “Here’s the thing. I want teachers, parents, and librarians to consider that a lot of American Indians don’t necessarily ‘celebrate’ Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the mainstream American holiday scheme….Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us have a different view of this holiday….I want you to see me and Pueblo people (in my case) as a people that existed and exists on its own merits – not as minor characters, or colorful ones, in the story that America tells about America.” 

So below is a list of books about giving thanks and being grateful, books about cooking and sharing meals together, and books by Native American authors, centering Native kids, both historically and in the present. For more #OwnVoices books, check out the American Indian Youth Literature Award.

Additional Resources:

Books for Littles: Decolonizing Thanksgiving is an Oxymoron

Center for Racial Justice in Education: A Racial Justice Guide to Thanksgiving

Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) “Talking with Young Children about Race” 

Nashville Public Library “Tackling Racism in Children’s Classics: The Thanksgiving Story”

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Native American Children’s and Young Adult Books, Cynthia Leitich Smith

Books (alphabetical by author’s last name)

Thanksgiving and Native History

  • Bruchac, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
  • Messner, The Mayflower (History Smashers)
  • O’Neill & Bruchac, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
  • Ortiz, The People Shall Continue
  • Waters, Tapenum’s Day 

Sharing Food & Gratitude

  • Cabrera, The Thank You Letter
  • Chen, Hot Pot Night!
  • Cooper, Pumpkin Soup 
  • De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street
  • Falwell, Feast for Ten
  • Horowitz, The Ugly Pumpkin
  • Ledyard, Pie Is For Sharing
  • Maillard, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
  • Marchand, How Food Was Given: An Okanagan Legend
  • Mora, Thank You, Omu!
  • Mora, Gracias / Thanks
  • Muth, Stone Soup
  • Paul (editor), Thanku: Poems of Gratitude
  • Peters, Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition
  • Ram, Thukpa for All
  • Regguinti, The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
  • Saeed, Bilal Cooks Daal
  • Sorell, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
  • Swamp, Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
  • Tamaki, Our Little Kitchen
  • Walker, Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition
  • Wittstock, Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking

Native Voices

  • Akulukjuk, The Owl and the Lemming
  • Akulukjuk, Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! (graphic novel)
  • Campbell, A Day With Yayah
  • Child, Bowwow Powwow
  • Dupuis, I Am Not A Number
  • Erdrich, The Birchbark House
  • Flett, Birdsong
  • Flett, Wild Berries
  • Highway, Caribou Song
  • Jameson, Zoe and the Fawn
  • Jerry Cans, Mamaqtuq!
  • Lindstrom, We Are Water Protectors
  • Minnema, Johnny’s Pheasant
  • Peacock, The Forever Sky
  • Qitsualik-Tinsley, The Raven and the Loon
  • Robertson, The Water Walker
  • Robertson, When We Were Alone
  • Sammurtok, In My Anaana’s Amautik
  • Smith, Jingle Dancer
  • Smith, My Heart Fills With Happiness
  • Smith, When We Are Kind
  • Sorell, At the Mountain’s Base
  • Vandever, Fall in Line, Holden! 

Spooky Storytime

This morning I recorded a “spooky storytime” for my library to post to our website. We’re offering some live programs and some recorded ones, because as all caregivers (and program planners) have figured out by now, you can’t always get kids to show up at a certain time, even if it doesn’t involve leaving the house.

It wasn’t quite the real thing, but I pretended some of my usual “Step Into Storytime” kiddos were there and brought my best storytime energy.

  • Welcome to Spooky Storytime!
  • Here is my Pumpkin, Round and Fat” (to the tune of “I’m A Little Teapot”) from KCLS
  • Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh and Scott Campbell, published by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)
  • Pumpkins on the Ground” (to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle”) from KCLS
  • The Halloween Tree by Susan Montanari and Teresa Martinez, published by Sourcebooks
  • Goodbye friends, have a spooky day/evening!

And here are a few other “spooky” books (some mention Halloween, some don’t):

  • Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds
  • I Love My Fangs by Kelly Leigh Miller
  • Monster Needs A Costume by Paul Czajak
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
  • Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams
  • I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor

What are your favorite picture books to read this time of year?

Books as gifts for the classroom

Many daycare, preschool, pre-K, and elementary school teachers have their own classroom libraries. They usually develop these libraries out of pocket, or through donations; adding a new book is a way to build that library and increase the number of books kids have ready access to.

Here are a number of relatively new books that would be great additions to classroom libraries – and the majority of the authors and illustrators are BIPOC. I’ve separated them into categories by age, but please don’t treat that as a hard-and-fast rule.

Ages 2+

Hello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin

A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes

Rain! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

Ages 3+

Saturday by Oge Mora

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham

Hank’s Big Day by Evan Kuhlman, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

Ralph and Rita’s Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Pete Oswald

The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Lift by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Ages 4+

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Owen by Kevin Henkes

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

The Someone New by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EJ Keller

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua

World Pizza by Cece Meng, illustrated by Ellen Shi

Unstoppable! by Adam Rex

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

First Day of School

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

Truman by Jean Reidy

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

 

As an additional resource, Tinkergarten pulled together a list of “24 Books with Black Protagonists by Black Authors.” Representation matters – all kids need to see themselves reflected in literature (positively!). And if your students are homogeneous, then diverse books can serve as “windows” to show them that the world is full of all kinds of people. (The “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” analogy was coined by Rudine Sims Bishop; Debbie Reese, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, would add “curtains” as well, that certain stories may be kept within a culture.)

Teachers, please chime in on the topic of classroom libraries. Do you welcome donations? Do you keep a wish list? Do you (or your students) have favorite titles, either for read-alouds or reading alone? What else should parents/caregivers/guardians/volunteers know about classroom libraries?