STEAM activities for home

Our library closed on March 15 due to the spread of COVID-19, and will be closed through April 6, if not longer. Librarians have been working from home on professional development activities and creating content we can share online. We’ve been making lists of book recommendations (with links to e-books and digital audiobooks, of course), advertising our other online resources (such as access to newspapers), providing timely and accurate information about COVID-19, and bringing a little fun and entertainment to families with kids at home. Here are a couple booklists I’ve worked on:

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

Over on my personal blog (there’s some overlap…I write about books and early childhood activities in both places) I did a round-up of many of the online resources we’ve been using or planning to explore: Kid resources and activities for quarantine. One activity we had fun with was “Sink/Float,” which is a great activity for kids (mine is four and a half, but younger kids will still enjoy the sensory aspect, and older ones can make better predictions). All you need is a bowl of water and a dozen (or more) objects that can get wet. If you happen to have a copy of Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis or Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein, those would be great companion books for this activity.

My kiddo hasn’t ever been the type to spend a lot of time drawing by herself, but we had a great time yesterday morning doing some mixed media art: we used crayons to color on watercolor paper, then used watercolor paint over the crayon (which resists the paint). It was colorful and fun, and we worked on them together for almost an hour. (You can also sprinkle some kosher salt on watercolor paint before it dries and observe the neat effect!)

Today we watched a couple of short videos by SciShow Kids about simple machines and “The Coolest Machine Ever!” a.k.a. a Rube Goldberg machine. (Shout out to the Portland (ME) Public Library, which had an excellent exhibit on Rube Goldberg a few years ago.) Then we raided our recycling bin and arts and crafts supplies to make our own Rube Goldberg machines. Great companion books for this activity are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, and Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. (For older kids, Beaty has brought Rosie and Iggy into the chapter book realm in her Questioneers series.)

We’ve also been doing Cosmic Kids yoga every day: host/teacher Jamie takes viewers through a fast-paced half-hour routine, telling a compressed version of a story from a movie or book (e.g. Frozen, Moana, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). I happen to have a beautiful 1946 edition of Alice (from my mother-in-law’s basement – thanks, Nana!) and we began reading that aloud as well. There may be a tea party in the near future…

Speaking of tea parties, baking is a great activity to do with kids. Wash your hands (we all have plenty of practice with this now, if we didn’t before), put on an apron, and pick out a recipe from a cookbook or one of the many sites online. (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour recipes.) Make sure to read the recipe all the way through first, and make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin. Even really young kids can be helpful in the kitchen, unwrapping sticks of butter or stirring eggs with a fork or whisk. When you think about it, baking is math (measuring), science (chemistry), literacy (reading a recipe), sensory/art, and, of course, nutrition!

And if you feel like growing your own food, now’s a great time to start a garden. Seed packets should have information about when to plant seeds, whether they can be started inside and transplanted or not, and how long before you can expect them to sprout (“days to emerge”), as well as what kind of care they need in terms of sunlight and water. You don’t need anything fancy – you can start seeds with potting soil in egg cartons. Many herbs, like chives and basil, are easy to start from seed.

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

I do miss doing my weekly storytimes, and will be excited to return to those once it’s safe to do so. Luckily, the #kidlit world has really stepped up to make sure that kids still have access to books, and publishers have temporarily eased restrictions on public performance of copyrighted works so that authors and others can read books aloud to share. Two children’s librarians at my library put together a “virtual storytime,” and many other libraries and authors are doing similar things, so check your local library’s website and social media, as well as Storyline Online, Mo Willems Lunch Doodles (Dan Santat, author of The Adventures of Beekle, makes a guest appearance in the March 25 episode), and Story Time from Space. (Also, here’s B.J. Novak reading The Book With No Pictures.)

Do you work at a library? What have you been creating/sharing from home? Do you have kids at home? What are your go-to activities?

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

Great books of 2019

All year, every year, I read like it’s my job. (It kind of is, but in case anyone still believes the myth that librarians get to read while at work, let me swiftly debunk that one for you: NO.) However, I don’t hold a candle to librarian/reviewer extraordinaire Betsy Bird, so I want to recommend her “31 Days, 31 Lists” feature for School Library Journal, which is comprehensive. There’s also no shortage of year-end lists from other sources, including but certainly not limited to:

I do read a lot of new books, so there are plenty of 2019 titles on my list(s), but there are older ones as well. Publication year is noted along with author and title. If I listened to an audiobook, I’ll note that as well with “(audio)” (if I only listened to it) or “(+audio)” (if I listened and read it in print as well). I may winnow this down to a Top Ten list later in the month (after all, the #libfaves countdown on Twitter is starting soon has already started, see below), but it’s hard to leave out books that I feel deserve more eyeballs! All of my reviews are on LibraryThing.

Picture Books (Fiction)

Lambslide by Ann Patchett (2019)
Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine (2019)
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (2019)
Red Light, Green Lion by Candace Ryan (2019)
Truman by Jean Reidy (2019)
Is 2 A Lot by Annie Watson (2019)
Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards (2019)
Here and Now by Julia Denos (2019)
Twins by Mike Ciccotello (2019)
Just Because by Mac Barnett (2019)
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang (2019)
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (2019)
Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (2018)
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker (2018)
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (2018)
Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box by David Goodner (2018)
It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel by Sebastian Meschenmoser (2018)
Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day (2018)
I Am Not A Fox by Karina Wolf (2018)
Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay (2017)
I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip (2017)
World Pizza by Cece Meng (2017)
Are You A Monkey? by Marine Rivoal (2017)
My Dog’s A Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari (2016)
Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis (2016)
Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian (2016)
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood (2015)
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev (2015)
Down Here by Valerie Sherrard (2015)
Spots in a Box by Helen Ward (2015)
The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young (2014)
Froodle by Antoinette Portis (2014)
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (2013)
I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (2010)
Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig (1998)

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

If Pluto Was A Pea by Gabrielle Prendergast (2019)
Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex (2019)
Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh (2019)
The Spacesuit by Alison Donald (2019)
Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang (2019)
Just Like Beverly by Vicki Conrad (2019)
You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid (2019)
Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons (2013)

Early Readers/Chapter Books

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes (2019)
Charlie & Mouse; Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy; Charlie & Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder (2017, 2017, 2019)
Louise Loves Bake Sales by Laura Driscoll (2018)
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (2015)
Bink & Gollie; Bink & Gollie, Best Friends Forever; Bink & Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee (2010, 2012, 2013)
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems (2010)
Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (2007) (+audio)
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (2006) (+audio)
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (2013) (+audio)
The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume (1981)

Middle Grade

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (2019)
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (2019) (audio)
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (2019)
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King (2019)
Sunny and Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2019) (audio)
A Tale Magnolious by Suzanne Nelson (2019)
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (2019)
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (2019)
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart (2019)
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (2019)
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (2019)
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (2019)
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (2019)
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2019)
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder (2019)
This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce (2019) (nonfiction)
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (2018)
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (2018) (audio)
Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018) (audio)
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen (2018)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018) (audio)
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (2005) and Princess Acacemy: Palace of Stone (2012)
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2011) (audio)
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (2005)
Frindle by Andrew Clements (1998)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971) (audio)

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer and Matthew Holm (2019)
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (2019)
Stargazing by Jen Wang (2019)
Guts by Raina Telgemeier (2019)
Best Friends by Shannon Hale (2019)
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (2019)
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (2018)
Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley (2014)
The Babysitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier (2015)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (2017)
Awkward; Brave; Crush (Berrybrook Middle School) by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)

YA

The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (2019)
The Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (audio) (2018, 2019)
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019)

Adult fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess (2019)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (2019)
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (2019)
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (2019)
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (2019)
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019)
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (2019)
Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (2019)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer (2019)
Milkman by Anna Burns (2018)

Adult Nonfiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019)
Dear Ally, How Do You Write A Book by Ally Carter (2019)
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty (2019)
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)
Wordslut by Amanda Montell (2019)
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (2019)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda (2016)
Peacerunner by Penn Rhodeen (2016)
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (2016)
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)

YA and Adult Graphics

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (2019)
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley (2019)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob (2019)
The Unwanted by Don Brown (2019)
The Mental Load by Emma (2018)
March (Books 1-3) by John Lewis (2013, 2015, 2016)

My #libfaves19 picks  (Updated 12/17/19)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Wordslut by Amanda Montell
The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Honorable mention #11: New Kid by Jerry Craft

#MiddleGradeMay

Abby the Librarian’s #MiddleGradeMay wrap-up made me think of all the middle grade books I’ve read this spring (and of course it lengthened my to-read list; I’m especially excited to get my hands on Dear Sweet Pea, Pie in the Sky, and Roll With It).

My reading has certainly shifted along with my job in the last couple years; when I was the adult fiction buyer for my library, I read mostly adult literary fiction, young adult fiction, and some nonfiction (I was also the “speed read” buyer, for especially high-demand titles). Now that I’m working partly in children’s, I’m reading a lot more children’s books, especially middle grade books. In May, I got to go along and give book talks to classes of fifth graders in two different elementary schools in town – not about their required summer reading books for middle school, but a list of books we’d come up with that we thought they’d really like. (There’s actually a little bit of crossover with their middle school list, which is great.)

Some of the books I book-talked most enthusiastically at the schools were: New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel), Blended by Sharon M. Draper (realistic fiction), The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (realistic fiction), To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (epistolary realistic fiction). I also really liked Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (realistic fiction), We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (science fiction), and It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (realistic fiction) but my co-worker talked about those ones. Teamwork!

Here are some of the (mostly new) books I’ve read so far this year. Books on our list for students entering sixth grade next fall are in bold.

Cover image of Night OwlNew(ish) middle grade books:

  • Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2017)
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2018)
  • Breakout by Kate Messner (2018)
  • Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks (2018)
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018)
  • It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (2018)
  • Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live In A Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos (2018)
  • So Done by Paula Chase (2018)
  • The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (2018)
  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018)
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (2018)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)Cover image of Paulie Fink
  • You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (2018)
  • Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (2018)
  • The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
  • To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
  • A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)

This kind of diversity did not exist in kid-lit when I was a kid. There is so much here and it’s wonderful. These books tackle issues head-on: contemporary racism, poverty and wealth, restorative justice, Deaf culture, historical fiction that isn’t set in WWII Europe or the American home front…lots of mirrors, lots of windows.

Classics:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
  • Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (1955, 1968, 1975)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)

These all stand the test of time with flying colors. I read Frindle in print on a friend’s recommendation, and listened to the audio of the others; Stockard Channing reads the Ramona books (and Neil Patrick Harris reads the Henry Huggins ones!). I appreciated The Phantom Tollbooth more as an adult than I did as a kid (“it goes without saying”), and I’d never read Mrs. Frisby before but it’s pretty timeless.

Cover image of New KidGraphic Novels:

  • Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (2014)
  • Awkward, Brave, and Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)
  • The Babysitters Club (Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, Claudia and Mean Janine) by Ann M. Martin/Raina Telgemeier (1986/2015, etc.)
  • Little Robot, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke  (2015, 2016, 2017) (See also: Zita the Spacegirl)
  • Bingo Love Vol. 1 by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San (2018)
  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, Chris Dickey (2018)
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (2019)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry/P. Craig Russell (2019)

The rebooting of classics like Little Women and The Babysitters Club and The Giver is an interesting trend. In some cases, the graphic novel adheres closely to the original (e.g. The Giver). In other cases, there’s a major update and overhaul: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is set in present-day New York, the Marches are a blended family, and…I don’t want to give too much away, but some other major plot points change as well. (I really liked it. That said, I’m not a die-hard fan of Louisa May Alcott’s version.) The Babysitters Club books fall somewhere in between, but closer to the “faithful to the original” end of the spectrum. (There is also, for those who are interested, a funny podcast called The Babysitters Club Club. More for a teen or adult audience.)

Cover image of The Poet XYoung Adult:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)
  • Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
  • 500 Words Or Less by Juleah Del Rosario (2018)
  • With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2019)

I’ve been reading less YA lately but I absolutely loved both of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels. I read With the Fire On High in print, and listened to the audiobook of The Poet X, which the author reads – I’d highly recommend the audio version.

And what about adult literary fiction? I still love it, and there are a bunch of new novels coming out this summer and fall that I’m excited about, but that’s a post for another day.

 

We Need Diverse (Picture) Books

Recently a parent friend of mine asked me for book recommendations for her kid’s upcoming third birthday, and she specifically requested diverse books. I loved the question, and wanted to share the list I came up with. I’ve written about #WeNeedDiverseBooks before (here’s the official WNDB site), and I’m also mindful of #OwnVoices, i.e. diverse characters written/illustrated by diverse authors (as opposed to, say, a white author writing a Black character). For this list, I’m including books that feature characters that are something other than straight, white, cisgender, upper/middle-class, and non-disabled.

With one exception (And Tango Makes Three), these books have human characters. A tremendous number of picture books have animal characters; they often have wonderful, inclusive messages, but I feel that they don’t quite fit the description.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are books my daughter (also about three years old) and I have enjoyed repeatedly over the past year or so. Many are award winners, and I’ve included the names of the awards so that you can find other past winners and honor books.

Alma And How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal: Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela has a very long name, which she doesn’t like, until her father tells her where each part came from; in this way, Alma finds something in common with each of her ancestors and takes new pride in her name. (Caldecott Honor, School Library Journal Best Picture Book)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole: Here’s the animal book exception. Roy and Silo, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, hatch an egg and raise Tango as their own chick. (Nonfiction)

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee: Twenty different children get ready for the first day of school, when they become one class. The rhyming text and the illustrations work together to show the broad range of personalities and backgrounds coming together; it’s a light and lovely first day of school book.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James: A joyous celebration of the confidence a new haircut gives a young Black boy. (ALA Notable Book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, Kirkus Prize)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui: A young Vietnamese-American boy goes fishing with his father very early in the morning – not for fun, but to have food to eat. This whole book has the feeling of a starlit, predawn hush, as the boy enjoys the time with his father even as he learns about the family’s tragic history. (Caldecott Honor, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Charlotte Zolotow Award)

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin: A little girl goes to a dim sum restaurant with her parents and two older sister; each person orders their favorite dish and they all share. A simple story, but an excellent introduction into another culture via food. (See also: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by the same author.)

Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller: A young Black girl, Aria, loves her hair – but doesn’t like when other people touch it without asking permission. A strong and necessary message about consent.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: A mother brings her infant son to the U.S. from Mexico; a public library helps them feel welcome, and inspires the mother to create her own books. (Pura Belpre Award)

Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by André Ceolin: Edgar, an Israeli taxi driver in a U.S. city, finds a hamster in his cab and cares for it while he tries to find the owner. (Maybe not the best choice for a March birthday, but keep it in mind for December. See also: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky [Sydney Taylor Book Award], and The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Paul Meisel.)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: A young Black boy goes to the pool with his father and little sister, ready to jump off the high diving board. His bravery wavers, and his dad gives him both encouragement and an easy out. Ultimately, Jabari jumps. (ALA Notable Children’s Book, Charlotte Zolotow Honor)

Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián loves mermaids, but when he dresses up as one, how will his abuela react? She takes him to what looks like the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. (Stonewall Book Award)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson: CJ takes a bus through the city with his grandmother to help at a soup kitchen. (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, ALA Notable Book) Note: This author/illustrator team also produced Carmela Full of Wishes, and pretty much everything that Robinson illustrates could be on this list; I particularly love School’s First Day of School (with Adam Rex), When’s My Birthday? (with Julie Fogliano), and Rain.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington: Mae Jemisin was the first African-American female astronaut and the first African-American woman to go into space, and it started as a childhood dream – one that her parents encouraged, but her white teachers and classmates didn’t. (Biography)

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts: The story of second-grader Rosie, great grand-niece of Rosie the Riveter and a passionate inventor – in secret, because she’s afraid of being laughed at. When Great Aunt Rose comes to visit, she brings an encouraging message: “Life might have its failures, but this was NOT it.
The only true failure can come if you quit.
” (See also: Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, and Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.)

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham: Two little boys – one white, one brown – meet at a playground; one likes dolls and twirly dresses, another likes trucks. They find a way to play together easily; in the background, the moms chat. (Bob Graham also wrote and illustrated Let’s Get A Pup, Said Kate, in which Kate’s parents are casually tattooed and pierced.) Deftly pierces stereotypes about “boy” and “girl” toys and preferences.

As I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many incredible, diverse picture books out there, with more being published every year. Check out other award winner or honor books, or the publisher Lee & Low (“About everyone, For Everyone”). The titles above are just a few I think are worth checking out of the library or adding to your personal collection. Happy reading!

Top Ten Books to Read in 2019

There are some exciting books coming out this year! (I say that every year. It’s true every year.) Here are the ones I’m looking forward to and intend to read, as well as some older books that I plan to move to the head of the queue this year:

  1. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken: I’ll read whatever she writes.
  2. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: I’ll read almost anything she writes, and historical fiction is one of my favorite genres; this one is set in New York in the 1940s.
  3. Feel Free by Nick Laird: This poetry collection, his fourth, was slated to come out last year and the pub date got bumped to July 2019. Waiting…
  4. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: Will it be as magical as The Night Circus? We’ll see…in November.
  5. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker: Literary fiction, good reviews so far, and I liked The Age of Miracles.
  6. Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley: Relish is still my favorite of hers; I think I’d like the others better if I was her exact contemporary, or a little younger instead of a little older, but I do like her style, and graphic novels are quick reads.
  7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: Also due out last year and then the pub date got bumped. If it’s the same quality as The Hate U Give, though, I’m willing to wait.
  8. Getting toward the end of the list, I’m going to crowd three books into one here, as they all fall under the #WeNeedDiverseBooks/award-winning YA umbrella: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. Also Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, which is already sitting at the top of my pile.
  9. Walking Home by Simon Armitage: This has been kicking around on my to-read list for ages; this is the year.
  10. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link: I’ve been meaning to read more of her deliciously weird, off-kilter stories.

So that’s adult fiction and nonfiction, teen fiction and nonfiction, a graphic novel, and a book of poems…and that’s just for starters. I’m also looking forward to reading plenty of middle grade, more nonfiction in general (always a goal, and this year I’m broadening it to include TV as well), more recommendations from fellow readers. What books are you excited to read this year?

 

Edited to add: Also, short stories Tenth of December by George Saunders; nonfiction on climate change (e.g. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert or Rising by Elizabeth Rush); and more fiction by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I’ve already read Americanah, so it’ll be either The Thing Around Your Neck, Purple Hibiscus, or Half of a Yellow Sun. Opinions, anyone?).

#Libfaves18, or, Top Ten Books of 2018

#Libfaves18 is a Twitter phenomenon in which librarians tweet out their favorite books published in 2018, one a day, for ten days, and someone compiles a list. Librarians love their lists, and in fact we already have a “Favorite of Favorites” list from LibraryReads, but librarians just love talking about books. And also, the year wasn’t over yet when the “Favorite of Favorites” list was published – there’s still more reading time in the year! (By that logic, we should wait till January to make our year-end lists – some of us do.) Another difference is that, to nominate books for Library Reads, you need to get galleys, read, and nominate them ahead of time; with Twitter, anyone can jump in.

Here are my #Libfaves2018:

  1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (adult fiction)
  2. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (young adult fiction/fantasy)
  3. The Witch Elm by Tana French (psychological mystery/suspense)
  4. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (picture book)
  5. Transcription by Kate Atkinson (adult fiction/historical/suspense)
  6. The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis (middle grade fiction/fantasy)
  7. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (memoir)
  8. Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (picture book)
  9. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (young adult graphic novel)
  10. Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (nonfiction essays)

This list may look quite different from my list (coming soon-ish) of best books I’ve read this year, because many of those were published before this year. For example, I just finished listening to the audiobook of Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, narrated by Jim Dale, and it was magical, but it’s from 2011 and therefore doesn’t qualify for #Libfaves18.

What are your favorite books that you read this year? Published in 2018 or not?

Updated 12/19/2018: The blog RA for All has a more thorough explanation of #Libfaves18, and past lists are hosted at EarlyWord.