Five fun read-alouds

“Fun” is one of my main requirements for read-alouds.  Here’s my final picture book roundup for 2018, a list that I will definitely draw from when reading to kids in 2019.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder

Published by The Minnesota Historical Society Press

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I was delighted to find a few books this year about contemporary Native Americans, and this was one of my favorites.  I love the illustrations of the dogs at the powwow.


Potato Pants by Laurie Keller

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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This book pretty much defines fun.


Dude! word by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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I’ve already tested this out, and it is, indeed, fun to read aloud.  Divide kids into two groups; one can read the part of the beaver and the other, the platypus.  There’s only one word, so it’s all about the delivery.


The Hen Who Sailed Around the World by Guirec Soudee

Published by Little, Brown

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The story of Guirec’s travels with his intrepid hen Monique is both an adventurous travelogue and a quirky, funny, and very French story of a chicken.


Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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When Teddy’s mom accidentally throws out his favorite toy, she uses her superpowers to undo her mistake.  Gender stereotypes are turned on their heads throughout.

Five favorite picture books with a Kleenex rating for each

Nothing like getting to the last page of a book in front of a bunch of 8-year-olds and find yourself with tears streaming down your face.  If this is something you enjoy, try some of these, listed in order of the number of Kleenexes you will need:

Be A King by Carole Boston Weatherford

Published by Bloomsbury

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I loved this book so much that I wanted to put it on a year-end list.  It connects Martin Luther King Jr.’s life to kids today in a way that I find inspiring.  However, the emotion is more stirring than sad, so I give this a 0 Kleenex rating.


Night Job by Karen Hesse

Published by Candlewick

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A father and son work together through the night to clean the school.  The father’s love and devotion to his son shine through, resulting in a 1 Kleenex rating.


I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet

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A touching wordless picture book about a girl who stands up to a bully and inspires the rest of the school to join her.  Not sad at all, but the sight of all those kids joining forces to show kindness to the new girl leads me to give this a 1 Kleenex rating.


The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Published by Greenwillow Books

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When Evan loses his dog, he must find a way to work through his grief before he is ready to love again.  Even with the happy ending, it’s a 2 Kleenex read.


Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Krensky and Patrick Downes

Published by Candlewick

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Is it just because I’m from Massachusetts that this book by two Boston Marathon bombing survivors gets me every time?  I still can’t read the last page without choking up, so I must give this the highest 3 Kleenex rating.


Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be wildly popular at all levels.  Here are five of my favorites–something for everyone, starting in elementary school and going through high school.

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Already a National Book Award Finalist, there may be another sticker or two on the cover by the end of January.  Jarret Krosoczka doesn’t spare too many details about his difficult childhood; how he overcame those difficulties to become the beloved author of the Lunch Lady books and others makes compelling reading for teens and adults.


All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux

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Bina’s struggles over the summer between seventh and eighth grade make fun and inspiriring reading for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.


Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Published by Graphix

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A Google search of Aron Nels Steinke reveals that he is a second and third grade teacher by day and graphic artist by night.  Ha!  I should have guessed by how firmly he has his finger on the pulse of both elementary school students and teachers.  Looking forward to the February 2019 sequel about Mr. Wolf’s class.


New Shoes by Sara Varon

Published by First Second

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Francis the Donkey was one of my favorite characters this year, a master craftsman who had to leave his well-established routine to go off in search of a lost friend.  The story is targeted toward younger elementary readers, but Sara Varon treats them with respect and isn’t afraid to use a big vocabulary.


The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

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Fashion, fairy tales, and feminism come together in this “be yourself” story of Frances, a dressmaker who gets hired to design clothes for Prince Sebastian and his alter ego Lady Crystallia.

Five favorite early chapter books

Some of the books on this list are borderline early chapter/middle grade.  I have several third grade book clubs at my school, and I either have used or planned to use these books with those groups.  I would say they are good choices for enthusiastic readers in grades 2-4.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Published by Joanna Cotler Books

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Louie and Nora save Winslow the donkey, and deal with their own grief in the process. This book packs an emotional wallop in 176 pages with big font and a fair amount of white space.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win a few awards.


Survivor Diaries series by Terry Lynn Johnson

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Fans of the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis will enjoy these contemporary survival stories of kids who have to stay alive in the snow, the ocean, the rain forest, and a dust storm.


Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream series by Hena Khan

Published by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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The dream Zayd is chasing is to be the first Pakistani-American player in the NBA.  His family is supportive, but doesn’t always understand why basketball is so important to him.  At 144 pages each, the first three books in this series are perfect for sports fans and will also broaden the horizons of readers who may not be familiar with the immigrant experience.


Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

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At 240 pages, this is the longest book on the list, but the characters and illustrations make it a good choice for third or fourth graders to read to themselves, or for younger kids to enjoy as a read-aloud.  Alix’s week at the beach with her family makes a satisfying summer read.


Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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A year in the life of Flora, a quiet, introspective fourth-grader growing up in Rosewood, Indiana in 1972.  There’s not a lot of action, but plenty for kids to connect to as Flora deals with a multitude of changes and learns to draw on her own strength.



Five Caldecott Predictions

As I was with the Newbery, last year I went 0 for 5 on my Caldecott predictions.  Find out on January 28 if I did any better this year.  It’s not a super original list; every illustrator on it has won at least one Caldecott.

The Stuff of Stars by Marian Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Candlewick

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This wasn’t a personal favorite, but I have a great appreciation for the artistry that went into capturing the creation and history of the universe from before the Big Bang to the present day.


Hello Lighthouse! by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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The artwork may not be innovative enough for a Caldecott, but it is so gorgeous and captures the feel of living in the small, round interior of the lighthouse.


Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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The detailed artwork in this book amazes me, particularly when I consider I reviewed four books illustrated by Dan Santat this year.  Obviously, his prolific output doesn’t affect the quality of his work.  I was rooting for him last year for After the Fall.  Maybe this year.


Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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So far, three fourth and fifth grades at my schools have chosen this book as their number one Caldecott choice.  Deceptively simple, the art tells the story masterfully.


Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick

Published by Scholastic

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Win or lose, this book is destined to become a classic with kids just learning to read.  The text is simple enough for the earliest reader, yet the detailed illustrations will be appreciated by adults.  It’s likely to win a Geisel Award as well.

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Five books I’d like to see get a Newbery–and why I am probably wrong about just about all of them.

After my crushing defeat predicting the Newbery last year (0 out of 5), I have become a bit more philosophical (jaded?) about what I think deserves a Newbery versus what actually wins.  Well, the medal says it’s for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”, and here’s what I thought met that criteria.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Published by Little, Brown

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I know, it’s a sequel, but I can dream, can’t I?  Roz is so loved at my school, and many readers (including me) liked the second book even better than the first.  Charlotte’s Web for the 21st century.


The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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This one’s a little old for the Newbery (in my opinion), but I loved it so much and would be thrilled to see it get some recognition.  It would also make an interesting Caldecott choice.


The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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This may have been my favorite middle grade novel of the year, and I think it’s the most likely to get any kind of Newbery recognition.  I loved the flashbacks to the past that informed the story from the present, and the way it all came together in the end.  The mystery was fun, too, even if it figuring out the key clue seemed a little improbable.  It’s been a surprisingly tough sell at my schools, though.


Lu by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Two years ago, I was rooting for Ghost.  Last year, it was Patina.  It’s probably a waste of space to put this on the list, but I loved the whole Track series and thought Lu was one of the best.  At least Jason Reynolds got his Newbery last year.


Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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The somewhat improbable (but feel-good) ending is a slight flaw in the writing, but the story has so much heart and so many memorable characters, I can forgive that.  It’s probably not quite Newbery caliber, but should it win, it would be an easy one to promote to the elementary school crowd.  Plus, it’s based on the author’s life, which is cool, and it speaks to the immigrant experience.

End of the year lists

As I’ve done in previous years, I’ll be posting my favorites in different categories for the next several days, then taking a vacation for the first few weeks of January.  It’s hard for me to believe I’m wrapping up the fourth year of doing this blog.  Thank you to everyone who reads the reviews, whether you’re a daily subscriber someone who checks in every once in a while.  I always love to hear feedback at this time of year, so please post a comment if you have something to say about A Kids Book A Day this year!

This Is Christmas by Tom Booth

Published by Jeter Publishing

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Summary: A young chipmunk asks his mother, “What is Christmas?” Together, they see badgers decorating with holly, beetles carrying wrapped presents, and geese singing carols. His mother tells him all of those things are part of Christmas, but when he goes to bed on Christmas Eve, the little chipmunk still doesn’t feel like he understands what Christmas is. A snowstorm arrives in the night, and the chipmunks awaken to a beautiful snowy world. They gather with the other animals to sing and play, and the young chipmunk realizes that this is Christmas. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros: The beautiful illustrations have a somewhat retro look, and the simple story is just right for sharing by the Christmas tree with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

Cons: I didn’t really understand how playing in the snow constituted Christmas more than presents, carols, and decorations.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

Published by Tiger Tales

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Summary:  Bear’s simple Christmas Eve is interrupted by a frog bearing a brochure for the Christmas Extravaganza Hotel.  He’s sure he’s at the right place, but Bear informs him that his map’s upside down, and the hotel is on the other side of the world.  Bear takes pity on Frog, and tries to create a Christmas like the one pictured in the brochure. They bake cookies, visit a tree decorated with snow and birds, and have a snowball fight and picnic in the woods.  When it starts to get dark, Frog is ready for some flashing lights, but all Bear has is some candles. Frog is disappointed, but then Bear gets an idea. He leads Frog outside for the most spectacular light show imaginable: the aurora borealis.  Heading back inside, they hear jingle bells heading for the rooftop, and dive into bed. The next morning there’s a new sled under the tree, and the two friends head outside for more adventures. 24 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute and cozy Christmas story that emphasizes the joys of simplicity for the holidays.

Cons:  Frog seems scantily clad for an amphibian traveling in the far

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

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Summary:  At the end of a busy day driving his taxi, Edgar finds a hamster in the back seat.  One of his customers must have lost it, and Edgar reports it to the cab company’s lost and found.  In the meantime, he takes the hamster home and feeds him. They share some supper, and Edgar decides to name his new friend Chickpea after one of the salad ingredients.  Together they light two Hanukkah candles. By the time Edgar is lighting four candles, he’s making toys for Chickpea and sending photos of him back to his family in Israel.  When a woman and her son show up outside his apartment building after work one evening, Edgar’s heart sinks. Sure enough, it turns out the boy had gotten a new hamster for his classroom, and it escaped when they were all riding in Edgar’s cab.  Edgar shows them his pictures, and they can see how happy Chickpea is. “I think this hamster belongs with you,” says the woman.  “He looks right at home.”  The final page shows the two friends sharing jelly doughnuts, with all the candles lit on the menorah behind them.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I know Hanukkah is over for this year, but I just saw this book this week.  It’s a charming story, and the illustrations of Chickpea are adorable. Edgar’s story is compelling, and he seems to have a positive, can-do spirit.  Put this on your holiday list for next year.

Cons:  I was hoping for a little romance for Edgar when the woman and her son showed up.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.