Podcast: We Recommend 11 Awesome Kids’ Books
During this episode of the Booklovers Podcast, two librarians with passion for children’s book join me. And they share their 11 awesome kids’ books of 2020 with you.
11 awesome kids’ books
Laura: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Clermont County Public Library’s Booklovers Podcast. I’m your host, Laura. And today I’m joined by two librarians with a real passion for children’s books. Say hi to Cara and Stacy. And they’re going to share some of their very favorite children’s book titles from 2020.
I love it when you come on and talk kids’ books! Who wants to start?
Play With Your Plate
Cara: [00:00:47] I’ll jump right in with my first two books. So they’re from different age categories- and what I picked is things that I don’t think they’ll necessarily win any awards for last year, but I just think that they’ll appeal to kids the most. And some of them I have used with my own kids, so I can vouch for them including this first one.
So, this one’s a toddler book, it’s got nice sturdy pages. It’s called Play with Your Plate by Judith Rossell. And it kind of fits into that interactive category that we’ve been seeing a lot more of recently. This one doesn’t have a story but hopefully the kids will be talking with their grownups as they’re paging through it and talking about the great food that they’ve put together.
What you’re actually doing is creating a plate of food with these little tiny books. So, it has four tiny books in it and they each have a piece of a plate. And then it has the food name too. So, it’s really great for print recognition to connect the word with the object.
And it gives some initial prompts of ideas, look for red foods or green foods, but really you could just make whatever kind of plate you want. And then it says that there are over 4,000 combinations, so lots of opportunities to play with this book.
Stacy: This first book I chose in the toddler category, it’s actually a re-released book in a new board book format. These Hands by Hope Lynne Price illustrated by Brian Collier. And this book combines Price’s gentle rhymes with Collier’s warm and vibrant illustrations.
It’s a sweet story that encourages young ones to consider all the things that they can do with their hands, from sharing, to clapping, to exploring how they can make the next day even better.
So, it’s a really sweet story to read at bedtime. It’d be a great storytime choice. I think it’s just a really sweet book and I love the illustrations. Brian Collier is a Caldecott honor winner, Coretta Scott King winner. And he’s just a fabulous illustrator and I love the illustrations.
Laura: [00:03:51] That sounds beautiful. So, who has the next book?
Dozens of Doughnuts
Cara: [00:03:55] We have picture books up next. Mine is Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Finison illustrated by Brianne Farley. And again, this one, even though I love the illustrations, it’s not necessarily one that I think will win, but it’s just precious. And it’s great for reading aloud.
It’s got rhyming text and it reminds me a lot of the classic picture book. The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. So instead of chocolate chip cookies, like in that one, LouAnn the bear is making doughnuts in this one and her friends keep bringing her doorbell and asking to join in. And she’s very gracious at first, but eventually she gets fed up because she’s trying to fatten up for winter, for hibernation, and they’re eating all her doughnuts.
So she can’t fill up her belly and she finally throws a tantrum about it. And roars. But then her friends bring all new supplies to make more doughnuts. So just really fantastic. I love the end papers [pictures of doughnuts]. And then just the sweet woodland creatures are very cute.
There’s the doorbell, “ding dong” [showing a picture]. And you can see like their tails or something else out the window. So, you can kind of guess who’s there. And then at the end, all the doughnuts are eaten. So it’s a really sweet story. I’ve read this one aloud to my kids. I did it for story time. It’s really fun.
So I highly recommend that one.
Laura: [00:05:23] I have to say, I watched your storytime, Cara and that book was so much fun. It really is fantastic. And you’re right. It was perfect for reading aloud.
Watch Cara’s video storytime with Dozens of Doughnuts on YouTube.
Stacy: [00:05:33] I liked that they included a woodchuck. I feel like woodchucks are very underrepresented in children’s literature. You don’t see many. So that’s really cute. And I would be angry if anybody kept eating my doughnuts too. So, it’s very relatable as people think children’s literature is not relatable.
The Old Truck
Stacy: So, my choice for my favorite picture book (my fingers are crossed that this is going to win an award) is The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey. And the story is about a little girl who grows up on her family’s farm with an old red truck and she dreams of adventures. And by the end, readers will be inspired how far this girl and her old truck have come.
The authors are brothers and they used more than 250 individual stamps to create the illustrations for the subtle, yet powerful story. It’s an ode to hard work and determination. So, it’s kind of a quiet story, but it has a really powerful message. And if this sounds interesting, if you like those retro stamps of illustrations, then get excited for the brothers next picture book adventure called The Old Boat and it sets sail in March 2021.
Laura: [00:06:55] That sounds awesome.
There’s a Skeleton Inside You
Cara: [00:07:01] Yes, I have a non-fiction book. And this isn’t something that I would typically pick for nonfiction. I prefer photographs for nonfiction, especially for this pre-K/early elementary crowd. But this one’s just fantastic. So this is another interactive picture book, but it’s got nonfiction elements as well.
So it’s kind of a mix. It’s called There’s a Skeleton Inside You by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. And they did one about germs that was really cool. So I decided to pick this one up and my three-year-old actually is in love with this book. We have to read it over and over. So the fictional component is about two aliens that are learning about the human body.
And then the interactive component is the reader is showing their hands and what their hands can do. So showing the aliens that they can push on the book and lift it up in the air. And then one of the aliens has the power to look inside. So he looks inside your hand and then it switches from these very sweet cartoons to really detailed diagrams of what the inside of your hand looks like.
So I love that. It’s pretty realistic, but it’s also very funny, because this alien is going, “Eww! Your hand is full of meat.” So that’s just very silly. But at the same time teaching a lot. It’s got this cute little story about how they’re trying to fix their spaceship to get to their friend’s birthday party. There’s an alien birthday party at the end.
And then it’s got more detailed diagrams about the human body. So it’s just a fantastic combination of a story plus information. Plus that interactive element that just makes it a winning pick.
Laura: [00:08:50] I love the name. How can you not love that name?
Stacy: [00:08:55] It got really great reviews by every source that reviewed it. It was just kind of one of those gems of like an early non-fiction picture book. So that’s a great choice.
Stacy: My choice is for a little bit older age group for kids’ nonfiction, Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals by Katy S. Duffield and illustrated by Mike Orodan. And it is about wildlife crossings for animals. So as humans, we use bridges tunnels, overpasses to get us safely from one place to the next. But what about animals that cross busy roads? So, in this non-fiction book with text beautifully illustrated, it combines STEM and animal conservation and introduces early elementary readers to wildlife crossings all around the world.
Each spread in this book features a different animal and a man-made structure built specifically to help them safely travel through habitats that have been altered by human transportation routes. It’s a really important, and I think fascinating conservation exploration. You see the specific animal and then the man-made structure and where in the world that is.
So, you can actually go, if you want to search a little bit deeper, you could go online and look at what the actual structure looks like. And some cases there’s even footage of animals using that structure to cross like really busy roads. And one of them is really neat; there’s a tunnel built underneath the road that an animal goes through to safely cross it.
So, it’s just really cool.
Laura: [00:10:44] It sounds like it.
Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor
Laura: Okay, Cara, do you have another awesome kids’ book suggestion?
Cara: [00:10:58] So this one is my middle grade pick. So that’s approximately grades four through seven. This one is called Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. And this is the first in a new series by Ally Carter.
And I thought it was just a fantastically written action book with a female main character. It’s got a really diverse and smart cast. This girl [pointing at cover] likes to make inventions for her friends that she meets. There’s all these wacky inventions and lots of action.
These are all orphans and the main character is in a foster care at the beginning of the story. Her name is April and then this series of events leads her to this mansion. So she goes to a museum with her foster home group and they see an exhibit and there’s a family crest in the exhibit that matches a key that she wears around her neck that was from her mom.
And she always feels like her mom is going to come back. We don’t really know what happened to her mom. But she’s been in foster care her whole life. She’s kind of waiting on that and trying to figure out what happened. This crest makes her think, Oh my goodness, this must be a clue.
So she goes back to the museum that night to try to explore a box that had the same crest on it as her key. And she sets fire to the exhibit. So it’s very dramatic and she gets rescued and wakes up in the hospital. And then from there there’s someone named Ms. Nelson who’s from this Winterborne Home and tells her that she’s going to be taken there and live with these other orphans. There’s a butler so it’s like a totally different life than what she’s used to in this mansion.
I like how it mixes like the comforts of home that she’s never really had, that she’s learning in this new environment, with all this danger, you can see there’s a guy with a sword in the window [pointing at cover]. So there’s lots of sword fights and action and near-death experiences as she’s navigating this house and this mystery of the crest the Winterborne Home, which belongs to an heir named Gabriel Winterborne, but he’s been missing for a long time. But there’s somebody or something, maybe a ghost, maybe an urban legend, creeping around this mansion. So they’re trying to figure out what that is.
Where’s Gabriel Winterbourne? Where’s her mom? Lots of mysteries and it’s left open at the end. It kind of resolved what’s happening immediately in the book, but also leaves a lot open for the rest of the series. So I liked this one a lot.
Laura: [00:13:25] That definitely sounds like an awesome kids book.
Stacy: [00:13:28] It’s always good to find a new series to recommend, especially to kids.
My pick for middle grade fiction is Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. And I would put this at maybe a little bit higher of an age group grades five through eight, because it’s a little bit heavier of a book. So, in this book, empathy and hope are the driving forces behind this fictionalized account of the author’s own youth spent in his home country of Iran; in refugee camps; and in navigating life in America as an immigrant. So, this book does not shy away from tough topics like bullying and domestic violence, but middle grade readers will still find so much to love in these pages. The author just has such lyrical prose, such a beautiful voice that comes through writing based on his own stories about his family from centuries ago.
But kind of the basis of the story is he’s telling these accounts of his own life and his family’s stories to his classmates in America where he lived as an immigrant, but nobody believes him. So that feeling that you get when you read it just, you are so hopeful for this child to just make it in this world.
It’s just, again, it’s just such a beautiful story. I really think this could be a good contender for the Newbery.
Cara: [00:15:11] That was on my list. Of course. You know, as librarians, we have huge lists of books that we don’t always get to them. So, I didn’t get to that one this year, but it sounded fantastic.
They Went Left
Laura: [00:16:01] All right, Cara, what’s your next awesome kids book?
Cara: [00:16:03] My last pick is a young adult book. So definitely for high school, probably upper high school. This is by Monica Hesse, who does historical fiction. Usually set around World War II. I loved her book Girl in the Blue Coat. It was just fantastic.
So this is her latest, They Went Left and this one is actually set immediately after WWII. So I thought that in and of itself was really interesting because we see so much about WW II. And I think authors are, you know, maybe have explored pretty much everything there is about that topic.
So kind of reaching beyond it, but still looking at the effects of it in the immediate aftermath. This one is set in Poland and it’s about a girl named Zofia and her family and the title references the last time that she saw her family. As they were being separated at the concentration camp and she and her brother went right.
And then the rest of her family went left to the gas chambers. So it’s a very heavy book. It’s interspersed with what happened to her family under Nazi rule before they went to the concentration camps. And then most of the narrative is after the war. Zofia is trying to find her brother.
They were separated in the concentration camp. But she’s convinced that she’ll be able to find him. So she goes back to their family apartment. It’s totally changed. There’ve been squatters there. Her family is not there. So she decides to go on this journey through Poland, to these places that refugees are now settling in these kind of, you know, camps where they can try to rebuild their lives.
So it has interesting side characters. Like there’s a couple that just met like five weeks ago and they’re getting married. And the character, the female character just says, you have to hold onto the happiness you have now, after everything that they went through, you know? Zofia’s like, you just met, why are you getting married?
And she’s like, you know, we have to just continue to live our lives and move on. So again, a really heavy topic, but it’s a beautiful story.
Stacy: [00:18:20] I definitely agree with your comment about the saturation of WW II fiction and nonfiction. But when there’s like a historical fiction children’s books not centered about WW II, I’m like, we’re buying it, we’re getting it just because it’s something different.
Stacy: [00:18:51 My young adult teen fiction choice is a graphic novel, and it is Flamer by Mike Curato. He’s most famous for his picture book Little Elliot, the elephant series – so, so cute.
So, this is totally different. It’s inspired by his own experiences. And it will definitely speak to anyone who feels like they don’t fit in at any point in their lives, really. So, it is about a boy named Aiden. He is chubby, he’s biracial, and he’s really nervous about beginning high school.
And he is slowly coming to the realization that he’s gay during a summer at a Boy Scout camp. So, this is one to read multiple times. You can just pour over those beautiful stark, black and white illustrations, interspersed with reds and oranges and yellows. Just like on the cover. And I just feel like readers will really connect with Aiden as he kind of overcomes these obstacles to find his true self.
So, it is a bit of like a heavier topic book, but there’s a lot of like humorous moments in it. There’s a lot of heartfelt moments. There’s a lot of very cringy moments. It’s all encompassing about what it’s like to be a teenager. So, I would put this reading level even down to grade seven all the way up through high school, all the way up through adult.
Last year, a graphic novel won the Newbery Medal so there’s nothing that says a graphic novel is not going to win the Printz this year. So, I have high hopes for this one, too.
Laura: [00:21:02] Anything written about the teen years must involve some cringing because I don’t know about you, but that was what my teenage years were like – one cringe after the other.
Stacy: [00:21:14] Yeah. And I don’t know that all the events in the book actually happened to Mike in real life, but even if they were loosely based on something that happened, I feel like you are so brave to record this and share it with the world. Because there are many cringey moments in our lives that we’re like, I don’t even want to think about it and to have someone write about it is just amazing.
All Boys Aren’t Blue
Stacy: So, I kind of cheated and I snuck in a second book.
Laura: [00:21:45] We like that kind of cheating. It’s the best! Share your final awesome kids book with us.
Stacy: [00:21:47] It’s in the non-fiction category, but it is for teens. We do have young adult nonfiction in all of our branches. So, you can find nonfiction that is written and made for teens, which is great. So, my choice for young adult non-fiction is All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.
Cara: [00:22:09] Another wonderful one.
Stacy: [00:22:12] So Johnson is a prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist. And he calls this a memoir-manifesto, which I think is very, very fitting for this book and highlights personal stories and struggles. It’s a coming of age story and it can serve as a primer for readers who wish to be allies and it’s a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color.
I think readers will really appreciate Johnson’s really frank storytelling. Some of the stories are really difficult to read but they’re so moving and the personal essays that he explores have themes of gender identity, family, toxic masculinity and consent.
It’s so well-written. It’s such a moving kind of personal, like he said, manifesto, memoir. And if you really enjoyed it or if it sounds good, you will enjoy that he’s coming out with another memoir in September 2021 called We Are Not Broken. We’ll be looking forward to that one.
Laura: [00:23:21] It sounds like it deals with some really important subjects that it adults should read about too.
Stacy: [00:23:28] Yeah, absolutely. And the cover is just gorgeous. So, they did a really good job with the illustrations.
Cara: [00:23:34] I listened to the audiobook and the author reads it. It’s just fantastic.
Stacy: [00:23:39] He’s a great speaker. He’s been on a lot of like news outlets recently, talking about the events going on in the country. And he has such a great voice and it comes through really well on the page.
Laura: [00:23:58] Thank you both for your fantastic recommendations of awesome kids’ books! Thank you also to our listeners and our viewers, remember to subscribe to the Clermont County Public Library’s YouTube channel, or to the Book lovers Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. And that way you don’t miss an episode.
And I’d like to say, don’t forget that children’s books aren’t just for children. Adults can get a lot of joy and pleasure out of reading them too!