Every year, I restrain myself as much as possible but I absolutely insist on giving books to some of not all of the kiddos in my life. Stereotypical librarian? I don’t care. The sheer awesomeness of youth materials that are being published leave me agog and wishing for a secret benefactor every year- for myself, sure, but also for the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. I do a program called Ready Readers, and we bring great stories to Pre-K and Head Start children across Madison County. I am CONSTANTLY making a wish list, as I am sure most librarians and educators do. Here are some of my picks, in no particular order.
A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young
In a world where you can mail order a pet unicorn, things are just going to be awesome, right? For Lucy, things don’t start off so well when HER unicorn, Sparkle, turns out to be a little stinky and not very… unicorn-y. After some time, Lucy learns that Sparkle is just what she needed, and perfect for her. I think Sparkle is pretty perfect, too.
We Found a Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Look, I’ll give it to you straight. I am a litte twisted. I like some odd humor here and there and if it needs to be in a children’s picture book, even better. This third of Klassen’s hat-themed books, about two turtles who find a hat they both want to keep, does not disappoint, and further cements Klassen as my pretend boyfriend children’s writer-man. Rather than listen (or read) me gush about his delightfully…different and maddeningly unsolved mysteries (I’m looking at you Sam and Dave) just trust me and read these books. And don’t feel guilty when you cackle maniacally.
They All Saw a Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel.
A cat walking through the world looks mighty different to various other creatures, such as a fox and a goldfish, as this delightful, ingenious book shows. It’s a celebration of different perspectives. If you’ve ever wondered what the world looks like through the eyes of a goldfish, look no further.
Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie illustrated by Yuyi Morales
I admit, I picked this picture book up, already a fan of Alexie. I was taken by the story of Thunder Boy Jr, who is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. We’ve maybe all had this battle for our own identity, especially if we carry a family moniker. Will Thunder Boy Jr. find a name that suits him perfectly? A great story on the relationship within families, particularly father and son.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
After battling monsters all night, a sleepy Princess in Black decides that she needs a vacation. After all, the Goat Avenger, a new hero who looks oddly familiar, has offered to protect the goats while she takes a much needed break. The very next day Princess Magnolia rides her bicycle to the seaside, where the air is salty, the sun is shiny, and the sea is as blue as monster fur. But just as Princess Magnolia is about to take a nap on her hammock, she hears a “ROAR!” Seriously? A monster? On the perfect beach? Impossible! Could a sea monster really ruin this vacation for the Princess in Black? For all princesses, especially SECRET AGENT ones, this latest addition will entertain. I really love her swimsuit on the cover.
The Witches of Benevento by John Bemelmans
This is a new series that my first grader loves. She reads a few chapters each night and has been really amused by the tricks contained within. The children of Benevento have to be careful and clever to evade the clutches of such witches as the Manalonga, the Janara, and the Clopper, who hide in wells and under bridges, fly at midnight, and play tricks during Mischief Season. Five cousins – Primo, Emilio, Rosa, Maria Beppina, and Sergio – share adventures and narrow escapes, and discover astonishing secrets as they outwit the witches in each exciting story. In the first book, Mischief Season: a Twins Story, the Janara are wrecking the farm with their nightly mischiefs. Father blames Rosa for everything that goes wrong, and it’s up to the Twins and their friends to find a way to stop the Janara.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is–but she knows she needs to survive. Can a robot learn? Can a robot make friends? When nature and technology collide, the consequences can be unexpected. We listened to the audio book, and it was action-packed! I have a girl, but I feel like it would appeal to any gender. An engrossing and touching story.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans
Raul can’t wait for Fridays, the days he can leave his boarding school and venture deep into the woods. At sunset in the forest, a mysterious shape-shifting phenomenon allows Raul return to his true home. You had me at the word werewolf. Read at your own risk!
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
This incredible story alternates between the points of view of a boy and the pet fox he is forced to set free when his soldier father goes off to war. I call this one- it’ll be a classic. Keep Kleenex handy and prepare to be moved. It’s the story of unbreakable friendship despite incredible odds, but also the incredible costs of war and loss. The amazing Jon Klassen illustrates. I told you he was awesome.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
For the consummate Wimpy Kid aficionado in your life, we have a new tome just in time for the holidays! The pressure’s really piling up on Greg Heffley. His mom thinks video games are turning his brain to mush, so she wants her son to put down the controller and explore his “creative side.”As if that’s not scary enough, Halloween’s just around the corner and the frights are coming at Greg from every angle.When Greg discovers a bag of gummy worms, it sparks an idea. Can he get his mom off his back by making a movie . . . and will he become rich and famous in the process? Or will doubling down on this plan just double Greg’s troubles?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (screenplay) by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut is captured in this exciting hardcover edition of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay. When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.
Mostly I “needed” it because of that amazing art deco cover. You guys! It’s gorgeous! It’ll sit nicely with my other Rowling books, though she just keeps getting my money. See below.
The Hogwarts Library by J.K. Rowling
This is the collection, republished in new awesomeness, to bring new readers up to speed on just what Newt Scamander was up to. Granted, making a handful of movies of the slim tome is ambitious, but who are we kidding? J.K. Rowling is our Queen! Also, I want a magical suitcase, please.
From the official site:
Inside readers will find books treasured by users of the great library at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander’s master work on magical creatures; Quidditch Through the Ages, a comprehensive history of the game and its rules; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard, with an introduction and illustrations by J.K. Rowling and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. This boxed set is an essential addition to the collection of any Harry Potter fan, and a beautiful gift to cherish.
From every sale of the Hogwarts Library, Scholastic will donate twenty percent of the retail sales price less taxes of this boxed set to two charities selected by the author J.K. Rowling: Lumos, a charity founded by J.K. Rowling which works to end the institutionalization of children (wearelumos.org), and Comic Relief, a UK-based charity that strives to create a just world free from poverty (www.comicrelief.com).
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
In her small Florida town, abandoned by her father and left reeling with the hurt feeling and new reality of her family structure, Raymie Clarke can only think of one thing: winning him back. The crazy plan to gain notoriety by winning a baton-twirling contest so she will be featured in the local newspaper as Little Miss Central Florida Tire lands her in the company of Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski- each in the contest for very different reasons. Unexpected events draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship, confronting fear, heartbreak and growing up in this distinctly DiCamillo tale. Also- Kate- if you are reading this, I am so sorry I totally choked in that elevator. I really wanted to hug you and tell you I love your books. The feels got in the way.
Young Adult Books
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Okay. First hear this: Jeff Zentner is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. He wrote this book and the follow up on his iPad on the BUS. He runs a teen rock camp in Tennessee. If you aren’t somewhat impressed, I guess I could tell you about this book. Zentner manages to blend humor, optimism and ominous Southern-style moodiness in this tale of three devoted teenage friends who help each other face violence, family shame and the difficulty of breaking out of the trap called home. Snake handling? Check. Secret crushes? Check. Bullying? Value of Friendship? Music as healing escapism? Learning to forgive? All there. Read it.
Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King
Surreal and a little hard for me to explain. Here’s the synopisis from the book: “Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.” It hits the reader emotionally and is thought-provoking as well as creative.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Jazzy, romantic and philosophical, this novel’s main action takes place over the course of a single day in which a Jamaican girl about to be deported meets and falls for a Korean-American boy. If Everything, Everything didn’t hook you on Nicola Yoon, I don’t know what to say to you.
Nonfiction for Most Ages
Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects: Build, Invent, Create, Discover by by Jack Challoner
Bring out your inner inventor and keep learning all summer long with these 28 STEAM education projects. All that’s needed are household materials you already have- no need for one of those expensive 3D printer thingies. I like the household materials aspect- use what you have- don’t go out and buy. Improvise and be creative. This is just a really cool book to look at.
Mandy Pinyan is a passionate book love from an early age, where being busted for bringing Stephen King to school (a book, not the guy) led to much reading by flashlight. She turned out okay. She is the Youth Services Coordinator and Manager of Outreach Services at the Huntsville Madison County Public Library Extension and Outreach Department, where she can be seen driving a Rainbow Van or a Bookmobile in between gigs. Mom to a precocious elementary student, Adelyn and wife to a ruggedly handsome outdoorsman with an obsession with planting bamboo, Mandy finds enjoyment in painting, gardening and geeking out over various pop culture. A small menagerie pf pets- dachshunds Matt Damon and Angel, kitty BB and Boston-Chihuahua-chupacabra mix Bailey just make the chaos complete.