Our Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts: a review of our favorite reads from the year! While part of me just wanted to list every single book we loved this year, the rest wanted to stick with the curation approach I’ve come to love about blogging. But I hope you’ll check out my Goodreads profile if you are looking for more recommendations!

So with the help of my kids, here are our top 15 picture books and top 15 chapter books we read this year. Most of these were published this year, but there are a few that are simply ones we discovered this year. 

Picture Books

#15: The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes. My little ones sometimes struggle with longer biographical stories, but the story kept them wanting to hear what was next! 

#14: Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell & Corinna Luyken. Right and wrong can feel so absolute for so many kids; I love the way this helps them expand their perspective a bit in favor of compassion. 

#13: Water Land: Land & Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale. Such a clever and simple way to depict various landforms and their relationships to one another!  


#12: a house that once was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith. This one especially tickled my sense of wonder because I have often daydreamed about the memories held by old houses and paths — who walked in the same spaces, what they did there, how they lived.  

#11: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe.  My ocean-loving 4 year old especially loved the illustrations of all things underwater. Kate Messner did a great job of weaving an engaging story of what has been done, and what we have yet to do, for our coral reefs. 

#10: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes. This tree-lovin’ lady adored everything about this read. The detail, the poetic flow of words, the imagination. 

#9: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Loved the way this book illustrates emotion, and validates the many ways we need to express it.   

#8: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. This beautifully captures change over time in several layers. My kids and I enjoyed studying all the detail of the fascinating life inside a lighthouse. 

#7: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. Teachers trying to convey word choice and story-loving children alike will enjoy this latest work from Peter Reynolds.  

#6: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. This book makes me think of a cross between “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Featuring Star Wars, of course. My whole family adored this hilarious read! 

#5: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Penelope has first day of school jitters. She has no idea what her classmates will be like…until she discovers that they are delicious children! Will she be able to get past her, um, sticky first impression?

#4: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. I loved the folklore feel of this story. Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake, but will she be able to resist nibbling a little more each night? A lovely way to imagine what makes the phases of the moon.

#3: Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. I think this is the only book on our picture book list of books not published, but discovered, this year. My kids were fascinated by the magnified pictures of various surfaces, and the personified germs.  

#2: Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. After meeting these authors last year, I don’t think our book lists stand a chance of not featuring work by these two. But we found Square every bit as delightful as Triangle. Everyone can relate to Square’s emotional turmoil when his friend Circle mistakes him for a sculptor–and he doesn’t want to let her down. 

#1: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin & Crash McCreery. I loved getting to practice my high school Spanish in this delightful new rendition of an old legend. My kids especially loved the inflatable nature of the goats. 

Read Alouds/Chapter Books/Graphic Novels

#15: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko and Colin Jack. I sometimes struggle with books written from a dog’s point of view. But this duo did nothing but make me laugh! Follow their hilarious plot to save their child from a dreadful place called school. 


#14: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. With Russian heritage myself (though definitely not as close as Vera), I loved the protagonist’s struggle to feel like she fits in. My daughter and I enjoyed this graphic novel, though neither of us will likely ever look at an outhouse the same way again…

#13: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This haunting read will get students thinking about the issues of our day as it follows Jerome, who is killed while playing with a toy gun. I still find myself connecting back to the perspectives of this book, such as when I read these findings that show children who embody any of the 3 “B’s” (boy, big, or black) tend to be subject to harsher treatment at school. 

#12: Gone Camping, A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger & Matthew Cordell. I love the way each poem perfectly captures typical moments of a camp-out, from fear of the dark to grandpa’s snoring. 

#11: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t heard of this one prior to reading Bill Ferriter’s recommendation this year. I absolutely loved the way this student/teacher relationship unfolded. Packed with unexpected twists, historical context, and relatable middle school humor. 

#10: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. A beautiful self-discovery kind of story, but with a faster pace than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. 

#9: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Despite the fact that I may or may not have gone to bed weeping while reading this, I have to recommend it. It tells the story of Amal’s descent into indentured servitude when she should be attending school with the other children in her village.

#8: Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three stories of families seeking refuge are masterfully woven together to convey universal principles of compassion and humanity.  

#7: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. When Marty loses a precious gift from his dad who is sick and has little time left, he finds himself on a magical train meant to collect all the things we lose. A beautiful story of loss and love.  

#6: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. Beans is doing his best to help his family living in Key West during the Great Depression. Detailed, witty, and hilarious, this is a great candidate for a classroom read-aloud.  

#5: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.  A new series that your fantasy-loving readers will devour. Everyone knows Morrigan is cursed — but defying her fate, she discovers a new land, a new organization, and a new chance to prove herself.

#4: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming & Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids & Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris & Lane Smith. Those who grew up loving Shel Silverstein as much as I did will not want to miss this one. My favorite part was the way one story that features a boy whose parents forgot to teach him the number 8 makes its way not only into other poems, but into the book’s page numbering and even acknowledgements–definitely appealed to this immature grown-up! 

#3: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. Earth’s sun is about to go into a premature supernova, causing the human race to temporarily relocate to Mars until they can take off for a new home. Exciting and exceptionally well-researched science fiction read!

#2: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. The five Vanderbeeker children work to save their home as their family unexpectedly faces eviction. What I love most about this is the independence and problem-solving afforded to these kids. Just the right amount of spunk and tenderness!

#1: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley. My 8 year-old and I listened to the audiobook of this together and loved every hilarious moment as Frederick Frederickson tries to find his social place, only to be unexpectedly swept downriver and into a disciplinary camp. Another great read aloud for upper elementary grades!

What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

12/15/18 update: Having just finished reading Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, I feel compelled to mention it here, too. It reminded me strongly of what I love most about Brene Brown’s work on connection, vulnerability, and living from a place of love over fear. Absolutely a contender for a classroom read aloud as well!

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10 Books of Wishes

For kids, wishes hold power. So much of life seems beyond their control: where they live, what they wear, who they meet. Among so much uncertainty, it’s a comforting hope to hold tight to a wish.

In Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson’s latest picture book, “Carmela Full of Wishes,” Carmela doesn’t realize just how many important wishes she holds in her heart until she finds a dandelion. 

There are so many elements in this read that I found lovely. The details of Carmela’s neighborhood. The papel picado, Mexican folk art, that beautifully illustrates her wishes. The jingling bracelets that capture the essence of childhood joy (that can’t be diminished even by an irritable — and likely care-worn — brother). The way that it keeps readers wondering about Carmela’s wish and her life.

Also, I just have to share this gorgeous case design beneath the dust jacket!

I asked my kids if they could remember whose style it was, and they knew it was the same illustrator that created the video, “What is Music,” that they love so much (Funny coincidence: I included both Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson in my summer post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators”).

For your readers that are full of wishes, here are 9 other books of wishes I’d recommend!

#2: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

#3: When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano & Christian Robinson

#4: I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

#5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (I’m starting to wonder how this book somehow manages to get on just about every one of my lists…I regret nothing.)

#6: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller & Frank Morrison

#7: It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton 

#8: Mr. Rabbit & the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow & Maruice Sendak

#9: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

#10: Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

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Eat Pete! Book Tour & 5 Other Unlikely Friendship Reads

Given the choice between an overt moral story vs silly humor for teaching friendship, I’ll pick the latter every time. Michael Rex’s Eat Pete! certainly fit the bill there!

The monster faces a major dilemma. While he does think playing with cars and blocks looks fun, he would also really like to just go ahead and eat Pete. Which he actually does, only to find that those games just aren’t the same.

Young readers will appreciate how much story is told in the pictures, especially the hilarious illustrations of the monster daydreaming about just going ahead and eating Pete already. I felt like Rex nailed the pacing of this story, maximizing the anticipation that readers will experience.

Eat Pete’s book birthday is tomorrow, and I’m pleased to have been invited on its book tour! To celebrate, I’d like to share a few more funny reads featuring friendships that get off to a bit of a rocky start.

#1: Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf

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

#3: My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown

#4: A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker & Kady MacDonald Denton

#5School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

As you’ve probably noticed, these books also make for great read-alouds at the start of the school year! What are others you enjoy with your students?

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An Inquiry Into Symbiosis + “Friends Stick Together” Review

I still recall my surprise as a kid to discover how unlikely animals cultivate symbiotic relationships. Particularly the crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird (for the longest time, I had no idea Tomie de Paola’s “Bill & Pete” was based on science)!

As fascinating as these studies are of working relationships in the animal kingdom, I think their value goes beyond observational science. An inquiry into symbiosis is a great way to get kids thinking about concepts like collaboration, relationships, and problem-solving.

That was one of the reasons I was so excited about receiving “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison from Penguin Young Readers, along with the invitation to participate in its book tour. It finally gave me the push to share the following resources to help students inquire into symbiosis.

Resource #1: “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison

Beginning with a definition that introduces the way symbiosis isn’t necessarily as clean as we might think, Friends Stick Together sets the tone that it takes time to learn to work well with those around us.

I especially loved the zany Levi the tickbird (his “epic” air guitar solos were my favorite). His over-the-top behavior, especially when contrasted with prim Rubert the Rhino, definitely reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, Tacky the Penguin.

I feel like it’s easy for these kinds of books on friendship to get overly didactic, but I feel like Harrison struck a good balance, thanks in large part to her humor. Be sure to check it out when it comes out

Resource #2: “The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse” by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Ok, so this one is total make-believe symbiosis. But it’s still a fun way to get kids thinking about how we can rely on and help one another.

Resource #3: How Wolves Change Rivers by Sustainable Human

This resource is much more direct to the science of symbiosis; it’s a great launching point to discuss the complexity of relationships.

Resource #4: Symbiose by Rosalie Benevello, via The Kid Should See This

This beautiful stop motion is sure to spark a lot of conversation about the relationships between humans and nature.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How does symbiosis impact our world? Our communities? Our schools?
  • How does symbiosis in nature compare with symbiosis in humans?
  • How is technology impacting symbiosis?
  • What is our relationship to foster symbiotic relationships?
  • What are the different perspectives on what it means to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How do our actions impact people around us?

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“Memory Is Magic:” Islandborn Book Tour

For some, the idea of family history conjures images of dusty microfiche and ancient film readers. But for me, it’s been a vibrant, fascinating part of my life for the past decade.

Epic mysteries of a Jewish great-great-grandmother fleeing Russia.

Father vs. son in the American Civil War.

Adoption via The Orphan Train.

family history shadowbox I’ve compiled

It’s one of the reasons I love “Islandborn” by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. It is simply bursting with all that makes heritage so rich and beautiful–even if we can’t remember it ourselves.

Lola feels worried that she can’t remember her country of origin like her classmates can. Her teacher says, “No problema. Are there people around you who do remember?”

I love this theme of using other people’s memories, even slipped onto the back cover:

Lola spends the rest of the book drawing pictures based on her family and neighbors’ descriptions of the Island. Even the uglier parts of their memories still play an important role in capturing what the Islanders have lived through and overcome. Her journey to paint a past she can’t quite remember herself brings new meaning to the time I’ve spent scanning photos, transcribing interviews, and curating documents. When it comes to remembering our heritage, truly, “Memory is magic;” it is worth taking measures to connect with family and friends that do remember.

“Islandborn” hits the bookshelves on March 13, and I’m honored to have been asked to be part of its book tour with Penguin Young Readers. Other books that illustrate the magic of memory for you to check out include:

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Review: Marabel & the Book of Fate (aka, my first ARC book review!)

I’ve known about ARC’s for many years. I even own several that a professor gave to us during my children’s lit class back in college. But despite the fact that I’ve been writing about children’s books for years on this blog, it didn’t occur to me to ask publishers for advance copies to review here until last week.

I went ahead and sent emails to several different publishers, and held my breath. To my surprise, I opened my front door a few days later to not just an advance copy, but a finished copy of Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett, which celebrated its #bookbirthday yesterday! Thank you, Little, Brown and Company!

What drew me in to request a copy of this title was the comparison with Ella Enchanted, which was a beloved favorite growing up. When it comes to providing a magical world with every fantasy-based creature imaginable, Tracy Barrett does not disappoint.

Marabel is an almost-13 year old on a mission to save her twin brother, the Chosen One of Magikos who has been kidnapped by the ruler of the Barrens, but she’s also on a mission to find herself — her voice, her courage, and her determination. Crossing the wall into the realm of “Evils,” she leads her friend Ellie and the talking unicorn Floriano into an adventure that challenges bravery and friendship, as well as everything she has ever been taught about magical beings.

I loved watching Marabel’s story unfold, especially in the second half of the book when she really begins to question what she has always known and come into her own as she owns her power and contributions. I was surprised at times at how easily certain plot points resolved, especially with regards to more rigid elements like her father’s stubbornness and the Book of Fate itself, but perhaps that’s something that will be revisited in future books in the series. 4 stars.

A perfect read to recommend to ages 8-10, and perhaps a contender for a classroom read-aloud!

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Favorite Picture Books We Read in 2017 #TeacherMom

I once read that parents tend to show their kids only the books they personally cherished as children. And with the deep emotional connection we make with our books, it makes perfect sense. But, boy! are we missing out when we so limit ourselves (and our kids)!

I’m frankly astonished at the fact that new authors and illustrators manage to keep filling the world with simply wonderful books, year after year after year.

2017 was no exception. Here are my favorites so far!

#1: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

#2: Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares

#3: Triangle: by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

#4: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

#5: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin

#6: The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

#7: A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Applelhans

#8: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

 

#9: XO, OX A Love Story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell

#10: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Putting 2 books on my list from the same author/illustrator duo in no way has anything to do with the fact that we attended their AuthorLink at our local library and got our copy signed and geeked out in general…ahem.

Bonus: Leave Me Alone! (ok this was published in 2016, but it got a Caldecott Honor in 2017, and is definitely worth mentioning again).

What have been your favorites? Please share!!

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