We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Looking for last minute inspiration for the good little kids and teens on your holiday gift list? We’ve got suggestions for the littlest readers and most mature young adults. Join us as we explore titles that would win over all young readers, voracious and reluctant alike.
- Edie Ching Lecturer, College of Information Science at The University of Maryland; member, ALA Notables Childrens' Book Committee; reviewer, Booklist
- Erica Perl children's book author; Vice President of Publisher and Author Relations, First Book
- Heidi Powell Manager, Children and Teens Department, Politics and Prose; co-founder, An Open Book Children's Literacy Foundation
Best Children’s And Young Adult Books
Notable picture books, novels and nonfiction books for children, middle graders and young adults.
Heidi Powell’s Picks
by Jonathan Bean
by Adam Rex
by David Wiesner
This is the Rope
by Jacqueline Woodson
The Big Wet Balloon/El Globo Grande y Mojado
Toilet: How It Works
by David Macaulay
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party
by Nathan Hale
Words With Wings
by Nikki Grimes
When the Beat was Born
by Laban Carrick Hill
Bo at Ballard Creek
by Kirkpatrick Hill
by John Lewis
by Nick Lake
by Uri Shulevitz
Edie Ching’s Picks
For Readers in Grades 2-4
For Middle Readers
For Older Readers (grades 9 and up)
For the Whole Family
Erica Perl’s Picks
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWinter weather coop kids up inside the house. Odds are good they've got plenty of toys and games to distract them. But when you want a little peace and quiet you'll want to get them lost in a good book, perhaps so you can pick up your own. Whether the kids in your life are tots or teens, reluctant or voracious readers, we've got a group of experts who know just the thing to get them turning the pages.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIErica Perl joins us in studio. She's a children's author whose most recent titles include "Aces Wild," a middle grade novel and "King of the Zoo," a picture book. She's also the vice-president of publisher relations for First Book. Erica Perl, thank you for joining us.
MS. ERICA PERLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Edie Ching. She's a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Library Association Notables Children's Book Committee. She also writes reviews for Booklist. Edie Ching, good to see you again.
MS. EDIE CHINGI'm glad to be back.
NNAMDIAnd good to see Heidi Powell again. She's manager of the Children and Teens Department at Politics and Prose Bookstore and co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. Heidi, how are you?
MS. HEIDI POWELLFine, thanks.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What books are you giving the kids and teens on your list this holiday season? Of course you'll be able to find our list at kojoshow.org. Let us start with the picture books. Edie, there are reliable hit with the littlest bookworms. And there's perhaps a rising star on the scene. Who is "Mr. Wuffles?"
CHINGOh, Mr. Wuffles is a wonderful cat who typically doesn't like any of the toys in his house until some Martians land. And this is an almost wordless picture book with wonderful illustrations by the terrific David Wiesner who also created this story. And there are some ants that are keeping track of what's going on. So there's so many stories in this story that it's going to take everybody a long time to go through this book.
NNAMDIYou like this too, Heidi.
POWELLI did. I had that on my list as well. I really enjoy David Wiesner's work and he has come up with a master once again.
NNAMDIThere are a lot of good options for those wanting to get into the spirit of the season, seeking a good winter (word?) . Edie, tell us about the holiday adventures of a tractor named Otis.
CHINGAnd this is the third in a series, Loren Long, author and illustrator, and it's sort of a retro book. The illustrations look a lot like what Norman Rockwell might do. It's a daring do adventure. Otis goes to the rescue through, you know, a snow storm to bring the doctor to a sort of miraculous birth in a farm on Christmas, which has a lot of resonance with other holidays as well.
NNAMDIAnd Heidi, young and old alike, we sometimes just want a really big snow this time of the year. Tell us about one boy's hopes for just such a day.
POWELLYes, I really enjoyed Jonathan Bean's "Big Snow" about a little boy who's hoping for a big snow. And apparently the weather forecaster has predicted it but it's not coming quickly enough for him. He keeps checking outside to see when the snow's coming. And his mom tries to distract him by having him join her in the chores, which doesn't prove too fruitful. But the big snow finally does come after his nap when he dreams of a big snow actually invading his home.
NNAMDIErica, if we're instead dreaming of a warmer climate, not snow, you recommend the book by an author local to this area but set in a more, well, temperate climate. Tell us about "Parrots Over Puerto Rico."
PERLAbsolutely. I think when it starts getting cold outside it's time to take a trip to a tropical climate. And "Parrots Over Puerto Rico" will fly you there. Susan Roth has this amazing style in which you feel like the pictures are three dimensional. It's almost like a piñata on the page. The parrots vividly come to life in beautiful colors. And woven in is not only a story about their survival, but also about the survival of the culture of Puerto Rico. So it's sort of two beautiful stories in one.
NNAMDIYou write books for both middle grade and young readers, one of which is set right down the street at the National Zoo. Tell us about "King of the Zoo."
PERL"King of the Zoo." Well, you might think the "King of the Zoo" would be a big animal like the lion or a tall animal like a giraffe. But in my book, just illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic, also local, it is a chameleon who is the star of this story. A poor neglected chameleon at the reptile house who wants desperately to be noticed and goes to great lengths to get people to find him, only to have to discover that it's what's inside that really matters, not how you -- not your showy exterior.
NNAMDIWhen you're not writing your own books, you're working on getting books to children in need. For those who are not familiar with First Book, what does the organization do and how do you help meet its goals?
PERLWell, First Book has been providing books to programs and schools that serve kids in need across the country, now in Canada as well. And with this year we have launched an effort to get books to kids in need across the world. We've distributed over 100 million books. And so the goal is to really level the playing field so that all children grow up with a rich wealth of print material, reading supplies and all sorts of things that will enable them to just have that enrichment through their educational experiences.
NNAMDIHeidi, you're also working to help kids feel more connected to authors by arranging school visits through an Open Book Children's Literacy Foundation. What's the age range of students you work with and in what area?
POWELLWe work with pre-K through high school students. And we take authors and illustrators into basically disadvantaged schools throughout the D.C. metro area and send every child home with a signed book, provide a book to each of the classrooms and a set of the author's works to the school library.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. If you want a personalized recommendation for the kid in your life, give us a call. You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I suspect, Heidi, you will respond to the question that we're about to get from Libby on the phone in Washington, D.C. Libby, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LIBBYYes. Good afternoon to all of you and happy holidays. I'm nearly 70 years old and I grew up in a household in the Washington area where books were very important. When we were little, our parents read to us. As we got older, we were encouraged to have our own books. And my Godparents always gave us books for Christmas. And I'm just wondering, with all the technology out there and everything going online, are hardback books surviving? Because I find it much more satisfying to turn the book -- pages of a book than to read it online.
LIBBYAnd for younger kids, the paper engineering of pop-up books on some of them is just amazing, which I think brings kids into a story. So I'm just interested for people who are involved in the field about whether real books are still being bought and used.
POWELLBased on our holiday season so far, yes, I can say definitively that hardback books and paperback books are still being purchased for children and for teens. And we've got children coming in and looking at the books themselves. And often we are selling the books directly to the children, which is also really gratifying.
NNAMDIAnd surveys are indicating that despite fears that people have about the online environment that books that you can actually hold in your hands and read are still very popular among Americans. Edie, I see you nodding yes, correct?
CHINGWell, the Scientific American had a great article in November about the fact that reading retention actually is higher among people, children and adults, who read a book rather than reading it electronically. It's looking at the whole book, looking at the double pages. And of course, there's nothing like a picture book in the double page spread.
NNAMDIErica, Romeo and Juliet return to the page, this time in a graphic novel. What stands out for you about a new version from Gareth Hinds?
PERLWell, a couple things to that to me about this. It's a fabulous book for teens, and particularly for teens who might not think of themselves as theater buffs or as this being a story that speaks to them. It has a multiracial cast so the characters really jump off the page in terms of showing a real diversity of different people you might not think of being in those roles automatically. For example, I believe the nurse is Indian descent and there's just kind of a rainbow of different skin tones on the page, which is a wonderful thing to see in general.
PERLAnd then it also just makes it feel very modern. It's classical language. It isn't actual literal Shakespeare text, but it is just made so modern by the fact that there's this very kind of young and dynamic cast. And a lot of the sort of really gripping elements of a Shakespearean tale, the love and the passion and the violence and everything really jumps off the page. It's beautifully illustrated and I think a lot of teens would gravitate towards it.
NNAMDIEdie, there are some other new takes on the classics out recently. Tell us about the recently released Roald Dahl audio book and which is your -- audio books and which one is your particular favorite?
CHINGWell, I love the audio books as a way for parents and children to share things and be connected, and especially if you're taking a big trip at the holidays. Penguin Audio released all of the Roald Dahl books, but my favorite is Kate Winslett who obviously loves this story. Every word is delicious in her mouth, even when there are nasty things going on. She just does a virtuoso performance. And adults are going to want to listen to this as well as kids.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, Edie Ching is a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Library Association Notables Children's Book Committee. She's also a writer who writes reviews for Booklist. She joins us in studio along with Erica Perl, children's author. Her most recent titles include "Aces Wild," that's a middle grade novel and "King of the Zoo," a picture book. She's also the vice-president of publisher relations for First Book.
NNAMDIAnd Heidi Powell is manager of the Children and Teens Department at Politics and Prose Bookstore and co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. You can call us, 800-433-8850. If you have suggestions or questions of your own, you can also find the list that our guests recommend at our website kojoshow.org. You can shoot us an email to email@example.com. Heidi, Erica, one might not expect the story of the ill-fated Donner Party to appear in the form of a book for middle grade readers, but it does and you both liked it. What makes it work? First you, Heidi.
POWELLI'm really fond of Nathan Hale and that is his real name, Nathan Hale's hazardous tales. This is the third in a series. The first two were one dead spy about the revolutionary war and big bad iron clad about the civil war. And this is about the historic Donner party. I like it because it really makes history accessible to children. It makes it engaging and the conceit is that Nathan Hale, the historical figure, is about to be hanged. And in order to avoid this or at least prolong his life, he begins to sort of spin stories from history. So it's sort of a Scheherazade type of story.
NNAMDIWhat did you find appealing about it, Erica?
PERLWell, it takes you right into the story. There's an immediacy that comes with graphic novels and particularly with Nathan Hale's style because you follow one family through the Donner party trip. And I learned so many things that I didn't know. I had sort of a preconceived idea of this historical series of events and it was completely different than what really happened. And then it's documented in the back matter in such great detail, who lived, who died, where and why and he even finesses the sort of lurid aspects of the story with humor.
PERLHe says at one point, you know, one of the characters says, this can't get any worse, and another character says, well, turn to page 113 if you can't handle it. So it's a perfect way of giving a kid an out if they're really getting squeamish and other kids will dig right in, and I certainly did.
NNAMDIAnd sometimes you need that out.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on winter reading for kids and young adults. But you don't have to go any place if you called, stay on the line. If you'd like to, the number is 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about winter reading for young adults and for kids with Erica Perl. She's a children's author. Her most recent titles include "Aces Wild," "Middle Grade Novel," and "King of the Zoo," a picture book. She's the vice president of publisher relations for First Book. Edie Ching is a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland, member of the American Library Association Notable's Children's Book Committee. She also writes review for Booklist.
NNAMDIAnd Heidi Powell is manager of the children and teen's department at Politics and Prose bookstore. She is also co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. You each recommend novels for more mature readers that take on tough topics. Before we get to the titles, Edie, what is your advice for making sure your child is up for a book that takes on a topic?
CHINGWell, I think parents need to be aware of what's in books. Going to a store like Politics and Prose and talking their expert staff, looking at reviews in the newspaper, online, Good Reads is a great place, looking at sources like Capital Choices, which is an organization that picks best books, reading what other people have to say about these books. Because some topics are so sensitive or so dark that you may not want your child to know it, or read the book with your child and then share it.
NNAMDIThat is apparently the dilemma that confronts Robert in Baltimore, Md. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTThank you. Thanks for taking my call. The book is called "It." My daughter is a mature, 12-year-old reader. I'm wondering what the content is, and if it is appropriate.
NNAMDIThe book is called "It."
POWELLIs that a Steven King title?
NNAMDIIs it -- it's a Stephen King title?
ROBERTOh, no. It is not.
POWELLI don't know that one.
CHINGI don't either.
NNAMDINone of us here is familiar with it, but I would follow Edie's guidelines on this.
CHINGWell, one thing I would say is, you know, a mature reader may be able to absorb the words of a book, but may not be able to absorb the situation in a book. Your child may be able to know what's going -- read the words Moby Dick, but they certainly don't know about making those kinds of choices between good and evil and so being possessed that you would go out and risk a whole crew. So I would say, try to understand where you daughter is emotionally, and at 12 years old look for books that deal with issues about being 12 years old.
NNAMDIAnd good luck, and thank you very much for your call, Robert. We move onto Jonathan in Arlington, Va. Jonathan, your turn.
JONATHANHi, yes. My wife is an English school -- or a middle school English teacher, rather, and every year I make it a habit of trying to find her a new YA book that she is not familiar with, which is getting harder by the year because she's pretty well acquainted from them. So I was wondering if you had any recommendations for strong YA books that might not be on an English teacher's radar already.
POWELLThat might not be on her radar.
NNAMDIThat would not be on the radar already.
POWELLIf I name a few will you recognize them?
NNAMDIWill you, Jonathan?
JONATHANI hope so. I've been looking around.
POWELLI really like "Everyday" by David Levithan.
POWELLDoes she -- do you know if she has that one? That's...
JONATHANShe does not have that one.
POWELLThat's excellent. And "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell.
PERLYeah. That may already be on her radar, but it is very much worth reading.
JONATHANThat one is on her wish list, yes.
PERLAnd "Fan Girl" as well, which is another book that came out also this year by the same author.
JONATHANOkay. Great. Great. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call. Edie, one of the most challenging topics for many parents is bullying. "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass" won't necessarily provide answers, but what can readers take from it?
CHINGWell, it's a coming of age story. A girl going to a new high school because her mother has moved them into a new neighborhood hoping for better situations for herself and her daughter. And the very first day of school, Piddy Sanchez finds out that this girl, this bully, is after her. And the book talks about what happens when you are in such a difficult situation. Piddy loses all her self-confidence, withdraws into herself, and it's because of the loving Cuban community to which she belongs, and also because of the friends who intercede for her.
CHINGAnd I think this a book where kids can look and see themselves or somebody else and understand ways that they can help each other.
NNAMDIOnto Jan in Hagerstown, Md. Jan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANYes, hi. My question concerns similar ideas of a previous caller. My eight year old is reading on a very high Lexile score, and so she's ready for like you say, the words, but I'm not letting her read all that is accessible with that Lexile score, and I wondered are there ratings for books? I heard you say careful picks.
NNAMDIRatings, Edie Ching?
CHINGWell, again, I would go to established sources. There's a website, Good Reads, where you can see what other people are reading and they talk about age groups and they give reviews. Book stores with experienced personnel will help you find books for your daughter's age, and what her hobbies and interests are. And then there are the American Library Association's Notable Children's Book List puts things out by age.
PERLThere's really so much great material that's being written for 8 to 12 year olds now that, you know, she doesn't have to be in rush to kind of read up just because she technically can. There's wonderful stuff that rich and layered for that age group.
NNAMDIAnd can she get guidance from people in book stores?
POWELLYeah. We're always happy to help if you come in in person, or you can also check out the Politics and Prose website. We've recently published our children and teen's department favorites for 2013, and there is guidance in there as far as not only reviews, but age recommendations.
NNAMDIJan, thank you for you call, and good luck to you. We just talked about bullying, Erica Perl. The issues in young Willow Chance's life are different, but perhaps no less difficult. Tell us about "Counting by Sevens."
PERLSo Willow Chance is a very unusual child. She is -- basically she's a genius and she's scored off the charts on a test which results in her being accused of cheating to start with, and her life becomes increasingly complex in a lot of ways when she suffers from personal tragedies and she ends up living in the home of a family she barely knows that has nothing in common with her other than the fact that they've opened their home to her. And she has to sort of form a family around herself.
PERLShe has joined this Vietnamese family. They are not very well to do and are living on limited means themselves and now they have this additional person there. And through the family she sort of cobbles together with them and with a counselor that is assigned to her, and has to sort of rise to the challenge of being a better person, she makes a better life for herself, and also in so doing gives back to her community through a garden project. And so it's a wonderfully diverse novel, and a novel that just has a beautiful and unique voice, and really, I think, will speak not only to children, but adults.
PERLI think we're all nodding about this. It's a book that speaks on so many different levels in a very subtle and a very beautiful way.
NNAMDIIf you're on the line, stay there, we will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Heidi, Edie, more tension comes from thrillers that are practically ripped from the headlines. Heidi who is "Hostage Three"?
POWELL"Hostage Three" is a teenage girl named Amy who's from a wealthy family. Her mother committed suicide within the past year or so. We don't quite know when, and she's having a very hard time coping with that as well as with her father's new wife. She's expelled from school, and her father decides -- he's an investment banker. They live in London. And he has purchased a yacht and decides the family is going to go on a trip around the world to try to bond.
POWELLAnd within days, they are taken hostage by Somali pirates, and Amy is known as Hostage Three. It's a really enlightening look at sort of a gray look at the Somali -- her Somali captors, and she sort of develops a crush on one of the pirates who's a translator knowing that this is impossible. But I think it's a really -- a great introduction to what's currently happening in the world.
NNAMDIAnd Edie, you really like the latest from the Library of Congress's current children's literature ambassador. Tell us about "Invasion."
CHINGWell, this June it will be the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and Walter Dean Myers has done a great young adult, oh, maybe seventh, eighth grade, high school book about invasion about D-Day. The main character comes from Bedford, Va., which was the town that had the highest one-day death rate in World War II, and it's his experience being very naïve at first thinking that Germans are so stupid, and this is going to be over in just a day. And, of course, 12 days later they've gotten nowhere. People around him are dying. It's a very powerfully written book.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. First we'll go to Susan in Ellicott City, Md. Susan, your turn.
SUSANHi. Thanks for a great show, Kojo. I wanted to get suggestions from your panel on good books, novel, or LGBT teens. My daughter has a couple of books, one is by Julie Anne Peters, "Keeping You a Secret." The other is by Nancy Garden, "Annie on My Mind." And I was just wondering if there are other books that you guys would recommend.
NNAMDISusan, I'm going to put you on hold while we talk to Daniel in Arlington, Va. who has a question, I think, along similar lines. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. I just wanted to ask, my cousin actually, he recently came out. He's 14 years old, and he's a very avid reader. He's very intelligent. And I think he's having a little bit of difficulty coming to grasp with it, and as a member of LGBT I try and be supportive, but there's only so much that you can do with kind of an age gap and everything else. I was wondering if there are any books that kind of help with younger teens coming to grips with it.
NNAMDIHeidi, help for Daniel and Susan?
POWELLYeah. I would say anything by David Levithan, and then specifically "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," which as by David Levithan and John Green, which is a great book with two voices -- two different Will Graysons and how they come together in a really funny and poignant way.
NNAMDIAnything from you, Edie?
CHINGWell, again, I would say David Levithan, who is both an editor and an author, and just does terrific books.
NNAMDIAnything from you, Erica?
PERLI second what both my colleagues here have said. Two other books I wanted to throw out, one is the book "Drama" by Raina Telgemeier, which is a graphic novel that has a subplot involving actually two gay characters. And then there's a book that came out this year called "Fat Angie," which deals with a girl who is an outcast and also has a sort of a lesbian relationship and friendship that comes out through the story.
NNAMDISusan, Daniel, thank you both for calling. Good luck in your search for books. We got an email from Leslie in Annapolis who says, "I would love a recommendation for my ten-year-old son who loves "Harry Potter," "Wings of Fire," and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." Thanks." Heidi, anything you could recommend for him?
POWELLThose are quite different. As far as -- for "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," I'm often recommending "Timmy Failure" by Stephan Pastis, which is really funny, and is sort of a hybrid, similar-looking to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
NNAMDIWell, Edie, I'd like you to talk about a gentler story that you really like. Who is Billy Miller?
CHINGWell, and Billy Miller makes me think of Erica's "King of the Zoo." He's a second grader and he's a worrier, and he worries about everything. And this is just a charming story by the wonderful Kevin Henkes who does both picture books and novels. It is in four chapters written about Billy's sister, his teacher, his mother and his father. And so for reluctant readers or slow readers, you can read just one chapter about that situation, but I think once you start the book you're going to want to finish it.
NNAMDIAnd Jeannie in Silver Spring, Md., has a reminder for us. Jeannie, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEANNIEThanks. I wanted to tell people not to overlook the nonfiction. A good book on math and science can really catch a kid's interest.
JEANNIEI don't have any to recommend since I read them a long, long time ago, but I'm sure there's still good ones out there.
NNAMDIAnd can they find them at Politics and Prose, Heidi?
POWELLAbsolutely. And in our children and teens' favorites we have a lot of -- we have sports, history, biography, and science that -- there are a lot of really new great nonfiction books out this season.
NNAMDIJeannie, thank you very much for your call. Graphic novels are a great way to get reluctant readers to get lost in a book. Which titles stood out to you this year, starting perhaps with the youngest readers, Edie?
CHINGWell, actually, I have an older one. I'm sorry to sort of jump ahead but "Boxers and Saints" is a two-part book that looks at the boxer rebellion, and like the Donner Party, what Erica said about what she learned, who knew about the boxer rebellion. This talks about the saints and the gods in both characters lives. The saint has a female character as the main character. The boxers has a male character.
NNAMDIHow about you, Heidi?
POWELLI have a younger one. I have "The Big Wet Balloon," a TOON book by Liniers, and TOON is an imprint of Candlewick. They do a really wonderful job with early graphics in very, very beginning readers. And Liniers is an Argentinean cartoonist. He is sort of a rock star in Argentina and well-known throughout the world. This is his first graphic to come to the United States. And it is a gentle, easy reader about two sisters who wake up one Saturday morning and see that it's raining, and are disappointed, but then the big sister explains to the little sister that there is a way to have fun outside in the rain and she teaches her how.
NNAMDIAnd finally, we got an email from Eileen in Reston, Va. "As a mom, grandmother, and teacher, I love the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett K. Krosoczka. These are short, graphic novels, where the lunch lady is a James Bond character, and has an assistant named Betty who is (word?) making gadgets such as a spatula helicopter. I have to admit I love them best when my granddaughter is reading them aloud with voices and faces."
NNAMDIThat's all the we have. Erica Perl is a children's author whose most recent titles include "Aces Wild," "Middle Grade Novel," and "King of the Zoo," a picture book. She's also the vice president of publisher relations for First Book. Edie Ching is a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland, and a member of the American Library Association Notable's Children's Book Committee. She also writes reviews for Booklist. And Heidi Powell is manager of the children and teens' department at Politics and Prose bookstore and co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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