December 7, 2016

The Kojo Nnamdi Show’s Winter Reading List For Young Readers

By Tayla Burney

The holidays can be a stressful time, especially if you’re staring down a daunting shopping list. But we’ve got good news: books make an excellent gift for the kids and teens in your life. They’ll get plenty of toys, clothes and gadgets, but a book gives them the chance to use their imagination. Helping them build their own library can inspire a lifelong love of reading, too. We asked some of our favorite experts on children’s and Young Adult literature what they’re excited about this winter. Happy reading!

Picture Books

  • Zoom (Picture Puffin Books)

    By Istvan Banyai

    Puffin Books


  • A stunning book with unexpected sequential images that pop off the page. An excellent way to elicit thoughts on perspective and playfully encourage young readers to think of what the next scene might reveal. – Juana Medina

  • Set in the Cloud Forest of Ecuador, we meet a little know species of animal and practice our alphabet too. As you can see from the title, the book’s first language is Spanish, the English text appears below it. The author has used collage to present both the beauty and mystery of the locale. – Edie Ching

  • Best in Snow

    By April Pulley Sayre

    Beach Lane Books


  • Spectacular photographs of the wonders of snow combined with simple, lyrical informational text make this a book to linger over. This book will get kids thinking and talking about all their own snowy experiences and have them eager to head outdoors to enjoy snow and all the beauty it creates. – Rachael Walker

  • Selma

    By Jutta Bauer

    Kane/Miller Book Pub


  • What would you do if you had more time? What if you won the lottery? How would this change your life? Bauer introduces us in this -small but mighty- picture book to a wise sheep called Selma, and through endearing narrative and humorous illustrations, offers invaluable answers. – Juana Medina

  • The Sleeping Gypsy

    By Mordicai Gerstein

    Holiday House


  • The author/illustrator takes Rousseau’s famous painting and creates a fanciful version of how the picture was created, including the role of several animals (one or two with big egos) and a young girl. This is a very unique book that creates interest in paintings and artists, the creative process and the role of the imagination. – Edie Ching

  • Freedom in Congo Square (Charlotte Zolotow Award)

    By Carole Boston Weatherford

    little bee books


  • Accessible rhyming couplets and vibrant, bold illustrations describe the lives of slaves who labor daily from sun up to sundown, except on Sunday afternoon when they gather in Congo Square in New Orleans to share music and dance. Nothing is sugar-coated here, which makes the expression of the small freedom described all the more joyful. – Rachael Walker

  • Journey

    By Aaron Becker



  • Stunning illustrations depict the world where a courageous girl embarks on an unexpected journey that will require tremendous courage and kindness) This story is guaranteed to stay in the readers’ mind for a long time. – Juana Medina

  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

    By Debbie Levy

    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers


  • An iconic figure who deserves this unique treatment. The author presents Justice Ginsberg in what seems to be the negative, but this strategy helps to emphasize the ways in which she refused to accept the status quo and worked hard to break barriers and prejudices against professional women. – Edie Ching

  • Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

    By F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell

    HMH Books for Young Readers


  • A young girl in a gray city brightens her community with the art she shares. When a muralist invites her to paint with him, everyone in the neighborhood joins in. Based on the work of California artists Rafael and Candice López, who brought their own neighbors together to turn community spaces into a canvas for creative collaboration, this story will have readers itching to grab a paintbrush and join in too. – Rachael Walker

  • Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road

    By Quentin Blake

    Peachtree Pub Ltd


  • Quentin Blake’s signature style brings to life Mrs. Armitage and her dear dog Breakspear. Through his charming illustrations, Blake takes us flying down the road in a peculiar old car. Make sure to hold on tight –this will be a bumpy but delightful- ride! – Juana Medina

  • They All Saw a Cat

    Chronicle Books


  • Through a series of eye-catching double page spreads and a simple repetitive text, Brendan Wenzel presents a cat through many pairs of eyes. A child sees a potential pet; the dog sees a slinky potential rival. With lots of action in these illustration, A great book to inspire imitation as well as just a fun experience. – Edie Ching

  • Mango, Abuela, and Me

    By Meg Medina



  • A book where different generations, with a language barrier, manage to patiently and lovingly overcome their differences to communicate and share their stories and heritage. Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez tell an endearing story through prose and visuals. – Juana Medina


    Books For Middle Schoolers

  • Nicholas

    By René Goscinny

    Phaidon Press


  • This is chapter book for young independent readers is a French classic. Join Nicholas on humorous adventures. The illustrations, by Jean-Jacques Sempé, are a visual treat! – Juana Medina

  • Gertie's Leap to Greatness

    By Kate Beasley

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


  • Gertie’s life seems right on track until a new girl with a big ego joins her class and works hard to be the best at everything. No matter how hard Gertie tries, Mary Sue bests Gertie. Gertie doesn’t get everything she wants in this book but she does learn empathy and acceptance and even a little grace while not losing her “moxie”. – Edie Ching

  • The Bone Sparrow

    By Zana Fraillon



  • Born in a Australian detention center, Subhi, of Rohingya decent, takes refuge in stories. At a break in the fence, he befriends Jimmie, a young girl struggling to recover from her mother’s death. Together they discover the importance of their own stories. Reading this book feels like holding something very fragile. It doesn’t shy away from Subhi’s grim, desperate reality or Jimmie’s emotional loss, but all that awfulness is encased in a delicate hope that makes change seem possible. – Rachael Walker”]

  • Momo (Puffin Books)

    By Michael Ende



  • In a world where we rush from place to place, Michael Ende introduces us to Momo, a young and strong heroine. This chapter book offers through compelling narrative, an a strong argument on the importance of slowing down and cherishing simple moments. – Juana Medina

  • The Wild Robot

    By Peter Brown

    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


  • In a book with no human characters until the final chapters, our heroine is a robot washed ashore on an island full of creatures who distrust her. Her first friend, a young goose, helps bridge the divide. The author, known for his picture books, adds illustrations to this original story of friendship. – Edie Ching

  • Shadow Magic (A Shadow Magic Novel)

    By Joshua Khan



  • This fantastic fantasy that’s also a mystery is filled with dark humor along with necromancers, zombies and giant bats. The focus is on House Shadow and what’s to become of the royal family after most members were murdered. What’s fun and brilliant about this first title in the series is that the knights in shining armor aren’t the good guys in the story. – Rachael Walker

  • El Deafo

    By Cece Bell

    Harry N. Abrams


  • What if you found out you had superpowers? Let Cece Bell take care of sharing a fabulous, honest and moving personal story with great prose and enchanting illustrations. The character in this graphic novel for young readers valiantly confronts the pains of growing up, making new friendships and finding herself within her community, all while losing her hearing and being introduced to hearing aids. – Juana Medina

  • Vietnam: A History of the War

    By Russell Freedman

    Holiday House


  • Russell Freedman is a master at writing well-researched and evenly presented non-fiction without talking down to his readers. This book is one of his best, tracing the history of war in Vietnam from the time of the Eisenhower administration. Chapters are a digestible length and photographs add to the drama of the narrative. – Edie Ching

  • What Elephants Know

    By Eric Dinerstein



  • This is the story of Nandu, an orphaned boy who becomes a great elephant driver. It is easy to relate to Nandu as he tries to find his place in the world, and incredibly eye-opening to adventure with him in the in the threatened rainforest of Nepal’s Borderlands during the 1970s. Beautifully written and filled with fascinating relationships. – Rachael Walker

  • Ghost (Track)

    By Jason Reynolds

    Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books


  • Castle “Ghost” Reynolds, traumatized by his gun-wielding father is considered a troublemaker at school and a worry to his hard-working mother. One thing he does do well is run, and when a coach invites him to join a track team, life seems to improve, but not all at once. Readers will learn about the demands of running track as they witness Ghost learn the value of hard work, teamwork and honesty. – Edie Ching

  • Wolf Hollow

    By Lauren Wolk

    Dutton Books for Young Readers


  • Eleven-year-old Annabelle doesn’t know what to make of Betty Glengarry and her vicious threats and cruel behavior. When Betty goes missing, rumors fly that Toby, a vagabond and World War I veteran who Annabelle considers a friend, is responsible. Annabelle is forced to make tough decisions and find her courage and compassion. This is a gripping drama well told, with the best and worst of humanity on display. – Rachael Walker


    Books For High Schoolers

  • The Passion of Dolssa

    By Julie Berry

    Viking Books for Young Readers


  • Set in 13th century France at the time of the post inquisition, this story is told in several voices including a young mystic whose visions make her an “enemy” of the church, a young peasant woman who tries to save her and the one who seems to be hunting for her. Issues of faith and friendship are important here as well as the role of the community and our responsibilities to each other. – Edie Ching

  • Anna and the Swallow Man

    By Gavriel Savit

    Knopf Books for Young Readers


  • When seven-year-old Anna’s father is taken by the Gestapo, she finds a companion in the Swallow Man who protects her and keeps them both alive by endlessly crisscrossing the Polish countryside. Anna and the Swallow Man both speak many languages, but have developed their own for this journey, which they call “Road.” The book offers thought-provoking ideas about language, words and truth and what it takes to survive. – Rachael Walker

  • Beware That Girl

    By Teresa Toten

    Delacorte Press


  • Kate O’Brien, on scholarship at a privileged private school, is a schemer and survivor who uses others to achieve her goals. Wealthy and vulnerable Olivia Sumner seems like the perfect target of Kate’s ploys. But all is not as it seems. There are many plot twists in this mystery and personality study. This is a hard-to-put-down read until the “resolution” (if you can call it that). – Edie Ching

  • Burn Baby Burn

    By Meg Medina



  • Coming of age during the “Summer of Sam,” seventeen-year-old Nora López faces more than the threat of a serial killer on the loose. Dealing with the domestic abuse inflicted by her brother, her absentee father and her helpless mother, Nora has to make decisions about what to do with her life. Though Nora has her flaws and her doubts, she’s a strong and sympathetic character that will stay with you. – Rachael Walker

  • A “no holes barred” account of Minamoto Yoshitsune, a 12th century samurai engaged in several brutal battles to gain what he believes is his birthright. Gareth Hinds’ illustrations add a realistic punch to the details of his life. Footnotes and endnotes provide additional information and even those who don’t know much about Japanese history will find this enthralling. – Edie Ching

  • Crosstalk: A Novel

    By Connie Willis

    Del Rey


  • Equal parts science fiction and romantic comedy, “Crosstalk” focuses on Briddey Flannigan who works at a major telecom company and whose boyfriend has just proposed they have an EED, a surgical procedure that will greatly enhance how they sense each other’s feelings. But the procedure doesn’t go as planned and Briddey finds herself awash in the thoughts of everyone around her. Fun and very relevant in this the age of information oversharing. – Rachael Walker

  • Draw the Line

    By Laurent Linn

    Margaret K. McElderry Books


  • Adrian Piper is a gay teen who prefers to stay at his drawing table. But when he witnesses a hate crime against another gay student, he comes to realize that he can use his artistic talents to do more than just help himself cope. The pacing of this book is wonderful, giving the reader generous space to get to know the richly drawn characters. Brilliant illustrations of Adrian’s superhero versions of himself and his friends add to the richness. – Rachael Walker

    Books For The Whole Family

  • This picture book, full of colorful collages created by the author, gives an overview of the writer E. B. White and focuses on his life as a children’s book author (while also not neglecting his role in The Elements of Style). The whimsical illustrations seem perfect for the subject and fans will enjoy this affectionate tribute while learning about the inspirations of this favorite author. – Edie Ching

  • This prolific picture book brings to life 11 slaves listed on an appraisal sheet from The Fairchild Estate before an auction. Inspired by actual documents, each slave tells their story in double page spreads. The first page is a close-up of their imagined face and a description of their work. The second page shows each within the community and the dream of what life would be like “in freedom.” – Edie Ching


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