Kids are home from school for the holiday break, and many parents are looking for ways to entertain them that don’t require batteries. We’ve got the best in books for children and young adults, whether it’s a classic like “The Phantom Tollbooth” or the latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Dragons, non-fiction and stunning illustrations, both in picture books and graphic novels, abound.


  • Vicky Smith Children’s & Teen Editor, Kirkus Reviews
  • Jane Gilchrist Director, Library of Congress Young Readers Center
  • Jon Scieszka Author, 'The Stinky Cheese Man' and others; former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2008 - 2010); founder, Guys Read

Reading Lists

Here are our guests’ book lists for the best children’s books of the year.


  • 13:06:48

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Time is running out for the holiday shopping season. But if you're still looking for a few gift ideas for the kids in your life and would love to find them something that doesn't require batteries or assembly, pick up a book. They make great gifts for kids of all ages and interest, whether the kids you know are into graphic novels, dystopian futures, picture books, even if they don't like to read at all, we've got you covered because joining us for this broadcast is Vicky Smith, the children's and teen editor for Kirkus Reviews.

  • 13:07:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe also worked as a children's librarian for over a decade. She joins us from the studios of MPBN in Portland, ME. Vicky Smith, thank you for joining us. And I can't hear you right now, but we'll be hearing Vicky very shortly. In our Washington studio is Jane Gilchrist. She runs the Young Reader Center at the Library of Congress, which opened in 2009. Jane Gilchrist, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:09

    MS. JANE GILCHRISTI'm very pleased to be here.

  • 13:08:11

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from Argo Studios in New York City is Jon Scieszka. He is the author of numerous bestsellers for kids, including "The Stinky Cheese Man" and "The Truck Town" series. Jon also served as the first national ambassador for Young People's Literature from 2008 to 2010.

  • 13:08:30

    UNIDENTIFIED MANVicky, do you hear the host now?

  • 13:08:31


  • 13:08:31

    NNAMDIAnd is the founder of the Guys Read, a nonprofit literacy organization. And I think we now have Vicky Smith on the line with us also. Vicky Smith, can you hear me?

  • 13:08:45

    SMITHI can. Thank you for having me.

  • 13:08:46

    NNAMDIAnd thank you for joining us. Jon Scieszka, can you hear me?

  • 13:08:49

    MR. JON SCIESZKAYes, I'm here. Thanks, Kojo.

  • 13:08:50

    NNAMDIAnd good to have you here, Jon Scieszka. You too can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by going to our website, Jane, some of our listeners may not realize there's a room set aside for young readers at the Library of Congress. How long has the center been open and what do you do there?

  • 13:09:11

    GILCHRISTWe opened in October of 2009. And actually we have three rooms. We have wonderful real estate in the historic Jefferson Building. And we invite our visitors to come in, explore the browsing collection we have of about 2,000 titles. And we have a puppet theater that they can play with. And periodically we'll do programming. So we have visitors coming from all over the United States, all over the world. We have school groups coming from D.C. and in metropolitan Washington area. And this -- we remind children that this is their place in the Library of Congress.

  • 13:09:47

    NNAMDIHave you visited the Young Reader Center at the Library of Congress or are you stunned to find out that it even exists? 800-433-8850 is the number to call. As I said before the show, it's a no brainer, but sometimes we take a while to get to the no brainers.

  • 13:10:02

    GILCHRISTI understand that. Well, about 100 years ago, we found in the annual report of the Library of Congress in 1898, there was mention of a juvenile reading room and they were planning to open one, but they were waiting for the furniture. Well, things happen, one thing led to another and it was never opened. So we feel we just waited 100 years for our furniture to arrive. Now it's there and we just have a great time.

  • 13:10:30

    NNAMDIHere's the irony. Where would you check to find out whether anyone ever considered having a reading room for young people at the Library of Congress? Why, the Library of Congress of course, that's where you can find out about it.

  • 13:10:40

    GILCHRISTIt is the national library. Yes we are the library to Congress. I tell children that we are Congress' school library but we also are the national library and the oldest federal cultural institution.

  • 13:10:52

    NNAMDIJon Scieszka, you have a close relationship with the Library of Congress after serving as the first national ambassador for Young People's Literature. What did that job entail?

  • 13:11:03

    SCIESZKAMy job was the greatest in the world. I got to just run around the entire country and tell people what great books there are out there. I also got to visit the center and it is there. I can testify.

  • 13:11:17

    GILCHRISTGood afternoon, good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador.

  • 13:11:19

    NNAMDIYes, yes. It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it.

  • 13:11:22

    SCIESZKAYep. The Radio Salaam (sp?) is fine.

  • 13:11:28

    NNAMDIVicky Smith, before we get to what's new, there are a number of kids classics marking 50 years, "The Phantom Tollbooth," and "A Wrinkle in Time," to name a few. You say it's important to remember when we put these books in kids' hands that, for them, they're still brand new.

  • 13:11:46

    SMITHAbsolutely. I think that a lot of adults tend to think of the books that they read as children as in the past. But every year, a new child encounters the book for the first time, and it's just as magical when they opened it up as it was 50 years ago when our other siblings, in my case, or our parents opened them up.

  • 13:12:05

    NNAMDIYeah, there are several anniversary editions. We mentioned "The Phantom Tollbooth," "A Snowy Day," was in 1962, almost 50 and "A Wrinkle in Time." Jane, you included "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl, which marks 50 years.

  • 13:12:23

    GILCHRISTMm-hmm. Yes, we know that as your guests are saying that for some of the children these are new books. And these are things that the parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles can share with children now. I think that's really important.

  • 13:12:43

    NNAMDIWe're walking around with them in our heads, but they have not ever seen them. Vicky, you say that children's book authors and illustrators have a strong tradition of honoring and referencing the work that came before them.

  • 13:12:55

    SMITHOh, they absolutely do. And it's really exciting and, you know, Jon may be able to speak to this a little bit more personally than I can. But Maurice Sendak who is held out as one of the great geniuses of children's literature, he looked back to the comic strips of the '20s and '30s for his inspiration. And you can see, and you just talked about "The Snowy Day," you can see in picture books every year, you can see an homage to Peter. Peter's profile will appear in a picture book here or a picture book there.

  • 13:13:30

    SMITHAnd I think that's one of the great things about children's literature is that there's so much respect for what's gone before even as we continued trying to build and create new and exciting literature. We really see ourselves as part of the continuum.

  • 13:13:45

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. What books have you picked up to give to the kids on your list this year? 800-433-8850. Jon Scieszka, some works have held up for decades but others are decidedly old fashioned. There's been a lot of change when it comes to non-fiction for kids. You've got a few timely picks and one for the record book. Share them with us.

  • 13:14:11

    SCIESZKAOh, that's one of my favorite genres that's really taken off. And in fact part of the problem getting boys reading I think in the past which I have a special passion for...

  • 13:14:22


  • 13:14:22 that a lot of boys love to read non-fiction and schools and I think parents don't see that as real reading. But there's a couple of books out there like "Just A Second" by this guy Steve Jenkins who just has all kinds of great non-fiction books. He's got another one called "Actual Size" which just shows, like, it's a full size gorilla's hand on the cover. It's that alone.

  • 13:14:49

    NNAMDII guess. What's "Just A Second" about?

  • 13:14:52

    SCIESZKA"Just A Second" is about time, which is kind of amazing. It's a gigantic subject, but Jenkins is both a great writer and an illustrator. So he kind of brings both.

  • 13:15:05

    NNAMDIAnd "Trapped," the one about the Chilean miners.

  • 13:15:09

    SCIESZKAOh, yeah. Marc Aronson is another spectacular non-fiction guy who just -- he can illuminate any kind of subject. So, "Trapped" was about something as topical as the Chilean miners and I think that was just out this year. And he's got one coming out next year about J. Edgar Hoover and America in the age of lies, which is just amazing. I mean, it's stuff every citizen should know, forget every kid.

  • 13:15:34

    NNAMDIAnd here's one I cherished as a boy and frankly I still do, the "Guinness World Records 2012."

  • 13:15:40

    GILCHRISTKids do love those.

  • 13:15:42

    SCIESZKAThat is so good. Yeah, and I always tell parents too, like, you know, you're kid's picking out a book, you're kid's loving a book. Let them pick that book, that's the way to really get them excited about reading. And Guinness, that is just such a big book. It looks impressive too.

  • 13:15:57

    NNAMDIWhat's the attraction of that, especially for young boys, but for some of us adults too? Jon, what's the attraction?

  • 13:16:05

    SCIESZKAWell, you know, there's a ton of readers who like information, my son being one of them who I just -- it took me forever to find a book that he would love. And he finally cleared it up for me. He said, dad, I don't want to read about stuff that's just made up. Give me something real. So he dismissed all of fiction with just that stroke.

  • 13:16:25

    NNAMDIJane, you mentioned that graphic non-fiction has zoomed, especially memoirs for young people.

  • 13:16:30

    GILCHRISTMm-hmm. You were talking about "A Wrinkle In Time," 50th anniversary of that. That's even going to come out as a graphic novel next year.

  • 13:16:38


  • 13:16:39

    GILCHRISTSo we're taking some of our stories and letting them evolve into a new format, which I think is really interesting for kids.

  • 13:16:47

    NNAMDIVicky Smith, both you and Jon selected "Heart and Soul" as one of your best books of the year and you've pointed out that the histories available for kids are more, well, unvarnished than the ones you read as a kid.

  • 13:17:00

    SMITHThey really are. Well the kids -- the histories that I read as a kid were often the Orange Bobbs-Merrill biographies that the childhood of famous Americans and I was devastated when I learned those really as a person who is old enough to know better that they were largely fictionalized. So, yeah, I'm in agreement with Jon about how fabulous it is to put real non-fiction into the hands of kids. And "Heart and Soul" is a glorious story.

  • 13:17:27

    SMITHIt's narrated by an old African-American. She's not named. She sort of stands for her people and she's able to look back through her own personal history and her family's history to the beginnings of the United States. And she tells the history of the United States through the eyes of this African-American family. And she does not sugarcoat the fact that they encountered just enormous injustice and violence along the way. And it's beautiful. The illustrations are...

  • 13:18:00

    SCIESZKAYeah, that book just -- I mean, so beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. Just as a creator of books, it makes me incredibly jealous that Kadir can do both things.

  • 13:18:09

    NNAMDIKadir Nelson is the writer.

  • 13:18:11

    SCIESZKAOh, Kadir Nelson is a writer and a painter.

  • 13:18:15

    NNAMDIVicky, you also pointed to "Jefferson's Sons" by Kimberly Bradley.

  • 13:18:19

    SMITHYes. And that actually is a work of fiction. But for me, reading it as a work of fiction, it -- Jon, here's my hat off to you as a writer of fiction. I think fiction can do something sometimes that non-fiction can't do because I've been aware for years -- actually read the "Thomas Jefferson: Childhood of Famous Americans" as a child and grew up idolizing him. And when the allegations around his family with Sally Hemings came out and the DNA testing proved that he had actually fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings.

  • 13:18:53

    SMITHI understood it intellectually. But Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has written a novel. It's called "Jefferson's Sons" and it concerns two of Jefferson's sons with Sally Hemings and another enslaved boy at Monticello. And seeing that family through fiction, really brought home to me the monstrosity of slavery as an institution and really the hypocrisy of Jefferson. She manages somehow to grant the man the greatness that he deserves but also causes readers to reevaluate in a realistic way these children have to give up their mother every single night. And I think that for a child reading that detail, that just punches you in the gut and it makes you understand something that you may not have understood before.

  • 13:19:48

    NNAMDI"Jefferson's Sons," it's called, by Kimberly Bradley. It's not on the list that you'll see on our website, If you go there, you'll see all of the lists recommended by our guests today. That one is not on the list, so I wanted to repeat its name for you, "Jefferson's Sons," by Kimberly Bradley. Here is Gloria in Ashburn, VA. Gloria, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:20:10

    GLORIAYes, good afternoon and thank you for taking my call. I'm so joyful in listening to your guests today because you're giving me the tools that I need to give to my granddaughters, grandchildren that are just avid readers. I was just telling your interviewer that my granddaughter wakes up at five o'clock in the morning so she can read, because they have so many activities on their plate that they have to do. She plays the trumpet and the violin and the piano. And she goes to basketball and all of these things, so she makes time to read. She loves her books. And a few years back, she told me, abuela, how can I talk to you intelligently if you don't read my books?

  • 13:20:53

    GLORIABecause she had already read all of the Harry Potter books she had read. And I haven't read them because I didn't find them attractive. So I had to read them so that we can talk about them and we can discuss what it meant and all these wonderful things. It's such a blessing. My son, her father, was an avid reader. When we didn't have any money, we used to take the Metro to Rosslyn and walk across this secondhand bookstore and we come home, our $20 worth of books that, you know, in secondhand books that we could afford and bring them home because we loved our books.

  • 13:21:31

    NNAMDIAnd, Gloria, it's my understanding that you plan on hanging out at the Young Reader Center at the Library of Congress.

  • 13:21:36

    GLORIAAbsolutely. This is a magnificent discovery for me, because I've been going -- she may already know about it and she may not have told me, but I will.

  • 13:21:45

    SCIESZKAMore to read.

  • 13:21:47

    GILCHRISTWe look forward to seeing you.

  • 13:21:48

    NNAMDII'm sorry, Gloria, you keep playing catch up here. You got to try to get ahead of the curve at some point. Gloria, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on Children's and Young Adult Winter Reading. As I said, you can find all of our guest recommendations at our website, and you can join the conversation there or call us at 800-433-8850. Do you like to give books to the kids in your life as holiday gifts? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:07

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking Children's and Young Adult Winter Reading with Jane Gilchrist who runs the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, which opened in 2009. Jon Scieszka is the author of numerous bestsellers for kids, including the "Stinky Cheese Man" and the "Truck Town" series. He joins us from the studios of -- from the Argot Studios in New York City.

  • 13:24:28

    NNAMDIAnd from the studios of MPBN in Portland, ME, Vicky Smith joins us. She is the children's and teen editor for Kirkus Reviews. She also works as a children's librarian for over a decade. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Jane, sometimes we worry that the book about ghosts or the occult might be too scary for kids. But kids like to be spooked. What creepy tales can you tell us about?

  • 13:24:56

    GILCHRISTWell, I did actually include one of them on my list that I know kids like.

  • 13:24:59


  • 13:25:00

    GILCHRIST"The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman. I think for kids and adults too, we all like to read beyond our reality. It's a safe way to explore other worlds. And if you get a little scared, you can close the book and set it aside for a while. So...

  • 13:25:20

    NNAMDI"Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman follows the story of Nobody Owens who lives in a graveyard and is being raised by ghosts. How about "Chime" by Franny Billingsley?

  • 13:25:30

    GILCHRISTNow, that one I know that a lot of the teenagers are really excited about right now. There are a lot of the paranormal stories out there for teenagers. I guess it's just a way for them to explore what's out there.

  • 13:25:44

    NNAMDISpirits hunting marshes. "Clockwork Prince" by Cassandra Clare based on the magical underworld of Victorian London.

  • 13:25:52

    GILCHRISTAgain, this is a steam (word?) I think and the -- this is again another way for kids to go out there and explore what's around for them.

  • 13:26:03

    NNAMDIAnd Jon Scieszka, you might want to weigh in on this. Your "Guys Read" (word?) may do the trick.

  • 13:26:11

    SCIESZKAOh, that was so much fun to put together because I got to ask 10 different writers to just come up with the spookiest, scariest, thrilling-est story they could. And we got guys like Walter Dean Myers who just -- I can't even describe what it is. It'll just scare you.

  • 13:26:28

    SCIESZKAM.T. Anderson and they're all short stories, which is kind of a difficult thing to get published these days. Publishers aren't too crazy about them. But from a kid's point of view, it's a perfect volume. There's 10 stories. You can look around. If you don't like one, go to the next one.

  • 13:26:45

    NNAMDIJon, why do you think some boys tend to be reluctant readers? And if we have one such in our lives, how can we change that?

  • 13:26:54

    SCIESZKAWell, part of it is, honestly, I've researched this for, like, 10 years and just tried to actually look into the problem. And I think a lot of it is boys don't get a choice often. They have a lot of required reading that maybe might not be to their taste. So, for instance, they love some action or love a thriller or love non-fiction or graphic novels or funny books. Funny books often don't get credit.

  • 13:27:22

    NNAMDISpeaking of...

  • 13:27:23


  • 13:27:23

    NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Jon.

  • 13:27:25

    SCIESZKAYeah. So, it's actually a matter of letting them be excited about what they're reading. And you say when adults buy books for kids, they often go for a title about something they know the kid in question already likes to do, like playing sports, dancing, drawing or singing. But you say, you should remember that just because a kid likes doing something doesn't necessarily mean they want to read about it.

  • 13:27:48

    SCIESZKAYeah, that's actually another great lesson I learned from my son who's more of a hockey player than a reader. And he always used to get hockey books from everybody. And finally he just told me once, he said, you know, dad, I like to play hockey, I don't like to read about it, which is a great distinction.

  • 13:28:05


  • 13:28:05

    SCIESZKAAnd he was completely right. Like, it's completely something else. Before that "Guys Read" connection, we're actually making the next volume, it's all sports stories. So we're trying to cook him still.

  • 13:28:16

    NNAMDIHere's an email we got from Marty in Washington. "I used to bring 'Calvin and Hobbes' collections everywhere with me when I was little. If my parents took me over to someone else's house for Christmas dinner, I'd take all the 'Calvin and Hobbes' to pass the time if got bored by the adults. 'Revenge of the Babysat,' 'Yukon Ho' classics. I know these were comics, but the true spirit of the comic was to let your imagination go crazy. Crazy enough that your stuffed tiger would come to life as your best friend. I still love those books. I wish Watterson never stopped." Me too, Marty.

  • 13:28:48

    SCIESZKAOh, that's brilliant.

  • 13:28:50

    NNAMDIIsn't it?

  • 13:28:50

    SCIESZKAYeah, because comics, those are sophisticated. "Calvin and Hobbes" has some sophisticated storytelling going on. And it's that combination of text and picture that graphic novels and picture books do now.

  • 13:29:01


  • 13:29:02

    SCIESZKAYeah, I'd buy those collections.

  • 13:29:04

    NNAMDIHere is Sarah in Alexandria, VA. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:29:10

    SARAHHi, Kojo, I have a couple of things. One is a holiday gift idea and then also I wanted to say that Jane actually gave me and my kids a tour at the Library of Congress Children's Room. And one of the most fascinating there for my nine-year-old voracious reading daughter was she was deep into "Harry Potter" at the time and saw all the copies of "Harry Potter" in different languages and also in Braille, which was quite a conversation starter for us. So that was really neat stuff.

  • 13:29:49

    SARAHAnd then also, not long ago, my stepmother decided as a gift to go through her books and pull out the children's books that she had. And so she gave my daughter a copy of "The Yearling" from 1938 and also a copy of "Wind in the Willows" from 1954. And they were just really neat, special gifts. You know, they're...

  • 13:30:15


  • 13:30:15

    SARAHIt's like a piece of her to my daughter. And so that was inexpensive and meaningful.

  • 13:30:22

    NNAMDIHey, Sarah, thank you so much for sharing that with us. Jane, you wanted to say?

  • 13:30:25

    GILCHRISTGlad to see you or hear from you and we'll see in the neighborhood.

  • 13:30:30


  • 13:30:31

    GILCHRISTGirl Scout cookies are coming up, I think, soon.

  • 13:30:33


  • 13:30:35

    SCIESZKAThis is a Library of Congress celebration.

  • 13:30:37


  • 13:30:38

    NNAMDIIt sure is. Sarah, thank you so much for your call. Vicky, a lot of parents worry about the format of the books their kids read. But each of you says that graphic novels, app versions of books and audiobooks all count and parents should not get so hung up on the mode of storytelling that their kids like best. Vicky, you reviewed book apps as well as traditional books. So, what's good -- what goes into a good app adaptation?

  • 13:31:06

    SMITHOh. Well, I think one of the interesting things about the app world is that we're all still trying to figure it out. There have been some pretty spectacular apps that have been published this year. And what I find interesting is the way the best developers are able to -- if they're working with a book that's already been published in paper, they're able to look at it and see how the technology of the iPad can extend the experience.

  • 13:31:38

    SMITHOne of the ones that I liked best was called "Van Gogh and the Sunflowers." And the printer book has been out for years now by Laurence Anholt, and it's the story of the postmaster's son in Arles and the relationship that he forms with Vincent Van Gogh. And it introduces children both to the artist and to his art. And the app does -- the app has the story, but it also has this fabulous feature where when kids tap on a reproduction of a Van Gogh work, it puts them into a virtual gallery of Van Gogh's works.

  • 13:32:13

    SMITHSo it actually puts them into a museum, which they can enter and exit at will, which I thought was really a wonderful way that honor the source material and also extended it in a way that the app can do that a printed book can't. But even more exciting than that, I find the stories that are being developed for the iPad with the technology in mind from the get go. And the best ones that I found -- it's a series, it's just beginning. The first one came out last year.

  • 13:32:45

    SMITHIt's called "The Button at the Bottom of the Sea" is this year and it follows "Bartleby's Book of Buttons" and it's about this gentleman who looks a little bit like Tin Tin with a mustache and he collects buttons and he has adventures when he collects buttons, which I think is brilliant the way it cues in on how kids just absolutely love pushing anything that even resembles a button. And if you've had a kid in a room with a computer, you know how that goes.

  • 13:33:10

    NNAMDIOr with an iPad, for that matter.

  • 13:33:11

    SMITHYes, or with an iPad. But the children are actually moving the story along with the way that they interact with it. And I think that that's incredibly exciting. I'm a paper person. I love paper books. But I think that the human animal needs stories and the human animal is going to seek out stories in whatever form they're available, whether it's oral storytelling or movies or radio dramas or printed books or apps. And I think it's important to celebrate the really best apps that are out there because it's story in a new form.

  • 13:33:43

    NNAMDIVicky also sent us a top five book apps for kids. You can find all of that if you go to our website, You can also join the conversation there or send email to Our number is 800-433-8850. Do you gift classic books you loved as a child or seek out newer titles to give as gifts? Call us, 800-433-8850. Jon, a lot of parents read aloud to their children. But they might balk at the idea of getting them an audiobook. But one of your top picks of the year is just that, an audio book. You recommend the audio version of True Meaning of -- what's it, smokeday?

  • 13:34:25


  • 13:34:26

    NNAMDISmekday, yeah. I was wondering if I was reading it correctly. It is smekday.

  • 13:34:29


  • 13:34:31

    SCIESZKAIt is. It'll change your world.

  • 13:34:33

    NNAMDIBy Adam Rex.

  • 13:34:34

    SCIESZKAYeah, it's spectacular young adult book that's just kind of crazy and it's called "The True Meaning of Smekday," where all these strange blooby aliens come down and take over Florida and the world. But it won the Odyssey Award this year, which is an award given by a branch of the American Library Association for one of best -- or the Best Recording of the Year.

  • 13:35:01


  • 13:35:01

    SCIESZKAAnd it's really interesting to, you know, to hear that.

  • 13:35:03

    NNAMDIWe got a clip. We've got a clip from "The True Meaning of Smekday."

  • 13:35:05

    SCIESZKAOh, you do? Better yet.

  • 13:35:08

    NNAMDIHere it is.

  • 13:35:10

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMANThis story starts in June 2013, about six months after the alien Boov arrived, which also makes it six months after the aliens completely took over, and about a week after they decided the entire human race would probably be happier if they all move to some little out-of-the-way state where they could keep out of trouble. At the time, I lived in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was on the eastern side of the United States. The United States was this big country where everybody wear funny t-shirts and ate too much.

  • 13:35:47

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMANI've been living by myself after mom left. I didn't want anyone to know. I had learned to drive our car short distances by nailing cans of corn to my church shoes so I could reach the pedals. I made a lot of mistakes at first. And if anyone was walking on the sidewalk at 49th and Pine after dark on March 3, 2013, I owe you an apology.

  • 13:36:13

    NNAMDIThat's the audiobook, "The True Meaning of Smekday." We like that, huh, Jon?

  • 13:36:20

    SCIESZKAOh, I loved it. And I really love the audiobook as a way to get kids who might not be great readers into a story or sophisticated readers kind of love listening to story. It's really all about the story.

  • 13:36:33

    NNAMDIAnd, Jane, I want to circle back again to our earlier conversation about graphic novels because they fall into the category, I guess, of things some adults don't consider real books. But if that's the case, you say these adults need to, well, think again.

  • 13:36:49

    GILCHRISTWell, they need to think again and perhaps go back to their own childhood. Did they read comic books? I bet they did.

  • 13:36:57

    NNAMDIGuilty as charged.

  • 13:37:00

    GILCHRISTI think it's just because it's something new to the adults. And the kids have embraced them and the adults just don't quite get them yet. And pick one up, see what their kids are reading.

  • 13:37:16

    NNAMDIOne has gotten a lot of buzz this year, "Wonderstruck," which is sort of a graphic-traditional book hybrid, is it not?

  • 13:37:23

    GILCHRISTIt's a very, very interesting book. It's not a companion, but Brian Selznick had a book last year called "The Cabinet of Hugo Cabret," which is actually now out in a movie. And it has illustrations interspersed with the text, but it's a really interesting reading experience because as you were reading the text, you really carried along when you hit 10 or 12 pages of pictures in a way that is new. They're very exciting books.

  • 13:38:03

    NNAMDIOn to Jack in Washington, D.C. Jack, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:38:08

    JACKThanks, Kojo. Yeah, just two questions. First, my daughter is 13. She reads hundreds of pages so quickly and she gets great grades in school and everything. So, I'm not worried about her not absorbing stuff. But I'm not sure if she's really enjoying the books that she's reading because she doesn't -- we never really talk about it. So that's my first question. Then the second question is, given the fact that she reads so much, she's read the "Harry Potter" series many times over, the "Twilight" series and she's into that stuff.

  • 13:38:40

    JACKBut how can we crossover to get her to actually start thinking about writing for fun? And really everything that she's reading are the things that she would want to graduate to the writing side of things. But that's sort of the gist of my question.

  • 13:38:56

    NNAMDIAny recommendations, Vicky Smith, for what Jack might want to do?

  • 13:39:00

    SMITHI guess I'd speak to the writing first. And I would just get her a nice blank book for Christmas and keep it low pressure. Because once the parents start indicating desires, especially with a 13, 14, 15-year-old, you're going to come up with a lot of resistance. And I guess I'd also wonder, I think she's hit that age where she is developing her own -- she's working very hard at developing who she's going to be. And that's a pretty private process for a teenager.

  • 13:39:32

    SMITHSo, I really hear your concern about whether she's enjoying the books that she's reading, but my gut would be if she seems to enjoy reading before when she was a pre-teen, I bet she's still enjoying it but she really wants it to be her own thing and not something that is part of her old self, but more part of her new self. I think that that's a really important thing for teenagers to do. And it's hard. I'm a parent of a teenager too and I would love nothing more than to share books with my daughter and every once in a while, she's gracious enough to do it. But most of the time she's on her own and I have to respect that.

  • 13:40:10

    JACKYeah. We gelled over the "Harry Potter" stuff, certainly. So that's a good thing. Okay.

  • 13:40:15

    NNAMDIJack, thank you very much for your call.

  • 13:40:17

    JACKThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:40:18

    NNAMDIWe move onto Derrick in Northwest Washington. Derrick, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:40:25

    DERRICKGood afternoon, Kojo, and to your guests. Thank you for having me. This topic is very near and dear to my wife and I. We have a one year old now, and prior to giving birth to her, we've been looking around for a lot of different story books that we can find for her, specifically aimed for African-Americans. Then we decided to write our own. There wasn't too many choices for us around the area.

  • 13:40:51

    DERRICKWe just published a book actually last month and it's called "From Stars to Souls."

  • 13:40:55


  • 13:40:56

    DERRICKIt was through Outskirts Press. Not only just to get that out there to the audience, but we'd also like to get some, you know, advice from your guests are far as how to promote it more and get it out there more.

  • 13:41:10

    NNAMDIJon Scieszka, any advice for Derrick?

  • 13:41:13

    SCIESZKAYeah. You just did a great job getting on the radio.

  • 13:41:16

    NNAMDIThat was very good, yeah.

  • 13:41:17

    SCIESZKAThat's a great idea.

  • 13:41:18

    NNAMDIGood first move.

  • 13:41:19

    SCIESZKAYeah. And you know what? Yeah. And I think to go in and like offer to read once your child gets in school age, I mean, schools love to have authors come in, local libraries, there's just -- yeah. I think that's a great way to get it out there.

  • 13:41:34

    NNAMDIDerrick, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. We've got to take another short break. When we come back we will continue our conversation on children's and young adult's winter reading. Remember, you can go to our website to find all of the recommending readings from our guests today. It's also the place where you can join this conversation. You can also do that by calling 800-433-8850.

  • 13:41:55

    NNAMDIIs there a book that you received as a gift when you were a kid that you really loved that turned you onto reading? What was it? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:57

    NNAMDIChildren and young adult winter reading. That's what we're talking about with Vicky Smith, children's and teen editor for Kirkus Review. She's also worked as a children's librarian for over a decade. Jane Gilchrist runs the Young Reader's Center at the Library of Congress which opened in 2009. Jon Scieszka served as the first national ambassador for young people's literature from 2008 to 2010. He's the founder of Guys Read, a nonprofit literacy organization, and he is the author of numerous best-selling books for kids including "The Stinky Cheese Man," and the "Trucktown" series.

  • 13:44:32

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Jane, there are a lot of series out there that capture young reader's attention and keep them interested too. Are there some that the kids who visit the Young Readers Center particularly like? I guess "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" springs to mind, because I read an article in today's newspaper about a lawsuit...

  • 13:44:52


  • 13:44:52

    NNAMDI...emanating from the creators of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" suing another comic book series for copyright impingement if you will.

  • 13:45:00


  • 13:45:02

    NNAMDIBut tell us about "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." Very popular, isn't it?

  • 13:45:05

    GILCHRISTIt's very popular, and I believe that Jeff Kinney has a Washington D.C. connection. I think he was raised in the Maryland suburbs.

  • 13:45:13


  • 13:45:14

    GILCHRISTBut he seems to have really captured what it's like to be at that age and dealing with your family and your brothers and your friends at school, and just all the things that can happen. This new book "Cabin Fever" has come out just in time for Christmas. I know a lot of parents become -- they're concerned that their kids are reading series books, and they want them to move on, but you know, sometimes those series books are -- they're familiar and they tell great stories.

  • 13:45:45

    GILCHRISTThey have great story arcs, and why not go ahead and read that next one. The "Warrior" series, the clan of warrior cats, they have a -- there's a new one out for that one too, and kids just love those.

  • 13:46:00

    NNAMDIHow about...

  • 13:46:00

    SCIESZKABoy, I would hardly second that, because it's just -- if you find a book that a kid loves, it's nothing like just connecting them to the whole series. That's why I think "Wimpy Kid" is just brilliant.

  • 13:46:12

    GILCHRISTAnd adults. Let's remember adult reading.

  • 13:46:14


  • 13:46:15

    GILCHRISTAdults like series books, so why wouldn't we want our kids to read them?

  • 13:46:19

    NNAMDIJon not only recommends "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," he's -- if you've exhausted that series, he recommends "Darth Paper Strikes Back," by Tom Angleberger.

  • 13:46:29


  • 13:46:31

    SCIESZKAYeah. His original book was "Origami Yoda" and it's just -- it's that kind of thing, and people -- parents are always asking me saying like what can I get my kid to read next? I think "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" drives them a little crazy. So I'd say send them to "Origami Yoda" or "Darth Paper."

  • 13:46:47

    GILCHRISTAnd you learn how to make the Yoda too. There are instructions.

  • 13:46:51

    SCIESZKASee, very handy.

  • 13:46:51

    NNAMDIVicky, a lot of young adult novels sell more copies than best sellers with titles from "The Hunger Games" trilogy outselling "The Help" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." This may be in part because a lot of adults are reading these books. Why do you think it is?

  • 13:47:09

    SMITHI think that there a bunch of reasons. I think one is that so many teen books deal with the coming of age moment, and adults have all gone through it, and so there is a connection, even if an adult in her 40s or 50s, they still remember that moment, and it's interesting to revisit it. And I also think that so much, especially literary fiction for adults, tends to have less emphasis on plot, and beautiful writing often, but sometimes you just plain want a story, and I think that teen literature can really deliver a story in spectacular fashion and when you combine that with what is just essentially interesting about a person's coming of age journey, you've got a hook of a book.

  • 13:48:03

    SMITHI think that "Hunger Games" has got a pretty astonishing premise which amps up the interest factor, but I think that there is an awful lot of teen literature out there that would cross over very comfortably to adults if they'd bring themselves to look into the teen section, so I'm really excited to see that more and more people are doing that.

  • 13:48:23

    NNAMDIJane, you say there's a huge crossover market.

  • 13:48:25

    GILCHRISTI think there is, and I know Jon has talked about this from his reading experience as a child. Kids really want a good story. Well, adults want a good story too, and sometimes those teen novels, they're really well written, and they've got great stories.

  • 13:48:42

    SCIESZKAYeah. I love that -- I think people have finally caught up to realize young adults writers are amazing writers.

  • 13:48:47

    NNAMDIWell, let's talk to an actual teenager. Here's Olivia in Upper Marlboro, Md. Olivia, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 13:48:58

    OLIVIAHi. I'm just -- I really love this show today because it really brings back a lot of memories. I used to read the "Lemony Snicket" series, and I completely adored that, and I used to read a lot when I was younger. I'm trying to get back into it with "Catch 22" right now. But, I just wanted to speak on the whole book store situation where you see a lot of book stores, like especially Barnes & Noble is shutting down everywhere, and I know, especially when I was younger, I would go into Barnes and Nobles, and if I didn't have, you know, enough money, or if my parents just bought me a coat and they didn't want to buy me a book and I, you know, couldn't really get the book, I would into Barnes & Noble and like go off into the corner and read my, you know, " Lemony Snicket" book or any other book that I really liked.

  • 13:49:51

    OLIVIAAnd it's just like a really sort of place where you can sit down and read, you know, other can coffee shops. And I'm just wondering, like how do you think the shutting down of like bookstores and this whole new wave book technology if you will, will really shape the future of story writing and...

  • 13:50:10

    NNAMDIOlivia, I have news for you. You are the future. You should be the one telling us exactly how the future will be shaped. But allow me to have any of our panelists respond to that. What do you think the future will look like, Jon Scieszka?

  • 13:50:25

    SCIESZKAI love that question from Olivia, because I think that's at the heart of what we're struggling with now, both writers and publishers. And we're also sad that Borders went out of business and closed down a bunch of stores. But I think the way to do it is actually go in and support the local stores in your neighborhood. Like go buy books there, go hang out there, go talk to the people there. And you can do both. You can buy stuff online, but also support the brick and mortar stores, and there'll be digital stores -- or books sold too. I kind of buy all kinds of varieties.

  • 13:50:59

    NNAMDIHey, Olivia, thank you very much for your call. Good luck to you.

  • 13:51:04

    OLIVIAThank you. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

  • 13:51:07

    NNAMDIHappy Holidays to you too. We move onto Katie in Washington D.C. Katie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:51:14

    KATIEHi, we love the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress. My three year old and one year old got to story time there, and we actually hosted our three year old's birthday party at the National Book Festival, and I wonder if Jane could talk more about the story time that they do for toddlers.

  • 13:51:30


  • 13:51:31

    GILCHRISTWell, we have a story time on Friday mornings. It starts at 10:45. Right now it's being run by a gifted graduate student of the University of Maryland who started about a year ago as a graduate student doing her field work with us, and she has stayed on now as a volunteer, and we have developed quite a following on Friday mornings. So we invite everybody to come over for that.

  • 13:52:00

    NNAMDIFrom "Babar" to "Angelina Ballerina" and beyond, little kids love picture books centered around animal characters. What kind of creatures have we seen stories about this year, Jane?

  • 13:52:11

    GILCHRISTWell, there's mice and there's Ernest the Moose who wouldn't fit into the book which we really like.

  • 13:52:21

    NNAMDIWait a minute. Ernest can't fit into the book?

  • 13:52:24

    GILCHRISTHe cannot fit. And in the...

  • 13:52:25

    SCIESZKAToo big.

  • 13:52:26

    GILCHRISTBut at the end --- he's too big, but through some hard work and some critical thinking and analysis, he and his friend manage to get Ernest into that book.

  • 13:52:38

    NNAMDII like the title "I Want My Hat Back." What's that about?

  • 13:52:42

    GILCHRISTYes. Well, somebody -- a bear has lost his hat and he wants it back and so he starts remembering what's important when he's looking for his missing hat.

  • 13:52:55

    NNAMDIVicky, talk a little bit about the kinds of creatures we've been seeing stories about this year.

  • 13:53:00

    SMITHWell, animals are in picture books are going to be with us forever, thank goodness. But two of my favorites, one is called "Red Sled" by Lita Judd -- sorry, Lita Judge, and it has very little text. It's mostly told through the illustrations, and you see a red sled propped up outside of a house on snowy afternoon, and a brown bear finds it and hops on and as the pages turn, more and more of his friends pile on with him, and it's just this wild ride down the hill with this huge heap of animals.

  • 13:53:36

    SMITHAnd it's visually hysterical, but it also has -- the only text is sound effects. So you have the sound of the bear going through the snow, scrunch, scrinch, scrunch, scrinch, and then they're sort of going (makes noise) down the hill and (makes noise) when they all flop into the snow. So it's very funny to read aloud and to see the way the sounds are reproduced on the page visually.

  • 13:54:02

    SMITHAnd another one I liked is called "Pig Kahuna" by Jennifer Sattler, and it's about a pair of pig brothers who go to the beach, and they find a surfboard, and as small children do, they bond with this surfboard in a way that is much more significant than just what you do with an inanimate object. They name it Dave. Dave becomes their friend. But when the older pig goes off to get ice cream, the younger pig decides that Dave needs to be returned to the waves, which engenders an adventure because the older pig has to go back and rescue Dave and can pigs surf? Well, it turns out they can.

  • 13:54:37

    NNAMDIJon, a lot of families pull out their copy of "The Polar Express" this time of year. You've got a book by the author and illustrator that familiar story, Chris Van Allsburg, on your list, but there's something quite different about the "Chronicles of Harris Burdick," isn't there?

  • 13:54:53

    SCIESZKAOh, that's a beautiful new picture book. It's a book that's been out for I think 25 or 30 years, called "Mysteries of Harris Burdick," which were just illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg, or by Mr. Burdick, and all they had was the title of the beginning of the story, and that first line. So recently, they asked like 14 different authors to write a story to go with each one of those. So I got to pick one of the pictures and write a story for it. Kate DiCamillo did, Stephen King writes one of the stories in there to go with a picture. And it was just both one of the most fun projects, and then it kind of goes back to that thing we talked about, about like revisiting a classic.

  • 13:55:37

    NNAMDIOh, it sounds like a lot of fun.

  • 13:55:39

    SCIESZKAIt's a beautiful book, yeah.

  • 13:55:41

    NNAMDIHere's Diane. Katie, thank you for your call. Here's Diane in Washington D.C. Diane, your turn.

  • 13:55:47

    DIANEThank you. Good afternoon. What is your opinion of the newspaper comics that become graphic novels? I have in mind specifically the creations of my father, Lee Falk, who created and was the continuous writer for seven decades of "The Phantom," and "Mandrake the Magician."

  • 13:56:06

    NNAMDILothar was my favorite character on "Mandrake the Magician."

  • 13:56:08

    DIANEOh, yes. And he evolved so much. Over those seven decades, you can see the illustrations and the style changed very much.

  • 13:56:18

    NNAMDICare to comment on the graphic novels, Jon?

  • 13:56:22

    SCIESZKAWow. I love that stuff because I think that brings an entire bunch of storytelling and kind of legitimizes it. I love seeing stuff like "Crazy Cat" or "Pogo" that's brought into book form. Or like you said, or the "Calvin and Hobbes." It's like it just lets people know like that's real story telling, and it's great reading. That's very exciting. I didn't the "Phantom" and "Mandrake" was in book form. I'm gonna go out and get it right now.

  • 13:56:53

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Diane. On now to Naomi in Silver Spring, Md. Naomi, you only have about 30 seconds left. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:57:04

    NAOMIOh, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I love the show. I just wanted to say I work in a lower school library, and I recently picked up a book I hadn't picked up since I was a kid, and it's also reaching it's about 50th year anniversary. "The Book of Three" by Lloyd Alexander, and I just wanted to recommend it and the whole series to third, fourth, fifth graders just love it. It has a great hero, a strong female character, and blood, and guts, and magic, and it's great.

  • 13:57:32

    GILCHRISTHere, here.

  • 13:57:32

    SMITHAll the good things.

  • 13:57:32

    SCIESZKAOh, those are good books. Yeah.

  • 13:57:34

    NNAMDIHey, thank you very much for your recommendation, Naomi, and I'm afraid that's about it. We're just about out of time. Vicky Smith, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:42

    SMITHOh, thank you for having me. It's been great. Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor for Kirkus Review. She also worked as a children's librarian for over a decade. Jon Scieszka, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:53

    SCIESZKAOh, my pleasure. Thanks so much.

  • 13:57:55

    NNAMDIJon Scieszka is the author of numerous best-sellers for kids including "The Stinky Cheese Man," and the "Trucktown" series. He also served as the first national ambassador for young people's literature from 2008 to 2010, and is the founder of Guys Read which is a nonprofit literacy organization. And Jane Gilchrist, thank you for dropping by.

  • 13:58:15

    GILCHRISTIt's was my pleasure.

  • 13:58:16

    NNAMDIJane Gilchrist runs the Young Reader's Center at the Library of Congress. It opened in 2009. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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