Books make great holiday gifts, especially for the youngest recipients on your list. But it can be tough to navigate the thousands of titles out there, old and new. From colorful and insightful picture books to young adult novels that center around strong female characters, we’ve got picks for the tots and teens in your life.


  • Edie Ching Lecturer, College of Information Science at The University of Maryland; member, ALA Notables Childrens' Book Committee; reviewer, Booklist
  • Joe Callahan Executive director, 826DC
  • Ellen Oh Author, "The Prophecy Series"

Listeners Pick The Best Children’s And Young Adult Literature For Winter 2012

We asked the Kojo Show audience what books you’re gifting this season and what books you tend to revisit this time of year. Here’s a sampling of picks.

Storified by The Kojo Nnamdi Show · Thu, Dec 13 2012 12:05:02

@kojoshow in the wintertime, Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. #kojoreadsThrift Store Mama
@kojoshow The Texas Night Before Christmas. It was read to me as a child, and now my son loves it too!Matthew Joseph
“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote is a good read for kids and adults who would do well to learn of a time before electronic gadgets and gifts with “in” labels. It is loosely based on Capote’s early life and is about the relationship between a boy and his distant cousin, a childish woman who shares her limited life with the boy. The copy with illustrations by Beth Pack is beautiful to look at. I read it every Christmas and cry every year.— Gloria via email
I have two recommendations for preschool picture books -“Z is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham and Paul Zelinsky and “Press Here” by Herve Tullet.— Emily via email
We love Mo Willems!  Another recommendation that we’ve recently purchases is “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” — also great for parents! Our older child likes book series, and we’ve recently started the “39 Clues” series, about an orphaned sister and brother who are in a world-wide scavenger hunt to find the truth about their powerful family.  It takes kids all over the world and into different cultures, and explores facts about different people in history.— Marina via email
The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbit is my all-time favorite chapter book. I think it is overshadowed by Tuck Everlasting (another great book!) but truly, it is such a wonderful adventure story. I gift it to every child I know!Sarah Shoemaker
@kojoshow A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears = best kids book EVER. Great lessons, still makes me LOL. #kojoreadsSara G.
@kojoshow for the younger crowd: the llama llama books, I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!, and Over In The Ocean. My preschool students LOVE them!Ann McIntyre
“A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeline L’Engle – I read this about age 12. It was the first book that made me think we might not be alone in this universe. Very powerful. — Susan via email
Hi! I’m an American University student who just took a children s lit course. We  had to read young adult fiction novel “Elijah of Buxton.” It was incredible.— Emily via email
I have two kids, ages 14 and 17, who loved, loved, loved “Life of Pi.” — Beth via email
Do you know the book "Love You Forever" RT @kojoshow: Any books from your youth that you pull out and revisit this time of year? #kojoreadsBonnie Taub-Dix
@kojoshow Love giving Pat the Bunny for the babies #kojoreadsLucy Cunningham
@kojoshow bump for Tatterhood! FANTASTIC collection of world tales of empowered girls EVERYONE should read!Ann McIntyre
Edie Ching, member of the ALA Notables Childrens’ Book Committee, “The Prophecy Series” author Ellen Oh and Joe Callahan, executive director of 826DC, share their recommendations for the best children’s and young adult books to read this winter season:
2012 Winter Reading Show: Children’s Books | The Kojo Nnamdi ShowEdie Ching, member of the ALA Notables Childrens’ Book Committee, "The Prophecy Series" author Ellen Oh and Joe Callahan, executive direc…


  • 13:06:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A lot of savvy holiday shoppers find books make ideal gifts. And for the kids and teens on your list there are presents that can help foster a lifelong love of reading. Sparked by colorful illustrations alongside stories, both silly and serious, fanciful fables and folktales and dystopian futuristic thrillers that capture the imagination and leave them looking for more.

  • 13:07:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to guide us through winder reading picks for tots and teens alike 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, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:42

    MS. EDIE CHINGI'm delighted to be here.

  • 13:07:44

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Ellen Oh. Ellen Oh is a former attorney turned author whose first book "Prophecy" will be published in January. Ellen Oh, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:54

    MS. ELLEN OHThank you for having me.

  • 13:07:55

    NNAMDIAnd Joe Callahan is the executive director of 826DC. That's a nonprofit organization that helps students ages six through eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills. Joe Callahan, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:08

    MR. JOE CALLAHANThanks for having me.

  • 13:08:09

    NNAMDIJoe, before we actually get to the reading, let's start with writing. For those who have never happened into the Museum of Unnatural History in Columbia Heights or heard of 826DC, what is it that you do?

  • 13:08:23

    CALLAHANWell, we're a nonprofit, as you said, that works with kids ages six to eighteen. We offer five main programs, after-school tutoring four days a week, evening and weekend creative writing workshops. We go into schools to help teachers inspire their students to write. We do student publishing so we help students publish their own books. And we host field trips. So we bring classes into our center where they collectively write, edit, illustrate and publish their own book in two hours.

  • 13:08:54

    NNAMDIYou have a Museum of Unnatural History?

  • 13:08:56

    CALLAHANWe do. Every 826 we are a part of a national network of nonprofits that started in San Francisco ten years ago. And each one of us has our own storefront. So ours is the Museum of Unnatural History which is this, what we like to say, a whimsical portal for our kids to come in and feel inspired by everything there. We have a cave, we have...

  • 13:09:18

    NNAMDIThat's what I read. The store has a built-in cave, a real cave.

  • 13:09:21

    CALLAHANWe do. It's a -- 600 pounds of concrete. We built it right into the wall when we opened two years ago. We also have an iguana. His name is Alvarez.

  • 13:09:33

    NNAMDIAre kids the only ones allowed into the cave?

  • 13:09:35

    CALLAHANOh no, everyone can come in.

  • 13:09:36

    NNAMDIOkay. For me maybe...

  • 13:09:37

    CALLAHANKids of all ages. Kids of all ages.

  • 13:09:39

    NNAMDIWould you talk briefly, if you will, about "Unnatural Creatures" edited by Neil Gaiman?

  • 13:09:46

    CALLAHANYes. We're working with Neil Gaiman and our friends at HarperCollins on a benefit book called "Unnatural Creatures." It's for readers over 13. It's a fantasy book that goes into the creatures of your imagination, unicorns, manticores, all of those things. And it features work by, you know, some of the best, Diana Wynne Jones, Gayle Wilson, Neil Gaiman of course. And everything -- all the proceeds from the book benefit our totally free programming.

  • 13:10:21

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. We're discussing children's and young adult winter reading and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Which books have you picked up to give to the good kids on your list this year? And how about the bad kids? They get books too. Which books have you picked out for them, 800-433-8850? You can send email to Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or go to our website, where you will see the recommendations of our panelists. And you can make some of your own.

  • 13:10:52

    NNAMDIEllen, after 15 years as a lawyer, you decided to give writing a try and your first book comes out next month. What inspired you to make that switch?

  • 13:11:01

    OHIt's a long story. I'll give you the short one. And basically I blame Genghis Khan.

  • 13:11:07

    NNAMDIGenghis Khan, that's the short version?

  • 13:11:10

    OHHonestly Genghis Khan was man of the millennium in 2000 for Time Magazine. And I had -- I was so intrigued by the fact that an Asian man was in this exalted spot and I started reading biographies of him. And in the process read all about ancient Korean history which was so fascinating to me that I wanted to read more but there wasn't a lot. And that triggered this desire to write a book about ancient Korea that would be interesting to kind of North American kids. Because I knew my kids really wanted to read that.

  • 13:11:43

    NNAMDISo then tell us about "Prophecy" and the strong female character who takes the lead.

  • 13:11:49

    OHWell, "Prophecy" is a fantasy set in ancient Korea around the three kingdoms' time, but again I was -- it's a fantasy so I was able to play around with a lot of it. It incorporates myths and legends and has a strong female character who is despised by everyone because she's different. And she's different because she's strong...

  • 13:12:12

    NNAMDIDifferent, yes, but powerful.

  • 13:12:13

    OH...and powerful. And she can smell demons, which is a very good trick to have when you're a bodyguard of a prince who is supposed to be the hero of legend. But then it turns out actually that she is.

  • 13:12:27

    NNAMDIColor of her eyes?

  • 13:12:28


  • 13:12:29

    NNAMDIThat I find really fascinating. "Prophecy" with the yellow eyes. Edie, it's my understanding that you have read "Prophecy."

  • 13:12:37

    CHINGI have. I asked -- when I found out Ellen was going to be on the show, I asked Harper if they would send me an ARC, that's an advanced reader's copy, and they did. And I sat down and I could not put it down. And I guess...

  • 13:12:51

    NNAMDIWhich is your standard. Your standard is if you can read -- oh, that's Ellen's standard -- if you can read it once without putting it down.

  • 13:12:58


  • 13:12:59

    NNAMDIWell, it worked in the case of Edie.

  • 13:13:01

    OHAnd what I wanted to say is when you're asking callers to call in about the books that they buy, I always want to give a plug. Read those books that you're buying for the kids. And it doesn't matter what age group because what a great thing to share. As grandparents don't just buy a copy of the book for them, buy it for you as well. I am anxious to talk to people about "Prophecy." I was just at St. Albans where I used to be the librarian, book talking, picture books. But it's wonderful to say, what did you think of this heroin? And you can do it on Facebook with your family members, you can do it on Skype or just on the phone. Did you get to this part of the book yet?

  • 13:13:40

    NNAMDINow my granddaughter's going to insist that I have to read every single book that I give to her. I think that's actually a very good idea.

  • 13:13:44

    OHThat's not a bad idea.

  • 13:13:47

    NNAMDIIf you have ideas of your own you can call us at 800-433-88550. Do you tend to give classic books you loved as child or do you seek out newer titles to give as gifts? 800-433-8850. Of course, if you give out a classic book to your grandchild, that means you've already read it so, 800-433-8850. Edie, there is some confusion and concern over an apparent move away from fiction in the common core standards that schools and some 46 states in the district now use. What's your take on this shift to including more nonfiction reading on kids' curricular?

  • 13:14:24

    CHINGWell, what's happened is it's produced some wonderful nonfiction. And I brought today part of a series called Scientists in the Field. And this is about "The Mighty Mars Rover," two rovers that were sent up prior to what's going on now. We hear about all the things that are coming back. It reads like an adventure story. One man's passion, what happens when the rover doesn't work and you have to have a prototype down here and you have to create the sand and all that would look like Mars to straight out the problem.

  • 13:14:56

    CHING"Bomb" which reads like a thriller. It begins with a spy and it remind us of what was happening in D.C. when someone was shoving money down a toilet and down a bra. It opens with somebody hiding secrets because he has been a spy, Harry Gold, and it's the development of the atomic bomb and all the subterfuge that was going on as well. These are terrific nonfiction.

  • 13:15:23

    NNAMDII guess my concern is that schools find these good books and not some of the testimonies that they're talking about reading, the congressional record or reading a particular congressional bill. Not when there's this good stuff that's out there.

  • 13:15:41

    NNAMDIIt's called "Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin. And the other book is called "The Mighty Mars Rover." Joe, nonfiction is, well, a specialty of yours, but you've got a lot of historical fiction on your list. What do you think or why do you think it appeals to kids and what titles are you excited about?

  • 13:16:05

    CALLAHANWell, I think historical fiction appeals to kids because it has that creativity involved in it. It's built in. And then -- so they can be curious about all these things and know that it was kind of like that, but then also provides the narrative in that story that they get to get, you know, enveloped in.

  • 13:16:29

    CALLAHANSome of the books that I have on my list is "Stones for my Father" by Trilby Kent which is a historical fiction book about a young girl in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War as the British are invading. It's a fascinating, fascinating read. It's a wonderful story.

  • 13:16:52

    NNAMDIOf her father whom I know, yes.

  • 13:16:55

    CALLAHANAnd then...

  • 13:16:57

    NNAMDICorlie Roux, yes, R-O-U-X.

  • 13:16:58

    CALLAHANYes. And then the other one I think I'm really excited about is "Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck" which, first of all, it's a beautifully made book which I have -- I know I'm partial to beautifully designed books. But the collector in me loves owning beautifully designed books. But it's this wonderfully poetic narrative that tells the story of a half islander, half Spanish sailor who works on pirate ships and is passed around. And then their pirate ship is wrecked and they -- the main character has to decide the fate of his captors on that pirate ship.

  • 13:17:47

    CALLAHANAnd it's -- there's a lot of, you know, the Latino culture in there. It's fantastic.

  • 13:17:53

    NNAMDI"Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Ship Wreck" by Margarita Engle. And how about "Dead End in Norvelt" by Jack Gantos?

  • 13:18:03

    CALLAHANIt's just a hilarious romp and it's loosely fictionalized account of his childhood and about a young boy's relationship with an older woman in his neighborhood who he ends up typing out obituaries for, because she writes obituaries for their local newspaper. And he learns, you know, about the history of his town, which is really important. And it's just a really wonderfully funny book.

  • 13:18:31

    NNAMDIWhich reminds me, next week on this broadcast The Year in Death, our obituary show that we have here at this time of year. The number again, 800-433-8850. Please don your headphones. We're about to go to the telephone because Palace in Bowie, Md. awaits us. Palace, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:52

    PALACEHi Kojo. I've never called in before and this is crazy exciting. I just wanted to put forth some books that my mom got for me when I was a kid in the mid '90s. She was really big on the combination of good art and, like, nice illustrations and powerful feminist main characters. So...

  • 13:19:12

    NNAMDIOkay, go ahead.

  • 13:19:14

    PALACE..."Tatterhood and Other Tales," which is a collection of adapted traditional folktales, which also is about women from all over the world, Africa, Korea, everywhere. And then if you have someone who is really into art, a book called "Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch," which is a wonderful story about this crazy surrealist artist from the Renaissance era and his assistant who just can't take all the crazy creatures running around anymore. And it's illustrating...

  • 13:19:45

    NNAMDI"Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch." What else?

  • 13:19:49

    PALACEAnd anything by Munsch and Marchenko which is an illustrator/writer combo who just does amazing kids books about everything, absolutely.

  • 13:20:01

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Palace. Ellen, a recent New York Times story explored the lack of Latino characters in books for young readers. How important is it to foster greater diversity? It seems that it obviously should be for books for kids and teens, but are we seeing any progress towards that goal?

  • 13:20:25

    OHI think it's really interesting to see the difference when you walk into a bookstore where the middle grade book covers you'll see more diversity than when you go into the young adult section and you'll see book after book of beautiful white girls in beautiful dresses. And I know that most people look at that as a lack of diversity. And it's hard as a minority to see that because it says there's no book there that I can relate to, that will speak to me.

  • 13:21:02

    OHSo there's been a lot of talk about whether or not it might be better even to go to an iconic (word?) for young adults. Because we wonder if maybe with middle grade books and picture books parents and teachers are having a lot more influence on what children are reading, whereas with young adult books you'll see that teenagers may be choosing material themselves. So if you go to more of an iconic cover, then they don't know what the character is and it's a story that speaks to them. And it gives everyone a chance to find a story and relate to it and maybe bring diversity into the books that we're lacking now.

  • 13:21:41

    NNAMDIEdie, your take on this.

  • 13:21:42

    CHINGWell, there are a lot of other groups that have been sort of left out as well, people with special needs. We are seeing more books now with main characters who have autism. A wonderful new book this year deals with a boy born with a facial deformity and all the different viewpoints within his own family.

  • 13:22:04

    CHINGAnd then "Jeb Who Defied the Stars" is historical fiction that fits right in with Joe's love here. But the main character is a dwarf in 15th century Netherlands. And how often have we seen a dwarf in children's literature. And he's wonderfully realized and interestingly he finds for himself that he must make his own choices. Very much like Ellen's main character, Kira who has to find that she has to make her own choices, sort of that be true to yourself.

  • 13:22:38

    NNAMDIHow does the diversity issue strike the kids that you work with, Joe?

  • 13:22:43

    CALLAHANIt's -- you know, we work with a lot of kids from across the city. Many of our students are African American, Latino. And they come to me -- you know, there's one story of one of our students, a young African American boy who came into my office. He said, Mr. Joe I have to ask you a question. And I said, go ahead. And he's like, can I be a vampire? I was like, well, you know, I don't know, can you? He's like, well, you know, one of the kids said I couldn't be a vampire because I'm black.

  • 13:23:22

    CALLAHANAnd it was heart wrenching to see. It's like, no you can be whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. And so it's -- I think there's this part of -- leading back to that story in the New York Times is that we have to realize that it can start very early. That if you don't see these characters in that -- those storylines it can impact the way a kid feels about himself right away. And, you know, if we can bring in a more diverse and kind of diverse characterizations it would help kind of this.

  • 13:24:02

    NNAMDIIt can affect what a kid feels he or she can be. It affects what a kid feels is or is not accessible to him or to her.

  • 13:24:08


  • 13:24:10

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, more recommendations for books for children and young adults for their winter reading. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Is there a book that you received as a gift when you were a kid that you really loved? What was it? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:26:22

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about children's and young adult winter reading with Joe Callahan. He is the executive director of 826DC which is a nonprofit organization that helps students with their creative and expository writing skills. Ellen Oh is a former attorney turned author whose first book "Prophecy" will be published in January. And 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 also writes reviews for Booklist.

  • 13:26:53

    NNAMDIYou can call us, 800-433-8850 or you can send email to We got an email from Beth who writes, "I have two kids ages 14 and 17 who loved, loved, loved "Life of Pi." Both are a little tired of dystopian or fantasy stories aimed at teens. Any recommendations for adult books that might be enjoyable for teens?" Edie?

  • 13:27:16

    CHINGOh, you know, on Notables, I'm reading so many children's books, but a young adult book that I would highly recommend, because it could lead to other reading, is Catherine Reef's book "The Bronte Sisters," which is all about -- we know of Charlotte and Emily, but Ann was also a writer and their lives lived basically the way their books play out. And so you can't help but after you read about their lives wanting to read "Jane Eyre" and read "Wuthering Heights." And it's a short book with a lot of good historical information.

  • 13:27:55

    NNAMDIHere is Emily in Columbia, Md. Emily, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Emily.

  • 13:28:02

    EMILYI actually had -- I wanted to recommend two picture books that my five-year-old loves and then I had a question about my eight-year-old. The two picture books, one is called "Z is for Moose," which is a great alphabet book, which isn't quite what you expect. And the other one is called "Press Here" which is a really nice interactive story that he just loves. And then my other question, my eight-year-old is -- he's in third grade but he reads at about a sixth grade level. And we have a heck of a time finding books that are both level appropriate and age appropriate. So I was wondering if your guest might be able to recommend something that would peak an eight-year-old boy's interest.

  • 13:28:40

    NNAMDIPicture books are a reliable hit with the little readers. Before I get to your picks, Edie, any recommendations for Emily's son?

  • 13:28:48

    CHINGYes. Fred Bowen who writes the "Kid's Post," he's in there today sort of eating humble pie because he was negative about the Redskins. He has a great series about sports and each story ends up -- while it's a fictional story, it ends up with something about a real player who made the same hard choice. That's a wonderful series.

  • 13:29:11

    NNAMDIGood luck for you with your son, Emily. Edie, you got two picks, speaking of picture books, that take us on adventures in other countries. Tell us about "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns" and "Drummer Boy of John John."

  • 13:29:24

    CHINGWell, "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: a Muslim Book of Colors" is written by someone who lives right here in D.C. -- or Rockville, Hena Khan. It's one of my favorite books of the year because it again is about a subject matter that we don't always think about, and certainly young children don't know about. And it introduces concepts of Muslim culture, like what is a hijab and what is a prayer rug. And the pictures are all reflective of the family. They're very warm. What it shows is that this is just a family who's like us but maybe worships in a different way or celebrates in a different way.

  • 13:30:02

    CHINGAnd then "Drummer Boy of John John" is actually historical fiction set in Trinidad, not a place we get a lot of books about, about the real man who is credited with inventing the steel drum. And along with talking about the steel drum there are wonderful sounds in this book because it talks about different players. And so there's the shush, slap, shuka, shack and great pictures. And it's about a competition to win some rotis. So if you don't know what roti is, read the book and find out.

  • 13:30:34

    NNAMDIOr ask me, I can tell you. Joe, one of your picks is "I Want My Hat Back." I remember we discussed that on this broadcast before. It's a 2012 Geisel Honor Winner, but it actually came out late last year by Jon Klassen. Why do you like it?

  • 13:30:51

    CALLAHANI just like how the dialogue is so deadpan. You know, it's just -- the illustrations are great. They're spare, but they're just really well done. You know, it's repetitive, but it's honest, it's just a really wonderful, it's wry, it's witty, it's great.

  • 13:31:20

    NNAMDIAnd Klassen has a new book that's out. It's also involving hats. It's called "This is Not My Hat." And this time instead of forest creatures we're in the water with fishes. Ellen, Edie, your lists include some takeoffs on familiar tales and the work of well-known authors. Ellen, where will we see the legacies of Agatha Christy and H. G. Wells on your list?

  • 13:31:44

    OHOh, yes. The "Madman's Daughter" by Megan Shepherd. This is a great dark grizzly read and a really faithful adaptation, but with such a new take on it. And I highly recommend it if you have teen readers because it also has a lovely romantic -- wait, I should take back lovely -- a dark romantic love triangle in it. A simply great read.

  • 13:32:09

    NNAMDIHow about "Ten" by Gretchen McNeil?

  • 13:32:12

    OHYes. Now that was, you know, Agatha Christy's -- oh, that was my favorite horror novel when I was young. And to have it remade for teens now is just fantastic because it's set on an island and teens are dying one by one in gruesome ways. But it keeps you on the edge of your seat. And you actually -- usually I'm very good at guessing who it is. I did not know.

  • 13:32:37

    NNAMDIWell, I'm terrible at guessing who it is. It was inspired by Agatha Christy's "And Then There Were None." And you also like the -- well, like is an understatement. You apparently love the "Island of Dr. Moreau."

  • 13:32:52

    OHYes, of course. Who doesn't?

  • 13:32:57

    NNAMDIAnd "The Madman's Daughter," you talked about that already. That's all part of the trilogy by Megan Shepherd, comes out in January of next year. And Edie, well loved stories like "Goldilocks" and "Wind in the Willows" get updates on your list. What's new and what's familiar?

  • 13:33:16

    CHINGWell, and I wish I thought of this with the caller who was asking about her son who can read up. "Return to the Willows," Jacqueline Kennedy (sic) who won a Newberry Honor for "Calpurnia Tate" a couple of years ago, has taken on this story. And I think it reads -- I hate to say this -- even better than the Kenneth Grahame. There's a young character added and that's Toad's nephew. Toad sort of has a brain burst because through almost a concussion he's suddenly brilliant and goes to Oxford. I mean, imagine Toad at Oxford.

  • 13:33:50

    CHINGThere's a hot air balloon. There's a kidnapping, There's a romance, and I won't say which character gets married. It's just lots of fun and it has some wonderful, wonderful illustrations. So...

  • 13:34:04

    NNAMDII'm looking at them even as we speak.

  • 13:34:06

    CHINGThere's Toad in his academic gown. And then there's a couple of good Goldilocks that -- this one by Allan Ahlberg. He's British and his pictures by his wife has a number of retellings. And I was thinking about Jill as a good writing exercise. So on the cover it says "Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks and the 33 Bears, Goldilocks and the Bliim" and they're from outer space, "Goldilocks and the Furniture." And there is a common theme through all of these and that's that bears like bums -- buns, not bums, sorry.

  • 13:34:41

    CHINGAnd there's lots of interaction. Kids can move things around on the page and there's even a play within a play. And then Mo Willems did "Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs." And that's again a different variant and it's the mama bear, the papa bear, the mama dinosaur, papa dinosaur and a dinosaur from Norway who just happens to be visiting. Lots of fun with these books. And lots of opportunities for kids to do retelling in their own family. How would you change this story?

  • 13:35:12

    NNAMDIJulia in Washington, D.C. Julia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:35:16

    JULIAThank you. I'm now a mother of seven- and eight-year-olds and they love to read. When they were younger, three, four and five we had "We are Going on a Bear Hunt," which was recommended from people helping children learn how to read. It's very repetitive. They loved it. They learned it by heart as they would say it over and over and over again. And so my seven- and eight-year-olds are reading a lot now thankfully.

  • 13:35:40

    JULIAMy eight-year-old son has read all the Roald Dahl books and I thought to myself, I better start reading what he's reading and make sure this is fine. And I had never read them and they're hilarious. And so, you know, I'm an adult attorney and I'm reading these children's books now because they're so fun, so interesting. And I'm trying to look for more books for them.

  • 13:36:03

    JULIAI have started reading more for a 13-year-old, Wendy Mass and my favorite was the "Mango-Shaped Color." (sic) And it's an amazing book because I thought it was all fiction. It is, but based on real life that children or people can see numbers or letters in color. And so this child can do that and she thought she was having trouble in school. She thought she was weird. She was embarrassed. But ended up going to the University of Chicago and finding out that this is really a real problem people have. But then it's not such a problem. And it's a lovely book and I had to buy all of Wendy Mass' books which are all geared, I presume, towards the teenager. And those are books I cannot put down when I read them.

  • 13:36:53

    NNAMDIOkay, Julia. Thank you very much for your recommendations. Edie, every time we talk about kids books there's one constant, one stalwart, one fixture we can count on and that is Mo Willems. What are Elephant and Piggie up to these days?

  • 13:37:08

    CHINGElephant and Piggie are the best story about friendship. And when you look at the book all you have are Elephant and Piggie. There's no background. There's nothing else going on except what's going on between them as friends. And Elephant is kind of the more stodgy friend and Piggie is sort of the more emotional friend. But they always work it out. They have misunderstandings. And I should tell your listeners that next November there's going to be an Elephant and Piggie play at the Kennedy Center. And for the adults, there's going to be a Greek Chorus called the Squirrelles (sp?). And you will like them, Kojo.

  • 13:37:43

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Marina who says, "We love Mo Willems. Another recommendation that we've recently purchased is "Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs," also great for parents. Our older child likes book series and we've recently started the "39 Clues" Series about an orphan sister and brother who are in a worldwide scavenger hunt to find the truth about their powerful family. It takes kids all over the world and into different cultures and explores facts about different people in history." Well, you go, Marina. Here is Paul in Leesburg, Va. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:18

    PAULThanks, Kojo. I was originally going to just talk about the books that my son's been into and I also really like to read. But when we were talking about the younger things they reminded me, you know, I think our family's favorite author is William Joyce from back when we were doing board books when the kids were younger up through the current Guardian Series that the movie's roughly based on.

  • 13:38:43

    PAULLike my daughter is six and we just started reading chapter books to her at nighttime. And the "Nicholas Saint North" book, what seemed very well written for younger kids, where it had enough dark that she was worried but, you know, enough happy that she wasn't at the end of the night, as long as you didn't stop on the wrong chapter.

  • 13:39:05

    NNAMDIHey -- go ahead, Paul.

  • 13:39:08

    PAULSo we really love all of Joyce's stuff and his artwork. And then I guess because we've always been good about reading to the kids, it's really delightful to me to see them reading as they get older. My son devours the Rick Riordan books. He really liked "Artemis Fowl." And somewhat to my shame I got him hooked on the Warcraft Books so he likes a lot of things for contemporary authors.

  • 13:39:38

    PAULAnd I find that the young adults have a lot of -- it's not really urban fantasy because it doesn't have the dark tint or the adult themes, but contemporary fantasy where it doesn't have to be a world long ago, where they can have something to engage their imaginations and set in a setting that's more familiar with them.

  • 13:40:00

    NNAMDICertainly engages the imagination. Paul, thank you very much for your call. Ellen, other perennial favorites for teens and for tweens include zombies and dystopias. What do you have for us in that vein?

  • 13:40:13

    OHWell, I have a great dystopian that is coming up actually in February. It's called "Dualed" by Elsie Chapman, and it's this whole idea that there's a city, it's a safe haven, but that safety is -- it comes with a big price in which every citizen has a genetic alternate, and they have to actually kill that alt in order to survive in the city. It's almost like Darwinism at -- it's like survival of the fittest at its worst. And I thought that it gave a lot into society and what traits would be really more important, you know, when you compare it to what is important now to what would be important in that kind of a situation, and I thought it was really fascinating.

  • 13:40:59

    OHAnd then there is a zombie book that goes the other way, Susan Dennerd, "Something Strange and Deadly," and I love this zombie book because it's set in 1876, and the zombies are invading the Philadelphia world fair. And you have this...

  • 13:41:15

    NNAMDIWas the fair that bad in 1876?

  • 13:41:17

    OHNo. It's that good, that's why. And you have a great heroine who uses her parasol as a weapon. I love that

  • 13:41:26

    NNAMDIHow about "What's Left of Me" by Kat Zhang?

  • 13:41:30

    OHThis is another really intriguing book about the idea that people are born into this world with two souls and that one soul has to fade away by the time they're around seven years old, and if they don't they're considered hybrids, and hybrids are very dangerous because there was a terrible war and the hybrid nations are separate from this nation. And the story's about Eva and Addie who Eva is a soul that just does not want to fade away, and she clings onto life and that puts them in a very dangerous situation because like I said, hybrids are considered dangerous. And I think it's a fascinating mystery set in a very different dystopian world.

  • 13:42:13

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If the lines are currently busy as they seem to be, you may want to communicate with us by email to, by tweet @kojoshow, or by going to our website, and asking your question or making your recommendation for children's and young adult winter reading there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:14

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking children's and young adult winter reading with Ellen Oh. She's a former attorney turned author whose first book, "Prophecy," will be published in January. Edie Ching is a lecturer in the College of Information Science at the University of Maryland. She's a member of the American Library Association Notables Children's Book Committee. She also writes reviews for Booklist.

  • 13:44:37

    NNAMDIAnd Joe Callahan is the executive director of 826DC. That's a non-profit that helps students between the ages of six and 18 with their creative and expository writing skills. Joe, one dystopian novel that begat another then another and finally another is "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. We had a chance to talk with her about the final book in that quartet, "Son," earlier this year. What did you like about it?

  • 13:45:03

    CALLAHANWell, it just remembered -- made me remember about all the, you know, the wonderful experiences I've had with all of her books over the years, and to see that, you know, it comes to a conclusion is both sad and wonderful. It's -- Lois Lowry, you know, has always been one of my favorites, so I had to include that on my list. And it's this -- it's a story -- it's epic struggles. It's everything you want from a series and dystopian novels. It was great.

  • 13:45:39

    NNAMDIWell, I have gathered the entire quartet and plan on reading them all over the holidays. Here is Sarah in Cabin John, Md. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:45:50

    SARAHHi. Thanks for taking my call. I love this show. And I'm in a mother-daughter book club. We've been together since second grade and we're now in our -- I don't know what year it is, we're eighth grade girls, and we're finding it so hard to find good books for 13 and 14 year old girls. Not "Twilight" and not "Dystopia." We just read "Daddy Longlegs," which all the mothers really loved. So I'm loving some thoughts and suggestions, and I apologize that my dog is barking.

  • 13:46:19

    NNAMDIOh, we can't hear your dog barking.

  • 13:46:20

    SARAHOh, good. Good.

  • 13:46:21

    NNAMDIBring him closer to the phone. Any suggestion, Edie?

  • 13:46:24

    CHINGWell, I would follow up with "Son" which stands alone even if you haven't read the whole series, because it's a wonderful book about a mother's relationship to a child. And then Roddy Doyle, the adult author, has done this incredible book called "Greyhound of a Girl," which is intergenerational, and it is a young girl's grandmother is dying, and it starts and it says she hates to go to the hospital.

  • 13:46:48

    CHINGAnd there's this strange woman on the road, and the strange woman on the road is her great-grandmother who has come to welcome her daughter home. And it's these three -- really four, generations of women and it's very funny. The young girl is cheeky, and it turns out her great-great gran was also cheeky. And so they laugh, and at one point they just make fun of each other, but they share memories.

  • 13:47:14

    CHINGIt's a terrific read, and I think you all -- women of all ages, at one point the great gran talks about when Mary will look at the face of her daughter, and Mary says, I don't have any children, and they all laugh, but they say one day you will and you will remember us.

  • 13:47:30

    NNAMDIAnd Sarah, you should know that Edie's two recommendations are in a way connected, certainly in her mind, because "Greyhound of a Girl" reminds her of "Son."

  • 13:47:39

    CHINGAnd I want to add that I was with Lois when she came to the studio, and we sat in the sound booth with her editor because we wanted to hear the interview. And instead, everyone in the sound booth talked about their favorite Lois Lowry books. It was the most wonderful experience to hear all these adults sharing their feelings about this great writer.

  • 13:48:00

    NNAMDISo you're saying that you came here to listen to the show and then didn't?

  • 13:48:04

    CHINGShh. Shh.

  • 13:48:05

    NNAMDIAnd consider it a wonderful experience? Sarah, thank you very much for your call.

  • 13:48:09

    CHINGSorry, Kojo.

  • 13:48:10

    NNAMDIHere is Scott in Fredericksburg, Va. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:48:14

    SCOTTHi Kojo. I love your show by the way.

  • 13:48:17

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:48:18

    SCOTTI had three recommendations I wanted to make.

  • 13:48:20


  • 13:48:20

    SCOTTStarting off with the -- I'm probably butchering Neil Gaiman's quote, but when asked if his books were for children, he once said that he writes for basically himself and hopes that children and adults can get something out of it. And so ever since I've had my own kid, he's two now, I've tried to pick books that he can grow with that will evolve as he reads them. And so one of my favorites is "The Graveyard Book," which is Neil Gaiman's take on "The Jungle Book."

  • 13:48:46


  • 13:48:47

    SCOTTAnd it has all the fun of "The Jungle Book," but when I read it it's kind of just, oh, those characters represent these characters and stuff like that. And then another book that that I've gotten him for Christmas, is I give him the "Eyewitness" books which aren't really stories, but they're the -- look at this pictures, and then when he grows he can read the words about the pictures.

  • 13:49:06


  • 13:49:07

    SCOTTAnd then the last book that I got is -- I'm a big fan of Webcomics, and a lot of those are independently producing now, and there's one called "The Good, the Bad and the Itchy," which is a take -- it's a take on the Grim Reaper's brother who's in charge of making people sleep. He's the Grim Sleeper.

  • 13:49:24

    CHINGThat's cute.

  • 13:49:24

    SCOTTAnd so it's very neat because the story is very kid friendly. There's a lot of jokes and everything. Everything that's supposed to be horrible is cute and adorable. But on the bottom of the page there's a commentary that kind of shows what the artist and the author were thinking, so you can kind of get the -- as a kid you get the humor, and then as an adult you get the -- what's being produced through it.

  • 13:49:45

    NNAMDIOh, good. Thank you very much for all of the above, Scott. Sandra in Montgomery County emailed to ask, "I wonder how your guests feel about e-readers for kids and how can we give books as gifts anymore with this trend?" How do you feel about it, Ellen?

  • 13:50:01

    OHActually, I am for it because I know that my daughters are allowed to bring e-readers to school to read, and it can make it a lot easier for them to load several books up on an e-reader and have it for their free time (unintelligible), and it also allows them to have the ability to search the dictionary when there are words that they don't understand. They can actually press a word right then and there and find that definition, whereas before they'd have a hardback and they'd be too lazy to walk over and get the dictionary

  • 13:50:34

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about e-readers, Joe?

  • 13:50:36

    CALLAHANI think we understand that the publishing industry is changing rapidly, and that e-readers are kind of here and a part of the way we interact with text. I'm of the fan that I like owning books. I like the process of having it, and I like the smell and the feel and the touch of the book. My wife, on the other hand, she is all e-reader all the time. So we end up having...

  • 13:51:03

    NNAMDIAnd if you ever have to move, she'll make you carry all of the books.

  • 13:51:06

    CALLAHANOh, yes. Which I've had to do. So we end up owning multiple copies of the book, and I have a feeling that will be -- there will always be people who love owning books. There will always be people -- there will now be people who want to interact with it on -- in a digital form, and that's just the way it's going to be.

  • 13:51:24

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Carrie who says, "With so many so many fantastic classics out there, I have a hard time deciding if we should read anything new or just go back and read all the books from years ago." Any thoughts?

  • 13:51:36

    CHINGWell, classics are wonderful, but as I said, I like the "Return of the Willows" even better than the "Wind in the Willows." And some of the classics are classics because they deal with grief or loss or love, but some of the newer books deal with some of the more current issues like bullying, like being on the autism spectrum, like being an outsider in a different way because of your race, or because of your family's situation. We have books about homelessness now that we need to have because we know those kids are out there.

  • 13:52:11

    CHINGAnd so I think it's important to look at books that deal with issues that are current to what our children are dealing with.

  • 13:52:19

    NNAMDIHere's Erika in Odenton, Md. Erika, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:23

    ERIKAHi. Thank you so much for this show.

  • 13:52:25

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:52:25

    ERIKAAnd thank you for taking my call. I have an eight year old who's in the second grade, and he is an advanced reader. He reads about the third or fourth grade level, and I'm trying to find books -- he likes to be challenged. This is a child that has read "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck. So I would like to know what recommendations you have. He has read "Percy and the Lightning Thief," he's read all the Goosebumps, and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and we love the William Joyce books.

  • 13:53:01

    ERIKAAnd not to mention he also has a six-year-old brother who is slowly catching up to him in reading as well.

  • 13:53:07

    NNAMDIAny recommendations Ellen?

  • 13:53:09

    OHI'd love to recommend Mike Jung's "Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities."

  • 13:53:12

    NNAMDII was about to ask you about that, but go ahead.

  • 13:53:14

    OHYeah. It's such a funny, great, superhero book, and it has this great twist also, because it's about a group of boys who have a fan club for Captain Stupendous, and actually it turns out that Captain Stupendous's secret identity is a girl. And so it is a great girl empowerment story also, but it's funny. It is so funny. I laughed so hard one time I had tears rolling down my eyes, and I'm a grown up. So I think kids will love it.

  • 13:53:46

    NNAMDI"Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities" is the recommendation, Erika.

  • 13:53:50

    ERIKA"Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities."

  • 13:53:53

    CHINGYou got it?

  • 13:53:55


  • 13:53:56

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. On now to Dilcash (sp?) in Tyson's Corner. Dilcash, your turn.

  • 13:54:05

    DILCASHYes. Hi Kojo. It's so good to talk to you on the phone.

  • 13:54:08

    NNAMDIGood to hear from you.

  • 13:54:10

    DILCASHYeah. I'm very excited. As soon as I heard the type of books you wanted us to remember, I grew up on a staple of this British children's author, Enid Blyton, and she wrote these mystery series called "Famous Five" and "The Five Find-Outers."

  • 13:54:30

    NNAMDIYeah. My sister read them all, yes.

  • 13:54:33

    DILCASHThat's what I grew up on. But then I also remember the two series she wrote about boarding schools, "The Malory Towers," and "St. Clare" series, and many, many years later when I read "Harry Potter," it all came back to me, you know, the whole business of boarding schools in England and a lot of perils there about the life and so that's what I remember from my childhood.

  • 13:55:04

    NNAMDIMy brother and I were always pushing "Hardy Boys" on my sister. She was always pushing...

  • 13:55:07

    DILCASH"The Hardy Boys" too...

  • 13:55:08

    NNAMDIShe was pushing Enid Blyton back at us, yes.

  • 13:55:10

    DILCASHYeah. We had the males present so we read "Hardy Boys" too.

  • 13:55:14


  • 13:55:15

    DILCASHMy sons, though, they grew up -- they loved the Richard Scarry books, especially the compilations. There are two of them, two big ones. I forget the exact names, but I think one is "The Greatest Storybook Ever," or something like that. But the illustrations are so wonderful for young children. The stories are short and the illustrations are labeled, and it's a tremendous thing to learn, you know, to improve vocabulary, and my sons, they learned all the instruments of the orchestra from one of...

  • 13:55:56


  • 13:55:57

    DILCASH...Richard Scarry's books and then all kind of foreign animals.

  • 13:56:01

    NNAMDISounds like a whole lot of fun, Dilcash. Unfortunately, we're running out of time.

  • 13:56:05

    DILCASHYou're running out of time, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

  • 13:56:07

    NNAMDISo I'm going to have to move on. Ellen, another book that takes us to a new world with some real folk tales woven is "Starry River of the Sky." Where does it take us?

  • 13:56:17

    OHOh, it's set in China, and it uses these beautiful folk tales -- Chinese folk tales. It's woven in with a narrative of the book itself. It's a companion book the Newbery Honor Book "When the Mountain Meets the Moon," which I also loved, and it has gorgeous full-colored -- full page colored illustrations. And it's a book about a little boy that runs away and finds himself in a little town with no moon, and a storyteller comes and kind of puts together all these pieces through stories, and even Rendi, the runaway stories connect everything together. It's beautiful

  • 13:56:54

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Helene who says "Edie was a wonderful librarian at St. Albans. She inspired hundreds of boys to love reading with her enthusiasm and encouragement. She spent hours reading books so that she could tell students and parents about stories that they would enjoy. Obviously, things have not changed." I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. 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 also writes reviews for Booklist. Edie, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:28

    CHINGMy pleasure.

  • 13:57:30

    NNAMDIJoe Callahan is the executive director of 826DC which is a non-profit that helps students ages of six and 18 with their creative and expository writing skills. Joe Callahan, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:42

    CALLAHANThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:57:44

    NNAMDIAnd Ellen Oh is a former attorney turned author whose first book, "Prophecy," will be published in January. Ellen, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:51

    OHThank you.

  • 13:57:51

    NNAMDIThe recommendations of all of our panelists can be found at our website,, in case you missed any of it during the show. So good winter reading to you, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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