This holiday season, or any time of the year, it’s wonderful to find picture books that share uplifting messages for young readers. Many picture books, fiction and nonfiction, allow young readers to think about issues such as fairness, inclusion, and just that it’s okay to be different. Here are some really thoughtful books that will open children’s horizons in wonderful ways.
Joanna Schaffhausen’s first novel, The Vanishing Season,” takes readers into the life of a young woman, Ellery Hathaway, who was kidnapped by a serial killer and was the only person to escape alive. She became a cop and works in a small town in Massachusetts, far from the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up.
Shelby Holmes was introduced to readers in “The Great Shelby Holmes,” the first book in the series by Elizabeth Eulberg. In the second book, “The Great Shelby Holmes Meets her Match,” narrator John Watson brings to life another mystery that he and Shelby solve, and in the process gives the reader another view at the complicated genius of Shelby Holmes.
She’s a pint-sized fourth grader who has skipped two grades. Watson is a newcomer to New York City, and in the first book, Shelby shows him around the neighborhood. In this book, Holmes and Watson start school.
“Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan” is a superb sequel to “Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas” by Jonathan W. Stokes. The series is aimed at middle grade readers who love action and adventure — especially when the main characters are quirky and clever.
Stokes also includes plenty of diversity in his cast of characters. Addison and his sister Molly are joined on their adventure by friends Eddie Chang and Raj Bhandari. The story begins when Addison invites his friends to accompany him, his sister, and their aunt and uncle to China to explore a Song dynasty fortress in the Gobi desert.
Kate Messner has been writing lots of books with lots of heart, and her newest, “The Exact Location of Home,” is no different. This extremely touching story will cause readers to think about appearances and stereotypes, friendship and family.
In this story, Kirby “Zig” Zigonski is excited to finally get to see his dad after months of delays and excuses. He’s devastated when his dad yet again cancels their weekend together. While garage-sale shopping, he scores a box of electronics and finds a GPS unit. With it, he finds a new hobby — geocaching.
Young readers love books about dogs and Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and Birdie is no exception. “Bow Wow” is the third book in the series that began with “Woof” and continued with “Arf.” Adults might be familiar with Quinn’s series about Chet and Bernie, which features the fabulous detective dog Chet, whose narrative sounds suspiciously like that of Bowser.
With the third book in the Monstertown Mystery series, “Invasion of the Scorp-Lions,” author Bruce Hale shows that he can write a series in which each book brings something new to the plate.
At first, this episode appears to be like the two previous books with the main characters, narrator Carlos and his friend Benny, learning that something strange is going on in the basement of the school. They think it’s a ghost, and because of the kids and teacher who encountered the creature and are now in comas, they know it’s dangerous.
But here the story gets interesting because Hale brings in an additional character, Esme, whose mother creates monsters, and whose family comes from a long line of monster-creators. Their last name is Ygorre (pronounced Igor).
A character from the previous book, Tina, also known as Karate Girl, joins the boys on their monster-hunting adventure, and Esme gives a hand, too. At the end of the book, there is an event that explains why there will be lots and lots of monstery sequels to these books.
While the subject of the books — monsters — and the clever, catchy lenticular, 3D-ish cover make the books look like light reading material, Hale includes a quite serious secondary plot in each book. In this book, Carlos is worried about his parents divorcing.
Also, Hale’s use of figurative language and imagery throughout the books should thrill teachers as they use excerpts from the book when teaching narrative or descriptive writing. “The mechanical room was as comfy and inviting as a concrete crypt at midnight. Mr. Boo had thoughtfully stacked five folding chairs and a card table in the middle of the room, for that homey touch.” Imagery and a touch of sarcasm in two very funny sentences.
While many readers (this one included) might take offense at Hale’s characterization of Barry Manilow’s music as “A scorp-lion’s worst nightmare” and “soppy strings and drippy vocals,” he does have Carlos admit to humming along with one of the songs after a while. Hale also gives Benny some humorous lines when he mixes up words. A teacher thinks the monster smell is from feral cats, so Benny asks, “What are Will Ferrell’s pets doing here?”
This series is a perfect choice for reluctant readers and adventure lovers from third grade through middle school. Humor and horror – a great combination. Also an excellent choice for teachers looking for a read aloud that will teach kids about imagery.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion Books, for review purposes.
Wendelin Van Draanen knows how to write a story that packs a punch. She did it in “Running Dream,” a story about a high school runner who tragically loses her leg in a crash, and how she learns not just how to walk with a prosthetic, but how to really see others in spite of physical differences. In “Wild Bird,” Van Drannen offers up the story of Wren, a girl who lost her way and ended up involved in drugs.
The story begins when Wren is awakened in the middle of the night and whisked off to a juvie camp in the Utah desert for wilderness therapy for 60 days. It’s a last-ditch effort to rehab Wren, who has proven resistant to therapists, counselors, and every other kind of help her parents tried to get for her.
L.M. Elliott’s riveting Young Adult historical novel “Suspect Red” takes us on a rough ride through one thicket-filled thorny year in the life of early-adolescent Richard Bradley. He is a thirteen-year-old Washington D.C. resident circa 1953-54. And he is faced with the dilemmas and demons that would haunt any teen-ager whose father, whom he idolizes, is an FBI agent suffering from severe PTSD (making him, in those days, a “psycho”), and who, worse yet, works directly under J. Edgar Hoover during those dangerous and desperate months of June, 1953 to June, 1954: The Cold War rages. Continue reading
With the release of “Monster,” the first in a trilogy sequel, Michael Grant has brought readers back to the world of “Gone” and some of its characters. It’s four years after the dome came down in the last book in the first series, and those who had been trapped in the #FAYZ were able to leave. In fact, the prologue shares a story about that event from a new character’s point of view.
Readers will learn that some of the kids who suffered under the dome had severe mental problems after leaving; some committed suicide and others had PTSD. Few returned to normal. Dekka, one of the escapees from the FAYZ, is one of the main characters in this novel. The mother of a new character, Shade Darby, was killed at the same time the dome disappeared. Because Shade feels responsible for her mother’s being right where she was when she was killed by Gaia, the monster from the FAYZ, Shade’s life has been irrevocably changed.
While the name “Malala” is quite familiar to adults, children may not know who the author of this picture book is. In “Malala’s Magic Pencil,” Malala Yousafzai tells her story, and it’s one that opens the eyes of the kids hearing her tale.
She starts her story telling about a show that she watched as a child, a TV show about a magic pencil that could create anything that was drawn with it. The boy who used it, the hero, always used the magic to protect people who needed help. Malala thought of the things she would do with a magic pencil.
“Warcross” by Marie Lu features a young girl who is a bounty hunter in a world where virtual reality has eclipsed real life. Hooked yet? Read the first chapter and you’ll be drawn into the life and struggle for survival along with Emika Chen, whose ability to hack into the virtual world and fight in the real world have helped her survive — barely — in New York.
Emika’s mother bailed on Em and her father when Em was young, and her father died before Em was a teenager. She’s a loner who has had to rely on herself and only herself. She hasn’t paid her rent for months, and the eviction notice is on the door. If she can just bring down one big bounty, she’ll be set. But things don’t work out, and Em doesn’t know what to do.