Category: Book Recommendations

16+ Best Books for Writers

16+ Best Books for Writers: Books for Every Writer

A few days ago, my daughter leaned over my shoulder and asked what I was reading on my phone. It was a blog post about writing villains, so I told her it was about how to write a better story. Which led her to say:

“But you already know how to write.”

Yes and no. Yes, I already do know a lot about writing and have even gotten a few publications. No, I don’t know everything there is to know – not by a long shot. I can still learn to be a better writer.

No matter where you are on your journey, you can learn and improve. My favorite way to learn is by reading.

 

It’d been a couple of years since I last wrote a roundup of writing craft books – time for an update!

I’ve broken the list down into sections:

  • inspiration for all writers
  • books for fiction writers
  • books for nonfiction writers
  • books for children’s book writers
  • books on the business of being an author

A challenge: we learn a lot by studying our own genre – but I’ve also gained a lot by reading about writing in other genre’s. So consider branching out and reading a book that you normally wouldn’t.

 

Inspiration for all Writers

Book Cover for "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Writing Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is my top picks for all writers. Writing is hard – not just because producing good work requires substantial labor, but because our own mind often works against us in the form of internal critics, writers’ block, and lack of motivation. Her perspective will have you re-think your writing in ways that bring more joy and less fear.

 

 

Books for Fiction Writers:

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron – This book is still my favorite for fiction writing. It dives into what makes a story compelling. You can check out Lisa Cron’s Ted Talk to get a flavor of what the book is about. Bonus: my writerly friends assure me that it’s quite understandable even if you’re not a brain nerd like me.

 

Book Cover: "Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)" by Lisa Cron

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) is Lisa Cron’s newest novel-writing book. While Wired for Story goes through the logic of her ideas and method in detail, this one is more practical. It includes many exercises that will help you plan your story to be successful from the beginning. If you like plotting out novels and find writing exercises helpful for finding voice and discovering your character’s motive – this is a good choice.

 

Book Cover: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last book on Novel Writing You'll Ever Need" by Jessica Brody

Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You Will Ever Need by Jessica Brody  – The original Save the Cat book was written to help screenwriters, but many novelists found that, with a little adaptation, the method also applied very well to writing books. Now Jessica Brody has written a book just for us novelist – with examples and additional information just for novelists. (Though I think a lot can be applied to shorter forms – like picture books.) The method is heavy on plot development – even if you don’t pre-plot your books, it can be helpful for analyzing a rough draft and making changes to improve pacing and story arc. (I used it this way in revising my first novel.)

 

Book cover: "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The complete Guide to mystery, Suspense, and Crime."

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime by Hallie Ephron – If you’re writing anything in the mystery genre, this is a great book. Even if you don’t write in the mystery genre, consider giving it a shot. After all, nearly all books have a hidden storyline that’s slowly revealed in clues over time – like backstory or important events that happen off-stage.

 

Books for Nonfiction Writers:

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Willian Zinsser – This book is in its billionth revision and jillionth reprinting for a reason. This primer will help you think about how to write nonfiction books that readers can’t put down.

 

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind – This book is focused on a specific form of nonfiction writing – creative or narrative nonfiction. It’s nonfiction told in narrative form so the reader can step inside the story.

 

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson – When writing nonfiction you often send publishers a proposal rather than a completed manuscript. That can be daunting if you’ve never written a proposal before. This book has everything you need to know to write a proposal. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, this would be a good place to start. It’s thorough but written to be an easy read and includes lots of helpful samples from real proposals.

 

The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 hours and Sell Your Book by Ryan G. Van Cleave – If you want a lighter version to get you started on your book proposal, this might be the book for you. The title is misleading, though. That means 48 working hours. Maybe some people work around the clock on the weekend but I, for one, like sleep and food. Misleading title aside, it’s a helpful book and would be a good choice for someone just starting out with writing proposals.

 

Books for Children’s Book Writers:

Most writing craft books assume you are writing for adults. Principles of good characters, pacing, and plot hold for all books, no matter the age of your audience. But there are also differences between the kids and adult book markets and the needs of these audiences. So if you’re writing for kids, check out these books, too, in addition to the ones above.

 

Book Cover:"Writing Picture Books: A Hands on Guide from Story Creation to Publication" By Anne Whitford Paul

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul – If you write picture books, you need this book. I read the original edition a couple of years ago and learned so much from it. This past year a revised edition came out with updated examples and new information about the market. A friend invited me to an online book study group to go through the new edition. Even though I had read the previous edition, I still learned a ton. It really is that good.

 

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grades Readers by Mary Kole – I found this book after reading many of the helpful articles on Mary Kole’s webpage. It’s an introduction to writing middle grade and young adult books. If you don’t know what that means or what the difference is, this is a great place to start.

 

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas – This primer covers everything you need to know to get started writing nonfiction for kids. It was a great book for me when I was getting started and it’s still a great book now that I have a few manuscripts under my belt. Note: this book goes in and out of print which means the price can fluctuate a lot. I recommend keeping an eye out for used copies.

 

Books about the Business of Being an Author

Book Cover: "The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman – This is the only book I’m including on the list that I have not, personally, read from cover to cover. (I’m working on it!) I’m including it based on what I have read so far, the numerous recommendations I’ve been given, and my experience of getting so much valuable information off of her blog over the years. There are lots of books that cover one aspect of the writing business (I list some below), but this is the only one I’ve seen that is comprehensive. If you want to have a career in writing – this book will tell you everything you need to know.

 

Book Cover: "The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters" By Wendy Burt-Thomas

The Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas – After you’ve finished your manuscript masterpiece, you’ll have to write a query letter so you can begin to query agents and editors (i.e. try to convince them to take on your book). This one-page document is somehow even harder than writing the manuscript itself. This is an entire book that will help you learn how to craft a one-page document.

 

Book Cover: "Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market: 2019"     Book Cover: "Writer's Market 2019"

Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market or, if you’re writing for adults: Writers Market – Once you’ve gotten your manuscript or proposal squeaky clean and ready to send out, you’ll need to figure out how to get it into the hands of the agent or editor of your dreams. These books are designed exactly for that. They’re updated every year to keep up with changes in the market.

 

The Book – If you write for children, you should be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). One membership perk is this free book. It’s available on the website as a PDF or you can pay for a print version. Your first year of membership they’ll send you the print version for free.

 

There you go – 16 of my favorite books about writing. Do you have any I should add?

 

 

Book Reviews are Moving!

While I hope my book reviews move you emotionally, in this case I’m talking about a change in location.

I love reviewing books for so many reasons:

I have been reviewing books on my blog for a couple of years now. But over time I’ve noticed a shift in how people engage with book reviews.

I’ve been sharing book reviews informally on social media for a while. I noticed that social media review get more reach than do blog posts. Reading will happen no matter where I share, but if I want to reach readers and shine a light on good books, I need to go where the people are.

 

After a lot of thought (and some handwringing) I have decided to shift to reviewing books on my social media accounts – primarily Instagram. My account is open, so you can view it without creating an Instagram account, though I do reshare to Twitter and Facebook as well.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

This book… *Sharp exhale* 📚 I read a lot, y’all. This is my 69th novel or novel-length book in 2018. So when I say this book is a rare gem, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve read a lot of middle grade books that deal with tough topics, but this left me gutted. 📚 I mean that in the best way possible. 📚 This is one of those books that gets you so deep in the feels that you end up screaming at the characters on the page. That will have you sobbing or throwing the book across the room. 📚 This book GETS IT in a way that’s hard to describe if you’ve never had your back against a wall. If you’ve never had to claw your way to a better life with nothing but determination and your fingernails. 📚 I will be thinking about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS for years to come. . #booksofinstagram #books #bookrecommendations #bookreview #kidlit #kidlitpicks #middlegrade #thebenefitsofbeinganoctopus @annbradenbooks

A post shared by Angela Isaacs (@aisaacswrites) on

 

I will still do some larger book review posts – like my yearly holiday season list of books for all ages and lists that cover topics that aren’t addressed other places.

2018 List of Books to give to kids: Kids books for every age and stage: Baby to Teen and everything in between

Here’s to more reading!

Women in STEM Picture Books

Picture Books about Women in STEM

Each month I spread a little love for some lovely books with monthly book reviews.

March is women’s history month, so this month I’m sharing women’s history books that focus on something I love: STEM. Check out these real stories of amazing women all of whom pursued their passions and became experts in science, technology, engineering, or math despite all the odds.

 

Science: The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley

Book Cover Art: The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

When young Temple was diagnosed with autism, doctors told her mother she would never speak or be able to fit in. They told her to send Temple away. But her mother did not give up. Neither did Temple. As she grew older, Temple found that her visual thinking and attention to detail were strengths. She revolutionized farming and found her voice as a speaker who travels the world.

The Girl Who Thought In Pictures on Indiebound

 

Math: Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and Tiemdow Phumiruk

Book Cover Art: Counting on Katherine

Katherine Johnson loved to learn and loved math. But growing up in the segregated South – she had to fight to continue pursuing her passion. Her perseverance not only let her reach her dreams, but also made spaceflight possible.

This is the same Katherine Johnson who was featured in the book-turned-movie Hidden Figures, which I have recommended before. While there is a middle grade edition of Hidden Figures, I was delighted to this important story told in a picture book format for younger kids.

Counting on Katherine on IndieBound

 

Technology and Engineering: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu

Book Cover Art: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Long before there were computers, Ada Byron Lovelace had too much imagination and love of learning to listen when people told her a woman could not be a scientist. She meets a man named Babbage with a similarly impossible dream: a thinking machine. But how to give it commands? Ada goes to work developing a code to talk to this mechanical computer. She ends up inventing computer programming before computers even existed.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine on IndieBound

 

Science: Joan Proctor Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala

Book Cover Art: Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Joan always loved reptiles – while other girls carried around dolls, she had a pet crocodile. When all the men were called away to war, she got her chance: she got a job working with the reptiles she loved. Eventually, she became a leading expert in reptiles sharing her knowledge so the world would understand just how loveable reptiles could be.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor on Indiebound

 


You can find more book reviews on my book review page.

200+ Children's Book Reviews

 

Horse books for Kids: True stories and Favorite Fiction

Horse Stories for Kids: True Stories and Favorite Fiction

Deb Aronson HeadshotFor this month’s Kidlit book roundup, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Deb Aronson. Deb was one of my first writer friends; she welcomed me into our local writer community way back when I was just beginning to learn the ropes. Somehow she stayed my friend despite seeing those early draft.  *Shudder*

We’re still friends all these years later and maybe one day I’ll even let her convince me to get on her sailboat. (Maybe…)

Today Deb shares some of her favorite books about horses. Deb knows a thing or two about horses – she wrote the book Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack. Take it away, Deb!

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson


 

Many classic horse stories celebrate the magical connection between humans and horses, of course. Some of my favorites include My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and War Horse. But with racehorse stories, there is an added layer of human and horse joined in an effort to realize their full potential. To me, these stories have a special energy.

Book Cover art: MY FRIEND FLICKA   Book cover art: Misty of Chincoteague    Book Cover Art: War Horse

Do You Love Sports Stories? Then give these books a try.

Racehorse stories are, at their heart, sports stories. Those that excel are just as Olympian in their achievements as swimmer Michael Phelps or gymnast Simone Biles. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There is the love and care the horse’s human handlers feel for their special horses. They communicate deeply, even if they do it without words. Granted there are also tragic tales at the racetrack, such as when a horse breaks down from a bad step, or when a jockey falls and is permanently injured. There is risk. But for every story of risk there is also the possibility of redemption.

Rachel Alexandra At the Kentucky Oaks
The filly, Rachel Alexandra, at the Kentucky Oaks

If you hesitate to read about racehorses because of the stories you hear about them being mistreated, I would say to you that those stories are aberrations. True horsemen and horsewomen do not do that to their charges. They care deeply about their horses, even more deeply in some cases than for their human connections. Not surprisingly, you will not read children’s books about those kinds of people.

 

The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him by Lawrence Scanlan

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art for: The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him

So, let me tell you about some of my favorite racehorse stories. One is The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him, by Lawrence Scanlan (Harper Collins). Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. He won the last race in the series, the Belmont, by a shattering 31 lengths and his time remains the American record for 1.5 miles on dirt more than four decades later. Scanlan does a great job showing Secretariat’s laid-back personality and his love of racing. It comes as no surprise that any true story about a horse will also tell the story of that horse’s handlers. In Scanlan’s book, we enjoy learning about Secretariat’s devoted groom, Eddie Sweat, and the special bond the two of them had.

 

Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Come on, Seabiscuit!

Another inspiring story is Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody (University of Nebraska Press). There have been many books written about Seabiscuit, including the highly acclaimed adult book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand, not to mention a movie. Moody’s book is targeted for upper middle grade readers and has several pencil sketches, though no photographs.  One reason Seabiscuit’s story is so grand is because it is truly one of redemption. Set in the 1930s, it is a story of how the love, expertise and careful attention of trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard created a bond so wonderful that Seabiscuit changed from an ornery, nervous, injured and slow racehorse to a gentle, calm, strong champion who beat War Admiral, winner of the Triple Crown and the acknowledged champion horse of the country.

 

Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy

Picture Book Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse

Although Come on Seabiscuit is for older readers, a more recent picture book by Meghan McCarthy, Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) would be a great read-aloud for younger readers. McCarthy’s illustrations are delightful and she does a great job of telling the story of Seabiscuit’s match race with War Admiral.

American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion by Shelley Fraser Mickle

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: American Pharaoh: Triple Crown Champion

In American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion (Aladdin), by Shelley Fraser Mickle, we learn the backstory of the 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. Mickle tells American Pharoah’s story in such detail you can imagine being there in the stall with the even-tempered stallion. I also came away from the story with a better understanding of many of the humans connected with American Pharoah, from famous trainer, Bob Baffert, and jockey Victor Espinoza, to owner Ahmed Zayat, who I especially came to appreciate.

 

Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack by Gare Joyce

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack

And finally, I recently enjoyed a book about a less well-known racehorse, Northern Dancer.  In 1964 he was, as the book says, “the biggest newsmaker in the country’s sporting scene.” Northern Dancer is another story of an unlikely hero. He was not a regal-looking racehorse, but more in the model of Seabiscuit: chunky, short and plain looking. Having been bred in Canada, U.S. racing fans tended to underestimate him. Gare Joyce, the author of Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack, describes him as “a horse with a competitive spirit and a lot of heart, so he was able to outrun a great number of better bred and more imposing horses.” Who doesn’t love an underdog story?!

 

Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

 

Although all these books are about male horses, I wouldn’t want you to think there are not accomplished fillies in the racing world too. However, the surprising thing is how few children’s books there are about them. One of the few is Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack (Chicago Review Press), written by yours truly. Because she raced against, and beat, male horses in three major races, hers is truly a girl power story. This book is the only one of those reviewed that has full-color photographs throughout the text.

 

See Racehorses in action!

If you enjoy these stories I would also recommend you watch some videos of their most famous races; these thoroughbreds are running machines!

Here is Rachel Alexandra winning the Preakness.


Horse books for kids

 

Winter STEM Picture Books

 

Winter STEM Picture Books

This year I’m continuing my monthly kidlit book reviews. Each month I will spread a little love for some lovely books. Usually, they will come out on the first Thursday of the month, but between holiday craziness and being on deadline, I’m already a little behind. Such is the writing life.

It’s sleeting out here on the prairies today. And as much as I want to pout and stomp my feet because I do. not. like. cold, I think I have to admit defeat. So this month for my Kidlit Karma books reviews, I’m sharing winter picture books with STEM content. Because books make everything better.

Science: Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

Book cover art: OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW

I have recommended Over and Under the Snow before, but it’s worth reviewing again. Children love being let in on a secret and here the secret is hiding right under the snow beneath their boots. I love the way this book weaves together a sweet story of a child with STEM facts about animals in winter.

Make sure to check out the other books in the series like Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt and Over and Under the Pond.

Over and Under the Snow on Indiebound

 

Science: Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

Book cover for BEST IN SNOW

The simple, lyrical text makes this story a good choice for even the youngest preschool scientists, but the beefy backmatter make this a good choice for older child scientists, too. The beautiful photograph illustrations invite reads to observe nature in great detail (without leaving the warmth).

Be sure to check out other books in the series like Full of Fall and Raindrops Roll.

Best In Snow on Indiebound

 

Science: The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, PhD

Book Cover: THE STORY OF SNOW

This book is a delightfully detailed look at snow. How snow forms, the shapes it takes, and how you can observe them. Photographs show real snowflakes in sparkling detail.

The Story of Snow on Indiebound

 

Math: 100 Snowmen by Jen Arena and Stephen Gilpin

Book Cover Art for 100 SNOWMEN

This playful romp features 100 snowmen playing as only snowmen can. Count the snowman and add them up until you get to 100.

100 Snowmen on Indiebound

 


You can find more book reviews on my book review page.

200+ Children's Book Reviews

BIG List of Books for Kids: 2018 edition

2018 List of Books to give to kids: Kids books for every age and stage: Baby to Teen and everything in between

It’s that time of year again: where I try to convince you to buy books for every child you know this holiday season.

This is my fourth year putting together this list (!!!). It’s always a lot of fun to look back at what I read over the year – like revisiting old friends. I hope you will find some new friends on this list.

I’ve added some codes to help identify particular types of books:

NF = Nonfiction

H = Humor

Memoir

S = Series

 

And if you somehow don’t find a book on this list, check out the extra lists at the bottom of the post.

 

Babies and Toddlers

(Board books: Babies and toddlers)

I Pray Today book cover artBook Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park   Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

I Pray Today and Goodnight Jesus (You knew this was coming, right?)

Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard (This series is great for toddlers)

See also: Roundup of 12 board Books

 

Child

(Picture Book: Age 3-8)

Book Cover: All are WelcomeBook Cover: Are we pears yet?Book Cover: Be KindBook Cover: The Day you Begin

All Are Welcome

Are We Pears Yet? NF H

Be Kind

The Day You Begin

 

Book Cover: the Diamond and the BoyBook Cover: EscargotBook Cover: The FieldBook Cover: Starring Carmen

The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall NF

Escargot H

The Field

Starring Carmen H

Book Cover: This is not a normal animal bookBook cover: We Don't Eat Our Classmatesbook Cover: When Penny Met POTUS

This is Not a Normal Animal Book H

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates H

When Penny Met Potus H

 

New Readers

(Early Readers: Age 6-9)

Book Cover: Super Happy Party Bears 1: Gnawing AroundBook Cover: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School

Super Happy Party Bears H S

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School H S

 

 

Graphic Novels

(Age 3-99, younger children will need an adult reader)

This July I did a round-up of these 6 great graphic novels. Check out the post for a full description of each book and find out why I think graphic novels should be a part of a child’s balanced reading diet.

Book Cover: Catstronauts: Mission MoonBook Cover: El DeafoBook Cover: Ghostsbook Cover: Phoebe and her Unicorn

Catsotronauts H S

El Deafo Memoir H

Ghosts

Phoebe and Her Unicorn H S

 

Book Cover: Real FriendsBook Cover: Zita the Spacegirl

Real Friends Memoir

Zita the Spacegirl H S

 

Tweens

(Middle Grade: Age 8-12)

Book Cover: Amal UnboundBook Cover: Counting by 7sBook Cover: Lockwood and Company Book 1: The Screaming StaircaseBook Cover: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Amal Unbound

Counting by 7’s

Lockwood and Company: The Screaming Staircase S (Note: this book is sometimes classed as Young Adult but, besides some creepy ghosts, does not contain mature content that would be inappropriate for tweens.)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

 

Book Cover: The Parker InheritanceBook Cover: Shark LadyBook Cover: The World's Latest DetectiveBook Cover: York: The Shadow Cipher

The Parker Inheritance

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist NF

The World’s Greatest Detective

York: The Shadow Cipher S

 

Teens

(Young Adult: Age 13+)

Note that these books have mature content (roughly equivalent to PG13). This post gives tips for determining if a book is appropriate for your child.

Book Cover: The Astonishing Color of AfterBook Cover: The Poet XBook Cover: Turtles all the way down

The Astonishing Color of After

The Poet X

Turtles All the Way Down

 


Need more ideas? Check out these:

 2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

200+ Children's Book Reviews

 

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

Earlier this month, I Pray Today, my second book for babies and toddler was published. Today is the last day of the blog tour to celebrate.

I’ve been working on book reviews all year, though. Each month I gather up a few books I love and share them with my readers. I call it Kidlit Karma. This month I’m sharing some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers. I’m also going to dive into child development to explain why these books work.

 

Simple Art

Babies can’t see that well. Newborns’ vision is hazy – they like high contrast because it’s easy to see. You’ll often find the youngest babies staring at, say, a black object against a white background. Or a dark ceiling fan moving against a white ceiling.

By a few months old, babies vision has improved a lot but they often have a hard time understanding 2-D representations of objects.

So, books for babies and toddler often have high-contrast, easy-to-interpret pictures. For the youngest, single images on white backgrounds can be a good choice.

Book cover: RhymOceros

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

 

Even for toddlers, simple graphics are easier for them to understand.

Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman and Alex Griffiths

 

Faces Are a Fave

Babies love faces for pretty much the same reasons we adults do: they give us a lot of important information. We look at a person’s face to identify them and to tell what that person is feeling. Watching someone’s face while they talk also helps us figure out what they are saying. For babies who are still learning speech, it’s doubly helpful. That’s probably why babies are hardwired to stare at faces.

So books with lots of faces are a winner, especially with the younger babies and toddlers.

Book Cover: Making Faces: A First Book of Emotion

Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions

 

Babytalk and Rhyming Books

Babies love “baby talk” and it’s good for them. Forget what Great Aunt Bertha told you about only talking to your baby like a grown-up. Baby talk exaggerates the sounds of speech which makes it easier for babies to figure out the sounds they’re hearing and put those together into words. So go ahead and talk to babies in whatever way feels natural to you.

The sing-songy cadence of many rhyming books, help capitalize on this tendency. (Writers: be aware that babies are not less discerning than adults. If you write in rhyme, it needs to have PERFECT rhyme and meter.)

Book Cover: Moo Baa La La La

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

 

Repetition

Babies love repetition. They drop the same toy over and over to see if dad will still pick it up, they never tire of peekaboo, and they will gladly have you read the same book over and over and over. While at times it’s infuriating (like the 5th time the bowl of oatmeal gets dropped to the floor), it has an important purpose: babies and toddlers learn best through repetition.  Like little scientists, they’re testing if the oatmeal really drops every time. They’re also learning social information: “Will dad pick it up every time?” “Why is his mood changing as I keep dropping this?”

So many books use some kind of repetition: like the repeated phrase “Ciao!”

Book Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Shaefer and Lauren Tobia

Or a repeated action like “besos.” (Kisses.)

Book Cover: Besos for Baby a Little Book of Kisses

Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena and Blanca Gomez

 

Toddlers Need to Move

Speaking of actions, getting a toddler to sit still is a lost cause. They’re busy little beings. It’s easy to read with an immobile baby – harder to keep a toddler still and focused. So many books for toddlers include some kind invitation to action to help keep them engaged with the book. 

That could be an action built right into the page, such as lifting a flap or holes designed for little fingers to poke into.

Book cover: Do Cows Meow?

Do Cows Meow? by Salina Yoon

Or it could be an invitation to action: mentioning movement is a natural invitation to move.

Book cover: Barnyard Dance!

Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton

 

Sturdy Pages and Rounded Corners

Babies will put pretty much everything into their mouth. It’s a way for them to explore the world by adding the sense of taste and touch (lips and tongues are very sensitive).

Babies and toddlers are also still working on fine motor skills – such as the ability to grasp and flip a book page without tearing. They need to explore the world and practice these fine motor skills – but it can be murder on a book.

So most baby and toddler books are board books – those chunky cardboard-style book pages that can withstand chewing, banging, other forms of baby love. They even have rounded corners to prevent an eye or mouth from being poked.

Photo of book: Goodnight Jesus with corner chewed off by toddler
Photo courtesy of Summer Kinard at https://summerkinard.com/2016/11/02/goodnight-jesus-board-book-review/

 

Adults Have to Like Them Too

Since your baby will be asking to reread the same book 10,000 times (and they will), books also have to please the adult doing the reading. A newer trend is to write book series’ that focus on topics of interest to a parent (like science, great literature, etc.), but at a level simplistic enough for a baby. No, your toddler won’t be doing astrophysics calculations in their crib. They’re in it for the baby faces and birdies, but the parent can appreciate the science.

Book Cover: Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering by Ruth Spiro

Book Cover: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Putting It All Together

Most books will have a few of these features. Take my two books, Goodnight Jesus and I Pray Today.

Book Cover: Goodnight Jesus

Goodnight Jesus has:

  • beautiful, but simple art
  • faces on nearly every page (yay, icons!)
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated action (kissing) that little readers can do
  • sturdy pages

Book Cover: I Pray Today

I Pray Today has:

  • beautiful, simple art
  • faces on every page
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated phrase (Lord have mercy.)
  • which can be an invitation to a repeated action (saying the prayer and making a cross)
  • sturdy pages

And like a baby book on astrophysics, both of mine have bigger ideas at their core. That gives them a long lifespan for little readers and makes it interesting for the adult readers.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s book tour! I’ve had fun writing on a lot of different topics on a lot of different blogs. If you missed them, you can still find them here:

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

 

3 Children’s Books With Disabled Main Characters: Kidlit Karma August 2018

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

Charlotte Riggle HeadshotAt the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

This summer I’ve welcomed several writing friends to share books that they love. Today I’m happy to welcome Charlotte Riggle, my friend and fellow children’s book writer. Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we’ve traveled in the same small online writing circles for many years.

Charlotte is a voice for disability representation in children’s books. Both her most recent picture book, THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW, and her the previous book, CATHERINE’S PASCHA, feature the main character’s disabled best friend. Neither story is about disability, they’re about children being children. They just happen to be different.

Cover art for THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW by Charlotte Riggle          Cover art for CATHERINE'S PASCHA

Take it away Charlotte!


Books are magical. When you read a book, you can travel into the future or into the past. You can visit cities and worlds you’ve never been to. You can see animals that you never knew existed. And you can meet people that aren’t like the people in your neighborhood.

And all of this magic has a wonderful influence on the minds and hearts of children. Children who meet all sorts of people – different ages, different races, different abilities – are less likely to accept stereotypes. They are more likely to respond with empathy to all sorts of people. And, wonderfully, magically, meeting those people in books does the same thing.

So it’s important that our children read books about all sorts of people. Including people with disabilities. But there are genuinely not many children’s books with disabled characters. So here are three to get you started: a picture book and two middle grade novels. 

 

Picture Book: A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Book cover for A SPLASH OF RED: THE ART AND LIFE OF HORACE PIPPIN

If you’re not a student of American art, you probably haven’t heard of Horace Pippin. I hadn’t until I discovered this wonderful book. Pippin is considered a folk artist, or an American primitive artist, like Grandma Moses.

A Splash of Red is a richly detailed biography of Pippin. He was born in 1888 and had what might be considered a privileged life for the grandson of slaves. He attended school through eighth grade. He loved art and drew and painted with whatever materials he could find.

When World War I started, he volunteered to serve. He was injured in combat – his right shoulder was badly damaged. He couldn’t draw anymore. He couldn’t paint. And he couldn’t find anyone willing to hire him.

He married. He helped his wife with her business. And he longed to draw and paint.

Eventually, that passion drove him to do what everyone thought was impossible. He supported his injured right arm with his left hand, and with time and determination, he began painting again.

A Splash of Red is gorgeous, as any book about an artist should be. There’s a wealth of detailed information in the back of the book. The book isn’t intended for very young children. But a child interested in history or art will read this one over and over again.

A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Cover art for INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

Aven, the main character of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, was born without arms. But she hasn’t let that stop her. She has learned to do almost anything any other kid can do, using what she does have: her mouth, her feet, and her wit. Her friends at school have known her since forever, and they’re used to the way she does things. It’s just not a big deal.

But then her dad gets a job running an run-down theme park in Arizona. The family moves across the country. And at age 13, Aven finds herself in a new school, with kids who don’t know her, and who think she’s a bit of a freak.

Aven doesn’t like being stared at. She doesn’t like being treated as if she can’t do things for herself. She just wants to go home to Kansas. But that’s not an option. So she finds a mystery that needs to be solved. Disappearing tarantulas. Missing photographs. A locked room and a locked desk.

Somehow, the mystery seems to have something to do with her.

Along the way, she makes friends with a couple of boys who are also outsiders: Zion, who is seriously overweight, and Connor, who has Tourette’s. Together, they could do what none of them could do alone.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusis notable for its realistic and unsentimental portrayal of uncommon disabilities. The characters aren’t written as collections of stereotypes. They are well rounded, interesting, utterly charming human beings. And while they grow and develop through their experiences, they do not encounter miraculous cures.

The book is a delight on every level. The publisher recommends it for kids in grades 3 to 7. But if you have an older child who has a significant disability, or who knows someone with a disability, I’m sure this book will resonate with them.

To learn how Dusti Bowling made sure the characters were realistic, read the interview on the Nerdy Book Club.

INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS by Merrie Haskell

Covert art for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

Tilda is the Princess of Alder Brook. But she isn’t particularly interested in being a princess. She would much rather be a nun, working alone in a scriptorium, copying books – or, even better, writing her own books. 

Of course, she’s got a lot of reasons for preferring books to the life of a princess. For one thing, her principality is in dire financial straits. For another, many of her subjects think she’s cursed. She’s got a club foot, after all.

The club foot affects who Tilda is and what she does. It’s not just the people who think she’s cursed. Her own mother won’t let her ride horses or do anything else where she might get hurt.

And there’s the pain. Her foot hurts. A lot. Her maidservant, Judith, knows how to help. But the pain and disability make it hard for her to do some things that are easy for others.

There are days that running away from her life at Alder Brook seems like a good idea.

And when her cousin Ivo kidnaps her mother, and then Tilda, to take Alder Brook away from them, she has to run away to survive. Judith and a would-be squire named Parzifal join her. They decide that, while avoiding Ivo, they should go on a quest to kill dragons.

Because it gives them something to do. And dragons are evil, right?

Well, that’s what Tilda and her companions think at the beginning of their quest. But through their encounters with the Wild Hunt, the Horses of Elysium, an evil magician, and (of course) a dragon, they learn a great deal about dragons – and about themselves.

I don’t just read YA – I read middle grade novels and picture books, too. And Handbook for Dragon Slayers is perhaps my favorite middle grade novel of all time. Tilda’s encounters with the dragon are especially wonderful.

You can read an interview with author Merrie Haskell on Disability in Kidlit, along with a fabulous review by a reader who also has a clubfoot.

HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS on Amazon

 

Thank you, Charlotte!

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

200+ Children’s Book Reviews

200+ Children's Book Reviews

I love reviewing connecting people with books almost as much as I love reading them. That’s one reason I review so many books here on my blog. And since I’ve started doing my Kidlit Karma project, I’m doing a lot more reviews.

Just one problem: it’s not that easy to find things here on the old blog.

So if you need, say, a nonfiction book for a tween – sure I’ve got it. …Somewhere… Something had to be done.

Now I’ve created a master page for all my book reviews. Yay!

It’s sorted in two ways:

  1. Ages and stages – this includes age ranges like baby, child, tween, teen, and adult. It also includes stages like early reading.
  2. Topics – Jump here to get a collected list of all STEM, nonfiction, diverse books, and books for writers. Within each topic they’re sorted by age to make things easy.

So, go forth and find a book to read!

 

CHECK IT OUT

Kidlit Karma Reviews: July 2018

 KidlitKarma: July 2018 book reviews

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

This month’s collection of books are all inspired by my eldest daughter, who is a struggling reader. Yes, children of writers can be struggling readers. So can bookworms. Though I was never diagnosed, I strongly suspect I’m mildly dyslexic.

Yes, writers can be dyslexic, too.

If all of this is throwing you for a loop, I recommend the book The Dyslexic Advantage. Not every struggling student is dyslexic, but for the 1 in 5 students who are dyslexic and the adults that love them, this book is revolutionary.

Cover art for THE DYSLEXIC ADVANTAGE

What if I told you there were books that are easy to read and enjoyable enough that even struggling readers will willingly devour them? 

It’s not magic, it’s graphic novels. 

So here’s the part where you start telling me that these aren’t real books, etc. Is a child reading a comic getting practice at decoding words? Are they having fun and learning to like reading so they will want to read more in the future? Yes and yes. And that will make them a better and more willing reader later.

I’m not the only one that thinks graphic novels are a boon to struggling and reluctant readers. 

Here’s why: Graphic novels tend to have more complex plots (befitting an older child) while having simpler language and smaller wordcounts appropriate to a struggling reader.

It’s about buy-in. My eldest listens to audiobook novels for kids twice her age. So she detests having to read easy readers. Something with a real plot that’s within her ability is very welcome.

Graphic novels have been the gateway for many readers. When you see a child who has struggled for years, picks up a book an inch thick and read it in 5 hours straight – there’s nothing to match their excitement at reading a “BIG” book or your pride at seeing the many hours of hard work come to fruition. And because of that success and excitement, she has read voraciously every since.

Maybe it is magic after all.

So with that in mind, here are some of our favorite graphic novels to get you started.

 

Graphic Novel: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cover art for GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cat is not happy about having to move to a new town, but her little sister Maya is sick and they have to make the move to keep her healthy. Once they move, they discover that the town is haunted. But are the ghosts evil or friendly?

This story weaves together the kind of complex social struggles of a middle grade novel with the Mexican custom of the Day of the Dead. I present this book as a refute to the claim that graphic novels don’t involve brilliant bring-you-to-tears storytelling.

Raina Telgemeier has many more award-winning graphic novels, so make sure to check them all out.

Get GHOSTS on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: ZITA THE SPACEGIRL series by Ben Hatke

Cover art for ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Zita is a normal girl until her best friend is kidnapped by an intergalactic group. Now she’s on a rescue mission on a doomed planet with some unlikely companions.

My daughter got the first Zita book as a gift from her best friend. Since then, the whole family has read and reread all the books. These beloved books have earned a permanent place in our library.

Get ZITA THE SPACEGIRL on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Cover art for PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Phoebe is out skipping rocks one day and smacks a unicorn, breaking her from the spell of her own reflection. As thanks for freeing her, the unicorn grants her one wish. Phoebe’s wish: to be best friends with a unicorn. But she gets a bit more than she bargained for.

My husband was the one to discover this series. It was originally posted as a webcomic and we both fell in love with the humor and wit. We introduced it to our daughter, and that was that.

Get PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale

Cover art for REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Making friends is not easy. It certainly wasn’t for shy little Shannon. And even when she had The Group to play with, she wasn’t sure they were friends worth having. Finding real friends is hard, but ultimately worth it.

This award-winning book is full of humor and heart. And though it’s set in the 70’s, the story is timeless

Get REAL FRIENDS on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Cover art for EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

A miraculous new invention gives young Cece the ability to hear for the first time. But school is hard enough without a bulky hearing aid. She enlists the help of her superhero persona El Deafo to take on the school and make friends.

Get EL DEAFO on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

Cover art for CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

The world has run out of electricity and it will be a permanent lights-out unless the brave Catstronauts can fix the problem.

What’s cuter than cats? How about cats in space! These books are a delight with a fun narrative, purrfect puns, and gorgeous illustrations. My kids giggled all the way through and eagerly asked for more.

Get CATSTRONAUTS on Amazon

 

6 Great Graphic Novels for Struggling Readers