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
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.
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:
Ages and stages – this includes age ranges like baby, child, tween, teen, and adult. It also includes stages like early reading.
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.
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.
So instead, today I’m going to save my gushing for Charlotte’s book itself along with some other great, non-Easter books.
Picture Book: CATHERINE’S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle
Catherine can’t wait for Pascha, the middle of the night Easter celebration at her church. And this year, she is definitely not going to fall asleep and miss Pascha. She’ll keep her eyes open all night for the candles and giggles with her best friend. Plus, there’s a giant feast afterward! But she might close her eyes for just a minute…
I love this book for two reasons. It’s a peek inside how another culture celebrates Easter. But it’s foremost, a really amusing story told from a child’s perspective.
A disclaimer: Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we travel in many, many of the same online circles. Over the years, she has firmly come over to the side of being a friend rather than just a colleague. However, I bought her book for my own kids long before we “met” online. Her work speaks for itself in its quality. The best testament I can give is that my kids pull it off the shelf all year long to read. They quote it at Easter time. We’re on our third copy because we loan it out and the little readers can’t part with it.
Four kids from very different walks of life, all find their fates bound together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are entwined in centuries of secrets and magic but the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and they’ll have to stop something even more catastrophic in New York City.
The author has woven together solid history with fantasy and the results are engrossing. I devoured this book and I’m hoping it will become a series.
Young Adult Nonfiction: ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough
Brockenbrough does a great job of stringing together the relevant facts in a way that both tells a true and complete story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also keeps the reader engaged way past their bedtime. If you think you don’t like history books, try reading this one to change your mind.
I am obsessed with Hamilton the musical. Lin Manuel Miranda is a musical genius, but he also had a really great subject to work with. Alexander Hamilton’s life was a real-life soap opera (just add musical score). I’m not alone in my obsession and the glut of Hamilton books on the market in the last year is a reflection of that. If you’re going to read only one of the Hamilton biographies, this is an excellent choice.
You can also check out the lists for 2015 and 2016.
BOOKS FOR BABIES AND EXPECTANT PARENTS
No one is too young for a book! Nothing says love more than cuddling up in the lap of a grownup and listening to a story. And since reading to children is the number one best thing you can do to promote school success, you’re also making an investment in their future success. These books have stiff, durable pages perfect for the littlest readers.
These picture books are perfect for kids that are ready to graduate from board books. They have shorter texts (to match short attention spans) but big humor. These are a great fit for preschool through lower elementary.
READ ALOUD CHAPTER BOOKS FOR PRESCHOOL AND KINDERGARTEN
Kids can begin listening to chapter books as young as preschool or kindergarten. These books have short chapters and pictures can help ease the transition. They’re also free of mature or scary content.
Comics and graphic novels have been the gateway to reading for many kids. Apparently, I didn’t read many graphic novels this year, but what I lack in numbers I make up for with quality. I love all the books in this series (and stalk Drew Brockington’s twitter to find out when there will be more).
The one category where I read significantly more than in any previous year: middle grade. Middle grade is the term for upper elementary to middle school readers. I tried to thin down this list. I really did. But…. I can’t. #sorrynotsorry To help you sort through, I’ve added the genre of each but these should be taken with a (large) grain of salt.
It’s a great time for people that love nonfiction. There is some terrific nonfiction out there right now. This list was just as hard to thin down as the middle grade novels. After each book, I’ve listed the age category. PB = picture book and can range from preschool to upper elementary. MG = middle elementary to middle school. YA = middle school to teen.
Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”
Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?
Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.
So what’s a parent to do?
Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)
I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.
Help! How do I find books for my child?
First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.
Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.
Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?
If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.
The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.
Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:
Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.
But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?
You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.
Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?
The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:
At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.
Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.
Now let’s look at our other book example.
Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).
Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?
Most teachers (and authors!) believe that kids that don’t like to read just haven’t met the right book yet. Some kids also get stuck because the books at their reading level just don’t appeal to them. Do you know what almost all kids love? Comics. Know what’s easy to read? Comics. Know what builds reading skills? Reading comics.
Last year I gifted myself a few days of sloth for the holidays. No projects, no deadlines, and few obligations. For someone who usually runs at full throttle, the downtime was amazing. I read books, watched movies, and enjoyed a much slower pace. After a few days my sloth account was full and I jumped back into the new year recharged.
This year I knew it was coming and spent days eagerly planning to be slothful. (How ironic is that?) I prepped myself with a stack of books, a pile of movies, and a knitting project or two. This year I couldn’t fit in days of complete slothfulness due to obligations and deadlines. I did manage a couple of weeks of semi-slothfulness, though.
So here’s what Sloth 2015 looked like:
“Waistcoats and Weaponry“(Finishing School book 3) by Gail Carriger – I’ve been tearing through this series as quickly as I can get my hands on it.
“George’s Secret Key to the Universe” by Lucy and Stephen Hawking – Yes, that Stephen Hawking. Turns out his daughter writes novels. This is a rare gem – a kid’s book that doesn’t sacrifice good storytelling for good science.
“Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?” by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek – What happens in the brain to turn a person into a zombie? Find out along with this accessible read. (TL;DR: check out the TedEX talk for part of the answer.)
“Voyager” (Outlander book 3) by Diana Gabaldon – This epic series is addictive. Do not attempt unless you have the next 48 hours cleared. No really. (I’ve been working on the series for a couple of years for just this reason.)
Star Wars – We began introducing our kids to the Star Wars movies. It’s important to start your nerdlings on the proper path from a young age.
Crash course Astronomy – Yes, the whole series. (Ok, I skipped over a few early ones.) This is big science explained in layman’s terms.
The holiday season is upon us. Hopefully, you’ll consider gifting the kid in your life with a book or two. But what to get? You can find guidelines online but they’re not the best. A clerk at a big box book store will be even less helpful. Why? Most recommendations are based on a lot of assumptions.
They assume that all kids learn to read at the same time and with the same skill. They assume that younger kids will only get read alouds and older kids will only read independently.
We can do better.
There are two important things to know.
Reading level is different from comprehension level. By the time children start learning to read, they are already speaking fluently. A 5 year old’s reading level might be “The cat sat on the mat” but their comprehension level will be far higher.
What book category do you you want? Children’s interests and abilities change over the course of childhood. The children’s book industry has created categories to reflect this:
Leveled readers or easy readers are for children just learning to read. They have simple sentences and tightly controlled vocabulary. These are written at a child’s reading level. Example: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss.
Chapter books are generally written for older children to read themselves. These are longer, with more mature content. There are categories within chapter books, as well. First chapter books are for newly minted readers. Middle grade books are for older elementary kids. Young adult books are for middle and high school students.
Age ratings on easy readers and chapter books assume that a child is going to read the book themselves. A book that is rated for an older child often is suitable for read loud with a younger child.
But be aware: content maturity also goes up. A younger child may not be emotionally ready for a book intended for older kids. If you pick a read aloud book rated for older children, take the time to check out a review or two.
So, here’s my guide to finding the perfect book for the child in your life:
How old is the child? How skilled are they at reading? Do they like to read?
Older children and more skillful readers usually can handle more difficult books.
Not all kids like to read. For these “reluctant readers” shorter, high-interest books are the way to go.
Do you want a read aloud book? Or one to read independently?
Very young children can’t yet read.
Adolescents and teens probably won’t be interested in a read-aloud if you haven’t built the habit. (Sorry.)
Kids in that middle sweet spot can go either way. They can cuddle up for a juicy read aloud chapter book or pick up a shorter book to read alone.