Favorite Recent Books

I haven’t been substituting at the Kalamazoo Public Library like I had been because the library moved to curbside service. However, I’ve been checking out books at almost the same rate as when I was working. We’ve enjoyed several recent books so much I think they’re worth sharing. Below is an eclectic mix of books my kids and I have loved.

Children’s Books

  1. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. We hadn’t read this lyrical favorite in over a year and are all enjoying it again.

2. This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. We’ve read other books by Klassen, but I’m not sure we’d ever read this Caldecott Medal winner. I recommend all his quirky, smartly illustrated books.

3. Henry Heckelbeck Gets a Dragon by Wanda Coven. I love these first chapter books! I just heard about this series that has easy-to-read language and illustrations on every page. The words are also larger than most chapter books, so it’s only a few sentences on each page. But they feel like real chapter books! Add in an entertaining storyline and this is such a win. There is also a related series about Henry’s sister called Heidi Heckelbeck, which we will also be checking out.

4. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. These illustrated chapter books for elementary aged kids made NPR’s favorite 100 children’s books list that came out last summer. They are so sweet and entertaining. An especially wonderful aspect of this series is that they take place in “Africa, amazing Africa.” These modern-day stories have illustrations throughout. They’re a slight step-up from what Charlie can read on his own as a first grader, so we read these aloud to him.

5. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. This book is aimed at kids 8-12, but Charlie (almost 7) loved it as a read-aloud.* In a futuristic world a robot makes a home amongst the animals on an island. We also loved the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.

*Note about read-alouds: All I mean by this is it’s a longer chapter book or graphic novel that I read out loud. We are able to share more advanced books than Charlie’s reading level would allow. If it’s a graphic novel, he’ll be right next to me so he can see what’s going on. But for any other book he often plays LEGOs while he is listening. We read before bed and will often do a few picture books together with Finn (almost 4) and then move into his room when Finn goes to bed to read a longer read-aloud book for another 15 minutes or so.

6. The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich. Last year we read several of the Little House books. The Birchbark House series is like a Native American counterpart. The books follow a spirited Ojibwe girl named Omakayas and take place in the mid 1800s on an island in Lake Superior in what is now Wisconsin. We really enjoy these and learned a lot about the Ojibwe tribe. There are five books in the series.

7. The Boxcar Children series. Charlie listens to these everyday. With 167 audiobooks available through Hoopla (which we have access to through our library), there is always a new story to check out.

8. Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke. Charlie and I both love this graphic novel series. The author teaches elementary school and it shows. Steinke creates realistic, thoughtful, and entertaining depictions of a fifth grade class.

Young Adult Books

9. Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. I’ve been recommending this graphic novel to so many people! I loved it. At the time of writing, Yang worked as a high school math teacher in Oakland, CA. He decides to write a graphic novel about his school’s boy’s basketball team, which had a tradition of going to the state championships. I’m not really a basketball fan and I loved it. I recommend it for middle school age readers through adults.

10. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang. I also checked out and really enjoyed Yang’s historical fiction graphic novel. It covers the Boxer Rebellion in China at the end of the 19th Century. I didn’t have any background on the history covered, but was able to easily follow the story, which involves European Christian expansion in China and the effects on different Chinese people. The second book that goes along with this one is called Saints.

11. The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. This beautiful graphic novel follows Tien, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. Fairy tales work as the bridge to connect Tien and his mother in a way he doesn’t think is possible.

Adult Nonfiction Books

12. Beyond Birds and Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality by Bonnie J. Rough. This is a book I didn’t know I needed. When Rough’s daughters were young her family moved temporarily to Amsterdam for her husband’s job. She notices all the different ways Dutch culture addresses bodies, relationships, and sex education (even for really young kids) and how these differences result in positive outcomes for Dutch kids and teens.

It’s part memoir, part journalistic investigation. I recommend it to everyone- parents of all age kids (even toddlers), educators, and anyone interested in a fascinating read. She doesn’t directly recommend any particular books to share with kids in her book; however, I was happy to find this article where she does list resources for different age groups.

13. The Dragons, The Giant, The Women by Wayetu Moore. This memoir made the NYT list of notable books for 2020. This book about her family’s experience during the civil war in Liberia is told in three parts. The first part is about escaping with her family during the civil war when she’s five. It’s told from her limited perspective as a child and is more fantastical. This section was slower for me to read and I almost gave up on the book. But since my friend Emily had highly recommended it I persevered; and I’m so glad I did. The second part switches to her as an adult living in NYC and was faster reading. Then I found the third section completely gripping. It left me stunned and in a stupor. All I could do was read everything about Moore and Liberia.

14. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow. The author, Eli Saslow, and subject, Derek Black, were on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah a few years ago. Noah recently tweeted a clip of their interview, which lead me to checking out the book. It’s the true story of a young white man (Derek Black) who was David Duke’s Godson and born into and steeped in a culture of white supremacy. It was clear from the TV interview that Derek had disavowed his racist beliefs after attending college.

The book recounts very compellingly the ways in which his classmates were able to reach him through big shows of campus exclusion but also inclusion and continued discussion. Even though this is a biography and not a memoir, it was as captivating to me as popular memoirs like Educated by Tara Westover.

Have you read any of these? Any other books you or your kids are loving?

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