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Linda Mah
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Good Books Make Good Gifts

Check Out Some Great New Titles

Whether you’re looking for a book to give as a present this holiday season, or you just want to make sure your young readers have something to keep them occupied during the winter break, you’ll find the shelves of bookstores and libraries filled with new fun and thought-provoking options.

We asked teachers, librarians, and administrators to list some of their new favorites in children’s and young adult literature. Below, you’ll find picture books, graphic novels, award-winning books, novels in verse, and other options for the young readers in your house.

Some of them sound so interesting, you may even want to pick up a copy for yourself.

Debora Gant, second-grade teacher at Arcadia Elementary School and long-time Kalamazoo Public Schools proponent of and leader in diverse literature:

“The Word Collector,” written and illustrated by Peter Hamilton Reynolds. Some people collect bugs or stamps. Jerome collects words. One day, an accident teaches him how to make them even more special.

“Drawn Together,” written by Minh Le and illustrated by Peter Santat. When a boy visits his grandfather, they have trouble communicating until they discover a mutual love of drawing.

“I Am Human,” written by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. A meditation on what it means to be human. A picture book that celebrates empathy and compassion as essential parts of humanity.

Patricia Richardson, acquisitions and cataloging librarian for Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Laura Warren-Gross, librarian at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts:

Picture Books

“Be Kind,” written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill. When a young girl spills juice on her new dress, her friend tries to make her feel better. The story explores concepts of kindness and how kindness can make a difference.

“The Day You Begin,” written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Woodson imagines what it’s like being “an only” — the only one with an accent, the only one who wears your kind of clothes — in a classroom.

“After the Fall,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Humpty Dumpty must conquer his fear of climbing after that famous fall.

Chapter Books

“First Rule of Punk,” written by Celia Perez. Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales moves to Chicago at the start of seventh grade and creates her own path by forming a punk band.

“Jason Reynold’s Track Series: Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu,” written by Jason Reynolds. A group of friends from wildly different backgrounds compete on an elite track team. They all have a lot to lose — and a lot to prove.

“Harbor Me,” written by Jacqueline Woodson. Six students are selected for a weekly talk, with no adults allowed. They discover how to share their hopes and fears.

Angela Justice, KPS coordinator for English language arts, social studies, and library services:

“We Need New Names,” written by NoViolet Bulawayo. Bulawayo’s debut novel follows a 10-year-old girl’s journey from Zimbabwe to America. She encounters limited options as she navigates her new country. The novel even has a Kalamazoo connection.

“The Poet X,” written by Elizabeth Acevedo. This novel-in-verse is about an Afro-Latino poet, who uses slam poetry to find her voice in her traditional Harlem neighborhood.

“Akata Warrior,” written by Nnedi Okorafor. This fantasy blends mythology, history, and magic in a story about an American girl, whose Nigerian parents bring her back to their homeland, and she is inducted into a secret society and must avert an apocalypse.

Greg Socha, principal at Arcadia Elementary School:

Picture books

“Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. This story about a boy with an affection for trips to the barbershop has won multiple awards.

“A Map of Good Memories,” written by Fran Nuno, illustrated by Zuzanna Celej. A refugee girl remembers her favorite places from her homeland and recreates them on a map to help her remember the good times.

“Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey,” written by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr. This story about a refugee’s journey hits home with students. It is written in English and Arabic. Chapter books

Chapter Books

“Out of My Mind,” written by Sharon Draper. This novel for upper elementary students made a big impact with students and staff. It’s a little older — It was a summer reading assignment for last year’s fourth graders — but it’s still worthwhile to mention.

“The Stories Julian Tells,” written by Ann Cameron. This older book is a great read-aloud book. It’s about a boy with a great imagination, who can make his younger brother believe anything.

Susan Warner, director of youth services at Kalamazoo Public Library:

Picture books

“A Big Mooncake for Little Star,” written and illustrated by Grace Lin. Award-winning author Grace Lin explains the phases of the moon in a story about a little girl who can’t resist nibbling at mooncakes.

“Jabari Jumps,” written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. Jabari has finished his swim lessons and he’s ready to jump off the diving board — almost.

“Night Job,” written by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. A little boy accompanies his father to his job cleaning a middle school. It celebrates the joy of working together and of a job well done.

Chapter books

“Merci Suarez Changes Gears,” written by Meg Medina. Merci has to tackle big changes at the private school where she attends as a scholarship student as well as at home where her beloved grandfather is struggling with memory loss.

“Ghost Boys,” written by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Rhodes tells the story of a black boy killed by a police officers, while making connections to historical events.

Tonya Colvin, librarian at Kalamazoo Central High School:

“Swing,” written by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. For best friends Walt and Noah, “swing” refers to jazz and to baseball in this story about bettering yourself and navigating relationships.

“The Hate U Give,” written by Angie Thomas. Starr Carter must balance between her poor neighborhood and the fancy suburban prep school that she attends. The balance is shattered when her best friend is killed by the police. This book is the Kalamazoo Public Library’s 2019 Reading Together selection, and was recently released as a major motion picture.

John Kreider, librarian at Loy Norrix High School:

“Proud,” written by Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Olympic fencer shares her story of faith, family, and perseverance. At the 2016 Olympics, she became the first American to compete wearing a hijab.

“Odd One Out,” written by Nic Stone. A complicated high school threesome of friends results in a thoughtful exploration of sexuality, gender, and race.

Additional recommendations from staff:

“Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History,” written by Vashti Harrison. This is based on a series of popular Instagram posts from Black History Month. It features 40 mini biographies of famous black women.

"The Crossover Series," Kwame Alexander - Written in verse and about basketball, this book’s storyline is easy to understand and most kids, particularly boys, will enjoy this series.

"The Parker Inheritance," by Varian Johnson — After 12-year-old Candice moves to a small Southern town, she discovers a puzzle with links to her family. The mystery includes references to “The Westing Game.”

"The Cardboard Kingdom," by Chad Sell — A group of neighborhood friends create adventures with costumes made of cardboard.

"Secret Coders," (series) by Gene Luen Yang —Stately Academy, a mysterious school, challenges students with clues and puzzles that demand to be solved.

“Swing,” written by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. For best friends Walt and Noah, “swing” refers to jazz and to baseball in this story about bettering yourself and learning how to navigate male/female relationships.

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