317 books directly related to family 📚

All 317 family books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of The Misfortune of Marion Palm

The Misfortune of Marion Palm

By Emily Culliton

Why this book?

I love the concept of the main character, Marion Palm. She's a sort of anti-hero, exactly the sort of woman society expects us not to celebrate: she commits crimes, and then abandons her family when she's been found out. She goes on the run, like the characters in The Last Flight but for different reasons. And yet I found myself rooting for her. Her crime is almost victimless (or rather, the victims are mostly stuck-up rich people we are not exactly encouraged to sympathize with), and her motives are not selfish. In the end, I took this as a book…

From the list:

The best books by women about women, beyond romance, motherhood, or emulating men

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Book cover of The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

By Helen Rappaport

Why this book?

Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia: the four daughters of Nicholas II are sometimes known as OTMA and often seen as a collective. With their carefully curated public images, Rappaport refers to them as the “Princess Dianas of their day.” At the same time, their individual personalities come to life via diary entries, correspondence, and fascinating reconstructions of their experiences as young women coming to age in the last days of imperial Russia, nurses during WWI, and prisoners after the Revolution.

From the list:

The best books on the last Romanovs

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Book cover of My Mother's Son

My Mother's Son

By David Hirshberg

Why this book?

This award-winning novel combines a boy’s coming-of-age story with a well-wrought picture of American life and culture in Boston after the Holocaust. Told by a radio host remembering his growing up years in Boston in the 1950s, this book incorporates major events of the times – such as the Korean War, the polio scourge, events in baseball and politics – with the personal experience of growing up in a Jewish family in the post-Holocaust years. In the flashbacks, the voice of the child is perfectly rendered, and his adult views of his youth and of aging are delivered with wry…

From the list:

The best novels set during the post Holocaust period

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Book cover of Wild Game: My Mother, Her Secret, and Me

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Secret, and Me

By Adrienne Brodeur

Why this book?

I read Wild Game in a weekend—and that’s unusual for me, but I just couldn’t put the book down. Brodeur brought me into a world of treachery, lies, and mother-daughter entanglement that I found absolutely compelling. The mother in this book, Malabar, is a larger-than-life character whose willingness to sacrifice her daughter’s well-being for her own ends was horrifying and believable. I rooted for the daughter all the way through this beautifully crafted book, but it was the mother I found unforgettable.
From the list:

The best books on the drama, conflict, loyalty, and love of the mother-daughter knot

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Book cover of A Family Is a Family Is a Family

A Family Is a Family Is a Family

By Sara O’Leary, Qin Leng

Why this book?

Many kids secretly fear the questions that come up at the beginning of the school year about their family. If you are living in foster care or have been going through something difficult in your home life, talking about family can be challenging. This playfully illustrated story helps create a safe space for all different kinds of families. Great for reading at home with your child or with the whole class to nurture a welcoming environment.

From the list:

The best children's books for back to school

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Book cover of Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt

Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt

By Patricia McKissack, Cozbi A. Cabrera

Why this book?

Patricia McKissack introduces the quilts of Gee’s Bend to young readers in this charming picture book. McKissack not only read about Gee’s Bend but she visited and learned how to quilt. Her text is written in poems that capture the lilt and rhythm of Gee’s Bend women. The speaker, “Baby Girl,” describes how she learned how to quilt from her grandma. The soft, painterly illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera resemble Gee’s Bend quilts, and depict the colorful scraps of material the women used. The story includes the visit of Dr. Martin Luther King to “the Bend” on his way to…

From the list:

The best books on quilting created by African American women to tell their stories

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Book cover of We the Animals

We the Animals

By Justin Torres

Why this book?

My favorite! Some people think it’s too flowery and abstract, but I think Torres’s ability to capture brutality and adolescence almost entirely through a sensual reckoning is incredible. I’d love to hear the entire book read aloud as a single monologue. No, I have not seen the movie because I don’t want to corrupt my experience. Keywords: sad, gay, hot.

From the list:

The best books for poets who want to write fiction

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Book cover of The Old Drift

The Old Drift

By Namwali Serpell

Why this book?

This astonishing mashup of fact and fiction tracks three generations from three different lineages starting around 1900, describes their convergence over the century, and carries on into present-day Zambia, beyond the book’s publication date. This gives it the opportunity to morph into “science fiction” towards the end. The prose is often superb and the characters are vividly described. Obscure but authentic historic and technical details, e.g., the Afronaut story (who knew?) and some clinicopathologic aspects of malaria, are impressive examples of the research the author put into the book. The McCall’s pattern numbers she referenced for a fictional seamstress were…

From the list:

The best fiction books with trustworthy portrayals of political history & cultural insights into their African settings

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Book cover of The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel

The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel

By Akwaeke Emezi

Why this book?

I left this book for last because it is, perhaps, the heaviest and most gut-wrenching. In this book, Emezi crafts an exceptional paranormal story showing the true-life difficulties (that is the life-threatening and openly hostile discrimination) faced by LGBT+ people in Nigeria. A fact that’s sadly true in many other African countries too. This book has so many layers, every scene dripping with nuance and a clear tenderness for the subject matter. It would have been easy for this story to remain steeped in tragedy, but Emezi manages to elevate their characters and narrative above that, providing an ultimately heartwarming…

From the list:

The best fiction books by trans/non-binary authors with trans/non-binary characters

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Book cover of This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life

By Helen Schulman

Why this book?

A painful examination of all that’s at stake when kids make bad decisions, This Beautiful Life made me reflect on the pressure contemporary kids feel to be beyond reproach while growing up amid the instant connectivity and permanent consequences of the internet age. Like Testimony, Schulman’s novel begins with a video, this time one whose ramifications are amplified and complicated as it goes viral in a matter of hours.

A gripping early scene dramatizes the split second when fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot makes the fateful choice to forward a video he’s received to a friend. The scandal that ensues threatens not…
From the list:

The best campus novels for the 21st century

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Book cover of Captains and the Kings

Captains and the Kings

By Taylor Caldwell

Why this book?

Caldwell opened my eyes not only to aspects of American history I wasn’t familiar with, but current politics with this heavy saga. Captains and the Kings highlighted the plight of Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s and then widened the scope to show the follies of the social classes, political corruption, and greed into the new century. True events and historical figures are woven into this fictional tapestry with such skill that everything seems plausible. I ended the read fearful for our future, like I’d typically get from reading a dystopian novel. It’s an intense read needing tissues, a search engine…

From the list:

The best books for historical gothic family saga fans

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Book cover of Dancin' in the Kitchen

Dancin' in the Kitchen

By Wendy Gelsanliter, Frank Christian, Marjorie Priceman

Why this book?

A great Thanksgiving treat. “Dancin’ in the kitchen. The family’s packed in tight. I think we may be dancin’ in the kitchin’ all night!” The family cooks, sets the table, and eats…all while dancing and chanting along.  Get your beat going. Hand out spoons to beat on pans and rock along with this joyful picture book. All the way to the end, “Grandpa does the washin’. We all pitch in to dry. We’re still dancin’ in the kitchen, with the radio way up high!” 

From the list:

The best singing picture books

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Book cover of Yes, Let's

Yes, Let's

By Galen Goodwin Longstreth, Maris Wicks

Why this book?

I love this book because it basically shows what a perfect outdoor day looks like, and inspires ideas for things to do. This book follows a family as they drive out to the country to go on a hike. The illustrations do a great job of adding to the text, as we see everyone in the family having their own little stories throughout the book.

From the list:

The best books for young nature lovers

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Book cover of Ironweed

Ironweed

By William Kennedy

Why this book?

William Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for this novel. An interesting study in the use of internal reflection, as well as explored levels of consciousness and complex timeline. The protagonist is Francis Phelan, a former professional baseball player who left Albany in shame after dropping his infant son Gerald to his death. It is the third book in Kennedy's Albany Cycle. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (for Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (for Meryl Streep). The novel is rich with dramatic tension.
From the list:

The best fiction novels to learn the art of creating story

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Book cover of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Joanna Bolouri

Why this book?

Joanna Bolouri is one of my favourite romcom writers because she’s so damn funny! Her books are genuinely hilarious and totally live up to the ‘laugh-out-loud’ tag. I love them all, but this is my favourite. Emily is a great character, and Ethan is so cute and adorable. I’m a sucker for a player with hidden depths, and the fact that he’s younger than Emily too is a refreshing change. Throw in a Christmas break with her eccentric family, and you’re guaranteed oodles of fun. 

From the list:

The best fake relationship romcom books

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Book cover of Oh William!

Oh William!

By Elizabeth Strout

Why this book?

Even though the marriage in Oh William! ends in divorce while my marriage ended (without my consent) in my husband’s untimely death, the book brought me back to the unconventional nature of my marriage. Elizabeth Strout’s uncanny ability to say much in a single sentence had me traveling back in time and heart to the many moments that made our marriage. The tendernesses and fears, the deep trust and insecurities that quietly but forcefully bound us together made up the subtle mysteries of our uncommon relationship. What makes people move apart yet remain forever close, as in Lucy Barton and…

From the list:

The best books by women about grieving the loss of a quirky marriage partner

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Book cover of Dad Is Fat

Dad Is Fat

By Jim Gaffigan

Why this book?

My kids bought this book for me as a Christmas gift right before we left for a trip to see relatives. I embarrassed them by nearly falling off the airport chair from laughing. Jim Gaffigan’s dad humor and insights on family relationships are relatable. Though my kids are now young adults, parenting is hard work filled with much self-doubt. Jim Gaffigan uses humor to lighten that load. Plus, the chapters are short so you can get your laugh for the day before you have to deal with the first disaster created by living in a house with small children. Or…

From the list:

The best books that made me laugh out loud

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Book cover of Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation

By Jenny Offill

Why this book?

One of the most original voices in contemporary fiction, Offill’s novel is unusual and from my perspective, brilliant. Perspective is what makes this book shine, the story is so direct it feels as if it is originating in the narrator’s innermost thoughts. Weaving facts and articles with slices of daily routine with the narrator’s own thoughts, the reader is propelled forward, almost a participant in the gradual transformation of the narrator as she comes to terms with her husband’s betrayal.  This short, spare book is hard to put down, wise in ways that are hard to articulate and yet Offill…

From the list:

The best fiction to explore the humor and angst of family relationships

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Book cover of The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady

The Mary Lincoln Enigma: Historians on America's Most Controversial First Lady

By Frank J. Williams, Michael Burkhimer

Why this book?

This collection of essays focuses on a variety of topics, including Mary's relationships, her siblings, her life at the only home she and her husband owned together, her travels, her fashion sense, her psyche, her depiction in photographs and illustrations, and her portrayal in fiction. Although these essays are relatively short, they're crammed full of interesting details. You can read the book straight through or (as I prefer) dip in and out of it at your leisure.
From the list:

The best nonfiction about First Lady Mary Lincoln

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Book cover of The Long Winter

The Long Winter

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

Why this book?

My favourite of all the Little House books - I can't tell you how many times I've read it. The Ingalls family have to move off their isolated homestead and into town to survive a freezing, seven-month winter. Their resourcefulness is hugely inspiring. Depleted of supplies, they make lamps out of buttons, string, and axle grease; they spend hours every day grinding wheat in a little coffee mill in order to have enough flour to make a small loaf of bread; and they get blisters twisting hay into sticks for the fire. The danger from sudden blizzards makes the short…

From the list:

The best books for children which are also loved by adults

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Book cover of The Reckless Oath We Made

The Reckless Oath We Made

By Bryn Greenwood

Why this book?

This love story is unique. Zee is a hot-tempered drug dealer with a damaged leg. Sir Gentry is a sweet guy on the autism spectrum who hears voices, thinks he’s her Medieval champion, and talks only in Middle English. But lack of judgment, understanding, and compassion make them equals in love.

From the list:

The best romance novels to feature characters with mental illness

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Book cover of The Shipping News

The Shipping News

By Annie Proulx

Why this book?

This is perhaps Annie Proulx’s best novel, and I’ve read them all. The proud winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, The Shipping News is a page-turning account of Quoyle, a New York journalist who loses his wife in a road accident. Grief-stricken, he heads to a remote corner of Newfoundland, from whence his ancestors hailed. An oddball himself, he encounters some of the most eccentric characters you’ll find in any work of fiction. 

Annie Proulx, in her unrivalled mastery of language and descriptive passages, brings each and every one of them to vibrant life. Not only that, but her…

From the list:

The best novels on overcoming fear and embracing change

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Book cover of What We Carry: A Memoir

What We Carry: A Memoir

By Maya Shanbhag Lang

Why this book?

While I found this memoir to be beautiful in language and story, I connected most with the author’s stark revelations. She writes from the perspective of a daughter, then a new mother, and finally a caregiver for both her child and her ailing mother. As she navigates life in these varied roles, she begins to see the truth about her mother with compelling clarity. In the end, I felt a deep sense of understanding and was able to remind myself that while I have been naive in my own relationships, it was love that compelled me to cling to my…

From the list:

The best books for daughters with toxic or complicated mothers

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Book cover of On the Banks of Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams

Why this book?

I still smile when I think of all the Little House on the Prairie books, though this was my favorite. The dramas may be small, but they feel real, and the wealth of small, skillfully woven details brings the characters and their world to life so that we can still relate to them, no matter how different our present-day world may be. 

From the list:

The best children’s books to bring history to life

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Book cover of The German Mujahid

The German Mujahid

By Boualem Sansal, Frank Wynne

Why this book?

For decades, Holocaust denial was widespread in Arab countries. That’s beginning to change, and Sansal’s harrowing novel – inspired in part by a Nazi officer who escaped to Algeria and became a hero in the war for independence aids in writing that history back into consciousness. We gain extraordinary intimacy with two brothers as they contend in different ways with the challenges of North African immigrant life in France, the massacre by the Algerian military that claims the lives of their parents, and the discovery of their father’s horrific past. Sansal was attacked for comparing Islamist fundamentalism to the…

From the list:

The best fiction for recovering erased history

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Book cover of Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams

Why this book?

Another eco-classic. The night the little house is surrounded by wolves! And yet this story for children is an explosive cocktail. It is as fresh as homemade lemonade but it is also shot through with shocking white imperialism. Pa tells the little girl: “When white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on.  The government is going to move these Indians farther west any time now. That’s why we’re here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now…

From the list:

The best books about the American West with female central characters

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Book cover of Our Italian Summer

Our Italian Summer

By Jennifer Probst

Why this book?

The story focuses on three women—Francesca, Allegra, and Sophia, three generations of the Ferrari family. They hope that a trip to Italy, to their roots, will restore their connections. But the ties of family run deep, especially troubled ones. Throughout the story, we see the ugly mistakes and misunderstandings of each of the characters—their dirty underwear on display—and how those mistaken beliefs and patterns have torn the fabric that holds the family together.

The characters are complex, human, flawed, and wonderful. You’ll pray for them, cheer for them, hope for them as they flounder, find their footing, and flounder some…

From the list:

The best novels for women about a second chance at love and romance

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Book cover of Lyrics & Curses

Lyrics & Curses

By Candace Robinson

Why this book?

The author describes this book as Pretty in Pink meets Stranger Things—and I must agree! The story takes place in the 80s, and as a child of the 80s myself, that makes me love it even more. Lyrics & Curses is the perfect balance of romance and mystery (and epic 80’s music) that will keep you guessing until the very end. If you’re looking for something quirky and dark, this book may be the perfect fit for you. L&C is the first in a YA duology suitable for younger readers. 

From the list:

The best romance books with cursed love

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Book cover of Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

By Jean Rouaud

Why this book?

This is the first book of a fictionalized family history, starting with the omniscient narrator’s maternal grandparents and paternal aunt, who are all born in the late 1880s: the World War I generation. The story takes place near Nantes, which until 1956 was part of Brittany, but then was administratively moved to a new department, the Loire Atlantic—though most people in Nantes and Brittany continue to believe the Nantois are Breton. As with many things French, the issue is far from settled.

Rouaud creates character through vignettes—and they’re wonderful: grandpa smoking; grandpa driving; grandma complaining about grandpa smoking and driving;…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

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Book cover of All-Of-A-Kind Family

All-Of-A-Kind Family

By Sydney Taylor

Why this book?

In 1951, Sydney Taylor invented the memorable Brenners—papa, mama, five sisters, and baby brother—a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in turn-of-the-century New York. Taylor’s words and Helen John’s illustrations in this book, the first in a series, set the scene. A calendar in the parlor announced that it was 1912. Tenements lined city streets. When I read these novels as a child, I did not yet know that they were closely based on Taylor’s own life. When the entire series was republished in 2014, I quipped: I became a Jewish historian because of these books. 

From the list:

The best memoirs through the voices of women

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Book cover of Untamed

Untamed

By Glennon Doyle

Why this book?

This book perfectly combines self-help wisdom and memoir stories from the author's interesting life. There were so many takeaways – I underlined something in almost every chapter. Utter gems: “We forgot how to know when we learned how to please,” “Maybe in a different life… As if I had more than one” and “I am worthy of rest.” Shivers. Overall, this is a book I think every woman needs to read right now.
From the list:

The best self-help memoir books that will help you make the most of your one precious life

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Book cover of The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family

The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family

By Susan Higginbotham

Why this book?

Despite the prominence of the Woodville family throughout the Wars of the Roses, there are few books about any of them. Often references to them are lifted from dubious and unsubstantiated sources and repeated on the internet and, I’m afraid, elsewhere too, as fact. Few scholars of the period have really given the family close scrutiny but that is what Susan Higginbotham has done. She has truly lifted a veil from the Woodvilles and her book is essential reading for anyone who wants an unbiased take on this very important group of people.

From the list:

The best books on the Wars of the Roses from a historian and author

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Book cover of Experience: A Memoir

Experience: A Memoir

By Martin Amis

Why this book?

This is a magnificent autobiography, a work of intricate self-portraiture that takes in everything from the author’s dental troubles, through his relationship with his father, to his reaction to his cousin’s murder. Amis’s comic energy and stylistic brio are on sizzling display throughout, but so are qualities that aren’t often associated with his fiction: gentleness, generosity, emotional vulnerability…
From the list:

The best books about writers’ lives

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Book cover of The Work / Parent Switch: How to Parent Smarter Not Harder

The Work / Parent Switch: How to Parent Smarter Not Harder

By Anita Cleare

Why this book?

‘I can’t just flick a switch’. It’s something that I hear in my therapy office all the time but what if you could transition better from work to parenting – because they each require a different part of you. Anita Cleare was a great guest on my podcast: The Meaningful Life with Andrew G Marshall. She is good at explaining the different stages and challenges of child development and how stressed our parents often end up fighting with each other. Parenting as a team, rather than bickering with each other, is often one of the breakthrough moments for improving my…

From the list:

The best books about raising emotionally rounded children without exhausting your marriage

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Book cover of Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

By Frank McCourt

Why this book?

Like Fuller’s book, Angela’s Ashes describes a harsh childhood in a lost world, in this case the slums of Limerick in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s. It is altogether a grimmer book, although leavened with wry Irish wit and vivid descriptions of the people and places. The book is beautifully written, but McCourt has been criticized for overdoing the misery and fictionalizing incidents, which raises the question of where to draw the line between fact and fiction in memoirs when you often only have imperfect memories to draw on. I was occasionally shocked when I managed to research an…

From the list:

The best memoirs of lost childhood

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Book cover of The Splendid Things We Planned - A Family Portrait

The Splendid Things We Planned - A Family Portrait

By Blake Bailey

Why this book?

No one wants to know a troubled, addicted family member isn't going to beat their demons. But knowing the ending at the beginning makes reading this difficult story possible. Bailey tells a relatable story that breaks down his brother's struggles and their effect upon the family in a way that those of us who share similar stories can relate to. The reader can see how and where things went wrong with Blake's brother Scott, while recognizing that there wasn't anything anyone could have done to prevent the ending.

From the list:

The best memoirs on surviving traumatic childhoods

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Book cover of A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

By Jane Wilson-Howarth

Why this book?

A poignantly written memoir about a couple’s decision to volunteer in remote Nepal with their three young sons, one with a severe disability. Jane is a doctor and her husband is an engineer, and while they attempt to make a difference in the lives of the people they live and work amongst, they also strive to provide the best possible lives for their children. This includes baby David, whose alternative life is to be stocked up with medication and given daily blood tests in UK hospitals, as an ‘interesting medical case’. 

A zoologist by training, Wilson-Howarth’s prose is wonderfully observant…

From the list:

The best books about international volunteering

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Book cover of Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

By Anne Lamott

Why this book?

My son was born around a time of great tragedy and upheaval. I was never so uncertain or nervous or worried or perplexed about my role as a father in the months and weeks before his arrival. I was certain and cautious and uplifted by this coming change. Then he slid onto the birthing room floor and I bawled endlessly. To chronicle a child’s first year, I would soon learn, is not an easy task. But witnessing it, hand-in-hand, is a beautiful and immensely enriching experience. For those who want children, for those who don’t want children, and those…

From the list:

The best books to get you through troubling times

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Book cover of Furia

Furia

By Yamile Saied Méndez

Why this book?

I adored this book. After I turned the final page, I sat in silence, sinking into all the feels. Set in Argentina, Furia is the story of Camila, a fierce soccer—or fútbol—player who is one of the best in her sport. However, she’s forced to keep her love of fútbol a secret because she’s living under the strict supervision of her father, who doesn’t believe girls should play sports. That story alone would be enough to make Furia one of my all-time favorite books, but it’s also got an incredible swoony love story. You don’t want to miss this…

From the list:

The best YA books featuring badass sporty girls

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Book cover of Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China

Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China

By Jay Dautcher

Why this book?

This book is an ethnographic account of Uyghur suburban life in the mid-1990s, which might sound very far removed from the political and humanitarian crisis going on in the region today. Yet the portrait it offers of Uyghur family life, market trading, informal socializing, and forms of religious devotion has arguably never been more important, given that the Chinese state has been targeting precisely these benign, everyday practices and beliefs in recent years by separating children from their parents, sending officials to live with Uyghur families, and destroying traditional Uyghur homes. Reading it is an immersive, often funny, experience, which…

From the list:

The best books on the concentration camps in Xinjiang

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Book cover of In Byron's Wake

In Byron's Wake

By Miranda Seymour

Why this book?

At last! A book that places Byron’s wife, Annabella Milbank, and mathematician daughter, Ada Lovelace, centre-stage instead of the dusty wings of all previous books about this notorious and complicated man. It is the perfect book for anyone interested in Byron and his world, and more importantly for readers keen to consider a more nuanced account of his wife and daughter.
From the list:

The best books on women’s history

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Book cover of The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

By John Steinbeck

Why this book?

Coming from poverty, I mean, we were so poor I watched my mother shoplift a package of meat and a can of green beans one time so that we could eat that night, I really appreciated the struggles. I am a sucker for ‘big family’ dramas too and add that I lived in Oklahoma and most of my books were set in Oklahoma, this story had a huge impact on me and my novel. What I didn’t like though was the family’s inability to fight the system. I love a good David and Goliath story!

From the list:

The best poor vs. rich books

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Book cover of Paula: A Memoir

Paula: A Memoir

By Isabel Allende

Why this book?

In this heart-wrenching memoir, international best-selling author Isabel Allende interweaves her own extraordinary life journey and heritage, with her daughter Paula’s slow and torturous death. 

Driven out of Chile into exile herself, plus endangering her own life helping other refugees escape, Allende writes with deep psychological incite into the fate of the displaced. To being forced to leave one's home and country, to lose your tribe and nation, to survive the damage to your soul, and forever fearing not being safe.

From the list:

The best books on refugee odysseys to freedom

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Book cover of Three Ways to Disappear

Three Ways to Disappear

By Katy Yocom

Why this book?

Katy Yocom’s Three Ways to Disappear won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature and was named a Barnes & Noble Top Indie Favorite—well-deserved recognition for this gorgeous debut novel. Three Ways to Disappear reveals the plight of the endangered Bengal tigers through the stories of two sisters who come together years after a family tragedy changes their lives—journalist Sarah, in India to help preserve the tigers, and Quinn, in Kentucky, dealing with family issues. The novel shows the complicated balance of tiger conservation among humans who themselves are struggling, and portrays the complexities of family bonds as well as…

From the list:

The best books about saving animals

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Book cover of Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

By Percy Wollaston

Why this book?

This book convinced me I would never have survived as a homesteader! Though not a professional writer, Wollaston does an incredible job of drawing in the reader and sharing heartwarming and heartwrenching details about the homesteader’s life.

From the list:

The best books on Montana during WWI

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Book cover of What is a Family?

What is a Family?

By Edith Schaeffer

Why this book?

In this classic book that has wisdom for today and all time, Edith Schaeffer seeks to define the family in terms of a balanced environment, the birthplace of creativity, formation center for relationships, a shelter from the storm, a relay of values, and so much more. This is one of the most inspiring books I read as a young mother and I put many of Schaeffer’s ideas into practice in raising our three children. I love her narrative approach and stories about her family and how to make lasting memories with our kids and family.
From the list:

The best parenting books for creating confident creative children

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Book cover of All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

By Elizabeth Hay

Why this book?

Most of us have complicated feelings about our parents, and Elizabeth Hay is no exception. The time Hay spends filling in the family back story pays off by making the elder-care journey more poignant and nuanced than a sparser portrait would have produced. I read this memoir at the height of my own care-taking marathon, and while I appreciated every gorgeous word, the whole book would have been worth it for this sentence alone: "Yes, I volunteered to take [the care of my aging parents] on, but there was never a moment when I didn't wish to be let off…

From the list:

The best memoirs for commiserating over the "aging parents" challenge

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Book cover of Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

By Roz Chast

Why this book?

Anybody who’s had to clean out a family home knows what a messy, emotional, tedious, painful, sometimes lonely, occasionally humorous process it can be. Cartoonist Roz Chast captures all of that in this graphic memoir about helping her elderly parents move out of the New York City apartment they’d lived in for decades. Like me, Chast is an only child. That made a tough job even tougher, and she’s astonishingly frank about the ups and downs. If you find yourself having to help a loved one downsize, this book will make you feel less alone, no matter how many siblings…

From the list:

The best books to read when you’re decluttering (or trying to avoid it)

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Book cover of A Baby Sister for Frances

A Baby Sister for Frances

By Russell Hoban, Lilian Hoban

Why this book?

It’s a family of badgers but Frances has some very human emotions about having a baby sibling. She is not outright hostile but does pack a rucksack with snacks and runs away – as far as under the dining table. Her very understanding parents handle it in an exemplary fashion and Frances sees there are advantages to being the older sister, since babies can’t eat chocolate cake.

From the list:

The best classic books about babies

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Book cover of Siblings: You're Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together

Siblings: You're Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together

By James J. Crist, Elizabeth Verdick

Why this book?

This was one of the first books targeting not preschoolers adjusting to a new baby but older kids struggling to get along. It is perfectly pitched to middle-grade readers, with just the right balance of direct talk and humor. The book normalizes sibling conflict while providing solutions 8-13-year-olds can implement on their own or with the help of a parent. Written in 2010, this book stands the test of time.
From the list:

The best books for siblings who squabble

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Book cover of So Much!

So Much!

By Trish Cooke, Helen Oxenbury

Why this book?

Trish Cooke uses cumulative storytelling to show just how much a baby is loved when extended family members – Auntie and Uncle and Nannie and Gran-Gran and cousins – come to visit. This story is such fun to read, and was enjoyed many, many times with the young ones in my life. Young and old can bask in this baby’s utter adoration and vicariously experience so much love.

From the list:

The best life-affirming books for Black children

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Book cover of The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

By Maggie Nelson

Why this book?

The first time I read this book, I had the whole-body sensation of having my mind simultaneously read and fed. Nelson put words to fantasies and fears I’d never thought to vocalize, while also functioning as an educator, leaving me with an entirely new understanding of true crime as a media sensation. This is a memoir about the process of writing her book of poems, Jane. Jane chronicles the story of her aunt, who was murdered as a young college student, while The Red Parts goes into Nelson's personal process and how the investigation of a murdered family member…

From the list:

The best books for poets who want to write fiction

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Book cover of Playing Beatie Bow

Playing Beatie Bow

By Ruth Park

Why this book?

Like with my first recommendation, I feel that this book appeals to a desire for adventure that we all had as kids. Who didn’t dream of Time Travel adventures as a kid? And again, as an adult, I have of course come to realize that I’d not last a day if I were to fall into this sort of adventure – and although time travel is supposedly possible, albeit only as a one-way journey due to the nature of time-dilation, the undertaking of such a journey, and the physical aspects of what is involved, I’d never want to do it…

From the list:

The best books to grab your emotions and not let go even after you’ve read them

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Book cover of The Longest Storm

The Longest Storm

By Dan Yaccarino

Why this book?

This book is the newest of my pick, and it’s about the storm but also it reminds me of the lockdown we had last year. How tiny our place become, and how annoying our family members can be when we’re stuck all together in the small apartment. But then how lucky we are to have someone we love with us all the time.

From the list:

The best children’s books about rainy day

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Book cover of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems Therapy

By Richard C. Schwartz, Martha Sweezy

Why this book?

Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz taught me a new way to think about the mind and complemented perfectly what I learned in The Transforming Power of Affect. So much of what causes human suffering has to do with conscious and unconscious conflicts. When we learn that our minds consist of various “parts” that can hold differing realities, memories, emotions, sensations, and more, it is so helpful for self-understanding and self-compassion. For me, I stopped trying to reconcile irreconciled aspects of myself and instead set out to learn about the different parts of myself. This further helped me…

From the list:

The best books to learn how to heal anxiety and depression

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Book cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

By Karina Yan Glaser

Why this book?

There are so many nice things we, as humans, can do for others. Especially people we know! It simply takes a little time and effort. In The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Oliver and his siblings decide to grow a garden in an abandoned plot of land in Harlem, something his elderly neighbor “has been hinting at for years”. Before long, it’s not just the Vanderbeekers who are helping with the garden. And I dare you not to smile when the whole neighborhood sees it bloom. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books about caring and helping others

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Book cover of The Space Between Lost and Found

The Space Between Lost and Found

By Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Why this book?

Stark-McGinnis tackles Alzheimer’s of a parent, in this case, a mother. The disease is already well-progressed as we meet Cassie; her mother has already forgotten her name. Told in the present tense interspersed with a series of flashbacks to before Cassie’s Mom had the disease, we see all that has been lost. Linking memories to math, in that each can be broken down into more finite parts, Cassie draws “memory sketches” in the hopes that connecting all the dots in Mom’s life will make her remember. It doesn’t of course, but with her father, Cassie finds a path toward acceptance. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books for when someone you love has Alzheimers/dementia

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Book cover of A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Khaled Hosseini

Why this book?

This tragic but beautiful novel is a gut punch from which I needed time to recover. Through the interchanging perspectives of two female protagonists, A Thousand Splendid Suns unpacks thirty years of Afghan history. Throughout the novel, religious fundamentalism is used to validate brutality, violence, patriarchy, and discrimination. Separate family tragedies bring Mariam and Laila together, two women a generation apart. In a world utterly bereft of women’s rights, they suffer ineffable abuse at the hand of the same husband. Mariam and Laila develop a deep friendship, united by shared suffering. Through their lens, I experienced the staggering toll religious…
From the list:

The best historical novels that demonstrate the fallout of religious conflict

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Book cover of One Last Shot

One Last Shot

By John David Anderson

Why this book?

I love how Malcolm, a kid who doesn’t like sports despite his athletic dad’s enthusiastic encouragement, finally finds a place to call his own in mini-golf. Malcolm has always felt like a loser but once he signs up for lessons and meets some friends, he slowly improves, in his game and in his opinion of himself. Unfortunately, Malcolm also carries the weight of feeling it’s up to him to keep his parents’ troubled marriage together. With tournaments and family problems mounting high, this is an exciting read. The eighteen chapters, set up like holes on a golf course, are a…

From the list:

The best books featuring boys who crave success

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Book cover of A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

By Cupcake Brown

Why this book?

Wow, this story I found incredible. It was probably one of the very first true stories involving addiction and dysfunction that I had ever read. A memoir of descent into teenage prostitution and drug addiction, orphaned at 11 years old Cupcake entered into the child welfare system and moved from one disastrous place to another. Incredibly frank I found her world harrowing and terrifying and yet through it emerged a woman who turned her entire life around and showed me that anything is possible if you want it enough. Sometimes you just have to read about someone who has had…

From the list:

The best books with real life stories of people overcoming adversity

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Book cover of The Maze of Bones

The Maze of Bones

By Rick Riordan

Why this book?

I love how The Maze of Bones, the first in a set of series written by acclaimed and award-winning children’s authors, transports readers across the globe to explore historical connections that still resonate today. The book takes readers along with sister and brother Amy and Dan Cahill as they compete against talented and treacherous members of their own family to try to solve a series of thirty-nine clues that will make the finders “the most powerful, influential human beings on the planet.”

I admire how The Maze of Bones explores the complex connections among family and across time and…

From the list:

The best children’s books to inspire curiosity and exploration (and are great read-alouds too)

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Book cover of The Immortalists

The Immortalists

By Chloe Benjamin

Why this book?

This is a novel that approaches grief from a different direction: what if you were told the exact date you were going to die and had to live the rest of your life with that knowledge? In 1969 New York, four siblings visit a traveling psychic who gives each of them this information. The rest of the novel unfolds from that moment, as they try to figure out how to move on from there. A lyrical and sprawling novel, spun from a question that most of us have considered, but few of us would really want answered.

From the list:

The best novels about characters dealing with grief

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Book cover of Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

By Lucy Worsley

Why this book?

Written by one of my favorite historians, this novel explores the rooms and homes that shaped Jane Austen and her timeless literary career. Home indeed shapes us, defines us, and even imbues our work as Lucy Worsley shows. A unique look into the life of a beloved novelist that adds rich layers to the fictional world of Austen and fleshes out her settings of Longbourn, Netherfield, Barton Cottage, etc. 

From the list:

The best novels about home

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Book cover of Peachtree Road

Peachtree Road

By Anne Rivers Siddons

Why this book?

Peachtree Road is considered a modern-day Gone with The Wind, in that it is set in the pivotal, changing times of 1960’s Atlanta, and concerns the opulent area of Buckhead, where the privileged who built modern-day Atlanta live. The story is narrated in lyrical language by Shep Bondurant, an insightful young man born to privilege, who tells the coming-of-age story of Southern traditions and hypocrisy, and the impact of growing up alongside his troubled cousin, Lucy. A deeply probing story on multiple levels concerning society and the impact of family. 

From the list:

The best Southern books that touch upon culture, history, and society

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Book cover of The Invisible String

The Invisible String

By Patrice Karst, Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Why this book?

While this book isn’t directly about fostering or adopting, it deals with a theme that every foster child, adopted child, birth parent, foster parent, and adoptive parent will experience: attachment. The Invisible String gives kids and their adults language and visuals for framing separation as being held together by an invisible string, always connecting us to the ones we love, regardless of the cause of separation. This book is a wonderful tool for imagining what keeps us connected and helping children to experience their traveling “bond.” This “string” not only plays into their relationships with birth family but new family…

From the list:

The best children’s books for foster and adoptive families

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Book cover of One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys

By Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Why this book?

Lynda Mallaly Hunt is one of my favorite Middle-Grade authors. She is a fantastic storyteller. She creates authentic and relatable characters, and I would recommend all of her books, but One for the Murphys is the one that best fits the theme of this list. I connected deeply with Carely’s struggles with missing her mom but feeling betrayed by her and mistrusting the seeming perfection of her foster family and yet desperately wanting to belong in their world. This book is a powerful look at what it means to be a family of any kind. 

From the list:

The best MG/YA books that highlight the importance of trust and friendship in difficult times

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Book cover of Down to Earth

Down to Earth

By Betty Culley

Why this book?

Betty Culley writes the most beautiful books. Down to Earth is about a boy named Henry who watches a meteor fall from the sky. It crashes onto the land owned by his family and causes some magical changes in his community. Some people fear it, others want to use the meteor for profit. As I read the book, I learned so much about meteors and nature, but also about love, family, and friendship.

From the list:

The best books for siblings and scientists

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Book cover of Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

By Lucy Knisley

Why this book?

Jen’s mother decides to live in the country with her boyfriend, and Jen misses her father and the city. She is not that fond of the boyfriend and would rather draw than help with the farm chores. Every weekend, the boyfriend’s daughters join the new family and the girls do not seem to get along. But, weekend after weekend, things start to change. I found the evolution of the various relationships charming, realistic, and uplifting.  

I loved Jen’s personality. She is good-natured and tries hard to adapt to her new surroundings and to her mother’s boyfriend. But she also knows…

From the list:

The best middle-grade graphic-novels with kids you’d want to be friends with

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Book cover of Hope Farm

Hope Farm

By Peggy Frew

Why this book?

Hope Farm moved me so much because it conveys the bitter-sweetness of being thirteen, being privy to adults who make terrible choices, and having to adapt to the consequences of those choices. It is about parents who join cults (in this case, a hippy one) and the effects of this on their children. Peggy Frew has such a seductive and captivating way of engrossing the reader in the story through her stunning prose.  

From the list:

The best books about complicated mother and daughter relationships

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Book cover of Closer to Nowhere

Closer to Nowhere

By Ellen Hopkins

Why this book?

Closer to Nowhere explores family dynamics and ‘tween feelings in an honest and realistic way. Two cousins – as opposite as left and right – seem to constantly be at odds. When they take time to actually communicate with each other, they realize they have more in common than they thought. Told in alternating POVs, the reader shares Cal and Hannah’s struggles as they tell them. Told with honesty and compassion.

From the list:

The best middle grade novels in verse with emotional themes

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Book cover of Five Sisters

Five Sisters

By Stephanie Campisi, Madalina Andronic

Why this book?

This is a stunning, beautifully illustrated Russian folktale. I love that folktales come from all over the world and that I can share these beautiful stories with my students. It introduces them to customs and cultures they may otherwise not get to experience. In this one, a great white oak gifts an old man a branch imbued with magic. The old man takes the branch and carves five matryoshka dolls, “each smaller than the last.” The wooden dolls come to life bringing the old man and his wife (who are childless) endless joy. Who doesn’t love a tale about love…

From the list:

The best folktales for children ages 4-8

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Book cover of These Wilds Beyond Our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity's Search for Home

These Wilds Beyond Our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity's Search for Home

By Bayo Akomolafe

Why this book?

Bayo Akomolafe, a new thought intellectual wrestling the disparity of colonized modernity by stirring up the very heart of Re-Wilding posites, “we haven’t gotten rid of wild things…they dwell within us.” Opening spaces of power-with, Bayo’s poetic writing feeds my curiosity and ignites my passion. Born in Western Nigeria to Yoruba parents, this western trained psychologist circles back to the wisdom of his indigenous people offering love for their direct knowing as he reminds his reader “wildness, this darkness, is not an other - we are continually sourced, recreated, and reconfigured here.” Rewilding core expression is an innovative, transformative…

From the list:

The best books for re-wilding our relationship with life

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Book cover of Blankets: A Graphic Novel

Blankets: A Graphic Novel

By Craig Thompson

Why this book?

Blankets changed my life for the better. I really connected with this novel. It was the first graphic memoir I had ever read and I loved it so much. Everything from the story and characters, to the flowing pen and ink art style. It was glorious! I could not put it down and read it from cover to cover. Upside-down and backward. I couldn’t get enough of this book. It taught me to be more forgiving and understanding of people. I laughed, I cried. I felt like this book was missing from my life and I had found something truly…

From the list:

The best graphic memoirs with creativity and flair

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Book cover of Finding Orion

Finding Orion

By John David Anderson

Why this book?

"Everybody’s family is a little nutso. But there’s nuts…and then there’s the Kwirks." A scavenger hunt to find the ashes of their late grandfather! That premise may seem macabre, but John David Anderson has a gift for plotting the oddball, yet heartfelt, storyline with memorable main characters. With Rion Kwirk and his nutty family, he has done it again. From the opening chapter when a clown appears at the Kwirk’s door, singing a message about the death of their grandfather, I knew I was in for a hilarious, fun-filled journey—one that reminded me that being out of the…

From the list:

The best middle grade books with kids who feel like outsiders in their family

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Book cover of Fancy Nancy: Budding Ballerina

Fancy Nancy: Budding Ballerina

By Jane O'Connor, Robin Preiss Glasser

Why this book?

The Fancy Nancy books are hugely popular, and this is a great addition to the series. Nancy loves to dress up and dance, and in this story she sets out to show her favorite ballet moves to her father, with touchingly humorous results. Young readers will enjoy following along as Nancy demonstrates her best plies, pirouettes, and jetes, and will probably be inspired to start their own ballet lessons!

An entertaining way to learn basic ballet positions, and a special treat for devoted little ballet students and their families.

From the list:

The best picture books to inspire little dancers

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Book cover of Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan, 1

Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan, 1

By Frances O'Roark Dowell, Amy June Bates

Why this book?

Sam the Man wants a job. His next-door neighbor will pay him a whole dollar each time he can convince her dad, Mr. Stockfish, to join him for a daily walk. But getting Mr. Stockfish to leave the living room isn’t easy. So when another neighbor asks if Sam would like to watch her chickens, he jumps at the chance. Chicken-sitting is way more fun than he expects, and soon Sam the Man is watching a chicken of his very own. The story is satisfying and funny and readers will want to learn all about Sam’s adventures in the rest…

From the list:

The best laugh-out-loud chapter books

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Book cover of A Little Life

A Little Life

By Hanya Yanagihara

Why this book?

This book will have you falling in love with, empathising, and aching for the main protagonist, Jude, who goes through more in his life than anyone should – and yet it is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. One of my favourite parts of this book is when one of the characters, Willem, says that he’s not gay, he’s merely in love with Jude. The character portrayals in this book are some of the best I’ve ever come across. It’s a hardened person who won’t feel socked in the chest after reading this book. I read…

From the list:

The best LGBTQI books that will steal your heart

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Book cover of From the Desk of Zoe Washington

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks

Why this book?

A fan of reality baking shows, I was first drawn to this book because the protagonist Zoe dreams of becoming a star baker and wants to audition for the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Once I learned that the author was inspired by true stories of wrongful convictions, it went to the top of my TBR pile and became my favorite 2020 read. This middle-grade contemporary meets mystery follows Zoe who’s determined to uncover if her father—who she’s never met because he’s been in prison—is innocent of the crime. For those looking for an engaging, heartwarming story tackling the…

From the list:

The best kidlit books starring spunky (aka determined and courageous) girls

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Book cover of Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone

By Lisa Jewell

Why this book?

I picked up Then She Was Gone at a thrift store, thinking it would be a quick, fun read while I was at the beach. Quick read, yes. Fun…? Not so much. Then She Was Gone had me flipping the pages faster than a snake can hiss. As the story unraveled, I found myself muttering “oh no, no…no way” more than once. The story was both heart-wrenching and disturbing, and it lingered with me long after I’d closed the book. It touches on love, marriage, motherhood, loss, grief, and shattered hopes. It’s not a feel-good book, but it’s…

From the list:

The best books to read when you don’t want to guess what’s going on

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Book cover of Meet the Austins: Book One of the Austin Family Chronicles

Meet the Austins: Book One of the Austin Family Chronicles

By Madeleine L'Engle

Why this book?

The Austins live in rural New England, where the four children take joy in nature, do chores cheerfully, and have a club committed to nonconformity. The family’s faith and interests in the arts and sciences are weaved seamlessly into their daily life. And although death is discussed throughout, themes of light and love permeate. 

This isn’t the most well-known of L’Engle’s books, but it’s a feel-good portrait of domestic life. If I had read it when I was young, I’m sure I would have wanted to be an Austin kid. Reading it as a mother, I want to crack the…

From the list:

The best middle-grade books to make you feel good about the world

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Book cover of Your House Will Pay

Your House Will Pay

By Steph Cha

Why this book?

Is there any subject more complex, fraught, and important as race in America? And perhaps nothing is more challenging to write about, riskier, presenting nearly unlimited opportunities for disagreement, which seems to get more and more passionate, more and more polarized, every day. This remarkable novel by Steph Cha unflinchingly tackles the subject head-on in Los Angeles—the city of the Rodney King beating as background, and the city of today as foreground—through the lens of a multigenerational entanglement of a Korean American family with an African American one, defying the simplistic and reductionist tendencies of so much writing about race.

From the list:

The best suspense novels that are actually about something bigger

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Book cover of Between

Between

By Jessica Warman

Why this book?

Jessica Warman’s Between is a marvelous study in flawed characters, who, by their very nature, are at times unlikeable. Ironically, I love unlikeable characters—because they’re written realistically and with plenty of potential for growth. Because I prefer to write characters with realistic attributes, and those in my own book are no exception, I love reading their points of view. Additionally, it’s always interesting when these characters are dropped into situations requiring suspension of disbelief, and it’s even better when protagonists lead a cast of such characters. Between checks all of these boxes. It’s delicious!

From the list:

The best books with realistic teen characters

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Book cover of Family Secrets: The Path from Shame to Healing

Family Secrets: The Path from Shame to Healing

By John Bradshaw

Why this book?

We might believe that not saying the unsayable will keep family members from being affected by the awful truth. Well, nothing could be further from reality, and John Bradshaw's Family Secrets explains perfectly why keeping awful secrets can be more damaging than having truthful conversations. 

This is one of the best books recommended to clients who came to me with family trauma. A mum who was emotionally distant, unable to show love or give support, a dad who terrorized the dinner table with silence or sudden flairs of anger. Perhaps an uncle or aunt in front of whom certain subjects…

From the list:

The best books about how we can all be affected by trauma and how recovery can happen

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Book cover of What Happened That Night

What Happened That Night

By Deanna Cameron

Why this book?

This is a dual-timeline murder mystery from a unique perspective. Without giving away too many spoilers, this story follows Clara, whose sister has been accused of murdering Griffin Tomlin—the “golden boy” who Clara once had a crush on.

There is a lot to unpack here, and the dual-timeline makes it a fascinating read; piece-by-piece, we slowly learn Clara’s past with Griffin leading up to the events of him being allegedly murdered by her sister. Why would Clara’s sister do such a thing? And was Griffin Tomlin really the “golden boy” he seemed to be? This story gets dark, and as…

From the list:

The best small town YA mysteries to keep you up all night

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Book cover of See No Color

See No Color

By Shannon Gibney

Why this book?

This coming-of-age novel features a sixteen-year-old star baseball playing girl, but that’s just the beginning. Alex is biracial, raised in a white family, and she struggles to find where she fits in. Race, gender, identity, adoption, body image – this novel explores hard-hitting issues with the complexity they deserve. I especially appreciate that the author wrote from her own experience as a transracial adoptee.

From the list:

The best teen books about sports (and so much more)

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Book cover of They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life

They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life

By Oliver James

Why this book?

It is easy especially when young to assume that families are somewhat neutral or generally nurturing. We make our own way through the world and our background is only of some relevance. Oliver James shows how the environment in which we emerge affects every aspect of how we live. But while this is both a self-help book and psychological treatise, James also provides amazing case studies from the celebrity world, including a detailed and uncompromising analysis of how the royal family ended up being so cold-hearted.

From the list:

The best books to completely reverse your whole brain

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Book cover of Priestdaddy: A Memoir

Priestdaddy: A Memoir

By Patricia Lockwood

Why this book?

Patricia Lockwood’s memoir about growing up as the daughter of a married Catholic priest contains some of the best comic lines I’ve ever read. I still quote it regularly. When Lockwood and her husband move back in with her parents following a medical situation, two improbable things ensue at once: piercing reflections on a religious upbringing in a deeply patriarchal household, and family portraiture rendered in slapstick-funny, laugh-out-loud scenes. Lockwood approaches the world of her parents, and of her childhood, with such a keen perception of every absurdity, no matter how passing or small. Nothing escapes her vision. I want…

From the list:

The best books that find the funny in an unjust world

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Book cover of The Family Book

The Family Book

By Todd Parr

Why this book?

I love all of Todd Parr’s work, as he takes hard topics and makes them easy. The Family Book is no different. This book celebrates families of all types, regardless of composition. Parr normalizes difference by beautifully illustrating that no one family is the same and all families are special. You can’t help but feel like you’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket when you read Parr’s books.  

From the list:

The best children’s books about LGBTQ+ families

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Book cover of The Long Season of Rain

The Long Season of Rain

By Helen Kim

Why this book?

The Long Season of Rain (the title refers to the monsoons that afflict the Korean Peninsula at the start of summer) reminds us that in Hell Chosŏn women remain subservient to men in almost every sphere of society, and learn early on to endure silently instead of speaking out. This novel exemplifies the richness of Korean-American young-adult novels, which often focus on coming of age and the quest for identity. Especially poignant is the author’s use of a naïve narrator, the daughter of a woman who learns that her husband has taken a concubine.
From the list:

The best books about Hell Chosŏn

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Book cover of Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

By Pauli Murray

Why this book?

This is a must-read memoir about the childhood of one of America’s most important and least recognized human rights heroes, Pauli Murray. After the loss of her mother in 1914, Murray moved to Durham, NC to live with her aunt and grandparents. The family was Black, White, and Indigenous, giving Murray a unique perspective on what it means to be an American and grapple with what she described as both the “degradation and dignity” of her ancestors. We might now call Murray transgender since she later came to believe that she should have been born a man. I go back…

From the list:

The best books to learn about women human rights visionaries

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Book cover of Blue-Skinned Gods

Blue-Skinned Gods

By SJ Sindu

Why this book?

There are so many things I love about this book, starting with the concept: Kalki, the novel’s narrator, was born with blue skin, and has been raised in an ashram as a child-god, the tenth reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. As the years go by and Kalki grows up, he begins to question his parents’ authority, the strictures that have been placed on him his whole life, and his own godhood. As a young adult, he finds himself in New York City, where he gets his first taste of real rebellion, with all the joys and sorrows that accompany…

From the list:

The best fiction books about queer millennials

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Book cover of Pizza Girl

Pizza Girl

By Jean Kyoung Frazier

Why this book?

The logline sounds like the most depressing character study you’ll ever read. A story of a pregnant teenager, Jane, who lives with her mom after the death of her father. Jane spends her days delivering pizzas and her nights drinking beers alone in a shed behind their house. But thanks to the prose, and the pacing of the plotting, this book is both funny, engaging, and something of a psychological thriller. Especially when Jane becomes obsessed with one of her regulars, a stay-at-home mom. We marveled at Kyoung Frazier’s ability to put us in the head of Jane, in a…
From the list:

The best books with strong feminist perspectives, coming-of-age themes, and— please god— humor

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Book cover of Cross Game, Volume 1

Cross Game, Volume 1

By Mitsuru Adachi

Why this book?

I love Mitsuru Adachi for his masterful storytelling and playful touch. Comics are all about choosing the right moments to string into sequences, and Adachi has a knack for choosing surprising moments without losing the clarity of the story. He's had a huge influence on my work. A story about two friends: an ace pitcher and an ace batter, and their rivalry for love and victory on the baseball field. Behind this epic baseball drama is a wonderful story about the couple that could never be.

From the list:

The best YA graphic novel series about slow-burning high school romances

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Book cover of How to Babysit a Grandma

How to Babysit a Grandma

By Jean Reagan, Lee Wildish

Why this book?

Jean Regan has written a beautiful, funny, heartwarming story about the love and fun that is shared between the different generations, a grandmother and a granddaughter. I love the way she has reversed the roles of her main characters. This approach will appeal to little ones who will definitely want to babysit their grandma while still enjoying all the wonderful activities that a visit to Grandma’s house entails. The illustrations are cute, detailed, and add to the storyline. This is a great little book for parents to read to their children before they visit and a good source of activity…

From the list:

The best children's books that capture the funny and heartwarming stories about grandchildren and grandparents

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Book cover of The Full Ridiculous

The Full Ridiculous

By Mark Lamprell

Why this book?

In a similar vein to the previous book, this novel focuses on a man whose life is spiralling out of control. His professional life begins to crumble, he nearly gets run over by a car and his two teenage children get themselves into angst-causing strife. What I love the most about this book is that it’s narrated in the second person by the main character Michael who’s essentially having a mid-life crisis breakdown. This can be hard to pull off, but it works here as it’s like Michael’s providing commentary on himself and his life as if observing someone else.…

From the list:

The best uplifting novels that mix humor with poignancy

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Book cover of Perennials

Perennials

By Julie Cantrell

Why this book?

What a wonderful, moral-rich, non-preachy, feel-good, tapped several of the big societal issues (adultery, death, divorce, pride, bullying, regret, work vs. family; you get the point), without ever once making me squirm with too many religious overtones, or want to run off to confess my improprieties. As a flower child at heart, I loved the continual nuances of people and growth compared to good soil and water, seasons, and blooms. This book was beautifully done.

When the matriarch of a loving family is diagnosed with cancer and determined to live out her days without treatment, there are twists and turns…

From the list:

The best books that go beyond the diagnosis: how relationships are affected by cancer

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Book cover of The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa

The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa

By Douglas Rogers

Why this book?

Douglas Rogers, a Zimbabwean journalist living in the US, tells the true story of how his elderly parents survived a harrowing period in the African country's history when former President Robert Mugabe's supporters were invading and claiming white-owned farms. Rather than fleeing, Rogers' parents transformed their backpackers' lodge into a have for a wildlife disparate group of hookers, spies, soldiers, and refugees. It's hilarious and harrowing and proof that in Africa, truth is stranger than fiction! By the way, Zimbabwe is now a beautiful, peaceful country to visit and an excellent safari destination.

From the list:

The best books to read on an African safari

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Book cover of The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

By Bill Watterson

Why this book?

Because Bill Watterson is a master. Creative kids, so often misunderstood, as Calvin is by his parents, (often understandably) there are no bad guys in this comic strip, aside from the imagined creations running amuck in Calvin’s wonderfully weird brain. The drawings are superb, a great mix of flat graphics and Disney dimensionality, and the writing a great insight into lone kids’ behavior. Watterson created a timeless masterpiece that influenced many comics that followed. 

From the list:

The best children’s books that tickled my toes

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Book cover of God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother

God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother

By Amy Seek

Why this book?

Deciding to place a child for adoption is one of the most excruciating decisions in the human experience. When Amy Seek, a promising architecture student, becomes pregnant, she’s not yet ready to become a parent. But she’s also not ready, completely, to hand over her child to a perfectly lovely family. Her tale of love, heartbreak, and acceptance is a reminder to parents and non-parents of all circumstances that there are lots of ways to make a family—and in this case, it was the best, most perfectly imperfect option. I think this is a really important book for everyone in…

From the list:

The best books about adoption and what it means to be a family

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Book cover of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: Five Strategies That End the Daily Battles and Get Kids to Listen the First Time

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: Five Strategies That End the Daily Battles and Get Kids to Listen the First Time

By Noel Janis-Norton

Why this book?

How do you get your children out of the door without stressing out them, yourself, and everybody else in the house. This book is full of strategies like not having to ask twice, preparing for success, starting new rules, and the joys of descriptive praise. I find that if parents argue better and communicate more effectively with each other that has a knock-on effect on the children but it works equally well the other way round. If you can communicate more calmly with your children, you can use the skills with your partner too.

From the list:

The best books about raising emotionally rounded children without exhausting your marriage

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Book cover of Heavy: An American Memoir

Heavy: An American Memoir

By Kiese Laymon

Why this book?

Heavy is brilliant, poetic, and…really heavy. Laymon writes candidly and gorgeously about growing up Black in the South, struggling with weight, and a legacy of poverty, violence, and racism. Heavy is a personal, heartbreaking dive into American racism and America's deeply problematic weight obsession. The whole book is written as a letter to his mother, a prominent political scientist, and their relationship is incredibly complicated and painful. Heavy reminds us that food writing isn’t always about sweet nostalgia; it can be much darker and more profound.

From the list:

The best books that celebrate food

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Book cover of Kintu

Kintu

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Why this book?

A multi-generational novel which starts in 1750 with the heroic figure of Kintu, a provincial chief setting off with his entourage to pay ritual obeisance to the feared Kabaka (king), and culminates in bustling, hustling, modern Uganda. It’s an epic story that explores the imprint family bonds and ancestral legacies - including curses that travel down through the decades – leave on daily life. The kind of book which, because of its sheer heft, seems more than a little daunting at the start. But by the last page, you’re left wanting more, reluctant to have to say goodbye to all…

From the list:

The best books on Central Africa (from a journalist based there)

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Book cover of The Stationery Shop

The Stationery Shop

By Marjan Kamali

Why this book?

The novel takes place in 1953 and before the 1979 Islamic revolution and during the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah. 1953 was a critical time, which shaped the history of Iran, during which the coup d’état of Dr.Mossadegh was foiled by the United States CIA. Because of Iran’s geographical and strategic importance, such uprisings and meddling by outside forces are constant in Iranian history.

The Stationery Shop is a beautiful and timely exploration of devastating loss, unbreakable family bonds, and the overwhelming power of love.

From the list:

The best books & novels on Persian history: its people, myths, religions, and culture

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Book cover of Portrait of a Turkish Family

Portrait of a Turkish Family

By Irfan Orga

Why this book?

Orga’s memoir begins with scenes from his idyllic childhood as the son of a great beauty, adored by his autocratic grandmother and indulged by all. His was a prosperous family, their future secure under the Ottoman sultans until the First World War broke out and everything changed. They went from enjoying elaborate dinner parties, going to the hamam and sleeping on soft sheets, to living in poverty, waking in dank rooms, and never knowing if there’d be enough to eat. Orga writes without sentiment of the impact of the war on his upper-class family, and the complete reconstruction of society…

From the list:

The best books to understand the heart & soul of Turkey and its people

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Book cover of My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other Animals

By Gerald Durrell

Why this book?

Gerry Durrell was a gifted and hugely entertaining writer and, as with all good naturalists (which of course he was – he eventually founded his own Zoo on the Island of Jersey), a keen observer (not only of Nature, but of his fellow human beings). This book is a wonderful evocation of his childhood spent on the Island of Corfu in the 1930s. Leaving cold and rainy Bournemouth (south coast of England – near where I was brought up as a lad) his family upped sticks and headed to Corfu. The sheer joy and excitement of Gerry’s Corfu life, the…
From the list:

The best books to stretch your imagination

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Book cover of Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Why this book?

Hey, Kiddo is a touching true-life story of a brilliant author-illustrator’s childhood; it is about growing up with a parent who was incarcerated; above all, it is about the transcendent strength of love between a parent and child (in this case a mother who is struggling with addiction and her son). Krosoczka combines art and carefully chosen words to bring us a graphic non-fiction book that is as spellbinding as any novel, and as unforgettable as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, or Jerry Craft’s New Kid. If you ever doubted whether a “comic” could…

From the list:

The best books for young people featuring families with incarcerated members

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Book cover of Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don't Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax

Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don't Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax

By Robert A. LeVine, Sarah LeVine

Why this book?

The Levines have studied the Gusii of Western Kenya for decades and in this book, they look at childhood in all its glory and compare Gusii parenting and parenting philosophy to Western culture.

From the list:

The best books on the anthropology of parenting

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Book cover of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

By Karen Joy Fowler

Why this book?

Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, as there’s no magical realism exactly in Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, but there’s certainly the uncanny. This story of two sisters separated during childhood trying to find each other in adulthood is wry and funny, but also immensely heartfelt and dramatic, and the twist at the halfway mark (which I won’t spoil for you!) makes this one a personal favourite. 

From the list:

The best books about strange and unusual families

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Book cover of The Season of Styx Malone

The Season of Styx Malone

By Kekla Magoon

Why this book?

Have you ever dreamed of being someone and somewhere else? I remember being a kid in the summertime when the hot summer in Omaha, Nebraska felt sooooo long and there was nothing to do. Styx Malone (foster child & the cool kid) and brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene are feeling that angst too. To make life more exciting, they concoct a plan to exchange one small thing for something better until they achieve their “wildest dreams” (motorbike). Sometimes it’s the baby sister that’s exchanged for fireworks (I mean, that’s pretty funny, but don’t worry, the baby sister is given back…

From the list:

The best middle grade books with three best friends

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Book cover of Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy

Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy

By Sarah Bradford

Why this book?

My first three picks are scholarly studies. This book is more popular history in the sense that it lays out Lucrezia’s family and cultural contexts in detail for non-specialists. Bradford brings the period to life and shows the extent to which Lucrezia’s reputation was the inevitable product of the intrigues that surrounded her. She was nothing like the promiscuous, depraved, monstrous creature she is supposed to have been. The contrast that Bradford gives us between the bloodthirsty legend and the cultured and intelligent human being is so stunning that you will never take anything you read about an infamous woman…

From the list:

The best books that restore vilified early-modern European queens and noblewomen

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Book cover of Six Feet Below Zero

Six Feet Below Zero

By Ena Jones

Why this book?

I love a thrilling mystery with secrets, humor, and surprises. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out if anyone would realize Rosie and Baker were hiding their Great-Grandma in a freezer. It was all Great-Grandma's idea! The kids race against time to piece together clues to find a missing will and save the family home from destruction. Reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock story with unexpected twists and heart-pounding danger. Fun mystery!
From the list:

The best books to hook young readers on puzzling and magical mysteries

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Book cover of Mia Moves Out

Mia Moves Out

By Miranda Paul, Paige Keiser

Why this book?

When Mia’s new brother arrives, she finds herself without a place of her own – Brandon’s stuff is everywhere! She moves from place to place around the house, but nowhere feels quite right. In the end, Mia comes to find that having her own space doesn’t have to mean moving away from Brandon. This book beautifully opens the door to conversations around adjusting to a new sibling, sharing, and personal space. I also love that it incorporates adoption without making that the focus point of the story.

From the list:

The best picture books for expanding families

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Book cover of Halal Hot Dogs

Halal Hot Dogs

By Susannah Aziz, Parwinder Singh

Why this book?

I love Halal Hot Dogs written by Susannah Aziz and illustrated by Parwinder Singh because not only is it hilarious, but highlights the different food that Palestinians/Arabs eat. I love seeing humorous picture books with Muslim characters, and Susannah does an excellent job with Halal Hot Dogs! It is filled with so much character and love!

From the list:

The best books to empower Muslim children

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Book cover of American Kid

American Kid

By Constance M. Constant

Why this book?

Katherine, a Greek immigrant to the US, took her American children to Greece in the late 1930s to live on her family’s farm and escape from the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Nazi invaders trapped the family in Greece during the Occupation and the end of World War II. Based on a true family story, American Kid movingly describes the experiences of the children in the remote mountain village of Katherine’s birth, and their efforts to survive the occupation of their home by Nazis. Would they ever see their beloved America again? An authentic glimpse of the devastating…

From the list:

The best books for a virtual odyssey in ancient and modern Greece

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Book cover of My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla

My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla

By Amada Irma Perez, Maya Christina Gonzalez

Why this book?

Journals are important to write our feelings, hopes, and dreams. In this wonderful book, Amada uses her journal to write about her journey from Mexico to Los Angeles. Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their new life in her diary. What if she can’t learn English? How can she leave her best friend? Along the way, Amada learns that with her family's love and her belief in herself, she can weather any change.

From the list:

The best children’s books about the Latino immigrant experience

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Book cover of Little, Big

Little, Big

By John Crowley

Why this book?

The same way hearing “soap opera” used as a pejorative upsets me so much I want to fake my own death, frame my estranged father for murder, and wrest control of his business empire, hearing “fairy tale” used that way makes me want to wave a wand and turn the detractors of science fiction and fantasy into horny toads.

John Crowley’s Little, Big, winner of the World Fantasy Award, is not only a fairy tale with actual fairies, but also one that’s an actual tale. So many novels described as literary forget to tell a story. This is not…

From the list:

The best multi-generational family sagas that put the “opera” into “soap opera”

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Book cover of Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer

By Khaled Hosseini

Why this book?

Hosseini's book is timely and important. It is a story inspired by the image of a child washed up on the beach of a foreign shore. It tells the story of another child, whose parent send them off on a vessel across a wide ocean in search of a less turbulent future. The art is sweeping. The words travel far into the heart.

From the list:

The best books to learn about refugees

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Book cover of Follow Me to Ground

Follow Me to Ground

By Sue Rainsford

Why this book?

Nothing scary happens exactly, but that doesn’t stop this novel from holding a strange and creepy tension throughout the whole of it. With a heavy surrealist bent, the book centers on a girl and her father who were born from the ground, and so have the powers to heal people by moving around the things that are inside them. It’s exactly as haunting as it sounds.

From the list:

The best gothic novels for a perfectly haunting fall

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Book cover of Elvis and the World as It Stands

Elvis and the World as It Stands

By Lisa Frankel Riddiough, Olivia Chin Mueller

Why this book?

In this sweet and poignant story, Elvis is a shelter kitten adopted into a home with a girl whose parents recently separated, an eager hamster, a watchdog goldfish, and an older, ornery shelter cat. Elvis just wants to reunite with his sister Etta who was left behind at the shelter, and he must also adapt to his new home and friends. Even though Elvis can’t communicate with humans, he never stops trying. The story explores memory, family, and rebuilding things that are broken, and includes a light discussion of Sept. 11.

From the list:

The best new middle grade books about animal and human friendships

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Book cover of Maximillian Villainous

Maximillian Villainous

By Margaret Chiu Greanias, Lesley Breen Winthrow

Why this book?

Maximillian is perfect for readers who want a funny story. The underlying message is cleverly woven in—clever like Maximillian who concocts a plan to try to keep a fluffy pet bunny (which, of course, is not an appropriate pet for a child in a family of villains). Kids want their parents to be proud of them, and sometimes that collides with their true desires, and this book masterfully shows that there is common ground, even when it appears there isn’t.

From the list:

The best books for kids who celebrate being, and believing in, themselves

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Book cover of Color Blind

Color Blind

By Sheila Sobel

Why this book?

This time, let’s have a look at a young adult novel. In Color Blind, April Lockhart's dad has passed away, and since she's only 17 years old she has to go live with her aunt in New Orleans. To say that April is unhappy about this is to greatly understate the situation. She meets Miles Baptiste when she decides to take a cemetery and voodoo tour ... and that's when she meets Marguerite, as well.

The voodoo priestess seems to know a good many things about April. The book proceeds through April's misadventures, taking the reader on a tour…

From the list:

The best books set in New Orleans

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Book cover of Heather Has Two Mommies

Heather Has Two Mommies

By Lesléa Newman, Laura Cornell

Why this book?

If you want to read an LGBTQ+-themed picture book for Pride, why not start with the first one? When Heather Has Two Mommies was released more than 30 years ago, it was groundbreaking and it continues to be heartwarming to this day. Heather is a girl whose favorite things come in twos—two pets, two gingersnaps, two moms. On the first day of school, Heather tells her classmates about her moms and the class discovers the uniqueness of each other’s families.

From the list:

The best LGBTQ+ books for children and young adults

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Book cover of American Betiya

American Betiya

By Anuradha D. Rajurkar

Why this book?

When Rani Kelkar secretly dates the tattooed, charismatic, artistic Oliver—her mother’s worst nightmare—cultures collide. This exquisitely written novel explores appropriation, identity, and self-respect. Bigotry can show its ugly head in micro-aggressions and Anuradha Rajurkar does a phenomenal job illuminating this form of hatred. An eye-opening and thought-provoking novel, readers will recognize that sometimes speaking up for oneself is one of the most important ways to fight against bigotry, hatred, and injustice.

From the list:

The best books empowering youth to speak up against hatred, bigotry, and injustice

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Book cover of Dustborn

Dustborn

By Erin Bowman

Why this book?

A transporting and unforgettable blend of science fiction, dystopia, and Old West. The world of Dustborn is both familiar and unfamiliar at once, filled with tight-knit communities, dangerous villains, and maps to a better place. In these pages, you'll find a story of survival, family, and hope

From the list:

The best books to transport you into another world

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Book cover of The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy

By Georgette Heyer

Why this book?

This is a Regency romance novel published in 1950. She amuses me because her relatives are expecting to host this shy little miss. Instead, she turns out to be confident, brave, and magnificent. She’s traveled extensively with her father and knows generals, grand dames, and is popular with the officers. An excellent horsewoman and a keen wit, Sophie colors inside the lines of her time, but she’s so very vibrant, one can’t help but smile and enjoy the good times.


From the list:

The best books to escape a stressful day

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Book cover of Lola Plants a Garden

Lola Plants a Garden

By Anna McQuinn, Rosalind Beardshaw

Why this book?

This is the third book about Lola, who loves to read. When her mother reads her a book of gardening poems, Lola decides to plant a garden. Note that Lola is quite young, and this book is for 2- to 5-year-olds. Lola begins her project by getting books at the library and deciding which flowers to plant. Then her mother helps her buy seeds and plant them. Lola makes a flower book while she’s waiting for the seeds to grow. When they do, she has a party to share her sunflowers and a story with friends. A sweet book that…

From the list:

The best children’s books about gardening

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Book cover of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction

By J.D. Salinger

Why this book?

Okay. Fine. Maybe I only think this book is about loss because I know that, in later books, the same Glass family suffers losses and this sets the stage. But this is a story about a promise that is never realized and a relationship that is becoming progressively distant—and, in it, there is a sense of being lost if not having experienced a loss, specifically. In it, Buddy Glass takes Army leave to attend his brother’s wedding, but his brother never shows up. Somehow, Buddy winds up stuck in a limo with a group of disgruntled guests from whom he…

From the list:

The best books to make you laugh & cry

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Book cover of Lot: Stories

Lot: Stories

By Bryan Washington

Why this book?

As a longtime resident of Houston, of course, I must include a book about this unusual place! Washington’s characters lead difficult lives, his narrative is tough, and sometimes his geographical references are misleading. Nonetheless, each episode (which unfolds on a particular lot or spot in Houston) captures the experience of living in the Bayou City – the traffic, the summer weather, the slow-moving waterways, the unruly weed patches, the architecture, the neatly maintained neighborhoods, and the mix of cultures from around the world. Houston was transformed from prairie, swamp, and piney woods to a landscaped metropolis by wildcatters, entrepreneurs, scientists,…

From the list:

The best novels that are stealth environmental histories

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Book cover of The Girl from Foreign

The Girl from Foreign

By Sadia Shepard

Why this book?

A beautiful and haunting tale. The Girl from Foreign is my favourite book, a memoir of Shepard’s journey to discover her family’s heritage. Shepard discovered that her grandmother, a member of Bombay’s Jewish community, had secretly converted from Judaism to Islam to marry her grandfather during partition. The book is about her discovering her grandmother’s – and her own – secret identity, hidden from the world for decades.

From the list:

The best non-fiction books about journalism and history in India

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Book cover of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century

How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century

By Bella DePaulo

Why this book?

Family can be an emotionally charged word, especially for people who come from toxic families or don’t even know their biological families. This is why I appreciate this non-fiction book by Bella DePaulo, which acknowledges that there is more than one way to be a family. She goes well beyond the typical nuclear family of mother, father, and biological children to explore how people are living together in the 21st century. One type of configuration she explores, the multi-generational household, is near and dear to my heart because I grew up like that, and it changed my life for…

From the list:

The best books on the power of family to shape us in ways we can’t imagine

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Book cover of Soul Food Sunday

Soul Food Sunday

By Winsome Bingham, C.G. Esperanza

Why this book?

This is absolutely a new classic - an award-winning coming-of-age story about the Sunday a soul food cooking grandmother finally opens up her culinary secrets to the next generation. Winsome Bingham’s vivid language is perfectly matched with C.G. Esperanza’s electric illustrations. I also appreciate the tiny details like the uncle who watches the football game on an itty bitty TV. Brings me back (kids will never understand that pre-smartphone life!) And apparently, the mac n’ cheese recipe is on point, so don’t miss that.

From the list:

The best kids books to celebrate Black summertime joy

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Book cover of Watercress

Watercress

By Andrea Wang, Jason Chin

Why this book?

This tender, touching autobiographical tale recently won the Caldecott medal for most distinguished picture book of the year and a Newbery honor for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, but it was a favorite of mine many months before it acquired its much-deserved hardware. Realistic illustrations and poetic text tell the story of a Chinese American girl’s embarrassment, heartbreak, shame, and resilience, all in the space of a day in which she learns a great deal about herself, her family, and her heritage. Straddling cultures and expectations, she opens her heart and mind to the importance of perspective and the…

From the list:

The best picture books for ages 6 to 106

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Book cover of Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe

By Janice Lynn Mather

Why this book?

Learning to Breathe tells such an important side of the #MeToo Movement, with sixteen-year-old Indira (Indy), a Black Bahamian girl who struggles to find her place in the aftermath of an assault that leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Set in the Bahamas, a place so often portrayed in Western culture as idyllic, it depicts a very different gritty and authentic lived reality for the main character. This heart-rending, yet empowering novel is enlightening on so many levels. Not only does it offer the unique and all-too-often overlooked point of view of a young person of color, but it also deals…

From the list:

The best YA books of the #MeToo movement

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Book cover of Inkling

Inkling

By Kenneth Oppel, Sydney Smith

Why this book?

Adventure awaits when an inkblot from one of Ethan’s dad’s sketches comes to life and leaps off the page. Sydney Smith’s inky illustrations add to the fun of this fast-paced and funny story about friendship and family. And because Inkling loves to read/eat up ink, and he takes on the mood of whatever text he’s just devoured, it’s also a cool and clever introduction for kids to some classics and to different genres of writing. 

What’s more, the book ends on a note that suggests a sequel that I can’t wait to read!

From the list:

The best middle grade books about unlikely friendships

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Book cover of The Changeling

The Changeling

By Victor LaValle

Why this book?

The setting is New York, and the central character, Apollo, is a young man with a Ghanaian mother and a white, ex-cop, father. Apollo spends his time searching for rare books. On the day of his greatest find, his wife attacks him and kills their son, or so it seems. But the story is far more complex.

The central themes are masculinity and the changing nature of fatherhood. It also looks at motherhood, childbirth, love, and paranoia, while dealing with cyber-stalking, immigration, witches, wishes, revenge, and trolls (both kinds). It is a deeply human tale about what can go wrong…

From the list:

The best and grittiest dark-fantasy novels

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Book cover of Layla's Happiness

Layla's Happiness

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Ashleigh Corrin

Why this book?

The author was inspired by her daughter to write this book, with the hope that it would help Black children and other children of color feel seen. Each time I turned a page my heart swelled a bit more as I read about all the ways that Layla finds happiness and strength in family, community, and living things all around. The playful and colorful illustrations paired with the lyrical narrative convey joy and remind us to take notice of the beauty that’s there to be found if we only pay attention. I also loved the reminder of some of my…

From the list:

The best picture books that celebrate diversity and joy in children

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Book cover of Salaam, with Love

Salaam, with Love

By Sara Sharaf Beg

Why this book?

My favorite genre to read and write is romance, but there are different levels to them. I got the honor to read Salaam, With Love before it came out and although the romance in here is more subtle and sweet, this book is definitely about loving yourself. About discovering who you are and being proud of where you’re from. Although our lives and cultures are different, I can definitely relate to Dua’s journey of self-discovery and was rooting for her every step of the way. 

From the list:

The best YA books about first love, discovering yourself, and all that good stuff

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Book cover of Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours

Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours

By Erwin Mortier, Paul Vincent

Why this book?

Erwin Mortier is a poet, and this slim, intense volume is a haunting memorial to his mother in her final months. She died of early-onset dementia, and Mortier struggles to find adequate words for a condition that is profoundly connected to the failure of language and the connection of the self to the world.

From the list:

The best books to explore dementia and the rich mystery of the human mind

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Book cover of First Frost

First Frost

By Sarah Addison Allen

Why this book?

This book is also set in an ordinary world in a small Georgia town (I think it’s Georgia!), with an extraordinary family whose lineage has women with magical powers. The townsfolk know about the “odd” family, but they aren’t wholly shunned. Each woman has her own vulnerabilities and life journey. I loved the magic and cranky apple tree!

From the list:

The best books to escape into another world

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Book cover of Ginger Pye

Ginger Pye

By Eleanor Estes

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorites. But it’s an old one. It was first published in 1951. It is adorable and funny, and I don’t think it’s ever been out of print. It’s about a boy who searches for his dognapped dog, Ginger Pye. No worries. Love will triumph!

From the list:

The best middle grade novels where the dog lives

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Book cover of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

By Christopher Paul Curtis

Why this book?

This is one of the funniest, and saddest, books ever. When Kenny starts telling the story, it’s dead winter in Flint. Michigan. Cold enough to make your spit freeze. Momma, who grew up in Alabama, begins yearning for the South. By reputation, Momma’s momma is the strictest, meanest grandma ever. Kenny - who’s never met her - decides Grandma Sands must look like a troll. Dad and Momma decide that Grandma Sands is the perfect person to straighten out big brother Byron, who shows signs of turning into a juvenile delinquent. So... Join the Watsons. Get in their car (also…
From the list:

The best books to bring American history alive for middle graders

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Book cover of The List of Things That Will Not Change

The List of Things That Will Not Change

By Rebecca Stead

Why this book?

Bea is a kid with big feelings who’s navigating major changes. After her parents’ divorce, she finds stability in a list of constants: that each of her parents will always love her; that she’ll always have a home with each of them; that they are still a family.

I felt Bea’s waves of elation and anger so intensely that some moments made me feel like my heart might burst. Ultimately, the love and support she receives from the adults in her life helped me remember my own things that will not change.

From the list:

The best middle-grade books to make you feel good about the world

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Book cover of Should We Stay or Should We Go

Should We Stay or Should We Go

By Lionel Shriver

Why this book?

Novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver’s novel is the story of Kay and Cyril, a comfortably settled, middle-aged, middle-class British couple who make plans for their future. The experiences of a decade of caring for Kay’s father with dementia were so unsettling and disturbing that the couple agree to end their lives at 80. They carry on with their lives convinced that 80 is enough. Or maybe not. Or perhaps it depends. This book is required reading for all those planners, those self-controllers, who seize the future and bind their families with the tight contractual grip of a well-composed, gravely worded…

From the list:

The best books to make sense of what’s Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and how to live with them (as either patient or caregiver, or both)

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Book cover of Dreamhunter

Dreamhunter

By Elizabeth Knox

Why this book?

Elizabeth Knox is a world-class writer with an exceptional imagination and her fantasy novel, Dreamhunter, is a great introduction to her work. Set in an alternative past, dreamhunters harvest dreams which are transmitted to the public for entertainment and therapy – or worse. Fifteen-year-old Laura Hame must enter The Place of Dreams to uncover what happened to her missing dreamhunter father and in the process reveals how the government has used dreams to control an ever-growing population of convicts and political dissenters. Those who love Philip Pullman or Garth Nix won’t be disappointed.

From the list:

The best books for an introduction to Aotearoa New Zealand's YA writers (IMO)

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Book cover of Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

By Peter Menzel

Why this book?

Never was the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” more true than in this photographic journey around the world. Menzel and his team traveled to 30 countries, found a family in each location willing to move the entire contents of their home from inside to front yard and then photographed family, contents, and dwelling. From a mud hut in Mali to a luxurious dwelling in Kuwait, Menzel’s photos are always informative, never lackadaisical, and sometimes heart-wrenching. Points to ponder: The most valued possession for the Bosnian family featured in the book is listed as a lamp.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the world outside your front door

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Book cover of Lola Levine Is Not Mean!

Lola Levine Is Not Mean!

By Monica Brown, Angela Dominguez

Why this book?

When soccer-loving Lola accidentally injures a classmate during a pickup game at recess, her peers start calling her “Mean Lola Levine.” Losing playground privileges and friends is enough to put Lola in a bad mood that almost lives up to her unfortunate new nickname. I like that Brown treats Lola with empathy (after all, what happened was an accident) while also having her realize she was playing too aggressively and does bear some responsibility for the incident. This story can guide young readers through similarly sticky situations. 

From the list:

The best early chapter books about big feelings

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Book cover of Before We Were Free

Before We Were Free

By Julia Alvarez

Why this book?

I was fascinated by this gripping story about a twelve-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960 because, while it is fiction, it is based on a very real and scary time in the history of the DR. My parents grew up in the DR under the dictatorship that was still in place in 1960, and Julia Alvarez does a beautiful job showing readers how young people and their families were impacted by that regime, as well as the bravery and hopefulness of those who fought for their country’s freedom.

From the list:

The best middle grade books about sensitive topics

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Book cover of The Vanished Collection

The Vanished Collection

By Pauline Baer de Perignon, Natasha Lehrer

Why this book?

Pauline Baer de Perignon doesn’t hold anything back – she puts her ego aside as she shares her secret ambitions, doubts and insecurities, triumphs and frustrations on her mission to uncover a distressing chapter in her family’s history. The rhythm and pace are indicative of a book translated from the French - a slow-moving train rather than a speeding locomotive, but that just enhanced the feeling of accompanying the author on her passionate yet painful quest in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
From the list:

The best books set in France that go beyond the rom com

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Book cover of Love Among the Recipes

Love Among the Recipes

By Carol M. Cram

Why this book?

Even though this book has an element of girl-meets-guy-in-Paris, I included it under the title of ‘books set in France that go beyond the rom com’ because it was so refreshing to read about a woman of a ‘certain age’ who comes into her own during a stay in Paris. The protagonist struggles with real-life issues, not the usual Emily-in-Paris dilemmas. Cram knows Paris like the back of her hand and deftly titillates all the senses with her food-inspired passages.
From the list:

The best books set in France that go beyond the rom com

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Book cover of Watch Me Disappear

Watch Me Disappear

By Janelle Brown

Why this book?

When my mother died, a friend insisted, “Now you’ll come to know her in ways you never imagined.” I thought the notion was ludicrous. My mother and I were close, our relationship strong. As it turns out my friend was right. In Watch Me Disappear, Janelle Brown explores this idea. When Billie Flanagan disappears, her husband and teenaged daughter Olive find out more than they could have imagined about Billie’s secret life. 

From the list:

The best novels about wildly dissimilar mothers and daughters

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Book cover of The Seventh Wish

The Seventh Wish

By Kate Messner

Why this book?

Kate Messner’s story of a girl who catches a magical wish-granting fish beautifully shows the unintended—and often hilarious—consequences that can come from trying to fix problems with magic. But what I most love about this book is how it explores the types of real-world issues, such as addiction, that are hard to fix—with or without magic. This is a story of wishes gone wrong, but it’s also a story about family, healing, and hope.

From the list:

The best middle-grade novels with a sprinkle of magic

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Book cover of The Break

The Break

By Katherena Vermette

Why this book?

Fair warning, you need to be in the right mood to take on this story. And it’s not quite a hidden gem since it has won numerous awards. It starts with a Metis woman who witnesses an assault on a barren ice-covered field on an isolated strip of utilities land outside her house in the Canadian Prairies. The story weaves through multiple narratives of people connected to the victim and exposes the reader to the lives and social issues that impact multiple generations of women in this indigenous family. Although difficult to read, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. As…

From the list:

The best hidden gems by Canadian writers

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Book cover of World's End

World's End

By T.C. Boyle

Why this book?

History can be a challenge and a rebuke to novelists. How can we expect, I’ve often wondered, to create a work of the imagination as surprising and majestic as the trajectory of time? World’s End is T.C. Boyle’s answer to that question. Set in the Hudson River Valley and spanning four centuries, with enough characters to fill a three-page list of them in the front matter, this darkly comic, brightly tragic novel proves that history doesn’t repeat, as the saying goes, nor does it rhyme. History braids, over and over, strand upon strand, and the only people who can see…

From the list:

The best multi-generational family sagas that put the “opera” into “soap opera”

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Book cover of The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

By Erik Larson

Why this book?

Erik Larsen’s suspense-filled narrative puts the reader in the center of the action during the London Blitz. Hitler had invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home. The story takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership. The fast pace and intensity of the action create an intimate portrait of Churchill and reveal the man behind the caricature. The…

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The best narrative historical books about social injustice

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Book cover of Apples Never Fall

Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Why this book?

This was a literary mystery that renewed my love of the genre. Beginning with an abandoned bike and the disappearance of Joy, the family matriarch, the novel unfolds through the lens of each grown child’s experience of growing up in the Delaney family. When a stranger arrives at the home one night, fleeing her boyfriend, the story is set in motion. The father, a tennis teacher and director of a tennis school, seems the likely culprit of his wife’s disappearance. But as detectives investigate the missing mother’s disappearance and her relationship to the young woman who arrived at the family…

From the list:

The best fiction to explore the humor and angst of family relationships

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Book cover of No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale

No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale

By Josh Shipp, Yuliya Pankratova, David Tieche

Why this book?

Josh Shipp, a former at-risk foster kid turned youth advocate and TEDx speaker brings us this beautiful mostly autobiographical story of a squirrel who needs a family, but also kinda doesn’t want one. But also does. The quality of fost/adopt books for children has been lacking in the past, but Shipp takes fost/adopt literature to a whole new level with engaging, gorgeous illustrations and the perfect balance of humor and depth. I love that he’s a former foster youth with a mission to help kids find their one caring adult (and for adults to be one!) This is a must-have…

From the list:

The best children’s books for foster and adoptive families

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Book cover of Dory Fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory

By Abby Hanlon

Why this book?

This young chapter book series wasn’t around when I was a kid but I would have 100 percent loved Dory, aka Rascal, and would have wanted to be just like her. I kind of still do. I love the way the author incorporates Dory’s inner zinging life—it really feels like being in the head of a six-year-old. The first-person narrative writing weaves in and out of Dory’s fantasy and reality so seamlessly that there is really no distinction—which is how life should be for every 6-year-old. This book is sweet, poignant, and absolutely hilarious to boot! 

From the list:

The best surreal, magical stories for silly children and strange adults

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Book cover of Our Tree Named Steve

Our Tree Named Steve

By Alan Zweibel, David Catrow

Why this book?

I did not buy this book because I thought it was a grief book. I got it to do a tree unit for my kids’ preschool. But a year after my father-in-law (also named Steve) died unexpectedly, I couldn’t finish reading this book aloud without crying.

While not a traditional grief book, this is the story of a tree that has become inextricably intertwined with a family’s daily life, until one day a storm blows it over and the children come home to Steve in a new form, as a treehouse. A great way to discuss how we can find…

From the list:

The best books for guiding your child through grief

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Book cover of Calling My Name

Calling My Name

By Liara Tamani

Why this book?

What can I say about Liara Tamani’s beautiful tale of coming of age? The novel carries Taja from middle school through high school, the span of time in which Taja learns her place in her family and the world around her. One of the things I love about this gem is the method in which the story unfolds—in short chapters, reminiscent of the ever-changing whims of the teenage mind. As such, Taja feels as real and breathing as any living soul. Perhaps even more pertinent is the setting of Houston, Texas. While some novels set in fictitious towns do their…

From the list:

The best books with realistic teen characters

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Book cover of The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles

By Karen Thompson Walker

Why this book?

I love The Age of Miracles because I was so taken with Walker’s scientific premise, that by the “slowing” of rotation, the world would come to its inevitable end. This scientifically grounded plot point was something I found arresting; it fascinated me immediately. I also loved Walker’s eleven-year-old protagonist, Julia. Julia is genuine, believable, set in her strange but also eerily recognizable nearing-the-apocalypse world. Julia also has a rich, and I felt very authentic, inner life. Her emotions rang true, and the plot not only riveted me, it broke my heart. 

From the list:

The best books with protagonists coming-of-age while facing seemingly insurmountable challenges

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Book cover of Greenwood

Greenwood

By Michael Christie

Why this book?

I saw an early review of this book praising it for being firmly rooted in the Pacific Northwest. Intrigued, I read it. I loved the prose—I could not put the book down—and the characters, especially Temple. But what really impressed me was how Christie built his story. Set between 1908 and into the future in 2038, the stories, which concern different aspects of trees and forestry, cleverly nest like the rings of a tree, working their way into the core and then back out again. Moreover, from a design perspective, it’s a gorgeous book that, with every turn of the…

From the list:

The best epic novels that capture Pacific Northwest history

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Book cover of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

By Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Why this book?

Marzano-Lesnevich was a Harvard law student working a summer internship when they encountered the case of Ricky Langley, who was being held on death row in Louisiana. That case opened up a personal wound for the author, and they vividly and powerfully intertwine the two stories. The author uses speculation and imagination to attempt to fill in blanks that are unanswerable. I recently taught this book in a seminar at Columbia on creative license in nonfiction, and my students were floored. 

From the list:

The best true crime-adjacent books

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Book cover of How I Live Now

How I Live Now

By Meg Rosoff

Why this book?

Daisy, whose life “so far has been plain” leaves New York to visit relatives in London. After she arrives, war breaks out and Daisy’s ordinary world becomes extraordinary. Like the British children’s novels I used to gorge on (a long time ago!) all the grownups are gone, paving the way for a taboo relationship. I was surprised at how easily Rosoff convinced me that England was at war. But mostly I was captivated by the writing. Meg Rosoff writes this novel in the kind of run-on sentences I hate unless Salmon Rushdie is writing them, except…they work. Beautifully. I can’t…

From the list:

The best YA novels featuring strangers in strange lands

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Book cover of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

By Judith Kerr

Why this book?

Anna is nine when the Nazis come into power in Germany, forcing her father, a Jewish journalist, to leave the country immediately. After a few weeks, Anna, her brother Max and their mother are able to join him in Switzerland. They can take very few things with them, and Anna's beloved pink rabbit has to be left behind. 

It may sound strange to call a book about refugees "charming." but Judith Kerr always stays close to the child's perspective, describing both the difficulties and the pleasures of the family's everyday life in Switzerland and later in Paris. This classic book,…

From the list:

The best books for children and young people about war and refugees

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Book cover of More Than This

More Than This

By Patrick Ness

Why this book?

A young adult novel that no one would call horror. What makes this scary? The plot will bend your mind like watching The Matrix for the first time. Pick up this book if you want to see how to write scary and easy-to-read science fiction that isn't horror from a world-class author.

From the list:

The best books with plots so mind-bending they are scary

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Book cover of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Madeleine Thien

Why this book?

This multigenerational saga leaps across decades and continents, from the life of a Chinese-Canadian girl growing up in Vancouver in the 1990s, to the horrors of WWII and the Cultural Revolution in China, when Western classical music was banned. The role of music in the book is complex: it can be both passion and livelihood, private beauty, or blunt political instrument. When love for music can threaten someone's physical survival, a “pretty” piece of piano music is anything but: the notes “drip down to the parlour, seeping like rainwater over the persimmons on the table, the winter coats of her…

From the list:

The best novels featuring classical music

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Book cover of The Doll's Eye

The Doll's Eye

By Marina Cohen

Why this book?

Hadley was starting her new life, even if it was against her will. Moving to her new/old house bothered by a neighbor fascinated by bugs and a step-father she loathed, Hadley wished for things to be as they used to be: when she didn’t have to share her mother. But the more she resists her new life, the more she becomes immersed in the house’s mysterious past. 

The Doll’s Eye is a creepy mystery that builds towards an unexpected outcome, reminding us that divorce is hard, but running away from our problems can be even more perilous.

From the list:

The best middle grade and young adult ghost stories with an important message from beyond

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Book cover of No Beauties or Monsters

No Beauties or Monsters

By Tara Goedjen

Why this book?

Read this if you devour mysteries served with a side of science fiction. The main character, Rylie, moves back to Twentynine Palms in her grandfather’s old house in the Mojave Desert. Weird things are happening. Then Rylie finds out that her childhood best friend’s sister disappeared and her grandfather may be involved. Rylie keeps losing time. Who is the bad guy?? Nobody knows. Is it the grandfather? The guy on the news? The government Rylie’s mom works for? Her new stepbrother who may be too helpful? Her childhood bestie? Rylie herself? I couldn’t put this one down!

From the list:

The best YA mysteries that will have you channeling your inner Nancy Drew

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Book cover of Felíz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Felíz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

By Alexandra Alessandri, Addy Rivera Sonda

Why this book?

This is a book for all shy kids and the ones not so shy, so we can all understand each other. Felíz New Year, Ava Gabriela! is a book for all Latinx kids and not Latinx kids, so we can all learn about this beautiful culture, and that children all over the world go through similar feelings and struggles. Readers will cheer for this sweet girl to find her voice and have fun. And I smile every time I see this little Latinx girl solving her own problems. 

From the list:

The most fabulosos Latinx picture books

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Book cover of The Stranding

The Stranding

By Kate Sawyer

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction and the premise of this one – a woman survives the end of the world by hiding inside a whale – had me desperate to read it. And this is a book that really lives up to that intriguing hook. I loved the character of Ruth, who runs away from a complicated relationship to the other side of the world, only for civilisation to collapse in an unexplained series of catastrophes. I grieved alongside her for all the abrupt endings and terrible losses, but found so much hope in her survival. It’s a really…

From the list:

The best books about grief and complicated family dynamics

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Book cover of Only a Monster

Only a Monster

By Vanessa Len

Why this book?

The protagonist of Only a Monster, Joan Hunt-Chang, also feels like someone caught between two worlds. Joan isn’t just half Chinese-Malaysian and half-British, she’s also half-monster and half-human, something that she learns at the beginning of the book. The rest of the book follows Joan as she tries to save her monster family, striking a balance between doing the right thing and embracing her monstrous heritage. Joan grapples with questions of identity, heritage and morality in this gripping fantasy novel, which also features time travel and a twist I honestly did not see coming. 

From the list:

The best fantasy novels with protagonists that are part of two worlds

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Book cover of Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen

By Debbi Michiko Florence, Elizabet Vukovic

Why this book?

The moment I fall in love with a character, I will follow them anywhere. Toss in an intriguing plot, a huge extended family, and heart-warming humor, you get a recipe for a fun, fast read. This first in a chapter book series stars eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi who’s jealous that her older sister gets to participate in the New Year festivities of making mochi, a Japanese rice cake (and one of my favorite desserts). Jasmine decides she’ll be the first girl to pound the rice—something her sister has definitely never done. Readers will cheer for this flamingo-loving tree climber as she…

From the list:

The best kidlit books starring spunky (aka determined and courageous) girls

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Book cover of Revenge of the Red Club

Revenge of the Red Club

By Kim Harrington

Why this book?

The title alone intrigued me. Once I learned the premise of this middle-grade novel, I was hooked: a group of students supporting one another through the ups and downs of navigating their periods is shut down by the school administration after receiving complaints. 

As the investigative reporter of her middle school’s newspaper, Riley’s no stranger at going the distance to uncover a story. Using her fact-finding skills, Riley hunts for the truth on who put an end to their club and why. Filled with humor and heart, this book had me up all night to finish in one sitting, cheering…

From the list:

The best kidlit books starring spunky (aka determined and courageous) girls

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Book cover of The Guncle

The Guncle

By Steven Rowley

Why this book?

“Guncle” is what the Patrick’s six-year-old nephew and eight-year-old niece call Patrick, their gay uncle. He’d long dearly loved and been best friends with Sara, and admits he had a hard time with it (which she never understood) when she married his brother. And now she’s died of an aggressive cancer and his brother decides to spend a summer in drug rehab so that he’ll be able to do the job his kids deserve as a single parent. He needs Guncle Patrick to keep the kids for the summer, which hadn’t exactly been part of a fading gay actor’s plans.…

From the list:

The best novels about families struggling to cope after sudden death

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Book cover of Ancient Appetites

Ancient Appetites

By Oisín McGann

Why this book?

A wildly imaginative tale from the wildly underrated writer, Oisin McGann. A lot of the ideas here stem from his fantastic artwork. (So impressed was I with the read, I Googled his webpage!)

The Wildenstern family is a power-hungry lot, set in a slightly removed, Steampunk/Dystopian idea of a long-ago Ireland. Competitive cousins, Gerald and Nate Wildenstern are wonderful characters, and Nate’s sister-in-law, Daisy, is quite the uppity aristocrat (you can’t help but like!).

There are wild animal-like machines, a lot of deaths, twisted family values, and mystery to be had within this book. Very much a page-turner. I am…

From the list:

The best fantasy & steampunk books with wildly worldly invention, highly questionable morals, & supreme ideas

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Book cover of Always Never Yours

Always Never Yours

By Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka

Why this book?

One of my all-time favourite stories is Romeo and Juliet but since it’s been covered so many times before it rarely feels new. However, Always Never Yours is a strong adaptation of this classic as it provides such an original viewpoint. Megan is definitely no Juliet, she is the one before guys meet their ‘one.’ She’s used to never being chosen and instead focuses on her ambitions in theatre directing. However, to get into her dream college she needs an acting credit. Seeking the comfort of the smallest part in the play, she’s aghast to be cast as Juliet. I…

From the list:

The best YA books inspired by classic fiction

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Book cover of Ghana Must Go

Ghana Must Go

By Taiye Selasi

Why this book?

A propulsive, elegant novel that goes back and forth in time remembering the progressive scattering of a family across the globe because of a singular decision by its patriarch – to leave – and then charting their coming back together. It moved me, putting its finger on the meaning of family in a way that felt true and specific to my own experiences as a son and a brother.

From the list:

The best novels about the meaning of family

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Book cover of Deposing Nathan

Deposing Nathan

By Zack Smedley

Why this book?

Deposing Nathan was everything I'd dreamed it would be—deep, torturous, intense, and beautiful. Zack Smedley’s poignant and relevant storytelling hooked me from the first line to the unexpected twist and through the surprising ending. In this powerful story, Nate has been called to deliver a sworn statement against his ex-boyfriend Cam. What first seemed like a simple premise brought me back to my days of questioning sexuality, religion, family expectations, and familial commitment, and it unearthed memories of the struggles of finding myself as a teenager and navigating complex emotions. 

From the list:

The best queer YA books exploring mental health

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Book cover of The Lady

The Lady

By Anne McCaffrey

Why this book?

Written by the same author who wrote the amazing Dragonriders of Pern books, The Lady is set in 1970s Ireland and follows the horse-loving Carradyne family. There is plenty of drama and tears but it has a happy ending and the horses are very well written. Life wasn’t easy for women in Ireland at the time and McCaffery didn't shirk away from all the unfairness that she saw in the world around her. There are a few pretty shocking moments but it all works out in the end.

From the list:

The best horse books actually written by horse people

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Book cover of Almost Super

Almost Super

By Marion Jensen

Why this book?

Rafter, Benny, and Juanita protagonate (yep, that’s a word) in a bizarre amalgamated world that could have been dreamed up by Stan Lee, the Andy Griffith Show writers, and Beverly Cleary. Dreamed up as a joke. Abandoned with a good comeraderific laugh (also a word). Then picked up, dusted off, and polished by Marion Jensen. But that’s not what happened. Jensen created the whole adventurous, hilarious, uplifting, good-buddy superhero story with his own solitary brain. My kids and I have laughed at his story many times.

From the list:

The best brain ‘splosion sci-fi books

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Book cover of My Grandparents Love Me

My Grandparents Love Me

By Claire Freedman, Judi Abbot

Why this book?

Claire Freedom uses animal characters to tell this story about the wonderful, loving relationships that exist between grandparents and a grandchild. I love the fact that it is never quite made clear whether the grandchild is a boy or a girl and as a result, the story applies to both. Children will quickly see themselves as the little zebra having fun and being spoiled rotten by two loving grandparents. The rhyming adds to the flow of the book.

From the list:

The best children's books that capture the funny and heartwarming stories about grandchildren and grandparents

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Book cover of You and Me and Us

You and Me and Us

By Alison Hammer

Why this book?

You and Me and Us tackles several intriguing parenting challenges between a mother and her 14-year-old daughter as they lose someone they both love. It also depicts the normal parenting tightrope in dealing with teens wanting greater independence and what happens when their goals are different from their parents. An added bonus is the book is written in dual POV, alternating between the teen and parent perspectives, so readers can gain a better understanding from both sides of the issues.  

From the list:

The best fiction portraying realistic parenting dilemmas

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Book cover of The Railway Children

The Railway Children

By Edith Nesbit

Why this book?

The Railway Children is a rich family saga set in 1905 told from the perspective of the children, Bobbie, Phyllis, and Peter. They live a happy, comfortable life until their father is suddenly taken away by two police officers. The family is forced to move away and adapt to living in the countryside on a much-reduced income. The separation from their father is keenly felt by the children, whilst their mother hides her own distress to protect them. 

We eventually realise that an injustice has occurred, but how can the children hope to reunite with their father? The Railway might…

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The best children’s books with thought-provoking social themes

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Book cover of A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories

A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams

Why this book?

Each time the ‘Little House’ books cross my path, I am reminded of where and when I first discovered the series. My dad regularly took my sister and I to the (Otis) Children’s Library, then located atop the Church Street hill in downtown Norwich, CT. We devoured the Little House books and much of the library’s young reader collection, usually finishing the books before their due date, when Dad was happy to drive us again. 

I probably identified with the Ingalls family. Their experience in the American frontier echoed certain life patterns of my dad’s immigrant family (a half-century later).…

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The best books that touch our heart at Christmas

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Book cover of Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

By Alysia Abbott

Why this book?

This story interested me because I was curious about what it was like to grow up with an out gay parent. When Alysia was two, her mom died, and her father moved with her to San Francisco. For better and worse, she was raised amidst San Francisco’s vibrant gay male scene of the 1970s and 80s. I related to her struggles as a child with the need to fit in. At the same time, her dad introduced her to the creative world of writers and artists, enriching her life. In the 80s, tragedy struck, as gay men in their community…

From the list:

The best LGBTQ memoirs of trauma and transformation

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Book cover of The Electric Slide and Kai

The Electric Slide and Kai

By Kelly J. Baptist, Darnell Johnson

Why this book?

I don’t know if this book necessarily takes place in summer, but it’s centered around one of my favorite ‘African-American Joy Rituals’ - the Electric Slide! Kai agonizes over his failure to get a dance nickname from his very cool grandfather because of his two left feet. When his aunt gets married, he’s determined to conquer the Electric Slide at her reception.

Who doesn’t love a good, all-inclusive line dance? I still remember learning the Electric Slide when I was 6– to this day if I’m at a party and it’s playing, you’ll know where to find me (the dance…

From the list:

The best kids books to celebrate Black summertime joy

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Book cover of Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

By Ralph Moody

Why this book?

I highly recommend this book to every parent. It is filled with gentle, practical wisdom in the setting of a frontier family. The father takes the time to teach through everyday experience and vivid analogies. We use his analogy of the “character house” all the time in our family. The mother has her own quiet strength, which the author shows more in the following books of the series. The book is also filled with the high energy and pranks of children, and the adventures of growing up on a ranch. A lovely true story, though be warned, you will cry…

From the list:

The best books on the quirks and joys of family life

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Book cover of Moving Up without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility

Moving Up without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility

By Jennifer Morton

Why this book?

Like most countries of the world, the US is built on waves and steady immigration. As one of the few countries where upward mobility is possible, and economic prosperity abounds, we have been a magnet for immigrants wanting a better life for themselves and their children. Professor Morton extends the challenges of marginality, social class, as well as ethnic and racial and gender prejudice to the experience of modern day immigrants. Her stories and research reflect the experience any of us have had as immigrants or children of them. She also explains how the cultural and identity changes needed to…

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The best books on building leadership skills through models

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Book cover of Pachinko

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

Why this book?

The unplanned pregnancy at the beginning of Pachinko starts a generations-long saga. In the early 1900s, Sunja is a young, innocent Korean woman who is seduced by an older man, a gangster who already has a wife. Sunja is rescued from the shame of an out-of-wedlock birth by a pastor who marries her and brings her to Japan, where they have a second child. The novel brings to life the conflict between the Korean and Japanese people, through the lives of Sunja’s offspring, taking us through WWII all the way to the 1980s. Every sentence Lee writes is gorgeous, and…

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The best novels about unplanned pregnancy

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Book cover of The Mountains Sing

The Mountains Sing

By Mai Phan Que Nguyen

Why this book?

Although it is the most recently published of this group, The Mountains Sing has already been widely read, reviewed, and translated and is justifiably on its way to becoming a mainstay in the literature of the Vietnam War. The novel serves as a welcome counterpoint to Graham Greene’s Phuong and much other fiction about the war and Vietnam; what the writer wants to—and powerfully succeeds in doing—is to present non-Vietnamese readers not only with female central characters who break the Madame Butterfly/Miss Saigon/Quiet American stereotypes, but whose voices take us into the heart of the country itself, the painful history…

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The best books about the Vietnam War that reflect or contend how they depict the reality of the war

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Book cover of Twenty Letters to a Friend: A Memoir

Twenty Letters to a Friend: A Memoir

By Svetlana Alliluyeva

Why this book?

Svetlana Alliluyeva was Josef Stalin’s daughter. In 1967 she fled to the West bringing this memoir with her. It was published to universal acclaim in the same year. An epistolary memoir it gives remarkable insight into her life growing up in the Kremlin. Haunting, at times lyrical, always affecting, she shows Stalin as something other than the monster we take him to be. She makes no excuses for him but it is salutary to see him portrayed as a father and a human being. An antidote to the all-too-easy dismissal of him as ‘a monster’.

From the list:

The best books around the Cold War from a child of the Cold War

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Book cover of The Lost Crown

The Lost Crown

By Sarah Miller

Why this book?

It is generally not easy to find quality historical fiction, and this goes tenfold for fiction about the last Russian imperial family. This book is a definite exception to the rule. Historically accurate down to minute details, and at the same time very well written, the story in The Lost Crown starts just before the revolution and covers the events that lead up to the assassination of the Russian imperial family.

Seen through the eyes of the four historically neglected daughters of the last Tsar - Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia (OTMA), who are usually treated as a collective…
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The best historical fiction on royalty and Russia

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Book cover of My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

By James Ellroy

Why this book?

This 1996 memoir reads like much of Ellroy’s fiction: hard-boiled and from-the-gut. The author’s mother was raped and murdered in 1958, the perpetrator never found. He recalls his troubled childhood and adolescence and a nascent writing career spurred by his obsession with LA’s notorious Black Dahlia case. Between these episodes, Ellroy recounts his efforts, 38 years on, and with the aid of a private investigator, to find an answer to the mystery of his mother’s death. 

From the list:

The best books on unsolved murders

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Book cover of The Guardian of Mercy: How an Extraordinary Painting by Caravaggio Changed an Ordinary Life Today

The Guardian of Mercy: How an Extraordinary Painting by Caravaggio Changed an Ordinary Life Today

By Terence Ward

Why this book?

In this wondrous book on Caravaggio, the world of Naples unfolds from the inside through an electrifying reading experience. Written with grace, almost every sentence imparts an epiphany. The author challenges us to undertake soul-work, even if one is a secular reader. Reading becomes an act of empathy and passion. In the words of Wallace Stevens, potential readers will become ‘necessary angels’.

From the list:

The best non-fiction books that will immerse you in far-flung places and times

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Book cover of Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir

By Tara Westover

Why this book?

Tara Westover grew up in a survivalist family where her parents were suspicious of the outside world. She didn’t attend school until she was seventeen. Learning algebra and other subjects on her own, she did well on her college entrance exams and was accepted into Brigham Young University. She went on to attend Harvard and Cambridge Universities. Westover tries to hold together family ties while some relatives constantly planted doubts in her mind. As she succeeded academically, they tried to pull her back into their world at every turn. This story gives us all hope. Her grit inspires us to…

From the list:

The best memoirs from tickling your funny bone to breaking your heart

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Book cover of Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism

Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism

By Melinda Cooper

Why this book?

Most commentators see neoliberalism as primarily an economic project that tries to overcome old cultural prejudices and divisions. Cooper shows us that beneath this cosmopolitan façade, neoliberalism has always been about reinforcing traditional hierarchies of race, gender, and sexuality. Through a painstaking review of the actual roll-out of neoliberal policy from Reagan to Obama, she shows that racism, sexism, homophobia, and nationalism are not outdated “leftovers” from a previous era but an essential part of the neoliberal order.

From the list:

The best books for understanding neoliberalism

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Book cover of We Need New Names

We Need New Names

By NoViolet Bulawayo

Why this book?

Having lived in poverty and forced to grow up fast due to the hardship of life, what makes this book tragic is that when Darling the child protagonist arrives in the US, the land she dreamed of, she misses ‘home’ and her dreams don’t come true. Recommended for the author's narrative verve and its general overview of Zimbabwe through the lens of the less privileged. The lesson for me was that material comfort does not guarantee happiness. 

From the list:

The best books about childhood that make you cry

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Book cover of Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me

Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me

By Sarah Leavitt

Why this book?

When I read this graphic novel for the first time in 2010, it had just been published, and my mom was still my mom. I had been a care aide for ten years and I was thinking a lot about what families had already been through by the time their beloved came to me in Extended Care. Tangles tells the story of Sarah Leavitt's family from the beginning, when the family starts to notice something is wrong with Mom, to the diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, through the long journey until death. The pictures and text were a perfect…

From the list:

The best memoirs for commiserating over the "aging parents" challenge

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Book cover of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

By Elaine Tyler May

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because Elaine Tyler May offered one of the earliest analyses of gender and sex tied directly to the dictates and needs of political culture. She insightfully delineates “domestic containment,” a component of Cold War culture which paralleled the foreign policy initiative to contain communism and nuclear arms throughout the world. But in this case the sphere of influence was the home. By excavating Cold War culture (for example, Life Magazine’s coverage of a couple honeymooning in a bomb shelter) and some fascinating longitudinal data May demonstrates the way domestic containment sought to keep women and…

From the list:

The best history books on culture’s role in shaping race, class, and gender in modern America

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Book cover of Unsettled

Unsettled

By Reem Faruqi

Why this book?

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi, loosely based on the author’s own story, chronicles the experience of Nurah, a thirteen-year-old girl who moves from Pakistan to Georgia. She experiences racism and prejudice in a variety of forms, she makes new friends, discovers new passions, undergoes loss, and learns to adjust to a vastly different place. Many verse novels tell stories of immigration, but this one stands for its consistent lyricism and its honest, moving portrayal of a coming-of-age experience that is at once specific and universal. 

From the list:

The best middle grade verse novels published in 2021

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