300 books directly related to friendships 📚

All 300 friendship books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of How to Lose All Your Friends

How to Lose All Your Friends

By Nancy Carlson

Why this book?

For ages 4-6, this silly parody of a How-To book gets a laugh from young elementary school children, while also helping them recognize the impact of various common but ungenerous behaviors. It offers backward “tips” such as: “Be a poor sport. When you play tag and someone tags you, lie and say they missed.” Kids enjoy feeling smarter than the book. It ends on a warm note and also prompts children to share their ideas of how to be a good friend.
From the list:

The best books for kids about making friends and friendship issues

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Book cover of My Ántonia

My Ántonia

By Willa Cather

Why this book?

This may be the most surprising pick on my list. While Cather’s 1918 novel has been celebrated as a classic of midwestern literature and as an insightful feminist critique (rightly, in both cases), but it is also a book that is obsessed with memory and time. How, if at all, do we preserve memories of the times that shaped us? Does the passage of time diminish memories or give them iconic status? Does writing preserve or distort that which has happened? This is a book that can be read at any age, but the more you think about it, the…

From the list:

The best American novels that mess with time

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Book cover of Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

By Hannah Barnaby, Andrew Joyner

Why this book?

Garcia the bunny craves to shoot up to space while Colette the fox dreams of exploring the deep seas. Garcia builds a rocket and Colette, a submarine. Off they go on their separate adventures with their peanut butter sandwiches, of course! In this cleverly worded book, the author compares the two journeys – their similarities and differences, and how the two friends miss each other’s company. Garcia and Colette finally find a way to enjoy their interests together. The illustrations complement the words perfectly. A great read for little humans.
From the list:

The best picture books on space exploration

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Book cover of Mrs. Paine's Garage: And the Murder of John F. Kennedy

Mrs. Paine's Garage: And the Murder of John F. Kennedy

By Thomas Mallon

Why this book?

Award-winning novelist Thomas Mallon explores the serendipitous world of Ruth Paine, the Quaker who befriended Lee and Marina Oswald in the fateful months leading up to the assassination. In this fast-paced nonfition read, Mallon takes the reader through the tumultuous nine months before the assassination and then along for the often-bizarre years following in which Paine’s largesse is interpreted and twisted by conspiracy theorists to somehow accuse her of being in the middle of a giant plot against Kennedy. 

From the list:

The best books about who killed JFK

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Book cover of The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

By Kenneth Grahame

Why this book?

Old fashioned these days perhaps, echoing a very English landscape too, like me sometimes, Wind in The Willows is still an unmissable gem. The tale of the friendship between ratty, mole, and badger, and of course the irrepressible Mr. Toad, shines with a beautiful innocence, but also the pure lyricism of the writing. So producing one of my favorite chapters in all literature – "Piper At The Gates of Dawn." That addresses a particular spiritual element too, when the little animals have a vision of the great God Pan, too powerful for them to remember safely. Which underlines why animals…

From the list:

The best fantasy novels with themes on animals, nature and the environment

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Book cover of Imaginary Fred

Imaginary Fred

By Eoin Colfer, Oliver Jeffers

Why this book?

Can imaginary friends count as best friends? Totally. Imaginary Fred is a brilliant riff on imaginary friendship, told from the point of view of the imaginary friend. When imaginary Fred befriends non-imaginary Sam, the two have so much fun that Fred panics he’ll be replaced by a real kid (again!). But when real Sam brings home his new friend real Sammi, Sammi befriends Fred too…and her own imaginary friend Freida becomes Fred’s total B(I)FF! The book is quirky/funny, but really moving too. Everybody gets a best friend.

From the list:

The best books about best friends

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Book cover of Bluebird

Bluebird

By Bob Staake

Why this book?

Bluebird is a wordless picture book with a bird as an animal friend. The story is cinematically presented with spare, selectively coloured, and exquisitely designed images. It is a touching and heartbreaking story about a bird who befriends a lonely boy and the tragic consequences brought on by carelessness and bullying. The level of care that went into every panel of every page from cover to cover is outstanding. Be swept up by this work of art!
From the list:

The best books featuring animal friends and creative, artful illustrations

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Book cover of The Ranger

The Ranger

By Nancy Vo

Why this book?

The Ranger is the second book in the artistically rendered Crow Stories series by Nancy Vo. The animal friend in this book is a mysterious fox. When a young ranger, Annie, rescues a fox they begin an uneasy journey together. When Annie in turn needs help, she has to confront the meaning of friendship. The art in The Ranger has a look all its own incorporating watercolour and collage in a way that gives just the right mood to pair with the text. Readers will be drawn to the fox’s strong, captivating presence, and the beautiful, muted landscapes provide the…
From the list:

The best books featuring animal friends and creative, artful illustrations

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Book cover of The Love Letter

The Love Letter

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Lucy Ruth Cummins

Why this book?

A misunderstanding about the intended recipient of a love letter first brings Hedgehog, Bunny, and Squirrel great joy, but then threatens their friendship. In the end, Mouse helps them remember why they love each other. The final illustration even suggests that Mouse is joining their circle, since after all, love is unlimited. The Love Letter struck me first as a writer, because I recognized a unique story premise; and then I realized how much tenderness underlies both the text and the illustration.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

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Book cover of Oddity

Oddity

By Sarah Cannon

Why this book?

A story about evil puppets? Sign me up! Oddity is a town only the Addams Family could love, with weird, strange, unusual, and downright wrong things taking place at all hours of the day and night. What I love about this book is the way it manages to give us an entire town of spookiness, and yet still find a plot that is even more spooky. The characters are unforgettable, and the villains are a joyous wonder.

From the list:

The best spooky middle grade books

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Book cover of Lottie's New Friend (Lottie's World)

Lottie's New Friend (Lottie's World)

By Petra Mathers

Why this book?

Lottie is a wise, steady chicken and Herbie is a silly, insecure duck, but their strong friendship is at the core of all the stories in this five-book series. Herbie is extremely jealous of Lottie’s new friend, Dodo. While Lottie is away, Dodo gets stuck on her roof, overcome with a fear of heights, and Herbie comes to her rescue. Herbie feels much better when Dodo says, Now I know…why Lottie says you can always count on Herbie…and that you are ze apple of her eye.” Our whole family is very attached to the endearing personalities of Lottie and…

From the list:

The best picture books about unlikely friendships

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Book cover of Ivy & Bean

Ivy & Bean

By Annie Barrows, Sophie Blackall

Why this book?

This beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, hilarious tale of an unlikely friendship is so fantastic that it spawned a beloved series! Both the words and the art will keep you and your young one engaged and giggling. The original Ivy and Bean remains my favorite, but the entire series is wonderful. Perfect early chapter books for mischievous readers.

From the list:

The best children’s books about friendship and the courage to reach out to others

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Book cover of Chez Bob

Chez Bob

By Bob Shea

Why this book?

A book about a lazy alligator who opens a restaurant on his nose so he doesn’t have to chase birds before eating them? Yes, please! I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Shea’s work, but this book is next-level awesome. The voice is impeccable! It’s impossible to read this book without slipping into your best lazy alligator voice. The masterfully chosen words will draw it right out of you. I didn’t even know I had a lazy alligator voice until I read this book. My husband is not nearly as enamored with children’s books as I am, but even…

From the list:

The best picture books with fiercely funny friendships

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Book cover of The Hollow Girl

The Hollow Girl

By Hillary Monahan

Why this book?

I’m a fan of revenge stories, so when I picked up The Hollow Girl, I didn’t know it would be as addicting as it was. The romance in this one was super sweet, but boy does the rest get dark, and oh how I relished in all of it. There are some very unpleasant things that go down, but seeing the main character grow and deal with these in the way she did had me rooting for her. And the witchy things were just plain awesome!

From the list:

The best fantasy romance books with a taste of darkness

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Book cover of My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein

Why this book?

Like me, millions of mainly women readers were captivated by this saga of an intense and heartbreaking relationship between two girls that evolves over four volumes. The story of Lila and Lenù’s friendship begins in 1950s Naples when they are young schoolgirls, living in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. Even though on the surface my boring middle-class life did not resemble theirs even remotely, the emotions that tied the two together as they grew into adolescence feel universal. In fact, reading Ferrante’s novel made me understand what I was trying to figure out in my own book––and led me…

From the list:

The best books to read about how women's friendships shape the stories of their lives

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Book cover of Two Naomis

Two Naomis

By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Audrey Vernick

Why this book?

I like Two Naomis because it realistically handles a situation lots of kids may find themselves in—after a divorce, how to become friends with the children of a parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend. In this case, both girls are named Naomi and aren’t especially keen on being thrown together. As a bonus, this book has a sequel called, Naomis Too.

From the list:

The best middle grade books written by collaborators

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Book cover of George and Martha

George and Martha

By James Marshall

Why this book?

This collection of really short stories never fails to make me laugh. I'm always in awe of how funny they are and yet so incredibly simple in their layout and construction. The quirkiness and tension that is fraught between George and Martha are so perfectly balanced by how much they care for each other. I love these two. 

From the list:

The best books about friendship that I know

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Book cover of The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson

Why this book?

AKA the book I wish I’d written. but I’m not a colored boy from the 1910s nor a 1940s Negro tennis player nor a contemporary Black girl.

Varian Johnson has so expertly woven rich heritage and unique characters in these three time periods that this book is a master class in writing. More than that, it’s a compelling story that centers on a girl who temporarily moves to her late grandmother’s house, where she finds a letter revealing the first clue to a puzzle, one that may lead to a fortune. The excitement of the plot, a page-turning mystery, also…

From the list:

The best kidlit novels where characters (and readers) work to solve puzzling matters

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Book cover of Hazel Green

Hazel Green

By Odo Hirsch

Why this book?

A blast from the past. I feel this book never got the attention it truly deserved. From a sassy, headstrong lead, to a fashionable neighbour akin to Moira Rose, this immersive story is about friendship, determination, and a mystery here and there. I adored this character who was ahead of her time and always wished we had a little more Hazel Green in our lives! 

From the list:

The best middle grade books adults and kids can laugh at

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Book cover of So Long, See You Tomorrow

So Long, See You Tomorrow

By William Maxwell

Why this book?

I love this book for its depiction of 1920s rural Illinois and its beautiful writing. My father was a boy during the 1920s, and this story of two friends, their friendship tested by a murder, connects with what I imagine my father’s boyhood to have been like and gives me insight into what he kept guarded throughout his life. Maxwell’s narrator reconstructs the facts of the murder in a way that keeps me on the edge of my seat in this story of youth and loss. 

From the list:

The best books from small-town America

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Book cover of The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients

By Erica Bauermeister

Why this book?

This luminous women's fiction is anchored by Lillian, restauranteur by day, cooking class instructor by night. Come for the lyrical and evocative descriptions of sophisticated food and indulgences. Stay for a brilliantly-crafted cast of flawed characters, who seek hope and restoration. I especially adore this novel for the relatable backstories of Lillian's students. It's the perfect, decadent slice of life for escaping yours.

From the list:

The best lyrical women's fiction that deep-dives into complex relationships, while tugging every heartstring

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Book cover of Leon and Bob

Leon and Bob

By Simon James

Why this book?

Leon and his mom are new to town. His dad is in the army. Leon shares his new room with his imaginary friend, Bob. Their friendship is as important as it is real, to Leon. A tender and loving relationship. A boy moves in next door. Read the book to see how sweet this deceivingly simple story is. The words are sparse and well-chosen. The artwork is loose and expressive ink linework. Beautiful watercolor washes. The imaginary friend theme is treated in a fresh way. I am always touched by the portrayal of little boys’ natural sweetness - as they…

From the list:

The best children’s books that are truly unique tales (as opposed to preachy and moralizing)

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Book cover of Truly Madly Guilty

Truly Madly Guilty

By Liane Moriarty

Why this book?

On to the suburbs of Sydney where three families gather for a backyard barbeque that culminates in epic disaster. Liane Moriarty’s books each have their own flavor but what always makes her writing for me, is the utterly relatable characters. In this story, I felt completely ‘known’ by mother of two, Clementine. Selfish when she knows she shouldn’t be, wracked with guilt over things that simultaneously are and aren’t her fault, letting herself embrace her sexuality only to come up against dire consequences. Liane Moriarty’s famed novel is Big Little Lies but if you’re looking for more of the same…

From the list:

The best suspense novels in a suburban setting

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Book cover of The Robber Bride

The Robber Bride

By Margaret Atwood

Why this book?

I love anything by Atwood, but this book had me hooked from the first sentence. Three women become friends, united against a common enemy–the unpredictable and glamorous Zenia, who attempted to steal away their boyfriends/husbands many years before. They believe her dead, but when she re-appears, old threats surface. The unravelling of the different tales past and present, and the way the women unite and fight back to save their relationships is a complex and page-turning story.

From the list:

The best novels about marriage, love, and figuring out what you really want

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Book cover of Up

Up

By RH Disney

Why this book?

It sure takes a village to turn an award-winning Disney Pixar movie, Up into a Read-Aloud Storybook, and this cast of creative characters does it well! A terrific story about those significant changes in life and about not closing doors to the inevitable new adventures to come. Heart-warming and brilliantly crafted. See the movie! And do certainly read this lovely book version too.
From the list:

The best books to help grieving children and to open up discussions about death

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Book cover of Sophie's Squash

Sophie's Squash

By Pat Zietlow Miller, Anne Wilsdorf

Why this book?

Sophie befriends a squash meant for dinner, and her parents respect this relationship, her emotions, and her decision-making. Even after the squash begins to rot. There’s gentle humor here, but it’s not a laugh-out-loud book, or an overtly interactive book. So why list it here? Because it’s just fantastic storytelling that never fails to completely capture the online attention of classrooms of kids I’ve read it to (and a niece more times than I can count). A perfect story can do that. And it has a scientific solution to the dilemma! I adore and recommend it for that reason as…

From the list:

The best picture books for engaging kids on Zoom and FaceTime (and in person, too)

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Book cover of Tidesong

Tidesong

By Wendy Xu

Why this book?

If, like me, you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away or Ponyo, then this graphic novel is for you. It not only tackles a story revolving around growing up with magic but it adds in many other things that many of us have struggled with such as family expectations, living up to your potential, and more. Of course, everything feels a little more exciting when magic is added to the mix, but those themes that exist in the real world ground this story and allow for a strong connection to Sophie, our young protagonist.

From the list:

The best magical middle-grade graphic novels

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Book cover of I'm a Hare, So There!

I'm a Hare, So There!

By Julie Rowan-Zoch

Why this book?

This is another book about appreciating differences told with in-your-face humor using a case of mistaken identity. When a chipmunk accuses a hare of being a rabbit, the hare stands up for itself. In doing so, hare describes the traits of a hare versus a jackrabbit. It’s a simple way to show kids the difference between animals that seem alike but are not. Like a turtle and a tortoise. Turns out chipmunk is not who hare thinks he is! A fun way to learn about desert creatures.

From the list:

The best bunny books by a bunny lover

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Book cover of Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids

By Edgar Cantero

Why this book?

The premise of Meddling Kids feels like it was concocted especially for me and everyone else who grew up on 70s cartoons and old-fashioned horror; it’s an eldritch twist on Scooby-Doo, where the remaining members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club revisit the scene of their childhood case, realizing there was more to the mystery than originally met the eye. Edgar Cantero’s writing style is an absolute delight – it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. His humor in each metaphor and personification of so many inanimate objects allow you to really feel every scene, not just witness it.…

From the list:

The best novels for when something queer’s afoot

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Book cover of The Star Trek Book of Friendship: You Have Been, and Always Shall Be, My Friend

The Star Trek Book of Friendship: You Have Been, and Always Shall Be, My Friend

By Robb Pearlman, Jordan Hoffman

Why this book?

Much of what I learned about real friendship I learned from Star Trek. From the many episodes of the original series I saw in syndication to the heartbreaking ending of Wrath of Kahn, the principle of “I am, and forever will be, your friend,” has influenced many of my friendships over the years. 

This book explores those friendships we have seen on screen, from Kirk and Spock, to Picard and Data, from Janeway and Seven of Nine to Bashir and Garak. Told through the eyes of fans, this is a great gift to yourself or your best friend…

From the list:

The best non-fiction Star Trek books for Trekkies and science nerds

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Book cover of An Elephant & Piggie Biggie!

An Elephant & Piggie Biggie!

By Mo Willems

Why this book?

The energy and enthusiasm of this series are so impressive. Mo Willems is a master at page layout and building astounding anticipation in all of his children's books. Elephant & Piggie stories are so perfectly distilled down to the simplest and most enjoyable elements that they are an absolute joy to read with young kids or on your own. 

From the list:

The best books about friendship that I know

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Book cover of Chiggers

Chiggers

By Hope Larson

Why this book?

Chiggers is both funny and painful in the way it captures that terrifying turning point of growing up: when your former besties become strangers, when you go out on a limb befriending someone new, and when falling in love complicates everything. (Oh, and it teaches you how to make a friendship bracelet!) Camp was intense for both of us: Laurence went to one where they forced the kids to watch a horror movie and when he tried to cover his face with his sweatshirt, a counselor literally yanked it away. Susan went to Korean-American camp, where everyone was supposed to…

From the list:

The best scary books (or books about summer) for kids

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Book cover of For All She Knows

For All She Knows

By Jamie Beck

Why this book?

This novel exemplifies parenting fiction in my mind. It takes a concept I could’ve read about in a nonfiction parenting book (how to handle teenage drinking) and slides it into a compelling narrative that realistically depicts all the potential complexities and nuances in the parenting decisions and how they might play out, including several factors and consequences related to teen alcohol use and parent-sponsored parties that I would’ve never thought of myself.  

From the list:

The best fiction portraying realistic parenting dilemmas

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Book cover of Weetzie Bat

Weetzie Bat

By Francesca Lia Block

Why this book?

I love Weetzie Bat for its generous-hearted treatment of love in all of its myriad aspects. Weetzie Bat, a high school senior, is one of the great characters in young adult literature. She lives in a magical Los Angeles, where she finds her true love in My Secret Agent Lover Man; and where her best friend Dirk, who is gay, finds his true love in a boy named Duck. The specter of AIDS threatens their relationship but in the end, to the reader’s delight, love conquers all. The book is brilliantly written in Block’s signature style, which has been influenced…

From the list:

The best books to beautifully capture the reality of gay teens’ lives and loves

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Book cover of Define "Normal"

Define "Normal"

By Julie Anne Peters

Why this book?

I absolutely love this book. The main characters, two teenage girls, who are total opposites, develop a friendship based on peer counseling together. They learn from each other and give each other comfort, advice, and more help on how to resolve their problems. It’s a great insight into what goes on in young adults’ lives. 

From the list:

The best realistic-fiction books about defining normal and mental health

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Book cover of The Story Blanket

The Story Blanket

By Ferida Wolff, Harriet May Savitz, Elena Odriozola

Why this book?

The Story Blanket is about what you might do if there wasn’t enough yarn. 

Babba Zarrah loves to tell stories to the village children who all sit on her story blanket to listen. As the winter goes on and a need for warm clothes becomes greater, Babba Zarrah’s blanket begins to get smaller.

The solution to the disappearing story blanket completes the cycle of generosity within the village.

The story, a modern folk tale, is simple and beautiful. The illustrations, by Elena Odriozola, are gorgeous and original and bring an added imaginative dimension to the book.

From the list:

The best children's books for those who love yarn and knitting

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Book cover of Pink and Say

Pink and Say

By Patricia Polacco

Why this book?

I love this book, which combines a true story from the Civil War with gorgeous illustrations by the amazingly gifted author.  Pink, who is white, and Say, who is Black, are two young Union soldiers, little more than boys…as my own great grandfather once was.  Their survival depends upon their relationship, and the story, as retold by Polacco, reminds us—as all these books do—of our interdependence.

From the list:

The best books on war through the eyes of children

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Book cover of Should I Share My Ice Cream?

Should I Share My Ice Cream?

By Mo Willems

Why this book?

Mo Willems is simply brilliant in his ability to capture children’s authentic feelings in a way that’s funny and engaging. I love the whole Elephant and Piggie series! They’re great for reading aloud, but newly independent readers can also manage them. In this book, Elephant struggles with sharing, which, as every child knows, is not easy. This is aimed at ages 3-6.
From the list:

The best books for kids about making friends and friendship issues

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Book cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

By Jeff Kinney

Why this book?

My youngest son was a reluctant reader and the king of sarcasm at an early age. So finding books that had humor in them seemed to encourage him to read. What I hadn’t counted on was how funny I found this book. I kept this book even after he was grown. I pick it up any time I want to laugh and be reminded that if I could go back in time, the last place I would want to go to would be middle school. An easy read, complete with illustrations. I like books that have great family values but…

From the list:

The best books that made me laugh out loud

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Book cover of Milo: Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze

Milo: Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze

By Alan Silberberg

Why this book?

Because I love how this book combines crazy humour and deep feeling. Because I am friends with the author I know that this book comes from somewhere deeply personal in his life – Silberberg’s mom died when he was a kid. This book needs to be read by anyone coping with the death of a loved one. Like all great books for kids, it’s for adults too!

From the list:

The best books for kids dealing with grief, death, and loss

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Book cover of Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse

Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda & His Muse

By Alexandria Giardino, Felicita Sala

Why this book?

This biography focuses on one moment, one lunch, and one poem in Neruda’s long and prolific career. And yet it captures so much! Giardino manages to suggest all of the paradoxes in Neruda’s life and work—the sadness and the joy, the grand themes of labor and oppression, and the ordinary sensuous details of daily life. The story arc begins with gloom and the solitary work of writing, but ends with a celebration and a shared meal. The end pages are papery onion skin that the child reader will want to touch. Neruda’s poem, “Ode to an Onion,” is printed in…

From the list:

The best picture books about writers and the strange and magical things that inspired them

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Book cover of Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn

By Jacqueline Woodson

Why this book?

Woodson’s narrative comprises a mix of genres (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction) to capture the real and imagined memories of her childhood in Brooklyn and the fictional town of Sweet Grove, Tennessee. This book encompasses so much of what is fascinating about nostalgic memory. While nostalgia generates feelings of happiness and hope, these memories often emerge in times of sadness, loss, and uncertainty. Woodson’s exploration into the lives of four black girls as they navigate friendship, the joys, and perils of youth, and the possibilities and broken promises of the future is a rare and compelling take on how nostalgic memories…
From the list:

The best books to inspire good feelings

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Book cover of Noodle & Lou

Noodle & Lou

By Liz Garton Scanlon, Arthur Howard

Why this book?

I adore friendships stories that showcase buddies who have each other’s back and who are the cheerleaders in our life. Noodles and Lou, told in rollicking rhyme, is that kind of story. In the opening pages of the book, we understand Noodle is having an off-putting start to his day.

Some days don’t go well, right from the start

Noodle woke up with a rain-cloudy heart.

But before the story ends, Noodle is cheered up by his best buddy and sees his many wonderful strengths through his friend’s eyes.

From the list:

The best picture books about bears, buddies, and writing. Oh my!

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Book cover of Abracadabra!: The Magic of Trying

Abracadabra!: The Magic of Trying

By Maria Loretta Giraldo, Nicoletta Bertelle

Why this book?

One aspect of accepting imperfection is to recognize that new skills take practice. In this sweet tale, Little Owl believes he should automatically possess the ability to fly. His woodland friends teach him that practice and effort are required. The abracadabra magic turns out to be persistence in the face of failure. Young readers will embrace the “try, try again” message. This charming story and delightful illustrations will resonate with young children. There is also a note to parents and caregivers by a psychologist that delves into raising kids to develop perseverance.
From the list:

The best children’s books on accepting imperfection

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Book cover of We Ride Upon Sticks

We Ride Upon Sticks

By Quan Barry

Why this book?

Big hair. Field hockey. Emilio Estevez. Witchcraft. Mash these things together and you get a clever and quirky novel about the members of the 1989 Danvers High School field hockey team who dabble in the dark arts to ensure a winning season. A perceptive look at the transformation of girls into young women, this one is wicked fun.

From the list:

The best books on inspirational women athletes

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Book cover of I Like You

I Like You

By Sandol Stoddard Warburg, Jacqueline Chwast

Why this book?

I love this charming book about the kindness that comes with friendship. Pen drawings accompany the text, which is at certain times silly, other times fun, and at the best of times poignant. Point in case:

“And I like you because

When I am feeling sad you don’t always cheer me up right away

Sometimes it is better to be sad."

I’m not sure every child would understand the significance of that sentence. But the words at some point in their lives will come back around. The book lists reasons why we like our friends, namely because they offer us…

From the list:

The best books about teaching kids kindness

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Book cover of Uprooted

Uprooted

By Naomi Novik

Why this book?

This book (!)...is one where the language and imagery are so surprising and unusual, that alone draws the reader in like a light-dazzled moth. It is a fantasy novel based on a Polish fairy tale. A mysterious wizard claims an innocent village girl every ten years in trade for his protection against the evil Wood. It’s a beautifully crafted story with compelling characters and a satisfying end. It is well worth every minute!

From the list:

The best books for effortless, entertaining history absorption and gorgeous grammar

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Book cover of The Rainbow Fish

The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister

Why this book?

I remember this story from when I was little. I would stroke the shiny scales with my fingers and admire the octopus in his cave. Little me couldn’t believe the fish would give away his scales! Didn’t he want to keep them all? The message about the happiness that comes with generosity was certainly one I needed to hear...repeatedly.

From the list:

The best underwater picture books for your little sea monster

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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 Can Cat and Bird Be Friends?

Can Cat and Bird Be Friends?

By Coll Muir

Why this book?

This is an adorable book about a predator-prey pair. Tradition says felines devour birds, so when Cat says he must eat Bird, the feathered fowl tempts Cat’s taste in other ways … by showing him “the highest tree for a cat to get stuck in,” for example. When Cat points out desirable activities for Bird, the two decide to become friends, until they realize they share nothing in common.

I love the humorous banter between the two and the clever use of different text colors to distinguish between the two speakers. I think it’s brilliantly symbolic that when the characters…

From the list:

The best children’s picture books with unlikely friendships that help readers look beyond differences

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Book cover of Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

By Josh Funk, Rodolfo Montalvo

Why this book?

George and Blaise are assigned to be pen pals and soon become friends during their correspondence. Unlike the reader/listener, the two don’t know one is human and the other is a dragon. I really enjoyed the book’s humor, which is due to dual perspectives shown by the illustrations. It’s amusing to see the characters’ assumptions when they receive letters. For example, when Blaise mentions his dad is in demolition, the human imagines a construction vehicle, while “in reality,” the dragon’s father knocks down castles with his strength and powerful wings.

Surprised when they meet, the two are able to look…

From the list:

The best children’s picture books with unlikely friendships that help readers look beyond differences

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Book cover of Maybe Tomorrow? (A Story about Loss, Healing, and Friendship)

Maybe Tomorrow? (A Story about Loss, Healing, and Friendship)

By Charlotte Agell, Ana Ramírez González

Why this book?

Elba drags a dark, heavy block everywhere she goes. Later we learn Elba has lost a friend, and carries that loss like a weight. Her friend Norris, who is always surrounded by butterflies, tries to help. Maybe Tomorrow? is a metaphorical story about how friendship can help lighten the darkness of grief and sadness. Having experienced my share of grief, this book struck so many emotional chords. It speaks with truth and compassion, and is a wonderful resource for kids who are struggling with their emotions, especially grief. 

“I’ll always have this block, you know,” said Elba. 

“Yes, maybe you…

From the list:

The best picture books dealing with feelings

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Book cover of The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift

By Rohan Henry

Why this book?

Jamaican American author/illustrator Rohan Henry, in a deceptively simple sweet book, illustrates the gift of true understanding and friendship. I first met Rohan at a book fair here in Maine, when we traded books - one of my early picture books (Dancing Feet) for his self-published The Perfect Gift. I happened to be having lunch with my agent the next day. I showed her this book and she sold the rights almost immediately. It's now out in several languages and is, in my estimation, the perfect gift.

From the list:

The best books about the healing power of listening

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Book cover of The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses

By Eleanor Estes, Louis Slobodkin

Why this book?

I love this heart-felt story with the rough lesson about doing nothing when someone is bullied. Wanda Petronski is a new girl at school who wears the same faded, wrinkled dress every day. When she hears other girls discussing pretty dresses she whispers to the most popular girl that she has one hundred dresses at home. This begins the constant teasing and questioning all about her dresses. One day Wanda does not show up at school and the classmates receive a letter from her father saying that they’ve moved where there are others with funny names like theirs. The one…
From the list:

The best books for middle grade readers about getting picked on for being different

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Book cover of The Boy Most Likely to

The Boy Most Likely to

By Huntley Fitzpatrick

Why this book?

Bad boy, Tim, has struggled with drinking and now is a member of AA and is trying to start his life over. He and my character, Christopher, could attend AA meetings together and I am always happy to find a young adult character who is a reformed bad boy and trying to stay sober with AA and this story does not disappoint. 

From the list:

The best books with YA romance bad boys

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Book cover of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

By Kelly Barnhill

Why this book?

I absolutely love this book and the gentle magic in it. The way the author writes is like spun honey and the magic is lively and dreamy. The story is about a girl born with a mark given to the forest to die but was actually rescued by a witch who gave her moonlight to drink. Luna doesn’t know of her magic until she is eleven when her power awakes and the world opens up to her. I felt the magic in this book and identified with seeking a special purpose for your talents. I still feel the magic this…

From the list:

The best YA fantasy books with ethereal magic and strong female characters

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Book cover of Astrid the Unstoppable

Astrid the Unstoppable

By Maria Parr

Why this book?

This book is for slightly younger readers, but I think it has genuine multi-generational appeal. I read it aloud to my eight-year-old, who laughed aloud and loved it – in fact, it was the first read-aloud chapter book that he stuck with. And his grandmother is also reading and loving it! Astrid has the feel of a classic, with its humor and its gentle wisdom. Though it’s a story about a feisty girl who loves sledding, it’s also a story about how someone you love can keep a hurtful secret. How does one forgive such a thing? Astrid figures it…

From the list:

The best young adult books about secrets

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Book cover of Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship

Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship

By Jessica Walton, Dougal MacPherson

Why this book?

Errol and Thomas (his teddy bear), are best friends. But Errol starts noticing that Thomas doesn’t seem to enjoy all the things they do together and seems to be sad. Eventually, Thomas admits to Errol that they had always felt like a girl bear and would like to be called Tilly. Errol doesn’t care about the bear’s gender—just that they are best friends. It’s a lovely story about unconditional love and acceptance.
From the list:

The best picture books on diversity and feelings

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Book cover of Janine and the Field Day Finish

Janine and the Field Day Finish

By Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Why this book?

Janine is good at lots of things like singing, spelling, and cheering.  But she’s not good at sports and is bullied and teased by her competitive classmate, Abbie. Janine runs the race and doesn’t mind being in last place. She’s just glad to participate.  When Abbie falls, Janine is the one who stops, helps her up, and together they cross the finish line.

Janine is the best kind of competitor – kind and encouraging as she urges everyone to do their best. Children with different abilities are included in all the activities making this book an inclusive celebration of sportsmanship.

From the list:

The best picture books to help children develop good sportsmanship

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Book cover of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

By Gail Honeyman

Why this book?

Eleanor Oliphant is one of my favorite characters in literature, full stop. A misanthrope with multiple ‘issues’, we join Eleanor on a journey from deliberate solitude to reluctant companionship as life forces itself through the tiny cracks in her heart and we learn that the first and maybe the hardest secret to happiness is being open to it.

From the list:

The best upbeat books for tough times

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Book cover of To Break a Covenant

To Break a Covenant

By Alison Ames

Why this book?

A recent addition to the horror genre, this excellent debut novel excels in creating a surreal narrative drenched in dark atmosphere. To Break a Covenant centers around a terrifying, fractured faux-documentary about a town under control of a sinister presence. I dare you to read creepy descriptions of ‘found’ footage and not feel a chill as this mystery unfolds. 

From the list:

The best horror books with mixed media format

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Book cover of A Splendid Friend, Indeed

A Splendid Friend, Indeed

By Suzanne Bloom

Why this book?

A bear and a goose are so different. Bear is quiet and firm. Goose is loud and pushy. How could they possibly be friends? But that’s exactly what happens in this bestselling tale of a bear who wants to read in peace and a goose that needs a friend. Author-illustrator Suzanne Bloom captures the concept of making and keeping friends with toddler-appropriate language and sparse but colorful drawings. The simple text paired with hilarious illustrations make this book one of my all-time favorite read-a-louds. A Splendid Friend, Indeed is, indeed, a sweet reminder of why friendship and kindness matter.

From the list:

The best children’s books about kindness and friendship

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Book cover of You Will Be My Friend!

You Will Be My Friend!

By Peter Brown

Why this book?

Lucy Bear is determined to make a friend, but it turns out to be a harder task than she anticipated. Her efforts startle, bother, annoy, and anger the other forest animals. She’s ready to give up but in the end, she finds a perfect friend—perfect for her, that is, and isn’t that what really matters? I adore Peter Brown’s colorful, jocular illustrations and the way the answer to Lucy’s desire is presented not in the text, but in the art. For a bonus friendship lesson, check out Brown’s bio on the dust jacket.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

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Book cover of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

By Dan Santat

Why this book?

An unnamed imaginary friend waits and waits for a child to choose him; but when he has waited long enough, he sets out on an adventure into the real world to find his Alice. The sweetness of Alice and Beekle’s new friendship is heartwarming, made all the sweeter by the wait. Beekle won the Caldecott Medal, so it won’t surprise you that the illustrations are brilliant. Santat’s use of shadow and color is just mesmerizing.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

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Book cover of All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places

By Jennifer Niven

Why this book?

For me, All the Bright Places accurately represents the joys and sorrows of life. This book is so full of depth, heart, and incredible characters, when I read it, I forgot it was a book. I was excited for every chapter when Finch and Violet would take me on their adventure. These characters are relatable and true to life. Even if you’ve never been through the situations they have, you can imagine them as kids in your neighborhood, workplace, or school. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking book that I will reread every year and always experience the excitement.

From the list:

The best books for young adults that will make you laugh and cry

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Book cover of Holes

Holes

By Louis Sachar

Why this book?

I used to be freaked out by coincidences. Synchronicities made me feel like there was something else at work in life, behind the scenes, in a bad way. This book is one of the many things that have helped me to feel the opposite. It's about a detention centre where children build character by digging holes in the desert. It's also about coincidences, and how they don't really exist. To me, coincidences feel similar to our insignificance in the wider universe. It can be crushing, or liberating, depending on how you look at it. It may sound silly, but reading…

From the list:

The best books for when you feel lost in life

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Book cover of Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley

Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley

By Tove Jansson, Sophie Hannah

Why this book?

This book is a timeless classic that everyone should have. It follows Toffle, a little wallflower who's fearful of the world and too shy to speak to anyone. He goes through his journey, sad and alone, as he watches the joyful lives of others from afar. Until the day he finds a letter... Who Will Comfort Toffle? reminds the reader that isolation is never the solution and that even the most unfit of us can find a special someone.

From the list:

The best children's books to discuss loneliness and depression

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Book cover of The Wreckage of My Presence: Essays

The Wreckage of My Presence: Essays

By Casey Wilson

Why this book?

In this gorgeous, funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming book of essays, Casey dives deep into her relationship with everything from her parents to food to The Real Housewives franchise. Her realization about her sugar addiction is parallel to so many people’s addiction to stuff. You could substitution shopping for candy in this book and this book would be about decluttering. If you have ever lost a parent, this book will hold your hand through the grieving process. And laugh a lot along the way.

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to declutter

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Book cover of Whichwood

Whichwood

By Tahereh Mafi

Why this book?

After the death of her mother and the abandonment of her father, 13-year-old Laylee is the sole remaining Moordeshor in her village, responsible for laundering the souls of the recently dead. Her struggle to keep up has turned her into a grumpy recluse, but the book is saved from becoming too morose by a witty narrator and the arrival of a pair of spunky children inexplicably determined to help her. I absolutely adore every character in this story, and the writing is exquisite. Furthermore, the unique world building in this story tackles death and grief with plenty of heart,…

From the list:

The best middle grade books on grief/healing that are actually fun to read

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Book cover of Proxy

Proxy

By Alex London

Why this book?

This is one of those books where you’re like – the premise couldn’t possibly be as good as the execution.  And yet it is. The dystopic world in which Sid has to take the punishment for all of Knox’s behavior is so rich and dark and delicious it resonates as a class critique of our own world without even having to try. It’s a knock-out debut, and I can’t wait to jump into London’s Black Wings Beating, which is next on my Kindle.

From the list:

The best books that reimagine LGBTQIAP+ representation in fantasy/sci-fi

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Book cover of All the Castles Burned

All the Castles Burned

By Michael Nye

Why this book?

This criminally overlooked gem of a novel follows Owen Webb, a troubled young man with trouble at home. And the boy he befriends (or more accurately befriends him). Even more trouble. Basketball is Owen's obsession and outlet, and while it simmers in the background of this novel, it's one of the most accurate and lovingly depicted hoops books you'll ever read.
From the list:

The best novels about sports (but not really about sports)

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Book cover of Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

By E.B. White

Why this book?

Charlotte’s Web was the first book that made me realize how powerful a book could be, and that was because it made me cry. I was very young at the time, but I remember being so shocked that just a bunch of words on pieces of paper had made me sob! It still makes me cry today. A truly wonderful book.

From the list:

The best children's books that will make you feel things

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Book cover of Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins

By Linda White, Megan Lloyd

Why this book?

Rebecca Estelle hates pumpkins—and this is something kids can hardly imagine. (Certainly, the gorgeous art makes you wonder how anyone could hate pumpkins!) But Rebecca Estelle had a chapter in life where pumpkins were pretty much all she had to eat and so she is sick of them.

However, when she accidentally grows an enormous pumpkin patch, Rebecca Estelle has to deal with the loathed pumpkins. And deal with them she does—pies and muffins and tarts and cookies and roasted seeds come out of her kitchen. She carves fabulous jack-o-lanterns (a magical two-page spread!) and her neighbors show up. “We…

From the list:

The best picture books about sharing food

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Book cover of Starfish

Starfish

By Lisa Fipps

Why this book?

Starfish by Lisa Fipps has captured the hearts of many this year. Ellie is bullied by many for her weight, and it is heartbreaking to read but, through the help of a therapist and a new friend, Ellie learns to feel confident about herself and find her voice. Verse wise, the concept of what it means “to take up space” works as a theme in the narrative but also as a poetic concept.  

From the list:

The best middle grade verse novels published in 2021

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Book cover of Princess Ponies: A Magical Friend

Princess Ponies: A Magical Friend

By Chloe Ryder

Why this book?

Chloe Ryder is one of the (many) alter-egos of my writing partner, Julie Sykes (we write the Unicorn Academy and Forever Homes series together). Julie wrote this series years before we started collaborating and I have always loved it (as did my pony-crazy daughter when she was eight). It’s a perfect series for younger middle-grade readers who like their magic to be very sparkly. If they get hooked on the first one there are plenty more to read! When Pippa gets whisked away to the island of Chevalia, she quickly makes friends with Princess Stardust, a talking pony, and discovers…

From the list:

The best middle grade fiction for children who love magic and animals

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Book cover of Journey Beyond the Burrow

Journey Beyond the Burrow

By Rina Heisel

Why this book?

Do not be fooled by the cuddly creatures on the beautiful cover! This book is full of harrowing adventure, creepy tension, and frightening woodland creatures like giant spiders and deadly snakes. At least, as seen from the perspective of our main character, Tobin the mouse. Tobin’s quest is full of heart, for he has taken it upon himself to save his younger brother from the clutches of the invading spiders who stole him to a faraway lair. Their adventure reminded me of Secret of Nimh or The Lord of the Rings in that we follow a reluctant hero who…

From the list:

The best new action-packed middle grade books with heart

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Book cover of Be Kind

Be Kind

By Pat Zietlow Miller, Jen Hill

Why this book?

One of the things I love about this book is that Miller addresses the very true idea that being kind is not always easy. Often, we tell kids to “be kind,” but we don’t tell them how. In this book, the main character tries to help her friend, Tanisha, who spills grape juice on herself. But her initial attempts aren’t successful. The main character wonders what it means to be kind and knows that she can do small kindnesses. She thinks about how small kindness can be contagious and “spill out of the school” and go all around the world.…

From the list:

The best children’s books on the healing power of kindness

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Book cover of Robot Dreams

Robot Dreams

By Sara Varon

Why this book?

Not all friendships are easy, that’s for sure. This beautifully illustrated, wordless graphic novel is as funny as it is touching. Don’t let the lack of words fool you, this is a skillfully told story about a complicated relationship. I’m a fan of visual storytelling and Sara Varon is a master. I also like when a book takes a turn that you may not expect. It might not have the ending you hoped for, but it makes you think.

From the list:

The best graphic novels about navigating friendships and family

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Book cover of A Fine White Dust

A Fine White Dust

By Cynthia Rylant

Why this book?

Pete’s whole life changes the summer the Preacher Man comes to town. Hearing the Man speak fills Pete with purpose. No one understands Pete like the Preacher Man — neither Pete’s parents, who no longer attend church, nor his best friend, who is an atheist — and Pete will do anything to hold fast to his devotion.

I read this short, deceptively simple book twice while working on Miraculous. It is an honest look at the longings and purpose so many of us search for, the power a persuasive individual can have, and the flaws that make us all…

From the list:

The best middle grade novels about mysterious strangers

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Book cover of Mr. Gumpy's Outing

Mr. Gumpy's Outing

By John Burningham

Why this book?

Everyone wants to join Mr. Gumpy on his boat! Children, goats, pigs, chickens! What an adventure! I love the odd word choices as a chance to learn new words like ‘muck about” and “squabble” as well as teaching the difference between the goat “bleating” not bleeding! (As a teacher, I feel qualified to go there.) So fun, kids love acting this out this one also. And we always have a tea party at the end, just like in the book.

From the list:

The best books that go on an adventure

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Book cover of The Catalogue of the Universe

The Catalogue of the Universe

By Margaret Mahy

Why this book?

Perhaps our greatest writer for children and young adult fiction, two-time Carnegie Medal winner Margaret Mahy, this book won the 2005 Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association. Essentially it’s a love story, but not as you’ve ever experienced it before. It’s brainy, surprising, endearing, and really, really worth a read!  

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Lena, the Sea, and Me

Lena, the Sea, and Me

By Maria Parr

Why this book?

Maria Parr’s timeless novel takes place in Norway’s fictional Mathildewick Cove. The story centers on Lena and her best friend Trille, who are dealing with typical 12-year-old matters, including family arguments, rapidly growing bodies, and drama-filled school days. The setting of Lena, the Sea, and Me is especially charming, featuring mountains, hills, farm animals, and of course the water, which plays a significant role in the book. I appreciate that Lena and Trille spend all their time outside. Lena in particular—with her strong limbs and ruddy cheeks—is formidable as she builds rafts and plays goalkeeper for her soccer team. Irascible…

From the list:

The best contemporary middle grade novels for girls who love the outdoors

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Book cover of Midnight in the Piazza

Midnight in the Piazza

By Tiffany Parks

Why this book?

I discovered this book through a podcast I love about living the expat life. Thirteen-year-old Beatrice has landed in Rome with her professor father, and she would rather not be there. But Rome is full of wonders and Beatrice becomes entranced by the turtle fountain in the piazza outside her apartment, especially when those turtles seem to vanish. The author lives in Rome and is very knowledgeable about the art and culture of Italy, so I learned a lot about art and history without realizing I was learning at all. Middle grade readers will love the mystery, and who would…

From the list:

The best books for middle grade kids traveling to Italy

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Book cover of The Bear and the Piano

The Bear and the Piano

By David Litchfield

Why this book?

We often fear change and it’s for this reason that we don’t dare try something new. We’re afraid we won’t be able to go back to the way things were before in case we don’t succeed. It’s important to realize that the people who truly appreciate and love us will always support our endeavors and welcome us back regardless of whether we succeeded or failed. The Bear and the Piano relates this message in a gentle and inspiring way for me.

From the list:

The best picture books about new beginnings

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Book cover of Here in the Real World

Here in the Real World

By Sara Pennypacker

Why this book?

I felt so much kinship with Ware, the introverted hero of this story, I kept reading out loud to my family the things he said and thought and felt. When Ware’s parents tell him he’ll need to spend the summer at forced-group-togetherness Rec camp, I moaned in horrified sympathy. When they tell him he’ll temporarily have to live in the glassed-in back porch, I wailed with Ware, “It’s not a room if it doesn’t have walls!” I was over the moon when Ware discovers a way to navigate his life so his needs are met. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books with powerful introverts

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Book cover of Invisible Emmie

Invisible Emmie

By Terri Libenson

Why this book?

This graphic novel literally illustrates many ways in which the average school day is challenging to introverts, from the bus, to school hallways, to the cafeteria, to navigating pre-class chatter. Emmie is very in tune with her feelings and able to focus on drawing no matter the noise all around, but still questions her own value: “Does anyone ever see me? Do I want them to?” When the author drew Emmie with a disappearing mouth to show how others view her as mute—ooh, I got goosebumps. I adore a book that makes me go back and read it again the…

From the list:

The best middle grade books with powerful introverts

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Book cover of Toot & Puddle (Toot & Puddle, 1)

Toot & Puddle (Toot & Puddle, 1)

By Holly Hobbie

Why this book?

The grass is not always greener on the other side, especially with these two friends. One wants to travel the world (deserts! mountains! tundra!), while the other wants to stay at home (swimming! baking! ice skating!). Rather than be envious of each other, they share their adventures via postcards and the recipient’s own experience is further deepened. Inspired by this exchange, for many years a friend and I would alternate being “Toot” or “Puddle,” sending postcards to each other about our adventures near and far.

From the list:

The best children’s books about seeing things differently

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Book cover of Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

By Kate DiCamillo

Why this book?

I’ll read anything Kate DeCamillo writes. She is just so good. No matter the heartbreak that Raymie Nightingale faces (her dad’s just recently run off with the dental hygienist), Raymie has a plan. She’s going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition, her dad will see her picture in the paper, and then surely (maybe?) he’ll come home. Raymie gets through with friends who weren’t always her friends: the “frequently fainting” Louisiana Elefante, and feisty Beverly Tapinski. Together, “the three rancheros” challenge, but ultimately save, one another. Some friendships are not “like at first sight”!

From the list:

The best middle grade books with three best friends

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Book cover of Sugar and Spite

Sugar and Spite

By Gail D. Villanueva

Why this book?

Sugar and Spite has magic, strong friendships, and imperfect, yet relatable characters—all the things I enjoy in a novel. Not only did I enjoy learning about the many facets of the Filipino culture; I appreciated the layered messaging. Bullying is a difficult topic to tackle, and this novel addresses it in a way that caused me to think about the challenging people and difficult relationships in my life. This is such a sweet story dealing with issues I know readers can identify with—loss, jealousy, insecurities, and ultimately acceptance.

From the list:

The best spooky or magical books when you’re dealing with grief, loss, and fear

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Book cover of Salamander Dream

Salamander Dream

By Hope Larson

Why this book?

This book was a hidden gem for me. I found this on a dusty shelf in an old bookstore and was instantly in love with its whimsical drawings. The simplicity of color use and a narrative are told only through its illustrations. Intended for young adult readers, however, this book really is for all dreamers of ages. 

From the list:

The best graphic memoirs with creativity and flair

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Book cover of Little Bear's Friend

Little Bear's Friend

By Else Holmelund Minarik, Maurice Sendak

Why this book?

The Little Bear series is my all-time favorite of the early reader genre; Minarik’s wisdom about childhood worries and pleasures shines on every page, and Sendak’s rich, delicate drawings gorgeously render an entire world. In this gentle tale of friendship, Little Bear meets a human girl, Emily, who is lost in the woods. He helps her find her family, and soon they are fast friends, playing games, helping Duck baby-sit, and even attending a party at Owl’s house. When Emily’s doll Lucy breaks her arm, only Little Bear knows what to do. But when the summer ends, will Little Bear ever see…

From the list:

The best early readers with funny animal friendships

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Book cover of Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism

By Georgia Byng

Why this book?

Like many of the Potter books, this book is sort of a puzzle box built around an object that is governed by clear rules. The main character, Molly Moon, discovers a book that teaches her to control animals and people around her with the power of hypnotism. The book drops Molly's character into a clear set of rules and then has fun watching what she does with it, in a way that reminds me a bit of Hermione’s use of that special object in Prisoner of Azkaban. It also is a fantasy about unlimited power. Seriously, what if you…

From the list:

The best books for readers who wish Hermione had her own series

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Book cover of Betsy-Tacy

Betsy-Tacy

By Maud Hart Lovelace, Lois Lenski

Why this book?

They’re the fictionalized account of the author’s childhood growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota, and my mom introduced me to these books when I was about nine or so. She’d read them growing up and I reread them constantly into my teens and then every few years as an adult whenever I needed the literary equivalent of hot chocolate and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I realize these books are not in the genres I write, but inspiration doesn’t always come from obvious places. 

From the list:

The best book series that I’ve re-read at least a half dozen times

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Book cover of Cattywampus

Cattywampus

By Ash Van Otterloo

Why this book?

This is a hilarious romp following daughters of rival witch families Katy and Delpha as they come to terms with their magic, their families, and each other. As a Kentuckian, I loved seeing Appalachia depicted in such loving, real detail. And yes, there are some outrageous zombie grannies too. This story was such a breath of fresh mountain air.

From the list:

The best middle grade books with witches as heroes

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Book cover of Sawkill Girls

Sawkill Girls

By Claire Legrand

Why this book?

Sawkill Girls is so scary that I couldn’t read it before bed. In fact, I wouldn’t even bring it into my bedroom! But it’s also gorgeously written—eerie and atmospheric, with the most immersive worldbuilding. Its monster is terrifying, but the main characters—all girls—are so, so powerful. This is one of my top YA novels of all time. 

From the list:

The best YA books about girls battling monsters

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Book cover of Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days

By Jeff Zentner

Why this book?

Jeff Zentner’s writing is lyrical and beautiful and indescribably wonderful (although I just tried to describe it and failed). Goodbye Days deals in such a raw way with grief and regret—to feel the feelings instead of avoiding them—and learn to face hard realities without much support, at least at first. Check out Goodbye Days and all of Jeff’s amazing books. You will go on an emotional journey as his characters make hard choices and face new beginnings.

From the list:

The best YA books about broken people

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Book cover of Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom

Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom

By Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, Melissa Stoller, Kate Talbot

Why this book?

I love the sweet kindness of this book, and of course, the overarching message that with heart and compassion, we can build bridges connecting us together. This book focuses on three girls of different faiths who meet on the first day of school. They help each other through difficulties without ever thinking about their differences. What makes this book unique is that the three authors are each from the same faith tradition of the girls about which they write. How does this book demonstrate the healing power of kindness? Although there is no major trauma in this story itself, I…
From the list:

The best children’s books on the healing power of kindness

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Book cover of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim

Why this book?

Yumi is a girl trying to both please her Korean parents and live her own dream – that of attending comedy camp and becoming a stand-up comedian. I thought it was a fresh and funny take on the balancing act that many children of immigrants feel they must undertake. It made me think of the unspoken pressure I felt to study Science at university and how years later I was finally able to go back and study what interested me (creative writing!).

From the list:

The best middle-grade books featuring Asian-American/Canadian kids by Asian-American/Canadian authors

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Book cover of Summer of '79

Summer of '79

By Darren Sapp

Why this book?

The eerie Claymore mansion is the secret spot of mystery in this very suspenseful—yet still lighthearted and fun—novel by Darren Sapp. Thirteen-year-old Kevin and his group of friends become entwined in a summer mystery surrounding a decades-old crime. I loved this book so much because it was a perfect balance of mystery, friendship, and classic summer teenage antics before the advent of cellphones and computers.

From the list:

The best young adult books with secret places

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Book cover of The Prettiest

The Prettiest

By Brigit Young

Why this book?

I remember struggling with body image when I was the age of these characters. (Actually, if we’re being totally honest, I still do.) The main characters in this novel, however, triumph over the physical expectations placed upon young women by finding kinship and support from one another. The characters themselves are diverse, realistic, and smart. It’s difficult not to see yourself or the young people in your life in them.

From the list:

The best YA novels with girl MCs who are owning life

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Book cover of The Startup Squad

The Startup Squad

By Brian Weisfeld, Nicole C. Kear

Why this book?

This lively middle-grade fiction series hits all the right notes: an engrossing, page-turner of budding friendships, strong girl characters, fun competition, and diverse characters that readers easily connect with and relate to. Throw in a common childhood experience – setting up a lemonade stand – but amp it up just enough so it’s more than a lemonade stand...it’s a startup business. I loved that The Startup Squad is a fun read that also manages to introduce business concepts and practices like: idea notebooks, brainstorming, marketing, sales, location, and quality merchandising. Readers can be forgiven if they take their time getting…

From the list:

The best books for questioners, problem solvers, and you’ve-got-this-girl young readers and leaders of tomorrow

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Book cover of The One-In-A-Million Boy

The One-In-A-Million Boy

By Monica Wood

Why this book?

I’m recommending this because it will break your heart, and everyone needs that experience now and again with a book. It tells the story of a unique and unlikely love that blossoms slowly between a 104-year-old woman (whom you will learn to adore) and a young boy scout who calls to her house to fulfill one of his tasks. There’s a tragic twist early on that introduces us to the boy’s parents, and there are some lovely subsequent turns in this most magical tale. It’s the first Monica Wood book that I read, but I must hunt her down and…

From the list:

The best books on the messiness of life and love

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Book cover of The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor

By Yoko Ogawa

Why this book?

This is the tender and intriguing story of a brilliant math professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. The other main character is a young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. Each day, the characters are reintroduced to one another, while the Professor’s long-term memories open up new directions for them all, creating close bonds and a strange familiar unit. It’s a simple story but it has remained with me for some reason – perhaps because memory is so key to…

From the list:

The best books about memory and forgetting

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Book cover of Snail Crossing

Snail Crossing

By Corey R. Tabor

Why this book?

Snail is cabbage bound! The only thing that stands in his way is a busy highway and the fact that he moves…at a snail’s pace. Through his determination, he finds a way to be helpful to a colony of ants who ultimately find a way to return the favor.

This story has so much subtle humor and makes a great read-aloud. (My 5-year-old daughter cackles when snail tries to make “evasive maneuvers” to avoid a crow.) It teaches how you can be persistent, kind, and brave all while having a good sense of humor. In the end, it pays off…

From the list:

The best children’s books that celebrate the joys of friendship, exploration, and imagination

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Book cover of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

By Ann Brashares

Why this book?

I was teaching high school when this novel came out over twenty years ago, and it immediately struck a chord with me, and with my students. This story of a lifelong friendship and the pain that comes with growing up has so many great characters. But Carmen has always been my favorite. The relationship with her father, her emergence into the (literal) spotlight, and her willingness to speak her mind to her loved ones, make her, for me, the true heroine of this novel. One of my favorite moments is her surprise and wonder when the pants actually fit her,…

From the list:

The best YA books with fabulous plus-size heroines

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Book cover of Even Robots Aren't Perfect!

Even Robots Aren't Perfect!

By Jan Thomas

Why this book?

The robots in this book are cute and funny. In comic book format, a red robot and a blue robot get upset with each other but still maintain their friendship. In each of the three stories, the robots deal with misunderstandings, bad advice, hurt feelings, and apologies. The book made me laugh, which is never a bad thing.

From the list:

The best robot books for little kids with big-tech taste

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Book cover of The Okay Witch: Volume 1

The Okay Witch: Volume 1

By Emma Steinkellner

Why this book?

As someone who grew up on Sabrina the Teenage Witch in Archie Digests as well as the TGIF sitcom, I have long had a soft spot for stories featuring witches. As a kid, you always think that magic is the pinnacle of exciting! And that’s how young Moth feels, especially as she finds out that she is a witch. Except her mom has sworn off of magic and doesn’t want that life for her daughter…which I feel for Moth being extremely upset about it. She has to find a way to get in touch with her roots, learn about her…

From the list:

The best magical middle-grade graphic novels

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Book cover of All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky

By Charlie Jane Anders

Why this book?

I picked up this novel on impulse at a bookstore, and from the first page I fell in love with its clever, quirky blend of science fiction and fantasy. Two misfits, childhood friends, grow up to become a witch and a tech geek, respectively. Their slow-burn romance runs into problems as they both have to respond—in very different ways—to a gathering climate crisis. I adore the way Charlie Jane Anders writes about both magic and not-yet-invented technology with equal aplomb (but gives magic the last word). 

From the list:

The best fantasy novels about learning magic (that don’t feature Harry Potter)

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Book cover of Our Favorite Day of the Year

Our Favorite Day of the Year

By A.E. Ali, Rahele Jomepour Bell

Why this book?

Musa learns about holidays all over the world during his first year of school. His friends share their favorites from Eid al Fitr (Morocco) to Las Posadas (Mexico). A great book about exploring diversity and it comes with a special calendar in the back to celebrate with your kids at home. Musa reminds me of some of the children I met during my art residency in Morocco. 

From the list:

The best books to open your child's eyes to cultures from around the world

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Book cover of If You Ever Meet a Skeleton

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton

By Rebecca Evans, Katrin Dreiling

Why this book?

I love this book which teaches kids that scary things (like skeletons!) aren’t always as scary as they appear. Rebecca Evans, the author, is a friend of mine and does a lot of volunteer work to help other children’s book writers and illustrators, so I love supporting someone so involved and helpful! When I saw Rebecca read this book at an event, she had an adorable craft where kids could make skeletons out of gluing dry pasta to black paper—activity idea!

From the list:

The best Halloween picture books with cute illustrations

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Book cover of Court of Fives

Court of Fives

By Kate Elliott

Why this book?

Kate Elliott’s young adult series feels a bit like Game of Thrones meets Little Women (both of which I loved, so Elliott’s concept was a dream mash-up for me!). The protagonist, Jessamy, lives in a fantasy world divided by class, a domain where laudable competitors compete in a series of various trials and tribulations called the Fives. As a writer, I found Elliott’s world so well thought out and executed, but it was the Little Women elements of this series that most claimed my reader heart. I treasured the quieter moments between Jessamy and her sisters, who are all memorable,…

From the list:

The best speculative fiction featuring sisters

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Book cover of The Bachelorette Party

The Bachelorette Party

By Karen McCullah Lutz

Why this book?

This book has all my very favorite things: irreverent humor, wedding drama, crass women in action (think Bridesmaids), and some hot and spicy lovin’ with a very sexy young man. (Relax, he’s legal…but just barely). Considering this author co-wrote two of my favorite movies: 10 Things I Hate About You, and Legally Blonde, it’s no surprise that this book tops my list. 

From the list:

The best books for a hearty laugh

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Book cover of Break the Fall

Break the Fall

By Jennifer Iacopelli

Why this book?

I inhaled Break the Fall, set in the world of elite gymnastics. After an injury, Audrey is not only ready to return to gymnastics but does the impossible thing of qualifying for the Olympics. Finally, she’s on the cusp of achieving all that she’s dreamed of and trained for all these years. Everything unravels, however, when their coach is accused of sexual assault. Iacopelli does a gorgeous job capturing all of the highs and lows of this story, as well as the intensity of elite athletics. While we don’t typically think of gymnastics as a team sport, I was…

From the list:

The best YA books featuring badass sporty girls

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Book cover of All's Faire in Middle School

All's Faire in Middle School

By Victoria Jamieson

Why this book?

I used to love going to the Texas Renaissance Fair with my family every year and often imagined what it would be like to work the booths. I also used to tutor homeschooled kids when I was in high school and this graphic novel is a fascinating cross-section of those two worlds. Imogene struggles to fit in with the standards of a new school, something that happens to many kids who aren’t even part-time knights.

From the list:

The best graphic novels about middle school problems

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Book cover of Real Friends

Real Friends

By Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham

Why this book?

Friendships are messy and Real Friends tackles that fact head-on. Shannon’s best friend turns vicious and impossible to please when their status with the in-crowd is at stake. Having gone through my own tumultuous friendships growing up, it’s easy to imagine how readers can get involved in the arguments and take sides.

From the list:

The best graphic novels about middle school problems

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Book cover of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore

Why this book?

A friend only recently introduced me to this amazing, slight novel about two close friends who work together the summer they’re fifteen at the Storyland amusement park. With Moore’s beautiful descriptions and nuanced depiction of the complications of friendship and growing up, this is really one of the truest accounts of teen girlhood I’ve ever read, and it plays into my own fascination with amusement parks as spaces where fantasy and reality interestingly overlap.

From the list:

The best unconventional coming-of-age stories with quirky settings

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Book cover of The Horse Dancer

The Horse Dancer

By Jojo Moyes

Why this book?

Jojo Moyes is better known for writing romance than pony books, but The Horse Dancer has all the ingredients for the perfect pony book: a troubled but talented teen, a beautiful horse, and a dream of being the best.

Fourteen-year-old Sarah wants to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and join Le Cadre Noir French classical riding academy, but her hopes are dashed when her beloved grandfather falls gravely ill.

Suddenly alone in the world, Sarah is taken in by lawyer Natasha and her estranged husband Mac. Unfortunately, she omits to tell them she is the owner of a thoroughbred dancing…

From the list:

The best books that capture the bond between horses and people

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Book cover of The Breakaways

The Breakaways

By Cathy G. Johnson

Why this book?

A rough-and-tumble gaggle of middle-schoolers on the C-string girl's soccer team navigate first crushes, coming out, queer identity, and relationships – and being really, really bad at soccer. Johnson’s perfect ear for tween voices is matched by a frenetic art style that pops with crisp energy and a delirious, bouncy pace that rebounds around its panoply of League Of Their Own-esque characters like a soccer ball zig-zagging across its field. All the cheers, all the skinned knees, all the dizzying emotions and close friendships of the tween years come rushing back. 

From the list:

The best queer YA graphic novels to crack your heart in half

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Book cover of We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends

We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends

By Billy Baker

Why this book?

When I first moved overseas, I hadn’t thought about leaving my friends behind, or what role they played in my life. We had largely spent our lives apart, ever-connected if remote, and that seemed to fit us just fine. Then something akin to culture shock took hold and I needed them more than ever. They were there, in their Zoom boxes, and on telephone calls. I was reminded to check in with them often—to keep the good thing we had going.

From the list:

The best books to get you through troubling times

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Book cover of The Boy with Flowers in His Hair

The Boy with Flowers in His Hair

By Jarvis

Why this book?

This beautiful book blows me away. It’s an exquisite example of a picture book, where words and pictures work hand in hand to tell the story. Everyone loves David, the boy with the flowers in his hair. He’s the life and soul of the class. Until one day, something happens. Now David – quiet and withdrawn – is losing his flowers, petal by petal…

The Boy With Flowers in His Hair speaks to me on a personal level – I’ve overcome depression and recognise that feeling of losing your joie de vivre. Over the years, I’ve also examined the…

From the list:

The best picture books for teaching kids empathy

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Book cover of The Little Llama Meets a Unicorn

The Little Llama Meets a Unicorn

By Isla Wynter

Why this book?

Everyone loves llamas and unicorns so being able to read a book that combines these two beautiful creatures is amazing. Lila the Llama knew if she wanted to find a unicorn, she needed to find a rainbow, so off she went. The creature she found was incredible. Children will love the imagination, creativity, and surprise ending!

From the list:

The best children’s books that capture the magic of unicorns

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Book cover of Four Soldiers

Four Soldiers

By Hubert Mingarelli

Why this book?

Not strictly speaking World War Two, this rather strange miniature masterpiece by a French author is set during the Russian Civil War and tells the story of the friendship of four very different soldiers. It is very short – it only takes about two hours to read – but its perfectly-drawn themes of life stripped bare, of comradeship, survival, and futility will stay with you for a very long time.

From the list:

The best less-well-known books about World War 2

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Book cover of The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin

By Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López

Why this book?

This book really spoke to me because of this line: “You walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” It’s not only about class or race or gender, it’s about everyone being special in their own way and about learning to appreciate the uniqueness of ourselves and that of others. I wish I could’ve read this book as a child.

From the list:

The best picture books about new beginnings

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Book cover of Sweety

Sweety

By Andrea Zuill

Why this book?

Author-illustrator Andrea Zuill has created a gem of a character in the awkward naked mole rat named Sweety. Sweety wants to fit in with the others at school, but she also loves what she loves. She loves what others don’t always understand. When Sweety’s beloved Aunt Ruth talks about having been called a “square peg” when she was young, Sweety begins to understand about being different. She will have to find her people and wonders how best to do that. Maybe just by being herself.

Zuill’s humorous text and lovable, quirky characters make Sweety one of my favorite picture books…

From the list:

The best books on mindfulness and self-acceptance for young children

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Book cover of The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

By Ernest Hemingway

Why this book?

This famous short story of Santiago, Manolin, and the marlin requires several readings. From the Cuban seaside village where Santiago and Manolin tend their gear and talk baseball to the cerulean blue waters of the Florida Straits where Santiago struggles with the marlin, so much is happening beneath the surface of Hemingway’s sentences. Having sailed these same waters with the Coast Guard, I have seen their majestic beauty and can understand why Hemingway choose them as the setting for arguably his greatest work. 

From the list:

The best novels set in the Caribbean

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Book cover of Crystal Is My Friend

Crystal Is My Friend

By Shirley Gordon, Edward Frascino

Why this book?

What are the compromises you make when your best friend sleeps over? As the host, must you let your friend decide everything you do? This is a realistic story about friendship. Kids will understand the feelings that Susan has as she reluctantly lets her friend, Crystal, call the shots. It’s a lively story with fun, loose illustrations by Edward Frascino.

From the list:

The best picture books about sleepovers

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Book cover of Thank You and Good Night

Thank You and Good Night

By Patrick McDonnell

Why this book?

This is a lullaby of a book. Cozy all the way through. Three adorable animal friends spend the night together playing, doing yoga and the chicken dance, watching a shooting star, and, before drifting to sleep, giving thanks for the many things they are grateful for. The comforting sounds of the words are reminiscent of Goodnight Moon. The illustrations are graceful and simple. Patrick McDonnell is peerless.

From the list:

The best picture books about sleepovers

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Book cover of Each Kindness

Each Kindness

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis

Why this book?

Each Kindness, for me, is a modern take of the Eleanor Estes classic children’s story, The Hundred Dresses. In Each Kindness, a new girl comes to school, and no one--especially the protagonist Chloe--makes any effort to befriend her. Instead, Chloe and her friends actively snub her. Chloe learns an important lesson about “…each kindness--done and not done.” This story can generate thoughtful conversations in the classroom and at home.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books that address bullying

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Book cover of A Visitor for Bear

A Visitor for Bear

By Bonny Becker, Kady MacDonald Denton

Why this book?

Before I was a published author, I had a critique with author Bonny Becker on one of my works-in-progress. She’s a generous writer who knows a lot about creating characters readers truly care about. I love her comedic writing style and this is one of my favorite books. I love the persistence of Mouse in winning over curmudgeonly Bear in this unlikely tale of friendship. If you like this book, check out the other adventures in the series.

From the list:

The best picture books about bears, buddies, and writing. Oh my!

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Book cover of Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover

By Cece Bell

Why this book?

Cece Bell knows how to write for kids! This story definitely spoke to the kid in me from the ever-relatable sleepover woes to the cutest little details such as how Robot wants nuts and bolts as a pizza topping! The art and text is soft and approachable for early readers and masterfully crafted by a kid-lit giant.
From the list:

The best books about robots for kids

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Book cover of The Night Rainbow

The Night Rainbow

By Claire King

Why this book?

Five-year-old Peony narrates the story of her life in Southern France and the imaginary world which she creates with the younger Margot. Known as Pea, she lives in a rundown farmhouse, where her recently bereaved and heavily pregnant English mother sleeps most of the time. Bold and brave, Pea’s ability to cope with absent parenting is beautifully imagined. She looks after herself and Margo and makes forays into the community her mother has rejected. The language she uses and her understanding of the world is delightfully quirky.
From the list:

The best contemporary adult novels with young narrators

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Book cover of Jerome by Heart

Jerome by Heart

By Thomas Scotto, Olivier Tallec, Claudia Bedrick

Why this book?

The main character, a little boy named Raphael, loves his friend Jerome. And Raphael loves Jerome for good reasons – Jerome makes him feel protected, Jerome holds his hand, “Jerome always sees me, even when he’s with his friends.” Despite a little opposition from Raphael’s parents, this is the warmest of books about how sweet and life-affirming the love between two children can be.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books with LGBTQ+ characters

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Book cover of Something's Wrong!: A Bear, a Hare, and Some Underwear

Something's Wrong!: A Bear, a Hare, and Some Underwear

By Jory John, Erin Kraan

Why this book?

Jory John is a hilarious writer and this book is no exception. A bear forgets something but he can’t figure out what (it’s his pants). We see him in his white cotton underwear, but it’s never actually stated so while he mulls over the problem to other animals in the forest, the reader laughs waiting to see what will happen. No one tells him what the problem is. But his good friend, Anders puts on underwear too. He proclaims to the other animals in the forest that it’s cool and the new style. A dose of kindness goes a long…

From the list:

The best books about teaching kids kindness

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Book cover of Adventure Time, Volume 1

Adventure Time, Volume 1

By Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb

Why this book?

Okay, so Finn is an androgynous cartoon character but he’s the embodiment of childlike innocence, bravery, and self-sacrifice. I started with the TV series and fell in love with the characters and humor. (Ice King is my favorite and he’s basically the antithesis of a Gary Stu, so he balances Finn out nicely.) After finishing the 13 seasons on Hulu I started on the graphic novels. It’s definitely the weirdest cartoon around and the plot lines are kinda random, but there are so many gems. Watch the first season. If you don’t like it, then we can’t be friends.…

From the list:

The best fantasy books with Gary Stu protagonists

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Book cover of The Gift of Nothing

The Gift of Nothing

By Patrick McDonnell

Why this book?

The Gift of Nothing, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, happens to be one of my absolute favorite books. Nestled like a rare bird in between Captain Underpants and Star Wars at a book sale in an elementary school cafeteria, I made a gift of it to my wife, Seana, and in time the story of Mooch and Earl grew into a cherished part of ours as well.

Mooch (a cat) is looking for the perfect gift for her best friend, Earl (a pooch). She wonders, What do you get someone who has everything? It dawns on her. Nothing!…

From the list:

The best books on spirituality for understanding one’s life purpose and navigating grief

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Book cover of Oona

Oona

By Kelly DiPucchio, Raissa Figueroa

Why this book?

It’s impossible not to fall head over heels in love with the little mermaid explorer Oona and her sea otter friend Otto. The adorable duo was created by illustrator Raissa Figueroa who has this amazing ability to make all her characters completely irresistible and her environments rich with atmospheric colors and magical details. I can’t wait to see what adventures Oona and Otto go on next!

From the list:

The best underwater picture books for your little sea monster

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Book cover of Can I Play Too?

Can I Play Too?

By Mo Willems

Why this book?

Thoughtful Elephant Gerald and his playful pal Piggy are a pair of best friends created by Mo Willem, author of beginning-reader bestsellers Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. While all the books in the Elephant and Piggy series are delightful, Can I Play Too? gets extra points for dealing with disability in a sweet and clever way. Though a Worm who wants to play catch with Elephant and Piggy has no arms, our super-friendly heroes come up with an ingenious solution, and a new friend.

From the list:

The best books about best friends

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Book cover of The Scarecrow

The Scarecrow

By Beth Ferry, Eric Fan, Terry Fan

Why this book?

The Scarecrow is an emotional story about the unlikely friendship between a scarecrow and a baby crow. The story explores loneliness and the value of friendship. The writing in this story is gorgeous and the illustrations are simply beautiful. This, like all of my other picks, is evergreen and a treat for children and adults alike.
From the list:

The best picture books on diversity and feelings

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Book cover of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

By Ashley Herring Blake

Why this book?

Sunny is a 12-year-old with a new heart and new plans for the summer—have amazing experiences, find a new best friend, and kiss a boy. Sunny takes readers on one heart-racing adventure after another as she navigates difficult family situations, goes on a first-kiss quest, and learns to surf. When she makes a new best friend, she discovers that maybe it’s not a boy she wants to kiss after all. Three words to describe this book: humor, heart, and hope.

From the list:

The best LGBTQ+ books for children and young adults

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Book cover of Margaret's Unicorn

Margaret's Unicorn

By Briony May Smith

Why this book?

Margaret’s Unicorn is full of atmosphere and a feeling of place. From the golden, beautifully rendered light, to Margaret’s woollen sweater, the book is like a warm hug. The animal friend in this story is a young unicorn. Margaret, a girl who is adjusting to a recent move to the countryside, witnesses a ghostly, mysterious herd of migrating unicorns on her first walk exploring her new landscape. Moments later, she finds a baby unicorn who was mistakenly left behind. Over the year of waiting for the herd to return, Margaret looks after her little friend and experiences the seasons in…

From the list:

The best books featuring animal friends and creative, artful illustrations

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Book cover of They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End

By Adam Silvera

Why this book?

They Both Die at the End does exactly what the title promises. They both die. At the very end. Despite that, it’s a really beautiful novel. Rufus and Mateo both have a lot to teach the reader on their last day on earth, and plenty of time to fall in love before it’s over. It’s heartbreaking that they don’t get longer. You can read my other recommendations to mend your soul.

From the list:

The best gay books where no one dies at the end, and one where they do

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Book cover of To Night Owl from Dogfish

To Night Owl from Dogfish

By Holly Goldberg Sloan, Meg Wolitzer

Why this book?

An entire book group of girls decided to try sleep-away camp after reading this hilarious title. Constructed entirely of emails between anxious Avery Bloom (NYC) and gonzo Bett Devlin (Los Angeles), it’s about an unlikely friendship that is aided-and-abetted by the existence of the Internet and summer camp…and theatre…and love-at-first-sight…and unvarnished truth.

From the list:

The best middle grade books for a 5th-grade book group

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Book cover of Dream Friends

Dream Friends

By You Byun

Why this book?

Eight years ago, when I was living in Brooklyn and looking for direction in my children’s book career, I was lucky to know this wonderful artist who gave me a signed copy of her book. It’s been a great inspiration to me professionally, and has a very sweet story as well. It’s about a girl who has a ‘Totoro’-esque best friend in her dreams, and then uses that friendship to make a new best friend in real life. I can really relate to the new-kid-in-town anxieties around friendship, and I love the illustrations. The dream-like images and colors in this…

From the list:

The best children's books about the value of friendship

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Book cover of Bear Came Along

Bear Came Along

By Richard T. Morris, LeUyen Pham

Why this book?

After Bear falls into a river, which doesn’t know it’s a river, he’s joined by a series of forest friends, each of whom add to and enhances the group’s adventure until at the end, they have become friends in the community, all thanks to Bear’s misstep. The art is stunning, especially the use of color, which begins drably in the endpapers and ends up stunningly bright and light-filled. A Caldecott Honor book.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

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Book cover of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

By Claire Legrand, Sarah Watts

Why this book?

When I read this book, I was thrown sideways and bowled over. It is just so unique! The creep factor is ridiculously high, and it goes places that are totally unexpected and unheard of in a middle-grade novel. This is not your standard spooky tale, but rather one that will eat into your soul and give you series willies.

From the list:

The best spooky middle grade books

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Book cover of Amos & Boris

Amos & Boris

By William Steig

Why this book?

Of course fate could bring a whale and a mouse together, their bond of friendship lasting for the rest of their lives! In his matter-of-fact yet sparkling and stylish way, William Steig always made the fantastical seem unremarkable. I have given this book to at least five friends. Its quirky and gorgeous illustrations (by Steig, who was also a brilliant cartoonist) are as vital to the story as the words. Amos & Boris is just one of those books that does not condescend to young readers and is therefore as appealing to adults as children. I recommend it because Steig…

From the list:

The best children’s books about animals who become true blue friends

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Book cover of Takedown

Takedown

By Laura Shovan

Why this book?

If you thought competitive wrestling was just for boys, then think again, because this book is bound to suplex that idea into submission for you. There’s so much to love about Takedown. Laura Shovan gives us two stories in one with a dual-POV narration by Mikayla and Lev. Both are packed with tension, humor, and their own unique voice. Combine that with the added bonus of a gender-stereotype-busting story and you’ve got all the makings of an amazing book with a very powerful message. 

From the list:

The best books featuring non-traditional sports

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Book cover of Forever This Summer

Forever This Summer

By Leslie C. Youngblood

Why this book?

Forever This Summer is a lovely tale about the power of a family coming together in a tough time. Georgia, her Mama, and the happenings in and around the Sweetings Family Diner are relatable. As Georgia and her Mama look to help Aunt Vie, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, she learns her own family history. It’s a different take on the notion of memories. Aunt Vie’s memories are disappearing and being replaced by those of Georgia’s as she visits the people and places that made the women in her life who they are. 

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

By Ellie Terry

Why this book?

Calliope June has Tourrette syndrome to thank for her friendlessness. She doesn't fit in, at all. Lucky for her, she moves in next door to Jinsong, a popular boy who sees Calli as a puzzle that he'd very much like to figure out. Befriending her could have social consequences for him, though, so of course, it's a bumpy ride. Calli's chapters are written in verse. A lovely middle-grade novel.

From the list:

The best children’s books about friendship and the courage to reach out to others

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Book cover of The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

By Terry Fallis

Why this book?

I can understand why this novel won the Leacock. Fallis is brilliant. Brilliantly funny. And when writing about Canadian politics, no less.  

Having read this one, I went ahead and purchased every novel he's written since. I like some better than others, but I do like them all. As with Taylor's books, I read only one chapter a day. And underline the excellent bits. Again, at random … "… his face, well, was almost purple. The folks at Crayola might call it 'Violent Violet'."  

From the list:

The best books to make you snort your drink out your nose

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Book cover of The Bear and the Moon

The Bear and the Moon

By Matthew Burgess, Catia Chien

Why this book?

A dreamlike book about an all-alone bear who befriends a balloon. When the little bear accidentally punctures his new friend, he blames himself. And now the poor thing is not only utterly alone, but is overcome with sadness and self-blame. The delicacy with which this story treats the difficult topics of shame and self-blame is marvelous. Making a bad situation worse by blaming it on yourself is just so relevant to all of our lives, no matter how young we are and this book really captures that in an elemental way. The tender, emotive illustrations are a perfect complement…

From the list:

The best picture books for bringing on a tear

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Book cover of Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira

By Cynthia Kadohata

Why this book?

This beautiful, bittersweet novel tells the story of Katie; her sister, Lynn; and their brother, Sammy. Growing up in 1950s Georgia, in one of the few Japanese families in their town, the kids stand out and must struggle against prejudice, economic hardship, and Lynn’s eventual illness. What could be a bleak story is redeemed by Katie’s dry humor and the author’s portrayal of the deep bond between the children and within the family and the Japanese community. Lynn teaches Katie that however difficult life becomes, one must look for Kira-Kira—the things that glitter like the stars above. This book…

From the list:

The best books about bothersome brothers and sisters

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Book cover of A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education

By Naomi Novik

Why this book?

I would be the first person to die in a horror movie. Not from the villain. I would die from fear. I scare that easy. This is why A Deadly Education had me practically reading with my eyes squinted. And it was amazing. This book has a slight Harry Potter vibe… If Hogwarts was a prison riddled with monsters hunting the witches and wizards trapped inside. One of the best parts about this book is that it takes the “savior” and “villain” trope and turns it on its head. Not to mention the romance is one you will want to…

From the list:

The best YA books about monstrous creatures in present day

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Book cover of Many Points of Me

Many Points of Me

By Caroline Gertler

Why this book?

Another middle-grade novel that includes a journey in a search for meaning after grief, Caroline Gertler’s book is also about the beauty of self-discovery. In a search for her father (and his artwork) the main character Georgia finally finds herself...as well as healing, hope, and family. In the end, Georgia learns that “home” is where she belongs, with the people who love her no matter what. A story not only about grief but about unconditional love, Gertler’s novel is a lovely one for those wondering about a lost parent.

From the list:

The best children’s books about grief

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Book cover of Lenny & Lucy

Lenny & Lucy

By Philip C. Stead, Erin E. Stead

Why this book?

This is a lovely story about a young boy named Peter who has just moved to a new house and takes it upon himself to make two new friends from blankets and pillows and piles of leaves. He names his new friends Lenny and Lucy, and they are the guardians of the bridge keeping out the dark woods on the other side. As Lenny, Lucy, Peter, and his dog Harold guard the bridge and collect rocks, a neighbor girl joins the group, creating a real and true friendship that blossoms as they discover the woods are no longer dark and…

From the list:

The best picture books with a bit of magic and a lot of heart

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Book cover of Alone in the Woods

Alone in the Woods

By Rebecca Behrens

Why this book?

The dialogue between the two former friends seriously transported me back to grade school. On top of the authentic voice, throw in the fact that these poor girls are lost in a National Forest with nothing but their bathing suits. Ugh! My skin itches with bug bites just thinking about it. The writing is so good, it also manages to make the Northwoods sound like a lovely place. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books that feature an adventurous journey

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Book cover of The Last Bear

The Last Bear

By Hannah Gold

Why this book?

I love books that show a bond between humans and animals. Especially well-researched books. And this story certainly captures it all with a sweet encounter between a lonely polar bear and a girl. Between the environmental tidbits, the plight of polar bears, and also the unique storyline, this book should be on everyone’s radar. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books that feature an adventurous journey

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Book cover of One Day in December

One Day in December

By Josie Silver

Why this book?

I live a very busy life with four children, two dogs, an awesome husband, and a career of my own. If a book doesn’t pull me in right from the start, I tend to give up on it fairly quickly. This book sucks you in right away and keeps you turning the pages with fervor. It’s a complicated story about friendship, romance, and a young woman who thinks she has everything figured out, until she doesn’t, but then she does, and then she doesn’t. You get the gist.

From the list:

The best contemporary romance books set in Manhattan

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Book cover of Much Ado about Baseball

Much Ado about Baseball

By Rajani LaRocca

Why this book?

How can baseball, math, salty snacks, and Shakespeare fit together in one book? I’m not entirely sure, but somehow, Rajani LaRocca has combined these seemingly disparate elements to create Much Ado About Baseball, a delightful retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. This magical summer adventure features two equally lovable main characters, Trish and Ben, math rivals turned baseball teammates who come together to solve a problem. I love that there’s a female pitcher on a team of mostly boys, and I love all the connections LaRocca makes between baseball and math. Whether kids are baseball fans, math whizzes, or…

From the list:

The best sporty middle grade novels for athletes and non-athletes alike

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Book cover of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

By Sally J. Pla, Steve Wolfhard

Why this book?

This is the only realistic fiction I’m recommending on this list—and there’s a very good reason why. It’s wonderful! Pla writes a thoroughly engaging, charming book that manages both to suck readers in and, at the same time, destigmatize children who present non-neurotypically. Stanley is a loveable boy who, despite more than his fair share of challenges, manages to become the hero of his story in his own unique, delightful way. 

From the list:

The best novels middle-grade readers will love

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Book cover of Crenshaw

Crenshaw

By Katherine Applegate

Why this book?

I normally avoid reading books with an element of fantasy, but I loved this one by Katherine Applegate. Jackson has an imaginary friend named Crenshaw who is a giant cat. He hasn’t seen Crenshaw in a while but one day Crenshaw reappears to help him through a difficult time. Even though I knew Crenshaw wasn’t real, Applegate’s writing makes him come alive. This book will make you believe in magic and the power of friendship.

From the list:

The best books about unlikely friendships

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Book cover of The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish

By Ali Benjamin

Why this book?

Narrated in the present day with journal entries and flashbacks, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin introduces a young girl named Suzy who secludes herself after losing her best friend to a drowning accident. One of the best parts of this book is Suzy’s ability to deep dive into the wonder she has for science, particularly jellyfish, which becomes the spark for her finding her way back into the lives of the people she’s been trying to avoid. The reader experiences Suzy’s grief with her, and by the end, feels the healing and hope that comes from the support…

From the list:

The best middle grade fiction books with female protagonists who are curious about the world around them

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Book cover of Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down

By John Green

Why this book?

Green is a master at handling character-driven plots and complex interior spaces. Turtles All the Way Down is a spectacle of that skill, centralizing a teenage girl tangled up in some spiraling intrusive thoughts. This complicates typical YA things like dating, friendships, school, and some not-so-typical YA things like a case of a missing billionaire. Green’s mix of sobriety and hope for mental health is glacial water in a sweltering pressure for an immoral smile (especially from young women).
From the list:

The best novels with uncommon female voices (and a mysterious, mystical, or sci-fi twist)

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Book cover of Katie the Catsitter

Katie the Catsitter

By Colleen Af Venable, Stephanie Yue

Why this book?

In this purr-fectly irresistible graphic novel, twelve-year-old Katie wants to earn money so she can go to summer camp with her best friend and starts a catsitting business for her mysterious upstairs neighbor. The problem? The woman has 217 cats! And that’s not all...the cats have superpowers! And the neighbor may be a notorious supervillian! Talk about a tough job! I laughed, cheered, and crossed my fingers for Katie!

From the list:

The best middle grade books about kids starting businesses

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Book cover of The Murderer's Ape

The Murderer's Ape

By Jakob Wegelius

Why this book?

A real tour de force that for me was reminiscent of Phileas Fogg's adventures in Around the World in 80 Days. The story follows the life of an intelligent gorilla who although lacking the power of speech is an extraordinary, loveable protagonist. It is accompanied by black and white illustrations that feel like etchings and that only enhance the wistful and nostalgic window through which we observe this gorilla’s world and life experience. It's a lengthy book and so at first may seem like a big commitment especially as it is aimed at children (it also have some grown-up…

From the list:

The best books to escape reality

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Book cover of Grumpy Monkey

Grumpy Monkey

By Suzanne Lang, Max Lang

Why this book?

One wonderful day, Jim Panzee wakes up grumpy. Although he denies it, and despite the other animals’ attempts to cheer him up, Jim remains grumpy until the end. This book is a rollicking reminder that we all have emotions, and that’s okay. It affirms that we, as humans, (or monkeys, as it were,) are entitled to our own feelings. The book ends with a hopeful blossoming of a new friendship. Children will love the lively illustrations. It’s a fun read that sends an important message with a dash of subtlety and big helping of humor.

From the list:

The best picture books dealing with feelings

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Book cover of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

By Lenore Look, LeUyen Pham

Why this book?

This is the first book in a hilarious chapter book series that deals with facing your fears in a fun, kid-friend way. Alvin, who is afraid of everything from girls to elevators and especially school, channels his inner superhero, Firecracker Man, to brave the outside world. This book is great for both beginning and reluctant readers. I loved watching Alvin conquer his fears and transform into Firecracker Man!

From the list:

The best laugh-out-loud chapter books

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Book cover of Jada Jones: Rock Star

Jada Jones: Rock Star

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Why this book?

With pockets full of rocks and a purple-dragon T-shirt, science-loving Jada Jones makes her debut in this early chapter book series. When her best friend moves away, school is the last place Jada wants to be, until her teacher announces a project about rocks and minerals. The only problem—she’s in a group with two BFF’s who don’t seem to like her or her ideas. Readers will love reading about Jada’s journey to new friendships and becoming a fourth-grade rock star—setting her up for new challenges in subsequent titles. I love the fact that Lyons created a science-loving girl.

From the list:

The best laugh-out-loud chapter books

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Book cover of Sorry for Your Loss

Sorry for Your Loss

By Jessie Ann Foley

Why this book?

The first thing I loved about this book is main character, Pup. He’s the youngest of eight siblings and is trying to navigate the murky waters of adolescence in addition to his grief over the loss of an older brother. Unlike a lot of boys in YA, Pup isn’t particularly smart, talented, attractive, or socially skilled. He’s a “regular guy” in ways that I found incredibly refreshing and endearing. I also haven’t read a lot of YA novels about big families and I loved reading about the complex dynamics here. Pup’s journey toward healing and growth involves photography, and this…

From the list:

The best under-the-radar YA novels for people navigating grief or loss

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Book cover of Zinnia and the Bees

Zinnia and the Bees

By Danielle Davis, Laura K. Horton

Why this book?

This is a delightfully wacky book with endearing characters. Zinnia is having a bad hair day, literally. A hive of bees takes up residence in the wild and curly mane of her hair to add to her troubles—a missing brother and a mother who doesn’t seem to care. I fell in love with this book on the first page when I learned that Zinnia was about to yarn bomb a statue of her school mascot. (I’m a knitter and have fancied taking up yarn bombing myself.) Quickly-paced chapters alternate between Zinnia as narrator and the bees discussing their own perilous…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of bees (for ages 10-14)

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Book cover of The Girl and the Ghost

The Girl and the Ghost

By Hanna Alkaf

Why this book?

Alkaf’s book is, in her own words, ‘unapologetically Malaysian’. It also sweeps us into a mysterious, spooky, thrilling world, where a pelesit, a type of ghost bound to a person – in this case, a girl named Suraya – shows her that having your own familiar spirit might not always be fun. Pink (the name Suraya gives to her pelesit) risks pulling Suraya and itself into the darkness; can they save themselves, and one another? 

From the list:

The best middle grade books to sweep you into another world

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Book cover of The Lucky Dress

The Lucky Dress

By Aimee Brown

Why this book?

I enjoy a book that is easy to read and makes me laugh. The Lucky Dress is a story most of us can relate to, with heartache and triumphs. We see the main character deal with a no-good ex and follow her life where we meet her friends and family. She grows as a woman, though not without some bumps along the way.
From the list:

The best vacation reads about love and friendship

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Book cover of The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan

Why this book?

Percy is a New York City native, but his quest takes him on a road trip across the country to Los Angeles. I included it on my list because the bulk of his adventure happens at the places between New York and California, including a battle with the mother of monsters at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, followed by a long plunge into the Mississippi River. The group of teen adventurers also spend time in Denver, where they meet the god Ares who starts them on a side-quest. While the book doesn’t take place in a…

From the list:

The best young adult books set in midwestern cities

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Book cover of The Heart's Invisible Furies

The Heart's Invisible Furies

By John Boyne

Why this book?

This is set in Dublin from the 1940s to the present day. It’s the story of an orphan who struggles with his homosexuality and finding his place in the world. The characters are so beautifully drawn. They are eccentric, colourful, and unforgettable - and it is incredibly moving. I cried in the end, but in a good way. I was just so happy and moved. Do read it – you won’t regret it. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.

From the list:

The best beautifully written books with love at their core

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Book cover of Muffled

Muffled

By Jennifer Gennari

Why this book?

"How can I be me in a loud world?Amelia is sound sensitive. Even the smallest sounds, like soft footsteps, and gum chewing feel amplified in her head. Imagine having to deal with that discomfort each minute of the day? Gennari’s beautiful, detailed writing helped me feel exactly what daily life was like for Amelia, including her struggles to fit in at school and home. Mostly it made me empathetic to my soft-spoken, introverted students who deal with their outgoing classmates every day. 

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Pilu of the Woods

Pilu of the Woods

By Mai K. Nguyen

Why this book?

Mai K. Nguyen pairs really tough topics: grief, loss, and overwhelming emotions with beautiful and soothing artwork and a little bit of magic. When Willow gets upset and runs off into the woods she meets Pilu, a lost wood sprite. Together, Willow and Pilu help each other learn to deal with their emotions and find their way home. I love that the reader can learn alongside the characters without feeling like they are being taught a lesson.

From the list:

The best graphic novels that tackle tough topics

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Book cover of Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye

By Margaret Atwood

Why this book?

I do love a book that has someone going home to deal with past traumas and this, for me, is one of the best. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine is forced to confront the issues raised by being back in Toronto – namely being the memory of her former friend and subsequent tormentor Cordelia. It’s a devastating look at the relationship between bully and victim. It’s not always a comfortable read – especially if your school years weren’t all plain sailing – but Margaret Atwood writes it beautifully.

From the list:

The best thrillers that shine a spotlight on female friendships

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Book cover of Shiver

Shiver

By Allie Reynolds

Why this book?

Shiver is one of the best books I read last year. Essentially it’s a locked room mystery set in the world of professional snowboarding. Milla gets an invitation to reunite with friends from her snowboarding days, but they’ve not been together since their friend, Saskia, went missing. And then, as is the way with edge-of-your-seat thrillers, they can’t get off the mountain, the storm’s closing in and someone is watching them. The truth about Saskia will come out one way or another. Milla and Saskia had been competitors, rivals, and then friends. It’s a complicated friendship and a fascinating look…

From the list:

The best thrillers that shine a spotlight on female friendships

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Book cover of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher

Why this book?

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the reason I am a YA author. When I read this book, I was in recovery from an abusive childhood, and Chris’ authentic way of revealing characters’ trauma told me, “There is a place in the world for stories like mine.” I could write without looking over my shoulder; I could be fearless, true, and validate my own & others’ experiences. In my own book, I write in a raw way what it is like to have a binge-eating disorder and to be scorned for one’s size, because I have BED, felt shameful,…

From the list:

The best YA books about broken people

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Book cover of Skim

Skim

By Mariko Tamaki

Why this book?

Full disclosure: Mariko’s cousin, Gillian, attended my old high school, and part of the appeal of this book for me initially was the fact that I recognised so many details from that world. Kimberley “Skim” Cameron is a would-be Wiccan goth attending an all-girls private school that’s gone into high-gear mourning over the death of the boyfriend of one of its students. It’s poignant and perceptive and darkly funny, if somewhat angst-heavy. This was one of my earliest introductions to graphic novels and what the form can uniquely offer.

From the list:

The best books about smart girls figuring out hard stuff

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Book cover of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Why this book?

As a Texas native, the setting of Aristotle and Dante really resonated with me. I don’t read much YA these days, but I found myself in Ari and I think many others can too. I fell in love with Dante through him. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the slow burn of a first love, coming out without being a typical ‘coming out’ book, where they both live at the end. The audiobook is also fantastic, and narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda. Bonus points for POC main characters.

From the list:

The best gay books where no one dies at the end, and one where they do

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Book cover of Clementine

Clementine

By Sara Pennypacker, Marla Frazee

Why this book?

Okay, fine. Clementine—a not-so-common third grader—is having a disastrous week. But maybe can she find a way to make it better. Her attempts to make that happen, despite yucky eggs, being sent to the principal’s office, and making everyone mad at her will have both adults and kids laughing out loud. Once you read this first book in the series, you’ll want to read them all.
From the list:

The best laugh-out-loud chapter books

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Book cover of Highly Illogical Behavior

Highly Illogical Behavior

By John Corey Whaley

Why this book?

John Corey Whaley tackles a mental health issue in agoraphobia that is seldom discussed and seems to be even less understood by the general masses. One of the features of this book that makes me go back to read it time and again is how Whaley gives us a window into this heavy experience through his character Lisa Praytor, who goes through great pains to free her friend Solomon from his self imposed captivity in time to get him into college, in light and often comical prose that dances off the page.

From the list:

The best young adult books for raising mental health awareness

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Book cover of Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter

By Gary D. Schmidt

Why this book?

This young adult novel is a love song from a teenage father to the child he’s never met. He yearns toward her. He wrestles with the consequences of his past decisions. He wants a future that he can never have. I can’t tell you how much I saw myself, a middle-aged mom, in delinquent protagonist Jack. This book is real and visceral and doesn’t pull any punches, but the most important thing it does is remind us that the twin of grief is love. 

From the list:

The best books for when you’re grieving and need more than platitudes

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Book cover of The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

By Mick Cochrane

Why this book?

This is one of my absolute favorite books. It’s beautifully written, telling a compelling story about Molly Williams, who shared a love of baseball and a deep connection with her father through the long hours they spent talking while he taught her to pitch a knuckleball. When he dies in a car accident, Molly’s world falls apart. Her mother descends into depression, and communication between them stops. Molly slowly puts her life back together when she earns a place on a boys’ baseball team and builds friendships with her teammates. The power of this book lies in its central metaphor:…

From the list:

The best middle-grade books about girls who love sports

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Book cover of Tin Man

Tin Man

By Sarah Winman

Why this book?

Tin Man weaves the beauty and meaning of Van Gogh’s oeuvre into a background for a story that is written like poetry. Time is a main character who is sometimes kind, but mostly cruel. Separation, loss, and longing are themes that all people can relate to but when seen through the perspective of a character who identifies as LGBTQ+ it heightens and clarifies those human experiences in a way that draws a reader from any background deeper into an exploration of what the passing of time means and the consequences of ignoring the herald of each minute that ticks by.

From the list:

The best novels on what it means to be LGBTQ+

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Book cover of Little Robot

Little Robot

By Ben Hatke

Why this book?

A young girl, who appears to be different from the other kids in her town, finds a misplaced robot and teaches it the joys of nature (exploring, petting cats, skipping rocks, etc.). They continue to meet every day, and each day their friendship grows stronger. Eventually, the friends realize they are very different, and the robot longs to find more of his kind. 

The concepts are more advanced in this story than the others I’ve chosen. The girl is a loner who finds a friend she wants to protect by any means. The robot resists her protective nature because he…

From the list:

The best children’s books that celebrate the joys of friendship, exploration, and imagination

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Book cover of The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)

By Amy Spalding

Why this book?

Spalding’s book is such a fun read! It focuses on white blog writer and fashionista, Abby, who also happens to be plus-sized and wins the opportunity of a lifetime at her favorite local boutique. It’s there that she meets fellow intern and photographer Jordi Perez, a Latinx teen who makes that Los Angeles summer so much more romantic, creative, and sweeter. Add in Abby’s surprising bro-bestie Jax for some hamburger adventures and be prepared to swoon (and get hungry!) all around. It’s a great story of love and art, art and love, and how two creative spirits learn to intertwine…

From the list:

The best YA fiction on art, creativity, and chasing your dreams

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Book cover of Dumplin'

Dumplin'

By Julie Murphy

Why this book?

Dumplin’ charmed me from the first sentence. The beauty pageant culture, which seems at times both earnest and absurd, is the perfect setting for a book starring a sassy, smart, daring heroine who won’t be sidelined because of a little thing like size. I adore the band of misfits Dumplin’ gathers around her, the amazing drag queens, the homage to Dolly Parton, and the triumphant, realistic, hopeful ending. 

From the list:

The best YA books with fabulous plus-size heroines

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Book cover of Some Other Now

Some Other Now

By Sarah Everett

Why this book?

This story’s protagonist, Jessi, remains one of my favorite YA protagonists; she’s the sort of girl I would’ve loved being friends with as a teenager. And the Cohen boys… it’s no wonder Jessi is so enamored with them both! A poignant narrative centering around unimaginable tragedy, Some Other Now combines two of my favorite romance tropes: the boy next door and the love triangle. It’s a story about best friends, broken families, and love in all its fiercest forms, written with thoughtfulness and lyricism.

From the list:

The best YA romances that capture the magic (and angst) of first love

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Book cover of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

By E. Lockhart

Why this book?

Over the course of two years, Frankie grows from a girl who gets lost in the background to one who gets so frustrated by being dismissed and underestimated by the boys at her school that she takes matters into her own hands, wreaking mischievous havoc to create change. I love how this book showcases the stubborn gender inequities of high school in hilarious yet profound ways. It’s got a little bit of everything: friendship, romance, rebellion, heartache—and excellent pranks. Grrrl Power!

From the list:

The best books that make you remember what it was really like to be young

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Book cover of Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike

By Kate Hoefler, Sarah Jacoby

Why this book?

When I picked up Rabbit and the Motorbike, I didn’t know it had a death in it. I grabbed it for the beautiful cover and artwork. But the story inside deeply resonated with me, especially so soon after releasing my own grief book. Rabbit has a friend, Dog, who rides all over on his motorbike and comes back and tells Rabbit all his great adventures. Rabbit never goes anywhere but he loves Dog’s stories. One day, Dog dies and leaves his motorbike to Rabbit. Rabbit is mystified. Why would Dog leave him his motorbike? Rabbit never goes anywhere. But…

From the list:

The best books for guiding your child through grief

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Book cover of Exit Here.

Exit Here.

By Jason Myers

Why this book?

Exit Here. was one of the first exhibits of teen literature I studied on my journey to publishing. Jason Myers portrays college-age Travis with the weight of traumatic experiences and the loft of the future spinning in his head. Readers are brought immediately into Travis’ headspace, wherein they feel all the trauma, excitement, and uncertainty Travis experiences. Because I wrote my Edgar finalist book from the male point of view, I reread Myers shortly before drafting. It’s a great example of human fallibility.

From the list:

The best books with realistic teen characters

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Book cover of Stína

Stína

By Lani Yamamoto

Why this book?

This is a book that communicates a sense of childhood resilience that I adore, the style of illustration is paired-back and minimal with an aesthetic that is evocative and nostalgic. The story of a child who can’t bare the cold speaks to my own aversion to cold weather. Yamamoto depicts a child who is inventive and brave and overcomes her aversion by creating her own solutions to the challenges she faces and eventually she goes on to embrace the world. With diagrams and recipes, this book is a wonderful way of promoting intelligence and the creativity to solve one’s own…

From the list:

The best picture books that celebrate curiosity, nature and LGBTQ+ acceptance

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Book cover of Leo Gray and the Lunar Eclipse

Leo Gray and the Lunar Eclipse

By K.J. Kruk

Why this book?

The year is 2113 and Leo Gray is like any other normal science-loving boy. Except for his incredibly embarrassing family of course, who weirdly insists on living and dressing like it’s still 2013! Poor Leo has to wear century-old outfits and live in a house full of ancient clocks and TVs. Meanwhile everyone else zips around on flying cars and wears the latest electronic clothes. Leo is desperate to win a science competition so that he can attend the lunar academy on the moon, but his Dad is equally determined to keep him here on earth. Twists and turns abound.…

From the list:

The best space books that will launch your kids into orbit

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Book cover of Dungeon Critters

Dungeon Critters

By Natalie Riess, Sara Goetter

Why this book?

Dungeon Critters might be one of the funniest comics I’ve read in years. On top of all the great jokes and gags, there is so much heart in this book. Riess and Goetter have created a cast of characters that are so lovable and have such great chemistry that it makes me want to be a better writer. It’s truly a delight from beginning to end. Bonus: as a D&D nerd who runs a campaign for his kids and their friends, the Dungeon Critters band of adventurers fits right at home in my geeky little heart.

From the list:

The best books to hear your kids laugh out loud

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Book cover of Late to the Party

Late to the Party

By Kelly Quindlen

Why this book?

A contemporary YA novel, this book will still appeal to all the adults who can remember what it was like trying to figure out who you were as a teenager, how your friends fit into your life, and what it means to shake things up but still maintain who you are at your core. Main character, Codi Teller, is lucky to have two very close friends by her side through it all, but she develops an additional, unexpected friendship with cool kid, Ricky, when she stumbles upon him kissing another boy at a party. Ricky brings Codi into his world…

From the list:

The best books celebrating strong friendships

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Book cover of Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You

By Barbara Dee

Why this book?

As the title suggests, this book asks readers to think about how to tell when action is required to bring justice to a situation. Mila finds herself on the receiving end of unwanted attention from boys in her class, but her friends tell her she’s overreacting. What’s a hug or a touch from a boy? It’s all just playful flirting, right? But it doesn’t feel playful or fun to Mila. In the end, Mila sets the record straight and makes her feelings heard. The ending features a restorative circle, which is an in-school version of the restorative justice process Gabe…

From the list:

The best children’s books exploring ideas of justice and accountability

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Book cover of The One Thing

The One Thing

By Marci Lyn Curtis

Why this book?

This YA novel is a page-turner about an unlikely friendship that sounds crazy but just works. Teenage Maggie is blind until the day she suddenly starts seeing Ben, a ten-year-old boy. Ben is the only person she can see and over time they develop a strong bond. I love this book because I’ve had friendships with people who are 5, 10, and 15 years older than me. I’m a firm believer that two people don’t necessarily have to be the same age to share a special connection and this book delivers on that idea.

From the list:

The best books about unlikely friendships

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Book cover of Someday, Somewhere

Someday, Somewhere

By Lindsay Champion

Why this book?

I was dying to read this book because I'd heard it was structured after Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata for violin and piano, and even though it's not a piece I'm intimately familiar with I could almost hear the music as I read. Even though it's billed as a love story, it's not so much a typical romance as it is an ode to following your passions, listening to your heart, and falling in love with New York City...for the first time, or all over again. As a longtime New Yorker I found myself rediscovering the city through Dominique's eyes, and I…

From the list:

The best YA books about girls who literally rock

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