Blog: Kids Lit Picks

kids picks

Sparky!

written by Jenny Offill

illustrated by Chris Appelhans

Ages: birth – 8 years (approximately grades preschool – 2nd)

Our young protagonist wants a pet. After nixing the first few ideas (“A bird or a bunny or a trained seal.”), her mother tells her she can have any pet she wants as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed. And so, after a quick trip to the library, our protagonist gets a pet that fits the bill delivered via express mail: a sloth. After dubbing her new pet sloth Sparky, our protagonist (and her persnickety friend, Mary Potts) find that Sparky isn’t so great at normal pet things. He can’t really fetch or play hide and sneak (or dance on his hind legs like Mary Potts’ cat can), and lives up to his slow-moving, under-achieving nature at the Trained Sloth Extravaganza our protagonist throws to show off Sparky’s talents. Despite his shortcomings, our protagonist loves Sparky and comes to appreciate him just as he is.

With a quirky premise and engaging watercolor illustrations to match, Sparky! is a book that will capture the hearts of those both with and without pets. Filled with humor and lessons to let others’ opinions deter your own, as well as to take things for what they’re worth, Sparky! is an enjoyable tale that will resonate with those who enjoy Jon Klassen’s illustrations (Extra Yarn and I Want My Hat Back) or other pet stories such as What Pet To Get? or How to Train a Train.

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I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

by Malala Yousafazai with Patricia McCormick

Ages: 10 – 17 (approximately grades 4 – 11)

Malala Yousafazai is a young Pakistani woman who is a world-renown advocate for women’s rights and children’s (especially girls’) education. This Young Readers Edition of her autobiography, I Am Malala, takes readers on the journey through Malala’s life: her early quest for education, her war-torn childhood, the Taliban infiltration of her home town, the limitation of her freedoms, and ultimately the Taliban’s attack that made her famous across the globe. Not only do readers learn the history of Pakistan’s troubles involving the government and terrorism, both through Malala’s personal narrative and a Time Line of Important Events provided in the appendix, but this famous young woman is humanized as a sister who plays with and teases her brothers, a daughter whose safety is the utmost importance to her parents, a schoolgirl who is competitive to a fault about her grades, a modest girl of great faith whose favorite color is pink and loves Ugly Betty and the Wizard of Oz.

Beyond telling the incredible story of this 2014 Nobel Peace Award recipient, I Am Malala shows young readers that standing up for what they believe in is a noble and valiant cause. That although they may themselves be young like Malala, their voices are ones that are strong and can be heard as hears was. Although Malala was shot by the Taliban, she keeps the perspective that “…out of the violence and tragedy came opportunity.” Never once does Malala feel sorry for herself, or stop believing in herself or her campaign. Even after a brush with death and being relocated from Pakistan all the way to England for her own safety, Malala sees her life with bright, hopeful eyes that never leave her ultimate goal of every female’s freedom, and every child’s right to education.

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Extra Yarn

written by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jon Klassen

Ages: birth – 8 years (approximately grades preschool – 2nd)

In a drab little town filled with while snow and black soot, Annabelle finds a box of yarn in every color. She takes to the task of knitting a sweater, first for herself and her dog, to find that the box was still filled with the extraordinarily colorful yarn. She then busies herself knitting for her naysayers, her classmates and teacher, her parents and neighbors, and eventually covers the entire town (yes, animals, trucks, and buildings, too) with knitted sweaters. And still her box remains full. This amazing feat draws the masses to shake Annabelle’s hand, including a mustachioed archduke who makes Annabelle an offer she can’t refuse for her magical yarn box. Except that she does refuse, and the Duke deigns to steal the box and sail with it to his faraway kingdom. Upon opening the box and finding it empty, the archduke angrily tosses the box out of his castle’s window and curses Annabelle. As if to spite the greedy archduke, the box almost magically returns to Annabelle, and who lives (and knits) happily ever after.

Jon Klassen’s Caldecott Honor illustrations are true to his simplistic, cut-out style. Both the drab hues of the town and the colorful splashes of yarn are perfectly attuned to the story’s quite simple narrative, and often times seem to tell a story in and of themselves. Paired with Mac Barnett’s words, a true deviation from his usual plotlines, makes this a truly winning title. Those who enjoyed the simplicity of Pom and Pim or the whimsy of Sparky! will enjoy this Caldecott Honor title.

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Zane and the Hurricane

by Rodman Philbrick

Ages: 9 years and up (approximately grades 3+)

Zane Dupree is going to New Orleans to meet his long lost great-grandmother, Miss Trissy, the only family connection he’s got to his deceased father. Begrudgingly, Zane and his dog, Bandy, leave the familiarity of their New Hampshire home for the Crescent City. Just as Zane is settling into his visit, disaster strikes. The impending arrival of Hurricane Katrina forces Zane and Miss Trissy to evacuate New Orleans. As they are leaving the city, Bandy runs away and Zane chases after him. All alone and trapped by rising water, they are rescued by Mr. Tru, an aging jazz musician, and his young charge, Malvina. They hope to get to Algiers, a parish to the south where Tru has a relative that can provide help. Together, the trio embarks on an arduous journey filled with dangers in both natural and human form.

This is a realistic yet accessible story about Hurricane Katrina. It does not shy away from the harsher aspects of the disaster such as the racial tension, violence and atmosphere of despair that existed. However, it also shows that through adversity, we can discover new things about ourselves and what we are capable of. This experience changes Zane as he and his companions encounter both the highs and lows of humanity. The quick pacing keeps the action rolling and readers engaged with Zane’s dilemma. This title is a worthy read for the unique perspective it offers on a significant American disaster. Pair it with Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward for another take on Hurricane Katrina

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Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons

by Jon J. Muth

Ages: 0-12 years (approximately grades preschool – 5)

Koo, a curious panda bear, takes a trip through the seasons and the alphabet in modified haiku. Starting in fall and easily transitioning through the remaining seasons, Jon J. Muth's illustrations and poems find Koo in interesting (but sometimes expected) circumstances as he eats warm cookies in fall, stomps through snow in winter, explores a rainy terrain with flashlights in spring, and draws wonderful chalk art in summer. Although each of the 26 haiku accompanies a picture, the book as a whole doesn't necessarily contain a plot. The seasons (and beautiful watercolor illustrations) are what drive the story forward in a gentle, playful way. Each modified haiku contains a capitalized letter of the alphabet, starting at A and ending in Z, giving an added depth to the motion of the story. Readers can easily separate each picture and poem from each other for an introduction to haiku or the alphabet, or can look at the book as a whole (including the clever play on words for a title!) for more advanced reading. This story is best suited for children who enjoy poetry, the changes in seasons, or enjoyed Firefly July or the collected works of Jon Muth.

Find Hi, Koo! in our catalog.

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