Blog: Kids Lit Picks

kids picks

Sophie's Squash

written by Pate Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf

Ages: 0-7 years (approximately grades preschool – 1)

Have you ever seen a pumpkin or tomato you thought was so cute you wanted to make it your pet? Well, I know it’s not just me, because in this heart-warming story, a little girl named Sophie becomes inexplicably attached to a squash her mother intends to be a part of that evening’s meal. Bernice, the beloved squash, escapes the dinner plate and goes on to share Sophie’s everyday life attending storytimes, practicing summersaults, and napping. Sophie’s parents are very understanding and supportive of her friendship with Bernice, although they subtly hint that Bernice might make a better treat baked with marshmallows than a friend. Eventually, even the storytime librarian suggests that Bernice stay home from the next storytime, as she is beginning to look a little sickly. After asking a farmer at the market what it takes to keep a squash healthy, Sophie decides to make Bernice a warm bed outside in the soil and, after a long winter spent with a fill-in fish gifted to her from her parents, Sophie discovers that Bernice isn’t quite the same as she was before her long nap… but that now she has even more friends to love!

This sweet story will ring true with children (and their parents) who have made friends with an object that at first sight doesn’t seem so kid-friendly. Sophie’s character is realistic in her dealings with Bernice (tucking her in and wishing her, “Sweet dreams”), although perhaps Sophie’s parents have a tad more patience with her than readers would! The themes of time passing, losing a friend (or loved object) in place of something just as good (Ace the fish!) or even better (Bonnie and Baxter Squash!) are approached gently, not overbearingly, and in a way that would make sense to young ones. This touching tale is best suited for ages 0-7, or roughly grades preschool through first.



Doll Bones

written by Holly Black

Ages: 9-12 years (roughly grades 4-8)

Best friends Zach, Alice, and Poppy are adventurers at heart. They meet up after school every day that Zach doesn’t have basketball practice to write new and exciting stories for their doll characters, all of whom are under the harsh rule of Poppy’s mother’s very expensive, off-limits, bone china doll the friends call the Great Queen. Amidst a misunderstanding between the friends that pauses their make-believe adventures, Poppy begins dreaming about the Great Queen. After learning about the doll’s haunted existence, the three friends begin their last and greatest adventure… only this one is not make believe!

The Great Queen has always made the friends feel uneasy, and Poppy’s dreams expose that the doll is made of not just any kind of bone china, but bone china using the bones of a human girl who died under mysterious circumstances and whose father wanted to keep her as close as he could after her death. In order for the Great Queen to stop haunting Poppy and leave the friends in peace, the doll and the cremated remains inside of her need to be reunited with her father’s grave – three states away. On their journey, Alice and Zach begin to share Poppy’s haunted dreams, adults around them speak to the group as if there are four children instead of three and a doll, and the doll has the uncanny ability to not stay where the children leave her when they go to sleep for the night…



I Am...

written by Brad Meltzer
illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Ages: 0-8 years (approximately grades preschool - 1)

Number 1 New York Times Bestselling author of multiple adult fiction and non-fiction books, Brad Meltzer, has done it again in a whole new way! Wanting to give his own children books that featured real heroes for them to look up to, Melzer was inspired to begin the Ordinary People Change the World series, beginning with none other than the biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart. With their brief, fun outlines of our featured heroes’ lives, and their kid-friendly, cartoon-like illustrations, both of these little books are the perfect introduction to the lives of outstanding individuals that children will no doubt become familiar with later in life. Laugh along with tiny Amelia as she describes how “AWESOME!” her homemade flying machine is, and root for little Lincoln as he takes on ALL of the neighborhood bullies single-handedly.

Although both of these biographies touch on facts that you might not have already known, neither of them is by any means a complete biography. Amelia’s leaves out the story of her last, fatal flight, Lincoln’s lacks preserving the Union as a reason for the Civil War, and both attribute quotations (via speech bubble) to the individuals that may not have actually been said by them; however, the intended audience of ages 0-8 (roughly preschool – 1st grade), may not be ready to handle such heavy concepts, and the books serve their purpose as a fun stepping stone to further interest and investigation.



That is NOT a Good Idea!

written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Ages: 0-8 years (approximately grades preschool - 2)

Fox meets Goose. Goose meets Fox. One sees a strolling companion. The other sees dinner. After a lucky invitation to soup in Fox’s kitchen, Goose finds herself in the perfect position to make her family’s favorite dish. Meanwhile, a growing number of chicks repeatedly try to warn the unsuspecting victim of his eminent doom in this courtship. The entire narrative leading up to the conclusion makes readers believe Fox has it in for meek, innocent Goose when, in the end, it’s the other way around- Fox is outfoxed and the geese (mother and chicks) feast!

Styled after an old-timey silent film, with a snapshot of the main characters with their corresponding dialogue in an ornately framed black background, this Mo Willems tale has all the intrigue and surprise of his better-known Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie tales. This particular story is so fun because of the repetition of the chicks’ warning (as well as their growing number with each consecutive warning) hides the fact that the obvious outcome isn’t what readers should expect. The proof is in the first turn of the page when the Fox exclaims “What luck!” and the Goose exclaims “Dinner!” Because, you know what they say about assuming…




written and illustrated by Emma Dodd

Ages: 3-8 years (roughly grades preschool - 2)

This retelling of Cinderella is everything you’d expect from the classic tale and much, much more. Forced by her dreadful cousins, the Warty Sisters, to stay home from the royal ball, Cinderelephant meets her Furry Godmouse who ensures Cinder makes an appearance. Among the dancing hogs, gazelle, zebras and alligators, Cinderellephant stands out to Prince Trunky the lady he is least likely to squish while dancing. As you may have guessed, Cinderelephant flees at midnight, leaving behind a sparkly, pink stiletto that fits no one in the entire kingdom… until Prince Trunky finds his fair maid working in the hogs’ kitchen, and thereafter they live happily.

Although a run-of-the-mill retelling at first glance, Cinderelephant is chalk full of non-fairytale goodness in the form of rich vocabulary, various synonyms for “big”, and copious yet understandable word-play. What I liked best about this Cinder-story, is that even in all its glitz and glam and happy endings, the underlying message is that you don’t have to be the fairest of them all to get what you (and everyone else!) wants; as long as you are true to yourself (and are not as horrible as the Warty Sisters), someone will eventually appreciate you for being just that: you! A fun, enchanting story that will thrill those who enjoy classic fairytales and get giggles from all the rest. This tale is best suited for ages 3-8 years (roughly grades preschool through second).



The Dolphins of Shark Bay

written by Pamela S. Turner
photographs by Scott Tuason

Ages: 11 years+ (approximately grades 5 and up)

Dolphins have always been considered one of the most intelligent life forms. From their evolved methods of hunting to their complex social networks, dolphins are as fascinating as they are smart. The Dolphins of Shark Bay provides an in-depth look at a specific pod of dolphins in Western Australia. Janet Mann, a behavioral ecologist, has been studying these dolphins and their way of life for more than 25 years. The research she and her team have conducted has led to astounding discoveries, one of the most amazing being that some dolphins use tools in order to hunt fish. These innovative dolphins hook a piece of sea sponge onto their noses, prod the ocean floor with the sponge that then forces bottom dwelling fish out into the open prey. This inventive animal behavior is just one of the features that make the dolphins of Shark Bay so unique. This book also explores the social nature of these animals and provides new insight on the mother and calf relationship. The impact of fishing and tourism industries are also highlighted. This book provides new perspective on the cheery and playful animal we think we know.

Although the text is very content-rich, it never feels like a textbook. Readers will get to know these dolphins and their oversized personalities through engaging and dynamic stories. The vibrant photographs provide additional visual context to an edifying narrative that will engage the reader. This title could be used with the Common Core Learning Standards for informational text for grades 5 and up. The author also provides resources for further reading about dolphins and encourages interested reader to look at published research papers.



Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

written and illustrated by Bob Shea

Ages: 0-8 years (approximately grades kindergarten - 2)

Unicorn and Goat, best of friends! But not at first, no siree. Goat thinks he’s pretty cool –doing magic tricks, riding his bike, and busting a dance move or two- until Unicorn moves into town and shows him up in every way imaginable. What a bummer! Goat decides that Unicorn is obviously much cooler than he could ever be and resigns himself to eating a nice piece of goat cheese pizza. Unicorn walks his wonderful self on by and wonders what could possibly smell so wonderful. As Goat explains his ability to make cheese, Goat discovers all of the unique things he can do that Unicorn just isn’t cut out for (such as head-butting a soccer ball and climbing mountains). As a matter of fact, it sounds like Unicorn thinks Goat is pretty great! After the revelation that everyone is good at different things, Goat decides that he and Unicorn would be a great crime-fighting team and they become, well, the best of friends!

Bob Shea, author of the Dinosaur vs. books (as well as many others!), takes on the challenging topics of overcoming jealousy, discovering your own unique talents, and making friends in the least likely of places in his new Unicorn Thinks Hes Pretty Great. In this librarian’s opinion, he hits all of those targets with flying, rainbow glittery, unicorn colors. Illustrations are fun, colorful, and sway to the comic book/graphic novel side of the art spectrum with Shea’s signature, scribbly style throughout. This title is best suited for children ages 5-8 (roughly kindergarten through second grade) who enjoy Shea’s other funny titles, superheroes and crime fighting, goats, or unicorns.




written by R.J. Palacio

Ages: 8-13 years (approximately grades 3-8)

For the past two years, Wonder by R.J. Palacio has taken the world of children’s literature by storm.  Since its publication in February of 2012, Wonder has shot to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers List, has received countless starred reviews, and has been nominated for both an Illinois Bluestem Award (for children Grades 3 – 5) and for a Rebecca Caudill Award (for children Grades 5 – 8).  The Wall Street Journal has even featured this book as a “must-read for 8 to 80-year-olds.”  Why, then, has this book captured the hearts of millions of kids, teachers, librarians, parents?  Perhaps it is because of its powerful storyline.  Maybe it’s because of the relatable and memorable characters.  It could be because of its altruistic message: choose kind.

Auggie is a 5th grade boy who has been homeschooled his entire life.  Born with a cleft palate and other facial anomalies, Auggie endured many surgeries throughout his childhood, so his parents decided the best thing for him would be to be schooled at home.  Until now.  His parents think that he’s ready to start middle school, and after some resistance, Auggie comes around to the idea.  Deep down, he feels like an ordinary boy, but wishes the rest of the world–especially the kids at his new school–would see him that way, too.  On his first day, some of his new classmates give him a tour around the school.  Auggie thinks that he’s made a new friend in one of the kids, a boy named Jack.  He even finds a friend to sit with during lunch.  It seems that this transition might be not so bad.  But on Halloween when he overhears a conversation between Jack and a few other boys, Auggie realizes this friendship may not be at all what he thought it was.  And school no longer seems like the right place for him.



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