Blog: Kids Lit Picks

kids picks


written by Neil Gaiman

Ages: 10-14 years (approximately grades 4-8)

Neil Gaiman is known for exceptional works of literature--both children and adults alike. Whether you are on the edge of your seat reading one of his adult science fiction books or snuggling up next to your preschooler reading his picture book Chu’s Day, Neil Gaiman does not disappoint. If you have a reader who is in grades four through eight and might like to indulge in chilling fantasy tales about mysterious doors, lost souls, a companion cat, and singing mice, Coraline is for you.

It’s COR-aline, not CAR-oline…and she will be the first one to tell you that. Coraline is curious and adventurous. She also loves to explore the outdoors. One day Coraline is forbidden to go outside, so she is left to her own devices and decides to explore the house she and her parents just moved into. What she finds is a mysterious door, which is a portal into another world—another dimension—that is nearly exactly the same as her own world, but slightly off and intensely creepy. She even has a second set of parents in the “other world” who want her to stay in that world forever. But when her second mother goes back into the real world and kidnaps her real world parents, Coraline must figure out a way to defeat evil, save her parents, and get back into her world.



How to Train a Train

written by Jason Carter Eaton
illustrated by John Rocco

The kids of Glencoe love trains, it’s not hard to see. And now there is a book to help control the train bug: How to Train a Train. This isn’t your ordinary train book, though. After an overview of the different types of trains, this book gives step-by-step instructions of how to capture a train in the wild, house break it, and even teach it tricks like fetch and rolling over. From naming your train, to bathing him, to making sure your train is happy in his new home (“Don’t worry. You’ll know”), this book has got it all. By the end, you will have your very own lovable pet train!

A clever play on words in the title, How to Train a Train is much more than meets the eye. The expressive, full-page illustrations that depict each step of the “training” process are worth a second (or third!) glance, as the first one will have you rolling around with laughter. In fact, most of the humor in this title is found within the juxtaposition of sparse words on the page and their matching illustrations (“Start with a simple trick…” showing a train rolling over “then move on to something harder” showing a close-up of a ginormous train jumping through a hoop of fire held by a young boy). This book is best for children ages three to five years old who love trains, love pets, or just love a funny story.

Find How to Train a Train in our catalog.



Jane, the Fox & Me

written by Fanny Britt
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Ages: 12 years and older (approximately grade 5 and up)

Helene is a quiet, shy girl. Her former friends at school taunt her with insults, saying, “Helene weighs 216” despite her ordinary build and average appearance. Loneliness colors her world and fills it with bleak grays and muted tones of beige. Her only refuge is escaping into her beloved novel, Jane Eyre. Helene is inspired by brave Jane who, despite being orphaned and sent away to a harsh boarding school, still manages to grow up “clever, slender and wise.” The bullying at school is constant and Helene endures it until a surprise school camping trip is announced. This trip will involve swimming and Helene is dreading being in a bathing suit in front of her classmates. Her mother takes her shopping but all Helene can see is a giant sausage stuffed in decorative casing. During the trip, Helene takes her place in the “outcasts” tent and continues her strategy of social isolation. All is going according to plan until Geraldine bursts into the outcasts tent and offers warmth and friendship to Helene. Geraldine’s genuine companionship gives Helene newfound confidence. She realizes that the less she listens to the bullying, the less true the bully's words become.

This graphic novel takes on the issue of body insecurity and bullying in a way that is realistic and not overly saccharine. As the insults escalate, Helene retreats further into the world of Jane Eyre while still maintaining a droll and wry sense of humor. The gray-scale illustrations (by award-winning artist, Arsenault) convey Helene’s sadness and seclusion while depicting Jane’s story in striking reds and vivid browns. The progression of Helene’s confidence and self-assurance are shown through the growing use of bright, spring colors like green and blue. The beautiful illustrations work together with the honest and hopeful text to weave a redemptive story about the power of making connections. While this is an important message for everyone, it is recommended for readers grades five and up.



Xander's Panda Party

written by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Matt Phelan

Ages: 0 – 6 years (approximately grades preschool to 1)

Xander the panda wants to throw a party for only pandas. The catch? He is the only panda at the zoo. After some chewing some bamboo, he knows exactly what to do: invite all the bears to come, too! After the invitations go out, the koala bear tells Xander that he isn’t really a bear, but a marsupial, and he wouldn’t want to intrude on the bear party. Feeling silly for making such a mistake, Xander amends his invitation to include all the mammals of the zoo. That is, until the rhinoceros refuses to attend without his bird. This charade carries on until, eventually, all the animals of the zoo (even the humans!) are invited to Xander’s panda party, which happens to fall on the day that a new zoo inhabitant, Zhu Zi, arrives from China…

Written in perfect rhymes, Xander’s Panda Party creatively shows the advantages of being inclusive in a way that is fun and not overbearing. The watercolor illustrations give each zoo animal life, movement and personality that could easily stand alone. However, they work perfectly with the poetic story to create an interesting, light-hearted tale that is great for children between the ages of birth and six years who love animals and the zoo, or who are about to have a birthday party. Park includes an afterward with information on pandas, marsupials, and the rhinoceros/oxpecker bird relationship.



Feathers: Not Just for Flying

written by Melissa Steward
illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Ages: 4-9 years (approximately grades preschool – 4)

It’s spring, and all the birds are coming back from their winter vacations. Just look up and you’ll see them all across the sky. Have you ever noticed how many different types of birds there are, and wondered why some of them fly, some of them swim, and some of them waddle? Or how some of them live in the tropical oceans and some of them live in the snowy arctic? Feathers: Not Just for Flying, is a brilliant, easy introduction into the versatility of the many types of feathers there are on birds who live all over the world.

Each feather is presented on a scrapbook-formatted page with a detailed illustration accompanied by a large-print explanation of what the it does, often likened to an ordinary object that young readers are sure to be familiar with (ex: “Feathers can shade out the sun like an umbrella…”). Along with these big, coverall descriptions, is a smaller, seemingly handwritten blurb going further into depth about the science behind the feather’s function, and on which bird the feather might be found. With this wide range of presented information, Feathers is a great read for bird lovers of all ages, abilities, shapes, and sizes.



The Snatchabook: Who's Stealing All the Stories?

written by Helen Docherty
illustrated by Thomas Docherty

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

A beautifully illustrated woodland setting provides the enticing backdrop for this charming tale. Each night all the creatures of the woods settle into their beds for a goodnight story only to be interrupted by a tiny little animal, snatching their books! Eliza Brown, a rabbit living in tree burrow number three, confronts the thief, only to find out it is a wee, winged creature called Snatchabook. In truth, Snatchabook is not scary at all! He just longs for someone to read to him each night. Eliza Brown helps him return the stolen books to their rightful owners in Burrow Down. He apologizes to the owl, hedgehog, badger, squirrel and rabbit. After making a “wrong into a right”, each night Snatchabook is invited into some animal’s burrow or home for a bed time story.

This charming, enchantingly illustrated book is set in imperfect yet pleasing verse. It reminds of a series written in 1999, Brambly Hedge, of woodland animals in their forest homes. Snatchabook was first published in the U.K. by Alison Green Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Ltd. In 2013, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky of Naperville, Illinois produced it for distribution in the U.S. This story is a delight no matter what side of the pond you hail from.




written by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Ages: 7-10 years (approximately grades 1-4)

Ivy and Bean. Beezus and Ramona. Bink and Gollie. As a parent of a beginning reader, you may already be familiar with these humorous and light-hearted tales of family and friendship. But if you are looking for something new to entice your young reader, try Clementine.

Clementine tells her own story in this first-person narrated, realistic fiction book. She is an eight-year-old girl with spunk, a short attention span, and a fruit for a name. Although she is well-intentioned, things never seem to go her way. When she accidentally gets glue in her fourth-grade friend and neighbor Margaret's hair, she thinks that she has a wonderfully clever idea to help her friend out. Unfortunately, her idea involves a pair of scissors… So, you can guess what Margaret thinks of her new hairdo after Clementine tries to “help.” But what I really like about this series is that it is as poignant and sweet as it is funny. In this case, at the end of the book, Clementine makes up for her mistake by cutting off her own hair so that Margaret won’t be feel ostracized at school. The story is full of situations and scenarios that do not work out at all as Clementine plans.



Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! Poems for Two Voices

written by Carole Gerber
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Ages: 4-7 years (approximately grades preschool – 1)

It’s April and spring is finally here! Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? If your reader loves spring and poems as much as I do, they will go bananas for Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! Poems of all different rhyme schemes and meters describe many of the things you will find in spring: bugs, flowers, weather, and more! Hey, that sure does sound familiar…

Each poem is accompanied by a lively, cheerful illustration, which really brings the poems' action and the information they convey to life.
But it’s not just the spring poems or illustrations that make this read so special. Each poem is written specifically for two readers, printed in two colors that correspond with the person who should be reading, alternating between lines, stanzas, and sometimes words. At times, the two voices will read together, creating the perfect environment for sharing this book with beginning or strong readers alike. Together, readers will organically learn about the cadence of speech and rhythm of poetry. Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! can be enjoyed by the whole family, but is best suited for readers ages four to seven.



Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

written by Kate DiCamillo

Ages: 9-12 years (approximately grades 3-6)

A fitting companion to last Friday’s picture book pick, Sophie’s Squash, this week’s 2014 Newbery Medal winner, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, deals with a girl finding friendship in the most unlikely of places. Young, eccentric Flora Belle lives with her mother, a writer who seems to love a gaudy shepherdess lamp more than she loves her own daughter. While escaping the ever-present clack-clack-clack of her mother’s typewriter, Flora witnesses an astonishing event happen in the yard over when she looks up from her Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! comic book. When her neighbor (Tootie Tickman) takes her birthday present, the Ulysses 2000x vacuum cleaner, out for a test run, she accidentally sucks up a squirrel- holy bagumba! Using the emergency tactics she has learned from her favorite bonus comics, Terrible Things Can Happen To You!, Flora rushes to the squirrel's rescue and, upon his resuscitation, finds out that his trip through the vacuum has bestowed super powers upon him that include writing poetry, super strength, and flight. Flora helps the super squirrel (who she dubs Ulysses after the instrument of his almost-undoing) evade the murderous plot of his arch nemesis, her own mother. With the help of her father, who she sees over the weekends, and the most unique host of characters you’ll find this side of Oz, Flora finds out the true meaning of friendship, where her mother's love truly lies, and that being yourself is perhaps the greatest super power of all.

Highly decorated children’s author Kate DiCamillo (author of the favorite Bink & Gollie series among many other award-winning titles) has done it again with Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. What sets this story apart from this year's other Newbery honorees, and even from DiCamillo’s other works, is its part-written, part-illustrated take on this dynamic duo’s tale. The illustrations are reminiscent of a super hero comic (perhaps even Flora’s own Incandesto!) and helps the already quick and easy read move steadily along. The humorous depictions of the characters and events in the story brings everything to life in a way that only illustrations could with a story already as strong as this one is. DiCamillo's creative use of font, FACE, and s p a c i n g throughout the adventure is the cherry on this delectable treat of a novel, and is something members of the digital age will very much connect with. Perfect for both reluctant readers and those who read everything they can get their hands on, Flora & Ulysses joins my personal favorites for the middle grade crowd; ages 9-12 years or roughly third to sixth grades.



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