The House in the Night

Words by Susan Marie Swanson and pictures by Beth Krommes

The House in the Night is one of my go-to baby shower gifts. It’s simple enough for the youngest readers to follow, and beautiful enough to stand up to many repeat readings without falling into tedium. All in all, a lovely, comforting nighttime read.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, Oregon
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.
 


Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors

Words by Roseanne Greenfield Thong; illustrated by John Parra

I saw this book for the first time in a kids store in Venice Beach, read the first two pages and immediately knew I would be adding it to my roster of books to gift.  There are several fun color primers out there (Eric Carle’s The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse, the Baby Lit Alice in Wonderland, and Pantone: Colors are also great), but Green is a Chile Pepper is my new favorite.  The words are set to rhyme, which makes it extra fun for little ones, and (bonus!) if you’re excited about a little bilingual action, it also includes a translation guide for the basic Spanish words included in the rhymes.

Available online from:

La Casa Azul in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.
 


If You Want to See a Whale

Words by Julie Fogliano; Pictures by Erin. E. Stead

To me, If You Want To See A Whale has the perfect bedtime story trifecta for kids under two: 1) Minimalist wording – appropriate for an infant attention span; 2) Soft, stunning illustrations; and 3) What my sister would call “a story of substance,” simple enough for little ones, but layered enough to bring new meaning with each read.  I’ve actually gifted this book to both adults and kids in my life and felt totally great about it.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Last Stop On Market Street

Words by Matt De La Peña; illustrated by Christian Robinson

Here’s my favorite line from this book: “The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.”

I mean.  Right?  The story is simple, but full of Matt De La Peña's rich, bold descriptions and textured characters, perfectly paired with Christian Robinson’s illustrations.  A new favorite gift book for the new parents in my life.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Nana in the City

By Lauren Castillo

I chose Nana in the City for this list because it's Lauren Castillo's most recent children's book (and a 2015 Caldecott honor book), but the truth is, I could've included any of her books here - they are all equally worthy.  Nana in the City's story is sweet and autumnal - a perfect fall library find or gift for the first day of preschool - and the watercolor illustrations are rich and lovely enough to make my Brooklyn-loving heart swell.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


All Four Stars

By Tara Dairman

What is it about reading deliciously worded descriptions of food that is so satisfying? For me, this sweet little book is right up there with former New York Times food critic, Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, or Richard C. Morais’s One Hundred Foot Journey on my list of hungry-making reads.  It’s funny and clever and full of rich, craving-inducing descriptions to send you running for your cookbooks.  I think this book would be an amazing read-aloud choice for kids just learning to experiment in the kitchen.

Available online from:

Book Court in Brooklyn, NY.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.
 


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

By Wendy Wan-Long Shang

It’s no secret that I love books that take on questions of cultural identity and engage with the challenges of trying to find our place in an increasingly complex world.  I don’t have kids yet, but if I did I would want them to read books like The Great Wall of Lucy Wu – books about where we come from and where we’re going; books that are funny and sweet and true, and help them to imagine the world and themselves a little more complexly.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack is for young readers who, like me, love an updated fairy tale that isn't afraid of a bit of darkness or the complex emotional landscape of its characters. Kelly Barnhill's writing is full of interesting, unusual characters that are made more endearing in their imperfection.  Not unlike life in that way.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
 


When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

In a way, When You Reach Me is a kind of companion novel to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, one of my all-time favorite books. I love Rebecca Stead's story because I think it's the perfect example of taking inspiration from a well-loved classic and writing something fresh and smart and thoughtful. This middle-grade time-travel tale is both mysterious and sweet, and most of all, it takes its readers seriously.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


My Most Excellent Year

By Steve Kluger

Here’s a true story about author Steve Kluger: Like me, he is a huge fan of Madeleine L'Engle, and like me he once wrote her a fan letter.  However, unlike me, he was brave enough to put his letter in the actual mail and then received this response: “I wouldn't be surprised if you grew up to be an author yourself."  

I mean. Whaaaat?  Guys.  La L’Engle spoke his future into being and I’m grateful because My Most Excellent Year is one of my all-time favorite reads.  It’s a story about family - the family we have and the family we choose - and what it means to belong to each other.  It’s about baseball, and first love, and Mary Poppins, and it has a trio of hilarious, impossibly lovable narrators.  It’s a good train, people.  Get on it.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

By Madeleine L'Engle
Adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

Here's the truth: Madeleine L'Engle is my most favorite author of all the authors. Her books have been defining and instructive in my life as a reader and as a writer.  I approached the graphic novel adaptation with a lot of caution and general anxiety. I was worried that no artist could translate this book in a thoughtful, creative, honoring way.  Thankfully, Hope Larson was more than up to the task.  I feel like this adaptation is perfect for younger readers who aren’t quite ready for the original prose version.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater

When I was younger, my siblings and I used to watch a lot of movies about kids who go on adventures with animals - movies like The Black Stallion, and The Man From Snowy River, and The Journey of Natty Gann (remember baby John Cusack? Because I do).  The Scorpio Races reminds me of those kinds of stories.  It builds on that comforting timelessness and adds a healthy dose of otherworldly creativity and wholly unique Maggie Stiefvater writerly loveliness.  Also, it has an impeccably produced audiobook read by narrators Fiona Harding and Steve West.  Read and/or listen asap.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.

 


Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

By Meg Medina

I feel like one of the hardest things to do when you’re fifteen (or really any age) is to figure out who you are and what you want, especially if you happen to be a person who defies first impressions and easy explanations (which is maybe all of us).  I always admire books about characters who press forward into that task even when it’s hard and complicated, and even when there are people who make it their business to wield an arsenal of meanness or violence.  For me, Meg Medina’s Pura Belpré winning novel is a meaningful look at all of these things, and it’s well worth the read.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


I Will Save You

By Matt De La Peña

Of all Matt De La Peña’s books, I Will Save You is my favorite (I think. Although it’s hard, Ball Don’t Lie is so good too!), maybe because it’s about so many fundamentally important themes – sadness and emotional inheritance and belonging.  The thing I’ve always admired about MDLP’s writing is his ability to fully inhabit a character’s voice in a way that is seamless and textured.  I think this kind of voice-driven story is sometimes what helps people fall in love with reading because it makes the characters feel real and present and alive - the kind of connection that makes us all feel less alone.

Available online from:

La Casa Azul in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, Oregon
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


The Legend Trilogy

By Marie Lu

Let’s be real: there are a lot of dystopian, alt-future, badass girl protagonist trilogies out there.  But, truly, if you haven’t read this one by fellow USC Trojan Marie Lu, you are missing out on one of the best.  Lu said she was inspired to write the Legend series by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  She wanted to explore a modern take on a relationship between a criminal and a prodigious detective, to which I say, YES PLEASE, because really, who doesn’t want to see Valjean and Javert in love?  And if that image doesn’t send you running for the library or your favorite bookstore, then Marie Lu’s writing, which is artful and sophisticated and accessible, definitely should.  You’re welcome.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Jane

By April Lindner

One thing I admire about author April Lindner is her audacity, because, for real, it is daunting to take on the Brontës, no? Perhaps the intimidating nature of that task is what makes a win here even more triumphant.  Lindner’s modern YA adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is interesting and cool, and I think that given the enormity of the task, she did a masterful job finding modern parallels to antiquated social mores (like, say, being a wealthy, aristocratic recluse in an archaic country estate. Or, you know, a governess to an orphaned French ward).  I love the idea of readers finding this book and letting it lead them to the original.  In that way, I think it works perfectly as a companion piece.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


How It Went Down

By Kekla Magoon

This story is important and timely, and Kekla Magoon’s intricate prose is as enviable as her ability to weave multiple narrators and their stories together to create a complex, nuanced narrative.  There’s something about multi-narrator stories that I’m always drawn to – maybe because it’s such an effective, tangible reminder that the world we live in is complex and flawed, and that we would all do better to hold as many different perspectives as possible alongside our own.

Available online from:

La Casa Azul in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Two Boys Kissing

By David Levithan

When I was in middle school, there was a small section of young adult fiction in the school library.  By the end of the year I’d worked my way through the whole section, and not a single one of them included even one gay character.  Today, I’m so grateful that this landscape is changing, and on my local library shelves I can now find books by incredible LGBTQ authors who are creating space for characters with diverse sexual identities.  One of my favorites is David Levithan.  He is the kind of writer about whom you say, “I’ll read anything he writes. The words are that good.”   I’ve been inspired and challenged and encouraged by many of his books, but I chose Two Boys Kissing for this list because it reminds me of that small shelf in my middle school, and that as a reader and a writer I am part of a history in which real, hard-fought change is possible and ongoing.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Why We Broke Up

Novel by Daniel Handler. Art by Maira Kalman

There are so many things to love about this book, but I’ll focus on my favorite. The marriage of artist and designer, Maira Kalman’s oil painted illustrations and the vulnerability and cleverness of Daniel Handler’s prose gives this book a dimension and sensory resonance that is a force to be reckoned with.  The letter-structure of this story is intimate and cohesive, and I think it’s proof that sometimes, God (and a great read) truly is in the details. 

Here’s a confession: nobody ever broke my heart in high school, and I always felt a bit of disconnect from those other kids whose high school relationships were as dramatic and passionate as they were brief.  Part of me always wanted to understand that kind of love that wasn’t forever, but was important and formative and affecting all the same.  I feel like this book gave me a little piece of that retroactively, so thanks for that Daniel Handler.  I appreciate it.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
 


The Young Elites

By Marie Lu

Yes. I know.  This is the second time Marie Lu has come up on this list.  What do you want from me?  She’s awesome.  The Young Elites is the first in her most recent series (the second installment of which was published in October of 2015). It boasts more typical Marie Lu writerly badassery, as well as a rich mythology and a team of complicated, emotionally unstable superheroes.  Get into it.

Available online from:

La Casa Azul in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


American Born Chinese

By Gene Luen Yang

It took me far longer than it should've to discover Gene Luen Yang's work, so hopefully you are wiser and better than me and have already been reading and loving him for years.  That said, even though I'm late to the GLY party, I couldn't be happier to be here.  American Born Chinese is creative and layered and funny, and there’s a vulnerability to it that makes it feel like a memoir. 

For more of the GLY party of awesome, you can check out his dual-volume story, Boxers and Saints, which is equally amazing.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Eleanor & Park

Here's the thing.  I’m almost 100% certain that this site is not the first place you’ve encountered Eleanor & Park. It has a laundry list of prestigious awards, nominations, and rave reviews to its name, and it certainly doesn’t need my help to get the word out.  However, this is a list of favorites – of books that resonated with me and left their mark – and no list like that could be complete without Eleanor & Park. I think it’s often very difficult to write about things like poverty and abuse with honesty and boldness and truth without falling into melodrama or pulling your punches, and Rainbow Rowell makes it look easy (in that not-at-all-easy way that requires an unimaginable amount of hard work and talent).

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Daughter of Smoke and Bone

By Laini Taylor

I would describe Daughter of Smoke and Bone as gateway fantasy – enough hard fantasy elements to earn the respect of true genre enthusiasts, but accessible enough for those of us new to the fantasy party.  The writing is beautiful and rich, and the mythology is complex without being convoluted.  I think author Laini Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit for building a world with an enormous scope, but still making it feel intimate and accessible and known.  Also, who doesn’t love a protagonist with jealous-making sapphire hair?

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Hold Still

By Nina LaCour

Hold Still is a story about grief.  One of the things I find so amazing (and also deeply necessary) about my life as a reader, is that fictional stories can find ways to articulate feelings and experiences that are sometimes very hard to talk about and equally hard to fight through alone. Nina LaCour’s writing is honest and hopeful, and her characters do the talking when we don’t have the words.  

P.S. If you want more LaCour, Everything Leads to You is also a lovely, sensory, decadent good time.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.

 


If Beale Street Could Talk

By James Baldwin

Sometimes when people ask me what kind of writer I want to be, I say, "I want to write with boldness." When they ask me what that means, I tell them about James Baldwin and If Beale Street Could Talk.  This book is rich and beautiful and fearless. It pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.  It's the book I am always chasing, somewhere far ahead in the distance, urging me on.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
 


Bone Gap

By Laura Ruby

Raise your hand if you love a little magical realism with your morning coffee?  Yes. Exactly.  Me too.  For me, Bone Gap is one of those books that is so intricately crafted and draws you in so completely that it's only after you're finished that you realize how impressive it is.  It also earned author Laura Ruby a place on the longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Available online from:

Book Court in Brooklyn, NY.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


This is How You Lose Her

By Junot Diaz

The thing is, I don’t subscribe to the idea of strictly defined parameters for teen fiction and adult fiction.  I think everyone should read as much and as widely as they possibly can.  That said, I do think that there is a season we all experience between our teen years and what follows, and for me, Junot Díaz’s books fall right into that sweet spot. 

You won’t find Díaz’s books on the shelves of the teen section, but I think they capture something about that transitional season that resonates with teens and adults in equal measure, and I don’t think any reader should get as far as graduating from high school without encountering his work.  I could say good things about all of Junot Díaz’s books, but I chose This is How You Lose Her because it falls into that borderland between short story collection and novel, challenging the boundaries of structure as much as it defies demographic limits.   

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
Kidsbooks in Vancouver, B.C.


Chicana Falsa

By Michele Serros

The first time I read one of Michele Serros' books, I felt such a visceral sense of relief to see someone writing with sharp truth and dauntless humor about the diverse landscape of racial and cultural identity, and the ways those identities are complicated by the perceptions and prejudice of the world we inhabit.  Chicana Falsa is a quick, concentrated, deeply personal navigation of this territory.  Highly recommended.

Available online from:

Abebooks.com


#GIRLBOSS

By Sophia Amoruso

I got a lot of books as gifts when I graduated from high school.  Most of them had forgettable, cringe-y titles like, "Putting Your Best Foot Forward" and "The Winning Attitude." #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, is the book I wish I had been given when I was seventeen.  It's funny and irreverent, and it's full of practical, no-bullshit, drop-the-mic wisdom.  Basically, it's a battle cry.  In book form.

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
 


Between the World and Me

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

When I think of real change that I want to live to see in this world, I think of injustices and atrocities that so often have an incredibly political face rather than a personal one.  What I want and maybe what we need, is language and a perspective that acknowledges the body and the person; a sense that racism - in both violent and quiet ways - happens to and is enacted and sustained by people.  People with faces and bodies and minds.  Between the World and Me navigates the landscape of racism in America through personal, visceral insight and connects that corporeal reality to a systemic political and social history, present and future. 

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.
 

 


Creativity, Inc.

By Ed Catmull

Truly, this book is such a good time. It's thoughtful, measured and interesting, and there are many fascinating stories about the history of animation and the creative process that Pixar uses to develop their movies.  I feel like it's a great read for anyone entering that season of figuring out next steps post graduation. 

I particularly loved this description of director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E and Finding Nemo): "Andrew was a writer-director with deep insight into story structure; he loved nothing more than stripping a plot down to its emotional load-bearing sequences and then rebuilding it from the ground up." 

For real, I spent days thinking on the phrase "emotional load-bearing sequences."

Available online from:

The Strand in New York City.
Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA.
Powells in Portland, OR.

All images via Goodreads