December 3, 2019

Gift books for kids and teens, 2019 edition

Each December, the staff who work with children's books here at NoveList try to choose just one or two books they believe could make a treasured addition to someone's bookshelf. Here are our picks out of the ones we read this year. They range from books for toddlers to teens and appeal to all kinds of readers. It's our gift to you.

For burgeoning graphic designers
You are Light by Aaron Becker; All ages

Contributed by Autumn Winters

This remarkable object from the mind of Caldecott honoree Andrew Becker proves that books can be art, inspiration, and catalysts for play. Ingenious die cuts allow the user to experience different colors of light shining through translucent discs. Minimal text pays homage to light's role in sustaining life on Earth in a way that's accessible to the very young. 

For tender-hearted kids:

Stormy by Guojing; All ages

Contributed by Lindsey Dunn

This wordless book by Guojing will break all but the most curmudgeonly heart. Muted panel illustrations depict a woman's gentle persistent efforts to earn the trust of a timid, tangle-haired mutt, shown hiding under a park bench with fearful longing. Through the course of days and one horrendous storm, the story meanders and escalates to a satisfying, heartwarming climax. 


For young explorers:

The Night Flower by Lara Hawthorne; Ages 5-10

Contributed by Isabel Crevasse

The wildlife of Arizona's Sonoran Desert comes together to watch the saguaro cactus bloom, a rare event that happens only once a year. Each spread displays the different flora and fauna of the area, but it is the lush and colorful illustrations that truly shine in this nonfiction picture book. 

For families who believe every day is worth celebrating: 

Saturday by Oge Mora; Ages 5-9

Contributed by Autumn Winters

With an emphasis on mindfulness and resilience, as well as the love between mother and child, Caldecott honoree Oge Mora's second book would be welcome at any holiday celebration. Mora's gift for intriguing composition and lavish color schemes makes the book one to pore over. Saturday is heartwarming, authentic, and an absolute treat for the eyes. 

For kids who love poring over pictures: 

¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market by Raul the Third; Ages 4-7

Contributed by Rebecca Honeycutt

Welcome to the Mercado de Chauhtémoc la Curiosidad, where Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé are busy making deliveries! The lively, bustling market is filled with velvet paintings, churros, comic books, piñatas, and more. Stylized illustrations feature fun visual motifs, as well as helpful Spanish labels to encourage language learners. 

For budding astronomers:

Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex; Ages 5-8

Contributed by Brierley Ash

Adam Rex's signature charming and witty humor takes on the celestial in this comical tale starring an unusual anthropomorphic hero.  After hearing the news that he is no longer a planet, Pluto takes us on an informative tour of the solar system with hilarious affect. 

For readers who love a surprise ending: 

Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima; Ages 3-7 

Contributed by Jamie Langer

Young Spencer decides to take his new balloon animal pet around town for a day out, but danger could be lurking around any corner! Styled similarly to a classic black-and-white silent film (complete with act breaks), this whimsical picture book builds tension without dialogue. Readers with a quirky sense of humor will enjoy each page turn!

For anyone wanting more kindness and empathy:

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor; Ages 5-8

Contributed by Suzanne Temple

In this heartwarming and inclusive book, multiple children -- each with a different disability or medical condition -- explain how they interact with the world. Readers are encouraged to ask questions about the differences they see. The children are compared – both in text and illustration -- to flora in a garden, the pictures displaying an array of cultural diversity. 

For readers looking for illustration-rich inspiration:

Maybe by Kobi Yamada; Ages 4-8

Contributed by Lisa Chandek-Stark

Readers who love getting carried away with fanciful and imaginative illustrations will fall in love with Maybe. The surreal story begins with a young girl holding mountains in her hands and later shows her hugging the nose of a gigantic polar bear. With a quiet message of inspiration, the illustrations take center stage in this whimsical book. 

For readers who love fantasy tropes (and poking fun at them):

The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz; Ages 8-12 

Contributed by Isabel Crevasse

Twelve-year-old Clementine has always known that she would inherit her father's title of Dark Lord someday, but as Clementine assumes his duties, she begins to suspect her magic is more of the good variety. The witty approach to fantasy tropes will appeal to genre-savvy readers, but the message about identity and community make the book accessible to fantasy newcomers as well.

For readers who love realistic school stories featuring misfit groups of kids:

The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty; Ages 9-13

Contributed by Brierley Ash

Journey through the school year with seventh-grader Eleanor who learns from the website of a Harvard scientist that an asteroid is scheduled to collide with the Earth in the spring.  Middle school is tough but prepping for the apocalypse adds a whole new dimension to the drama! Join a likable gang of quirky characters in this attention-grabbing and offbeat tale. 

For readers who dare to dream of dragons:

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill; Ages 8-13

Contributed by Jamie Langer

Young Rinn, a nonbinary child raised on the stories of Tea Dragons, discovers a dragon while exploring and tries to help him reintegrate into the community. O'Neill's illustrations are soft, colorful, and whimsical; and while this is the second book in the Tea Dragon series, the plot is accessible to new readers (with some Easter eggs that veteran readers will catch). 

For tweens who love whimsical worldbuilding with a dash of sarcasm:

The Crescent Stone by Matt Mikalatos; Ages 13-17

Contributed by Lindsey Dunn

Madeline's lung disease is only getting worse, so she takes a deal to be healed in exchange for a year of service to the Elenil. Jason, her chemistry partner and friend accompanies her, haunted by his own painful past. This socially conscious novel, filled with witty banter, is perfect for fantasy readers who enjoy clean yet sarcastic humor. 

For kids who have always wanted special powers: 

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner; Ages 9-13

Contributed by Rebecca Honeycutt

In this debut graphic novel, lonely outsider Moth Hush's dreams come true on Halloween, when she manifests magic powers just in time to fend off a pair of bullies at school. Moth's relatable awkwardness and her talking cat will endear her to tween fantasy fans, who'll be drawn in by this inclusive, thought-provoking story. 

For fans of Raina Telgemeier

Stargazing by Jen Wang; Ages 9-12

Contributed by Suzanne Temple

In this sweet graphic novel about intracultural friendship, Christine and Moon are both Chinese American girls who have become neighbors and best friends. However, their shared cultural identity doesn't mean they have everything in common. The story is based on the lived experiences of Wang, who grew up Buddhist within a largely Christian community. 


The contributors in this article are professional librarians who work at NoveList as metadata librarians, bibliographers, writers, and editors. 


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