The Best Children’s Books of 2015 – Part One



Like Santa, I’ve also been working on a list – but my list is far easier to compile. Santa has millions of stockings to fill and cookies to eat….while my list contains only children’s book published during the past year – and I can write it from the warmth of my own home rather than relying on elves to keep things straight.

As soon as the calendar turns to January, I begin making a list of books that are worth another look at this time of the year. That’s the challenging part – so many wonderful books were published in 2015. If my heart skips a beat while I’m looking at the pictures or I finish the last page of a novel with reluctance (and a bit of sadness), the book is on the list.

The books will be shared during a program at the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell on Thursday evening (December 3) at 7:00. Buttonwood Books and Toys will be with us, and you’re sure to find the perfect gift for the children in your life.

I will also publish the list on my blog – in sections. Today’s list is a special category, books that are most often purchased as gifts. These are often oversized books full of beautiful pictures, interesting facts, or maps of places all over the world.


The Wonder Garden by Jenny Broom

A tour of five habitats: the Amazon Rainforest, Chihuahuan Desert, the Himalayan Mountains, The Great Barrier Reef, and the Black Forest.  This is not a research book – it’s an explosion of color and details. This is a book to spark wonder at the magic of our planet.


The 50 States by Sol Linero

I’m going to keep a copy of this entertaining atlas in our library’s browsing area. Those kids who want to know facts will enjoy this busy and detailed look at information about the 50 states – people and places and all of those important things like learning that the State Bird of Ohio is the Cardinal!


Historium by Jo Nelson

A companion to one of last year’s best gift books, Animalium, Historium is a gallery of objects from civilizations, mostly past but some present – like the Pueblo people. An introduction to the world of antiquities!


Atlas of Adventures by Rachel Williams

A trip around the world – from visiting penguins in Antarctica to the pyramids in Egypt. Cheaper than a plane ticket!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!










Two New Books for Two Year Olds…..

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Judging from the brightly-wrapped gift packs of hand lotion and Hershey’s Kisses that I saw at CVS last night, gift buying season is here and that means it’s time to go book shopping!

Occasionally I’m asked to recommend gifts for very young children – one, two, and three year-olds. Such a short period of time in a child’s life, but crucial to the development of their language and imagination. After you’ve read classics like The Carrot Seed and Freight Train countless times, you may want to put a few new titles under the tree – for your child and you!

Here are two perfect new books for children just beginning to explore the magic of turning the page….


Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd

Last year, one of my favorite new books was also by Lizi Boyd – Flashlight, a beautiful wordless book about a boy exploring the nighttime world with his flashlight.


Boyd’s new book, Big Bear Little Chair, is seemingly simple, but look more closely. A concept book about size, there is also a warm story to follow between the two bears.  Selected as one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2015, Boyd’s limited color palette – she uses only grey, black, white and red – make this a visually stunning book for young children.


A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell

A collection of poems from author Michael Rosen – each one of them perfect for sharing with a young child sitting on your lap. The rhymes are short and the joyful pictures are large. Fun word play and poems featuring favorite toys and animals make this the perfect introduction to the world of poetry.


Last week, during a class visit, I noticed this first grade boy looking quite comfortable. He had arranged the the chairs and pillows completely on his own. An impressive set up – I was tempted to offer him a cup of hot chocolate!



New Books About Starting Over….

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Teachers often ask me to recommend books about the contemporary immigrant experience, and fortunately, there is a growing selection of books from which to choose. For middle grade readers, the books that spring to mind are, among others: Esperanza Rising, Inside Out and Back Again, A Long Walk to Water and Shooting Kabul.

When a teacher who works with younger children asks for books to spark conversations about moving to a new country, I go to the shelf and pull my favorites: The Name Jar, My Name is Yoon, Good-Bye 382 Shin Dang Dong, and Brothers in Hope.  Now I will add two more:


My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

My Two Blankets is a story about the power of friendship. The young girl at the center of the story has one of the best names I’ve ever read – Cartwheel – a name that perfectly captures her vivacious spirit.  At the beginning of the story, Cartwheel leaves her African village and moves to a new country where she is understandably fearful and lonely. “When I went out, it was like standing under a waterfall of strange sounds. The waterfall was cold. It made me feel alone. I felt like I wasn’t me anymore.”  Cartwheel wraps herself in a metaphorical blanket and remembers the home she had to leave.  Her days begin to brighten when she meets a girl at the park – a girl who brings her the gift of words in the shape of origami. ¨Every time I met the girl, she brought more words. Some of the words were hard. Some of them were easy.¨


Freya Blackwoodś delicate watercolors extend the story. Cartwheel is always pictured wearing orange and gold. Her new friend wears gentle shades of blue and green. Soon, as the colors begin to blend, Cartwheel feels more comfortable in her new home and her blanket grows to include new stories.


Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and Leslie Staub

Mamaś Nightingale is about a young girl who learns the power of words to change lives. Saya, whose parents are Haitian, lives with her father in the United States. Her mother is, as Saya describes it, in a prison for women without papers.” As Saya watches her father write letters in support of his wife, she decides to write her own letter which her father sends to a newspaper reporter. Following the publication of Saya’s letter, a television reporter arrives and soon her mother receives a hearing before a judge who rules that Sayaś mother can return home while she waits for her papers.


One of the many elements that make Mama’s Nightingale so special are Leslie Staub’s illustrations, especially the recurring symbol of blue and pink nightingales. Brilliantly colored, the nightingales parallel Sayaś mother story: being locked in a bird cage, holding a key near the judge, and finally singing freely.

On a completely unrelated note – but too cool to be left out….

Inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, one of Inly’s kindergarten teachers worked with her students to make their own wild things…




Happy Reading!





Building Two Libraries!


These are exciting days at Inly. We are building two new libraries!  One will be regular sized and the other will be more fit for the Borrowers, but both are equally wonderful.

The central construction project is for a new library and innovation center that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016.  The maker space will inspire kids to imagine – and then give them the space and tools to make cool things or find creative ways to share their school work. The library and maker space will work together because we’re in the same business – encouraging kids to try things out.  Reading is all about trying new things with the added bonus of meeting inspiring characters, both real and imagined.

Admittedly, one of the things I’m most excited about is working in a round building. When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, I had the privilege of spending my days in a nine-story triangular building which looked out over Boston Harbor and the city skyline. It made my heart soar every day.


When the new Inly Library opens, I’ll be in a classic New England shaped round barn – surrounded by books and kids who want to read. Perfect happiness.



This is what it looks like right now. A bit of imagination is required!


Our younger students are enjoying learning about the building process….


The other library being built right now is much smaller, but it’s being built by our middle school students with the support of a talented parent. When it opens, Inly’s Little Free Library will work on the “take a book, leave a book” model.



New libraries are good news, but I’m mixed about a new bookstore that just opened in Seattle – Amazon’s first brick and mortar store.  You’ve probably heard about it. All of the books face outward and the prices are the same as those on the Amazon website.



If I could go to Seattle this afternoon, I would check out the Amazon store, but save my money for Elliott Bay Book Company, one of the best independent bookstores in the country.

Two pictures to brighten your day…..

A student reading three books simultaneously and using her fingers to mark her place. Emergency bookmarks were administered immediately!


During these bonus days of warm temperatures and beautiful color, a burst of red!


New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year!


Today is one of the best days of the year, not because of Halloween or today’s spectacular fall weather, but because the list I most look forward to – The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books – is out!  Here it is:


The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illus. by JooHee Yoon (a dark story about the futility of war)


The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic: The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli (This is one of the three books I correctly predicted for the NYT list!  A picture book about Robert Miller, a con artist who tried to sell the Eiffel Tower to scrap metal dealers.)


The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illus. by Patrick McDonnell. (One of two titles written by Mac Barnett on this list – a happy holiday season for him!  But the NYT distinction goes to the illustrator and Patrick McDonnell, the illustrator and writer of Me…Jane and A Perfectly Messed-Up Story, has delivered another gem – this one has adult appeal as well.)


Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illus. by Sydney Smith (My second prediction….a special gift for adults or thoughtful children. Lawson’s book is a quiet and moving  tribute to kindness and paying attention.)


Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illus. by Christian Robinson (A ghost story about friendship, illustrated by one of the most interesting illustrators working today. Robinson is also the illustrator of Last Stop on Market Street – another book that could have been on this list.)


The Only Child by Guojing (This graphic picture book won’t be published for a few more weeks so I haven’t seen it. But I’ve read lots of comparisons to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.)


Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (I don’t know this book – yet, but another favorite new book is Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, also illustrated by Tonatiuh.)


Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd (Boyd is also the creator of Flashlight, the first book I’ve ever seen to make the flashlight an object of wonder and beauty!)


Madame Eiffel: The Love Story of the Eiffel Tower by Alice Briere-Haquet, illus. by Csil (A big year for the Eiffel Tower!  I missed this one – situation will be remedied soon.)


A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, illus. by Sophie Blackall (My third correct prediction.  A story that follows the story of a blackberry dessert from 18th century England to the present day. There is an interesting discussion taking place about the portrayal of a slave woman and her daughter living in South Carolina in 1810. NPR’s Code Switch website posted an interesting story about the controversy. If you want to read more, here’s a link:

Happy Halloween – and Happy Book Shopping!




Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick



Fifteen years ago, when my son was only five-years-old, we took a trip to London during which we visited the London Zoo.  It was at the Zoo that I learned the true story of Winnie the Pooh. I had heard bits and pieces over the years and knew that A.A. Milne’s books were based on stories he told his son, Christopher Robin, about a “real” bear. But it was this statue that filled in the gaps:


Before Christopher Robin visited Winnie at the London Zoo, there was a veterinarian and Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourne.  While on his way to England during WWI, Colebourne purchased the small bear cub for $20.00 and named him Winnie in honor of his hometown, Winnipeg, Canada.  Winnie stayed with Colebourne’s regiment during their training, but when they were sent to France, Winnie was left under the protection the London Zoo, which ultimately became his home.

Now Colebourne’s great granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick has told the story of Winnie the Pooh in a beautiful picture book illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  Finding Winnie tells two stories: the story of Harry Colebourne finding the black bear who becomes the mascot for his regiment. And a second story about a little boy, Christopher Robin Milne, who visits the bear at the London Zoo.

Blackall, the illustrator of the popular Ivy and Bean series, strikes just the right tone. Her pictures of Harry and his bear are warm and affectionate.  Winnie’s eyes are expressive and sweet, but he’s portrayed as a real animal who grows too large to travel to France during war time!


Finding Winnie is the perfect story to share with young Pooh fans, but it will be most appreciated by older children – ages 6 to 10 – who can follow both stories and understand how they are connected.

If you’re an elementary school teacher, this would be a fun book to share with kids and talk about how (in 1966) a Canadian bear became the yellow bear wearing a red shirt!



The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Last night, as I turned to the last page of Laura Amy Schlitz’s new novel, The Hired Girl, I knew I would miss it, and today I find myself looking at the book longingly wishing I could re-enter its story.

The Hired Girl is about Joan, a 14-year-old girl who wants her world to expand. That could be the story of most young people caught between childhood and young adulthood. Joan is in that in-between time which is marked by intense passions, questions, mistakes, and dreams.

Schliltz’s novel, told as a series of diary entries, begins on a Pennsylvania farm in 1911. Joan has a hard life. Her beloved mother has died and her days are full of household chores for her cruel father and brothers. Joan is a dreamer though, and through the kindness of a teacher, she has read three novels which inspire her to escape.

She makes her way to Baltimore where she becomes a “hired girl” for the Rosenbach’s, a prominent and wealthy Jewish family. The first person narrative allows the reader to discover, with Joan, a different way to live. Most effectively, Schlitz addresses issues around money, class, education, and religion in a way that will encourage young readers to think about these issues in their own lives.

What struck me as especially honest about this book are Joan’s age appropriate missteps. There are moments of embarrassing recognition where I was absolutely squirming in my chair silently pleading with her not to do or say what she plans to – and, of course, does.  Joan  often says too much, acts impulsively, and makes misguided decisions.  But, above all, she is likable and genuine.

There are also places where Joan’s naiveté is quite glaring, and she expresses views (especially about Jews) that are, awkward to read today. The reader should remember that they are reading a historical novel and that the protagonist is a working class girl living in 1911. Joan has a limited education and little experience with people beyond her small community. It would be even more glaring if she reflected a 21st century world view!


Recommend The Hired Girl to mature middle school readers. When I was thirteen, I remember reading Little Women and wanting more books just like that one. The book I was looking for is The Hired Girl. And although I’m many years away from thirteen, Schlitz’s rich and rewarding novel brought back some happy (and embarrassing) memories of that age and provided a warm and satisfying reading experience.

October 21 –  I saw this ad today so adding it to post!