Best Children’s Books of 2018

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It was a pleasure to spend Sunday afternoon talking about the best children’s books of the year with Nancy Perry, the children’s librarian at the Norwell Public Library, during our annual program at the James Library. The rain made it a perfect day to be in a cozy room looking at books. Below is an abbreviated list of the books we talked about:

Picture Books

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (hands down the most beautiful picture book of the year!)

Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers and Genevieve Godbout (this would be a good gift to pair with movie tickets to see Mary Poppins Returns!)

The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Night Job by Karen Hesse (my favorite picture book of the year – a warm and beautiful story about a father and son)

Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan

Middle Grade

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun (four sweet graphic adventures about a little girl and her grandfather)

Gift Books

Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Lovely Beasts by Kate Gardner

Everything & Everywhere by Marc Martin

A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year edited by Fiona Waters

One book on our list came to life when Sophie Blackall, the author and illustrator of Hello Lighthouse, visited  Inly this past Friday!

And the best picture of the week…..a student waiting for her book to be signed!

Happy Reading!


Holiday Book Edition….


I love holiday books. There’s a big box of them under our guest room bed that I look forward to getting out during Thanksgiving weekend. When my son was young, we would read a different one each night before he went to bed, but even now (when he’s 23), I find myself adding one or two new ones every year. The cozy scenes, rich colors, and dancing nutcrackers can really brighten a dark and cold day.

Two new ones stand out this year:

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s too bad this book may be tucked away after the holidays because it’s a beautiful story for any time of the year. Based on the 1950s series All-of-a-Kind Family novels by Sydney Taylor about five sisters and their parents in New York City’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century, this new picture book about preparing for Hanukkah takes place in 1912. The story centers on the youngest of the sisters, Gertie, who is too young to help prepare the potato pancakes, but her father finds the perfect way for Gertie to celebrate the holiday.

Santa Bruce by Ryan Higgins

From the appearance of Higgins’ first picture book about a bear and a group of goslings who think he’s their mother, these books have been a hit – with kids and adults. The contrast between the grumpy (kind of) bear and the cute yellow ducks makes these books laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly sweet. Since 2015, there’s been Hotel Bruce, Bruce’s Big Move and now……Santa Bruce! As someone who is not a big fan of winter, I can relate to Bruce who “used to stay in bed all winter long and skip right through the whole business.” But the geese and the mice have other ideas – they want to celebrate Christmas!

Here are some of my other favorites…

The Nostalgic Favorite

The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry

Originally published in 1970 – and still in print – The Sweet Smell of Christmas was my younger sister’s favorite book. It’s a “Scratch & Sniff” story with the smells (using that term loosely) of hot chocolate, apple pie, and a few others. When we were little girls, the three of us loved this book, and I was under the mistaken impression that the hot chocolate smell was really good. It’s not, but the orange is nice. Just opening this book brings me back to my childhood.

My Favorite Story

Henry Bear’s Christmas by David McPhail

This is a cozy Christmas book with a good story that celebrates friendship and the holidays. Henry Bear loves everything about Christmas, especially the tree. But when he gets his heart set on a tree that’s being raffled, his “chances” of getting it aren’t great. The fact that he loses the tree because he’s distracted by doughnuts and hot chocolate makes this book relatable and incredibly sweet!  For reasons I don’t understand, Henry Bear’s Christmas is out of print, but check your local library or get a used copy on Amazon.

The Classic

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Every collection of Christmas books should include a copy of this one. Published in 1963, this is a cheerful story – perfect for the holidays. The hero, Mr. Willowby, buys a Christmas tree that, as he learns when he gets it home, doesn’t quite fit. He asks his butler, Baxter (it’s dated) to take a little off the top. The new “little” tree is given to the upstairs maid, but guess what!  You get the idea. Not necessarily original, but there’s a charm to this book that keeps in steady rotation.

A New York City Love Story

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares

Red and Lulu live happily in an evergreen tree, until….the tree is cut down and transported to New York City with Lulu in it!  The tree is on its way to Rockefeller Center where, after a challenging search, the birds are reunited. This is a good gift for children who have seen the famous tree.

The Best Christmas Book of…..2017!

The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen

This gentle and magical story deserves a place in every collection. It reminds me a The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. A perfect gift for kids who leave snacks for Santa’s reindeer!

A Stretch to Call it a Christmas Story….

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Technically, not a holiday book, but it would certainly not look out of place under the tree!  A toddler bedtime book about the joy of waiting for snow.

A Mix of Holidays and History

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon

Published in 2015, this book has become one of my favorites. It’s about miracles and a boy named Oskar whose parents have sent him to America to escape the rise of the Nazis. He arrives in New York City on the seventh day of Hanukkah which also happens to be Christmas Eve.

And a few others–

So many choices. The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Twas’ the Night Before Christmas come to mind as essential Christmas books. We own several versions of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, which we know as Twas’ the Night Before Christmas, but the one my son always requested is the Little Golden Book Version illustrated by Corinne Malvern.

A holiday gift note…

I’m about half-way through Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir. It’s an incredible story, thoughtful and inspiring. It would be the perfect gift for your friend, sister, mother, grandmother – any woman in your life. I was in the Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport last night and noticed it was not available. I asked the woman working at the sales desk about it, and she told me they were sold out. I am not surprised. I thought I knew Michelle Obama’s story, but it was just the biographical details. This is a book about hard work, genuinely wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, and love for family, friends, and country.

Happy Reading!






Picture Books and Little Books

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List season has begun!  The New York Times named its Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2018 last week, Publishers Weekly has released their picks for 2018, and I see lots of “best of” lists when scrolling through my email.

The NYT list is especially interesting. The books are chosen, in their words, “purely on the basis of artistic merit.” I can always count on finding one or two new books that completely escaped my notice and several that I expected to be on the list. The book I am happiest to see included is Florette written and illustrated by Anna Walker. It was published in February and we read it to several classes, but tomorrow morning, it is going back on display. Florette is a beautiful book.  Here’s a link to the whole list:

I’ve been looking at lots of picture books to prepare for my annual Best Books of the Year program at the James Library in Norwell. It’s scheduled for Sunday, December 2 at 3:00. Here are a few recent favorites:

Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth

Mapping Sam is a book that teachers are going to want to have in their classrooms – and the perfect gift for kids who love to figure things out. Sam is an orange cat who, after she “puts her family to bed,” goes outside to explore. As Sam travels, Hesselberth includes all kinds of maps to describe where Sam is going: anatomical maps (of Sam, of course), diagrams, the solar system, blueprints, charts, and more. Given that maps are not a part of our daily existence in the way they once were, this book is essential. It shows how maps work and encourages kids to see patterns in their daily lives. And Sam is an awesome guide!

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

This is a new picture book adaptation of the 1934 novel by P.L. Travers, and it is perfectly timed to read before the release of a new movie, Mary Poppins Returns (with Lin Manuel Miranda) in December. This new picture book, with bright and happy illustrations by Genevieve Godbout, is an introduction to the classic (while necessarily leaving some things out), but I’m thinking about a holiday gift: this book, a copy of the original Julie Andrews movie, and tickets to the new movie.  As Mary Poppins might say, it would be “practically perfect.”

Night Job by Karen Hesse

I love everything about this book: the relationship at the story’s center, the writing, and Brian Karas’s muted illustrations that complement the text. Told from the point of view of a young boy whose father is a school custodian, Night Job follows father and son through their Friday night routine. As his father sweeps and polishes, his son shoots baskets in the gym and reads aloud to his father in the school library. They also take a break to enjoy egg salad sandwiches before the boy falls asleep while his father finishes his work. For teachers, this book provides a spark to conversations about the work people do and “hidden” jobs that happen at night. It’s also a lovely portrayal of love and affection between father and son.

I usually skip right past the business section of The New York Times. I move directly from the front section to the Arts. But something caught my eye this past Tuesday: an article about the introduction of mini books.

The first time I saw the little horizontal books was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I was intrigued by the novelty, but did not buy one because it was felt awkward to flip the pages up rather than over – and because I don’t speak or read Dutch. But now….they are being issued here. I began reading the NYT story which explains that Julie Strauss-Gabel, the president of Dutton Books, also saw them at an airport in the Netherlands. According to the article, she “started a mission to figure out how we could do that here.”  Dutton is releasing four novels by John Green this month.

If you want to learn more, here’s the link to the article:

I just ordered one. It will be fun to show my middle school students. Perhaps, less stuck on the traditional book format, they will be open to a new way of reading. I’m curious to hear their reaction. The $10.00 was worth it to start a conversation about how they read.

Don’t forget to vote!

Winnie-the-Pooh in Boston – and Two Notable New Books

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When Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring A Classic was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in early 2018, I was sorry to miss it. It was winter, and a trip to London was not in the plans, but I was desperate to see the exhibit and ordered the catalog as a beautiful – but not quite the same – substitution. Later, when I read that it was being shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was thrilled.  In fact, I was quite possibly the first person to order member tickets the day they became available!

As much as I love A.A. Milne’s stories, it was the iconic drawings by E.H. Shepard that I most looked forward to seeing. I have admired Shepard’s work for many years. His drawings bring The Wind in the Willow’s characters to life – when I picture Mr. Toad in his fancy driving clothes or Ratty and Mole talking by the fireside, I am thinking of this:

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories are so deeply entwined with Shepard’s drawings that when most of us think of Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore, we are imagining the humorous, warm, and emotionally honest drawings by Ernest Shepard. Piglet could not be Piglet without his small frame next to Pooh’s cozy and round body.


The exhibit was lovely. We were in line at 9:30 for the 10:00 opening, and it was relatively quiet. As we left the museum, there was a sign announcing that tickets were no longer available for that day. If you plan to go, I strongly recommend consulting the MFA’s website for information first.  (

This fall’s new and notable books for children include two that are among the best in their categories – and books I will recommend regularly to kids and teachers:

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee is a picture book by one of the smartest and most creative people in the children’s book world.

I remember reading The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau, one of Agee’s early picture books for the first time and beginning to look for everything by him. Since then, I’ve been a big fan of all of his books, especially Milo’s Hat Trick and Life on Mars.  His new book is funny and intelligent – and timely. A small knight is determined to fix a wall that runs down the gutter of the book. He’s certain there are dangers on the other side of the wall: “The wall protects this side of the book….from the other side of the book.”  But it soon becomes clear there are dangers on his side of the wall of which he’s completely unaware.

There are lots of opportunities for discussion with this book. Younger kids will enjoy it, but older students might be encouraged to ask about perspectives and perceived dangers.

Last week I wrote about a picture book by Kallie George called Goodnight, Anne. The author was clearly inspired by Anne of Green Gables because she has also written the first installment of a new early chapter book series: Anne Arrives. The plot follows Anne’s story of arriving at Green Gables making it a lovely introduction to the classic novel. The illustrations by Abigail Halpin are beautiful and capture the spirit of L.M. Montgomery’s novel perfectly. This would be a lovely gift for a young reader who is ready for a new – and special – series.

Next week is the fall book fair so I’ll see lots of happy book shoppers in the week ahead. With the help of our dedicated volunteers, we set everything up on Friday. All is ready for Tuesday morning at 8:00:


Finally, a tribute to the classic picture book, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, by the students in one of Inly’s Upper Elementary classrooms….


Happy Reading!


Two Radiant New Picture Books….

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I’m sometimes tempted to add picture books to my stack of favorite art books – they are that beautiful. The two that arrived this week belong in that category, both of them gentle and absolutely stunning.

Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a companion to Green, Seeger’s 2012 Caldecott Honor Book. Beginning with the spectacular cover, Blue is drenched in various shades of blue – sometimes the vivid colors feel like they could come off on your hands. Beyond the color, there is a sweet story of a boy and his dog. As the pages turn, the two of them grow older together until, inevitably, the boy is “blue” at the loss of his friend. There is a sweet ending though, as the boy meets a new friend – and her dog.

Goodnight, Anne by Kallie George and illustrations by Genevieve Godbout is inspired by Anne of Green Gables.  The story is simple: Marilla asks Anne to go to bed, but Anne has other plans: “I always say goodnight to everyone I love.” She then finds all of her favorite people and places in her life: Matthew, Diana (her “bosom friend”), and Gilbert among them. At first, I wondered if this book would mean anything to a child who has not read Anne of Green Gables, but I don’t think it matters. I love Goodnight, Anne because I love the novel that inspired it, but Godbout’s illustrations so beautifully capture Anne’s joy that it will appeal to any child getting ready for bed.

On a completely different note…..

Tommy Orange, the author of There There, is coming to Inly on October 25

Tommy Orange, author of the New York Times bestselling novel There There, a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about a side of America few of us have ever seen: the lives of urban Native Americans. There There, Orange’s debut novel is on the longlist for the 2018 National Book Award.

Open to the public, the event will begin with a reading by Tommy. There There tackles issues of identity and belonging for Native people living in urban environments and battles against the monolithic stereotype often applied to Native people and their culture. The reading will be followed by a conversational-style interview, hosted by Boston Globe Correspondent, author and carpenter, Nina MacLaughlin, and will explore issues of Native struggles, the Native renaissance, what it means to be Native today and Tommy’s own experiences growing up Native in a big city.

For more information and tickets:

Grace Lin, Fred Rogers, Anne Frank, and a Little Bear…


This past Friday was a gold star day – literally – when Grace Lin visited Inly.  She was there to talk about her beautiful new picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, wearing a sweater full of stars in a library our students had decorated with shiny moons and stars. It was especially wonderful to see our students so excited to meet a favorite author. One of them made a sign to welcome her, one of her biggest fans introduced her, and she signed lots of books.

After talking with our younger students about her picture book, she talked with a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who recently read her middle grade novel, Dumpling Days.

It was one of those special days in the Library and a wonderful way to begin a new year of reading.

Beyond the Mooncake….

On Friday, the Google banner was a tribute to Mr. Rogers on the 51st anniversary of the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Most of our students have never seen an episode of Mr. Rogers, but there was a group of 3rd graders in the Library, and I called them over to watch Google’s short animated video.

I wondered if it would hold their attention. Here is what I saw:

Scrolling through Instagram last week, I saw this post from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I love what Anne’s father said about Anne attending a Montessori school:

There’s a new book on my “to recommend” list, especially as we get closer to the holidays and parents of young children ask me for gift ideas. Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther is described as a “modern fairytale storybook,” and it is certainly magic. It looks like an old fashioned story book that you might be thrilled to discover in a used bookstore. But there’s also a freshness and brightness to it that makes me keep looking at it. Look at this drawing on the back cover. The colors are so interesting – that blue moon!

The premise is that Little Bear asks Mother Bear for three stories before going to sleep. Mother Bear obliges with three distinctive stories that are a bit quirky, but comforting. My favorite is the story about a man who goes swimming with his clothes on before he can sleep. You have to read it.

And finally – my favorite library picture from last week:



My Favorite Books About….Friendship


One of the best parts of a new school year is meeting new students. As I talk with them, I’m doing all of my “remembering names tricks” so the next time they visit the library, I can greet them. New students are wonderful. They change the social dynamic and bring fresh energy and experiences into their classrooms. The teachers are wonderful about integrating new kids into their rooms, but I’m sure the primary “work of the child” (to use a Montessori term) is to make friends. That work, learning how to interact with other kids, must take up most of their energy during these first few weeks.

Kids don’t want manuals about how to be a friend. They deserve stories about kids with real emotions, not didactic books about “what to say.”  The ten books listed below show the power of friendship:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (Amos is a reliable zookeeper who makes time to play chess with an elephant. When he gets a cold, his devoted friends visit Amos and care for him. This is one of the most perfect evocations of friendship in any book for children. A must-have in every child’s school or home library.)

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (Everything Oliver Jeffers does is wonderful, but this one is my favorite. A penguin gets lost in quite dramatic fashion. Supposed to be on the South Pole, he ends up on a boy’s suburban doorstep. The boy finds a way – through storms and waves – to bring his new friend home.)

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (Nearly 50 years since they appeared, Frog and Toad remain essential to any collection of stories about friends. My favorite story is “Ice Cream” which appears on page 30 of Frog and Toad All Year.)

Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems (Hands down, the most popular books in Inly’s Library, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 are happy to read them – multiple times!)

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant (This series of easy-to-read chapter books is not as well known as other books on this list, but the Poppleton stories have a special kind of magic. Poppleton is a pig whose best friends are Hudson, a mouse, and Cherry Sue, a llama. Throughout all eight books, Rylant is making a case that loyal friends are the secret to a good life!)

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald (For a little older reader, My Two Blankets is a picture book about a girl named Cartwheel who is forced to leave her home and move to a safer place. To remind her of home, Cartwheel wraps herself in an imaginary “blanket” of memories. After meeting a new girl in a park, she creates a new “blanket” weaving together her old and new lives.)

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo (A series of short chapter books, Bink & Gollie are like child versions of Elephant and Piggie. They are opposites in appearance and temperament, but loyal to one another and always ready for a new adventure. Kids love these books because of Bink & Gollie’s funny and energetic dialogue, but also because the cartoon-style drawings make them almost like graphic novels.)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (I’m including three middle grade novels at the end of this list because they are central to a list of books about friendship. The story of a captive gorilla, Ivan, and the sacrifice he makes for Ruby, a baby elephant, is guaranteed to both break – and fill – your heart.)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Sometimes a parent will ask me to recommend a book that will encourage empathy in their child. White’s book is a master class on empathy, friendship, and of course, writing. “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”)

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, especially Chapter 5, “Dulce Domum” There are so many excellent books about being a good friend that to include a book written in 1908 may seem an odd choice, but Chapter 5 of Grahame’s classic novel is one of the most beautiful passage about what it means to be a friend ever written. “Dulce Domum” takes place in December, and it opens with Rat and Mole walking through a village where people are celebrating Christmas. Mole starts to realize that he’s near the home he has left to be near the river with Rat, and he feels homesick: “He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither. Home! That was what they meant, those daft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all in one way!”  Rat, realizing his friend’s sadness, changes course and they return to Mole’s little house where a cozy scene awaits. It’s the perfect chapter to read on a winter evening.)

Links of interest:

It’s Sunday morning, and I just finished reading today’s New York Times. There are three things I thought worth sharing:

An excellent essay about the importance of public libraries:

A request for good children’s books focused on American history at a time of, in the words of someone looking for a baby gift: “I’d love to give the new baby a few children’s books that illuminate our pre-Trump democracy: how it came into being, who the founding fathers were….”

And for parents of very young children, a good round-up of new books for new people in the world:

Happy Reading!