Holiday gift guide: Here are 13 great children’s and teen books to consider this year

There’s something for all ages, including celebrated books by Jerry Craft, Jason Reynolds, Isabel Quintero, Elisha Cooper, Jokha Alharthi and Kwame Alexander.

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Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” has been acclaimed as “an engrossing, humourous and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America,” among other accolades.

Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” has been acclaimed as “an engrossing, humourous and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America,” among other accolades.

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We’ve pored over the past year’s best-reviewed, best-selling and buzziest of books for kids from preschool-age to their teens and picked 14 that should please even the pickiest young readers on your gift-shopping list this holiday season.

‘New Kid’ written and illustrated by Jerry Craft

(HarperCollins, graphic novel, ages 8-12, $12.99)

What it’s about:This story centers on an African American seventh-grader as he deals with being the new kid at a private, largely white school.

The buzz:“An engrossing, humorous and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America,” says Kirkus Reviews, which gave the book its $50,000 Kirkus Prize for young people’s literature.

‘Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks’by Jason Reynolds

(Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, fiction, $17.99, ages 10-14)

What it’s about:Ten stories with many interconnections, focus on well-drawn African American teenagers going through a range of experiences that will ring true with many urban kids.

The buzz: “Jason Reynolds conjures 10 tales about what happens after the dismissal bell rings and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home and in life,” according to the National Book Awards judges, who named it a finalist for young people’s literature this year. Also, it was named “best middle grade book of 2019” by School Library Journal, which called it “the perfect book to hand to reluctant middle-grade readers” and a Publishers Weekly “best book of 2019.” Entertainment Weekly called Reynolds “one of the most exciting, constantly surprising voices in children’s literature.” And Kirkus Reviews, which named “Look Both Ways” one of its books of the year, wrote: “Brims with humor, pathos and the heroic struggle to grow up.”

‘Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind them All’ by Laura Ruby

(Balzer & Bray, fiction, ages 14 and up, $17.99)

What it’s about: The story, set on the cusp of World War II, features two young women — one alive, one a ghost — in a Catholic orphanage in Chicago.

The buzz: It was a finalist for best young people’s literature in this year’s National Book Awards.

‘My Papi Has a Motorcycle’ by Isabel Quintero

(Kokila, picture book, ages 4-8, $17.99)

What it’s about: Papi gets home from work and takes his daughter for their nightly ride on his motorcycle.

The buzz: “Fresh graphic novel-style art offers all the glory of a ride (“VROOOM”), and speech in balloons is a mix of Spanish and English alongside the English-only text,” wrote Publishers Weekly, which named it one of the best picture books of the year. “The love between the girl and her father is palpable, but her connection to her city (fleshed out in an author’s note about Corona, California) is at the story’s heart.”

‘River’ by Elisha Cooper

(Orchard Books / Scholastic, picture book, ages 4-8, $18.99)

What it’s about: A woman canoes the Hudson River in a picture book whose pencil-and-watercolor images help convey the difficulties and the joys of the expedition.

The buzz: “This stunningly illustrated account of a woman’s solo canoe trip down the Hudson is a remarkable example of the art of the picture book,” according to The New York Times, which says “River” is a “gem is for the ages and for people of all ages.”

“River” by Elisha Cooper.

“River” by Elisha Cooper.

Orchard Books / Scholastic

‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi

(Catapult, nonfiction, ages 14 and up, $16.95)

What it’s about:The author won this year’s International Man Booker Prize for this sweeping story that “tells of Oman’s coming of age through the prism of one family’s loves and lives.” It’s the first story written originally in Arabic to win the prestigious honor.

The buzz:“Elegantly structured and taut,” the prize judges wrote. “A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society,” according to Kirkus Reviews.

‘1919: The Year That Changed America’ by Martin W. Sandler

(Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing, nonfiction, ages 10-14, $24.99)

What it’s about:This National Books Awards-winning work of nonfiction “focuses on one year of turbulence and its far-reaching aftermath,” the awards judges wrote. Includes timelines and, at each chapter’s end, an explanation of how the issues just covered still resonate today.

The buzz:“Sandler’s evocative language brings 1919 to life for young readers, showing us the impact of that crucial year on major issues like race relations, women’s rights and climate change,” according to the judges’ citation. “This carefully researched and curated work strikingly demonstrates the interconnected nature of history —as it happens and its rippling consequences for years to come.”

‘The Undefeated’ by Kwame Alexander

(Versify, picture book, ages 6-9, $17.99)

What it’s about:A poem from Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander with illustrations by a Caldecott Honor-winner, Kadir Nelson, that celebrates black life in America, with some historical background. It’s been a good year for Alexander. He also came out with a graphic-novel adaptation of “Crossover,” his 2015 Newbery-winner for ages 10-12.

The buzz:The New York Times calls “The Undefeated” “a poetic tribute to African American resilience, proclaiming joy and pride in the accomplishments of artists, athletes, leaders and thinkers.” Publishers Weekly named it one of its picture books of the year, calling it a “magnificent anthem to the courage and genius of black Americans . . . paired with stunning portraits . . . Well-known figures appear alongside nameless heroes in this powerful work about people ‘who hurdled history / and opened a world / of possible.’ ”

‘Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts’ by Mike Lowery

(Orchard Books / Scholastic, ages 6-9, $16.99)

What it’s about: The title basically says it all. There’s plenty of stuff here to learn about dinosaurs and paleontology, along with illustrations, jokes and “a few kinda weird (and unlikely!) dino extinction theories,” too.

The buzz: “The bright, cartoonish illustrations and often hand-lettered text are perfectly suited to the writing’s irreverent tone, which makes absorbing the facts a breeze,” according to the American Library Association’s Booklist. School Library Connection calls it “just plain fun to read” and says, “Even the most diehard dinosaur expert will learn something new.”

‘Sulwe’by Lupita Nyong’o

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, picture book, ages 4-8, $17.99)

What it’s about:Sulwe dreams of having skin like her mother and sister. But she learns that beauty comes in all shades.

The buzz: According to Publishers Weekly, “The story draws its power from graceful prose by actress Nyong’o, making her authorial debut, and expertly executed animation-style art by Harrison.”

“Sulwe’”by Lupita Nyong’o.

“Sulwe’”by Lupita Nyong’o.

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

‘Imagine’ by Juan Felipe Herrera

(Candlewick Press, verse memoir, ages 5-9, $16.99)

What it’s about: A former poet laureate of the United States tells his own story, of having once been “a brown-skinned boy who ‘practiced/ spelling words/ in English by/ saying them in Spanish/ like — pehn-seel for/ pencil” and growing up to become the nation’s most-lauded poet. With artwork by a Caldecott Honor-winner, Lauren Castillo. Each stanza ends with a single word: “imagine.”

The buzz: Kirkus Reviews calls this “a lyrical coming-of-age story in picture-book form that begs to be shared.”

‘Genesis Begins Again’ by Alicia D. Williams

(Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, fiction, ages 10-14, $17.99)

What it’s about: This first novel from Alicia D. Williams centers on Genesis, a 13-year-old girl who’s dealing with a lot of troubles and who hates the dark skin she shares with her father, a gambler and mean drunk who keeps getting her family evicted.

The buzz: NPR named this a “favorite book of 2019.” School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews named it “best middle grade book” of the year. Kirkus wrote: “With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries. . . . This book may bring readers to tears as they root for Genesis to finally have the acceptance she craves — but from herself rather than anyone else.”

‘The Other Side’ by Juan Pablo Villalobos

(FSG Books for Young Readers, nonfiction, ages 12-18, $17.99)

What it’s about: Told in short vignettes, Juan Pablo Villalobos’ book exploring illegal immigration — subtitled “Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border” — tells the stories of 10 teenagers who braved risky passages to the United States to escape violence and poverty.

The buzz: “Villalobos records the chilling details of the refugees’ treks, framed against a background of politics and the reality of today’s migration crisis,” says Kirkus Reviews, which named it one of its best books for young adults this year.

Contributing: USA Today

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