The 2018 Iowa Public Radio Children's Holiday Book Guide

Looking to inspire young readers this holiday season? Never fear! Iowa booksellers and authors are here! 

 Barb Stein and Sarah Prineas of Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, and Mary Rork-Watson of Plot Twist Bookstore in Ankeny talked with Charity Nebbe about their reading lists for young adult, middle grade, and all ages this year. 

 BEST OF PICTURE BOOKS (ALL AGES): 

 Barb Stein’s Picks 

 Giraffe Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith -- Edward the Giraffe does not like his neck. He has tried everything he can imagine to be less self-conscious. When he meet Cyrus, the turtle, who has the same trouble, they solve their problem in a hilarious way.  

 Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall -- This book is a look inside the lighthouse at the end of an era where a lighthouse keeper keeps the waters safe and lives a daily life of service with his family. “Wonderful illustrations.”

 Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari and Brian Floca -- A red tail hawk swoops through the day searching for food. A young girl and her mother watch it all from the house. I chose it because we see so many hawks in Iowa as we drive the countryside.  “This book is poetic and wonderfully illustrated, and it includes sections of facts and connections to more information.”

Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Spark Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery and Amy Schimler-Safford -- This picture book is based on a true story of a curious and adventurous octopus who escapes from his New Zealand aquarium and returns to the Pacific.  “This title has wonderful illustrations and is fact filled for the younger set of scientists.”

 Spring after Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Sisson --Rachel discovered how the music of nature had been disrupted, a keen observer of nature.  “Her story is an inspiration for others to see how one person can make a big difference.”

 Sarah Prineas’ Picks 

Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail -- Sophie got what she wanted—a giraffe—and now she has to figure out how to get her family on board with her new pet.  “This is a sequel to One Word From Sophia, one of my favorites from last year.  Clever, funny, and Sophia is a firecracker of a character.”

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James -- A boy gets a haircut. “Oh, I love this book so entirely.  It is an absolute joy, the perfect intersection of pictures and lively words for all readers.”

 Ancient Warriors by Iris Volant and Joe Lillington -- An overview of warriors, both male and female, from the world’s cultures. The kid interested in battles and history is going to devour this one.  “Lots of great information and the illustrations are not gory.”

 Mary Rork-Watson’s Picks 

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos and Joy Ang -- When Baby Billy is born with a mustache, his parents have to figure out if it's a good-guy mustache, or a bad-guy mustache in this hilarious board book about the heroic and villainous side of one hairy baby. “This is a joyful, silly book that parents will enjoy reading over & over.”

 A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin -- In this gorgeous picture book that shines as bright as the stars in the sky, Newbery Honoree and bestselling author-illustrator Lin shares a whimsical origin story of the phases of the moon. It's full color. “This captivating fairy-tale about a mother and daughter explaining the phases of the moon and stars as the antics of a child is a sweet way to tuck a loved one into bed.”

Think, Touch Learn Series by Xavier Deneux -- Combining scooped-out die-cuts with raised, shaped elements, each book in this new series is designed to offer the youngest learners an irresistible opportunity to explore their universe in a hands-on, multi-sensory way. This one is also in full color.  “These board books are visually stunning, and the tactile elements are engaging, and encourage learning colors, numbers, shapes and more.”

 The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken -- As an artist creatively incorporates her slip-ups into a drawing, readers see the ways in which 'mistakes' can provide inspiration and opportunity and reveal that both the art and artist are works-in-progress. “This is a gorgeous picture book with an important message to creative readers that mistakes can strengthen a story and are a vital part of learning and creating art.”

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol -- Vera is sure she's found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the "cool girl" drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares! “This graphic novel is all of us suburb girls who went to camp having been promised days of activities and friends and discovered camping is hot, uncomfortable, and itchy.”

BEST OF MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8+):

Barb Stein’s Picks 

 Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier -- Nan Sparrow has been on her own for five years and has worked as a chimney sweep in Victorian London. She almost dies in a terrible fire and finds she has to carve a new life with a monster who has appeared with her in an abandon house.  “This book has an Oliver Twist feel with colorful characters.”

 Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina -- Sixth grader, Merci and her extended family live in Palm Beach, Florida where she and her brother are scholarship students at Seaward Pines Academy. She suffers at the hand of a mean girl and often is not able to do things or have things that others in her class enjoy. Besides those challenges, her grandfather Lolo is acting strangely.  “This coming of age story is funny and wise.”

 Sarah Prineas’ Picks 

 Dear Sister by Alison McGhee and Joe Bluhm -- Over the years, “Brother” grows up writing notes to “Sister”; their relationship develops and changes. “I loved how the characters age and change and it’s all shown in drawings that are true to who they are and how they feel.  A great sibling gift.”

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout -- The canine crew of the spaceship Laika have to rescue their human, led by the intrepid terrier Lopside.  Dogs in spaaaaaace! “Greg is one of my BFF’s, and this book is his best one yet: funny, heartbreaking in places, and every dog is a good dog.”

The Lost Books by Sarah Prineas -- Alex is in over his head as he takes over as the librarian in a library where the books are alive—and dangerous.  “Witty banter, lively books, librarian secrets, sword fighting, and a thinking mitten.  All my favorite things!”

Mary Rork-Watson’s Picks 

The Lifters by Dave Eggers -- Discover an underground world full of tunnels and mystery in this new adventure from the bestselling, Pulitzer-nominated author of "Heroes of the Frontier" and "What Is the What?" “Negativity and pain in the town cause tunnels to form causing panic and it is up to The Lifters to save their homes using their ingenuity and imagination.”

The Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon M. Draper and Jesse Joshua Watson -- In The Buried Bones Mystery, Ziggy and his friends Rico, Rashawn and Jerome build a clubhouse in Ziggy's backyard, where they uncover a box of bones while digging to bury their secret treasures. “We are always seeking new series that engage young readers and include diverse characters, and this series meets the challenge with good writing and exciting plots.”

Princess Pistachio Treasury by Marie-Louise Gay -- For early readers transitioning to chapter books, this treasury gathers three madcap Princess Pistachio titles into one divine volume. “We think readers will enjoy the antics of Princess Pistachio as she "discovers" she may be kidnapped royalty in Princess Pistachio, navigates a disastrous day of minding her baby sister in Princess Pistachio and the Pest, and gets caught up in fame when her dog becomes a theater star in Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent.”

BEST OF YOUNG ADULT (AGES 12+):

Barb Stein’s Picks 

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Khorram Adib -- Darius is clinically depressed and deals with daily bullying in his high school. He never feels he meets his father’s expectations. When he and his family travel to Iran to see his grandparents for the first time, he meets a friend who changes his life and makes strong connections to his heritage.

How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery and Rebecca Green -- Sy Montgomery is a celebrated scientist who has crafted a memoir of the wonderful creatures who have affected her life. She shares her observations and experiences about 13 animals and how she learned from them how to be a good creature. “I would give this to any age person for family read aloud, for buddying scientists and for nature lovers everywhere.”

Sarah Prineas’ Picks 

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang -- Prince Sebastian likes to wear beautiful dresses as “Lady Cristallia;" Frances is a lowly seamstress with big dreams.  Together, they make magic happen.  “A heartwarming story about love in all its forms, and staying true to who you really are.”

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti -- After a tragedy, Annabelle runs away from home — literally, setting off across the country on foot. “Timely, with a strong female character, very well written, and I like the way it makes the 'running away from your problems' metaphor literal.”

Mary Rork-Watson’s Picks 

Female of the Species by Mindy McGinniss -- Alex Craft knows how to kill someone, and she doesn't feel bad about it. Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best--the language of violence. “This book broke me, and I will never be the same.”

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland -- At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, this new novel from the author of "Vengeance Bound" is a fresh, stunning, and powerful meditation on race in America wrapped in an alternate-history adventure where Confederate and Union soldiers rise from the dead at the end of the Civil War. “Jessica loves this thought-provoking, intense story about personal choices, race politics, and zombies.”

Etiquette & Espionage Series by Gail Carriger -- In an alternate England of 1851, spirited 14-year-old Sophronia is enrolled in a finishing school where, she is surprised to learn, lessons include not only the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also diversion, deceit, and espionage. “A clean, humorous steampunk series for YA readers who want an entertaining story without dystopian visions from the talented Gail Carriger.”

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater --In 1960s Colorado, three cousins long to change the future: Beatriz wants to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who runs a renegade radio station. “This standalone is a different story for Stiefvater fans and it has been hard to convince readers that it is worth exploring so Jessica wants to encourage YA readers to give this one a closer look.”