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Talk of Iowa's 2022 holiday book guide for kids

The covers of six Talk of Iowa Books for Kids 2022 recommendations: DJ Baby, A Magic Steeped in Poison, Two Dogs, Frizzy, The Marvellers, The Door of No Return.

As the gift-giving season begins, three book lovers joined Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa and shared their favorite kids’ books of the year.

Guests

Responses have been edited for length and clarity

Board Books

Crinkle Crinkle Little Car and Crinkle Bells written and illustrated by Jay Fleck
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Eric Hill’s Where’s Spot? books revolutionized board books with the invention of 'lift-the-flap' more than 40 years ago, making Spot one of the most beloved children’s books characters in the process. In that vein, I’m always in search of board books that offer a novelty (preferably durable) that engage our youngest readers in a new way. Jay Fleck’s Crinkle, Crinkle, Little Car, and the holiday edition, Crinkle Bells, do just that. Fleck offers a retelling of the treasured bedtime song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, with a noisy little car zooming through the heavens keeping the stars and planets awake. Each time the car is depicted, on the cover and on every page, the adorable vehicle’s body is represented with delightfully noisy, iridescent, crinkly material. Babies and toddlers are certain to delight in running their hands over this fabulously reactive material, and parents will enjoy reading aloud the intelligent, short, rhyming text."
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Crinkle Bells offers everything Little Car does but with a holiday twist – the Crinkle Bells are making a racket on the tree, and the rest of the ornaments hope to rest their heads in anticipation of Santa’s arrival."
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DJ Baby written by DJ Burton and illustrated by Andy J. Pizza
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"For music-loving families and dance-loving babies, DJ Baby is the perfect new board book. Andy J. Pizza is the artist behind a recent favorite picture book, Pizza with Everything on It, and his images bring to mind great street-art murals. The board book is brilliantly built with a two-record turntable, allowing young readers to “mix” their own beat on each page. Text makes plays on well known lyrics and dance moves, encouraging you to blast the sound system and bust out a dance party before sending you little one off to bed."
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Little Treasures written by Jacqueline Ogburn and illustrated by Chris Raschka
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"I adore Caldecott-winning artist Chris Raschka’s unmistakable, chaotic, and colorful illustrations, so I was thrilled to discover this beautiful board book collaboration with author Jacqueline Ogburn. Together, they’ve compiled many of the world’s terms of endearment for children. Each page features a different language (14 languages represented in total) with accompanying English translations, the terms of endearment in their original language and original alphabet, where appropriate, plus helpful phonetic guides. Raschka’s illustrations of beloved children are splendidly unique, and children are sure to find these international terms of endearment amusing. Who knew the French commonly affectionately refer to their sweet little ones as 'my flea?' This would be the perfect gift for a new baby."
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Children's Picture Books


Alphabedtime by Susanna Leonard Hill; illustrated by Betsy Snyder
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"In this beautiful and funny picture book, Alpha Mom and Dad wrangle 26 kiddos (who are all named after the letters of the alphabet) for bedtime, but they’re not ready for bed! Get ready for high energy kiddos during bath time, a pillow fight and toothbrushing time with all of the letters of the alphabet!"
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Berry Song by Michaela Goade
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea, a girl and her grandmother gather gifts from the earth. Salmon from the stream, herring eggs from the ocean, and in the forest, a world of berries: Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry, Huckleberry, Snowberry, Strawberry and Crowberry. Through the seasons, they sing to the land as the land sings to them. Brimming with joy and gratitude, in every step of their journey, they forge a deeper kinship with both the earth and the generations that came before, joining in the song that connects us all."
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Big Truck Little Island by Chris Van Dusen
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Our store has so many customers who are loyal Chris Van Dusen fans, but I would argue that Big Truck Little Island is his best project to date. What makes it SUPER COOL is that the idea for the book sprang from a real life event on the island of Vinalhaven off the mid-coast of Maine. A truck carrying a wind turbine blade blocked the island’s main through road, so islanders just switched cars for the day. Van Dusen said he was inspired by the ingenuity and community camaraderie. In his story, a big truck is pulled to the island by a steamboat, and once offloaded at the dock, it sets off to carry its mysterious load to the far side of the island. Halfway there, the truck gets stuck, halting traffic on both sides of the island. How will Meg get to her swim meet? How will Barry get to ballet class? The kids put their heads together and decide to swap cars, illustrating the trust, teamwork and sense of community Van Dusen wishes to see more of in our broader American society. These illustrations are rich and detailed, drawing inspiration from Robert McCloskey and Barbara Cooney to depict the Maine landscape, and the story is told in Van Dusen’s particularly adept rhyming lines. Vehicles, rhymes, intricate images and a big-reveal ending. What more can you ask for in a kid’s book?"
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Every Dog in the Neighborhood by Philip Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A perfect book for the community-minded dog lover in your life."
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Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
Recommended by Amanda Lepper and Janeé Jackson-Doering

From Amanda: "Oh, Sophie, how I love thee! There is no children’s book maker out there who so masterfully combines both truthful, beautifully-moving stories with the most intricate and captivating illustrations. Please, please, please watch her YouTube story about this book’s creation, told in her hypnotic Aussie accent. For those who haven’t followed Sophie’s journey as closely as the maybe-over-the-top fan that I am, she purchased a farm in the Catskills of New York State and converted the once functioning dairy barn into the most beautiful retreat for writers and illustrators. The farmhouse depicted in this book, and the family whose life she chronicles, existed on what is now Sophie’s farmstead. Twelve children were born and raised there and before the farmhouse was demolished, Sophie collected scraps from the site which are incorporated in this stunningly collaged illustration, which is actually one giant art piece seen in glimpses on each page spread. Sophie says: “This is a book about a particular farmhouse and the family who lived there, but it’s also about any house and any family and the passing of time and about the things we leave behind and how stories are the things that remain, stories that we pass down through generations, stories that outlast us all.' There is something transcendently hopeful in her reminder that real homes, real lives, can live on in the stories we tell and the stories we make."

From Janeé: "Over a hill, at the end of a road, by a glittering stream that twists and turns stands a farmhouse. Step inside the dollhouse-like interior of Farmhouse and relish in the daily life of the family that lives there, rendered in impeccable, thrilling detail. Based on a real family and an actual farmhouse where Sophie salvaged facts and artifacts for the making of this spectacular work, page after page bursts with luminous detail and joy."
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Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boyton
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

“'One Hippo all alone.' That’s how this story starts until a hippo telephones more hippos over for a party and the hippos go berserk in this sweet counting picture book. Sandra Boynton, who wrote and drew this book in 1977, redrew this new edition."
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I Don’t Care, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"This is the picture book, girl power, dream team I could have only hoped for in my wildest dreams. Julia Fogliano is a true poet who can write from the inner mind of a young child as if she still was one herself. Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal are BOTH Caldecott Medal Honorees and happen to be real-life best friends! And this book is all about best friends, what they care about and what they don’t. This is what first friendship is at its purest. It’s not social status or cool toys or the prettiest clothes; it’s loyalty and love and a half to make a whole. For those who know the work of Idle (Flora and the Flamingo) and Neal (Fry Bread), it’s a thing of beauty to see their two styles merge together. Idle has illustrated a child version of herself in graphite, highlighted by her favorite color teal, while Neal illustrates a young Juana, highlighted in yellow. Is the title color purple Julie’s favorite color? All I know is this book is a treasure!"
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Kick Push: Be Your Epic Self by Frank Morrison
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A boy moves to a new neighborhood and is hoping to make friends without sacrificing what he loves."
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“Pizza!: A Slice of History,” written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Greg Pizzoli is the coolest. Every book he puts out is perfectly funny, fabulously designed, and written in a way that makes it as entertaining for the child listener as it is for the adult reading it aloud. Pizza! is juvenile nonfiction at its best – as fun and informative to pour over as Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris’ Her Right Foot. In America, Pizzoli writes, we eat 350 slices of pizza every second. It’s certainly among one of the country’s most beloved foods. But how did this combination of crust and sauce and cheese come about? When was it invented, where did it originate and how did it end up in America? That’s was Pizzoli has to offer, and how perfect for it to come from an author with a surname like his. A few of my favorite highlights? Learning
tomatoes are not native to Italy, one who makes pizza is called a “pizzaiolo,” and an appearance by the nefarious New York Pizza Rat."
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Skater Cielo by Rachel Katstaller
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A book about persevering and a positive community of skaters."
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Still This Love Goes On by Buffy Sainte-Marie
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A reminder of the beauty in nature and friends and family."
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The Christmas Book Flood written by Emily Kilgore and illustrated by Kitty Moss
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"If you buy one Christmas-themed book this year, I hope it’s this one! The Christmas Book Flood is a book about the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóðið, in which books are universally gifted and read on Christmas Eve while eating or drinking chocolate in front of the fire. The author’s note explains that the tradition began during WWII when paper was one of the few things not rationed, allowing publishing to continue full speed ahead and making books a readily available gift for the holidays. Even after war rationing was a thing of the past, Icelandic publishers continued to publish the majority of their books during October through December (U.S. publishers also push big titles to this fall shopping season, as well). Emily Kilgore’s book, rendered is Kitty Moss’s absolutely magical scenes of winter merriment, celebrates the joy of searching out just the right books for the loved one in your lives and the anticipation of the night during which you lose yourself in that book, nestled among family and friends, reading into the wee hours with hot cocoa nearby. It’s Kilgore’s wish that this book flood spreads across continents and cultures, and I can’t imagine anything more wonderful."
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The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A remix on an old favorite."
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The Monster on the Bus, written by Josh Lieb and illustrated by Hannah Marks
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"It’s the first day of school and first ride on the school bus for Cassius and Angelique. Will the driver be nice? And in the case of this bus ride, will that monster eat your backpack? As the wheels go round and round, the bus gets more and more off course. Is that a T. Rex sitting in the back? And doesn’t that look like a wizard sitting in the front? Cassius and Angelique must outsmart a wild cast of characters if they want to make it to school on time!"
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The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster by Mo Willems
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"Pigeon is back and on a new adventure."
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The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A trip back in time to Brooklyn, NY in the 1970s."
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Two Dogs by Ian Falconer
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Welcome back, Ian Falconer! Falconer created an iconic children’s book character in Olivia, a pig none of us have ever met but one he portrayed with such intimate accuracy and boldness, it was as if we’d known her all our lives. When Olivia’s star took off with licensed shows and products via Nickelodeon, our children’s book genius flew under the radar until the surprising debut of Two Dogs. According to interviews he’s given, just as Olivia was inspired by a niece, Augie and Perry capture the personalities of the children of another of his siblings, boys who juxtaposed a bold, adventurous
personality against a cautious, nervous one. And while Falconer has modeled this dachshund duo after real-life boys (now men in their 20s), he has also returned with his magic of distilling the stark and true essence of something, in this case, two dogs left to their own devices when their human departs for the day (his family has owned these weiner dogs for generations). As the owner of three dogs, there’s something so recognizable in the way Augie and Perry play off of one another, taunting each other with stolen toys, finding ways into mischief, delighting in barking as squirrels they’ll never catch, and managing to get away with it all. I also thrill at seeing the return of Falconer’s unique illustration style, mixing realistic photographic elements with color and black and white illustrations. Much of what made me love the Olivia series is evident in this new book, and it has me hoping Falconer’s back in the children’s book game."
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Early readers


Baloney and Friends Vol. 3: Dream Big by Greg Pizzoli
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Get ready, Baloney and friends really know how to dream big! In their third book, Baloney and friends are reaching for the stars and leaping over funny obstacles along the way! Whether they are creating a masterpiece, destroying a birthday cake, or hotly debating their Internet fame, these four friends will get newly independent readers giggling with three tales and mini-comics!"
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Cornbread and Poppy at the Carnival (Vol. 2) by Matthew Cordell
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Cornbread and Poppy go to the Carnival, even though Cornbread doesn’t like scary things and Poppy does. They have a fun day until the end when they argue about a peanut — then work it out. It’s a gentle story of friends who are different but love spending time with each other."
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Free Kid to Good Home by Hiroshi Ito
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A perfect book for early readers who are hesitant about a new sibling. It has very cute illustrations, too!"
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Narwhalicorn and Jelly (Vol. 7) by Ben Clanton
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"When Jelly wonders what a unicorn is, Narwhal explains that they’re pretty much narwhals of the land, and then gets carried away with a grand plan to see one. With the help of Star, Narwhal’s wish comes true in the wildest, weirdest way: Narwhal gets some land legs and takes their first step ashore.
After some wibble-wobbling and a bit of practice, Narwhal is soon galloping along in search of unicorns, though Jelly is a little land sick. Before they know it, Star has the duo blasting off to a magical planet where everyone is a unicorn! But Jelly's out-of-this-world adventure makes him feel out of his comfort zone, and he wishes he were at home. Can Narwhal cheer Jelly up and also party down with their new unicorn pals?"
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Middle grades


Action: How Movies Began by Megan McCarthy
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A jumping off book to learn more about movies."
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A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Our Good Trouble Book Club for middle school students just read A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser, and it could not have been a better fit for our mission of using literature that reflects moments of injustice to help the kids in our community practice using their voices so they’re ready to make good trouble when similar moments arise in their own lives. The book addresses homelesses, a topic with which the author, best known for her Vanderbeeker’s series, is intimately familiar – in addition to being a teacher, she worked at New York City’s largest provider of transitional housing for the
homeless. The story's protagonists are June and Tyrell, biracial sixth graders who meet at a homeless shelter called Huey House. Tyrell has called Huey House home for three years, and he’s known for his penchant for pranks. June, on the other hand, stresses about school, and is distraught that she can’t bring her precious viola with her to the shelter. Yan Glaser challenges young readers to confront common stereotypes about people in poverty, in particular the idea that they’re lazy – June and her sister travel several hours round trip every day to attend their old school in Chinatown, and she, Tyrell and another friend in the shelter work hard to find a quiet place in the shelter each night to do their homework free from the many distractions that come with living in a compact space with so many other people. And while some aspects of living in Huey House are bleak — a lack of job training, transportation, mental health counseling, and a shaky future for the shelter — other aspects are lovely — friendship and a classical musician living next door who’s willing to foster June and Tyrell’s love of music."
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Freestyle by Gale Galligan
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Cory's dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It's the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count! The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory's parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously. He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd — until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew — and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?"
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Frizzy by Claribel Ortega and Rose Busamra
Recommended by Devin Redmond and Janeé Jackson-Doering

From Devin: "A girl learns about beauty standards and how to stand up for what she wants."

From Janeé: "Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and 'growing up.' That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have 'presentable,' 'good hair.' But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn't understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment and the much-needed help of Camila and Tía Ruby, she slowly starts a journey to learn to proudly wear her curly hair."
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Miss Quinces by Kat Farjardo
Recommended by Devin Redmond and Janeé Jackson-Doering

From Devin: "A girl spends the summer in Honduras when she’d rather be with her friends or just reading a book by herself."

From Janeé: "Sue just wants to spend the summer reading and making comics at sleepaway camp with her friends, but instead she gets stuck going to Honduras to visit relatives with her parents and two sisters. They live way out in the country, which means no texting, no cable, and no Internet! The trip takes a turn for the worse when Sue's mother announces that they'll be having a surprise quinceañera for Sue, which is the last thing she wants. She can't imagine wearing a big, floofy, colorful dress! What will Sue do? And how will she survive all this 'quality' time with her rambunctious family?"
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Odder by Katherine Applegate
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A story imagined about a real-life sea otters that have been rehabilitated at the Monterey Bay Aquarium."
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Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Sir Callie is a book that combines an indulgently entertaining story, complete with magical elements and dragons, with an important message about how enforced gender norms can affect the lives of young people. It also offers a contrasting picture of what can be gained when we’re allowed to pursue interests and dreams free from the judgment of others. In this case, Callie has known since they were little that they’re not a girl, a fact their mother denies and tyrannically works to 'correct' until Callie’s father flees with Callie to a more diverse and loving community in the woods. When Callie’s
father, a former knight, is called back to the kingdom to help train a meek prince, Callie sees their chance to fulfill a lifelong wish: a return to Helston to train to become a knight just like their father. Not much has changed in Helston, though, and there’s no place for a 'girl' in the guard. As Callie struggles to hold on to their dream, they discover that the crown prince is perhaps not all he seems, either, and that maybe they, with a few other friends, might have what it takes to forge their own way."
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Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
Recommended by Amanda Lepper and Devin Redmond

From Amanda: "Gene Leun Yang’s Dragon Hoops is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, and my favorite juvenile literature related to sports. What he did for basketball, Johnnie Christmas does with swimming in the elementary school reading level. Christmas has a long career in adult comics, and this marks his juvenile debut, his realistic style will please fans of Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act. The story, Swim Team, is set in Florida, where main character Bree is starting the year at a new middle school: Enith Brigitha, home of the Mighty Manatees. She’s excited for the new adventure, but not for
the elective that’s added to her class schedule: Swim 101. Bree is more than a little afraid of the pool, but with the help of an elderly neighbor in her apartment complex, who just happens to be a former swim team captain, Bree suddenly finds herself the star of a formerly failing swim program headed to a state championship. This is an epic come-from-behind underdog sports story, but the graphics novel is also laced with history about a long history of segregated swimming pools and lack of access to swim education for Black Americans. Christmas was motivated to write the novel based on his own near drowning in a pool as a child and the destruction of the YMCA in his hometown, which was the primary access for swimming lessons for Black residents."

From Devin: "A story about friendship, perseverance, and strong girls."
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The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Eleven-year-old Kofi Offin dreams of water, the rich, earthy scent of the current. The clearness, its urgent whisper that beckons with promises and secrets. Kofi has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, in the village where he lives. He loves these things above all else: his family, the fireside tales of his father's father, a girl named Ama, and, of course, swimming. Some say he moves like a minnow, not just an ordinary boy, so he's hoping to finally prove himself in front of Ama and his friends in a swimming contest against his older, stronger cousin. But before this can take place, a festival comes to the villages of Upper and Lower Kwanta and Kofi's brother is chosen to represent Upper Kwanta in the wrestling contest. Encircled by cheering spectators and sounding drums, the two wrestlers from different villages kneel, ready to fight. You are only fine, until you are not. The match is over before it has barely begun, when the unthinkable — a sudden death — occurs. The river does not care how grown you are. As his world turns upside down, Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life. What happens next will send him on a harrowing journey away from everything he loves."
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The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Shawn Harris
Recommended by Amanda Lepper and Janeé Jackson-Doering

From Amanda: "I talked about it this summer when Charity last invited me to talk books, but I don’t want Christmas book buyers to forget about The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, arguably the best graphic novel published this year for elementary school readers. A cybernetically-enhanced cat who only speaks “meow” is sent to space with a sidekick toenail-clipping robot to combat rats who are threatening the moon. Barnett is at his most hilarious in this graphic novel and Harris’ illustration are imaginative, vivid and beautiful, a free soundtrack (Harris’ first career is in music) that accompanies the book and there’s even fan club merch! Can’t wait for book two."

From Janeé: "Something terrible is happening in the skies! Rats are eating the MOON! There’s only one hero for the job, a bold and fearsome beast bioengineered in a secret lab to be the moon’s savior and Earth’s last hope! And that hero is — a cat! Who will be blasted into space! Accompanied by the imperious Moon Queen and LOZ 4000, a toenail-clipping robot, the First Cat in Space journeys across a fantastic lunar landscape in a quest to save the world. Will these unlikely heroes save the moon in time? Can a toenail-clipping robot find its purpose in the vast universe? And will the First Cat in Space ever eat some pizza?"
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The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"A story about a girl at a school for kids who have magical powers."
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The Tryout, Christina Soontornvat
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"Cheerleading, friendship, perseverance."
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Teen novels

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Jason Reynolds and his best bud, Jason Griffin, had a mind-meld. And they decided to tackle it, in one fell swoop, in about 10 sentences and 300 pages of art, this piece, this contemplation-manifesto-fierce-vulnerable-gorgeous-terrifyingWhatIsWrongWithHumans-hope-filled-hopeful-searing-Eye-Poppingly-Illustrated-tenderheartbreaking-how-The-HECK-did-They-Come-UP-with-This project about oxygen. And all of the symbolism attached to that word, especially now. Prepare yourself for something unlike anything: A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now."
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A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her, the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu. When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making, she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life. But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger."
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Family of Liars by E. Lockhart (the prequel to We Were Liars)
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"A windswept private island off the coast of Massachusetts. A hungry ocean, churning with secrets and sorrow. A fiery, addicted heiress. An irresistible, unpredictable boy. A summer of unforgivable betrayal and terrible mistakes. Welcome back to the Sinclair family. They were always liars."
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I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and the puritanical administration of Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny. But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes. On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common, except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair and square. Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe ― probably not, but maybe ― more to Shara, too."
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Nothing More To Tell by Karen M. McManus
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favorite teacher — a story that made headlines after the teacher’s body was found by three Saint Ambrose students in the woods behind their school. The case was never solved. Now that Brynn is moving home and starting her dream internship at a true crime show, she’s determined to find out what really happened. The kids who found Mr. Larkin are her way in, and her ex–best friend, Tripp Talbot, was one of them. Without his account of events, the other two kids might have gone down for Mr. Larkin’s murder, but instead, thanks to Tripp, they're now at the top of the Saint Ambrose social pyramid. Tripp’s friends have never forgotten what Tripp did for them that day, and neither has he. Just like he hasn’t forgotten that everything he told the police was a lie. Digging into the past is bound to shake up the present, and when Brynn begins to investigate what happened in the woods that day, she uncovers secrets that might change everything — about Saint Ambrose, about Mr. Larkin and about her ex-best friend, Tripp Talbot."
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The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

"When Springville residents — at least the ones still alive — are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation: Maddy did it. An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies, and she's dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage — until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington. After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High's racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school's first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it's possible to have a normal life. But some of her classmates aren't done with her just yet, and what they don't know is that Maddy has another secret — one that will cost them all their lives."
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Young adult

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

Recommended by Devin Redmond

"National Book Award winner about a Noor and Sal growing up Muslim in a small California town."

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Five Survive by Holly Jackson

Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"Holly Jackson essentially created her own sub-genre of young adult books with A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – the high-school murder mystery – and her series remains the bestselling gold standard. She’s doling out a new addictive thriller on Nov. 29, just in time for Christmas. This one’s about a road trip that turns deadly – six friends on a cross-country spring break RV road trip. It’s the stuff of memories until the RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and it quickly becomes apparent a killer is stalking them. It’s a locked-vehicle mystery! This is a sure-bet book gift for a young adult who loves a mystery/thriller."
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The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Recommended by Devin Redmond

"The first book in a planned trilogy about an African boy’s life before he is sold to the slave trade."
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The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
Recommended by Amanda Lepper

"A finalist for the National Book Award, this one’s got a gorgeous cover that’s impossible to resist. Seeking new opportunities, 16-year-old Yamila Flores and her younger brother transfer to a mostly white, very rich Catholic school. Yami already stands out as one of the only Mexican Americans at her new school, so she decides to keep her queer identify under wraps – a decision made difficult by Bo, the only openly queer girl at school, who’s smart and talented and cute. But Yami’s been outed before, and a similar fall-out is something she’s hoping to avoid. What’s a girl in love to do? This is a sharply funny book that also examines family relationships, friendship, authenticity and identity."
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Josie Fischels is a Digital News producer at Iowa Public Radio. She is a 2022 graduate of the University of Iowa’s school of journalism where she also majored in theater arts (and, arguably, minored in the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan). Previously, she interned with the Denver Post in Denver, Colorado, and NPR in Washington, D.C.
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Samantha McIntosh is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio. Prior to IPR, Samantha worked as a reporter for radio stations in southeast and west central Iowa under M&H Broadcasting, and before that she was a weekend music host for GO 96.3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.