The Best Books For Kids And Teens This Winter

Dec 4, 2019

George Bernard Shaw said, "make it a rule to never give a child a book you would not read yourself."

With that in mind, we asked some knowledgeable bookworms to create a recommendations list for the best new books for this winter. 

Suggestions blow are provided by Sarah Prineas, who is an author and bookseller at Prairie Lights Bookstore, Devin Redmond, who is a teacher-librarian at Coralville Central Elementary School, and Susan Schafer, who is proprietor of The Book Shoppe in Boone. 

We have also curated lists for adult fiction and for nonfiction for both kids and adults

Picture Books

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

You think it’s a story about being a small child in a big city. You realize there’s another story in the illustrations as you read. Get to the end of this book, and it leaves you at a point where the story is not quite resolved. It’s absolutely moving. 

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The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers
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Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

It is a funny, quirky, really singular book. There is nothing else out there like this. It's about a little frog named Pokko. And it begins like this “the biggest mistake Pokko’s parents ever made was giving her a drum." 

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The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

This is a book that is about the winter solstice and how darkness comes into the world this time of year and what we do in the face of it. It’s all about bringing the light back into the world on the winter solstice.

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Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima

This book is about a boy and a balloon animal. One of them pops, and it may not be what you think it is. It’s weird. 

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Love and the Rocking Chair by Leo and Diane Dillon
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Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman
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Mr. Scruff by Simon James

This is a very cute and sweet story for the tiny dog lovers in your life. It does have a happy ending and maybe even a surprise ending.

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The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad, illustrated by Hatem Aly

This is a compelling and vibrantly illustrated story about two sisters. The young girl named Faizah admires her oldest sister Asiya’s “first-day hijab,” and how beautiful she looks in her bright blue hijab. However, once Asiya arrives at school, she discovers not everyone is as accepting, and she has to learn how to be strong.

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My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

This is just a fantastic book about a girl who loves her neighborhood that she grew up in. The author writes in the author’s note that "it’s a love letter to both my father, who showed me different ways of experiencing home, and to Corona, California, a city that will always be a part of me."

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Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler

This is a book where animals are beautifully drawn in their sleeping habitat.

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Beastly Puzzles: A Brain-Boggling Animal Guessing Game, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

This is kind of like a scientific "I Spy" book. I think kids will really like trying to figure out what each animal is.

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How I Met My Monster by Amanda Noll

Ethan is typical little boy. He'd rather play after bed time than actually go to sleep. One night he is looking under his bed for his truck, and he finds a note that says “monster meet here for final test.” He is like “yeah right, my folks are just trying to get me to stay in bed.” Then he sees five pairs of eyes looking out at him.

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Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren

This book is about how small things can have large consequences. The book follows a little girl who has never been to an symphony orchestra. Her aunt takes her because her uncle got sick, and her aunt had extra tickets. So this little girl got to go and experience the first concert she’s ever heard, and it changed her life.

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The Bear, The Piano, The Dog and the Fiddle by David Litchfield

This book is about friendship, good times and sad times. There’s a lot of different lessons in here. 

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My Footprints by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran

"My Footprints" is about a little girl who’s bullied at school because she’s a girl. She’s of Asian descent, and she has two moms. On her way home from school one day, she tries to imagine herself as a bird who gets to fly away. When she gets home, her moms sense she's had a bad day at school. When the little girl storms off to the backyard, they come and talk with her and make big footprints. They imagine a strong grizzley bear, and they make up an animal that’s strong, brave, and clever, just like her. 

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Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier
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Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano by Margarita Engle
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Moth by Isabel Thomas
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Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin

This is about women who were early pilots. Some of these people do not have good ends. The women in this book are brave and strong and mighty, and they’re awesome. They really had to overcome a lot to get into that pilot seat. One of them built their own plane!    

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What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sukyka
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Early Readers

Wild Honey from the Moon by Kenneth Kraegel

This would be a really good bedtime story book, and you could do it for a couple of nights because it has different chapters. It’s about a brave mom, a mouse mother, whose son is sick. To cure him she has to go and get wild honey from the moon. It has a happy ending. This is the kind of book you'll want to examine and look carefully at every picture because they’re detailed, beautiful and colorful.

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Fox and Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

This book is divided into three short stories. In the first stories, Chick is afraid of sea monsters, pirates and shipwrecks. But when you look at the pictures, they are really only sailing in the smallest of ponds.

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Sarah Prineas of Prairie Lights Bookstore and Devin Redmond of Coralville Central Elementary in IPR's Iowa City studio.
Credit Matt Alvarez / IPR

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Guts is a story about anxiety, and every kid will relate to the anxious feelings the character has. Every adult will relate to those experiences well - the hamster wheel you can’t jump off of, the what ifs, and the desire to avoid anything that might cause those anxious feelings. 

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Bad Hair Day: Frannie K. Stein by Jim Benton

This is a younger chapter book. It’s number eight in a series. She is not a girly girl by any means. She makes all sorts of experiments and all sorts of formulas. 

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Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix, illustrated by Anne Lambelet

There’s a lot of plot twist in this book. It’s told from the third person point-of-view. There’s all kinds of things about their house and their parents.

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Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers by Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

This is about Tilly Pages. She’s raised by her grandparents. They own a little bookshop in London called Pages & Company. She never really knew her mom; she left when she was a baby.  Her dad died before she was born. Tilly is what is called a bookwanderer. She can use the magic in books to go in and out of them and bring the characters out into her world. 

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Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas by William Lashner
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Reaching for the Moon: An Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson
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Graphic Novels And Comics

The Crossover, Kwame Alexander, pictures by Dawud Anyabwile 
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Stargazing by Jen Wang
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Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
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Middle Grade Novels

Cog by Greg van Eekhout

I think a younger middle grade reader can take this on. It’s about a boy, sort of. Cog is short for cognitive development, and the boy is a robot. His programming adapts as he learns; he’s built to learn. His mother figure disappears from his life, so he has to basically go on a quest to find her. It’s very funny, on one hand, but it’s also really heartwarming. It’s all about home and family and trying to be a real boy.     

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Surprise Lily by Sharelle Byars Moranville

This book is about generations of women in this family, and in some ways, inherited trauma and trying to figure out where you fit in a complicated family. It’s a really good read for a reader who really likes character. It evokes farm life really well, including Iowa farm life.        

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Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs
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Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend, Eddie, in a bus accident. One day Tristan started reading his best friend’s journal, and somehow, the journal allows Tristan to see African American folk characters as gods.

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Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

I was really excited to read this, and I gave it a resounding five stars. This book is divided into different chapters, and it tells about different groups of kids from the same school who all walk home. Jason Reynolds is always a poet with his words. I think that all of his characters feel different and unique. They did in this book as well.    

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The Rest of the Story by Sara Dessen

Emma is a seventeen-year-old girl who doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when Emma was only twelve. Life for Emma was good and predictable until she has to spend three weeks with her maternal family, who she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl, while her dad is in his honeymoon vacation.

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Young Adult Novels

Frankly in Love by David Yoon
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Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

This is a dark book. It is heavy, and it is young adult. The author, Akwaeke, asks us readers to reexamine our monsters.

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The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

In gaslit Garner County, women and girls are said to harbor powerful magic to lure a man. They believe their skin releases a powerful aphrodisiac that drives men crazy. That is why they are exiled while they released their magic into the wild for their sixteenth year, in order to return purified and ready for marriage.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Seventeen-year-old Zélie and her friends embark on a journey to a mythical island to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy.

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