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The Best Children's Books to Give This Year

Lindsey Moon
Iowa Public Radio

‘Tis the season for sitting inside, which means it’s a perfect time to pick up a new book. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Kate Rattenborg from Dragonfly Books in Decorah and Barb Stein of Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City about the best new books for young readers.

Barb’s List:

Board books:

Close Your Eyes by Kate Banks

“The illustrations are irresistible. They are just wonderful. “

The Napping House Board Book by Audrey Wood

“I have customers in the store who has never heard of the Napping House before. This was a classic and a darling book about a house that is quiet. I suggest this because now, some years later, they have come out with another version of it, which is one of my picture books.”

Poetry and Songs and Mother Goose

Sail Away by Ashley Bryan

“These are poems by Langston Hughes. We had Ashley Bryan visit Iowa City, he is now 91 years old. This book is brilliant in design. It’s all poetry about the water and the sea, so every poem is illustrated and it’s a collage technique with bright colors.”

Snuggle up with Mother Goose by Iona Opie

“This is a small mother goose book. It’s illustrated by Rosemary Wells. It’s a good size, and you may know her from Max and Rubi. She is coming to the Iowa City Public Library on Sunday, December 5 at 2 [pm] to talk about her writing.”

Picture Books

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee

“Claudia McGehee is local to Iowa City. I’m very attached to the North Woods myself. This is about a grand daughter who comes to visit her grandmother for the season. Hiking is always a part of their day, and by the end, her granddaughter wants her to move into the city, but her grandmother says she’s staying put. It’s a wonderful testament to grandmothers.”

The Turnip by Jan Brett

“Jan will be at the Davenport Public Library on December 6. As many of you know, she does very details borders, and she has taken a Russian folk tale for this one.”

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

“One day Duncan gets a post card arriving in the mail from maroon crayon. Every illustration and postcard tells of something Duncan has done with that particular crayon and what their life is like, and he has a great idea about how to change his ways at the end. This is a second to ‘The Day the Crayons Quit.’”

Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! By Todd Tarpley

“This has grown on me. This little boy has three little robots that he’s trying to get to go to bed. “Three little robots, time to go to bed. Time to dim your infa-red.”

Felix Stands Tall by Rosemary Wells.

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter

“I always love everything Jonah Winter does. This is a celebration of the civil rights act of 1965, and this author has picked a person who was over 100 when she finally voted. He takes the whole history of voting rights for African Americans and uses the metaphor of going up a hill. This a great for older readers to get a handle on what happened. I think this is good for 4-6th graders, and you can also use it for older kids too.”

The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey Wood

“This goes along with ‘The Napping House,’ which was first published 30 years ago. It’s sort of like The Napping House but a new version.”

Transitional Chapter Books

James to the Rescue by Elise Broach

“The series is called the Masterpiece Adventures. Marvin is a beetle, and he’s getting to go collecting with his beetle family. The beetles all live in the cupboard. The text is very large, so this is great for early readers. If you love the borrowers, this is a prequel to this. It’s very charming and funny.”

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo

Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

“This author, always with great humor, and things that you won’t see elsewhere. The reading level on this is more like magic tree house.”

Hilo 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

“Hilo doesn’t know where he comes from, and he has no idea how to act on earth. It turns out, he is being chased, and he needs good friends to help him out. It’s bright and lots of fun. It’s likely going to be a series.”


Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter by Barbara Herkert

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson

Small Wonders: Jean-Henri and His World of Insects by Mathew Smith


I Don’t Like Snakes by Nicola Davies

“This is a non-fiction book where a little girl wonders why other people like snakes because she doesn’t.”

Finding Winnie: The True Story of The World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

“This is really the story of an animal vet who lived in Winnipeg, and in WWI time, he is called to come help with the horses in the war. At one of the stations, he sees a trapper sitting with a bear and offers to buy it for $20, and the bear kind of becomes a mascot. He takes it to London, and he realizes that when he gets called to France, he can’t take the bear into battle. He gives Winnie to the London Zoo, and in this book, you have the story of how Winnie the Pooh became Winnie the Pooh.”

Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out by Laura Overdeck

“Families adore these, and these are very interactive. It’s a new edition this winter.”


The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour

“This is about a girl who lives in Saudi Arabia and really wants a bicycle, but isn’t supposed to ride one. This is about how she tries to go about realizing her dream. And this is great - it shows what things are the same about kids no matter where they’re from. It’s best for kids 10 years old and up.”

Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch


The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

“This is about a girl who learns a lot about life, and this is in diary form. It’s at times hilarious and gripping and best for grades 8-9.”

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas

“This is a feminist version of a Cinderella story - you can get an autographed copy if you buy it at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City as Sarah works there.”

Kate’s List:

Board Books

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

“This is now out as a board book, and if you have a young one who loves it, you can’t go wrong with the board book.”

I Wish You More by Amy Krous Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld

“This book is wonderful for first time mothers.”

Little Tree by Lauren Long

“This is absolutely gorgeously illustrated. It’s a powerful story about a young tree that holds tight to his leaves as everyone else lets theirs drop. Then finally he takes a leap and sheds his protection and moves forward in life. He finds out that letting go is fine.”

Picture Books

The Little Snowplow by Loran Koehler and Jake Parker

“This is a book for everybody who loves big engines, small engines and things that go.”

A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

“This is one of my favorite author/illustration combinations. They have collaborated on a number of different books together. What I love about her books is that there is a line of text of very minimal text at the bottom of the page. There are very detailed images, so as the child gets older, you can dive in depth into the topic.”

Big Bear Little Chair by Lizzie Boyd

“This is a tall skinny book. She uses bright red colors, blacks, whites and greys through the entire book. It’s a story about a big bear, and a little chair and the encounters they have with different animals on their journey.”

Welcome Home Bear: a Book of Animal Habitats by Il Sung Na

“It’s a book about animal habitats. It’s beautifully illustrated. [The bear] tries different habitats, different homes. It goes throughout the entire book until he finds the home that is his perfect home.”

Transitional chapter books

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi

“Now it is the story of Diva and Flea, set is Paris, Diva is a small, slightly pampered lap dog, and flea is a stray cat. Together, Diva and Flea explore their very different worlds as only true friends can do. There’s definitely humor in this.”

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon: Tales from Decawoo Drive, Volume Two

“This is an extension of her Mercy Watson series, which is all about a pig. Francine Poulet is the best animal control expert in the city, and one day she was sitting at her desk and answers the phone. And then you’re off and running to see if a raccoon can be controlled of whether the raccoon controls everyone else.”

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham

“When Shannon and Dean Hale were talking about were the idea came from, they wrote about their daughters who dress as princesses and have tea parties but also dress in black and fight monsters.”

How to Hug an Elephant #6

“This is transitional but can also work for readers up to third grade. This series excels at engaging struggling readers. One of the reasons is because it uses a specific font that was developed for dyslexic readers. The letters are also spaced far apart to make theme easier to separate from each other. Not a single letter is a mirror image of another in this font. This is also just an amazing book.”

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection by Stephen Pastis

Chapter books:

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1) by Jordan Stratford and Kelly Murphy

“The author imagines an alternative 1826 when Lady Ada Byron and Mary Goodwin are children. The two of them together decide that they are going to solve mysteries. It’s a fresh and funny version of Holmes and Watson for 4-7th graders.”

The Bamboo Sword by Magi Preus

“She received a Newberry honor for her first novel, and this year’s release is a follow up to that book ‘Heart of the Samurai.’ It’s set in 1853 in Japan right around the time that the US is demanding they open to foreign trade.”

Look both ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judith Robbins Rose.

“This is for kids 10 and up, grades 5 and up. It’s set in Colorado. It’s the story of a Mexican girl who was born in the U.S., but her parents immigrated illegally. It’s about a girl being caught between two different cultures. It’s about trying to forge the bridge between the culture of her parents and her white friend.”

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

“This is complex, beautifully rendered tail of finding yourself. It’s dystopian and tells of a place where identity is highly regulated.”

Wonder at the Edge of the World by Nicole Helget

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa