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The Best Children's Books to Give in 2016

Lindsey Moon
Iowa Public Radio

'Tis the season for giving. What better gift than a book? During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Barb Stein and Sarah Prineas of Prairie Lights Books, and Jerri Heid of the Ames Public Library about the best new books to give this year. 

Sarah and Barb's List


My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie - “People ask us for good baby book presents, and a lot of times, we suggest a good mother goose. The new edition Iona Opie, who is the world expert on mother goose rhymes shouldn’t be missed. It’s one of those books you hope to see in every kid’s library.”

Sing With Me! by Henry Holt“Sing with me is a very sweet, small picture book. It will give something like “rain is falling down” and gives you the hand rhymes to do with the child. A lot of people have missed out on rhymes and hand rhymes, so this is great.”


Thunderboy Jr by Sherman Alexie

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards 

The Cow Who Climbed a Tree by Gemma Merino

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

Duck On A Tractor by David Shannon “This is the most exuberant book. This is full page, brilliant illustration. In the last book, duck decides he wants to ride a bike, and that ends with him eyeing a tractor with a question mark. The fun thing about this is that everyone he picks up makes a noise, and then we hear what they are really thinking.”

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead

I Won a What? By Audrey Vernick “This is a really fun book about a boy who wants a pet. But, his parents say no. So, he goes to a carnival, where he tosses a ping pong ball into a jar where he tries to win a goldfish, and he ends up winning a whale. It’s sort of a happily ever after tale about a boy who loves this whale, and the whale loves him.”

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems“Baguettes are warm. Baguettes smell wonderful. Is Nannette set to get the baguette? On it goes with rhyming with baguette, and in the end she gets her baguette. On the way home, she eats the whole thing, so her mother goes back to get another and eats the whole thing.”

Teacup by Rebecca Young “Teacup is a luminous, beautiful book about a boy who has to leave his home. He crosses the ocean, which is dangerous, and he remembers the dark places that he left. The book ends with hope. There’s this transcendent moment where he looks to the future.”

Henry and Leo by Pamela Zagerenski “The inscription here says “you have been my friend, and that of itself is a beautiful thing.” This is an imaginary friend story. His family go into the woods to take a walk and leaves Leo behind. So, they decide to go look for him in the morning, and the book is full of beautiful illustrations about what happens to Leo that night.”

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill “This is the funniest book I have read all year. If you have a child who loves dogs, this one will make you laugh. It’s about a dog that wants to be a wolf. It’s just the funniest book and the illustrations are hilarious.”


Skunked! Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet by Jacqueline Kelly

Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina – “This is all about Juana trying to learn English, but she doesn’t really want to. She asks her grandpa “why do I have to learn English?” And he tells her that they are going to visit a place called Spaceland in the US, and they think her experience will be enriched by her learning to speak English. This has text, so the reader has to read, but there are a lot of pictures.”

Julius Zebra: Rumble With the Romans by Gary Northfield

Teddy and Co. by Cynthia Voigt“Cynthia has been a writer for a very long time. I think the purpose of this was to be a gentle story about a community that lives on an island. And what happens in this story – Teddy is the one who has all the ideas. He loves to think, and he loves to wonder. This is for early, early readers.”


Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger by Anita Silvey“This is a biography of Pete Seeger. The really great thing about this book is that it’s timely. It’s about Pete Seeger became an activist. It’s all about what kids can do now.”

Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet“Even though you wonder sometimes about whether a kid wants to read this much about a writer, if you have a child that is writing a lot, there’s a lot of inspiration in this book.” 


The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown “This book is about all the things you have to do when you’re at the airport. This is a great book for this time of the year when so many people are going to be traveling. The little girl in the book loses her stuffed monkey, and so it’s sort of a parallel story about what’s happening at the airport while she’s with her family.”

The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

March: Book Three by John Lewis, et al.


Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Makoons by Louise Erdrich “This is the 5th book in this series. This is a very short novel, 150 pages. Makoons is a twin of chickadee. I’m recommending the whole series.”

This is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans

The Inquisitor’s Tale or the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwtiz

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm “Many people may know her form her baby mouse series of graphic novels that she writes with her brothers. This takes place in the depression in key west florida. This is the cousin of Turtle in Paradise. Bean’s family is dealing with hardship because the father cannot find work, and beans is doing whatever he can do to be helpful to the family. He takes a job as a rum runner because he gets a lot of money for it. The expressions in it and the world that is created is a little bit like the Little Rascals.”

When The Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzai

Could and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet - “This is a middle grade novel that is set in Berlin during the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is the story of a friendship.”

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Ghost by Jason Reynolds Ghost by Jason Renolds – “He stands up to bullies. He’s not going to let things pass. His dad is in prison, and his mom works all the time. One day, he goes to the track and lines up to run the 100 meters against this kid on the track team, and he smokes him. He’s never been told he has potential for anything, so the deal is that he has to stay out of trouble, and he can stay on the team. It’s so moving. You’re in his head for the whole book. I think this is new of the best middle grade’s of the year.”

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman “This is a fantasy novel. It’s the story of this boy and it’s set in Maine in this alternative weird little bubble in Maine where there’s magic. This boy ends up working for this wizard who may be evil but may be really grump. It’s a wonderful, quirky, weird book that a lot of middle grade readers will respond to.”

The Secret Keeper by Trenton Lee Stewart

Like Magic by Elaine Vickers


Ashes: the Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

The Reader: Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee

Genius by Leopoldo Gout

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Rose and Thorn by Sarah Prineas

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Jerri’s List


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds 

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Dicamillo – “This is a typical Kate book where the characters are very well developed. It’s about a girl learning to twirl batons.”


Skunked! Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet by Jacueline Kelly “This boy finds a skunk that is a baby skunk. He names him Stinky and brings him home. He’s trying to keep it a secret, but his big sister knows. So there’s a lot of very interesting humor where they are trying to figure out how to take care of this skunk.”

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chirs Grabenstein “This is all a continuation of another previous story. This time they are doing an Olympics and are at his library and kids from around the world have come to this library. They are racing the carts around the library, and they use their smart phones to access the web and do a battle of the books. There is some competition, and the winners of the last Olympics are there.”


A Children's History of Art by Michael Bird

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things“This has got lots of different information and tid-bits here and there. This is very friendly to look at. This is just a wonderful book that those kids that are looking for information and wanting to know things, or at least wanting to get involved in something, this is the book to give them. This is definitely middle grade, but parents of preschoolers could read this to a child.”

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka

When Green Becomes Tomatoes Poems for all Seasons by Julie Fogliano

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming


The White Cat and the Monk by JoEllen Bogart

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

We Are Growing by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems -“This is all about these green blades of grass that are growing and growing. Everyone is the something-est, and then a mower starts. It’s got a lot of humor and conversation bubbles just like Elephant and Piggie books do. This is part of a whole series.”

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

Edible Numbers by Jennifer Bass

I Hear a Pickle (and smell, see, touch and taste it too) by Rachel Isadora

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

Come Home Angus by Patrick Downes - “Angus wakes up in a really bad mood. I love the way the illustrations portray that. He has been kind of mean to the dog, taking him on a walk and pulling him instead of being patient. This young toddler becomes a giant in the kitchen at the table and has a tantrum of sorts, and his mother says that he’s rude. So, he decides to run away from home. He heads out the door and he walks until he gets into something that doesn’t look very familiar which is the city. As he does this, he shrinks and the outside world becomes larger and larger.” 

City Shapes by Diana Murray

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

The Typewriter by Bill Thomson“Bill Thompson does such a great job creating suspense with his pictures.”

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy - "This is a true story about a community in San Francisco where this couple painted murals and took a very gray area and transformed the neighborhood. So, then the whole community starts to help paint, and people are planting trees and panting and making their city beautiful."

Old Dog Baby Baby by Julie Fogliano and Chris Raschka – “If you’ve ever seen an older dog and a toddler interact, it’s not always a good thing, but in this book, it’s great. Baby does get to poke and squeeze and the dog behaves, and they end up, both of them taking a nap under the kitchen table.”


Shapes by DK Braille – “We all know that our babies and learning by touching. So, this is a great board book that has vibrant colors and Braille, so you can read the words that are there as well as the Braille. They have raised the shapes on the book in the pages, so you can touch and feel the outline of the art.”

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Dennis Reese was the mid-day host for Iowa Public Radio