Once again, the holiday season is upon us, and amid the shopping mayhem, you may find yourself in the bookstore and at a total loss.
Which of these books is really any good? How do you know? How can you tell? Well, we can help.
The suggestions below will help steer you in your shopping for kids of a variety of ages and stages. We will also describe the appeal factors for your kids to guide you along.
The Youth Room staff wishes you a happy, healthy season!

Thoughtful chapter books:

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio (grades 3 – 5)

This high-demand book would make a perfect gift this holiday season. Auggie Pullman has been homeschooled his whole life, due to a facial difference. Now, he’s about to go to school for the first time, and all he wants is for his classmates to treat him like any other person. Can the fifth graders at Beecher Prep accept Auggie as one of their own? This thoughtful and moving book, told from multiple perspectives, is perfect for the middle-grader in your life who just wants to fit in.


My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson (grades 5-8)

Just after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro puts out a call for young people to give year of their life to train as teachers and help eliminate illiteracy in Cuba. Thirteen year old Lora, a bookish sheltered girl who only knows life in Havana, feels draw to share her passion for reading and take up the challenge.  From a comfortable bed, private school education  and electricity, to a tiny remote shack in the country and a hammock in the a kitchen, Lora gains confidence, deep friendships and the satisfaction of understanding and improving the lives of the rural families she teaches. A book that shows readers that there is power in even the simple things people do for each other.


Turtles all the Way Down by John Green (grades 8-12)

John Green, best known for The Fault in Our Stars, is back with a new offering. Ava and her best friend, Daisy, are investigating a mystery surrounding a billionaire, but Ava is struggling with her own issues, including overwhelming anxiety.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (grades 8-12)

Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the posh prep school she attends. She makes it work until she witnesses the fatal shooting of an unarmed childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. What she saw and what she might say, plus the national headlines the shooting garners, sets off a firestorm in her neighborhood and further afield.

Funny Chapter Books:

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon (grades 1-3)

Dory, the youngest in her family, is a girl with a very active imagination, and she spends the summer playing with her imaginary friend, pretending to be a dog, battling monsters, and generally driving her family nuts.


The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John (grades 3-8)

Miles Murphy, a master prankster, moves to a new school in Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that prides itself on its cows. He sees the opportunity to become notorious as the school prankster. When a mysterious kid takes him on, the pair decide to join forces to pull off the biggest prank Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy has ever experienced.


Graphic Novels:

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova (grades 5-8)

A middle school student daydreams about being a hero, but middle school is too hard for it to actually happen. Then, he’s drawn into a series of problems that maybe only he can solve. If he can be as brave as his daydreams.


Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton  (grades 1-3)

Narwhal and his friend Jelly, a jellyfish, may look different, but they both love adventures. A silly and gentle set of three stories about friendship.


Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley (grades 5-8)

In a funny and sensitive memoir, Gownley traces how his dumbest idea ever became the best thing he ever did.  At 13, he was a popular basketball player at his school. After developing pneumonia, his seemingly perfect life was falling apart. While bedridden, he rediscovered his love of drawing. The book takes him from his lowest point to discovering who he was meant to be.


Real Friends by Shannon Hale (grades 3-6)

Hale turns her sharp eye to her own friendship history in elementary school with amazing honesty and humor.  


One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale  grades 3-6)

The history lover in your family will go crazy for this seven book series “Hazardous Tales.” The first, One Dead Spy, tells the true story of Hale’s namesake as he awaits his hanging for treason during the American Revolution. Clever and historically correct, American history has never been more engaging!

Little Robot by Ben Hatke  (grades 2-4)

When a lonely girl finds a robot in a junkyard, she discovers a friend worth protecting. Armed with only a wrench, she teaches Little Robot about the world and keeps him running smoothly and safe from bad bots.


Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (grades 2-4)

Dog Man, a crimefighter with the head of a police dog and the body of a policeman, faces off against his archnemesis Petey the Cat.


All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (grades 5-8)

Imogene, a home-schooled girl whose parents work at a Renaissance Fair, is looking for a way to prove her bravery.  She finds her quest – going to a public middle school.  Her adventure doesn’t involve the knights and dragons as she imagined, but navigating the unfamiliar world of middle school social life.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (grades 4-8)

Much like Calvin and Hobbes, the Phoebe and Her Unicorn series appears to be simple comic strips, but is really a deep and sophisticated.  Smart and sarcastic, it takes an older child to fully appreciate the humor, although it is a series that appeals to younger readers. As sweet Phoebe puts up with her unicorn friend Marigold Heavenly Nostrils’ arrogance and challenging personality, she begins to realize her specialness.


Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (grades 3-6)

Cat isn’t thrilled about leaving her home for the cold, misty Northern coast, but it’s what best for her sister with cystic-fibrosis. When Cat learns that the people in her new town believe that ghosts are real and even visit the living, she likes her situation even less. Ghosts is a gentle, yet powerful, story of great love between sisters and the fear of death that haunts their family.


Adventure Stories:

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (grades 7-12)

Best friends Iseult and Safi land themselves in a load of trouble by trying to pull off a revenge heist – on the wrong target! The pair then struggle to survive while also dealing with their magic, the magic and wants of the people around them and the fact that there’s a possibility that, despite many wanting to kill them, they’re some sort of heroes of prophecy.


The Courage Test by James Preller (grades 4-8)

Will goes on a forced father-son road trip to travel part of Lewis and Clark’s travels west, his father’s academic specialty.  Will feels that this trip is not just a simple male bonding adventure and is suspicion of his mother’s intentions for insisting on the journey.  Father and son meet fascinating people, survive raging rapids and wild animals and Will find getting to better know his father better is a challenge, but it is not what really tests his courage.


National Geographic Little kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs by Catherine Hughes (preschool – grade 2)

For the dinosaur fan, this book provides many pictures and brief facts about a variety of different kinds of dinosaurs. 


How to be a World Explorer: Your all-terrain training manual, by Lonely Planet Kids (grades 3-5)

Perfect for the young adventurer in your life who wants to know everything from how to start a fire to how to survive an elephant attack.


National Geographic Weird but True series (grades K-4)

If you have a trivia buff in your family, this series is perfect. Illustrated with outstanding National Geographic worthy photographs, each book is packed full of fascinating and hilarious facts.


Baby Books:

My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells

Bright, bold, big and beautiful, this classic Mother Goose collection is a wonderful gift for any family with a baby.  Each rhyme is illustrated in large format and the selection included is perfect.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin, Jr.

This classic childhood book has a new 50th anniversary format with sliding windows that reveal what Brown Bear will see next.  



Toddler Books:

Press Here, by Herve Tullet

An interactive book that asks the child to perform a certain task with the book before turning the page. When they turn the page, they see their actions have affected the pictures! 


If You’re a Robot and You Know It, by David A. Carter 

A fun twist on the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” this pop-up has your child do typical robot things to show their happiness, like “jump and beep,” and “shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” A very silly book to read to get the wiggles out.


Grumpy Pants, by Claire Messer 

What happens when Penguin wakes up grumpy and doesn’t know why? This is a cute and funny story about trying to shake off a bad day.


Let’s Sing a Lullaby With the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas

As the cowboy gets ready to sing his little herd of cattle to sleep, he is mistaken when he thinks he sees scary things around them.  A very funny book that will be requested night after night before your lullaby.  All the titles by Jan Thomas are highly recommended.  They “get” what toddlers find funny.


Picture Books for Experienced Listeners:

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist is a very curious girl who shows perseverance by asking questions and performing experiments to find things out and understand the world.


The Bear and the Piano, by David Litchfield

A beautifully illustrated book about a bear who learns to play the piano to the delight of his woodland friends, and later, the world.


Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

Little Red Chicken wants Papa to read her a bedtime story, but interrupts him almost as soon as he begins each tale.


The Sign of the Seahorse  by Graeme Base

Another set of beautiful illustrations, great story about a world under the sea and even some great search and find elements built into the illustrations.


Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

Challenge your family to figure out the bug’s language in this amazing and creative award-winning picture book.  Your kids will look at this book over and over and figure out all the little stories that are going on each page.  Soon your kids will not say  “Ma nazoot” when asked “Du iz tak?”


Books for Beginner Readers:

Pete the Cat series by James Dean

Not only do Pete the Cat books come in a picture book format for reading aloud, but also this installment of the I Can Read series brings Pete’s wacky antics to the independent reading crowd!   

Andy and Sandy Books by Tomie dePaola

When Andy and Sandy meet, they draw many mistaken conclusions about each other.  But as they ask questions and learn, they develop a trusting friendship.

Boris series by Andrew Joyner

Boris the Boar is used to a life of travel, stimulation, activity.  When his parents choose a more settled way of life, poor bored Boris must find new ways to occupy himself.  After all, what is a bored boar to do?

Poppy the Pirate Dog series by Liz Kessler

Ahoy mateys and seafaring pirate wannabes!  Join Tim and Missy and their pirate dog Poppy in their slapstick adventures.

Ling & Ting series by Grace Lin

Ling and Ting look alike, and sometimes they even choose to act alike.  The girls realize that despite appearances, they are very different from each other.  Despite their differences, they also see that they have more in common with other people around them than they first think.

Penguin Young Readers series

Familiar character such as Max and Ruby, Skylanders, Strawberry Shortcake, and Jonathan London’s Froggy along with new characters entice new readers in these easy-to-read stories.

Step into Reading series

Join such characters as Thomas the Tank Engine, Elsa and other Disney princesses, Barbie, PAW Patrol, and assorted superheroes


Beginner Chapter Books:

Claude series by Alex T. Smith

Claude the beret-donning dog who lives with his owners, Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes,  shares his madcap adventures whether at the beach, the circus, or on the silver screen!


Inspector Flytrap series by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

Funny and wonderfully illustrated, Inspector Flytrap, a venus flytrap and amazing detective teams up with Nina the Goat, who’s helpful unless she is eating the clues. Together they solve baffling mysteries, as Long as Nina leaved the clues alone.


The Kingdom of Wrenly series by Jordan Quinn

Prince Lucas, a lonely boy who longs for a friend and to explore his father’s kingdom, meets Clara, the daughter of a seamstress and together they set out to seek out the Queen’s lost jewel.


Galaxy Zack series by Ray O’Ryan

Join Zack as he planet hops and makes new friends. The pictures and each page and clever, simple language make this series perfect for kids transitioning into chapter books.


The Critter Club series by Callie Barkley

A group of friends who love animals become concerned about all the animals who need a home.  They form The Critter Club to care for and find a permanent home for rescue pets.  Each book focuses on one animal and what’s going in in the life of the four friends.


Jake Maddox Sports series by Jake Maddox

If you have a son or daughter that loves sports the Jake Maddox Sports series is a must.  Each book follows one athlete’s life.  Baseball, hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, dance team, fishing, track, skating, and just about every other sport has a book for young fans.


Dino-Mike series by Franco

Mike Evans and his paleontologist Dad travel the world hunting for dinosaur bones. In the first book, Mike is exploring and comes across a real live T. rex!  How could that happen?  He meets a strange boy who tells him a secret.


Owl Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott

A cute, colorful series made to look like a diary.  The main character, Eva Wingdale, a sweet owl, shares the joys and tribulations of her life in Treeopolis.


The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey

Mr. Wolf, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Snake and Mr. Snake seem like they should be the bad guys in any story, but you would be wrong.  They are trying to change their image and be the good guys in this hilarious series. Presented much like a graphic nove,l your new reader will laugh out loud as most of their work at being do-gooders go awry.


Favorite Chapter Book Read Alouds:

Illustrated Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (illustrations by Jim Kay) (grades 2-12)

The first three books in the Harry Potter series are now out in illustrated versions and they are absolutely delightful! The books were already great read alouds for the fast paced story and punchy dialogue but the illustrations add an extra layer of wonder.


The End of the Beginning by Avi (grades K-3)

Avon, the snail and Edward, a take-charge ant, set off together on a journey to an undetermined destination in search of unspecified adventures. This charming book is reminiscent of the Winnie-the Pooh stories in that they are a simple story that kids will love but have a philosophical underpinning that can add to discussion.  


The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt (grades K-4)

When the Prime Minister starts writing a dictionary, all is going well until he gets to the word “delicious.”  Each member of the King’s household has a different idea.  So, the King’s Messenger, Gaylen, is sent out to survey everyone in the kingdom.Traveling from farm houses to small villages, Gaylen realizes that something more is going on in the kingdom.  He sets outs to seek a mermaid child, Ardis, who appears to hold the key to preventing civil war in the kingdom.  Also, the dictionary gets the perfect word for “delicious!”


Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (grades 4-8)

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service. A beautifully written book that is a pleasure to read aloud, Inkheart weaves a spell that makes you remember why you love books.  While is is wonderful to read, it comes alive when read out loud.


The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (grades K-5)

Twelve-year-old Claudia and  her younger brother run away from home and take up residence at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.  There they come upon a beautiful and mysterious statue.  Determined to discover its maker, they first have to find the statue’s former owner, the reclusive and mischievous Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and then sort through her incredibly mixed-up files.