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Local Children's Book Buyers Offer Reading Recommendations


Published November 15, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 2, 2022 at 8:02 p.m.

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If you're searching for birthday or holiday gifts for the kids in your life, consider picking out an engaging book or two. Students' reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress dropped nationwide from 2019 to 2022, including here in Vermont. Giving kids something fun to read this winter could help turn that around. Books also open our minds to new interests, and some research suggests that reading fiction boosts empathy and compassion in young people.

For help picking out the right reads, we sought recommendations from children's book buyers at local bookstores, since they keep a close eye on industry trends and new releases. Read on for a few picture books, middle-grade chapter books and YA titles they're excited about this season — some even have local ties.

The buyers

Elizabeth Bluemle, children's book author and owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne.

Jane Knight, children's book buyer at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier. Knight works closely with area schools on events and book fairs and has been on the advisory board for Children's Literacy Foundation for about 12 years.

Kristin Richland, children's book buyer at Phoenix Books, with stores in Burlington, Essex Junction and Rutland. Kristin is also an artist who painted a mural in the Burlington store, right above the children's section.

Picture Books

How to Make a Mountain in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years!  by Amy Huntington - COURTESY
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  • How to Make a Mountain in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! by Amy Huntington

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey by Jason Chin

Bluemle: "Caldecott winner Chin turns his brilliant pen to reveal the very building blocks of life for young readers, zooming from a tiny hummingbird all the way down to charm quarks. Clear explanations and captivating visual details invite wonder and exploration — from adults as well as children."

Knight: "Chin makes the wonders of our microscopic universe accessible, with his signature attention to detail and beauty."

Richland: "This book captures the magic of discovering whole new worlds and having your view shifted (in a good way)!"

Over and Under the Waves by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Neal

Bluemle: "Kate Messner's best-selling series revealing nature's marvels above and below the surface has a new entry! A sea-kayaking family observes the diverse ocean life around them and imagines the rich undersea world below on their paddling journey."

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Bluemle: "A laugh-out-loud, exuberant retelling of the classic tale, with gleefully gross language when the troll imagines his (never-to-be-had) goat feast. Read-aloud gold."

How to Make a Mountain in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! by Amy Huntington

Knight: "An interactive and whimsical introduction to geology that will inspire Earth's future caretakers."

The Night Wild by Zoë Tilley Poster

Richland: "Poster takes us on a wild moonlit romp alongside 'Dog.' The night is mysterious and beautiful but also filled with adventure, making this a perfect bedtime story. Poster's soft, dreamy illustrations are done in brushed graphite, which lets us really see the night through Dog's eyes. You may recognize her artwork from Frog Hollow or other local galleries."

Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Anne Lowe by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell and illustrated by Erin Robinson

Richland: "I love stories about hidden histories! Authors Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell tell us the story of couture fashion designer Ann Lowe, who was highly sought after by 'the social register' but not acknowledged publicly, because she was Black. We owe so much to women like her who persevered behind the scenes to raise an art form and earn respect for others who are underrepresented. Her story of hard work and artistic flair will inspire creative readers."

Chapter Books

Grounded for All Eternity by Darcy Marks - COURTESY
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  • Grounded for All Eternity by Darcy Marks

Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon

Bluemle: "A quiet boy who likes predictability gets drawn into a grand adventure involving puzzles, riddles, secret codes and a scavenger hunt with a lot at stake, including a missing father. Magoon flourishes her trademark skill at creating a lively escapade underpinned with depth and tenderness, unfolding themes of friendship, bullying and family life."

The Real Deal by Lindsey Stoddard

Bluemle: "Sixth grade is a time of change, where kids are caught between childhood and new interests, between fitting in and standing up for themselves and others. Gabe navigates a longtime best friendship showing signs of strain, is intrigued by a new student with selective mutism and a seventh grader forced to join their class temporarily, and embarks on a creative endeavor inspired by Dog Man. Stoddard's fifth book is full of heart and hope."

Knight: "Stoddard explores what it takes to be true to friendship and yourself, with a delightful nod to creativity, books and local bookstores."

Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden

Bluemle: "This horror/fantasy novel for ages 10 and up is the fourth from Arden, and it delivers the shivers! Three friends have been separated from their fourth pal, a girl trapped in a carnival that looks innocent and festive by day but at night is spine-chillingly filled with ominous carnival clowns and a villain called the Smiling Man. Can Brian, Coco and Phil rescue Ollie, or can she save herself? Kids looking to be creeped out will find their fill in this series ender that can also be read on its own."

Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Knight: "A graphic novel with wide appeal, Invisible celebrates individuality and community while transcending language barriers."

A Rover's Story by Jasmine Warga

Knight: "Told through the eyes of a Mars Rover that launches into space, this adventure story will appeal across ages and interests."

Curious Cases: True Crime for Kids by Rebecca Valley

Richland: "The true-crime craze isn't just for podcast-addicted adults! Kids love reading about weird facts and implausible stories, and Rebecca Valley's book is a well-curated selection of age-appropriate true crimes that you can give your young reader without worrying. Includes forensic activities to try out!"

Grounded for All Eternity by Darcy Marks

Richland: "When I first ordered this title for the store, I didn't realize Darcy Marks lived just one town over! Her debut is going to strike a chord with kids who've been told to stay home when things are afoot (hello, pandemic). But these aren't ordinary kids, with their wings and horns, and these aren't just any suburbs; they're the suburbs of Hell. Their parents are trying to keep them safe as a truly evil soul is making a break for Earth. My inner goth had such a great time with this book!"

Young Adult

Sugaring Off by Gillian French - COURTESY
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  • Sugaring Off by Gillian French

We Made It All Up by Margot Harrison

Bluemle: "When a teen new to a small town is implicated in the death of the popular boy she had a crush on (and had written fan fiction about), even she isn't sure she's not at fault. Complicated friendship, romance, dark secrets and shifting stories make this young adult thriller a compelling read for adults as well as teens."

Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson

Bluemle: "Named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, consummate storyteller Katherine Paterson has won more awards for her children's books than just about any writer in history. Despite the accolades, Paterson brings a groundedness and humility to every thoughtful tale she tells. This collection for teens recalls scenes from Paterson's life, from a childhood in China with missionary parents to raising her own family and an adult life in writing that has taken her all over the world. Filled with inspiration, insight and humor."

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt

Bluemle: "As we balance on the precipice of ecological catastrophe, books like Braiding Sweetgrass help readers connect and reconnect not only with our responsibilities to the planet but with the farsighted, nature-focused practices and philosophies of Indigenous communities across the nation throughout history. This adapted edition for young readers hits a sweet spot that will inspire new appreciation for our Earth and give motivated young eco-activists helpful action items aimed at sustainability and stewardship."

Talk Santa to Me by Linda Urban

Knight: "A smart and insightful rom-com for anyone who wants to add some sugar and spice to their holiday season."

Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions, edited by A.R. Capetta and Wade Roush

Richland: "I love giving short story compilations, because chances are, your recipient is going to find at least one new author to fall in love with. Tasting Light explores everyday coming-of-age issues but throws in speculative curveballs, like having your AI doppelgänger snitch on your best friend, or choosing a new voice (think organ transplant) that helps express your true identity but realizing there are strings attached. This is a great intro to a really diverse group of young adult authors!"

Knight: "Buckle up — this is a mind-bending exploration of the innovative (and oppressive) powers of technology as each story beckons our collective expansive future."

I Miss You, I Hate This by Sara Saedi

Knight: "A nuanced and expertly crafted pandemic story that reminds us about the power of connection and forgiveness."

Sugaring Off by Gillian French

Richland: "Owl works alongside her aunt and uncle on their sugaring operation, 10 years after a violent incident that sent her father to jail and left her partially deaf. This is an atmospheric story that will resonate with anyone who's spent a length of time outside in a New England winter. Owl is a resolute 17-year-old, intrigued by a young ne'er-do-well who blows into town and is sent to help on her family's sugar bush. Her deafness is part of her but not the focus of the story."

Blowin' My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roesch

Richland: "Music, first love and discovering yourself, all during an epic 1980s summer concert tour ... performing with your parents? It's a great list of ingredients, and Burlington author (and Kids VT contributor) Roesch handles them beautifully. Rainey Cobb goes from feeling stifled but afraid of disappointing her family to realizing she can be true to herself without the world ending."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Pages for All Ages"