Winter 2018’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: a Demon Slayer, Social Activism, and a Monkey Detective

Winter 2018’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: a Demon Slayer, Social Activism, and a Monkey Detective

Ho, ho, hold on. Don’t you dare make your holiday wish list before looking at these upcoming new releases. This winter is bringing readers of all ages an incredible batch of new titles. Picture book lovers will not want to miss Matt de la Peña and Loren Long’s heartwarming tale about what love means, or Brian Selznick and David Serlin’s hilarious adventures of a pint-sized P.I. Meanwhile, middle grade readers can go on a demon slaying adventure or find their passion for activism and justice. Here’s to a new year and some new favorites.

Picture Books

Groundhug Day

Bring it in

The forest is abuzz with excitement in this new book from Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Christopher Denise. Moose is throwing a Valentine’s Day party and he’s invited all of his close friends: Bunny, Porcupine, Squirrel, and Groundhog. The party planning is running smoothly, until Bunny realizes that if Groundhog sees his shadow, he’ll go back to sleep for six weeks and miss the party. This is completely unacceptable, and the friends band together to find a way for Groundhog to join in the fun. And Groundhog rewards his pals with “Groundhugs” for their efforts. This is a heartwarming story about overcoming fears and working together to help a friend. Young readers will want to visit this enchanting forest over and over again.

On shelves: December 5

100 Things I Love to Do with You

To-do list

Readers, Amy Schwartz has delivered the ultimate listicle. This rhyming text features a whopping 100 fun things to do, from “rub noses” and “smell roses” to “pogo stick” and “apple pick.” There are even a few cheeky ones like “misbehave” and “make trouble,” which are sure to make rambunctious little readers giggle. The activities are depicted through colorful artwork that pairs children with friends, siblings, parents, and other grown-ups. For adults who list “reading together” as one of the things they love to do with their kids, this is not to be missed.

On shelves: December 5

Martin Rising: Requiem For a King

The time is always right to do what is right

Andrea and Brian Pinkney combine their considerable talents in this evocative and moving look at the last months of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Andrea’s poems capture King’s love of his family, his dedication to the black community, and his unwavering strength in the face of adversity. She shows King at play, having a pillow fight with his brother, and at work, fighting sickness and exhaustion while delivering what would be his final speech. Brian’s illustrations pair with the text perfectly, featuring warm watercolors and rounded imagery to paint King’s final months. In a starred review Kirkus called this book, “Spiritually vital.” We couldn’t agree more.

On shelves: January 2

Love

L is for…

Of all the words in the English language, love is perhaps the one that most defies definition. It’s too vast, too multifaceted, and too important to conform to a single meaning. And yet it has been captured perfectly in this picture book from author Matt de la Peña and illustrator Loren Long. They describe love at its most powerful, after the birth of a child; at its most tender, during moments of sadness; as its most gentle, on easy summer days; and at its most necessary, when looking at yourself in the mirror. This is a stunning tribute to the word love in all of its beautiful forms.

On shelves: January 9

The Rabbit Listened

Listen up

Armed with a box of blocks, Taylor builds a masterpiece. But as he looks upon his accomplishment with pride, something terrible happens and his blocks come crashing to the floor. An array of animals, everything from a brown bear to an ostrich, comes by and offers advice, though none of it makes Taylor feel any better. Then a rabbit hops along and does something different. Without offering any advice, the rabbit sits beside Taylor quietly. Cori Doerrfeld’s poignant story illustrates our desire to comfort others in the right way and shows that sometimes just being there is enough.

On shelves: February 20

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

A study in denim

A dame’s been robbed! A pizza’s been nicked! There’s only one gumshoe who can ensure that these crooks are sent to the big house: Baby Monkey. But first, he’ll need to look for clues, have a snack, take some notes, and figure out how to put his pants on (a laugh-out-loud gag that gets funnier every time). And before the day is through, he’ll need a little nap too. Husbands Brian Selznick and David Serlin have struck gold. Baby Monkey is an utter delight, and readers of all ages will hope to see more of his cases soon.

On shelves: February 27

Middle Grade

Betty Before X

Power, strength, and intelligence

Before she was a mother, before she became a civil rights advocate, and before she married Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz was a young girl growing up in Detroit. Here, Ilyasah Shabazz joins forces with novelist Renée Watson to transport readers back to 1945, when her mother Betty was 11. This fictionalized biography reveals key moments in Betty’s life that shaped the activist she’d grow up to be, such as volunteering with the Housewives League to support black-owned businesses, as well as her early understanding of how prevalent and ingrained racism was in American society. This is an important and compelling story that readers won’t soon forget.

On shelves: January 2

Just Like Jackie

Stepping up to the plate

Robinson “Robbie” Hart can’t control her temper. When the kids at school tease her about not having parents and not looking like her grandfather (who is black, while biracial Robbie has blonde hair and pale skin), she’s ready to let her fists fly. Her grandfather encourages her to channel her namesake, the calm-under-pressure Jackie Robinson, but this is easier said than done for Robbie. It doesn’t help that she’s feeling stressed because Grandpa’s memory is starting to fade and she fears that one day he may forget all about her. Lindsey Stoddard’s middle grade debut thoughtfully explores the meaning of family and identity through the eyes of a scrappy and bold protagonist.

On shelves: January 2

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

Nothing but the truth

Leslie Connor’s middle grade novel introduces readers to 12-year-old Mason Buttle. Mason struggles to fit in at school, where he’s relentlessly bullied for his learning disabilities. But his home life hasn’t been any easier since his best friend and neighbor Benny died in the Buttle’s apple orchard 16 months ago. Lieutenant Baird doesn’t believe Mason is telling the truth about what happened the day Benny died, and he keeps returning to ask more and more questions. The one bright spot in Mason’s day is a new friend named Calvin. But when Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble once more. The hunt for the truth will keep readers turning pages, but it’s Mason’s honesty, resilience, and hope that will resonate the most.

On shelves: January 23

The Journey of Little Charlie

Escape to freedom

This season, Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis is delivering a heartbreaking work of historical fiction set in 1858. Twelve-year-old Charlie is left with a mountain of debt when his father dies, and Cap’n Buck is demanding repayment. When Charlie can’t pay, Cap’n Buck agrees to clear the debt if Charlie helps him track down a family of three escaped slaves. The search takes them to Canada where the family’s son, Sylvanus Demarest, is attending school. It’s there that Charlie devises a plan to see Sylvanus’ entire family to safety. Though this is a novel, Sylvanus Demarest is based on a real teenager who escaped an attempted kidnapping in Canada. In a starred review Publishers Weekly wrote, “Curtis’s unsparing novel pulls no punches as it illuminates an ugly chapter of American history.”

On shelves: January 30

The Unicorn Quest

What Claire found there

Readers who dream of finding a hidden entrance to a magical world, this one’s for you. Claire and Sophie Martinson are both intrigued by the ladder inside the fireplace at Windermere Manor. When they climb up, they’re find themselves in Arden, a world torn apart by war. Sensing danger, the girls head back home, only for Sophie to disappear soon after. When her sister doesn’t return, Claire draws on her courage and climbs the ladder once more. Claire must travel through these lands where unicorns once roamed to find her lost sister, but she isn’t the only one hunting for Sophie. In a starred review, Booklist recommended Kamilla Benko’s series starter to fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Neil Gaiman’s Coraline—which is reason enough to dive into this immediately.

On shelves: February 6

The Serpent’s Secret

She is the slayer

Readers looking for a rolicking adventure filled with danger and demons will clamor for Sayantani DasGupta’s middle grade fantasy inspired by Indian folk tales. Twelve-year-old Kiranmala’s normal life turns upside down when her parents are transported to a different dimension and she’s left to battle a demon in her kitchen. Enter two Indian princes, Lal and Neel, who are determined to rescue her. On their flying horses, they take her to the Kingdom Beyond the Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers where she must face the Serpent King if she hopes to save her parents. DasGupta gives readers a brave heroine to root for and an adventure they’ll hope never ends.

On shelves: February 27

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