Winter 2019’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books

Winter 2019’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books

winter’s must-read children’s books

Put on the cocoa and bust out the marshmallows. Winter is here, and that means it’s time for hot chocolate, cozy blankets, and exciting new books! Picture book readers will meet fascinating new characters: a very fancy feline, a rodeo star, and a dress-up queen with never-ending costume changes. Meanwhile, middle grade readers can prepare for adventures to intergalactic worlds, new schools, and magical islands. Take a look at this winter’s must-read children’s books, and prepare for a season packed with great reads.

Picture Books

Is That You, Eleanor Sue? by Tricia Tusa

Young Eleanor Sue loves Saturdays more than any other day. It’s the day that her mom is home, and the day they play dress-up. But these two put a unique spin on the game. Eleanor Sue dons an outfit, sneaks out of her bedroom window, and rings the front doorbell. Her mother, never quite sure what sort of character will be behind the door, answers and entertains her guest (whether it’s a gnome-toting woman, a windblown witch, or even a friendly feline). Eleanor Sue commits quite seriously to each role, making this a delightfully funny read. You and your young reader will give Eleanor Sue a standing ovation, before rushing over for your own round of dress-up!

On shelves: December 4

My Heart by Corinna Luyken

It’s been said that hearts will never be practical until they are unbreakable, but this quiet and moving picture book sets out to show readers that our hearts can be healed with love, kindness, and compassion. Through rhyming verse, this book takes a look into the lives of various children and their experiences with emotions like sadness and loneliness. During these times, hearts can feel “heavy with rain” and it’s hard to believe that good feelings will come again. It’s through empathy and understanding that the characters find their hearts light and happy once more.

On shelves: January 8

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

With four starred reviews and counting, this book is sure to be one of the most talked about of the season. In free verse, a young black girl narrates her family’s life working as slaves on a plantation. Each day begins with the ring of a bell and her mother, father, and brother share a meal with her before leaving to work. But one day the bell rings and her brother Ben is missing. The family is heartbroken: They pray that Ben found freedom but are terrified thinking about what must have happened if he didn’t. A powerful final image shows our young narrator staring at the morning bell.

On shelves: January 15

What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison

Readers looking for a book that captures the spirit of the season of giving will love What Is Given from the Heart. In honor of Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis tells his community that they’ll be putting together love boxes for those who need them most in their community. James Otis and his mama recently lost his father, their dog, and their home—and James Otis is certain he has nothing to give. But then his pastor reminds him that the very best gifts come from the heart. This is the last picture book from Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia C. McKissack, who passed away in April 2017, and it’s one that readers will treasure.

On shelves: January 18

Let ‘er Buck! by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Saddle up, readers, and prepare for a trip out west. This picture-book biography follows African-American rodeo legend George Fletcher on his journey to the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up. George grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and it’s where he first learned the art of horsemanship. He started competing in rodeos at the age of 16, though it was challenging to find those that allowed black riders. The book culminates in the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up where 21-year-old George had the ride of his life. When a white rider was awarded first place, a local sheriff organized a campaign for George, dubbed the People’s Champion. Young ranch hands will find a lot to love about George’s passion for horses, riding, and following his dreams.

On shelves: February 5

Princess Puffybottom… and Darryl by Susin Nielsen, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller

Princess Puffybottom leads a regal life. She’s endlessly pampered by her two subjects who feed her, pet her, and love her with abandon. But that all changes the day they bring home Darryl. After watching the young puppy eat a sock, throw it up, and attempt to eat it again, Princess Puffybottom declares she can’t live with him a moment longer! It takes time, but slowly the two learn to tolerate each other and (though she likely would not admit it) Princess Puffybottom starts to actually like Darryl. As the two pets play, the background reveals two women beginning to prepare their home for another new arrival: a baby. Is this a hint of more adventures to come? We sure hope so, and we know your little reader will too!

On shelves: February 5

Middle Grade

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Thirteen-year-old Min longs for the day she can leave the planet of Jinju and join her brother Jun as a Space Force cadet. Her plans change when she hears that Jun is suspected of abandoning his post to search for the legendary and powerful Dragon Pearl. Determined to clear her brother’s name, Min sets out on an adventure that will take her across the stars. The journey is a dangerous one, but Min comes from a long line of fox spirits and can use the power of shapeshifting to disguise herself. Her mother forbids her from using her powers, but Min’s abilities are her only chance at surviving her encounters with pirates, ghosts, dragons, and more. Readers looking for an out-of-this-world adventure can’t go wrong with this Korean-mythology-inspired tale.

On shelves: January 15

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

This important debut follows a 13-year-old girl on her journey to self-acceptance. There are a lot of things that Genesis doesn’t like about her life. She hates that her father gambles away their rent money, that her and her mom are now forced to live with her grandmother, that she has to go to a new school, and that she wasn’t born light-skinned like her mother. She’s mocked for her dark skin at school, and she can’t even escape the bullying at home, where her grandmother’s colorist comments feel like jabbing knives. But when Genesis joins chorus and receives encouragement from her teacher, she starts to feel good about herself for the first time. In an age where celebrities continue to endorse harmful skin lightening treatments, this is an emotional and necessary read about learning to love yourself inside and out.

On shelves: January 15

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

Eleven-year-old Fionn Boyle and his sister, 13-year-old Tara, arrive on Arranmore Island expecting to spend a quiet summer with their grandfather. Instead, they uncover the island’s magical and dangerous secrets. Every generation the island chooses a Storm Keeper, a person gifted with the power to control the sea. Fionn’s grandfather has held the post for years, but he’s growing old and is ready to pass on the mantle. With another family on the island vying for the role and an ancient war threatening to restart, Fionn must act quickly if he hopes to save his ancestral home. Reader looking for a modern fantasy can’t go wrong with this magical tale.

On shelves: January 22

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Jordan Banks dreams of going to art school, but as a seventh grader he doesn’t yet have much choice in the matter. His parents instead enroll him in Riverdale Academy Day School, a private school where his race and financial aid status set him apart from his peers. The book explores the challenges of being the new kid coupled with the microaggressions Jordan faces daily from white classmates, teachers, and administrators. Jerry Craft’s art is expressive and eye-catching, and readers will love the excerpts from Jordan’s own sketchbook, which often provide hilarious insight into his experiences. With its blend of humor and poignancy, this graphic novel is already being hailed as one of the most important of the year by Booklist, and we think you’ll agree.

On shelves: February 5

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

When Carter Jones answers the door at 7:15 am on the first day of school, the last thing he expects to find is Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick—an Englishman driving a purple Bentley. The Butler, as Carter begins to call him, says he was sent to help by Carter’s late grandfather. Though Carter’s mom and sisters are initially resistant, they soon welcome the Butler with open arms. Only Carter remains guarded and unsure of the Butler’s presence. But with a little nudging, the Butler soon has Carter playing cricket with his middle school friends, driving the Bentley, and opening up about the loss he’s struggling to come to terms with. As Mary Poppins returns to theaters, this is the perfect moment for a heartwarming tale about a family’s life being changed for the better by the appearance of a mysterious helper.

On shelves: February 5

Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta

Sayantani DasGupta enchanted readers with The Serpent’s Secret, and this winter she’s back with the sequel. It’s been months since middle grader Kiranmala discovered that she had been born a princess in an alternate dimension called the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers. But she hasn’t returned to the kingdom in four months, and it’s been just as long since she heard from any of her friends there. It’s only when she’s visited by the Rakkhoshi Queen and learns that her friends may be in trouble that Kiranmala decides to go back and face whatever dangers await her. Readers looking for a fun, edge-of-your-seat adventure will devour this new installment.

On shelves: February 26

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