Winter’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Cats, Curses, and More!

Winter’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Cats, Curses, and More!

The art of storytelling reigns supreme in this season’s round up. From a pair of twins who want to craft the best book ever, to a girl who enters books in the search of her fictional father, young readers are in luck this season. But that’s far from all winter books have to offer. A tired sloth attends a sleep festival and a crayon suffers an identity crisis in two of our favorite picture books, while readers who don’t need a parent reading alongside will transport themselves to worlds of Egyptian curses and culture clashes. And cats—there are also cats.

Picture Books

1. Violet and Victor Write the Best-Ever Bookworm Book

Bibliophiles-in-training

YA author Alice Kuipers makes her picture-book debut with this charming story of twins who set out to write the best book ever. And what better plot for these aspiring authors than to have their heroine save the place where all great books reside—the library—from a vicious book-eating monster? Artist Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Zoe Gets Ready) uses photoshop to combine her illustrations and real-world elements such as pages from books and library cards. The resulting pages are sure to captivate both parents and their budding bookworms.

On shelves: December 2

2. When Otis Courted Mama

Git along, little coyote

Some of the best children’s books serve as more than mere entertainment; they can help kids come to terms with difficult and challenging situations. Little coyote Cardell is in such a situation. His parents are separated and a new coyote (Otis) is moving in on his mama. Cardell doesn’t expect his parents to get back together—he even likes his stepmom and stepbrother. But Otis threatens the great life Cardell and his mom have, plus he can’t do any of the fantastic things Cardell’s dad can, like howling soulfully at the moon or making jalapeno flapjacks. When his mom doesn’t give the new beau the boot, Cardell learns that he may have judged Otis too quickly.

On shelves: January 6

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3. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay

Blind ambition

Zulay is a typical first grader. She loves to sing with her friends, she likes some subjects better than others, and sometimes her teacher needs to remind her to raise her hand before speaking. What makes Zulay feel different is the folded-up cane in her desk, a cane that she needs to learn to use because she’s blind. Zulay doesn’t like how the cane makes her stand out, but she has to learn to use it if she wants to break out her new pink sneakers and run in her school’s Field Day race. With the help Ms. Turner, an aide who smells like Juicy Fruit and fresh air, Zulay begins working towards her goal. Kids, blind or not, will easily relate to Zulay’s distaste for being different and will feel empowered by her accomplishments. Inspired by a real girl in a New York City public school, this is exactly the sort of book that the We Need Diverse Books campaign was looking for.

On shelves: January 13

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4. Snoozefest

Five more minutes, mom

Curl up in a cocoon of blankets for this cuddly cozy story of a sloth attending Snoozefest, a musical festival for nappers. Cuddleford Snugglebun is a champion sleeper, but she’ll wake from her slumber if it means she can attend the Snoozefest. From a pajama fashion show featuring designers Louis Futon and Alexander McDream to performances from lullaby bands like Chamomile Rage, the festival is the year’s best sleepytime treat for snooze-loving animals like sloths, bears, and koalas. And the book? It’s the ultimate getting-ready-for-bed read.

On shelves: January 22

5. Ella

I lived in a hotel before the Plaza was cool

Ella is the modern kid’s Eloise, trading the glitzy Plaza for the Local Hotel in a hipster urban neighborhood. She travels by scooter and is always accompanied by her pet dachshund, Stacie. She’s into zumba and hula-hooping, she attends Fashion Week and sometimes sticks edamame up her nose. Ella doesn’t take herself or any of the hipsters around her too seriously, and that’s exactly why we love her. Manny (her male nanny) plays the guitar and is thinking about buying a grilled cheese food truck, her tutor has a PhD from an Ivy League school. Perfectly cheeky and sure to provide smiles to both adults and kids alike, this humorous homage is a must-have for parents who fell in love with Kay Thompson’s classic Eloise and want to share that same sense of mischief and adventure with their kids.

On shelves: January 22

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6. A Castle Full of Cats

Puuurfect storytime fun

A fancy group of felines live it up at the palace until the king brings home a bull mastiff. The queen loves her castle full of cats, though her husband the king isn’t very pleased. They leave mice by his shoes, sit in his chair, and claw at his walls. The queen says they’re just being cats. The king decides to bring home a pet of his own: a slobbering dog! Young pet owners and cat lovers will adore the various cats crawling over the pages—climbing the couches, eating fish at the royal dinner table, sitting for portraits. Fans of both kitties and palace life will have found their new favorite read.

On shelves: January 27

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7. Red

Coloring outside of the lines

A mislabeled crayon struggles with identity when he can’t color the way he thinks he should. His strawberries come out blue and when he mixes with yellow he makes green not orange. Kids reading can plainly see what the crayon can’t: He’s a blue crayon in red wrapping. It’s a relief when the crayon finally discovers who he truly is, and even more so when his new identity is accepted by those around him. At the end of the tale, it is more important to be who you are rather than who you think you should be. With a 2002 list of what 9-year-old boys don’t like about being boys making the rounds, this book is the perfect way to teach kids that it is okay to defy expectations. It lets them know they can be themselves—whether they’re fighting gender stereotypes or simply finding the bravery to be who they are on the playground.

On shelves: February 2

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Middle Grade

8. Alistair Grim’s Odditorium

It’s the hard-knock life

Like another dropped-off-on-a-doorstep orphan that we all know and love, Grubb escapes from an abusive foster home to discover a world of magic. While working as a chimney sweep for the wretched Mr. Smears, the young boy (approximately age 12, but he can’t really be sure) hides in the trunk of a mysterious guest and is whisked away to the Odditorium. Alistair Grim, the trunk’s owner, is willing to take young Grubb under his wing, but an evil force threatens the magical world he’s found and Grubb has to quickly go from chimney sweep to hero if he wants to save his newfound family. It’s a fantastical series starter and great for readers ready to dive into something big.

On shelves: January 6

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9. Story Thieves

Get lost in a book

Readers who often find themselves wishing they could truly lose themselves between the pages will devour this adventurous tale of a young girl and boy who can do just that. Bethany’s mother was born in the real world but her father is a fictional character. When her dad goes missing, Bethany literally dives into every book she can in the hopes of finding him. Her classmate Owen catches her climbing out a library copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and makes a deal: He won’t reveal her secret if she takes him into his favorite series. What could go wrong? A lot, and that’s where the fun is had.

On shelves: January 20

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10. Tombquest: Book of the Dead

Missing mummy

Hold tight, this book is a fast-paced adventure that doesn’t stop when you close the cover. Similar to The 39 Clues, this story of Egyptian history and magic can be continued online: building tombs, finding treasure, and creating booby traps. But first they need to read about Alex Sennefer. When a doctor tells Alex that he doesn’t have much time left, Alex’s Egyptologist mom knows that the Lost Spells in the Egyptian Book of the Dead can cure his illness.  She utters the spell and it works! … well, sort of. She also brings back five very evil and scary 3,000 year old Death Walkers. Way to go, mom. But when Alex’s mom and the book disappear, he knows he has to team up with his best friend Ren to save the day.

On shelves: January 27

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11. The Question of Miracles

Every moment of light and dark

Already generating Newbery buzz, this may be the book to read this season. Iris’s family has moved from sunny California to rainy Oregon in hopes of a fresh start after the death of Iris’ best friend, Sarah. Ignoring her parents’ push for her to make friends, Iris focuses her energy on finding a way to talk to Sarah again. She knows she’ll need a miracle, and when she meets Boris (a classmate and certified medical miracle), she thinks she may have found a way. This is a moving and tender tale of loss, longing, and the presence of miracles all around us.

On shelves: February 3

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12. Finding Serendipity

Searching for the storyteller

Young Tuesday McGillycuddy is the perfect guide for readers who wish to explore the land where stories are written. Tuesday is waiting for her author mother (Serendipity Smith) to finish writing the latest book in the popular Vivienne Small series. When Tuesday visits her mother’s writing room, she discovers that her mother is missing! What happens next sends Tuesday and her beloved dog Baxterr on a journey through the land of stories where they meet her mother’s heroine Vivienne Small and set out to save the author herself!

On shelves: February 3

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13. Listen, Slowly

Lost in translation

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award winner Thanhhà Lại returns to Vietnam in Listen, Slowly. Mai is more interested in the California beaches than learning about her culture, but sure enough she’s stuck spending her summer vacation with her grandmother in Vietnam rather than on sandy shores with her friends. While her grandmother searches for her husband who went missing during the Vietnam War, Mai struggles to find balance between the American culture she grew up knowing and the strange Vietnamese world she now finds herself in. Those who loved Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again must find room on their shelves for this brand new tale of home and family.

On shelves: February 17

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14. Wish Girl

When you wish upon a girl

Peter Stone’s family moved from San Antonio to rural Texas Hill Country to escape the bullies who tormented him. But it doesn’t help much. Peter’s family is filled with loud extroverts and no one seems to understand his quiet and withdrawn nature. He feels completely alone, that is until he meets Annie. Twelve-year-old Annie Blythe is a wish girl. To be more specific, she’s a Make-A-Wish girl who’s about to start a risky new treatment to stop her leukemia from spreading. The two meet and connect in a peaceful valley they believe has magical powers. When bullies threaten Peter once more, the two plan their escape. A beautiful introduction to magical realism for sensitive and perceptive readers.

On shelves: February 24

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