2022 book gift guide


It’s time for my annual book gift guide! This is only the second time I’ve done one, and last year’s effort was a last-minute, slapdash list of the books that I was gifting to friends and family. That’s what this year’s list is too, but at least it’s not the 11th hour. [Insert laughing crying emoji] As always, these aren’t all newly released books, but they’re books I found this year & am gifting for the holidays!


Friends and family: If you are seeing this, it might be a spoiler alert for you and/or your child. Read on at your own risk!


Board books for babies (ages 0-2):


What is a Sloth? by Ginger Swift, illustrated by Manu Montoya – A shiny, short, lift-a-flap board book for babies. I’m getting this one for the newest nibling.


Crack-Crack! Who Is That? by Tristan Mory – There’s a handle to pull, sound effects, and baby animals appear – this board book is inventive fun and sure to delight the youngest readers, either read independently or with an adult for storytime.


Little Red Barn by Ginger Swift – This board book has a unique shape and fun lift-a-flap adventures on a farm with a little red barn. Nothing new or spectacular, but a solid choice!


Bumblebee Grumblebee by David Elliot – The only board book on this list without an interactive element on the page. Instead, this one has fun wordplay that will make little ones smile and allow adults to play along with silly rhymes and made up words.


Picture books for littles (ages 3-5):


Pip & Pup by Eugene Yelchin – A wordless picture book featuring a tiny chick and a farmhouse dog who fears storms. Expressive features and layouts help parents (or children themselves) tell this empathetic story.


Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall – New from the Caldecott Award-winning artist, this title’s meticulously detailed pages feature dollhouse-like cutaways of a house and the many generations and families who lived in it. For little ones who might someday grow up to read & love the Little House or Anne of Green Gables books.


City Under the City by Dan Yaccarino – A charmingly illustrated picture book/early reader with an intriguing sci-fi premise. Great pick for a wide range of ages – I can see this being a hit read aloud choice with a four-year-old, and also a very proud accomplishment independent read for a six- or seven-year-old.


Full Moon by Camila Pintonato – Answers the ever-pressing question: What do animals get up to after small children are tucked in bed? Lovely art and simple, whimsical story.


Only the Trees Know by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu – Nondenominational wintertime story with anthropomorphic animals and beautiful snowy forest scenes.


Hey! A Colorful Mystery by Kate Read – Read’s picture books are clever, colorful, and both surprise and delight from start to finish. This one’s set underwater and features a MYSTERY.


George and His Nighttime Friends by Seng Soun Ratanavanh – Seriously gorgeous art is Ratanavanh’s trademark, but this one takes it up a notch with the story of a lonely boy whose mind won’t stop racing when the lights go out. An excellent bedtime read for ages 3+, with details and easter eggs on every page.


Graphic novels for early readers (ages 6-7):


Cranky Chicken by Katherine Battersby – A funny early reader graphic novel featuring a dynamic duo (think Norma & Belly from Donut Feed the Squirrels or the Narwhal and Jelly series), one of whom is… well, a cranky chicken!


Two-Headed Chicken by Tom Angleberger – A funny, frenetic graphic novel from the author of the Origami Yoda series. Could be a good choice for kiddos up to age 9, depending on their reading confidence and sense of humor (the premise is goofy, with several long-running gags!).


Slightly older elementary school kids (ages 8-12):


My Aunt is a Monster by Reimena Yee – From my review earlier this year: this graphic novel “is FUN, silly, pretty, and a breath of fresh air. For… anyone with a large imagination and a hankering to explore the unknown.”


The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel by E.T.A. Hoffman, adapted by Natalie Andrewson – The nostalgia of The Nutcracker paired with the updated whimsy of Nat Andrewson’s fantastic graphic novel art, for a middle grade crowd.


Books for the teen crowd (ages 13-18):


Supper Club by Jackie Morrow – A brightly colored graphic novel about the final year of high school and a club centered around cooking & food for those who loved Raina Telgemeier’s books when they were a bit younger.


Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile – One of the best books I’ve read this year, and a shoo-in favorite for anyone (ages 13+) interested in history, social justice, sports, and underdog stories. You don’t have to be all of those – just one will do. I’m sending it to my high school student cousin and pushing it on my own students in the classroom.

For adults:


Gâteau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes by Aleksandra Crapanzano – I saw a very positive review of this cookbook in Shelf Awareness and thought it might be the perfect gift for my college roommate and best friend who is a baker and studied abroad in France.


The Wild Hunt by Emma Seckel – For anyone who likes a bit of romance, historical fiction, and a touch of fantasy. This one takes place somewhere in Scotland in the aftermath of WWII, and isn’t tidily characterized as literary fiction or horror or romance or anything else! Sending to my friend who adored All the Light We Cannot See.


Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor – Okorafor (author of Binti) writes inventive, layered science fiction. In Remote Control, Okorafor imagines a “weird, haunting, and visceral future” in a tidy novella package. I’m getting this one for my brother who likes sci-fi and fantasy!


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Giving this one to myself for the holidays! I’ve heard others rave about it online for years (it won a Goodreads Choice Award in 2019!), and one of my coworkers finally convinced me to give it a try. After all, lesbian necromancers?! Sounds fun, and like the perfect read for grown-ups who obsessed over Garth Nix’s Sabriel as young adults.


Not books, but gifts you can find in a bookstore (links to Barnes & Noble):


Gnome for the Holidays Advent Calendar – A punny, funny advent calendar with jokes for every day of the advent season. Each day’s “surprise” (not hidden by doors, so it’s more about taking them out of their places) is an ornament, so could be a fun way to decorate a small tree or add new festive cheer to a holiday collection by stringing them into a garland! For the friend or family member who likes wordplay or is always making dad jokes.


Nathalie Lété Woodland Dreams 2023 Wall Calendar – Fanciful watercolor art of mushrooms, birds, butterflies, and other woodland delights populate the pages of this full-color, maximalist calendar. Perfect for that friend or relative who is into loud florals and/or vibrant colors.


Music Genius Playing Cards – For the music-lovers in your life! Test musical knowledge or create playlists of some of the greats while you play cards. Each suit (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs) features a different musical genre.

the woman in the woods and other north american stories

After my own years in school ended and before my teaching days, I didn’t take much notice of themed months of the year. For instance, did you know that November is National Native American Heritage Month in the United States? I didn’t! Luckily it’s been mentioned in several teaching and book publishing newsletters I subscribe to. What I find helpful is that those newsletters often come with book recommendations or lists included – titles that I can add to the shelf to make my classroom library (or even just personal library!) a little more inclusive and representative of my students and the US as a whole. One book I haven’t seen on any lists but want to make sure you know about is the young adult graphic novel anthology Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories, edited by Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin, & Alina Pete. It is the fifth installment in the Cautionary Fables & Fairytales series, and if the others are anything like this slim volume, they are treasures! 


the woman in the woods and other north american stories book cover
Tricksters? Rabbits? Rougarou?

Shapeshifters so frightening you shouldn't speak their name? That's just the start of this collection of folklore from the Indigenous people of North America, retold in comic form.

The fifth volume of the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales graphic anthology series is a thrilling, funny and totally unexpected take on stories spanning North America, with loads of traditional stories from Indigenous Nations such as the Taíno, Navajo, Odawa, and more!

The Woman in the Woods is an excellent collection of Native American legends and stories from across North America. While the title of the series is Cautionary Fables & Fairytales, these are no gory, fright-filled stories. Instead, they read like the sort of tales you’d share around a campfire – a little bit of cultural history, a dash of tall tale, and an uncanny thing that happened to someone you know/one of your ancestors, etc. They range from a creation tale that deals with two spirit and trans identity to a diving encounter with a monstrous octopus on the sea floor of the Puget Sound.


While each chapter was written and illustrated by a different duo (and is handed down from/told according to different indigenous peoples and traditions), a universal theme running throughout all of them is acceptance of difference, the other, and the strangeness that is present in the world. A couple of the stories deal with some element of gender nonconformity, and others speak to a diverse understanding of how humans function in society. Some are teaching tales; some merely point to the unexplained and ask the reader to make of it what they will. Some aim to make the reader uncomfortable, or to challenge their disbelief.


The standout comic of the collection is the Métis story The Rougarou by Maija Ambrose Plamondon, illustrated by Milo Applejohn. This story’s length (a bit longer than the others included in the volume), gorgeously detailed line art, and theme of transformation all combine to create an exceptional entry. I will be keeping an eye on Plamondon & Applejohn’s work in the future!


The art throughout the volume is in black and white and styles vary from artist to artist. Several employ strong or thick line work and varying shades of gray and black for a feeling of heaviness and (at times) menace. While the standout is mentioned above, there was no weak link – the writing and art in the volume is strong all the way through.


In all, The Woman in the Woods is a varied anthology in terms of setting, societies, norms, and time periods. It’s an interesting collection, and an important one for libraries large and small!

Recommended for: fans of fables and fairy tales, especially those adapted into graphic novel format, anyone looking to diversify their shelves with more indigenous American literature, and readers ages 10+ who are interested in campfire tales they may not have heard before!

the thank you book

Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | | 0 comments

I’m always on the lookout for standout picture books – gifting “good ones” is a point of pride for me (hey, if you can’t be proud of your book taste, what is the point?). A couple of years ago a sweet and gorgeously illustrated picture book about why we say “thank you” debuted: Mary Lyn Ray’s The Thank You Book, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. At the time, I wrote a couple of words about it in my journal. I’m sharing that short review today, during this season of thanksgiving.

the thank you book by mary lyn ray, illustrated by stephanie graegin cover
Perfect for fans of Margaret Wise Brown and Deborah Underwood's The Quiet BookThe Thank You Book explores the many ways of being thankful that can fill a child's day. Timely, wise, and accessible, the poetic text and tender illustrations celebrate the powerful impact gratitude can have on our lives.

Thank you isn't just for learning manners.
It's also for when something wakes a
little huma little happy huminside you
and you want to answer back.

The Thank You Book explores the many ways we can be thankful for the pleasures great and small that await us every day. Tender and poetic, it reflects on the role gratitude can play in our lives and celebrates the powerful impact it can have on us.

The Thank You Book explores themes of gratefulness, not just during November, but year-round as well. It also extolls seeing the wonder and good in every small moment and thing, and would be ideal for curious young ones, perhaps paired with Tiny, Perfect Things. Ray’s prose is lyrical, rhymes once or twice, and is meant most of all to evoke feeling (and it does!).


Beyond the words on the page, Graegin’s pencil and watercolor art is the focus throughout: it is very whimsical, colorful, and is meant to be pored over multiple times. On some pages the illustrations are framed in a circle, sometimes full spreads, and then there are free-floating illustrations: the variety is endearing. The book’s “characters” are a mix of animal and human, with diverse skin colors. I can’t label it anything other than adorable.


The small format of the picture book version is comfortable for small as well as large hands, and the pretty cover is sure to make it a favorite. The text is a good size for one-on-one reading, but not as ideal for storytimes. I personally loved the title page, which looked like it was straight out of one of my bookstagram photos. This title is available in multiple formats: picture book, padded board book, and just this fall as a bilingual board book.


In all, The Thank You Book is exactly what the title describes: a book about saying “thank you” – but also learning why we do that, and appreciating the world and people around us. It’s perfect for year-round reading, but perhaps especially in November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving.


Recommended for: little ones ages 2-5 and their adults, and fans of adorable, personified animal art.

only the trees know

I’ve attended School Library Journal’s Picture Book Palooza (held over the summer) twice now, and I am a big fan. I can attend during the day because it’s summer, and I find lots of beautiful picture books to share with friends and family for the holidays, and of course the blog! in the intervening months. I always have my eye out for beautiful illustrations, and that is what drew me to Jane Whittingham and Cinyee Chiu’s picture book Only the Trees Know.

only the trees know by jane whittingham, illustrated by cinyee chiu book cover
A little rabbit, who doesn’t like waiting, longs for spring.

Little Rabbit is hungry, bored and very tired of winter. “When will it be spring?” he asks his parents. When they aren’t sure, he turns to his wise grandmother. “Only the trees know,” she says. “Ask them, and they will tell you.” So Little Rabbit does. But the trees don’t answer him. He tries shouting, jumping, listening hard. Still nothing. Then, just when he’s about to give up, he notices something different in the forest, something that’s right underneath his nose …

For every bunny who has a hard time waiting, this is the perfect story to show them how.

The pages of Only the Trees Know are full of a Little Rabbit impatient for spring. He longs for soft grasses and friends (a bird flown south for winter and a squirrel in its den) to come back and play. When the Little Rabbit asks his parents when spring will come, they say “be patient.” Well! That is something neither small children nor Little Rabbits like being told! So Little Rabbit goes to his wise grandmother, and she advises him to ask the trees, because only they know. Thus, Little Rabbit begins an asking campaign. The trees don’t answer the first time, so Little Rabbit tries changing his physical presence, altering his listening skills, and being louder and trying different sounds. In the end, the trees provide their own signs and voice, and Little Rabbit learns to hear them.


Little Rabbit is of course an anthropomorphized figure – the stand-in for the child being read to, who might think the same way and ask the same sorts of questions about winter. It’s charming here, rather than false, and I think that is down to the author’s way with words. The text is poetic, especially on the opening page, and when describing snow and wind: with alliteration, personification, and repetition. Whittingham does not rhyme, but there are several poetic devices throughout. There’s child appeal not just in the art and cadence of the text, but in Little Rabbit’s jumping about, raising and lowering his voice, and trying different listening techniques.


Cinyee Chiu’s art is full of gorgeous brush strokes, and many shades of white and winter. I particularly liked the landscape spreads, with their imprecise snowflakes – they gave the impression of looking through the forest into the scene of the story. Chiu’s medium is gouache and pastel, finished in Photoshop. Chiu makes terrific use of perspective, from treetop height down, and from ground level up to the sky. The only thing about the book design I didn’t love? The title font. And that’s out of sight as soon as you turn a page.


In all, Only the Trees Know is a more active than meditative take on seasonal change, and the perfect book to share with a child impatient for sunny days and playgrounds once more.


Recommended for: fans of Over and Under the Snow, anyone looking for beautifully-illustrated picture books about the seasons, and for nondenominational winter storytimes.


Fine print: I received an advanced digital copy of the text from the publisher at Picture Book Palooza. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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