Books as Gifts

Holiday Buying Guide 2022

Cartoon bears reading in the snow

Stories continue to delight and inform — and most importantly — to connect us. Celebrate this season of sharing with books and reading. This year’s list includes multicultural stories, picture book biographies, folktales and fairy tales, graphic novels, a bit of fantasy and mystery, and books about artists, science and nature, family, and friends. Books are a great way to explore our world and create memories that extend well beyond the short days of winter.

Happy Holidays from Reading Rockets!

For 0-3 Year Olds

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Enzo y su arte / Enzo and His Art

By: Jessica Spanyol
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Enzo, often with friends, uses different materials to create art and even visits a museum to see more. Simple language in both English and Spanish are enhanced by gentle, childlike illustrations. In another similarly formatted and sturdy book, Enzo es un enfermero / Enzo Is a Nurse, Enzo performs the duties of a nurse.

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If You Believe in Me

By: Rosemary Wells
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

A small bear knows it can do almost anything — from cartwheels to swimming — “when you say/you believe in me.” Wells’ signature illustrations and a warm, easy rhyming narrative present an affirming book on the relationship between a child and their adult.

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Kimchi, Kimchi Every Day

By: Erica Kim
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

A Korean child declares, “I eat kimchi every day. I like kimchi every way!” in this lively look at the various ways kimchi is eaten each day of the week. Appealing illustrations and rich, descriptive language are rounded out by more information about kimchi. 

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Little Mouse Learns Opposites

By: Mike Henson
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Cheery illustrations in a sturdy format present a mouse and companions as they explore various concepts, each appropriate and engaging for young children. The clever use of die-cuts and a bit of story creates playful books that are worth revisiting. See also: Little Mouse Learns Numbers, Little Mouse Learns Shapes, and Little Mouse Learns Colors.

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My Hands

By: Nejib
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

What do hands do? They greet, touch, hush, heal, and ever so much more. Simple black and while line illustrations use touches of color and single words in a cozy size for the very young, sure to grow with children and inspire myriad discussions.

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Peekaboo Forest

By: Surya Sajnani
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Lift an acorn to discover a squirrel peeking out of a hole and more. Small hands will delight in the crinkling noise when soft flaps are lifted to see what forest surprise is hidden beneath. Find more surprises in this companion book about ocean inhabitants, Peekaboo Ocean.

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So Much Snow

By: Kristen Schroeder
Illustrated by: Sarah Jacoby
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

On Monday, a small mouse notices a fluffy snowflake and wonders how high it will go. On successive days of the week, snow accumulates, covering animals one-by-one. Lyrical language creates a rhythmic pattern accompanied by softly-hued illustrations — first covering, then uncovering them — as the snow melts.

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Sometimes Babies

By: Charlotte Trounce
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

There are all kinds of babies in the world. They can be big, small, short, or tall. Rhythmic language and simple illustrations with clean lines and bright colors on each page ends with a mirror — a surprise baby to conclude this charming book.

Still This Love Goes On

Still This Love Goes On

By: Julie Flett , Buffy Sainte-Marie
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

See the world through the eyes of a child in evocative illustrations by a Cree-Métis artist who brings new meaning and joy to Cree singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie’s lyrics. Indigenous traditions echo throughout the seasons and goings-on, but always return to those we care most about, because “still, this love goes on.” 

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Whose Egg Is That?

By: Darrin Lunde
Illustrated by: Kelsey Oseid
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

A realistic illustration and the titular question and a couple of hints ask readers to guess what came from the pictured egg. A page turn reveals the animal along with brief information about them. “Eggcellent” facts are included.

For 3-6 Year Olds

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Albie on His Way

By: Jutta Bauer
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

The king sends Albie to deliver a message to a neighboring castle, but Albie is delayed along the way as he helps others and falls in love. Meanwhile, life at the castle goes on. Albie and the king’s tales are told in twin narratives: Albie’s with text and humorous illustration; the king’s below in an illustrated wordless banner. Stories merge again for a satisfying conclusion.

Berry Song

Berry Song

By: Michaela Goade
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A grandmother introduces her granddaughter to indigenous traditions while berry-picking: they sing to not only alert bear of their presence but to thank the land for its gifts. Rhythmic language and lush illustrations are hallmarks of this first book written and illustrated by the Caldecott Medalist and Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade (We Are Water Protectors).

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Blue Baboon Finds Her Tune

By: Helen Docherty, Thomas Docherty
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Vibrant illustrations and brief, rhyming, staccato text tells the tale of a blue baboon who plays the bassoon out of tune. She is unappreciated until a green baboon who croons out of tune joins her on a dune — and together, they make a great tune!

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Building

By: Henry Cole
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Two beavers do what beavers do best: build. Finely-lined black-and-white illustrations with touches of color chronicle the beavers’ activities, from creating their nest, having offspring, protecting them, and wintering in their home. 

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Gold

By: Jed Alexander
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

What do you think when you see three bears and a little girl? You’ll question what you think in this visual tale told in highly-detailed, black-and-white illustrations with gold highlights. Though it has the feel of a familiar tale, this fresh reimagining will surely lead to greater discussion.

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I Forgive Alex

By: Kerascoët
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Expressive ink and watercolor illustrations detail the story of a playground mishap. Alex tosses a ball that accidentally knocks another child’s artwork into a puddle. Other kids pick up on that child’s unhappiness and give Alex the cold shoulder until the child whose artwork got wet asks Alex to play ball again. Suggestions for readers conclude this engaging and relatable book. 

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Knight Owl

By: Christopher Denise
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A small big-eyed owl longs to become a real knight. His chance comes when knights keep disappearing and the gallant owl learns that he’s quite good at the night watch. Dressed in armor, he not only stops the loss of knights, but befriends the party responsible for it. Humor abounds in the expressive illustration and understated text in this tale of a clever, quick-thinking owl.

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Like

By: Annie Barrows
Illustrated by: Leo Espinosa
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Humans don’t have a lot in common with a tin can, but maybe a little bit with a swimming pool. People do have a lot in common with other people — in fact we’re more alike than not. Comparisons in this book are both unexpected and humorous, illustrated in bold shapes and bright forms provide a surprisingly sophisticated look at what being human is like.

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Maybe You Might

By: Imogen Foxell
Illustrated by: Anna Cunha
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Can one small child with one small seed and a big wish change the world? Maybe they can. Lush, delicate illustrations and a gently rhyming text depict a child as a seed is planted in an arid environment, and from that seed grows more plants with seeds. “They say you can’t change the world…/But help things grow, you never know…/…maybe you might.”

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Merriam-Webster’s Ready-for-School Words

By: Hannah Campbell
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Seven families, each distinct and different, go about their daily activities — ranging from grocery shopping to going to the doctor. Each scenario is presented in illustrated double-page spreads, with items labeled and briefly defined. The different families come together naturally in various places to create a search-and-find game on top of vocabulary building.

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The Best Kind of Mooncake

By: Pearl Auyeng
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

The young narrator thinks her life in Hong Kong in the alley of Tai Yuen Street is boring — until a stranger down-on-his luck helps her realize that she is indeed quite lucky. Readers will appreciate the gentle reminder that kindness is contagious, when after the girl gives the man her special mooncake, the entire community steps up to help the man. 

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The Secret of the Plátano

By: Luz Maria Mack
Illustrated by: Stephany Mesa
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Richly-colored illustrations depict a lush Caribbean countryside as a grandmother and her grandson dance and sway to the secret of the plátanos, complemented by rhythmic language. Both author and illustrator draw upon their Dominican heritage to evoke a strong sense of place. Also available in Spanish, El secreto del plátanos.

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This Story Is Not About a Kitten

By: Randall de Sève
Illustrated by: Carson Ellis
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

How a small black-and-white kitten brings a community together is told through gentle illustration and a gently rhyming, cumulative text. Richly-hued illustrations depict a diverse neighborhood whose residents come together to help a small kitten. The satisfying book is sure to make a heartwarming read aloud.  

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Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks

By: Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by: Amy Hevron
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

What can a hole in a tree be? It can be a home, a hideout, or simply a place to read. Textured, stylized illustrations and text that can be read on two levels provide a glimpse at the variety of natural life that make tree holes their homes. Additional information about the tree hole dwellers is included.

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Upside Down

By: Katarina Macurova
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A small bear wonders why one plant isn’t flowering, but he takes excellent care of it nonetheless. Little does he know what is going on underneath the ground: a group of rabbits are feasting on the growing carrot! Readers will appreciate the dual narratives, one by the above-ground gardener, the other a visual narrative of rabbits’ activities.

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Who Will Kiss the Crocodile?

By: Suzy Senior
Illustrated by: Claire Powell
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Sleeping Beauty isn’t just cursed to sleep until she’s awakened by a kiss, she’s turned into a sleeping crocodile in this funny riff on the familiar tale. Comic, colorful illustrations propel the action in this traditional tale turn on its head.

For 6-9 Year Olds

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A Bear Far from Home

By: Susan Fletcher
Illustrated by: Rebecca Green
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level:

How did a polar bear wind up fishing in London’s Thames River? Historians tell us that the Norwegian king gave one to England’s Henry III. Illustrations evoke medieval illuminated manuscripts in a touching and informative look at a unique bit of history. Backmatter includes additional sources plus notes from both author and illustrator.

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Alte Zachen / Old Things

By: Ziggy Hanaor
Illustrated by: Benjamin Phillips
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bubbe Rosa complains about everything. Her grandson, Benjy, remains gentle and patient with her as they shop and walk about the city. Gradually, Bubbe recalls being Jewish in Nazi Germany and other memories, both sweet and tough. This touching tale is presented in graphic format in grayscale illustrations.

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Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams

By: Andrea J. Loney
Illustrated by: Keith Mallett
Genre: Biography, Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

His talent was evident even as a child, and Paul’s “patience and perseverance, vision and innovation” allowed him to become an architect and successful businessman despite barriers because he was Black. Backmatter includes photographs of several of the buildings he designed — elegant indeed. 

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Forever Truffle

By: Fanny Britt
Illustrated by: Isabelle Arsenault
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Truffle has fluffy reddish hair, a loving family, an interest in music, and a heart that loves a girl named after Nina Simone. In lighthearted illustrations, speech bubbles, and narration, his life comes into focus. Lively and childlike, Truffle and his world are sure to make readers’ hearts sing.

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Hello, Opportunity: The Story of Our Friend on Mars

By: Shaelyn McDaniel
Illustrated by: Cornelia Li
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The small Mars rover was only expected to last for three months, but “she” lasted for 15 years. Opportunity (aka Oppy) communicated successfully helping scientists to learn more about the Red Pplanet. Backmatter and a timeline for the anthropomorphized rover allow the book to be read in different ways, sure to intrigue budding space-goers.

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Lion Lights: My Invention That Made Peace with Lions

By: Shelly Pollock, Richard Turere
Illustrated by: Sonia Possentini
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Their cattle were being killed by lions, but Richard Turere’s inspired invention solved a problem that had plagued the Maasai people — with only limited resources but much creativity. Illustrations vividly portray the African landscape near Nairobi National Park where the lions live. Additional information about the inventor and his invention is included.

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Magnolia Flower

By: Zora Neale Hurston, Ibram X. Kendi
Illustrated by: Loveis Wise
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bentley met and married Swift Deer. One had escaped slavery, the other had escaped the Trail of Tears. Together they had a beautiful daughter named Magnolia who fell in love with a man, John, that her father did not approve of, so Magnolia and John fled Florida to be together. Rich illustrations add depth to the capable retelling of the Hurston short story, now made accessible to younger audiences.

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Marcel’s Masterpiece: How a Toilet Shaped the History of Art

By: Jeff Mack
Genre: Biography, Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Marcel Duchamp was full of surprises. In fact, some would consider him irreverent or even a crackpot. Through collage illustrations and informal text scattered on full pages, readers and budding artists are asked to consider what makes art.  Slightly irreverent and quite delightful.

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Maya’s Song

By: Renée Watson
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Genre: Biography, Poetry
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Maya Angelou was the first Black poet and the first woman to recite poetry at a Presidential Inauguration. Her life is introduced in free verse and realistic collage to evoke the poet and her work. A timeline and notes from the award-winning author and illustrator conclude this memorable portrait. 

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My Life Begins!

By: Patricia MacLachlan
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Instead of a puppy, Jacob was stuck with the three baby sisters. The impact of triplets on the 9-year-old, his friends, and his family is told in spare but elegant language for a relatable and engaging novel. Black and white sketches appear throughout.

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Pizza My Heart

By: Mika Song
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When squirrels Norma and Belly grew tired of acorns, they decided to try pizza from the new shop in town. As with their other food adventures (Donut Feed the Squirrels and Apple of My Pie), success is always questionable. Jaunty illustrations in a lively, easy graphic format makes each escapade a tasty treat.

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The Flamingo

By: Guojing
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Lush illustrations in a nearly wordless graphic novel narrate a child’s vacation with Lao Lao, her much-loved grandmother. The story Lao Lao tells the girl about a flamingo connects them in a fantastic and a totally fulfilling conclusion after the girl returns home.

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The Greatest Song of All: How Isaac Stern United the World to Save Carnegie Hall

By: Megan Hoyt
Illustrated by: Katie Hickey
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Carnegie Hall opened in 1891 to become the site in New York where everyone from Duke Ellington to Bob Dylan performed. Stern was not only a violin virtuoso, but he was also an effective community organizer who worked tirelessly to save the grand hall in the face of great opposition. His tenacity and music swirl throughout the lively illustrations and carefully crafted language. Additional information is appended. 

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The Last Rainbow Bird

By: Nora Brech
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Jo and Alex go on an adventure to find a mate for the last Rainbow Bird, meeting other birds of varying sizes along the way. Colorful and jaunty illustrations chronicle their fantastic journey with its satisfying and hopeful conclusion. 

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The Little House of Hope

By: Terry Catasús Jennings
Illustrated by: Raul Colón
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Esperanza and her family are forced to leave Cuba, they work hard to make a home for themselves and others who also had to flee to the U.S. The artist’s signature illustrations further enliven the warm family saga. 

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The Sea in the Way

By: Sophie Gilmore
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Badger and Bear are separated by the salty, wet sea. Being apart is hard, until Badger looks more closely and sees all the beauty — and all the connections to Bear — around her. Delicately textured watercolors add depth to the unusual look at friends separated by time and distance.

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There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me

By: Alice Walker
Illustrated by: Queenbe Monyei
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Illustration and words paint a portrait of the natural world and a child’s connection to it, until “There is a poem/In the cradle of my Soul/Rocking me.” It continues until the narrator writes, telling her own story.

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Warrior Princess: The Story of Khutulun

By: Sally Deng
Genre: Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Handsome, animated illustrations combine with straightforward language to tell the story of the great-great-granddaughter of the Mongolian warlord, Genghis Khan, who trained and succeeded as a warrior. Backmatter reveals how her story was pieced together from various sources and legend.

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Where in the World Are You?

By: Marie G. Rohde
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Where is the black cat? The cat starts and ends under the wobbly table as the reader follows the cat from the specific to the truly universal. Uncluttered, simple illustrations provide visual information to the expanding scenes. A brilliant way to initiate discussions about our place in the world.

For 9-12 Year Olds

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A Rover’s Story

By: Jasmine Warga
Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Resilience, or Res, is a small rover created to explore Mars. By listening, Res comes to know humans, friendship, and emotions. Inspired by the actual Mars rovers, the author has “use[d] fiction to take something true and bring it to life in a unique and exciting way.” This unforgettable book, narrated by Res, is wholly plausible and emotionally powerful.

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Attack of the Black Rectangles

By: Amy Sarig King
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Mac opens his copy of a book by Jane Yolen, he discovers that there are words that have been blacked out with a permanent marker. When he and his friends set out to find out what and who don’t want them to read these words, it begins a journey of true self-discovery and activism. Based on actual events experienced by the author’s son, this remarkable novel is sure to generate important discussion.

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Chester Keene Cracks the Code

By: Kekla Magoon
Genre: Mystery, Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Chester likes his routines, but his new friend is the complete opposite. Nonetheless, the pair work together to solve the riddle behind the mysterious notes that Chester thinks are from his father — all while dealing with a bully and trying to prevent his mother from worrying. Likeable characters and an engaging mystery fill this satisfying novel.

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Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

By: Angela Joy
Illustrated by: Janelle Washington
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Emmett Till was only 14 years old when he was murdered in 1955 in the South. His mother demanded her son be sent home to Chicago. “It was the braver thing that changed everything.”  Mamie became an activist for social justice that helped launch the Civil Rights Movement. Lyrical text and expressive cut-paper illustrations convey the haunting story made accessible to sophisticated younger readers.

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Cultured Donuts: Take a Bite Out of Art History

By: Chloe Tyler
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Throughout history, artists have influenced other artists. From Michelangelo to Basquiat, the author/illustrator suggests how each artist might have uniquely presented an everyday subject — a donut. Open this informative book for a tasty look at different styles, techniques, and artists.

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Duet: Our Journey in Song with the Northern Mockingbird

By: Philip M. Hoose
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

This handsome presentation for sophisticated readers about the Northern Mockingbird combines history and science along with traditional beliefs about the birds and their role with humans. Readable and fully sourced, this is sure to intrigue budding naturalists and historians. 

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Freestyle

By: Gale Galligan
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Middle school is passing far too quickly, as the dance crew prepares for its final competition. But then Cory discovers a new passion he shares with a classmate. Learn how trick yoyo, dance routines, and friendships work together in this warm and lively graphic novel.

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Manatee Summer

By: Evan Griffith
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Two best friends, Peter and Tommy, spend their summer finishing their Discovery Journal, a chronicle of all the wildlife they’ve come across in their native Florida. Can Peter help the manatee they discover in a nearby canal as well as help take care of his grandfather like he promised? The poignant story is both fast-paced and believable, with likeable and relatable characters.

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Odder

By: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Poetry, Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Even though her mother taught her offspring to avoid dangers of the sea, the young otter encounters all of them. Follow Odder’s experiences in this moving novel in verse, which is loosely based on rehabilitated otters in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The story, from the 2013 Newbery Medalist, is sure to engage as well as educate. Glossary and additional information are appended.

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Superheroes of Nature: Incredible Skills to Survive and Thrive

By: Georges Feterman
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Dramatic photographs combine with facts to amaze and delight with their “acrobatic moves, their ability to dodge enemies deftly, [and] their skill at disappearing using camouflage.” Together with a similarly formatted companion book, Superpowers of Nature: Wild Wonders of the World, readers will surely want to protect nature’s heroes.

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The Last Beekeeper

By: Pablo Cartaya
Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Yolanda (aka Yoly) and her sister Cami live in a world that has been dramatically altered by climate change and run by an authoritarian government. Can they find the solution before it’s too late? A fast pace and smart characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the hopeful conclusion.

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The Tryout

By: Christina Soontornvat
Illustrated by: Joanna Cacao
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

It’s hard starting middle school and being an outsider, but training for the cheerleading squad is fun when Christina and her best friend Megan work together. The fun stops when the 6th graders are supposed to try out for the cheerleading squad in front of the entire school! Based on the author’s experience, the ups and downs of friendship and middle school are both heartbreaking and heartwarming in this attractive graphic novel.

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The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals

By: Philip Bunting
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Meet an exploding ant, the flamboyant cuttlefish, and the star-nosed mole in this lighthearted look at animals. The real but unusual creatures are illustrated with humor while providing a glimpse at their distinguishing features. The author’s first volume, The World’s Most Pointless Wonderful Animals, is equally engaging.

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