Talk of Iowa’s 2023 holiday book guide for youngsters

Picture books

10 Dogs by Emily Gravett

Recommended by Devin Redmond, Iowa City-based teacher and librarian

Award-winning, bestselling author and illustrator Emily Gravett delivers a hilarious tale of mishap and mayhem as ten dogs pursue a chain of sausage links in this early-learning picture book, perfect for anyone looking for books for 3-year-olds and up.

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A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes

Recommended by Molly Roberts, Prairie Lights bookstore, manager of children’s books and bookseller

In this moving account of loss, a boy takes a walk in the woods and makes a discovery that changes his understanding of his father.

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Be More Dog by Caroline Crowe

Recommended by Molly Roberts

This feel-good story will paw at the heartstrings of all dog lovers.

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Beneath by Cori Doerrfeld

Recommended by Devin Redmond

In this stunning story from New York Times bestselling creator Cori Doerrfeld, a child and their grandfather take a walk in the woods and discover more about themselves.

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! Written/Illustrated by Mo Willems

Recommended by Devin Redmond and Janeé Jackson-Doering, youth service coordinator for the State Library of Iowa

Who can go wrong with Pigeon? In this instant Pigeon classic, Santa Claus leaves the sleigh and asks the kids to not let the pigeon drive his sleigh. Yet that naughty pigeon wants to drive it! Readers are once again encouraged to shout “NO!” to Pigeon. And this time, Pigeon smells something funny with a big black nose. Once Pigeon sees a big brown reindeer, it gets scared, and Pigeon says, “No Thanks!” and decides to dream about delivering Easter eggs as the Easter bunny. If you have Pigeon fans in your household, this book is for you!

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Flooded by Mariajo Illustrajo

Recommended by Molly Roberts

Flooded is the funny and beautifully illustrated tale of animals who live in a city that is ever-so-slowly flooding.

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How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? Written by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Recommended by Devin Redmond and Janeé Jackson-Doering

Mac asks readers: How does Santa fit himself down the chimney? “Does he cinch up his waist?/What if there’s no chimney?/If his outfit is dirty, does Santa use the washer and dryer in the house to wash it?” These and other laugh-out-loud ideas are pondered as readers ask themselves how does Santa fit in the chimney. Does he use night vision goggles or heat vision goggles? Should I leave carrots instead of cookies for Santa? I loved the image of the reindeer on the roof holding a mug of coffee. Instant classic!

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I Want 100 Dogs by Stacy McAnulty

Recommended by Devin Redmond

In this funny, feel-good first-pet book, one aspiring dog owner and her parents ponder — in wildly imaginative and hilarious detail — all the best and worst outcomes of bringing home more dogs than you can (literally) shake a stick at.

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Mr. S. Written/Illustrated by Monica Arnaldo

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

The kindergarteners in Room 2B notice something strange on their first day of school. There’s no teacher in the classroom – just a mug of coffee, “an impressive-looking sandwich” and a name on the board: Mr. S. Once a ruler drops from the teacher’s desk, the kids realize that it wasn’t them that did it. It was Mr. S. And so it begins – as these kids learn the ABCs (A is for Avocado, B is for Bagel, C for Club Sandwich, etc.), reading, recess and music class – while the man outside that you think is the teacher deals with his car being struck by lightning – along with raccoons and a pizza man. This is a quirky, silly offering from Arnaldo that’s fun to read. I loved the end where he says, “Actually, my name is Mr. S… “ and you turn to the end pages, and his last name is covered in a condiment.

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Party Hearty Kitty Corn, Shannon Hale

Recommended by Devin Redmond

From the bestselling Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn creators, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, comes another heartwarming and hilarious Kitty and Unicorn story about feeling like a “third wheel” — and the enduring magic of true friendship.

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Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman

Recommended by Devin Redmond

The stunning new picture book by presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Christian Robinson.

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The Grand Hotel of Feelings by Lidia Brankovic

Recommended by Molly Roberts

A delightfully imaginative picture book that is both a fun read-aloud and also a great way to engage children in conversations about managing emotions.

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There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds

Recommended by Devin Redmond

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jason Reynolds’ debut picture book is a snappy, joyous ode to Word King, literary genius and glass-ceiling smasher Langston Hughes and the luminaries he inspired.

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Tokyo Night Parade by JP Takahashi

Recommended by Devin Redmond

Spirited Away meets Where the Wild Things Are by way of yokai mythology in this enchanting picture book by debut author J. P. Takahashi and illustrator Minako Tomigahara.

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Woven of the World by Katey Howes

Recommended by Devin Redmond

Told from the perspective of a young girl learning to weave, Woven of the World is a lyrical meditation on the ancient art of weaving and what this beautiful craft can teach us.

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Early readers

Ali the Great and the Market Mishap by Saadia Faruqi

Recommended by Devin Redmond

A charming chapter book series about Pakistani American second grader Ali Tahir. Ali’s big ideas will resonate with young readers who believe that every problem has a creative solution, you just have to find it!

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Cat on The Run in the Cat of Death, written/illustrated by Aaron Blabey

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

Princess is a popular internet cat sensation with tons of followers thanks to her hilarious cat videos. She’s also a cat diva — throwing vanilla lattes in her assistant’s face, demanding things, etc. When filming her next cat video, a group only known by a scorpion logo deliberately sends her the launch codes for nuclear weapons — and she unknowingly becomes a criminal. Features zany illustrations and kid-humor, this is perfect for fans of the popular Bad Guys series!

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Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Recommended by Molly Roberts

Join Anna Hibiscus and her big, bustling family in the second of Atinuke’s engaging illustrated chapter-book series set in modern Nigeria.

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See The Ghost: Three Stories About Things You Cannot See, Written/Illustrated by David LaRochelle

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

Big laughs abound in this book of three chapters! This time, the cat and the dog are dealing with a ghost they can’t see. Each chapter has simple, repetitive sentences — along with blue and yellow illustrations for the dog and cat, respectively. In the stories, the animals are scared by a ghost, have a picnic together only to be blown away by the ghost, and in the last story – a ghost fairy named Trixie changes the cat into a unicorn and the dog changes to a blue dog. A cute, funny and simple early reader. For Kindergarten – 1st Grade.

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The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo

Recommended by Molly Roberts

A magical and beautifully packaged gift volume designed to be read aloud and shared, The Puppets of Spelhorst is a tale that soothes and strengthens us on our journey, leading us through whatever dark forest we find ourselves in.

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The Skull – A Tyrolean Folktale, written/illustrated by Jon Klassen

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering and Molly Roberts

A young girl named Otilla runs away at night. After falling in the snow and crying, she stumbles upon an old house. She calls out “Hello!” – and finds in the window – a skull looking at her. The skull rolls down to the door and lets her in, on the condition that she must promise to carry him. This has Tim Burton-esque vibes that are perfect for 2nd-3rd grades. The skull shows Otilla around the house. She makes tea for him He dances with her and warns her of the headless skeleton that wants the skull. It’s just the right amount of spooky in this retelling.

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We the People by Don Brown

Recommended by Devin Redmond

Award-winning author Don Brown explores the history of democracy in the United States in this installment of the Big Ideas That Changed the World series.

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When Dad’s Hair Took Off by Jorg Muhle

Recommended by Molly Roberts

One day, Dad’s hair decided it was tired of being brushed and combed. It wanted a life of its own, to see the world. It took off.

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Middle grades

A First Time for Everything, written/illustrated by Dan Santat

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

This book just won the 2023 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature! In middle school, Dan is the good kid who never gets into trouble. At school, Dan is bullied – even girls make fun of him – and he feels invisible. He doesn’t understand why his parents allowed him to go on a three-week class trip overseas in Europe, since the same mean girls are going as well. But this trip changes his life as Dan discovers himself – and discovers his first love as he develops a crush on Amy. This heartwarming, funny graphic memoir features a QR code in the book where kids can listen to Dan’s music mixtape on Spotify. The playlist includes songs from U2, The Cure, Talking Heads, De La Soul, Madonna, Depeche Mode, to name a few! He even kept in touch with his classmates (and Amy) and reached out to them for this graphic memoir. Worth the read!

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Alebrijes by Donna Barba Higuera

Recommended by Molly Roberts

From Donna Barba Higuera, Newbery and Pura Belpré Medal-winning author of The Last Cuentista, comes another novel to astonish us and create a whole new imaginative world, that holds a mirror to our own.

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Curlfriends by Sharee Martin

Recommended by Devin Redmond

New Kid meets The Baby-sitters Club in this graphic novel series opener about the Curlfriends, four inseparable Black girls who show us the meaning of true friendship — and being your true self.

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Duel, written by Jessixa Bagley; illustrated by Aaron Bagley

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

En guarde! Fencers Lucy and Gigi are bi-racial sisters who don’t get along, especially after their father’s death. When popular sister Gigi humiliates Lucy on the first day of middle school, Lucy snaps and challenges her to a fencing duel. If Gigi wins, Lucy will stay out of her way; if Lucy wins, Gigi will stop bullying her. This graphic novel perfectly captures sibling rivalry and explores siblings’ grief, love, and forgiveness. Each chapter opens with a fencing tip/technique.

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Lotus Island: The Guardian Test by Christine Soontornvat

Recommended by Devin Redmond

From two-time Newbery honor recipient Christina Soontornvat comes a compelling new young middle-grade fantasy series for readers who love stories about animals, magic and kids like them embracing their power to change the world.

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Mascot by Charles Waters, Traci Sorell

Recommended by Molly Roberts

What if a school’s mascot is seen as racist, but not by everyone? In this compelling middle-grade novel in verse, two best-selling BIPOC authors tackle this hot-button issue.

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Mexikid, written/illustrated by Pedro Martín

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

Pedro chronicles his 1970s childhood growing up as the seventh of nine children in a bustling Mexican-American household. Pedro grew up in the United States – and heard stories about his legendary grandfather or abuelito. During a family road trip to Mexico to bring abuelito to the states to live with the family, Pedro connects with his grandfather and learns more about his own Mexican identity in this moving and hilarious graphic memoir about the joys and trials of family, culture and identity.

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Once Upon A Tim by Stuart Gibbs

Recommended by Devin Redmond

Join New York Times bestselling author Stuart Gibbs in this first book in a hilarious, highly illustrated new middle-grade series about a peasant boy who wants to be a knight, perfect for fans of f.

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Parachute Kids by Betty Tang

Recommended by Devin Redmond

This funny, fast-paced and heartrending story about three siblings living on their own as undocumented new immigrants is perfect for fans of New Kid and Front Desk.

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The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla

Recommended by Molly Roberts

Neurodivergent Maudie is ready to spend an amazing summer with her dad, but will she find the courage to tell him a terrible secret about life with her mom and new stepdad? This contemporary novel by the award-winning author of The Someday Birds is a must-read for fans of Leslie Connor and Ali Standish.

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The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom by Mac Barnett

Recommended by Devin Redmond

Award-winning creators Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris are back with the second volume in the bestselling The First Cat in Space graphic novel series! Secret tales of woe, hilarious new characters and dangerous plans of sabotage will keep readers delighted and laughing until the thrilling climax. Perfect for fans of Dog Man and InvestiGators.

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The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Mass

Recommended by Devin Redmond

The New York Times bestselling authors of Bob, Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass, introduce readers to a little free library guarded by a cat and a boy who takes on the mystery it keeps. A #1 Indie Bestseller!

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The Plot to Kill a Queen by Deborah Hopkinson

Recommended by Molly Roberts

This delightful mystery is a marvel of incisive wit and extraordinary craft from the beloved, award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson.

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Young adults

Frontera by Julio Anta

Recommended by Molly Roberts

Mateo makes the dangerous journey back home to the United States through the Sonoran Desert with the help of a new friend, a ghost named Guillermo in a supernatural borderland odyssey by debut graphic novelists Julio Anta and Jacoby Salcedo.

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House of Roots and Ruin by Erin A. Craig

Recommended by Molly Roberts

A modern masterpiece, this is a classic Gothic thriller-fantasy from bestselling author Erin A. Craig, about doomed love, menacing ambition and the ghosts that haunt us forever.

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Stateless by Elizabeth Wein

Recommended by Molly Roberts

Agatha Christie meets Karen McManus in this thrilling mystery, packed with intrigue, adventure, love and betrayal, from bestselling and award-winning author Elizabeth Wein.

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Sunshine by Jarrett Krosoczka

Recommended by Devin Redmond

In his follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett brings readers back to Camp Sunshine so we can meet the campers and fellow counselors who changed the course of his life.

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Their Vicious Games, written by Joelle Wellington

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

Blacklisted from her top choice Ivy League college, prestigious Edgewater Academy scholarship student Adina Walker participates in the Finish, a high-stakes competition whose prize of wealth and power can open any door, only to find that she’s playing for her life. Get ready for spine-chilling twists and suspense with this debut!

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Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson

Recommended by Molly Roberts

In her remarkable second novel following her Governor General’s Award-winning debut, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, Jen Ferguson writes about the hurt of a life stuck in past tense, the hum of connections that cannot be severed and one week in a small, snowy town that changes everything.

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Unordinary Vol. 1, written/illustrated by Uru-Chan

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

This action-packed superhero series follows John, an ordinary teen with a deadly secret trying to survive high school. At his school, superpowers dictate social status, and betrayal and conspiracies make up every turn. However, John’s secret past could bring down the whole school’s social order. This Webtoon comic infuses sci-fi and fantasy with a well-paced story and Manga artwork!

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Warrior Girl Unearthed, written by Angeline Boulley

Recommended by Janeé Jackson-Doering

Readers travel back to Sugar Island, where Perry Firekeeper-Birch notices that there are missing Indigenous women in her hometown. When her family is involved in a high-profile murder investigation, and grave robbers profiting off the Anishinaabe tribe. Perry takes matters into her own hands to solve the mystery and reclaim her people’s inheritance. This is a thrilling, thought-provoking, and suspenseful novel.

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