Spooktacular Middle Grade Reads

Spook Season is officially here! Looking for a book that fits the vibe of this gray, windy, and utterly spooktastic time of year? Check out our list! These titles are sure to give you a few goosebumps!

Thief Knot: A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford

For anyone who loves a good mystery with a paranormal twist, the Greenglass House series by Milford is a must-read. The great thing about THIS title is that while the setting is familiar it is a stand-alone title, so you don’t have to catch up on the series before diving into this story… and that’s very good because this is one you won’t want to miss this spook season!

When Marzana and her best friend Nialla overhear that there’s been a kidnaping in their boring city-state, it’s just what they have been looking for to liven things up! They quickly form a unique team that includes a magician and ghost and get to work on solving this mystery. As they dig deeper into the kidnapping, which seemingly makes no sense, it becomes apparent that, like so many other things in the Greenglass House world, things may not be as they seem. Will they be able to solve the mystery before time runs out?

Camp Murderface by Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell

If you love Goosebumps, this book is going to right up your alley.

Camp Sweetwater is reopening for the first time in three decades, and Corryn and Tez both end up heading to camp, even though neither of them is super thrilled about it. It doesn’t help that strange things start happening. Corryn’s cabin is teaming with bugs (gross), there appears to be something in the lake, and then there are the voices. After doing some research Corryn and Tez discover that these voices belong to campers who died in a fire years ago. Why are they back to haunt the camp? And what’s up with the creepy lifeguard?

This books has mystery as well as R.L. Stine-worthy ghosts. Bonus: it is set in the 1980’s AND has a sequel being released late spring/early summer of 2021… just in time for summer camp!

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

The cover of this book absolutely drew me in and the story definitely did NOT disappoint!

Cassidy nearly died in a drowning accident and nothing has been the same since. She now has an ever-present companion, Jacob. Jacob is a ghost and a friend but his death is still off-limits to talk about. Cassidy also can now pull back the “Veil” that separates the living from the dead and see other ghosts too.

Though some people might love the idea of seeing ghosts, Cassidy doesn’t which is why she is so excited for a summer with her parents at the beach… with NO ghosts (excpet Jacob).

Her plans take a turn for the worst when her parents, who just so happen to be a ghost hunting duo, are offered a TV show that will allow them to explore the world’s most haunted places. Places like Edinborough, Scotland.

While there, she meets a ghost named Lara who reveals to her that, as an In-Betweener, Cassidy’s job is to send ghosts she encounters behind the Veil permanently. In an old cities, with old ghosts, that is a very dangerous job.

This is book one, but we also have book two, Tunnel of Bones. Book three, Bridge of Souls, is expected out in 2021.

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Though this book has themes of friendship and family which may not feel spooky at all, it also has evil spirits, a grandma who happens to be a witch, and a cat with a Goonies’ namesake! What more could we ask for?

Lucely and her best friend Syd cast a spell that is supposed to save her firefly spirits. Instead, they unleash evil spirits on their town! Together with Lucely’s grandmother, and her hefty tabby, Chunk, they set out on an adventure to right the wrong and save their friends and family as well as the rest of the town before the spirits take everything they love from them!

The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales by Mary Downing Hahn

If you’re looking for scary short stories, but have read every volume of Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark, this book is going to be your new favorite read!

Each chapter of this new offering by the Middle Grade Master of Paranormal, Mary Downing Hahn, is a carefully crafted tale that will have you sleeping with the lights on! The chapters are relatively short, but build such a vivid story, you won’t feel like anything was left out. Perfect for those who love a good ghost story told with plenty of suspense.

Spirit Hunter by Ellen Oh

Moving into a new house always feels a little strange. Things like new sounds to find the cause of are normal, right? Maybe, maybe not.

For Harper Raine, the move into her new house is giving her a bad vibe. Really bad. To make it worse, the word around town is that the house is haunted.

When Harper’s brother, Michael, starts acting strange, she knows somethings wrong. It’s up to her to save him from the ghosts that are haunting him, but how? This book will have you guessing until the end!

If you don’t want to take my word on how great this book is, I’ll let you in on a fun fact : It is a Caudill 2021 nominee! So if you are hoping to vote for the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award this year, this will count toward your reading goal and just might be your favorite!

Oh, and if you read it and love it, be sure and check out the sequel, Spirit Hunters: Island of Monsters!

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter by Aaron Reynolds

I’m a HUGE fan of Aaron Reynolds. Not because he is scary but because he is funny! He is writer of the picture books Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear along with quite a few others, all bound to make you laugh! So why am I including one of his books on this list of scary books?

Well, it just so happens that he came out with a middle grade book that happens to be filled with mysterious ghosts along with a visit from the Grim Reaper!

Rex Dexter wants one thing for his birthday: a dog. This isn’t something he decided on the spur of the moment. Rex has always wanted a dog. It’s his destiny! When the big day comes, Rex sees a box with holes and inside is a… CHICKEN!

An hour later the chicken is dead and Rex has been cursed by the Grim Reaper. Even worse, there are ghosts haunting his room! Not just any ghosts either. The ghosts of dead animals from the zoo. They need Rex’s help to find out who caused their deaths and stop them before another animal at the zoo dies. But how is Rex supposed to do that?

This is a lighter read with plenty of Reynolds signature humor sprinkled throughout, but still a spooky read! It’s perfect for readers just testing the water with spooky books.

Small Spaces by Catherine Arden

Yes, you can judge this book by the cover. It is completely creepy and scary!

Ollie has been escaping into books after dealing with a tragedy. When she comes across a crazy woman about to toss a book into the river, she does what any bookworm would do and snatches it. As Ollie begins to read the story she’s stolen, its a love story of a woman with two brothers who both love her. in the book, the brothers make a deal with a smiling man who grants their wishes at a very high price. It’s a good story, but just that… a story, right?

The next day on a field trip at Smoke Hollow, a farm with it’s own tragic past, Ollie stumbles across the graves. The names match those in the story she read. Could they be real?

Before Ollie can explore to much it’s time to head home, but as they are en route their bus breaks down. Ollie’s teacher head’s back to the farm to get help and after the teacher is gone Ollie and her classmates are left only with the bus driver who gives them a warning: to get moving before nightfall because something is coming for them. Oh, and stick to small spaces. Will Ollie and her friends make it back home? And what about the people from her book? Worse yet, what about the smiling man?

This book is full of mystery as well as ghosts that will really get your heart pumping. The best part? If you like it, this is the first in a series. There will be four all together, each taking place in a different season. Dead Voices, the second book, takes place in the winter and is just as suspenseful and creepy as Small Spaces.

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing

There are a lot of great ghostly graphics out there, but this one always gives me the creeps. The story is fantastic, but the art gets me right in the goosebumps this time of year!

Charles has just moved to Echo City and he’s having some trouble with his new “neighbor.” This neighbor steals his stuff aaaaand tries to eat him because he is a MONSTER!!! Luckily for Charles, he is given a business card for Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator.

Margo knows all the monsters in Echo City. Some even say, monsters are afraid of Margo. Charles is lucky she is willing to take his case because for some reason, the monsters around Echo City really don’t like him.

This graphic is the perfect amount of creepy! This is book one but there is also a second book, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall.

Graphic Novels Your Kids Will Love

Graphic novels continue to gain popularity. Worried about your kiddos reading comics? Don’t be! Believe it or not, there are a ton of benefits to reading graphic novels, which you can read more about here. To give a quick snapshot, they are great for helping readers pull out context clues, build vocabulary, and add visuals to classic elements of storytelling. Give one a try today! We have some excellent new graphics just in to get you started.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

What would life be like if you had no real home? No parents to take care of you? If you had to choose between going to school or staying behind to care for your younger sibling? This eye-opening (mostly) true story follows Omar (yes, that Omar listed as co-author) and his younger brother, Hassan, who grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya. The story follows the ups and downs the boys and their friends experience living in camp while Omar perseveres, trying to get an education, taking care of the only family he has left, and finding a way to move past the loss of his parents and create a new life with a new home for himself and his brother.

Jamieson’s unique and tender illustrations and text give a loving touch to tough topics like loss and grief, hunger, homelessness, gender inequality, and treatment of differently-abled people. This is a must-read that will definitely encourage some deeper conversations. Recommended for ages 9 and up.

I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis

Many popular book series have been adapted to graphic novel format and I’m SO happy Tarshis’ popular I Survived series made the leap! Whether you have already read the chapter book format or not, you will be in for a treat! It’s an exciting story based on a true shark attack that occurred in a creek in Elm Hills, New Jersey.

One big bonus to reading the graphic format? Since this series is historical fiction, the graphic format provides a great visual to give kids an idea of the time period that more reluctant readers may struggle with in the chapter format. In fact, this format may even provide vital clues or information to help kids understand things that are discussed that they may not have seen or had experience with before (think street car, landline phone, etc). There are more coming in this series as well. Look for I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 in graphic novel which is already out! Recommended for age 8 and up.

Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

A great graphic for fans of Elephant and Piggie, this series skews a bit younger but is entertaining for all ages! Join friends Baloney, Bizz, Peanut, and my favorite, Krabbit as they perform magic, overcome fears, and and enjoy a cookie in space. These friends will have you laughing from cover to cover. Best part? It’s only the beginning! Expect a series to follow. Recommended for age 6 and up.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

The authenticity of the characters in this graphic novel grabbed me right out the gate. This is a great story about blended families that doesn’t shy away from the awkwardness of the adjustment period kids go through. Jenn has always been an only child who recently had her life in the city uprooted to follow her mom’s farming dreams of moving to the country with her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, leaving her dad behind. Andy, who is close to the same age, lives in the city but along with her sister, has to visit her dad, Walter, on the farm every weekend. The girls only see their differences at first as they try and forge a friendship. Will they ever truly be sisters though? An excellent read for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson. Recommended for ages 8 and up.

For more great graphics, stop in and see all the new titles we have or pick up some of your old favorites! Remember, Curbside Pickup is still available for your convenience as well.

Miss Marta

New Picture Books Your Kids Will Love

With Summer Reading winding down, I’m getting caught up on reading the many picture books filling our New Books Shelf. Wow are there some great new additions to our collection! Here are just a few highlights. Come in or call us for curbside pickup to check out these or the many others available!

Everyone’s Awake by Colin Meloy

If you are thinking this author’s name sounds familiar, you aren’t wrong. Not only is Meloy the author of the popular middle grade series The Wildwood Chronicles, he is also the frontman for popular Indie group, The Decemberists. The words in this book are so lyrical. An ode to insomnia that has a little bit of everything mixed in from Prince, mice playing cards, revolution, and more! The illustrations by Shawn Harris match the spirit of the words perfectly and you must pay very close attention because there are some details in the pictures that are sure to make you smile.

The World Needs More Purple People by Kristen Bell & Benjamin Hart

Most books written by celebrities don’t get much notice from me. It’s very rare that I would recommend them but this book is so perfect and timely, I have to share! It speaks to every kid (or grownup for that matter) every where. A great blend of humor and heart, this book encourages, kindness, curiousity, and activism without being preachy or overbearing. If you are looking for a good book about being a good citizen or what it means to be in a community, this is a great one to share!

Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder

This fable-like story is about a boy who wakes up as a beast. It cleverly goes through the emotions he feels as he goes through his morning and shows how letting negative emotions rule can spoil a perfectly good day. It’s dedication is to Maurice Sendak and the vibe throughout the book reminds me of Sendak and his wild beasts.

When My Brother Gets Home by Tom Lichtenheld

This book is a sweet shoutout to the younger siblings left at home at the start of the school year. Patiently waiting for the school bus to bring her brother home, a little sister is planning all the adventures she will have with her brother when he gets home.

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa

Another sibling adventure with a very different twist. This younger sibling has a bear of a problem. Everywhere he goes, the bear is there! Roaring, stomping, angry, selfish… he just can’t escape. It turns out, having a grumpy bear around isn’t all bad though. In fact, sometimes a grumpy bear is just what you need.

I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip

This hilarious tale in rhyme is perfectly complimented by charming illustrations that (almost) make you want to crawl into the pages. With lessons in impulse-control and making amends, this book gives plenty to talk about without being heavy handed. It’s a great book to talk about personal choices and consequences with that will have kids laughing and learning.

Miss Marta

Great Tween Reads

Fins by Randy Wayne Wright

Luke was visiting his grandfather in Florida when he was struck by lightning and he is still recovering. Marta and Sabina are newly arrived from Cuba and struggling to fit in. The three of them are hired to help Doc Ford tag endangered sharks for research to discover why the sharks are disappearing. The three do not get along very well but when they find themselves in danger, they quickly have to figure how to work together if they are going to survive.

This book is full of adventure, twists and turns. Towards the end you won’t be able to put the book down!

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas

Justin’s life has changed. Now there are so many things he is trying to figure out and understand. Will his brother go back to playing baseball? Why does his mom all of sudden want to go to church? Does Jenni really like him? When will people start treating him normally again? What happened on the day his Dad died?

Some answers can’t be found but through this thought provoking book there is humor, friendship and love as Justin tries to find his way forward.

I loved this quiet read as it explores difficult topics such as the after effects of war, death and finding out what’s important.

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

Imagine starting a walk in the woods on a sunlit afternoon to see whatever it is your friend wants to show you. Then imagine someone playing a trick on you which ends up with the now three of you getting lost in the woods, in the dark. It quickly becomes a very long night. Now add in unusual and dangerous sights, sounds, and experiences. What was a long night suddenly becomes the longest night ever. This book wasn’t what I thought it was going to be when I started. There is one surprise after another that keeps you reading to find out how it ends.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

A wonderful mix of storytelling, myth and coming of age. Lily, her sister Sam and their mom are moving in with their sick halmoni (grandmother). On the car trip there, Lily screams for her mom to stop the car because there is a very mean, hungry tiger in the middle of the road. A tiger that only Lily can see. A tiger that she keeps seeing. A tiger that is threatening her family. Lily does everything to trap the tiger and in the process makes many discoveries.

A beautiful insight to Korean American culture.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jennifer Townsend

If you haven’t read the first book in the series (Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow), read that one first! This fantasy series is full of adventure, danger and incredibly unique places and situations. If you have read the first book, then you will be happy to know the second book is as great as the first one!

The second book brings Morrigan to school only to find out she’s not allowed to take the normal Mundane or Arcane art classes. Her classmates get to take courses like Dragonriding, Stealth, Evasion, and Concealment, or Magnificat Care. Not her. She’s stuck in the dry Wundersmith history class all by herself. Boorrring! Soon her classmates are set against her because of an unknown blackmailer and humans and wunimals are disappearing. Formidable challenges are set up against her. If only she had a knack, some skill to fight back with like breathing underwater. But she doesn’t have one – or does she? Danger lurks everywhere, often when you least expect it. In this series you’ll encounter terrifying places like the Ghastly Market and the Museum of Stolen Memories as well as creative and delightful places like the Hotel Deucalion.

The books are fun, charming, scary, and exciting. What’s more, the third one is coming out in October! Enjoy!

Christina’s Top 10 of 2019

Christina’s Top 10 of 2019


by Thomas Taylor

Cheerie-On-Sea is a forgettable, seaside town in the summer. But, when the cold winds of November blow off the C and H on the town sign (as they do every year), things begin to become a bit strange.

Herbert Lemon is the Lost and Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel where he lives. He’s perfect for the job since he was found on the beach amongst a crate of lemons.  His job was fairly routine until a girl, in a panic, demands to be hid in his Lost and Foundery. With her comes an adventurous, magical, journey in an effort to locate her parents and the fast realization that they are not safe.

The town is appropriately eerie, you actually feel the mist surround you as you read. The quest is filled with danger and secrets, keeping you guessing until the end. Simply put, I loved this book! It made me think of the Nevermoor series, and Winterhouse, which I also loved. If you’re looking for a story with a mix of adventure, magic, secrets and legends, then Malamander is definitely the book for you.


The Strangers

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Chess, Emma and Finn thought it was just another school day until they got home and saw their mom staring at the computer. They don’t understand why their mom is so freaked out about 3 kids on the other side of the country that have been kidnapped. It is a bit strange the kids have the same names as they do, the same ages – and even the same birthdates!  Asthings get stranger their mom acts weirder. She runs off on a rare business trip leaving the three siblings in the care of a stranger with more questions than answers.

This book keeps you guessing. With mystery, adventure and fantasy/science all rolled into one. Oddly enough, this book reminded me of A Wrinkle in Time. However, in my humble opinion, this is so much better!


Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

by Celia C. Perez

Cat is suppose to be going to the Flora meetings but she is appalled that the organization insists on using a hat made of feathers from extinct birds. Instead of telling her mom she quit, she finds a different way to spend her time when she finds an unusual invitation. A new trip formed by four very different girls, each trying to find a way to fit in and follow their dream. Despite their differences, together they find a cause they can all work on. Full of mishaps mixed in with their efforts to create a better world.

I thought of the graphic novel series Geeky F@b Five as these middle graders take on the challenge to right a wrong in their community. Very inspiring.


Dear Sweet Pea

by Julie Murphy

Life is turned upside down for Sweet Pea. Her parents are recently divorced and now she lives between their two houses. Houses that are almost identical, on the same street, with a crazy newspaper columnist living in-between. At school, she has to sit next to her ex best friend. On top of the divorce and her new job, this seventh grader is dealing with all sorts of other issues such as weight, friendship, cliques and school issues that can be a bit overwhelming for her at times. Life is okay only because she has a new best friend and her cat Cheese. Sweet Pea is hanging in there, but then, the crazy neighbor Flora leaves town asking Sweet Pea to secretly forward her letters for the newspaper’s advice column. This starts a chain of events and misunderstandings that quickly get out of control. Written with humor, understanding, and a bit of Sweet Pea’s good advice. Maybe she should write her own column!


Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

Sal has been in his new school for 3 days and he has already been to the principal’s office three times! They weren’t his fault – well maybe the last one was when he conjured up a dead chicken in the locker of a bully.  Sal’s great at magic but now the school is thinking he’s evil.

Gabi is a force to be reckoned with. She is the student council president and the editor of the school paper. These two adversaries meet (in the principal’s office) while Gabi is trying to defend her friend, the bully who caused Sal problems. Gabi isn’t going to let a few changes in the fabric of the universe to scare her and she convinces Sal they make a great team. This is good, because they need each other to resolve a very difficult situation.

This book was fun and crazy. Reviewers said, unputdownable and a must read – I totally agree.


Roll With It

by Jamie Sumner

Ellie has big dreams. She wants to become the best baker ever. She also has some very big challenges. Most people see her as a girl in a wheelchair. They expect her to be easy going. They don’t expect her to cause trouble. Which she seems to get herself into frequently. Mostly, she is like any other girl who wants to have friends and fit in. Not easy to do when you’re in a wheelchair, live on the wrong side of town and have a grandfather struggling with dementia.

This story has heart and gentle humor, showing that one’s disability does not define who you are.

Readers of Lightning Girl (another book I liked) will enjoy.


Bone Hollow

by Kim Ventrella

Gabe is a good kid. How else would he find himself on the roof trying to rescue Miss Cleo’s prized chicken during a tornado? Unfortunately, this act of kindness has a life altering result – one where he dies. Or, did he? He feels great! The problem is that everyone is so frightened of him. What’s going on?

This is an intriguing story. One where Gabe grapples with his life – and his death –  and discovers the special job he has yet to do.

The beginning pulled me into the story and never let me go. It was a unique, emotional and magical look at the afterlife.


Pay Attention Carter Jones

by Gary Schmidt

How would you feel, if a butler – yes, a butler! – arrived at your doorstep to help out? Pretty weird. And yet, it’s perfect timing. 6th grade Carter’s family could use some assistance with his dad in Germany and the recent funeral and all. The only problem is, this guy is just so… English.
A gentleman’s gentleman might be helpful to mom, but he is only going to get Carter into big trouble at school. This story is equally funny as it is difficult to see Carter works his way through a maze of school incidents, family problems and accepting a secret that is deep down inside of him.


Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas

by William Lashner

Did you know that if a ghost haunts you you can sue them to make them leave?

Elizabeth didn’t know either. She didn’t even believe in ghosts until one shows up when she is tutoring swim star Henry Harrison in math and one popped up in a nightmarish way repeating “Save me, save him!”

Elizabeth has no clue why the ghost knows her but after her first visit where she runs away screaming she begins a bizarre, quest to save Henry and finds more than she bargained for along the way.

An unusual mix of scary story, mystery and courtroom drama that’s quirky, and full of twists.


Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

by Christopher Edge

When Maisie wakes up on her 10th birthday, she’s eager to open up her gifts. But when she goes downstairs to the kitchen, no one is there. No one is in the living room, or in her hateful sister’s bedroom. Not only that, when the front door is opened there is no one outside. Worse than that, there’s nothing there. Just blackness that is creeping towards her. This is definitely not your normal birthday!

A science filled adventure/mystery sprinkled with scientific facts.



by Rodman Philbrick

Sam is at camp when the fire breaks out. They are going to bus everyone back home. But Sam forgot his cellphone and has to call his mom to let her know he’s okay. It’s only a quick run. He’ll be back before they even notice he’s gone. But then there’s a flash of heat and a waterfall of fire. There’s only one thing for Sam to do and that is to run in the opposite direction – run for his life.

This is a fast-paced book If you are a fan of survival stories you will enjoy this one.

Miss Christina

Marta’s Top 10 of 2019

Marta’s Top 10 of 2019


10. Dandy

by Ame Dyckeman


This book came out relatively early in the year and became a go-to for me with my Pre-K friends.   It has that perfect blend of sweet and silly.  The humor is also layered in a way that even gets the adults in the room to chuckle.  Sweetie has become completely enamored with the lone dandelion on Daddy’s otherwise perfect lawn.  She has even given it a name!  Daddy and his friends keep looking for opportunities to get rid of Charlotte the dandelion, but each time Daddy is thwarted.  This book has plenty of laughs to share but a sweet ending that will make anyone smile.


9.  The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett

A good picture book biography will win me over every time, but this one stood out above the rest.  Through Barnett’s word choice and delivery, it feels like reading a book by the famous author herself.  Of course, he adds his own subtle humor but the heartfelt narrative and deep respect for the struggles the children’s author went through come through beautifully.  Coupled with the beautiful illustrations by Sarah Jacoby, this book gave me a whole new appreciation for Margaret Wise Brown.


8.   Stargazing 

by Jen Wang

Christine and Moon are unlikely best friends.  Christine is very studious and somewhat reserved.  Moon is an artistic free-spirit… who sometimes beats people up.  Despite their differences, these two neighbors soon become best friends and serve as the Yin to the others Yang.  So when jealousy, pressure from parents and friends, celestial beings, and illness try to come between them, can their friendship stand strong?

Not only does this book have an awesome story line that makes me think of books like Smile and Sunny Side Up, but the art is fantastic.


7.  Where Are You From?

by Yamile Saied Méndez

The sweet pictures in this story drew me in but Méndez’ words captured me.  This story is about a little girl who is asked by classmates and peers where she is from.  She says from here but that isn’t enough for them and they continue to push asking where she is really from.  The child turns to her abuelo who answers her question with an answer that is unexpected but absolutely perfect.  A sweet story that is great for one on one reads or a group read aloud.


6. Share This Book!

by John Hutton

Board books are sometimes an overlooked category on the Top 10 but this one was a stand out this year!  Not only are the illustrations charming, they are also wonderfully inclusive and diverse.  The simple story speaks to the grown-ups of the very young who struggle to share books with their babies the “right” way.  This book reinforces the fact that there is NO right way.  The important thing is to sit down together and spend time not just with each other but with the book.  Whether it is looking at the pictures and pointing out things you see, reading a page here and there as your little one will sit for it, or graduating to reading the whole book (and then reading it again!) this book encourages kids and parents to keep opening the books together and making those memories.


5. The Bridge Home

by Padma Venkatraman

Dealing with heavy hitting subjects like abuse, neglect and homelessness, this book is heartbreaking but also incredibly uplifting.  Through tragic circumstances Viji, Rukku, Muthi and Arul find themselves homeless on the streets on Chennai in India.  The sisters Viji and Rukku are new to life on the streets, but quickly find a home with Muthi and Arul, who are able to show them how to survive.  With a stray dog in the mix too, these four quickly form a familial bond.  Though there is tension and heartbreak in this story there is also humor and so much hope.  The author has created a vivid world for these characters and doesn’t shy away from tough topics while also not being too graphic for the age it is intended.  The chapters are short but pack a punch so this book would be an awesome read aloud.


4. My Papí Has a Motorcycle

by Isabel Quintero

Daisy loves getting to zoom through her neighborhood on the back of her father’s motorcycle.  As they ride, she is excited to see people and places that make this her home.  She can’t help but noticing that some things in her neighborhood are changing though.  Despite these changes, he knows she can count on the love of her dad and family and the memories of her neighborhood as she knew it.  The illustrations in this book


3.  Some Places More than Others

by Renée Watson

Amara is excited for the opportunity to travel to New York to meet her father’s family and see where he grew up.  Sadly, New York isn’t quite what she imagined.  Her father and grandfather don’t speak to each other.  Amara is trying to figure out this new found family and how she fits in and why things are the way they are.  Filled with heart, this  story is about a young girl trying to connect to her roots and find out who she really is.


2.  Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

by Celia C. Pérez

I knew the second I saw this book’s epigraph was from the novella The Body, which the movie Stand By Me was based on, that it was going to be amazing, and it didn’t disappoint!  The four protagonists all come together after a mysterious invitiation to join a new secret group, bringing their own secrets with them.  Though they seem almost too different, they soon form friendships and find a cause: fighting an out-dated and unethical tradition held by another group in their town.  This book combines mystery, humor, adventure, and the ups and downs that come with new friendships.  It reads pretty fast with short chapters that often rotate through the perspectives of the different characters.


And tied for first…

Dear Sweet Pea

by Julie Murphy

If you have read any of Murphy’s previous YA titles (Dumplin’, Puddin), you know her writing is warm, with a lot of heart and the right dose of humor.  Dear Sweet Pea is her middle grade debut that offers all of those same qualities I’ve come to love about this author’s voice.  Sweet Pea is dealing with a lot.  On the home front, her parents are divorcing.  At school, there are social issues with her ex best friend and the fact that, well, Sweet Pea isn’t exactly the smallest person in her class.  Things take an interesting turn for Sweet Pea when the reclusive advise columnist who lives next door asks Sweet Pea to forward her mail to her, but instead she starts responding to the letters herself!  This sweet, spunky, warm protagonist had me rooting for her from the get go.



With the Fire On High

by Elizabeth Acevedo

Talk about outside my comfort zone!  When I dive into YA fiction I usually gravitate towards fantasy.  This book created such a buzz in the book world though, I had to read it even though it is realistic fiction.  Emoni is not your typical Senior.  Emoni has a a two-year old daughter at home to think about and an abuela who needs her.  She works, gets good grades, is an excellent mom and granddaughter, and is also an AMAZING cook.  It’s almost like magic.  She knows just what to add to make a recipe pop, creating a one-of-a-kind experience for whoever is eating it. When she is given the opportunity to take a culinary arts class that includes a chance to study abroad, she is eager but also weary.  Money on a trip means less money at home and time away from her baby girl, but it also means the chance to be a “normal” teenager, even if only for two weeks.  Emoni is always having to make decisions and take on responsibilities well beyond her years based on the needs of the ones she loves.  She takes her responsibilities seriously and this trip breaks all the rules she has set for herself, but breaking free could be exactly what she needs to find herself where she is meant to be. This book is beautifully written, authentic, and includes recipes.

Miss Marta

Jessica’s Best Books of 2019

Jessica’s Top 10 of 2019

10. Field Trip

by Molly Brooks

The sequel to one of my favorite middle grade graphic novels, Sanity and Tallulah. This time, Sanity and Tallulah are on a class field trip from their spaceship to an actual planet that goes horrendously wrong. Field Trip has everything you could want: exploding planets, space bees, pirates, and plucky kids working together to save the day. The world-building is expanded on from the previous book and we get to meet Sanity’s awesome older sister, Prudence. I love the energy, humor, and curiosity of this series and can’t wait to see more of it in the future.


9. Give Me Back My Bones!

by Kim Norman

A pirate buried at the bottom of the ocean needs help gathering back up his bones! This fun, rhyming picture book uses the correct terms for bones (scapula, clavicle, humerus, etc.) but explains what the bones are used for in silly pirate speak, so it informs while it entertains. A great STEM-themed picture book that would be a hit with any young pirate lover.


8. The Scarecrow

by Beth Ferry

Ferry’s story of a lonesome scarecrow rescuing and befriending a baby crow is fine on its own, but it’s the Fan brothers’ illustrations that make this book truly outstanding. They make the scarecrow’s simple burlap face seem expressive and full of life and are equally skilled at capturing the changing seasons. A beautiful, moving story of friendship.


7. The Night Flower

by Lara Hawthorne

This nonfiction picture book depicts the flora and fauna of the Sonoran desert, particularly the titular flower of the saguaro cactus which blooms only one night a year. The rhyming prose paired with the lovely, simple illustrations show a softer, thriving side of the desert. It also includes the life cycle and parts of the saguaro, desert creatures, and glossary.


6. Skulls!

by Blair Thornburgh

An adorable picture book about – you guessed it – skulls! Thornburgh’s cheery, light-hearted picture book looks at an often scary subject and shows how useful skulls can be. The cool skull facts included at the end was pretty informative as well.



5. The Happy Book

by Andy Rash

This picture book about feelings stands out to me from the crowd of similar books because it not only identifies feelings and what may cause them, but that it is okay to not be happy all of the time. Even some pretty complex emotions (“I’m angry that I can’t make you happy and scared we won’t be friends anymore!” “I’m scared you won’t like me if I’m not happy.”) are presented but in a way that’s understandable to young children. And best of all, Rash has managed to create a book that is not only fun for kids, but adults will get a laugh out of reading as well.


4. The Absence of Sparrows

by Kurt Kirchmeier

This book is an odd duck, which I mean in the best way. The premise – spooky clouds roll in and cause people to randomly turn into glass statues – was strange and unique enough to capture my interest, but I was surprised by the sensitive portrayal of the main character’s grief, confusion, and struggle to keep his family together in the midst of a bizarre apocalypse.



3. Scary Stories for Young Foxes

by Christian McKay Heidicker

One of the best scary stories for kids that manages to be genuinely spooky but is still age-appropriate. Though some sensitive readers bothered by animal death/harm may want to pass on this one, any young middle grade horror fan eager for something truly spooky will fly through this like I did. You can read my full review here.



2. Pick a Pumpkin

by Patricia Toht

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in my presence knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday, so it’s probably no surprise that a Halloween picture book would make it to my top ten. However, Toht’s lovely book, beautifully illustrated by Jarvis, would win me over even if I wasn’t already Halloween’s biggest fan. It captures the feeling of picking out a pumpkin and carving it into a jack o’lantern. Gorgeous, charming, and atmospheric.



1. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

Hands down, not only my favorite book of this year, but probably one of my favorites ever. Part of the excellent Rick Riordan Presents publishing imprint, the science fiction aspect of the story isn’t as significant to the plot as the summary makes it sound, but Sal is a wonderful protagonist and I could happily have spent an entire book of him narrating going grocery shopping or something equally mundane. I’ve got the release date of the sequel marked on my calendar, and you should too. You can check out my full review here.


Miss Jessica

Tess’ Best Books of 2019


Tess’ Top 10 of 2019

10. The Frog Book

by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page

Everything you’d want to know about frogs with full-color, gorgeous illustrations.  According to the book, there are 6,000 species of frogs.  Several are represented here, along with snippets on how they protect their eggs, their diet, and their defense mechanisms.  Kids who enjoy learning facts and dropping knowledge will love this book.  Even adults can amaze friends with obscure frog facts.  Like, did you know a group of frogs is called an army? Or that the desert rain frog lives in sand dunes and gets all its water from fog? There is also a table in the back listing all the frogs in the book, their diet, size, and range, which is handy for fact-loving readers.


9. Does It Fart?: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass

by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

This book teaches about the ins and outs of the digestive system.  And it is HILARIOUS.  One of our regular moms here told me her kids were LOL’ing so much at bedtime while reading this book, and she highly recommended it!    Each page features a different animal, and asks the age-old question, “Does it fart?”  Answers are on the back.  My favorite “Does it Fart?” question is a tie between the Spider and the Unicorn, but I won’t spoil the answers!


8. A Boy Like You

by Frank Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren

This story encourages boys to celebrate all facets of their personalities and love themselves.  In the author’s note, Murphy wrote that as a youth basketball coach he saw boys struggling with society’s confusing messages on masculinity.  He wanted to show boys that being strong also means being thoughtful, kind, attentive, and helpful.  Some of my favorite lines are, “Fear and bravery are partners.  You can’t be brave without first being afraid.” Great book to share with all the kiddos in your life.


7. When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

“When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl…But Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl.  He was really another kind of boy.”  Aidan learns he will be a big brother, and he is worried about making his new sibling feel welcome right from the start.  The story follows Aidan and his family while they prepare for the new baby.  Great story about welcoming a new sibling with thoughtful transgender representation.  I really enjoyed the illustrations and Aidan’s loving family!  Lukoff himself is Trans and this book is part of the #OwnVoices movement that recognizes books written by a member of a community represented in the work.  Be sure to read his touching author’s note in the back of the book too!


6. Skulls!

by Blair Thornburgh and illustrated by Scott Campbell

This book is fantastic!  It looks like a graphic novel with the chunky, fun illustrations.  The text is pretty simple, which makes it a fun read-aloud too, but the back matter contains lots of great info for those who want to dig a little deeper into the subject.



5. Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh and Saturday by Oge Mora

I love both of these picture books so much, and I just could not decide between the two.  Since they both focus of spending time with loved ones, I am including them together but not to diminish the specialness of either in any way.


In Saturday, a child and her mother intend to spend the day together doing their favorite Saturday activities.  Mom only has one day off a week, so Saturdays are their day!  But, as so often happens, things just don’t go according to plan.  I appreciated the parenting realness Mora shows when Mom starts to melt down (because, as a parent, who hasn’t been there?) and also the super-sweet conclusion.


Our Favorite Day is a lovely, gently paced book about a grandfather’s daily routine compared to his routine on Thursday, the day his granddaughter visits.  I love the water-color collage illustrations and the simple, beautiful story.  Great representation of the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild.




4. August Isle

by Ali Standish

This book had me hooked!  It reminded me a lot of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.  Miranda has grown up seeing postcards from August Isle, where her mom spent summers as a child.  She soon travels there to and begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the seemingly perfect town and her mom’s life.   Mysterious and emotional story of loss and friendship.




3. Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

This book really surprised me!  I thought the story of ramen noodles would be pretty dry (ha ha!), but this book was anything but.  It tells the story of Momofuku Ando and his drive to create a nutritious, affordable, easy-to-prepare meal in post-WWW II Japan.  Lots of lessons in perseverance and helping others.  The illustrations are fantastic and bring the story to life.



2. New Kid

by Jerry Craft

Seventh grade is tough.  It is even tougher to be the new kid.  Jordan Banks, a gifted student and artist, is not only the new kid at his fancy prep school, but one of the few students of color.  This graphic deals with some complex issues on race and socioeconomics while being totally enjoyable, relatable, and funny!  As Jordan’s school year progresses, he tries new activities and makes friends, and we see his unique perspective on the situations in his drawings that are interspersed with the action of the story.


1. The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This ode to African-American resiliency was originally performed as a video poem for ESPN’s The Undefeated website and was made into this superb children’s book.  Nelson’s oil-painted figures are incredible and so life-like.  Alexander’s poem is powerful, and the book’s pacing with the accompanying images are just perfect here.  My favorite picture book of the year.  You can see the original video poem and read more about it here.


Miss Tess

Five on Friday: Halloween Picture Books

Pumpkin Carving Party.png

October is hands down my favorite month of year and it’s all because of my favorite holiday, Halloween. So for this month’s Five on Friday, I chose five of my favorite Halloween picture books (plus one board book) to share with you. Click on the book title to go to the catalog.


Pick a Pumpkin – Patricia Toht

Going to a pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin and carve it into a jack o’lantern is one Halloween tradition I always look forward to. This delightful picture book has beautiful, vibrant art and rhythmic text perfect for reading aloud. It’s a fun celebration of every step in creating the perfect jack o’lantern on Halloween night.



The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything – Linda Williams

little old lady who is not afraid of anything must deal with a pumpkin head, a tall black hat, and other spooky objects that follow her through the dark woods trying to scare her. This isn’t very Halloween specific except for the jack o’lantern head, but I like the interactive aspect of this book; kids can nod, wiggle, and clap along with all the creepy disembodied clothes following her through the woods.



I Spy Spooky Night – Walter Wick

Rhyming verses instruct readers to find hidden objects on each page. I remember poring over the wonderfully detailed and spooky photographs in this fun Halloween addition to the classic picture book series.



Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is the funniest book about monsters you’ll ever find. Older kids will probably understand the references better, however, but these illustrated poems are still a delight to read out loud and even the pictures have funny little Easter eggs hidden…or whatever the Halloween version of an Easter egg is. I loved the running joke about the Phantom of the Opera having a song stuck in his head. The follow-up, Frankenstein Takes the Cake, is just as great.



Mother Ghost – Rachel Kolar

As you might be able to guess from the title, this book adapts common nursery rhymes into spooky ones! I think “Twinkle, Twinkle, Lantern Jack” and “Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary” were my favorites.



And as a bonus, I have to mention Dracula: A Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams. It’s not technically about Halloween and it’s a board book besides, but it’s adorably spooky and perfect for Halloween. She has an entire series of these primers with classic literature, so if Frankenstein is your literary monster of choice, she has that as well!

And that’s it for this month! I hope you check out some of these picture books the next time you’re looking for some spooky fun books. Be sure to check back in November, same bat time, same bat channel for the next Five on Friday.

Miss Jessica


5 on Friday: Spring Picture Books

5OF April

It’s finally starting to feel like spring! Winter seemed to drag on forever this year, so I am especially glad to see plants start poking their heads out and feel some warmer weather. In honor of that, I chose my 5 favorite picture books about spring for this month’s 5 on Friday.


andthen it's spring

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano

Fogliano won the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Writer and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nominee for Picture Book Honor Book awards for this sweet story about a boy and his dog planting a garden. They both wait…and wait…and wait some more for the garden to grow.


when spring comes

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes

Henkes is a bestselling author for a reason, but what really makes this book a standout to me are Laura Dronzek’s beautiful illustrations. No one knows how to capture the wonder of a season the way she does.



Fletcher and the Springtime Blossoms by Julia Rawlinson

Fletcher the fox mistakes the falling blossoms as snow and rushes to warn his friends that they have returned from their migrations or woken from hibernation too soon. I really enjoy the Fletcher books and I think kids will too.


wake up

Wake Up, it’s Spring! by Lisa Campbell Ernst

One day, the sun whispers to the earth, “Wake up, it’s spring!” And the earth tells the worm, who tells the seed, and so on until everyone is awake and cheering for springtime. The simple, playful text makes this great for read-alouds.



Abracadabra, it’s Spring! by Anne Sibley O’Brien

As you might be able to guess from the title, this charming picture book focuses on the magic of winter transforming into spring. Some of the magic words are a bit of a stretch – I’ve never heard anyone say “Alizebu!” before – but the fold-out pages showing the change to a new season are lovely.

And that’s all for this month! Be sure to check back in May, same bat time, same bat channel for the next 5 on Friday.

Miss Jessica