Our Children's Bookshelf is updated each month with a curated list of exciting reads, compiled by a trusted librarian from one of Connecticut's invaluable public libraries.
Children's Bookshelf - January 2021
New Year, New Books
by Vicki Oatis
Happy 2021! The new year brings with it a feeling of hope, a chance for fresh starts and opportunities to try new things. And that can mean — new books! Books in genres you’ve never tried before, books by new authors, maybe even books you have heard about from friends but have yet to crack open. I will let you in on a secret: your local librarians would love to recommend new books to you. In fact, tell them to surprise you with some new titles and they will be over the moon! Some libraries, like the Norwalk Public Library, have created Book Boxes for kids and teens for this purpose. Fill out a form and answer a few short questions telling us about your interests, and we will curate a box for you. It’s like a blind bag — but for books. To break out of a book rut, think about other things you enjoy: favorite TV shows or movies, hobbies, activities, etc. Mention these, along with titles of books you have read and loved, to give your librarian an idea of what you may like.
Fantasy is the fastest growing genre for kids in upper elementary school, and for good reason. There are so many different types of fantasy books! For fantasy with a sci-fi twist, try Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Part of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint and winner of the Pura Belpre Award, Sal and Gabi take you through time and space with a touch of silliness and sass.
Another great fantasy is Mañanaland by Newbery Honoree Pam Muñoz Ryan. Join Max on a mythical quest to see if he can journey into tomorrow and see the future. It is a story filled with love, hope, adventure and, of course, magic.
If fantasy is your usual escape, try something different by delving into realistic fiction. Another Newbery Honor winner, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley takes on serious topics with an age-appropriate touch in Fighting Words, a powerful story about young sisters dealing with sexual abuse and other trauma. Told with humor and a lot of heart, this book is a must-read.
Realistic fiction can also come in the form of graphic novels. While not a genre of its own, everyone should experience a read in this format. Check out New Kid by Jerry Craft (a Norwalk hero!). New Kid won this year’s CSK Award and was the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Award as the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This is the tale of Jordan Banks and his struggle to fit in as the new kid at a school that has little diversity. You’ll devour it in one sitting and the best part is that the sequel, Class Act, is already out!
Want a book to keep you on the edge of your seat? Try a mystery/adventure like Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs. Being as smart as Albert Einstein means that the CIA is counting on Charlie to understand an equation Einstein devised years ago that could either benefit all life on Earth or destroy it. Can Charlie save the world in this action-packed mystery?
Speaking of historical figures, let’s talk about biographies. Immerse yourself in history by learning about important figures of the past and how they shaped our modern world. Jen Bryant’s Above the Rim introduces Elgin Baylor through illustrations and poetic prose. As one of professional basketball’s first Black players — and one of the all-time greatest — Baylor inspired many in his public and private life. Above the Rim is about sports and also social justice.
If you are interested in history, why not try historical fiction? Linda Sue Park’s Prairie Lotus is a thoroughly researched and original tale that reimagines the story of Little House on the Prairie. It explores the American frontier from a new perspective. Hanna is half-Chinese, half-white. She faces racism from her white neighbors and resistance from her father as she attempts to get an education and start a dress-making business.
Another way to read stories of struggle and perseverance is through nonfiction. In All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team, Christina Soontornvat recounts how a youth soccer team in Thailand became trapped underground for more than two weeks, and the sigh of relief we all breathed when everyone made it out alive.
From fantasy to mystery to nonfiction to adventure and more, there are always new books to try. Contact your library and ask them to put together a stack of books for you to dive into this new year. Consider it an adventure for 2021 — one that can inspire new experiences so that when the world returns to normal, you’ll be ready to ensure that normal is anything but ordinary! The Norwalk Public Library is located at 1 Belden Avenue. For more information, call 203-899-2780 or visit norwalkpl.org.
Vicki Oatis is the Director of Youth Library Services at the Norwalk Public Library.