Contributed by Candlewick Press
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

10 books for kids and teens on your gift list

Atlanta authors top list of recommended books

Autumn marks the publishing world’s most bountiful crop of new books. Sifting out the right choice for the young people — be they tots or high-schoolers — on your gift list can be overwhelming. We aim to help by combing through new releases to put some some less obvious but superior choices on your radar. With these 10 titles, you can’t go wrong.

All ages

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers.’ If you need a gift for a family, the search stops here. With the debut last month of the Tom Hanks feature film, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” on the heels of the 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the longtime TV host who died in 2003 may be hot right now, but his words prove evergreen. The lyrics to 75 ditties that Fred McFeely Rogers wrote for his children’s program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” are now poems illustrated by Luke Flowers that tickle your fancy, soothe your soul or maybe both. The poems echo the show’s messages: You are uniquely you, love and wonder are all around, and it’s OK to sometimes feel mad or blue. For instance: “If you can’t be a pine/ On top of a hill/ Be a shrub in the valley, but be/ The best little shrub by the side of the rill.” (Quirk Books, $19.99)

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Teens

‘Allies.’ “POOM. An underwater mine went off, and a soldier screamed briefly as his body was flung into the air before coming back down with a sickening thunk.” From the award-winning North Carolina historical novelist and author of last year’s “Refugee” comes this riveting and accessible story by Alan Gratz about D-Day, timed to its 75th anniversary this year. Gratz puts a 16-year-old soldier from Philadelphia at the center of this action-packed narrative about the liberation of German-occupied France, but adroitly folds in the storylines and perspectives of a few other characters also involved in the defining episode of World War II. (Ages 9-14, Scholastic, $17.99)

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‘Look Both Ways.’ An entire inner-city community becomes vividly real via 10 stories by Jason Reynolds that collectively form “a tale told in 10 blocks.” Street by street, different middle-schoolers walk home, taking their usual routes and stewing over the things that occupy their minds: an encounter with a possibly menacing dog, a mother who has cancer, another who’s always exhausted, the teacher (“her face a pink raisin”) who does nothing but scold, a kid teasing from the school bus window, or picking out a snack at the corner store. One of the leading writers in youth literature today, Reynolds expertly captures the voice of someone 12 or 13 years old as he explores each student’s back story. His cumulative story is deeply satisfying as its wisdom and insight sneak up on you. Ultimately, Reynolds leaves young people with a question: “How you gon’ change the world?” (Ages 10-14, Atheneum, $17.99)

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‘Jackpot.’ Atlanta author Nic Stone is not interested in writing a story that’s fun while it lasts. She wants to dig into the tough stuff of today and challenge readers to deliberate and reflect. With “Dear Martin” (2017), Stone hit a homer her first time up, then soared again last year with “Odd Man Out.” In those books she tackled race discrimination and LGBT issues, respectively. This time, she’s written a fast-paced novel with mystery elements (a search for the person who bought a $1.6 million lottery ticket — hence, the title), that explores class and privilege in relation to friendship and also romance. Choose any of Stone’s three titles for a reflective high-schooler. (Ages 14 and older, Crown, $17.99)

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Elementary grades

‘Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys.’ Here’s a good choice if you’re on the hunt for a book that an adult can learn from while surveying large, glorious illustrations alongside curious youngsters. With striking clarity and just enough anecdotal details to keep it interesting, wildlife expert Mike Unwin traces the migration paths and provides related details of 20 creatures, from North America’s ruby-throated hummingbird to the blue wildebeests of East Africa. (For example, the Arctic tern can travel up to 60,000 miles each year, or the length of four round-trips to the moon.) A top pick for both elegant (and lifelike) illustrations by Jenni Desmond and a bounty of cool facts. (Ages 5-10, Bloomsbury, $18.99)

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‘My Jasper June.’ A standout in recent years and a National Book Award finalist for the magical “Orphan’s Island” (2017), Atlanta author Laurel Snyder walks readers through her own Ormewood Park and East Atlanta neighborhoods this time in a deeply felt story of a life-altering friendship. Leah, 13, has lost something precious and is aimless, lonely. The mysterious girl she discovers in the creek near Red’s Farm is Jasper, who’s lost in a different way. Snyder displays a talent for creating characters that grab you while she weaves an unexpected, heartfelt story. This one stays with you. (Ages 8-12, Walden Pond Press, $16.99)

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‘Anthem.’ With “Anthem,” Atlanta author Deborah Wiles and two-time National Book Award finalist concludes her ambitious “Sixties Trilogy” of docu-fiction: hefty novels (each 400-500 pages) that deftly juxtapose a first-rate story with a treasure trove of historical facts, music and cultural references, archival photos, news clips and more. The previous titles in the series are “Countdown” (2010) and “Revolution” (2014); each book ably stands alone. In “Anthem,” Wiles zips readers into 1969 for a cross-country road trip by school bus. Molly and older cousin Norman, a musician who drives the bus, are tasked with traveling from Charleston, South Carolina, to San Francisco to find Molly’s brother, who’s been drafted for Vietnam. A superior effort that’s both perceptive and entertaining — even for adults. (Ages 9-13, Scholastic, $19.99).

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Pre-school

‘Bear is Awake!: An Alphabet Story.’ A little girl and a burly bear go on a snowy adventure and the fun outshines small teaching moments. Hannah E. Harrison (“Friends Stick Together”) captivates readers with her charming illustrations injected with wonder and an engaging story that unfolds through vocabulary words, both simple and challenging (“K” is for “kids” and “kaput.” “N” is for “naughty,” ‘nice” and “no.”) Yes, there are ABC books aplenty, but this “Bear” is especially lovable. (Ages 3-5, Dial, $17.99)

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‘Going Down Home With Daddy.’ Lil Alan travels with his family “down home,” where Granny scatters “corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold” and “showers our cheeks with peppermint kisses.” Warmth and happiness abound on the old homestead when relatives reconnect, honor their heritage through special traditions and celebrate togetherness. From seasoned North Carolina author Kelly Starling Lyons, this picture book is as comfy and precious as a grandmother’s favorite quilt. Daniel Minter’s richly evocative illustrations in acrylic wash complement the tender, thoughtful text. (Ages 4-8, Peachtree, $16.95)

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‘The Shortest Day.’ “So the shortest day came, and the year died,/ And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world/ Came people singing, dancing,/ To drive the dark away.” The finest picture books captivate a youngster’s mind while also enlightening the adult on whose lap they sit. This observance of the winter solstice and its significance to humans throughout time fits that bill. No matter what you believe or celebrate, the shortest day arrives and the sun is reborn. It’s a spellbinding recurrence to contemplate. Newbery Medal winner Susan Cooper (“The Grey King”) penned “The Shortest Day” poem 45 years ago as a theatrical piece for a winter solstice revel. Her graceful prose is matched with exquisite illustrations by Carson Ellis depicting festive days of yore. (Ages 4 and older, Candlewick, $17.99)

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