One of the hard things about my job is that I am always several months ahead of publication schedules, so when people ask me what they should read next, I have to stop for a moment to think. There’s nothing more irritating than hearing somebody gush about a book that you won’t be able to read for another four months—I remember all too well being on the other side of that conversation—so I find myself struggling to remember books I read months ago. This is one of the great things about a preview issue: I can gush about the books that I’m reading now or have only just recently finished. And this year, there is a lot to be excited about.on the ball pinkney

In this fall’s picture books, readers can experience a broad range of emotions in each 32-page gem. On the Ball, by Brian Pinkney, is a playful story about a benchwarmer who has the adventure of a lifetime when he retrieves a ball that’s been kicked off the field; Little Elliot, Big Family, by Mike Curato, finds his little elephant dejected when pal Mouse goes off to a family reunion—but not for long;and Mama’s Nightingale, by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub, tells the heartfelt story of a mother and child temporarily separated by INS red tape. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season is One Today, which sees Richard Blanco’s poem, written for President Barack Obama’s second inaugural, illustrated by none other than Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame.Willful Machine

Middle-grade readers can look forward to a similar variety without leaving pictures behind. Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell join forces for The Sleeper and the Spindle, a visual and aural fairy-tale stunner. José Domingo offers a dizzy, seek-and-find adventure through time and dimensions in Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption. Judd Winick introduces readers to Hilo: the Boy Who Crashed to Earth, a lost extraterrestrial who makes the life of perfectly ordinary D.J. a whole lot more exceptional. And Brian Selznick returns with The Marvels, another mammoth illustrated masterpiece, about the generations of a storied London theater family and the lost and lonely boy whose life they change.

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There’s plenty for teen readers to choose among. In Willful Machines, Tom Floreen imagines the complicated life of a closeted teen who happens to be the son of the very conservative United States president—oh, and the robots are about to take over. In Trail of the Dead, Joseph Bruchac returns to his kickass Apache heroine, Lozen, who makes her way through a post-apocalyptic America with a whole lot more moral nuance than most of her genre peers. And in Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson uses the life of Dmitri Shostakovich and the grisly Siege of Leningrad to focus a lens on Soviet history.

These are definitely books that are worth the wait.

Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.