The holiday season is nigh. Are you ready? I’m decidedly not. I know this much, however: One thing I like to do every year is buy books for friends and family. As it occurred to me just the other day that I’m smack-dab in my seventh year of blogging here at Kirkus, in today’s column I’m taking a walk down memory lane and looking at some posts I’ve done over the years – all in the name of suggesting literary gift ideas for the children and teens in your life.
1) Back in 2011, one of my very favorite Kirkus posts was this one about Jack Gantos’s novel Dead End in Norvelt. (For those who want to read further, I followed up at my own site, 7-Imp, with a chat with Jack about the book.) If you don’t believe me when I say it’s a great novel, believe the committee of librarians who decided later that year it should win the 2012 Newbery Award. And if you have a young aspiring writer in your life, consider Jack’s newest book for middle-school readers, Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories. Jack and I chatted about it here just a few weeks ago. With any Gantos-related book-as-gift you pretty much can’t go wrong.
2) One of my favorite stops on the children’s literature spectrum is that sweet, sweet spot that is the early chapter book. Think: Charlotte’s Web or Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory books (great gift ideas in and of themselves). One of the very best chapter books for children I have read is Sonya Hartnett’s Sadie and Ratz, illustrated by Ann James, which I wrote about here in 2012. I find my copy every now and then for re-reading, and I’m reminded what a master writer Hartnett is. I wish that by now we’d seen a second (and third and fourth) Sadie and Ratz book, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it happens one day. You never know.
3) I always enjoy talking to poet and author Joyce Sidman, and I did so here in 2013. We chatted about What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings, an exquisite poetry collection that paired her once again with illustrator Pamela Zagarenski. (“At the risk of sounding bizarro,” Joyce told me in that Q&A, “I think Pamela and I have some kind of psychic bond.”) This one is for the middle-grade to high school poetry-lovers in your life, but if it’s a younger reader you’re shopping for, consider this year’s Round, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. (In February of next year, we’ll all get to read Sidman’s The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, a book I’m eager to see.)
4) In 2014, I talked here at Kirkus to designer and editor Françoise Mouly, who launched TOON Books in 2008 with her husband, Pulitzer Prize–winning author-illustrator Art Spiegelman. The TOON Books are comic books as early readers, and the series continues to impress. Liniers’s Good Night, Planet is the latest release from TOON, and it’s utterly enchanting.
5) I’ve a tie for My Favorite 2015 post. In April of that year, I enjoyed talking here to poet and author Margarita Engle and illustrator Rafael Lopez about Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. This must-have picture book went on to win the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, and then Margarita Engle up and became the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate in 2017. She’ll serve that term till 2019, lucky us. That same month, I also talked here to author Tracey Baptiste about her novel The Jumbies. If you know a young reader who wants a satisfying novel, you can even pair The Jumbies with Tracey’s follow-up novel, published this year, The Rise of the Jumbies. I’m currently reading this to my daughters, and it’s so, so good thus far. If you don’t believe me, here’s the starred Kirkus review.
6) Pardon the extravagance here, but I’ve yet another tie for 2016 posts. In August of last year, I talked here with author Renée Watson about I, Too, Arts Collective, which was at that time merely a campaign. Well, Renée made it happen, and the non-profit has accomplished much this year. Renée did all of this while writing Piecing Me Together, a YA novel published early this year, which I highly recommend for teen readers. Here’s the starred Kirkus review. And at the very tail end of last year, I talked here with author-illustrator Javaka Steptoe about his picture book biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Radiant Child. This went on to win the coveted Caldecott Award. It’s another must-have picture book for the children you know.
7) And what about this year’s posts? My favorites thus far have been my chat with Deborah Heiligman about Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, an (already) award-winning book I recommend without reservation, and my Q&A with Bao Phi about A Different Pond, illustrated by Thi Bui — one of this year’s most moving picture books.
Good luck with your gifts, and here’s to seven more years. As always, happy reading!
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.