With bookstores across the country shutting their doors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, traditional handselling—which often connects readers with books they didn’t know they were looking for—is no longer possible. This is the third in an ongoing series featuring personal recommendations of new releases from children’s booksellers.
As the only full-service children’s bookstore on Chicago’s South Side, 57th Street Books is doing its part to stay in touch with young readers, many of whom still peer in through our windows, asking to “go see Franny and Colin.” Last month, Franny Billingsley and I gathered a few of our favorite books about being a neighbor, even when we’re physically apart, in our dedicated children’s newsletter, A Young Person’s Guide to 57th Street Books. What follows are some of the spring releases and authors we were most looking forward to hearing from and reading aloud as a community gathered around books. But even though we greatly miss singing songs at story time and meeting with our Young Readers Advisory Board to discuss their latest reads, we know that books connect us, no matter where we are.
Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (Candlewick Press)
I’ve been looking forward to Don’t Worry, Little Crab for so long that its U.K. edition was the first book I bought on my trip there last year. Now it’s here in the States just in time. Little Crab’s fears about facing the sea are respectfully paced and finally, gently but firmly brought to the edge of courage in this mildly bracing book for all of us in need of a little encouragement, but especially ages 3-6. Also available in Spanish.
All Aboard the Moonlight Train by Kristyn Crow, illus. by Annie Won (Doubleday)
Cozily in keeping with the tradition of The Polar Express and Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge’s enchanting Sleep Train, All Aboard the Moonlight Train pairs exotic animals and a dreamily familiar interior, lit with a rhythm that chugs even the most ferocious of readers to rest. We can’t get enough of books that are supposedly meant to be read in pajamas, and this is the perfect bedtime alternative to a trip to the zoo. For ages 3-7.
Meet Monster: The First Big Monster Book by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, illus. by Quentin Blake (The New York Review Children’s Collection)
This gentle, playful monster like no other first came on the scene in 1973, thanks to educators Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, who had the bright idea to let schoolchildren help bring Monster to life. He’s back in this omnibus edition, featuring the first six stories in their easy-reading magnificence, marvelously illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake from the equally brilliant minds at New York Review of Books. What better lesson than turning our fears into friends? For ages 4-8.
The House of Madame M by Clotilde Perrin (Gecko Press)
It may be too early for ghost stories, but not for this hands-on peekaboo inside a strange, spooky house from the maker behind 2018’s irresistible Inside the Villains. Heck, with large-format, life-the-flaps fun behind every door, designed for hours of engagement, you might say it’s urgent. For ages 5-8.
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera (Abrams)
I can’t think of a more uplifting or educational way to take in the “cruelest month” than with children’s author and biographer Suzanne Slade’s account of Chicago’s eternal poet-in-residence, Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize. This graduated, lovingly researched picture book has the power to reach and inspire both younger and middle grade readers, and there’s no other word for artist Cozbi A. Cabrera’s illustrations: exquisite. For ages 6-9.
Finally, Something Mysterious by Doug Cornett (Knopf)
57th Street Books’ Young Readers Advisory Board, comprised of readers ages eight and up, is constantly bringing our attention to smart, fun, feel-good middle-grade reads like Doug Cornett’s debut. Advisory board member Karis (age 12) calls Finally, Something Mysterious a “funny, light, and captivating mystery,” surrounding the appearance of literally hundreds of rubber duckies on old Mr. Babbage’s lawn in small-town California. Luckily, the One and Onlys (i.e., three almost sixth graders without siblings) are on the case. Or are they? Bellwood’s not so boring after all in this summer-ready, unalarming mystery. For ages 8-12.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (Soho Teen)
Bestselling author Samira Ahmed, who just happens to call Hyde Park [Chicago] home, has already made a searing impression on YA0 fiction with novels that cross cultural divides and tell straight truths about Islamophobia. Where her last novel, Internment, sent us into a dismal near-future, her latest, hailed as a “joyride,” looks back 200 years in an astonishing parallel story of loss, love, and art told by 17-year-old Khayyam and her 19th-century counterpart Leila. Set in the City of Lights, it’s just the thing for armchair travel. For ages 14-up.
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (FSG)
All Boys Aren’t Blue is a balm and testimony to young readers as allies in the fight for equality. An LGBTQ+ activist and prolific writer, whose recent, timely piece for Vice, “When Racism Anchors Your Health,” was awarded by the National Association of Black Journalists, George M. Johnson’s debut young adult memoir weaves compassion and distress in a series of personal essays about coming of age black and queer. Whatever one’s background, this is powerful, sensitive writing, determined to build bridges. For ages 14-up.
Hello, Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell (Holiday House/Porter)
In a warm and welcome sea of recent Fred Rogers biographies, Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s scribbly yet faithfully rendered Hello, Neighbor! shines a special light on the life of a cultural beacon whose presence makes a difference still. With exclusively published archival photographs, courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions, supplemented by a short biography and history of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this latest neighborly offering will appeal to the child or Fred Rogers fan in all of us, but crucially, Cordell ensures the writing speaks to children today. For ages 4-8.
The Fisherman & the Whale by Jessica Lanan (Simon & Schuster)
As storytellers, we’re language lovers. Nothing beats a book whose words and rhythms one can chew on, keep time with, extol. But the all-encompassing nature of Jessica Lanan’s gouache and watercolor illustration in this wordless wonder is enough to take your breath away anyway. And while the environmentally conscious plot may be familiar, the intensity with which we’re made to look at our relationship to wildlife makes for dramatically uncharted waters. For ages 4-8.
Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
We’re partial to fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously (or, for that matter, destructively). But a “sinister Dark world” here and there, no sweat. As long as we’ve got a comic-loving heroine like 12-year-old Maya to guide us through her South Side Chicago neighborhood to the Dark world where an army led by the Lord of Shadows awaits and Maya’s father has gone missing. Yes, the world may be ending, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still hope to make it for Comic-Con. Now there’s a protagonist we can get behind. For ages 8-12.
The Truth According to Blue by Eve Yohalem (Little, Brown)
Advisory board member Charlotte (age nine) recommends this “action-packed” middle grade novel starring 13-year-old Blue Broen, her faithful 80-pound diabetic alert dog, Otis, and the uninvited spoiled daughter of a vacationing movie star, Jules, on the hunt for a lost family treasure. Exciting, without skimping on the characters’ development, The Truth According to Blue is a funny and affectionate adventure. For ages 8-12.
Every Color of Light by Hiroshi Asada, illus. by Ryôji Arai (Enchanted Lion)
Enchanted Lion Books are just that: enchanting, artistic, and ferociously original. Every ELB book is an event, but Every Color of Light might be best described as an epiphany. The elements of nature are the storytellers here in swirls of sound reminiscent of Haiku, accompanied by the greenest greens and bluest blues brought to life by Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Ryôji Arai’s Monet-like craquelure. Here is a book that breeds reverence for the natural world by becoming it. Allegedly suited for bedtime, if you can turn your eyes away. Chances are, it will lead to your own trip outdoors. For ages 4-up.
Doodleville by Chad Sell (Knopf)
We welcomed Chad Sell to 57th Street Books for his co-authored celebration of creativity and teamwork, The Cardboard Kingdom. His solo follow-up is no less inspired by themes of collaboration and friendship. Set in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, Doodleville takes us playfully to battle between good and evil, as well as on a field trip to Chicago’s Art Institute. Advisory board member Ayan (age 10) recommends this graphic novel to anyone who likes to draw or be amazed. For ages 8-12.
The Seminary Co-op Bookstores have, since 1961, served scholars and students at the University of Chicago, readers throughout the under-served South Side, and acted as an epicenter of cultural and intellectual life for the city of Chicago. 57th Street Books, a neighborhood bookstore with a carefully curated assortment of general interest titles, including science fiction, mystery, and cookbooks, was established in 1983 and received the WNBA Pannell Award in 2019. Find more recommendations for young readers in our monthly children’s newsletter, A Young Person’s Guide to 57th Street Books.
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