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 first in an ongoing series featuring personal recommendations of new releases from children’s booksellers.
After 43 years of opening our doors to the San Francisco Bay Area, Book Passage temporarily closed to customers on March 16 when Marin County was one of the first counties in the nation to order residents to shelter in place. I was in the children’s department that day, running curbside orders out to parents and loading up grandparents with activity books. I’m the children’s book buyer for Book Passage and I’ve been a children’s book specialist for the last 12 years. Here, I’ve chosen some books that I was looking forward to handselling to teachers, kids, and parents; they’ve all published after we closed our doors, some in late March and others in April.
Books coming out in late March
Derby Daredevils by Kit Rosewater (Amulet)
Kenzie and Shelly dream of being roller derby stars, but fifth graders are too young to compete. When the girls hear about a new junior league, they’re very excited, but they need to come up with three more skaters to make a full team. Can they find, befriend and train the rest of the team in time? A fast-paced and super cool sports book packed with diverse families, real friendships, and kickass women. For ages 8–12.
The Great Upending by Beth Kephart (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
Sara and Hawk’s parents are farmers, and the drought is making things difficult for the family. Although Sara needs an operation, her parents can’t afford it. They rent out a converted silo to a solitary man they call “The Mister” who brings mystery and a possible solution with him. A beautiful, lyrical story about stories and adversity. A great one to read aloud. For ages 8–12.
The Next President by Kate Messner, illus. by Adam Rex (Chronicle)
How do you write about the history of American presidents in 2020? Messner avoids the myth of exceptionalism by sharing one key fact about each president, demonstrating both their personality and the historical framework in which they grew up. Rex’s illustrations are a master class in adding layers of meaning: the trail of blood behind Andrew Jackson, Barack Obama cradled lovingly by his parents, while Donald Trump stares sullenly alone into the distance. This book is extraordinary. For ages 6–12.
Oops! Step by Step by Mack (Clavis)
From the moment I saw this small format picture book, I loved it. Baby cartoon animals get themselves into a variety of minor scrapes. A goat is stuck on a mountain and a giraffe slips in a muddy puddle, but they all get up again in the final pages. The illustration is appropriately simple and wobbly, managing to make small failures both a source of comedy and an opportunity to learn that recovery comes easily after a little oops. For ages 2 and up.
Wink by Rob Harrell (Dial)
A story about the indignities of going through cancer treatment in middle school and the power of music to make life a little more bearable. The seventh grade voice here is spot on, a mixture of worldly eye-rolling, emotional chaos, and daft jokes. It’s based on the author’s own experience and the plot reflects that reality (this isn’t the movies) with a bittersweet ending. For ages 10–12.
Books coming out in April
The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge (Amulet)
A sensitive and anxious teenager tackles her inner demons in this graphic memoir about managing depression through critical thought and therapy. From small details about depressive behavior to monumental coping strategies, Gulledge fits a lifetime of experience into this accessible book. The illustrations are movingly beautiful, haunting, and occasionally surreal. One of the best graphic novels I’ve seen and a self-help book I can imagine readers returning to again and again. For ages 13 and up.
Down Under the Pier by Nell Cross Beckerman and Rachell Sumpter (Cameron Kids)
A group of diverse kids find fun, adventure, and imaginative play under the pier at the boardwalk. A colorful and exuberant celebration of playing at the beach. For ages 4–8.
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (HarperCollins/Quill Tree)
When Efrén’s mother is deported to Mexico, he takes on the role of caring for his younger siblings while his Dad works even harder to try and get their family back together. Meanwhile, seventh grade isn’t getting any easier.Efrén is a character everyone will root for while gaining a greater understanding in this tale written with heart and humor about what racist family-separation policies mean to children all over America. For ages 8–12.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough (Atheneum)
Sutton is a science-minded girl, deeply frustrated about how irrational some people can be. Luis is a story-loving boy, allergic to almost everything and dreamily living in his head. Sutton and Luis meet because their parents are dating, but they have nothing in common, until an easy hike turns into an unexpected brush with the wilderness. A charming low-stakes adventure that will appeal to sensitive readers. For ages 8–10.
Hard Wired by Len Vlahos (Bloomsbury)
Quinn is a totally normal 15-year-old, except that he sometimes blacks out and he hasn’t had a dream since his father died. Then he starts to find clues in the video messages his father left him and learns that he’s actually an AI. A brilliant mind-bending exploration of what it means to be human, littered with sci-fi references and propelled by the promise of freedom. For ages 13 and up.
The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter by Aaron Reynolds (Little, Brown)
Warning! This book sounds depressing, but it’s actually laugh-out-loud funny. Rex Deter is a sixth grader who wants a dog, but his parents don’t think he’s mature enough to take care of a pet. So Rex makes a wish on an old mechanical sideshow attraction and ends up being able to see the ghosts of dead domesticated animals. Rex is hilariously clueless, the slapstick is brilliant, and the jokes about his fractions-obsessed teacher are relentlessly real. For ages 8–12.
The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead (Random House/Lamb)
When her father announces that he’s marrying his boyfriend Jesse, Bea is excited, especially as Jesse has a daughter who lives on the other side of the country. Bea will finally get that sister she always wanted! But it doesn’t quite turn out that way. Beautiful and insightful writing about the way families evolve, but love does not change. For ages 8–12.
Nonsense: The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lorey Mortensen and Chloe Bristol (HMH/Versify)
This picture book biography of Edward Gorey expertly captures the author illustrator’s unsettling style. One for Gorey fans, of course, but also for parents and educators willing to explore the history of someone who sees the world a little differently. For ages 6–8.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby (HMH)
This picture book gently reminds us of the joys of being outside in nature, while also showing us how therapeutic it can be to keep the natural world in our hearts. Derby’s dynamic illustrations make this book very special; the two-page spread of the girl snuggled up with her pets is breathtaking. A must-have for stressed-out parents and overscheduled kids. For ages 4–8.
Princess Jill Never Sits Still by Margarita del Mazo and José Fragoso (NubeOcho)
I love a picture book fairy story with an unconventional princess, and Jill is exactly that. She bounces, flips, crashes, and pirouettes her way across the pages of the book, her route described in scribbled pink crayon. The royal court despairs at her unladylike behavior, but they eventually learn that not everyone thinks as they do. The ink and watercolor illustrations lend a classical air to this tale about being yourself. For ages 4–8.
Sword in the Stars by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta (Little, Brown/Patterson)
Ari and her rainbow knights are back in the sequel to Once & Future. I love re-imagined Arthurian legends and this futuristic, gender queer, feminist version is my favorite. This time the crew of the spaceship Error is stuck in the actual Middle Ages, Merlin keeps getting younger and no one seems able to avoid being part of the legend. So much fun for older teens, with a healthy dose of snark and joyful swoonworthy kissing. For ages 14 and up.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse (Little, Brown)
Zofia was separated from her brother when she was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Now the war is over and she’s desperate to find him. Zofia’s journey through bureaucracy, charities, and refugee camps is emotional and eye-opening, both historically and as a story relevant to the refugee experience today. An engaging tale set in a time we rarely hear about in history books, after the war is “won.” For ages 13 and up.
Thieves of Weirdwood by Christian McKay Heidicker (Holt)
Sometimes, all you want is an action-packed magical adventure, maybe with a ghost, a sea monster, a nefarious gang, a family separation, and a weird and wonderful old house. This book delivers all of the above with a twisty plot and fast-talking characters to move the action along. Brilliant escapist fun. For ages 8–12.
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury)
The first of a new early chapter book series about Ryan Hart, a smart and funny fourth grade girl determined to make the best of things, even though her brother is annoying, she has to move house, and the substitute teachers do not understand that Ryan can be a girl’s name. Ryan is such a great character and her real world problems will resonate with kids everywhere. For ages 6–10.
What I Like About You by Marissa Kanter (S&S)
What happens when two friends with extrovert online personalities meet in real life? This is a story set against the backdrop of online book nerd culture, and so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the teen reviewers group at Book Passage adore this book. It reads like real teen interactions both online and off, and the awkward but clean romance is pitched just right. For ages 13 and up.
Book Passage is still fulfilling orders through our website, so if any of these look good to you, please support your local independent bookstore or buy them from us.