With fall children’s book season upon us, booksellers already have a lot to love. August and early September releases have garnered strong recommendations, and anticipation is building for October and November’s offerings, with headliners including Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid #18: No Brainer (Abrams, Oct.), Kate DiCamillo’s novella The Puppets of Spelhorst (Candlewick, Oct.), and Rick Riordan’s new Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, The Chalice of the Gods (Disney Hyperion, Oct.).
While these major releases are certain to fly off the shelves, booksellers feel confident about many other page-turners from publishers large and small. In the run-up to this autumn’s holidays, look for beloved authors’ latest books, fantasy of all flavors, stories told in verse, and tales that foreground diversity and emotional learning.
A Blizzard of Picture Books
Like pumpkin spice and twinkly lights, the launch of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? (Candlewick, Sept.) puts booksellers on notice that the holidays are approaching; several expressed high hopes for the duo’s latest joint venture. “Mac and Jon are masters at combining their use of language and illustrations to keep both kids and adults laughing,” said Dea Lavoie, owner of Second Star to the Right Books in Denver. Julie Shimada, children’s book buyer at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., suspects that How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? and Raj Haldar’s This Book Is Banned, illustrated by Julia Patton (Sourcebooks, Sept.), will “be on everybody’s most anticipated list” of holiday hits. And booksellers seeking a title that pairs well with roast beast can order a stack of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Lost Christmas! (Random House, out now), a new sequel by Alistair Helm and illustrator Aristides Ruiz.
Children’s department staffers at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., are collectively buzzing about My Hair Is Like the Sun by St. Clair Detrick-Jules, illustrated by Tabitha Brown (Chronicle, Sept.). “This glorious celebration of natural hair is presented in photographs of children and a simple rhyme on the opposing page in a colorful design that enhances the metaphor,” said P&P bookseller Maria Salvadore.
Salvadore and her colleagues are also excited about The Power of Snow by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Bryony Clarkson (Millbrook, Oct.), which she calls “a poetic snowstorm through simple rhymes and wintery scenes. Snowflakes increase exponentially with each page, from just two to 16,384 by the story’s end.”
The Three Little Mittens by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Natalia Shaloshvili (Tundra, Oct.), also looks ahead to cooler days, in a story of two matching mittens and a tagalong third. Lauren Savage of The Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., calls it “hilarious and adorable with a great message. I feel that a picture book should talk to both adults and children. Many go over kids’ heads or are too concept-based lately.” For early readers, Savage likes Detective Duck: The Case of the Strange Splash, first in a series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, illustrated by Dan Santat (Abrams, Oct.), and the history-based adventures in The Timekeepers series by SJ King, illustrated by Esther Hernando (DK, Sept).
Zsamé Morgan, owner of Babycake’s Bookstack in the Twin Cities, wants readers everywhere to know about Mélina Mangal’s early reader series about the adventures of a BIPOC young gardener named Jayden, illustrated by Ken Daley. The first volume, Jayden’s Impossible Garden (Strive, 2021), introduced Jayden, who grew “a robust garden (and an unlikely friendship) in the middle of an urban community;” the next installment, Jayden’s Secret Ingredient, comes out this month.
Second Star’s Lavoie predicts that Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot Protects (Little, Brown, Sept.) will be big. Brown’s Wild Robot novels “appeal to readers of all ages,” she said, “but are especially engaging for early middle readers. In this volume, Roz, the wild robot, must protect her animal friends from an ecological disaster, the poison tide.”
Alyssa Raymond of Copper Dog Books in Beverly, Mass., who co-chairs the New England Children’s Book Association’s Windows & Mirrors committee on diverse books, cheers The Artivist by Nikkolas Smith (Kokila, out now) and There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Oct.). Both books “celebrate the power of creativity to bring people together and inspire positive change,” Raymond said. She also recommends The Truth About Dragons by Julie Leung and Hanna Cha (Holt, out now) for its focus on Eastern and Western mythologies plus “the beauty of biracial identity and cultural diversity.”
The Power of Names
Booksellers at Politics & Prose are celebrating There Was a Party for Langston by D.C. hometown favorite Reynolds, too. They’re also jazzed about Looking Up by Stephan Pastis (Aladdin, Oct.), which Salvadore described as a “touching and surprisingly humorous and philosophical story that is generously illustrated,” and Tagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani (Union Square Kids, Nov.), in which “graffiti connects cousins in raising awareness of the devastating impact of the civil war in Syria.”
Stephanie Heinz, children’s manager and community coordinator at Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Me., beats the drum for Tokyo Night Parade by J.P. Takahashi, illustrated by Minako Tomigahara (HarperCollins/Tegen, Oct.), as does Bunnie Hilliard, owner of Brave + Kind Bookshop in Decatur, Ga. On a visit to her grandfather in Tokyo, a girl imaginatively encounters supernatural creatures in a Night Parade and considers her merged U.S. and Japanese identities.
Heinz loves “the glowing illustrations” and “the genuine and contemplative narrative on the meaning of home, change, and not always having an answer.” Hilliard agrees, calling it “gorgeous and whimsical. And the words take you on a journey to another world, the chef’s kiss for a great addition to home and library bookshelves.”
Hannah Amrollahi, children’s and YA department manager at The Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., is excited about The Labors of Hercules Beal (Clarion, out now) saying that “a new Gary D. Schmidt is in my to-be-read pile” and customers are loving it. Amrollahi “cannot wait to get to” this tale about the smallest boy in his class, who learns what he’s capable of achieving after a teacher assigns him to replicate the 12 labors of his mythological namesake.
For a nonfiction approach to the power of naming, Holly Myers, children’s buyer at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, will be sharing Say My Name (HarperCollins, Sept.). From Joanna Ho, the author of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, and illustrator Khoa Lee, Say My Name is “a thoughtful book on the importance that comes from our names, and it is so exquisitely illustrated,” Myers said.
Middle Grade Favorites
Middle grade readers can look forward to titles from several favorite authors. At The Reading Bug, Savage thinks middle grade fans will love The Lost Library by Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass (Feiwel and Friends, out now), an “amazing female duo.” Elliott Bay’s Myers looks forward to the Key West thriller Wrecker by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf, Sept.), saying “it’s been too long” since his previous 2018 middle grade novel, Squirm.
Andrew King, a bookseller at Secret Garden Books in Seattle, is excited for Laura Krantz’s Is There Anybody Out There? (Abrams, Oct.). “I adored her first Wild Thing book, The Search for Sasquatch,” King said, and this nonfiction inquiry applies astronomy, biology, math, and physics to the quest to find extraterrestrials. Whether kids are into STEM or cryptozoology, “this book will help you think about the future and what might be in store.”
Babycake’s Bookstack’s Morgan praised I Am Kavi by Thushanthi Ponweera (Holiday House, Sept.), a mashup of poetry and history: “I love this book, written in verse, set in late 1990s Sri Lanka in the middle of a civil war. I deeply identified with Kavi for her need to fit in, to hide her poverty, and to excel at school despite the chaos and loss going on around her.”
Tough topics and redemption figure in additional middle grade recommendations. Emily Autenrieth of A Seat at the Table in Elk Grove, Calif., talked up Forget-Me-Not Blue by Sharelle Byars Moranville (Holiday House, out now). “This beautiful, deep book trusts kids to be able to read about the difficult experiences their peers live through in real life, such as abuse and addiction,” Autenrieth said.
Copper Dog bookseller Raymond touted the graphic novel Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen (Heartdrum, out now), and Jawbreaker by Christina Wyman (FSG, Oct.). Both tell “authentic, complex stories about tough topics, inspired by the authors’ own lives,” Raymond said. “Two Tribes is about a Muscogee-Jewish girl figuring out how to belong to two cultures, and Jawbreaker is an honest, funny, and gut-wrenching tale of bullying, family conflict, and orthodontia.”
For readers who like their fiction set in a fantasy domain, Raymond is eager to handsell Justine Pucella Winans’s middle grade debut The Otherwoods (Bloomsbury, Sept.), which features “a nonbinary tween, a scary magical adventure with monsters and spirits galore, and a humorous, heartfelt, and empowering exploration of queerness, friendship, and courage for fans of Holly Black, Victoria Schwab, and Esme Symes-Smith.”
Speaking of Symes-Smith, Print: A Bookstore’s Heinz recommends their newest, Sir Callie and the Dragon’s Roost (Labyrinth Road, Nov.). “[Tamora Pierce’s warrior] Alanna walked so Callie could run,” Heinz said. Heinz adored Symes-Smith’s 2022 debut about a nonbinary knight, Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston, “and I can’t wait for this sequel to tear me up and put me back together in a new form I never dared imagine I could be.”
Brave + Kind’s Hilliard looks forward to the second book in Dhonielle Clayton’s Conjureverse series, The Memory Thieves (Holt, Sept.), and Renée Watson’s fourth Ryan Hart book, Ways to Build Dreams (Bloomsbury, Oct.): “All that magic and a little drama, just in time for fall.”
A Cornucopia of YA Reads
In the YA category, booksellers recommended several graphic narratives and books with visual elements. Heinz gave a shout-out to Alex Norris’s “silly, intense, weird” graphic narrative How to Love: A Guide to Feelings and Relationships for Everyone (Walker Books US, Nov.). Heinz calls it “a frank guide that utilizes simple yet absurd imagery to dive into the heart of matters we often would rather look away from.”
She also spotlighted the graphic novel Brooms by Jasmine Walls, illustrated by Teo DuVall (Levine Querido, Oct.), a witchy tale set almost a century ago in the American South. Brooms is “a touch of The Fast and the Furious and a heavy pour of 2022’s A League of Their Own, but set in a magical 1930s Mississippi,” Heinz said.
Politics & Prose’s children’s booksellers say history readers shouldn’t miss Carole Boston Weatherford’s genealogical history in verse, Kin: Rooted in Hope (Atheneum, Sept.), illustrated by her son, Jeffery Boston Weatherford. “Its moving poems and striking illustrations join to tell the story of the author’s roots,” which Weatherford researched in Talbot County, Md., Salvadore said.
Isis Asare, owner of the online and vending-machine-based Sistah Scifi (Oakland and Seattle), has her eye on the graphic novel Nubia: The Reckoning by Omar Epps and Clarence Haynes (Delacorte, Sept.), the sequel to Nubia: The Awakening. She predicts that comics fans will dig this “fast-paced” story of “three Nubian teens with superhuman ability in an apocalyptic New York City.” Asare is also reading Jamison Shea’s YA debut, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me (Holt, Aug.), which offers sapphic drama, a demonic monster, and “villain origin story centered on a Black ballerina” in Paris. “As a fan of the psychological thriller Black Swan, I was excited about the emotionally fraught main character. This was absolutely irresistible to me as a reader.”
The Bookworm’s Amrollahi is thrilled that manga creator Hitoshi Ashinano’s Tokohama Kaidashi Kikou Deluxe Edition 3 (Seven Seas, Aug.) is now available in the U.S. and will be followed by the fourth volume in February, making for “a slightly stretchy fall book.” The series “has all the right cozy post-apocalyptic vibes for fall,” Amrollahi said, “and would be a great recommendation for manga lovers.”
Books for Teen Thrill Seekers
Elements of romance, fantasy, and horror—sometimes all in the same book—are appealing to teen readers this fall. Not-to-be-missed titles include J. Elle’s romantic fantasy House of Marionne (Razorbill, out now); the second spy thriller in the Foul Lady Fortune duology by Chloe Gong, Foul Heart Huntsman (S&S/McElderry, Sept.), set in 1932 Shanghai; and the fourth and final entry in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward fantasy series, Defiant (Delacorte, Nov.).
Lynn Painter’s YA rom-com Betting on You (S&S, Nov.) comes out in time for the holidays as well, Amrollahi noted; Painter writes “funny, sweet romances I love to get lost in. She’s a prolific writer and it’s fun to have a backlist to dive into.”
Speaking of young love, amplified by a feudal setting, Second Star’s Lavoie is buzzing about the “funny and touching friendship story” Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher (Wednesday Books, Nov.). “This is a queer romance novel where the characters, although betrothed, hate each other,” Lavoie said, “and eventually form a pact to cover for each other when Gwen is taken with a lady knight, and Art is interested in Gwen’s royal brother.”
For YA readers wishing to counteract excessive holiday cheer, booksellers point to fantasy laced with horror and romance elements. Copper Dog’s Raymond thinks Andrew Joseph White’s The Spirit Bares Its Teeth (Peachtree Teen, Sept.) and Kylie Lee Baker’s The Scarlet Alchemist (Inkyard, Oct.) can make spooky season last until the end of the year. “Featuring an autistic trans protagonist, [Spirit] is a fierce, gory, subversive, and timely probe into Victorian society that celebrates queer resilience,” Raymond said, while Alchemist “is full of magic, adventure, royal intrigue, romantic tension, and high-stakes competition” in an alternate Tang Dynasty China.