Photo: Stratford School

Our first book list for 2021 is intentionally eclectic: poetry and prose, fantasy and biography, a graphic novel, a suspenseful account of a Navy Seal rescue operation, and a classic “summer friendship and self-discovery” story. Several choices representing multiple voices—something for every reader.

We curated this diverse set of books to reinforce and support what we know to be true:

  • The more children read, the more they will enjoy reading
  • The way to get kids hooked on reading is to give them books they enjoy!

Among our aspirations for our children are a high degree of literacy and a love of learning. Those aspirational paths are lined with books, for it is only by reading—and more reading—that children build their reading “muscle” to a degree that scanning the pages becomes nearly effortless, and they can lose themselves in the narrative.

Neil Gaiman, prolific author of books for children and adults, loves libraries and seizes every opportunity to promote reading, literacy, and this value of “reading choice” for children.

“The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.”

“…We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy.”

Our list of recommended books for your children comes with a recommendation for you—encourage your children to read by helping them find books they like—fiction or nonfiction, traditional or graphic novels, books that seem too easy, or repeated selections from a single genre. Let their choices be based on their taste and let them lead the way, after all, reading should be pleasurable. As children become better, faster readers, the universe of books they enjoy will naturally expand.

Our New Year’s resolution will be to populate our monthly lists with a variety of readings, with hopes of introducing the young readers in your house to books they will love. 

Here are our favorite books to begin your challenge:

Grades Kinder to Second:

Just Ask Written by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids have in this book set in a lovely garden. In the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful. When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.

The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Written by Dalai Lama XIV, Illustrated by Bao Luu This child-friendly introduction to Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, is part life instruction, and part auto-biography. Through examples, he reminds children that compassion is something that must be nurtured, that you may not have all the answers of how to act compassionately in a certain situation, but that “you can build compassion day by day. It takes practice. And even when you slip and don’t make a compassionate choice, tomorrow presents the opportunity for you to try again.”

Grades 3-4

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems Written by Vikram Madan
This is a quirky collection of poems are designed to be read aloud, with rhyme, meter, alliteration, and page turns all used quite effectively. The illustrations are also funny, as repeated characters create a bit of a search and find feel. The subtitle comes from a “Mad Libs” st‌yle page with 7 options for each of 12 blanks. What a great discussion piece as children are introduced to some fantastic language.

Max & the Midknights Written & Illustrated by Lincoln Peirce
In this lighthearted graphic novel hybrid, Max wants nothing more than to be a knight!  He soon gets his chance when his uncle Budrick is kidnapped by the cruel King Gastley. Joined by a band of brave adventurers—the Midknights—Max sets out on a thrilling quest to save Uncle Budrick and restore the realm of Byjovia to its former high spirits! If you love this one, check out the sequel, Battle of the Bodkins.

Grades 5-8

The Line Tender Written by Kate Allen
Summer in her hometown of Rockport, MA, changes drastically for Lucy when a local fisherman accidentally catches a great white shark. Suddenly, Lucy is confronted by images of her late mother, a marine biologist who specialized in sharks. This sends her on a journey of science and self-discovery. Since her father is always working, Lucy must navigate these strange waters with just her best friend Fred by her side. Lucy’s story is one of redemption, not just for her, but for those around her, especially the people whom she cares about the most. 

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team Written by Christina Soontornvat

This fascinating account of the most ambitious cave rescue in history is great for kids who have graduated from the I Survived Series. Even though we know that the boys were rescued, the narrative is suspenseful and creates a book that is hard to put down. The attempts from international rescue teams, including US Navy Seals, are explained in great detail. There are photos, maps, sidebars, scientific explanations, and graphics to help understand what the boys were going through. Anyone who enjoys reading about how people can rise to heroism during times of crisis will find this book a good choice.