Last minute shoppers, I feel you. I AM you. Last minute 2021 book budget shoppers, I got you, too. Spent your 2021 dollars? No problem; these books are set to keep your readers happy next year, too.
New kid on the block Red Comet Press has been hitting home runs this year! The Secret of the Magic Pearl is a magical story for kids who love picture books, newly independent readers who are ready to take on denser material, and chapter book readers alike. Hector is a boy living with his family in an Italian coastal town. He wants to be a deep-sea diver like his father, and his family organizes underwater expeditions for tourists. But Amedeo Limonta, a man who “lost his sailor’s soul and betrayed the sea”, forces Hector’s family out of business so that he can continue on his obsession: to find a legendary Pearl and sell it. Hector, determined to save his family and his connection to the sea, has to figure out a way to throw a wrench into Amedeo’s plans.
Originally published in Italian in 2019, this book is gorgeous. The story is about love of family and a passion for the sea. First-person narrator Hector immediately warms readers with his voice, full of fun details and emotion. The artwork is simply beautiful, bringing a sense of movement and wonder. Together, the words and artwork make for a breathtaking fantasy that readers will return to time and again. Red Comet has been great about creating activity kits for their books, too; download one for The Secret of the Magic Pearl here.
The Secret of the Magic Pearl has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.
The Made by Hand series by Patricia Lakin is a great nonfiction series to have available to your middle graders and middle schoolers. The newest, Guitars, is a great introduction to the art and science of guitar music, including a history of the instrument, the science behind how electric and acoustic guitars work, and a tour through luthier (a maker of string instruments!) Meredith Coloma’s custom guitar-making workshop. Color photos detail the step-by-step process of making both electric and acoustic guitars, and there’s a fun and easy STEM challenge for kids to learn how sound travels over string (we used to call it a tin can telephone). A timeline, list of guitar greats, a glossary and further resources make this a must-have for music collections and for kids with an interest in science or music.
Do I have a program in mind for this? Glad you asked! PBS Kids has a great DIY Guitar activity here, and all the materials are available in the home! The Michigan Children’s Hospital has a similar DIY here, using a tissue box instead of a cereal box. Get the band together and jam at Christmas!
A sweet poem about Christmas and good wishes to last the whole year long, My Christmas Wish for You is the latest book from Happiness Is… creators and spouses Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. This poem works for children and adults alike, and is full of goodwill and cheer; reading it, you can’t help but feel warm inside, with couplets like “Friends joined together in goodwill and song, / a welcome to others… the sense you belong”, and “Mugs of hot chocolate for tummies’ delight, / breathing like dragons to warm up the night”. Whimsical illustrations show a variety of people and pets celebrating the Christmas season as hearts and stars abound. It’s a great little gift book, and a wonderful way to bring the chaos of Christmas Day to a close, as we all look hopefully toward a new year.
This is one of my favorite more recent intermediate series. Jasmine Green is an aspiring vet who, with her best friend, Tom, rescue all sorts of animals they discover around Jasmine’s Oak Tree Farm. Luckily for the two friends, Jasmine’s mom is an actual veterinarian and her dad is a farmer, so they can learn from the pros! In this outing, Jasmine and Tom learn that their neighbor is moving to an assisted-care facility and is rehoming his animals, including his donkey, Mistletoe. Jasmine, stricken by the thought of Mistletoe moving far away, impulsively offers to adopt him and keep him at Oak Tree Farm, but her little brother, Manu, proves to be a challenge: Mom isn’t sure Manu will be safe around Mistletoe, and vice versa! But Jasmine is not giving up on Mistletoe, and when a Christmas play needs an extra donkey, she knows exactly what to do. These stories are such feel-good stories, balanced by realistic moments that remind kids that animals need special care by professionals. Previous books have touched on orphaned and abandoned animals and reckless pet ownership, and this story, centered on an elderly man going into assisted care and worrying about finding homes for his animals, reminds kids once again that pets of any kind are a commitment. Black and white illustrations throughout give deeper texture to the narrative, and a quiz on donkeys invites readers to test their knowledge. I will always love this series, and am happy to booktalk them to my animal-loving readers.