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Gifts For Young Readers: San Diego County Schools Librarian Shares His Top Picks

Megan Burks
San Diego County Office of Education Library and Media Coordinator Jonathan Hunt works in his Linda Vista office, Dec. 12, 2017.

Jonathan Hunt reads pretty much every children’s book that hits the shelves each year. He’s the library and media coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education, and says 2017 brought several books that carve out space for youth to reflect on the year’s tumultuous news cycle.

The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, for example, follows a young black woman who witnesses the police shooting death of a friend and must navigate the fallout in both her inner city neighborhood and suburban private school.

“It’s really a successful novel just because it’s so interesting,” Hunt said. “But (Thomas) really manages, I think, to show all the shades of gray. There’s a lot of nuance and food for thought.”

Gifts For Young Readers: San Diego County Schools Librarian Shares His Top Picks

For young children, Hunt recommends “After the Fall” by Dan Santat. The picture book uses the story of Humpty Dumpty to explore themes of resilience in a more age-appropriate way.

“We’ve all had trauma in our lives and this is a story about how we can overcome it and succeed in spite of that trauma,” Hunt said.

Below, Hunt shares his top children’s literature picks for 2017.



After the Fall” by Dan Santat: What happened to Humpy Dumpty after his great fall? With a poignant text and endearing illustrations, Santat provides a transcendent, uplifting story about trauma—and how we overcome it.

Grand Canyon” by Jason Chin: Chin’s visual narrative of a father and daughter traversing the Grand Canyon is complemented by rich details about the geology and biology of the famous National Park. A perfect book for budding naturalists!

Her Right Foot” by Dave Eggers: In this long-form picture book, Eggers drolly shares the history of the Statue of Liberty, culminating with a focus on her right foot, raised as if in mid-stride, rushing forward to greet new immigrants.

Wolf in the Snow” by Matthew Cordell: A young girl saves a lost wolf pup during a blizzard and the wolf pack returns the favor. With its depiction of sacrifice and kinship amid a heightened sense of danger, Cordell’s wordless book elicits a strong emotional response.


Beyond the Bright Sea” by Lauren Wolk: Who can resist a good orphan story, especially one rife with mystery, suspense and splendid prose? Many suspected Wolk’s first book, “Wolf Hollow,” might win the Newbery Medal (it won an honor); her sophomore effort is just as good.

A Face Like Glass” by Frances Hardinge: In this fantasy novel, a young girl with an expressive face is a fish out of water in her underground society. Hardinge delivers another standout novel with a twisty plot, intriguing characters, fantastic setting and fertile imagination.

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming” by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith: Step aside Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, there’s a new children’s poet taking the world by storm! Harris’s debut collection displays a clever, mischievous sense of humor — just perfect for Smith’s spot illustrations.

Real Friends” by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: Mining her seemingly ordinary childhood, Hale has crafted a memoir about the difficulty of forming and un-forming childhood friendships. Pham’s illustrations add both humor and drama to this sparkling gem of a graphic novel.


The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas: Starr lives in an urban neighborhood but attends a posh private school. These worlds collide when the police shoot her childhood friend—and she’s the lone witness. Thomas’s debut novel lives up to the hype.

Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds: Bent on revenge for his brother’s shooting death, a teenage boy encounters various friends and family — all of whom died from gun violence — on a brief elevator ride. Reynold’s spare verse novel is eminently discussable.

Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor: In the first book of a duology, Lazlo Strange discovers the mysterious, forgotten city of Weep — and then things get really interesting. As always, Taylor’s novel combines fantasy, romance and horror in extremely satisfying ways.

Vincent and Theo” by Deborah Heiligman: Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo, shared not only a familial bond (which was sorely tested over their lifetimes), but also an unwavering passion for art. Drawing on their letters, Heiligman paints an intimate portrait.

Read Hunt’s 2016 picks here.

Gifts For Young Readers: San Diego County Schools Librarian Shares His Top Picks
Still looking for gifts for the kids and teens in your life? We sat down with the county schools librarian to get his top picks for children’s books this year.