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Gifts For Young Readers: County Schools Librarian Shares His Kid Lit Picks

Books are shown in a San Diego County Office of Education office, Dec. 17, 2018.

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Books are shown in a San Diego County Office of Education office, Dec. 17, 2018.

Immigration was all over the news in 2018, and county schools librarian Jonathan Hunt says it was all over children’s books, too.

Take “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales. While the title might strike you as rather political for bookshelves in the children’s section — it’s a common term referring to young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally — Hunt says the picture book is about much more than immigration. It follows the author and her son as they emigrate to the United States to be with her citizen husband. They learn English by reading children’s books in the public library.

“This is the story about how they find this magical place that lets you borrow books for free — the public library — and how the public library is the one democratic institution that we have here in our country that really helped her assimilate,” Hunt said.

He recommended parents and teachers choose books that compare and contrast immigration along our border with immigration in other countries, to take the focus off U.S. politics and put it on the human experience.

The Unwanted” by Don Brown is a graphic novel about Syrian refugees. “Illegal” by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin is another graphic novel, this one about African migrants on their journey to Italy.

In the same vein, Hunt recommended “The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge” by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin. It echoes the country’s chaotic foreign affairs as of late but through a fantasy lens. Brangwain Spurge is an elf diplomat sent into Goblin territory.

“This is a book that, more than any other book this year, really speaks to what’s going on in our society,” Hunt said. “So it speaks to the marginalization of people, it speaks to fake news, it speaks to the lack of civility in political discourse.”

One more socially-conscious book for young children: “The Day You Begin” by Jacqueline Woodson is illustrated by part-time San Diegan Rafael Lopez and explores what it’s like to be the only person in the room who looks like you.

Hunt provided his full list of favorites by age group, including a synopsis and his comments on each one, below. Find his 2016 and 2017 picks here and here.

PICTURE BOOKS

A Big Mooncake For Little Star” by Grace Lin

Forbidden to eat the mooncake she helps make, a young girl sneaks out and nibbles a little bit more each night—a visual metaphor for the phases of the moon. This new story has a classic feel, not too mention vibrant, luminescent artwork.

Drawn Together” by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

A young boy and his grandfather speak different languages but find they share a common bond when it comes to drawing. With vivid color and exuberant compositions, this nearly wordless book celebrates art, imagination, and family.

Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales

A mother and her young child migrate from Mexico to the United States, where they find a magical place that allows you to borrow books for free. This heartwarming story of immigration and assimilation has striking mixed-media illustrations.

Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Scott Campbell

Roderick hates going to bed and has an endless supply of tricks to thwart his parents, but a new stuffed animal turns the tables on him. From the author of “The Day the Crayons Quit,” it delivers the funniest bedtime book of the year.

MIDDLE GRADE

Front Desk” by Kelly Yang

By day, Mia is a sixth-grader. By night, she works the front desk at the motel her parents manage for their mean landlord. Life as a Chinese-American immigrant isn’t easy, but it’s hard not to root for one of the most endearing characters of the year.

Louisiana’s Way Home” by Kate DiCamillo

A memorable character from Raymie Nightingale gets her own story here as she is forced to leave her beloved home and friends. In a wry, humorous voice, Louisiana details all the things that befall her next and all the ways that she copes with them.

The Season of Styx Malone” by Kekla Magoon

Two young brothers are captivated by an older teenage foster boy who moves in next door. Styx Malone is the epitome of cool and together they all have a lot of fun over the summer. Funny, poignant and uplifting.

Sweep” by Jonathan Auxier

Nan Sparrow climbs chimneys in Victorian London in order to clean them. When she gets stuck in a dire situation, she is miraculously rescued by her own personal Golem made of soot and ash. Best middle-grade fantasy of the year.

YOUNG ADULT

Boots On the Ground” by Elizabeth Partridge

This history of the Vietnam War adroitly balances a political overview with eight personal vignettes. Additionally, Partridge has assembled an impressive array of more than one hundred haunting black-and-white photographs.

Hey Kiddo” by Jarrett Krosoczka

Mom is a drug addict; Dad is AWOL, so Jarrett is raised by his grandparents. While it’s not the typical upbringing, Jarrett navigates his youth with humor and aplomb. A wonderful marriage of comics and memoir that will warm your heart.

Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara, a teenage Latina in New York City, comes of age and finds her voice in slam poetry. The audiobook is read by the author, herself a slam poet, and is not to be missed.

Thunderhead” by Neal Shusterman

Corruption and greed have run amok in the future and two teenagers use their wits to fight villains. Read Scythe first, but the second volume in this action-packed science fiction trilogy is easily the best thing the genre has offered up in years.

Reported by Kris Arciaga

Jonathan Hunt vets virtually all new children's book releases for the San Diego County Office of Education. Here are his recommendations for 2018.

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