Children’s books by current writers which are both well-written and captivating. We use 1975 as the cut off date for calling something ‘contemporary’ or classic; however, contemporary generally means today’s kids can identify with the characters.
Theme: Be yourself
Best for: 10 – 12
“Sometimes I wonder if I was born into the wrong family. Being onstage makes me nervous, and I’m not a fan of working backstage either.” There are two themes interwoven here: responsible science, and finding your own way…
Best for: Girls 7 – 9
“Did Mom know she hired a witch as a babysitter?” In this second children’s book in the Backyard Witch series, we watch a young girl grow into her own qualities, which are different from her mother’s expectations.
Theme: Words as Weapons
Best for: 10 and up
“It was that moment. That terrible, blood-freezing, ashy-mouthed moment when you suddenly realize that sixty eyeballs are fixed on you, deciding what to do about you, where you fit in.” Bullies, abusive words, cliques, middle school – a realistic look at what our children may face, unless we change our cultural norms and say no to bullying.
Best for: 11 and up
“This adventure really began on early spring morning when I was fourteen years old. I remember it all so clearly, from the moment I stepped out into the still dark yard and went to unlock the stable door.” Written like a page out of the Celtic past, the adventures of two young lads searching for their dad on a lost island is exquisitely crafted…
Best for: 5 to 8
“Once upon a time there was a bat–a little light brown bat, the color of coffee with cream in it. He looked like a furry mouse with wings.” This poetic little fable about animals, and one bat in particular, will be a sweet bedtime story.
Theme: Love the World
Best for : 5 to 8
“The boat docked in Africa, and Jules kissed the ground; the earth so precious, so fragile, so round” A simple, beautifully illustrated children’s book, that gently reminds us that all the creatures on earth need our protection and love.
Theme: Easy Reader Bedtime
Best for: 5 to 8
“Once there were three little dragons. They lived in a dark cave. The cave was in a dense forest. The forest was in a faraway kingdom. The poor little dragons were very lonely in their deep dark cave.” A must-have, read-aloud bedtime story that’s perfect for every child…
Theme: Welcoming Diversity
Best for: 5 to 7
“The trouble with having a tiny elephant for a pet is that you never quite fit in.” A simple children’s book like this begins the process of opening hearts and minds to the beauty of diversity at an early age.
Theme: Child Labor, Doing Good
Best for: 12 and up
“The sounds of the sewing machines that masked the constant grumbling of my belly would surely mask the sound of ripping paper. The guard now had his head tilted back, his eyes shut…” This recently-published children’s book takes on child labor directly and dramatically, and how one person can make a difference for others.
Theme: Norse Myth
Best for: 8 to 11
“I had never been in the Great Hall of Asgard before. Even from outside, it was the most amazing building I had ever seen, vaster and grander than I could have imagined possible…” This children’s book is very easy to get through, and would make a nice complement to the third graders after they work with the original Norse myth…
Theme: Overcoming Bullies
Best for: 8 to 10
“Dreams,” he said, “is very mysterious things. They is floating around in the air like little wispy bubbles. And all the time they is searching for sleeping people.” If you are in need of a cheerful happy ending story, as a children’s book BFG is perfect…
Theme: Historical Fiction Coming of Age
Best for: 12 – 14
“I have escaped! I have achieved the first stage of my emancipation! In a little while I will go on to Baltimore–and from thence I will begin my new life.” This beautifully written historical fiction children’s book is quite hard to put down.
Theme: WWII- Japanese Internment
Best for: ages 10 to 12
“Gila River was where I would turn thirteen, and live with my mama and my sister, while waiting for my papa to be brought bak from Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, where the FBI had sent him…” This historical fiction children’s book adds yet another new piece of history and humanness to the story of the internment of Japanese citizens after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Best for: 10 – 13
“…The dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for…” This children’s book is first and foremost about the courage of ordinary people to do the right thing, even in the worst of times…
Theme: Greek and Roman Myths
Best for: 9- 12
“Humans have always loved telling stories, and to use them we tell words. Sometimes, however, the words themselves have stories to tell.” This children’s book is a delightful collection of brief stories from Greek and Roman mythology to illustrate the origin of common words and phrases in our vocabulary,
Theme: Learning Something New
Best for: 6 to 9
“My name is Juana. It is spelled J-u-a-n-a, and it is pronounced Who-Ah-Nah…Bogota is where I am. And where school is and where Mami and my abuelos and Lucas are…” This perfect multi-cultural children’s book introduces us to Juana, who needs to learn English for her trip to the USA, and resists it.
Theme: Civil Rights
Best for: 11 to 14
“I think a friend is someone who helps you change for the better. And whether you see them once a day or once a year, if it’s a true friend, it doesn’t matter.” This is a compelling and important book for today’s world, and yet, it was painful to read, because I wished none of it were true…
Theme: Civil Rights Movement
Best for: 8 and up
“Lawson taught us how to protect each other, how to survive. But the hardest part to learn–to truly understand, deep in your heart– was how to find love for your attacker.” This excellent trilogy of graphic novel is a first-hand account by John Lewis of the civil rights movement as he lived it…
Best for: 5 to 8
“John loved to tell the chicks the Good News. When he fed and watered them, he spoke about the value of hard work and patience…” The illustrations alone could make this an important book, but the subject matter is what we really want to read…
Theme: Adventure and Chinese Tales
Best for: 8 to 12
“When it is time for you to do something, you will do it..Amah’s words echoed, untying and smoothing the knotted string of Pinmei’s voice. She took a deep breath, and, with a whisper, she started the story.” “Storytellers can make time disappear…” and with this wonderful children’s book, the readers can lose themselves in a magical past…
Theme: Wildlife in Africa
Best for: 6 to 9
“They came to a halt beside the hut… It had been made out of tree branches and the trunks of saplings, all tied together with twine and then poked firmly into the ground.” The small first chapter book is set in the bush in Africa, and gives wonderful images of African children, wildlife, and insights into baboon behavior.
Theme: Cat Adventure
Best for: 7 to 11
“Goose pats Stick Cat on the head. Then he scratches him behind the left ear. Stick Cat allows Goose to do all this. It’s how Stick Cat rewards Goose for working all day and buying him food.” If there are second and third grade children who need encouragement to read, this series of books is a great addition to your home or school library.
Theme: Animal Rights
Best for: 9 to 12
“It was not an easy journey. The yetis had to be sealed up inside the lorry until nighttime, when they found a deserted place to stop and they could come out and stretch their legs and get some air.” This children’s book, perhaps one of Ibbotson’s last, takes on animal hunting directly, making it an abominable thing to do!
Theme: Native American tragedy
Best for: 12 and up
“Misson Santa Barbara, where the Padres were taking us, was near the Island of the Blue Dolphins…Perhaps if I went there, I could find one who would help me reach the island and bring Karana back.” A wonderful work of historical fiction, this children’s book is a sequel to Island of Blue Dolphins, and also offers a chilling look at the treatment of Native Americans by missions.
Theme: Nurturing Relationships
Best for: 9 to 12
“There are six kinds of teachers in the world. I know because we classified them once during indoor recess…The last kind we simply call the Good Ones…the ones who you don’t want to disappoint.” A beautiful, heart-warming story of three middle-school boys and their relationship to one very extraordinary teacher, who is about to leave them.
Theme: Biography, Equality
Best for: 6 and up
“Boys were expected to grow up, go out in the world, and do big things. Girls? Girls were expected to find husbands.” This very appealing illustrated children’s book is perfect because it can spark important family conversations about justice…
Theme: Children, Poets, and Dogs
Best for: 7 to 10
“I’m a dog. I should tell you that right away. But I grew up with words. A poet named Sylvan found me at the shelter and took me home. He laid down a red rug for me by the fire…” Prepare to have your heart strings plucked by master storyteller MacLachlan, as a dog and two children comfort each other.
Theme: Historical Fiction
Best for: 9 – 12
“The title ‘Joint Reign’ is a foolishment and emphasizes what I have always contended: that men are more fortunate than women. Joint reign! It is I who inspects, examines, weighs and wrings her brain …” Coming on the heels of an historic election, it is interesting to go back in history and understand more about the obstacles women faced hundreds of years ago.
Best for: 14 and older
“We’d never been through a war, so we didn’t know what war was like. We thought it would be an adventure. Later of course, we realized the truth: that war is almost the opposite to an adventure…” This is a complex, serious book about a very serious topic: war. It asks the question, What is bravery? What does it take to show one’s bravery?…
Theme: Graphic Novel- Ramayana
Best for: 9 and up
“War, in some ways, is merciful to men. It makes them heroes if they are the victors. If they are vanquished, they do not live to see their homes taken, their wives widowed. But if you are a woman, you must live through defeat…” No matter how you categorize this children’s book, it is a wonderful addition to the re-telling of the Ramayana, from Sita’s point of view.