In time for International Children’s Book Day April 2, professor and book blogger Katie Caprino shared some of her top picks for early readers, middle grades and young adults. Caprino teaches children’s literature to future educators at the University of Florida and shares her favorite titles on her blog, Katie Reviews Books. She offered these suggestions:
Celebrate diversity and great writing
Caprino loves the new short story collection “Flying Lessons & Other Stories,” published in partnership with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.
“There’s a movement to bring in diverse authors and characters, which this book does, and it’s also quality literature from some really well known authors. It can help spark discussions about the similarities everyone goes through when growing up, as well as the differences.” Middle and high-schoolers can read the book on their own, but Caprino also suggests it as a read-aloud to share with younger kids.
Look for interactivity
In books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “We are in a Book!,” Caldecott Award-winner Mo Willems brings the reader into the action. Caprino loves Willems’ latest, “Nanette’s Baguette,” as a read-aloud for adults and kids to share.
“There’s a relationship between the text and the reader, so it can be read aloud in a way that’s inviting and exciting,” she said.
Looking ahead to summer reading, Sarah Williamson's “Where Are You?” (available June 6) invites young readers to search through the pages to find the characters — even if they can’t actually read.
“You can get kids involved in making meaning from the book without being able to read,” Caprino says. “Reading the pictures is a good entrée into learning to read the text.”
Try the Caprino Test
“My litmus test is if the illustrations are so beautiful that I want to rip the book apart and frame the pages on my wall, that’s a great book. Of course, I don’t actually rip books apart,” Caprino says.
If the illustrations in a picture book move you, go with your gut. Can’t make it to a brick and mortar bookstore to flip through the pages? Gilbert Ford’s luminous blue and purple illustrations in Kathryn Gibbs Davis’ “Mr. Ferris and his Wheel” get Caprino’s seal of approval for early readers, as do Kenard Pak’s watercolors for Rita Gray’s “Flowers are Calling.”
Lure reluctant readers with graphic novels
If you think graphic novels are all superhero boom-pow, take another look. Not only can they be pithy and provocative, they can build reading confidence. For middle grades, Caprino recommends Raina Telgemeier’s “Ghosts,” which tackles illness, moving to a new place and, yes, ghosts.
Change it up with verse
Books in verse aren’t just for little kids, Caprino says, they’re great for middle grades and young adults, too.
“A big book can be less intimidating when it’s broken up into in chunks of verse,” she said.
She counts the freeform poetry of “Inside Out and Back Again,” Thanhha Lai’s semi-autobiographical tale of a 10-year-old girl settling in Alabama after fleeing Vietnam, as one of her all-time favorites. For older kids, Kwame Alexander’s “Booked” ventures into divorce, first love and bullies.
Don’t overlook nonfiction books
True stories can be as fun as fiction. For younger readers, try the Golden Gate origin story “This Bridge Will Not Be Gray” by Dave Eggers, or author/illustrator Melissa Sweet’s “Balloons Over Broadway,” about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sweet even manages to make the backstory of a reference book riveting, Caprino says, with the lavish illustrations for “The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus.”