This next series of posts have been a year in the making. In January 2021, I announced that I would attempt to read one book a week off the New York Times‘s children’s best seller lists.* Admittedly, I didn’t quite manage to read a book a week, but I did manage to read all 52 books in 52 weeks…and then some. In my original post about this project, I set up a few rules for myself. First, I wouldn’t re-read books I’ve already read before, and would cycle through the separate lists for picture books, middle-grade hardcovers, and middle-grade series. As the year went on, I had to make another rule about not repeating authors or franchises. Mostly this was to ensure that I was getting a better sample of what kids are reading today, but also because I can only stand so much Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its spin-off books. My rule about not reading The Ickabog (and it was on the list for months!) had to be changed into not reading anything by JK Rowling. It wasn’t a problem for most of the year, but towards the end, her middle-grade book The Christmas Pig topped the list. I also decided that I would not be reading any cookbooks. It’s not just because I’m bad at cooking, but because I was looking for books with narrative.
Why did I chose to embark on this project? My husband asked me this when I was griping about a book I didn’t like. I didn’t do it just for the blog (though that was definitely a consideration). I like kids’ books, but mainly, I did it because at the time, my goal was to become a children’s librarian. (Mission accomplished!) While I had a good idea of what’s going on in the world of YA lit, I wasn’t sure what was popular among kids twelve and under today. I figured that I could use the best seller list as a guide to get a taste of what kids are reading.
I had quite a few different observations going through this project, which I’ll writing about in other posts. To start this off, though, I have some microreviews on the books I read for the past year.
Week 1 (Jan 3.): Five More Sleeps Til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon. Illustrated by Rich Deas.
Cute, nice illustrations, and Jimmy Fallon had a fun virtual story time reading.
Week 2 (Jan. 11): Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney.
I never liked Greg Heffley much, but I was 100% here for Rowley’s wholesome adventure. Only someone with Kinney’s clout would even be able to publish a book like this. I’m kinda jealous.
Week 3 (Jan. 17): Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.
I was surprised at how dark this book got, but I would have loved this series as a kid. I was definitely curious to see what happens later in the series. If I had more time, I’d read the whole main series just to see what happens next. I might still try the graphic novels.
Week 4 (Jan. 24): Little Blue Truck’s Valentine’s by Alice Shertle. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry.
Super cute, but I would have liked it better if the illustrations depicted the winter season rather than fall. Valentine’s Day is a winter holiday, after all!
Week 5 (Jan. 31): Little Leaders, by Vashti Harrison.
I really liked this collection of biographies, and learned about important Black women that I hadn’t heard of before. I do wish the illustrations had been a bit more dynamic; most figures were like paper dolls with the same face, with only their clothes and hair to distinguish them from one another.
Week 6 (Feb. 7): Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey.
I have the same “clout” suspicion as I did with Jeff Kinney, but Dog Man was a silly, fun comic book. Of course, I may be biased, since I was a fan of Captain Underpants as a kid. My favorite parts, though, were the notes warning Harold and George about how disruptive their comics were. And it doesn’t matter if kids are reading something simple, as long as they’re reading!
Week 7 (Feb. 14): Ambitious Girl, by Meena Harris. Illustrated by Marissa Valdez.
I loved this book! It shows empowered women and characters of color, and its message is important for every kid to hear.
Week 8 (Feb. 21): Ground Zero, by Alan Gratz.
I could write an entire post about this book. Harrowing, gripping, and emotional, without the “America, fuck yeah!” attitude I had expected. I think Reshmina’s eloquence and insightfulness on the war in Afghanistan stretched the believability a little thin for me, but she made excellent points. A novel that would definitely help kids understand the horrors of 9/11 and its aftermath better.
Week 9 (Feb. 28): Baby Sitter’s Club Graphix, by Ann M. Martin. Illustrated by Reina Telgemeir.
I never read The Baby-Sitter’s Club books as a kid, and reading the graphic novel didn’t make me feel as though I’d missed out on anything special. I do like Raina Telgemeier’s work, and it was kind of cool to see these books get updated for a new generation of readers.
Week 10 (Mar 7.): Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.
Very cute, and good for the whole year, not just Valentine’s Day. Needed more holes. Rest well, Eric Carle.
Week 11 (Mar. 14): Living the Confidence Code, by Katty Kay, Clare Shipman, and JillEllyn Riley.
This book is full of real-life stories of girls becoming leaders around the world. It was easy to read and uplifting. I found it inspiring, and recommended it to a friend with a tween daughter.
Week 12: (Mar. 21): Crave, by Tracy Wolff.
I didn’t understand the appeal of Twilight then, and I don’t understand the appeal of Crave now. I will say that the book was very funny, but I don’t think that was the author’s intention.
Week 13 (Mar. 28): How To Catch a Leprechaun, by Adam Wallace. Illustrated by Andy Elerkton.
Simple, cute, and fun! It reminded me of St. Patrick’s Day when I was still in elementary school.
Week 14 (Apr. 4): Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers, by Michelle Obama.
It looks like not a lot changed from the original version to the adapted edition. Unfortunately, I found most of the book pretty boring, but I’ve never been a huge fan of biographies. Even so, I can see someone other than me finding this memoir meaningful and inspiring.
Week 15 (Apr. 11): The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.
I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, but I didn’t love this book. Even so, it’s a quick-paced adventure that I’m sure middle-grade fantasy lovers will enjoy.
Week 16 (Apr. 18): Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure, by James Dean and Kim Dean.
Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of Pete the Cat for awhile now. Cute and colorful, and I love Pete’s grumpy face.
Week 17 (Apr. 25): Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.
Heartwarming without being overly-cheesy. If you have a disability, or love someone who has a disability, this will hit very close to home. I liked it so much I even started reading one of the side stories.
Week 18 (May 2): Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo.
I was pretty underwhelmed considering the hype around this book, but I liked it enough to check out the sequel. Even if I didn’t make it that far in the sequel before giving up.
Week 19 (May 9) We Are Water Protectors, by Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goade.
Beautiful and moving artwork, and an important book for every audience.
Week 20 (May 16): The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Casteleo.
I haven’t read the first book in the series (or watched the movie based on it), but Bob was a distinct, vibrant character and the story didn’t go the way I expected. Enjoyable.
Week 21 (May 23): Five Nights at Freddy’s: Fazbear Frights by Scott Cawthon.
A collection of stories about the titular pizza place. Fans may love it, but I’d put it into the category of, “Well, at least they’re reading.”
Week 22 (May 30): Peace Train, by Cat Stevens and Peter H. Reynolds
The illustrations were simple, but I liked the bright colors. I think it works better as a song than a picture book, but it was nice enough.
Week 23 (Jun. 6): Stamped (For Kids), by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi, and Sonja Cherry-Paul.
I wish this was the sort of education I had on race as a kid, not just “Martin Luther King, Jr. solved everything.” Even the kids’ version can be uncomfortable to read, but it’s important to understand how deeply rooted racism is in America. Teaching kids about race and racism early gives me hope for the next generation of leaders. If kids are empathetic and receptive to this kind of learning, I hope our future leaders can make great strides against racism in the U.S.
Week 24 (Jun. 13): What Was/What Is… series. I read What Was Hurricane Katrina, by Robin Koontz.
Informative in a way that’s easy for kids to digest without ever talking down to them. It didn’t try to hide unpleasant truths about living conditions during and after the hurricane, and tied it back to current events and the danger of climate change. I was pleasantly surprised.
Week 25 (June 25): Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding Vibrating Creature by Nathan W. Pyle.
This is such a strange idea for a picture book, especially if you’re not already familiar with the Strange Planet comics. Like the comic, this book is all about using context clues to figure out what the characters are saying. For some kids this could be a fun way to learn new words, but for others, especially younger ones, I think the vocabulary would be too hard.
Week 26 (Jun 27): The Game Master: Summer Schooled by Matt and Rebecca Zamolo.
There are much worse YouTuber books, but this one doesn’t have much to recommend to it unless you’re already a fan of the channel. It changes perspective without any rhyme or reason, and the readers aren’t given enough information about the puzzles to solve them along with the characters.
Week 27 (Jul. 4): The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brailler.
The monster apocalypse is terrifying, but it’s also kind of a kid’s paradise. This fun, funny romp through the end of the world has the feel of a comic book. It would be perfect for a reluctant reader, or anyone with a zombie apocalypse plan.
Week 28 (Jul. 11): The Bench, by Meghan Markel. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.
This is a very sweet book, though the narration addresses an adult rather than a child. The illustrations were simple, but I liked how they showed a lot of diversity.
Week 29 (Jul. 18): Ali Cross: Like Father, Like Son by James Patterson.
I thought some of its handling of current events was clumsy or heavy-handed, but I liked this fast-paced mystery well enough. Not enough to check out the other book in the series, but enjoyable for what it was.
Week 30 (Jul. 25): Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell.
There’s so much backstory to get through, especially in the first part of the book, that it feels like you’re coming in part way through the series instead of the first book. I liked the magic system, but the novel got bogged down by all the exposition. Even so, it was a fun read, and I’d recommend it to any Harry Potter fans who are mad at JK Rowling.
Week 31 (Aug 1): The Pigeon Has To Go to School by Mo Willems
Is there any children’s librarian who DOESN’T like Mo Willems? The pigeon books talk directly to the reader and makes it interactive. Plus, who hasn’t been nervous before their first day of school?
Week 32 (Aug 8): Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Illustrations by
I had a hard time getting into this one. I think I’m just burnt-out with youth fantasy series, especially ones that feature some sort of trial/rite of passage. There were a lot of information dumps, especially in the beginning, and sometimes it felt like I was just waiting for the real action to start.
Week 33 (Aug. 15): Serpent & Dove, by Shelby Mahurin
I liked this book way more than I thought I would. It’s marketed as a supernatural YA romance, but there’s action, intrigue, and some really great characters. I didn’t love the third act, or the ending, but I’m sure I’ll be reading the sequel.
Week 34 (Aug. 22): Three Little Engines, by Bob McKinnon
I was a little wary when I saw that one of my favorite books as a child had gotten a sequel, but this one did a fine job. Instead of the importance of determination, this book focused on teaching empathy, and how sometimes people need a little help. The message that sometimes saying “I think I can” isn’t enough detracts from the original <em>Little Engine That Could</em> a little bit, but overall I think it’s a worthy follow-up.
Week 35 (Aug. 29): Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood</em>, edited by Kwame Mbalia.
In a word: warmhearted. This is an anthology of short stories all starring Black boys by talented authors. There’s a variety of genres, too. Along with contemporary stories, there’s also science-fiction, fantasy, and poetry. “Extinct” by Dean Atta was my favorite, but each story will leave you smiling.
Week 36 (Sep. 5): The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
I went back and forth on this book. I was excited to read this series, but also a little apprehensive. It eventually hooked me, but it didn’t stay. About 3/4s of the way through I realized I didn’t like any of the characters and didn’t care what happened to any of them. While I am curious about how the rest of the series plays out, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in it.
Week 37 (Sep. 12): We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! by Ryan T. Higgins
I loved this book! It’s funny, Penelope is an adorable T-Rex, and it teaches about empathy in a memorable, humorous way.
(And empathy is delicious.)
Week 38 (Sep. 19): We Are Family, by LeBron James and Andrea Williams
This was much better than I expected it to be for a celebrity book, though I have a feeling LeBron James didn’t do the bulk of the writing. I thought some of the plot lines needed more development, but it’s an easy read that will appeal to basketball fans and student athletes.
Week 39 (Sep. 26): A Twisted Tale series, by Liz Braswell. I read Part of Your World.
I had a pretty good time with this book. The story did meander a bit in the middle without much progress, but overall I liked it. I’d pick up another book in the series for a light, fun read.
Week 40 (Oct. 3): Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, by Flavia Z. Drago
I never thought I would relate to an illustrated ghost so much. I definitely felt like Gustavo as a kid (and sometimes still do!) so I loved seeing him take a risk and make friends.
Week 41 (Oct. 10): Beasts and Beauty, by Soman Chainani. Illustrated by Julia Iredale.
This was such a cool book! Creative twists on classic fairy tales in ways that I couldn’t guess were coming. (including feminist morals, a gay Sleeping Beauty, a Black Snow White).
Week 42 (Oct. 17): A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Holly Jackson.
I’ve never been a fan of mysteries, but I devoured this one. I think including things like the main character’s capstone journal and other visual aids helped me get into it. By the time the book switched over to conventional narration entirely, I was totally hooked. I thought the characters could be developed more, but the story was so gripping I couldn’t put it down.
Week 43 (Oct. 24): The Bad Seed Presents: The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky, by Jory John. Illustrated by Pete Oswald.
I’ve read a couple of The Bad Seed books and I really like the art style. I thought this one was a bit wordier than the ones I’ve read in the past, though I might not be remembering properly. I didn’t like this one as much as the other ones I’ve read, but it’s a cute Halloween story with tricks and treats.
Week 46 (Nov. 14): Change Sings by Amanda Gorman. Illustrated by Loren Long.
Amanda Gorman is a talented poet, but the illustrations are where this book truly shines. They show a group of diverse kids doing things to help their community and one another, making a big difference when they’re all together. I especially liked the end, where the reader is dared to join in and help make change.
Week 44 (Oct. 31): The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamilo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
The set up is a bit generic for an adult who’s read fantasy novels for most of her life, but I liked the characters, especially Beatryce and Answelica. A sweet, short story that would be great for kids getting into fantasy.
Week 45 (Nov. 7): I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. I read I Survived Gettysburg.
I’ve seen these books around, and I’ve always been curious about them. I Survived Gettysburg is a fast-paced story starring a brave boy who escaped from slavery with his younger sister. It’s not the most in-depth historical fiction for youth that I’ve read, but the author has a helpful FAQ and other reading recommendations for kids who are interested in learning more about the Civil War.
Week 47 (Nov. 21): Black Ballerinas by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Salena Barnes.
Here’s my confession: I am an uncultured swine who doesn’t care about ballet. The illustrations are beautiful, but the biographies didn’t really hold my interest. However, I understand that it’s important to highlight Black women in this predominantly White dance form. I hope children of color will be able to see themselves in this book, and know that they can break barriers like the ballerinas in the book…and Misty Copeland.
Week 48 (Nov. 28): Warriors: The Broken Code by Erin Hunter
This book is a good introduction if you’re not already familiar with the Warriors series. I wasn’t enthralled by it, but if I were ten, I’m sure it would have been one of my favorite books.
Week 49 (Dec. 5): Aaron Slater, Illustrator, by Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by Douglas Roberts.
I already really liked this picture book series, and this is another solid entry, featuring a child with dyslexia who learns to tell stories his own way.
Week 50 (Dec. 12): Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper
The plot is pretty thin: Melody, a girl with severe cerebral palsy, goes to summer camp. But Melody is such a good character and the book is so warm-hearted, reading it was like sliding into a bubble bath.
Week 51 (Dec. 10): Magic Tree House Series by Mary Osborne Pope. I read Knights at Dawn.
There’s plenty to capture kids’ imaginations in this fast-paced adventure, while also educating readers on some historical facts.
Week 52 (Dec. 26): Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker. Illustrated by Ag Ford.
I liked this cute, rhyming book, but I have just one gripe: why are all these construction vehicles boys? I loved construction vehicles when I was young, and I’m sure a lot of little girls do, too.
*Fun fact: Harry Potter is the reason the New York Times began a separate list for children’s best sellers. People were so tired of the Harry Potter books taking up slots on the regular best seller list, a separate best seller list had to be created.