The Best Books for NJ Kids of Every Age

Holiday gift ideas for NJ kids from NJ bookstores

And they'll shriek squeaks and squeals, racing 'round on their wheels.
They'll dance with jingtinglers tied onto their heels.

They'll blow their floofloovers. They'll bang their tartookas.
They'll blow their whohoopers. They'll bang their gardookas.
And then they'll make ear-splitting noises galooks
On their great big electro whocarnio flooks!
-How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Unless, you get them books for the holidays. In which case they will lay on their bellies in bed, feet swinging behind them, the only sound the soft rustle of pages turning as their imaginations soar. Right? RIGHT!

Well, okay, so I can’t promise a Christmas miracle of this magnitude. But I can promise that although books get buried under the wrapping paper at first, they are the gift that lasts forever. Here’s a look at our recommendations, with a little help from our friends at Words Bookstore and Watchtung Booksellers.

Picture Books

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Daniel Salmieri
An absurd story (who knew dragons & salsa were a dangerous combination?) accompanied by stunning illustrations. Hilarity will ensue.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, David Small
A straight-laced little boy and his adventures with a real penguin, makes for a charming tale of adventure and friendship. Plus, there’s a surprise ending!

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
Olivia Swomley at Words Bookstore in Maplewood recommends this one. She says “In this sequel to I Want My Hat Back (the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Winner), Jon Klassen uses digitally assembled Chinese ink illustrations to tell the tale of a hat thief, who could be in a lot of trouble if the big fish he stole from ever wakes up.”

Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley, Dan Santat
It’s not so easy for kids to be independent in the face of challenges like getting dressed by themselves, eating vegetables or taking a bath. In this silly book, kids will see that Gilligan himself tackles these ‘stunts’ with bravery and humor.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel, Emily Haynes
Carolyn Anbar at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair recommends this one. She says “Stunning graphic illustrations highlight this slightly offbeat re-telling of a classic Hindu story.”

One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World by Joe McKendry
For the New Yorker (or history buff) in your family. I love flashback books, and this one looks at the history of the center of the universe — Times Square — and its many transformations over the last 100 years. Eager readers will learn that cities aren’t static and that they’re changing every time we step off the subway.  

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins
We are big Steve Jenkins fans around my house. (His Down, Down, Down is a revelation.) Jenkins’ inventive, beautiful illustrations will draw any child in, and his books are chock full of information for the burgeoning scientists in your brood. The Beetle Book will be under our tree Christmas morning.

Middle Readers

Wonder By R.J. Palacio
Wonder is a story about Auggie, a boy who was born with a severe facial deformity that has kept him from going to mainstream school. When he finally does start school, the rotating perspectives of his classmates shape this extraordinary story. Swomley says, “For those of us who sell, write, publish, or just care about children's literature, Wonder is a book that reminds us why we do what we do. Not only does it depict the strength of love and friendship, it also asks its readers to be a little kinder than necessary in their daily lives.”

The Fire Chronicle (Books of Beginning) By John Stephens
The eagerly anticipated second book in the Book of Beginning Series (The Emerald Atlas was the first), finds Kate, Michael and Emma still searching for their parents, while traveling back in time to an enchanted New York and a magical world at the bottom of the earth. Your young fantasy fans will be up late with this one.

The Maelstrom: Book Four of The Tapestry by Henry H. Neff
The 4th in the Tapestry series, about the fantastical adventures of Max McDaniels, a boy from the leafy Chicago suburbs. The Maelstrom finds him marked for death and searching for the evil Astaroth.

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (Hardcover) By Lemony Snicket, Seth
Fans of Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and just generally strange, weird, bizarre, gothic, twisty, turny books will gobble this one up.

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One by Ellis Weiner, Jeremy Holmes
Anbar says, “These [Templeton Twins] are just plain ingenious. No zombies, fairies, or magic – just plain clever. The unusual storytelling will appeal to reluctant readers.”

Under Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book II By Colin Meloy
This sequel to Wildwood continues the adventures of Prue McKeel, and her exploits in Wildwood.

Young Adult

Fault in our Stars by John Green
This story of two teenagers falling in love while coping with aggressive forms of cancer, is lively, smart, engaging, and very sad. John Green is Judy Blume for today’s young adult readers.

Jane, by April Lindner
Though is wasn't released this year, this modern retelling of Jane Eyre is a nice digression from fantasy and otherworldly creatures, so it makes the list. Swomley says, “While the storyline stays surprisingly true to the original, readers can expect modern poignancy from the retelling. This romance is truly delightful.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Intrigue, adventure, history and the burdens and rewards of deep friendship, this harrowing WWII saga of Verity’s confession to the Gestapo, is ideal for your future (or current) spy novel reader.

Bitterblue (Seven Kingdoms Trilogy 3) by Kristin Cashore
This third book finds Princess Bitterblue travelling back in time to find out the true story of her kingdom and her father’s insanity. Cashore is known for her stunning prose and richly realized characters.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Based on the life story Arn Chorn-Pond, and his childhood under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. This truly harrowing novel, never shies away from the truths of a terrible time, but also focuses on Arn’s will to survive and heroism. A compelling introduction for young adult readers into a brutal time they may not otherwise know about.