Need a read for kids? 15 suggestions from booksellers — and kids

A view of a bookshelf full of books
All through September, Ask a Bookseller featured recommendations from independent bookstores for kids and teen readers. Here’s just a smattering of what booksellers have recommended in the last year.
Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

Each week, MPR and The Thread newsletter check in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. During September, our Ask a Bookseller feature highlighted recommendations for kids and teen readers. We also asked readers for their recommendations.

We ended up with a pretty solid list of titles to try. Take a look.

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‘The Monster at The End of This Book’

Cover of 'The Monster at the End of This Book'
“The Monster at The End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover” by Jon Stone.
Courtesy of Golden Books

Eight-year-old Max from Hopkins, Minn., recommended this classic published by Little Golden Books 50 years ago. Starring Grover from “Sesame Street,” it’s sold nearly 13 million copies and continues to be a favorite.

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“It’s really funny because it has Grover, and he tries not to have you turn the pages of the book, because there’s a monster at the end of the book — of course,” Max said.

Max also explained to us why he thought it was funny, but we don’t want to spoil the ending.

The ‘Dragon Masters’ series

Cover of "Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon"
"Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon" by Tracey West.
Courtesy of the Publisher

Leo, 6, who’s also from Hopkins, said he enjoys this chapter book series by Tracey West about a group of 8-year-olds who each can communicate with their own dragons.

It began with “Rise of the Earth Dragon,“ released in 2014. The collection now totals 19 books with a new one set for release on Nov. 2.

‘I Talk Like a River’

“I Talk Like a River,” written by poet Jordan Scott
“I Talk Like a River,” written by poet Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith.
Courtesy of Neal Porter Books

Harriett Logan of Loganberry Books in Cleveland, Ohio, recommended this picture book.

The story by poet Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith follows a boy through a frustrating day of school where his stutter gets in the way of all the things he wants to say.

After school, his father brings him to his favorite place — the river — and asks him to watch how the current ripples, eddies and rushes.

“You talk like a river,” his father tells him. This beautiful metaphor becomes a point of calm and pride for the boy. 


Bookcover of “Daisy” by Jessixa Bagley
Bookcover of “Daisy” by Jessixa Bagley.
Courtesy of Neal Porter Books

In Jessixa Bagley’s book — recommended by Zsamé Morgan of Babycake’s Book Stack in the Twin Cities— Daisy the Warthog gets bullied by other animals who don’t think she lives up to the beauty of her name. Her head hangs low at others’ mean words, but looking down causes her to discover all sorts of forgotten and lost objects: treasures on the forest floor.

Daisy bedecks her special fort with these treasures, and soon she finds that someone else has been adding to her collection. By being herself and exploring what she loves, Daisy makes a new, true friend.

’Vote for Our Future’

"Vote for Our Future" by Margaret McNamara and Micah Player.
"Vote for Our Future" by Margaret McNamara and Micah Player.
Courtesy of Random House Children's Books

The children at Stanton Elementary School are curious why their school closes on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

In this book by Margaret McNamara and Micah Player, recommended by Christian Nardi of the kids' bookstore Bee Hive in Santa Fe, N.M., they learn all about voting and elections, and even though they are too young to vote, they get involved by encouraging people in their community to do so. The increased turnout makes a difference in the election.

‘I Am Every Good Thing’

Julie's Library: Julie and Emma's Favorite Books of 2020
'I Am Every Good Thing' by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Courtesy of publisher

“When there are so many negative stereotypes against black boys and black children, this is just a beautiful poem, almost a love letter, letting them know that they are every good thing,” said Lorielle J. Hollaway of Cultured Books, a multicultural children’s bookstore in St. Petersburg, Fla. She recommended it as a book for all children “because we all need to see that black boys are loved and valued.” 

Holloway’s favorite line from the book written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James: “I am good to the core like the center of a cinnamon roll. Yeah, that good.”

'Extra Yarn'

'Extra Yarn' by Mac Barnett
'Extra Yarn' by Mac Barnett
Courtesy of publisher

This book by Mac Barnett “is about a girl named Annabelle who discovered a box of endless yarn and she starts knitting sweaters,” explained bookseller Nikki Silvestrini from Zenith Bookstore in Duluth, Minn.

“An archduke comes and wants the box of yarn and when she refuses, he steals it.”

‘Skunk and Badger’

The cover of a book
“Skunk and Badger,” written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Linda Crowder of Russell Specialty Books and Gifts in Russell, Kan., recommends this kids’ chapter book about Skunk and Badger, the unlikeliest of friends and roommates in this book. It’s written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Badger loves to stay at home with his books and gemstones. Skunk is much more adventurous, and he pulls Badger into a new world of adventure in the forest.

‘Unicorn Famous’

"Unicorn Famous" by Dana Simpson.
"Unicorn Famous" by Dana Simpson
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Theresa Woodward of CatTale’s Books and Gifts in Brainerd, Minn., describes Dana Simpson’s “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” series for middle-grades children as “Calvin and Hobbes” but with unicorns.

Nine-year-old Phoebe and her BFF Marigold Heavenly Nostrils take on both magical mysteries and real-life challenges, from dragons to troublesome classmates.

Woodward said the comic-strip style graphic novel holds her daughter’s attention and — most importantly — it’s funny. 

‘Some Kind of Happiness’

 "Some Kind of Happiness" by Claire LeGrand.
"Some Kind of Happiness" by Claire LeGrand
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

In “Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand, main character Finley Hart has undiagnosed anxiety, and she's been sent off for the summer to her grandparents' house while her parents focus on a difficult time in their relationship.

The woods behind her house become a kingdom fueled by imagination in a way that reminds Britt Margit of Second Star to the Right Books in Denver of "Bridge to Terabithia."

‘The Great Ghost Hoax’

“The Great Ghost Hoax” by Emily Ecton.
“The Great Ghost Hoax” by Emily Ecton and illustrations by David Mottram
Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Angela Whited of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul offers this book recommendation by Emily Ecton and illustrated by David Mottram. Butterbean the dachshund and her housemates, Oscar the mynah bird, Walt the cat, and Marco and Polo the rats are looking for their next adventure, having previously pulled off an amazing apartment heist (more on that in a minute).

So, when first a human neighbor, then a rat neighbor, burst into their living room with news of a haunted apartment upstairs, they are ready to take the case.

There are challenges, of course. The pets have to work their investigation around some professional ghost hunters who show up. Also, it’s up to Butterbean, as the one pet who gets taken out for walks, to remember the details of leaving the apartment. Butterbean is a good dog, but she’s not all that smart, and not all that key information gets remembered. 

‘Witches Steeped in Gold’

A book cover for 'Witches Steeped in Gold'
"Witches Steeped in Gold," by Ciannon Smart.
Courtesy of Publisher

This Ciannon Smart story follows two teenage witches who are sworn enemies, both driven by vengeance. They need each other’s magic to defeat a common enemy, but they don’t trust each other, and we readers aren't sure that we can trust them, said Kalima Desuze of Café con Libros in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Add to that a love story between one of the witches and the other’s best friend, and you have a page-turning plot.


'Raybearer' by Jordan Ifueko
"Raybearer" by Jordan Ifueko
Courtesy of the publisher

In Jordan Ifueko’s West African-inspired fantasy, a girl names Tarisai has been raised basically in isolation, schooled by tutors. Because she’s half-demon, she has the ability to pull memories out of people whenever she touches them.

The ability really scares the people around her, but immediately impresses everyone at the palace when she’s taken there at age 11 to compete for a spot on the future emperor’s council. 

“To me, it is the perfect debut,” says Linda Stack-Nelson of Wild Rumpus Books for Young Readers in Minneapolis.

'The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart'

'The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart' by Stephanie Burgis
'The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart' by Stephanie Burgis
Courtesy of publisher

“The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart” by Stephanie Burgis tells the story of a young dragon who is accidentally turned into a human, which allows her to discover the wonder of chocolate. 

“It is written for about 8 to 12, but also makes a really great read-aloud for littler kids. And it’s super fun for grown-ups to read as well,” says bookseller Lily Tschudi-Campbell of Red Ballon Bookshop in St. Paul. “It’s one of my favorite stories for this age, one of my favorite reads generally — it’s so comforting, so cozy.” 

‘The Ones We're Meant to Find’

'The Ones We're Meant to Find'
"The Ones We're Meant to Find" by Joan He
Courtesy of the publisher | Illustration by Aykut Aydoğdu

Joan He’s YA novel, recommended by Lauren Abesames of Wind City Books in Casper, Wyo., is set in a dystopic reality where climate change has taken a drastic toll on Earth, resulting in a split in the world population: 25 percent live in floating cities, spending much of their lives in virtual reality to reduce their carbon footprints. The other 75 percent live back on the ground, amidst the elements.

The story is told by two sisters who are separated. Cee wakes up marooned on an island with no memory of who she is, other than a need to return to her sister. Back in her floating city, sister Kasey must fit together the pieces of her sister’s disappearance.