Holiday Gift Guide: Books for Kids & Teens

The holidays are almost upon us, and here at Denver Public Library the Children's Librarians have been hard at work, gathering the very best books published in 2013 to help you give the gift of reading to the children and teens in your life. 

Books for the Very Youngest

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli, illustrated by Peskimo.  Alphablock is a lift-the-letter-as-the-flap book with the die-cut letter on top and the pictorial representation underneath. This beautiful book will be read again and again.

Peekaboo by Taro Gomi.  You can play peekaboo with this book! Two die-cut holes line up with the eyes on nine different faces, so the reader can hold the book up to their face as a mask. Peekaboo! Encouraging fun and silly play between child, adult, and book, it’s sure to be a favorite.

Tails Chasing Tails by Matthew Porter.  The dog chases the cat, chases the mouse, chases the elephant and the elephant brings us back to the beginning of this circular book. Each page shows the head of the chaser and the tail of the animal being chased, making for a great guessing book with fun new vocabulary and charming graphic illustrations.

Diggers Go by Steve Light.  A noisily joyful read-aloud, Diggers Go will delight babies and toddlers with its realistic construction vehicle sounds. Bright watercolor illustrations and an extra-wide trim size make this an appealing one to grab and hold, and the simple but evocative construction noises make it easy for the little ones to join in the fun.

Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Journey by Aaron Becker.  Akin to Harold and the Purple Crayon, Journey is a wordless tale of a lonely girl who escapes the boredom of her sepia-toned world by drawing a doorway to a magical realm with a red marker. She draws her way through a castle, sky, and desert. As the journey comes full circle, a purple bird leads the way to the best adventure of all: friendship.

Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise by Susan Blackaby, illustrated by Carmen Segovia.  All Brownie Groundhog wants is to be left in peace to sleep out the winter, but her friends Fox and Bunny have other ideas. They decide that they need to borrow Brownie’s red scarf, and as soon as they’re inside Brownie’s house, they discover other treasures that they need to make Brownie a wonderful surprise. Gentle humor and whimsical illustrations make this book a winter winner.

If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead.  What does it take to spot a whale? This book offers tips on how to do it and what not to waste your time doing while you’re looking. Wait, wait, and wait some more. The most important thing you need? Patience. The pay off? The whale is amazing.

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex.  For such a little panda Chu has a really powerful sneeze. He and his parents spend the day visiting sneeze inducing places, like a dusty library and a diner with pepper in the air, but Chu holds back his catastrophic sneeze…until they go to the circus. The rich oil paint illustrations and suspense in this picture book are sure to hold young reader’s attention and induce laughter.

Animal Opposites: A Pop-Up Book by Petr Horáček.  Lift the flaps to expose the colorful pop out animal opposites. Favorites? The two-dimensional smooth frog next to its lift-the-flap three-dimensional spiky porcupine opposite. Or the flat white goose next to the pop out peacock. The size and vibrancy of the animal illustrations set this apart.

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales. This book features Lucha Libre-themed excitement as Niño, clad in underpants, cape and Luchadore mask, handily defeats some of the most famous monsters of Mexican folklore with his signature silly “wrestling” moves. The text is peppered with Spanish words, phrases, and exclamations, and the illustrations and bright and exciting, draw readers in. But uh-oh…in the end, will Niño be done in by “Las Hermanitas”…his very own baby sisters?

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  For the train or animal-loving kids in your life, this is a bedtime story with a delightfully dreamy nighttime setting. As the Steam Train, Dream Train pulls in to the station, toylike animals load objects that correspond to their interests—monkeys load in monkey bars, polar bears pack in ice cream, and kangaroos bounce in pogo sticks. Rhyming text keeps things fun, and as the book slows to a sleepy conclusion, readers will realize the dreams of the child pictured on the last page have created this imaginative landscape.

Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri.  Pizza is all Raccoon wants in life. Of course, most people won’t share their pizza with Raccoon, instead they’ll chase him off with brooms. That’s why Raccoon plans a secret pizza party! Driven by a mischievous unseen narrator, the story finishes with a hilarious twist of an ending. A great read-aloud for elementary age children who will eat up the idea of a pizza loving raccoon.

That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.  Written and illustrated in the style of a silent film, Willem’s newest picture book is sure to become an instant, giggly favorite among the preschool and early elementary set. It features a sly, scheming fox, a seemingly naïve duck, and a cast of chicks who become increasingly more frantic as the duck plays into the fox’s plan to make her into dinner. What happens when a duck takes a stroll with a fox in the deep, dark woods? That is NOT a good idea!

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen.  The dinos are back, and this time they’re making mischief while they celebrate Chanukah. As they move through the traditions of lighting the candles on the Menorah, spinning the dreidel, and receiving presents and Chanukah gelt, these naughty dinosaurs cause trouble and then learn from their mistakes. This is a solid addition to the series, with its great rhyming text and large, colorful illustrations, as well as a fun new stand-alone book about the Jewish holiday.

Books for Early Grades

Shimmer & Splash: The Sparkling World of Sea Life by Jim Arnosky.  The ocean is vast and the sea creatures numerous, so the author chooses to cover fish and animals that can be seen while wading on the shore, or from the side of a ship. Do you know the difference between a shark and dolphin fin? The amazing illustrations, plus huge foldout pages, answer these and many other questions. The foldout pages on sharks and inshore hunters are visually fascinating.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  Duncan’s crayons are fed up and they are writing him letters to air their grievances. Why does pink always have to draw princess-y things? What’s a better color for the sun...yellow or orange? They battle it out in their letters because they aren’t speaking to each other. What does it feel like to be the white crayon that nobody can even see?

Animals Upside Down: A Pull, Pop, Lift & Learn Book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  What can animals do upside down? Plenty it seems as Jenkins uses pull tabs, wheels, slides, and flaps to show what dozens of animals do from that position. This includes eating, sleeping, hunting, playing dead, and even spraying nasty stuff from their nether regions for survival, or even for fun! Each animal comes with one fascinating reason why they might go “bottoms up.”

Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco.  Rocco and his friends believe their super powers come from their wild hair, so when they all get dragged to the barber shop for haircuts, they're devastated and powerless. When a little girl asks for help rescuing her doll from the monkey bars, the boys spring into action. Turns out their powers really come from self-confidence and imagination.

Eat Like a Bear by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins.  Can you eat, sleep, dig, paw, claw and sniff like a bear? Observe a year in the life of a female brown bear as she seeks out food, meets another bear, hibernates, and has two bear cubs of her own. Jenkins’ detailed and textured torn paper collages are a beautiful complement to Sayre’s rich, action-oriented text. Notes following the story provide more information on the habitat and behaviors of brown bears.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen.  Lazlo is afraid of the dark, and living in his rambling, cold, creaky old house, the dark seems to always be lurking just around the corner. Armed with his trusty flashlight, Lazlo has always been able to keep the dark at bay until one night when his light burns out and the dark comes to visit him. From the dream team of Snicket and Klassen, this deceptively simple tale about how one boy faces his fears is sure to resonate with young readers.

The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor.  In the further adventures of Peter Rabbit and family, deftly imagined by actress Emma Thompson, Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny are back. When William the turkey proudly announces that the McGregors are “having him for Christmas dinner,” it is up to the bunnies to protect their friend from certain doom. Can they hide him in time, or will William wind up as the unfortunate guest of honor at the Christmas table?

Alphasaurs and Other Prehistoric Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss.  From A to Z, the dinosaur’s different body shapes are constructed by the first letter of their name, using a different font for each one. The pages are full of alliterative information about each dinosaur. One factoid for the “K” dinosaur is that its spikes were as sharp as “knight’s knives.” Each page has a pronunciation key with a tiny thought bubble prompting readers to “say it” to help with those tricky dinosaur names. An alphabet book for older kids and dinosaur lovers.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner.  The beloved author of fantastical wordless picture books is back with a tale of a cantankerous cat and a tiny alien invasion. Mr. Wuffles is not amused by any of his toys, until the day that a miniature UFO turns up in his home. The ensuing drama between dangerous cat, shipwrecked aliens, and the helpful insects that live beneath the radiator is both amusing and thought-provoking. Wiesner’s signature lush and detailed illustrations will draw readers in, and the wordless format encourages children to tell Mr. Wuffles’ story in their own words.

A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems.  Elephants are big, right? So when a big guy takes Piggie’s ball, Elephant is ready to step in and help Piggie out. Little does Elephant know, the big guy is whale. Getting the ball back isn't going to be as easy as Elephant thought but maybe he can help Piggie retrieve his ball and make a new friend all at once.

Books for 3rd-5th Grade

Jinx by Sage Blackwood.  The mysterious Urwald is the only place Jinx has ever known. He also knows about the Truce of the Path: remain on the path and you will be protected from the dangers of the Urwald. So Jinx is frightened when his cruel stepfather takes him off the path. He is about to give up hope when he’s saved by the cantankerous wizard Simon. The first in a series, this story has a richly imagined world, a plot as twisty as a path through the Urwald, and subtle foreshadowing leading to surprising revelations.

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse. In 1891, teacher James Naismith struggled to keep his gym class under control. It seemed like every activity he tried resulted in fights and injuries. Improvising on a game he played as a child, Naismith transformed two peach baskets, a soccer ball and a set of 13 rules into the sport of basketball. Morse’s retro-style illustrations evoke the time period and reflect the energy of the rowdy students.

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell.  Flora, a ten year old self professed cynic, lives with her inattentive mom after her parents’ divorce. She doesn’t get to see her dad much. Her neighbor, who has a strange temporarily blind boy living with her, gets a new vacuum cleaner so powerful that it sucks up a squirrel. Saving the squirrel, Flora soon learns that he is a wise, flying, poetry writing rodent with superpowers. Flora has a new best friend, but her mom has another plan for the “filthy” squirrel that involves a shovel and a trip to the woods. Flora teams up with blind boy to save Ulysses and discovers that parents aren’t perfect and friends can be found in the most unexpected places.

Locomotive by Brian Floca.  A family’s journey from Omaha to Sacramento in 1869 is the scaffolding for this illustrated love letter to the locomotive. From building the railroad to crew roles to engine mechanics, Floca explores seemingly every aspect of trains during this time in history. The large trim size and detailed watercolor illustrations make this a perfect gift book for train lovers of all ages.

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight by Marthe Jocelyn.  Write and illustrate a Post-it note poem and put your creation on a friend’s locker or a park bench. Make an animal out of cork or a toilet paper roll and hide it in a houseplant or in the refrigerator. The projects in this book are easily made with materials from around the house. Plus, they are fun and sure to result in surprises and smiles.

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea by Hilary McKay.  Lulu loves animals. When she goes on vacation with her family she discovers a stray dog living on the beach. Lulu does all she can to build a relationship with the skittish pup, but gaining his trust is no easy task. Full of humor, family and friendship, the second entry in this new series is perfect for kids ready to make the move from readers to beginning chapter books.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown.  Roan Navachez is looking forward to attending Pilot Training Academy Middle School with his friends...but Roan is not accepted! It looks like agricultural school is in the cards. At the last minute, Roan is invited to attend Jedi Academy. Life at Jedi Academy is not exactly what Roan is expecting. Told in comics, snippets and class assignments, Jedi Academy is an amusing look at middle school in a galaxy far, far away…

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle.  Life is changing quickly for seven-year-old Ty. He has a new baby sister, his big sister is too busy to spend time with him and his mom is always busy. This means Ty often has to figure things out for himself. But his ideas don’t always work out the way he thinks they will. Take, for example, his “rescuing” a baby penguin from the aquarium. Ty plans on taking care of him, but it quickly becomes apparent that he is in big trouble.  This book is perfect for Junie B and Stink fans that are ready for a new book companion.

The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors.  The Sasquatch Escape is the first book in the new Imaginary Veterinary series, which promises to be fun, middle grade fantasy. When Ben Silverstein moves in with his grandpa in Buttonville for the summer, he is sure it will be as boring as watching paint dry. His grandpa’s idea of fun is pudding day at the senior center. But when his grandfather’s cat brings home what looks to be a baby dragon, the summer gets decidedly more interesting. Working with his new friend Pearl, Ben soon discovers that the new vet in town has a decidedly strange, and magical, specialty. One that ensures that Ben’s summer will be far more interesting than he could have imagined.

Books for Middle Schoolers

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet.  A beautifully crafted tale from a master of middle-grade mysteries, Hold Fast features a close-knit and loving family torn asunder by a sudden disappearance. Father Dash, mother Summer, 11 year old Early and little brother Jubie live in a one-room apartment on Chicago’s South Side, crammed with books, words, and love. When Dash vanishes off his bicycle one icy day, Early takes it upon herself to solve the mystery and bring her father back. Moving and unforgettable, this intricately plotted tale explores issues of poverty and homelessness, love and loss, the poetry of Langston Hughes, and the power of words to change the course of a life.

Doll Bones by Holly Black.  Zach and his best friends Poppy and Alice have spent years developing a storyline and roles for the dolls they use in their role-playing game, so when Poppy tells them that the ghost of the Queen, a creepy doll they recently incorporated into their game, has infiltrated her dreams, Zach isn't sure if she’s serious. Finally Poppy convinces Alice and Zach that she isn't kidding and the three embark on an epically creepy journey to bury the Queen and lay her ghost to rest. Readers looking for an eerie adventure will have a hard time putting this coming-of-age story down.

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.  13 year old Nate Foster is not a fan of Janksburg, PA. No one, except his best friend Libby, understands his love of all things theatre. His family ignores him and his classmates call him names as they shove him into lockers. So when Libby finds out about an upcoming audition for E.T.: The Musical, they both know it’s Nate’s big chance to get out of Janksburg. Written in first person from Nate’s point of view, this is a hilarious and touching story about being loved and appreciated for being the best version of yourself.

Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch, photographs by Tom Uhlman.  This latest addition to the Scientists in the Field series explores the work of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP) in Chile, Columbia, Indonesia and the Philippines and its efforts to accurately predict volcanic eruptions. While technology allows scientists to monitor volcanic activity off site, there is still the need for plenty of risky “in the field” activities such as climbing up active volcanoes to place equipment and collect soil samples. A suspenseful read full of detailed photographs.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin.  When Benjamin Boyd, master counterfeiter, was arrested in 1875 members of his counterfeit ring devised a nefarious plan to secure Boyd's freedom; steal Abe Lincoln's body and demand a ransom of $200,000 and Boyd's release. Little did the gang know, the Secret Service was on their trail. This unfamiliar tale sounds like a crime thriller but it's all true, making it that much more exciting.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Willow lives an orderly life with her adoptive parents until their unexpected death forces her out of her well-worn routine of gardening, researching, and counting by 7s. As she grieves for her parents, Willow finds herself nurtured by an unlikely group of people – the Vietnamese-American Nguyen family, her lazy school counselor, and a local taxi driver. Told from multiple perspectives, the narration is funny, poignant, and poetic. Short chapters keep this introspective book moving at a rolling pace that allows for thought, but never drags. This is an intriguing combination that will captivate readers.

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake.  Thirteen year old Georgie lives with her family in Wisconsin in the 1870’s. She’s an expert shot and works in the family’s store. She loves her sister Agatha, but one day she witnesses something that she misunderstands, and she shares it with Agatha’s fiancé, causing Agatha to run away with a bunch of pigeoneers. The sheriff sets out to bring her home but comes back with a body shot in the face and wearing Agatha’s distinctive blue green dress. Everyone thinks Agatha is dead, but not Georgie. A great read-alike for fans of True Grit.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu.  Eleven-year-old Oscar, a lowly assistant for a powerful magician named Caleb, is happy harvesting herbs and preparing them in a cozy cupboard surrounded by cats. Oscar is forced to leave his orderly world when Caleb’s apprentice is killed and other mysterious things begin to happen around the village. Caleb and the other magicians are all mysteriously away from the village, so Oscar and his new friend Callie must try to solve the mystery and save the village. In this beautifully written story Oscar, who exhibits signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is forced to battle his fears and discover his innate strength.

Books for High Schoolers

Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Kline Baker.  Between 1854 and 1929 orphaned children living on the East Coast were put on trains and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by loving families. In reality many of the children were taken in by families looking for free labor. Niamh was one of the unlucky children adopted by a cruel taskmaster. Her fascinating story is paralleled by the present day story of Molly, a goth teenager with a tough demeanor who moves from one inadequate foster home to another.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black.  Tana lives in a world where vampires are completely normal. Maybe not normal, but everybody knows they exist and is afraid and enchanted by them. A vampire bite means you turn cold and are quarantined to a Coldtown forever, where all the vampires live. Tana wakes up at a party and everyone there has been murdered by vampires, except for her infected ex-boyfriend and a mysterious boy. Tana must find a way to save them all, and the only way she knows how is by going into the nearest Coldtown. This is a unique and exciting world that is sure to appeal to fans of supernatural intrigue.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley.  Do you know what a cheesemonger is? Is it truly impossible to make the perfect croissant at home? Is fast food evil? The author shares her life experiences that led her to discover the answers to these questions, plus a whole lot more, in this funny autobiographical exploration of the power of food in our daily lives. Raised by self-avowed “foodies”, this book is a tribute to the social aspects of food and its power to connect people and create “taste-memories.” For Knisley food is much more than just sustenance. Showcasing her art skills, the story is told graphically with each chapter bookcased by yummy recipes. 

September Girls by Bennett Madison.  Sam, his obnoxious older brother, and their father are spending the summer in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The boys quickly realize that there is something unusual about the town; it’s full of breathtakingly beautiful but mysterious young women who all look alike. When Sam meets Dee Dee, one of the “Girls,” he quickly falls for her and becomes entwined in something mysterious and possibly dangerous. Readers won’t be able to put down this angst-filled, steamy beach tale until they reach the satisfying end.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal.  In the town of Never Better, strange things blow on the wind and magic is in the air. Into this mixture, the ghost of Jacob Grimm lingers, unable to move on. He spends his time watching over Jeremy Johnson Johnson. Jeremy is the only one who can hear Jacob and he usually listens. But all that changes when Ginger Boultinghouse eats a magic Prince Cake and falls in love with Jeremy. Soon Jeremy is running around with Ginger and ignoring Jacob’s sage advice. But that strange thing on the wind is watching too, and soon Jeremy and Ginger are in serious trouble. Can Jacob find a way to save them, or is he doomed to watch another loved one die? With mystery, magic and evil, Far Far Away is a riveting read.

More Than This by Patrick Ness.  Seth’s dead. He’s woken up alone in an abandoned world covered in dust. Is he in hell or some kind of existential afterlife where he has to face his shortfalls to move on? Or is this all there is? When he sleeps, he painfully relives his memories of drowning, his secret boyfriend, and what happened to his family. One day he discovers two other people in this desolate landscape who are trying to escape The Driver, a menacing entity that wants to kill all of them. But aren’t they already dead? Seth struggles to find out what’s real, and if it even matters when reality is only what he thinks it is, right? A creepy sci-fi read that will stick with you long after you finish.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope.  Pope’s illustrations bring extra energy to a fast paced story. Battling Boy, the son of Thor, finds himself on Earth - the location chosen by Thor to be his proving grounds. Earth has been invaded by monsters and Battling Boy must defend the Earth without the help of his father. To aid him, he has been provided with an assortment of t-shirts each with an associated power. His first shirt has a t-rex on the front and gives him super leg strength but when he swings a punch he finds that he also takes on the creatures’ weaknesses.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  Cassie and her little brother Sam are two of the few who survived the first three waves of attacks sent by invading aliens. The aliens are vicious, well organized, and worst of all they can disguise themselves as human. When the aliens kidnap Cassie’s little brother she has to rely on her bravery, cunning, and a M16 rifle to get him back and to survive the “silencer” who is hunting her. The first book in a trilogy, The 5th Wave is filled with action and suspense, but Yancey makes time for reflection and emotion too. This one is hard to put down.

Written by Gigi on December 5, 2013


Cindy on December 26, 2013


All great ideas. Got Steam Train Dream Train for four year old-loved it!

Thanks Gigi!

Gigi on December 26, 2013


So glad Steam Train Dream Train it worked out, Cindy. Thanks for reading the blog!

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