Our Editors Share Some of Their Favorite Books!
Recently our Field Sales Manager Alan Mendelsohn and I were brainstorming ideas for Random Acts of Reading, and he suggested we ask our Editorial colleagues to share some of their favorite books with us–books that you may or may not know about but are each special in their own way . I thought it was a great idea, and as you can see, they enthusiastically contributed!
Here’s what they have to say:
From the author of The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Kate Saunder’s Beswitched is a charming mystery/adventure story that will be loved by readers of The Penderwicks and The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Speaking French at Breakfast? Wearing hideous baggy bloomers? Sleeping in a freezing dormitory? This has now become twelve-year-old Flora Fox’s reality when on the train ride to Penrice, her new posh boarding school, she awakens from a nap to find herself transported to St. Winifred’s circa 1935. Flora’s roommates cast a spell that brought her back in time and the’ve pledged to help her get back to the present—but only after she completes the task she was summoned for.-Krista Vitola, Assistant Editor. Delacorte Press.
Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer is a gripping middle-grade WWII adventure about a Jewish boy living in Occupied France. Black Radishes received a Sydney Taylor Honor Award given by the Association of Jewish Librarians, and Kirkus stated that the book “raises important questions about nationalism, equality and identity and fills a void in Holocaust literature for this age group.” Accessible and layered for a variety of comprehension levels, Black Radishes has more potential than ever, as it is a perfect selection for Common Core reading lists and includes an author’s note that explains the real-life story that inspired the author, who continues to speak at conferences and schools! -Rebecca Short, Assistant Editor
Why do I love HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio? Let me count the ways…. I am big on introducing kids to the idea of taking care of our planet, but I hate anything with even a whiff of didacticism. I love quirky illustrations that make a strong first impression, but can be pored over time and time again. I adore a great read-aloud, with wacky dialogue that invites me to use my over-the-top acting skills. And I’m a fan of books that are based on a true but little-known piece of history—there’s nothing like learning something new! How Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio have managed to satisfy all of these requirements in a single title is truly a marvel. –Anne Schwartz, VP & Publisher
One of my favorite Schwartz & Wade backlist picture books is CLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. There is something old-fashioned yet completely fresh about this modern fairy tale, and I can’t imagine any kid not being completely entertained by it. It’s definitely an adventure story complete with a troll, sinister woods and a princess, but what I love most about it is that, at its core, it is a story about the importance and joy of story telling. When poor, but resourceful, Jack arrives at the princess’s birthday party with nothing but a truly exciting story to give to her, readers wait in anticipation to see how the spoiled princess will respond. When she exclaims, “A story! And an adventure story at that! What a fine gift!” I for one, feel like cheering. -Lee Wade, VP & Publisher, Schwartz & Wade Books
One of my favorite picture books from Schwartz & Wade is PRINCESS HYACINTH by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Lane Smith. First of all, I am completely smitten with Smith’s eye-catching illustrations and hilarious character treatments. (I was, admittedly, already a huge fan of Smith, having grown up during the reign of the Stinky Cheese Man, which was all the rage in my second grade class.) But what really draws me to this book is the oh-so-appealing and absolutely irresistible story of a little girl with a peculiar problem: She floats. I’m not usually a huge fan of princesses and their ilk, but Heide’s rendition is notably and refreshingly un-princess-like. Princess Hyacinth is adventuresome and spunky, eager to shed the heavy royal garments designed to weigh her down. Even a non-royal like me can relate. Brava! —Stephanie Pitts, Assistant Editor
My first few weeks here at Random House Children’s have been filled with delighted oohs and aahs about numerous backlist discoveries. Today’s moment of joy was realizing that SPANKING SHAKESPEARE by Jake Wizner was here, a book we all loved for its fresh, subversive humor and geek-chic boy appeal. (It’s not just a brilliant title…!) -Michelle H. Nagler, Associate Publishing Director
I love true dog stories, so it’s so big surprise that BULU: AFRICAN WONDER DOG is one of my favorite books. That said, BULU is much more than your typical true dog story. It’s a true adventure story about a British couple who move to Zambia to open a wildlife education center in the bush. Besides grappling with crocodiles, lions, poisonous snakes, charging elephants, tsetse-flies, and rainy seasons that keep them isolated from civilization for months at a time, they must battle armed poachers, intense poverty, and a lack of medical supplies that will make American readers thank their lucky stars. Author Dick Houston has been a safari leader for more than 30 years, and he writes about modern Africa as it really is. Dog-loving teens and adults looking for a gripping true story that will have you thinking about a lot more than just dogs need look no further! -Alice Jonaitis, Senior Editor
I considered myself a big Lois Lenski fan when I acquired the rights to reissue over a dozen of her out-of-print picture books back in the late 90s. Now that I have a 19 month old son to share the Mr. Small books with…well, this is LOVE! Charlie is particularly fond of COWBOY SMALL (the board book version, which is easier to read with a child on your lap). The big attraction has to be the clean, spare design, and the wonderful sound effects: “cloppety, cloppety, clop!” and “Yipp-pee! Yip-pee!” as Cowboy Small rides Cactus in the round up. Yep, a “horsie” is a big draw. Charlie even tries to join in on “Home on the Range” when Cowboy Small serenades his fellow cowpokes ’round the campfire. I say, trot this one out when you a need a baby shower gift that a new mom is unlikely to have! -Heidi Kilgras, Editorial Director
In her medieval historical novel, The Book of the Maidservant, Rebecca Barnhouse tells the story of a serving girl whose pious mistress abandons her on a pilgrimage, forcing the maidservant to find her own way to Rome. This can be paired with the nonfiction primary source that inspired it, The Book of Margery Kempe, to support common core standards. -Diane Landolf, Editor
In Brian Falkner’s truly chilling sci-fi thriller, Brain Jack, a brilliant teen computer hacker gets his hands on the latest tech—the neuro-headset, Internet at the speed of thought. But it doesn’t take long for him to realize that if his computer is vulnerable to a hack, nothing good can come from his mind being linked to the system. As we inch closer to these kinds of devices with products such as Google Glass, this thought-provoking page turner will make you think twice about hurrying out to buy the latest tech. -Chelsea Eberly, Associate Editor
Deborah Underwood became well known for The Quiet Book, but before that, she wrote Pirate Mom, which is the complete opposite of quiet. It’s a laugh-out-loud beginning reader about a boy named Pete whose mom gets hypnotized into thinking she’s a pirate, and then wears an eyepatch, flies a pirate flag over their house, and chases the mailman with a wooden spoon. Plus Stephen Gilpin’s illustrations are dead funny—I crack up every time I see the Amazing Marco’s twirled mustache and his baby son’s matching top hat. -Jennifer Arena, Editorial Director
If you’ve ever wished for a girl power wild west adventure, this is it! The Misadventures of Maude March is just plain Fun with a capital F-it’s the rip roaringly fast paced, hilariously funny story of Maude and Sallie March-two orphaned sisters who become unwitting outlaws on the lamb! Written by Newbery Honor winner Audrey Couloumbis, it’s one of my all-time favorite reads and guaranteed to appeal to fans of Little House on the Prairie, strong, sassy heroines, and anyone who ever had the urge to gallop off on a rollicking adventure! -Shana Corey, Executive Editor
Sylvie written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler is both goofy and magical and who can resist that spindly flamingo? The mystery of color has always fascinated me and I love the imaginative premise of this book. In a children’s book world of mice, rabbits, and bears, this flamingo deserves to be front and center. -Maria Modugno, Editorial Director, Picture Books
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta will always be a personal favorite on the Knopf list. The characters are genuine and frank; their troubles relatable and their intentions true. While following Francesca through a year as one of only 30 girls at a traditionally all boys school, the reader is privy to witty quips with classmates, strained interaction with family, and awkward conversation—and kisses—with a crush. Yet this is much more than the usual high school fare. It incorporates timeless issues like depression and peer pressure with nuance and humor. Honest, funny, and sparkling with personality, Francesca is a charmer, and a book I always hand to friends of any age. -Kelly Delaney, Assistant Editor
Tender Morsels is my gold standard for what literary YA should be—and I’m in good company: the book won a Printz Honor, a World Fantasy Award and was named Best of the Year by at least 6 review journals. Margo is a challenging author to read, but the payoff is immense. Those who invest the time tend to emerge from her novels sobbing and singing her praises to the moon. It’s a shame that her critical acclaim hasn’t translated to bigger sales. I feel like there’s an untapped audience of adult crossover readers—fans of Ursula LeGuin, Garth Nix, Margaret Atwood even!—who would fall head over heels for Margo’s writing if they found her. -Katherine R. Harrison, Assistant Editor
A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley (also the author of the fantastic Graffiti Moon!): This is the story of one spectacular summer and two very different girls—shy, introspective Charlie and outspoken, restless Rose—who find themselves drawn into an unexpected friendship. I adore this book for so many reasons: the strong, distinct alternating voices; the music references and Charlie’s aching, honest song lyrics sprinkled throughout; the way the characters pull you into their lives; and the way Cath Crowley explores grief, longing, and electrifying first love. This novel was an ALA-YALSA BFYA and received a starred review from SLJ that sums it up beautifully: “Charlie’s voice is unforgettable: every page sings. . . . Give this incredible, satisfying book to fans of Sarah Dessen, Karen Foxlee, Melina Marchetta, Ellen Wittlinger—actually, give it to any teen girl who longs a little and feels too much.” -Allison Wortche, Editor
Kimberly Newton Fusco is a luminous writer. Her books make young readers feel both the pain in the world and the beauty—and show them the healing power of friendship. THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE is the tender, generous story of an interracial friendship between two young girls during the Depression. It was acclaimed by many reviewers, and I love these lines from a starred review in Kirkus that capture its spirit: “Good humor, kindness and courage triumph in this warm, richly nuanced novel that cheers the heart like a song sweetly sung.” I know kids would respond to this gem of a book, if it could find its way into their hands. And because Kim’s writing is spare and lyrical, it goes down fast and can reach a broad audience of both confident and more reluctant readers. -Michelle Frey, Editor
The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Roger Roth: This terrific collection of stories really makes history come alive. Each story is only 3 or 4 pages, but it’s hard to read just one—there’s a note at the end of each story pointing to other stories on related topics, and I love flipping back and forth in the book that way, seeing how all these big moments in history connect. This is my go-to gift for families with children—there’s something here for everyone! -Nancy Siscoe, Senior Executive Editor
A Kitten Tale by Eric Rohmann: This wonderful book about how three timid kittens and one very curious one first experience snow came out several years ago. Eric Rohmann has so many outstanding books, but I really think this one is spot-on about kid-worries, and the power of a positive attitude. The illustrations are some of my favorites, and it reads aloud like a dream! -Nancy Siscoe, Senior Executive Editor
Many THANKS to our editors for these lovely book recommendations, and for all of the wonderful books they bring us all year long!
Please share your thoughts in our comments section.