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Saturday 17 August 2019
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The gift to last a lifetime

ONE DECEMBER, when I was ten, my aunt read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women novel to me. I never forgot that experience of discovering the story of the March sisters during the Christmas holidays.

When my children were growing up, I used the month of December to create my own reading tradition. They considered this to be one of their most meaningful childhood experiences. My children went to sleep with “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads,” the Grinch or the BFG.

From the picture books I read to them at two, to the chapter books I read to them until they were 13, we gathered Christmas memories to last a lifetime.

Reading to your children is an important all-year-round activity because it helps build the listening, comprehension and analytical skills they need to succeed in school and in life. It also helps to create the empathy skills we all want our children to have.

Most of the award-winning authors on my list have written several children’s chapter books, and when children get hooked on one of these author’s books, they inevitably want to read all. These are books that can be read to children from eight to 12.

Here are the books that are most popular among children in my library. They are books that children talk about, remember and recommend to other children.

1. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly – This 2018 Newbery award-winning children’s book had me on the edge of my seat.

Hello, Universe is a beautifully written story about four social outcasts: shy Virgil Salinas; a bully, Chet Bullens; a shy, deaf girl, Valencia Somerset, and a quirky self-claimed psychic, Kaori Tanaka. When their lives cross in an unimaginable way because of the bully, the suspense matches any adult book I have read.

Kelly is bound to be a popular children’s author on par with Cynthia Kadohata and Kate DiCamillo.

2. Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart – Every Gemeinhart book is a gem, but I particularly like this novel because it is an authentic cowboy book for children.

After Joseph Johnson loses his whole family, he manages to survive because of his love for his pony, Sarah. When thieves steal Sarah, Joseph embarks on an action-packed journey to get her back.

Many boys also like Scar Island, a children’s version of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

3. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Always on my list of the best children’s books, this 2016 Newbery award-winning book is still the favourite book for most of my students ten through 14. Children love it because it is a historical novel set during World War II, and it has to do with unfairness.

Ten-year-old Ada has a club foot and she is treated horribly by her mother. When the government decides to send the children of London to the countryside to live, Ada flourishes in her new environment. Her story reminds children of everything we take for granted.

4. The Angel Tree by Ashley Benedis-Grab – In this holiday mystery novel, a group of children decide to find the anonymous person who puts up a wish tree every year in the town square before Christmas.

Readers will ponder the true meaning of gift-giving, grapple with questions about altruism and decide if it is wrong to identify a kind person who wants to remain anonymous.

5. Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo – Elementary students who are fans of Kate DiCamillo will certainly recognise that she is taking a new turn in her writing in this book about a girl named Louisiana Elefante.

This newly released DiCamillo novel is the first time the two-time Newbery award-winning novelist doesn’t feature an animal as a main character. Instead, there is a story about new beginnings and forgiveness filled with many small surprises and a big one in the end.

6. Brown Sugar and Spice by Betty Peter – When it comes to Caribbean children’s literature, Brown Sugar and Spice still tops my list.

Set in Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia, this light-hearted tale of Harriet and her English family living in the Caribbean during World War II is a tribute to the imagination and resilience of children who can find hope and inspiration even when times are tough.

A book or a gift card for books is a relatively inexpensive Christmas gift, which provides a world of wonder at a time of year that often seems magical.

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