Book Bites: Required Reading

This week, we put together a list of must-reads for y'all. Some books are returns from beloved, well-known authors (Sophie Blackall! Jacqueline Woodson! Garth Nix! Graham Swift!), while others are by staff faves or soon-to-be-well-known (so hop on board first!) writers like KA Holt and Tracy Deonn. We made it easy: Just keep this list of books in your back pocket and add 'em all to your to-be-read list. Happy reading! (Good luck deciding which one to start with.)


Ages 4-8

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

A standout in all ways! A young girl imagines what it would be like to come to our planet for the first time. Her thoughts and illustrations truly capture the diversity and beauty of our planet. Read it to yourself or read it to children. Blackall's imaginative illustrations convey so much of our human world, as well as the natural world around us. Our world is so full of wonderful beings. A keeper!  
— Valerie

READ because you want to be reminded of how beautiful our planet is, and what we can do to take care of our home.
PASS if you don’t enjoy stunning illustrations.
Order your copy on our website.

Ages 8-12

Skunk & Badger by Amy Timberlake; illustrated by Jon Klassen

Badger lives a perfectly delightful life, doing Important Rock Work, until Skunk arrives and turns his life upside down. I haven’t been this charmed by a book in a long time. Amy Timberlake uses gorgeous, funny language that reminds the reader that kindness goes a long way. And Jon Klassen’s illustrations are SUBLIME. A lovely story of friendship, perfect to read aloud to all ages. 
— Cathy

READ if you loved Wallace and Gromit, Winnie-the-Pooh, or Frog and Toad.
PASS if you don’t like heartwarming stories about friendship, acceptance, and compassion. 
Order your copy on our website.

Benbee and the Teacher Griefer by KA Holt

Four seventh grade misfits are stuck in summer school because they’ve all failed the Florida version of the STAAR test. Ben B (known as BenBee online) has never finished reading a book on his own. His writing is nearly illegible, but when he’s playing Sandbox (an online game that’s kind of like Minecraft), he has no problems typing out his thoughts. Benita (don’t call her that, she is Ben Y now) experienced a personal loss last year that she still hasn’t dealt with emotionally and is prone to angry outbursts. Jordan J (no relation to their teacher, Ms. J.) is an extremely kinesthetic learner who probably also has ADD and is devastated by his pet’s terminal illness. Then there’s Javier, who never speaks out loud, always wears his hoodie up and is in the summer school class because he’s been homeschooled in another state the last two years and has no standardized test scores on file. And this group is being led by Ms. J., who slowly comes to recognize their learning differences and emotional traumas and works with each of them on those issues. Each chapter is written by one of the four kids and it’s easy to keep track since two write in verse, Jordan’s is all stream of consciousness, and Javier’s chapters are all done in drawings. Middle grade readers will enjoy watching the characters (including the teacher) grow over the course of their summer.
— Lisa

READ if you are looking for a fantastic story that expertly balances humor and the frustration of what it is like when things don’t come easily to you.
PASS if you believe there is only one type of intelligence, and that video games rot your brain. 
Order your copy on our website. 

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Zachariah Junior's father is the football star Zachariah "44". He is the much revered hero in their town. With grace and attention to every word, Woodson lets the story unfold from a young boy who does not understand why his father is now moody, yelling, and shaking from tremors. His mother has to take his father to many doctors. ZJ, as he is known to his friends, is very lucky to have three close friends. It is through them that he is learning to accept the changes in his family's life. 
— Valerie

READ because this is a beautiful and authentic verse novel that explores the not-so-happy side of being a professional football player.
PASS because you want to watch football guilt-free. Stick to sports!
Order your copy on our website.

Ages 14-18

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A new and fascinating take on the Arthurian legends set in present-day North Carolina. When her mother dies in a car crash, sixteen-year-old Bree is devastated and gladly accepts a place in the Early College program at UNC Chapel Hill to get away from home and the memories. On her very first night on campus she witnesses magic and students battling demons, unwittingly stumbling into an eternal battle with evil and a secret society of the Legendborn. A mage tries to wipe her memories of the incident, unwittingly unlocking a memory related to her mother's death. With the help of a reluctant Legendborn, Nick, Bree infiltrates the society, believing them to have had something to do with her mother’s death. As she seeks the truth, Bree will have to face her own past to decide whether to join the Order and the upcoming magical war, or bring about their downfall. Several plot twists make this an engrossing read. It is also the first of at least two books and I look forward to continuing on this adventure with Bree. Fans of Victoria Schwab (This Savage Song) will love this strong, female lead!
— Caroline

READ if you are looking for a modern day King Arthur tale that offers Black girl magic, too.
PASS you hate when it’s hard to put down a book.
Order your copy on our website. 
Read an exclusive Q&A with the author on our blog.

Far From Normal by Becky Wallace

Maddie McPherson lands a summer internship at a sports marketing company in Chicago. After a meet cute at the beach, she's assigned to repair the image of teen soccer phenom Gabriel Fortunato. Gabe's always showing up on social media and in the tabloids and is best known for flubbing Italy's chance at the World Cup. As she begins to fall for Gabe, Maddie wonders if she can do the job her boss expects while still looking out for Gabe's interests. A cute modern rom-com for fans of Jenny Han and Morgan Matson.
— Cathy

READ because you’re looking for a cute, page-turning romance.
PASS if you prefer things that are not very far from normal at all.
Order your copy on our website. 

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

It’s 1983 and 18-year-old Susan sets off for London to spend the summer working at pubs before starting college. Armed with a list of half-heard names, a ticket and a cigarette case she also intends to find out who her father is. Merlin is a left handed bookseller, part of an extended (and ancient) family of both right- and left-handed booksellers. Besides running a couple of bookshops in London, they police the border between the New World and the mythic beings of the Old World. Along with Merlin’s sister, Vivien, they team up to find Susan’s father and to solve the seemingly linked murder of Merlin’s mother. Who can they trust in their quest and who is Susan's father?

I really enjoyed this—it reminded me of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence in a good way. The left- and right-handed booksellers are wonderful and I secretly hope there might be more to come featuring Merlin, Vivien, and Susan.
— Caroline

READ because Garth Nix is an expert at worldbuilding and writing extremely immersive fantasy tales.
PASS if you can’t tell your lefts from your rights.
Order your copy on our website. 
Attend our event with the author on September 28!

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder

Fifteen year old Newt has been down the mines since the age of four. Able to read and write—just barely—thanks to an 'educated' friend and colleague, Newt tells of mine life in a phonetically-spelled Shropshire accent. Initially Newt is trusting of the Sunday teachings that their indenture is God-ordained until a new lad joins their team. Devlin (Devil In) brings new ideas that seep, unwanted, into Newt's thoughts. The tension builds like a thunderstorm as events and growing knowledge collide to an explosive end.

The characters are rich and varied and the conflicts all-too-believable. Newt's voice and descriptions are poetic in the manner of Seamus Heaney, but this gorgeous, atmospheric writing does not attempt to hide the ugly truth—that in Victorian England children were sent down the mines to work, often never seeing sunlight or their families again. The countless Victorian mine children may not have been able to tell their own stories, but Bearmouth does them proud.
— Caroline

READ because you’re looking to get inspired about resisting and challenging the system.
PASS if you are anti child labor laws.
Order your copy on our website. 

Adult Fiction

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi (although he does not think that it is his name) lives in a sprawling House of endless halls of statues, all different. An ocean is imprisoned in the halls, and Piranesi has studied and charted its tides. He spends his days exploring and studying the House, recording his observations in a set of journals, and helping a man he knows as The Other with a search for A Great and Secret Knowledge. Slowly it dawns on Piranesi that all is not right—has he forgotten things and repeated himself as The Other suggests? He starts noticing discrepancies in the things that the Other tells him. Looking back through his ten journals reveals gaps and more questions, which Piranesi tries to investigate in his scientific, observation-based manner. When The Other tells Piranesi that someone else is in the House, someone who will try to drive him insane, the secrets of this world come to light, picked apart by Piranesi’s careful mind.
— Caroline

READ if you were a fan of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Madeline Miller's Circe.
PASS if someone spending all their time in a house triggers your feelings about quarantine. 
Order your copy on our website. 

Here We Are by Graham Swift

This is a short novel about a brief spot of time—the summer of 1959—that has life-changing impacts on three individuals who work together in a variety show in Brighton. Ronnie is a magician, who learned his trade while a childhood evacuee from wartime London; Evie is a chorus girl who answered an ad for a magician's assistant; Jack is the multi-talented song and dance man who emcees the show. As the summer progresses, their relationships change in ways the three could not have predicted. Swift's writing is spare and beautiful and expresses a deep understanding of human nature, of love, memories, and the need for belonging. Recommended.
— Alice

READ because you are looking for some excellent writing.
PASS if you want to read Swift’s other novels and short stories first.
Order your copy on our website.

Adult Nonfiction

The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson

With a nod to Graham Greene’s 1955 novel, The Quiet American, Anderson tells the personal stories of four CIA agents who were involved in international covert operations during the second World War and in the 20 years following. As the world emerged from WWII, the U.S. was seen as Top Nation, in a position to spread its political and moral message, especially in the fight against Soviet Union expansionism. Anderson describes vividly the escapades of the four spies, using their stories to reveal the tragic mistakes made by U.S. government during the early years of the Cold War, mistakes that would lead to an undermining of the U.S. position as a crusader for democracy and freedom in the rest of the world. 

Impressive research coupled with riveting story-telling make this an eye-opening experience for readers who want to understand American exceptionalism and its detractors while taking a peek inside the colorful lives of four real life spies. Recommended.
— Alice

READ if you are looking for a well-researched, engaging read.
PASS if you want to miss out on a big best seller. Your choice. 
Order your copy on our website.