College of Education Gift-Giving Guide: 2022 Best Books for Kids

Looking for a gift for your children or grandchildren that doesn’t get old and doesn’t require batteries but does stimulate their brains? Give a good book!

Not sure what type of book to get those young readers on your list? Here are some recommendations from three Purdue University College of Education professors who are all affiliated with the Center for Literacy and Language Education and Research (CL2EAR). All of these recommendations are for recently published books, and Amazon links are included for ease of ordering, but feel free to support your local booksellers!

Recommending College of Education (Department of Curriculum & Instruction) faculty:
Arianna Bannack, Visiting Assistant Professor, English Education
Nancy Boes, Continuing Lecturer, Literacy & Language
Christy Wessel Powell, Assistant Professor, Literacy & Language

Grades K-2

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Marc Barnett

In this fun new version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, the troll is a true gourmand!  He lurks under the bridge waiting for one of the billy goats to cross and daydreams about all the delicious goat meals he will soon enjoy. Luckily, the Billy Goats Gruff are smarter than they seem.! Too bad the troll will never get to eat the goat smorgasbord or taste goat-smeared toast. (Amazon)

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca

Brian Floca is an award-winning author and illustrator.  He created Keeping the City Going to acknowledge the essential workers that kept things running during the pandemic. In the story, children observe the city from their apartment windows watching various workers going about their business. The beautifully detailed illustrations will keep any vehicle-loving child entertained. (Amazon)

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall

This book is sure to become a favorite. After the author comes across an abandoned house, she uses the objects she finds in the house and imagines the family that once lived there.  She then uses the materials she found to create the illustrations for the book.  You can see the original house and learn about the process she used to create the illustrations in this video. (Amazon)


Sir Ladybug by Corey R. Tabor 

This silly graphic novel is the first book in an upcoming series.  Sir Ladybug, his trusty herald Pell the pill bug, and his squire Sterling the snail, go on a quest and rescue a caterpillar from a monstrous black-capped chickadee and learn all about the food chain along the way.  This is a great read-aloud for younger children, but it is also perfect for an independent reader ready for a short chapter book. (Amazon)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

This relatable story is about a little boy braving a very, very tall diving board at the public pool. He feels excited, but also nervous…and his father encourages him while letting him get ready to jump on his own time. The simple, light illustrations take on perspectives at the bottom of the ladder and way at the top when Jabari’s toes curl over the edge of the board. Young readers will predict what Jabari is thinking and feeling as he backs out, lets others go in front of him for a while, then finally, jumps. (Amazon)

Grades 3-6

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney

This moving true story is about young activist Tyber Faw and his friendship with Congressman John Lewis. Faw met John Lewis when he was only ten years old and later accompanied Lewis on his annual memorial walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 1965 march.  At the age of twelve, Faw honored the congressman by reading one of Lewis’ favorite poems at his funeral.  A beautifully written story. (Amazon)

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao 

Percy Jackson and Tristan Strong fans will love this funny, action-packed fantasy novel about a young boy who enters the mythical Chinese underworld to save his mom. Along the way he encounters creatures and characters from Chinese mythology and history. (Amazon)

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton 

This fantasy story is set at a magical school in the sky, high above the clouds, where students from around the world with unique powers come to hone them for good, and eventually, to fight criminals. The first in a new series gaining rapid recognition. (Amazon)

Measuring Up by Lilly LaMotte and Ann Xu

This graphic novel writer/illustrator team LaMotte and Xu produced other hit books like American Born Chinese and Roller Girl. In their latest book, a middle school girl who just moved from Taiwan to Seattle tries to find her place at school and home. In an attempt to fit in with new friends, and leverage a love of cooking and food, she enters a cooking competition. This book is funny, fast-paced, and poignant. (Amazon)

Grades 6-8

Starfish by Lisa Fipps 

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant debut novel-in-verse. Starfish is a powerful, fat-positive middle grade verse novel about a girl who is learning that she deserves to take up space. This realistic story is important for educators, parents, and kids alike and urges all to question their biases toward fat people. This is a linear story told through poetry. (Amazon)

Answers In the Pages by David Levithan

A bold, timely novel about speaking up and coming out as parents lobby to ban a beloved book from the school curriculum. Interweaving three connected storylines, David Levithan delivers a bold, fun, and timely story about taking action (whether it’s against book censors or deadly alligators), being brave, and standing up for what’s right. (Amazon)

Young Adult (YA) Literature (high school & early college)

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

Every ten years, teen demigods compete in a series of challenges to replenish the power of the sun that protects their planet. Seventeen-year-old Teo unexpectedly gets selected to compete and must figure out how to make it out of the trials alive. Fans of The Hunger Games and fantasy stories will love this fast paced novel! (Amazon)

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre By Brandy Colbert

For the nonfiction lovers in your life, Black Birds in the Sky offers an unflinching account of racial injustice and violence in American history. Colbert paints a searing picture of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK and the tensions leading up to its destruction. Colbert handles the topic with sensitivity and compelling writing that invites readers in and provides them with the information to reflect on Tulsa’s history. (Amazon)

Messy Roots by Laura Gao

With stunning artwork, the graphic memoir Messy Roots offers a nuanced story of being Asian in contemporary America. The protagonist, Yuyang, recounts her memories of growing up in rural China, immigrating to Texas, and the growing racial tensions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel explores the intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, and class while drawing on Chinese cultural icons. (Amazon)

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson

Set in rural Canada, the novel follows Lou, a Métis girl, through her summer working at her uncle’s ice cream shack, fielding mysterious letters from her biological father, and navigating a new romantic relationship. As Lou tries to reconcile her past with her present and future, she finds support in her family and friends, new and old. Ferguson’s writing is complex and raw as Lou deals with racism, threats to her family’s business, while balancing hope and optimism for her future. (Amazon)

Whiteout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

A stunning tale of Black love and joy as twelve teens work together to help their friend pull off a huge apology as snow blankets Atlanta, GA right before Christmas. The story mainly focuses on high school senior Stevie and her girlfriend Sola, but readers get a backstory for each of their friends as they work to help Stevie combat the snow in Atlanta and apologize to Sola. For readers who want a light holiday-themed read, this heartwarming novel is surely it! (Amazon)

Source: Purdue University College of Education, Arianna Banack,; Nancy Boes,; and Christy Wessel Powell,