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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

It's Been Another "Banner" Year for Books and Curiosity...and That's Tragic

Updated: Jan 3

The Daddying Blog's 4th Annual Books To Read with Your Kids

Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide & FREE Book Giveaway

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

I think there is a danger in oversimplifying this conversation. What is necessary is that it be a conversation. That we have more people coming from the right places with the best intentions curating on behalf of young people. And what we have instead are activist groups going over the heads of librarians, who are American heroes and who are trained to have a good eye for what is going to help expand the minds and hearts of young readers.

- Jonathan Safran Foer, author Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, speaking on MSNBC’s Velshi Banned Book Club, 12/10/22

The first time we took the kids to Boston was 2012. It was a trip filled with amazing adventures, including, their first plane ride, exploring the Boston Children's Museum, saying "hi" the the Make Way for Ducklings statue in Boston's Public Garden, and their essential first visit to Fenway Park to see Big Papi and my Sox play.

But our first area of exploration was Cambridge and Harvard Square. Our girls were going on 3 and 5 years old so, almost immediately, they were drawn to The World's Only Curious George Store, situated at the curved intersection of Brattle and John F. Kennedy Streets. Crowned with an unmistakable, bright-yellow and white Curious George logo, the bookshop's entryway beckoned kids of all ages to come immerse themselves in the misadventures and merchandise of that adorable little monkey. And we did.

My little monkeys on-campus at Harvard, June 2012

Because, by then, my wife and I had instilled in our own curious little monkeys a love of wandering through libraries and bookstores and an appreciation for the magical potential such places hold. Books give you the ability to travel without actually traveling. To experience something you never knew existed. To understand how others feel and think without ever meeting them. To discover a story and realize it is your own. And, maybe, most importantly, the ability to feel understood and see yourself as not alone in a world that often feels isolating, harsh, terrifying, and hopeless.

Books teach. But to many young readers, they are also a refuge. Often, their lifeline.

Like most parents, we've nurtured our kids' love for books and reading from the beginning. Initially, of course, we decided which books to buy based on what we loved to read ourselves as kids, recommendations from others, and what just "looked good" to us as we browsed. But once they were old enough to toddle themselves over to our well-stocked sling book shelf, we gave the kids freedom to pick out the books we read to them. And we did, over and over, until their bindings and dust covers frayed.

Now that they're older and have more demands on their waking hours (*cough* crew *cough*), our girls mostly read for school. Some book selections are dictated by their teachers, but more often, they're given a list of several options from which to choose. That reading list is grade level-appropriate and curated by their teachers and librarians, whose goal is to provide rich materials that will provoke thought, stimulate class discussion, and illuminate issues with historical context.

Thankfully, in our school district, educators are trusted and mostly unrestricted in what reading materials may be offered to students. That is, parents have complete online access to their kids' syllabus. Additionally, we are given advanced notice by teachers if students will be reading books with material that some might consider "sensitive" or having "mature themes," which then allows those parents and their kids to opt out if they choose.

"Book bans in public K–12 schools continue to intensify. In the 2022–23 school year, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned, an increase of 33 percent from the 2021–22 school year." - PEN America

What we don't do is let one parent (or activist) dictate what an entire class, school, or school district reads. We let professional educators do their jobs of opening kids' minds, providing opportunities, and introducing new ideas, cultures, and perspectives so that our kids may learn how to think and choose for themselves.

Of course, not all ideas, cultures, or ways of thinking are comfortable to everyone. Ideally, this discomfort plays out as an exchange of ideas, a new understanding of other points of view, compassion, and awareness of common ground even if total agreement or acceptance can't be reached. But recently, this discomfort has instead sparked more attempts to control decisions for everyone based on the beliefs of a relative few extremist groups.

I say "recently," but, really, it's just the latest iteration of the same hate and unconstitutional effort to seize control that's been around for generations. Only this time, extremists in our country have been invited in from the fringe and emboldened to spread their bigotry and intolerance far and wide. Not in code, but full-throated and in broad daylight. And banning books, particularly those that share the history and experiences of long-oppressed minorities in America, is a flagrant sign of a democracy in trouble. A helpful reminder: the book banners have never been the good guys.

Standing up to extremist bullies is a patriotic act in Philly!

Thankfully, the vast majority of students, parents, educators, and the rest of our multicultural voting public around the country have been rejecting this renewed assault on books, the backbone of education and free thought. Last summer, I wrote about our trip up to Philadelphia to watch my daughter row in the annual Independence Day Regatta (IDR). One of the highlights was witnessing the massive pushback by citizens' peacefully demonstrating against the misnamed "Moms for Liberty," a book-banning group in town for its annual "summit" and, presumably, to spit directly in the face of our founding fathers. Appropriately, the protest was loosely organized by a group of current and former librarians. The group distributed materials from various LGBTQ+ and library support groups and the Free Library of Philadelphia, which we are proud to say will be the site of next year's Daddying Film Fest and Forum (D3F) live event.

Although some state legislatures and ideologues continue to challenge our kids' right to read and think, public sentiment against them has only grown stronger. In my state of Virginia, I'm thankful that after our recent election results, the threat to education, books, libraries, and classroom sanity has been neutralized. For now.

If there's one thing I've learned as a voter, reader, AND parent, it's that we must stay engaged. We must be ever-vigilant so that we're prepared for whatever comes next. Speaking of what's next, the best thing about putting together our annual Books to Read with Your Kids Holiday Gift Guide is it always reminds me of the great stories I used to read with my girls:

Moo, Baa, La La La

Hippos Go Berserk

The Sneetches and Other Stories

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?

Are You My Mother?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

More Bears!

Chicky Chicky Chook Chook

Knuffle Bunny

Rocko and Spanky Have Company


Make Way For Ducklings

Many of these and others have found a permanent home on my office bookshelf (and some have returned to the Gift Guide below). Seeing them each day, if only for a moment, helps me hold onto those lovely days and nights when the kids could still crawl onto my lap, lean against my chest, and eagerly turn pages while listening to me do all the voices. Sadly, The World's Only Curious George Store closed in 2021 due to financial difficulties with the pandemic. But our memory of visiting that amazing shop on our daughters' first big trip will stay with me forever. One day, I hope I am able to read and enjoy them all over again with my grandchildren.

When she was two, there was no better way for our Morgie to greet the day.

You'll see that this year's list again contains plenty of our family's and Allan's old favorites as well as many, many new and recently-released titles. You'll also notice that the overall number of books in each grade-level category has grown – well over 80+ books in each, including several award-winning books that have, nonetheless, been banned or targeted in the U.S. With such a large and diverse selection, we're sure you'll be able to find an amazing, imagination-stirring, thought-provoking story to share with every reader on your holiday shopping list.

Also be sure to register for FREE to win a great kids book in our Rafflecopter giveaway, which runs today through Monday, December 18. Giveaway books are identified below in the Gift Guide and you'll find the giveaway posted at the bottom. And, if you'd like to help ensure that kids of all backgrounds can enjoy the gift of reading in the coming year, please consider donating to this Giving Tuesday.

Thanks for reading, shopping, and entering/sharing our awesome giveaway!

Daddying Books to Read With Your Kids

2023 Holiday Gift Guide

FREE Book Giveaway Details Below Guide

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the books on our list, including many award winners, have been banned at some point in the past, are currently banned in at least one school district in the U.S., or are actively being targeted by anti-civil rights, pro-censorship, and other repressive groups in an attempt to have them banned from school libraries, classrooms, public libraries, and even bookstores in communities across the United States. Targeted/banned books below are denoted with asterisks*. and are categorized according to publisher/booksellers' suggested age groups. When you deem them age-appropriate for your own children, we wholeheartedly recommend you read and discuss them together, over and over again. Happy holidays to you and yours READ and Daddy on!

Books for Younger Kids (Pre-K and Under 8):

Amazing kids' titles, past and present. Even more amazing: nearly half of the books pictured above and many others listed below have been targeted and/or banned from school libraries and classrooms in some parts of our country.

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOKS: I Am Mr. Rogers and copies of I Am Jackie Robinson, I Am Sacagawea, and I Am Neil Armstrong signed by Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos

  2. GIVEAWAY BOOKS: Giant-Sized Butterflies on My First Day of School (illustrated by Paola Escobar) and I'll Be Your Polar Bear (illustrated by Chuck Groenink) by Justin Roberts

  3. GIVEAWAY BOOKS: I Know My Rights (coloring book), The Extraordinary Day of Daffodil Grey and Daffodil Grey and the Colorful Parade signed by Anna Gilchrist

  4. The Map of Good Memories by Fran Nuño, illustrated by Zuzanna Celej and translated by Jon Brokenbrow

  5. I Am Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I Am John Lewis, I Am Wonder Woman, and many more from Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos's Ordinary People Change the World series

  6. A Little Emotional by Chris Eliopoulos

  7. The Great Henry Hopendower (illustrated by Deborah Hocking) and The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade (illustrated by Christian Robinson) by Justin Roberts

  8. More Bears! by Kenn Nesbitt and Troy Cummings

  9. Curious George by H.A. Rey

  10. Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

  11. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea* by Chris Butterworth

  12. A Big Mooncake for Little Star* by Grace Lin, who spoke with Ali Velshi earlier this year on MSNBC's Velshi Banned Book Club segment about how ridiculous it is that her Caldecott Honor book has been targeted.

  13. Once Upon A Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner

  14. Noticing and Trying by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Elise Hurst and Maybe, illustrated by Gabriella Barouch

  15. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz

  16. Thank You, It's an Afro by Gabrielle W. Bridges and Cassidy Bridges

  17. Daddy, Papa, and Me* by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson

  18. Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year and The Questioneers picture book series by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

  19. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin

  20. I'm Not Scared, You're Scared by Seth Meyers, illustrated by Rob Sayegh Jr.

  21. Once I Was Very Very Scared and You Weren't With Me by Chandra Ghosh Ippen, illustrated by Erich Peter Ippen Jr.

  22. The Kindest Red: A Story of Hijab and Friendship and The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and illustrated by Hatem Aly

  23. Zilot and Other Important Rhymes by Bob, Erin, and Nate Odenkirk

  24. When Spring Comes to the DMZ* by Uk-Bae Lee

  25. Grandfather Tang's Story* by Ann Tompert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

  26. Jonathan James & the Whatif Monster and A New Friend for Jonathan James by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt

  27. Help Me Tell: Finding Your Voice After Trauma by Jasmine Rush, illustrated by Danyelle Tobias

  28. Shy Spaghetti & Excited Eggs by Marc Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata

  29. The Gift of Ramadan* by Rabiah York Lumbard, illustrated by Laura K. Horton

  30. Dumpling Soup* by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu

  31. When Aidan Became a Brother* by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

  32. Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

  33. Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long

  34. Save the Reef, Save the Bees, and the Save the Earth series by Bethany Stahl

  35. And Tango Makes Three* by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

  36. My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Steph Littlebird

  37. Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates* by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Raúl Colón

  38. Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan

  39. This Is My Daddy! by Mies van Hout

  40. The Story of Ferdinand* by Munro Leaf

  41. Before She Was Harriet* by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

  42. Henry Aaron’s Dream* by Matt Tavares

  43. The Great Squirrel Burglar by Mary Ellen Graham Wehrli and J Lawrence Graham

  44. Family Dynamics: Embrace Your Sound by Courtney Vowell Woodward, illustrated by Thu Vu

  45. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

  46. Dadaji's Paintbrush by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

  47. Stella Brings the Family* by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

  48. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh! and the Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series, and Because by Mo Willems

  49. Ricky, the Rock That Just Couldn't Rhyme, Ricky, the Rock That Couldn't Roll, Patrick Picklebottom and the Penny Book and Patrick Picklebottom and the Longest Wait by Mr. Jay and Gary Wilkinson

  50. Eyes That Speak to the Stars and Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho

  51. When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball* by Mark Weakland, illustrated by Daniel Duncan

  52. The Catalogue of Hugs by Joshua David Stein and Augustus Heeren Stein, illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly

  53. The Dirt Book: Poems About Animals That Live Beneath Our Feet by David L. Harrison, illustrated by Kate Cosgrove

  54. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress* by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant

  55. The Big Cheese, The Sour Grape, and the rest of The Food Group series by Jory John and Pete Oswald

  56. The Two of Us Belong Together: A Story About Friendship - Despite Being Different (from the You Are Unique and Precious series) by Michael Engler, illustrated by Joëlle Tourlonias

  57. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and The Lorax* by Dr. Seuss

  58. The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood and illustrated by Christiane Engel

  59. If You Give A Moose A Muffin (and others in the series) by Laura Numeroff and Felica Bond

  60. Chik Chak Shabbat* by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

  61. I Am Jazz* by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

  62. It Fell From the Sky and Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan

  63. Atoms (Big science for little minds) by John Devolle

  64. Women Who Broke the Rules: Sonya Sotomayor* by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

  65. Nour's Secret Library by Wafa' Tarnowska, illustrated by Vali Mintzi

  66. We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorelland Frane Lessac

  67. The Truth About the Couch (pre-order) by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Liniers

  68. Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, and Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

  69. If You Come to Earth, Hello Lighthouse, and Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall

  70. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

  71. Islandborn* by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

  72. Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

  73. Big by Vashti Harrison

  74. Julián Is a Mermaid* by Jessica Love

  75. Soccer Star* by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Renato Alarcao

  76. The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

  77. Neither* by Airlie Anderson

  78. How Was That Built?: The Stories Behind Awesome Structures by Roma Agrawal

  79. The Dirt Girl and The Little Green Jacket by Jodi Dee

  80. The Velveteen Rabbit: 100th Anniversary Edition by Margery Williams and illustrated by Erin Stead

  81. Children Who Dance in the Rain by Susan Justice, illustrated by Lena Bardy

  82. A Family Is A Family Is A Family* by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

For Older Elementary Kids (Ages 8-11):

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Transforming into a Powerful Third, Fourth, or Fifth Grade Navigator of School Success signed by Dr. Todd Feltman

  2. Ban This Book: A Novel and Two Degrees by Alan Gratz

  3. The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggars

  4. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

  5. The One and Only Ruby, Odder, Crenshaw, and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

  6. The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

  7. The Boy At the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf

  8. The Best At It* by Maulik Pancholy

  9. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water* by Nikole Hannah-Jones

  10. Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow

  11. Whale Done and the FunJungle series by Stuart Gibbs

  12. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict and The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis and Diana Sudyka

  13. MacKenzie's Last Run by Gayle Rosengren

  14. The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln, illustrated by Claire Powell

  15. The Book Scavenger and series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

  16. The Wild Robot Protects and the Wild Robot series by Peter Brown

  17. A Story of Whoa by Chris Corbett, illustrated by Richardo Galvao

  18. The Book That No One Wanted to Read by Richard Ayoade, illustrated by Tor Freeman

  19. Greenwild: The World Behind the Door by Pari Thomson

  20. Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio* by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Raul Colon

  21. Carter Reads the Newspaper* by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by and Don Tate

  22. Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

  23. The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

  24. The Tighty Whitey Spider: And More Wacky Animal Poems I Totally Made Up by Kenn Nesbitt and Troy Cummings

  25. A Duet For Home and The Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser

  26. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

  27. The Human Kaboom: 6 Explosively Different Stories with the Same Exact Name (pre-order) and The Ice Cream Machine: 6 Deliciously Different Stories with the Exact Same Name by Adam Rubin

  28. Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children by Daddying blog contributor Shannon Brescher Shea

  29. Lost Boys* by Darcey Rosenblatt

  30. The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett

  31. Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

  32. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968* by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

  33. Barbed Wire Baseball: How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII* by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Marissa Shimizu

  34. Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan* by Jeanette Winter

  35. The School for Good and Evil collection and Rise of the School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani

  36. Elf Dog and Owl Head by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Junyi Wu

  37. October, October by Katya Balen

  38. When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

  39. Nano by Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillon

  40. Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West* by Lillian Schlissel

  41. The Secret Sunshine Project* by Benjamin Dean

  42. Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army* by Art Coulson and Nick Hardcastle

  43. The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary D. Schmidt

  44. Nicky & Vera by Peter Sís

  45. The Superteacher Project, Restart, and The Fort by Gordon Korman

  46. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

  47. The Girl Who Rowed the Ocean and The Boy Who Biked the World by Alastair Humphreys

  48. The Whoosh of Gadoosh by Pat Skene

  49. To Night Owl from Dogfish* by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

  50. The Math Inspectors series by Daniel Kenney and Emily Boever

  51. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís

  52. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

  53. Stories For Boys Who Dare To Be Different by Ben Brooks

  54. All the Wrong Questions mystery series by Lemony Snicket

  55. The Flag of Childhood: Poems From the Middle East* compiled by by Naomi Shihab Nye

  56. My Thoughts Are Clouds: Poems for Mindfulness by Georgia Heard, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

  57. New Kid: A Graphic Novel by Jerry Craft

  58. Out of My Mind and Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper

  59. The Mighty Miss Malone* by Christopher Paul Curtis

  60. Coyote Sunrise (pre-order), Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise and The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart

  61. Those Kids From Fawn Creek and We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

  62. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

  63. Worst-Case Collin by Rebecca Caprara

  64. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  65. Concealed* by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

For Middle School+: