Tundra Telegram: Hand-Taylor’ed Book Recommendations To Speak About (Now)

On 7/7/2023, megastar singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released the latest of her re-recorded albums (in reaction to a dispute with her former record label over the ownership of the original album masters), Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). The album features re-recorded versions of 16 songs from the original, as well as six previously unreleased songs “from the vault.” Speak Now, Swift’s third studio album, originally released in 2010,  was something of a concept album about heartbreak and features singles like “Back to December” and “Mean.” The vault-freed songs like “When Emma Falls in Love” and “Electric Touch” already have fans singing their praises and scouring their lyrics for clues to their real-life referents, and some songs – notably “Better than Revenge” have been partially rewritten to reflect the singer’s changed perspective. We’ve listened to the full tracklist many, many times and have come up with recommendations from our children’s and YA titles for each song. In some cases, the connection may be a similar plot or theme. In others, a single lyric or idea may have led to the suggestion. Either way, we know you’ll enjoy reading these books, so don’t wait! (We’ll meet you when you’re out of the church at the back door.) 

Mine (Taylor’s Version)

Mine for Keeps
By Jean Little
232 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9781774882948 | Puffin Canada 
Away at school, Sally Copeland has always dreamed of going home, but now that she’s there, she feels frightened and unsure of herself. Will her brother and sister accept her? Will she be able to do things for herself? And what will it be like to go to a regular school and be the only one with cerebral palsy?

Sparks Fly (Taylor’s Version)

The Pink Umbrella
By Amélie Callot
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
80 Pages | Ages 6-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781101919231 | Tundra Books
When it’s bright outside, Adele is the heart of her community, greeting everyone who comes into her café with arms wide open. But when it rains, she can’t help but stay at home inside, under the covers. Because Adele takes such good care of her friends and customers, one of them decides to take care of her too, and piece by piece leaves her little gifts that help her find the joy in a gray, rainy day. Along with cute-as-a-button illustrations, The Pink Umbrella celebrates thoughtful acts of friendship.

Back to December (Taylor’s Version)

So, This Is Christmas
By Tracy Andreen
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593353134 | Viking BFYR
When Finley Brown returned to her hometown of Christmas, Oklahoma, from boarding school, she expected to find it just as she left it. Christmas hasn’t changed much in her sixteen years. But instead she returns to find that her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, her parents have separated, and her archnemesis got a job working at her grandmother’s inn. And she certainly didn’t expect to find the boy she may or may not have tricked into believing that Christmas was an idyllic holiday paradise on her grandmother’s doorstep. It’s up to Finley to make sure he gets the Christmas he was promised. This is Finley’s Christmas. It’s about home and family and friends and finding her place, and along the way she also finds the best Christmas present of all: love.

Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)

A Garden in My Hands
By Meera Sriram
Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593427101 | Knopf BFYR
The sweet smell of henna, and stories we carry, fill us with pride of a faraway home. There’s a wedding tomorrow! And one little girl sits patiently while her mother tenderly applies intricate, delicate henna designs on her hands. As she does, she shares family stories–about weddings, monsoons, and ancestors long gone. The little girl must be careful to protect her hands as the henna dries–one smudge could ruin a story! After a whole night of anticipation, when the flakes are washed away, what will they reveal? Lyrical text pairs with vibrant illustrations for this poignant picture book that blooms with heart, connects us to our roots, and sweetly reminds us of the the garden of love we curate with those closest to us.

Dear John (Taylor’s Version)

Year On Fire
By Julie Buxbaum
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781984893697 | Ember
It was a year on fire. They fell in love. Someone was bound to get burned. The Spark: Just days before the start of junior year, a spontaneous kiss and then a lie shakes the very foundation of the friendship between best friends Immie and Paige. Immie’s twin brother, Arch, knows something, only he’s not saying it. Some loyalties run too deep to be broken by accidental betrayal. The Fuel: Enter Rohan, new to Wood Valley High by way of London, who walks into school on the first day completely overwhelmed by his sudden move halfway around the world. When Paige calls dibs on him—he’s too cute to ignore—Immie is in no position to argue, certainly not after taking the fall for the disloyal kiss. Too bad for Immie that Ro feels like the best kind of familiar. The Kindling: Former lab partners Arch and Jackson, Paige’s ex-boyfriend, have never considered themselves more than friends. But sometimes feelings can grow like flames fanned by the wind. The Flames: When the girls’ bathroom at Wood Valley is set ablaze, no one doubts it’s arson. But in this bastion of privilege, who’d be angry enough to want to burn down the school? Answer: pretty much everyone.

Mean (Taylor’s Version)

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
By Kerascoët
40 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781524769550 | Schwartz & Wade
Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. By choosing only pictures to tell their story, the creators underscore the idea that someone can be an ally without having to say a word. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

The Story of Us (Taylor’s Version)

Threads That Bind
By Kika Hatzopoulou
352 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593528716 | Razorbill
Descendants of the Fates are always born in threes: one to weave, one to draw, and one to cut the threads that connect people to the things they love and to life itself. The Ora sisters are no exception. Io, the youngest, uses her Fate-born abilities as a private investigator in the half-sunken city of Alante. But her latest job leads her to a horrific discovery: somebody is abducting women, maiming their life-threads, and setting the resulting wraiths loose in the city to kill. To find the culprit, she must work alongside Edei Rhuna, the right hand of the infamous Mob Queen—and the boy with whom she shares a rare fate-thread linking them as soul mates before they’ve even met. The investigation turns personal when Io’s estranged oldest sister shows up on the arm of her best suspect. Amid unveiled secrets from her past and her growing feelings for Edei, Io must follow clues through the city’s darkest corners and unearth a conspiracy that involves some of the city’s most powerful players before destruction comes to her own doorstep.

Never Grow Up (Taylor’s Version)

The Wonderful Things You Will Be
By Emily Winfield Martin
36 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780375973277 | Random House BFYR
From brave and bold to creative and clever, Emily Winfield Martin’s rhythmic rhyme expresses all the loving things that parents think of when they look at their children. With beautiful, and sometimes humorous, illustrations, and a clever gate-fold with kids in costumes, this is a book grown-ups will love reading over and over to kids-both young and old. The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a loving and truthful message that will endure for lifetimes and makes a great gift for any occasion, but a special stand-out for baby showers, birthdays, Easter, and graduation.

Enchanted (Taylor’s Version)

The Hidden World of Gnomes
By Lauren Soloy
96 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735271043 | Tundra Books
This book is an introduction to the hidden folk called gnomes, who live in a happy place they call The Pocket. Where is The Pocket, you ask? Well, it’s all around you, all the time. Gnomes are curious little creatures, and they’re very shy. But after reading this book, you will learn to spot the telltale signs that gnomes are around . . . and maybe even meet one! Lauren Soloy has been studying gnomes her whole life, and she has created this book to share her knowledge with you. For example, what jobs do gnomes do? Babysitting robin’s eggs, squirrel-tail fluffing, storytelling. Where do they live? In gardens, forests and any place with plants, birds and bugs. What are their names? Hotchi-Mossy, Able Potter, Cob Tiggy and Puckle Swift, to name a few. With charming details and surprising facts, this celebration of all things gnome will enchant readers of all ages.

Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)

Our Playground Rules!
By Kallie George
Illustrated by Jay Fleck
32 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593378748 | Rodale Kids
This young picture book plays with the double meaning of “rules” to explore how following a few simple rules of kindness can make playtime more fun for everyone! Featuring simple text and engaging illustrations that embrace the varying needs and capabilities of the adorable cast of animal characters, Our Playground Rules! is the perfect tool to help small children feel seen and better empathize with others.

Innocent (Taylor’s Version)

Skyward
By Brandon Sanderson
544 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780399555800 | Ember
Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father’s–a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa’s chances of attending flight school at slim to none. No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.

Haunted (Taylor’s Version)

Funeral Songs for Dying Girls
By Cherie Dimaline
280 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265639 | Tundra Books
Winifred has lived in the apartment above the cemetery office with her father, who works in the crematorium all her life, close to her mother’s grave. With her sixteenth birthday only days away, Winifred has settled into a lazy summer schedule, lugging her obese Chihuahua around the grounds in a squeaky red wagon to visit the neglected gravesides and nursing a serious crush on her best friend, Jack. Her habit of wandering the graveyard at all hours has started a rumor that Winterson Cemetery might be haunted. It’s welcome news since the crematorium is on the verge of closure and her father’s job being outsourced. Now that the ghost tours have started, Winifred just might be able to save her father’s job and the only home she’s ever known, not to mention being able to stay close to where her mother is buried. All she has to do is get help from her con-artist cousin to keep up the rouse and somehow manage to stop her father from believing his wife has returned from the grave. But when Phil, an actual ghost of a teen girl who lived and died in the ravine next to the cemetery, starts showing up, Winifred begins to question everything she believes about life, love and death. Especially love.

Last Kiss (Taylor’s Version)

Always Isn’t Forever
By J. C. Cervantes
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593404485 | Razorbill
Best friends and soul mates since they were kids, Hart Augusto and Ruby Armenta were poised to take on senior year together when Hart tragically drowns in a boating accident. Absolutely shattered, Ruby struggles to move on from the person she knows was her forever love. Hart can’t let go of Ruby either…. Due to some divine intervention, he’s offered a second chance. Only it won’t be as simple as bringing him back to life – instead, Hart’s soul is transferred to the body of local bad boy. When Hart returns to town as Jameson, he realizes that winning Ruby back will be more challenging than he’d imagined. For one, he’s forbidden from telling Ruby the truth. And with each day he spends as Jameson, memories of his life as Hart begin to fade away. Though Ruby still mourns Hart, she can’t deny that something is drawing her to Jameson. As much as she doesn’t understand the sudden pull, it can’t be ignored. And why does he remind her so much of Hart? Desperate to see if the connection she feels is real, Ruby begins to open her heart to Jameson – but will their love be enough to bridge the distance between them?

Long Live (Taylor’s Version)

Take Back the Block
By Chrystal D. Giles
240 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593175170 | Random House BFYR
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That – and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games – is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to. But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late? Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong – to a place and a movement – and to fight for what you believe in.

Ours (Taylor’s Version)

The Davenports
By Krystal Marquis
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593463338 | Dial Books
The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love – even where they’re not supposed to. There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married . . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love – unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business – and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

Superman (Taylor’s Version)

Dads Can Do It All!
By Ted Maass
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan
20 Pages | Ages 14+ | Board Books
ISBN 9780593522998 | Grosset & Dunlap
This year, celebrate Dad with this adorable board book young readers can personally inscribe and dedicate to their dad: the superhero! Beautiful illustrations and inspiring, rhyming verses make this the perfect gift for dads and for birthdays year-round. Young ones will love sharing this book with Dad and learning all the exciting things fathers can do—and everything they can do, too!

Electric Touch (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) [feat. Fall Out Boy]

A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla
By Azadeh Westergaard
Illustrated by Júlia Sardà
40 Pages | Ages 5-9 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593114605 | Viking BFYR
Norn at the stroke of midnight during a lightning storm, Nikola Tesla grew up to become one of the most important electrical inventors in the world. But before working with electricity, he was a child who loved playing with the animals on his family’s farm in Serbia. An inventor since childhood, Tesla’s patents encompassed everything from radar and remote-control technology to wireless communications. But his greatest invention was the AC induction motor, which used alternating currents ( AC) to distribute electricity and which remains the standard for electric distribution today. Tesla’s love of animals also remained constant throughout his life and led to his anointment as the Pigeon Charmer of New York for his devotion to nature’s original wireless messengers. Exploring his groundbreaking inventions against the backdrop of his private life, A Life Electric introduces Nikola Tesla to young readers unlike ever before. Azadeh Westergaard’s lyrical debut brings compassion and humanity to the legacy of the brilliant inventor, while the esteemed illustrator Júlia Sardà deftly brings him to life.

When Emma Falls in Love (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
384 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781594746031 | Quirk Books
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

Check & Mate
By Ali Hazelwood
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593619919 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: November 7, 2023
Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. Every move counts nowadays; after the sport led to the destruction of her family four years earlier, Mallory’s focus is on her mom, her sisters, and the dead-end job that keeps the lights on. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess. Nolan’s loss to an unknown rook-ie shocks everyone. What’s even more confusing? His desire to cross pawns again. What kind of gambit is Nolan playing? The smart move would be to walk away. Resign. Game over. But Mallory’s victory opens the door to sorely needed cash-prizes and despite everything, she can’t help feeling drawn to the enigmatic strategist…. As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren’t only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent…and infuriating…)

Castles Crumbling (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) [feat. Hayley Williams]

Queen of the Sea
By Dylan Meconis
400 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Paperback
ISBN 9781536215175 | Walker Books US
When her sister seizes the throne, Queen Eleanor of Albion is banished to a tiny island off the coast of her kingdom, where the nuns of the convent spend their days peacefully praying, sewing, and gardening. But the island is also home to Margaret, a mysterious young orphan girl whose life is upturned when the cold, regal stranger arrives. As Margaret grows closer to Eleanor, she grapples with the revelation of the island’s sinister true purpose as well as the truth of her own past. When Eleanor’s life is threatened, Margaret is faced with a perilous choice between helping Eleanor and protecting herself and her Island family. In a graphic novel of fictionalized history, Dylan Meconis paints Margaret’s world in soft greens, grays, and reds, transporting readers to a quiet, windswept island at the heart of a treasonous royal plot.

Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

Tremendous Things
By Susin Nielsen
272 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735271227 | Tundra Books
We all have moments that define us. For the comically clueless Wilbur, his moment happened on the first day of middle school, when someone shared his private letter with the entire student body. It revealed some of Wilbur’s innermost embarrassing thoughts that no one else should ever know. Now it’s the start of ninth grade and Wilbur hasn’t been able to escape that major humiliation. His good friend Alex stuck by him, but Alex doesn’t have as much time since he started dating Fabrizio. Luckily, Wil can confide in his best friend: his elderly neighbor Sal. Also, Wil’s in the school band, where he plays the triangle. They’re doing an exchange program with students from Paris, and Wilbur’s billet, Charlie, a tall, chic young woman who plays the ukulele and burps with abandon, captures his heart. Charlie likes him, but only as a friend. So Alex, Fabrizio, and Sal host a Queer Eye-style intervention to get Wil in shape and to build his confidence so he can impress Charlie when their band visits Paris, and just maybe replace humiliation with true romance in the City of Love.

Timeless (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

Midnight Strikes
By Zeba Shahnaz
448 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593567555 | Delacorte Press
Seventeen-year-old Anaïs just wants tonight to end. As an outsider at the kingdom’s glittering anniversary ball, she has no desire to rub shoulders with the nation’s most eligible (and pompous) bachelors—especially not the notoriously roguish Prince Leo. But at the stroke of midnight, an explosion rips through the palace, killing everyone in its path. Including her. The last thing Anaïs sees is fire, smoke, chaos . . . and then she wakes up in her bedroom, hours before the ball. No one else remembers the deadly attack or believes her warnings of disaster. Not even when it happens again. And again. And again. If she’s going to escape this nightmarish time loop, Anaïs must take control of her own fate and stop the attack before it happens. But the court’s gilded surface belies a rotten core, full of restless nobles grabbing at power, discontented commoners itching for revolution, and even royals who secretly dream of taking the throne. It’s up to Anaïs to untangle these knots of deadly deceptions . . . if she can survive past midnight.

Tundra Telegram: Books That Are Kind of Great

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we remain attentive to the issues on readers’ minds and benevolently recommend good books that we think are pretty decent.

Tomorrow – Friday, February 17 – is “Random Acts of Kindness Day” may have its origin in a book that we do not publish, but since it started in the mid-1990s, the day has grown into a true movement, with schools across the world participating in a day that celebrates and encourages simple, small acts of goodness to create a positive effect in society.

Obviously, we are very into the idea of kindness – random or otherwise – so we’re recommending books for everyone from the youngest readers to teens that focus on empathy and goodwill. And if, as your own personal random act of kindness, you want to purchase any of these books for the readers in your life, we would heartily endorse that.

PICTURE BOOKS

A wordless tribute to the power of kindness to change a community, I Walk with Vanessa by the husband-wife duo of Kerascoët, is inspired by real events. A girl (the titular Vanessa) is bullied at a school, an incident that affects her and all the bystanders who witness it deeply. One girl invites Vanessa to walk to school with her the next morning, and soon – Spartacus-like – they are joined by other children, because not only is kindness powerful it is contagious.

Can’t get much better in books about kindness than one with “kind” in the title, and KINDergarten by Vera Ahiyya and Joey Chou delivers. Ahiyya is a kindergarten teacher and Instagram influencer affectionately known as the Tutu Teacher. She’s written a picture book about a class that creates a kindness pledge to make sure that their class is the kindest it can possibly be! Even better – it’s a book that celebrates random (and often quiet) acts of kindness.

How kindness can positively affect shy and quiet children is vividly realized in Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton’s The Invisible Boy. Brian is an invisible boy at the beginning of the story – nobody in class ever seems to notice him or include him in their group, game, or birthday party. But Justin, the new boy in class, demonstrates how a simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend. The book is also available in Spanish for books on la benevolencia.

Trudy Ludwig (you remember her from The Invisible Boy) is a strong author proponent of kindness. And with The Power of One, illustrated by Mike Curato, she demonstrates that every act of kindness counts. When one child reaches out in friendship to a classmate who seems lonely, she begins a chain reaction of kindness that ripples throughout her school and her community. And the power of one … becomes the power of many.

Randall de Sève and Carson Ellis’s This Story Is Not about a Kitten is, in fact, about kindness. Well, it’s about kindness, community, compassion, and – in some small way – about a kitten, TBH. Young readers will love to watch as a number of people and – eventually – a whole family rallies together (The House that Jack Built-style) to coax a frightened cat from beneath a car and into someone’s arms and – ultimately – a warm and safe home.

An average teddy bear learns that even the smallest acts of kindness can make him a superstar in Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle and Sydney Hanson. Ollie attends his first magical teddy bear’s picnic, in which teddy bears from around the world are recognized for acts of courage and kindness that go above-and-beyond. And while Ollie doesn’t think snuggling with his girl or listening to her stories is all that special, he learns even the smallest positive actions can have big impact.

While we’re looking at the concept of kindness through animals (real or stuffed), we have to mention Jonathan Stutzman and Isabelle Arsenault’s The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back, which is perhaps more about generosity (which is sort of a subcategory of “kindness”). Vincent (the mouse) puts down the house he carries on his back in an ideal spot on a hill. And Vincent makes that house open to whatever tired travelers may pass by – even if it’s a hungry cat (!). It’s like a woodland AirBNB without the bill (or the chores)!

Birds can be kind, as well, as readers of Night Lunch by Eric Fan and Dena Seiferling learn. (I know; I had my doubts, too.) The majority of the book chronicles an owl chef preparing food for customers of his late-night food cart. But the busy chef makes time to prepare a veritable feast for a hungry mouse street sweeper once their evening shifts end.

Mice and owls abound in Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl, but it’s the title character, a tiny witch who is a some-time midwife and full-time friend to all the residents of her forest, who is the kindness role model here. The book is broken into four seasonal and self-contained adventures, but the common thread is that Little Witch Hazel is a good and caring friend to all – whether they be an injured critter or a lonely (maybe) ghost – and that kindness makes for a more wonderful life for everyone.

Like I Walk with Vanessa, The Notebook Keeper by Stephen Briseño and Magdalena Mora is a story about kindness based on actual events. In this case, a mother and her daughter are denied entry at the Tijuana border, so they seek out Belinda, the refugee in charge of “the notebook,” an unofficial ledger of those waiting to cross into the U.S. for asylum. Belinda welcomes newcomers and assigns numbers, but, more importantly, she treats the hopeful refugees with kindness and instills hope.

What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison is not only a book about kindness, it has the added benefit of taking place around Valentine’s Day (and, accordingly, Random Acts of Kindness Day). This final picture book from McKissack demonstrates you don’t need to have money to show generosity. James Otis is raised by his mother after his father dies unexpectedly, and though he doesn’t grow up with much, he devises a wonderful way to contribute when his church takes collections for a family that has lost nearly everything in a fire.

A boy and his grandma go on a special bus ride after church in the modern classic Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. When CJ asks his grandma why they don’t have a car or several other material items, his grandma answers in ways that help CJ appreciate and love the world around him. And that goes doubly when they reach their end destination, when they demonstrate kindness by (spoiler alert!) spending their afternoon volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

You knew we couldn’t get away without including the juggernaut of kindness in children’s literature, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Wonder turned kindness to a phenomenon. The book has been a bestseller for years, and inspired the #ChooseKind campaign (seen in schools across North America). Auggie Pullman, the main character of Wonder, is an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. And when he attends a public school for the first time in fifth grade, he helps his community as they struggle (to different degrees) with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

A kind teacher is at the center of Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. Seven very different students have never really gotten along until a new teacher arrives and helps them to connect with one another. But when Mr. Terupt suffers a terrible accident, will his students remember the lessons he taught them? (You’d better believe they do!)

Individualism and nonconformity is often referenced as the theme of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, but there are underlying messages of kindness, as well. Stargirl is different for many reasons, but one of them is her kindness: she remembers every classmate’s birthday, she makes a scrapbook for the kid across the street. Her school is first fascinated by her quirkiness, then loathes her for it, but Stargirl remains committed to her strange kindness no matter what.

YOUNG ADULT

As readers get older, the books get less specifically about kindness. (I guess authors and publishers have figured you should have read all those picture books about kindness when you were younger.) But there are still some YA titles where kindness abounds!

Kindness appears in the darkest spaces in Erin Stewart’s Scars Like Wings. Ava Lee loses nearly everything (and is terribly disfigured) in a massive fire, which drives her into a pit of despair. But then Ava meets a fellow burn survivor named Piper and doesn’t feel so alone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and Ava begins to feel hope again. But Piper is fighting her own battle, so Ava must dig into her well of empathy and share a little tenderness with her new friends.

Awkward Persian American Darius experiences understanding and kindness for the first time in a while in Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great Is Not Okay. A perennial outsider struggling with depression, he takes his first-ever trip to his parents’ hometown in Iran, where his life is forever changed by Sohrab. The boy who lives next door becomes a kind friend who makes him feel so much better than okay.

And author Susin Nielsen is known for stories that blend dark, laugh-out-loud humor with kindness, so while many of her books would fit our criteria, we’re going to highlight YA novel We Are All Made of Molecules. The book is the story of families torn apart by illness and death that get stitched back together with a few growing pains along the way. Step-siblings Stewart and Ashley are from opposite ends of the school’s social ladder, but by each embracing a little goodwill and forgiveness, they may actually make their new family work.

That’s it for this week. Until next week, take care of yourself – and each other.