Cold weather reading is my favorite reading! The best part of my day is curling up under the covers with my daughter and reading books together. Some days this happens a lot; other days, she doesn’t want to sit still and I read at her while I’m under the covers and she’s playing, but whatever works! She has already picked her favorite book of the year — Love, Violet — which means we are unfortunately making valentines far before Valentine’s Day. In fact, I’m writing this in late November so Christmas has yet even to pass and I have several valentines sitting on my desk. A small price to pay for reading such a charming book and the first picture book featuring an F/F crush! I’m so glad my daughter will be able to read picture books with the diverse representation that just wasn’t pictured in children’s books when I was a kid (though was very much present in the real world).
Other big January children’s book releases include a new lyrical picture book by Joanna Ho (Eyes That Speak to the Stars) and the third book in the Akata Witch series, Akata Woman. This list is a little slim on middle grade releases as release dates are getting pushed back. However, there are still several great middle grade books releasing, and I imagine February and especially March will be middle grade heavy.
I hope everyone has a new year filled with lots of snuggling under covers and reading!
January Board Book Releases
Daniel Tiger: It’s a Beautiful Day to Play by Scarlett Wing (January 4; Cottage Door Press)
Daniel Tiger is such a hit with toddlers and preschoolers, and this musical board book has numerous songs from the show plus activities on each page. Listen, my 3-year-old doesn’t even watch Daniel Tiger, but she absolutely loves the Daniel Tiger books, especially if they’re interactive. It’s an engaging, interactive read and, like all of Cottage Door’s board books, very sturdy.
January Picture Book Releases
Holi Hai! by Chitra Soundar & Darshika Varma (January 1; Albert Whitman & Company)
In 2022, Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, begins on March 18th. Holi is an Indian spring festival celebrating the divine love of Radha Krishna. This new picture book is a fun way for young children to read about Holi, and it also deals with anger and social-emotional learning. For Holi, Gauri’s family each picks a color from a basket to turn into a powder, like the rich yellow of turmeric and the deliciously scented orange of saffron. When Gauri pulls out her least favorite color, red, she gets angry. She doesn’t want that color, so she refuses to find something to make into a red powder. But when her grandfather tells her the story of Holi, she has a change of heart.
Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild & Charlene Chua (January 4; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This is one of my most anticipated picture books of the year, and I was delighted to find that it exceeded my expectations when I received a print copy for review. It is completely enchanting and features the first queer elementary school romance I’ve ever read in a picture book. Violet has a crush on Mia, but she can’t seem to find the right words — or any words — when Mia is around. In fact, she’s downright clumsy and awkward whenever Mia pays any attention to her. For Valentine’s Day, she’s made a gorgeous Valentine just for Mia to let her know how she feels. But she can’t quite seem to find the courage to give Mia the Valentine. Charlene Chua’s illustrations are just as sweet and endearing as the story. This is a must-read!
Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho & Dung Ho (January 4; HarperCollins)
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners was one of my favorite picture books released in 2021, so I was thrilled when I heard there would be a second book by the author and artist. The first book celebrates a young girl’s Asian eyes and the women in her family who share them, while the second book centers on a young boy and the men in his family who share his eyes and heritage. Joanna Ho’s poetic verses dance across the page — “In Agong’s eyes, I see Mazu’s miracles / showing mercy from on high, / and mango milk from night markets / lit with bulbs of light” — while Dung Ho’s illustrations are vibrant and stunning. This picture book is the perfect pairing of art and story, creating a powerful homage to Asian heritage.
I Love You Because I Love You by Mượn Thị Văn & Jessica Love (January 4; Katherine Tegen Books)
Mượn Thị Văn, author of Wishes, and Jessica Love, author and artist of Julián is a Mermaid, team up in this beautiful picture book that celebrates love in all its diversity. Each page spread features a different family explaining why they love one another, written in a call and response format. The prose is simple and lovely, and the illustrations warm and tender. While I’m sure it’s being released in January in preparation for Valentine’s Day, it’s a universal expression of love that can be read all year round.
The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson & Rafael López (January 4; Nancy Paulsen Books)
The author/illustrator’s first team-up, The Day You Begin, tackles finding the courage to make connections when you’re different. This second book focuses on a little girl featured in the first book and how her grandmother helps her and her brother find imagination and resilience. A brother and sister are completely bored on a rainy day, but their grandmother encourages them to use their imagination to fly them out of their boredom. This skill comes in handy on another day when everything goes wrong, and the siblings can fly away with their minds to find hope, a skill honed by their ancestors. Jacqueline Woodson was inspired to write this story by the collection of African American folktales The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton.
Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson & E.B. Lewis (January 4; Nancy Paulsen Books)
This homage to fatherhood and the ways fathers speak and show their love was written in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder after his 6-year-old daughter told reporters, “Daddy changed the world.” Inspired by those words, the author poured out her love for her father and the ways fathers love their children into this poetic picture book. I especially appreciate that the fathers in this show their love by participating in non-stereotyped play as well, such as painting fingernails and having tea parties. The lovely, tender watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis depict fathers of multiple racial backgrounds.
Pink: A Women’s March Story by Virginia Zimmerman & Mary Newell DePalma (January 4; Running Press Kids)
January 2022 will be the fifth anniversary of the Women’s March, when women worldwide protested the treatment of women by men in power in the wake of former president Donald Trump’s inauguration. This picture book is told from the perspective of a young girl who is helping her grandmother knit pink hats for the march. As the little girl learns to knit, her grandmother explains the basics of women’s equality, and her dad and brother even join in the conversation and receive their own pink hats. It’s a charming picture book that combines themes of intergenerational wisdom, feminism, and knitting.
Fly by Brittany J. Thurman & Anna Cunha (January 11; Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
When Africa sees an advertisement for a double dutch competition on the side of a bus, she knows she has to enter. Her grandmother was a double dutch pro, and Africa knows she can be like her. Her brother protests that Africa has never double dutched before, so how can she expect to win? With help from her friends, memories of her grandmother, and lots of practice, Africa learns confidence and forges a connection between herself and her heritage. Anna Cunha’s muted yet evocative digital illustrations are reminiscent of her previous books, A Story about Afiya and Anita and the Dragons.
Amah Faraway by Margaret Chiu Greanias & Tracy Subisak (January 25; Bloomsbury)
Kylie and her amah video chat weekly, though Kylie struggles to understand Amah’s language. When Kylie’s mom announces they’ll be traveling to Taipei to visit Amah, Kylie is nervous. Everything will be new and different! At first, she’s filled with anxiety in Taipei, but when Amah takes her to the hot springs, she loosens up and starts having fun. After that, it’s Kylie who’s leading the way everywhere, and when she and her mom return home, her video chats with Amah are much more animated. This delightfully sweet intergenerational picture book is based on the author’s experiences visiting her Amah in Taiwan. The illustrator’s mother is also Taiwanese.
January Early Reader Releases
Geraldine Pu and Her Cat Hat, Too! by Maggie P. Chang (January 18; Simon Spotlight
While I enjoyed Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too!, which was published in 2021, I like the second book in this early reader graphic novel series even better, quite possibly because my daughter loves cats. Each book is a standalone. The weather has gotten chiller, but Geraldine doesn’t mind because she has the best winter hat ever, Mao Maotz! When school picture day is announced, Geraldine decides she’ll wear Mao Maotz that day to cover her hair, which she doesn’t like. However, there’s a no-hat rule for school pictures. Geraldine will have to learn to love her hair or else be disappointed in her school pictures. This is a fun, super sweet early reader.
January Middle Grade New Releases
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round by Kathlyn J. Kirkwood (January 4; Versify)
This memoir in verse relates Kathlyn’s commitment to activism, which started at a very young age. Her protests eventually helped lead to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday becoming a national holiday. This memoir shows how teenaged activism and participation in protests can enact meaningful change. It’s a powerful, inspiring read.
Courage: My Story of Persecution by Freshta Tori Jan (January 11; Norton Young Readers)
Student and activist Freshta Tori Jan gives her first-person account of living in Afghanistan as a Hazara, a Persian-speaking ethnic minority in Afghanistan and target for the Taliban, whose terrorism of the group is genocidal. From the Taliban shutting down her school to the murder of her friends and family, Freshta Tori Jan depicts the horrors of living under constant threat with unflinching but accessible prose. It’s a powerful read and part of the nonfiction I, Witness series of memoirs.
Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor (January 18; Viking Books for Young Readers)
The Akata Witch series toes the line between young adult and middle grade but are perfect for middle graders who like darker fantasy! In this third book in the series, Sunny Nwazue has trained and is now a powerful Leopard Person. She and her friends now must go on a quest to acquire a dangerous magical object hidden deep within the magic realm. Entertaining and action-packed, this Nigerian-based fantasy series is a blast to read.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace (January 25; Katherine Tegen Books)
There is not enough fat representation in children’s books, so this fun middle grade standalone is a welcome change. Max is having a rough year in 8th grade. The popular kids pick on him for being fat, and he’s fed up with it, but he also doesn’t know what to do about it. He turns to the supervillain Master Plan, who is positive about his big body, for help. The two hatch a plan to show the school that Max is a human being who deserves respect.