The magazine for Western Washington University

Kid lit top picks

Nancy Johnson, children’s literature expert and WWU English professor, can’t get enough good kids’ books.

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Nancy Johnson | Photo by Michael Leese

A book-loving kid could get lost in WWU English Professor Nancy Johnson’s office.

Johnson, a children’s literature expert at WWU and director of the annual Children’s Literature Conference, works in a room lined floor-to-ceiling with enough children’s books to start her own library.

A grown-up book-loving kid herself, Johnson was a 2003 Newbery Medal judge and reviews children’s books for The Journal of Children’s Literature.

We gave her the impossible task of picking just five favorites. She snuck in two extras.

“All the Broken Pieces,” by Ann E. Burg. This novel written in free verse captures the heartache and secrets of Matt Pin, who was airlifted from war-torn Vietnam and adopted into a caring home. It offers an unforgettable perspective on the resonance of war and choices of blame and forgiveness. (Scholastic) Bonus tip: pair with Katherine Applegate’s “Home of the Brave.”

“A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” by Marla Frazee. In this lively and humorous celebration of boyhood, childhood friendship, and the power of the imagination, Frazee captures the essence of summer vacation and the wonder of being a kid. A 2009 Caldecott Honor Book. (Harcourt)

“Duck! Rabbit!” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. At first glance, this is a simple story about two animals yet repeated reading reveals a clever take on an optical illusion: Is it a duck or is it a rabbit? (Chronicle)

“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins. This provocative story for mature readers set in a postapocalyptic world evokes the question: What happens if we choose entertainment over humanity? (Scholastic) Bonus tip: read the sequel, “Catching Fire”

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick. Set in Paris in the 1930’s, “Hugo Cabret” artfully blends narrative, illustration and cinematic technique to tell the story of a thief, a broken machine, a strange girl, a mean old man, and the secrets that tie them all together. A 2008 Caldecott Medal Winner. (Scholastic)