2020 Book Reviews. My Best of List.

Welcome to the third annual list of some of the books I’ve read this year. AS AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR, I FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO SUPPORT FELLOW AUTHORS AND SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT GOOD BOOKS THAT MAY OFTEN GO UNRECOGNIZED. All 45 of these books were noteworthy and exceptional enough that I posted reviews for them on Goodreads, Amazon, and my blog. The order of the list is the order in which I read these gems. So, if you are looking for good books to read, to gift, or to add to your own list, take a look at these kidlit wonders.

  1. CRUSHING THE RED FLOWERS (MG) – Jennifer Voigt Kaplan
  2. MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD (PB) – Vivian Kirkfield
  3. NUMBERS IN MOTION (PB) – Laurie Wallmark
  5. WAY PAST MAD (PB) – Hallee Adelman
  6. PIRATES STUCK AT “C” (PB) – Brooke Van Sickle
  7. THE LAST SENSOR (YA) – Josh Bellin
  8. THE BOLD, BRAVE, BUNNY (PB) – Beth Ferry
  9. TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING (PB) – Teresa Robeson
  10. DIG (YA) – A. S. King
  11. TODAY IS A BEACH DAY (PB) – Nancy Viau
  12. WE ARE THE WATER PROTECTORS (PB) – Carole Lindstrom
  13. FOR SPACIOUS SKIES (PB) – Nancy Churnin
  14. BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN (PB) – Nancy Churnin
  15. SWASHBY AND THE SEA (PB) – Beth Ferry
  16. OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG (CB) – Lauren Castillo
  17. SHIFTER SERIES (all 3 books) (YA) – Louise Cypress
  18. THE ONE AND ONLY BOB (MG) – Katherine Applegate
  19. HELLO FROM RENN LAKE (MG) – Michele Weber Hurwitz
  20. THE CASE OF THE BAD APPLES (CB) – Robin Newman
  21. IN A JAR (PB) – Deborah Marcero
  23. I AM ENOUGH (PB) – Grace Byers
  24. WAITING TOGETHER (PB) – Danielle Dufayet
  25. THE SMUGGLER’S DAUGHTER (adult) – Claire Matturo
  26. SYCAMORE LANE (YA) – Stacey Horan
  27. TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (PB) – Corey Rosen Schwartz
  28. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (PB) – Corey Rosen Schwartz & Kirsti Call
  30. THE STORY OF SIMONE BILES (MG) – Rachelle Burk
  31. OPERATION FROG EFFECT (MG) – Sarah Sheerger
  32. A PLACE AT THE TABLE (MG) – Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan
  33. GURPLE AND PREEN (PB) – Debbie Ohi & Linda Sue Park
  34. LIBBY LOVES SCIENCE (PB) – Kimberly Derting
  35. MY MONSTERPIECE (PB) – Amalia Hoffman
  36. THE CANYON’S EDGE (MG) – Dusti Bowling
  37. PIPPIN PALS (PB series) – Donna Marie
  38. WHOOO KNEW – THE STORY OF OWLS (PB) – Annette Whipple
  39. WAY PAST WORRIED (PB) – Hallee Adelman
  40. THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS (MG) – Diane Salerni
  41. THE GIFT THAT IS RUBY’S PLACE (adult) – Holly Schindler
  42. PLANET EARTH IS BLUE (MG) – Nicole Pantaleakos
  43. THE GREAT FOREST (YA) – Josh Bellin

If you want to know more about these books, please check out my reviews. 2020 was a crazy year for all of us, but great books came out and are still being written. Spread the word and give a gift to your favorite authors by posting kind reviews of their books. I guarantee it will make their day!




Today it is my pleasure to feature a new historical fiction book from the time-travel series by Deborah Kalb. THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE RETURN OF THE MAGIC HAT is the third book where the characters go back in time to meet the Founding Fathers face to face. I recently interviewed Deborah about her book. My review appears at the end of this post.

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat (The President and Me)

Q: What was the inspiration for the series?

A: I’ve always been interested in history—I majored in it in college—and I love middle grade fiction. I was a nonstop reader as a kid and still am. So my initial thought was to combine history, time travel, and the concerns of everyday 21st century kids. One series I really enjoyed in my elementary school days was the Half Magic books by Edward Eager. The characters travel back in time to various historic moments but also are dealing back home with regular issues many kids face; those books were definitely an inspiration for my own series. And I spent many years as a journalist writing about government and politics here in Washington, D.C., so writing about presidents seemed like a good idea!

Q: What part of the research process do you enjoy the most?

A: These books are a fun combination of history and pure imagination. The present-day scenes involving my fifth-grade protagonists emerge as I take long walks and think about my characters. But the historical scenes featuring Thomas Jefferson and his counterparts involve a lot of research! I read many books about Jefferson, both for kids and for adults, and I pored over the website of Monticello, his home, which has incredible resources about Jefferson and others connected to Monticello. But I have to say that the most enjoyable part of researching these books has been going to the historical sites associated with each president. I visited Mount Vernon for the first book in the series, George Washington and the Magic Hat; and I traveled to Quincy, Massachusetts, to visit the John Adams historical site for book two, John Adams and the Magic Bobblehead (yes, I did get a John Adams bobblehead at the visitor center!). And for this new book, Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat, I visited Monticello, and took the tour of the main building and another guided tour that focused on the life of the enslaved people who lived there.

Q: Most surprising thing you learned while researching the life of TJ?

A: This wasn’t really a surprise, because I knew something about Madison Hemings before I worked on the book, but I filled in many of the details of his life that I hadn’t known before. Madison Hemings was one of the children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who lived at Monticello. I wanted to include Madison Hemings in the book to give the perspective of an enslaved person—who also was a member of the Jefferson family. Madison Hemings gained his freedom as an adult, and as an older man wrote a short memoir about his family history and his experiences growing up at Monticello.

Q: How do you hope the book will be used in classrooms?

A: It would be wonderful if the book—and the first two in the series—could be used to accompany units on early U.S. history. I would love to speak to classes about the books and the history I write about, including the major events in the lives of the first three presidents and also their family members. Presidents’ Day is always a good opportunity to discuss these historical figures and their legacy today. If anyone is interested, please contact me through my website, deborahkalb.com.

Q: What’s next?

A: More about early presidents, plus some other ideas for kids’ books. Also, I have several manuscripts I’ve written, novels for adults, that I hope to get published one day. Thank you so much, Darlene—I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about my work!


THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE RETURN OF THE MAGIC HAT by Deborah Kalb is the third book in a series of historical fiction time travel stories. This adventure, courtesy of a tri corner hat that transports the wearer back into history, takes our travelers to Monticello and the life of our third president Thomas Jefferson. It’s an engaging and entertaining tale that aims at getting kids to think about ALL aspects of Jefferson’s personality. Inventor, farmer, architect, president, and author of the Declaration of Independence on one hand, and slave owner, father of children also enslaved on the other hand. While there are no easy answers to this dichotomy, the book will open up lively discussions around these topics.

Deborah Kalb is the author of The President and Me series of middle grade novels for kids. The most recent book in the series is Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat. A former journalist, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Website: deborahkalb.com

Twitter: @deborahkalb

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborahkalbauthor Instagram: @deborahskalb


Comment for a chance to win a copy of a new book by Nancy Churnin.

Writing and Illustrating

Nancy Churnin ia giving away her picture book, THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, illustrated by Luisa Uribe and publish by Albert Whitman & Company. Nancy has agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Nancy and Luisa.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you…

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The Joy of Giving Back Can Lead to Better Health.

This time of year we are often bombarded with mail asking for help for various charities. I know everyone has his or her own favorites. If you are looking for a different way to get your kids involved and to teach them the importance of generosity, there are some organizations devoted to health and well-being. Not only does giving to others make us feel good, it actually increases activity in the brain’s reward region.

Here are a few you might consider:

A TEN DOLLAR donation to the Pan Foundation will provide a day of medicine to someone in need. The organization also helps those with chronic, rare, and life-threatening conditions get treatment.  http://www.panfoundation.org

Your donation of TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS will teach one kid to cook for life. COMMON THREADS teaches families about nutrition and how to choose healthier food and cook delicious meals.  http://www.commonthreads.org

For FIFTY DOLLARS you can supply 20 US families with clean water.  WORLD VISION will deliver bottled water and filtration systems to US families who lack it. http://www.worldvision.org

May good health and prosperity be yours in 2021.