Educators Choose Top 15 Titles of 2019

First Book’s 2nd Annual Title Raves Reveals Top Titles of 2019 for Kids in Need,  According to Their Educators
List Points to Need for Diversity and Representation in Children’s Books

WASHINGTON (December 19, 2019)— First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise committed to equal access to quality education, today released the second annual “First Book Title Raves,” a list of 15 titles published in 2019 that earned accolades from First Book’s network of 450,000 educators who exclusively serve children in need. Title Raves is curated based on five-star educator reviews on the First Book Marketplace that cite the greatest impact on children in need; often books that expand students’ world views, spark a love of reading, or facilitate safe discussions around sensitive topics.

Both Title Raves lists have underscored the need for diverse, inclusive books in classrooms serving children in need. Eleven of the 15 books on the 2019 list are part of the organization’s “Stories for All” section of the First Book Marketplace, a curated collection of thousands of titles that reflect diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, family structure, neighborhoods, and more. Stories for All was created in response to First Book’s research that found 90 percent of participating educators felt the children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflect their lives and their neighborhoods. 

Of “It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity,” written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni, First Book member Becky L. said, “…At times, readers need a straightforward explanation that helps them understand new concepts. This book provides just that. I also loved the inclusive illustrations that included a variety of gender expressions, family structures, and a young hijabi character, as well as a named character who uses a wheelchair. It’s a great book for building key awareness and vocabulary!” 

Educators are also using books to teach respect and empathy. Of “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks,” by Jason Reynolds, by First Book member Kristin K. said, “This book is great for thinking about how we sometimes pre-judge people’s motives. It’s got a strong message about considering the battles we might not know people are facing.”—Kristin K. 

“Titles Raves provides the kind of data that broadens our understanding of the kids who need us most,” said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and co-founder of First Book. “The wisdom in the aggregated voices of educators who serve kids in need cannot be understated; they know how to serve these kids better than anyone. Listening to this market, and implementing the best practices they recommend, is helping to move the needle on educating kids in need. That’s what we’re doing with Title Raves—we’re listening and sharing the data to better serve our children.”

In addition to “It Feels Good to Be Yourself,” an additional five books, including, “My Papi has a Motorcycle,” “Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems,” “National Geographic Kids Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture,” “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,” and “Astro Girl,” garnered reviews that specifically mentioned the importance of diverse characters and stories.

Access to adequate resources is one of the greatest contributors to educational success in the United States. Research indicates that just the presence of books in the home improves educational outcomes,[1] yet low-income communities across the U.S. are plagued by vast ‘book deserts’—with one community having only a single book per as many as 830 children.[2]

2019 Title Raves, complete list (in alphabetical order by author last name)

  1. “With the Fire on High,”by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperCollins)  
    “I love the way [Acevedo] writes. It is always honest and very true of the way our kids speak and feel today. This young lady is struggling as a single mom while being a senior in high school. She pushes herself to focus on her dream of being a chef. The cover is beautiful. The recipes inside are wonderful to read. I loved the story.”—Haley L. 
  2. “Internment,”by Samira Ahmed (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
    “This was by far, one of the best books I have ever read! It is definitely for a YA crowd who is willing to be challenged on their beliefs of what is right and wrong under the umbrella of government. The author creates vivid and relatable characters who draw you in to the book and don’t let you leave. I could not put it down! I have already given my copy out to a student and had 3 others literally running to the Library to get their hands on it. Internment is amazing!”—Amy G. 
  3. “The Undefeated,”by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
    “The team of Alexander and Nelson have created a lyrical and visual masterpiece of history. “I passed it on to my principal, who then took it home to her husband. When I can I will purchase a copy for as many classrooms as I can. Absolutely stunning. You can hear and see the souls of everyone highlighted in this book. A must buy for your classroom and school library.” —Soraya L. 
  4. “Mango Moon,”by Diane de Anda, illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Albert Whitman & Company)
    “Mango Moon is an emotional and relatable story of loss, hope, and perseverance as told from a child’s point of view for others going through a difficult time. It is a wonderful addition to school counselors and classroom libraries.”—Eloise C. 
  5. “Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems,”by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez (Henry Holt & Co.) 
    “Such a beautifully written and thoughtful book. Not only does it highlight under-represented voices in history, but does so with narrative poetry that’s accessible to students. A must for every library!”—Abby S. 
  6. “Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal,”by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
    “Can’t keep this book on the shelf. Many of the students don’t have the money to buy the newest books. [First Book’s] Awesome Friendly prices allowed me to put several copies in the library. Small steps can change lives.” —Mary L. 
  7. “Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist,”by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (Random House Children’s Books)
    Paper Son is a beautifully illustrated biography of the artist Tyrus Wong. Not every student likes to read biographies, but this book effectively drew the students in with its ‘just right’ balance of beauty and factual information.”—Steve W. 
  8. “National Geographic Kids Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture,”by Cynthia O’Brien (National Geographic Society)
    “This text is organized by tribe and is full of beautiful photography. It helps to dispel some of the stereotypes that students have. We have already discussed it in conjunction with social studies classes and [English] classes.”—Heather J. 
  9. “White Bird: A Wonder Story,”by R.J. Palacio (Random House Children’s Books)
    “A beautiful story about friendship and kindness that moved me to tears multiple times!”—Jeanette S. 
  10. “My Papi Has a Motorcycle,”by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (Penguin Young Readers Group)
    “I’m always looking for books that show a positive father/daughter relationship and this one hits the nail on the head. Plus great representation for my Hispanic students!”—Sara B. 
  11. “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks,”by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
    “This book is great for thinking about how we sometimes pre-judge people’s motives. It’s got a strong message about considering the battles we might not know people are facing.”—Kristin K. 
  12. “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,”by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López (Penguin Young Readers Group)
    “This book is one of a kind. Every page introduces a new child with something that makes them different and discusses the unique way they live or learn. It names disabilities, explains them in a child-friendly way, and asks a question to connect everyone to the character on the page. I’ve told everyone I know about this book and cannot recommend it enough!”—Christine H. 
  13. “It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity,” (Henry Holt & Co.) by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni 
    “While I love books with stories and allegories…, at times, readers need a straightforward explanation that helps them understand new concepts. This book provides just that. I also loved the inclusive illustrations that included a variety of gender expressions, family structures, and a young hijabi character, as well as a named character who uses a wheelchair. It’s a great book for building key awareness and vocabulary!”—Becky L. 
  14. “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!,” by Mo Willems (Hyperion Books for Children)
    “Mo Willems has once again written an engaging and fun book for the prek-2 grade crowd. He has the pigeon work through all of the anxieties children (and teachers) have about starting school…Well done!”—Donna R. 
  15. “Astro Girl,” by Ken Wilson-Max (Candlewick Press)
    “My female students loved seeing that girls can be anything that they want. Sends a very positive message to both girls and boys.”—Joseph C.

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About First Book
Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 27-year history, First Book has distributed more than 185 million books and educational resources, with a value of more than $1.5 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its network of more than 450,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of particular need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books.

For more information, visit firstbook.org or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

Contact: Melanie Boyer
mboyer@firstbook.org
(202) 669-0114

[1] Sikora, et al. January, 2019. DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2018.10.003

[2] Susan B. Neuman, Naomi Moland. “Book Deserts.” Urban Education, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0042085916654525