Picking WORLD’s annual kids book winners


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 23rd. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you are! 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: children’s books.

Our sister publication WORLD Magazine devotes an annual issue to children’s books published in the past year. It takes a team of reviewers to cull the options and find the best stories for children and parents. And today, you’ll hear a little bit about how they go about that.

EICHER: Our reviewers are WORLD commentator and author Janie B. Cheaney—as well as book reviewer Hayley Schoeppler of Redeemedreader.com, and Kristin Chapman who edits the kids’-book section. Our Emily Whitten leads the roundtable.

EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: In our recent roundtable, Kristin Chapman kicked off discussion of WORLD’s picture book winner, Saving the Countryside by Linda Marshall. It’s a new biography of kids’ book author Beatrix Potter.

CHAPMAN: So I think the beauty of this story is that it tells so much more than what we maybe first knew about Beatrix Potter and does it in a way that children will, it’s not too much information. It’s just the right amount. And it has those beautiful illustrations that try to kind of convey that Beatrix Potter feel to them as well.

Kristin pointed out some of the themes parents can appreciate. 

CHAPMAN: Well, I think that the story exhibits several good character qualities. The first would be perseverance. She had to persevere. She did not give up. I think the other beautiful thing about this story that I use with my children is it, it reflects a stewardship over creation. She had a vision for preserving creation and preserving this beautiful countryside for future generations. So I see that as an opportunity for us as Christians to reflect on that as well.

Another picture book biography on our notable nonfiction list is Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia by Lina Maslo. One illustration in particular caught Janie’s eye.

CHEANEY: The illustrator included pictures of Squirrel Nutkin. Do you remember that Kristin?

CHAPMAN: I think I missed that. I’m going to have to go back through.

CHEANEY: TYeah, that really impressed me because when you read Surprised by Joy, he, he has like two pages on Squirrel Nutkin. And so it made such an impression on him. The idea of autumn, the whole, the whole ambiance, you know, the smokiness in the air and the leaves turning color and the little squirrels on it. I always love that too. The little squirrels on their little rafts. I just love that picture. So I was really excited to see that picture included in Through the Wardrobe, because that was one of his, his seminal memories.

CHAPMAN: Thank you for pointing that out. I will definitely have to go back through it sometimes I miss things the first couple times through. 

WHITTEN: That’s a good book, when you can do that. When you have to keep on reading it over and over before you can take it all in. I love that aspect of a good kids’ book.

A trend we noticed in books for middle grades—an emphasis on realistic fiction rather than fantasy. That’s true of WORLD’S overall Children’s Book of the Year, Everything Sad Is Untrue. Daniel Nayeri wrote his memoir from the perspective of a 7th grade boy telling the story of how he and his mom came from Iran to America. 

CHEANEY: And the reason they’re in Oklahoma is because his mother converted to Christianity. She was not just a Muslim. She was a Sunni Muslim. So both she and her husband are like a golden couple. They heard the gospel and she heard when she was visiting in England, they returned to Iran and she could not keep quiet about it. And the authorities heard of it. She was arrested, she was tortured. She was threatened. And she escaped with the children with the help of her husband who did not convert. He never converted. But, um, you know, that’s a story. And when asked, why, why did she do that? Why did she give up her privileged position to, um, to come to Oklahoma and live in a, in a crummy house with an abusive husband, not her first husband.People ask her, why did you do that? And her answer is because it’s true. And if it’s true, it’s worth everything. 

WHITTEN: Haley or Kristen, Would one of y’all like to chime in on some of the themes?

SCHOEPPLER: Another quote that I loved, he said, ‘If you believe it’s true that there’s a God, and he wants you to believe in him. And he sent his son to die for you. Then it has to take over your life. It has to be worth more than everything else because heaven’s waiting on the other side.’ He has these beautiful sentences.

The book does contain difficult material. Early on, Daniel’s grandfather kills a bull in a bloody way, and Daniel talks a lot about embarrassing bodily functions. In terms of storytelling, flashbacks will be confusing for younger readers. For those reasons and others, it’s probably best for ages 12 and up. I asked Janie and Hayley if some families might benefit from reading the book aloud.

CHEANEY: I’ve thought about that. I think, I think for a certain age, yeah. Maybe, for a parent who’s a gifted reader aloud. Yeah. I can’t see this book being read in a monotone or anything like that. But younger children, no, I don’t think so.

During my childhood, I encountered plenty of realistic fiction that wasn’t very edifying. So, I asked the group what elevates books like Everything Sad is Untrue or Here in the Real World, a runner up for Children’s Book of the Year?

CHEANEY: I think there’s some transcendent value. It’s not just, you know, this is, this is nitty gritty life and we have to deal with it. Here in the Real World has a lot of Christian symbolism. It’s not a Christian book in the same way that Everything Sad is Untrue is. It’s not necessarily a Christian story. In that book, I saw that the author was picturing art as the redemptive factor. Did you get that impression, Hayley?

SCHOEPPLER: Yes. Even the fact they’re playing in a church and kind of discovering themselves. 

CHEANEY: The boy knows nothing about Christian faith. The girl thinks she does. She’s explaining it to him, and she doesn’t really understand, but I think they both realized that there is something, you know, there’s something beyond this life. There are. There is transcendent value. 

WORLD didn’t have a separate nonfiction winner this year, but we did recommend several notable picks, including John Rocco’s more than 200 page book, How We Got to the Moon. Here’s Kristin again.

CHAPMAN: I thought it was a fantastic book. It kind of surprised me because it’s all about space and how we got to the moon. And at first I was thinking, this is not going to be a topic I am going to enjoy. It’s going to be too detailed, just too scientific engineering. But they had so many excellent, like pullout boxes where they would explain they would highlight problems that the scientists faced and how are they going to resolve this problem? It put things in layman’s terms.

WHITTEN: It’s a little bit comparable to David Macaulay’s work, like the Castle book and that sort of thing. Is that right? 

CHAPMAN: I would say so. I think that if you liked this, you might like that.

CHEANEY: I would like to add that like Kristin mentioned, but there’s a very powerful human element. There’s the dietician, the wardrobe, the seamstress who designed these space suits. There’s all the mission control guys and important people like that, but also  the unsung people. I thought, here’s another book about the moon. You know, we have, since the 50th anniversary of the moon launch, we’ve had a bunch of those. It’s fantastic. And I thought I was reading as I was reading, I thought this could make the backbone of a whole unit study for homeschool family. 

One of my favorite books in 2020 was the picture book Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham. She’s the illustrator for the popular Princess Black series for early readers. She also won a Caldecott for her illustrations in Bear Came Along. This book is about the COVID-19 pandemic, and it begins with the story of a girl and her snuggly black cat.

WHITTEN: It starts with her, she’s looking outside. There’s all these people outside doing all the things that people do. It’s kind of a Mr. Rogers neighborhood picture. And then all of a sudden she says something like, one day something happened in our town and all the people who were outside came inside. And then you see outside now is empty. She focused on a lot of the things people did that were heroic and kind that people did for one another during this year. And you just kind of get this feeling like we’ve all been through something together and it’s changed us. And that’s okay. There’s something on the other side of this and it’s for good. So it was a book that I needed and enjoyed and appreciated.

CHEANEY: It’s also got a double fold out.

WHITTEN: Ooh, I didn’t know that because I read it. I read it on the digital group. Oh, okay, cool. You got to love double foldouts. Wow. I love those. 

We talked about other  runners up this year as well. Things Seen From Above. Prairie Lotus. Leaving Lymon. One common thread in our favorite realistic fiction—hope.

CHAPMAN: I think my counter is, when an author brings a hard topic, do they still show you hope? Like Leaving Lymon was another very hard book about a boy, what kind of a backstory of, what does it take to be a bully? But even in that book, there’s these glimmers of hope and redemption.

Kristin closed out our discussion with a good reminder. 

CHAPMAN: When we read these books with our children, whether they’re picture book biographies or non-fiction books, it’s showcasing the ways that God is orchestrating things for his glory and for human flourishing and even, and this is even when people may not, the characters may not acknowledge God as their Lord. It’s providing a wonderful opportunity for us to ponder with our children, the ways in which God is accomplishing his good part, his good purposes, and how he’s working even amid the dark or hard moments in history. 

We hope these books will help your family do just that.

I’m Emily Whitten.


You can find links to WORLD’s Kids’ Books of the Year in today’s transcript. 


(Photo/World News Group)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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