Books that Spark Podcast book cover: Kristin Wynalda and Our Picks for the Best Books of 2023

Episode 175: Kristin Wynalda and Our Picks for the Best Books of 2023

In this episode, Kristin Wynalda of “Big Books, Little Ears” blog joins us again for a fun conversation. We talk about our favorite picks from 2023. Come check out what we chose. See if you agree. Let us know your favorite books from 2023 in the comments. We’d love to hear!

Our Guest: Kristin Wynalda

Kristin Wynalda likes Agatha Christie mysteries, chai, and her job as a mom of four. She reviews children’s books at bigbookslittleears.com. She is known for reviews of secular books through a Christian lens, theology deep-dives of Christian picture books, and curated lists of the best books on the faith market. Kristin believes that YOU are the best person to choose books for your family, and she will equip you to do that!

Show Notes with Links:

00:10 – Introduction

             Knight Owl from 2022

01:19 – Kristin’s favorite: Grand Old Oak and the Birthday Ball

02:13 – Terrie’s favorite: The World’s Best Class Plant

03:54 – Song After Song: The Musical Life of Julie Andrews

04:33 – The Enchanted Symphony

08:16 – How to Get Your Octopus to School

08:43 – Give

10:22 – The Fantastic Bureau of Imagination

11:30 – The National Park Mystery Series

12:35 – Cajun Kids Adventures

15:00 – Fat Cat series: King of Easter

16:08 – Happy

16:33 – Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit

17:13 – Share the Joy! A Christmas Lift-the-Flap Book

18:26 – My Epic Doodletastic Bible Storybook

21:00 – Closing

             Big Books, Little Ears

TerrieHellardBrown.com

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Show Transcript:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with our children. Today we have Kristin Wynalda with us again, and we’re going to talk about our favorite books from 2023. Thank you, Kristin, for joining us today.

Kristin:

Yeah, I’m happy to be here.

Terrie:

So last year when we talked about our best books, our favorite books from 2022, we both had chosen the same book. Do you think we did that again this year?

Kristin:

I don’t know. I don’t think so because I feel like the book I chose this year is very different from what I chose last year. So if you go similar to last year, we for sure will not.

Terrie:

Well, I had a harder time choosing my favorite, so I figured we didn’t choose the same one just because the books that came out this year seemed very different overall. I mean, Knight Owl just stood out in so many ways, and I just didn’t find a book that was that amazing this year, but some really great books did come out. So tell me, what was your absolute favorite picture book from 2023? Do you have a favorite?

Kristin:

Sure. So Gen Market, so not the faith market, but in the general market, my favorite picture book of this year was Grand Old Oak and The Birthday Ball, and it was by Rachel Piercy, and normally people don’t talk about the illustrator, but we have to talk about the illustrator for this one, which was Freya Hartas, because it’s a search and find book.

Terrie:

Oh, fun.

Kristin:

Yeah. So it is the story. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Have you seen it?

Terrie:

Mm-Hmm, I have not.

Kristin:

So it’s fairly big and it has like a classical style of illustration as far as it’s sort of old fashioned looking, almost like with cloth binding and every page you’re supposed to look for dozens of things in a forest that is giving a birthday party for a really, really old oak tree.

Terrie:

How cool. What a neat story. That’s fun. I’ll have to look that one up.

Kristin:

Yeah, we loved it.

Terrie:

Well one of my very favorite from 2023 is actually about a plant too, which is kind of ironic, but it’s called The World’s Best Class Plant by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and Illustrated by Lynnor Bontigao. Have you read this one?

Kristin:

No, I haven’t.

Terrie:

It is the cutest book because every other class in the school has a pet, a class pet, like a bearded dragon or at least a goldfish or something, but this class got a plant and it doesn’t do anything fun, and they’re all bummed out about it, but what I love about it is it shows attitude and how our attitude affects everything. There’s so many good lessons in this book about gratitude and attitude and making the best of your situation and finding joy in whatever you’re facing. The whole book just has a lot to think about, but it’s also funny, they learn to love their plant and then all the other classes are jealous cause they’ve got this cool class plant and it’s just so cute. The illustrations are very colorful and sweet and it’s just adorable.

Kristin:

I love that. It sounds adorable. So do you think that kids not in school yet would still enjoy it, or is it more like, eh, it’s so school focused, this is for a little older kids?

Terrie:

Yeah, it’s definitely school focused and a younger kid would be like, “What?” You know? So yeah, it’s definitely geared towards your kids going to school, even if they’re being homeschooled, they would still maybe get the idea. But yeah, I don’t know that a younger kid would understand what’s going on. You could explain it though, how kids in school often have a pet in their classroom, but yeah, it’s very much school focused, but it’s just adorable.

Kristin:

I love that. I’ll have to check it out

Terrie:

Then I had another favorite from this year, a couple favorites and it’s kind of fun. These are all general markets still too. This one is a biography about Julie Andrews and I always have loved Julie Andrews. This is called Song After Song: The Musical Life of Julie Andrews, and it’s written by Julie Hedlund, and if any of our listeners are writers, they’ll know her name because she’s the one who runs the 12 by 12 group for people who write picture books, and I’ve been a member of 12 by 12 for years, but anyway, she wrote this biography about Julie Andrews and it’s illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati, and the other book that I like, these are like my second and third choices for the year is written by Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, and it’s called The Enchanted Symphony. So those were two of my top picks for this year as well.

Terrie:

The biography of Julie Andrews is kind of sad because her parents divorced when she was quite young, so she had a very interesting life. So it just be aware that it does deal with that, a family that has kind of fallen apart, but it handles it really well and tells of all of her experiences as a singer and then getting into movies and everything like that. It’s really well done for children as far as a biography, and like I said, it handles things with sensitivity because I mean, this is all kinds of turmoil actually. You can kind of read between the lines happened when she was young as her father and mother separated, but it shows how those experiences led her then into the life that she has. That part is really kind of cool to see how even the bad situations that happened had an effect in leading her this way or that way and helping her find her way.

Terrie:

But The Enchanted Symphony is an adorable, beautiful book, like I said, by Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, and they write quite a few books together. This one is illustrated by Elly MacKay. Julie Andrews and her daughter were on a trip and they saw this performance hall and the orchestra is practicing and there are only plants sitting in the seats. It started them thinking of this story. So this story is a make-believe story, but it’s based on what they saw in this performance, and it was like while they rehearsed, they would just put the plants in the seats so they could hear the music and be blessed. Plants they say grow better when you have pretty music. I don’t know, but that’s what they say. I guess that’s why they had them in the seats. But in their story it kind of is really good if you’re wanting to talk about our recent events with COVID and different things like that because that kind of comes up in the story, but it’s about this little town that had lost its way. They had stopped doing performances and the symphony had just dismantled and everybody was just sad cause they weren’t getting together, they weren’t enjoying music and they forgot their joy of music because of that, and the one dad or grandpa who ran the performance hall decided they needed to have music again, and his grandson or son, I can’t remember which it is, he played an instrument, so they started just playing their instruments and they decided to put the plants in the seats and play for the plants cause they didn’t have people to play to. Then it caught on and one more person would come in and one more person and pretty soon they had the symphony back, but they also noticed that this cloud that had been over their city disappeared as the music played. It’s a story about the joy of music. It’s got fantasy, it’s got fun, but it’s also beautiful.

Terrie:

It’s almost poetic in the way it talks about music and the joy of music and the joy of community. It’s just a really cute, really meaningful story, so I really liked that one. Those two, I personally even enjoyed them as a mom reading them as much as the kids would enjoy them, but all three of these books that I’ve mentioned are geared more toward a little bit older picture book age, not the youngest picture book age, although I think the younger kids would enjoy the last one because of the pictures and talking about the joy of music and everything. It’s just a very meaningful story. Okay, so what else did you choose for this year?

Kristin:

Well, I had a funniest picture book of 2023. I don’t know if you chose one of those. Do you want me to say that one?

Terrie:

Yeah.

Kristin:

Okay. We loved How to Get Your Octopus to School by Becky Scharnhorst.

Terrie:

That one is so good, yes.

Kristin:

We just thought it was hysterical, like oh my goodness. It was just so funny. So that was the one that made us probably laugh the hardest that came out this year. There were some good ones that came out last year that we discovered this year, but yeah, that was the new release. We just laughed so hard. So those who haven’t read it, it’s about an octopus going to kindergarten for the first time and all the things you got to do to get your octopus to school.

Terrie:

Yes, it’s such a funny book. I would agree that one is a good one for the funniest book. Okay, and then I have two more general market and then one Christian market one chosen. I probably could have chosen more for the Christian market, but I limited it to one. This one could be either one. It’s just a really beautiful book and this one hardly has any words in it. It’s almost a wordless book, but not quite. It’s called Give by Jen Arena and illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell. It’s just talking about noticing people around you. One little girl notices that this other little girl is cold, so she gives her her scarf. Then, because she was blessed, she blesses someone else, so the book goes from one character to another and then that character blesses another, so it goes like a chain reaction of paying it forward without a whole lot of words. This one I think is great for any age child. It just shows kindness and love, and of course it’s just called Give, it just shows giving what you have to bless someone else, and that’s one thing I always think we should challenge our kids to think about is how can I bless someone today and help them to notice the people around them. Well this book perfectly illustrates that. It’s just a really lovely little book.

Kristin:

Oh, it sounds like it, sounds like it’d be good for either Easter or Thanksgiving. Sometime around there.

Terrie:

Yeah, for sure. The pictures are more geared toward winter, so it would be good for more of a Thanksgiving time of year probably cause it’s getting colder in the book as far as the season, so that would fit with that. Then I have another one that is just a very unusual picture book. It’s almost a little beyond a picture book. Again, I don’t know why I chose all older ones this year, but almost all of mine are geared toward older kids, but this one is The Fantastic Bureau of Imagination. Have you heard of that one?

Kristin:

Yes.

Terrie:

Yeah. Did you like that one?

Kristin:

I did like it. I agree with you. I think it trends older.

Terrie:

Yeah, definitely. It’s got a lot to look at and a lot to think about and just the topic is geared toward older, and I always loved Kid President and I know this is his guy who worked with him. I think they’re related. Brad Montague and Kristi Montague, and of course I’m probably saying their names wrong too, but I really liked it because it encourages children to imagine and to be creative and that their creativity is needed in the world. I just love that message. So yeah, I love this book and the little critters who are the little sparks or sprites or something that helps spark the imagination. So I thought that was a fun book. And did you have any others before we talk about the Christian one?

Kristin:

Well, I had a chapter book. Is that all right?

Terrie:

Oh yeah.

Kristin:

Okay, so the one that came to my attention this year is the National Park Mystery Series by Aaron Johnson. You do have to read them in order, but they are for if your kid liked Magic Treehouse or like Imagination Station books or anything like that, these are for them. They’re great. So they are books that are set in the national parks and they are general market, but squeaky clean. Like if the kids sneak out, they get in trouble, which I have issues with that, if in the book the kids sneak out and nothing bad happens, I don’t like that. So if they do bad things, they get in trouble. There’s also, even though they’re set in the national parks, if you are a young earth creationist, there’s not a lot of like evolution or millions of years type stuff, so we thought they were great. Those have been really good, so I highly recommend those. It’s not the Campground Kids series because I’ve talked about the National Park Mysteries and people are like, “Oh yeah, yeah, campground kids.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, this is different. This is new.” So National Park Mystery series, but read them in order, but those are great. I think three have come out so far and the fourth is supposed to come out next year.

Terrie:

Okay, good. Yeah, I saw those. I haven’t read them yet, but I thought they looked really interesting. My kids love national parks, so I think that’s awesome. Well, I had a chapter book or novel that I liked too, a series called Cajun Kids Adventures, and this is a Christian series and it’s totally not like Little House, but it gives you that kind of vibe because of the strength of the family, and there’s several things I love about this series. Number one, you don’t have to read them in order, and most of the books, there’s four or five books out in the series now. The first three came out in 2022, but the newest ones have released this year. You can read them in any order and that’s still okay. The kids in the story are homeschooled, so for the homeschool families it’s kind of cool to see kids that are like them that are going on adventures that are doing homeschool. Then there’s that Christian element to it as well, and I love it too because like you said, the runaway and getting in trouble sort of thing or going out on your own, these kids are ornery and are like typical children and the parents deal with the situation where they’re going too far and having consequences for their actions, that’s in the story as well, and the parents are so real and I love that too. I interviewed the author on my podcast too, of course he’s the one who wrote it and he’s the father in the story. It’s about his family, but they, they’re funny people and they’re real. They’re not plastic, they’re not perfect. It’s just fun. And most of these stories are mysteries, which I also love. They’re just really well written and I just love them. So that would be my pick for this year and for last year for novels for kids, probably starting in about fifth, sixth grade, but definitely hitting your middle schoolers right where they would be. So I think they’re great.

Kristin:

Oh, I love that. I’ll have to check those out for our soon to be sixth grader.

Terrie:

Yeah, that would be a perfect age to start these. Okay, so let’s see. What other categories did we have? Did we cover them all? I kind of lost my categories when I was looking at what I liked.

Kristin:

Sure. Well I’ll tell you what I have left. I still have a best faith market picture book and a best faith market board book and a best faith market bible storybook.

Terrie:

Okay.

Kristin:

So I don’t know if you have any of those you want to talk about.

Terrie:

Well I do have a faith market favorite that I’ve mentioned before and those are the Fat Cat books, and I know they’re unusual in the way that they present the gospel and everything, but I really do like them, and the King of Easter came out this year and there was another one that came out this year in that series. I just love the artist. Her artwork is so interesting and I did interview her as well on the podcast, but I like how they go through the whole Bible and tell the story, and I think you did a review on this book as well for the King of Easter, that it’s not the traditional retelling of the Easter story, it’s actually talking about the characters and the people in the Bible and how they needed a savior and how Jesus saved them, so I like that about it. I like the back matter in it, the prayers, the encouraging a family devotional to go with it kind of thing. It’s just unusual and I do like it for that reason. I did have a board book, but I can’t find my note.

Kristin:

So, maybe when I say mine, you’ll be like “That was it!”

Terrie:

Okay, yeah, maybe! I think I just remembered what it was. I’ll have to get it up here on the screen so I can remember. Go ahead with yours though. What is your board book for the year, faith-based?

Kristin:

Okay. So my favorite Faith-based board book was Happy by Sally Lloyd-Jones based on Psalm 92.

Terrie:

Oh nice. I love her stuff.

Kristin:

I do too, and sometimes I feel like everybody loves her so I shouldn’t talk about her but, ah, it was just the best. So I’m still going to talk about it even though I know she doesn’t need my publicity.

Terrie:

Then what about your faith-based picture book?

Kristin:

I loved Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit by Esau McCaulley.

Terrie:

That’s a cute one.

Kristin:

Yeah, it just felt very unique and timely, and for those who haven’t read it, it’s about a little girl who is getting her braids done at the salon to be ready for Pentecost Sunday, but it is appropriate for all denominations, like my denomination that we’re in does not really put much emphasis on Pentecost Sunday, and the book is totally great and appropriate for our family and it’s just about how God loves us and loves everybody and it has a sweet family in it with a lot of kids. I love books that show lots of kids. Yeah, I just really liked that one a lot.

Terrie:

Good. Okay. I did find my board book that I like and this is actually a Christmas book that just came out in October. It’s called Share the Joy! A Christmas Lift-The-Flap Book. I always love lift the flap books for the board book kids, because it’s interactive and they get to either find an answer or find something fun to appreciate in the picture, but this one’s so beautiful, talking about sharing the joy of Christmas and it tells the real story of Advent and Christmas and it’s just fun. It’s written by Valerie Ellis, it’s Illustrated… Why do illustrators have such hard names? Okay, I’m going to try it. Sergio de Giorgi. I am sure I messed it up, but whatever. Anyway, Valerie Ellis wrote the book and the illustrations are so cute, but it is just an adorable little board book. So that was one of my favorites from this year.

Kristin:

Oh, I love that. I missed that this holiday season. So to go back and check it out for next year,

Terrie:

It’s nice. Yeah, I have a copy of it for my Christmas collection. Okay, and I did not get a choose a Bible storybook. What was the one you chose?

Kristin:

I loved My Epic Doodletastic Bible Storybook by Bob Hartman and illustrated by Gareth Williams.

Terrie:

That sounds awesome.

Kristin:

Yeah, it’s a little unique in that it’s a bible storybook. It has 60 stories in it and I read every single one cause I’m a little picky about my Bible storybooks, and it was great. It was consistent, theologically sound, ties to Jesus throughout and really great, but then the whole thing is set up with little places and things for kids to color. It sort of reminded me of, you know when Geronimo’s still in books where they have like certain words are in different font and big and that sort of thing. It has that throughout the whole book, but it’s all in black and white and you’re supposed to color it in. Then there’s illustrations that go with every story and you’re supposed to color them in cause they’re all in black and white.

Terrie:

I love that.

Kristin:

Oh, I did too, and it wouldn’t be right for every kid, but I have one who is just like so into art and that it was definitely her vibe. So I think that’s great because to have the special aspect of the doodling, but then also to have the strong theology felt like, I don’t know, gold. Oh, it’s perfect.

Terrie:

Okay. It’s now my favorite too and I haven’t even seen it. I know my daughter would’ve loved that when she was younger. She’d probably still love it now.

Kristin:

Yeah. I mean, they don’t shy away. There are 60 stories in the book, so there’s like, Bathsheba. So all the stories are there, it’s not necessarily something I would hand to my preschooler, but for older kids who are coming to understand some of the more complex stories of the Bible, it’s great.

Terrie:

Well that’s awesome. Okay, well I think we covered them all. Those are some great books. I think it’s interesting that I only have read one of the books you mentioned, so now I’ve got to go look up all the ones you mentioned. The school one with the Octopus. That’s the only one I’ve read that you mentioned and that was such a hoot.

Kristin:

I can’t believe we didn’t have any overlap this year,

Terrie:

I know, that’s just wild. Okay, well we would love to hear from our listeners what your favorite books were from 2023. Let us know because maybe we haven’t seen those yet either. Every year there’s so many books that come out. It’s hard to keep up with all of them, so please put in the show notes and the comments, any of your favorite books that we haven’t mentioned, we would love to hear. Anything you’d like to add at the end here?

Kristin:

No, I’m just excited to read all the new stuff coming out in 2024 now.

Terrie:

Alright, well thank you for joining us and I look forward to talking with you again about other books in other podcasts. You have a great day.

Kristin:

Thanks, you too.

Terrie: Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to grasp those teachable moments sparked by great books and to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we are here or leave comments on one of the podcast host sites. We truly appreciate you. If you would like to connect with Kristin, you can find her on her website which is Big Books, Little Ears, and it’s wonderful. She has all kinds of reviews on the website. If you haven’t checked it out yet or joined her mailing list, I highly encourage you to do that. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment on TerrieHellardBrown.com. We love to hear from you and we respond to every comment and question. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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