Happy birthday, Jenna!
In honor of Jenna Bush Hager’s 40th birthday, TODAY teamed up with Barnes & Noble and Read With Jenna to plan a special surprise.
To celebrate the series’ resident book expert, more than 30 authors whose books have been featured in Read with Jenna have offered the names of their favorite children’s books. And with that list, Barnes & Noble donates 1,000 books to Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, the school outside of DC where Jenna used to teach.
The list includes a wide variety of stories that cover topics such as gender, the true meaning of Santa Claus and how to find your place in the world. And of course, there is a selection of childhood classics that writers are proud to pass on to the next generation of readers.
Scroll through to discover the authors’ recommendations and what kids at Jenna’s old school should read this winter – plus a few selections from Barnes & Noble.
Read with Jenna The author’s favorite books
Recommended by Tara Conklin, author of “The Last Romantics”
“Love, Santa,” by Martha Brockenbrough
In this book for readers aged four to eight, a young girl learns the beautiful truth about Santa Claus. Through correspondence with the North Pole, she discovers that Santa Claus is a state of mind that we bring out through kindness and imagination around the holiday.
Recommended by Etaf Rum, author of “A Woman is No Man”
“Sideways Stories from Wayside School,” by Louis Sachar
This book has been a hit with children since it was published in 1978. Louis Sachar’s collection of stories about the city’s craziest school (which was accidentally built sideways) is intended for readers aged seven to 13, but it is written to be hysterical enough to entertain the adults too.
Recommended by Jean Kwok, author of “Searching for Sylvie Lee”
“The Many Meanings of Meilan,” by Andrea Wang
This new children’s book (published earlier this year) comes full of heart. It follows Meilan as she moves from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio, where she must stand up against injustice at her new school.
Recommended by Linda Holmes, author of “Evvie Drake Starts Over”
“It feels good to be yourself,” by Theresa Thorn
Introduce the youngest readers to the concept of gender identity, from boy to girl to everything between and outside. Although written in child-friendly language, it will help young readers with vocabulary to discuss gender identity, thanks to easy-to-understand definitions.
Recommended by Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of “Patsy”, and Emma Straub, author of “All Adults Here”
“Ada Twist, Scientist,” by Andrea Beaty
Very curious Ada is full of questions. This adorable book asks “Why?” while celebrating women’s achievements in STEM, including Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace. (And it’s now also a series on Netflix.)
Recommended by Ann Patchett, author of “The Dutch House”
“The Beatryce Prophecy,” by Kate DiCamillo
A perfect read for kids who love tales of medieval travel and prophecy, this new tale by children’s superstar Kate DiCamillo follows a young girl named Beatryce as she embarks on an epic journey. And while DiCamillo’s lyrical writing may be a selling point, the book also features illustrations by Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall.
Recommended by Kevin Wilson, author of “Nothing To See Here”
“The Strange Case of Origami Yoda,” by Tom Angleberger
This New York Times bestseller series follows Dwight, a sixth-grader who does a lot of weird things. One day he decides to fold an origami version of Yoda – and it turns out that his origami Yoda can tell the future, and now the whole school is in line to ask questions.
Recommended by Margaret Renkl, author of “Late Migrations”, and Qian Julie Wang, author of “Beautiful Country”
“Charlotte’s Web,” by EB White
It is no surprise that several authors recommended this classic. It is one of the most beloved books in American literature that tells the story of a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. The tender novel about life, death, love and friendship is a proven classic for a reason.
Recommended by Abi Dare, author of “Girl With the Louding Voice”
“Matilda,” by Roald Dahl
If your kids love the movie “Matilda”, get them the book that started it all. Roald Dahl’s classic book from 1988 follows the unique Matilda as she walks side by side with Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress who hates children.
Recommended by Lily King, author of “Writers & Lovers”
“Corduroy,” by Don Freeman
“Corduroy” is a tender story about a teddy bear waiting on the shelves of the department store to be taken home and loved. It is as much loved today as it was on its original 1968 release.
Recommended by Elizabeth Wetmore, author of “Valentine”
“The Undefeated,” by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
This award-winning book is a love letter to the black life in America that traces the history of slavery through the civil rights movement to the present day. It won the 2020 Caldecott Medal and includes references to heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Recommended by Megha Majumdar, author of “A Burning”
“Heidi,” by Johanna Spyri
“Heidi” is one of the lasting classics of children’s literature, published in 1881 and based on the story of a real Heidi who grew up near the Swiss Alps.
Recommended by J. Courtney Sullivan, author of “Friends & Strangers”
“Ramona Quimby, 8 Years,” by Beverly Cleary
Kids who love a clever protagonist will love this modern classic by Beverly Cleary. Being eight is not easy for Ramona – but reading about her (mis) adventures is a pleasure.
Recommended by Ella Berman, author of “The Comeback”
“The Shoes,” by Maribeth Boelts
Teach kids about consumer motherhood with this clever and witty picture book. It is ideal for readers aged five to eight and helps them understand the true value of what is in their lives – from shoes to love.
Recommended by R. Eric Thomas, author of “Here For It”
“The Monster at the End of This Book,” by Jon Stone
Sesame Street’s Grover does not want your children to finish this book. He will do everything to prevent children from reaching the end of this book and reveal the monster hidden on the last page. It’s a lovable, adrenaline-filled read for kids – which is likely to start back on page one as soon as they’re done.
Recommended by Yaa Gyasi, author of “Transcendent Kingdom”
“The Rainbow Fish,” by Marcus Pfister
There are plenty of reasons to love “The Rainbow Fish”. It’s a heartwarming tale about a fish who learns to make friends when he first learns to share. But it’s OK if the main reason you love the book is its unforgettable illustrations.
Recommended by Rumaan Alam, author of “Leave The World Behind”
“Harriet the Spy,” by Louise Fitzhugh
Go out in front of the new Apple TV + series and give your kids the book that inspired it all. When Harriet finds out that her secret spy book fell into the wrong hands, she learns the power of words – and how to use them for good.
Recommended by Susie Yang, author of “White Ivy”
“The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein’s gripping book is enough to make grown-ups tear up with his lessons on selfless giving. It’s okay if your kids just like it for the unusual illustrations.
Recommended by Mateo Askaripour, author of “Black Buck”
“Seeds and Toads Are Friends,” by Arnold Lobel
It is a rare book that is as much fun for adults as it is for children. It’s a great choice for kids who are just learning to read on their own (ages six to eight) and have been loved by generations of readers since its 1970 release.
Recommended by Kristin Hannah, author of “The Four Winds”
“The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams
“There was once a velvety rabbit, and in the beginning he was really amazing.” This heartwarming tale of a toy rabbit who wants to be real is a moving reminder of the power of love.
Recommended by Lauren Fox, author of “Send For Me”
“Tell Me a Mitzi,” by Lore Segal
Mitzi and her little brother are out on a big adventure in the big city, where they mix urban exploration with wild imagination. It is a hysterical classic, loved by all sorts of children with a mind for jokes and a nose for adventure.
Recommended by Naima Coster, author of “What’s Mine and Yours”
“A Chair for My Mother,” by Vera B. Williams
This delicate book takes up a lot of space – and comes with imaginative, powerful illustrations. It is the story of Rosa, her mother and her grandmother who save up to buy a very comfortable chair after their home has been ravaged by a fire.
Recommended by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of “Good Company”
“The Tale of Despereaux,” by Kate DiCamillo
A mouse, a rat, a princess and a maid all gather in this Newbery Medal-winning tale by Kate DiCamillo. It’s a magical, immersive story, perfect for readers ages 9 to 12.
Recommended by Maggie Shipstead, author of “Great Circle”
“A Murder for Her Majesty,” by Beth Hilgartner
Children obsessed with historical fiction will be completely captivated by this tale of murder and intrigue in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. It’s a tale of suspense that follows an 11-year-old girl hiding in Yorkshire Cathedral, disguised as a corduroy. .
Recommended by Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of “Malibu Rising”
“Annie’s Plaid Shirt,” by Stacy B. Davids
Annie wears her plaid shirt everywhere – until her mother insists that she wear a dress to her uncle’s wedding. But then she comes up with an idea. It is an ode to problem solving and being true to yourself that children of all ages can learn from.
Recommended by Jason Mott, author of “Hell of a Book”
“Dear Mr. Henshaw,” by Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary is a children’s book master with good reason – and critics agree. This story of a 6th grader developing a correspondence with his favorite author won a Newbery medal and was named one of the 100 best children’s books by teachers.
Recommended by Megan Abbott, author of “The Turnout”
“The Hundred Dresses,” by Eleanor Estes
This tale of finding the courage to speak out against bullying won a Newbery honor when it was published in 1944. Its message – and amazing illustrations – feel just as fresh today.
Recommended by Amor Towles, author of “Lincoln Highway”
“Eloise at The Plaza,” by Kay Thompson
Plaza’s earliest occupants come roaring to life on the pages of Kay Thompson’s beloved classic. Whether Eloise is bothering Nanny or driving the elevator to the tipped top floor, it’s always an absolutely amazing adventure.
Recommended by Naomi Krupitsky, author of “The Family”
“Mrs. Katz and Tush,” by Patricia Polacco
Just because you have very different backgrounds, does not mean you can not be best friends. It was originally released in 1992, but still has a captivating message that proves that everyone can be friends – regardless of their culture or age.
Barnes & Noble’s favorite books
Children’s and YA Book Awards
- “Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor,” by Ally Carter
- “City Spies,” by James Ponti
- “Finn and the Intergalactic Lunch Box,” by Michael Buckley
- “Black Brother, Black Brother,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- “The Curse of the Night Witch,” by Alex Aster
- “The Land of Roar,” by Jenny McLachlan
- “A Pinch of Magic,” by Michelle Harrison
- “Dragon Mountain,” by Katie and Kevin Tsang
- “The Silver Arrow,” by Lev Grossman
- “Ghost Squad,” by Claribel A. Ortega
- “Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy,” by Melissa de la Cruz
Young readers classics
For more book recommendations, check out:
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