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A Year of Reading Pt 1: The #NOWSKI Award!

Note: this post was cowritten by my friend and cohost of #ReadThisNow: Dr. Brad Gustafson!


Big news from the co-hosts of Read This Now!! Ever since we started the show, we’ve been sharing two books we think you might enjoy. We don’t booktalk every book we read, but we try to make sure your TBR piles are bursting with awesome titles.


To make sure you don’t miss some of our favorite books from 2021, we’re sharing a “Best of” show. Brad and I are each selecting five of the books we shared this year and awarding them a prestigious “Nowski” award. (As in Read this Nowski…)

Without further ado, here are our “Nowski” award winners… the top five books we feel you should read right now!


Link to our recap episode!


Brad’s Top Five:

  • Battle Dragons by Alex London

  • Abel lives in a city where dragons have been domesticated. They are used as taxis, for garbage removal, and to support law enforcement. But they’re also the most coveted prize in a high-stakes turf war between the city’s rival gangs. Edge-of-your-seat battle strategy, political maneuvering between clans, and in-depth dragon stats make this book one of Brad’s Top Five for 2021

  • What the Road Said by Cleo Wade and illustrated by Lucie deMoyencourt

  • This picture book takes readers on a heartfelt and honest journey…with a unique twist. The road is your guide! Using a conversational and encouraging approach, the road will help you better understand yourself as you take your next best steps forward. I love this ‘Nowski’ winner!

  • Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber

  • Sarah is like many students…she has unique passions, strengths, and enjoys spending time with her friends. She’s also facing some incredibly difficult challenges connected to her mom’s unhealthy relationship with food. The authenticity, importance, and unforgettable storytelling in this book put it on the short list for Brad’s favorite books of 2021.

  • The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalie and Prince Joel Makonnen

  • I never knew I needed to read about a futuristic Ethiopian Empire until I read this book. It is incredible. Yared Heywat is a daring teenager who lives with his overly-cautious uncle. Along with their mechanical lion named Besa, they find themselves in the middle of a secret intergalactic battle that’s playing out in the heart of their city. I believe this ‘Nowski’ winner will quickly become a favorite of yours too!

  • Our Table by Peter H. Reynolds

  • Forget about 2021…this is one of my all-time favorite picture books. The table in a young girl’s home gradually starts to disappear as her family gets busier and busier. However, through conversation and teamwork the family works together to rebuild their table in the most inspiring way. The humanity and hope-filled nature of this picture book make it an obvious choice as a ‘Nowski’ recipient.


Jenn’s Top Five:

  • Thankful by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill

  • Jenn kept coming back to this beautiful book throughout the year as a reminder of how powerful gratitude is. It expands our own hearts along with the hearts of those we share it with. Plus, the paper art illustrations in this book are extraordinary!

  • Red, White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

  • Reha is caught between two worlds: the expectations of her traditional Indian parents and her friends at school whose lives more closely resemble the 80s pop culture that surrounds them. Both worlds are turned upside down, however, when Reha’s amma is diagnosed with leukemia. “This book is a heartbreaking and hopeful standout among the abundance of wonderful novels in verse released this year. Jenn gives it ​​⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!”

  • Starfish by Lisa Fipps

  • This book broke Jenn’s heart and then put it back together again. Ellie, who is called a whale by her classmates and family members, spends her life trying not to take up any space until, eventually, she learns to be a starfish, (taking up all the room she wants!) beautiful and perfect just the way she is.

  • The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

  • Not only was this unique graphic novel shortlisted for the National Book Award, it was caused a major #readthisnow debate as both Brad and Jenn claimed the Paul Bunyan originated in their home state! This conversation perfectly captured one of the takeaways of The Legend of Auntie Po, which follows the journey of a young Chinese girl working as a cook in a logging camp at the turn of the century: folk tales are invented to help us better understand the world and our place around it: when some of those legends are appropriated by dominant cultures, other voices/experiences are erased.

  • Too Bright To See by Kyle Lukoff

  • As Bug and Moira prepare for middle school, Moira seems ready - giving up childish pursuits for new interests in boys and makeup with nimble skill. Bug, on the other hand, feels stuck. It doesn’t help that Bug’s house is being haunted by the ghost uncle Roderick! Kids deserve stories about LGBTQIIA+ experiences that are completely void of hate. I love that Bug and Moira navigate their new realities with parents, friends and a school community that are completely loving and supportive.

We are grateful to ALL the authors, illustrators, and everyone else who worked to bring so many inspiring, important, and high-quality titles into the world this past year. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different books we talked about by grade span in 2021.


Two additional titles that fit the theme… Read This Now!!!


Although we talk about children’s and Y.A. novels most often, we each released a new book for educators in 2021. We hope these books will help you champion literacy for the readers you serve.


“The 6 Literacy Levers” by Brad Gustafson was written to help educators create (and strengthen) a community of reading in their classrooms and school. The book is incredibly actionable and contains ideas, strategies, and examples to help individuals, teams, and school systems create the conditions where all students learn how to read AND that they develop a love of reading.


Developing Digital Detectives by Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins represents an attempt to fundamentally change the way information literacy is taught in schools. Complete with an online repository filled with over 100 resources and lessons to use right away, Developing Digital Detectives focuses on the overlap between information literacy and social emotional learning (SEL). The information we engage with every day has profound effects on our identities, our relationships, our health and our humanity. By focusing on the humans behind the tech, Developing Digital Detectives offers strategies and methods that will continue to be effective no matter how the platforms and devices we use to consume and create information evolve.


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