Thank Oprah for my reading life

What Should I Read Next episode 345: Nurturing a love of reading in all ages

a child in a striped shirt looking at a picture book

Readers, today I’m joined on the podcast by reading advocate, author, and creator of @hereweeread Charnaie Gordon.

Through her work as a reading advocate, Charnaie has been helping families diversify their bookshelves since 2015. She’s focused on encouraging a love of reading and connecting readers of all ages with inclusive books that will broaden their horizons.

Charnaie developed her own love of reading as a child in Connecticut, where she was influenced at an early age by other readers she observed (including Oprah!) We talk about how her reading life evolved, before digging into a whole range of titles, from the nonfiction picture books she adores to the books she’s recommending the most lately. And, I get to hear more about Charnaie’s newest nonfiction picture book, A Planet Like Ours.

Before we wrapped up our chat, I couldn’t resist recommending a few novels Charnaie may enjoy reading next.

Listen to What Should I Read Next? on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser.

What Should I Read Next #345: Thank Oprah for my reading life, with Charnaie Gordon

Connect with Charnaie at her website and follow Here Wee Read on Instagram or Facebook.

ANNE: It's easy for them to read the headlines. And I love how reading your book is not like reading, say, the Wall Street Journal.



ANNE: Hey, readers, I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 345.

Welcome to the show that's dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What Should I Read Next?

We don't get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read.

Every week we'll talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.


ANNE: Readers, our annual fall book preview is coming up fast. This live event for our book club and Patreon community is a fun, casual gathering where I'll share the titles I'm most anticipating for Fall reading season. And let me tell you, they are really good.

Join the What Should I Read Next? community today at and mark your calendar to join us for the Fall book review on September 8th. That's

Readers, you may know today's guest Charnaie Gordon from the internet, where her account Here Wee Read has been helping families diversify their bookshelves since 2015. Charnaie was born and raised in Connecticut, where she studied computer science before pivoting to focus on another passion: reading.

These days as a blogger, author, podcaster, and nonprofit director, Charnaie champions the power of books in young lives. She connects readers of all ages with diverse and inclusive books that will broaden their horizons all while nurturing a love of reading.

I especially enjoyed talking with Charnaie about nonfiction picture books for readers of all ages, a timely conversation because Charnaie's newest nonfiction picture book, A Planet Like Ours, just came out on August 15th.

Today, you'll hear all about Charnaie's reading journey, why she believes so much in the power of diverse books, how Oprah changed things for her, and how she became an author and literary advocate.

And you'll want to get your notebook or library homepage ready because Charnaie and I share so many book recommendations for readers of all ages. Of course, we'll also put all of those in our show notes because we know you may be on the go while you're listening.

I couldn't resist recommending a few novels she may enjoy reading next as well. Let's get to it.


ANNE: Charnaie, welcome to the show.

CHARNAIE: Thank you so much, Anne, for having me. This is truly a pleasure. I've been such a huge fan of you and your work for years. And so getting to speak to you is actually like a surreal moment for me. [BOTH LAUGHS]

ANNE: Well, you need to know that it's mutual. I've been such an admirer and listener of Here Wee Read. I think I remember the day I found you on Instagram a couple years ago. I thought, "Oh, this is clever." Because listeners, we're going to share this in the show notes, but it's Here Wee Read, which is so perfect.

And also it has like a serious element of nostalgia for me because when I was young, I was an ardent fan of these like just really terrible like books on tape singsong thingies with little song books that I think was called something like Wee Sing.

CHARNAIE: Oh my gosh!

ANNE: I think I made my mother want to just like pull the car to the side of the road and just step outside the vehicle because we'd sing along in the car. Series nostalgia there. But I just really love your work. And I'm so excited to talk today. Thanks for coming on.

CHARNAIE: Of course. Thank you.

ANNE: Okay, before we dig into all things children's books and reading, tell me a little bit about who you are, where you are in the world.


CHARNAIE: I am Charnaie Gordon. Where am I in the world, I live in the state of Connecticut. Born and raised here all my life. I am not a big fan of the winter or the snow [ANNE LAUGHS] so don't ask me why I haven't moved yet. But we haven't.

So I've lived here all my life, in Connecticut, in various parts of the state throughout my life. And wife and mom to two beautiful children, married for almost 20 years to my husband, which I can't believe. That's where we are in the world.

ANNE: I've been to Connecticut exactly once I think for 24 hours. I loved it. But I understand I didn't get like the representative experience. But I was there for my Don't Overthink It book tour on, I think, March 5th, 2020. Because those early days of COVID like they're real granular. You know like many people know exactly where they were when.

But I was in Madison to go to RJ Julia which was amazing. And you can like walk to the coast from the bookstore. It's incredible. I loved the just series of towns strung along the coast that we, you know, drove through as we're traveling through the region, and it made me want to come back.


ANNE: I can see why you haven't left. But then again, I haven't been there in the legit winter.

CHARNAIE: Right, right, right. And it's not horrible in the winter. It's tolerable, it's bearable, and I think that's why we're still here. But no, if I'm being honest, we're still here because of the schools. So that's really what it is that's keeping us here now at this season in our life.

ANNE: So, Charnaie, many people know you as a literacy advocate. And we have so many listeners who really wonder about the path to working in books, and how they might find, you know, a profession or a meaningful hobby in the field. Your path is not what many would expect or guess. Would you tell us a little bit about how you got into doing what you do?

CHARNAIE: My actual educational background is in computer science and information technology. So I have a bachelor's and master's degree in Computer Science and Information Technology. And I did that work for almost 15 years of my life.

ANNE: What appealed to you about that field when you were entering?

CHARNAIE: I just love tech. I'm a big tech person. But I love logic and reasoning, so I was just automatically drawn to the computer field when I was in college.

When I first started college, I didn't know what I wanted to major in at first. I was undecided. And then I said, "No, I want to do accounting." And then I took an accounting class and I did poorly at it. And I was like, "You know what? I'm not doing this."

And it didn't really appeal to me as much as I thought it would. Then after talking with my guidance counselor, she said, "Well, have you ever thought about computer science?" I took my first like intro to computer programming class, loved it, and decided to say.


ANNE: Thank you, guidance counselor. And also I think that's really interesting. So we're talking about computer science and college majors but something else we're talking about today is the influence of caring adults who are paying attention in young people's lives. And I'm so glad to hear about that experience you had early on in your life. Tell me what happened next.

CHARNAIE: The pandemic hit in 2020. 2019 is when I got my first book deal. A publisher reached out and said, "We'd love to have you write for us." That's literally how it happened. I know it doesn't always happen for everybody like that, but that's my story.

So in 2019, I signed my first book contract. You know, at first, I had a little bit of impostor syndrome, like, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this writing thing. I'm not an author. I'm not a writer." But then after thinking about it, I said, "You know what? I can, and I am a writer. I am an author. Look how many hundreds of children's books and just adult books that I've read over the years. I know what I like when I read." And so because I also like to write, I just started to call myself a writer. I said, "Okay, I'm a writer. I'm a writer."

Once I signed that contract I thought of myself as a writer, but I was still working a full-time job as a computer programmer. And then the pandemic hit. I was in this space of already wanting to look for a new career path even before the pandemic hit. But I think when the pandemic hit, it really kind of made me think about it even more.

In August 2020, I decided to leave my computer programming job and just work for myself being a literacy advocate, doing book recommendations full time. But also, we have a nonprofit. So running our nonprofit as well.

I was also doing partnerships with different brand campaigns. So I had money coming in. And then, of course, doing the writing on the side as well. But yeah, I started to just work for myself. I would do speaking engagements. I still do. And that's how I was making my living.

At the start of this year, my husband and I had this conversation and I started thinking about maybe I want to go back into a corporate kind of job. And so I took on this job as a marketing director at one of our local malls. So that's what I'm doing now full time. But I'm also still doing all the author stuff, doing all the, you know, stuff working for myself, running our nonprofit, and doing brand campaigns as well.

So I'm doing a lot. Because I'm doing stuff that I enjoy, it doesn't really feel like I'm doing a lot. So that's kind of my story and how I got to where I am today.

ANNE: Personally, I think the variety keeps it interesting


ANNE: Not everybody would want to live that kind of life.

CHARNAIE: Not everybody.

ANNE: But some of us we really like the variety.


ANNE: Charnaie, I think it's really telling that when you thought about doing something else in early pandemic days. That thing was to be an advocate for literacy. What was your background as a reader? Do you have like a favorite or especially meaningful childhood reading memory?


CHARNAIE: In my household growing up, reading wasn't a big thing. You know, I wasn't constantly being read to but I always enjoyed reading as just a hobby or something to do in my spare time. And so I always gravitated towards books. Even early days when I was like five or six, once I began to learn to read, I've just loved books always.

But I always attribute my love of reading to Oprah Winfrey. I remember when the Oprah Winfrey show started back in the early days I used to want to come home right after school. Her show used to come on at four o'clock back in the day. I would rush home and go upstairs and start watching The Oprah Winfrey Show on TV.

She didn't have the Oprah's Book Club back then, but I remember her always talking about her love of reading and how books were always her escape as a child. And she made me want to read even more.

I think the power of seeing someone like her that looked like me really solidified like, Yeah, this reading thing that I love to do, she loves to do it, too. And so I kind of saw it as like being a cool thing to do. You know, that's my earliest memory.

ANNE: Oprah. I love it. So interesting the power of someone who feels in one way like she could totally be you. And also like she is Oprah. And the culmination was really meaningful.

You know, we talk a lot as readers, as adult readers, and literacy advocates about the experience of wanting to stay up too late reading a book, or we talk about the first book we ever read in the covers with a flashlight.

But this past summer, noticing my own children's routines, I was really thinking about my routine as a young reader. I was left to my own devices a lot as a kid. Like I chose my own reading material. I had a lot of time to fill on my own.

And my summer routine when I was young was my parents made me do swim team and I hated it. But I woke up early, I went to swim team, we stayed and played at the pool for a while. And then we got home and we got lunch, and we watched the Disney Channel, and then like we were kind of on our own. And I often filled that time with books.

There are books that I had chosen for myself at the bookstore or the library. My parents empowered me to buy my own books with my little bit of spending money on my birthday cash. Like what I made $2 an hour babysitting back then.

But I really think those like lazy afternoons really gave me time and space to explore all kinds of different books. I spent a lot of time just captivated with all these different books that I chose for myself, or that my neighbor gave me because we trade books that I got to explore. I really value those afternoons.

I'm older than you, so Oprah wasn't on after swim team practice. [CHARNAIE LAUGHS] Otherwise, this might be a different story.


ANNE: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

CHARNAIE: Okay. So I loved The Baby-Sitters Club series.

ANNE: Oh, my gosh!

CHARNAIE: The book that I loved, loved, loved as a kid was Corduroy by Don Freeman.



CHARNAIE: And I used to imagine that the little girl in that story was me. Her name was Lisa. Lisa looked just like me. She lived in an apartment building like me. And I had like a little stuffed toy that I used to love, which was also a little bear.

It wasn't necessarily like a quote-unquote, "diverse book," like what you would think of today, but I guess in my days I considered it to be... You know, looking back, like yeah, that was I guess a diverse book for me, because I saw myself being reflected back on the pages. So that book will always hold a special place in my heart.

ANNE: I love that. Oh, and The Baby-Sitters Club, I devoured those and Sweet Valley High.


ANNE: And I've been thinking a lot recently about some of the hugely questionable... I think you could only call them historical romance time travel books that I found at the library and fell in love. I mean, just completely idealized war eras in American history. I think I'm glad I can't remember any titles or authors because it pains me to think what my adult self may think of these. [CHARNAIE LAUGHS]

And longtime listeners know that I talk about my first book under the flashlight experience with Emily of New Moon. You know, those series I loved. But I also was remembering recently how much I loved The Hundred Dresses as a child by Eleanor Estes.

CHARNAIE: Oh my gosh! Yes. That is such a beautiful book.

ANNE: It is. So it's beautiful, but not boring. It's relatable in a horrific kind of way. You know, the illustrations are so crucial to the book, but it's not a picture book. I didn't know a book could be like that. And it really just set me off reading other things.

And then Mrs. Popplewell who also wrecked us by reading Where the Red Fern Grows out loud to the class in fifth grade, [CHARNAIE LAUGHS] also assigned Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

CHARNAIE: Oh, my gosh.

ANNE: And again I didn't know a book could be like that. I have so many fond memories. Oh, and you know, that's something that I wanted to ask you about. I do really appreciate how I was left on my own and could follow my interest and follow my curiosity.

But looking back, I'm also so grateful for the, I mean, yes, assigned school books, but also the books that caring adult readers who are deeply invested in seeing me continue to love books and reading for the books they put on my radar and broaden my horizons and sometimes made me read, at least if I wanted to get a completed assignment, but also helped me find things I wouldn't have found on my own. And I feel like that's a lot of what we do in our work.

CHARNAIE: Yeah, we do. I think what it is, is that nobody in life knows exactly what they're doing. Right? I think we're all just kind of learning as we go. And you know, a lot of days we're winging it.

I remember years ago I used to think like, "Oh, if I could just be like this person my life would be better. Oh, if I could just be like that person my life would be better." But now that I'm a parent, and you know, doing this whole adulting thing, you learn that nobody has it all together, nobody knows what they're doing. Life is just a series of learning as you go every single day.

ANNE: And we need help, I think, especially when it comes to keeping young children in books. Young adult readers in books, that is a whole thing. Like we need [CHUCKLES] each other's help in that regard.


CHARNAIE: We need help. That's part of the reason why I think I started my social media, especially my Instagram account, is I was always reading great books with my kids. And so I had friends who would ask, "Oh, hey, what books are you reading with your kids?" or "What book are you reading on your own?" And that's kind of where I got the idea to just start talking about this, since people are asking me.

Of course, it was slow in the beginning. Fast forward a few years and it just kind of like blew up. And I realized that so many people need help when it comes to how to parent their children, how to talk to their children about tricky or tough conversations.

And I think what better way to do that than by opening the pages of a book! It's not always you're gonna get it right. But at least with a book I feel like it can serve as a conversation starter or can help guide you or guide your children through these life situations that we're all just figuring out as we go.

ANNE: I didn't know we were going to talk about this today, but can we just take a moment to appreciate the blog? [CHARNAIE LAUGHS]


ANNE: Because we're talking about social media and your Instagram following is enormous. Here Wee Read is an incredible account. And also Instagram is fraught with peril in all kinds of ways. And at the time that we're recording, Instagram is jacking with some things that are making readers really, really angry.


ANNE: I love blogs for all kinds of reasons. When did you start the Here Wee Read blog?

CHARNAIE: In 2015. February 2015.

ANNE: Modern Mrs. Darcy has been around since 2011. Like we have some serious archives between us.

CHARNAIE: Yes, yes. And now I think just with Instagram being the way that it is has made me now want to go back to blogging. Like just blogging.

The challenge I think for myself and then a lot of creators, probably yourself as well, is that we need social media as part of our business model. If it weren't for that, honestly, I would not be on Instagram anymore. I just wouldn't.

I think Instagram is too loud. When I go on there I feel automatically bombarded. I didn't used to feel that way. But now with this turn to video, you know, that this and the that and the constant changes, it really just depletes my energy as soon as I open up the app nowadays.

So I've slowed down a lot on Instagram because of the changes and because I don't want to always be tied to making a reel. I might not feel like it. I want to just share a pretty picture of a book sometimes and write a really nice caption. That's why blogging is now appealing to me more. And I think a lot of creators are feeling the exact same way.

ANNE: Well, for readers, the wonderful thing about a blog is you can go to it and search it and look at all the book lists in one place. And blog posts don't disappear like Instagram posts do.

CHARNAIE: Correct.

ANNE: I just wanted to take a minute to honor the blog and like how reading blogs and book blogs can be like a nice part of discovery for readers who are trying to keep up with their kids who read, you know, picture books. Like you can read a dozen of those in a day or even chapter books. Like a kid with an afternoon open in the summertime can read two of those a day. And that means they often need adults help finding what they enjoy reading. And that is a delightful job but also that is a job. That is hours and hours of work. And you got to know where to turn for help.

CHARNAIE: Absolutely.


ANNE: What do you see is especially meaningful and important about early reading experiences? Why does talking about children's books and helping children connect with books that become meaningful to them, that they want to read, that they enjoy reading, that they remember reading.?

CHARNAIE: First of all, establishing a love of reading, I think, is the first thing. And you know, some kids are probably not going to gravitate towards books right away. Sometimes it takes kids longer. I truly believe that there really is a book for everyone.

And sometimes when I think kids or parents say, "Well, my kid is not really into reading," I think they just haven't found something that they enjoy yet. Like a topic. But I do believe that there are books for everyone at every level.

Books are helpful for teaching things like social-emotional learning, which we really need now. You know, a lot of kids have anxiety. But also helping them cope through different things that they may be experiencing in life, peer pressure, bullying, their bodies are changing, making friends.

All of these kinds of things I think books could be useful for. But there's just like so many different benefits too to reading as well that I think, you know, is important to teach kids as well.

ANNE: Something that I appreciate about your work is that you explicitly focusing on diverse books and helping families diversify their bookshelves. In fact, your tagline on Instagram is "Helping families diversify their bookshelf since 2015," which I love.

CHARNAIE: Oh, thank you. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: Tell me a little bit about how you decided, this is my focus.

CHARNAIE: Right? When I first got on Instagram, once I started to figure out, Oh, there's a community here of people who love books as much as I do, I was immediately in love. So once I found this whole Bookstagram community, the one thing that I noticed is that there weren't a lot of people on there at the time talking about diverse books. And I decided to make that my focus because I saw that there was a need for it, and I wanted to fill that need. And so that's what I did.

And so back in the very early days when I started, there was me and probably one other person that I know of who were actually talking about diverse children's books. And then over the years, that sort has changed. Now obviously everybody's talking about it, which is great.

I was, I think, one of the first people who started doing that, simply because I just saw that there was a need for it. And also those are the kinds of books that I wanted to read with my children. And I thought that, "Hey, maybe if I want to do this, maybe there's other people out there that may want to do this as well." And so that's really why I started.


ANNE: Charnaie, when you talk about focusing on diverse books, give me an example of the kinds of flavors, the books you're talking about.

CHARNAIE: So when I'm talking about diverse books, I'm talking about books that do not always center whiteness. I remember growing up as a child I really didn't see many children of color featured in the children's books that I was reading. I didn't know and it really didn't click to me when I was a kid that this wasn't right. I just saw it as just being the norm. I just kind of thought that that's the way it was supposed to be. I know it was a really naive thought but that's how it was for me.

And also because I went to predominantly white schools, I was often the only black child in my classes, I was always surrounded by white people growing up. And so it made sense to me that the books I was reading featured white people.

ANNE: I mean, that's not being naive. That's being a child. One of the reasons we read literature is to learn about the world and how it is.

CHARNAIE: Right. And it wasn't until like really I was in college that I started to branch out and read other things: books written by black authors, books written by indigenous authors, books written by Asian authors. That's really when I got a chance to kind of explore and see like, "Wow, oh, okay, other books out there do exist."

So when I'm talking about diverse books, I'm really talking about books that sometimes feature children of color or maybe written by a person of color, where you see children being reflected or people being reflected that don't only have white skin.

Or you could even be reading a book about a person with a disability. Right? I think that's also considered a diverse book. Something that it's not considered, quote-unquote, normal. I kind of cringe when I hear that word normal, but you know what I mean?

ANNE: Yeah. What you mean is what's been considered mainstream and publishing for a really long time.

CHARNAIE: Correct. And so those are the kinds of books that I'm talking about when I think about diverse books. Other people may have different definitions, but yeah, that's my definition.

ANNE: Charnaie, I'm excited to get some children's book recommendations. But first, I just want to say I'm so excited for your own book. I really enjoyed it. And of course, when I read it, I didn't know you have this deep and abiding love of nonfiction picture books. Everything is suddenly making a lot of sense.


ANNE: In your own words, would you tell our listeners about your new book?


CHARNAIE: Yeah. A Planet Like Ours it's about teaching kids about how to take care of our planet. We only get one shot at this. And it's about learning to love our environment. In the back, it has tips on things that children and families can do to help save our environment. But it's really just about loving our planet, loving our earth and helping to take care of it.

ANNE: I think I'm gonna get my teenagers to read this picture book because we really struggle as parents in our household with the balance between responsibility and just like pure climate panic. Or at least that's what we see in our children. Like it's easy for them to read the headlines and despair.

So I love how you're marrying the very action-oriented. I love how reading your book is not like reading, say, The Wall Street Journal. [BOTH LAUGHS]

CHARNAIE: Right. Right, right. We tried not to make it too preachy, like, "Hey, do this. Do that." It was more of like, These are just some things, you know, simple things that everybody can do to help save our planet. And that's what we tried to focus on. Making it really relatable for children, but also, you know, it's a very poignant thing when you think about the how much our planet and the earth has changed from like the very early days. And us humans, we do a lot of harm to our earth. It's really just about everybody pitching in to do their part to take care of our earth.

ANNE: I love that. Okay. You've worked on quite a few books at this point. What was your favorite part of pulling this one together?

CHARNAIE: This was, you know, a collaborative effort between myself, Frank Murphy, who is the creator of the series, and Kayla Harren who's the illustrator. But my favorite part was just collaborating with Frank and brainstorming different ways of how to write the book.

Another fun thing that I did was right at the start of writing it, I was actually mystery reader for my children's classroom. And at the time, I was reading my other book Friend Like You.

I had just got the contract for A Planet Like Ours. And I went to my daughter's second grade class, she was in second grade at the time, and I asked them different ways that they think we could help save our planet. They gave some really great ideas, some of which we incorporated in the book.

So I think that was like my favorite thing: getting ideas from these young kids and seeing what they were thinking when talking about how to help save the earth. Like they're just so brilliant and intelligent. And I always just think it's interesting to see how kids think.

ANNE: That's some fun you could do that. Also, my kids are a little older now. I completely forgot about the days when I got to be the mystery reader who shows up by surprise with a favorite book to read to the class. I'm so glad you got to do that.

CHARNAIE: It's so fun.


ANNE: I'm so excited for you. So congratulations on another book coming out in the world. And readers, we will put links to Charnaie's new book and all her work in show notes. So you can find them there.

CHARNAIE: Thank you so much.

ANNE: Now Charnaie, you recommend books for a living not solely, but to a large degree. Like this is something you do for a job. And I'd love to share with our readers some of your favorite books to recommend to young readers.

I have kids, which means I see a lot of kids, I interact with a lot of kids, you know. And this is what I talk about with my friends Like, Oh my gosh, help me out. What is your kid reading? Because my kid is out of books and you got to help me out. Because he just finished a 13 book series, so I've been coasting just like getting the next book after another that he can check out for himself via Libby. Oh, but now we're in danger of coming to a standstill.

So often I find myself recommending books that my kids have loved. One of those is New Kid by Jerry Craft. And something that I think is especially interesting about this and one of the reasons I really like it, this is one of those Newbery winners that kids are actually excited about reading. Because that doesn't always overlap like a ton.

The reason I like that is because sometimes I feel like, "Oh, adults just choose boring books for me. Like I can't believe it." But no, this is a Newbery winner that kids actually like. And I also love this Newbery winner that's a graphic novel, because I know a lot of kids hear the message from adults in their life, like, "Is that a real book? Can you read something with more words?" But this is a real book that is so good, that won awards.

I feel like it has a stamp of approval from adults and from children. And it's so relatable. It's about seventh grader Jordan Banks who starting over at a new school where diversity is low, and he's black, and the struggle to fit in is real. And he liked his old school, and now here he is in this new place, and he's got to figure some things out.

So that one is everywhere. Like they will have this at almost every bookstore in the country because of its popularity. But I also love those under-the-radar books for kids who feel like they've read everything to discover new for the first time.

And one of those is The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. And this book is old. Like the 50th anniversary edition is what Mike had read that came out a couple of years ago. Don't sell your kids on this book using this description, readers.

CHARNAIE: Right. Okay, okay.

ANNE: The Washington Post called this the best book about politics ever written for children. I would never be like, "Here, 12 year old, this is the best book about politics ever written for your age."

But this is based on real history in New York City 60 odd years ago, and it is about a war between the smelly diesel trucks and the push carts that small business owners used to sell everything from flowers to hot dogs. Like versions of these are still around today.

In fighting over who got the streets when, where, like different people's rights, the pushcart owners used peashooters to blow tax into the tires of trucks. They dodged the police and outsmarted them. They did other things to intimidate and arc the trucks. Like The Pushcart War is like political skirmish but told with such humor.

Like this is so funny. I just remember my, at the time, 10-year-old just sitting on the couch cackling. And it's an old book. I mean, we think about like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables, but I don't think this one has been as well known.

I love to discover and I'd love to help others discover something that's beneath their radar that they're just delighted to find.

CHARNAIE: Those are great recommendations. I've never heard of that one, the second one, before.

ANNE: I'm thrilled to hear it. That's why we're talking about it today. So what are some of yours that you love to put on other peoples' radar?


CHARNAIE: Okay, so my kids are currently... My daughter, she's more into chapter books. My son is eight, my daughter is nine. So they're right in that early chapter book phase.

ANNE: That's a fun stage.

CHARNAIE: I find myself gravitating more towards those books nowadays because I'm like looking for, you know, new things for them to read. Although picture books will always, always be my favorite.

ANNE: Oh, we're gonna put a pin in that.

CHARNAIE: Okay. [LAUGHS] So my daughter... this book didn't come out yet. It's called A Taste of Magic by J. Elle. And that's J. E-L-L-E is her last name. But this book comes out the end of August, August 30th, and it is a debut novel for this author.

But it's basically a story about a girl who she learns that she's a witch and she wants to... It's like she's in a race to save her inner-city magic school from closing.

I didn't personally read this book, but my daughter just read it. She devoured it within two days and she said it was amazing. So I'm just going to recommend that based off of her recommendation. A Taste of Magic.

Another series that she really is into nowadays. So the first book in the series is called Amari and the Night Brothers.

ANNE: I've heard great things about this.

CHARNAIE: Yes. And I personally read this one too, which I thought was phenomenal, phenomenal. There is going to be a follow-up to it. And I don't know if it's like a three book series deal or not, like it's gonna be a trilogy or not, but book two was announced. And that one is going to be called Amari and the Great Game. But think of it like men in black, but featuring like this little girl, if that makes sense. [BOTH LAUGHS]

ANNE: I love that visual.

CHARNAIE: But that book captivated me and my daughter. It came out last year, I want to say, and 2022. I just want to say it's good. It's gotten rave reviews. I believe it was a New York Times bestseller as well. So check that one out. Amari and the Night Brothers. And then look for the sequel.

ANNE: And this series is called Supernatural Investigations. And at least three books are on the way because I have to say... I mean, I love the conciseness and neatness of a nice trilogy but also I love it when my kids find a series that just keeps going and going and going and going.


ANNE: That is its own kind of magic. And I know a lot of adults who have read that and buddy read that because they loved it. Oh, let's talk about that. So I know, Charnaie, that your focus is on great children's books. But I mean, do you have to be a kid to enjoy a great children's book?

CHARNAIE: Oh, my gosh, no.

ANNE: I love that emphaticness. Tell me more.

CHARNAIE: I don't like these whole age categories that they put in books-

ANNE: I know.

CHARNAIE: ...even though I understand why they do it and all of that. But I just feel like picture books are for everybody. It doesn't matter if you're a baby or you're 102, you know. I think picture books will always have a special place in my heart.

I always find that when I'm reading, especially when it comes to like the nonfiction picture books, those are like my favorite because I'm always learning something new. It's like, "I didn't know that." And I love that. To be able to read that alongside with my children, I don't know, it's such a treat for me.

So a lot of the times I'm reading the nonfiction picture books. And I get more into those than my kids do. But I don't know, I just think that picture books are for every age, and you don't have to be a specific age to enjoy them. As a matter of fact, I still read picture books with my kids. And even though they are out of that phase, so to speak, we still enjoy a good picture book every now and again.

ANNE: So picture books will always have your heart. Tell me some of your favorites. I'm especially intrigued by the nonfiction picture books you mentioned you can't stop reading.


CHARNAIE: When the Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl's Story of Virginia's Lost Generation and the Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka Decision. It's a long subtitle.

Of course, I knew about the whole Brown versus education, but it just goes into more detail about it in a way that's like easy to digest, and some of the things in there that I didn't really didn't know. And to be able to teach my kids about that, it's just great to have a book like that available nowadays for kids.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré. I hope I said that last name correctly. It's an inspiring story about New York City's first Puerto Rican librarian. This woman she came to America, I believe it was 1921, but she was like iconic in the library space back in those days.

And so to be able to learn that story, and to be able to share that story, again, with the younger generation of today is I just think... From the text down to the illustrations, it's just a beautiful, beautiful book. And just being able to share like that history with kids.

ANNE: Yeah, in a way that's accessible and engaging and like truly makes a story come to life.

CHARNAIE: For sure.

ANNE: Makes history come to life I think is more like it.


ANNE: So these are ones that you're reading with your kids now, but also reading for your own sake as an adult because you love them.


ANNE: I love that. I don't think we talked about that enough. We talk a lot with adults who love middle grade for their own sake, which I completely get like there are some middle grade books that I love... We'll talk about these in a moment. But there are kids' books that I love as a grown-up reader because they're concise, intend to have nice endings that leave things resolved, which feels real good right now.

CHARNAIE: That's right.

ANNE: And they're good stories. And I hear you on the like it's both helpful to be able to categorize books and also unhelpful because sometimes those very categories that make them easy to find prevent them from finding readers who will love them.

But we don't talk that much about loving picture books as an adult. Charnaie, how do you scan the bookish horizons for ones you may be interested in making up?

CHARNAIE: I know this is gonna sound really bad. [ANNE LAUGHS] But I first-

ANNE: That means it's gonna be good.


CHARNAIE: I know. I first look at the cover. And I know you're not supposed to judge a book by the cover. And I don't, but I do, if that makes sense. Do you know what I'm saying? Like because I think of it as... I just feel like the cover is the first thing that captures your eye. For me, at least anyway, especially when it comes to picture books for children. And I'm specifically talking about picture books. I think if you have a great cover that's going to build up intrigue right away-

ANNE: Well, I hear what you're saying.

CHARNAIE: Do you know what I mean?

ANNE: Covers are meant for us to make judgments based upon them but it's not the sum total. It's not the place where you stop in making a decision.

CHARNAIE: Right. For sure. Like the cover will catch my eye and then the title. And then I'll turn it over because usually picture book or I'll open it up, depending on where the synopsis of the book is, I'll read it.

And if it sounds interesting, I'll buy it, right? Or if I already know about it, and if it's something I've been looking forward to, I'm definitely buying it. Although we do get tons of books sent to us from kind Publishers Weekly, but you know, I still do buy books on my own too.

But yeah, I'm looking at the cover. I'm looking at the text to see, you know, is it appropriate? But I'm also looking at the illustrations to see things like, what is the story about, who is the story about, who might be missing from this story. These kinds of things. And then what's the message?

It's a combination of like different things that I'm usually looking for. But those are like the main things that I'm looking for when I'm looking to see if it's a book that I think that I would enjoy or that my kids would enjoy.

ANNE: I'd love to hear more about some of the books that may be slotted in the young reader section at a bookstore or library that you love reading as an adult.

Actually, some of mine are by some authors that write across a variety of age distinctions like Jacqueline Woodson. I'm always excited to see she has a new book coming out. I don't care what age it's explicitly written for because I want to read it.

But one of those is Before the Ever After, her middle grade book that came out maybe two years ago about this kid named ZJ whose father is a pro football star, who's beloved to both the people in his community and maybe global. It's like a phenomenon.

But he's suffered a series of concussions as happens in that profession. And his dad is having a really hard time and can't remember things and just seems to be angry all the time. And ZJ is going through some stuff with some really good friends and great mom.

This is one of those children's books that don't resolve on neat and tidy and there's no like happily ever after, but it's definitely okay for now. Oh, it's just such a great book.

And I wondered when I read it—I'm sorry, Jacqueline Woodson—I wondered when I read it, "Is this one of those books that only adults will love." But then my at the time fifth grader read it for school book club was like, "Mom, this is amazing." [CHARNAIE CHUCKLES] I knew. I should have had faith, Jacqueline Woodson.

And then I also love children's books that kind of play with, mess with, riff on, wink at classics that I loved as a child. Like More to the Story by Hena Khan, which is inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. But it's about a young Muslim girl named Jamila. She's the Feature Editor of our middle school newspaper. So you can probably guess which sister she is.



ANNE: She's got some problems to solve. And she's got three sisters with stuff of their own, and their father needs to take a job overseas. And that's hard. And I just really love seeing when writing for any age like how an author updates the original and chooses to leave alone and then puts their whole new spin on it.

This is a little older than we're mostly talking today, but Bethany Morrow's A Little Women Remix, so many beginnings like is ringing in my ears because it's also Little Women. I just love to see how authors handle that.

And then When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Not at a diverse book, but I love how this is a new book just wrapped around an old one. Like Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, the plot depends on the being the favorite book of sixth grader Miranda who lives on the Upper West Side, I think, in 1970s, Manhattan.

I mean, this is the most brain-bending middle grade book I think I've ever read. And it's so dependent on a book that I loved as a kid. I really enjoyed this book, but I really enjoy books like that. So I'd love to hear some of yours.

CHARNAIE: Have you heard of The Front Desk by Kelly Yang?

ANNE: Yes. Yes, I have. I have the series on my home bookshelves as a matter of fact.

CHARNAIE: So I love her whole series. I recently saw that Kelly Yang posted something about this series when she originally was like pitching it. It was rejected... I forget how many times but it was rejected a number of times before she finally got the yes. And now the series has just blown up.

And I think there may be like three or four books in the series right now through scholastic. I love this series from book one, which is Front Desk to I think it's Room to Dream is the number three. I haven't read that one yet but I've read the first two.

The Front Desk is this great book, and I don't want to give too much of the plot away, about a girl. Her name is Mia Tang. And Mia Tang. She lives in a hotel with her family. It's their family business. In the story she just talks about what it is like to basically run this motel. It's called Calivista motel. Her parents they're immigrants.

Such a fun read. I love the way that you can just like escape in this story. I think Kelly Yang has just done a great job with this series. So I find myself always recommending that book.

ANNE: And you know that reminds me of another book by a young aspiring writer that I was actually thinking of when you mentioned A Taste of Magic by J. Elle. And that is From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks.

CHARNAIE: Oh, yes!


ANNE: It features another 12-year-old aspiring pastry chef whose big dream is to get into that kid's baking competition show on the Food Network. But then she unexpectedly receives a letter from her father on her 12th birthday. He's been in prison and they start writing. And in the process they discover a lot about the person each of them is, including that he might be innocent. And that just rocks her whole entire world.

So I read this when it came out and I really enjoyed it. At the time, I had no idea that Janae Marks was obsessed with true crime podcasts and documentaries and that the podcast Serial was a big inspiration for this book. And she started researching wrongful convictions in the innocence project and started to wonder like, "Okay, I'd love to write for kids. What would that look like?"

CHARNAIE: She lives here in Connecticut.

ANNE: Oh, that's right.

CHARNAIE: Yeah. I remember meeting her when her first book... I think it was right before the book was kind of coming out. And she's so sweet. And I just love this for her. I love that her books have blown up the way that they have.

ANNE: Charnaie, I'd love to hear one more. Let's say your kids have their best friends over and they're hanging out in the kitchen and they say, "Mrs. Gordon, I need a book to read."

CHARNAIE: If I were going to recommend a book for one of my son's friends, I would recommend the Tristan Strong series. And I believe that's a trilogy of three different books that I know of so far. I know that the graphic novel version of the first book just came out because we just got it in the mail. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: Oh, that wasn't on my radar. You know, I've been trying to like sneakily and stealthily entice my rising seventh grader into reading. He's resisting me so far. But I haven't like pulled out the last stop, which is like the shiny new paperback from the library that you just kind of leave on the dining room table when they're kind of bored and get a snack. That's my last resort move.

CHARNAIE: Right. So if he's into graphic novels, I know that that one is just... I don't know if it's out yet in graphic novel, but we just literally just got it in the mail yesterday.

ANNE: Now or soon.


ANNE: I didn't know. Thank you.

CHARNAIE: You're welcome. If it was my daughter's friend, I would probably recommend... Oh, geez, my daughter is actually into, believe it or not, The Baby-Sitters Club series.

ANNE: Every single is new again.

CHARNAIE: Right. The new graphic novel version of The Baby-Sitters Club that my daughter really enjoys, too. So that would probably be something that... I don't know, my kids are into graphic novels. I would probably recommend that one.

ANNE: Charnaie, what are you reading right now for your own sake?


CHARNAIE: Oh, my gosh, I am one of those people who read primarily personal development books. One of the things that I want to change about my reading habit is I want to read more fiction books. Like just more books just for fun.

I feel like I'm always reading something related to personal development, or, you know, how can I be better or how can I learn something? I've always just been a curious person by nature, and so I tend to gravitate more towards personal development, self-help books. But I do want to read more like fiction books just for fun. But what I'm currently reading is this book called The Secrets of Happy Families.

ANNE: Oh, I reread that when I did my deep dive into routine and ritual and assorted things when I was writing Don't Overthink It.

CHARNAIE: Ah, okay.

ANNE: So that's fun. What are you gleaning from that?

CHARNAIE: At the time of this recording we are currently in back-to-school mode. So it's getting the homework space ready, doing the backpacks, decluttering their clothes, and just getting all of their clothing ready for kind of back to school. So that's where I'm at in my life mentally right now.

And I'm also thinking about how can we do things simpler, easier, faster as a family. And so I gravitated towards this book The Secrets of Happy Families. I heard really great things about it. But I'm also just eLearning, okay, maybe different ways that our family can do things with the upcoming school year.

But also the subtitle says: improve your mornings, tell your family history, fight smarter, go out and play and much more. I'm really intrigued by it. I only started a couple of days ago so I'm not very far into the book.

ANNE: Tell me more about wanting to read more fiction.

CHARNAIE: Well, in my earlier reading days when I was in college, and up to my like... before I became a parent basically, I was reading more fiction books. That's primarily all I would read is just fiction books like just to kind of have fun and kick back and kind of really just kind of get lost in a story.

I don't know. Some sort of shift happened. When I became a parent, I just started gravitating more towards like, How can I be better? I started reading a lot of parenting books or just books about ways that I could improve our family life. And so now that's what I primarily read, but I want to go back to those days of like escaping into a book.

ANNE: What kind of fiction do you enjoy? Like what's an old favorite?


CHARNAIE: Sula by Toni Morrison was one of my favorites. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors. Between her and Maya Angelou. But I loved the book Sula.

ANNE: Well, can I go out on a limb and offer you a couple of book recommendations?

CHARNAIE: Yes, please.

ANNE: Okay. If you wanted to take your Toni Morrison love in a nonfiction direction, in early 2020, a memoir... we can call it a memoir. There's four co-writers. It's called The Toni Morrison Book Club. And they talk about their experiences reading Toni Morrison together. It's not long. It's barely 200 pages. So this would be a short detour from your personal development.

They're in the northeast. At least one of them is a university professor there at a school you would recognize, but I can't remember. But some are black, some are white, some are gay, some are straight, some are immigrants, some are born here in the United States.

But they use Toni Morrison's novels and their discussions of them to talk about far more than like what's in the book itself. Her writing makes you think about things that matter. And their discussions about them are just really fascinating and philosophical and deep, but not in a boring way, which I feel like I need to qualify.


ANNE: Just like if you say a book is beautiful writing, you have to explicitly say, "Yeah, it's kind of slow." No, no, it's not boring because that can be an assumption. [CHARNAIE LAUGHS]

CHARNAIE: Okay, thank you for that recommendation.

ANNE: Oh, sure. So I'm glad you said that because I was thinking about just a far different direction based on your interests. But Jasmine Guillory's new novel comes out the end of September. I don't know if you've read her.

CHARNAIE: I have not.

ANNE: Well, this is not in her previous story world. Readers, if you've read Jasmine Guillory before, this is not the same constellation of characters. But this is about a female business owner and CEO who's also maybe we're going to call her the marketing director at a vineyard in Napa.

CHARNAIE: I love it already. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I thought you might. So I think you need to know about that. And then another book that definitely has a lot more Toni Morrison vibes is a debut that came out just this year. And I have to tell you I feel like I need to equivocate on the judging books by their cover because that's definitely... The reason I read this is the cover got my eye. That wasn't everything, but it was definitely beginning.

But this novel is by Toya Wolfe. It's called Last Summer on State Street. It's also very small, which is just coincidental. But also, if you're not in the habit of reading fiction, 200 pages can be a nice way to ease in. But it's a coming-of-age novel. It's set in the housing projects of 1990 Chicago and unfolds over the course of one summer.

And it's about three girls. They're all about age 11, which is older than your kids, which I think is a good thing, because this could be hard to read as a parent. But they have their settled friend group, but then a new girl joins the circle and everything is disruptive. And there's tons going on in the housing project itself as it's dismantled and a lot of families are relocated, and all their families are undergoing these like seismic disruptions.

This is beautifully told. The language is gorgeous and completely heartbreaking. I feel like I can't speak for Toni Morrison. But I feel like Toya Wolfe's novel and Toni Morrison's novels would nestle up comfortably and keep themselves good company on the bookshelf together.

CHARNAIE: Ah, that sounds great.


ANNE: Charnaie, thank you so much for coming on and sharing some of your expertise and reading recommendations with our listeners. I'm so glad we got to finally do this.

CHARNAIE: Oh, me too, Anne. This was such a treat.

ANNE: For me as well. And I'd love to ask you one final question.


ANNE: When we hang up today, what will you be reading next?

CHARNAIE: I'm going to be reading Last Summer on State Street buy Toya Wolfe. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: That's not what I thought you say, but I'm excited to hear it. I'd love to hear what you think.

CHARNAIE: I definitely will follow up and I will let you know. I'm ordering it right now. I just appreciate that recommendation. I've never heard of the book. So thank you.

ANNE: It's my pleasure. Charnaie, thanks again. This has been a joy.

CHARNAIE: Thank you.


ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Charnaie. And I'd love to hear about the children's books you or your young readers are loving these days. Find Charnaie at her blog That's wee with two E's and on Instagram and Facebook and her podcast Here Wee Read.

We'll include Charnaie's links as well as the full list of titles we talked about at

Readers, we are podcasters which means reviews are our love language. It makes our day when you star your favorite episode on Overcast or give us a five-star review on Apple podcasts.

Get our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox with updates on events, our merch, and a fun roundup of bookish news I've enjoyed lately. Sign up at

Follow me on Instagram @AnneBogel and follow the show @whatshouldireadnext. Make sure you're following us and Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Tune in next week when I'll be talking with a reader who has a big goal and wants my help to get started.

Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next? is produced by Brenna Frederick, with production assistance by Holly Wielkoszewski, and sound design by Kellen Pechacek.

Readers, that's it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading." Happy reading, everyone!

Books mentioned in this episode:

Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
• The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin (#1: Kristy’s Great Idea)
Corduroy by Don Freeman
• The Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal (#1: Double Love)
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Where the Red Fern Grows  by Wilson Rawls
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
A Planet Like Ours by Charnaie Gordon, Frank Murphy, and Kayla Harren
A Friend Like You by Charnaie Gordon, Frank Murphy, and Kalya Harren
New Kid by Jerry Craft
The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill 
Heidi by Johanna Spyri 
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
A Taste of Magic by J. Elle
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (Supernatural Investigations series #1)
Amari and the Great Game by B.B. Alston (Supernatural Investigations series #2)
When the Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl’s Story of Virginia’s Lost Generation and the Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka Decision by Yolanda Gladden as told to Tamara Pizzoli 
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar 
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
More to the Story by Hena Khan
So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
• The Front Desk series by Kelly Yang (#1 Front Desk)
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
• The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels by Ann M. Martin, adapted by Raina Telgemeier (#1: Kristy’s Great Idea: A Graphic Novel)
The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler
Sula by Toni Morrison
The Toni Morrison Book Club by Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Casssandra Jackson, and Juda Bennett
Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe
A Kids Book About Diversity by Charnaie Gordon
Lift Every Voice and Change: A Sound Book: A Celebration of Black Leaders and the Words that Inspire Generations by Charnaie Gordon, illustrated by Aeron Cargill
Race Cars: A children’s book about white privilege by Jenny Devenny, edited by Charnaie Gordon

Also mentioned in this episode:

Wee Sing
RJ Julia Booksellers


Leave A Comment
  1. Marcia Poore says:

    My daughters loved all the Wee Sing! tapes/CDs. We still sing many of the songs that were embedded in our memory, especially the one that helped us learn all the names of the states.

  2. Deirdre says:

    This was wonderful. I missed the name of the one related to A Wrinkle In Time? It caught my attention because I grew up on the Upper West Side in the 1970s and loved that book. I actually met Madeleine L’Engle at Eeyore’s bookstore (a wonderful chil den’s bookstore from my childhood), and she signed my copy ❤️

    • Teri says:

      When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

      This is what I wrote on Goodreads:
      This book fell into my lap! I’m so glad it did.
      It is a great read!
      For young adults and young at heart!
      I feel everything I write, no matter how vague, may be a spoiler, so JUST PICK UP THE BOOK AND READ IT!

  3. Phyllis Mosteller Popplewell says:

    Anne, when you mentioned the name of your fifth grade teacher my ears perked up -my name is Phyllis Popplewell – my husband David was raised in Rochester, NY and we married in 1967, 55 years next month.

    Your podcast is a favorite and it was a happy day when I discovered it. Thank you for all the great reading I have enjoyed from the recommendations of you and your guests. Lastly, your gentle, soothing voice is the best podcast narrator there will ever be. Thank you and God Bless You.

    • Anne Bogel says:

      It’s wonderful to hear from you! I don’t suppose you are the Mrs Popplewell who taught 5th grade in Louisville KY in the 1980s?

      Thank you for the kind words, and congratulations on your upcoming anniversary!

  4. Sue Duronio says:

    My kids are all grown up now but I so thoroughly enjoyed this episode! I’ve ventured into YA but never middle grade but Anne and Charnaie make me really want to! I totally love Elizabeth Acevedo so what would you recommend for me? I”m thinking I”d love Last Summer on State Street. Thank you both for such a fun, fun episode!

  5. Erin says:

    At the beginning of the podcast when Charnaie mentioned computer programming the first book that I thought of was “The Unseen World” by Liz Moore. If you are interested in more fiction—check it out!

  6. Sarah Silvester says:

    What a cool episode!
    I was searching up some of the books, and I wonder if the Happy families book is actually the one by Bruce Feiler? since it talks about improving your mornings!
    loved the recommendation for something A wrinkle in time adjacent, can’t wait!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.