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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Selected by the Books for Youth editorial staff, these titles represent our best-of-the year selections in fiction, nonfiction, and picture books. As in the past, our goal is to provide a broad selection of outstanding titles that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence.
Bolden, Tonya. Wake Up Our Souls. illus. Abrams, $24.95 (0-8109-4809-5).
Gr. 6–12. Published in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, this elegant, concise volume introduces a selection of African American visual artists. Bolden’s clear, graceful language illuminates the social and political climate in which the artists worked, and the beautifully reproduced images will encourage readers to connect with the artists’ work and visual art in general.
Constable, Kate. The Singer of All Songs. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.95 (0-439-55478-0).
Gr. 7–10. In Constable’s lush introduction to a world where song powers magic, a novice ice-priestess breaks free from a cloistered existence and helps battle an upstart sorcerer. Strong storytelling and rich specificity put this impressive debut firmly in the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic Earthsea books.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bucking the Sarge. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.95 (0-385-32307-7).
Gr. 7–10. Farce, failure, and heartbreak tell the truth in this novel about smart, desperate Luther, 15, who hates his rich, corrupt mom and finds a substitute parent in an unexpected place.
Flake, Sharon G. Who Am I without Him? Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (0-7868-0693-1).
Gr. 6–12. Ten funny, anguished short stories about growing up black today speak with rare truth about family, friends, school, and especially about finding a boyfriend.
Greenberg, Jan and Jordan, Sandra. Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop. Delacorte, $16.95 (0-385-73056-X).
Gr. 8–12. Without sensationalizing, the authors offer a riveting, balanced biography that humanizes their controversial subject. Lucid insights into Warhol’s life and the provocative questions his work raises make this an essential, highly readable introduction both to an American icon and to contemporary art.
Hautman, Pete. Godless. Simon & Schuster, $15.95 (0-689-86278-4).
Gr. 7–10. Young people who have had questions about faith and God will respond to the story of 16-year-old Joshua Block, who invents a new religion with the town’s water tower as god. In a smartly structured narrative, by turns funny, worried, and questioning, Jason watches as his little congregation starts wanting to “worship” in its own way.
Kadohata, Cynthia. Kira-Kira. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $15.95 (0-689-85639-3).
Gr. 6–12. The plain, beautiful prose can barely contain the passionate feelings in this story of two loving Japanese American sisters, Lynn, 14, and Katie, 10, who encounter prejudice in their small Georgia town in the late 1950s. When Lynn falls desperately ill, Katie must take her turn as caregiver.
Lawrence, Michael. A Crack in the Line. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-072477-3).
Gr. 8–12. When teenage Alaric travels to an alternate universe, he meets a girl who could be his twin and gets a glimpse of his mother, who, in his own world, has died. Rich sensory detail and a wealth of clever connections mark this inventive, complex fantasy that considers the quirks of chance and fate.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-205123-6).
Gr. 6–10. The first YA novel in 14 years from renowned fantasist Le Guin, this trenchant coming-of-age allegory, set in a community where long-standing rivalries are driven by clans’ inherited, extrasensory “gifts,” combines earthy magic with universal themes of young people testing boundaries and questioning tradition.
McWhorter, Diane. A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968. Scholastic, $19.95 (0-439-57678-4).
Gr. 6–8. A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist weaves memories of growing up white in the South into a fascinating history of protest, hatred, and courage. Wrenching photos serve as powerful visual testament to McWhorter’s lucid overview of the struggle for desegregation and civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.
Moriarty, Jaclyn. The Year of Secret Assignments. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.95 (0-439-49881-3).
Gr. 8–12. Letters, diary entries, lists, and quizzes are only a few of the narrative devices employed in this wholly entertaining story about three impressionable Australian girls who recount madcap adventures, burgeoning romances, and deep, unshakable friendships.
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-63648-5).
Gr. 7–12. In this World War I story, the terse narrative of a young English soldier is as compelling about the world left behind as about the horrific daily details of trench warfare. Suspense builds right to the end, which is shocking, honest, and unforgettable.
Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. Random/Wendy Lamb, $16.95 (0-385-74677-6).
Gr. 8–11. Waves of global terrorism and a tough, contemporary 15-year-old protagonist are the defining elements in this startlingly original first novel, which tenderly interweaves a deeply felt first romance with the main character’s transition from sardonic, self-absorbed teen to resourceful survivor.
Stratton, Allan. Chanda’s Secrets. Annick, $19.95 (1-55037-835-X).
Gr. 9–12. The statistics of the millions infected with HIV/AIDS in southern Africa find a human face in this gripping novel about teenager Chanda, who sees the disease threaten her family and community. The realistic characters—caring, cruel, funny, angry—break the silence about the tragedy.
Warren, Andrea. Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $17 (0-374-32224-4).
Gr. 6–9. This gripping, true-life child-of-war account relays the story of a mixed-race orphan’s evacuation from Vietnam on a plane under fire, his international adoption, his success in America, and his pride in his roots.
Werlin, Nancy. Double Helix. Dial, $15.99 (0-8037-2606-6).
Gr. 9–12. Werlin seamlessly blends solid characters, intrigue, and thoughtful consideration of a troubling ethical issue in a first-rate thriller—part sf and part coming-of-age novel—in which a clever, obsessed kid unearths a terrifying secret that changes his life. Food for thought as well as stellar entertainment.
Whitney, Kim Ablon. See You down the Road. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-82467-7).
Gr. 9–12. Sixteen-year-old Bridget and her family are Travelers and move across the U.S. in trailers, supporting themselves through con jobs. Whitney’s taut story is a fascinating portrait of a teen caught between conflicting moral codes and the pull of family, tradition, and love.
Balliett, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-37294-1).
Gr. 5–8. Outsiders Petra and Calder become friends as they try to find out what happened to a missing Vermeer painting in this debut novel that conjures up two well-loved titles—From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game. A tantalizing mix of mysteries, puzzles, possibilities, and art.
Blacklock, Dyan. The Roman Army: The Legendary Soldiers Who Created an Empire. Walker, $17.95 (0-8027-8896-3).
Gr. 5–8. Arresting jacket art is just a preview of what awaits readers in this fine amalgamation of lucid information and inventive, dynamic art. Blacklock’s blazingly colored pictures, in panels and action-packed double-spread scenes that will remind readers of graphic novels, provide enormous reading incentive.
Bredsdorff, Bodil. The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove. Tr. by Faith Ingwersen. Farrar, $16 (0-374-31247-8).
Gr. 4–6. Clean, spare prose and memorable characters and scenes mark this story about orphan Crow-Girl, who encounters greed, violence, pain, and sadness. An unflinchingly realistic but also optimistic story.
Goodman, Susan E. Skyscraper. Knopf, $16.95 (0-375-81309-8).
Gr. 2–5. Stunning color photographs and direct, captivating text present an exciting account of the creation of a New York City skyscraper—from architect’s inspiration to finished building. Quotes from those involved show the power and pride behind the engineering feats.
Hale, Marian. The Truth about Sparrows. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-7584-4).
Gr. 5–8. Reminiscent of the Little House books in its cinematic detail, Hale’s stirring first novel brings alive the Depression as endearing 12-year-old Sadie and her family leave their home in Missouri to find a new life in Texas.
Hamilton, Virginia. The People Could Fly: The Picture Book. Illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon. Knopf, $16.95 (0-375-82405-7).
Gr. 4–9. Hamilton’s retelling of an unforgettable slave escape fantasy gets its own beautiful picture book here. The new, large full-color art is magic realism at its finest, revealing mass cruelty as well as distinctive individuals and the connections between them.
Hannigan, Katherine. Ida B. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-073024-2).
Gr. 4–6. Fourth-grader Ida B’s usually sunny disposition turns steely gray after her parents break their promise to home-school her. As Ida puts it, she hardens her heart, and the resilience of her anger is something to behold. Hannigan brilliantly captures a child’s inner life and the confusion and anxiety she feels when her emotions seem to have a mind of their own. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Hodges, Margaret. Merlin and the Making of the King. Illus. by Trina Schart Hyman. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1647-X).
Gr. 4–6, younger for reading aloud. Hodges masterfully undertakes a seemingly impossible task, distilling the many tales of Arthurian legend into a brief, highly readable story in three parts. Her excellent text is decorated with the late Hyman’s gorgeous, dramatic scenes and borders, in color and detail befitting the glorious tradition of medieval bookmaking.
Ibbotson, Eva. The Star of Kazan. Dutton, $16.99 (0-525-47347-5).
Gr. 4–8. In an exquisitely detailed adventure set in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Ibbotson skillfully enfolds deliciously cruel villains, crumbling aristocratic families, stolen jewels, and a cast of lovable, intrepid characters into a 12-year-old’s search for her true family. Masterful, galloping entertainment in the tradition of Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
Janeczko, Paul B. Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-0971-4).
Gr. 4–7. Lively history, clever tricks, and within-reach activities pack this stylish volume. Children with a taste for cloak-and-dagger drama will be fully equipped to swap secrets using everything from hole-punched index cards to homemade invisible ink.
LaFaye, A. Worth. Simon & Schuster, $15.95 (0-689-85730-6).
Gr. 4–7. In one of the first books to tell the Orphan Train story from the viewpoint of a kid displaced by a newcomer, young Nate, injured in a farm accident, becomes resentful when his dad takes in an orphan to work on their small farm. A spare, gracefully written novel about bitterness and courage.
Martin, Ann M. Here Today. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-57944-9).
Gr. 5–7. The family story is unforgettable in this sharp, tender narrative told from the viewpoint of Ellie, 11, who is caught between love, shame, and fury after her self-obsessed mother leaves their small town to search for stardom in New York.
Stolz, Joelle. The Shadows of Ghadames. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-73104-3).
Gr. 6–10. Set in Libya at the end of the nineteenth century, this enthralling first novel centers on an outsider who unsettles a Berber household and helps 12-year-old Malika grow into adolescence. Stolz’s vivid setting and cultural specifics invigorate her deft portrayal of a child whose universal questions will resonate with readers.
Van Draanen, Wendelin. Shredderman: Secret Identity. Knopf, $12.95 (0-375-82351-4).
Gr. 3–5. Levity balances with relevant schoolyard situations and a likable character in this roaringly funny chapter book—the first in a series—about a nerdy fifth-grader who uses smarts and cyberspace to unmask the class bully. A cut above most humorous fiction for middle-graders.
Weeks, Sarah. So B. It. HarperCollins/Laura Geringer, $15.99 (0-06-623622-3).
Gr. 4–7. Fully dimensional characters, remarkable yet believable, and lovely, pared-down prose are the hallmarks of a book that chronicles the lives of 13-year-old Heidi and her developmentally disabled mother, who speaks only 23 words.
Bateman, Teresa. April Foolishness. Illus. by Nadine Bernard Westcott. Albert Whitman, $15.95 (0-8075-0404-1).
K–Gr. 2. While visiting their grandparents’ farm, two children inform Grandpa of a string of animal catastrophes. When he confides to Grandma that he knows the kids’ bulletins are April foolery, she has some news of her own, which leads to one twist of an ending and then another. Frenzied fun.
Connor, Leslie. Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel. Illus. by Mary Azarian. Houghton, $16 (0-618-30564-5).
Gr. 1–4. When Miss Bridie leaves Ireland for America in 1856, she takes a shovel with her, which she uses to dig a garden in her new land, plant trees, and clear the snowy path where she meets her future husband. Caldecott winner Azarian’s sturdy woodcuts catch the emotions engendered by everyday life long ago.
Demas, Corinne. Saying Goodbye to Lulu. Illus. by Ard Hoyt. Little, Brown, $15.95 (0-316-70278-1).
PreS–Gr. 2. Demas uses an abundance of sensory details to deepen this honest, heartfelt story of a child’s adjustment to the death of a beloved pet, and Hoyt’s expressive art affectingly reflects the poignancy of the text, capturing the child’s sadness without sentimentality.
Funke, Cornelia. The Princess Knight. Illus. by Kerstin Meyer. Scholastic/Chicken House, $15.95 (0-439-53630-8).
PreS–Gr. 2. Even children who normally prefer their princesses without revisionist twists will adore this jauntily illustrated parable of a brave-hearted maiden who refuses to be married off to “some dimwit in a tin suit.” A droll tale that celebrates bold expressions of independence.
Greenstein, Elaine. One Little Lamb. illus. Viking, $10.99 (0-670-03683-8).
Greenstein, Elaine. One Little Seed. illus. Viking, $10.99 (0-670-03633-1).
PreS–Gr. 1. Amazingly simple and artistically captivating, these two compact volumes use only a few words per page to explain how a seed becomes a plant and how wool becomes yarn and then mittens. Up-close perspectives in the artwork give immediacy to the texts.
Harrington, Janice N. Going North. Illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-32681-9).
Gr. 2–4, younger for reading aloud. Subtle, musical poetry written from a young girl’s viewpoint tells the story of a family’s migration from the segregated South to Nebraska. Lagarrigue’s luminous, soft-edged paintings heighten the emotions in the beautiful words: the nostalgia, the worry, and the bittersweet hope about a promising future. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
Henkes, Kevin. Kitten’s First Full Moon. illus. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-058828-4).
PreS. Henkes creates another winner with this simple, charming story about a naive kitten who mistakes a round, shining moon for a bowl of milk. Henkes’ elemental words and rhythms work beautifully with his shimmering artwork in bold black lines and a silvery palette of moonlight, which captures the excitement of a nighttime adventure and creates a lovable, expressive, determined kitten.
Howe, James. Kaddish for Grandpa in Jesus’ Name Amen. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.95 (0-689-80185-8).
K–Gr. 2. Emily, who comes from a loving, supportive interfaith family, must find her own solace after her beloved grandpa passes away. True to a young child’s emotions, the poignant, quietly told story and the softly colored artwork capture the heartbreak and confusion as well as the joy of finding the perfect, very personal, way to remember.
Ichikawa, Satomi. La La Rose. illus. Putnam/Philomel, $15.99 (0-399-24029-2).
PreS. La La Rose, a stuffed pink rabbit, is the inseparable friend of young Clementine. When La La Rose is lost in Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens, numerous tragedies befall her—until another little girl brings rabbit and child together once more. The charming artwork is a combination of sweetness and subtlety.
Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size. illus. Houghton, $16 (0-618-37594-5).
Gr. 1–3. Jenkins’ gorgeous collage artwork and impeccable design sense combine to give children a tantalizing, comparative view of creatures large and small, with petite critters depicted alongside cropped portions of much larger beasts. An unusual, and unusually effective, tool for connecting children to nature’s astonishing variety. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Lindbergh, Reeve. Our Nest. Illus. by Jill McElmurry. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-1286-3).
PreS–Gr. 3. McElmurry’s velvety, folk-art-inspired paintings pair seamlessly with Lindbergh’s honey of a rhyming text in this quintessential bedtime book, which, while encouraging young ones to contemplate the vastness of the wide world, offers reassuring promise of their safe, cozy place in it.
Nevius, Carol. Karate Hour. Illus. by Bill Thomson. Marshall Cavendish, $14.95 (0-7614-5169-2).
Gr. 1–4. The artwork is amazingly realistic, and the rhymed couplets capture both the precepts and movements of karate. This unique, close-up look brings children right into a karate class.
Raven, Margot Theis. Circle Unbroken. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-31289-3).
PreS–Gr. 3. A young girl learns from her grandmother how to make sweet-grass Gullah baskets, a craft brought to America by the child’s West African ancestors. Raven’s clear, poetic words and Lewis’ exquisite watercolors beautifully express how the small basket holds the big circle of African American history.
Rockwell, Lizzy. The Busy Body Book. illus. Crown, $15.95 (0-375-82203-8).
K–Gr. 3. Celebrating the joy of physical activity and packed with exciting scientific facts, Rockwell’s bright, colorful spreads do a great job of connecting exercise with basics about the body and how it works.
Turner, Pamela S. Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog. Illus. by Yan Nascimbene. Houghton, $15 (0-618-14094-8).
Gr. 1–3. Turner’s narrative, told from the viewpoint of a boy who witnesses a dog’s fruitless vigil for a deceased owner, is affectingly written, and Nascimbene’s delicate, neatly framed artwork, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, beautifully anchors the true story in place and time. Rewarding for dog lovers as well as admirers of distinguished bookmaking.
Wells, Rosemary. My Kindergarten. illus. Hyperion, $16.99 (0-7868-0833-0).
PreS–K. With Wells’ signature blend of tenderness, realism, and fun, this large picture book bursts with information, story, and playful rhyme, all organized according to the school-year calendar. Children in their first year of school will embrace this festive depiction of the exciting goings-on and the many things to learn.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Coming on Home Soon. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Putnam, $16.99 (0-399-23748-8).
K–Gr. 3. With the men off fighting in World War II, “they’re hiring colored women,” and Ada Ruth’s mama leaves home to find work on the railroad. Woodson makes race, class, and gender part of the larger drama as she focuses on Ada Ruth and Grandma, who are left behind. Loneliness and longing are beautifully expressed in the simple, poetic narrative and in the pictures of the warm rooms with an empty chair.
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