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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Selected by the Books for Youth editorial staff and contributor Sally Estes, these titles represent our best-of-the-year selections in fiction, nonfiction, and picture books, based on literary and artistic quality and on special appeal to older and middle readers and the young. Our goal is to offer a broad selection that mixes popular appeal with literary quality.
Bell, Hilari. A Matter of Profit. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-029513-9); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029514-7).
Gr. 6-10. Although the T’Chin have surrendered peacefully to Vivitare forces, it’s rumored that rebels plan to kill the emperor. Reluctant warrior Ahvren is given one year to find the rebels or prove they don’t exist. A dynamic combination of sf, thriller, and mystery.
Blumberg, Rhoda. Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy. illus. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-688-17484-1); lib. ed., $16.89 (0-06-029365-9).
Gr. 5-9. This beautifully illustrated biography, featuring original artwork by its subject, follows the extraordinary life of the first Japanese person to live in the U.S., from his impoverished roots to his stints on U.S. whaling ships to his position as samurai, all told in clear, elegant language that never sensationalizes.
Brashares, Ann. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Delacorte, $14.95 (0-385-72933-2).
Gr. 6-9. Four best girlfriends experience one glorious, painful, life-changing summer apart in Brashares’ irreverently funny, realistic novel in which a pair of thrift-shop jeans serves to help each girl discover her strengths and weaknesses.
Cormier, Robert. The Rag and Bone Shop. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-72962-6).
Gr. 8-10. Terse and terrifying, this posthumously published book from Cormier leaves a lasting impression. Shy, ineffectual Jason thinks he’s being questioned as a witness to the murder of a young girl. What he doesn’t know is that Trent, a detective adept at extracting confessions, has set his sights on Jason as the killer.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Seeing Stone. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.95 (0-439-26326-3).
Gr. 6-10. In language both precise and beautiful, Crossley-Holland takes readers back to medieval England in this lush, intricately layered story of 13-year-old Arthur, whose magical obsidian allows him to slip back to the time of the legendary Arthur. A promising start to a new trilogy.
Ferris, Jean. Of Sound Mind. Farrar, $16 (0-374-35580-0).
Gr. 6-9. Universal issues of family relationships, coming-of age, and death are packed tightly in this thought-provoking, richly cast novel about teenage Theo, who is the only hearing member in his family of four.
Freedman, Russell. In the Days of the Vaqueros: America’s First True Cowboys. illus. Clarion, $18 (0-395-96788-0).
Gr. 5-up. Handsome prints, paintings, and photos illustrate this lively history of the Indian cow herders who first rode the range in Spanish Mexico nearly 500 years ago and much later taught the settlers of the American West their work. Freedman writes with depth and clarity and a vigor that conveys the excitement of the work and the macho swagger of the culture.
Greenberg, Jan and Jordan, Sandra. Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist. illus. Delacorte, $14.95 (0-385-32806-0).
Gr. 7-12. Immediate and moving, this outstanding biography debunks myths about the famous artist and brings readers up close to his family, friends, and the physical world that he painted. Captivating passages reveal Van Gogh’s complex personality while making his work, and visual art in general, seem accessible and inviting.
Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art. Ed. by Jan Greenberg. illus. Abrams, $19.95 (0-8109-4386-7).
Gr. 5-up. Original poems, commissioned from well-known writers such as Naomi Shihab Nye and X. J. Kennedy, celebrate some of the finest twentieth-century American art. Stunning reproductions pair with poems that range across form, subject, and mood. An excellent choice for both personal and classroom use. (Top of the List winner--Youth Nonfiction.)
Jenkins, A. M. Damage. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-029099-4); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029100-1).
Gr. 11-12. Popular, handsome, and a talented athlete, Austin Reid seems to have it all. In reality, however, he’s deeply depressed, and not even his beloved football or sex with the prettiest girl in school are enough to make him feel alive. There are no simple solutions in this unflinching, powerful novel.
Jimenez, Francisco. Breaking Through. Houghton, $15 (0-618-01173-0).
Gr. 6-12. A sequel to The Circuit (1997), this fictionalized memoir stays true to the viewpoint of a Mexican American teenager as it follows Panchito, growing up poor in the late 1950s, working before and after school, picking strawberries, cleaning offices, waxing floors, struggling to help his family put food on the table while he dreams of college.
Kerr, M. E. Slap Your Sides. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-029481-7); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029482-5).
Gr. 7-10. In dramatic historical fiction that speaks to today’s headlines, Kerr tells the story of a Quaker teenager who is a pacifist during WWII. The ideas are gripping, not only because Kerr is fair to all sides but also because the characters are complicated.
Kindl, Patrice. Goose Chase. Houghton, $15 (0-618-03377-7).
Gr. 6-9. A happy ending is understood from the beginning of this lighthearted fairy-tale spoof, in which magical geese help Goose Girl flee from two equally ghastly suitors. Strong characterization, keen wit, and lots of action give the story wings.
Marrin, Albert. George Washington and the Founding of a Nation. illus. Dutton, $25 (0-525-46481-6).
Gr. 7flair, Marrin blends a recounting of the colonies’ fight for independence with a portrait of America’s first president that warms the cold marble of legend into something much closer to flesh and blood.
Myers, Walter Dean. The Greatest: Muhammad Ali. illus. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-590-54342-3).
Gr. 6-10. Succinctly and vividly written, Myers’ biography captures the excitement that Ali created as both a fighter and a political activist. There are perceptive specifics about the business and technique of boxing, but most moving are accounts of Ali as a courageous iconoclast whose story continues to inspire new generations.
Na, An. A Step from Heaven. Front Street, $15.95 (1-886910-58-8).
Gr. 9-12. Young Ju’s parents don’t want her to become too American, and Young Ju is ashamed of them. In this stirring immigration story, the particulars of one Korean American family speak to universal conflicts between home and outside. Each chapter is a story in itself, with a surprise or quiet reversal.
Naidoo, Beverley. The Other Side of Truth. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-029628-3); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029629-1).
Gr. 6-10. Part urban survival adventure, part anguished family drama, this powerful novel brings the news headlines very close through the eyes of one child refugee, Sade Solaja, 12, who must flee her comfortable home in Lagos, Nigeria, and care for her younger brother in the cold London streets. (xTop of the List winner--Youth Fiction. x)
Pierce, Meredith Ann. Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood. Viking, $16.99 (0-670-89247-5).
Gr. 6-10. To restore an enchanted knight to human form, brave Hannah flees the wizard who has held her captive, undertaking a convoluted journey linked to the changing of the seasons. A mesmerizing, elegantly descriptive tale steeped in legends of Earth Mother.
Salisbury, Graham. Lord of the Deep. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-72918-9).
Gr. 6-8. Deep-sea fishing is the backdrop for this exciting adventure cum ethical conundrum in which a Hawaiian teenager discovers that life is far more complicated than he realized and the stepfather he has always idolized isn’t a hero after all.
Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn’t Know. Simon & Schuster, $17 (0-689-84114-0).
Gr. 6-10. The joy and surprise of falling in love are at the center of this fast, funny, touching story. Fourteen-year-old Sophie’s simple, poetic narrative is colloquial and intimate, and the discoveries she makes are beyond formula, as sweetly romantic as popular song.
Tashjian, Janet. The Gospel according to Larry. illus. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-6378-1).
Gr. 7-10. Josh (using the pseudonym Larry) starts a worldwide phenomenon when he begins posting his anti-consumerism rants on a Web site. But changing the world means having your own life changed as well. A fresh, thought-provoking story that will touch readers on a visceral level.
Taylor, Mildred D.
The Land. Penguin Putnam/Phyllis Fogelman, $17.99 (0-8037-1950-7).
Gr. 7-12. This powerful historical novel, a prequel to Taylor’s Newbery Medal book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), goes back to the time of Reconstruction to tell a searing story of cruelty, racism, and betrayal. It is also a thrilling coming-of-age tale about friendship, hope, and family strength.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. Every Time a Rainbow Dies. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-688-16245-2); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029202-4).
Gr. 9-12. A 16-year-old boy witnesses a rape from his roof. He helps the naked, injured girl, and afterward, he tries to get to know her. She pushes him away at first, but finally a relationship forms that is both tender and painful. Stark and moving, this book will stay with readers for a long time.
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. True Believer. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $17 (0-689-82827-6).
Gr. 7-12. The star of Wolff’s Make Lemonade (a 1993 Top of the List winner) suffers her first deep crush in this heart-stopping sequel told in LaVaughn’s deeply affecting, stream-of-consciousness voice. Set amid the violence and poverty of the projects, the story is provocative, fiercely optimistic, and supported by characters that shine.
Almond, David. Heaven Eyes. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32770-6).
Gr. 5-8. This bizarre yet beautiful odyssey takes three British foundlings away from their home for “damaged” children and into the Black Middens, an area of dilapidated buildings and a thick mud that holds many secrets--including Heaven Eyes, an odd child who seems as much sprite as human.
Deans, Sis. Racing the Past. Holt, $15.95 (0-8050-6635-7).
Gr. 4-7. Ricky stops taking the school bus in his small town in Maine, first to evade the bullies (who call his family “white trash”) and then gradually to improve his running speed and beat the bus home. Sports fans will appreciate the realism of Ricky’s grueling training, and the story is just as honest about family struggles.
Gerson, Mary-Joan. Fiesta Feminina: Celebrating Women in Mexican Folktales. illus. Barefoot, $19.99 (1-84148-365-6).
Gr. 4-8, younger for reading aloud. Gerson retells eight Mexican folktales featuring women who show complexity, inner strength, and magical creativity. Lushly illustrated, this will be a sparkling treasure for folktale collections.
Goodman, Joan Elizabeth. A Long and Uncertain Journey: The 27,000-Mile Voyage of Vasco da Gama. Illus. by Tom McNeely. Mikaya; dist. by Firefly, $19.95 (0-9650493-7-X).
Gr. 4-8. In this clear-sighted picture book for older readers, Goodman ably makes her way through treacherous historical waters to tell a fascinating story about Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, whose personal prejudices come clear against a background of his strengths as a ship’s captain and voyageur.
Hoose, Phillip. We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History. illus. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $26 (0-374-38252-2).
Gr. 5-8. Hoose gives voice to the many young people who helped shaped the country. Using mostly primary sources-journals, diaries, interviews-he takes readers on a ride through American history, starting with Columbus and the two young Taino Indians who greeted him. He then goes on to profile more than 60 other young people of all races and religions, many of whom made their mark and then faded from history. They are reintroduced here.
Montgomery, Sy. The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans. illus. Houghton, $16 (0-618-07704-9).
Gr. 4-7. Engaging writing turns a scientific study into a page-turning mystery: Why do the tigers of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve prey on people, and why are most of the victims men? Scientific information as well as folktales and religious beliefs help unravel the reasons.
Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. Clarion, $15 (0-395-97827-0).
Gr. 4-8. In this beautifully crafted novel set in twelfth-century Korea, poor, orphaned 12-year-old Tree-ear finds work and validation when he takes a job with a crotchety but brilliant potter whose art is known throughout the land. A book that speaks quietly but clearly about creativity, dedication, and honesty.
Peck, Richard. Fair Weather. Dial, $16.99 (0-8037-2516-7).
Gr. 4-6. Peck transports readers first to rural Illinois in 1893, where 13-year-old Rosie lives on a farm, then on to Chicago, after Rosie and her siblings have been invited by their aunt to the World’s Columbian Exposition. The fair opens Rosie’s eyes to a different kind of existence in a story that’s full of humor and history.
Rosen, Michael. Shakespeare: His Work & His World. illus. Candlewick, $19.99 (0-7636-1568-4).
Gr. 5-9. Rosen enthusiastically sweeps aside dusty images of the Bard of Avon in this well-designed, thoroughly engaging volume that clearly answers, for both student and interested reader, the perennial question about why Shakespeare’s work endures.
Williams, Vera B. Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart. illus. Greenwillow, $15.95 (0-06-029460-4); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029461-2).
Gr. 3-5, younger for reading aloud. With touching art in rainbow colors, sweetly satisfying poetic vignettes lovingly reflect the affectionate bonds between two sisters who play and dream and support one another during difficult times.
Zucker, Naomi Flink. Benno’s Bear. Dutton, $16.99 (0-525-46521-9).
Gr. 4-7. In this moving, nostalgic adventure set in a Central European city, a boy struggles to break from a past of abuse and petty crime and accept new opportunities, comfort, and love. A profound bond with his pet bear sustains him throughout this atmospheric story that borrows from fantasy and fairy tale.
Ashman, Linda. Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs. Illus. by Lauren Stringer. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-202211-2).
Ages 2-5. Curvy, abstract paintings illustrate this lyrical survey of animal dwellings, which is written in rhymed text that rolls with an almost hypnotic rhythm. A warm, reassuring view of home and of the animal world.
Barton, Byron. My Car. illus. Greenwillow, $14.95 (0-06-029624-0); lib. ed., $14.89 (0-06-029625-9).
Ages 2-4. Here’s a charmer that is simple in the best sense of the word. Brightly colored combinations of geometric shapes become recognizable objects as a driver introduces the many unusual features of his car. A twist at the end makes this a satisfying story as well as a marvelous book for little ones intrigued by cars. (Top of the List winner--Youth Picture Book.)
Graham, Bob. “Let’s Get a Pup!” Said Kate. illus. Candlewick, $14.99 (0-7636-1452-1).
Ages 3-5. Two happy-go-lucky young parents and their daughter go to the pound to pick out a pup. There are plenty of dogs--fat, smelly, sad, sweet--but the family is happy with the choice it makes, until they see old Rosie, who needs a home, too. This one will tug at your heartstrings.
Kroll, Steven. Patches Lost and Found. Illus. by Barry Gott. Winslow, $16.95 (1-890817-53-8).
Ages 5-8. Told in language that will hook children, this charming mystery of a lost guinea pig is also a celebration of children’s varying learning styles. Illustrated in collagelike digital art, the story shows how an innovative girl transforms a struggle with schoolwork into a winning display of individuality and creativity.
Look, Lenore. Henry’s First-Moon Birthday. Illus. by Yumi Heo. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-82294-4).
Ages 4-8. Big sister Jen narrates this account of how her family celebrates her new baby brother according to Chinese traditions. Basic, cozy words reflect the push and pull of domestic rivalry, and enchanting paper-and-paint collages swirl with captivating warmth and domestic chaos.
Masurel, Claire. Two Homes. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, $14.99 (0-7636-0511-5).
Ages 2-5. A young boy introduces the homes he shares with each divorced parent, showing how his needs are met at each house. The sensitive ink-and-paint illustrations are filled with subtle domestic details and appealing characters that will reassure children having similar experiences.
McFarland, Lyn Rossiter. Widget. Illus. by Jim McFarland. Farrar, $16 (0-374-38428-2).
Ages 3-6. Widget, a stray dog, ventures into Mrs. Diggs’ house and hopes he’s found a home. But Miss Diggs has six cats-who can’t stand dogs. Short text, appealing art, and a good old-fashioned story make this a real crowd pleaser.
Rappaport, Doreen. Martin’s Big Words. Illus. by Bryan Collier. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (0-7868-0714-8); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-7868-2591-X).
Ages 4-9. With powerful art and pulsing words, this inspiring picture-book biography honors Martin Luther King Jr. as preacher and politician. Collier’s glorious collage art combines cut-paper, photographs, and watercolor, cleverly using stained-glass windows as the dominant images in church and also in the play of light and color in realistic views of the city.
Root, Phyllis. Rattletrap Car. Illus. by Jill Barton. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-0919-6).
Ages 3-5. It doesn’t go fast, and it doesn’t go far, but the rattletrap car gets one very hot family to the lake--but only after the beach ball replaces a tire, and the axle gets stuck back on with chocolate marshmallow fudge. A delightful read-aloud.
Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg. Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace. Illus. by Joani Keller Rothenberg. Jewish Lights, $16.95 (1-58023-123-3).
Ages 5-8. Sasso takes a fresh look at a troubling Bible story, leading children to examine the personal relationship between the brothers and showing how it failed. This simple yet effective book makes a thoughtful connection to today’s violence.
Sayre, April Pulley. Dig, Wait, Listen. Illus. by Barbara Bash. Greenwillow, $15.95 (0-688-16614-8); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-688-16615-6).
Ages 4-7. The life cycle of a desert-dwelling spadefoot toad becomes fascinating in this spare, delicately illustrated title that weaves scientific fact into a concise story with the captivating appeal of fiction. An excellent choice for preschool and primary read-alouds.
Schanzer, Rosalyn. Davy Crockett Saves the World. illus. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-688-16991-0); lib. ed., $16.89 (0-688-16992-9).
Ages 5-8. Davy Crockett faces down Halley’s comet in this original tall tale that captures Crockett’s bravery and wit. The text is matched by outsize illustrations that brand the story’s humor.
Smith, Linda. When Moon Fell Down. Illus. by Kathryn Brown. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-028301-7); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-029497-3).
Ages 3-5. “Moon fell down one night,” and he’s lucky enough to meet a cow who wants to run off on an adventure with him. This sweetly funny story has a text that’s soft and lilting and whimsical pictures that evoke the delights of an unexpected friendship.
Spinelli, Eileen. Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale. Illus. by Jane Dyer. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-80112-2).
Ages 4-7. Beekman’s Boardinghouse gains a treasure when artist and spider Sophie moves in. Dyer’s luminous, wonderfully expressive watercolors are a charming match for this lyrical, heart-tugging story about finding and using one’s talents.
Wild, Margaret. Midnight Babies. Illus. by Ann James. Clarion, $15 (0-618-10412-7).
Ages 2-5. Two babes toddle off to hear the music at the Midnight Cafe, where there’s feasting and dancing, and the children play dress-up with their food. The art is bold and delicious; the text captures the pure exuberance of the sweet, silly action. A fantastical ode to babydom.
Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Putnam, $16.99 (0-399-23116-1).
Ages 5-8. Beautiful watercolors illustrate a quiet, tender story of a friendship across race in a middle-class pre-civil rights setting. A brown picket fence divides Clover and her friends from Annie Rose, who lives on the other side-the white side. Then Annie Rose climbs over, and the girls jump rope together. Words and pictures express a sense of longing for the barrier to come down.
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