Our 2016 Best Children's & Teen Books of the Year
What a wonderful year for children's and young adult books! (Admittedly, we always feel that way.) Here are our favorites for 2016; scroll down to see Shelf's reviews of all these glorious, glorious books that make our hearts sing.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illus. by Julie Morstad (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook)
The Night Gardener by Terry Fan, illus. by Eric Fan (Simon & Schuster)
Dario and the Whale by Cheryl Lawton Malone, illus. by Bistra Masseva (Albert Whitman)
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown)
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Clarion)
The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Júlia Sardà (Tundra)
The Airport Book by Lisa Brown (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook)
If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee, illus. by Kieran Rynhart (Gecko Press)
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow/HarperCollins)
Daytime Visions: An Alphabet by Isol (Enchanted Lion)
Middle Grade Books (Ages 9-12)
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins)
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (Dutton)
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (Little, Brown)
Sea Change by Frank Viva (Toon Graphics)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
The Bolds by Julian Clary, illus. by David Roberts (Carolrhoda)
Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd (Delacorte)
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Dutton)
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Crown)
My Name Is Not Friday by Jon Walter (David Fickling/Scholastic)
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf)
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte)
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse)
The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Wendy Lamb/Random House)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen)
Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King (Dutton)
Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick)
Our 2016 Best Children's & Teen Books of the Year
Children's & Young Adult
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
by Julie Fogliano, illus. by Julie Morstad
In When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano (And Then It's Spring; If You Want to See a Whale), the four seasons leap to life in fresh and breezy poems presented as journal entries, organized by season for a full year. It's genius. Spring is "muddy mud," "one blue mitten," "the forever rushing daffodils/ wished they had waited" and "everyone is soggy/ but the sometimes sun/ is just enough/ for a robin." Summer is "when green becomes tomatoes." Fall is "waiting for sweaters," "where notebooks are new" and "pumpkin toss/ pumpkin out/ pumpkin someday/ pumpkin sprout." Winter is an old green bike "suddenly beautiful/ with snow on top." In Fogliano's skillful hands, the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of the unfolding seasons reflect fleeting pleasures, joy and melancholy, discovery and loss, anticipation.
Julie Morstad (Julia, Child; This Is Sadie; Swan) invites readers along on Fogliano's year-long journey with winsome, pleasingly textured scenes in gouache and pencil crayon. Children of many colors tromp through fields, swim, dig in the sand, play in leaves... and creatures from squirrels to cows populate this vibrant, dynamic world where strawberries are furious and butterflies are anxious, depending on the season. Say yes. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook,
hardcover, 56p., ages 6-10, 9781596438521
The Night Gardener
by Terry Fan, illus. by Eric Fan
There's magic in topiary--taking something free and alive like a tree and transforming it, with the snip of sharp blades, into a dragon or elephant.
In this deeply lovely picture-book debut by Canadian author-illustrators Terry Fan and his brother Eric Fan, there is one such maker of magic on the glum, rather monochromatic Grimloch Lane of yesteryear: an older Asian gentleman who shapes trees into owls, cats and rabbits in the night while people are sleeping.
One morning, a boy named William wakes up to a commotion. He looks out the orphanage window, then races outside to find a big tree shaped into an enormous owl. Each day after that, there is a new topiary creation to discover. The Fan brothers capture the thrill of stumbling upon something unknown and unexpected... something that is not magic, but feels like magic. The gorgeous graphite illustrations are exquisitely detailed, and the greenish gray hues of the moonlit night scenes in particular evoke the hush of darkness. After the night gardener works his curious brand of magic, no one--not the town, not William--is ever the same. The Night Gardener is visual storytelling at its best. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Simon & Schuster,
hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781481439787
Dario and the Whale
by Cheryl Lawton Malone, illus. by Bistra Masseva
The powerful yet buoyant Dario and the Whale was inspired by the author's real-life encounter with a curious whale in Cape Cod, Mass.
A Brazilian mother and her son--and a whale and her new calf--live parallel lives. The humans are on Cape Cod because the mother is a seasonal cook at the Salty Cod. The whales are off Cape Cod because that's where North Atlantic right whales go in the spring before they migrate in May. Dario, who speaks Portuguese, awkwardly tries to make friends on the beach. As he's accidentally bumping into a girl's sand castle (" 'Desculpe,' Dario says, turning pink"), the whale is playfully bumping a green turtle, which swims away. And then, "Dario sees the whale. The whale sees Dario." Every day after that, the boy races to the beach to see his whale, which spouts when the boy whistles, and breaches when he waves.
The almost holy wonder of looking into a whale's eye is sublimely captured in the inviting, richly textured paintings of Bulgarian-born illustrator Bistra Masseva (My Dad). It is a dream, to be seen by and make friends with a whale, and in this radiant picture book, author Cheryl Lawton Malone quietly captures the heart-quickening excitement she must have felt herself. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780807514634
Thunder Boy Jr.
by Sherman Alexie, illus. by Yuyi Morales
Novelist and poet Sherman Alexie, who won a National Book Award for his YA debut, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, makes his picture-book debut with Thunder Boy Jr., illustrated by Mexico-born Yuyi Morales, four-time Pura Belpré winner and the Caldecott Honor artist behind Viva Frida.
Alexie tells the playful and profound story of Thunder Boy Smith Jr., a Native American boy who adores the dad he's named for, but still wishes he could have his own name. The "Big Thunder"/"Little Thunder" as father/son distinction isn't working for him, either. ("That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart," he says.) Why can't he be given a name, as is a generations-old Native American tradition, that celebrates something he's achieved on his own--something specific to him? "I once climbed a mountain," Thunder Boy says, "so maybe my name should be TOUCH THE CLOUDS."
While Alexie writes with humor and real emotion, Morales takes the boy's dreamy, name-related musings and shoots them into the stratosphere with her electrifying illustrations. Together they paint a picture of a happy, creative family where there's love and laughter and music every day, and within that joy, plenty of room for deeply felt questions of personal identity. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780316013727
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs
by Linda Sue Park, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Yaks yak over tea, bats bat baseballs and steers steer bumper cars in the thoroughly delightful picture book Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs
by the Newbery Medal-winning Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard
Children will giggle over this entertaining parade of animal homographs (words with different meanings that are spelled and pronounced the same, such as the animal
slug and the verb
slug)--but illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt (The Inventor's Secret
) takes the witty wordplay to another dimension with her elaborate watercolor-and-ink paintings of apes aping, ducks ducking and fish fishing. In "Flounders flounder," five flounders are mid-crisis underwater, with thought bubbles that say "I did not
mean to do that" and "I don't know where I am." One badger badgers another in hopes of procuring his apple. Each skillfully composed spread includes a definition of the noun that's used as a verb ("to flounder=to be helpless"), and a word-pair guide in the back explains word origins of both the animal's name (badger) and the action (to badger).
Young readers will no doubt start "parroting" all these marvelous new words, from the hogs hogging apples to the crows crowing, "It's good to be me." Giddy and glorious. --Karin Snelson
, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780544391017
by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Júlia Sardà
The Liszts, a rather sober lot, are constantly making lists: ghastly illnesses, small winged insects, shades of black, you name it.
The youngest child, Frederick, makes lists of fun things to do, such as drawing the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The oldest, Winifred, is fond of "top ten lists" (#1 on her cheese list is Roquefort). The middle child, Edward, makes 31-page lists "to quiet the swirl of his midnight mind." One day a large adult visitor who, inexplicably, is carrying a bouquet of helium balloons, enters the Liszts' stately home through the open front door and tells Mama, "I'm here." He's not on her list, so she can't be bothered, nor can anyone else. But when he finally approaches Edward, the boy greets him with a shy "Hi." Edward has a list of questions, and so does the visitor; between them their questions fill three pages. Visitor: "HOW DO I KNOW MY LIFE IS NOT A DREAM?" and "WHERE ARE MY PANTS?" Edward: "DOES ANYONE OWN THE MOON OR THE SKY?"
The Liszts, by Toronto resident Kyo Maclear (Julia, Child), is a welcome reminder to stay open to the unexpected, and Barcelona resident Júlia Sardà's lovely, surprise-filled, comical, autumnally hued illustrations could not be more perfectly suited to the quirky, Edward Gorey-esque story. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9781770494961
The Airport Book
by Lisa Brown
Lisa Brown (Mummy Cat
) takes preschoolers to the airport and beyond in this extraordinary picture book that captures an airport's many intrigues, from tearful goodbyes to curiously shaped packages.
The journey begins as a stylish young mixed-race family climbs into a taxi, the daughter's stuffed monkey in tow. The boy in the family is the narrator, describing a busy travel day, step by step. The airport action begins at curbside drop-off, where readers are introduced to some of the colorful individuals--even a dog with a pink-ribbon collar--who will eventually make it aboard the same airplane as the family. One of the many joys of the book is following the meticulously inked and watercolored characters as they move through their day--from the mustachioed gentleman in the yellow suit to the nonstop cell-phone talker ("BLAH BLAH BLAH"). The stuffed monkey plays a major role, too, as it gets busted out of the suitcase by the pink-ribbon dog down in the cargo area, then shows up on the conveyor belt at the family's destination airport: "MONKEY!" the girl happily exclaims.
If there's any justice in the world, The Airport Book
will become just as beloved as the transportation book of yesteryear, Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
. Bon voyage! --Karin Snelson
, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook,
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9781626720916
If I Was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee, illus. by Kieran Rynhart
Not every boy daydreams about what kind of banana he would be, but this boy does. He also imagines being a cow: "If I was a cow I would want to be the one standing over there. That cow makes you feel like there is nothing more important than being a black cow standing on green grass." At first he thinks if he were a cloud, he'd be "a big black storm cloud" shooting lightning, thunder and hail, "[b]ut then, maybe a much smaller,/ lighter, fluffy sort of cloud/ would be a better sort of cloud to be." Debut author Alexandra Tylee balances the boy's more reflective daydreams with gut-felt declarations: "I don't want to be a fish."
New Zealand artist Kieran Rynhart's delicately etched, muted illustrations have the same wondrous combination of dreaminess, humor, realism and whimsy as Tylee's imaginative storytelling. If I Was a Banana is not only a gem, but a potential launch pad for a life-long "If I was..." game. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781776570331
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled
by Lynne Rae Perkins
Newbery-winning author Lynne Rae Perkins (Criss Cross; All Alone in the Universe) paints a picture of a redheaded boy whose bad day turns around when he brings a friendly black dog home from the pound. Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is a story about a boy and his dog, yes, but it's also a funny, inventive exploration of the nature of learning and the interconnectedness of all things.
Science, for instance: "Science is when you wonder about something, so you observe it and ask questions about it and try to understand it." So, of course Lucky the dog is interested in science. He wonders about squirrels ("Can I catch it?"), bees ("Can I eat it?") and deer ("Is it my friend?"). Boy and dog both love math: "Math is puzzles. Math is how much and how many." The number of biscuits Lucky is willing to eat? Infinity. Perkins has a knack for elegantly, playfully distilling the essence of the world, and in doing so, making readers feel lucky to be alive. Expressive, comical watercolor and pen-and-ink paintings appear in small framed panels with cartoon bubbles and also on full-bleed pages. Fresh, fascinating and just plain fun. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9780062373458
Daytime Visions: An Alphabet
Daytime Visions by Argentina-born Isol (The Menino; Nocturne; It's Useful to Have a Duck) is not like any other alphabet book.
From A to Z (shown in upper and lowercase, and in cursive), each letter is represented by a scene, a mini-story, a "daytime vision," with a word or an entire phrase. The letter A spread, for instance, shows a little bird flying away from a barking dog. "That's not an answer," it says. Does that mean escape isn't an answer? The beauty of it is that readers will bring to each scenario what they will. The letter C is for "Come on!" and shows a girl impatiently watching a potted plant grow. The letter K is for "The kiwi again!" and, amusingly, shows a large kiwi bird standing atop a child in bed who is clearly trying to sleep. The exquisitely designed picture book's rough simplicity is achieved with crayon-like hand-lettering, blocky collages, intriguing textures and inky, kinetic brushstrokes. The astonishing result is that every page or spread looks like it belongs in an art museum. Daytime Visions is in turns comical, touching, thought-provoking and deliciously odd, as appealing to adults as it will be to children. B for brava! --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 56p., ages 4-adult, 9781592701957
As Brave As You
by Jason Reynolds
In his terrific middle-grade debut, As Brave As You
, Jason Reynolds (Boy in the Black Suit
; All American Boys
with Brendan Kiely) tells the story of two African American brothers from New York who spend a month with their grandparents in Virginia while their parents work on their struggling marriage. This worries 11-year-old Genie Harris. Most things do.
It doesn't take long for Genie to see how different "the little house all alone on the top of a hill" is from Brooklyn: "No brownstones with the cement stoops where you could watch the buses, ice cream trucks, and taxis ride by. Nope. North Hill, Virginia, was country. Like country
country." New revelations abound: when Genie tells Grandpop that wearing sunglasses inside "makes you look crazy," he learns that his grandfather is blind. (This worries him, too.) Genie also ponders their uncle's death in Desert Storm, masked fears, pea-picking, loud thunder, people who eat squirrels, the ins and outs of Grandpop's mysterious six-shooter, sweet tea and more.
Unfolding family secrets and upsetting mishaps, major and minor, keep the pages flying, and how obsessive Genie and his "cool, confident" older brother, Ernie, settle in with their grandparents makes for a poignant, profound, often very funny story, told in an easy style as smooth as Grandma's banana pudding. --Karin Snelson
, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum,
hardcover, 432p., ages 10-up, 9781481415903
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
by Leslie Connor
Eleven-year-old Perry Cook is a kind, openhearted boy growing up in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Neb., a minimum-security facility where his mother is incarcerated for nebulous reasons. As Perry begins his own investigation into her past, this winsome novel turns into a genuinely suspenseful mystery.
Perry loves the staff and "rezzies," and his Blue River family loves him back. Still, he and his mother dream of the day she will get out on parole, and the two can start over "on the outside." When the local district attorney, Thomas VanLeer, decides to play the hero and pull the boy out of the prison, "for his own good," Perry's world falls apart. Sure, VanLeer's home is super-fancy, and Perry will be living with his best friend, Zoey, who is the DA's stepdaughter... but all Perry wants is to be home at Blue River with his mother.
Leslie Connor (Waiting for Normal; Crunch) restores faith in humanity with All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. Its earnest, compassionate boy hero gives everyone a fair shake, judging others only when wronged, bullied or misled--perhaps the upside to growing up in a prison full of complicated, heartbreaking stories. The world needs Perry, and readers will be glad to know him. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 400p., ages 9-12, 9780062333469
by Lauren Wolk
Eleven-year-old Annabelle McBride wishes the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Betty Glengarry had never moved to Wolf Hollow that fateful fall of 1943. Readers of Wolf Hollow will immediately feel the chill this "dark-hearted" 14-year-old bully brings to a close-knit farming community in rural Pennsylvania.
When a rock, thrown from a nearby hill, blinds her friend Ruth in one eye, Annabelle is sure it must have been Betty's doing. After all, Betty has beaten her with a stick and crushed a bird's neck in front of her. But Betty says she saw Toby--a tall, solitary World War I vet who roams the hills of Wolf Hollow--throw the rock. Annabelle knows Toby couldn't have thrown the rock. Toby is enigmatic, but she believes he's a good man. When Betty disappears, Toby is blamed again, and the suspense builds unbearably.
Lauren Wolk's nuanced, nerve-wracking middle-grade debut takes a close look at how dangerous it is to make assumptions of guilt or innocence based on appearances--and how telling the truth and standing up against injustice are essential, even if the wrongs are not always righted. Wolk has a clean and poetic way with words, and her story is finely crafted, haunting and unlikely to be forgotten. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 304p., ages 11-14, 9781101994825
The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown
Sensitive, nature-loving readers will thrill to this adventure story written and illustrated by Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild).
ROZZUM unit 7134, a brand-new bipedal robot with a dome-shaped head and glowing eyes reminiscent of the Iron Giant, gets shipwrecked on an unpopulated island and is accidentally activated by curious otters. At first the animals on the island run from "Roz" and call her "the monster." But when the robot adopts an orphaned gosling she names Brightbill, the once-hostile community of wildlife rallies around her as she struggles to feed and shelter her fluffy charge. In time, resourceful Roz cleverly, contentedly adapts to motherhood and the only home she knows, but her Makers have not forgotten her, and they want her back at any cost.
Filled with Brown's arresting geometric, black-and-white illustrations, The Wild Robot combines humor, family ties and an intelligent wilderness survival story for a quirky and thought-provoking romp that will leave readers pondering whether artificial intelligence can give rise to real love. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.
hardcover, 288p., ages 8-12, 9780316381994
by Frank Viva
Twelve-year-old Eliot Dionisi is incredulous that his parents would cruelly send him off to spend the whole summer with "wrinkly old relatives" in Nova Scotia's Point Aconi.
Eliot's "wrinkly old relatives" are Grandmother McNeil and his great-uncle Earl with the icy stare, gold tooth and anchor tattoo, but before Eliot knows it, he's made new kid friends and is waist-deep in the "grayish green" ocean with the intriguing, chestnut-haired Mary Beth McGillivery. It doesn't take long for two local boys, Jack and Eddie McLeod, to warn him that their older brother Donnie "won't like some Eye-talian kid from away coming around," and the bully is as scary as they say. Because dangers lurk, promises of future clambakes and lighthouse-exploring feel like cold comfort. But things look up considerably as Eliot builds some good, solid Nova Scotia-style skills and deepens his relationships with his new friends and family.
Canadian author-artist Frank Viva (Young Frank, Architect) draws on his own memories of Nova Scotia summers. He illustrates his often-funny, often-poignant, wonderfully spun story with cartoonish, pinkish-red people, trucks and fish, and the type pours into tea cups or beams in rays through an attic window. Sea Change, a literary and visual ode to small-town Nova Scotia, is the novel equivalent of the best summer-vacation postcard a person could get. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 120p., ages 9-12, 9781935179924
by Kate DiCamillo
In all of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's middle-grade fiction (Flora & Ulysses; The Tale of Despereaux), the emotional undercurrent carries the story. In Raymie Nightingale--the author's most autobiographical novel to date--it's 10-year-old Raymie Clarke's determination to bring her errant dad back home.
Her plan is to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, because if she does, her father will see a photograph of her newly crowned self in the newspaper and come running. In baton-twirling class, Raymie meets two future contest competitors: the gruff Beverly Tapinski, who is not to be messed with, and the dreamy Louisiana Elefante, who is sick with "swampy lungs" but sings like an angel, especially the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." (This is the summer of 1975.) By the time the Little Miss contest takes place, Raymie Nightingale has become the story of how these three heavy-hearted girls band together to help each other with their respective, ever-evolving missions, all the while navigating the waters of friendship and heartbreak, love and loss, life and death. DiCamillo's fabulous cast of eccentric characters--including Mrs. Sylvester, who talks like a cartoon bird and believes in the power of candy corn, feeding swans and happy endings--makes for a hugely entertaining parade. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 272p., ages 10-up, 9780763681173
by Julian Clary, illus. by David Roberts
In this hilarious British adventure by debut author Julian Clary, two African hyenas steal the passports of two English tourists (who are eaten by crocodiles while on safari) and decide to begin a new life in human society.
Thus, two English-speaking hyenas (they learned it at the nearby tourist camp), come to be Fred and Amelia Bold. "Amelia" has always fancied living in England, with its cooler weather and custom of waiting one's turn vs. "fighting and diving in for scraps of meat." So they stand up on their hind legs, put on safari clothes, tuck in their tails, laugh less and prepare to fake it. What follows is a fabulous send-up of human society--undiggable gardens, having to pay for everything ("What a nuisance!") and "things called 'jobs.' " It's an ongoing struggle--and a goldmine of humor--not to blow their cover in suburban England, especially under the ever-watchful eye of their suspicious neighbor Mr. McNumpty.
Middle-graders will revel in the low-brow silliness, with laugh-out-loud illustrations by British artist David Roberts. The Bolds is not pure frivolity, however. It's also a celebration of ingenuity, tolerance, untiring good humor and big hyena hearts. (Look for The Bolds to the Rescue in April 2017.) --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781512404401
Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Melissa Sweet (Caldecott Honor artist of Jen Bryant's The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams) has written and illustrated Some Writer!, the first-ever visual biography of E.B. White, the beloved children's book author, New Yorker columnist, poet, the "White" in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and a true writer's writer.
In a clean, engaging style and "clear, brief, bold" sentences fit for an E.B. White biography, Sweet takes readers on a journey through White's life as writer, husband and father, starting with his earliest days in New York and blissful childhood summers in Maine. The elaborate, thoughtfully choreographed scrapbook bursts with colorful collages made up of Sweet's charming original paintings; whimsical dioramas and maps; abundant family photos; paper ephemera; vintage office supplies; pieces of old books; chunks of barn; eggs; leaves; and old typewriter keys. The pages whisper "labor of love." The stories behind Stuart Little and 1953 Newbery Honor Medalist Charlotte's Web are thrilling for those who hold dear the dapper mouse, spider and pig. This fresh and beautiful tribute is just as down-to-earth, playful and steeped in the wondrous natural world as E.B. White would have wanted it to be. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
hardcover, 176p., ages 9-adult, 9780544319592
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
by Megan Shepherd, illus. by Dan Burgess
In World War II England, a fierce, imaginative girl named Emmaline lives in a children's hospital, a converted country mansion run by the Sisters of Mercy. Emmaline has a lung disease she calls the "stillwaters," or tuberculosis, as do the other boys and girls whose doors are color-coded from blue (well enough to go outside) to red (dire indeed). Emmaline starts out blue, but her bedridden best friend Anna is red. She hopes Anna will one day see what she sees: winged horses in the old mansion's elegant mirrors.
Emmaline used to think the winged horses she likes to sketch lived only in the mirror-world, but she discovers a real one beyond the ivy-covered garden wall. A mysterious note from "The Horse Lord" left under the garden sundial's arm tells her the horse's name is Foxfire and that Foxfire is being hunted by the Black Horse. Emmaline risks everything to help protect the imperiled horse. Megan Shepherd (The Madman's Daughter; The Cage) keeps readers vacillating on what's real and what's imagined as Emmaline tries to sort it out herself. The Secret Horses of Briar Hill--exquisitely illustrated and clearly, flawlessly spun--explodes with raw anguish, magic and hope. It deserves a spot on the shelf next to the most beloved children's classics--yes, even The Secret Garden. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 240p., ages 10-12, 9781101939758
by Tahereh Mafi
Alice Queensmeadow was born "white as milk"--without any pigment--in Ferenwood, where color is magic and reigns supreme. As "smart and lively and passionate" as almost-12-year-old Alice is, she doesn't make sense to the planet-bright people of her fantastical world. Alice feels alone, even with her green-haired, brown-skinned mother whom she loves, but can't really like, "a prune of a person" who is constantly threatening her with outlandish punishments like "whisking" her into an elephant. When her father abandoned the family three years ago, "[t]he shock of loss unlatched [Alice's] armor, and soon cold winds and whispers of fear snuck through the cracks in her skin...." She would do anything to escape Ferenwood and find her father... even if means joining forces with her childhood nemesis Oliver Newbanks.
Alice careens wildly between brooding and optimism. Often she is full of joy, almost Pan-like. Her beaded, bejeweled clothes exhaust her, so she frequently removes them. She loves her body, and dancing, and eats flowers without honey because she wants to taste them "unmasked," the taste of truth. Will she ever find a place to blossom? With its fascinating heroine, companionable narrator, wit and Oz-like world-building, Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me; Unravel Me; Ignite Me) is a surprising, sensuous, delicious fantasy to devour like Alice devours flowers. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 416p., ages 9-14, 9781101994764
The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner
Debut author Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is the mesmerizing story of three teenage misfits who band together in the Bible Belt town of Forrestville, Tenn.--a place Lydia Blankenship, for one, can't wait to escape when she graduates from high school. Lydia is a fashion-loving social-media maven who's bound for New York. Travis Bohannon's brutish father wishes he'd play football, but instead his sensitive son is obsessed with a fantasy series called Bloodfall, and is a sucker for anything with "the whiff of the firelit, ancient, and mysterious." Dillard (nicknamed Dill) Early--the grandson of the snake-obsessed "Serpent King" and son of an imprisoned snake-handling preacher--is a talented singer-songwriter... and he's on edge.
Told from a third-person point of view, this captivating novel takes turns zeroing in on each of the three friends as they navigate their individual hardships. Pens would run dry if readers were to underline extraordinary sentences--the kind that are so true, or funny, or beautiful that they clamp hearts. The narrative swirls with the scent of shampoo, the stink of mold, warm evening winds, wood smoke, vultures turning in lazy circles. Zentner sings a song of deep pain and harsh reality, but also of fierce love and hope. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780553524024
My Name Is Not Friday
by Jon Walter
British author Jon Walter (Close to the Wind) skillfully tells a thoroughly riveting, elegantly nuanced story of an orphan sold into slavery in the Civil War South. My Name Is Not Friday grew from Walter's vision of "a boy, alone in darkness, thinking he'd been taken by God." That would be 12-year-old Samuel Jenkins, a freeborn black boy in Mississippi who's been hauled off from Father Mosely's orphanage by a licorice-breathed slave dealer. Normally it's the "bad boys" like his little brother Joshua who are sold off first, but Samuel is a studious, deeply devout boy who tries his hardest to be good. His hasty decision to shoulder the blame for something he's sure his brother did changes his life forever. Samuel is renamed "Friday" and sold for $600.
Adjusting to life of cotton-picking, and hiding his true identity and education, takes some doing, but he forges relationships with his fellow slaves and with the plantation owner's lonely 12-year-old son, Gerald. Walter explores the "multiplicity of truths" of Civil War history, including many who try to rationalize their role in the dehumanizing practice of slavery, such as those who believe "the two races working together for the good of both" is God's intention. Teen readers will be cheering for Samuel in this insightful, hopeful, gut-wrenching and truly fine novel. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780545855228
Anna and the Swallow Man
by Gavriel Savit
Debut author Gavriel Savit's Anna and the Swallow Man opens in Kraków, Poland, in November 1939, when Anna Lania, a "tender, kind, good-hearted girl," is seven years old. Anna and her gregarious Papa are as thick as thieves, at home with many languages and many friends. Readers soon learn, but Anna never finds out, that her father was taken by Germans in Kraków's 1939 purge of intellectuals. While waiting for Papa's return, Anna meets a curious, "more than a little frightening" gentleman--a tall, bespectacled man in a three-piece wool suit--who seems to speak all the languages of the world, even bird. Anna instinctively accepts the "Swallow Man" as her new guardian and the two walk out of Kraków--he in his city finest, she in her shiny red shoes and pretty red-and-white dress--on what will become a years-long, epic journey across war-torn Poland and beyond.
Savit's novel, with its wise, philosophical narrator, has the classic feel and elegant, precise language of a book that's been around forever. Amidst a gripping survival story of brutal cold, hunger and chilling narrow escapes are musings on the power of words and the power of silence, the value of truth and the necessity of lies, the horrors of war, the resilience of people, love, death, the keen intuition of children, living with uncertainty. Stunning. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 240p., ages 12-up, 9780553513349
The Sun Is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star is a love story that feels timeless in its cosmic examination of what makes the human heart beat faster (think Keats) and yet is decidedly modern (think IKEA references and the word "ass" used as an adjective). The novel largely unfolds in the alternating first-person voices of two star-crossed lovers in New York. Seventeen-year-old high school senior Natasha Kingsley is a Jamaican-born black girl from Brooklyn. Daniel Bae, also 17, is the son of Korean immigrants and lives in Harlem. Natasha first encounters Daniel in Manhattan on the day her family is scheduled to be deported. Daniel spots Natasha with her "enormous, curly Afro and almost-as-enormous pink headphones" and follows her into a record store. Witty repartee ensues and sparks fly for the next 12 hours; that there's "something big" between them is undeniable. Despite his "poem-writing tendencies," science-minded Natasha likes this funny, earnest boy way too much for a girl who's about to leave the country forever.
The Sun Is Also a Star--an exhilarating novel exploring identity, family, the love of science and the science of love, dark matter and interconnectedness--is about seeing and being seen and the possibility of love... and it shines. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780553496680
We Are the Ants
by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry Denton has more problems than your average 16-year-old: bullying, family crises and frequent abductions by slug-like aliens. Though there are extraterrestrials, We Are the Ants
by Shaun David Hutchinson (The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
) isn't really a science fiction novel. Henry's alien experimenters are just one more inexplicable thing in a life that's been pummeling him with impossible situations. As Henry contemplates the end of the world, he looks around at his South Florida town and wonders whether everyone wouldn't be better off annihilated.We Are the Ants
deals with loss, and it doesn't pull any punches. There are no easy solutions, and the book is refreshingly upfront about the fact that some kinds of pain--like Henry grieving his boyfriend's suicide, his father's absence and his grandmother's Alzheimer's--just have to be slogged through. However, Ants
is not depressing. It's wonderfully written, and humor is woven throughout, including an aside on the uselessness of alien nipples. Henry is gay, but there's no angst over that at home. His family is completely fine with it, even his macho, difficult brother. As the threads of the story come together, Henry slowly starts to realize how many people in his life care about him. He may even consider the possibility of caring about himself. --Ali Davis
, freelance writer and playwright, Los Angeles, Calif.
hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9781481449632
The Smell of Other People's Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Set in remote 1970 Alaska, when indigenous communities still mourned losses that came with statehood in 1959, The Smell of Other People's Houses explores relationships that bind, falter, recover and flourish.
First-time novelist Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock introduces the distinct voices of four teenagers who, over four seasons, undergo drastic changes: Ruth, raised by her stern grandmother, poignantly realizes how "houses with moms in them... tend to smell better"; Dora has the bad luck of winning the lottery, which brings her unwanted attention from her unstable parents; Alyce is worried that her dedication to ballet means alienating her fisherman father; and Stan is determined to protect his two younger brothers after the loss of their parents--one forever gone, the other made neglectful from desperate loneliness.
Resonating details--soap-making nuns, Goodwill boots, orca whales--create an intimate narrative about a troubled community in which too many young people have seen too much. What lingers beyond Hitchcock's evocative words are the titular "smells"... of cedar, fish, disinfectant, blueberry pie and even "the smell of too much love." A fourth-generation Alaskan and former public radio journalist, Hitchcock crafts an exquisite, gut-punching story of fractured love and surprising redemption. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Wendy Lamb/Random House,
hardcover, 240p., ages 13-up, 9780553497786
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
In Salt to the Sea, Ruth Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray; Out of the Easy) illuminates a lesser-known World War II maritime disaster: the Soviet torpedoing of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945, a tragedy that killed 9,343 evacuees--including 5,000 children--more than the Titanic and Lusitania combined. Sepetys's father's cousin Erika had passage on the Gustloff, but never boarded it.
Readers are introduced to the strong, distinct voices of four young adults in short, powerful blasts: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; the pregnant, Polish Emilia; the Prussian restoration artist Florian; and Alfred, a twisted and zealous Hitler-loving sailor who imagines, but doesn't send, unnerving, self-aggrandizing letters to his beloved Hannelore. Joana, Emilia and Florian meet randomly in East Prussia, all fleeing from the advancing Red Army, all hiding dangerous secrets that slowly reveal themselves. They move west across a wintery landscape with "a kindly shoemaker, an orphan boy, a blind girl, and a giantess," eventually making their way to Alfred's ship, the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff, at the port of Gotenhafen.
In her extraordinary, artfully crafted novel, Sepetys shows both the wonder of humanity and the horror of dehumanizing people as "enemies" in wartime or any time. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9780399160301
My Sister Rosa
by Justine Larbalestier
When seven-year-old Che watched Rosa's birth, the Aussie boy instantly adored his "perfect" baby sister and wanted to protect her from the world. Ten years later, Che must protect the world from Rosa, now a Shirley Temple lookalike with a frighteningly high score on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Rosa steals, manipulates and finds loopholes in her promises to be good, but their preoccupied "parentals," David and Sally, are in denial.
The family has just moved to New York City on the bankroll of future employers the McBrunights. Che becomes friends with the McBrunights' teen daughter Leilani, but Rosa befriends only one of Leilani's younger twin sisters, intentionally driving a wedge between them. Boxing enthusiast Che begins to adjust to New York, helped along by Sojourner, a beautiful "total badarse" he meets at his new gym. However, as Rosa threatens to hurt Sojourner and acts out against the twins, Che and Leilani must find a way to stop her before she destroys both their families.
Australian-American author Justine Larbalestier (Razorhurst; Liar) reminds readers of her masterful gift for slippery, unreliable characters, while the teens' conversations about religion, diversity and sexuality reflect the complex concerns of today's youth. A suspenseful, chilling meditation on the roles of nature and nurture in creating dangerous criminals. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.
hardcover, 320p., ages 14-18, 9781616956745
Still Life with Tornado
by A.S. King
It can be paralyzing for anyone to be told there are no original ideas, yet that's exactly what the art teacher tells 16-year-old Sarah's high school class. Sarah's friend Carmen insists her freshly drawn still life of a tornado is "original," but Sarah says it's just a funnel. The teacher's bleak outlook shakes Sarah deeply; before she knows it, she's quit school and is on her way to City Hall to change her name to Umbrella.
Printz Honor author A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz; I Crawl Through It) paints a dazzling portrait of a teenaged Philadelphia artist having a full-on existential crisis--and not just because of her mutually contemptuous parents, angry father and absent older brother. As the former student wanders the streets, she's occasionally joined by a 10-year-old version of herself (a less numb one) and sometimes a 23-year-old version of herself (one less concerned with originality) and, later, a 40-year-old one who is "a lot cooler." They aren't hallucinations--her mother can see them, too.
King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time as Sarah slowly comes to see that her family is more tornado than still life. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781101994887
by Sonya Hartnett
In Golden Boys
, Australian author Sonya Hartnett, winner of a Printz Honor for Surrender
, wriggles deep into the psyche of a few children. In this working-class suburb of yesteryear, the neighborhood kids travel in packs, and being a child is like being "dropped on a strangers' planet, forced to accept that these are the ways of this world." Childhood is "like being in rough but shallow water, buffeted, dunked, pushed this way and that." Growing up is "an unbuckling of faith."
Hartnett's hypnotic story, told in shifting perspectives, begins with the "golden boys," 12-year-old Colt and his trusting younger brother Bastian, sons of the movie-star-handsome, yet unsettlingly "try-hard," disturbingly generous dentist Rex Jenson. Most recently Rex has brought home a BMX bike for his kids, and, in a humiliating game, makes them guess what color it is before he'll hand it over. Although there is some action--rambling bike rides, scrapes with a bully, a father's drunken rampages and grisly moments aplenty--the brilliantly expressed private thoughts of Colt and neighbor-girl Freya are what really propel this literary novel. As the salty, credible Aussie banter keeps the brutal narrative buoyant, Golden Boys
expertly reflects the ferocity, rage, dread, shame, guilt and dark understanding with which children view the flawed adults around them. --Karin Snelson
, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 256p., ages 14-up, 9780763679491