Through printing issues, delays and supply-chain disruptions, this year has still brought a ton of splendid reading material for children and teens. Our 2022 Best Children's and YA Books encompass age ranges and genres. Included are gorgeously illustrated picture books that cover everyday experiences--both nonfiction and fiction--as well as stories of mythic proportions and cat-sized fears. Our middle-grade and young adult titles include fiction and nonfiction that embrace courage, despair, terror and triumph. Click through to see our top picks for 2022. (Shelf Awareness's Best Adult Books will be announced December 2.)
Boobies by Nancy Vo (Groundwood Books)
Every Dog in the Neighborhood by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Matthew Cordell (Neal Porter Books)
Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, illus. by Daniel Sousa (Kokila)
Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, illus. by Loveis Wise, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi (Amistad Books for Young Readers)
Mina by Matthew Forsythe (Paula Wiseman Books)
Mushroom Rain by Laura K. Zimmermann, illus. by Jamie Green (Sleeping Bear Press)
Nana, Nenek & Nina by Liza Ferneyhough (Dial Books)
Powwow Day by Traci Sorell, illus. by Madelyn Goodnight (Charlesbridge)
The Flamingo by Guojing (Random House Studio)
Middle-Grade and YA
Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jason Griffin (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum)
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, illus. by Janelle Washington (Roaring Brook Press)
Family of Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte Press)
I'm the Girl by Courtney Summers (Wednesday Books)
In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Moonflower by Kacen Callender (Scholastic)
Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert (Flatiron Books)
Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge, illus. by Lauren Tamaki (Chronicle Books)
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
by Laura K. Zimmermann, illus. by Jamie Green
Readers will have an all-new outlook on mushrooms once they've experienced Laura K. Zimmermann's debut picture book, Mushroom Rain. Through simple language and breathtaking illustrations by artist Jamie Green, the wonder and beauty of nature's fungi take shape.
Zimmermann's text makes the extraordinary science of mushrooms a lyrical adventure through a flourishing forest. This delightful nonfiction picture book is enhanced by Green's striking art, which is a mixture of realism and alluring whimsy. The textures and shading create a setting that feels both true to life and otherworldly and the use of perspective gives readers a mushroom's-eye view. Together Zimmermann and Green prove how fascinating--and beautiful--science and nonfiction can be. The picture book's poetic insights and enchanting illustrations are likely to scatter seeds that will take root for future mycologists. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Nana, Nenek & Nina
by Liza Ferneyhough
Liza Ferneyhough makes her author/illustrator debut with the delightfully clever Nana, Nenek & Nina. "Nina has two grandmothers who live on opposite sides of the world." A bisected spread shows England (Big Ben) and Malaysia (Petronas Twin Towers), with speech bubbles capturing greetings in British English and Malay. When visits commence, Ferneyhough keeps Nana on the left page, Nenek on the right, deftly revealing similarities and differences with each spread. Contrasts are artfully plenty, but Ferneyhough brilliantly connects similarities through text that reads across the top of both pages. Details differ, yes, but the familiar routines lovingly bind everyone. Ferneyhough was born in Kuala Lumpur and grew up visiting Nana Irene in her village and Nenek Jariah in her kampung. Those beloved memories clearly inspire her whimsical, heartwarming debut, dazzlingly enhanced by her ingenious presentation. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
by Zora Neale Hurston and Ibram X. Kendi, illus. by Loveis Wise
Freedom forges a path to love in National Book Award-winner Ibram X. Kendi's lyrical picture book adaptation of Magnolia Flower, a short story by Zora Neale Hurston first published in 1925.
Hurston's extensive catalogue of work is focused heavily on the beauty and struggles of the Black lived experience. Kendi uses poetic and accessible prose to restate Hurston's historical truths and his adaptation retains a strong presence of the natural world, another prominent element in Hurston's writing. His textual personification of the surrounding environment is delicately and subtly conveyed through Loveis Wise's illustrations. Their gentle digital illustrations have a vivaciousness that reinforces the depth of Hurston's characters as well as the vastness of the world encompassing them. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center
Few books deserve the "perfect" designation, but Guojing's The Flamingo--an Indie Next pick--arguably earns that appellation. The celebrated author presents another remarkable, near-wordless story that gloriously commemorates bonds between humans and animals. A girl visiting her grandmother's home is fascinated by a feather with a reddish tip. Lao Lao's story about a childhood bike ride turns the pages vivid as she finds a lone egg washed up on shore. During granddaughter and Lao Lao's visit, in between delicious meals, flying kites, exploring and cuddling, Lao Lao reveals how the egg hatches into a flamingo friend... who eventually must fly away.
Guojing exquisitely adapts the cycle of belonging-parting-reuniting by highlighting the bendable but unbreakable attachments between devoted beings. Exceptionally noteworthy are her characters' expressions, especially those of delight, discovery and love. Every page is a splendid visual feast, ensuring readers a soaring, spectacular flight of fancy and imagination. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
by Nancy Vo
Boobies is a terrific title to shelve alongside all the other picture books about the human body and its sometimes squirm-making functions. Nancy Vo's groundbreaking picture book is as factual as a caregiver would hope and as funny as a child would wish.
"You have just opened a book about boobies" runs below two beige orbs with dark nipple-like centers against white areola-like circles. A turn of the page reveals the orbs are a fish's eyes. The gags persist even after Vo launches into a largely science-minded narrative that covers the breast's function and breast-related fun facts. Vo's tidy stencil art has a quaint retro vibe and features adorable animals parked against white backdrops, leaving space for the book's ideas to settle. Boobies is a big step forward in educating young children about the mammary gland's use. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
by Traci Sorell, illus. by Madelyn Goodnight
In the lyrical Powwow Day, readers are welcomed into an uplifting "celebration of dance, song, culture, and community."
River wakes on powwow day full of excitement--until she remembers that, because she's been ill, there will be no dancing and no jingle dress competition for her today. Traci Sorrell, member of the Cherokee Nation, enhances her graceful text with back matter about powwows. Through protagonist River, the author neatly conveys the magic and allure of the dances themselves, along with the all-important sense of community and healing fostered by the celebratory event. Madelyn Goodnight, member of the Chickasaw Nation, uses dynamic layouts and a variety of viewpoints in her colorful digital illustrations to portray the vibrancy of the powwow. Readers will likely find it easy to empathize with River's sorrow as well as her hope for strength, for healing and to dance again. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger and children's book author
by Matthew Forsythe
A young mouse has every right to be worried when her father brings home a "squirrel" in this pitch-perfect picture book and Indie Next List title. Mina is a dreamy, slightly anxious mouse whose imprudent father brings home "surprises from the outside world." She doesn't mind... until one day when he calls her outside to see his latest treasure, quite obviously a large, black-and-white cat. "It's a squirrel!" Mina's dad says with arm-flinging delight.
As with Pokko and the Drum, Matthew Forsythe brings to Mina a dry, droll humor and exquisite watercolor, gouache and colored-pencil illustrations. Patterns abound in the earth-toned pages and Mina's "obsessive reader" poses--on her belly on the floor, in a homemade tent--will feel exactly right to every bookworm lucky enough to find this treasure. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, and Joe Wilson, illus. by Daniel Sousa
Kapaemahu began as an animated short film. The award-winning production team of Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson now sets their script onto the page, resulting in a spectacular picture book--an Indie Next pick--featuring stills from animation director Daniel Sousa's moving images.
The book, like the film, is bilingual, with the film's Olelo Niihau language ("the only form of Hawaiian that has been continuously spoken since prior to the arrival of foreigners") followed by an English translation. Wong-Kalu is "Kanaka--a native person descended from the original inhabitants of the islands of Hawaii," and "also mahu, which like many Indigenous third-gender identities, was once respected but is now more often a target for hatred and discrimination." Sousa's full-bleed pages and saturated palette of predominantly deep earth colors display potent images, and light heightens his superb imagery. Power continues to flow through transparent prose and magnificent visuals, gifting audiences with insights celebrating acceptance and inspiring strength. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Every Dog in the Neighborhood
by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Matthew Cordell
Frequent collaborators Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell return with another joy-generating, animal-centric picture book. Every Dog in the Neighborhood is an upbeat entertainment starring a grandmother-grandson duo who set out to do right by the canine population in their community.
Louis wants to know how many dogs are in the neighborhood. When his inquiring letter to the city fails to produce the number, Louis sets out with a clipboard to canvass his neighbors. Stead has given narrator Louis an unfiltered sweetness that turns Every Dog in the Neighborhood into a true heartstrings tugger. Caldecott-winner Cordell uses loose lines and easy-breezy watercolors to capture a neighborhood that's both old-fashionedly tight-knit and conspicuously contemporary: with his swoopy hair and snazzy checked outfit, hipster-in-training Louis fits right in with his community's dog-loving artsy types. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
The Ogress and the Orphans
by Kelly Barnhill
A ragtag band of orphans and a kindhearted ogress fight xenophobia and cynicism in Kelly Barnhill's Indie Next List title, The Ogress and the Orphans, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award.
Stone-in-the-Glen was once a model town, but it has become a shell of itself since the Library burned. Drawn to the town's need, a compassionate Ogress builds a home on its outskirts and comforts her neighbors with anonymous deliveries of food and handmade cards. Her shyness and differences make her an easy target for the conniving Mayor, who steers his disgruntled constituents into blaming her for the town's problems. The clever orphans know the truth, but the adults won't believe them. Barnhill delivers a plea for empathy with deft charm and, despite the deceptive simplicity of the story, characters act in wonderfully complex ways. Deeply moving and often hilarious. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth experience manager, Dayton Metro Library
Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal about the Japanese American Incarceration
by Elizabeth Partridge, illus. by Lauren Tamaki
This reverent nonfiction work for older middle-grade readers depicts the U.S.'s harrowing history of Japanese American internment during World War II through the lenses of three professional photographers. The accompanying narration by National Book Award finalist Elizabeth Partridge and illustrations by Lauren Tamaki fluidly merge the artists' visual perspectives into a multi-dimensional experience of the xenophobic response to Pearl Harbor's bombing.
Each of Partridge's three photographers--Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Ansel Adams--approached their work recording the Manzanar incarceration camp differently. The photographs in each section are accompanied by Tamaki's original art, which works to incorporate and visually extend the view readers have of Manzanar. Each meticulously composed section of the book evokes strong feelings through the combination of imagery and history. Seen and Unseen portrays this assault on Japanese Americans with a powerful accuracy that all readers will benefit from experiencing. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
by Kacen Callender
In this extraordinary, resonant middle-grade novel by National Book Award-winner Kacen Callender, 12-year-old Black, nonbinary Moon desperately wishes to leave the physical world for the spirit realm. In a narrative that is at once heartbreaking and hopeful, Callender masterfully captures the protagonist's complicated journey in captivatingly rich imagery and natural and celestial metaphors.
"The first thing you should know is that I am not from your world," Moon explains. Each night, Moon visits the spirit world, the place "your world is based on." Every night, they attempt to gain permanent access so they can leave behind their mortal life. Without fail, at daybreak, Moon awakens, disappointed, in the world of the living. Callender's exquisite portrayal of Moon subtly, achingly depicts the inner life of a child living with depression and suicidal ideation. Callender delivers another tremendously affecting and ultimately uplifting work for young readers. --Kieran Slattery
The Door of No Return
by Kwame Alexander
In this foreboding yet mesmerizing historical novel by Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, Asante villager Kofi Offin comes face to face with the door of no return. Eleven-year-old Kofi lives with his family in a Ghanaian village where the river plays a huge role in his life. He was named after it, and villagers gossip that beasts dwell there at night. Kofi questions the gossip until he sees for himself that there truly are monstrous things hiding near the water.
This Indie Next List pick unfolds predominantly in verse, which carries readers swiftly through the riveting work. Alexander's descriptive language, moody tone and sometimes distressing scenes explore Kofi's emotions, allowing readers to empathize and connect with him. Alexander masterfully displays Asante culture in Kofi's everyday life; copious backmatter includes a Twi glossary, author's note, legend for Adinkra symbols and a list of real locations used in the book. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
by Angela Joy, illus. by Janelle Washington
In Angela Joy and Janelle Washington's forceful, strikingly illustrated nonfiction picture book, Choosing Brave, a mother's grief and staggering courage ignites an outcry for social change.
Joy sensitively narrates Mamie Elizabeth Carthan's life from girlhood to adulthood as a mother, wife and civil rights activist, showing how the Mother of the Movement fought for racial justice, anti-lynching laws and equal opportunities for communities of color. Debut illustrator Washington pays homage to the woman's legacy through wonderfully detailed paper cuttings based on real-life photographs and documentary footage. Her illustrations also visually link the historical context of Emmett's homicide to contemporary victims of race-based violence. Substantial backmatter includes author and illustrator notes, a soundtrack and vocabulary list, timeline and sources. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center
In the Key of Us
by Mariama J. Lockington
In this sentimental and impassioned novel by Mariama J. Lockington, two Black girls raised in very different ways spend four weeks at a summer camp for musical prodigies. Outgoing 12-year-old Zora begins to tutor 13-year-old Andi in reading sheet music. At the same time, Andi teaches Zora to let loose and have a little fun. The bond between the girls gently develops into a sweet summer romance.
Lockington's dual perspectives allow readers to deep dive into her complex and layered characters. The author skillfully and delicately incorporates into her middle-grade romance anxiety, self-harm, coming out as LGBTQ+, microaggressions and the reality of how difficult life can be for children of color. In the Key of Us ultimately sends a message of hope and freedom that underlines the importance of children and teens being seen for who they really are. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Ain't Burned All the Bright
by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jason Griffin
Ain't Burned All the Bright, an Indie Next List Top Pick and 2022 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winner, is a gripping, emotional look into the life of a Black family living through the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Artist Jason Griffin has designed this book as a journal, separated by author Jason Reynolds into three parts: "Breath One," "Breath Two" and "Breath Three." A Black child, in first-person narration, grapples with protests, his father's coughs and overwhelming worry. Griffin uses a childlike style to depict images such as neighborhoods on fire and figures in masks. Reynolds's spare free verse appears as text printed out then taped down on top of the art. Together, the two creators channel the weight of uncertainty and chaos that Black people endure, as well as the hope they carry with them on a regular basis. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children
Our Crooked Hearts
by Melissa Albert
Vivid prose pairs effortlessly with an engaging slow-burn mystery in this Indie Next List #1 Pick, the eerie, dual-timeline thriller Our Crooked Hearts.
Melissa Albert deftly uses a creepy, atmospheric story about dark magic to explore the complexity of mother-daughter relationships and how one deals with the consequences of one's actions. Albert effortlessly weaves mother Dana's and daughter Ivy's stories together in alternating chapters ("Right now" and "Back then"), eventually aligning them to reveal dark interlocking truths. The dual points of view help build suspense as Albert slowly pulls back the curtain on the secrets between mother and daughter. Albert's creativity and imagination shine through in her world-building and lush language, leaving readers with a spellbinding, skin-tingling sensation. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
I'm the Girl
by Courtney Summers
Courtney Summers is known for pushing boundaries and exposing the cruel realities young women face. I'm the Girl, her eighth YA novel and an Indie Next List pick, is no exception.
Sixteen-year-old George finds the body of 13-year-old Ashley, who was raped and murdered. When Ashley's 17-year-old sister, Nora, shows up at George's house wanting to be told everything, George is pulled into an amateur investigation. At the center of this thriller is a murder mystery that Summers unravels piece by piece, parallel to the events taking place around George. She makes the case that the paths of the two very similar young women, George and Ashley, could've easily been swapped, adding to the novel's visceral dread and unease. The relationship between George and Nora is a bright spot--it evolves naturally and brings some levity to an otherwise dark and heart-wrenching novel. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
All My Rage
by Sabaa Tahir
Salahudin "Sal" Malik's mother, Misbah, is deathly sick and his dad, Toufiq, is a drunk. Sal balances attempting to save his parents' failing motel with trying to understand why an accidental touch can feel "like an attack." Best friend Noor Riaz lives with her resentful, angry uncle from whom she desperately tries to hide her plans.
Sabaa Tahir skillfully explores guilt, racism and grief in the National Book Award-winning, 2022 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winning, Indie Next List pick All My Rage. Tahir's characters are broken and filled with fury. This tangible rage is evocative and ever-present, but the characters' commitment to music, to their culture and to each other brings a much-needed levity. Tahir leaves a lasting impression. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Family of Liars
by E. Lockhart
E. Lockhart powerfully explores grief and betrayal in this 2022 Indie Next List title, an unforgettable prequel to the bestselling We Were Liars.
The Sinclair sisters--17-year-old Carrie, 16-year-old Penny and 14-year-old Bess--spend every summer at their family's private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The summer of 1987 is the first one without their 10-year-old sister, Rosemary, who drowned the year before. Family of Liars is an unforgettable, sorrowful story of grief, guilt and regret. The Sinclair motto is "be a credit to the family" but perfection has a price, and Lockhart skillfully uses Carrie's addiction to prescription pain pills to show the cost--the drugs console her grief and block out the "full force" of her parents' expectations. Lockhart further contrasts death, lies and grief with movie nights and sunny afternoons on sailboats, giving depth to this unsettling yet striking story. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Did you miss Shelf's Children's and YA Gift Issue? If you have a child, tween or teen in your life, you'll want to see these selections. For sprouting scientists, there's The River that Wolves Moved by Mary Kay Carson, illustrated by David Hohn, about "the cascading positive effects of wolves" on Yellowstone National Park. For the fantasy focused, Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater and The Storyteller's Handbook by Elise Hurst may hit the spot. And for something to affirm the joy in little ones, check out Breanna J. McDaniels and Tonya Engel's Impossible Moon and I Can See You by Rosemarie Avrana Meyok and Michelle Simpson. Plus so much more!
Our features spotlight Neal Shusterman, for the 15th anniversary of Unwind, and recent MacArthur winner Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults.
Check it out here!
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