Our 2017 Best Children's & Teen Books of the Year
This has been a fantastic year for children's books! Here are our favorites for 2017; scroll down to see Shelf's reviews of all the wonderful books that brought joy to child and teen readers.
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard (Second Story Press)
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Eric Velasquez (Candlewick Press)
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui (Capstone)
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Chronicle)
Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illus. by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (Scholastic)
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
Buddy and Earl Go to School by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Carey Sookocheff (Groundwood)
Now by Antoinette Portis (Roaring Brook)
Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith (Groundwood)
Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (Arthur Levine/Scholastic)
Middle Grade Books (Ages 9-12)
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (Knopf)
Pablo and Birdy by Alison McGhee, illus. by Ana Juan (Atheneum)
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander, illus. by Kelly Murphy (McElderry/Simon & Schuster)
Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Walden Pond/HarperCollins)
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (Paulsen/Penguin)
The Doorman's Repose by Chris Raschka (New York Review Children's)
The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (Chicken House/Scholastic)
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono (Arthur Levine/Scholastic)
Wicked Bugs (Young Readers Edition): The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth by Amy Stewart, illus. by Briony Morrow-Cribbs (Algonquin)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray)
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (Little, Brown)
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire)
Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden (Bloomsbury)
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Tegen/Harper)
Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge (Abrams Amulet)
Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager, illus. by Zoe More O'Ferrall (HarperCollins)
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Children's & Young Adult
by Melanie Florence, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Skipping and dancing home from school, a young girl carries in one hand a dream catcher she's made. "How do you say grandfather in Cree?" she asks. And suddenly their walk turns somber as Grandpa admits, "I don't remember... I lost my words a long time ago." Bewildered, the little girl presses, "How do you lose words, Grandpa?" He tenderly explains about the residential schools to which First Nations' children were forcibly sent: "They took our words and locked them away, punished us until we forgot them." By the next day, the little girl has a plan: she presents her grandfather with a dictionary in which he finds the soft, familiar words of his past.
Melanie Florence, of Cree/Scottish descent, offers Stolen Words as a sobering ode to her heritage, through eyes filled with love and hope. Artist Gabrielle Grimard is Florence's ideal creative partner, enhancing each page with depth and movement, capturing every touch, every gaze with enveloping empathy. Adding a grey overwash on Grandpa's memories proves especially effective in emphasizing the traumas he survived. Florence's narrative couldn't be more affecting. Word by word, her story--written in honor of her Cree grandfather--is a significant step toward forever healing. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Second Story Press,
library binding, 24p., ages 6-9, 9781772600377
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Eric Velasquez
With great respect to the man's riveting life story, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honors author Carole Boston Weatherford (Freedom in Congo Square) relates through narrative poetry the story of Afro-Puerto Rican immigrant Arturo Schomburg. While each poem in Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library can stand alone as a single snapshot in the literary life of Schomburg, Weatherford's portrayal of the bibliophilic law clerk is so wondrous, readers won't be able to resist turning the pages to learn more.
Complementing the lyrical language of Weatherford's words are the richly textured, bold paintings of another successful Afro-Puerto Rican man from Harlem, Pura Belpré Award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez (Ol' Clip-Clop). The detail and majesty of Velasquez's art conveys wonderful layers of meaning likely to spark imagination and thoughtful reflection.
Picking up Schomburg's torch almost a century later, Weatherford and Velasquez are continuing to ensure that African history isn't lost: Schomburg started the collection that is now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library, and his pigment flows through others' pens as he becomes a significant part of his own narrative. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
hardcover, 48p., ages 9-12, 9780763680466
A Different Pond
by Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui
"Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping. It will be hours before the sun comes up." So begins a Vietnamese American boy's account of a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his father. They've made this trip before, and the boy asks his father, who has recently taken a second job, "Why do we still have to fish for food?" Dad replies, "Everything in America costs a lot of money."
A Different Pond isn't a story in the traditional sense--there's no wedge-like event to disrupt the narrative's flow. But conflicts that happened offscreen shape the narrative into one family's story. Bao Phi, a poet, gives the narrator's words an occasional lyricism (minnows in the plastic bag from the bait shop "swim like silver arrows in my hands"); this is neither overbearing nor implausible in a child old enough to mind his baby brother to help out his parents. Playing off the writing's grace is Thi Bui's art, in which characters tend to be rendered more simply than their painterly backgrounds. In the final illustration, a mottled blue image of lily pads and swirling fish appears behind the boy, who's dreaming "of fish in faraway ponds." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
hardcover, ages 6-8, 9781623708030
Her Right Foot
by Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris
Early on in Her Right Foot, the omniscient narrator says, "Did you know that the Statue of Liberty comes from France? This is true. This is a factual book." The defensiveness is the tip-off to readers that this is not a typical biography of an iconic national monument--and hallelujah for that.
Her Right Foot's first half adopts something of the customary "fun facts" approach to children's biography. But toward the book's middle, the narrator cuts to the chase. The point is the great green lady's little-discussed mid-stride right foot. Its significance consumes the narrator until the book's "idea," "theory," breathless epiphany: "If the Statue of Liberty," an immigrant herself, "has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States, then how can she stand still?... In welcoming the poor, the tired, the struggling to breathe free./ She is not content to wait."
Readers needn't be versed in the day's headlines to leave Her Right Foot with an arm in the air, raising not a torch but a fist. Dave Eggers's (This Bridge Will Not Be Gray) energetic, fourth-wall-breaking narrative is paired with Shawn Harris's invitingly chunky construction paper tableaux illustrations, whose earthbound scenes are nevertheless transcendent. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
hardcover, 104p., ages 5-8, 9781452162812
Why Am I Me?
by Paige Britt, illus. by Selina Alko, Sean Qualls
Somewhere in a city, people are homeward bound at day's end. Surrounded by kids and adults of diverse backgrounds--distinguishable by skin color, hair, head coverings and more--two children in a subway car muse about who they are and who the other might be as the subway whooshes by playing fields, neighborhoods and an open amphitheater. The children eventually alight under the same starry sky, and greet each other with "hi...," serendipitously turning "me" to the promise of we.
Author Paige Britt alchemizes the "big questions [she's been asking] since she was a small child" to create her debut picture book, encouraging soul-searching dialogues with oneself and others. Husband-and-wife artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (The Case for Loving) enhance the profundity of Britt's prose with amplifying small details. For example, newsprint is used as window shades or building facades, subtly and brilliantly reminding readers how stories can be found behind every window, every door, every wall; the sometimes-legible newspaper type points to a larger world beyond, including Great Britain, Italy, even Gaza. On every spread, the ingenious duo depicts America's multicultural citizens, ensuring myopic xenophobia has no place on Britt's welcoming, hopeful pages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781338053142
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse
by Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen
A small mouse encounters a wolf in the woods and is promptly gobbled up. Arriving deep in the "belly of the beast," he fears "this is the end." But then he hears a voice: "Be quiet!... I'm trying to sleep." It turns out a duck has been devoured by the wolf, too, and has made himself quite at home.
The duck is living high on the hog in his dark dwelling and the mouse shyly asks if he can stay, too. The duck is thrilled, and the two celebrate with music and dancing, which causes the wolf's gut to ache, making him a perfect target for a hunter. Luckily, the hunter misses his shot, but the duck is taking no chances: "Run! Run for our lives!" he calls up to his host.
Readers will laugh out loud at the cunning duck's skills at getting exactly what he wants from the bemused wolf. Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen--who previously collaborated on Triangle and two Caldecott Honor books--are an ideal team for readers who like a little quirk in their picture books. The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse is, like all Barnett-Klassen collaborations, distinctly funny, imagination-stirring and lovely to look at. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780763677541
Buddy and Earl Go to School
by Maureen Fergus, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
In Buddy and Earl's fourth outing, Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff (Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby) send the hilarious dog and hedgehog duo to school, where their friendship goes to the head of the class.
"With the right education, I can become anything," says imaginative hedgehog Earl when Meredith, the pair's human girl, tells them they're going to school. He hopes to learn dentistry, while his earnestly doofy canine friend Buddy's career aspirations include hot dog vendor and fire hydrant--until he remembers what dogs do to fire hydrants, that is.
Despite Earl's flair for drama, the two besties remain refreshingly conflict-free in this gentle celebration of friendship and imagination. Sookocheff's muted palette of gray, brown and buttery yellow keeps the tone soft and dreamy. Parents will appreciate the implication that school brings positive experiences; young readers will crack up at Fergus's silly humor, such as the pals eating a "nutritious breakfast" of Dad's slippers, which Buddy admits do not taste as nice as Dad's "fancy shoes." This series continues to earn straight A's. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781554989270
by Antoinette Portis
For young children, what is right in front of them often dictates their preferences: "This is my favorite cloud/ because it's the one I am watching." Throughout a day, a child's favorite friends, colors, foods and books may change based simply on what they can see or hear or touch at that exact moment. Author and illustrator Antoinette Portis (Wait) uses this adorable tendency as the basis for her picture book Now.
The book's narrator, a lively little girl, shares her favorite things with readers: a breeze, a hole, a tooth, a hug. Her delightful bouquet of cherished choices blooms into rich sensations through the child's wonder and awe, as well as Portis's vibrant illustrations (using sumi ink, brush and bamboo stick). Portis's strong, solid brushstrokes elicit the simplicity of childhood--everything stable and certain, with little room for shades in any ideas or colors.
Now is a story that invites discussion between an adult reader and a child audience. It's a conversation that ignites analytical readers: identifying shapes and colors; sharing thoughts on sights, sounds and smells; and, of course, selecting one's own favorites. Sweet, charming and destined to be a favorite. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781626721371
Town Is by the Sea
by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Sydney Smith
Town Is by the Sea
offers some of the most beautiful paintings of sunshine on water ever painted, and that is more than enough reason to track it down. But Toronto children's librarian Joanne Schwartz's (Our Corner Grocery Store
) extraordinary picture book, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Sidewalk Flowers
), is also a moving visual portrayal of what it means to send humans deep into the earth to dig for coal.
In a 1950s mining town in Nova Scotia, a boy and his family live in a house overlooking the water. As cheerful days of sunny shoreline ambling are vividly chronicled, Smith intermittently yanks the reader down into the blackness of the coal miner's subterranean realm, where the boy's father pushes his way forward through a claustrophobic tunnel.
Echoing a longstanding mining tradition, it seems likely that the boy will eventually follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather: "One day, it will be my turn," he says matter-of-factly. Coal is frequently in the headlines these days, and this book puts a human face on the centuries-old practice of coal mining. More abstractly, Town Is by the Sea
is a powerful and profound work of art that tweaks our perspective and transcends its subject. --Karin Snelson
, freelance writer and editor
Groundwood/House of Anansi,
hardcover, 52p., ages 5-9, 9781554988716
Silent Days, Silent Dreams
by Allen Say
"Deaf, mute, autistic and probably dyslexic," James Castle (1899-1977) survived childhood trauma and elevated his silent life by teaching himself to create stupendous art from salvaged materials. Despite being one of seven children, James was mostly alone. His first, brief attempt at schooling left him forever "afraid of strangers." His father locked him in the attic to counter his only means of communication--"piercing screams of frustration." Using trash paper found around his family's farm, he used burnt matchsticks to draw. He survived five years at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, but was deemed "ineducable" at 15; the principal sent James home with warnings to deny him all drawing materials. James prevailed, stealing chimney soot, mixing it with his spit to draw. His persistence never waned: "James drew everything he saw."
Caldecott Medalist Allen Say's empathy moves beyond words, as he emulates James's "unschooled style" by using similar methods, including soot and spit, and mimicks James's "unsteady lines" by switching from his dominant right hand to his left. Say's illuminating author's note provides indelible testimony to the metamorphic power of art as he transforms James's Silent Days, Silent Dreams into resonating homage and spectacular storytelling. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Arthur L. Levine/Scholastic,
hardcover, 64p., ages 8-12, 9780545927611
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
When 19-year-old Jim Thorpe (1888-1955) joined Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School's football team in 1907, it was the fastest team in the country. Already the school's track star, Thorpe was, self-admittedly, "a scarecrow dressed for football" when he approached Coach "Pop" Warner, who promptly told him to take a hike. Thorpe persisted, demonstrating "a combination of power, agility and speed Pop Warner had never seen in one player--and never would again." History proved Warner to be football's "most innovative coach"; Thorpe, of the Potawatomi tribe of Oklahoma, would become "the greatest star the sport had ever seen."
Three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin (Bomb; The Port Chicago 50; Most Dangerous) deftly balances the exhilarating glory of Thorpe's story and early American football history with the inequity and inhumanity of the Native American experience. With contagious excitement, Sheinkin enthralls readers with the Carlisle team's--and Thorpe's--stupendous feats. Abundant historical photographs enhance the story. If Undefeated seems overloaded with superlatives, Sheinkin meticulously supports his proclamations of "firsts, mosts, bests" with 30-plus pages of citations. Despite the bad and ugly, good triumphs here. Never excusing the adversity Thorpe and his community suffered, Sheinkin compels readers to learn, admire and bear witness to the "world's greatest athlete." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Roaring Brook Press,
hardcover, 288p., ages 10-18, 9781596439542
The Stars Beneath Our Feet
by David Barclay Moore
Lolly Rachpaul's older brother, Jermaine, was shot and killed and Lolly keeps erupting in anger. He's scared, too; living in the St. Nick projects in Harlem, he's always on guard. Some of the older kids in the neighborhood are pressuring Lolly to join a "crew," but what Lolly really wants to do is keep working on the one thing that, as he says, "Makes me me": Legos.
Following the instructions has always been important to him, but after Jermaine's death, Lolly begins creating cities. When his mother's girlfriend starts bringing home garbage bags full of cast-off Lego bricks from her custodian job, Lolly's ambitions--and his city--grow.
Soon, he moves his building site to the community center. When a girl he and his classmates call Big Rose shows up at the door wanting to build, too, Lolly is furious. Little by little, though, he finds that it is nice to share his passion for building--or for a life that does not involve a gang.
David Barclay Moore's magnificent debut novel, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, is a story about making choices. "The folks you hang out with can raise you up or bring you down low," Lolly discovers. It's up to him to choose. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
hardcover, 304p., ages 10-up, 9781524701246
Pablo and Birdy
by Alison McGhee, illus. by Ana Juan
It's been almost 10 years since the rare "winds of change" washed Pablo ashore on the island of Isla. Secured in a children's inflatable pool with Birdy, a lavender-colored parrot, clasped tightly to the ropes that moored him, Pablo found safety in the island community. Emmanuel, Pablo's Cuban adoptive father, and the other citizens of Isla have carved out a life for the boy and his pet complete with love, encouragement and imaginative stories about the pair's origin. Every year on the anniversary of Pablo's arrival, they celebrate his birthday, but this year Pablo doesn't want fictional accounts or a made-up birthday. He wants to know the truth about where he came from.
Alison McGhee (Tell Me a Tattoo Story) beautifully weaves Pablo's search for his identity into the myth of the Seafarer, a bird that recalls every sound ever made, accentuating it with an island of delightfully eccentric critters. The words of her sweet tale mix with brilliant splashes of color in illustrator Ana Juan's striking drawings, and together McGhee and Juan portray how "the winds of change mean fortune lost or fortune gained," even though it isn't "always easy to tell [what's] lost and [what's] gained." --Jen Forbus, freelancer
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781481470261
A Properly Unhaunted Place
by William Alexander, illus. by Kelly Murphy
Rosa Ramona Diaz is not impressed when she and her mother move from the city to a basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library. Rosa's mom is the new library appeasement specialist, a job that involves calming down ghosts who get upset and keeping the really nasty ones distracted. But there are no ghosts in Ingot. In fact, it's "the only unhaunted place that Rosa had ever heard of," and nobody knows why.
When Rosa goes out to explore, a beast charges out of the forest and she springs into action. She's got no salt, matches or chalk, but she's been well trained by her mom. Grabbing a roll of copper wire, Rosa manages to fend off the "rearranged wildlife," but she knows it's only the beginning. Ghost-free Ingot has just had a haunting.
Though primarily about ghosts, A Properly Unhaunted Place is also about respect; Rosa's mom doesn't hunt spirits or banish them. Rather, she appeases them using the powers of listening and speaking their language--she even offers her own voice (literally) and the beast absconds with it! Kelly Murphy's illustrations help bring life to William Alexander's (Goblin Secrets) succinct gem: a meticulously crafted world so tangible it feels like an alternate version of our own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Margaret K. McElderry/S&S,
hardcover, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781481469159
Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth
by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Prez Mellows hasn't talked since his grandfather was taken away. When he's placed in a foster home with the talkative Blythe family on Stramoddie Farm, Prez appreciates the routine of farm life after years in a caretaking role for his grandfather, whose Alzheimer's has progressed to the point where he is no longer safe on his own. But Prez worries about his grandfather and doesn't know when he'll see him again.
When Prez answers the doorbell one day, he discovers an odd boy in a kilt and goggles. Sputnik marches into the house and charms everyone in the family, who perceive him as a dog. He is actually an alien on a mission to prove to Planetary Clearance--the organization that "get[s] rid of all the useless old stars and planets to make room for new celestial bodies"--that Earth is worth saving. Prez and Sputnik must come up with a list of 10 things on the planet worth seeing or doing, "and then Earth can carry on waltzing around its little sun."
Boyce (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again) has an imagination that soars, paired with a profound empathy for the inner, sometimes bewildered, life of a child. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780062643629
Lucky Broken Girl
by Ruth Behar
When Ruthie Mizrahi moves from Cuba to Queens, N.Y., and starts fifth grade, she has two goals: to get out of "the dumb class," and to get a pair of go-go boots like Nancy Sinatra's. But after a car accident leaves her in a body cast, her new goal is just to be a normal kid again. Ruthie's Jewish Cuban family, financially strapped and still adjusting to life in a new country, is strained by her injury. But the support of family, friends and neighbors buoys Ruthie and the Mizrahis through their challenges.
Cuban-American cultural anthropologist and poet Ruth Behar, who based her first middle-grade novel, Lucky Broken Girl, on her own childhood, vividly outlines 1966 Queens with Ruthie's observations. Peppered with Spanish and Yiddish and the stories of every person she meets, her world is so tangible that readers will feel they're sitting on the stoop of the Mizrahis' apartment building. But even these details pale beside the emotional clarity of Ruthie's voice. In particular, her prayers (first to God, with Shiva and Frida Kahlo added along the way) at the end of most chapters recall the candid petitions of Judy Blume's Margaret. Equal parts heartbroken and hopeful, Ruthie is a middle grade heroine for the ages. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps
Nancy Paulsen Books,
hardcover, 256p., ages 10-up, 9780399546440
The Doorman's Repose
by Chris Raschka
Two stories about Mr. Bunchley, the new doorman at 777 Garden Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, frame this endearing, imaginative collection by Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka.
Mr. Bunchley, who goes against the grain himself by preferring to talk flowers over baseball, opens the door to reveal the quirky inhabitants of this grand old (and equally quirky) apartment building, a "neo-proto-Aztec-Egyptian-Gothic"-style affair. Each inhabitant has a story, and each story is told with the utmost care and respect (even some of the building's less human residents get their turn).
In The Doorman's Repose, readers are reminded that everyone (indeed, every thing!) has a history, but kindness is prequel to understanding. Raschka's (Yo! Yes?; Home at Last; A Ball for Daisy) black-and-white art is beautifully offbeat and expressive. His intertwining tales wind through time, from apartment to apartment, and emphasize the bonds among various residents who have more in common than the "unseen world" of pipes that snake through their building. As Mr. Bunchley so nicely puts it, "This city is more interconnected than the loops of yarn in your grandmother's sweater." A wonderful story for all ages. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
New York Review Children's Collection,
hardcover, 184p., ages 10-14, 9781681371009
The Secret of Nightingale Wood
by Lucy Strange
When 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott and her family move to a large old home in the English countryside, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But Mama is still "confused and upset" by the tragic death of Henry's brother, Robert, and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. Henry and her baby sister are looked after by Nanny Jane, while Mama is cared for by Doctor Hardy, who keeps her sedated with increasing doses of his "special medicine." Asserting that Mama is too ill to see her remaining children, the doctor chases Henry away.
Henry explores nearby Nightingale Wood, and stumbles upon a fragile woman whom she comes to know as Moth. Even though Moth has her own sadness, she understands that to "lighten the darkness," Mama "needs stories, music, sunshine, birdsong, the smell of a rose, the smile of her daughter."
In her debut novel, Strange tells a lovely, extraordinarily enchanting coming-of-age tale. Henry is determined to put things right, even while Dr. Hardy and the other adults begin to question her own sanity. As the cook's husband puts it, "we've all been tossed by the waves... the [t]rick is not to sink." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781338157475
The Lotterys Plus One
by Emma Donoghue, illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono
Sixteen years ago, a pregnant woman walking the hospital halls serendipitously found a winning lottery ticket, enabling her--and her three co-parents--to "buy a big house to fill with lots more kids." Six children later, the self-named Lotterys enjoy an idyllic life in the 32-room Victorian home in Toronto they call Camelottery.
The two moms-in-love are Jamaican MaxiMum and CardaMom, a Mohawk woman. The two devoted-to-each-other dads are Delhi-born PapaDum and PopCorn. Into the mélange of 11 humans and their furred-and-feathered companions arrives PopCorn's estranged octogenarian father, whose progressing dementia no longer allows him to live alone. The kids call him "Grumps," as he grumbles about their "weirdy commune," making clear that he doesn't like the family's food, the family's rules, maybe even the family itself.
Irish-born, Canadian-domiciled writer Emma Donoghue (Room; The Wonder) makes her middle-grade debut with this first installment of a series. Beyond the initially perfect premise, Donoghue mixes realistic challenges and convincing solutions into the Lotterys' lives. Indonesian-born, New York-residing illustrator Caroline Hadilaksono adds further multicultural whimsy throughout. In words and in pictures, author and artist capture a family learning to accommodate growing pains, as "plus one" develops into a well-balanced, full dozen. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Arthur A. Levine,
hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780545925815
Wicked Bugs (Young Readers Edition): The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth
by Amy Stewart, illus. by Briony Morrow-Cribbs
Wicked Bugs is not for the faint of heart. Author/bookseller Amy Stewart's (Lady Cop Makes Trouble) young readers edition of her adult nonfiction title featuring insects, spiders, worms and other creepy-crawlies is sure to thrill budding entomologists, but may leave others feeling mysterious prickles on their skin. Briony Morrow-Cribbs's illustrations throughout enhance the sinister nature of these creatures, giving the book a powerful gross factor--perfect for the middle grade target audience.
Wicked Bugs is divided into six categories of vicious vermin: Deadly Creatures, Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, Serious Pains and Terrible Threats. Within each category, readers will discover species discussed with spine-tingling details and amazing facts. Marching across the pages of each chapter are Morrow-Cribbs's realistic illustrations, complete with texture and depth. Wicked Bugs is the entomophobe's version of a car wreck: Stewart has compiled such interesting information on otherwise repellent critters that readers can't help but keep turning the pages in anticipation of what will come next.
This accessible, middle-grade version of Wicked Bugs combines science, anthropology and history with a powerful yuck-factor. It's sure to be a hit with even the most reluctant readers--just be prepared for some serious goose bumps and skin tingles along the way. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Algonquin Young Readers,
hardcover, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781616207557
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Many 16-year-olds think nobody understands them, but Starr Carter is sure of it, because she's two people on purpose. During the school day, she's "Williamson Starr," one of a handful of black students at her suburban private school, "approachable" to her friends and her white boyfriend. When she goes home to Garden Heights, a predominantly black neighborhood, she's just "Big Mav's daughter who work in the store." Starr is well-practiced in keeping her worlds apart, but when she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil's murder, after a cop pulls them over for a broken taillight, the split becomes simultaneously more necessary and nearly impossible.
In her debut novel, Angie Thomas creates what might be one of the decade's most vivid voices in YA fiction. Readers who recognize the first half of rapper Tupac's acronym for THUG LIFE in the title of the book--The Hate U Give--will thrill to the representation of Starr's multiple worlds; those who aren't familiar with Tupac's oeuvre will learn more about his work, and much more besides. Though the appalling scenario depicted here is sadly familiar, Thomas's clear and honest writing moves beyond sound bites to represent the real people and communities behind the headlines. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection, BookOps
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins,
hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780062498533
You Bring the Distant Near
by Mitali Perkins
Taking readers across four continents, Mitali Perkins (Tiger Boy) celebrates the dazzling beauty of diversity in culture, behavior and thought. More than the story of the Das family through three generations of women, Perkins relates the power of their souls.
Sonia and Tara were born in India, spent most of their childhoods in London and moved to New York City as teenagers. The girls' mother, Ranee, holds steadfast to her Bengali traditions though she has no desire to return to India. When Sonia meets the love of her life, only to have Ranee denounce their relationship, mother and daughter become estranged.
Time has a way of healing even the deepest of wounds, and so the Das family reshapes itself through the scars of the past and the promises of the future. Three generations, five women and a panoply of talent, beauty, accomplishments and values, the Das family embodies the proudly determined and independent spirit of immigrants forging their way in a new land and exhibits the universal qualities of family. As Sonia's husband points out to Ranee, "Hyphens, for better or worse, are everywhere now. And the good ole U.S.A. makes space for lots of identities."
With wisdom and wit, You Bring the Distant Near illustrates the beauty in diversity. Perkins's striking imagery and deep, heartfelt insights illuminate the darkest corners of ignorance, providing a bright path to understanding and embracing differences in all their many splendors. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-18, 9780374304904
by Jennifer Latham
"The dead always have stories to tell," and they find a voice in Rowan Chase, a 17-year-old biracial girl. Rowan is shocked when renovators discover an old skeleton under the floorboards of her family's 100-year-old property in Tulsa, Okla. With only an old wallet and a faded receipt found among the remains, Rowan launches an investigation into the skeleton's identity.
In a parallel story set in 1921, 17-year-old half-white, half-Osage Will Tillman's world is changing in baffling ways. The Ku Klux Klan's power is rapidly growing in Tulsa, and Will's white father makes a surprising and unorthodox business deal with a young black delivery boy. Racial tensions are rising and Jim Crow laws make such deals highly illegal. Will sees how "complicated the world really [is]" as Tulsa spirals toward a violent eruption.
Based on Tulsa's 1921 race riot, one of the deadliest in U.S. history, Dreamland Burning raises questions about historical truth, segregation and more. Rowan and Will tell their respective stories in alternating chapters, each with a strong narrative voice, revealing unexpected commonalities in their experiences. Latham's skillful handling of race, choice and opportunity is impressive. No character is beyond redemption, and in the end, all must answer for their actions. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer
hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316384933
The Bone Witch
by Rin Chupeco
Tea learns she is a "bone witch" on the day of her brother Fox's funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. While witches are fairly commonplace in the Eight Kingdoms, bone witches, or Dark asha, are feared and reviled for their ability to control the dead. Nevertheless, they wield their "complicated and exclusive and implacable" death magic to keep people safe from the daeva--"strange and terrible monsters" commanded by servants of the traitorous False Prince. Twelve-year-old Tea commands her newfound magic with ease, and she's hustled to the capital city by another Dark asha to be trained to manage her power. The headstrong Tea takes her place in House Valerian, where she learns to dance and fight and takes her own craft to a much more dangerous place.
The Bone Witch is fantasy world-building at its best, and Rin Chupeco (The Girl from the Well) has created a strong and colorful cast of characters to inhabit that realm. Interspersed with Tea's narrative are short chapters describing her future exile "at the end of the world." Readers will feel the impending doom in this enticing, highly original fantasy, but must wait until the sequel for answers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781492635826
Crossing Ebenezer Creek
by Tonya Bolden
In her first novel in four years, Tonya Bolden (Searching for Sarah Rector) translates her passion for the past into a beautiful and harrowing vision of freedom and tragedy.
Mariah remembers that "a hungry hush sent a shiver down her spine" on the day in 1864 when the Yankees arrived on her owner's land in Georgia, bringing her freedom. Born into slavery, the young woman joins hundreds of other freed slaves following Union forces north. On the march, she meets Caleb, a kind, young freeborn black man who "brought to mind sightings of the moon in the middle of the day." Through their conversations, Mariah learns about the war and freedom while the reader discovers the horrors she and her loved ones faced while enslaved. The couple fall in love as easily as breathing, but catastrophe looms over their future.
Teens may be surprised to see that "[c]olored lives don't matter" to many Union officers in this reimagining of a dark moment in American history. Poetic in tone and savage in its depictions of the tortures slaves endured, Crossing Ebenezer Creek grants dignity and depth to its characters and considers the difficult and vulnerable position of African Americans as they adapted to freedom among whites who did not always view them as human beings. Readers will fall in love with Bolden's gentle lyricism as she unflinchingly unfolds a difficult story. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library (Ohio)
hardcover, 240p., ages 13-18, 9781599903194
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee
Roguish Henry Montague; his younger sister, Felicity; and his biracial, very sensible best friend and secret crush, Percy Newton (who suffers from epilepsy), are off on their European Grand Tour, a common event among the upper classes in 1720s Europe. Monty has his mind more on vice than virtue: sex (with both men and women), drinking, smoking and gambling are his proclivities and constant subjects of banter. But his interest in Percy--who Monty is not even sure is attracted to men--is something much deeper than lust.
After being beset by highwaymen, the trio is forced to continue on without funds. The undaunted teens travel through France to Spain, where they hear about a panacea. Monty desperately wants this cure-all for Percy but the Duke of Bourbon ("advisor" to the unhealthy king Louis XV) wants it just as badly. Who will be the first to reach the tomb where the alchemical miracle can be found?
In The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing) combines her knowledge of European history with a contemporary, comic sensibility to create an over-the-top romantic adventure complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings and sometimes outrageous narration. Monty is a licentious, flawed and engaging 18th-century hero. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
hardcover, 528p., ages 14-up, 9780062382801
Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
When the vuvv land in the middle of Wrigley Field, humans initially feel lucky they haven't been invaded: instead of violence, the extraterrestrial creatures offer to "end all work forever and cure all disease." Unfortunately, once they sell their "tech" to Earth's wealthiest, most people around the globe lose their jobs. The "captains of industry" with investments in vuvv firms thrive but, for the rest of humanity, only those who work with the vuvv personally (even in lowly jobs) can get by.
In high school senior Adam Costello's neighborhood, almost everyone is unemployed. Adam and new girlfriend Chloe decide to allow the vuvv (who don't experience romantic love but find it fascinating) to pay to watch them go on dates. Unsurprisingly, Adam and Chloe grow to hate each other, but they're trapped, dependent on the income.
M.T. Anderson (Feed; Symphony for the City of the Dead) has written a biting satire about the world's haves and have-nots, set in an increasingly stratified near-future where the human race has, for the most part, become expendable. It's a strange and wonderful fantasy about seeking love amid the filth, and keeping hope alive, despite unquestionable odds against it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
hardcover, 160p., ages 12-up, 9780763687892
A Skinful of Shadows
by Frances Hardinge
It is the reign of Charles I of England, and Makepeace and her mother, Margaret, live in the Puritan town of Poplar. Husbandless and fatherless, the two are maligned in both the community and the family home. But things get particularly bad for Makepeace when the nightmares begin. Margaret knows this is a sign that the dead are reaching for her child, and she forces Makepeace to spend nights in the cemetery chapel. "The dead are like drowners," Margaret tells the girl. "They are flailing in darkness, trying to grab whatever they can. They may not mean to harm you, but they will." Night after night, Makepeace is attacked by the dead until she learns how to build defenses against their invasions. Not long after, Margaret is killed and Makepeace seeks out her mysterious roots, learning too late the horror that was her mother's past and why she fled her home in the first place.
As with every Hardinge novel (A Face Like Glass; The Lie Tree), A Skinful of Shadows is outlandishly creative and thoroughly blood-chilling. Her storytelling is visceral and unfurls at an exciting pace, making this novel a wonderful, weird and terrifying addition to her body of work. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781419725722
Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World
by Sarah Prager, illus. by Zoë More O'Ferrall
Queer people--"anyone outside society's gender and sexuality norms"--have always been a part of world history, whether we knew it or not. Presidents (and first ladies), Roman emperors/empresses, musicians, athletes, nuns and civil rights leaders have been gay, bisexual, panromantic, transgender and everywhere else along the gender and sexuality spectrum. In Queer, There, and Everywhere, author and activist Sarah Prager celebrates the lives of 23 people who made remarkable contributions to history.
Written with a pop-culture sensibility that will appeal to teen readers, the collection is a fascinating look at history through a different lens than what most history books provide. In the chapter on Abe Lincoln, Prager writes about Abe and his "intimate friend" Joshua Fry Speed: "They talked to each other all the time about being freaked out about the prospect of getting married" to women. But don't let her breezy style make you doubt Prager's seriousness as a researcher. She has dug deep for biographical information, and includes quotes from letters and interviews, as evidenced in her extensive bibliography and notes section. Each chapter is introduced with Zoë More O'Ferrall's friendly pen-and-ink portraits of the subject. Hurray for Sarah Prager's own splendid contribution to queer history! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9780062474315
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
by Dashka Slater
On November 4, 2013, two students overlap by eight minutes while riding the 57 bus across Oakland, Calif. Sasha, a private school senior, has Asperger's syndrome, was assigned male at birth, identifies as agender (neither male nor female), uses the pronoun "they" and prefers wearing skirts. Richard, a public school junior, stands "[a] few feet away... laughing and joking" with a cousin and friend. The threesome "goof around, play fighting." And then Richard "surreptitiously flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of [Sasha's] gauzy white skirt." Sasha wakes in flames. Richard jumps off the bus. Sasha spends weeks enduring multiple surgeries in a San Francisco burn unit. Richard is arrested and charged as an adult for two felonies with hate-crime clauses.
Award-winning journalist Dashka Slater deconstructs assumptions about the case and the individuals involved in stringent detail, supported by such sources as video from the bus, public records and eyewitness interviews. Knowing what happened doesn't equate to understanding how something happened, Slater proves, as she mesmerizingly shifts this true crime into a multi-layered lesson on the healing power of humanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780374303235