In just two weeks, we will welcome 2017! As 2016 winds down, we are bombarded with lists for best books of 2016 (and movies, TV shows, recordings, etc). Not to be left out, here are my favorite children's and YA reads from this year (that have a 2016 publication date). I forced myself to choose my top five favorites from each category, which was really hard!
Favorite Chapter Books:
Love, love, love this friendship story set in World War II New Orleans. This is part of Kirby Larson's exceptional "dogs of World War II" series, and my favorite. If you don't know anything about the Higgins boat factory or the German POW camp located near the city, you should definitely read this book (someone needs to write a nonfiction account of the factory--it would be a great story to tackle for Steve Sheinkin or Russell Freedman!). The interracial friendship is heartfelt and realistically portrayed.
2. Fenway and Hattie
"Talking dog" stories aren't anything new, and often fall flat in less-accomplished hands. This start of a new series is hilarious and heartfelt, starring a dog who moves from the city to a suburban house with a big backyard.
3. The Infinity Year of Avalon James
Readers that enjoy a dash of magic in realistic fiction will enjoy this. Coming of age/friendship issue stories often revolve around two girls (The Kind of Friends We Used to Be) or, to a lesser extent, two boys (Crossover) . Rarely do we see a boy-girl friendship, especially when it's sensitively and honestly created.
4. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
I love reading stories set in different cultures or countries other than mine; Firoozeh Dumas's tale of a young Iranian-American girl growing up during the hostage crisis is genuinely eye-opening, funny, and heartbreaking. Pair this with Margarita Engle's YA memoir, Enchanted Air, to get a glimpse at what it's like to be an "outsider" during a historical crisis in one's own country.
5. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
This poignant and revealing story about a boy who grows up in prison until a well-meaning official separates him from his mother is still one of my top favorite for the 2017 Newbery.
Favorite Children's Nonfiction:
1. Preaching to the Chickens
Jabari Asim and E.B. Lewis have created a joyous and endearing story based on Congressman John Lewis's childhood. This is on my favorites for the Caldecott.
2. Coyote Moon
Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations of a coyote hunting for food in a suburban area are outstanding; Maria Gianferrari's text makes this an excellent read aloud for elementary school classes.
3. The Extraordinary Suzy Wright: A Colonial Woman on the Frontier
It's a special treat when I find biographies about little-known people that move and entertain me; history is filled with these exceptional people who were well-regarded by their communities in their time, but require dedicated historians and storytellers to bring their achievements to new generations. Suzy Wright was an awesome person; you should definitely get to know her!
4. We Will Not be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler
I am in awe of Russell Freedman; he has brought so many important aspects of history to children in informative and accessible books. This is a World War II story that everyone should know.
5. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus
As someone who has read many Biblical picture books for children, I am confident saying that John Hendrix's accounts of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament are unlike anything I've seen in a long time. Not only are the illustrations magnificent, but the text is also accessible for children in a way that isn't always the case with gorgeously illustrated Bible stories.
Favorite Picture Books:
1. Five Little Ducks
When I saw that Denise Fleming's latest picture book was a take on the "5 Little Ducks Went Out One Day" classic children's song, I expected a cute and brilliantly illustrated take, but that was about it. I was delighted to find that not only does it star Daddy Duck instead of Momma Duck (making this a great read for a dads/grandads story time!), but also introduces the days of the week as well as the expected subtraction angle. Plus, it's ADORABLE.
2. The Water Princess
I belong to several Facebook librarian groups in which library staff post questions and share advice/programming information. Recently, one poster asked for books to help her children appreciate their surroundings and to make them aware that others are not so fortunate. I immediately recommended The Water Princess, which is based on model Georgie Badiel's childhood in Burkina Faso. Having to gather and carry water far from her home (where it has to be boiled in order to be safe to drink) is a daily task for a little girl who dreams of having clean water closer to her home. When she asks her mother why water isn't closer, her mother replies that perhaps she will find a way to bring water closer to her village. This would be an inspiring and eye-opening read aloud for kindergarten students and up; Gigi's life may be difficult, but she is never an object of pity or condescension. An afterword gives more information about Georgie Badiel's foundation, which brings clean drinking sources to communities in Africa. I love this book--it's on my Caldecott list.
3. The Night Gardener
Terry and Eric Fan's story about a mysterious gardener and an orphaned boy is an offbeat and moving testament to the importance of community spirit. On my list for Caldecott 2017.
4. Diana's White House Garden
Historical fiction picture books can be tricky; while we have many outstanding titles, quite a few are longer than your average picture book. This is a charming tale of a young girl who helps Eleanor Roosevelt plant a Victory Garden at the White House (and based on a true story!).
5. Emma and Julia Love Ballet
How can it be that Barbara McClintock has never won a Caldecott (not even an Honor)? Can we rectify this with this darling story of a young ballet student and her mentor?
YA Alice in Wonderland spinoffs are nothing new (Looking Glass trilogy and Colleen Oakes's new Queen of Hearts series), but none are written by Marissa Meyer! The creator of the Lunar Chronicles is back with this fantastic Queen of Hearts origin story. Be warned--Cath is a pastry chef, so lots of delicious details about tarts, pies, and whatnot. There's also heartbreaking romance and Cath's spiral into revenge (Meyer acknowledges that Gregory Maguire's books, especially Wicked, were an influence). No need to have read Lewis Carroll before picking this up, although you'll definitely appreciate the references more if you're somewhat familiar with the characters (if you're only familiar with the Disney cartoon, that would suffice).
2. Top Prospect
Paul Volponi is one of the best YA sports authors in years; his latest about a middle school football prodigy who is offered a college scholarship is a cautionary tale about young fame and the dangers and distractions that young players face.
3. Shame the Stars is another superb read from Guadalupe Garcia McCall; this epic tale about two young Mexican-Americans caught on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border battle is a much needed addition to YA historical fiction.
4. The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever
Truly one of the funniest YA novels I've read in some time. You don't need to be a zombie fan to enjoy this (I am not), although zombie fans will love the references to other zombie movies. This ragtag group of young filmmakers (and a truly odd principal) is fun to follow.
Joan Bauer's novels are always brimming with heart, humor, and occasionally heartache. She captures a loving (if eccentric) father-son relationship, as well as the struggles young people with chronic conditions face.
Favorite Graphic Novels:
1. March: Book 3
The conclusion of the powerful March graphic novel trilogy, based on Congressman John Lewis's childhood and involvement in the civil rights movement, is a stirring end to one of the most mesmerizing graphic novel series in some time. This has already earned its place among Maus and Persepolis in graphic novel canon; although not specifically written for young audiences, it would be a sublime choice for middle/high school history classes.
2. LEGO Friends: Pop Star Power
I had no expectations when I picked up one of our latest LEGO graphic novels; both the LEGO Friends and the LEGO Ninjago graphic novels have been super popular (no surprise!), so I wanted to get a sense of what the series were all about. While the Ninjago series is fun, LEGO Friends really charmed me. Star Power has a predictable but cute message about the ups and downs of being a pop star and the meaning of friendship, but what I really loved were the mini-biographies of famous female singers such as Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, along with fun craft activities.
3. Vader Down
The recent Darth Vader comic books have been magnificent--the great graphics and storytelling make them standouts. This miniseries features Vader cut off from the Empire forces and facing the Rebels on his own. (Speaking of Star Wars...did you know that we have Rogue One books on the way?)
4. The Great Pet Escape
What happens when classroom pets decide to escape? Madcap mayhem--and perhaps a realization that being class pets isn't so bad? This is book #1 in a new series full of humor and adventure.
5. Hilo 2: Saving the Whole Wide World
I adored the first Hilo book, so I was stoked when Hilo 2 turned out to be just as hilarious and sweet as its predecessor. Judd Winick's story about a young blonde-haired alien who crashes to earth is OUTSTANDING, as Hilo would say.
Next Monday: my top 5 adult fiction and nonfiction reads!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library