Thursday, January 23, 2014

2013 Favorites: Round Up Edition

I had every intention of powering through my stack of remaining 2013 children's/YA titles. Unfortunately, I lost a good week of reading due to being sick, and didn't have the energy for anything more complicated than Entertainment Weekly. That being said, here are my favorite children's novels, children's nonfiction, and young adult titles from 2013. Lots to get through, so summaries will be quick!

Favorite Children's Novels:

The Boy on the Porch 
LOVE this. My pick for the Newbery.  It's a beautiful and slightly-fantastical story about foster care, community, heartbreak, and family.

Boys Camp series
I get such a kick of out this series, and I'm looking forward to more adventures at Camp Wolf Trail. Funny without resorting to crude humor, realistic portrayals of friendships among boys without resorting to mean taunts, adventure, and celebration of outdoor fun.

Critter Club series
ADORABLE.  This group of animal-loving girls deal with friendship and family issues in an appealing series perfect for readers ready for short chapter books.

Flora and Ulysses
This is a moving and funny novel featuring a quirky comics-loving girl and a resourceful squirrel; although the mother character is redeemed a bit too neatly, I think it's one of DiCamillo's best.

Fortunately, The Milk
What a pity that short and/or funny stories are often overlooked for the Newbery and other children's literary prizes.  Not only is this funny, but it's an endearing portrayal of a father's relationship with his children.  Not to mention that it features aliens.

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse
A story featuring a realistic and (eventually!) positive sibling relationship, a fun fishing trip with a father and his children, and examples of types of poetry? Sign me up!  I love this story, and I'm sorry that it was overlooked in many of the end of the year lists.  Too bad. This is a gem.

Lulu series
Hilary McKay's Lulu series was launched in 2012 and introduced two additional titles in 2013.  This is another darling series for short chapter book readers, especially animal lovers (Lulu and the Dog From the Sea is perfection).

One Came Home
This was released early 2013 (January, if I remember correctly), and I hope it doesn't get forgotten by the Newbery committee.  Georgia is a terrific character in this historical mystery (ish) novel.

The Thing About Luck
Multiple starred reviews, winner of the Young People's division for the National Book Award, and regularly mentioned in Newbery 2014 online discussions....will we see this named at the ALA Youth Media Awards this Monday? I would be happy, but I do agree that sections describing wheat harvesting in detail drag down the story line.  However, this is a moving portrayal of Japanese-American migrant workers in Kansas.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
I managed to read this while I was sick; I knew it was a strong contender for the Newbery, so I wanted to read it before the announcements.  If you're familiar with Kathi Appelt, you know that her novels are sophisticated and dreamy animal fantasies.  I've admired her writing, but have never really warmed to her novels until this one (I love her many picture books). The Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast figures prominently in her novels, as it does here (mainly Texas Gulf Coast). Chap Brayburn's bayou community faces multiple threats to its survival, mainly from introduced species (feral pigs, in this case) and developers determined to turn it into an alligator wrestling attraction.  Raccoon brothers Bingo and J'miah are equally determined to save their beloved swamp, and to serve the mysterious Sugar Man of the swamp. This was a finalist for this year's National Book award (Young People's Literature division), and I would be happy if it won the Newbery.

The Worm Whisperer
This is a sweet story about a young boy determined to win the town's annual Wooly Worm Race. It might sound like a silly story at first, but it's a realistic story about a family down on its luck but relying on faith and each other to get them through tough times, the problems that many rural communities face, and friendship issues.

My favorite: The Boy on the Porch, although The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a close second.

Favorite Children's Nonfiction: 

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of of the Triple Nickels, America's First Black Paratroopers
This is a fascinating and inspirational look at the brave Triple Nickels.  Tonya Lee Stone  effectively shows that bravery comes in many forms, and isn't just limited to active warfare.

Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard
You wouldn't expect a bird watching guide to be funny, would you? Narrated by wisecracking birds, this is a fun, funny, and informative look at bird species and bird watching.  I also love the fact that Annette LeBlanc Cate emphasizes that bird watching can be done anywhere, even in urban backyards, and doesn't necessarily require expensive equipment.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
Another treasure from the Pinkneys! If you need a read aloud for Black History Month, check this out.

My favorite: Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard, followed by Courage Has No Color.

Favorite Children's/YA Graphic Novels: 

Bluffton: My Summers With Buster 
This blew me away. Matt Phelan's graphic novels are lengthy and sophisticated in writing and illustration; Bluffton is no exception.  This is a magnificent story about the (fictional) friendship between a young Buster Keaton and Henry Harrison, who thinks Buster's childhood spent performing in vaudeville houses is so much more exciting than his ordinary childhood in a sleepy Michigan lake community.  Buster might think otherwise.

Boxers and Saints
Incredible storytelling from Gene Luen Yang.  These two companion graphic novels brilliantly illustrate both sides of the Boxer Rebellion.

Dogs of War
Books about war dogs are not unusual (Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam, Duke,  and the nonfiction Dogs on Duty), but Dogs of War may be the first graphic novel about dogs in war time. Based on true stories, Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox show the importance of dogs in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam.  As you can imagine, this is sensitive material, especially the Vietnam War section (which deals with a veteran's depression/guilt and the fact that military dogs were left behind in Vietnam).  An emotional read, but a worthy one.

Tommysaurus Rex
And something a bit lighter, but not without an emotional impact: a boy and his dinosaur story!  Great illustrations and a funny/sometimes moving plot make this a graphic novel favorite.

My favorite: Bluffton, followed by Saints.

Favorite Young Adult Fiction/Nonfiction: 
American Fairy trilogy

Sarah Zettel's historical fantasy trilogy started with the dust bowl epidemic; in Book 2, Callie travels to the Golden Age of Hollywood, still hopeful that she'll rescue her mother from the fairy underworld, to which she is heir.  Book 3, out this year, will find Callie in Jazz Age Chicago. Cannot wait! It's rare to find multicultural fantasy, so this is extra special.

I don't normally read supernatural stories, but this had me hooked from the beginning!  A sixteen year old girl is constantly haunted by images of a horrific car crash involving the son of her family's rival pizza making family.

Finding good YA literature about contemporary American Indian characters is difficult, so this realistic story of a American Indian high school golf champ is a bright spot.  When Fred (short for Fredericka) is invited to join her high school's golf team, she immediately faces trouble from the other golf team members.  Not only are they resistant to a girl joining their team, but their prejudice against American Indians is also a barrier. As you can guess, strained relations between the (more wealthy) local Caucasians and the American Indians living on the nearby reservation are key elements to the story (which include a relationship between Fred and a Caucasian boy, which causes conflict and suspicion on both sides) and social issues faced by many American Indians (poverty and alcoholism) are introduced, but it also features positive relationships between family members and friends.  Fichera's follow up to Hooked will be released in May.

If I Ever Get Out of Here
Historical fiction featuring American Indian characters are often set during the western expansion era, so a YA novel with American Indian characters set during the 1970s is quite welcomed.  This friendship story set in a military upstate New York town in 1975 is gripping and enormously heartbreaking; the music of the era plays a big part of the story (a playlist is helpfully included).

Reality Boy
This is definitely for mature readers (for language and situations), but it's such a powerful and unforgettable read about a former reality show child star that I have to include it. With so many "reality shows" featuring children and teens nowadays, this raises important questions about the effect of having childhood moments, emotions, and difficulties forever preserved for a nation's entertainment and mockery.  This is a difficult read at times, and not for sensitive readers.  

Rose Under Fire
This companion novel to last year's Code Name Verity is a sensational and emotionally shattering read, as it deals with female POWs and Nazi "medical" experimentation.  Writing in a journal given to her by her pilot friend, Maddie (the pilot in Code Name Verity), Rose Justice details her friendships with other young girls imprisoned at Ravensbruck, the notorious women's concentration camp.

My favorite: Rose Under Fire, followed by Golden Girl.

It's nearly here! The 2014 ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced this Monday, January 27.  Watch the live webcast here, 8 AM EST.  I'll have a post-awards post ASAP. Crossing my fingers that I've ordered the top winning books!

The 2014 books are starting to come in! Here's what I have my eye on:

Baby Bear
This is quite a departure for Kadir Nelson, who is best known for his gorgeously illustrated and written children's nonfiction books on African-American history.  Already receiving numerous starred reviews, to no one's surprise.

Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble
Such an awesome series.  Bad Kitty confronts her creator for the first time; quite a meta story! Great reviews, including a starred review from Kirkus. The Bad Kitty chapter books are hilarious, but they also sneak in information about the story's topic (pet care, elections, etc).  This newest title includes information about the writing/illustration process.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
This has already received two starred reviews and other positive reviews, so this is definitely one to watch this season.  Violet, tired of feeling out of place in her school and of people assuming that she's adopted, investigates her late father's African-American heritage.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
Cannot wait for this sequel to Three Times Lucky! 

The Impossible Knife of Memory
Laurie Halse Anderson's latest YA novel about a daughter dealing with her Iraqi War veteran father's PTSD has received multiple starred reviews. Definitely a timely novel.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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