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Find more Booklist Editors’ Choice
Committed to providing a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence, the Books for Youth editorial staff has chosen the titles below as best-of-the-year fiction, nonfiction, and picture books.
All the Broken Pieces. By Ann Burg. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545080927). Gr. 6–10.
Adopted by an American family, Vietnamese refugee Matt, 12, is haunted by the horrors of war he left behind, but his spare free verse also reveals his surprise at discovering the injury and rejection that American veterans face.
The Ask and the Answer. By Patrick Ness. Candlewick, $18.99 (9780763644901). Gr. 9–12.
Ness leaves no ground unscorched in this middle volume of the Chaos Walking trilogy, where Todd and Viola find themselves on opposite sides of a civil war marked by extremism and impossible choices.
Burn My Heart. By Beverley Naidoo. HarperCollins/Amistad, $15.99 (9780061432972). Gr. 7–12.
Set in Kenya during the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion, Naidoo’s riveting drama portrays the conflicted friendship between a white landowner’s son and a black farmworker’s son.
Catching Fire. By Suzanne Collins. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780439023498). Gr. 9–12.
The follow-up to the Hunger Games (2008) provides another roundhouse wallop of relentless pacing and breathless action as Katniss and Peeta find themselves enshrined as heroes and thrust right back into mortal peril.
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith. By Deborah Heiligman. Holt, $18.95 (9780805087215). Gr. 8–12.
In his first-cousin Emma, Charles Darwin found a wife, a comforter, and a sparring partner. Heiligman uses the Darwin family papers to craft a full-bodied look at the personal influences—especially Emma’s faith in God—that shaped Charles’ life and theories.
Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice. By Phillip Hoose. illus. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $19.95 (9780374313227). Gr. 7–12.
Drawing from numerous personal interviews, Hoose offers an exceptional portrait of Colvin, who was arrested and jailed as a teenager for civil rights activism. Inspiring, informative, and beautifully designed.
Crossing Stones. By Helen Frost. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16.99 (9780374316532). Gr. 7–12.
World War I, the suffragist movement, and first love shape the lives of four rural Michigan teens in Frost’s powerful, skillfully structured verse novel narrated in multiple voices.
The Eternal Smile. By Gene Luen Yang. Illus. by Derek Kirk Kim. Roaring Brook/First Second, paper, $16.95 (9781596431560). Gr. 9–12.
It may not be possible for the three stories in this graphic collection to look any more different, but their variations on a theme make for a powerful harmony with no shortage of wily reveals.
Fire. By Kristin Cashore. Dial, $17.99 (9780803734616). Gr. 8–12.
This prequel to Graceling (2008) features another powerful heroine: Fire, a sexually captivating “monster” able to bend the wills of humans. A fantasy that flawlessly melds action, politics, and romance.
The Frog Scientist. By Pamela S. Turner. Illus. by Andy Comins. Houghton, $18 (9780618717163). Gr. 5–9.
Through excellent color photos and lively writing, this well-designed entry in the Scientists in the Field series portrays biologist Tyrone Hayes as both a colorful personality and a dedicated scientist.
Going Bovine. By Libba Bray. Delacorte, $17.99 (9780385733977). Gr. 8–12.
Yard gnomes, quantum physics, Disney World, and reality TV all figure into this nearly indefinable epic fantasy, inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote, about a teen hero with mad-cow disease.
Heroes of the Valley. By Jonathan Stroud. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781423109662). Gr. 6–10.
In the eye-opening adventures of the unlikely hero Halli Sveinsson, Stroud toys with the notions of legend and valor as handily as Halli’s distant ancestor, Svein, toyed with the murderous Trows.
Jumped. By Rita Williams-Garcia. HarperTeen, $16.99 (9780060760915). Gr. 9–12.
A hallway slight sends three high-schoolers on a violent collision course. The juggled points-of-view are chillingly believable and the conclusion, though messy, is gut-wrenching.
Marcelo in the Real World. By Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9780545054744). Gr. 9–12.
Seventeen-year-old Marcelo is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, but when his father insists that Marcelo work at his law firm, unexpected issues arise. Shot with spiritualism and fraught with conundrums, this book, like Marcelo himself, surprises.
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. By Elizabeth Partridge. illus. Viking, $19.99 (9780670011896). Gr. 6–12.
With gripping profiles, affecting quotes, and large black-and-white photos, this stirring history depicts the essential role that young people played in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
The Monstrumologist. By Rick Yancey. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (9781416984481). Gr. 9–12.
As apprentice to a brilliant but self-absorbed monster hunter, 12-year-old Will Henry has seen a lot—but nothing like the shark-toothed Anthropophagi. A wild, gory, Lovecraftian adventure.
Punkzilla. By Adam Rapp. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763630317). Gr. 10–12.
Jamie flees military school to visit his dying brother, but the road trip is fraught with peril. With Rapp, readers expect gritty and disturbing, but what’s most exhilarating is the humor and heart.
Rosie and Skate. By Beth Ann Bauman. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.99 (9780385737357). Gr. 9–12.
Two teen sisters navigate early romances and a drunkard father behind bars in this perceptive and admirably restrained debut. The sense of place, the distinctive first-person voices—everything feels just right.
Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia. By Cindy Pon. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780061730214). Gr. 9–12.
In ancient China, Ai-Ling faces gods and monsters as she tries to fulfill her destiny. Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut.
Tales from Outer Suburbia. By Shaun Tan. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $19.99 (9780545055871). Gr. 7–12.
After eschewing language entirely in The Arrival (2007), Tan proves to be just as adept whipping up bizarre, thoughtful stories to match his peerless artistry in this collection of illuminating illustrated tales.
Wintergirls. By Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking, $17.99 (9780670011100). Gr. 9–12.
Struck-through passages and blank pages make tactile the struggle of Lia as she relishes the anorexia that is eating her alive. A devastating take on the limits of self-deception.
Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics. By James Sturm and others. Illus. by the authors. Roaring Brook/First Second, paper, $12.95 (9781596433694). K–Gr. 5.
Fun and cleverness dash hand in hand through this rousing fantasy adventure and limpid primer on the language and conventions of sequential storytelling.
Anything but Typical. By Nora Raleigh Baskin. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (9781416963783). Gr. 4–7.
Told from the point of view of a 12-year-old autistic boy, this moving and steadfastly honest story explores the differences created by disabilities in the universal tapestry of adolescence.
Eidi. By Bodil Bredsdorff. Tr. by Kathryn Mahaffy. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374312671). Gr. 4–6.
Eidi leaves home hoping to achieve a measure of independence, but she finds a great deal more. Translated from the Danish, this unassuming yet compelling sequel to The Crow-Girl (2004) glows with simplicity, power, and humanity.
Eleanor, Quiet No More. By Doreen Rappaport. Illus. by Gary Kelley. Hyperion, $16.99 (9780786851416). Gr. 2–5.
Through crisp sentences bolstered by quotes and rich, beautifully crafted paintings, this book does something more subtle than just offer the facts of Roosevelt’s life. It shows how she grew into herself and found purpose.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. By Jacqueline Kelly. Holt, $16.95 (9780805088410). Gr. 4–7.
Growing up in rural Texas in 1899, Callie neglects her needlework while she explores nature with her grandfather. Memorable characters, wry wit, and sharply realized details make this a notable first novel.
I Want to Be Free. By Joseph Slate. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Putnam, $16.99 (9780399243424). Gr. 2–4.
Spare words and exquisite watercolor pictures tell of cruelty, courage, and kindness when a young runaway slave escapes his master and then saves an orphan slave child.
John Brown: His Fight for Freedom. By John Hendrix. Illus. by the author. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810937987). Gr. 5–8.
Hendrix’s picture-book account of the legendary abolitionist presents a thoughtful narrative that explores Brown’s complexities and dramatic artwork that puffs him up with folk-hero grandeur.
The Magician’s Elephant. By Kate DiCamillo. Illus. by Yoko Tanaka. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763644109). Gr. 4–7.
From the unexpectedly miraculous feats of a two-bit illusionist to the transformative powers of love, forgiveness, and a good mutton stew, this fable’s weighty issues are lightened by a lyrical text and expressive illustrations.
Mission Control, This Is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon. By Andrew Chaikin and Victoria Kohl. Illus. by Alan Bean. Viking, $23.99 (9780670011568). Gr. 5–8.
Handsome and hugely informative, this volume brings 12 historic moon missions into sharp focus. NASA photos and astronaut Bean’s paintings offer complementary images of the Apollo program.
Nic Bishop Butterflies and Moths. By Nic Bishop. Illus. by the author. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780439877572). Gr. 2–4.
Combining stunning color photos with an unusually engaging text, scientist-photographer Bishop once again takes a seemingly familiar subject and creates an eye-opening, instructive book.
Pharaoh’s Boat. By David Weitzman. Illus. by the author. Houghton, $17 (9780547053417). Gr. 4–7.
In precise yet almost poetic language, Weitzman chronicles the extraordinary discovery and excavation of the pharaoh Cheops’ ship for the afterlife. Amazing textual and illustrative details highlight the vessel’s construction.
A Season of Gifts. By Richard Peck. Dial, $16.99 (9780803730823). Gr. 5–8.
Dry wit, an economical writing style, and convincing details of small-town life illuminate this comical episodic novel that features the return of Grandma Dowdel, Peck’s quirkiest and most beloved character.
The Storm in the Barn. By Matt Phelan. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $24.99 (9780763636180). Gr. 5–8.
Trapped in the swirl of the Dust Bowl and overcome with feelings of helplessness, a young boy shows his mettle and wrestles with the rain in this lyrical tall tale. Phelan’s first graphic novel is a potent homage to storytelling and displays a breathtaking mastery of the form. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. By Marilyn Nelson. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. Dial, $21.99 (9780803731875). Gr. 5–8.
Nelson’s syncopated stanzas provide the backbeat for this history of a real-life World War II–era band. The battered instruments themselves tell the story behind each song, while Pinkney’s paintings provide perfect harmony.
Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting. By Jim Murphy. illus. Scholastic, $19.99 (9780545130493). Gr. 5–8.
This vivid historical account begins with the causes of World War I and climaxes when peace breaks out and soldiers from both sides mingle between the trenches on Christmas Day 1914.
When You Reach Me. By Rebecca Stead. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.99 (9780385737425). Gr. 4–7.
This fresh time-travel story with its 1970s New York setting is an honest reverberation of the era. The mental gymnastics required of readers are invigorating, and the characters are honest bits of humanity no matter in what place or time their souls rest.
Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl. By Albert Marrin. illus. Dutton, $22.99 (9780525420774). Gr. 5–8.
Veteran author Marrin brings close the terrifying, bleak realities of the Dust Bowl in this exceptional, amply illustrated overview that puts the era into both historical and environmental context.
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! By Jonah Winter. Illus. by André Carrilho. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375837388). Gr. 2–4.
From the kinetic cover and arresting artwork to the sputtering-with-incredulity narration, there’s no aspect of this dazzling picture-book biography that isn’t unique, or that doesn’t square up solidly with the stupefying numbers put up by arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
All in a Day. By Cynthia Rylant. Illus. by Nikki McClure. Abrams, $17.95 (9780810983212). PreS–Gr. 1.
The glory of a day and the possibilities it holds are the subjects of this lovely book, which follows a farm boy through his routine. Rylant’s warm, hopeful words match McClure’s amazing paper-cut artwork.
Birds. By Kevin Henkes. Illus. by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780061363047). PreS–K.
Created by a husband-and-wife team, this lyrical, energetic picture book about a young girl who imagines a bird’s life effectively bridges the space between concept books and longer narrative stories.
Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, $16.99 (9780811868655). PreS–Gr. 1.
Some readers may know the visual puzzle that makes the same line drawing resemble either a rabbit or a duck. This clever, amusing book pushes the concept forward, and although the simple art is perfect for little ones, older ones will like it, too.
Higher! Higher! By Leslie Patricelli. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763632410). PreS.
Illustrated in bold lines and intense colors, a girl’s ride on a playground swing becomes an out-of-this-world experience. This wonderfully simple story is simply wonderful for reading aloud.
It’s a Secret! By John Burningham. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763642754). PreS–Gr. 1.
Marie Elaine wonders where cats go at night. One evening, she catches her cat, Malcolm, in plumed hat and red jacket. Can she come out with him? A wondrous night ensues, full of danger (dodgy dogs), derring-do, and dancing, lots of dancing. Sly, wry, but forever childlike, this is a delightful piece of bookmaking, magical for all ages. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
Itty Bitty. By Cece Bell. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $9.99 (9780763636166). PreS–Gr. 1.
A tiny, plucky dog creates a home for himself by hollowing out an enormous bone. Format, story, and protagonist are perfectly small in scale in this endearing, unpretentious picture book.
The Lion & the Mouse. By Jerry Pinkney. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316013567). PreS–Gr. 1.
The Aesop fable gets an intricate, wordless adaptation, and the result is one of spectacular detail and breathtaking splendor. Pinkney’s soft, multihued strokes make everything seem alive—right down to the rocks.
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life. By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Illus. by Molly Bang. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $16.99 (9780545044226). PreS–Gr. 3.
From the molecular level all the way to sweeping personal and planetary concerns, the process of photosynthesis has never been made clearer or more invigorating. Bang’s illustrations practically glow.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. By Brian Floca. Illus. by the author. Atheneum, $17.99 (9781416950462). K–Gr. 3.
Large in scope and format, this informative picture book makes the story of the Apollo 11 mission compelling through words and pictures that brilliantly balance the technology and the humanity of the moon landing.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers. By Langston Hughes. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Disney/Jump at the Sun, $16.99 (9780786818679). K–Gr. 3.
Lewis illustrates Hughes’ classic poem with luminous, soul-stirring images that honor both African American heritage and the human family as a whole.
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. By Joyce Sidman. Illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton, $16 (9780547014944). PreS–Gr. 1.
In a gorgeous, unique take on a familiar topic, this picture book explores each season in terms of color. Evocative images in the text are matched with inspired illustrations. The colors that surprise on every page do indeed sing.
Redwoods. By Jason Chin. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.95 (9781596434301). PreS–Gr. 3.
A straightforward nonfiction text provides the jumping-off point for soaring, imaginative paintings that transform a treatise on redwoods into an enlightening adventure.
The Snow Day. By Komako Sakai. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99 (9780545013215). PreS–K.
This quiet story evocatively chronicles a little rabbit’s snow day at home from kindergarten. The words have weight and wonder, and the art captures the feeling of being alone in an icy world, in a book as precisely crafted as a snowflake.
Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales. By Lucy Cousins. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $18.99 (9780763644741). PreS–Gr. 3.
Working in her signature style of boldly outlined figures and uncluttered, childlike compositions, Cousins retells eight familiar fairy tales with direct, winning simplicity.
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