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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
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 nonfiction and fiction books and picture books.
Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty. By Russell Freedman. illus. Holiday, $24.95 (9780823423743). Gr. 6–9.
In this handsomely designed, solidly researched, and beautifully written biography, Freedman uses well-chosen quotes, anecdotes, and illustrations as he traces Ben Franklin’s improbable journey from runaway apprentice to influential world figure and pivotal Founding Father. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers. By Tanya Lee Stone. illus. Candlewick, $24.99 (9780763651176). Gr. 5–9.
From the riveting opening onward, this vivid narrative draws readers into the wartime experiences of America’s first black paratrooper unit, the Triple Nickles.
Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People. By Susan Goldman Rubin. illus. Abrams, $21.95 (9780810984110). Gr. 6–10.
Vibrantly illustrated with Rivera’s paintings and murals, this accessible title introduces the great Mexican artist to young people. Extensive back matter enhances this standout biography.
Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty. By Tonya Bolden. illus. Abrams, $24.95 (9781419703904). Gr. 6–10.
Presenting a complex historical topic with rigor, originality, and finesse, Bolden’s account of the Emancipation Proclamation communicates not just the facts but also the document’s meaning for those who cared most passionately.
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. By Chip Kidd. Illus. by the author. Workman, $17.95 (9780761172192). Gr. 8–12.
Illustrious graphic designer Kidd presents a rich, colorful, and captivating overview of the things graphic designers consider every day. Enticing full-page visuals illustrate this package where form truly meets function.
God Got a Dog. By Cynthia Rylant. Illus. by Marla Frazee. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442465183). Gr. 6–9.
Rylant and Frazee combine their considerable talents in this book of poetry, which portrays God in all his/her diversity and reminds readers that the occasional invincibility God feels is matched by a willingness to try new things.
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II. By Martin W. Sandler. illus. Bloomsbury, $22.99 (9780802722775). Gr. 6–10.
Shining a light on a dark period in America’s past, this informative and heavily illustrated book discusses the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the aftermath of those experiences.
Legends, Icons, & Rebels: Music That Changed the World. By Robbie Robertson and others. illus. Tundra, $29 (9781770495715). Gr. 6–12.
From selection of the artists to the eye-popping illustrations and design, incredible thought has been put into this offering that introduces the heavyweights of popular music to a new generation.
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. illus. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596438101). Gr. 3–6.
Intelligently written and beautifully illustrated, this engaging book describes the life and flamboyant personality of Mississippi potter George Ohr, whose genius was unrecognized in his day.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song. By Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316070133). Gr. 2–4.
This vibrant picture book weaves together the stories of two giants of the American civil rights movement. Alternating spreads trace the individuals’ paths until they meet and forge a collaboration.
Parrots over Puerto Rico. By Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Illus. by Susan L. Roth. Lee & Low, $19.95 (9781620140048). Gr. 2–5.
In this ambitious nonfiction picture book, the story of the Puerto Rican parrot is melded with that of Puerto Rico itself courtesy of vertically arranged pages filled with fluttery, fabric-and-paper collages.
The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal. By Sy Montgomery. Illus. by Nic Bishop. Houghton, $18.99 (9780547815480). Gr. 5–8.
Montgomery and Bishop’s latest project takes them to Brazil’s Pantanal, where field scientist Patricia Medici leads a talented team in search of the unsung tapir. This entry in the lauded Scientists in the Field series seamlessly blends eloquent text and top-notch photographs.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. By Deborah Heiligman. Illus. by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596433076). K–Gr. 3.
This unusual picture book introduces eccentric mathematician Paul Erdos and his unconventional life. Lively writing and vivid artwork combine to make this a memorable biography.
Locomotive. By Brian Floca. Illus. by the author. Atheneum, $17.99 (9781416994152). K–Gr. 3.
Floca’s look at train travel in the late 1800s is tireless and expansive—hardly anything escapes his ebullient enthusiasm, from awe-inspiring illustrations of roaring behemoths to close-ups so detailed that you can smell the burning coal. (Top of the List Winner—Youth Picture Book.)
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. By Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Vladimir Radunsky. Chronicle, $17.99 (9780811872355). Gr. 1–3.
Explaining Albert Einstein’s work is not easy, but this artfully illustrated book pulls it off by providing an overview of the scientist’s life and how his remarkable ideas changed the way scientists think.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. By Jen Bryant. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. Knopf, $17.99 (9780375867125). Gr. 1–4.
Horace Pippin was a self-taught African American painter working outside the artistic mainstream. This outstanding picture book tell his story through a well-structured text and mixed-media illustrations that have a brilliance all their own.
Boxers. By Gene Luen Yang. Illus. by the author. First Second, paper, $18.99 (9781596433595). Gr. 7–11. Saints. By Gene Luen Yang. Illus. by the author. First Second, paper, $15.99 (9781596436893). Gr. 7–11.
In this two-book set about China’s Boxer Rebellion, Yang looses twin voices from opposite sides of the bloody conflict and ties tangled knots of empathy. Boxers’ Little Bao reacts to religious and cultural oppression by leading an uprising from the provinces. Saints’ Four-Girl is an outcast who embraces Christianity and places herself in the path of Bao’s warriors. (Top of the List Winner—Youth Fiction.)
Crash and Burn. By Michael Hassan. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $18.99 (9780062112903). Gr. 9–12.
Sprawling, messy, vulgar, sexy, irreverent, violent, bighearted, and harrowing, this roaring freight train of a debut traces the decade-long antagonism of two “friends”—one a drugged-out slacker, one a dangerous genius.
Darius & Twig. By Walter Dean Myers. Amistad, $17.99 (9780061728235). Gr. 9–12.
Best friends Darius and Twig dream of a world beyond the confines of their daily lives in Harlem. Can Darius, a highly intelligent writer, and Twig, a talented runner, overcome obstacles and fully explore their gifts? A suspenseful, street-smart novel about young men searching for the best within themselves.
Earth Girl. By Janet Edwards. Pyr, $17.95 (9781616147655). Gr. 9–12.
Forget dystopia. In this darn-near-utopian sf novel, Jarra is born with a condition that prevents her from leaving Earth, so she proves her mettle by joining archaeology students who sift through the ruins of New York City.
Eleanor & Park. By Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $18.99 (9781250012579). Gr. 9–12.
Eleanor and Park’s worlds couldn’t be more different. Park’s Vietnam vet father and Korean immigrant mother are genuinely loving. Eleanor and her younger siblings live in poverty with an abusive, controlling stepfather. Alternating, heartbreakingly rendered voices reveal the teens’ steadily maturing relationship.
Far Far Away. By Tom McNeal. Knopf, $17.99 (9780375849725). Gr. 7–10.
Ghostly Jacob Grimm narrates this tale of Jeremy and Ginger and their near-tragic encounter with the town baker. Reminiscent of “Hansel and Gretel” and rife with allusions to the Brothers Grimm tales, this is a masterful story of outcasts, the power of faith, and the triumph of good over evil.
The Final Descent. By Rick Yancey. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (9781442451537). Gr. 9–12.
The conclusion of Yancey’s landmark Monstrumologist series is gobsmackingly bold, taking the now-teenage Will Henry into the depths of madness he has long implored, leaving no character—or reader—unscathed. Brave, dark, and unforgettable.
Ghost Hawk. By Susan Cooper. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99 (9781442481411). Gr. 6–10.
Set in the seventeenth century, Cooper’s richly plotted historical fantasy links the lives of Little Hawk, a young member of the Pokanoket tribe, and John, a young English settler who grows up to be a friend to the native people. A near-epic novel filled with wonderfully realized and sympathetic characters.
The Golden Day. By Ursula Dubosarsky. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763663995). Gr. 7–12.
Eleven bored Australian schoolgirls keep a secret about the disappearance of their teacher until it begins to gnaw upon them, one by one. Dubosarsky’s willowy prose inhabits all the girls at once, delivering a tour de force of authorial voice.
Hilda and the Bird Parade. By Luke Pearson. Illus. by the author. Flying Eye, $24 (9781909263062). Gr. 2–5.
After moving to a small European city filled with strange creatures, Hilda gets lost and befriends a wounded bird, who proves a much more powerful figure than he initially appears. Pearson’s expressive, stylized cartooning captures a pitch-perfect balance of humor and empathy.
If You Find Me. By Emily Murdoch. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $17.99 (9781250021526). Gr. 8–12.
When Carey and Jenessa are taken from their camper home to live with Carey’s father and his new family—far from their druggie mother—they are introduced to “normal” life. A painful, hopeful book that charts the best and worst of humanity.
Loud Awake and Lost. By Adele Griffin. Knopf, $16.99 (9780385752725). Gr. 9–12.
Ember, whose passenger was killed in a car accident of which she has no memory, tries to put together the puzzle of her life in this moving and surprising story.
Maggot Moon. By Sally Gardner. Illus. by Julian Crouch. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763665531). Gr. 7–12.
In an alternate 1956, a boy in a totalitarian state discovers that his government is staging a fake moon landing in a nearby warehouse—and one of the “astronauts” has shown up in his cellar without a tongue. Haunting and idiosyncratic.
Midwinterblood. By Marcus Sedgwick. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596438002). Gr. 9–12.
A seven-part suite of interconnected stories, beginning in 2073 and then stretching ever further back in time, form the basis of this visionary work, which centers on two characters reborn throughout the ages.
Picture Me Gone. By Meg Rosoff. Putnam, $17.99 (9780399257650). Gr. 6–9.
Mila, 12, is something of a mentalist, and her talents are helpful when her father’s best friend goes missing. Shaped as much by form and intuition as it is by events, this fascinating story never condescends or compromises either in premise or prose.
September Girls. By Bennett Madison. Harper, $17.99 (9780061255632). Gr. 9–12.
After the abrupt departure of his mother, Sam, his father, and his brother escape to a ramshackle beach town run by beautiful, mysterious blonde Girls, none of whom seem bound by knowable rules. There, Sam connects with DeeDee, who understands parental abandonment on a level he cannot fathom.
The Watcher in the Shadows. By Chris Moriarty. Illus. by Mark E. Geyer. Harcourt, $16.99 (9780547466323). Gr. 6–10.
The setting is Lower East Side New York at the turn of the last century, but this NYC is overflowing with kabbalistic magic. Sacha, a 13-year-old apprentice at the NYPD, tries to navigate her intricate world with mixed success. A touch of Chabon, a hiss of steampunk, and a blast of originality.
Winger. By Andrew Smith. Illus. by Sam Bosma. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (9781442444928). Gr. 9–12.
The base-level joys and torments of being a teen at boarding school pack an unexpectedly ferocious punch in this satisfying, insightful novel.
Doll Bones. By Holly Black. Illus. by Eliza Wheeler. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99 (9781416963981). Gr. 5–8.
Three adolescents go on a quest to bury a doll made from human bones in order to satisfy a lingering ghost. Their journey puts each of them on the edge of adulthood—which may mean leaving some things, and people, behind.
Elvis and the Underdogs. By Jenny Lee. Illus. by Kelly Light. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $16.99 (9780062235541). Gr. 4–6.
This funny, unabashedly feel-good story, starring an unusually intelligent 200-pound Newfoundland and a manic, undersize 10-year-old boy with a preemie legacy of illness, allergies, accidents and fainting spells, mixes a lot of heart with its humor.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. By Kate DiCamillo. Illus. by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763660406). Gr. 3–6.
A squirrel is sucked up into a Ulysses Super Suction and emerges a new man, er, squirrel. His only thought was once, “I’m hungry.” Now he is “born anew.” Master storyteller DiCamillo once again creates characters who dance off the pages.
How to Catch a Bogle. By Catherine Jinks. Illus. by Sarah Watts. Harcourt, $16.99 (9780544087088). Gr. 4–6.
In a richly atmospheric, suspenseful tale set in 1870s London, 10-year-old Birdie is apprenticed to a bogler, a goblin exterminator. The pitch-perfect narrative sets the girl’s down-to-earth courage against mounting forces of malevolence and terror.
Jinx. By Sage Blackwood. Harper, $16.99 (9780062129901). Gr. 4–7.
After landing in the wizard Simon’s home, young orphan Jinx loses his remarkable ability to see others’ feelings and sets out on a quest to regain his talent. An exciting, expertly paced fantasy that creates a well-drawn world of magic, whimsy, and exquisitely credible characters.
Navigating Early. By Clare Vanderpool. Delacorte, $16.99 (9780385742092). Gr. 5–8.
Newbery Medal–winning author Vanderpool offers a sharp, honest narrative about two odd-boys out, Jack and Early, who ditch boarding school for a trek on the Appalachian trail, where they look for a black bear, the meaning of pi, and Early’s brother.
P.S. Be Eleven. By Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, $16.99 (9780061938627). Gr. 4–7.
Set against the tumultuous, yet vibrant, backdrop of the late 1960s, the Gaither sisters are newly returned from a summer spent in California with their mother, only to find things have changed back home.
A Tangle of Knots. By Lisa Graff. Penguin, $16.99 (9780399255175). Gr. 3–6.
Cady, an 11-year-old orphan, can bake the perfect cake to suit the disposition of anyone for whom she cares. With charm, clever plot twists, and recipes for Cady’s cakes, Graff’s winning novel combines the literary sensibility of E. B. White with the insouciance of Louis Sachar.
The Thing about Luck. By Cynthia Kadohata. Illus. by Julia Kuo. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416918820). Gr. 4–8.
In this nuanced and often humorous novel from Newbery Medal–winning Kadohata, a young Japanese American girl and her emotionally troubled younger brother accompany their grandparents through a summer of work, cooking for the laborers of a migrant harvesting company.
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. By Kathi Appelt. Illus. by Jennifer Bricking. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781442421059). Gr. 5–8.
Bingo and J’Miah, two raccoons who live in an abandoned DeSoto car, are the official Sugar Man Swamp scouts, and it’s their job to alert the Sugar Man—a fur-covered cousin to the yeti and Bigfoot—to danger in the swamp. And danger’s a-comin’.
Brush of the Gods. By Lenore Look. Illus. by Meilo So. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375870019). K–Gr. 3.
Wu Daozi, a seventh-century Chinese artist, was known for having magic in his brush. This beautifully reimagined life presents a painter who brought spirit and motion to Chinese art.
Henri’s Scissors. By Jeanette Winter. Illus. by the author. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $16.99 (9781442464841). K–Gr. 3.
Winter offers an elegant, accessible portrait of Matisse’s last years, when, unable to paint, he begins cutting shapes from paper and creating collages. With luminous illustrations, and a warm, celebratory spirit, this exemplary picture book delivers a clear, sensitive portrait of the artist.
Herman and Rosie. By Gus Gordon. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596438569). PreS–Gr. 2.
Herman’s an oboe-playing croc. Rosie’s a jazz-singing deer. The two remain apart for most of this charming picture book, until Herman’s sweet music draws Rosie to him. A tribute to the Big Apple and to friendship.
If You Want to See a Whale. By Julie Fogliano. Illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596437319). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this gorgeous love song to the imagination, a little boy and his trusty basset hound want nothing more than to catch a glimpse of a whale. But in order to do that, you have to be patient.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. By Peter Brown. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316200639). PreS–Gr. 2.
Bright orange Mr. Tiger sticks out amid the gray pallor of the city, and when he decides to shake things up—by roaring, rampaging, and taking off his stuffy clothes—he moves to the wilderness. But he misses city life, and when he returns, he happily discovers that he’s not the only one letting loose.
Sophie’s Squash. By Pat Zietlow Miller. Illus. by Anne Wilsdorf. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780307978967). PreS–Gr. 2.
Sophie’s best friend is a yellow squash—named Bernice—and even though Bernice is supposed to be dinner, Sophie draws a smiling face on her and convinces two very tolerant parents to let her keep the gourd as a playmate. A paean to love and friendship in all shapes and sizes.
The Tortoise & the Hare. By Jerry Pinkney. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $18 (9780316183567). PreS–Gr. 3.
Set in the American Southwest and illustrated with elegant watercolors, Pinkney’s spin on the Aesop’s fable marks the tortoise’s progress by adding a word at each milestone, gradually revealing the familiar moral: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Train. By Elisha Cooper. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Orchard, $17.99 (9780545384957). K–Gr. 3.
Cooper follows several trains through their daily routines in this exhilarating glimpse of life on the rails. The languid, rolling language works well with the looseness of the watercolors, which offer spectacular views of trains, faraway and close up.
Water in the Park: A Book about Water and the Times of the Day. By Emily Jenkins. Illus. by Stephanie Graegin. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780375870026). PreS–Gr. 2.
A hot day at a city park is brought to life in this appealing picture book. The quiet text creates a satisfying, structured narrative, while the intriguing illustrations offer different views of park places throughout the day.
Year of the Jungle. By Suzanne Collins. Illus. by James Proimos. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545425162). K–Gr. 3.
In an unflinching, first-person voice, Collins mines her own experience of her father’s deployment to Vietnam to tell this tender story of war as seen through a child’s eyes.
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