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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Selected by the Books for Youth editorial staff, these titles represent our best-of-the-year selections in fiction, nonfiction, and picture books for older and middle readers and young children. Our goal is to provide a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence.
Abrahams, Peter. Down the Rabbit Hole. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-073701-8).
Gr. 7–10. Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill feels like Alice plunging down the rabbit hole as her curiosity about the murder of a local eccentric takes her into unknown, even dangerous places. Great characters, plenty of suspense, and an authentic real-world backdrop raise this well above most youth mysteries.
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. illus. Scholastic, $19.95 (0-439-35379-3).
Gr. 7–10. In a gripping narrative accompanied by numerous black-and-white historical photos, Bartoletti draws on oral histories, diaries, letters, and her own extensive interviews to tell what it was like to be a teenager during Hitler’s time. The haunting personal accounts will spark deep discussions that will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Farrell, Jeanette. Invisible Allies: Microbes That Shape Our Lives. illus. Farrar, $17 (0-374-33608-3).
Gr. 6–9. Farrell writes a fascinating and sometimes surprising account of how lowly microbes contribute to human life in areas as varied as the production of chocolate, the development of the human digestive system, and the disintegration of environmental toxins.
Frank, Mitch. Understanding the Holy Land: Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. illus. Viking, $17.99 (0-670-06032-1).
Gr. 6–9. Using a wonderfully effective -question-and-answer format, Frank’s evenhanded, honest book tackles the complex subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making it comprehensible if not any less horrific.
Green, John. Looking for Alaska. Dutton, $15.99 (0-525-47506-0).
Gr. 9–12. In Green’s stunning debut novel, Miles Halter, a lover of last words, goes to boarding school looking for the Great Perhaps. He finds friends, fun, and a troubled girl named Alaska who changes his life. Written with frankness, grace, and humor.
Larochelle, David. Absolutely, Positively Not. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.95 (0-439-59109-0).
Gr. 7–10. This touching, sometimes hilarious coming-out story stars Steven DeNarski, 16, who tries to deny that he is gay. The characters are drawn with surprising depth, and the wry first-person narrative moves from angst to farce as Steven finds support and betrayal in unexpected places.
Lester, Julius. Day of Tears.Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (0-7868-0490-4).
Gr. 6–9. In unforgettable personal accounts, Lester fictionalizes the biggest slave auction in American history through the stirring voices of many who were there, including the slaves up for sale, the auctioneer, and the white masters and their children.
Lynch, Chris. Inexcusable. Simon & Schuster/Ginee Seo, $16.95 (0-689-84789-0).
Gr. 9–12. Keir, a high-school senior accused of date rape, recounts his version of events in this bone-chilling novel that asks powerful questions about athletic culture, personal responsibility, and what defines a “good guy.”
Melling, O. R. The Hunter’s Moon. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (0-8109-5857-0).
Gr. 8–11. Teen cousins Gwen and Findabhair embark on a thrilling adventure that leads them through the shifting worlds of contemporary Ireland and the opulent, mystical realm of faeries. Well drawn and richly satisfying, this is the first book in the Chronicles of Faerie series.
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Illus. by Philippe Lardy. Houghton, $17 (0-618-39752-3).
Gr. 9–12. Nelson distills overwhelming emotion into potent, heart-stopping lines in this collection of poems, organized into a heroic crown of sonnets, about the brutal, racially motivated murder of Emmett Till. Lardy’s spare, symbolic paintings illustrate the masterful poetry.
Nilsson, Per. You & You & You. Tr. by Tara Chace. Front Street, $16.95 (1-932425-19-5).
Gr. 9–12. Swedish novelist Nilsson brings together three disparate characters, Anon, 12; Zarah, 17; and Nils, 20, in a quirky, exceptional novel about relationships and the human condition. Strong language and sexual situations are folded naturally into the beautifully written story.
Partridge, Elizabeth. John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth. illus. Viking, $24.99 (0-670-05954-4).
Gr. 9–12. The mystique surrounding John Lennon has only intensified in the decades since his murder, and Partridge’s stellar biography fills in the intimate details—charming and gritty—in a carefully designed, well--researched package that will draw browsers and rock-history buffs alike.
Perkins, Lynne Rae. Criss Cross. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-009272-6).
Gr. 6–9. In this wry, perceptive follow-up to All Alone in the Universe, a 1999 Booklist Editors’ Choice selection, 14-year-old Debbie and her friends search for signs of who they are and who they’ll become. Perkins finds poetry in authentic, understated moments, the 1970s setting, and the well-drawn, likable characters.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. illus. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $29.99 (0-439-78454-9).
Gr. 6–9. In the penultimate book of the series, the wizard community is now fully aware that evil has returned. Harry has been left bereft by the death of Sirius Black, and there are more killings to come. Rowling is at the top of her game here, blending backstory and fresh insights.
Steinhofel, Andreas. The Center of the World. Delacorte, $16.95 (0-385-72943-X).
Gr. 10–12. Phil, 17, knows that he is gay and that his free-spirited mother accepts him, but he has always dreamed of finding his American father. A prizewinner in Germany, this funny, aching first-person narrative tells a story of secrets and betrayal as Phil confronts truth and lies about family, friends, and lovers.
Wilson, Diane Lee. Black Storm Comin’. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16.95 (0-689-87137-6).
Gr. 7–10. With the Civil War coming, Colton, a mixed-race teen, joins the Pony Express. His adventures are the stuff of an engrossing historical novel that combines galloping action with the beauty and terror of a boy’s journey to manhood.
Zevin, Gabrielle. Elsewhere. Farrar, $16 (0-374-32091-8).
Gr. 7–10. In the tradition of The Lovely Bones (2002)but decidedly its own creation, this exquisitely written novel unfolds in an elaborately conceived Afterlife. Focusing on a deceased teenager’s adjustment to her new existence, Zevin tackles provocative ideas with humanity and humility, balancing character, voice, and resonant emotional conflicts within an unforgettable philosophical framework. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-83143-6).
Gr. 3–6. Adults who have searched for books that remind them of their own childhood favorites need look no further. This comforting family story offers four marvelously appealing sisters, true childhood behavior, and a writing style that will draw readers close.
Collard, Sneed B. The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America’s Lost Grasslands. illus. Houghton, $17 (0-618-39678-X).
Gr. 5–8. When thousands of acres of Iowa cornfields were set aside as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1989, naturalists and volunteers began the long process of bringing back the plants and animals that were native to the area. Illustrated with excellent color photos, this clearly written, exceptional book documents the restoration process.
Delaney, Joseph. Revenge of the Witch. Illus. by Patrick Arrasmith. Greenwillow, $14.99 (0-06-076618-2).
Gr. 5–8. Twelve-year-old Thomas is taken on by the Spook, who keeps the countryside free of witches and other scary things. Delaney grabs readers by the throat and gives them a good shake in this smartly crafted story, which sets the horror within the parameters of a boy’s new job. Heed the warning on the cover: this is “not to be read after dark.”
Erdrich, Louise. The Game of Silence. illus. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-029789-1).
Gr. 5–8. An overwhelming sense of loss permeates this heartrending sequel to The Birchbark House (1999), in which white settlers want to oust nine-year-old Omakayas and her Ojibwe people from their beautiful island home. Richly drawn, nonreverential characters are an integral part of Erdrich’s recounting of her ancestors’ horrifying history and portrayal of a culture that is rich, funny, and warm.
Freedman, Russell. Children of the Great Depression. illus. Clarion, $20 (0-618-44630-3).
Gr. 5–8. Written in Freedman’s signature plainspoken prose, this stirring photo-essay uses unforgettable personal details to bring home what it was like to be young and poor in Depression America. Black-and-white photos by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and many others visualize the history.
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Willow Run. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.95 (0-385-73067-5)
Gr. 4–6. Tough and tender, this excellent addition to World War II shelves follows Meggie Dillon to Michigan, where her father has a job building planes. Giff artfully carves the feelings so prevalent in war—anxiety, hope, boredom—into sharp relief.
Graff, Nancy Price. Taking Wing.Clarion, $15 (0-618-53591-8).
Gr. 5–8. In an affecting book that takes readers back to a time when children were expected to live up to family values and hard work was part of the natural order, Gus, 13, spends a pivotal several months during 1942 at his grandparents’ Vermont farm. Graff captures what was different about a time gone by and illuminates what remains the same.
Johnson, Dolores. Onward: A Photobiography of African American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson. illus. National Geographic, $17.95 (0-7922-7914-X).
Gr. 5–8. History and biography are deftly combined in this fascinating story of an African American sharecropper’s son who grew up to explore the world. The amazing silver-tone illustrations take readers along for the adventure.
Jurmain, Suzanne. The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students. illus. Houghton, $18 (0-618-47302-5).
Gr. 5–8. Jurmain plucked an almost forgotten incident from history and shaped a compelling, highly readable, handsomely designed book around it. In 1831, Prudence Crandall opened a school for young white ladies. When asked by an African American teenager if she might join the class, Crandall agreed—and the trouble began.
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Ed. by Paul B. Janeczko. Illus by Chris Raschka. Candlewick, $17.99 (0-7636-0662-6).
Gr. 4–6. Each poem represents a different poetic form in this lively, accessible picture-book collection from the creators of A Poke in the Eye. Spare torn-paper-and-paint collages use small, ingenious details to amplify the meaning in the classic and contemporary poems.
Millman, Isaac. Hidden Child. illus. Farrar/Frances Foster, $18 (0-374-33071-9).
Gr. 4–7. In a lengthy, beautiful picture-book biography, illustrated with occasional black-and-white photos and haunting line-and-watercolor pictures, Millman tells of surviving the Holocaust in hiding after his parents were taken away. Framed by the general history of persecution, the facts of his personal odyssey are astonishing.
Pullman, Philip. The Scarecrow and His Servant. Illus. by Peter Bailey. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-81531-7).
Gr. 4–6. The talented Pullman moves into fairy-tale mode here, creating two memorable characters—a scarecrow and an orphan boy, Jack. The pair contend with “danger . . . followed by glory . . . leading to sorrow,” just as a fortune-teller promises, but a happy ending awaits the likable fellows—who may seem familiar but are utterly unique.
Sidman, Joyce. Song of the Waterboatman and Other Pond Poems. Illus. by Becky Prange. Houghton, $16 (0-618-13547-2).
Gr. 3–5. Science facts combine with vibrant poems in this picture-book collection about pond life. Plants and animals come alive in the bold woodcut prints, and the words sing with joyful sounds and haunting images.
Sonnenblick, Jordan. Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie.Scholastic, $16 (0-439-75519-0).
Gr. 5–8. When Steven’s young brother is diagnosed with leukemia, all hell breaks loose. A story that could have morphed into melodrama is saved by the reality, rawness, and wit Sonnenblick infuses into Steven’s first-person voice. All the bad parts of cancer are here, yet there is also solidarity, love, and hope.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Show Way.Illus. by Hudson Talbott. Putnam, $16.99 (0-399-23749-6).
Gr. 3–5. A Show Way is a quilt with secret meanings, and the image works as both history and haunting metaphor in this exquisite picture book, based on Woodson’s own family history of African American women—from slavery and the civil rights movement to the present.
Bertrand, Lynne. Granite Baby. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-32761-0).
K–Gr. 2. The superhuman talents of five giantess siblings are perfect for running their New Hampshire stone quarry, but it takes a wise little girl to show these tough mountain women how to soothe a wailing baby. A folksy, spirited text and energetic acrylic paintings make this rollicking tall tale a sure bet for storytime.
Butler, Dori Hillestad. My Mom’s Having a Baby! Illus. by Carol Thompson. Albert Whitman, $15.95 (0-8075-5344-1).
Gr. 2–4. The affectionate family dynamics; an energetic, ingenuous child narrator; and joyous, splashy watercolors distinguish this frank, lovingly relayed book about human reproduction. Perfect for soon-to-be siblings and parents to share.
Cowley, Joy. Chameleon, Chameleon. Photos by Nic Bishop. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-66653-8).
K–Gr. 2. From the team that created Red-Eyed Tree Frog comes an equally stunning photo-essay about a chameleon in search of a new home. The gorgeous color photos will draw kids as the critter’s brief, simply written journey spins out.
Cronin, Doreen. Wiggle.Illus. by Scott Menchin. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $12.95 (0-689-86375-6).
PreS–K. It will be hard to stop little ones from wiggling as they listen to this infectious text. A dog vigorously working a hula hoop leads children through a wiggling world: “Do you wake up with a wiggle? / Do you wiggle out of bed? / If you wiggle with your breakfast / it may wind up on your bed.” Kids won’t know what to do first: wiggle or giggle.
Gerstein, Mordicai. Carolinda Clatter! illus. Roaring Brook, $16.95 (1-59643-063-X).
PreS–Gr. 2. In this winning tall tale, a lonely giant suffers from an unrequited love of the moon, until a high-spirited little girl heals his heart with her exuberant noise. Lovely paint-and-ink illustrations extend the story’s comedy and joy.
Grey, Mini. Traction Man Is Here! illus. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-83191-6).
PreS–Gr. 2. Opening a present on Christmas morning, a boy finds the latest Traction Man action figure, which takes on an adventurous life of its own. Detailed, witty, comic-book-inspired illustrations dramatize the narrative play that brings this toy to life.
Hines, Anna Grosssnickle. Winter Lights. illus. Greenwillow, $16.99 (0-06-000817-2).
Gr. 1–3. Winter is the time of lights, and Hines celebrates the season in thoughtful poems and pictures of gorgeous quilts full of bright, beautiful colors.
Jenkins, Steve. Prehistoric Actual Size.illus. Houghton, $16 (0-618-53578-0).
Gr. 1–3. A dragonfly with a two-foot wingspan. A six-foot millipede. An eight-foot-tall bird. Using intriguingly painted and textured papers, Jenkins gives weight and substance to an amazing array of prehistoric creatures that at once fascinate and defy belief.
Jurmain, Suzanne Tripp. George Did It. Illus. by Larry Day. Dutton, $16.99 (0-525-47560-5).
Gr. 2–4. Putting a human face on one of the most famously wooden figures in American history, this lively picture book presents George Washington as he reluctantly accepts the presidency. Jaunty drawings washed with watercolors reflect the energetic tone of the writing, which is studded with intriguing facts that humanize the first president.
Juster, Norton. The Hello, Goodbye Window. Illus. by Chris Raschka. Hyperion, $15.95 (0-7868-0914-0).
PreS–Gr. 2. Two well-known names come together in a book that speaks to the real lives of children and their experiences. Juster’s honest portrayal of a child’s perceptions is matched by Raschka’s swirling lines and dabs of fruity color. The book captures tender moments between members of the interracial family as well as the exuberance of spending time in the pulsating outdoors—all flowers, grass, and sky.
Markes, Julie. Shhhhh! Everybody’s Sleeping. Illus. by David Parkins. HarperCollins, $14.99 (0-06-053790-6).
PreS–Gr. 1. Glowing with warm colors in subdued hues, this exceptionally pleasing book, with wry, funny pictures, takes children on a nighttime tour that reveals community helpers asleep at their workplaces in odd, amusing bedsteads inspired by their jobs. Great fun for both classroom units and bedtime reading.
McNulty, Faith. If You Decide to Go to the Moon. Illus. by Steven Kellogg. Scholastic, $16.99 (0-590-48359-5).
K–Gr. 3. Distinguished by a you-are-there tone, a sprightly blend of fact and whimsy, and Kellogg’s dramatic mixed-media paintings, this accessible mock travel manual captures both the wonder of space travel and the stark grandeur of the lunar landscape.
Ogburn, Jacqueline. The Bake Shop Ghost. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman. Houghton, $16 (0-618-44557-9).
Gr. 1–3. Determination, compassion, and cooperation are the nourishing ingredients in Ogburn’s cake-themed story, in which a fearless baker refuses to be driven away by the restless spirit haunting her shop. Caldecott Honor Book illustrator Priceman’s swirling, light-as-meringue artwork emphasizes sweetness over scariness.
Rosen, Michael. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.Illus. by Quentin Blake. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-2597-3).
Gr. 2–4. Rosen and Blake combine their considerable talents in a unique book that looks sadness square in the face. Its power is in its utter honesty. There’s no couching, no prettying up. It’s as if they are taking us by the hand and saying, “C’mon, let’s look at this now. Sadness, yes. Here it is.” But they pull us just past the heartbreak, too, and the journey through grief ends with the bright light of hope. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
Valckx, Catharina. Lizette’s Green Sock. illus. Clarion, $15 (0-618-45298-2).
PreS–K. After finding and donning a striking, lone green sock, charming bird Lizette encounters bullies who mock her fashion sense and evaporate her confidence—until a creative friend and a supportive parent encourage her to wear her find with pride. A satisfying, springtime-fresh French import that celebrates marching to the beat of a different drummer.
White, Linda Arms. I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote. Illus. by Nancy Carpenter. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-33527-3).
Gr. 2–4. Morris was instrumental in getting the vote for women in Wyoming, the first state to pass such a law—and she was the first woman in the U.S. to hold public office. This splendidly illustrated biography draws her gumption in strokes as bright and bold as the woman herself, securing her a deserved place in the sorority of redoubtable picture-book heroines.
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