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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.
Arrington, Frances. Prairie Whispers. Putnam/Philomel, $17.99 (0-399-23975-8).
Gr. 7-12. “Oh what a tangled web we weave” might be the motto of this story, set on the South Dakota prairie. Colleen brings home a baby girl whose mother has died, substituting it for her mother’s stillborn child. Arrington masterfully tightens the noose as Colleen tries to juggle her stories and protect her new sister.
Brooks, Kevin. Lucas. Scholastic/Chicken House, $16.95 (0-439-45698-3).
Gr. 8-10. In this edge-of-the-seat story, Lucas comes to town and everything changes, including 15-year-old Caitlin. As Caitlin’s older brother becomes a danger and Lucas emerges as a blessing, both Caitlin and readers feel the confluence of events building to an explosive climax.
Brooks, Martha. True Confessions of a Heartless Girl. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-37806-1).
Gr. 9-12. Tiny Pembina Lake has more than its share of world-weary residents. When 17-year-old Noreen rides into town in a stolen truck, her scarred psyche awakens even those sleepwalking souls. Plain writing and bare-to-the-bones characterizations are the hallmarks of this expertly revealed story.
Cameron, Ann. Colibri. Farrar/Frances Foster, $17 (0-374-31519-1).
Gr. 6-9. Kidnapped from her Mayan village at the age of 4, Rosa, now 12, travels the Guatemalan countryside with “Uncle,” her abusive captor, who believes she will bring him great fortune. Poetic words describe Rosa’s thrilling quest for her true family in a story that is filled with mysticism and adventure.
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-216705-6).
Gr. 10-12. A 1906 murder at an upstate New York resort provides the framework for this ambitious, lyrical novel about 16-year-old Mattie, who longs to be a writer while straining against family expectations, gender constraints, and the emotions that come with first love.
Fredericks, Mariah. The True Meaning of Cleavage. Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson, $15.95 (0-689-85092-1).
Gr. 7-10. Writing with tremendous perception, first-time novelist Fredericks tells the story of two ninth-grade girls: Sari, who has crossed the psychological divide that makes boyfriends more important than girlfriends, and Jess, who waits for Sari to come back to her.
Freedman, Russell. In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights. illus. Holiday, $24.95 (0-8234-1585-6).
Gr. 5-10. In a compelling, timely discussion of the Constitution and civil liberties, Freedman writes in clear, conversational prose about the history of the Bill of Rights. The contemporary scene, including the conflicts now raging about national security and individual freedom, is always part of his discussion. (Top of the List winner-Youth Nonfiction.)
Going, K. L. Fat Kid Rules the World. Putnam, $17.99 (0-8037-2948-0).
Gr. 8-12. Troy is almost 300 pounds of sweating, unhappy insecurity. Then, out of a moment of despair, comes a charismatic punk rocker who befriends him. An impressive debut that offers hope for all kids-dross transmuted into gold.
Hoffman, Mary. Stravaganza: City of Stars. Bloomsbury, $17.95 (1-58234-839-1).
Gr. 6-10. In the second exciting episode in an outstanding fantasy series, Georgia travels back and forth between her unhappy home in modern-day London and her new friends in a richly detailed, well-imagined place called Remora.
Hopkinson, Deborah. Shutting Out the Sky. illus. Scholastic/Orchard, $17.95 _(0-439-37590-8).
Gr. 5-12. With amazing documentary photos, this history of nineteenth-century European immigration humanizes the statistics by telling the personal stories of five young people and exploring why they left and how they changed America.
Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last. Simon & Schuster, $15.95 (0-689-84922-2).
Gr. 6-12. At 16, Bobby suddenly finds himself a single-parent dad, and in the simplest poetic words, Johnson expresses the physical reality of what it’s like, both the exhausting problems and the tenderness.
Lauber, Patricia. Who Came First? New Clues to Prehistoric Americans. illus. National Geographic, $18.95 (0-7922-8228-0).
Gr. 5-10. Who were the first Americans? Where did they come from? When? How did they get here? Lauber’s lively narrative draws readers into crucial contemporary research in archaeology, science, and language.
Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-82400-6).
Gr. 9-12. In this largehearted celebration of romance and human differences, the captain of the high-school football team is a drag queen and the narrator, Paul, is in love with the new boy in school.
Mack, Tracy. Birdland. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-53590-5).
Gr. 7-10. The making of a video becomes a metaphor for coming-of-age in this rigorously unsentimental novel about a family in crisis following the death of one of its own. Powerful, poignant fiction that traces one family’s painful struggle toward healing.
McDonald, Janet. Twists and Turns. Farrar/ Frances Foster, $16 (0-374-39955-7).
Gr. 7-12. Raucous and tender, harsh and hopeful, McDonald’s fast-talking novel about teen project girls in Brooklyn Heights shows the hardships even as the girls find strength in themselves and their community.
Nilsson, Per. Heart’s Delight. Front Street, $16.95 (1-886910-92-8).
Gr. 9-12. Nilsson gets the elation, the embarrassment, and the disappointment just right in this honest, poignant story of a teenager caught unawares by the transience of first love.
Orenstein, Denise Gosliner. Unseen Companion. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-052056-6).
Gr. 10-12. Exceptionally strong characters and a background of unusual cultural conflict distinguish Orenstein’s stark, kaleidoscopic novel, in which a 16-year-old boy is the link between four Alaskan young people, whose compelling stories gradually unfold.
Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-73021-7).
Gr. 6-10. Growing up in suburban Chicago with a Cuban father and a Polish mother, Violet insists she is an American. Her hilarious, cool first-person narrative veers between slapstick and tenderness as she searches for roots in her loving family.
Peck, Richard. The River between Us. Dial, $16.99 (0-8037-2735-6).
Gr. 7-12. Personal secrets drive the plot and reveal the history in this powerful novel about two young women who get off a boat in a small southern Illinois town at the start of the Civil War.
Soto, Gary. The Afterlife. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-204774-3).
Gr. 7-10. After 17-year-old Chuy is stabbed to death, the story begins, following the teenager as he comes to terms with his fate. Soto remakes Our Town in Fresno.
Spinelli, Jerry. Milkweed. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-81374-8).
Gr. 7-12. Part survival adventure, part authentic Holocaust history, this captures the perspective of a young orphan in the Warsaw ghetto. The child’s bewildered, matter-of-fact account distances the brutality without sensationalizing or lessening the truth.
Stroud, Jonathan. The Amulet of Samarkand. Hyperion/Miramax, $17.95 (0-7868-1859-X).
Gr. 6-12. Summoned by an apprentice magician to steal a precious amulet, Bartimaeus the djinn carries out his task while remaining his wily, insulting, wildly entertaining self. A dynamic beginning to a new fantasy trilogy.
Yolen, Jane. Sword of the Rightful King. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-202527-8).
Gr. 6-9. A malicious witch, a throne in peril, and a plot twist that will take readers by surprise are the ingredients in this fresh, exceptionally skillful retelling of King Arthur’s story.
Buchanan, Jane. The Berry-Picking Man. Illus. by Leslie Bowman. Farrar, $15 (0-374-40610-3).
Gr. 3-5. This quiet, eloquent narrative, with beautiful full-page watercolors, stays true to the viewpoint of nine-year-old Maggie, who is angry that her mom invites crazy Old Sam home but eventually accepts him.
Collins, Mary. Airborne: A Photobiography of Wilbur and Orville Wright. illus. National Geographic, $18.95 (0-7922-6957-8).
Gr. 4-8. The brothers are beautifully individualized in this solidly researched, lively record of their accomplishments, which also provides exceptionally clear explanations of the technical challenges they faced.
Creech, Sharon. Granny Torrelli Makes Soup. Illus. by Chris Raschka. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-029290-3).
Gr. 4-6. As 12-year-old Rosie makes zuppa with her grandmother, she struggles with her feelings about her best friend, Bailey, who is blind. Rosie, a bossy, loving child, comes to see the error of her ways and the possibilities for the future.
Cushman, Karen. Rodzina. Clarion, $16 (0-618-13351-8).
Gr. 5-8. The hero of this lively historical novel is tough, needy 12-year-old Rodzina, whose first-person account of the westward journey on an orphan train in 1881 shows the uproar, the loneliness, and the fear of being forced to find a home among strangers.
Demi. Muhammad. illus. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $19.95 (0-689-85264-9).
Gr. 4-7. Demi weaves together intricately patterned art, selections from the Qur’an, and an overview of Islam to tell the story of the prophet Muhammad. Beautiful to look at and absorbing to read.
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Illus. by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick, $17.99 (0-7636-1722-9).
Gr. 3-6. A mouse wants to become a knight in shining armor for his human princess, but his unmouselike behavior gets him banished to a dungeon teeming with rats. A classic fairy tale, rich and satisfying.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. The Conch Bearer. Roaring Brook, $16.95 (0-7613-1935-2).
Gr. 5-8. In modern-day India, a boy is charged with finding a magical conch shell. His fantasy-adventure makes enticing reading.
Greenberg, Jan. Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories. illus. Abrams, $17.95 (0-8109-4589-4).
Gr. 3-8. With exquisite reproductions of Bearden’s amazing collages, this lovely, large-size volume is both a biography and an exciting, accessible introduction to the artist’s work
Henkes, Kevin. Olive’s Ocean. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-053543-1).
Gr. 5-8. The death of a classmate, Olive, is only the beginning of a summer of change for 12-year-old Martha, who discovers a new self in this quiet, reassuring novel that demonstrates the same understanding of childhood emotions as Henkes’ excellent picture books. (Top of the List winner-Youth Fiction.)
Lasky, Kathryn. The Man Who Made Time Travel. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $17 (0-374-34788-3).
Gr. 3-5. Richly colored, atmospheric paintings are a fine backdrop for this humorous yet dramatic story of the eighteenth-century clock maker who solved the technical puzzle of longitude. Equally fine for reading aloud or reading alone.
Leedy, Loreen and Street, Pat. There’s a Frog in My Throat: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me. Illus. by Loreen Leedy. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1774-3).
Gr. 2-5. A profusion of hilarious art maximizes the humor of common nonsense sayings in a book that gives kids loads to look at and loads to learn. “Just ducky” for classroom enrichment-and just plain fun.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Illus. by Mary GrandPré. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $29.99 (0-439-35806-X).
Gr. 4-up. This jam-packed fifth installment has all the familiar elements, but Rowling really shows her skill in her characterization of Harry-once downtrodden yet hopeful, now sometimes sullen, rude, and contemptuous of adult hypocrisy.
Stanley, Jerry. Cowboys and Longhorns: A Portrait of the Long Drive. illus. Crown, $18.95 (0-375-81565-1).
Gr. 5-8. Confronting the popular mythologies of cattle drives and cowboys with gritty reality, Stanley delivers a fascinating portrait of a little-known part of American history.
Winters, Kay. Voices of Ancient Egypt. Illus. by Barry Moser. National Geographic, $16.95 (0-7922-7560-8).
Gr. 3-6. A scribe, a pyramid builder, a dancer, and others speak in their own voices. Their evocative words, an arresting book design, and Moser’s effective portraits bring a long-lost civilization to life.
Browne, Anthony. The Shape Game. illus. Farrar, $16 (0-374-36764-7).
K-Gr. 2. On a visit to an art museum, a young boy and his family discover connections to their own lives in the artwork. Browne’s beautifully rendered, surreal images and basic words tell a funny, layered family story that will encourage children to look closely at art.
Chandra, Deborah and Comora, Madeleine. George Washington’s Teeth. Illus. by Brock Cole. Farrar, $16 (0-374-32534-0).
K-Gr. 3. Spirited art from Cole, who is at his best, and a humorous, impeccably rhyming text (excellent for reading aloud) come together in a wild, factual, fun exploration of poor George’s dental woes.
Gregory, Nan. Amber Waiting. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Red Deer, $17.95 (0-88995-258-2).
PreS-Gr. 1. Although Amber is scared and lonely when her father is late picking her up after school, she still manages to be resourceful. A subtle, satisfying portrayal of a young child’s feelings about a loving but sometimes neglectful parent.
Ichikawa, Satomi. My Pig Amarillo. illus. Putnam/Philomel, $15.99 (0-399-23768-2).
PreS-Gr. 1. Set in Guatemala, this story of a boy and his pet pig, which disappears and does not return, is realistic and fanciful, poignant and comforting.
Recorvits, Helen. My Name Is Yoon. Illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16 (0-374-35114-7).
K-Gr. 2. A small immigrant child’s bewildered viewpoint is captured in a simple first-person narrative. Lovely pictures, precise and slightly surreal, help dramatize the young girl’s sense of dislocation in the classroom.
Root, Phyllis. Big Momma Makes the World. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-1132-8).
PreS-Gr. 2. Root’s raucous, joyous version of the creation story stars a big, bossy woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Big Momma is the perfect embodiment of Earth Mother-no particular race or color, just full of affection and determination. (Top of the List winner-Youth Picture Book.)
Sabuda, Robert. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. illus. Simon & Schuster/Little Simon, $24.95 (0-689-84743-2).
K-up. Sabuda outdoes himself in this amazing, intricate pop-up adaptation of Alice, with marvelous cut-paper pictures “in John Tenniel’s classic style” that surprise with every turn of the page.
Samuels, Barbara. Dolores on Her Toes. illus. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16.50 _(0-374-31818-2).
PreS-Gr. 2. Dolores believes her cat wants to dress up and be in the ballet recital as much as she does. Alas, she is wrong, but children will have fun spotting the cat dash in and out of pictures, always one step ahead of Dolores.
Schwartz, Amy. What James Likes Best. illus. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.95 (0-689-84059-4).
PreS. Young James’ simple, everyday travels open the way for parents to engage their children in dialogue and for kids to stretch their imaginations and learn to make choices.
Voake, Charlotte. Ginger Finds a Home. illus. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-1999-X).
PreS-K. Voake demonstrates her knowledge of how cats move and behave in sensitive ink-and-wash pictures that help tell the sweet, comforting story of a skittish young cat and a little girl who longs to care for him.
Willems, Mo. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! illus. Hyperion, $12.99 (0-7868-1988-X).
PreS. In this winning debut, a pigeon cajoles an unseen audience to let him drive a bus. With simple line drawings, uncluttered spreads, and ample humor, Willems perfectly uses the bird to capture a preschooler’s wheedling, tantrums, and yearning to be powerful.
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