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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 nonfiction and fiction books and picture books.
Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story behind an American Friendship. By Russell Freedman. illus. Clarion, $18.99 (9780547385624). Gr. 5–9.
After telling the life stories of both Lincoln and Douglass, this well-researched and wonderfully readable book describes their first meeting in 1863, their different points of view, and their respectful, increasingly warm relationship.
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust. By Doreen Rappaport. illus. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763629762). Gr. 7–12.
This important addition to the Holocaust curriculum is one of the few histories to focus in detail on Jewish resistance across Europe. Among the meticulously documented accounts are many profiles of young people who made a difference.
Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Years. By Linda Barrett Osborne. illus. Abrams, $24.95 (9781419700200). Gr. 6–10.
In this companion to Traveling the Freedom Road (2009), Osborne offers another handsome, highly readable overview of African American history, focusing here on both the South and the North during the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century.
Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. By Phillip Hoose. illus. Farrar, $21.99 (9780374304683). Gr. 7–12.
Hoose turns his eye to the endangered rufa red-knot bird—specifically Moonbird, a humble fellow who has flown more than 325,000 miles in his lifetime. Despite the wealth of information, the story, like the bird, moves swiftly.
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. By Karen Blumenthal. illus. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (9781250015570). Gr. 7–10.
Through original interviews, a smart use of source material, and a wonderfully easygoing style, Blumenthal gives readers a full portrait of Jobs, in all his complexity.
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. By Cynthia Y. Levinson. illus. Peachtree, $19.95 (9781561456277). Gr. 6–12.
With its focus on four young people who participated in the Birmingham Children’s March, this fascinating title offers a unique view of the role of children and teens in the civil rights era.
Wild Horse Scientists. By Kay Frydenborg. illus. Houghton, $18.99 (9780547518312). Gr. 7–9.
Illustrated with handsome photos, this informative and wholly engaging book transports readers to Maryland’s Assateague Island National Seashore, where scientists study herds of wild horses and work to improve their well-being.
The Boston Tea Party. By Russell Freedman. Illus. by Peter Malone. Holiday, $17.95 (9780823422661). Gr. 2–5.
The curtain rises in 1773, as colonists plan and carry out the Boston Tea Party. Period quotes bring a sense of immediacy to the clearly written narrative, while beautifully composed watercolor paintings dramatize events.
The Fairy Ring; or, Elsie and Frances Fool the World. By Mary Losure. illus. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763656706). Gr. 5–8.
In 1917, two teenagers faked photographs of fairies using paper illustrations. Their innocent ruse went international, receiving validation by experts and belief by the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle. An unbelievable true story about the magic of true friendship. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw. By Don Tate. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Lee & Low, $17.95 (9781600602603). Gr. 2–4.
Rhythmic text and beautiful folk-art illustrations introduce celebrated “outsider artist” Bill Traylor, who drew on memories of his childhood as a slave when he started drawing in 1939, at the age of 85.
Brothers at Bat. By Audrey Vernick. Illus. by Steven Salerno. Clarion, $16.99 (9780547385570). Gr. 1–3.
This true story introduces the Acerra brothers—all 12 of them—who played on their local baseball team, one after another, and then formed a semipro team. The fantastic retro art is part of the reason this brims with vitality.
Just Ducks! By Nicola Davies. Illus. by Salvatore Rubbino. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763659363). K–Gr. 3.
As a young girl tells about the mallard ducks living near her home, her easygoing narration and the fresh look of the watercolor illustrations make the information in this winning picture book surprisingly easy to absorb.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. By Claire A. Nivola. Illus. by the author. Farrar/Frances Foster, $17.99 (9780374380687). K–Gr. 3.
Illustrated with exquisitely detailed artwork, this stunning picture-book introduction to Sylvia Earle incorporates many of the world-renowned marine scientist’s poetic words into the graceful text.
Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas. By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Illus. by Molly Bang. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $18.99 (9780545273220). K–Gr. 3.
Never underestimating its child audience, this ambitious, visually brilliant picture book shows how the sun supports life by sustaining the ocean’s microscopic phytoplankton, an essential part of marine food chains and a major supplier of the earth’s oxygen.
The Children and the Wolves. By Adam Rapp. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763653378). Gr. 9–12.
Rapp returns with his most nightmarish vision yet. A 14-year-old genius keeps two boys in her thrall via drugs and sex, and together they hide a kidnapped 3-year-old in a basement. The mounting horror heightens the final glimmers of hope.
Code Name Verity. By Elizabeth Wein. Hyperion, $16.99 (9781423152194). Gr. 9–12.
A masterpiece of historical verisimilitude and gut-wrenching mystery, this is the tale of a powerful WWII friendship between a pilot named Maddie and a spy named Verity (among other things). Breathtaking, heartbreaking, and bursting with life.
Dodger. By Terry Pratchett. Harper, $17.99 (9780062009494). Gr. 8–12.
One stormy night in an alternate Victorian London, a young tosher (sewer scavenger) named Dodger rises from the sewers to rescue a mysterious lady in distress and alters the course of his life. Always imaginative, Pratchett creates a romp of a novel that is lovingly crafted, often amusing, and completely enjoyable. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Drama. By Raina Telgemeier. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Graphix, $23.99 (9780545326988). Gr. 6–9.
Telgemeier (Smile, 2010) demonstrates a sure sense of young teen life and sensibilities in this spot-on graphic-novel portrayal of the middle-school theater scene.
Every Day. By David Levithan. Knopf, $16.99 (9780307931887). Gr. 9–12.
What would it be like to wake up in a different body every day? Levithan explores this intriguing, highly original premise through A (his only name), who is sometimes a girl; sometimes gay; sometimes ill.
The Fault in Our Stars. By John Green. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525478812). Gr. 9–12.
Beautifully conceived and executed, this story about 16-year-old Hazel living with stage three cancer artfully examines the largest possible considerations—life, love, and death—with sensitivity, intelligence, honesty, and integrity.
The Final Four. By Paul Volponi. Viking, $16.99 (9780670012640). Gr. 9–12.
A triple-overtime NCAA game yields surprising personal drama as Volponi expertly weaves in backstories via four different player points of view. Nailbiting stuff for sports fans, though anyone who gives it a shot will come out a winner.
Fire in the Streets. By Kekla Magoon. Aladdin, $15.99 (9781442422308). Gr. 6–10.
Set in 1968 Chicago, this powerful sequel to the multi-award-winning The Rock and the River (2009) follows Maxie, 14, who joins her older brother in the local chapter of the Black Panther Party.
The Girl with Borrowed Wings. By Rinsai Rossetti. Dial, $17.99 (9780803735668). Gr. 7–12.
In Rossetti’s spellbinding debut, Frenenqer—a girl bound by her father’s strict rules—and a shape-shifting Free person with wings fly to far-flung lands. This is magic realism and paranormal romance at its best.
Grave Mercy. By Robin LaFevers. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547628349). Gr. 9–12.
This dark, sophisticated novel, true to fairy-tale conventions, follows fifteenth-century Ismae, a handmaiden to Motrain, the god of Death, as she tries to protect a young duchess.
Keeping the Castle. By Patrice Kindl. Viking, $16.99 (9780670014385). Gr. 7–11.
This delicious Regency romp takes readers through the Yorkshire countryside, as 17-year-old Althea Crawley sets out on a quest to marry rich in order to secure the family’s only inheritance, a dilapidated castle. A witty spin on Pride and Prejudice.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post. By Emily M. Danforth. HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, $17.99 (9780062020567). Gr. 9–12.
Danforth’s ambitious, sophisticated debut follows Cameron Post, a lesbian, as she falls in love for the first time and is forced to attend God’s Promise, a church camp that attempts to “cure” young homosexuals.
My Book of Life by Angel. By Martine Leavitt. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson, $17.99 (9780374351236). Gr. 9–12.
Using searing free verse, Leavitt tells the harrowing story of 16-year-old Angel, who prostitutes herself through a drug haze while still fighting to save 11-year-old Melli—and herself, if she can.
Never Fall Down. By Patricia McCormick. HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, $17.99 (9780061730931). Gr. 9–12.
McCormick tells the story of a young Cambodian boy who survives the killing fields only to become a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. The authentic first-person voice makes the horror all the more unimaginable—but unforgettable, too.
Quarantine: The Loners. By Lex Thomas. Egmont, $17.99 (9781606843291). Gr. 10–12.
The best high-concept YA thriller of the year is this paranoia-soaked novel in which an infected Colorado high school is quarantined by the government, leading to various cliques that transform into warring tribes. Gritty and fearless.
Railsea. By China Miéville. Illus. by the author. Del Rey, $18 (9780345524522). Gr. 9–12.
Miéville continues his rampage as one of sf’s new titans with this blazingly original twist on Moby-Dick, which radically reinvents everything: a barren, railroad-snarled future; great monsters of the dirt; even language and punctuation.
Seraphina. By Rachel Hartman. Random, $17.99 (9780375866562). Gr. 9–12.
An exciting new high-fantasy series begins as Seraphina is thrust into the center of a collapsing peace treaty between human and dragon kingdoms. The problem is, she’s a half-breed.
Sophia’s War: A Tale of Revolution. By Avi. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $16.99 (9781442414419). Gr. 6–8.
In 1780, four years after witnessing the hanging of Benedict Arnold, 16-year-old Sophia puts her life on the line by spying on British officers. Avi weaves historical events and details into a suspenseful novel of intrigue and adventure.
A Boy Called Dickens. By Deborah Hopkinson. Illus. by John Hendrix. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375867323). Gr. 3–5.
Less a biography than a slice-of-life, this fictionalized story follows a young, starving Dickens as he dreams of writing. With illustrations that define “Dickensian,” this is an inspiring look at a young nobody with great expectations.
The Boy on Cinnamon Street. By Phoebe Stone. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99 (9780545215121). Gr. 4–7.
Four-foot-seven Louise Terrace lives with her grandparents following a family tragedy—the details of which she’s blocked out—in this achingly sweet, heartbreaking title.
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. By Trenton Lee Stewart. Illus. by Diana Sudyka. Little, Brown/Megan Tingley, $17.99 (9780316176194). Gr. 4–6.
At his latest orphanage, nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict relies on his intellect, courage, and ingenuity to outwit bullies while solving a mystery and forming a makeshift family. Dry wit and vivid characters make this a story to remember.
Jump into the Sky. By Shelley Pearsall. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375836992). Gr. 5–8.
Based on historical events, Pearsall’s poignant novel, set in the Jim Crow South of 1945, follows a young teen’s reunion with his father, a member of an elite African American paratrooper battalion.
Lulu and the Duck in the Park. By Hilary McKay. Illus. by Priscilla Lamont. Albert Whitman, $13.99 (9780807548080). Gr. 2–4.
Lulu’s teacher doesn’t want any more animals in class, but when an unhatched egg winds up in Lulu’s pocket, she finds an unexpected ally. Lulu, a biracial girl in a multicultural classroom, stars in a story great for moving transitional readers to chapter books.
Splendors and Glooms. By Laura Amy Schlitz. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763653804). Gr. 4–8.
In this brooding Dickensian novel, three resilient children struggle with difficult circumstances and surprising plot twists in their lives. The novel’s strength lies in the vividly drawn characters and the subtle depiction of menacing evil.
Starry River of the Sky. By Grace Lin. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316125956). Gr. 3–6.
Lin’s companion to the Newbery Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009) introduces runaway Rendi and the Village of Clear Sky. Chinese folklore is interwoven throughout the enchanting narrative.
Three Times Lucky. By Sheila Turnage. Dial, $16.99 (9780803736702). Gr. 4–6.
A tiny North Carolina community provides this memorable first novel’s backdrop, but murder is at the forefront as Mo, the young narrator, tells of her colorful family and neighbors in a fresh, distinctive voice.
Twelve Kinds of Ice. By Ellen Bryan Obed. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. Houghton, $16.99 (9780618891290). Gr. 4–7.
In this precise, evocative book, 20 short chapters introduce the different kinds of ice that take one family through the winter. McClintock’s pen-and-ink drawings, subtle yet celebratory, capture ice in all its incarnations.
Wonder. By R. J. Palacio. Knopf, $15.99 (9780375869020). Gr. 5–8.
The undisputed stand-up-and-cheer book of the year follows 10-year-old Auggie. Born disfigured but blessed with intelligence and grace, he changes the lives of an ever-increasing cast of characters that first-novelist Palacio handles with a veteran’s aplomb.
And Then It’s Spring. By Julie Fogliano. Illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596436244). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this gentle ode to a patient gardener, a young boy, with his dog at his side, plants seeds and then waits . . . and waits. Stead’s beautiful woodblock and pencil illustrations complement the contemplative text.
Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic. By Ginnie Lo. Illus. by Beth Lo. Lee & Low, $18.95 (9781600604423). K–Gr. 2.
Based on the author and illustrator’s childhoods, this heartfelt tale introduces two Chinese girls in 1950s Indiana who come to feel more at home thanks to, of all things, soybeans. Illustrator Lo, a ceramic artist, has painted the charming pictures on plates.
Boot and Shoe. By Marla Frazee. Illus. by the author. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $16.99 (9781442422476). PreS–Gr. 3.
The inner workings of doggie brains are on full display in this charmer about two almost identical dogs. Frazee’s art perfectly captures joy and chaos, as a squirrel upends the moppets’ world.
Cold Snap. By Eileen Spinelli. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman. Knopf, $17.99 (9780375857003). PreS–Gr. 2.
The townsfolk in Toby Mills enjoy winter fun in a snowy landscape but not the bitter, relentless freeze of a cold snap. While the lively text details individual characters’ experiences, vibrant gouache paintings bring each scene to life.
Extra Yarn. By Mac Barnett. Illus. by Jon Klassen. HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, $16.99 (9780061953385). K–Gr. 2.
Annabelle, who lives in a black-and-white world, stumbles on a box filled with yarn of every color. The yarn is never ending, allowing Annabelle to knit countless sweaters—and attract the attention of a greedy archduke. A seamless, sparkling collaboration that celebrates imagination and ingenuity. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
Green. By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596433977). PreS–Gr. 1.
In her latest beguiling picture book, Seeger shows that green is a color that stretches the mind—as does this clever piece of bookmaking that allows the richness of the natural world to speak for itself.
Homer. By Elisha Cooper. Illus. by the author. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780062012487). PreS–Gr. 2.
Homer, an old dog, observes his small world—and the human goings-on around him—from the comfort of the porch. Loose watercolors and spare text offer up a touching portrait of an aging, beloved family member.
Jimmy the Greatest. By Jairo Buitrago. Illus. by Rafael Yockteng. Tr. by Elisa Amado. Groundwood, $18.95 (9781554981786). PreS–Gr. 2.
Translated from the Spanish and first published in Colombia, this unusual story about a young boxer celebrates the power of a close community and the impact a single individual can make.
Machines Go to Work in the City. By William Low. Illus. by the author. Holt, $16.99 (9780805090505). PreS–Gr. 2.
Thoughtful design, dynamic art, and solid information make this a standout for all those kids (all right, mostly boys) who love cars and trucks and anything that goes vroom!
Penny and Her Song. By Kevin Henkes. Illus. by the author. Greenwillow, $12.99 (9780062081957). PreS–Gr. 2.
Little mouse-girl Penny has a song in her heart. Well, it’s not just in her heart, because she likes to belt it out. Henkes understands the way families make memories in his first easy reader, an adorable opener to the Penny series.
Sleep like a Tiger. By Mary Logue. Illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547641027). PreS–Gr. 1.
A young girl can’t sleep until she wonders about various animals and what they do for a night’s rest. A lyrical text and magical art touch a familiar childhood complaint with enchantment in this luminous offering.
This Is Not My Hat. By Jon Klassen. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763655990). K–Gr. 2.
This subversive follow-up to I Want My Hat Back (2011) features a minnow who absconds with the hat belonging to a much larger fish. In addition to the knockout page turns and fantastic fish-eye expressions, this includes an LOL scene involving a snitching crab.
Z Is for Moose. By Kelly Bingham. Illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780060799847). K–Gr. 2.
It’s just your basic abecedarian animal parade—except that Moose is a tad overeager, crowding the early alphabet with annoying anticipation. When M goes to Mouse, Moose is devastated, then petulant. Is there a way to appease him by Z? (Spoiler: yes.)
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