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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.
Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain. By Russell Freedman. illus. Clarion, $17.99 (9780547903781). Gr. 4–7.
Freedman catalogs the hopes and dreams of generations of Asian immigrants, as well as the disappointment of those denied entry to the U.S. in this fascinating introduction to “the Ellis Island of the West,” lavishly illustrated with photographs.
Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America. By Russell Freedman. illus. Holiday, $20 (9780823429219). Gr. 6–9.
Freedman transports readers to the heart of the voting rights struggle in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Writing with great immediacy, he weaves pertinent first-person accounts into a narrative that is moving as well as informative.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. By Susan Kuklin. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763656119). Gr. 7–12.
Writing in a loose, transfixing style, Kuklin profiles six transgender teens by combining their words with candid photos. Whether the subject is FTM, MTF, intersex, or pansexual, Kuklin gives her or him (or they, as some prefer) a relatable face. A valuable, approachable, normalizing, and trailblazing book.
Eyes Wide Open: Going behind the Environmental Headlines. By Paul Fleischman. illus. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763671020). Gr. 8–12.
Fleischman insightfully reflects on the often-skewed presentation of environmental issues today and gives young people the critical thinking skills they need to become informed, responsible global citizens.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. By Candace Fleming. illus. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $18 (9780375867828). Gr. 7–12.
Fleming’s sweeping take on the fall of the House of Romanov is a perfectly realized examination of the context of each (in)famous character’s life. By contrasting the rich with the poor and oppressed, Fleming creates one of the most absorbing reads of the year. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. By Mary Cronk Farrell. illus. Abrams, $24.95 (9781419710285). Gr. 7–10.
This thoroughly researched book chronicles the experiences of 67 American nurses held as POWs in the Philippines during WWII. Details of their individual trials combine in a powerful account of their harrowing shared experience.
A Volcano beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War against Slavery. By Albert Marrin. illus. Knopf, $19.99 (9780307981523). Gr. 8–12.
In this gracefully written, well-documented biography of John Brown, the fervent, nineteenth-century abolitionist, Marrin does a brilliant job of introducing readers to this extraordinary man who “raised questions that are as valid today as they were in his lifetime.”
At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui. By Christine Liu-Perkins. Illus. by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge, $19.95 (9781580893701). Gr. 4–7.
This book about a remarkable discovery takes readers to 150 BCE China, where the body of a well-preserved woman gave archaeologists incredible insights about life at the time. Delicate original art juxtaposes well with the many photos of artifacts, making this a handsome, intriguing offering.
Beetle Busters. By Loree Griffin Burns. illus. Harcourt, $18.99 (9780547792675). Gr. 5–8.
Burns documents how scientists and citizens responded to the discovery of quiet, destructive invaders: an infestation of Asian longhorn beetles in Worcester, Massachusetts. An absorbing and informative book on a timely topic.
Brown Girl Dreaming. By Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $16.99 (9780399252518). Gr. 5–8.
In this beautiful, affecting memoir in verse about her young years, Woodson gives context to her life as she recalls racial discrimination as well as the civil rights and Black Power movements. Elegant and eloquent, this is a haunting book about memory that is itself altogether memorable.
Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. By Susan Goldman Rubin. illus. Holiday, $18.95 (9780823429202). Gr. 5–8.
Rubin’s startling jaw-dropper looks at the student volunteers who brought reform during the tumultuous and watershed year of 1964. With its shocking events, courageous characters, and potent emotion, this well-researched story reads as wildly as any piece of fiction.
The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. By Peter Sís. Illus. by the author. Farrar, $18.99 (9780374380694). Gr. 1–4.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life was interesting in its own right—pioneering ever-more dangerous airmail delivery routes, flying in WWII—and Sís’ multifaceted and evocative illustrations thrillingly capture his escapades, from the grandeur of flight to the joy of discovery to the terror of battle.
A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country. By Ilene Cooper. Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. Abrams/Amulet, $24.95 (9781419710360). Gr. 5–8.
Cooper surveys more than a century of U.S. history in this highly readable, wide-ranging volume that spotlights female trailblazers in the U.S. Congress. Heavily illustrated with archival photographs as well as original drawings, this also folds in basic civics concepts.
Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth. By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Illus. by Molly Bang. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $17.99 (9780545577854). K–Gr. 3.
This challenging, rewarding picture book explains how fossil fuels formed on Earth and how burning all that “buried sunlight” has changed the planet. Complex, beautiful illustrations support the text, which offers a welcome, long-term perspective on the topic.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. By Paul B. Janeczko. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763648428). PreS–Gr. 3.
In this harmonious cooperation of words and images, celebrated poet and anthologist Janeczko collects 36 very short poems about the seasons. Caldecott Honor Book artist Sweet contributes vibrant, mixed-media artwork that captures the spirit and sensibility of the verses.
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse. By Patricia MacLachlan. Illus. by Hadley Hooper. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596439481). K–Gr. 3.
With two long, lyrical sentences of text, MacLachlan wonders about the early years of Henri Matisse, who was taken by the colors and fabrics surrounding him. Hooper’s vivid block-print illustrations echo Matisse’s artwork, resulting in an especially effective look at the origins of the creative process.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. By Jen Bryant. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. Eerdmans, $17.50 (9780802853851). K–Gr. 3.
Bryant’s and Sweet’s talents combine to make the lowly thesaurus fascinating in this beautifully illustrated picture-book biography of Peter Mark Roget. Intricate, joyful, and arresting collage illustrations put words appropriately on center stage.
Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes. By Nicola Davies. Illus. by Emily Sutton. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763673154). K–Gr. 3.
Who wouldn’t be fascinated by organisms that eat plants, animals, and even rocks? In this intriguing picture book, the simple, concise text and handsome, large-scale illustrations introduce children to the amazing world of microbes.
Althea & Oliver. By Cristina Moracho. Viking, $17.99 (9780670785391). Gr. 10–12.
Best pals since age six, teens Althea and Oliver are edging closer to a deeper relationship—until Oliver goes to New York for a medical study to address his narcoleptic-like condition. An edgy, mature debut that mixes keen insight with fierce emotion.
The Art of Secrets. By James Klise. Algonquin, $17.95 (9781616201951). Gr. 7–10.
Told through documents, interviews, journal entries, and text messages, this intricately constructed art mystery, set at a Chicago high school, lets loose a chorus of genuine voices as the disturbing truth emerges, and people’s secrets grow too large to hide.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. By Isabel Quintero. Cinco Puntos, $17.95 (9781935955948). Gr. 9–12.
Quintero’s debut has all the noise, emotion, and joy of a big family fiesta. Saddled with fears of becoming “Hispanic Teen Mom #3,789,258,” 17-year-old Gabi’s first-person journal nevertheless illuminates a girl who will not be defined by ethnicity, class, weight, or lifestyle.
Girls like Us. By Gail Giles. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763662677). Gr. 8–12.
In compelling, raw voices, 18-year-olds Biddy and Quincy, newly independent, intellectually disabled high-school graduates, narrate their growing friendship and uneasy transition into a life of jobs, “real world” apartments, and cruel prejudice.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. By A. S. King. Little, Brown, $18 (9780316222723). Gr. 9–12.
Glory starts seeing flashes of a future plagued by misogynistic violence when she looks at passers-by, but she doesn’t see her own future until she starts to face down her grief over her mother’s suicide. Glory’s angry, ambivalent, and hopeful narrative resists tidy resolution in this powerful coming-of-age story.
Going Over. By Beth Kephart. Chronicle, $17.99 (9781452124575). Gr. 9–12.
National Book Award finalist Kephart has re-created the inexorable fear and tension, as well as the difficult living conditions, of Berliners on both sides of the wall, in this 1980s story that centers on Stefan trying to escape and join his love Ada in the West. A stark reminder of the power of love, courage, and hope.
Half Bad. By Sally Green. Viking, $18.99 (9780670016785). Gr. 9–12.
Green’s trilogy starter is an allegory as graphic and immediate as any piece of uncompromising historical fiction. Nathan, the son of a black witch and a white witch, is kept caged to toughen him up for a future of power—and Green’s deft, tricky prose makes it darkly gorgeous.
I’ll Give You the Sun. By Jandy Nelson. Dial, $17.99 (9780803734968). Gr. 9–12.
Noah and Jude, twin siblings, have a relationship characterized by both love and deep-seated jealousy, and there’s nothing that fuels their antagonism and mutual adoration more than applying to a prestigious art school. In alternating first-person narratives, Nelson’s electric style evokes the twins’ highly visual imaginations.
The Impossible Knife of Memory. By Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking, $18.99 (9780670012091). Gr. 9–12.
Haley, 17, and her trucker father, Andy, have landed at her grandmother’s house after years on the road. But tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have left Andy with PTSD, and his methods of coping are drugs and alcohol. This shines a light on living with those who’ve lived through war.
The Infinite Sea. By Rick Yancey. Putnam, $18.99 (9780399162428). Gr. 9–12.
As good as The 5th Wave (2013) was, this gasping, grueling sequel is better. With “the Others” using children as IEDs, a nest of survivors must suffer the mental anguish of this turn of events while figuring out a way to escape both encroaching aliens and a horrid new program from the evil Vosch.
Revolution. By Deborah Wiles. illus. Scholastic, $19.99 (9780545106078). Gr. 6–9.
Wiles’ complex documentary novel about Greenwood, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964 focuses on Sunny, a white girl whose town is “invaded” by civil rights workers, and Raymond, an African American youth who is pulled between his parents’ differing viewpoints and his own frustrations. The archival material adds to the authenticity of the second book in the Sixties Trilogy.
This One Summer. By Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, $21.99 (9781626720947). Gr. 8–11.
This gorgeous, wistful coming-of-age graphic novel explores the awkward transition from carefree childhood to jaded, self-conscious young adulthood as it follows Rose and Windy during one summer at the lake. Jillian Tamaki’s beautiful and expressive illustrations resonate with poignant emotion.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. By E. K. Johnston. Carolrhoda/Lab, $17.95 (9781467710664). Gr. 8–11.
Johnston’s masterful book is a refreshing blend of alternative history, high fantasy, and contemporary teen life, set in an inventive, intricately built world where dragons are real. Siobhan, high-school music student and bard to Owen, dragon-slayer-in training, narrates the clever and entertaining tale.
A Time to Dance. By Padma Venkatraman. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99 (9780399257100). Gr. 7–12.
Acclaimed author Venkatraman deftly shapes readers’ comprehension of physical ability into a new arc of understanding in this powerful verse novel about a passionate young dancer who is forced to find new ways to connect with the art form she loves.
The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean. By David Almond. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763663094). Gr. 9–12.
“He wos a secrit shy & thick & tungtied emptyheded thing.” So begins the breathtaking first-person tale of the semiliterate Billy, raised in postapocalyptic Britain as a saint and a healer. Packed with dynamic characters and details so specific they hurt, this is another staggering work by Almond.
Wildlife. By Fiona Wood. Little, Brown/Poppy, $18 (9780316242097). Gr. 9–12.
In alternating chapters, clever, newly popular Sibylla and grieving Louise, who observes the goings-on from afar, narrate the story of an outdoors semester at private school. With exceptional candor and nuance, Wood tells a heartening and compelling story of the importance of self-confidence and true friendship.
The Boundless. By Kenneth Oppel. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (9781442472884). Gr. 4–7.
Rooted in Canadian railroad history but never too tightly bound by mere recorded facts, Oppel’s epic journey novel features a distinctive setting, a powerful sense of adventure, and just a whiff of steampunk.
The Children of the King. By Sonya Hartnett. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763667351). Gr. 4–7.
In a richly layered narrative, children evacuated from London to the English countryside during WWII encounter two boys from an earlier time. Memorable characters and fiercely truthful storytelling make this a moving historical novel.
Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. By George Hagen. Illus. by Scott Bakal and Jake Parker. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780385371032). Gr. 5–8.
This first-rate fantasy for middle-graders centers on Gabriel, who discovers that he must lead the search for his missing father. Full of ravens and riddles and powered by the ongoing urge to make things right in a world where so much has gone wrong.
Half a World Away. By Cynthia Kadohata. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781442412750). Gr. 5–8.
Twelve-year-old Jaden, adopted from Romania at age four, follows his parents to Kazakhstan, where the family plans to adopt a baby. A remarkable, insightful novel about a troubled boy, the challenging circumstances in which he finds himself, and his painful journey toward bonding and, perhaps, love.
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. By Jack Gantos. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374300838). Gr. 5–8.
Joey is left alone to care for his new baby brother in this fifth book in the multi-award-winning Joey Pigza chronicle, which features all of the drama, havoc, and heart readers have come to expect, dread, and love.
The Madman of Piney Woods. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545156646). Gr. 5–8.
In this companion volume to Curtis’ Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton(2007), African Canadian Benji of Buxton and Irish Canadian Red of nearby Chatham have little in common except for their respective encounters with a strange, frightening hermit. A skillful balance of humor and sentiment.
The Map to Everywhere. By Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. Little, Brown, $17 (9780316240772). Gr. 4–7.
Marrill is used to traveling the world, but nothing is as exciting as her adventure aboard a magical ship on the Pirate Stream, a body of water connecting the known universe. Ryan and Davis’ tantalizing, swashbuckling quest features unique details, expert plotting, charming characters, and comic interludes.
The Promise. By Nicola Davies. Illus. by Laura Carlin. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763666330). Gr. 3–6.
A girl with no name lives by stealing in a place as gritty as its people are hard. Then she steals a sack from an old woman, who makes the girl promise to plant the acorns inside. As they grow into trees, a community forms as well. Outstanding mixed-media artwork and a message for discussions give readers lots to think about.
Rain Reign. By Ann M. Martin. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (9780312643003). Gr. 4–6.
A fifth-grader diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Rose faces a heartbreaking choice when she discovers that Rain, her beloved dog, may not belong to her after all. Simplicity, clarity, and emotional resonance are hallmarks of this unforgettable first-person narrative, which presents a vivid portrayal of Rose and her world. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
West of the Moon. By Margi Preus. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (9781419708961). Gr. 6–8.
When young Astri is sold to a crude goatherd in the mountains of Norway, she longs to escape to America, and her late mother’s folktales buoy her bravery. Preus seamlessly interweaves Astri’s harrowing mid-nineteenth-century immigration to America with bewitching tales of magic.
The Whispering Skull. By Jonathan Stroud. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781423164920). Gr. 4–7.
Written with a fine ear for dialogue, a wry sense of humor, and a subtle control of dramatic tension, this riveting narrative follows three young psychic investigators from Lockwood & Company as they encounter malevolent supernatural forces in an alternate London.
Bad Bye, Good Bye. By Deborah Underwood. Illus. by Jonathan Bean. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547928524). PreS–Gr. 2.
Underwood exercises restraint by using very few words to plumb high emotion in this story about a family’s long-distance move. “Bad day / Bad box / Bad mop / Bad blocks / Bad truck / Bad guy / Bad wave / Bad bye.” The gradual shift to optimism, well matched by Bean’s brightening palette, is a small wonder.
Blizzard. By John Rocco. Illus. by the author. Disney/Hyperion, $17.99 (9781423178651). K–Gr. 2.
Drawing from an incident in his childhood, Rocco re-creates the Blizzard of 1978, when his Rhode Island town was buried in snow, and he bravely headed out on snowshoes made of tennis rackets to get food. Great artwork will make kids feel every snowflake.
Blue on Blue. By Dianne White. Illus. by Beth Krommes. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442412675). PreS–Gr. 1.
The day begins with the sun shining, but the sky darkens, and torrential rain arrives. The text is evocative, while the artwork brings the intensity of the storm home in this joyous, pelting, dripping celebration.
Bluebird. By Lindsey Yankey. Illus. by the author. Simply Read, $17.95 (9781927018330). PreS–Gr. 2.
Where is her friend, Wind, a little bluebird wonders, as she attempts to make a solo journey from her nest. Yankey’s collage and pen-and-ink art uses an aerial perspective that inspires readers to turn pages sideways to view all the details of the park and the city. A visual treasure.
The Flat Rabbit. By Bardur Oskarsson. Illus. by the author. OwlKids, $16.95 (9781771470599). K–Gr. 3.
Though ostensibly about roadkill—a dog and a rat find a flattened rabbit on the road—Oskarsson’s minor-key, ruminative look at death becomes unspeakably moving, despite the potential icky corporealness of dealing with a carcass. Reaching, searching, and transcendent.
Hermelin the Detective Mouse. By Mini Grey. Illus. by the author. Knopf, $17.99 (9780385754330). PreS–Gr. 3.
An inquisitive white mouse works behind the scenes to solve mysteries in his neighborhood. The precisely written text and the richly detailed illustrations offer a treasure trove of interwoven narratives, large and small.
The Lion and the Bird. By Marianne Dubuc. Illus. by the author. Enchanted Lion, $17.95 (9781592701513). PreS–K.
Dubuc’s bittersweet look at friendship follows the quiet relationship between Lion and Bird, who has a hurt wing. Once Bird is better, he rejoins his flock, and the resulting still-lifes of Lion going about his daily life alone are heartbreaking. But Bird comes back—and picture-book readers everywhere rejoice. (Top of the List winner—Picture Book.)
One Big Pair of Underwear. By Laura Gehl. Illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442453364). PreS–Gr. 1.
The word underwear is giggle-worthy enough, but when two bears contemplate sharing one pair of underwear, youngsters will be rolling in the aisles. Add in rhymes, tongue twisters, and alliteration, and you’ve got a spirited picture-book introduction to basic concepts that is a joy to read aloud.
Picnic. By John Burningham. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763669454). PreS–Gr. 2.
As they search for the ideal picnic spot, a group of animal friends lose objects in this joyful, bucolic picture book that folds in an interactive hunt-and-seek game. Burningham’s trademark sketchy style, created with broken black outlines and dappled marker coloring, extends the playful, sunny tone.
This Is a Moose. By Richard T. Morris. Illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Little, Brown, $18 (9780316213608). Gr. 1–3.
Moose is the subject of a documentary, but he angers the director when he wants to be portrayed as an astronaut instead of as a moose doing typical moose things, and soon everyone is defying expectations. This rambunctious picture book is stuffed with delightfully absurd chaos.
When Aunt Mattie Got Her Wings. By Petra Mathers. Illus. by the author. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781481410441). PreS–Gr. 1.
Lottie the chicken is mourning the loss of her aunt Maddie, but Lottie and her best friend, Herbie find that a host of happy memories can ease the pain. A telling that’s sweet and wry in turns.
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