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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 fiction, nonfiction, and picture books.
Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. By Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson. illus. National Geographic, $18.95 (9781426300004). Gr. 6-9.
Who was John Henry? Following one historian’s quest for the man behind the legend, this insightful book provides a lively introduction to the active pursuit of history.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v.2: The Kingdom on the Waves. By M. T. Anderson. Candlewick, $22.99 (9780763629502). Gr. 10-12.
In this extraordinary sequel to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v.1: The Pox Party (2006), a National Book Award winner and a Printz Honor Book, Octavian, a teenage black slave, is promised his freedom when he joins the Loyalist Navy in the Revolutionary War.
The Boy Who Dared. By Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780439680134). Gr. 6-12.
In a gripping, fictionalized biography of heroic resistance in the worst of times, Hubert Hübener, a German teen awaiting execution in 1942, remembers his move from ardent Hitler follower to underground fighter.
Chains. By Laurie Halse Anderson. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (9781416905851). Gr. 7-10.
In 1776, Isabel, a teenage slave, is sold to ruthless, wealthy loyalists in Manhattan. Anderson explores elemental themes of power, freedom, and the sources of human strength in this searing, fascinating novel.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. illus. Roaring Brook/Flash Point, $19.95 (9781596430716). Gr. 6-9.
Two indomitable artists and their works-especially their Central Park project, the Gates-are introduced in a book that is as thoughtful, eye-opening, and meticulous as the art it celebrates.
Climbing the Stairs. By Padma Venkatraman. Putnam, $16.99 (9780399247460). Gr. 6-9.
Set in India during World War II, this vivid historical novel tells of Vidya’s struggles to define her identity while living in her grandparents’ conservative Brahmin home. This fine first novel has a strong sense of place.
The Diamond of Drury Lane. By Julia Golding. Roaring Brook, $16.95 (9781596433519). Gr. 7-10.
Orphan Cat Royal only knows life in the Drury Theater, where mysteries abound. From the spectacles in the theater to the filth of the city streets, Golding, a talented scene setter, offers a view of Victorian London that readers will grasp with all their senses.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. By E. Lockhart. Hyperion, $16.99 (9780786838189). Gr. 7-12.
A female sophomore at an exclusive prep school infiltrates an all-male secret society and confronts a long history of gender and power struggles in this clever satire filled with memorable characters.
Graceling. By Kristin Cashore. Harcourt, $17 (9780152063962). Gr. 9-12.
Lady Katsa, feared as a killer since her childhood, is challenged to rethink her unusual Grace (superhuman gift) after the arrival of a prince with a mysterious Grace of his own. This rewarding fantasy is an impressive first novel.
The Graveyard Book. By Neil Gaiman. Illus. by Dave McKean. HarperCollins, $17.99 (9780060530921). Gr. 6-10.
Gaiman takes readers into a graveyard, where a young boy is brought up by an offbeat cast of ghosts, in this whimsical and macabre twist on the value of family and the strength of community.
Here Lies Arthur. By Philip Reeve. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545093347). Gr. 7-10.
Arthurian lore has inspired many novels, but few are as inventive or compelling as this one, in which many traditionally revered characters are revealed as unworthy, while some reviled ones act heroically.
The Hunger Games. By Suzanne Collins. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780439023481). Gr. 9-12.
Collins makes a serious case for primary ownership of the term unputdownable with this searing vision of a future where subjugated territories must send two children each year to compete in a televised fight to the death.
Impossible. By Nancy Werlin. Dial, $17.99 (9780803730021). Gr. 7-11.
Inspired by the song “Scarborough Fair,” this fantasy-realism genre-bender follows 17-year-old Lucy Scarborough as she uncovers details about her prom-night rape, subsequent pregnancy, and why therapy can’t counter a fairy’s curse.
The Knife of Never Letting Go. By Patrick Ness. Candlewick, $18.99 (9780763639310). Gr. 8-12.
This propulsive and harrowing science-fiction thriller, told with a stylistic luster worthy of its accolades as a literary tour de force, follows a boy on the run from a devastating secret in a world where thoughts are broadcast aloud as noise.
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. By Candace Fleming. illus. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $24.99 (9780375836183). Gr. 7-12.
Starting with her personal introduction, Fleming’s exemplary scrapbook biography of Abraham and Mary Lincoln encourages readers to consider how an individual’s life story and a country’s history are constructed.
Little Brother. By Cory Doctorow. Tor, $17.95 (9780765319852). Gr. 8-12.
Set in the near future, this fiercely defiant novel follows Marcus as he leads an online resistance against overwhelming surveillance in the wake of a terrorist attack. Technology has never been so scary-or inspiring.
Madapple. By Christina Meldrum. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375851766). Gr. 9-12.
Meldrum’s debut novel about teenage Aslaug’s search for identity plunges deeply into the nature of reality. Using language in an arresting way, she mixes faith and science with a solid mystery, leaving readers much to ponder.
Nation. By Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780061433016). Gr. 7-10.
After a tidal wave wipes out the population of a small island, a native boy and an English girl lead a community of survivors. Broad vision, concrete details, and quirky wit make this a fascinating novel.
Paper Towns. By John Green. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525478188). Gr. 9-12.
A road-trip story with soul to spare, this thoughtful and witty mystery centers around Margo, the alluring, enigmatic-and suddenly missing-neighbor of Q, a boy desperate to find her.
Pretty Monsters. By Kelly Link. Illus. by Shaun Tan. Viking, $19.99 (9780670010905). Gr. 9-12.
Link upends readers’ expectations while pioneering new ground in speculative fiction with this funny, eerie, and masterfully confounding collection of tales.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. By Margarita Engle. Holt, $17.95 (9780805086744). Gr. 6-12.
Compelling voices, from runaway slaves to a vicious slave-hunter, tell the dramatic political history of the nineteenth-century Cuban struggle for independence in clear, short lines of free verse.
Tender Morsels. By Margo Lanagan. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375848117). Gr. 10-12.
With sublimely contorted prose, Lanagan retells the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red as only she can, reconciling savagery with tenderness in the unforgettable story of Liga and her daughters.
Washington at Valley Forge. By Russell Freedman. illus. Holiday, $24.95 (9780823420698). Gr. 6-9.
With his usual clarity and candor, Freedman recounts Washington’s seminal winter spent shaping a ragtag bunch of starving irregulars into what would become a victorious liberation army.
What the World Eats. By Faith D’Aluisio. Illus. by Peter Menzel. Tricycle, $22.99 (9781582462462). Gr. 4-8.
Adapted and expanded from an adult book, this fascinating volume comprises stand-alone photo-essays about families from around the world and presents an illustrated survey of what they eat in a single week.
What World Is Left. By Monique Polak. Orca, $12.95 (9781551438474). Gr. 7-12.
Survivor guilt is the dramatic secret in this Holocaust novel of Theresienstadt, where Polak’s mother, Anneke, was saved by her artist father, who helped beautify the camp for Red Cross inspection.
Henkes makes every word count in the story of an evolving friendship between two boys. Their stories are told in overlapping chapters, and their relationship stands out in relief against the deceptive tranquility of vacation time at the lake.
Coraline. By Neil Gaiman. Illus. by P. Craig Russell. HarperCollins, paper, $18.99 (9780060825430). Gr. 4-7.
This creepy graphic adaptation of Gaiman’s 2002 novel follows a girl who slips through a secret door and encounters a chilling, button-eyed “other mother.” The virtuosic art preserves the humanity while ratcheting up the horror.
The Girl Who Could Fly. By Victoria Forester. Feiwel and Friends, $16.95 (9780312374624). Gr. 4-7.
In this debut novel, plainspoken Piper McCloud shows a talent for flying and is taken to a secret school for those with special abilities, where things are not what they seem. Like Piper, the story soars, with enough loop-de-loops to keep readers wondering what will come next.
Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia. By Ted Lewin and Betsy Lewin. Illus. by the authors. Lee & Low, $19.95 (9781584302773). Gr. 2-5.
The young horse racers of Mongolia’s Naadam festival are the central element of this unusual, exotic, and realistically illustrated adventure. Absorbing details abound, and the racing finale is heart-pounding.
Into the Volcano. By Don Wood. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $18.99 (9780439726719). Gr. 4-7.
With a little bit of education and a big bit of action, this intense and gorgeous graphic novel follows two brothers who uncover secrets and discover courage deep inside an active volcano.
Keeping the Night Watch. By Hope Anita Smith. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Holt, $18.95 (9780805072020). Gr. 5-8.
Daddy has come back and says he’s sorry. But can C. J. hear him? The simple poetry and quiet, intense watercolors in the follow-up to The Way a Door Closes (2003) show the teenage boy’s anger and pain as he struggles to forgive.
Life on Earth-and Beyond. By Pamela Turner. illus. Charlesbridge, $19.95 (9781580891332). Gr. 5-8.
Flashes of amusement and amazement light up the story of an astrobiologist’s quest for life in hostile environments on earth. Illustrated with excellent photos, Turner’s book offers an eye-opening view of a scientist at work.
Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered. By Barry Denenberg. Illus. by Christopher Bing. Feiwel and Friends, $24.95 (9780312370138). Gr. 5-8.
This generously sized book, dressed up as a newspaper published on the one-year anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, transforms history into a genuinely fascinating reading experience.
Little Audrey. By Ruth White. Farrar, $16 (9780374345808). Gr. 5-8.
Based on incidents in the author’s life growing up in a coal-mining town, this novel is a fiercely honest yet tender story of what it’s like to be poor, hungry, and sometimes happy. (Top of the List winner-Youth Fiction.)
The London Eye Mystery. By Siobhan Dowd. Random/David Fickling, $15.99 (9780375849763). Gr. 5-8.
When his cousin mysteriously disappears at the London Eye observation wheel, Ted, a complex young hero who appears to have Asperger’s syndrome, must use his skills and overcome his personal challenges to find out what happened.
My One Hundred Adventures. By Polly Horvath. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780375845826). Gr. 4-6.
Jane, 12, longs for adventures, maybe a hundred of them. And they come, complete with a case of unconventional characters. The high quirkiness quotient rests easily against Jane’s inner story, with its honest, childlike core.
Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum. By Robert Andrew Parker. Illus. by the author. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780375839658). Gr. 2-4.
In this heartfelt portrait of jazz great Art Tatum, simple, direct language and vibrant images convey the power of music for both Tatum, who was blind, and his listeners.
The Underneath. By Kathi Appelt. Illus. by David Small. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416950585). Gr. 4-8.
This wrenching tale of a hound dog determined to keep two orphan kittens safe from his cruel master is juxtaposed with a story of a mythical shape-shifter, and the result is layered and lyrical.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. By Kadir Nelson. Illus. by the author. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $18.99 (9780786808328). Gr. 5-8.
With a revealing, inclusive narrative hitched to dozens of lean, powerful portraits of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and many more, Nelson’s towering achievement clears the fences of sports history to become an awe-inspiring ode to pride, talent, and tenacity. (Top of the List winner-Youth Nonfiction.)
The Willoughbys. By Lois Lowry. Illus. by the author. Houghton/Walter Lorraine, $16 (9780618979745). Gr. 4-6.
From a baby left on the doorstep to a wonderful nanny to a wealthy benefactor, Lowry gives the conventions of an old-fashioned story an ironic twist and sly zaniness.
In 1816, seven-year-old Abe and a friend try to cross turbulent Knob Creek. High-spirited and often amusing, Hopkinson’s picture book challenges children to think about the telling of tales and the making of history.
The Apple-Pip Princess. By Jane Ray. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763637477). PreS-Gr. 2.
Ray celebrates the power of growing things in this beautiful, original fairy tale about a king who holds a creative competition among his daughters.
Big Bad Bunny. By Franny Billingsley. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416906018). PreS-Gr. 2.
A rampaging rabbit turns out to be the invention of a little mouse not ready for bed. The bait-and-switch is surprising, the artwork fittingly chaotic, and the good-night conclusion with Mama Mouse perfectly tender.
The Black Book of Colors. By Menena Cottin. Illus. by Rosana Faria. Groundwood, $17.95 (9780888998736). K-Gr. 3.
Startling and innovative, this almost entirely black-colored book describes colors to those who can’t see by using raised line art, Braille, and text.
The House in the Night. By Susan Marie Swanson. Illus. by Beth Krommes. Houghton, $16 (9780618862443). PreS-K.
A child is given a golden key to a house. “In the house / burns a light. / In that light / rests a bed. / On that bed / waits a book.” Spectacular artwork executed in scratchboard and decorated with droplets of gold illustrates a story that creates a world as cozy inside as it is majestic outside. (Top of the List winner-Youth Picture Book.)
How I Learned Geography. By Uri Shulevitz. Illus. by the author. Farrar, $16.95 (9780374334994). K-Gr. 3.
With a rhythmic first-person narrative and spare, beautiful illustrations, Shulevitz tells a poignant war story, based on his own childhood, of a refugee boy who finds inspiration in his father’s world map.
I Love My New Toy! By Mo Willems. Illus. by the author. Hyperion, $8.99 (9781423109617). K-Gr. 2.
In this delightful new addition to the Elephant and Piggie series, the title characters try to figure out how Piggie’s new toy works; when it breaks, it almost leads to a broken friendship.
A Kitten Tale. By Eric Rohmann. Illus. by the author. Knopf, $15.99 (9780517709153). PreS.
Rohmann, a multiple Caldecott Medal winner, offers another marvel of sly simplicity for the very young in this story about a curious kitten and his anxious friends.
One Boy. By Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $14.95 (9781596432741). PreS-Gr. 3.
Die-cut pages turn this counting book inside out by isolating part of the text on one page (“THREE APES”) to form new words on the next (“BIG ESCAPE”). It’s rare that a picture book is this genuinely surprising.
Planting the Trees of Kenya. By Claire A. Nivola. Illus. by the author. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16.95 (9780374399184). K-Gr. 3.
With direct, spare prose and bright, delicate watercolors, this beautiful picture-book biography introduces Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. By Mem Fox. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Harcourt, $16 (9780152060572). PreS-K.
Multicultural babies from around the world toddle across the pages of this gentle, joyous offering that aims a message of diversity and tolerance at very young children.
Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog. By Mini Grey. Illus. by the author. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375855832). PreS-Gr. 2.
When the robotic Turbo Dog arrives to take the place of Traction Man’s faithful sidekick, Scrubbing Brush, trouble ensues. Written and illustrated with wit and finesse, this imaginative sequel to Traction Man Is Here! (2005) rewards rereading.
Wabi Sabi. By Mark Reibstein. Illus. by Ed Young. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316118255). K-Gr. 3.
Some of the most breathtaking collage work in years appears alongside an ethereal mix of text and haiku to tell the meditative story of a Japanese cat seeking out the true meaning of its name.
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