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Selected by the Books for Youth editorial staff and contributors Sally Estes and Susan Dove Lempke, these titles represent our best-of-the-year selections in fiction, nonfiction, and picture-books, based on literary and artistic quality and on special appeal to older and middle readers and the young.
Alexander, Lloyd. Gypsy Rizka. Dutton, $16.99 (0-525-46121-3). Gr. 5–9.
In this episodic novel that combines broad humor with sly wit, Alexander presents another strong heroine. This time, it’s Rizka, an orphan girl who lives by her wits.
Anderson, Laurie. Speak. Farrar, $16 (0-374-37152-0). Gr. 8–12.
Her classmates think the raucous party was the reason Melinda called the police. They were wrong, as Melinda gradually reveals in a voice that perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and the horror of rape.
Barrett, Tracy. Anna of Byzantium. Delacorte, $14.95 (0-385-32626-2). Gr. 6–9.
Featuring a setting not often used, this captivating book introduces an eleventh-century princess, Anna Comnena, who must fight for her birthright when it seems her younger brother will take the throne. Intrigue and strong characterizations are the book’s hallmarks.
Holt, Kimberly Willis. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-6116-9). Gr. 6–9.
At first Toby comes to gawk at Zachary Beaver, billed as the fattest boy in the world, but then Toby gets to know the mean, angry, vulnerable outsider and confronts his own anger and hurt. Through Toby’s tears and laughter, we get to know his small southern town in all its neon particulars and gentleness.
Krull, Kathleen. They Saw the Future: Oracles, Psychics, Scientists, Great Thinkers, and Pretty Good Guessers. illus. Simon & Schuster/Anne Schwartz, $19.99 (0-689-81295-7). Gr. 5–9.
Call them psychic, call them kooks, call them what you will. But Krull’s sweeping chronicle of people reputed to have personal pipelines to the future—from the Oracle at Delphi to Leonardo da Vinci and Jean Dixon—makes fascinating, illuminating reading.
Lemieux, Michele. Stormy Night. illus. Kids Can, $15.95 (1-55074-692-8). Gr. 6 and up.
A young girl tosses and turns and wonders about her future one stormy night in an intriguing book that combines imaginative ink drawings with provocative questions—and lets readers come to their own answers.
Marchetta, Melina. Looking for Alibrandi. Orchard, $16.95 (0-531-30142-7); lib. ed., $17.99 (0-531-33142-3). Gr. 8–10.
Family struggles and the search to find one’s place in society are the familar yet involving components of this lively coming-of-age story in which 17-year-old Josie Alibrandi learns to see herself in new ways.
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. illus. HarperCollins, $14.95 (0-06-028077-8); lib. ed., $14.89 (0-06-028078-6). Gr. 9–12.
Sixteen-year-old Steve is on trial for felony murder. Is he guilty? Using an innovative format to tell the story, Myers reveals events past and present as he grapples with complex moral questions that will definitely make readers stop and think.
Opdyke, Irene Gut and Armstrong, Jennifer. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. Knopf, $18 (0-679-89181-1); lib. ed., $19.99 (0-679-99181-6). Gr. 9–12.
A young Polish woman tries to save the Jewish prisoners she comes in contact with by hiding them in the home of her employer—a Nazi officer. A gripping recollection of Opdyke’s war experiences.
Rubin, Susan Goldman. Margaret Bourke-White: Her Pictures Were Her Life. illus. Abrams, $19.95 (0-8109-4381-6). Gr. 6 and up.
Filled with Bourke-White’s marvelous photographs, this stellar biography seamlessly blends the personal and the professional in a profile of a courageous photographer who devoted herself to reflecting life authentically in her pictures.
Schmidt, Gary D. Anson’s Way. Clarion, $16 (0-395-91529-5). Gr. 5–9.
In this absorbing, realistic novel set in the eighteenth century, a young Fencible drummer is proud to go to Ireland to “keep the peace,” but he questions the necessity of violence as he becomes captivated by the new country.
Sheldon, Dyan. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-0822-X). Gr. 7–10.
When she moves from NYC to NJ, Lola feels she has been relegated to a cultural wasteland. To make her own fun, she challenges Carla Santini, Miss Born-to-Run-Everything, for the lead in the school play. Well crafted and hilarious.
What Are You? Voices of Mixed-Race Young People. Ed. by Pearl Fuyo Gaskins. Holt, $18.95 (0-8050-5968-7). Gr. 7–12.
The contemporary voices are disturbing, frank, witty, and heartfelt, as 45 mixed-race young people from across the U.S. speak about growing up. Their words are intensely personal, but they also capture the universals of coming-of-age as an outsider.
Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love. Simon & Schuster, $16.95 (0-689-82134-4). Gr. 7–12. John, cynical yet vulnerable, thinks he’s immune to emotion until he meets bright, brittle Marisol, the author of his favorite zine. He falls in love, but Marisol, a lesbian, just wants to be friends. A love story of a different sort—funny, poignant, and thoughtful.
Aliki. William Shakespeare & the Globe. illus. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-027820-X); lib. ed., $15.89 (0-06-027821-8). Gr. 4–7.
Aliki takes on an ambitious project and completes it with a pervasive sense of history and a fine sense of style. This biography of Shakespeare is also an appealing history of the Globe Theater.
Almond, David. Skellig. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-395-32653-X). Gr. 5–8.
Who is the man Michael finds living in a broken-down shed? Is he a man at all? Almond, in his first novel for children, offers a haunting story that is full of love and mystery. Unforgettable. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Billingsley, Franny. The Folk Keeper. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-82876-4). Gr. 5–8.
In beautifully written journal entries, this haunting tale, drawn from the Selkie legend, describes Corrina’s struggles to contain the angry, subterranean Folk and to discover her own astonishing identity.
Bridges, Ruby. Through My Eyes. illus. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-590-18923-9). Gr. 5–8, younger for reading aloud.
In 1960, at age six, Bridges was the first black pupil to attend a formerly segregated school in New Orleans. She vividly tells her story here, combining her graphic personal memories with her adult commentary, news reports of the time, and dramatic sepia photographs.
Calabro, Marian. The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party. illus. Clarion, $20 (0-395-86610-3). Gr. 5–8.
The story of the ill-fated wagon train gets a highly detailed but never sensational treatment in this fine addition to the Donner canon. Using original documents, Calabro painstakingly traces the Donner party’s journey—from its optimistic beginnings through death, starvation, and even cannibalism, to its final destination in California.
Cooper, Susan. King of Shadows. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16 (0-689-82817-9). Gr. 5–8.
Fantasy and historical fiction blend in this poignant, richly descriptive story of a contemporary American boy actor who awakens in 1599 on Shakespeare’s stage.
Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. illus. Hyperion; dist. by Little, Brown, $14.99 (0-7868-0300-2); lib. ed., $15.49 (0-7868-2241-4). Gr. 4–8.
The first of a cycle of novels set at the time of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, this dramatizes what it was like for an Ojibwa Indian child in 1847 when the white people were “opening up” the land. Erdrich draws on her own family history to tell a strong story of roots and displacement.
Grimes, Nikki. My Man Blue. Illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue. Dial, $15.99 (0-8037-2326-1). Gr. 2–5.
In a simple, lyrical series of poems, Grimes speaks in the voice of a fatherless child in Harlem who finds a mentor in an older man. Strong, realistic acrylic paintings show the connection between the needy child and the big, gentle man in the dangerous neighborhood.
Horvath, Polly. The Trolls. Farrar, $16 (0-364-37787-1). Gr. 3–6.
In this highly original novel, Aunt Sally comes to care for her nieces and nephew when their parents go to Paris. She regales the children with family stories and then tells them one that could change their lives. A delicious combination of the entertaining and the thought provoking.
Lauber, Patricia. What You Never Knew about Fingers, Forks, & Chopsticks. Illus. by John Manders. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-80479-2). Gr. 2–5.
Both informative and hilarious, this view of social history as seen through food utensils and table manners has fun with the gross and the pretentious. Children will enjoy the visceral comedy in the simple words and cartoon vignettes.
Lester, Julius. When the Beginning Began: Stories about God, the Creatures, and Us. illus. Harcourt/Silver Whistle, $17 (0-15-201138-9. Gr. 4 and up.
Enhanced by bright, naive-style paintings, this pilgrimmage through the book of Genesis is a richly embellished collection of creation tales, imbued with wisdom and wistfulness, humor, conflict, and just resolution. A fine book for parent-child sharing and discussion.
Maguire, Gregory. The Good Liar. Clarion, $15 (0-395-90697-0). Gr. 4–6.
In a memorable story of World War II in occupied France, Marcel and his brothers, champion liars, discover that they have been outclassed by their mother, who has lied to protect Jewish refugees hidden in their home.
McKay, Hilary. Dolphin Luck. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16 (0-689-82376-2). Gr. 4–6.
Lit by humor and flashes of insight, this action-filled addition to the series about the Robinson children finds Perry and Ant off to stay with Mad Aunt Mabel, and Beany and Sundance to stay with the neighbors next door, when Mr. and Mrs. Robinson go away.
Montgomery, Sy. The Snake Scientist. illus. Houghton, $16 (0-395-87169-7). Gr. 4–6.
Montgomery’s first-rate photo-essay pays tribute to zoologist Bob Mason, the “Snake Scientist,” and to an extraordinary natural phenomenon—the annual gathering of thousands of red-sided garter snakes in the Narcisse Natural Wildlife Management Area. The photos are marvelous.
Paterson, Katherine. Preacher’s Boy. Clarion, $15 (0-395-83897-5). Gr. 5–8.
With calamitous schemes and a questioning heart worthy of Huck Finn, 10-year-old Robbie joins Paterson’s long list of memorable characters in this fast-paced yet meditative story set in turn-of-the-past-century Vermont.
Perkins, Lynne Rae. All Alone in the Universe. Greenwillow, $16 (0-688-16881-7). Gr. 5–8.
How does it feel when your longtime best friend dumps you, casually, for no special reason? Many middle-schoolers will relate to the bewilderment, denial, and loneliness Debbie reveals in her sharp, funny, fragile first-person narrative.
Propp, Vera W. When the Soldiers Were Gone. Putnam, $15.99 (0-399-23325-3). Gr. 4–8.
Based on a true story of a small Jewish child who hid to survive the Nazi occupation of Holland—and didn’t know his parents when they came to get him after the war—this spare, beautiful novel is a dramatic way to introduce middle-schoolers to Holocaust history.
Pullman, Philip. The Firework-Maker’s Daughter. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $15.95 (0-590-18719-8). Gr. 3–6.
A tough and ingenious heroine leads a likable cast through this delightful page-turner that celebrates craftsmanship and a warm father-daughter relationship as it delivers lots of fun.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.95 (0-439-06486-4). Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $19.95 (0-439-13635-0). Gr. 4 and up.
The phenomenon lives on with two more entries in the series about Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books continue to be well-crafted, witty, and highly imaginative treats for readers of all ages.
Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. The History of Counting. Illus. by Michael Hays. Morrow, $17 (0-688-14118-8). Gr. 3–5.
Large acrylic paintings in warm, harmonious colors are perfect for this cogently written, beautifully made book that spotlights part of our heritage so basic that we take it for granted.
Tallchief, Maria and Wells, Rosemary. Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina. Illus. by Gary Kelley. Viking, $15.99 (0-670- 88756-0). Gr. 3–5.
Dignity, power, and clarity are hallmarks of a first-person picture-book text that follows Tallchief’s childhood and teen years as she pursues her dream to dance with the best. Equally memorable are Kelley’s delicate, misty pastels, which catch the great dancer as she glides gracefully across the pages.
Books for the Young
Anholt, Laurence. Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning. Illus. by Sheila Moxley. Orchard, $15.95 (0-531-30148-6). Ages 5–8.
The marvelously inventive artwork, drenched in the colors of the sea, is an exceptionally attractive backdrop for this story of a British fossil hunter. A book that exemplifies both well-crafted biography and good storytelling.
Aylesworth, Jim. The Full Belly Bowl. Illus. by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689- 81033-4). Ages 5–8.
From the dainty pictures on the endpapers to the stunning artwork inside, this book is a feast for the eyes. The story, in which a magical bowl disrupts the lives of an elderly man and his cat, is just as good, smoothly blending folktale conventions with touches of magic and a dusting of comedy.
Best, Cari. Three Cheers for Catherine the Great! Illus. by Giselle Potter. DK Ink/ Melanie Kroupa, $16.95 (0-7894-2622-6). Ages 4–8.
Sara and her neighbors celebrate her Russian grandmother’s birthday with “no-present” presents—such as a regal new hairstyle, a waltz, or Sara’s offer of English lessons—that show appreciation and love instead of material value.
Braun, Trudi. My Goose Betsy. Illus. by John Bendall-Brunello. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-0449-6). Ages 3–6.
The warm personal tone makes the information easy to absorb in this attractive introduction to “goose facts,” and the appealing watercolor-and-pencil artwork features close-ups and delightful action poses that individualize Betsy and her family.
Cowley, Joy. Red-Eyed Tree Frog. Photos by Nic Bishop. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-590-87175-7). Ages 2–5.
Stunning color photographs and a gripping interactive text bring you right up close to a red-eyed tree frog in the rain forests of Central America. The big pictures are arranged to tell an exciting narrative, and a few simple words draw you in and build the suspense, as a hungry boa snake slips and slithers and almost catches the frog. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Cutler, Jane. The Cello of Mr. O. Illus. by Greg Couch. Dutton, $15.99 (0-525- 46119-1). Gr. 2–4, younger for reading aloud.
A book right out of today’s headlines. In a war-ravaged city, a young girl describes what it is like to try to survive, and how the music of a courageous, if not very nice, man comforts the neighborhood’s collective spirit. An honest text combines with inventive art that alternates despair with hope.
Echewa, T. Obinkaram. The Magic Tree: A Folktale from Nigeria. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Morrow, $16 (0-688-16231-2); lib. ed., $15.93 (0-688-16232-0). Ages 4–8.
The outsider child gains power and recognition in this Nigerian folktale about the orphan Mbi, who is helped by a magic tree. Echewa’s storytelling is direct and lively, and Lewis’ beautiful watercolors set the action in a contemporary village.
Feiffer, Jules. Bark, George. illus. HarperCollins/Michael di Capua, $14.95 (0-06-205185-7); lib. ed., $14.89 (0-06-205186-5). Ages 4–8.
Oh, the comedy Feiffer coaxes out of a few keen strokes of his brush as he presents, in wonderfully expressive pictures and brief text, the wacky tale of a puppy, George, who can’t seem to bark.
Floca, Brian. Five Trucks. illus. DK Ink/ Richard Jackson, $15.95 (0-7894-2561-0). Ages 1–3.
Young truck lovers will keep coming back to this colorful, appealing description of airport vehicles in action.
Gauch, Patricia Lee. Presenting Tanya, the Ugly Duckling. Illus. by Satomi Ichikawa. Putnam/Philomel, $16.99 (0-399-23200-1). Ages 4–8.
Tanya’s fans will rejoice with her as she triumphs in her latest challenge—dancing the title role in The Ugly Duckling. Ichikawa’s beautiful, alternating two-page spreads catch all the movement and emotion.
Henderson, Kathy. The Baby Dances. Illus. by Tony Kerins. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-0374-0). Ages 2–4.
The miracle that is a new baby is captured here in a gentle text and wondrous art that seems to be lit from within. The book begins with the baby’s birth and takes him through the year, recounting the joys and possibilities a baby brings.
Hest, Amy. Off to School, Baby Duck! Illus. by Jill Barton. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-0244-2). Ages 4–6.
The delightful Baby Duck is nervous as the first day of school approaches, and, once again, Grandpa is there to provide support. True to life and full of fun, as are the previous books in the series.
High, Linda Oatman. Barn Savers. Illus. by Ted Lewin. Boyds Mills, $15.95 (1-56397-403-7). Ages 4–8.
The strong, expressive illustrations, whether moonlit or washed with brilliant sunshine, reflect the dignity of High’s plainspoken, first-person text that tells of a father and son working companionably together to salvage an old barn and cement their relationship. One of the few books to show rural life outside the farmyard. (Top of the List winner—Picture Book.)
Hindley, Judy. Eyes, Nose, Fingers, and Toes: A First Book All about You. Illus. by Brita Granström. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-0440-2). Ages 2–4.
With an exuberant rhyme and cheerful art that shows toddlers pointing out parts of their bodies and the motions they can make, this should be an immediate hit both at story hours and on the home front.
Hopkinson, Deborah. A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers. Illus. by Raúl Colón. Simon & Schuster/Anne Schwartz, $16 (0-689-81062-8). Gr. 2–4, younger for reading aloud.
A family memoir is the framework for this inspiring story of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Starting out by singing classical pieces and other songs from white culture, the chorus draws small audiences, until it begins to sing spirituals. The wonderful illustrations catch the harmony of the music and the spirit of the songs.
Howe, James. Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores. illus. Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum, $16 (0-689-31874-X). Ages 4–7.
Horace, Morris, and Dolores, three mice children, are best friends, but when the boys join a club that doesn’t allow girls, Dolores must forge ahead on her own. It doesn’t take long for the boys to miss her, in this spirited tribute to friendship and individuality.
Jonell, Lynne. It’s My Birthday, Too! Illus. by Petra Mathers. Putnam, $12.99 (0-399-23323-7). Ages 4–8.
An inspired game of role-playing brings scrappy rival siblings together in this sweet story, expanded by Mathers’ crayon stick-figure illustrations.
Look, Lenore. Love as Strong as Ginger. Illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $15 (0-689-81248-5). Ages 4–7.
Recalling memories of her grandmother who worked in a Seattle canning factory in the 1960s and 1970s, Look tells a quietly moving story of the recent Chinese American immigrant experience. Johnson’s pastel-and-watercolor pictures reflect the bond between the child and her grandmother, at home and at work.
Pinkney, Jerry. The Ugly Duckling. illus. Morrow, $16 (0-688-15932-X); lib. ed., $15.93 (0-688-15933-8). Ages 4–8.
Hans Christian Andersen’s classic finds thrilling new expression in this beautiful, deeply felt adaptation.
Shannon, David. David Goes to School. illus. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $14.95 (0-590- 48087-1). Ages 3–5.
Bald, triangle-nosed, irresistible David is back. This time he’s trying to navigate the rules of the classroom, and he’s failing. Written with Shannon’s familiar mix of tenderness and hilarity, this book will be a winner for story time as well as lap sharing.
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