This year I read a total of forty-four books for my own edification and enjoyment. Thirty-two of the forty-four were either juvenile or young adult fiction. Here’s the break-down of categories with my top picks for each one.
Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean
I’m giving myself three favorites in this category because the list is long and it’s my blog. ;-). I loved Forge and can’t wait to read the next book in the series. It made a big impression on me–I still remember sitting in a certain restaurant (alone!) and reading it and later sharing the Valley Forge experience with anyone who would half-way listen. It’s my number one pick. My number two pick is Heart of a Samurai. I loved Manjiro’s voice in this book and how Margi Preus captured his enthusiasm for life and how he adapted to the different homes he had. I learned a lot about life aboard a whaling vessel, too. Honorable mention goes to Turtle in Paradise, although to be fair I think I probably fell in love with this book partially because of the audiobook readers’ pitch-perfect voice.
There are actually three subcategories in this category: plain old fantasy, fantasy-with-anthropomorphized-animals, and realistic fiction with fantastical elements. Of the first kind I read three books:
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (fairy tale retelling)
Of the anthropomorphized animal type I read two:
Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck (review forthcoming)
Of the realistic novel with fantastical elements type I read three:
This is a tough, tough category in which to pick favorites for me. I loved every single one of these books with the exception of Fairest, which I thought was just okay, and Keeper, which contains content that I just can’t personally reconcile myself to in children’s literature. (The writing in that one is superb, though.) Picking one book from each subcategory that gives me the most warm fuzzies, here’s what I come up with:
I love Andrew Peterson’s wordplay, creatively drawn characters, and story with lots and lots of heart in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. (Plus, Andrew Peterson includes a very sly nod to one of my favorite authors in this book, so how can I not love it?) Richard Peck’s creation of a complete mouse society and his sophisticated sense of humor (always!) drew me in immediately in Secrets at Sea. When You Reach Me is just once of those books that makes you say breathlessly at the end of the last page, “Wow!”
Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat (not reviewed)
With the exception of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, every one of these novels is a problem novel. The only other title that I would consider even partially a light, happy story is Lucky for Good, although I get the sense that the reason for that is Lucky has already faced her problems in the previous books in the series; now she is capable of helping others face theirs. Problem novels are really not my favorite type to read, especially when they seem agenda-driven. I came by most of these through the Armchair Cybils challenge. Bullying is a prevalent theme this year, at least among Cybils nominated titles. I’ll be interested to see how these books fare in the Cybils and the Newberys. Still, I’m mostly glad I spent some of my reading time this year in this genre. Of course I love the Penderwicks, but since I tend to think of the books in this series as a collective whole (read my review for my thoughts on this), here are my three non-Penderwickian realistic novel picks:
For a realistic novel to be realistic, the protagonist’s voice has to ring true, and Emma’s does in Camo Girl. I enjoy reading novels about austistic children, so I was predisposed to like Mockingbird anyway, but it is a heart wrenching story with a tie-in to TKM, points which made me like it all the more. As I already mentioned, Lucky for Good is a problem novel with a light touch, and the characterization is really, really good.
I suppose this title will do for novels written during a different time period that we’re still reading today, right? I suppose I could call them classic novels since most of them have stood the test of time. Anyway, you know what I mean, right? Here’s the trio I read:
Hands down, my favorite of this category is Emily of Deep Valley. This lovely story just blew me away! Of course, I am also a die-hard L.M. Montgomery fan, but I have to hand it to Maud Hart Lovelace and Emily–I think it might even rival Anne and the other Emily for my affection!
I think I can truly say that this was the year for juvenile literature for me! I really didn’t read a book this year I didn’t like at least a little bit, so any of the titles I’ve listed get at least a half-hearted recommendation from me; many of them get a Highly Recommended. I also recognize that my categories are somewhat arbitrary; I’d actually like to share some other lists that highlight ways these books are alike, but that will have to wait for another time.
Of course, I read many, many books to my children this year, too. I plan to share our chapter book read alouds and top picks on Read Aloud Thursday this week, so be sure to check back!
What’s the best kids’ or YA book you read this year?