Part of my job is reading reviews of books and following the blog buzz about which books are favorites to win awards (like the Newbery Medal, the Sibert Medal for kids’ nonfiction, or the National Book Award). I don’t have the time to read everything I want to read, but with two weeks of holiday break approaching, I am putting together my To-Read List, based in large part on the buzz surrounding these titles. Anything here is pretty much guaranteed to be well-written. It might not appeal to a particular kid’s taste, but you needn’t worry about any of these books being awful!
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai recently won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This one has been on my list for months, and I hope to read it soon and book talk it with kids. It’s the story of a young Vietnamese girl’s journey to America, specifically Alabama, after the fall of Saigon, and her struggle to adjust to a very different world from the one she has known.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is a novel about loss. I am, I confess, a complete sucker for sad books. Even the story behind the writing of this book is sad. Siobhan Dowd (who wrote the wonderful and quirky London Eye Mystery) came up with the idea for this book, but died of cancer before she could write it. Patrick Ness (author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, which I wrote about in my post about Hunger Games read-alikes) picked up the idea and wrote the story. Many of the reviewers seem to be flummoxed in trying to describe this novel, because of its inventiveness and power, and that tells me I must read it.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells the story of Thomas Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally Hemmings, from the perspectives of two of the children and another child close to the family. I’m hearing that’s it’s uncomfortable, thought-provoking, engaging, and poignant. A must-read, I suspect.
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy mixes fantasy and historical fiction, set in the early 1950s. Janie’s family has been forced to move to London due to the “Red Scare” in America, and there she meets a boy named Benjamin, the son of a mysterious apothecary. Everyone I’ve talked to who has read this has loved it (kids and adults!).
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. If you haven’t already seen Hugo (based on Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret), stop reading this and go immediately to a theater. If you have, then you are probably already as excited to read another creation of Brian Selznick as I am. ‘Nuff said.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. This one is being described as “beautiful,” “unforgettable,” “magical.” Reviewer Elizabeth Bird on Goodreads writes that it “walks up to the usual middle grade chapter book fantasy tropes and slaps ’em right smack dab in the face.” For kids and adults tired of derivative fantasy, this sounds like a viable option.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming. I have actually already read a good bit of this one, but a kid came looking for it, so I let it go before I was finished, and I am anxious to get it back and finish! Very engaging and interesting, and it gives some interesting facts, particularly about Earhart’s self-promotion tactics.
Some other titles on my list:
Chime by Franny Billingsley. Mary Kendall (co-worker) has read this and gives it a big thumbs up for 7th and 8th graders.
My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. A companion book to the wonderful Wednesday Wars. Kids are giving me a lot of good feedback on this one. Another good choice for 7th and 8th graders.