* Best Books of the Year
in Children’s and YA Literature
Holiday Gift Guide 2016
All selections and annotations
by WPL Librarian Anna L. Nielsen
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Folklore, Fairy Tales, Mythology
Bass, Thomas; French trans. Noelia Hobeika. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Berlin: Little Gestalten, 2016. A perfect tale of greed and punishment. Blacks and greens reminiscent of money and other dark, dark things cross the pages with reds and pinks representing spilled abundance of food and excess material things, and more common things like houses and hair, and more important things, like children. The Piper is dark, the rats are dark, the mayor is dark, and the town is dark, except when they’re all a shady, moldy green. The Piper comes and lures away the rats, but the Mayor declines to pay. Ah. Goodbye, children. Ages: 8+.
D’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin. D’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016 (1938). We know the D’Aulaires for their D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (NY: Doubleday, 1962), among others, and now their interpretations of Norwegian folktales are finally, thankfully back in print. Ages: 4+.
Leray, Marholainel; trans. Sarah Ardizzone. Little Red Hood. London: Phoenix Yard Books, 2016. This tiny French book may be little and short, but woosh! It packs. Pencil scratchings of black and red on white background show a wolf with a paw on his hip who thinks himself quite big and bad. Scary, even. Little Red is merciless. Ages: 8+.
Tan, Shaun. The Singing Bones. NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc., 2016. Tan takes a swing at the Brothers Grimm, condensing each tale to one page of text and one page featuring handmade sculptures that speak to the less obvious yet recognizable details. The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs is one miniature lady devil in what looks like red metal or clay, smiling, with one appendage pointing and her tail twisted up. Snow White and Rose Red is as it’s never been seen before: two dancing figures, smooth, in white and red, clambering and dancing on the back of a rough shaped, worn, tired bear on all four limbs, with his mouth open, pleading. True artistry. Ages: 8+.
Tonatiuh, Duncan. The Princess and the Warrior. NY: Abrams, 2016. This Aztec legend tells the origin story of two volcanoes southeast of Mexico City. Tonatiuh’s illustrations are hand-drawn and collaged digitally in shades of earth and fire, and tell the story of the Emperor’s daughter and the warrior she loves, against her father’s wishes. Tragedy ensues and conquers before all can be explained and forgiven, and thus two volcanoes are born, the sleeping woman and the smoky mountain who refuses to leave her side. Author’s note, glossary, and bibliography provided for further research. Ages: 4+.
Yoon, Joohee. The Steadfast Tin Soldier. NY: Enchanted Lion Books, 2016. Red and black dominate the drawings and relief paintings of the illustrations, with grey and cream for tonal support, keeping the mood dismal and ominous while the steadfast tin soldier is thrown through his tale, looking at a world filled with menace and loss, from his one-legged, powerless stance. The Hans Christian Andersen tale has never been known for its cheerful ending, and Yoon’s version offers no false optimism while still managing to draw the reader in. Perhaps it is the bleak acceptance of the narrative that turns the steadfastness of the tin soldier into mind-boggling hopeless passiveness, or perhaps it is the bloodthirstiness of the art; perhaps, probably, both. Ages: 8+.
Alexie, Sherman; illus. Yuyi Morales. Thunder Boy Jr. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2016. Possibly the best father-son picture book ever. Award winners Alexie and Morales team up for a soaring story of a boy named after his father who loves his dad with all his might but thinks he might want his own name. His dad is called Big Thunder, a nickname that “is a storm filling up the sky.” People call the young boy Little Thunder, a name that doesn’t have quite the same effect. Dad is huge on the page, taking an entire spread while the son is small in the corner, taking up just a little space on the bottom. So son begins to speculate some names based on the things he loves to do: Mud In His Ears because he loves playing in dirt, Touch the Clouds because he once climbed a mountain, Gravity’s Best Friend because he learned to ride a bike when he was three, to name a few – but nothing is quite right. He loves his dad, and Alexie repeats the phrase three times to ensure readers know just how much, but the son wants his own name. But then! His “Dad read my mind!” His “Dad read my heart!” His dad gives him a new name, Lightning. Morales’s illustrations put the son on the giant dad’s shoulders and both reach for the sky and become the sky, hugging each other all the while. “Together, my dad and I will become amazing weather. Our love will be loud and it will be bright, ” says the son. “My dad and I will light up the sky.” Ages: 4+.
Farley, Brianne. Secret Tree Fort. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. Two sisters, one beautiful day – the older sister wants to read and the younger sister wants to play, together, now! Older sister flatly glares no. Younger sister begs, “Please, pleeeease!” “Fine!” says younger sister, “I have a secret tree fort, and you’re not invited!” And oh! What a tree fort she imagines - complete with a crow’s nest, visiting pirates, and a secret tunnel that leads to a window where she can play board games underwater with whales. The charcoal, pencil, and ink drawings bring her tree fort to life with vivid coloring that gets brighter and brighter as the tree fort becomes more magnificent. Such a pleasure, especially when older sister finally joins in. Ages: 4+.
Isol. Daytime Visions: An Alphabet. NY: Enchanted Lion Books, 2016. An alphabet book with flair. The endpapers begin with a sketch of a seriously contented girl backstroking through a sea of letters under a smudge of sun in the sky, outlined in rugged - not rigid - grey. G is for “Gentle soul” and H is for “Here I am.” O is two birds trilling, with one remarking to the other, “You are such an optimist.” How can we not fall in love with such letter and word combinations? The colors are muddy in tone – more settled with mess than messy – and the illustrations vary from pencil to paint to collage, depending on what’s right and when. Isol is a master. Ages: 0+.
Kaneko, Yuki; illus. Masamitsu Saito. Into the Snow. NY: Enchanted Lions Books, 2016. Oil pastels, gouache, acrylic colors, and color pencils all join in to celebrate this most delicious of winter day treats: it’s snowing! An exuberant boy bundles up to feel the snow, hug the wind, and touch the ice. He wonders, he spins, he sleds, he runs, he sits - then goes home, to Mom and hot chocolate. A soft and dear appreciation of winter. For more snow tales, be sure to pick up Little Penguins (Rylant, Cynthia; illus. Christian Robinson, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016). Robinson uses acrylic paint and cut paper collage to depict five little penguins who notice snowflakes and race for mittens, scarves, and boots to play in the snow that is “deep, deeper, very deep.” His colors are bright and broad, in perfect contrast to the white greys of snow and smoothly compliments Rylant’s text. And one more: First Snow (Park, Bomi, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2016). Mostly black and white illustrations on textured paper that looks like thick, threaded canvas. Splashes of red slip onto the scarf and mittens (boots are black here) of a little girl stepping quietly through her first snow until more children and snowmen join her, while splashes of red multiply on more scarves and mittens, and begin to fly with the snowflakes. Beautiful. Rhythmic text that excites while it soothes keeps Park’s debut a joyful beginner read. Ages: 0+.
Kuhlmann, Torben. Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon. NY: NorthSouth Books Inc., 2016. Scientific inquiry at its best, with mice and cheese. One little mouse tries to explain to other little mice about the moon, but all they can see, hear, and believe in is cheese. The moon must be made of cheese, they think, for what could be more wonderful? Poor little mouse, who doesn’t give up, not he. With trial and error and inspiration, off he rockets to the moon, to prove to both mice and men it’s not about the cheese. The illustrations are deep and gorgeously lush, pulling the reader in to the intricacies of work and careful detail. See also Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse (2014) and Moletown (2015) by the same author. Ages: 4+.
Miéville, China; illus. Zak Smith. The Worst Breakfast. Brooklyn, NY: Black Sheep/Akashic Books, 2016. An ode to the exuberance splashes of color, bold and bright, and to rhyming storytelling sisters with a flair for seriously dramatic hyperbole. These girls are magnificently marvelous, and the breakfast they are remembering! Smith paints it alive – undercooked eggs creep out of their shells and green porridge has beady, sneaky eyes. Bacon looks and tastes like deep-fried shoes. Each illustration is framed on the page, giving every twist in the tale the momentous attention it deserves – every narrative step gets a portrait. Smiths is due genius to Miéville’s clever and fun text. Highly recommended. Ages: 4+.
Ørbeck-Nilssen, Constance; illus. Akin Duzakin; trans. Norwegian Becky Crook. Why Am I Here? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2016. Existentialism and metaphysics for the younger set; after all, it’s never to soon to wonder why and what. The illustrations are spare and precise, leaving plenty of white space for pondering. “I wonder why I am here, in this exact place,” muses the thoughtful girl, “What if I were somewhere else – somewhere completely different from here?” The illustrations then take her across the globe, in living conditions hot and cold, easy and hard, until she realizes no matter who she or anyone is, she is “my own house. And I will be at home wherever I am.” For another take on self and place read The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest (Oren Lavie; illus. Wolf Erlburuch, NY: Black Sheep, 2016). A bear who may be a bear with an itch or an itch with a bear finds a note in himself that reads, “Are you me?” Well, then. There’s a question. Lavie takes the narrative on further ontological quests and the incomparable Erlburuch’s illustrations lope through the forest and the trees, all existing (perhaps) with and without the others. “I am a very nice bear,” Bear concludes. Bravo. Ages: 4+.
Ringtved, Glenn; illus. Charlotte Pardi; trans. Danish Robert Moulthrop. Cry, Heart, But Never Break. NY: Enchanted Lion Books, 2016. A book about death and life and saying goodbye to those we love and hello to life as it lasts. The pencil and watercolor illustrations give us grief that is gripping and real and compassion that is gentle and as considerate as the truth of unalterable loss can be. Death doesn’t want to frighten the children. He leaves his scythe outside the door and moves slowly through the night. But the children aren’t ready to say goodbye, and they’re not giving up. They “quickly made a plan. They would keep death away… by giving him coffee.” Death doesn’t laugh or lecture; he likes his coffee strong, and he is tired, and he is sad, too, and doesn’t mind resting awhile. He sits with the children until he can’t anymore, and tells a story: what would life be without death? What would joy be without sorrow? “Cry, Heart, but never break,” he says, and the acceptance and peace Death brings with his anguish give the children comfort. Wrenching. And sublime. Recommended. Ages: 4+.
Sanabria. José. As Time Went By. NY: NorthSouth Books, Inc., 2016. “Once upon a time there was a ship that sailed beside the sun with very important people on board.” There were people on a ship who used a ship and had things until they lost all the things and landed in a village with other people who had lost everything, too. And then a rich man came and said he owned the land they were on and all of them had to leave. Now. Immediately. “Once upon a time there was a village of homeless people and an abandoned ship.” The people found each other and the ship, and went about building a future. Together. “Once upon a time there was a ship that sailed beside the sun with very important people on board.” Water-and-ink illustrations and matter-of-fact text provide gravitas and common sense to the narrative, with a tone of heroic justice, encumbered by trials and slow, but sure. The colors are full and rich with no ethereal pastels; even the light colors feel solid in earth and sea and serious action. A picture book the reader will feel more with each reading, and it’s worth reading again and again. Ages: 4+.
Sanna, Francesca. The Journey. London-NY: Flying Eye Books, 2016. If you’re not thinking about immigration and the very real need of many for refuge, then you’re not paying attention. Fortunately, Sanna is. She follows a mother and her two children from summers by the seaside in sandy and tan colors to when war comes in black that claws across the page, filling it and squeezing out the father and any hope of home. But hope is what keeps us alive, or at least trying, and so the colors slowly slip back onto the pages as the widow searches for a place for her children can keep breathing, through night and day, on trucks and cars and bicycles until a border looms, deep dark red on a double spread of fear and imposing anger. “Our journey is not over yet,” says the mother. And off they go again, searching, traveling, and hoping for safety and a place to live, love, and begin again. Ages: 4+.
Stead, Philip C. Samson in the Snow (2016) and Ideas Are All Around (2016) NY: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press and Cuevas, Michelle; illus. Erin Stead. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (2016) NY: Dial Books for Young Readers. It’s always nice to find authors/illustrators on whom one can depend, and so it is with Philip and Erin Stead. Stead dedicates Samson in the Snow to “anyone who is having a bad day” and gives us a story about friendship and kindness, deep and true, empathetically illustrated with oil pastels, charcoal, and cardboard printing in colors that are strong and tender with no hints of abruptness or grumpiness. Samson is a mammoth and he is worried about his friend the little red bird, so he tramps through the snow to find him. Along the way he rescues a mouse who becomes his friend, too. And the storm passes, because that’s what happens when friends are near. Ideas Are All Around is about thinking and generation and the wonderfulness of inspiration and finding beauty in what is all around. Spilled blue paint can very easily be a blue horse – it all depends on how we decide to see the world. Erin Stead illustrates The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles with her signatory meticulous care that manages to convey care for detail with no hint of constriction. She draws specifically out of interest and affection for her characters, not out of any conviction that there is an exact or right or wrong way to draw. In her latest, she shares a lonely man who opens ocean bottles and hopes that someday, the message in the bottle will be for him. Ages: 4+.
Tupera, Tupera. Polar Bear’s Underwear. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2016. Some books are just so much fun you can feel your smile growing looking at the cover, and this book is one of them. Tupera gives us a hapless bear who can’t find his underwear. His friend Mouse asks what’s wrong and Polar Bear laments his tragic fate. But never fear, Mouse is there, and the adventure begins: searching for Polar Bear’s underwear. The repeated phrase of “Whose underwear is it?” takes us through cut-out pictures of multicolored and multi-sized underwear on zebras to pigs to squids to bunnies. Poor, hapless Polar Bear. Where, oh where is his underwear? Ages: 0+.
Wenzel, Brendan. They All Saw a Cat. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2016. Who are we? Are we ourselves according to us, or according to who sees us? It’s all about perspective. Wenzel ponders identity, through a cat as seen through the eyes of a child, a dog, a fox, a fish, a mouse, each from its own perspective. The illustrations change accordingly, from cozy and bright, to sleek and long, to fat and tasty, to huge and sharp and dangerous. As for the cat, he’s just walking through the world, “with its whiskers, ears, and paws…” An excellent book for seeing and thinking, and thinking about seeing and thinking. Ages: 0+.
Young, Rebecca; illus. Matt Ottley. Teacup. NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, 2016. Ottley’s oil paintings should take up entire walls; even in the pages of a picture book they manage to convey size and depth and grandeur. The text is a lyrical match. “Once there was a boy who has to leave his home… and find another.” And so the boy travels, through blues and greens and whites of sea and sky, through whales and trees and clouds until, with a “bump” he finds land and begins “to build and waits for a whisper.” Gorgeous. Ages: 4+.
Zagarenski, Pamela. Henry & Leo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Zagarenski, illustrator of the 2013 Caldecott Honor Book Sleep Like a Tiger written by Mary Logue and the 2010 Caldecott Honor Book Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, here illustrates and writes a book entirely her own about a boy named Henry and his stuffed lion Leo. Henry’s sister says Leo isn’t real, but who can say what real is? Zagarenski’s art is filled with her signature whimsy and golden tones and crowns, and the story matches with magic and possibility. She trusts her art to carry the narrative, wordless, for multiple double spreads, and she’s right – it works. When adults return into the story, words come back too, and the golden art glitters around the edges and center because the children and magic are still in the story, even with adults around. Henry and Leo, together forever. Satisfyingly lovely. Ages: 4+.
Brown, Peter. The Wild Robot. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2016. To be read with Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, NY: Abrams, 2016). Both books approach robotics and what it means to be human. In The Wild Robot, a robot crash lands in the woods and becomes mother to a brood of ducks out of guilt that she/it killed their birth mother in her crash landing. All goes well until the corporation who made her sends retrieval units to get her back. The forest animals protect her as one of their own until the robot feels forced to decide to leave with the corporation to save their lives. In Fuzzy, the mission of the middle school is to help a visiting robot assimilate, but the Assistant Principal is a secret robot on a mission to control, absolutely. All ends well when she gets sent to Mars (seriously) and the good robot (he/it) and the kids can live happily ever after. So what does it mean to be human? And do we belong to who made us? What is sentience? What is free will? Read both books and see what you think. Ages: 8+.
Creech, Sharon. Moo. NY: Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 2016. Creech does it again, gifting us all with a verse novel of lyrical grace and kindness. Reena and her brother Luke have to move to Maine when their parents lose their jobs and Reena is not happy about it, not at all, but that’s before meeting neighbor Mrs. Falala and her cow Zora, a cranky Belted Galloway. So. Just imagine. The verse goes from prose to concrete poetry to free verse and back again and Reena is pretty much up, down, and all over the place, too. Change can be good and change can be bad. It’s all in what we do with it. And of course, with a little help from our friends. Ages: 8+.
DiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. Raymie Clarke, Louisiana Elefante, and Beverly Tapinski don’t start as best friends, but that’s exactly how they end up. Each of them is enrolled in the Little Miss Central Florida contest, for both good and desperate reasons: Raymie because she figures if she wins, her father will be so impressed by her picture in the paper that he’ll come back from running off with the dental hygienist, Louisiana because she and her grandmother could really use the money so the state won’t pack her off to foster care, and Beverly just because. But life and contests don’t always go according to plan, and becoming the next Little Miss turns out not to be the most important thing. Sometimes, friendship is the most important thing. And swimming. Swimming definitely helps. Another gem from multiple award-winner DiCamillo. Ages: 8+.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 2016 (1943). Translated into over 250 languages and re-released yearly, the classic French tale tells the story of a little prince who lives on his tiny planet, alone, until a small rose joins him. Too young to know how to love, he travels “to add to his knowledge.” He meets a king who insists on his own absolute authority, but it’s okay, “because [as] he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.” And so the little prince travels on, to meet a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter who is faithful to his orders even though the orders are absurd… and on he goes, until the little prince lands on earth. An allegory for all times. Ages: 8+.
Gidwitz, Adam; illus. Hatem Aly. The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. NY: Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin, 2016. Three children are wanted by the king. The inquisitor hunts. Are the children criminals? Saints? This is an adventure story, a mystery story, a story of social and economic class, a story of power, a story of religion, a story of what it means to be good. There’s Jeanne, a Christian peasant girl with visions; William, a Monk boy with superhuman strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy who heals. And their magic dog. And dragons and knights. And townspeople with varying degrees of knowledge of and compassion for the wide world and their own small parts in it, as long as there’s entertainment. And war. And the king who wants and his mother the queen. Who are these kids? Why does the king want them? Gidwitz gives us a medieval epic for the ages, complete with Aly’s illuminations. Read it. And then, why not? Read it again. Ages: 10+.
MacLachlan, Patricia. The Poet’s Dog. Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 2016. A dog who lives with a poet finds a boy and his sister in the woods. Or, a boy and a girl who find a dog in the woods. Or, as the dog says, “We found each other. The end.” An irish wolfhound, a poet, a boy, and a girl. Home. Ages: 10+.
Mafi, Tahereh. Furthermore. NY: Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, 2016. Alice is a girl of no color in a world full of color, where color is valued above all else, and yet she is happy and confident. How did that happen? Especially because her mother really seems to resent her and her father really has disappeared; it’s been three years. But Alice heads off to find him, but finds herself stuck with a boy named Oliver as a companion who turns into sort-of-like-a-friend. A mash-up between Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth and even A Wrinkle in Time, this book has magic and adventure and logic and a firm belief in love and good, and a girl named Alice who is her very own self, always. Ages: 10+.
Peck, Richard. The Best Man. NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. Archer is a pretty good kid, nothing special, but nothing bad, either. He likes staying out of trouble and his best friend Lynette is fierce enough for both of them. And he’s got his father and his grandfather and his uncle and his teacher, who is the best teacher ever, and male, too! But then, wait, his uncle and his teacher fall in love? Archer is confused. But then he’s not, because love is love, and why shouldn’t two of his favorite people make a family? Archer is a pretty good kid, nothing special, but nothing bad, either. Ages: 10+.
Reynolds, Jason. Ghost. NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2016. Ghost first learned to run when his dad grabbed that gun and his mother grabbed Ghost and they both went, went, went. So running isn’t a big deal, it’s just what a guy should know how to do, every day, just in case. Then Ghost sees a track team, and he thinks, what is this? People run for fun, for sport? They think they’re fast? They don’t know fast. But maybe he could run too, for fun or sport instead of for life and living, if only he could stay on track; there’s school, there’s fighting, there’s so, so much. And Ghost sure is fast. Ages: 10+.
Svingen, Arne; trans. Norwegian Kari Dickson. The Ballad of a Broken Nose. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016. Bart’s mum is a bit of a mess, but she means well. Sometimes Bart wishes she would work more and drink less so he won’t have to make up stories to convince the electricity man to leave the electricity in his apartment connected. And having food in the house every day would be nifty. And perhaps for a dad, and friends and neighbors without rather large issues of their own. But there life is. Bart knows his mum does her best. And Bart’s an eternal optimist with a secret: he loves opera. He loves singing opera and listening to opera and loves opera with all his heart. And then a girl named Ada decides to be his friend and nothing much seems to get in her way when she decides that something needs doing, and she’s always deciding things need doing. And Bart really does love opera. Goodness. This could change everything. Ages: 10+.
Caletti, Deb. Essential Maps for the Lost. NY: Simon Pulse, 2016. Madison is a girl trying to escape her smothering, impossibly needy mother. So she goes for a swim and strokes straight into a dead body. Being Madison, she pulls the body to shore. Billy is a boy whose mother decided to quit one day, jumped off the bridge, and into the water. He is committed to living. Being Billy, he wants to say to his mom, “Here. See? See this? This is beautiful enough to fight for, see?” Billy meets Madison and Madison meets Billy. “”Love is always a risk. Life is. You can step into the street and get hit by a car, but then again, you can step into the street and get to the other side.” Madison meets Billy and Billy meets Madison. They are ready to step off the curb. Ages: 13+.
Guène, Faïza; trans. Sarah Adams. Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow. Orlando, FL: A Harvest Original/Harcourt, Inc., 2016. In Arabic, kif-kif means “same old, same old.” In French, the verb kiffer means “to really like something.” So Doria, half-Moroccan, half-French, all teenage girl, makes up a new motto, something about building a future beyond the damages of history and the destructions of stereotype: kiffe kiffe tomorrow. At first, as she’s the first to admit, she’s stuck in kif kif tomorrow, (“same crap, different day,”) but Doria’s moving forward. Kiffe kiffe tomorrow. Ages 13+.
Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree. NY: Amulet Books, 2016. Winner of the 2015 Costa Book of the Year – the first youth title since The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman in 2001 (NY: Alfred A. Knopf) to be awarded – Hardinge’s latest tells the tale of a girl who wants to (a) find out what happened to her father and (b) be a natural scientist. First she has to overcome social mores and resist the temptation or perhaps utilize, instead, the temptation of using the Lie Tree, a tree that thrives on lies and drops secrets in its fruit. Hardinge calls the novel “a Victorian Gothic mystery with added paleontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography, and feminism.” Main character Faith says, “Everything could change. Everything could get better. Everything was getting better, inch by inch, so slowly that she could not see it, but knowing it gave her strength.” Fitting for a natural scientist. Fitting for a girl named Faith. Ages: 13+.
Hitchcock, Bonnie-Sue. The Smell of Other People’s Houses. NY: Wendy Lamb Books, Penguin Random House, 2016. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. Four teenagers living in different parts of Alaska. All somehow, eventually, together. Not one of them has much, money-wise or stuff-wise. One has a crazy gran and a serious secret, one has a mom who doesn’t notice what hurt is, the third should fish or dance or just decide, and the last has lost his brothers. All four are floundering, all four will find the ground. It’s Alaska. It’s big, but everything is connected. And hearts can be “cobbled together and a little worse for wear” but still beat. They’ll never be the same people they were before, but their hearts will still be beating. Together. Ages: 13+.
King, A.S. Still Life with Tornado. NY: Dutton Books, 2016. Sarah is all kinds of fractured, in self and voice and mind; but she’s not. She’s an artist, she knows things and she avoids things so she can handle things. Things no teenager should have to handle, but that’s what life is. That’s what abuse is. The tornado is around her and in her, but not completely her. Sarah will wrestle through. Ages: 13+.
Savit, Gavriel. Anna and the Swallow Man. NY: Alfred. A Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2016. When World War II begins Anna is seven years old and her father is taken away. She knows he is gone. She does not know that he will not come back. She knows she must run. She knows she does not know how. She finds a man, or comes across a man, rather; a kind of broken but capable and incapable man, with whom to run, or at least wander, sometimes in circles and sometimes not, crisscrossing borders with the same illogic as war. She makes it, sort of. She does unspeakable things to survive. She is capable and becomes broken but not broken. “Disappointment, though heavy, is an easy enough thing to pack up in a suitcase… Hope is much the same. But somehow the hybrid of the two is something much less uniform - awkward, bulkier, and no less heavy. It is far too delicate to pack away. It must be carried along in the hands.” Anna does not know where she is going but she knows she is going. Lyrical prose adds thoughtfulness and a certain magical realism to this wartime story of loss and lasting and life. Ages: 13+.
Yoon, Nicola. The Sun is Also a Star. NY: Delacorte Press, 2016. Natasha is a girl and Daniel is a boy. Natasha is Jamaican-American and Daniel is Korean-American. They fall in love on one day in New York City. Natasha is deported. Daniel will never be Korean enough. Daniel said, “love and dark matter were the same – the only thing that kept the universe from falling apart.” Natasha and Daniel don’t fall apart but they do fall away. Until. Until? Maybe knowing love is the same as losing love and living anyway. Maybe love and dark matter are the same. Yoon is an author to read. Ages: 13+.