Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth
The Arrival. By Shaun Tan. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $19.99 (0-439-89530-8). Gr. 6–12.
The immigrant’s struggle in a new land may be a familiar story, but Tan’s remarkable combination of fantasy and familiarity replaces words with strong yet subtle visual images to invest it with emotion, power, and freshness.
Before I Die. By Jenny Downham. Random/David Fickling, $15.99 (0-385-75158-3). Gr. 9–12.
In clear, beautiful words, Tessa, 16, expresses her anger and sorrow at her approaching death and describes how she tries to pack in the sex, drugs, and life experiences she will miss.
Cures for Heartbreak. By Margo Rabb. Delacorte, $15.99 (0-385-73402-6). Gr. 10–12.
Within one year, teenage Mia’s mother dies of cancer and her father survives a heart attack. In this powerful, accomplished debut, Rabb creates a remarkable character in Mia, leavening her heartbreak with surprising humor and a sense of the absurd
Dreamquake. By Elizabeth Knox. Farrar/Frances Foster, $19 (0-374-31854-9). Gr. 8–11.
Knox completes the Dreamhunter Duet in a manner both richly literary and showstoppingly entertaining, as Edwardian heroines Rose and Laura stumble upon a political conspiracy and uncover the mystery of the dream-incubating Place.
Elijah of Buxton. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic, $16.99 (0-439-02345-9). Gr. 6–8.
A community of freed slaves living in Ontario in 1849 forms a richly imagined backdrop for 11-year-old Elijah’s first-person narrative. Curtis’ rare combination of humor, suspense, and emotional depth approaches the subject of slavery obliquely at first but gradually leads Elijah to the human tragedy at its core. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
Every Crooked Pot. By Renée Rosen. St. Martin’s/Griffin, paper, $10.95 (0-312-36543-8). Gr. 10–12.
Rosen’s first novel examines the life of Nina Goldman, who has a birthmark she hates and a father she loves, both of which shape her in ways that merit minute investigation.
The Falconer’s Knot. By Mary Hoffman. Bloomsbury, $16.95 (1-59990-056-4). Gr. 8–11.
An exciting tangle of murder, romantic intrigue, and run-ins with great artists provides the well-paced suspense in this vivid historical novel, set in a fourteenth-century Italian friary.
Frida: Viva la Vida! By Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. illus. Marshall Cavendish, $18.99 (0-7614-5336-9). Gr. 7–12.
Lyrical, free-verse poems link to autobiographical imagery in Frida Kahlo’s work in a creative introduction to the Mexican painter. A beautiful reproduction of Kahlo’s work appears opposite each poem, and a succinct time line adds background.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. By J. K. Rowling. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $34.99 (0-545-01022-5). Gr. 6–12.
A publishing event worth waiting for; the Harry Potter series comes to a close in this rousing, satisfying volume.
The Land of the Silver Apples. By Nancy Farmer. Atheneum, $18.99 (1-4169-0735-1). Gr. 6–9.
In a pell-mell adventure laced with the folklore elements and thoughtful themes that distinguished The Sea of Trolls (2004), apprentice bard Jack embarks upon a second quest that takes him deep within the fairies’ realm.
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. By Sarah Miller. Atheneum, $16.99 (1-4169-2542-2). Gr. 8–11.
In vibrant, poetic language, Miller imagines Annie Sullivan’s first experiences with Helen Keller. Stirring scenes illuminate Sullivan’s extraordinary character and the emotional bond she forged with her famous pupil.
Peak. By Roland Smith. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-202417-4). Gr. 8–11.
After honing his climbing skills on skyscrapers, 14-year-old Peak enters the high-stakes world of an Everest base camp. In this multifaceted adventure, Smith mixes thrilling action with deeper questions about the cost of single-minded pursuits.
Powers. By Ursula K. Le Guin. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-205770-6). Gr. 8–12.
This third entry in the Annals of the Western Shore, about a well-treated slave jolted into furious awareness of slavery’s evils, illuminates powerful, humanistic concerns as well as Le Guin’s finesse at imagining diverse cultures.
Red Moon at Sharpsburg. By Rosemary Wells. Viking, $16.99 (0-670-03638-7). Gr. 6–9.
As the Civil War grinds on, its harsh realities threaten the educational ambitions of India Moody, a Southern teen. This lyrical coming-of-age portrait explores the conflict between intellectual curiosity and the traditional role of women on the home front.
Re-Gifters. By Mike Carey. Illus. by Sonny Liew. DC Comics/Minx, paper, $9.99 (1-4012-0371-X). Gr. 7–9.
With art that pops right off the page and a narrative that combines action, introspection, and romance in perfect proportion, this graphic novel about Korean American Dixie, who develops a crush on a competitor at a hapkido tournament, will win a huge audience.
Slam. By Nick Hornby. Putnam, $19.99 (0-399-25048-4). Gr. 9–12.
Skateboarder Sam is blindsided when his girlfriend becomes pregnant, but he has a sort-of-imaginary friend, superskater Tony Hawk, to hash things out with. Hornby’s first YA novel is a mix of anger, confusion, humor, and love.
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal. By Mal Peet. Candlewick, $17.99 (0-7636-3488-3). Gr. 9–12.
Strikingly descriptive language grounds this dramatic novel, which folds together the story of a contemporary teenager’s search for answers about her grandfather’s suicide with brutal events in Nazi-occupied Holland years before. Complex and surprising, this grows richer with each reading.
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. By Ibtisam Barakat. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-35733-1). Gr. 7–10.
True to its child narrator’s viewpoint, this compelling memoir recalls Barakat’s childhood under military occupation, avoiding exploitation and sentimentality as it shows both political conflict and daily life.
Useful Fools. By C. A. Schmidt. Dutton, $18.99 (0-525-47814-0). Gr. 9–12.
Set in Peru in the 1980s, this groundbreaking novel of a teen so desperate that he joins murderous rebels is part love story and part haunting drama of politics and injustice.
The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain. By Peter Sís. Illus. by the author. Farrar/Frances Foster, $18 (0-374-34701-8). Gr. 7–10.
This stirring, autobiographical picture book will pull in older readers with its account of Sís’ artistic coming-of-age in cold-war Prague. Expanding powerfully on the text, Sís’ remarkable artwork mixes panels and fluid compositions to express the interplay between Communist restrictions and Western influences. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
The Wednesday Wars. By Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion, $16 (0-618-72483-4). Gr. 6–9.
Holling, a Long Island seventh-grader, hates his weekly Wednesday tutoring sessions, until his teacher gives him Shakespeare and helps him discover his strengths. Holling’s distinctive voice narrates this gentle, moving story, set during the Vietnam War.
What They Found: Love on 145th Street. By Walter Dean Myers. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.99 (0-385-32138-4). Gr. 7–11.
With lots of fast and funny talk, these stirring contemporary stories, set in Harlem, combine harsh realism with connections teens make as they search for love and community.
The White Darkness. By Geraldine McCaughrean. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-06-089035-5). Gr. 7–10.
Passionate about the Antarctic, 14-year-old Sym gets an opportunity to visit, only to find that her uncle, who has accompanied her, has a horrifying agenda. With suspense and language that engages the senses, this imaginative novel makes the frigid landscape seem like it’s right outside.
Who Was First? Discovering the Americas. By Russell Freedman. illus. Clarion, $19 (0-618-66391-6). Gr. 6–9.
Well researched and attractively designed, this book examines theories about the discovery of the Americas, showing that history is not a static body of knowledge but an evolving process—continually questioned and revised in the light of new evidence.
Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. By Stephanie Hemphill. Knopf, $17.99 (0-375-83799-X). Gr. 9–12.
Written in poems that echo the style of Sylvia Plath’s work, Hemphill’s fictionalized biography gives a wrenching view of the poet’s life. Succinct footnotes ground the powerfully imagined scenes in fact.
Animal Poems. By Valerie Worth. Illus. by Steve Jenkins. Farrar, $17 (0-374-380-57-0). Gr. 4–7.
Vivid imagery and an expert command of sound and meter distinguish this collection of poems about animals, filled with inventive metaphors that will startle readers into thinking about animals in new ways.
At Gleason’s Gym. By Ted Lewin. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.95 (1-59643-231-4). Gr. 4–7.
This glorious picture-book tribute to Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn conveys the nonstop action in exciting paintings and drawings. Movement is accentuated in words that rip across the pages: “Thump, Bam, Pop, Smack.”
The Black Book of Secrets. By F. E. Higgins. Feiwel and Friends, $14.95 (0-312-36844-5). Gr. 5–7.
In this smart, richly atmospheric thriller, Ludlow Fitch finds himself apprenticed to a “secret pawnbroker,” who relieves the townsfolk of their darkest secrets—which young Ludlow records in a mysterious black book.
Candyfloss. By Jacqueline Wilson. Illus. by Nick Sharratt. Roaring Brook, $14.95 (1-59643-241-1). Gr. 4–7.
Flossie makes the difficult decision to stay with her father and his failing café after her mother and stepfather move to Australia. A poignant, gently humorous, and totally satisfying family story.
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. By Lynne Jonell. Illus. by Jonathan Bean. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-8150-X). Gr. 3–6.
Emily’s parents don’t seem interested in her anymore, and a cruel nanny is running the show. Then a rat starts speaking to her. What’s going on? Jonell takes readers on a merry, sometimes scary romp with wonderfully distinctive characters.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! By Laura Amy Schlitz. Illus. by Robert Byrd. Candlewick, $19.99 (0-7636-1578-1). Gr. 5–8.
Vivid, interconnected monologues and dialogues provide glimpses of young people living in a medieval English manor. Though the characters are distinctly of their time, today’s readers will still relate to their well-drawn personalities, emotions, and concerns.
Jack Plank Tells Tales. By Natalie Babbitt. Scholastic/Michael di Capua, $15.95 (0-545-00496-9). Gr. 3–6.
Former pirate Jack Plank lives in a seaside boardinghouse, where he regales his housemates with tales that explain why he can’t take up the careers they suggest. Strong, sure storytelling and wry wit make this a standout.
Living Color. By Steve Jenkins. Illus. by the author. Houghton, $17 (0-618-70897-9). Gr. 2–4.
A celebrated collage artist presents survival adaptations as a biological fashion show arranged by color in this clever, beautiful picture book, which introduces a rainbow of brilliantly hued animals.
The Mysterious Benedict Society. By Trenton Lee Stewart. Illus. by Carson Ellis. Little, Brown/Megan Tingley, $16.99 (0-316-05777-0). Gr. 4–7.
“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” This curious newspaper ad attracts four children, chosen by the mysterious Mr. Benedict for an important mission. Serious issues permeate a rich story with immediate kid appeal.
Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials. By Sneed Collard. illus. Darby Creek, $18.95 (1-58196-046-8). Gr. 4–7.
Clarity is the hallmark here, from the color photos to the lively text, as Collard introduces a variety of marsupials, beginning with the baby opossum he raised during his teens.
Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Robert E. Peary’s Daring Daughter. By Katherine Kirkpatrick. illus. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1973-8). Gr. 5–8.
Kirkpatrick frames the story of Marie Peary against a larger backdrop: the repeated struggles of her father to reach the North Pole. The attractive design helps show how appealing biography can be.
Way Down Deep. By Ruth White. Farrar, $16 (0-7862-9867-7). Gr. 4–7.
Set in Appalachia in the 1950s, this story about orphaned Ruby is as tender as a breeze and as sharp as a tack. It deals with important questions: Who makes up a family? What do you owe them?
The Apple Pie That Papa Baked. By Lauren Thompson. Illus. by Jonathan Bean. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (1-4169-1240-1). PreS–Gr. 1.
Written in a familiar cumulative form, this lively tale shows and describes Papa’s pie and all that went into its making. Thompson’s language is lively and expressive, and Bean’s marvelously nostalgic illustrations recall the work of Wanda Gag.
The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County. By Janice N. Harrington. Illus. by Shelley Jackson. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-31251-6). PreS–2.
An African American girl proudly shows off her favorite barnyard game and discovers compassion in this rollicking, well-told story. Exceptional collages highlight both feather-flying action and tender emotions.
The Golden Rule. By Ilene Cooper. Illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. Abrams, $16.95 (0-8109-0960-X). K–Gr. 3.
A boy and his grandfather explore the meaning of the Golden Rule as “a way of living that’s so simple, it shines.” Beautiful artwork draws inspiration from the many religions and cultures in which the Golden Rule is found.
A Good Day. By Kevin Henkes. Illus. by the author. Greenwillow, $17.95 (0-88899-781-7). Gr. K–2.
Four animals start the day badly, but reversals of fortune result in a rewarding conclusion. Combining simple words and glowing watercolor illustrations, this charming picture book is perfectly tuned to children’s emotions and imaginations.
Half a World Away. By Libby Gleeson. Illus. by Freya Blackwood. Scholastic, $15.99 (0-06-024716-9). PreS–2.
Rhythmic words and sensitive, realistic watercolors capture friendship’s intensity from a young child’s viewpoint in this tale of playmates who are separated by a family’s move.
Henry’s Freedom Box. By Ellen Levine. Illus. by Kadir Nelson. Scholastic, $16.99 (0-439-77733-X). Gr. 1–3.
The amazing story of enslaved Henry Brown’s unusual route to freedom comes emphatically to life, thanks to dramatic artwork that displays both humanity and heart.
Here’s a Little Poem. By Jane Yolen. Illus. by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick, $21.99 (0-7636-3141-8). PreS.
With hugs, kisses, messy nonsense, and uproarious action, this anthology of more than 60 poems will be a wonderful read-aloud that very young children and toddlers will beg to hear over and over again.
Lightship. By Brian Floca. Illus. by the author. Atheneum, $16.99 (1-4169-2436-1). PreS–2.
Lightships—floating lighthouses—were retired in 1983, but they live on in Floca’s handsome book, which uses simple words and repeated phrases to explain the vessels’ uniqueness and explore their operation. Varied in composition, perspective, and mood, the strong ink-and-watercolor illustrations bring the lightship experience to life. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
Max Counts His Chickens. By Rosemary Wells. Illus. by the author. Viking, $15.99 (9780670062225). PreS–K.
Everyone’s favorite bunny is back, trailing after big sis Ruby, but still in his own little world. Children will have enormous fun following the sibs as they hunt for Easter eggs and get plenty of counting practice to boot. Wells proves her talent yet again.
Nini Here and There. By Anita Lobel. Illus. by the author. Greenwillow, $16.99 (0-06-078767-8). PreS–K.
Lobel’s expressive, brilliantly colored paintings shine in this sparely worded story about a striped tabby who watches her owners pack for a trip and worries that she’ll be left behind.
One City, Two Brothers. By Chris Smith. Illus. by Aurelia
Fronty. Barefoot, $16.99 (1-84686-042-3). Gr. K–3.
Based on a folktale told by both Jews and Arabs, this tale of two brothers gives children hope for what the world might look like if people thought more about one another than themselves. Illustrated with accomplished folk-style artwork.
Pink. By Nan Gregory. Illus. by Luc Melanson. Groundwood, $16.99 (0-06-114018-X). PreS–K.
This tough yet tender story about Vivi, who works hard to earn enough to buy a beautiful pink bride doll, is written with poetic precision and illustrated with charm and verve.
A Second Is a Hiccup. By Hazel Hutchins. Illus. by Kady McDonald Denton. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99 (0-439-83106-7). Gr. K–2.
This engaging, thought-provoking book explains units of time in original, child-centered terms. The sensitive illustrations depict kids with grace and quirky charm.
Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas. By Meghan McCarthy. Illus. by the author. Knopf, $18.99 (0-375-82940-7). Gr. 1–3.
A smooth, concise text introduces fitness legend Atlas in this upbeat picture-book biography. Cheerful, cartoon-style acrylic paintings echo Atlas’ larger-than-life persona and the life-changing impact his words had on young fans.
What Happens on Wednesdays. By Emily Jenkins. Illus. by Lauren Castillo. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16 (0-374-38303-0). PreS–1.
Finding the transcendent in the ordinary, this tender picture book offers a child’s-eye-view of one little girl’s weekday routine, from predawn moments with Mommy to school, nap, swimming, and bedtime.
Where in the Wild. By David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy. Illus. by Dwight Kuhn. Tricycle, $15.95 (1-58246-207-0). Gr. 1–3.
Original poems, excellent color photos, and gatefold pages to involve young readers combine in a cleverly designed presentation that challenges children to find animals camouflaged in the wild.