The last quarter of 2016 went by so quickly that the year ended with books still on the to-be-read stack. This week, we review some of these books we’ve been reading in January that are just too good to miss.
All the World a Poem. Gilles Tibo. Trans. Erin Woods. Ill. Manon Gauthier. 2016. Pajama.
Poems about poems, written from children’s points of view, describe their feelings and experiences of reading and writing them. Some of Gilles Tibo’s poetry is decidedly child friendly (“I love poems sweet and silly. / I love poems long and frilly— / All the poems dreaming on the shelf.”) and some is sophisticated (“To write poetry / is to pluck silence like a flower / and press it gently between the pages / of a notebook / made of light.”). Manon Gauthier’s collage art featuring childlike drawings of girls and boys cut out and placed on mixed-media backgrounds will draw the attention of young children to this picture book that invites them to explore the world of poetry through both reading and writing.
Lucky Lazlo. Steve Light. 2016. Candlewick.
Lazlo is in love, and he is lucky to buy the flower seller’s last red rose, which he plans to present to his lady love, who is starring as Alice in the production of Alice in Wonderland at the Peacock Theater. On the way, Lazlo has some bad luck. He runs into a post and drops the rose. A cat snatches it up, and the chase is on through the stage door and past actors, musicians, and stagehands backstage. Both the cat and Lazlo have moments on stage. The cat disrupts the Mad Hatter’s tea party scene, and once Lazlo recovers the rose that the cat drops to pursue a mouse, he steps on a ball and steals the show by wobbling on it across the stage. All ends well with Lazlo presenting the rose to his Alice (and winning a kiss) and the cat having caught the mouse. In an author’s note, Light explains theatrical superstitions shown in his intricately detailed pen-and-ink illustration that have been broken by the cast and crew and challenges readers to find them.
Story Worlds: Nature. Thomas Hegbrook. 2016. 360 Degrees/Tiger Tales.
“Every picture tells a story. What do you think that story is?” on the title page leads readers into this oversize volume, in which Thomas Hegbrook creates scenes from the world of nature that are wordless stories. A note on the publication page suggests how to explore this book: Observe each scene, inquire by becoming the narrator for each visual story, and wonder about the amazing animals and their behavior the scenes reveal. The arrangement of the 100 scenes vary, with a few spreads, some full-page scenes, and pages with two to five rectangular panels in different layouts on a page. After telling their own stories, readers can refer to Hegbrook’s notes identifying the animals and explaining the scenes. Readers of all ages will enjoy exploring nature in this intriguing wordless picture book.
Teddy & Co. Cynthia Voigt. Ill. Paola Zakimi. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
In a magical community, the lives of lost toys (a deep-thinking paraplegic teddy bear, two charming pigs, a hungry snake, an elephant who bakes, and a hermit penguin) revolve around baked muffins and gentle (a picnic at the beach) and not-so-gentle (a dangerous trek that reveals they live on a small island) adventures until a rabbit, who is not what he seems, washes up on shore followed by the arrival of a bossy, beautiful doll who declares herself queen—and demands a castle. These distinct characters with childlike personalities slowly meld into a community, with some of them evolving a little, and others a lot, in their individual journeys of self-discovery. All the toys learn that it is OK to be who they are as long as they respect one another’s differences. The short chapters, complemented by black-and-white illustrations, can serve as stand-alone stories perfect for reading aloud in one sitting.
The Dog, Ray. Linda Coggin. 2016. Candlewick.
Twelve-year-old Daisy dies in a tragic car accident and finds herself in an afterworld job center. Although she is assigned to return to Earth as a dog, she still thinks like the human Daisy. Beginning her new life as Misty, she is adopted and mistreated by a boy named Cyril but escapes from her collar after being abandoned by him at a park. Driven to locate her paralyzed father who, she reads in a newspaper, survived the accident, she longs to be reunited with her parents. After meeting Pip, a runaway boy, who renames her Ray and who is also looking for his father, they join forces and are assisted by a kind elderly woman in locating Pip’s father. After surviving a string of unfortunate events, Daisy realizes that her human memory is quickly fading while her dog nature takes over. Although Daisy’s dreams don’t come through in the way she first imagined, Pip’s do. This is a heartfelt story for readers who will appreciate the authentically voiced first-person girl/dog points of view.
Time Traveling With a Hamster. Ross Welford. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
The novel begins with “My dad died twice. Once when he was 39 and again four years later, when he was 12.”On his 12th birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead father with a mission to go back to 1984 to prevent the go-cart accident that will lead to his death at 39 (when Al is 8). However, life for Al has changed. His mom is remarried, his stepfather tries to relate to him through sports (which Al hates) and gives him a hamster named for a sports hero for his birthday, and a stepsister doesn’t like him at all. Al must get to his former home, circumvent the current families living there, and locate a time machine hidden in a bunker. Concerned about him, Grandpa Byron teaches Al the Indian Memory Palace method to keep him rooted to present times. As Al travels to the past several times to carry out his father’s instructions, he uses his hamster to help keep track of when he is and the Memory Palace to keep track of what he is doing. If he can’t prevent his father’s childhood accident, or if he runs into his (younger) grandfather in the past, will Al even exist? This complicated time-travel story ends with a quick twist that will surprise readers.
League of Archers (League of Archers #1). Eva Howard. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Twelve-year-old Ellie Dray’s mother sent her to the local nunnery and then was hanged. Orphaned Ellie and her friends, members of the League of Archers (a kind of Robin Hood fan club), meet up to hunt in secret. Imagine her horror when a stranger she meets one night in the woods is shot by a poisoned arrow and dies shortly after she drags him back to the convent—and he turns out to be Robin Hood. Imagine her surprise when her beloved abbess (who turns out to be Maid Marian) is arrested and sentenced to death by the nefarious Baron. Imagine her shock when, as the scapegoat, she is charged with the murder, and the villagers turn against her. Ellie ends up on the run, with the League helping her to free Maid Marian and find the murderer of Robin Hood. As the League of Archers learns that some of the actions of their hero and his Merry Men had serious repercussions that ended in his death, they vow to fight the Baron’s injustices and care for the villagers, just like Robin Hood did.
Merrow. Ananda Braxton-Smith. 2016. Candlewick.
Twelve-year-old Neen, an orphan who lives on Carrick Island in the Irish Sea, seeks to learn who she really is. She knows that people consider her different because she suffers from a scaly-skin disease, and they whisper behind her back that her mother, who mysteriously disappeared after Neen’s father’s death, was a merrow, or mermaid, who returned to her people under the sea. If that is true, is Neen a merrow, too? Her stern Auntie Ushag, with whom she lives, never speaks of the past, and Neen suspects she knows more than she is telling her. Neen gathers every clue she can, including revelatory information from Skully Slevin, the blind fiddler, and when she explores a local cave, she is more confused than enlightened. After an earthquake cleaves the cliffs and exposes unexplored territory, the answers it brings Neen aren’t the ones she expected. The beautifully written prose, sometimes with a raw edge, in this historical fantasy will resonate with readers who are also trying to discover their own identities in this confusing world.
The Door That Led to Where. Sally Gardner. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Almost-17-year-old Londoner AJ Flynn failed major exams so he can’t qualify for college, but he has been offered a job as a junior clerk at a law firm where others know more about him, his dead father, and his mother than he does. After overhearing a conversation between two men (one of whom is found dead the next morning), finding a mysterious key with his birthdate on it, and learning more about his family history from an eccentric professor, AJ’s life makes a 180-degree turn. When he opens a door with the key, he steps into 1830 London, discovers the missing son of a neighbor, and unexpectedly meets the love of his life, Esme. On subsequent trips to the past, he takes along two troubled childhood friends who have fallen on tough times. In a dangerous turn of events, they help him solve mysteries involving murder and smuggling to clear AJ’s family’s name before deciding to make the 1830s their home. Free to return to the law firm, AJ must choose the century he wants to live in, with, or without, Esme. This time-travel mystery will intrigue thoughtful readers. What happens in 1800s doesn’t always stay in the 1800s!
Heartless. Marissa Meyer. 2016. Feiwel and Friends.
In this prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Marissa Meyer tells the story of Lady Catherine (Cath) Pinkerton, whose love of baking and dreams of opening her own shop with her maid are at odds with the intent of her mother, the Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, to have her become the Queen of Wonderland. In Meyer’s fantasy, many of the characters from Carroll’s classic tale, including the Cheshire cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Jabberwock, have roles to play as Cath’s abhorrence of the bumbling King of Hearts’ courtship intensifies after she falls for the king’s new court jester, Jest. The subsequent adventures, or rather misadventures, of Cath in Wonderland reveal how she becomes the tyrannical and heartless “off with their heads” Queen of Hearts.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
I live in a teeny-tiny apartment, so in anticipation of new releases that will be arriving, one of my end-of-2016 tasks was to go through the many books I read during the year and decide which ones I would add to my personal collection of children’s books. My goal was to keep only 10 books from 2016. Here are reviews of the 10 including notes on why I chose them. You’ll notice, however, that I cheated a bit by including a few pairings of a chosen book with other 2016 releases—in one case, getting eight picture books in one volume.
Curious George (75th Anniversary Ed.). H.A. Rey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
George, the good but curious little monkey, gets into a great deal of trouble between the time of his capture by the man with the yellow hat in Africa and his arrival at the zoo. Curious George,a picture book favorite from my childhood, will be shelved next to the new 2016 young readers edition of Louise Borden’s The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, originally published in 2005, which tells the story of how the Reys escaped Paris with the manuscript for Curious George in 1940, and Justin Martin and Liza Charlesworth’s Keep Curious and Carry a Banana: Wisdom From the World of Curious George (2016), a small book of pithy words to live by paired with illustrations from the original Curious George books.
My Very First Mother Goose (20th Anniversary Ed.). Iona Opie (Ed.). Ill. Rosemary Wells. 2016. Candlewick.
In the introduction, folklorist Iona Opie refers to Rosemary Wells as Mother Goose’s second cousin, a believable relationship for those who share this oversize collection of nearly 70 well-loved and lesser known traditional rhymes with young children. Wells’s whimsical watercolor illustrations feature her signature lovable animals (bunnies, cats, pigs, mice, and more, as well as an occasional human) taking on the roles of such characters as Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Wee Willie Winkie, and the brave old duke of York. On its 20th anniversary, My Very First Mother Goose remains the perfect volume for introducing young children to the rhythms and words of Mother Goose. It will stay on my bookshelf until it becomes a baby gift.
Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books. Tomi Ungerer. 2016. Phaidon.
This beautifully formatted collection of eight of Tomi Ungerer’s picture books presented in a slipcase is indeed a treasure. After reading the eight books—The Three Robbers, Zeralda’s Ogre, Moon Man, Fog Island, The Hat, Emile, Flix, and Otto—readers new to his work will recognize Ungerer’s ability to craft picture book stories (some with unexpected choices of characters such as weapon-wielding robbers and ogres with an appetite for children) that are witty and thought provoking. Ungerer does not talk down to children even when his stories deal with important issues such as prejudice, social injustice, and war. The collection is introduced with a personal letter to readers from Tomi Ungerer. An appended “Behind the Scenes” section includes a conversation between Ungerer and his Phaidon editor about each of the books, along with preparatory sketches, storyboards, and photographs for the book, and a brief biography of the author. While serving on the United States Board on Books for Young People’s Hans Christian Andersen Award committee several years ago, I read as a widely as I could on the work of previous award winners. I learned that Ungerer, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 1998, had written more than 100 books, but I had access to only a few in English. How delighted I am to now have this treasury of Tomi Ungerer’s books to add to my children’s book collection.
Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? Pat Hutchins. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Rosie, the clueless hen who goes for a walk and unknowingly escapes from a fox again and again to arrive safely back home in Rosie’s Walk (1968), is once more meandering through the farmyard, this time searching for the newly hatched chick that she has lost. As the patterned illustrations in bright, fall colors show, Rosie, who is unaware that her chick (with half of the shell covering its head) is following her, unwittingly saves the chick from danger again and again. All ends well as the other hens inform Rosie that the chick is right behind her, and Rosie and her little chick go for a walk together. My copy of Rosie’s Walk now has the perfect companion.
A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by More Than 30 of Today’s Favorite Children’s Book Illustrators. 2016. Frederick Warne.
Thirty-two children’s book illustrators join in creating a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of beloved children’s book author–illustrator Beatrix Potter. Introductory notes and excerpts of nine of Potter’s tales (presented chronologically by publication date) from The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) to The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912) are followed by original reimagined portraits of characters from the books by some of today’s favorite author–illustrators and reflective notes on early experiences with Beatrix Potter’s little books and how she inspired their work. Seeing which character the various illustrators selected to portray is interesting. My favorite entry: Tomie dePaola’s portrait of elderly Beatrix (Mrs. Heelis), who dePaola describes as resembling “the lovely, slightly cranky Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle,” having tea with the hedgehog laundress. This book is special to me because it includes the artwork of many of my favorite contemporary children’s book illustrators celebrating Beatrix Potter, whose books were my childhood favorites—and remain so to this day.
Find the Constellations. H.A. Rey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In Find the Constellations (first published in 1954), H.A. Rey uses a clear, accessible text and labeled diagrams and sky view maps to present a step-by-step guide on recognizing how groups of stars are arranged to form constellations and locating these constellations in the night sky. Sections of the book have been revised to include updated information on the solar system (including why astronomers now identify Pluto as a dwarf planet), and the Planet Finder chart now covers the years 2017–2026. Find the Constellations and Rey’s The Stars: A New Way to See Them (1952), which also has a new 2016 edition, remain the best introductions to astronomy for young people (and, in my opinion, for people of all ages).
Under Water, Under Earth. Aleksandra Mizielińka & Daniel Mizieliński. 2016. Big Picture/Candlewick.
With brief text and detailed mixed-media cartoon illustrations with labels and captions, diagrams, and cross sections, this oversize volume takes readers on journeys of exploration of the worlds below the surface of our planet. As pages of Under Water are pored over, readers learn about the variety of creatures that inhabit the Earth’s lakes and oceans; properties of water related to underwater exploration such as buoyancy and pressure; special features such as coral reefs, sinkholes, underwater chimneys, and the Mariana trench; and the history related to diving suits, submarines, and other inventions that make underwater exploration possible. Each page takes readers deeper and deeper until the Earth’s core is reached. Then, flipping the book over to Under Earth, readers take a journey deep inside the Earth, exploring underground features, both natural and manmade, such as caves, tunnels, pipes and cables; creatures as varied as worms, ants, and burrowing mammals; archaeological and paleontological finds; mining operations; and explanations of tectonic plates, volcano and geyser formation, and the Earth’s layers. Under Water, Under Earth is too big to fit on a bookshelf, but it has a place nearby so that I (and inquisitive guests) can continue exploring below the Earth’s surface.
The Book Thief (10th Anniversary Ed.). Markus Zusak. Ill. Trudy White. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Death, the narrator, introduces The Book Thief as a story about a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fantastical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. The girl, Liesel Meminger, picks up her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, in a snowy graveyard following the death of her younger brother, who has died while they are traveling to a foster home placement near Munich in 1939 Nazi Germany. Learning how to read with the help of her foster father, Hans Hubermann, is the beginning of Liesel’s love of words and her book thievery. This elegant 10th anniversary edition of Australian author Markus Zusak’s beautifully crafted novel includes a new introduction, excerpts from notebooks, handwritten notes on the manuscripts, and his original sketches for illustration, in addition to a Q&A. The “Anniversary-Edition Bonus Material” section at the end of this 2016 edition, which adds a wealth of information related to Zusak’s crafting of the book, left me looking forward to my next rereading of The Book Thief.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (10th Anniversary Ed.). John Boyne. Ill. Oliver Jeffers. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Oliver Jeffers’s illustrations add haunting visual images to this historical fable that explores the horrors of the Nazi death camps through the eyes of naïve 9-year-old Bruno, who moves in 1942 from Berlin to Auschwitz, where his father is the new Commandant. In his introduction to this 10th anniversary edition of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne references his interest in writing about “the manner in which war affects and destroys the experience of childhood, which is supposed to be a happy and carefree period, and what it means for a child to be thrust into an adult situation far ahead of time.” Boyne does this beautifully in his writing of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and in The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (2016), the story of a young boy living in Adolf Hitler’s Austrian retreat.
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1). Neal Shusterman. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In a post–Age of Mortality world, death has been conquered. No one dies from hunger, disease, aging, or accidents. To control overpopulation, professional scythes (or reapers) “glean” citizens randomly following a set of commandments, the first of which is “Thou shalt kill.” In this first book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday to be apprentice scythes. As the two teens are pitted against each other in their training (only one will become a scythe; the other will be gleaned), they become aware that all is not perfect in MidMerican Scythedom. Scythe is a dark, disturbing thriller that raises moral and ethical issues for readers to ponder as they wait for the next book in the series. I’m keeping Scythe on my bookshelf, knowing I’ll want to reread it before I read the second book in the Arc of a Scythe series.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
A common theme of this week’s titles is a well-told story revolving around books and reading to take readers on imaginative adventures, to whet the appetite for more books, and to kindle the desire to share the joy of reading with others. As book lovers, we know the power of books, but these works of literature bring home that belief and will inspire others.
Book Uncle and Me. Uma Krishnaswami. Ill. Julianna Swaney. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Nine-year-old Yasmin considers Book Uncle’s Lending Library on the corner of St. Mary’s Road and 1st Cross Street to be the best library in all of India. His sign reads, “Books. Free. / Give One. / Take One. / Read-read-read.” For Yasmin, who intends to read one book every day, forever, Book Uncle’s motto, “Right book for the right person for the right day” is perfect. And so, when the mayor shuts down Book Uncle’s bookstand for not having a permit, which he can’t afford, Yasmin knows she must do something. Inspired by the old Indian folk tale that Book Uncle selected for her, she enlists her friends, neighbors, and the entire community in what becomes a political campaign to oust Mayor S.L. Yogaraja (Mayor SLY) and elect a new mayor sympathetic to the importance of Book Uncle’s library to the town. This short chapter book offers a gentle lesson on how the initiative of one child may be an influence for change in a community.
Dragon Was Terrible. Kelly DiPucchio. Ill. Greg Pizzoli. 2016. Farrar Straus Giroux.
A chatty unseen narrator tells the tale of a “super terrible” (but, as the cartoon illustrations show, cute rather than fearsome) dragon, whose behavior in the kingdom becomes so intolerable that the king finally declares, “Enough!” and posts a reward for taming the terrible dragon. As knights and then “ordinary blokes and lassies” from the kingdom fail, the dragon becomes even more terrible (popping birthday balloons, painting graffiti on the drawbridge, and burping in church) until a young boy comes up with a clever dragon-taming plan involving a good book. His reward: a new friend—“A nice dragon, of course.”
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog. Lisa Papp. 2016. Peachtree.
Madeline Finn does not like to read, especially out loud, because “sometimes the sentences get stuck in my mouth like peanut butter.” Although she desperately wants a star from her teacher for being a good reader, she gets only “Keep Trying” stickers. One day at the library, she meets Bonnie, a big white dog who encourages Madeline to patiently keep practicing. When she’s stuck on a word, Bonnie puts her big paws in Madeline’s lap and lets the young girl pet her until she figures it out. Every Saturday, Madeline returns to read to Bonnie. One day, when her teacher asks her to read aloud in class, Madeline pretends that she is reading to Bonnie, and she earns her first star. The realistic illustrations, rendered in watercolor, pencil, and digital coloring, capture the emotions of Madeline as she gains in experience and confidence through sharing stories with a library dog.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read. Curtis Manley. Ill. Kate Berube. 2016. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.
Nick loves to read. He wants his cats, Verne and Stevenson, to read with him, but they won’t. He even makes word flashcards to hook them. It’s only after Nick prints “Fish” that Verne is interested, practices reading words every day, and even gets his own library card. When Nick finds Stevenson’s secret stash of drawings, Verne and he write the narrative for a pirate story, The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold, and Stevenson becomes a reader, too. Wanting to have someone read aloud to him, Nick says to his cats, “Maybe I should teach you how to speak…How hard could that be?” Expressive, gently humorous illustrations, rendered in ink, Flashe paint, and acrylic paint, catch the spirit of Nick, his cats, and the joy of reading.
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar. Emily MacKenzie. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Ralfy, a prolific reading rabbit, “borrows” most of his books from people’s homes while they are sleeping. When he takes young Arthur’s favorite book, The Biggest Book of Monsters Ever, something must be done. After using his surveillance kit to catch Ralfy in action, Arthur reports the robbery to Officer Puddle only to be met with laughter until Ralfy pops up later in the officer’s home looking for more books. After identifying Ralfy in a hysterically funny lineup, Arthur comes up with a solution: They become book buddies at the public library, where books can always be borrowed (but must be returned). The cartoonlike artwork and clever wordplay (“Officer Puddle…told him he had caught the culprit read-handed!”) of this humorous picture book will delight young readers.
A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. Ill. Sam Winston. 2016. Candlewick.
A young girl sitting aboard a raft reading a book identifies herself: “I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories.” She floats across a sea of words (lines from classic stories such as The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Gulliver’s Travels) to arrive at the home of a boy, who she invites to join her in an adventure around the world, scaling mountains, discovering treasure in a dark cave, playing in forests of fairy tales, escaping monsters in haunted castles, sleeping in clouds of lullabies, and shouting in outer space before finally ending in an explosion of colorful objects and characters from stories as they spin on a globe. She ends with an invitation to explore the imaginative power of reading books. The titles of all the books that are used in the typographically created landscape the children travel through are listed on the endpapers.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone. Delia Sherman. 2016. Candlewick.
In this unusual hero cycle story, 12-year-old Nick runs away from his cruel uncle and cousin and right into Evil Wizard Smallbone and his magical bookstore, where he becomes an unwilling apprentice who grudges through each day doing anything but magic. After failed attempts to escape from Smallbone, Nick forms a bond with the bookstore and teaches himself magic by reading the books it systematically nudges his way. He realizes that there is something desperately wrong in Smallbone Cove—with breaches in its magically protected boundaries by Smallbone’s archrival, the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and comes up with a solution. There is a magical twist, however, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last word of this satisfying fantasy.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard (Peter Nimble Adventure #2). Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Quire, who lives a quiet life repairing books in her father’s bookstore, is worried about upcoming Pyre Day, on which Inquisitor Prigg intends to rid the town of Bustleburg of “nonsense” by burning all storybooks, when a strange blindfolded boy, Peter Nimble, and his furry, enchanted companion, Sir Tode, show up with a mysterious book, The Book of Who, in need of mending. Following clues from the magical book, Sophie and Peter, pursued by Inquisitor Prigg and his henchman, Torvald Knucklemeat, set out to find the book’s companion volumes (The Book of What, The Book of Where, and The Book of When). This fast-paced, action-packed adventure, in which Sophie must find and protect the books that contain all the magic that ever existed and use them to save stories and the world, ends with the promise of more adventure as she leaves a note on her work bench: “My tale is not yet told. I will return. Fondly, Sophie Quire, the Last Storyguard.”
The Most Frightening Story Ever Told. Philip Kerr. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Twelve-year-old Billy Shivers, recovering from a car accident, spends his days at the Hitchcock Public Library until he discovers the creepy Haunted House of Books and its thematic rooms rigged with spooky traps. Billy soon convinces the owner, eccentric Mr. Rapscallion, to take him on as an unpaid apprentice. When Billy accompanies him to a conference, a child psychologist proposes that Mr. Rapscallion read a terrifying old manuscript to children at his bookstore so she can study how they respond. He agrees to combine this experiment with a midnight reading of the scariest-story-ever-written-in-the-whole-history-of-the-world contest as publicity for his bookstore and chooses five children (with Billy as one of them) to compete to win $1,000. After four of the contestants scurry out during the night, Billy is declared the winner. With the bookstore saved, Mr. Rapscallion attempts to deliver the prize money to Billy only to uncover an unbelievable secret. Young readers will be intrigued by short, scary stories that are interspersed throughout the novel.
The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1). Traci Chee. 2016. Putnam/Penguin.
Sefia has been on the run with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered. When her aunt is kidnapped, Sefia goes on the hunt for her and the truth about her father’s death, with only a knapsack holding a wrapped package, a book. Unbeknownst to her, she is pursued by assassins working for a secret society that wants the book returned at any cost. Sefia frees an imprisoned mute boy, and surviving brutal circumstances, they become a team. Although she grew up in a society in which literacy is banned, Sefia teaches herself to read the book, and finds herself caught up in complex stories of pirates and others she doesn’t understand. As she reads to the boy, Sefia eventually discovers they are in a just-in-time magical story that is unfolding before her eyes (literally). In this multilayered novel with three shifting time frames and things that are most likely not what they seem, Sefia learns secrets about her parents, herself, and her world as she negotiates through a dystopian landscape where forbidden words control the future.
Every Exquisite Thing. Matthew Quick. 2016. Little, Brown.
Privileged senior Nanette O’Hare is a college-bound dutiful daughter, straight-A student, and soccer star, but after she reads the mysterious cult classic The Bubblegum Reaper that her favorite teacher, Mr. Graves, gives her, she changes her life 180 degrees and becomes a rebel misfit. When her relationships with her parents, whose marriage is failing, and friends, from whom she alienates herself, spiral out of control, Nanette seeks out the author, Nigel Booker, for answers to questions the book has aroused in her. He won’t answer them but instead points her toward other writers. He also introduces her to a troubled young poet, Alex, with whom she falls in love. Together Nanette and Alex, along with a young boy they befriend, attempt to solve the mystery of why Booker wrote the book in the first place. Twists and turns in the labyrinth of self-discovery lead to tragedy, guilt, and, ultimately, to Nanette discovering her authentic self and what it is that she wants in her future.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Educators don’t have just literature on their shelves. They also have books that help readers understand and appreciate books and their creators; books that serve as guides to the selection and use of literature in classrooms and libraries; and books that remind us of the importance of reading and the joy that books can bring to the lives of readers of all ages.
Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box. Leonard S. Marcus (Ed.). 2016. Candlewick.
According to Leonard Marcus, writer and historian of children’s literature, the influence of comics is stronger than ever. In an introductory short history of cartoons and comic books, he describes the rise of the graphic novel to its current status as a 21st-century comic. This fascinating documentary includes interviews in a Q&A format with 13 creative and diverse graphic novelists and artists accompanied by a sample of a work in progress and an original graphic short treatment about “the city” created for inclusion in Comics Confidential. My favorite interview is with Gene Luen Yang, who was born in 1973 in California to Chinese immigrants. Geeky as a child and adolescent, he graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science and a minor in creative writing. Creating satirical stereotypes in his first book, American Born Chinese (2006), Yang addressed issues of racial identity and immigration while he played with new elements of visual story narrative. In his subsequent books and projects, he has continued to develop his art technique, research procedure, and storytelling narrative strategies. He created “Berkeley, California” as a short comic for this book. Comics Confidential is an informative and inspiring book for anyone who wants to learn more about the creative process of this revolutionary mode of visual storytelling.
Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction. Sharan A. Gibson & Barbara Moss. 2016. Teachers College.
Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing after her death in 2007, New Zealand’s Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist and literacy development expert, has transformed how young readers are taught through applications of her transformative literacy processing theory via Reading Recovery and other programs. Gibson and Moss revisit Clay’s four essential principles: literacy processing is complex, there is a reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, continuous text exposure is essential to reading development, and experiencing diverse text complexity is necessary for the development of higher level literacy skills. The authors present differentiated teaching applications for individual learners within whole-class, small-group, and occasional one-on-one instruction, along with examples such as a detailed description of an interactive read-aloud with teacher questioning. They discuss the importance of integrated cross-disciplinary literacy instruction, exposure to informational texts, participation in thematic units, and the conducting of research projects in the building of knowledge by students. An epilogue challenges teachers, as educational leaders, to take action based on Clay’s principles to build comprehensive literacy programs to develop children who are strong readers and writers.
Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers. Kathleen T. Isaacs. 2016. American Library Association.
Young, eager readers read at an early age, employ multiple reading strategies, may develop unique reading interests, read three to four times more than most children, and are most likely to become voracious lifelong readers. Isaacs considers ways in which teachers, librarians, and families can help these children overcome two major challenges: to find enjoyable and interesting reading materials that meet their special reading interests and to select books that are developmentally appropriate. Isaacs offers an informative look at her research, describes how she chose the books she recommends, and explores the topic of “What Makes a Good Children’s Book and What Makes a Good Book for a Young Reader?” Through conversations and interviews with parents, booksellers, teachers, and librarians, Isaacs gathered information about early and eager readers—their similarities and differences and their reading preferences. Her findings resulted in this book, in which she recommends a mix of 300 old and new titles for eager readers from ages 4 to 10. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as “Talking Animals and Tiny People” and “Witches and Wizards and Magic,” and entries contain information about interest levels and Lexile levels (independent reading levels which encourage reading development) and annotations with interesting insights. Isaacs’s book is an excellent resource for those seeking books that encourage, challenge, and support already excellent young readers.
Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives. David Denby. 2016. Henry Holt.
“How do you establish reading pleasure in busy, screen-loving teenagers—and in particular, pleasure in reading serious work?” Reporter David Denby set out to answer this when he spent the 2011–2012 school year observing an ethnically and economically diverse 10th-grade English class in Beacon School, a magnet public high school in New York City’s Manhattan borough. On the first day of school, teacher Sean Leon discussed what the class would be reading under the year’s “individual and society” theme—“You are going to read books that make you uncomfortable”—and what would be expected of them. Denby read all the literature that the students read throughout the year including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, and other challenging books. He comments on the books, Leon’s guidance of discussions, and the students’ involvement in the books read throughout the year. During the following school year, Denby visited both an inner-city 10th-grade English class in New Haven, CT, in which students had a common reading list as well as some choice between pairs of books, and a school in an affluent Westchester County, NY, community in which students made independent reading choices in addition to doing the core reading. From his experiences, Denby concluded that, under the guidance of passionate, committed teachers who are free to develop their own curricula, teenagers can become serious readers who take pleasure in reading.
Picture This: How Pictures Work (Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition). Molly Bang. 2016. Chronicle.
This guidebook explores an intriguing question: How does the structure of a picture—or any visual art form—affect our emotional response? To illustrate her points, Bang begins with examples related to artwork for “Little Red Riding Hood.” Using a think-aloud strategy, she analyzes how geometric shapes, colors, placement, and so on engage a reader’s emotional interpretations and connections to the narrative. Bang presents 12 principles (e.g., “smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm”) through simple art and explanations. Using her picture book When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry (2004), Bang describes how she created artwork to portray Sophie’s feelings of fury, sadness, expectancy, contentment, and contemplation. Through an illustration from her book, Dawn (1983), an adaptation of “The Crane Wife,” a Japanese folk tale, she encourages readers to analyze how this artwork affects their feelings, and then invites them to create, revise, and analyze their own scary picture using colored cut-paper art. Bang includes a list of further art exercises so readers can apply what they have learned. In this revision, she has fine-tuned her layouts and accompanying descriptions and analyses of examples for readers of all ages who want to produce art and/or understand it and how it affects the human spirit.
The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. Neil Gaiman. 2016. William Morrow/HarperCollins.
Neil Gaiman describes this book as “a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays,” and it does include his nonfiction writing on a wide range of topics, issues, and people who matter to him. It also gives readers a look at Gaiman’s life story, including his love of reading at a young age and the authors he credits with making him the writer he is today:
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton, and his appreciation for all the arts and the people who make them. Throughout the book, Gaiman communicates his belief in the importance of reading: “I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.” He speaks to readers in a conversational tone that is witty, wise, and thought provoking. Each entry is worth reading again and again and leaves readers with books to add to their I-want-to-read-or-read-again booklists.
Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism (3rd Edition). Michael Cart. 2016. American Library Association.
This revised, updated, and expanded third edition of Michael Cart’s survey of young adult literature, which began with the publication of From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature in 1996, is essential reading for anyone who wants to be current on the field. Maintaining the “That Was Then” and “This Is Now” format of earlier editions, Cart presents the history of young adult novels by decades, beginning with the 1960s and then shifting to a consideration of changes and trends in young adult literature in the 21st century, ushered in with the announcement of the first-ever winner of the Michael L. Printz Award at the American Library Association Midwinter conference on January 12, 2000. Cart states that the winning book, Walter Dean Myers’s Monster, and the four honor books “exemplified the newly literary, innovative, and diverse nature of young adult literature,” heralding the revival and renaissance of young adult literature. He covers a range of topics including genre fiction, teen demographics (Cart doesn’t shy away from presenting statistics), and the marketing of YA books (including the expanded audience for young adult books). He offers a balanced consideration of issues and their treatment by contemporary authors in addition to hot topics such as “the new nonfiction,” the boom in audiobooks, and the rise of new literacies in the age of change in technology. Cart leaves readers with thought-provoking comments on the promising future of young adult literature.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
In looking back at the bounty of nonfiction for children and young adults in 2016, we have considered the diversity of reading interests in addition to identifying outstanding trade books with curriculum connections.
Best in Snow. April Pulley Sayre. 2016. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.
The beauty of Sayre’s photographs of a snowstorm is matched by that of her spare, lyrical text. “A freeze. / A breeze. / A cloud. / It snows. / Snowflakes land on a squirrel’s nose.” Stunning double-page spreads take readers through the water cycle of winter, from freezing to mush and slush, until another snowflake lands on a squirrel’s nose in a new storm. An appended “Secrets of Snow” adds notes on the science of snow.
Giant Squid. Candace Fleming. Ill. Eric Rohmann. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.
Fleming and Rohmann introduce readers to the giant squid, a mysterious sea creature inhabiting the ocean depths. Double-page spreads of dramatic text and paintings reveal features of the squid’s body and its behavior. Particularly intriguing is a sequence of illustrations showing the squid’s evasion of a barracuda by ejecting a cloud of ink. A note on the search by scientists to answer questions about the giant squid will lead the curious reader to listed resources.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Debbie Levy. Ill. Elizabeth Baddeley. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Ruth was born in Brooklyn in 1933 into a strong Jewish family. Poignant illustrations depicting encounters with signs such as “NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED!” posted at hotels, restaurants, and in neighborhoods express the pain of prejudice young Ruth experienced. When older, she faced sexism at college and in her profession. At every turn, she resisted and persisted, eventually becoming a Supreme Court Justice, a position she has held since 1993 and one she uses to fight for equality for all people in the United States.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Ill. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2016. Viking/Penguin.
Pinkney’s expressive narrative: “BROWN-SUGAR BOY in a blanket of white. / Bright as the day you came onto the page. / From the hand of a man who saw you for you” and the mixed-media illustrations, rendered in Keats’s signature collage style, tell the story of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, born in Brooklyn in 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Poland, and the creation of his 1963 Caldecott Medal–winning book.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Abrams.
In this origin legend, illustrated with Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec codices–inspired art, an Emperor agrees to the marriage of Princess Izta to Popoca if the warrior defeats his enemy Jaguar Claw. Amid the battle, Jaguar Claw sends Izta a report of Popoca’s death and a potion to ease her grief that puts her into a deep sleep. Victorious, Popoca returns and keeps his vow to stay by Izta’s side forever. Now, in Mexico there are two adjacent volcanoes: dormant Iztaccíhuatl and active Popocatéptl.
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics. Steve Jenkins. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jenkins combines images of animals, created in his signature cut- and torn-paper collage technique, with charts and diagrams to visually present facts and figures about animals in an accessible format. High-interest topics range from the number of species in the different animal groups presented in a pie chart to deadly animals (based on the number of human deaths caused) in a bar graph to the world’s most endangered animals in a double-page chart.
Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. R. Gregory Christie. 2016. Little Bee.
Slaves in New Orleans toiled their way to Sunday afternoons when they were free to sing and dance in Congo Square. As their musical styles melded with those of other enslaved people, the foundation of popular jazz was created. This folk-art, rhyming, days-of-the week historical picture book (“Mondays, there were hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.”) includes a foreword with historical background on Congo Square.
Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology. Robert Byrd. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Following an introduction to the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, one of the oldest recorded Greek myths, Robert Byrd uses a series of lavishly illustrated double-page spreads to present key episodes of the quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece by Jason and the Argonauts, who were both helped and hindered by interactions with the gods as they fought epic battles with giants, harpies, and other monsters.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Javaka Steptoe. 2016. Little, Brown.
Steptoe’s lyrical text and expressive mixed-media illustrations create a stunning biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). As a child, Jean-Michel dreamed of becoming a famous artist; his artwork was everywhere in his family’s Brooklyn home. Moving to New York City in his teens, he painted on paper during the day and spray-painted walls downtown with poems and drawings at night. Gaining recognition, his artwork began to appear in art galleries. “People describe him as RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD.”
Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. Melissa Sweet. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In Some Writer! the always-creative Melissa Sweet uses a scrapbook-style compilation of letters, journals entries, family photos, manuscript excerpts, quotes, and her original mixed-media collage artwork and a warm narrative to present the story of the life and work of beloved children’s book author E.B. White. Particularly engaging are the chapters devoted to the writing of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, which exemplify White’s love of words and his process of crafting them into stories.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. Sarah Miller. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Miller takes readers beyond the “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” verse associated with the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, MA, covering the events leading up to Lizzie’s arrest, her imprisonment, her trial, and what came after her acquittal. The narrative is supplemented with sidebars of sensational newspaper articles that fueled rumors and divided opinions on whether Lizzie was guilty or innocent.
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. Gail Jarrow. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
The third plague pandemic first appeared in San Francisco in 1894. Even after two researchers independently determined that the source, a bacterium, was transmitted by a flea, civic officials around the world continued to focus on quarantining people in communities where plague was found rather than eradicating the flea and its rat carrier. The final chapter of this well-researched book reports on present-day evidence of the plague in the United States.
The Great White Shark Scientist (Scientists in the Field).Sy Montgomery. Ill. Keith Ellenbogen. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Montgomery introduces readers to the work of biologist Greg Skomal and his research team during one summer as they video record and tag great white sharks in the waters off Cape Cod, MA. In the fall, she gets a close-up look at great white sharks in a dive in a submersible cage in the waters off Guadalupe Island with Mexican biologist Erick Higuera. Captioned photographs taken by Ellenbogen underwater and from research vessels and a small spotter plane add interest.
March: Book Three. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Ill. Nate Powell. 2016. Top Shelf.
The final book in the graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis covers the turbulent period of the Civil Rights movement from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, to the signing by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This personal account provides a behind-the-scenes look at Lewis’s leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, meetings with other activists and government officials, and conflicts within various civil rights groups.
Vietnam: A History of the War. Russell Freedman. 2016. Holiday House.
Freedman provides readers with a well-researched history of the Vietnam War, including background on the small Asian country’s long history of fighting for independence and events leading up to the protracted 1954–1975 conflict. Drawing from newspaper reports and personal stories from multiple points of view, Freedman gives a balanced account of the combat involvement of the United States in Vietnam and the divisive protest movements at home.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History. Karen Blumenthal. 2016. Feiwel and Friends.
Blumenthal successfully takes on the challenge of writing about a contemporary political figure in this accessible portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her birth in 1947 and childhood in Park Ridge, IL, to her announcement in April 2015 that she was running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president. Blumenthal considers the people and experiences that have influenced Clinton’s life choices and the challenges she has faced as a woman in her professional and political life. The book includes photographs and interest-catching editorial cartoons.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb. Neal Bascomb. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Bascomb provides a well-researched account of the operations that ended Hitler’s plan to produce an atomic bomb. Heroic saboteurs destroyed the Norsk Hydro Plant in a remote mountainous region of Norway, which was Germany’s source of heavy water, an essential component for constructing an atomic bomb. Bascomb details the failures and successes of plans and the contributions of key individuals in the sabotage activities in addition to the atomic research of both Germany and the Allies.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. Caren Stelson. 2016. Carolrhoda/Lerner.
In 1945, 6-year-old Sachiko Yasui and her family were familiar with the hardships of living in a war-torn country. Then, on the morning of August 9, three days after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb exploded just one half mile from the Yasui home. Based on extensive interviews with Sachiko Yasui, Stelson tells Sachiko’s story of survival, ending with how, on the 50th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, Sachiko began to share her hibakusha (explosion-affected people) experiences publicly to promote peace.
The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Shaun Tan. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
This beautifully designed book features 75 small sculptures created by Shaun Tan. A photograph of each sculpture is paired with a short excerpt from a Grimms’ fairy tale. Neil Gaiman’s foreword offers an appreciation of The Singing Tree, and Jack Zipes’s essay on the Grimm Brothers provides a historical context. In an afterword, Tan discusses his personal connection to the Grimms’ tales, influences on his artwork, and the materials and processes he used in creating his sculptures.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II. Albert Marrin. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
Marrin chronicles the shameful period in U.S. history in which fear, insecurity, and racism led to the uprooting of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to relocation centers following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1947. Through personal stories, he covers life in these internment camps and the rebuilding of lives after the closing of the centers. In the final chapter, “Remembering the Past,” Marrin points out the importance of history as “a reminder of tragedies like the uprooting, and a warning against repeating them.”
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA. Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.