I make no claim that they are the best books published this year, although some of them just might be. Some are classics that have been around for decades. All of them just happen to be the finest novels I have had the pleasure of spending time with this year.
BEST CHAPTER BOOKS
Big Foot and Little Foot by Ellen Potter & Felicita Sala (Illustrations) (2018)
Hugo is young Sasquatch squidge. On a sneaking expedition with his class he sees a human. By chance this same human, Boone, and Hugo end up writing letters to each other and eventually become friends. Ellen Potter has created a world I want to be part of. I especially want to eat like a Sasquatch: hazel nut pancakes, wild mint juice, acorn butter and raspberry cream sandwiches, walnut pie, mushroom casserole, acorn butter cookies, gooseberry pie, walnut rumples, huckleberry trifles, and rosehip crunchers! There is a whole Sasquatch culture with baby Sasquatches called chuddles.
Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy by Laurel Snyder & Emily Hughes (Illustrations) (2017)
Grumpy reminds me a lot of my partner because he too is very grumpy in the mornings no matter how much he loves his grand babies. Perhaps this Grumpy isn't a a grandparent. I suppose he could be a favourite uncle. What's certain is that there sure is a lot of love between Charlie, Mouse and him. Like the first in this series, we get to spend time with this delightful family while they go about their daily business of ordinary living. I have so much love for all of them and you will also.
Dory Fantasmagory: Head in the Clouds by Abby Hanlon (2018)
Oh so fabulously hilarious! I adore Dory more with each new book. In this one she meets the tooth fairy and saves her from Mrs. Gobble Gracker, Dory's arch nemesis.
Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo & Chris Van Dusen (Illustrations)
When Eugenia Lincoln receives an accordion from an anonymous benefactor, she is not impressed. At first she tries to return it to the manufacturer, but they do not take returns. When she puts an advert in the paper to sell it, a Monsieur Gaston LaTreaux arrives at her doorstep to give Eugenia lessons.
What you might not know about Kate DiCamilla, is that under the guise of writing for children, she writes important books for adults. Her Deckawoo Drive stories show how our interactions with children ensures our own metamorphosis. Kate shows us that we are never to old to change and be the best we can be.
The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham (Illustrations)
Princess Magnolia sets off to a science fair. While she is there a monster pops out of a volcano. She changes into the Princess in Black and together with the Princess in Blankets, attempt to subdue the monster who is only looking for a home and something to eat. I like the science focus here, but I love that these princesses work together to find a solution that works for everyone, including the monster. The ending, that suggests that all princesses can be heroes, is the best!
BEST MIDDLE GRADE FICTION
Of all the children's book I've read, this remains my favourite. I have read it more times than I can count. When I discovered an audiobook with E. B. White narrating it, I had to listen to it. I highly encourage adults to revisit the books of their childhood. It's amazing what we miss when we are young.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (2018)
This book is brilliant. Mia Tang and her friend, Lupe, are characters you can't help but love and root for. While reading of her struggles at the motel her parents manage, I thought of the many immigrant students I taught and how they too worked for their families.
Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart (2018)
This is a delightful tear jerker of a book. That doesn't mean it's simple. Brodie, the dog, has died, but wants to return to his life before because he has unfinished business. Tuck, the dog who accompanies him on his journey back, and Brodie, are marvellous characters, but it is Patsy, that ghost cat who is most fascinating.
Granted by John David Anderson (2018)
Wow! This is no wussy fairy book! It deals with important social issues and will leave you wondering about magic and how we can bring more of it into our world. We sure do need it. And then there is Sam, a goofy dog you will inevitably fall in love with.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)
This book is so beautiful. It's the story of six children from a special learning class who spend unsupervised time talking to each other once a week. The stories they share hold a finger on the pulse of American reality today. I don't think I've appreciated one of Jacqueline Woodson's novels this much since I read The House You Pass On Your Way. There are all kinds of places where I stopped and revelled in the writing, and often had to stop and write bits of it down. Just Wow!
Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (2018)
Louisiana just jumps off the page and into your heart. There is just so much I adore about this book. It's deeply philosophical. It's gut wrenching. It's got heart and soul. I cried with sorrow and joy. This is a must read middle grade novel that celebrates the best in all of us.
Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King (2017)
This is another brilliant novel by A. S. King. It is both magical and profound. It addresses the magnitude of environmental degradation we humans are perpetrating upon the earth. At the same time it deals with the more ordinary issue of friends growing up and apart. There are realistic issues of bullying, but the adults mostly step up to the plate when they are finally made aware. Marvin Gardens is an imaginary creature who eats plastic, and it is this strange creature who kept me wondering through the entire book. I would love to discuss this with others.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (2018)
Susan Nielsen creates beautiful characters: individuals you believe in and care about. Felix and his mother, Astrid, are homeless. We learn this from the get go. The rest is the revealing of what happened to get them to this place and what might happen next. My eyes leaked for the last 25 pages or so.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (2018)
The story is set and told in alternative time frames: the present day and in 1957. Two youngsters, Candice Miller and Brandon Jones, set out to solve a decades old puzzle that involves the ramifications of a tennis match between a black and white team, and ends up being a search for a missing fortune. The historical aspects teach us much about life in America during the early days of the civil rights movement, while the modern day aspects show us how much has changed, and how much farther we have to go.
I love the references to novels and literature. I love these characters and their families!
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (2018)
This novel looks at the plight of chimney sweeps in Victorian England. It's got a bit of a Dickensian feel, but it is imbued with magic, including a loveable golem.It's the story of a sweep who finds a baby girl, Nan, and looks after her. He teaches her his trade, but he is also a story teller who fills their hardest times with love. The story unfolds in two sections. Italic text tells the story of Nan when she was still with her sweep. Regular text puts the reader into Nan's present.
The Sweet Spot by Stacy Barnett Mozer (2016)
First off, this book is about baseball, the one sport I love to watch. Second, Stacey Mozer has created authentic characters who grow and mature through the book. Sam Barrette loves baseball and is also very good at it. She's the only girl on her team and her coach rides her hard and complains about her attitude. When she goes away to baseball camp she has to deal with more misogyny, but manages to overcome these obstacles to become an even better player. The bit of romance is just right.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (2018)
Mason Buttle's family has gone through some hard times in the past six years. Three deaths in your family will do that. The most recent death was Mason's close friend Benny Kilmartin, who died under suspicious circumstances. When Mason's new friend, Calvin, disappears, the lieutenant in charge looks suspiciously at Mason. Mason has all kinds of learning issues including synthesia so that he can't read or write. What he has is boundless loyalty, love for family and friends, and the capacity to look for good in everyone. Leslie Connor writes these characters with so much heart and soul, you can't help but love them as if they are real people.
Wish by Barbara O'Connor (2016)
Charlie Reese is a character you won't forget any time soon. She's got fiery spunk, maybe even a bit too much of it. In spite of having a mother who never gets out of bed, a father who's in a correctional facility, and a sister living far away, she manages to make a wish everyday. At first Charlie isn't happy having to stay with her Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus. What changes things for her is being surrounded by their love, her friendship with Howard Odum and his family, and getting her own dog who adores her. I admit to getting all teary eyed more than once while reading this.
Middle Grade Novels From Series:
Dragon Overnight (Upside-Down Magic #4) by Sarah Mlynowski (Goodreads Author), Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins (2018)
I read two books in this series this year. Each time I read one, I am sure it is the best one so far. They tell the story of a group of children who have unconventional magic.
The War I Finally Won (The War That Saved My Life, #2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 92018)
If you haven't read the first in this series, you should read it first. Both are heart wrenching novels of Ada, a young girl with a club foot. She was saved from an abusive family when children were shipped off to the country during the second world war. Both of the books in the series had me sobbing my eyes out.
BEST YA FICTION
I put off reading this novel because I thought it was going to be a kind of horror story. Yes, there is a monster, but it isn’t the monster I anticipated. All this one wants is the truth. It’s never easy to lose anyone and this book resonates with this reality.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
This book belongs on the same shelf as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. While we can try to understand what it means to be black in America it's only when the experience is personalized that we really begin to apprehend the gravity of the reality. I was not prepared for the death in this book. I continue to reflect on the significance of this because while nobody should ever have to anticipate the possibility of it, I've come to realize that it's my white privilege that allowed me to be ignorant of what was to come. I appreciate the complexity in this book. Nice Stone has created authentic characters and posited them in untenable situations. I hope that we learn to do better by their real counterparts from reading literature like this.
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Another Wow! This tells the story of two children who rescue and look after Lyra when she was threatened by different groups and individuals. It reminded me why I fell in love with the dark materials trilogy in the first place. It was such a joy to be back in this world. All these characters, the main and secondary ones, are richly drawn and compelling. Michael Sheen’s narration is perfection. At the same time as I couldn’t stop listening, I also didn’t want this tale to end. While this story wrapped up satisfactory, it still left me gnashing my teeth that I will have to wait for the next one.
Celia's Song by Lee Maracle (2014)
This beautifully written book, if you are able to let go of your own conceptions of reality, will show you that there is more than one way to know the world. It is a book about catastrophic loss, healing, justice and survival.
The characters in this novel inhabit a landscape where past, present and future, physical and spiritual realms exist simultaneously. It is historical in scope; from the beginnings of time for this group of indigenous people, through to the disasters of first contact with white people and on to residential schools, and the fallout in the present from all that.
Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
I ended up loving this fast paced adventure much more than I anticipated. It’s got fabulous characters placed in a dystopian, futuristic Korean world. I loved the concept of genetic engineering creating super humans who still have the capacity to choose what is right. I appreciated the creative technology and the numerous political factions warring with each other.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016)
Riley Cavanaugh, a sympathetic character, is witty, compassionate, smart and gender fluid. Riley's anonymous blog becomes an overnight sensation, but someone knows Riley is the author and threatens them. Riley's parents don't know about the blog or Riley's gender fluid identity.
I really liked this one. I liked the romantic relationship between Riley and Bec, and friendship between Riley and Solo. Although it is YA, and there is a violent incident near the end of the book, I would comfortably pass this on to students in grades 6 and 7. Ultimately it is a positive book with positive characters that will educate readers about what it means to be gender fluid.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (2017)
Holy carumba! this is one mighty fine book. That I wept reveals how emotionally invested I was in Marin, the protagonist.
I started listening to this book while traveling, something I do regularly, but this time the world outside the story just disappeared. That’s how compelling and all encompassing it is. The story is loaded with grief and loss, but it’s also layered with love and mystery. It’s impossible not to love these characters as though they are real people. Read this and you will understand why why a book wins the Michael Printz award.
BEST ADULT FICTION
There is a reason books win big prizes like the Pulitzer. Just the writing alone is jaw dropping, but its political and philosophical relevance across time takes my breath away. Set in the 1930’s, the Joad family are forced to leave their land in Oklahoma and migrate to California in search of work. The story is brutal, but the characters are beautiful. I really loved the alternating between the big picture sections and then showing the reader what this was like at an intimate level through the Joad family. It gave me insight into what it was like for my parents and in laws who were children at the time. That bleak ending shocked me and left me hanging, which I guess it was supposed to do. I’ll be carrying the Joad family around with me for a while. I wonder if Steinbeck had any ideas about what happened to them all.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2017)
The best thing about historical fiction is what it teaches us about who we are, and what we don’t know about the world. I was a young teenager when this novel takes place. The only thing I knew from western media was about the starving Biafrans and how I better eat my vegetables. This book shows us, through the stories of three connected characters, how Biafra came to be and what it was like to live through the war. It's a compelling, absorbing read with fascinating characters that gripped me from the first page.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (2003)
Neil Gaiman has, as usual, spun a tale that sucked me completely into it. Richard Mayhew, an ordinary young businessman, aids a young woman and ends up trapped in a fantastical, dangerous world underneath London. I was caught up in his world and am hoping that there will be a sequel. However, since this book was first published in 1996, and one isn't available yet, it's highly unlikely. While reading it I was reminded of the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich, which, if you haven't read yet, you should definitely treat yourself to.
Tilly and the Crazy Eights by Monique Gray Smith (2018)
This a coming of age novel for the older crowd. Tilly and a group of indigenous elders head out on a road trip to Albuquerque for the world's biggest Powwow. Sure it's loaded with laughter and tenderness, but there is also loss, heartache and romance. A lot of learning and growing takes place. Each of the characters has issues to grapple with. Not the least are their histories of residential schools. I ended up weepy at numerous points in this book. Ultimately it's a heartwarming feel good read about a group of people who are survivors. What more can you want?