Now that I’ve gotten a brief run-down of the award winners out of the way, let’s get down to The Good Stuff: the books that could use a bit more nudging, a bit more hand-selling. The stuff I loooove, and want to share with every fiber of my dust-encoated librarian geek soul. Today I’m talkin’ ’bout fiction, the big ol’ chapter books. Here are my picks:
- Best “My Family is Nuts” Story: Becca At Sea by Deidre Baker. A collection of vignettes, each featuring a different adventure Becca has at her grandmother’s seaside home. Funny, real characters, VERY pretty writing. Probably a surefire beach read, as well. (Just ignore the fugly cover. Who designed that?)
- Best Dystopian Vision of the Future: A Darkling Plain (and the other books from the Hungry City Chronicles, since this is Book 4) by Philip Reeve. Guess what happens in 100 years? We all die. And then the people left over decide to put their towns on wheels and DESTROY EVERYTHING. Meanwhile, a bunch of likeable, colorful characters get thrown into this mess and have edge-of-the-seat adventures for many, many pages. In other words, the perfect sci-fi novel.
- Favorite Summer Story: Moxy Maxwell Does NOT Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford. Moxy is a ne plus ultra procrastinator. Her attempts to put off reading Stuart Little on the last day of summer vacation involves peach trees, flooding, and the theme to “The Pink Panther.” Hilarious.
- Made Me Laugh SO HARD. Seriously, I Was Crying: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. You can recommend it to your kid, but they’ve probably read it by now. So read it yourself, and be prepared for stomach cramps. (Löded Dipers RULEZ!)
- Favorite Old-School Fantasy Novel: Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey. The year is 1145 AD, and Princess Rosalind is destined to restore Wilde Island to glory, and might do so — except that she was born with a dragon’s claw on her hand. What I really love about this book is that the dragons are not founts of Wise Wisdom or friendly misunderstood creatures. They are angry, demonic flame-beasts who really, really like burninating the peasants. (“TROGDOOOOOOR!”) Oh, and bonus points for the biracial handsome prince. I think this book–which was kinda overlooked last year — was my chief reason for making this list. Seriously, go find it.
- For When You Need to Wear All-Black: Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill. Hmm. I just realized that this book was a Printz Honor, and should have been featured in the first part of this post. Oh, well. Anyway, just think of it: a biography of Plath, written in verse that is in the style of Plath’s poetry! A literary recursion that can BLOW. YOUR. MIND.
- For When You Need to Wear Clogs and Chunky Sweaters: Undercover by Beth Kephart. A teen girl who makes spending money as a professional Cyrano de Bergerac falls for her latest client and decides to break out of her shyness. And win a figure-skating competition. Yeah, you have to be there, but trust me — it’s beautiful.
- Favorite Fairy Tale Retelling: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. Twelve Dancing Princesses-plus-The Frog Prince-plus-A Sprinkling of Jane Austen-plus-It’s Set in Transylvania. Gotta read it to believe it.
- Best Pop-Culture References: A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. The sleeper hit of 2007. What if your OCD dad went out to get you piano lessons, and came home with a jazz organ instead? You get to play The Greatest Hits of the ’70s instead of Mozart, that’s what. (Chopin’s Lunchbox, that’s rough!) Favorite quote: “‘Why is there no Greatest Hits of the ”80s?’ ‘There were no hits in the ’80s.'”
- The Book I Wish I Had Read When I Was Fifteen: Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande. A brave, funny book about an evangelical Christian girl who finds herself caught in the controversy surrounding the evolution unit in her high school biology class. It features cute puppies, cuter nerds, and some of the best references to Lord of the Rings, ever. Oh — this would be a great discussion book for church groups, if you’re looking.
- Best Fantasy Novel for People Who Don’t Like Fantasy Novels: The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. Guess what: the reason you are always running late and feeling exhausted isn’t because you’re over-scheduled and stressed. It’s because time is leaking into fairyland. Yeah, you heard me. Required reading for fans of Irish folk music — there’s music at the end of every chapter. Ooo, and there’s a sequel comin’ out this year!
- By Gum, it’s Living History!: Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller. A sensitive, sweet novelization of the “Miracle Worker” story, told from the perspective of Annie Sullivan. Includes a Symbolic Doll, in case you’re interested.
- Best Kick-Butt Female Character: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. Look, kids! It’s an obscure Grimm Bros. tale reset in medieval Mongolia! Featuring Dashti the humble mucker-maid, who manages to escape from a tower prison, defeat the evil invading horde, and win the heart of the swoon-worthy prince, using naught but good sense and hard work. Tip of the hat to you, Dashti-girl!
- Best Picture Book For Older Kids & Adults: The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A wordless book that tells the story of a man who emigrates to a strange land of dazzling towers, funny animals, and puzzling customs. Tan used a variety of sources — Ellis Island archives, Chaplin films, etc. — as inspiration to create his fantasy world, but the book has a magic that goes beyond them. Arguably THE best kidlit book of 2007.
- I Can’t FIgure Out Why It Wasn’t Published as a Novel For Adults: The Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky. This lyrical, layered story, set in 1950s Australia, changes perspective between three sisters who are coping with their father’s depression and uncle’s attempts to move in on their mother. The real-life story of a Russian spy is unfolding next door, and the scandal serves as counterpoint for the family drama. Dubosarsky’s prose has a dreamlike quality that makes this a quick but haunting read.
- Most Creative Setting: The Lion Hunter by Elizabeth E. Wein. It’s a historical fantasy that melds Arthurian legend with medieval Ethiopian culture. That’s right — imagine Celtic royalty hobnobbing with Ethiopian dynastic kings in the desert, add an intrepid child hero, his adorable baby sister, dysfunctional families, and LOTS of intrigue and danger . . . well, you get this book. One of a kind and a click to pick.
- Favorite Reissue of the Year: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson. Originally published in the ’80s, this comic romance reads like Frances Hodgson Burnett, LM Montgomery, and PG Wodehouse got thrown in a blender together. Eighteen year old Anna was raised as a wealthy Russian countess, but in 1918 she has lost everything and goes to work in an English country manor. Her winning personality and eccentric ways turns the house upside-down, and wins the heart of the handsome young lord of the manor. Easily my favorite beach-read of the year, as well. Fun fluffy stuff.
Well, there they are — read ’em and leap! For joy! And sheer literary pleasure! (Well . . . how would YOU end this exceedingly long post?) Enjoy!