Back due to popular demand — my list of personal favorites from the realm of children’s/YA publishing. Yaaaaaay!!
Remember: these are not by any means a comprehensive list of critical acclaim, award-winners, or bestsellers. If I were making a list of “books from 2012 that libraries should buy” then said list would be far, far longer.
I also can’t guarantee that every book on this list is one meant for you. I’m a librarian, which means that out of necessity I have far-ranging tastes. Last year my friend who favors the likes of Wallace Stegner and Cormick McCarthy looked at my annual list and picked out Heather Dixon’s Entwined. She didn’t like it, and no surpise! I nearly had to lie down at the thought of such a literary mismatch. Still makes me smile when I think of it.
It’s just a list of serendipitous faves based entirely on my personal tastes. Enjoy.
Also, if you’re wondering why it takes me so long to make this list every year (sheesh, February already?) let me remind you: four children. FOUR.
If you’re only going to read one picture book this year, read: Dreaming Up: a Celebration of Building by Christy Hale. This book most excellently correlates the way children play with real-life architecture. Awesome photography and illustration — you just FEEL SMARTER after reading it.
Best Metafiction: Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky
No Wait, THIS is the Best Metafiction: Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illus. Adam Rex
Prettiest Concept Book Ever: Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
Imaginary Friends Know What’s Best: Maudie and Bear by Jan Ormerod, illus. Freya Blackwood
Your Father Knows You Better Than You Think: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illus. David Small.
Best Book About Bullying in a Long, Long While: Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson, illus. E. B. Lewis.
Boys Can Be Nurturers, Too: Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest, illus. Helen Oxenbury
CARS AND TRUUUUUUCKS: Demolition by Sally Sutton, illus. Brian Lovelock
Ninjas Are Always in Style: Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DeCosta, illus. Ed Young.
Bunnies! Bubble Wrap! Bunnies WITH Bubble Wrap! Chloe by Peter McCarty
It’s Harder Than it Looks to Write a Story With Simple Vocabulary: Up, Tall and High! by Ethan Long
Complain About Life All You Want, At Least You’re Not On the Underground Railroad: Unspoken: a Story of the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
ULTIMATE CUTENESS: Eggs 1, 2, 3 by Janet Halfmann, illus. Betsy Thompson
Best Board Book: The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, illus. Julie Morstad
Kinda Dark for a Kids’ Book (But That’s What I Love About It): This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
If you’re only going to read one book from this category, try: The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis. I was skeptical about this book for a long while, but seriously, this is a gorgeous gift-worthy book for more than just kids.
Second place: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine, illus. Matthew Cordell
I Usually Don’t Like Books Based on Albums, But This Is So Pretty: Leave Your Sleep: a collection of classic children’s poetry adapted to music by Natalie Merchant, illus. Barbara McClintock. BARBARA McCLINTOCK!! *swoon*
Best Up-Close Photography of the Year: Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder.
I Like it Because It’s PRETTY, Okay? The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse: an Aesop’s Fable retold and illustrated by Helen Ward
FINALLY! A version of Robin Hood that I can read aloud to seven-year-olds while remaining faithful to the original stories! Robin Hood retold by David Calcutt, illus. Grahame Baker-Smith
Hedgehog. Hedgehog that plays the violin and rides a rooster: Hans My Hedgehog: a tale from the Brothers Grimm retold by Kate Coombs, illus. John Nickle
‘Cause Being Weird is Sometimes the Best Way to Go: The Goldilocks Variations: A Pop-Up Book by Alan Ahlberg, illus. Jessica Ahlberg
MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS
If you’re only going to read one of ’em, try: Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illus. Barbara McClintock. BARBARA McCLINTOCK!! *swoon* This nostalgic, lyrical little volume about the author’s childhood memories of ice skating — on ponds, streams, fields, pastures, and on a backyard ice rink — was pretty much the only thing I wanted for Christmas last year. And I got it. And I’ve read it about five times, and I’m already wanting to read it again. This book is sheer happiness: and I don’t even know how to skate.
The Charlotte’s Web of 2012: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (people who cried over Dumbo should probably bring Kleenex)
Brilliant in its glorious weirdness. Also, only book of 2012 to make me laugh out loud multiple times: Mr. & Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath
Victorians were darn creepy with those death masks and all: Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
STEAMPUNK! Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
In which the foster children bury their deceased caregiver in the front yard, and a Gentle Coming of Age Story ensues: Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
Best British Humour for the K-3 set: Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay.
Little House on the Prairie — from the Ojibwe perspective (and a great adventure story, too): Chickadee by Louise Erdrich
GRAPHIC NOVELS (you know, comic books)
If you’re going to read just one, read: Drama by Raina Telegemier. Nobody knows the trials and triumphs of seventh grade like this author.
Nobody makes history cool like this guy does: One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series) by Nathan Hale (you know, the guy who did Rapunzel’s Revenge)
Life in China is more complicated than you think: Little White Duck: a childhood in China by Na Liu, illus. Andres Vera Martinez
My kids can’t get enough of this series: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
I’m just dazzled by this guy’s imagination: Cardboard by Doug TenNapel
For fans of rock history (esp. early Beatles): Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles by Arne Bellstorf (this was a big bestseller in Germany, where it was originally published)
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
If you’re going to read just one, read: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. A multilayered, sophisticated story of spies and female friendship during WWII. Wein’s novels often deal with the moral predicaments of spies (I loved her earlier novel, The Lion Hunter), and this take is a triumph.
Best Old-School Science Fiction: A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. Okay, I’ll admit that the complex world-building made the first quarter of the novel a little slow. But the protagonist’s voice is clever enough to carry you through. JUST GET THROUGH THE FIRST 150 PAGES AND IT’S 100% AWESOME AFTERWARDS, OKAY??
Best Fairytale Mashup (and I do not give this award out lightly): Enchanted by Alethea Kontis This book got a unanimous “in favor of” vote from the members of the YALSA Best Books for YAs meeting. I know because I was there and did a little hop in my seat!
Booksellers in Harlem are Freaking Awesome: No Crystal Stair: a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Best Jane Austen Tribute: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
Historical Fantasy with crossbows and poisoned chalices and secrets and awesome dresses and WOW: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Being a Renaissance-era Dwarf is Nothing Like that guy in Game of Thrones: Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Gothic supernatural romance tempered with a hefty dose of British snark: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
NON FICTION — Truthfully, probably my favorite category this year
If you’re going to read just one, read: Bomb: the race to build — and steal — the world’s most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin. Shienkin writes gripping history with a novelistic narrative style that’s really fun to read. This tale of the atomic arms race is a nail biter, ranging from the shenanigans of the eccentric scientists at Los Alamos, to the inner workings of sinister Soviet espionage, to the incredible team of Norwegian resistance fighters out to destroy a Nazi-operated heavy water plant. Forget James Bond and Indiana Jones: this is real adventure. Love it!
Best Biography: Temple Grandin: how the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world by Sy Montgomery. Cows! Autism! What’s not to love?
Best Autobiography: Chuck Close: Face Book by Chuck Close. Not only a fascinating portrait of one of the United States’ best artists, but an amazing story of someone who overcomes incredible hardship to keep doing what he loves (Close has severe learning disabilities, and suffered a massive stroke as an adult; he is still paralyzed from the chest down). The centerpiece of this volume is a flip-book section where readers can mix-and-match different Close self-portraits in a variety of styles.
Best story you’re always been curious about: The Fairy Ring, or, Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure. You know, the Cottingley fairy photographs and the little girls who took them! How on earth did anybody think those pictures were real?