Favorite Books for Young Readers 2012

Back due to popular demand — my list of personal favorites from the realm of children’s/YA publishing.  Yaaaaaay!!

[Kermit-the-Frog-style clapping]

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.


dreaming up

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.

z is for moose

Best Metafiction: Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky

chloe and the lion

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.

maudie and bear

Imaginary Friends Know What’s Best: Maudie and Bear by Jan Ormerod, illus. Freya Blackwood

one cool friend

Your Father Knows You Better Than You Think: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illus. David Small.

each kindness

Best Book About Bullying in a Long, Long While: Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson, illus. E. B. Lewis.

charley's first night

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

nighttime ninja

Ninjas Are Always in Style: Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DeCosta, illus. Ed Young.


Bunnies!  Bubble Wrap!  Bunnies WITH Bubble Wrap! Chloe by Peter McCarty

up tall and high

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

eggs 123

ULTIMATE CUTENESS: Eggs 1, 2, 3 by Janet Halfmann, illus. Betsy Thompson


Best Board Book: The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, illus. Julie Morstad

this is not my hat

Kinda Dark for a Kids’ Book (But That’s What I Love About It): This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen


national geographic poetry

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.

forgive me

Second place: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine, illus. Matthew Cordell

leave your sleep

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*

step gently out

Best Up-Close Photography of the Year: Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder.

town mouse country mous

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

robin hood

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


twelve kinds of ice

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.

one and only ivan

The Charlotte’s Web of 2012: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate  (people who cried over Dumbo should probably bring Kleenex)

mr mrs bunny

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

splendors glooms

Victorians were darn creepy with those death masks and all: Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

goblin secrets

STEAMPUNK! Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

summer gypsy moths

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

lulu duck park

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.

nathan hales hazardous

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)

little white duck

Life in China is more complicated than you think: Little White Duck: a childhood in China by Na Liu, illus. Andres Vera Martinez

legends of zita

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

babys in black

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)


code name verity

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.

confusion of princes

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!

no crystal stair

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

keeping the castle

Best Jane Austen Tribute: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

grave mercy

Historical Fantasy with crossbows and poisoned chalices and secrets and awesome dresses and WOW: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

jepp who defied the stars

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!

temple grandin

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?

chuck close face book

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.

fairy ring

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?

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