So I rounded up my girls (at ages almost 10 and 12 not an easy feat) and asked them to choose their favorite books from the past year. They read like gonzos (at least 30 chapter books a year) and they're pretty picky. It was interesting to watch them go through the list I keep of everything they've read. I expected it might take time to choose the best of the best, but to my surprise it only took a few minutes. That means the books the girls chose really impressed them. And I have to say that as a librarian, I love their choices. Sometimes we adult bibliophiles choose award-winning children's books based on how they appeal to grown-ups and forget that kids need to like them, too. In this instance, though, I'm happy to note that the books the girls loved are also critically acclaimed, which means the librarians and critics are at least on the right track. We shall see what happens when the major awards happen in January, but for now here are five you should make sure your tween (ages 9-12) doesn't miss!
El Deafo by Cece Bell
My girls are really into books that feature other-abled protagonists. They loved Wonder, Out of My Mind, and Petey (my personal favorite) to name a few. (You can see an entire list of this genre, here.) El Deafo, written by the award-winning Cece Bell, is an autobiographical novel in cartoon format. Yes, you read that right. When many adults think of cartoons (better known in long format as graphic novels), they remember Marmaduke and Ziggy. El Deafo is here to prove that the cartoon format can be so much more. Bell chronicles her childhood hearing loss and experience wearing the "Phonic Ear," a device that helps her hear, but also increases her sense of social isolation. Every kid can relate to wanting to fit in. This book will help upper elementary and middle school students not only develop increased sensitivity to "otherness," but know that they are not alone. I'm hoping El Deafo is the first graphic novel to win a Newbery Honor this year.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
My eldest daughter loved Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Auxier's 2011 chapter book debut, so we snatched The Night Gardener from the library shelves as soon as it was published. She's really into fantasy combined with a tinge of not-too-scary horror, and good old-fashioned storytelling, as well. Auxier sweetens these genres with a spooky house that is not what it seems, a curse, and an apparition. If your child enjoys the slightly gothic tone of Lemony Snicket, the fantastical adventure of Harry Potter, or maybe a good ghost story a la Washington Irving, s/he needs to read The Night Gardener.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
This is the perfect novel to share with any kid who's ever felt alone, and who hasn't? Albie is a fifth grader who has never been the best at anything. His mom wants him to stop reading that babyish Captain Underpants and get into Johnny Tremain. (I can really feel Albie's pain on this one, because I hated Johnny Tremain when I had to read it in fourth grade. I thought it was the most boring book I'd ever had the misfortune to open.) Then a quirky new babysitter comes into lonely Albie's life and through a series of events and interactions helps him see just how much he has to be proud of. This profound chapter book is written in short chapters that will appeal to kids who like poetic writing, as well as kids who don't really like to read at all. Its very accessible and very deep all at the same time, and that, dear readers, makes it genius. Just a beautiful book deserving of a wide audience.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
If you're not already familiar with Jacqueline Woodson's impressive body of children's literature, know that she's just taken her award-winning creativity to yet another level. Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson's autobiography written in verse. It chronicles her years growing up African-American in the 1960s, teetering right on the edge of a world defined on either end by Jim Crow and Martin Luther King, Jr. Readers learn how writing helped young Jackie find her lyrical voice. This is a beautifully rendered book that I expect to garner even more accolades than the National Book Award Woodson just took home. My daughters were so enthralled with it that they each read it in two sittings.
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
My nearly-ten year old has read this book no less than two dozen times since it came to live at our house last August. As the middle child and younger sister, I know she very much relates to this tale of two sisters who don't always (ever) get along. But that's not all this latest graphic novel installment from the über-popular Raina Telgemeier has to offer. Inside is a touching tale (couched in a lively pace and upbeat artwork) of how families interact and the impact of one generation upon another. Telgemeier's gift of interspersing such depth in an entertaining presentation makes her work a marvel.
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