From the Shelf
Our 2018 Best Children's & Teen Books of the Year
This has been an incredible year for children's and teen books! Here are our favorites for 2018; scroll down to read our reviews of these impactful, captivating books. (Our Best Adult Books will be announced December 4.)
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick)
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter/Holiday House)
The Field by Baptiste Paul, illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara (NorthSouth Books)
Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illus. by Ebony Glenn (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Middle Grade Books
They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems by David Bowles (Cinco Puntos Press)
24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Children's Books)
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Dial)
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb/Random House)
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second/Macmillan)
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Sadie by Courtney Summers (Wednesday Books/Macmillan)
Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin by James L. Swanson (Scholastic)
01/21/2020 - 7:00PMFollowing journalist and novelist Fatima Bhutto, here a few months ago with her book on pop culture in India, the United Emirates, Turkey, and Latin America, is William Wheeler, with another in Columbia Global Reports’ books of long-form journalism. He visits with what is his first book, State of War: MS-13 and El Salvador’s World of Violence. "In State of War, his gripping, electrifying study of the brutal Salvadoran gang culture, William Wheeler dramatizes with almost painful immediacy a...
01/21/2020 - 6:30PMThis month’s selection for reading and discussion is Ada Hoffman’s novel, The Outside (Angry Robot). Learn More
01/22/2020 - 7:00PMWidely respected and highly regarded, Asma Uddin comes here as a religious liberty lawyer who has done work on behalf of a considerable range of religions and faiths. In her powerful new book, When Islam is Not a Religion (Pegasus), she does so through the lens of the present political climate in the U.S. around Islam, and the rights of Muslims. “Asma Uddin has written a terrific book. It is all at once a primer on the very American commitment to religious freedom, a history of the...
01/22/2020 - 11:30AMOur friends at PJ Library, who do these song & storytimes designed for tots, toddlers, and those looking after them at a number of select bookstores in the area, visit as a regular feature of our Wednesday mornings. These are free and open to all and are usually thirty minutes of good fun, activity, and exploration of language, movement, and rhythm. Please join us in the Children’s Section by the castle!
01/23/2020 - 7:00PMIn The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture (University of Chicago Press) James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with the long sixties and contemporary expressions of these cultural memories across the globe. He draws on a diverse range of cultural objects that reimagine this revolutionary era stretching from the 1950s to the 1970s, including reenactments of civil rights, antiwar, and feminist marches, paintings, sculptures,...
01/23/2020 - 7:30PMPeggy Orenstein, author of the groundbreaking New York Times bestsellers Girls & Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter now turns her focus to the sexual lives of young men in Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity (Harper), once again offering “both an examination of sexual culture and a guide on how to improve it” (Washington Post). “Masculinity doesn’t have to be toxic—but so much of what we communicate to boys about masculinity is just...
01/24/2020 - 7:00PMFirst published a year ago to much praise, and ultimately achieving bestselling status (being selected by Reese Witherspoon for her national book club never hurting), Yangsze Choo’s riveting debut novel, The Night Tiger (Flatiron), found many readers here, and should, even more with this new paperback edition. Set in her home country of Malaysia, when it was colonial-era Malaya, is a novel of the clash of classes, of entitlement and aspiration, and of some particular quests. “Mythical...
Children's & Young Adult
A Big Mooncake for Little Star
by Grace Lin
Little Star and her Mama are such good bakers that Mama must remind Little Star to curb her appetite: "Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?" Little Star's agreement lasts through teeth brushing, face washing and snuggling in bed. She even manages to fall asleep--but she can't stay asleep. Soon enough, she "[p]at pat pat"s her way to her first tiny nibble. Once begun, resistance is futile, and Little Star returns night after night for one more little nibble. The mooncake wanes--what will Mama say when she discovers nothing left but "a trail of twinkling crumbs"?
A Big Mooncake for Little Star is Grace Lin's first picture book since Thanking the Moon (2010). With each gorgeous spread set against the night sky, mother and daughter, garbed in matching golden-starred pajamas, cook, negotiate and enjoy each other. While noting her original story "doesn't have any roots in Chinese mythology," Lin nevertheless "imbues it with all the traits [she] associate[s] with the Moon Festival--quiet joy, love, and beauty," and creates a perfectly irresistible treat for parents and children of all ages. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Julián Is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love
Riding the subway after a visit to the pool with his grandmother, young Julián notices three glamorous fellow passengers he's convinced are mermaids. "Julián LOVES mermaids." On the stroll home, he asks, "Abuela, did you see the mermaids?" Walking in sync, she replies, "I saw them, mijo." That confirmation is all Julián needs to reveal, "Abuela, I am also a mermaid."
At home, Abuela announces she's off to take a bath. Left alone, Julián gets down to the business of self-expression: he crowns himself with ferns and flowers, drapes himself to create a curtain-tail and strikes a perfect pose. But when his towel-wrapped Abuela re-emerges, her unexpected look of disapproval makes his fronds droop. Her silent exit makes Julián self-consciously reexamine himself in the nearest mirror, until Abuela returns to surprise him with the crowning accessory: pink pearls. "For me, Abuela?" the delighted child asks. "For you, Julián."
The words are succinctly sparse; the art is spectacular, proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. What Abuela and Julián don't tell one another with their voices, author/illustrator Jessica Love inventively shows on the page. Across her watercolor, gouache and ink spreads, Love captures the transformative power of being seen. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
by Yuyi Morales
Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Yuyi Morales's (Viva Frida) Dreamers begins with a journey: "One day, we bundled gifts in our backpack, and crossed a bridge outstretched like the universe." The mother dons the pack and carries the baby across the bridge. The mountains are gray, the bridge is gray, the birds are gray but the mother's multi-colored skirt shines with brilliant color. "And when we made it to the other side, thirsty, in awe, unable to go back, we became immigrants. Migrantes, you and I." This new place welcomes them "in words unlike those of [their] ancestors" and they stumble through life in their new city, "[u]nable to understand, and afraid to speak."
Dreamers is Yuyi Morales's own immigration story. To create this book, she "painted with acrylics and drew on paper with ink and brushes," as well as photographed and scanned "many things"--the floor of her studio, traditional Mexican fabrics--to "give the book life." She is most certainly successful. Every page of Dreamers vibrates with energy, depicting the emotions, the turmoil, the stress and the joy that come with creating a new life. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
by Baptiste Paul , illust. by Jacqueline Alcántara
Sports fan Baptiste Paul joins forces with Jacqueline Alcántara for this lively picture book debut.
A boy in Saint Lucia dribbles a soccer ball up to two friends: "Vini! Come! The field calls!" He moves around town, inviting one and all to come play futbol. Two children stride across an open field carrying a handmade goal, while a cow grazes nearby. On the next spread, one brave child shoos away the doe-eyed cow as more people arrive to play. The colors pop off the page--lush greens, vibrant reds and yellows, sparkling blue water in the background--as teams are chosen. "Annou ale! Let's go!" A boisterous game begins, the figures' edges blurring with their speed. The next full-page spread depicts the boy in mid-stride, looking over his shoulder as the sky grays behind him: "Uh-oh." The bold colors of Paul's native Saint Lucia dim as driving rain slants across the page. "Fini? Game over?"
"No way. Play on!"
Paul and Alcántara's picture book is full of joy and finishes with an author's note and a glossary of all the Creole words sprinkled throughout. The Field, with its concise and energetic text and dynamic illustrations, is irresistible, unfettered fun. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow , illust. by Ebony Glenn
The young Muslim narrator of Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow's picture book delights in all the wonder of her mother's headscarves. She luxuriates in the bright, beautiful colors and styles: "Some have tassels. Some have beads. Some have sparkly things all over." She uncovers a sense of empowerment while wearing them: "When I wear Mommy's khimar, I am a superhero in a cape, dashing from room to room at the speed of light." And she eagerly embraces a special connection with her mother: "I close my eyes and if I breathe in deeply... I smell the coconut oil in Mommy's hair and the cocoa butter on her skin." The little girl's love for her mother's khimar and all it represents is reinforced by the acceptance of family and friends from a dazzling array of ethnicities and religious backgrounds.
Ebony Glenn's (Beacon to Freedom) lustrous illustrations help the girl's pride radiate from the page. The vibrancy and charm of Glenn's art is embracing, allowing readers of all cultures and faiths to appreciate the narrator's joy and celebrate with her. The delightful prose and whimsical illustrations reflect a culture of diversity and acceptance while offering many entry points for discussion with young audiences. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems
by David Bowles
Twelve-year-old Güero is a "border kid." With copper-colored hair, "pasty white" skin and a ton of freckles, Güero has the lightest skin in his extended family. (Hence the nickname Güero--literally, a "person with pale skin.") Everyone in the family has a loving nickname for him "[b]ut at school, it's a different story." He tells his "deep brown like mesquite bark"-skinned father about his classmate's taunts. "M'ijo, pale folks catch all the breaks/ here and in Mexico, too," his dad responds. "Doors will open for you that won't for me." Güero cries, frustrated: he didn't ask for this. No, you didn't, Dad says, "but now/ you've got to hold them open for us all."
David Bowles's (The Smoking Mirror) novel in verse is told entirely from Güero's seventh-grade point of view. Using poetic forms from different cultures--the Japanese haiku and chōka, the Malay pantoum, Korean sijo, Italian sonnet, French ballad--Güero invites the reader to experience his everyday joys and sorrows. With a glossary of Spanish words and phrases in the back, They Call Me Güero makes itself accessible to all readers, without ever moving away from celebrating and directly addressing Spanish-speaking children. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
24 Hours in Nowhere
by Dusti Bowling
Short, smart Gus is regularly tormented by Bo, a "thirteen-year-old in the body of an eighteen-year-old with the mind of an eight-year-old." In their rundown town of Nowhere, Arizona, kids like Gus who don't race dirt bikes are, socially speaking, the lowest of the low. So, it is the highest sacrifice when the best dirt bike racer in town, Rossi, offers her beloved bike to Bo to save Gus. Determined to make things right by her, Gus agrees to Bo's demand for a piece of gold from the collapsing mine outside town in exchange for the bike.
In no time, Gus, Rossi and two former friends who have joined the foolhardy expedition get lost in a mine, trapped in a cave-in, attacked by wild animals and nearly drown in a mysterious underground lake. They're also coming to terms with the idea that even if their ancestors were murderous, mortal enemies, the kids don't need to carry on the feuding tradition.
Readers who loved Holes and Dusti Bowling's earlier novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, will be delighted with 24 Hours in Nowhere, a similarly captivating novel abounding in wordplay, eccentric personalities and an evocative setting. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
The Night Diary
by Veera Hiranandani
Veera Hiranandani (The Whole Story of Half a Girl) partially based The Night Diary on her own Hindu father's family's experience during the "largest mass migration in history."
Nisha and Amil, 12-year-old fraternal twins, are caught up in the Partition of India in August 1947. Nisha's Muslim mother gave birth to the twins and then died, leaving her Hindu husband to raise their Hindu/Muslim children. Nisha and Amil were brought up in a loving but incomplete family, which includes a Hindu grandmother and Muslim cook Kazi. Nisha and Kazi have a close relationship and, for the twins' birthday, Kazi gives Nisha a diary as a present. Every night, Nisha uses the diary to confide in the mother she never knew; it becomes her record of the period from July to November 1947. She recounts her comfortable life in a town where Hindus and Muslims got along, and follows that with the difficult trip. Young readers will need emotional maturity to read about the family's harrowing life on the road, although some lighthearted moments alleviate the harsh descriptions. Nisha and Amil are protagonists sure to appeal to young readers. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
The Season of Styx Malone
by Kekla Magoon
Ten-year-old Caleb Franklin and big brother Bobby Gene's hometown of Sutton, Ind., is extremely "ordinary." Things take a turn for the extraordinary, however, at the Fourth of July picnic, where Caleb and Bobby Gene trade their baby sister, Susie, to Cory Cormier for a sack of fireworks. Susie is returned but the boys retain (secret) ownership of the fireworks.
Enter Styx Malone, a 16-year-old who has his own business cards and slides "through the world like the air around him [is] greased." Styx introduces the younger boys to the Great Escalator Trade, in which items are exchanged for things of greater value until the final trade is worth significantly more than the first. Caleb and Bobby Gene are charmed into using their fireworks to do business with this mysterious older boy, unaware that Styx might have ulterior motives.
Reminiscent of now-classic works by Katherine Paterson, Natalie Babbitt and Lois Lowry, The Season of Styx Malone carries on a tradition of works for young readers that focus on weighty topics while emphasizing the warmth and joy life has to offer. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang
Prince Sebastian has a secret. Sixteen and heir to the throne, Sebastian knows he must marry soon and take on the responsibilities of the monarchy. He also knows that "[i]f anybody found out the prince wore dresses, it would ruin the whole family," but he feels the most himself when he's wearing women's clothing. At a ball in his honor, he sees an extraordinary gown and immediately hires the creator--a young seamstress named Frances--to be his secret seamstress and designer.
And so Frances begins covertly designing for Prince Sebastian. The more she works, the more she grows and develops her own style, while Prince Sebastian, who is ever more confident, begins to step out in Frances's gowns under the pseudonym Lady Crystallia. Crystallia becomes a trendsetter with her avant-garde couture, which should mean big things for Frances. But Sebastian insists that Frances's connection to him be kept secret at all costs.
The Prince and the Dressmaker is a gentle, sweet-without-the-saccharine graphic novel that depicts the great happiness and love that can come with self-acceptance. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Fifteen-year-old Xiomara is "unhide-able"--taller than her father, with what her mother calls "a little too much body for such a young girl." Her struggles are numerous and accessible. She struggles with her parents' religion; she struggles with street harassment; she struggles with boys: "I've been having all these feelings./ Noticing boys more than I used to./ And I get all this attention from guys.../ partly flattered they think I'm attractive,/ partly scared they're only interested in my ass and boobs." When Xiomara is assigned a biology lab partner named Aman, the "feelings" she's been having surge forward and she tentatively allows herself to take up a little bit more space. This spells serious trouble for X, as Aman calls her, because, "[t]he thing is,/ my old-school/ Dominican parents/ Do. Not. Play."
In her debut novel-in-verse, poet Elizabeth Acevedo (Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths), herself the daughter of Dominican immigrants, takes on the universal push-pull of parents and teens with gritty elegance. Readers will relate to X's frustration over her parents' tight reins and her longing for the mental, emotional and physical space to discover who she is in her world. The Poet X is beautiful and true. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown
While the factious situation in war-torn Syria is difficult even for adults to comprehend, what writer/illustrator Don Brown (America Is Under Attack) offers here is an empathic account of how everyday citizens take tortuous paths toward survival. They are The Unwanted, who, without a future in their own country, must search elsewhere for home.
Brown presents a graphic hybrid of history and facts--explained in text boxes--with scenes of personal experiences. Beyond numbing data, Brown gives faces and voices to the refugees, as he chronicles various journeys out: "We gave the babies sleeping pills so they wouldn't cry," a fleeing mother reveals. "I tried to catch my wife and children in my arms. But one by one, they drowned," a man mourns over his survival. Brown's panels can't--won't?--contain all that the Syrians must endure, as weapons, explosions, fleeing crowds, suffering victims repeatedly break through panel outlines. Yet amid the struggles, Brown won't abandon hope. In urgently humanizing The Unwanted, Brown's sobering explication and tenacious advocacy prove both necessary and revelatory. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Blood Water Paint
by Joy McCullough
Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi lives for the moments when she connects "the brush to the paint to [her] breath to the canvas." Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, is a professional painter, and Artemisia labors as his apprentice, touching up his commissions with "strokes/of [her] own choosing." Artemisia's skill brings in the clients who pay for their bread, but it's Orazio Gentileschi who signs the finished art.
In this "world of men"--17th-century Rome--Artemisia painfully learns that women are merely "beauty/ for consumption." Agostino Tassi, engaged to give her art lessons, instead rapes her: "I've no authority," the fictional Artemisia recounts, "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing." The real Artemisia brought charges against Agostino Tassi, even though she knew it was unlikely she would win.
This piece of historical fiction, told in luminous verse and based on transcripts from that trial, tackles issues of gender and power. Artemisia's mother, before her death, told her daughter stories of two women, Susanna and Judith, who triumphed over the monumental injustices they faced because of their gender. Susanna and Judith serve as Artemisia's spiritual mentors, and from them she draws strength to paint her own path. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
by Courtney Summers
Sadie begins, "as so many stories do, with a dead girl."
In October, a resident of the small Colorado town of Cold Creek found the body of 13-year-old Mattie Southern. "Mattie left behind a nineteen-year-old sister, Sadie; a surrogate grandmother, May Beth; and her mother, Claire." When Claire, an addict, left the girls three years ago, Sadie quit high school and dedicated herself to raising Mattie. "It broke Sadie, Mattie's murder," and it burned that the murderer was never found. Then, Sadie disappeared. In July, Sadie's car was found; Sadie was not.
Courtney Summers's (All the Rage) gripping young adult novel is told in two parts: Sadie's first-person narration; and a Serial-like podcast, narrated by host West McCray, that tries to piece together what happened to Sadie. Sadie's journey is punishingly hard--she has little money, a stutter that makes questioning people difficult and only a deep well of pain to keep her moving. The close-but-not-overlapping timelines create a sense of both urgency and immediacy: Sadie must find the murderer; West McCray must find Sadie. Haunting and captivating Sadie will open eyes to how very many stories begin with, end with or are wholly about "a dead girl." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin
by James L. Swanson
In Chasing King's Killer, the final, moving installment in James L. Swanson's hugely popular trilogy on the lives, last days and assassinations of three American heroes, readers are taken on a heart-in-throat exploration of the events leading up to and following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.
Chasing King's Killer takes an intense look at King's 13-year rise to national prominence. Using photos, diagrams and quotations, Swanson gives readers an in-depth, year-by-year account of the civil rights activist. As Swanson's report moves into King's final day of life--tragically cut short by an assassin's bullet--the text breaks the full 24 hours into minute-by-minute sections, slowing the events but quickening the pace of the narrative. Paralleling King's story is that of James Earl Ray, his life in and out of jail and his eventual capture after killing King. Swanson conveys (and obviously shares) the bewilderment of the world about what made Ray decide, seemingly out of the blue, to hunt King down and murder him. Featuring an exquisitely written foreword by Congressman John Lewis and extensive endnotes, this riveting book about the heartbreaking "collision course" of two lives should be required reading for all American teens. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor