1. Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Back in September I wrote in my review that
I was blown away by it. This is nonfiction thriller writing of the very, very best. Sheinkin weaves together the stories of the race to build the atom bomb, the developments in the war that made things more and more urgent, the efforts to steal it, and the efforts to stop others from creating their own.
Every kid I know who reads it adores it. Sheinkin is doing something new and different and very exciting in nonfiction for children.
2. Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy. I concluded in my starred Horn Book review that:
Stead’s spare and elegant prose, compassionate insight into the lives of young people, wry sense of humor, deft plotting, and ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this much more than a mystery with a twist.
3. Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms. I finished my New York Times review with:
Schlitz skillfully manages multiple narratives as the story makes its complex way forward, creating scenes of warmth and humor along with those of drama and horror. Filled with lush language and delightful sensory details like the savored warmth of a velvet cloak, this marvelous story will keep readers absorbed throughout. While the intricate storytelling, captivating characters and evocative setting owe a great deal to Dickens, the book also feels very much in the tradition of such grand 20th-century writers as Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge. Filled with heart-pounding and heart-rending moments, this delicious, glorious novel is the work of a master of children’s literature.
4. Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. In my review here I wrote:
Among the many well-intentioned books featuring issues of exclusion among children of different ages, Each Kindness is for me the most transcendent with Woodson and Lewis taking this far-from simple issue to a profound place of emotional depth and truth.
5. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair. In my blog review I noted that the book “… is a community itself” filled as it is with a vibrant collection of voices coming together to tell the story of a remarkable Harlem bookseller and concluded that it “…is an elegant and riveting look at an extraordinary man who was part of a remarkable historical time.” A groundbreaking book that definitely does extraordinary things within a hybrid genre Nelson calls a “documentary novel.”
6. Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky. I enjoyed my first read of this, writing on goodreads that it was “completely and utterly charming!” I then listened to the audio book with my 4th graders and that experience along with their responses only raised it in my estimation.
7. Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job. I reviewed this last April, but it has stayed with me. Back then I wrote:
This is a real life story that takes place over a brief period of time and Levinson does a superb job bringing out the suspense, drama, harshness, and celebration of all. I especially appreciated the elegant way she brought in the complications — what was working and what wasn’t, the different behaviors and personalities of the leaders, and most of all the varied voices of her young people.
8. Grace Lin’s Starry River of the Sky. I like this one very much indeed. Well-done character development, plot (especially the structure), and setting. And while it won’t factor into the Newbery Committee’s deliberations, the art and design is spectacular.
9. Louise Erdrich’s Chickadee. I was a very big fan of Erdrich’s previous books in this series, especially The Game of Silence. Took me a bit to engage with this one as I was a bit miffed that she just jumped into a new generation, but once I did I enjoyed it. There are some wonderful characters and scenes.
10. Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly. A long shot, no doubt. After reading this aloud to my students, I can say that that this guy nails it, balancing out the emotional stuff along with silliness (my students and I adore the frog and various sized salamanders), some major gross stuff, and the occasional lyrical moment (say with the mermaid). I love the way he merges traditional tales with literary ones and then his own.
And while not in my top ten, here are my thoughts about two very popular titles.
R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. I enjoyed and admired this very much when I read it (my review is here) and continue to think it a strong work, one that speaks to children and adults in a sincere and powerful way.
Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. What has stayed with me is the lovely relationships between the animals, the complexness of Mack, and the melancholy tone that permeates the book. I struggled initially with Ivan’s voice, finding him a bit too wise and using an awful lot of figurative language for a self-described spare speaker, but the folks commenting on this Heavy Medal post helped me enormously with this.