Saturday, December 1, 2012

Best of 2012: Shopping Lists and Book Buzz

I read a lot of great books this year, so I’ll just list the ones here that I think of most happily as I look back—always a good sign! Some of these books are just for fun and others are more serious, but I can recommend them all to you as Christmas gifts or anytime reads. (I’ll tell you more about the books that are getting the most buzz for awards below.)

My Top Picks


Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

A modern-day fairy tale wrapped up in yarn. A celebration of creativity, kindness, and not needing to explain yourself.

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Zebra is staging an alphabet book, but Moose just can’t wait for his turn. He disrupts letter after letter, and Zebra gets increasingly exasperated… Fun and funny, with a couple of twists you won’t see coming.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Seeger helps us look at the color green in so many different ways, and the cutouts add to the appeal of this visual poem. The last few pages take us in new directions.

Freedom Song by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Make this a companion book to the perhaps better-known Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson. This newer version of Henry "Box" Brown’s life and escape to freedom is simply lovely—and I am referring as much to the words as to the pictures.


National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry

As I mentioned in my recent review, some genius figured out that animal photos from the National Geographic archives would make the perfect accompaniment to an anthology of animal poems. The poems themselves are beautifully rich and varied—plus there are a lot of them!


Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Another madcap adventure in the Florida Everglades from Hiassen, author of Hoot, Scat, and Flush as well as numerous adult mysteries. I like how he escalates the absurdity along with the peril.

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

This is what they call a small gem of a book. You’ll find a touch of magical realism in Dowell’s story of a sixth grader harassed by friends and family for being a little overweight. Abby’s world changes when she stands up to the mean girls, encounters a fox that’s more than meets the eye, and crosses a creek to discover someone who is worse off than she is. (I've been meaning to review this, but I loaned it to a friend….)

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

Recent winner of the National Book Award for Children’s Literature. Apparently not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved main character Rownie; the lyrical, atmospheric storytelling; and the way the world building just was, without long explications.

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay (ages 10 and up)

I am a true-blue fan of McKay’s Casson family books. You really should read the first five books before this one. (And check out her Exiles books, too!) The parents are artists and bordering on negligent, but the humor and humanity in these books just can’t be beat.

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis

As the Booklist reviewer said earlier this year, “Regency romance meets Harry Potter with a strong jolt of twenty-first century feminism” in Burgis’s Kat Incorrigible series. This is Book 2, and it’s just as much fun as Book 1.


Dodger by Terry Pratchett

The brilliant Brit turns his predecessor Dickens’ Artful Dodger into a determined young hero in this adventure novel. Thoroughly satisfying and even moving as you cheer for Dodger to overcome his humble beginnings, solve a mystery, defeat his enemies, and save a damsel in distress (who is not a total wimp!).

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

In today’s sci-fi/fantasy genre there are endless variations of worlds where different human-ish species coexist uneasily. But this book gets it right in terms of character development, court intrigue, and mystery. Seraphina is partly about prejudice, but mostly about a girl trying to survive the turmoil in her life.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Sarah Dessen fans take note: this is a really good read that works the way Dessen’s books do but is not an imitator. The theme of second chances takes on a couple of different meanings, and the humor in the book is counterbalanced by the sorrow—or vice versa!

Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

This one's about a version of our world in which some people have talents like levitation and divination, including Nat’s older sister. Nat’s talent, on the other hand, is that she can talk to cats. Hilarity ensues, especially when a film crew comes to town and a mystery is afoot. I hope they make this into a movie.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Slow-paced, solemn, sinister—so why do I like this so much? Mostly the characters, not to mention Stiefvater’s ability to build suspense with a supernatural twist bit by bit. Throw in some Welsh legends and a boys’ school for good measure. Bottom line: The Raven Boys is really, really well written. That would explain the five starred reviews it got!

Books with Buzz

Now, of course I haven’t read everything, so let’s also take a look at some other recommendations… 

What I’ll do is list books that made it to at least two of the following—the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, the Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus best books of the year lists, the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2012, and the Heavy Medal blog’s shortlist (SLJ). I also considered books that received 4–6 starred reviews as of late June (thanks to ShelfTalker). See also the New York Times list of Notable Children's Books for 2012 (thanks to Charlotte for the link).


And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (5 starred reviews)

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (6 starred reviews)


Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Son by Lois Lowry

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sarah Pennypacker

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Wonder by R.J. Palacio


Note: Because not all of the YA lists for 2012 are out yet, I am going to rely mostly on starred reviews and the Publishers Weekly list of best books for teens.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (6 starred reviews)

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (6 starred reviews)

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Nelson

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Chuck Close: Face Book

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World by Joe McKendry

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

Note: If you've read any of these books and would like to tell us how good they are and why, please leave a comment!

Update 12-4-12: The New York Public Library has published its list of the best books of the year. Thanks to Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 for the link.

Update 12-9-12: Here are the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2012. You'll find many of the books listed above here. See also the Horn Book Fanfare list for 2012, another link I got from Betsy Bird.

Update 12-10-12: The Atlantic Wire has a great list of Y.A./Middle Grade Book Awards for 2012; I really like their categories! Aaaand the Kirkus list, Best Teen Books of 2012, is out! Watch for those duplicates between lists. They tell us a lot.

Update 12-12-12: Also the Amazon lists. I'm not impressed by the picture book list, but the middle grade and teen lists seem to be right on target.


Unknown said...

Fantastic list! I have read some of these myself this year. I am going to have to look for some of the other ones on your list.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing this. I'm glad to see The False Prince here. I loved it. And you're giving me ideas of books to buy for myself.

bookkm said...

Just finished Summer of the Gypsy Moths. I cringe whenever a book uses foster care and C&Y as subject matter but Pennypacker treats Stella's and Angela's need for foster care and the foster care system with a balanced hand.
Stella and Angela are contrary strangers both fostered by Stella's great-aunt Louise at a vacation cottage colony on Cape Cod. Shortly before the summer season opens, Louise dies of a heart attack. Angela will run away before she goes to another foster home and Stella does not want to be left alone. Their initial indecision leads them to hide Louise's death and try to run things on their own.
I love "surviving on their own stories" and this is just that. In the few weeks that they are able to carry this deception, the girls become a team and come to some shattering realizations about themselves and their families - especially Stella.
I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.

Michele Latham said...

So glad I found your website! What a great resource...I'll be checking out your picks!

KateCoombs said...

Happy to help! And bookkm, thanks for telling us more about Summer of the Gypsy Moths. It's on my TBR pile, but now it will move up! :)

LinWash said...

Great list! I have a number of these books. Love Extra Yarn (a book I bought because I'm a knitter).

KateCoombs said...

Such good books, right? Bookkm, thanks for telling us more about Summer of the Gypsy Moths. I confess that it's still on my TBR pile. :)