This has been a great year for kid’s books and as usual I was completely conflicted about which books to choose! I’m at the point in my writing career where I’ve met some very spectacular published authors, soon-to-be authors, as well as aspiring authors. Knowing so many great people makes it tough to maintain a professional distance in writing my reactions to the book, so I’ve decided to include a few more categories.
Now all of these books are books I either read this year or came out this year, so these are not necessarily newly published. I’m ashamed to admit there were some books by friends that I wasn’t able to read this year (So sorry guys! Maybe next year?), and unfortunately I’m sure this will continue to happen. Each list is in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
Spectacular Books by Author Friends
Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne
The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi
Something Real by Heather Demetrios
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Top 3 Books for Young Adults
Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
I also really loved Cinder by Marissa Meyer but have since been informed by a friend that many Asian Americans find this book offensive or at the least, just not a good enough representation of Asians in children’s literature due to its mixing of Asian cultures without many actual Asians in the storyline. I personally really loved this book, but I respect this opinion and can definitely see why they have said this. Still worth checking out if you love scifi and fairytales retellings!
Top 3 Middle Grade Books
A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck – while there were also some Asian American stereotypes portrayed in this one, I felt this was appropriate for the time period and for the main character’s POV.
Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children Book V) by Maryrose Wood
Best Graphic Novels (Young Adult and Middle grade)
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
If none of the above appeal to you, you might find some more goodies in this more complete list.
The Best Books I Read This Year
One of the most popular blog posts on my blog was kind of a throwaway post: 10 Reasons Why Books are Better than TV. I don’t think people are responding to this post because my reasons are so startlingly unique and hilarious, but because people genuinely want to know why reading is so important, and why reading is better than TV. While this is a fascinating area of research, to be honest I’m not interested in doing the work required for an exhaustive research article on the topic (especially not just to be published on my fabulous but not research-oriented blab-filled blog). Instead, here are links to a few articles I’ve found interesting:
Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction
Maths advantage for pupils who read for pleasure
Making Good Decisions: Television, Learning, and the Cognitive Development of Young Children
(You may also note that sitting and reading burns more calories than sitting and watching TV.)
Now I don’t have the research to prove this, but it seems like common sense that the more you read, the better you become at writing. But why is writing so important?
I was approached by Grammarly.com to include their new infographic on my blog (in exchange for a $20 donation to Reading Is Fundamental) about a study they did of Elance profiles. They proofread 400+ freelancer profiles for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and selected freelances with high quality of work ratings and looked at the correlation between their earnings and the number of mistakes they found on the profiles.
As someone who is horrible at catching my own typos, I’m not sure that correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation necessarily equals good writing, but still, I think this might be an interesting study and at the very least it’s a snazzy looking infographic :)
Minorities in Publishing is a brand new podcast featuring interviews with publishing professionals. I’m making it sound formal and boring, but it’s wonderful and inspiring and funny and I really, really love it so far. I particularly loved their interview this week with Preeti Chhibber. A *must* listen for you fellow writers and publishing people out there.
Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin
Fifteen-year-old Willow is a resourceful, intelligent young girl who spends her days reading, writing, and taking care of her horse Mayapple. But unfortunately, Willow lives in 1848 Maryland. And Willow is a slave. Though Willow’s life is relatively easy compared to the lives of other slaves in her community, she yearns to go to school and learn to write. Meanwhile, Cato, a headstrong teenager lives a free, but still oppressed life, in Haven, Pennsylvania. Against his father’s wishes, Cato gets involved with smuggling slaves to freedom, and on his first naive attempt, he gets into more trouble than he expected. When Willow and Cato finally meet, their lives and everything they thought they believed about freedom and prejudice are completely changed forever.
With this unique novel Tonya Cherie Hegamin explores life as a slave on a plantation with a “kind” owner–the hypocrisy, the lies, and the secrets that remain hidden. She explores what it means to be not only a slave, but a female slave. What do family obligations mean when you know you are related to your master? What does “home” mean when your family helped build the plantation where you live enslaved? What does “escape” even mean when there is nothing and no one to escape to?
Even while bringing up all these fascinating questions, Hegamin’s writing is lyrical and poignant, but most importantly it’s incredibly compelling. I connected with Willow from the very first few pages and did not want to put this book down.
Though Cato’s voice is not as strong as Willow’s and the romance between the two characters–though wonderful and believable–often felt besides the point, this novel is heartfelt, thought-provoking, and so, so good.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
I can’t believe it took me so long to read Nnedi Okorafor! I can see why everyone raves about her whenever talking about diverse SFF done right.
Akata Witch is about a twelve-year old girl named Sunny, who discovers she has magical powers and can see the future reflected in a candle’s flickering flames. Sunny has always felt different from other kids–she has albinism and because of this has been ostracized her whole life. But when Orlu, a boy from her school, introduces her to a whole new world of magic, she makes new friends and discovers her own powers all while trying to take down a serial killer terrorizing the children of her city.
While this book contains a lot of familiar fantasy elements–especially for Harry Potter fans–because the setting and world-building are so unique, the book still felt very fresh and exciting. (Spells that require a knife instead of a wand?!? So awesome.) My biggest issue was with the pacing, which didn’t build smoothly to the climax, but rather moved in fits and starts. You very much get sucked in to the main character and her world, but not so much the overall plot.
Definitely recommended for older MG/young YA readers who want a brand new fantasy world to read about. I’m going to have to check out her books for adults!
Kayla the Great and The Magic Red Dress
by Stephanie Davis; Illustrated by Robert Paul, Jr.
Kayla the Great and the Magic Red Dress is about a little girl named Kayla and what happens when she loses her favorite red dress. Despite the fact that I could tell this book was self-published from first glance at the cover, I was interested to read this book because it was the first picture book I’d been asked to review that featured a biracial child.
Both my kids liked the story. Pre-K monkey specifically told me, “I love this book!” when I asked for her opinion to put on my blog. However, after the first read, she wasn’t really interested in reading it again. Likewise, toddler monkey sat quietly when I read it to her, but the book was slightly too long to hold her interest. My impression was that neither the text nor the illustrations were as polished or tightened as they could’ve been, and the book design was very poor (especially the font choice).
However, this is an okay story with a simple, easy-to-understand storyline, and I have a feeling that families with a “Kayla” in their life may very well be happy with this one. The main character looks a lot like one of my friend’s daughters, and I do love that about this book.
Disclaimer: Review based on free copy provided by the author.
The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray
Intricate illustrations combine with a gentle, earth-friendly storyline in this fairytale picture book.
I took this home from the library, figuring my Pre-K Monkey would be drawn to the pink cover and “Princess” title, and I also ended up falling in love with it myself. Sadly, this appears to be one that you’ll have to request from the library!
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Set in 1959 Virginia, this unforgettable novel tells the story of Sarah Dunbar, a member of the first group of African American students to integrate her town’s public high school. Extremely bright and ambitious, Sarah faces numerous threats, verbal abuse, and physical violence so she can further her education in one of the best schools in town. Complicating matters is the unexplainable attraction she feels for Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the most vocal white segregationists in town, a girl who despises Sarah and her black classmates.
Told in alternating viewpoints, Sarah’s and Linda’s, the novel shows us how their romantic relationship grows despite racism and discrimination from their peers. Though the story is set in a fictional town, it feels unflinchingly true-to-life, as we see through Sarah’s eyes the fear and unreasonable hatred she faces from her fellow students. Sarah is a religious Christian, and because of this feels very confused about her sexuality and is unsure of what it all means. While the budding friendship and romance between Linda and Sarah feels realistic, I wasn’t quite sure I believed the love-at-first-glance chemistry that the two girls felt for each other. They meet on Sarah’s first day of school, and I had trouble understanding how Sarah, who was terrified for the physical well-being of herself and her sister, was even psychologically able feel attracted to anyone, much less one of the meanest girls at school. I also wished that we could’ve learned a little more about Sarah’s home life as there are so few stories about everyday life for African Americans in the 1950’s.
But those minor points aside, Lies We Tell Ourselves is an eye-opening and compelling novel. I am really in awe of Robin Talley’s bravery in telling this story.
My review is based on a free copy I received from the publisher, and now you have a chance to win your own! The winner of the Rafflecopter giveaway below will receive 1 free copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley from the publisher. Click the “Terms and conditions” button on the Rafflecopter widget for more information.
Edited to add: This giveaway is open to US residents only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway