Educators don’t have just literature on their shelves. They also have books that help readers understand and appreciate books and their creators; books that serve as guides to the selection and use of literature in classrooms and libraries; and books that remind us of the importance of reading and the joy that books can bring to the lives of readers of all ages.
Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box. Leonard S. Marcus (Ed.). 2016. Candlewick.
According to Leonard Marcus, writer and historian of children’s literature, the influence of comics is stronger than ever. In an introductory short history of cartoons and comic books, he describes the rise of the graphic novel to its current status as a 21st-century comic. This fascinating documentary includes interviews in a Q&A format with 13 creative and diverse graphic novelists and artists accompanied by a sample of a work in progress and an original graphic short treatment about “the city” created for inclusion in Comics Confidential. My favorite interview is with Gene Luen Yang, who was born in 1973 in California to Chinese immigrants. Geeky as a child and adolescent, he graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science and a minor in creative writing. Creating satirical stereotypes in his first book, American Born Chinese (2006), Yang addressed issues of racial identity and immigration while he played with new elements of visual story narrative. In his subsequent books and projects, he has continued to develop his art technique, research procedure, and storytelling narrative strategies. He created “Berkeley, California” as a short comic for this book. Comics Confidential is an informative and inspiring book for anyone who wants to learn more about the creative process of this revolutionary mode of visual storytelling.
Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction. Sharan A. Gibson & Barbara Moss. 2016. Teachers College.
Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing after her death in 2007, New Zealand’s Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist and literacy development expert, has transformed how young readers are taught through applications of her transformative literacy processing theory via Reading Recovery and other programs. Gibson and Moss revisit Clay’s four essential principles: literacy processing is complex, there is a reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, continuous text exposure is essential to reading development, and experiencing diverse text complexity is necessary for the development of higher level literacy skills. The authors present differentiated teaching applications for individual learners within whole-class, small-group, and occasional one-on-one instruction, along with examples such as a detailed description of an interactive read-aloud with teacher questioning. They discuss the importance of integrated cross-disciplinary literacy instruction, exposure to informational texts, participation in thematic units, and the conducting of research projects in the building of knowledge by students. An epilogue challenges teachers, as educational leaders, to take action based on Clay’s principles to build comprehensive literacy programs to develop children who are strong readers and writers.
Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers. Kathleen T. Isaacs. 2016. American Library Association.
Young, eager readers read at an early age, employ multiple reading strategies, may develop unique reading interests, read three to four times more than most children, and are most likely to become voracious lifelong readers. Isaacs considers ways in which teachers, librarians, and families can help these children overcome two major challenges: to find enjoyable and interesting reading materials that meet their special reading interests and to select books that are developmentally appropriate. Isaacs offers an informative look at her research, describes how she chose the books she recommends, and explores the topic of “What Makes a Good Children’s Book and What Makes a Good Book for a Young Reader?” Through conversations and interviews with parents, booksellers, teachers, and librarians, Isaacs gathered information about early and eager readers—their similarities and differences and their reading preferences. Her findings resulted in this book, in which she recommends a mix of 300 old and new titles for eager readers from ages 4 to 10. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as “Talking Animals and Tiny People” and “Witches and Wizards and Magic,” and entries contain information about interest levels and Lexile levels (independent reading levels which encourage reading development) and annotations with interesting insights. Isaacs’s book is an excellent resource for those seeking books that encourage, challenge, and support already excellent young readers.
Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives. David Denby. 2016. Henry Holt.
“How do you establish reading pleasure in busy, screen-loving teenagers—and in particular, pleasure in reading serious work?” Reporter David Denby set out to answer this when he spent the 2011–2012 school year observing an ethnically and economically diverse 10th-grade English class in Beacon School, a magnet public high school in New York City’s Manhattan borough. On the first day of school, teacher Sean Leon discussed what the class would be reading under the year’s “individual and society” theme—“You are going to read books that make you uncomfortable”—and what would be expected of them. Denby read all the literature that the students read throughout the year including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, and other challenging books. He comments on the books, Leon’s guidance of discussions, and the students’ involvement in the books read throughout the year. During the following school year, Denby visited both an inner-city 10th-grade English class in New Haven, CT, in which students had a common reading list as well as some choice between pairs of books, and a school in an affluent Westchester County, NY, community in which students made independent reading choices in addition to doing the core reading. From his experiences, Denby concluded that, under the guidance of passionate, committed teachers who are free to develop their own curricula, teenagers can become serious readers who take pleasure in reading.
Picture This: How Pictures Work (Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition). Molly Bang. 2016. Chronicle.
This guidebook explores an intriguing question: How does the structure of a picture—or any visual art form—affect our emotional response? To illustrate her points, Bang begins with examples related to artwork for “Little Red Riding Hood.” Using a think-aloud strategy, she analyzes how geometric shapes, colors, placement, and so on engage a reader’s emotional interpretations and connections to the narrative. Bang presents 12 principles (e.g., “smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm”) through simple art and explanations. Using her picture book When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry (2004), Bang describes how she created artwork to portray Sophie’s feelings of fury, sadness, expectancy, contentment, and contemplation. Through an illustration from her book, Dawn (1983), an adaptation of “The Crane Wife,” a Japanese folk tale, she encourages readers to analyze how this artwork affects their feelings, and then invites them to create, revise, and analyze their own scary picture using colored cut-paper art. Bang includes a list of further art exercises so readers can apply what they have learned. In this revision, she has fine-tuned her layouts and accompanying descriptions and analyses of examples for readers of all ages who want to produce art and/or understand it and how it affects the human spirit.
The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. Neil Gaiman. 2016. William Morrow/HarperCollins.
Neil Gaiman describes this book as “a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays,” and it does include his nonfiction writing on a wide range of topics, issues, and people who matter to him. It also gives readers a look at Gaiman’s life story, including his love of reading at a young age and the authors he credits with making him the writer he is today:
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton, and his appreciation for all the arts and the people who make them. Throughout the book, Gaiman communicates his belief in the importance of reading: “I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.” He speaks to readers in a conversational tone that is witty, wise, and thought provoking. Each entry is worth reading again and again and leaves readers with books to add to their I-want-to-read-or-read-again booklists.
Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism (3rd Edition). Michael Cart. 2016. American Library Association.
This revised, updated, and expanded third edition of Michael Cart’s survey of young adult literature, which began with the publication of From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature in 1996, is essential reading for anyone who wants to be current on the field. Maintaining the “That Was Then” and “This Is Now” format of earlier editions, Cart presents the history of young adult novels by decades, beginning with the 1960s and then shifting to a consideration of changes and trends in young adult literature in the 21st century, ushered in with the announcement of the first-ever winner of the Michael L. Printz Award at the American Library Association Midwinter conference on January 12, 2000. Cart states that the winning book, Walter Dean Myers’s Monster, and the four honor books “exemplified the newly literary, innovative, and diverse nature of young adult literature,” heralding the revival and renaissance of young adult literature. He covers a range of topics including genre fiction, teen demographics (Cart doesn’t shy away from presenting statistics), and the marketing of YA books (including the expanded audience for young adult books). He offers a balanced consideration of issues and their treatment by contemporary authors in addition to hot topics such as “the new nonfiction,” the boom in audiobooks, and the rise of new literacies in the age of change in technology. Cart leaves readers with thought-provoking comments on the promising future of young adult literature.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
In looking back at the bounty of nonfiction for children and young adults in 2016, we have considered the diversity of reading interests in addition to identifying outstanding trade books with curriculum connections.
Best in Snow. April Pulley Sayre. 2016. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.
The beauty of Sayre’s photographs of a snowstorm is matched by that of her spare, lyrical text. “A freeze. / A breeze. / A cloud. / It snows. / Snowflakes land on a squirrel’s nose.” Stunning double-page spreads take readers through the water cycle of winter, from freezing to mush and slush, until another snowflake lands on a squirrel’s nose in a new storm. An appended “Secrets of Snow” adds notes on the science of snow.
Giant Squid. Candace Fleming. Ill. Eric Rohmann. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.
Fleming and Rohmann introduce readers to the giant squid, a mysterious sea creature inhabiting the ocean depths. Double-page spreads of dramatic text and paintings reveal features of the squid’s body and its behavior. Particularly intriguing is a sequence of illustrations showing the squid’s evasion of a barracuda by ejecting a cloud of ink. A note on the search by scientists to answer questions about the giant squid will lead the curious reader to listed resources.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Debbie Levy. Ill. Elizabeth Baddeley. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Ruth was born in Brooklyn in 1933 into a strong Jewish family. Poignant illustrations depicting encounters with signs such as “NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED!” posted at hotels, restaurants, and in neighborhoods express the pain of prejudice young Ruth experienced. When older, she faced sexism at college and in her profession. At every turn, she resisted and persisted, eventually becoming a Supreme Court Justice, a position she has held since 1993 and one she uses to fight for equality for all people in the United States.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Ill. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2016. Viking/Penguin.
Pinkney’s expressive narrative: “BROWN-SUGAR BOY in a blanket of white. / Bright as the day you came onto the page. / From the hand of a man who saw you for you” and the mixed-media illustrations, rendered in Keats’s signature collage style, tell the story of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, born in Brooklyn in 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Poland, and the creation of his 1963 Caldecott Medal–winning book.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Abrams.
In this origin legend, illustrated with Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec codices–inspired art, an Emperor agrees to the marriage of Princess Izta to Popoca if the warrior defeats his enemy Jaguar Claw. Amid the battle, Jaguar Claw sends Izta a report of Popoca’s death and a potion to ease her grief that puts her into a deep sleep. Victorious, Popoca returns and keeps his vow to stay by Izta’s side forever. Now, in Mexico there are two adjacent volcanoes: dormant Iztaccíhuatl and active Popocatéptl.
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics. Steve Jenkins. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jenkins combines images of animals, created in his signature cut- and torn-paper collage technique, with charts and diagrams to visually present facts and figures about animals in an accessible format. High-interest topics range from the number of species in the different animal groups presented in a pie chart to deadly animals (based on the number of human deaths caused) in a bar graph to the world’s most endangered animals in a double-page chart.
Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. R. Gregory Christie. 2016. Little Bee.
Slaves in New Orleans toiled their way to Sunday afternoons when they were free to sing and dance in Congo Square. As their musical styles melded with those of other enslaved people, the foundation of popular jazz was created. This folk-art, rhyming, days-of-the week historical picture book (“Mondays, there were hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.”) includes a foreword with historical background on Congo Square.
Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology. Robert Byrd. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Following an introduction to the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, one of the oldest recorded Greek myths, Robert Byrd uses a series of lavishly illustrated double-page spreads to present key episodes of the quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece by Jason and the Argonauts, who were both helped and hindered by interactions with the gods as they fought epic battles with giants, harpies, and other monsters.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Javaka Steptoe. 2016. Little, Brown.
Steptoe’s lyrical text and expressive mixed-media illustrations create a stunning biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). As a child, Jean-Michel dreamed of becoming a famous artist; his artwork was everywhere in his family’s Brooklyn home. Moving to New York City in his teens, he painted on paper during the day and spray-painted walls downtown with poems and drawings at night. Gaining recognition, his artwork began to appear in art galleries. “People describe him as RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD.”
Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. Melissa Sweet. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In Some Writer! the always-creative Melissa Sweet uses a scrapbook-style compilation of letters, journals entries, family photos, manuscript excerpts, quotes, and her original mixed-media collage artwork and a warm narrative to present the story of the life and work of beloved children’s book author E.B. White. Particularly engaging are the chapters devoted to the writing of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, which exemplify White’s love of words and his process of crafting them into stories.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. Sarah Miller. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Miller takes readers beyond the “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” verse associated with the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, MA, covering the events leading up to Lizzie’s arrest, her imprisonment, her trial, and what came after her acquittal. The narrative is supplemented with sidebars of sensational newspaper articles that fueled rumors and divided opinions on whether Lizzie was guilty or innocent.
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. Gail Jarrow. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
The third plague pandemic first appeared in San Francisco in 1894. Even after two researchers independently determined that the source, a bacterium, was transmitted by a flea, civic officials around the world continued to focus on quarantining people in communities where plague was found rather than eradicating the flea and its rat carrier. The final chapter of this well-researched book reports on present-day evidence of the plague in the United States.
The Great White Shark Scientist (Scientists in the Field).Sy Montgomery. Ill. Keith Ellenbogen. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Montgomery introduces readers to the work of biologist Greg Skomal and his research team during one summer as they video record and tag great white sharks in the waters off Cape Cod, MA. In the fall, she gets a close-up look at great white sharks in a dive in a submersible cage in the waters off Guadalupe Island with Mexican biologist Erick Higuera. Captioned photographs taken by Ellenbogen underwater and from research vessels and a small spotter plane add interest.
March: Book Three. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Ill. Nate Powell. 2016. Top Shelf.
The final book in the graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis covers the turbulent period of the Civil Rights movement from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, to the signing by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This personal account provides a behind-the-scenes look at Lewis’s leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, meetings with other activists and government officials, and conflicts within various civil rights groups.
Vietnam: A History of the War. Russell Freedman. 2016. Holiday House.
Freedman provides readers with a well-researched history of the Vietnam War, including background on the small Asian country’s long history of fighting for independence and events leading up to the protracted 1954–1975 conflict. Drawing from newspaper reports and personal stories from multiple points of view, Freedman gives a balanced account of the combat involvement of the United States in Vietnam and the divisive protest movements at home.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History. Karen Blumenthal. 2016. Feiwel and Friends.
Blumenthal successfully takes on the challenge of writing about a contemporary political figure in this accessible portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her birth in 1947 and childhood in Park Ridge, IL, to her announcement in April 2015 that she was running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president. Blumenthal considers the people and experiences that have influenced Clinton’s life choices and the challenges she has faced as a woman in her professional and political life. The book includes photographs and interest-catching editorial cartoons.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb. Neal Bascomb. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Bascomb provides a well-researched account of the operations that ended Hitler’s plan to produce an atomic bomb. Heroic saboteurs destroyed the Norsk Hydro Plant in a remote mountainous region of Norway, which was Germany’s source of heavy water, an essential component for constructing an atomic bomb. Bascomb details the failures and successes of plans and the contributions of key individuals in the sabotage activities in addition to the atomic research of both Germany and the Allies.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. Caren Stelson. 2016. Carolrhoda/Lerner.
In 1945, 6-year-old Sachiko Yasui and her family were familiar with the hardships of living in a war-torn country. Then, on the morning of August 9, three days after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb exploded just one half mile from the Yasui home. Based on extensive interviews with Sachiko Yasui, Stelson tells Sachiko’s story of survival, ending with how, on the 50th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, Sachiko began to share her hibakusha (explosion-affected people) experiences publicly to promote peace.
The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Shaun Tan. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
This beautifully designed book features 75 small sculptures created by Shaun Tan. A photograph of each sculpture is paired with a short excerpt from a Grimms’ fairy tale. Neil Gaiman’s foreword offers an appreciation of The Singing Tree, and Jack Zipes’s essay on the Grimm Brothers provides a historical context. In an afterword, Tan discusses his personal connection to the Grimms’ tales, influences on his artwork, and the materials and processes he used in creating his sculptures.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II. Albert Marrin. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
Marrin chronicles the shameful period in U.S. history in which fear, insecurity, and racism led to the uprooting of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to relocation centers following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1947. Through personal stories, he covers life in these internment camps and the rebuilding of lives after the closing of the centers. In the final chapter, “Remembering the Past,” Marrin points out the importance of history as “a reminder of tragedies like the uprooting, and a warning against repeating them.”
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA. Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.
The season for looking back is upon us, and best-of-the-year booklists are popping up in the media. After reading so many books, having a few favorites is natural. Here are some notable fiction offerings of 2016.
Du Iz Tak? Carson Ellis. 2016. Candlewick.
As a tiny, green shoot emerges and grows and grows, a year of insect mini-dramas unfolds in clever, brightly colored gouache-and-ink illustrations, accompanied by a text made solely of invented dialogue. A damselfly exclaims, “Unk gladdenboot!” during the big spring reveal of a flower, but it is not long before the land returns to its fallow state, and it’s time to begin again—“Du iz tak?”—as new shoots appear. Children can read the pictures to tell the story and enjoy translating the text.
School’s First Day of School. Adam Rex. Ill. Christian Robinson. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.
With colorful paint-and-collage artwork, this picture book offers a fresh and fun perspective on first-day jitters as a new building, Frederick Douglass Elementary, nervously opens his doors to students. So far, his only human contact has been with the janitor. At day’s end, School is eager to report to the janitor about his big day and asks him to invite everyone to come back the next morning.
They All Saw a Cat. Brendan Wenzel. 2016. Chronicle.
“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws...” and “the child saw A CAT, and the dog saw A CAT,” and 10 other animals saw the cat. How each animal saw the tabby cat from its own perspective, colored by its knowledge and emotional response to the encounter, is brilliantly conveyed in imaginative double-page illustrations, rendered in a variety of materials, which complete the rhythmic patterned text of this imaginative picture book.
We Found a Hat. Jon Klassen. 2016. Candlewick.
In this final book in Klassen’s hat trilogy, two tortoises find a spiffy 10-gallon hat. The dilemma: How can the friends both wear the hat at the same time, especially when one of them secretly really wants it? Can they “dream up” a solution that works for both of them? The minimalistic artwork, in desert-like pink, grey, and brown tones, and simple narrative of this warm, gently humorous tale of friendship, will enchant children.
The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán.” Jo Ellen Bogart. Ill. Sydney Smith. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Panels of watercolor-and-ink paintings on wordless pages set the scene as a white cat prowls the halls of a monastery and makes its way into the cell of a Benedictine monk. The scholar compares his solitary life to that of the cat in this quiet tale of companionship in the Middle Ages. “We are each content, with all we need to entertain us. Ours is a happy tale.”
The Best Man. Richard Peck. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Archer Magill chronicles his elementary school years, beginning with an embarrassing wedding experience as a ring bearer at the age of 6. Through the highs and lows of subsequent years, Archer has three role models: Dad, Grandpa Magill, and Uncle Paul. Then he adds another, his fifth-grade student teacher, Mr. MacLeod. Archer concludes his “Tale of Two Weddings” as he serves as best man for Uncle Paul and Mr. MacLeod at their wedding in June after his year in sixth grade.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Kelly Barnhill. 2016. Algonquin.
A baby left in the forest in the Protectorate’s annual sacrifice is rescued by a good witch, Xan, who mistakenly lets the infant drink moonlight, thus she becomes enmagicked. Xan (with the help of a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon) must raise the child, Luna, to keep her magic confined until she’s old enough to control it. At the age of 13, Luna’s magic emerges and she uses it in a tangle of complex interactions involving her three guardians, an evil sorceress, and humans.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Adam Gidwitz. Ill. Hatem Aly. 2016. Dutton/Penguin.
In 1242, travelers gathered in a French tavern contribute stories about a dog and three children with supernatural powers. Gwenforte, the dog, was killed but came back to life. Jeanne, a peasant, sees the future. William, an oblate, has super strength. Jacob, a young Jewish boy, has the power to heal wounds. Aly’s manuscript illuminations are an integral part of this epic adventure as the children and their dog elude the inquisition.
Pax. Sara Pennypacker. Ill. Jon Klassen. 2016. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.
Twelve-year-old Peter is being sent to live with his grandfather. His father is going off to war and insists that Pax, a fox and Peter’s companion for five years, be released in the wild. Pax doesn’t understand his abandonment; Peter realizes the wrongness of the separation. Boy and fox have encounters that change them, and Peter comes to understand that a reunion with Pax may not be in Pax’s best interest, even if it is possible.
Raymie Nightingale. Kate DiCamillo. 2016. Candlewick.
When her father runs off with a dental hygienist, 10-year-old Raymie sets out to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest so he’ll return home to his famous daughter. Unfortunately, Raymie has no talent for baton twirling. However, two contestants, who also have special reasons for wanting to win, become her best friends as they work on pageant-required service projects. By the end of the contest, the futures of all the girls look brighter.
When the Sea Turned to Silver. Grace Lin. 2016. Little, Brown.
Grace Lin weaves ancient Chinese folktales into an epic adventure in which Pinmei and her mysterious friend Vishan set out on a perilous quest during a never-ending winter to find the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. She intends to offer the stone, which the Tiger Emperor covets, in exchange for the release of her beloved grandmother, Amah the Storyteller. Lin’s richly colored, intricately detailed illustration and spot art illuminate this companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009) and Starry River of the Sky (2012).
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. John Boyne. 2016. Henry Holt.
In 1936, orphaned 7-year-old Pierrot moves into the Austrian retreat of Adolf Hitler, where his aunt is the housekeeper. Becoming the Führer’s special pet, he transforms from a naïve child into an adolescent who, idolizing Hitler and completely committed to Nazi supremacy, betrays those who have treated him with love and kindness. As World War II ends, he has learned some important lessons, but they come too late to atone for his actions.
Ghost (Track #1). Jason Reynolds. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Seventh-grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is always running, either away from trouble as when he and his mother had to run when his drunk father threatened them with a gun or toward trouble or “altercations” at school. When he is recruited as a sprinter by the Olympic medalist coach of an elite youth track team, Ghost has the opportunity to develop his natural talent as a runner—if he can control his anger and move beyond his troubled past.
The Lie Tree. Frances Hardinge. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
In this blending of fantasy and historical mystery, Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, a gentleman natural scientist, whisks his family away from Victorian London to the remote island of Vane, ostensibly to participate in an archaeological dig, but more likely to escape scandal involving an accusation of faking fossil finds. Fourteen-year-old Faith becomes aware of her father’s conflict with the men involved with the dig. When he is found dead, she is determined to prove that he did not commit suicide.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel. Matt Phelan. 2016. Candlewick.
Phelan’s nearly wordless retelling of Snow White recasts characters and sets the tale in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. After the death of her mother, Samantha (“Snow”) White’s father, the King of Wall Street, marries the Queen of the Follies. Learning Samantha is heir to her father’s fortune, the evil stepmother hires a thug to kill her. Like the classic huntsman, he spares Samantha’s life. A gang of seven street urchins protect her, and a police detective takes the place of the prince for a happy ending.
To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick.
In the spring of 1846, Mary Ann Graves (an actual survivor of the ill-fated crossing of the Sierra Nevada range by members of the Donner Party) and her family leave their home in Illinois for California. Lyrical poetry conveys the hardships the wagon train encounters as it moves across the vast wilderness and into the unexpected harshness of an early winter, which brings a shift from enthusiasm for a trailblazing adventure to despair among the starving and freezing pioneers.
The Memory of Light. Francisco X. Stork. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Working with a therapist and getting to know the three teens in her therapy group in a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky realizes she needs this supportive environment. Her father and stepmother, however, want her home and back to a “normal” routine. Stork tells the story of Vicky’s movement from the darkness of clinical depression to recovery to the point that she can return home with the strength to live if she has control over what that life will be.
Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. Philomel/Penguin.
World War II is nearing an end, and a group of refugees bands together, surviving unbelievable hardships, to reach an East Prussian port, where Germany is carrying out a sea evacuation of soldiers and civilians. Escape to freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff turns disastrous as the ship is sunk by a Soviet submarine. Told through alternating points of view of four characters (three refugees and a German sailor), this novel lets readers live the events leading up to—and following—this heartbreaking epic, based on an actual tragedy of war.
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe). Neal Shusterman. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In a future world that has conquered death, a supercomputer, the “Thunderhead,” runs daily societal systems while professional scythes glean (kill) to keep population size under control. Teens Citra and Rowan, unwillingly pitted against each other as apprentice scythes (with the winner destined to glean the loser) uncover a political conspiracy to destroy their perfect society with stakes higher than their own lives. Scythe leaves the reader eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
The Sun Is Also a Star. Nicola Yoon. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Two teens meet in New York City and fall in love during a 12-hour period. Natasha, an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, is being deported that evening. Daniel, a Korean American, is in the city for a Yale interview. His parents, Korean immigrants, insist that he pursue a medical career; Daniel wants to be a poet. At the end of the day, they separate. Their lives have been changed by their time together and encounters with others. Parting is a sad reality, but there is hope. The universe is full of possibilities for the future.
We Are the Ants. Shaun David Hutchinson. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
You may believe you matter in the universe. “But you don’t. Because we are the ants,” declares Henry Denton, a troubled teen, who is periodically abducted by aliens. Each time he’s aboard their spaceship, the aliens reveal a different way the world might end and show him a red button he could push to save it. Searching for why the world deserves a future, he asks individuals, “If you knew the world was going to end but you could prevent it, would you?” But does this matter, if Henry can’t find a way of first saving himself?
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
As Neil Gaiman states in the introduction to Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones (2016): “People need stories.... They entertain us and they change us, as they have changed and entertained us for thousands of years.”
I was fortunate to grow up learning nursery rhymes and listening to fairy tales, and once I could read on my own, I devoured the books in the folklore section of my local library. Today’s children need to hear and read these stories. Here is a selection of fairy tales, myths, and legends published in 2016, including new editions of classic collections in addition to fresh retellings of tales I recommend adding to personal, classroom, and library collections.
Hare and Tortoise. Alison Murray. 2016. Candlewick.
In her fresh and lively retelling of this Aesop fable, Murray introduces Hare (Leapus swifticus) and Tortoise (Slow and steadicus) with profiles, statements of their racing capabilities, and quotes from the two racers. After a “Ready…Steady…Cock-a-doodle-GO!” from a rooster to start the race, the brightly colored, digitally created illustrations show the two competitors on the race course, with Hare leaping through the tickliest grass and the meadow while Tortoise plods along the bottom of the page. Hare brags, “I’m the fastest on the farm. No one can beat me!” Tortoise says “I may be slow, but I’ll give it a go.” Overconfident Hare’s stopping to munch on carrots and nap leads to Tortoise’s victory. In a show of good sportsmanship, Tortoise suggests a rematch: a race to the lettuce patch.
Little Red. Bethan Woollvin. 2016. Peachtree.
Meeting a wolf in the woods on her way to Grandma’s house, “which might have scared some little girls,” does not scare Little Red. The wolf, of course, takes a shortcut—an unlucky turn of events for Grandma. When Little Red arrives, she peeps through the window and sees the badly disguised wolf in Grandma’s bed, “which might have scared some little girls,” but not Little Red. Just as the wolf leaps to devour her, Little Red surprises the unlucky wolf with an ax. Little Red returns home wearing a wolf fur outfit. The bold graphic illustrations, created with only black, gray, and touches of red on expansive white backgrounds, are a perfect match for the text. The result is a more humorous and darker retelling of the traditional tale, as all ends well for brave and clever Little Red, but not for Grandma.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Abrams.
In Tonatiuh’s retelling of this Mexican legend, illustrated with his signature Mixtec codices–inspired art, a princess named Izta falls in love with Popoca, a warrior, who vows to stay by her side no matter what. Her emperor father agrees to the marriage only if Popoca defeats his enemy Jaguar Claw, the ruler of a neighboring kingdom. When, after numerous battles, it becomes clear that Popoca will win, the evil Jaguar Claw bribes one of Popoca’s messengers to report to Izta that Popoca is dead and to offer her a potion to ease her grief. Izta drinks the poisonous potion and fall into a deep sleep from which she never wakes. Popoca returns the victor and keeps his vow to stay by Izta’s side forever. Now, where once there was a princess with her true love by her side, there are two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl (sleeping woman) and Popocatépetl (smoky mountain). Back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary, and a bibliography. An interesting volcano news connection: An unusually long and strong explosion of Popocatépetl occurred last month.
The Teeny-Tiny Woman (Folk Tale Classics). Paul Galdone. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The rhythmic repetition of “teeny-tiny” throughout the story of the teeny-tiny woman who finds a teeny-tiny bone in a teeny-tiny churchyard’s cemetery and takes it home intending to use in a teeny-tiny soup makes this a fun book to read aloud. When a teeny-tiny voice coming from the cupboard where she has put the bone increases in volume as it says, “Give me my bone,” however, the tale becomes a teeny-tiny bit scary. Over the years there have been other illustrated retellings of this traditional English tale, but Galdone’s delightfully folksy illustrations make his The Teeny-Tiny Woman, which was originally published in 1984, the classic retelling.
Beauty and the Beast. Mahlon F. Craft. Ill. Kinuko Y. Craft. 2016. Harper/HarperCollins.
The Crafts have created a beautiful picture book adaptation of the well-loved tale of Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, first published in France in 1756. The blocks of text of Mahlon F. Craft’s well-crafted retelling, which are on the left-hand pages, begin with decorative illuminated letters. Kinuko Y. Craft’s exquisite oil-over-watercolor illustrations are on the right-hand pages. In addition, there are three double-page wordless spreads presenting key scenes from the tale. The rich detailing of both text and illustrations of this adaptation of the traditional tale will appeal to middle-grade readers. It is a fine addition to classroom and library collections of fairy tales.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales. Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. 2016. University of Minnesota.
This renamed edition of the d’Aulaires’ classic East of the Sun and West of the Moon, originally published in 1938, remains the best collection for introducing children to Norwegian folktales. In the introduction, the d’Aulaires give a brief history of the folklore of Norway, including the role of Asbjörnsen and Moe in collecting the oral tales in the 19th century and the first translation of the tales into English, and tell of the difficulty they had in deciding which tales and illustrations to include in their collection. The 21 tales of princesses, trolls, talking animals, and heroes, which are best enjoyed through being read aloud, introduce children to motifs of Norwegian folklore. Many of the tales involve princes and knights attempting seemingly impossible feats to win a princess and half of a kingdom; the unlikely young hero Cinderlad is often the one who succeeds.
Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology. Robert Byrd. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Following an introduction to the ancient Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts, one of the oldest recorded Greek myths, Robert Byrd uses a series of lavishly illustrated double-page spreads to present key episodes of mortal Jason’s quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason and the Argonauts (kings, princes, other noblemen, warriors, sages, and the sons of gods and goddesses) were helped and hindered by interactions with the gods as they fought epic battles with giants, harpies, man-eating Stymphalian birds, fire-breathing bulls, and other monsters. The double-page entries with detailed story-text and sidebars profiling key figures work well for chapter-a-day-type read-aloud and discussion sessions. The endpapers show a map of the route of the Argo. Back matter includes a chart of the Olympians, an author’s note, and a bibliography.
Divine Comedies: A Gift From Zeus and The Old Testament Made Easy. Jeanne Steig. Ill. William Steig. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Divine Comedies includes two Steig collaborations: A Gift From Zeus (originally published in 2011) and The Old Testament Made Easy (originally published in 1990). The droll and bawdy humor of Jeanne Steig’s classic stories from Greek mythology, told in prose with a scattering of light verse, and the Old Testament, told in verse, and the humorous and at times playfully naughty pen-and-watercolor cartoon artwork of William Steig make this collection of stories delightfully irreverent fare for sophisticated readers.
Tales From the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal. Donna Jo Napoli. Ill. Christina Balit. 2016. National Geographic.
In a strong storytelling voice, Donna Jo Napoli presents 49 of the 1,001 stories Scheherazade tells to her husband, who has vowed to take a new wife each day and to kill her the next morning to avoid ever being betrayed again as he was by his unfaithful first wife. For those not ready to take on independent reading of the book, listening to some of the tales will be a treat. Older children reading the book on their own will enjoy the frame story and how the tales link together, as well as Christina Balit’s exquisite artwork, which incorporates Middle Eastern motifs and cultural details in rich colors. An introduction and sidebars of related historical and cultural details add interest. Back matter includes a postscript in which Napoli discusses her selection of stories, a map of the Middle East, sources and bibliography, and an index.
The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Shaun Tan. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
This beautifully designed book features 75 small sculptures inspired by the fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Shaun Tan created the sculptures, which vary in size from about 2 to 16 inches in height, with papier-mâché, air-drying clay, paint, and miscellaneous other materials and natural objects. A photograph of each sculpture is paired with a short excerpt from a fairy tale, some familiar and some lesser known. Each of the sculptures and selected passages is thought-provoking; some, reflecting the dark side of tales, are unsettling. Neil Gaiman’s foreword offers an appreciation of The Singing Tree, and Jack Zipes’s essay “How the Brothers Grimm Made Their Way Into the World” provides a historical context for the book. In an afterword, Tan discusses his personal connection to the Grimms’ tales, the influence of Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines on his artwork, and the materials and processes he used in creating his sculptures. Back matter includes an annotated index with brief summaries of the Grimms’ fairy tales and a recommended list for further reading for those wishing to read the entire tales.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
As an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction, I have had a wealth of good reading in the genre throughout 2016. Here is a sample of those books I found particularly engaging. They introduce readers to traditional characters, including fairies, griffins, and Bigfoot, as well as to humans who have fantastical adventures in the past, present, or future. These books offer readers the opportunity to exercise their imagination.
A Fairy Friend. Sue Fliess. Ill. Claire Keane. 2016. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
A gentle rhyming text and dreamy, soft watercolor illustrations by a Disney animator present the story of a young girl who has read in her Fairies book that “Friendly fairies soar the skies. / Ride the backs of dragonflies.” She doesn’t see any fairies even though they are all around. However, as the illustrations show, her bulldog sees them flitting everywhere. She follows the directions in her book for attracting a fairy by building a special house of twigs and blooms, and a fairy friend comes to her. The girl also learns that when it’s time to let her forever friend go “...if you’re thoughtful, kind, and true, / Your fairy will return to you!” Young children are sure to want to make their own fairy houses after enjoying this imaginative tale.
Henry & Leo. Pamela Zagarenski. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This evocative read-aloud about friendship and love is accompanied by enchanting mixed-media illustrations. Henry has loved Leo, his stuffed lion and his best friend, since he got him on his second birthday. For Henry, Leo is real. After Henry and his family return home from a walk in the Nearby Woods, Henry realizes that Leo is no longer with him. He tells his mother, “Leo will be scared.” She replies, “He is real only in your imagination,” and promises that they will search for Leo in the morning. That night, Henry dreams (shown in exquisite wordless double-page spreads) that other stuffed animals—a bear, a fox, and a hare—from his bedroom come alive and search for Leo in the woods. They leave Leo by the front door, where Henry is reunited with him in the morning. There is more for children to discover and to think about with each rereading of Henry & Leo.
Nobody Likes a Goblin. Ben Hatke. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
Goblin lives in his homey dungeon with bats and rats. After a band of adventurers kidnap his best friend, Skeleton, from the Treasure Room, Goblin goes on a quest to bring back Skeleton—and the stolen treasure. Along the way he meets trolls, villagers, and elves who don’t like him. When Goblin finally finds Skeleton, they hide in a cave that houses a crowd of goblins who, seeing him wearing Skeleton’s crown, proclaim him their King of the Goblins. The new goblin friends defend Goblin and Skeleton, chase away their tormentors, and retrieve the stolen treasure. Goblin and Skeleton return home together, demonstrating that true friends accept you for who you are without judgment. The artful placement of text alongside watercolor-and-ink illustrations in interesting layouts in separate frames in this grand adventure story give young children the feel of reading a graphic novel.
Hatched (The Enchanted Files #2). Bruce Coville. 2016. Random House.
Timid griffling Gerald Overflight (a triplet) from the Enchanted Realm, on his quest for a treasure for his important Tenth Hatchday Ceremony, is spurred on by his gnome tutor, Abelard Chronicus, who has ulterior motives for traveling to the human world. Bradley Ashango is spending the summer at his grandmother’s farm in the Catskill Mountains where he and Gerald meet by accident in the barn. They unite to save nearby New Batavia—home to a colony of gnomes living underground—from being developed into wetlands by capturing two dozen large pink bunnies from the Enchanted Realm and transplanting them as an endangered species. Gerald not only earns his tenth treasure, a gold medal, but also recognition for his bravery in confronting a dragon and saving the gnomes. The humor of this adventure story of bravery and friendship between human and magical worlds (told from multiple points of view with “authentic” documentation) will surely entertain fantasy-loving middle-grade readers.
The Imagination Box (The Imagination Box #1). Martyn Ford. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Lonely 10-year-old Tim lives at Dawn Star Hotel with his adoptive parents, Lisa and Chris, who pretty much leave him to entertain himself. When he meets scientist and inventor Professor Eisenstone and accidentally harnesses his imagination to the professor’s mind-harnessing machine, creating a burnt sausage, the professor declares him a genius (with an admonition to keep this a secret). Emboldened, Tim corrals his fertile thoughts and produces a miniature monkey as a play companion. His best creation, however, is an Imagination Box that comes with its own nightmare consequences. When Professor Eisenstone disappears, Tim enlists the aid of the professor’s granddaughter, Dee, to search for him. In a horrific turn of events with several narrow escapes, Tim uncovers a complicated, sinister plot against Professor Eisenstone that began decades earlier. The cliffhanger ending, fueled by Tim’s glimpse into the soul of evil and his unbridled imagination, sets readers up for the next book in this science fiction trilogy.
The Littlest Bigfoot (Littlest Bigfoot #1). Jennifer Weiner. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Twelve-year-old Alice has never fit in with her socialite parents at home or at any of her prior seven schools. Even though her new boarding school, The Experimental Center for Love and Learning, strives for inclusivity, she is bullied for her large size and mass of unruly hair. Millie, a young member of the Yare (Bigfoot) tribe, feels unappreciated by her family and yearns to sing on television with No-Furs (humans), but contact with humans is strictly forbidden. The two become friends when Alice saves Millie from drowning in a lake. When outcast Jeremy and his techy wheelchair-bound friend Jo, intent on discovering a Bigfoot, stumble across compelling evidence that threatens to expose Millie’s secrets, Alice and Millie heroically execute a plan to save the Yare community. An unexpected revelation will pull middle-grade readers into the next book in the series.
Children of Exile (Children of Exile #1). Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
The children of Fredtown, a simple, peaceful, polite, and well-run society, learn they are not orphans after all and will be returned home to their parents, who were forced to give them up at birth. Rosi, the oldest girl at age 12, does her best to make the transition smooth for the younger children. However, from the beginning of the disastrous flight home to their reception by their poor, damaged parents who don’t know what to do with them, nothing bodes well. Rosi soon discovers scary and monstrous things afoot at night, and she is arrested and incarcerated when she stands up to injustice. Just as she realizes her parents do love her, Rosi uncovers the unbelievable reality of who the Enforcers and the Freds are. On the run with her brother and another child, Rosi must decide where they belong, leaving readers in suspense and eager for the sequel.
The Haunting of Falcon House. Eugene Yelchin. 2016. Henry Holt.
Twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov leaves his beloved mother to travel to czarist Saint Petersburg in 1891 to claim his title as master of Falcon House. Instead of being greeted as a long-lost relative and leader, he is treated oddly and nothing is what it appears to be. Lev aspires to be like his grandfather, who was a powerful general in the Russian army, but he soon discovers that Grandfather had a dark side. He wonders why his aunt is so harsh with the staff that is terrified of her. Lev begins drawing cryptic pictures in his sleep, uncovers a ghost story, and slowly unravels many secrets surrounding Falcon House. This compelling mystery is unveiled through Lev’s narrative insights, sketches, endnotes, and footnotes which may lead readers to historical, research, and other literary connections.
The Seventh Wish. Kate Messner. 2016. Bloomsbury.
It was one thing when 12-year-old Charlie Brennan laughed in class at silly wishes people made in stories, but she learns the hard way that it is difficult to wish in the moment when she catches a talking fish that promises to fulfill wishes if she releases it. Charlie discovers the challenge of choosing the exact right wording when her first two wishes (that Roberto Sullivan would fall in love with her and that she would lose her fear of walking on the icy lake) come true in a literal sense, but with unexpected consequences. She rehooks the fish to gain more wishes but becomes increasingly nervous about her secret resource. When her college-age sister Abby’s crisis with heroin addiction affects the well-being of Charlie’s family and her dream of winning at an Irish dance competition, she goes back to the fish for a final wish—and her plan backfires in a dangerous way. In this book about what is ultimately important in family and friendship, Charlie learns that accomplishing things on her own is better than wishing for easy fixes.
The Game (Genius #1). Leopoldo Gout. 2016. Fewiel and Friends.
Two hundred of the world’s smartest teenagers are invited to compete in the Game, created by Kiran Biswas, India’s youngest CEO and visionary. Meet three likeable contenders and heroes: Mexican American Rex, programmer (who hacked his way into the game); Nigerian Tunde, self-taught engineering genius; and Painted Wolf, anticorruption activist blogger from Shanghai. They are already Internet buddies, but when they meet in person at the Game, they become family who will fight for each other. As they work to win the competition, they also help each other deal with weighty personal problems that led them to enter the Game. The text is augmented with detailed maps, drawings, and diagrams. Rotating points of view move the action forward at a fast pace as the trio face moral choices at every turn and discover that the Game is not at all what they thought it was.
Swarm (Zeroes #2). Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Three award-winning authors team up to write this fast-paced cinematic second book in the Zeroes science fiction series. The Zeroes, a group of six supernaturally gifted adolescents who fight crime, have opened an underground teen nightclub in their hometown of Cambria, California, to hone their amazing powers. When two interlopers with crowd-chaos powers crash the nightclub, create mass confusion, and then disappear into the night, the Zeroes follow their trail to a mall in the desert. They encounter another ominous evil teen, Swarm, who can manipulate crowds to commit bloodthirsty murderous deeds. The Zeroes become Swarm’s next target. Swarm takes control of the police in a funeral procession, directing them to march zombie-like to the nightclub, where the Zeroes must fight for their lives. Told from the distinctive viewpoints of members of the Zeroes, this thrilling novel takes readers on a wild ride, ending with a cliffhanger that will propel them into the sequel.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.