Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's tip-o'-the-hat season!

Some people trim trees in December. In the children's lit business, we make lists. (Sometimes, those lists overlap, but there are good reasons for it when they do.) Here are a few, though certainly not the only, 2012 titles I enthusiastically recommend, loosely in order of target audience age.

The picture book I've handsold most obsessively this year is not actually a 2012 title, but it's one that's become much more available since its illustrator's death this year: A Very Special House, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I've enthused about it before, so I'll leave it at that.

More freshly minted is Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. The alphabet is a pretty predictable story, and most English-speaking three-year-olds know how it ends. But what if it were made unpredictable? What if there were a mistake young readers could identify in the very title of an alphabet book, and what if that book featured a character who, three-year-old-like, could hardly wait for his turn? Ladies and gentlemen, recovered from their tumble out of the coconut tree, it's the cast of Z is for Moose!

On a very different note, Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad, is the best case I can make for the use of picture books with older readers, or for the potential for wordless picture books to engender discussion. Customers who are teachers are very excited about this one, and so am I.

It's not easy to pull off an animal's voice without sounding gimmicky. Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, adapts an ambitious true story with decades of backstory and pulls it off. The story has a happy ending but not a perfect one, and the real Ivan's death at age 50 a few months after the book's release underscores the story's appreciation of reality.

Prince Charming seems like a pretty flat character in  most fairy tales, but in Christopher Healy's The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, we learn that that title actually belongs to lots of different guys, who have lots of different personalities, as do their corresponding princesses. An excellent fairy tale de-flattening.

Jerry Spinelli is a master of using just enough magical realism to make his stories feel like they take place in a special world, while spending most of his focus on real people's feelings. In Jake and Lily, he uses dual point-of-view to showcase all the different kinds of feelings that come with being eleven.

A Wrinkle in Time is full of moments that take creativity just to visualize, right? Eisner winner Hope Larson does a great rendering of Madeline L'Engle's story, and makes Meg as awkward as she should be.

R.J. Palacio's Wonder would be a story worth reading even if it were just told from the point of view of the boy with a severe facial deformity attending a mainstream school for the first time. But just when we're lulled into thinking that will be the whole story, we start to get the points of view of others that Auggie's story affects. Yes, there are moments when the points of view become gimmicky, but overall, it's a powerful story, and I'm glad it's taken hold so strongly.

But even that isn't the best weepy of the year, not when there's See You at Harry's, by Jo Knowles, which is kind of about everything but mostly about lots of kinds of love. Come to think of it, I can say exactly the same thing about The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Read them both, and then let John and Hank make you laugh until you feel better.

Or just distract yourself with Code Name Verity, which is not a happy book, but which will blow you away for reasons I will not spoil.

Raina Telgemeier's Drama is on my to-read shelf, and I'm on the hold list for Lemony Snicket's Who Could That Be at This Hour? I have a sneaking suspicion I'll be singing the praises of both. The year ain't over, folks. Happy December.


  1. Jake and Lily sounds great -- I've been pondering what to get my friend's middle-grade daughter. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the kinds words about Harry's, Shosh! xx

  3. @Elizabeth, excellent! I won't tell ;)

    @Jo, of course! I knew we were onto something when I saw it on the NYT list and didn't feel surprised at *all.*