SLJ’s editors have chosen the 62 books annotated below as the best of the year. While novels include some historical settings and contemporary concerns, it is fantasy that continues to reign supreme. More original, and more creative than ever, it includes selections that are frightening, edgy, wildly funny, electrifying, and magical, with protagonists fighting evil in brilliantly created new landscapes, realms, and kingdoms, as well as in our world. This year’s humor is found mainly in the fantasy; most of the realistic books revolve around more serious events—children surviving Hurricane Katrina, a teen trying to understand what his ex-Marine brother is going through, three boys who survive by shifting through trash mounds. In the picture-book selections, the art ranges from glorious, ingenious, breath-taking, and innovative to downright hilarious. These imaginative titles span a variety of ages and interests, from preschoolers to middle grade audiences. Nonfiction wasn’t as strong in the categories of nature and science this year, but we found some history and biographies that are outstanding in terms of clarity of writing, presentation, and offering fresh takes on topics for today’s readers. We think it’s a stellar list with titles that will appeal to many tastes, pique interest, and, of course, inform and entertain. The month of the issue in which the original review appeared follows each annotation.—T.J.
BARTON, Chris. Shark vs. Train. illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Little, Brown. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-00762-7.
PreS-Gr 2—When one boy’s toy shark faces a companion’s toy train in a series of contests (high-diving, marshmallow-roasting, burping, etc.), the competition is as heated as the results are hilarious. Lichtenheld’s energetic illustrations provide visual humor and perfectly complement the cheeky text. An over-the-top reflection of imaginative play. (Apr.)
BLEXBOLEX. Seasons. tr. from French by Claudia Bedrick. illus. by author. Enchanted Lion. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-59270-095-0.
PreS Up—Raspberry-tinted captions in block letters—“BUD,” “SUNBURN,” “MIGRATION,” “STILLNESS”—set the tone for this joyful portfolio that accommodates recollection and anticipation of seasonal experiences. The large, stylized silk-screen prints are rich with inventive forms and combinations of color. (July)
BROWNE, Anthony. Me and You. illus. by author. Farrar. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-34908-0.
PreS-Gr 2—In this modern retelling of “Goldilocks,” a fair-haired girl in a dark hoodie gets separated from her mother and wanders through their blighted urban neighborhood before coming upon a grand yellow house that belongs to some smug bears. Browne juxtaposes small, monochromatic scenes with bright, airy pictures to brilliant effect. (Nov.)
FLEMING, Candace. Clever Jack Takes the Cake. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84979-4; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95697-3.
K-Gr 3—Too poor to buy a gift, a resourceful boy whips up the perfect present for the princess’s 10th birthday party; however, the lad runs into an assortment of dessert-devouring dangers during his journey to her castle, leaving him empty-handed but with a satisfying story to tell. A sweetened-with-humor adventure, conveyed through vivacious narrative and delectable artwork. (July)
FRAZEE, Marla. The Boss Baby. illus. by author. S & S/Beach Lane Bks. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0167-9.
PreS-Gr 2—Frazee’s delightfully droll new-infant tale is cast as a corporate take-over complete with a demanding CEO (wearing a black onesie, striped tie, and single-minded scowl), plentiful executive perks (a private jet swing), and a pushed-to-the-limits workforce (Mom and Dad). Deadpan text and comical 1950s-esque artwork are guaranteed to generate a windfall of laughs. (July)
HUGHES, Shirley. Don’t Want to Go! illus. by author. Candlewick. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5091-9.
PreS-K—With Mom in bed nursing the flu and Dad off to work, a toddler faces a day at a neighbor’s with trepidation. But a peekaboo-playing baby, his good-natured older brother, and a little white dog change her feelings, if not her plaintive refrain. Gouache paintings with homey details illustrate this warmhearted winner. (Nov.)
ISAACS, Anne. Dust Devil. illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86722-4.
K-Gr 4—Larger-than-life Angelica Longrider and her trusty horse, Dust Devil, go on a whirlwind ride through Big Sky country, chasing the dastardly Flying Desperadoes on their Montana-size mosquitoes. It’s a wild and zany escapade, told through witty language and gorgeous, gleeful art. (Sept.)
KAPLAN, Bruce Eric. Monsters Eat Whiny Children. illus. by author. S & S. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8689-8.
K-Gr 2—Two endlessly complaining youngsters are kidnapped and carried off to a hungry monster’s lair where they overhear arguments about the best way to prepare them: Should they be served in a salad or as burgers or vindaloo? Black line drawings depict a revolting group of characters in this deliciously outrageous cautionary tale. (Sept.)
KERLEY, Barbara. The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy). illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6.
Gr 3-6—Determined to prove there is much more to her world-famous father than his public persona, Twain’s 13-year-old daughter compiles her very own biography. Kerley cleverly incorporates excerpts from Susy’s journal into an intimate, eye-opening, and uproariously entertaining portrait of an American icon, an account matched punch-for-punch by Fotheringham’s frolicsome, autumn-hued artwork. (Jan.)
NELSON, Marilyn. Snook Alone. illus. by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-2667-9.
K-Gr 4—After a storm separates Snook the terrier from a monk named Abba Jacob, the pup finds himself alone on a remote island. Will he ever again see his beloved master? With pitch-perfect prose and stunning artwork, this doggone-satisfying picture book is a gentle tale of compassion and friendship. (Oct.)
O’MALLEY, Kevin. Animal Crackers Fly the Coop. illus. by author. Walker. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-9837-4; RTE $17.89. ISBN 978-0-8027-9838-1.
Gr 2-4—When a chicken who prefers cracking jokes to laying eggs sets out to follow her dream of becoming a stand-up “comedi-hen,” she and three other pun-pulling new friends run afoul of robbers before finding their funny-ever-after fortune. O’Malley’s slapstick send-up of “The Brementown Musicians” percolates with eye-rolling one-liners and endearingly antic cartoons. (Feb.)
RODRIGUEZ, Béatrice. The Chicken Thief. illus. by author. Enchanted Lion. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-1-59270-092-9.
PreS-Gr 1—A fox lurks at the edge of an idyllic domestic scene—then, bam!—he steals a hen. Three animals give close chase through day and night until they catch the rascal. But things aren’t necessarily what they seem in this wordless picture-book-with-a-twist, illustrated with robust watercolors. (Aug.)
SEEGER, Laura Vaccaro. What If? illus. by author. Roaring Brook/A Neal Porter Bk. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-398-4.
PreS-Gr 1—Simple yet sublime, this picture book presents the third-wheel dilemma—two seals tossing around a beach ball are joined by another who wants to play too—with three different outcomes. Brief narrative prompts and gorgeous color-saturated paintings invite children to voice events, contemplate friendship issues, and imagine alternative possibilities. (Apr.)
UNDERWOOD, Deborah. The Quiet Book. illus. by Renata Liwska. Houghton Harcourt. RTE $12.95. 978-0-547-2156-9.
K-Gr 1—This concept book cum bedtime story—“There are many kinds of quiet”—features cuddly toy animals in everyday scenarios from the lives of young children. An unhurried pace and subtle hues make this a stellar book to settle down with at the close of the day. (Mar.)
WIESNER, David. Art & Max. illus. by author. Clarion. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-618-75663-6.
PreS-Gr 4—The masterful Wiesner takes a deconstructionist view of art through the interactions of two lizards, one an accomplished painter and the other an exuberant wannabe. Together they explore different mediums, color, and line with a minimum of dialogue and brilliantly hued panels and spreads dripping with paint and humor. (Sept.)
WILLEMS, Mo. We Are in a Book! illus. by author. (An Elephant & Piggie Bk.). Hyperion. Tr $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-3308-7.
PreS-Gr 2—A delightful metafictional easy reader. Elephant and Piggie have some fun with their audience once they discover that they are the subjects of a book. Piggie makes readers say “Banana,” dissolving Elephant into uncontrollable giggles. Willems’s simple yet animated characters are full of energy, and children will love being in on the joke. (Nov.)
WINTER, Jonah. Here Comes the Garbage Barge! illus. by Red Nose Studio. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95218-0.
K-Gr 2—Based on a 1987 event, this tale follows the wanderings of a trash-laden boat that departs from Islip, NY, journeys down the coast in search of a dumping ground only to be repeatedly repelled, and eventually returns to its starting point 162 malodorous days later. Zany narrative, overblown characters, and clever made-from-garbage artwork convey an important message with a light touch. (Jan.)
WIVIOTT, Meg. Benno and the Night of Broken Glass. illus. by Josée Bisaillon. Lerner/Kar-Ben. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-0-8225-9929-6; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-0-8225-9975-3.
Gr 3-5—An orange-and-white cat that makes its home in the basement of a friendly Berlin apartment house is witness to the terrors of the November 1938 night that shatters lives and signals the start of the Holocaust. Plain language and angular, mixed-media artwork move deftly through scenes that descend from light into darkness as neighbors turn on neighbors. (May)
APPELT, Kathi. Keeper. illus. by August Hall. S & S/Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5060-8.
Gr 4-7—Ten-year-old Keeper and her guardian live happily with BD (Best Dog) in a tiny Texas coastal community until the day things go terribly wrong. The impressionable youngster decides to take advantage of the blue moon’s magic to meet up with her mermaid mother to make things right and puts her life at risk in the process. A lovely, lyrical book about loss and redemption. (July)
BARRETT, Tracy. King of Ithaka. Holt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8969-1.
Gr 8 Up—When soft and spoiled Telemachos sets out to find Odysseus, the father he barely knows, he encounters danger, betrayal, treachery, and terrifying creatures as he searches land and sea, accompanied by a brazen but loyal centaur and a runaway weaver. In the end, his quest has become one of self-discovery and maturation. With vivid characters and nonstop action, this is a perfect introduction to the classic tale. (Nov.)
BLACK, Holly & Justine Larbalestier, eds. Zombies vs. Unicorns. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8953-0.
Gr 9 Up—Two authors, each unabashedly zealous about her cause, assemble 12 creature-centric stories intended to settle that age-old debate: which are better, zombies or unicorns? Penned by YA’s elite, these edgy, finely crafted tales reach far beyond the expected shambling corpses and shimmering steeds to ponder themes of love and loss, moral dilemmas, and the state of modern society. (Oct.)
BOYCE, Frank Cottrell. Cosmic. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-183683-1; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-183686-2.
Gr 5-8—Twelve-year-old Liam Digby looks so much like a full-grown adult that he’s accepted as an in-flight chaperone for a thrill ride that sends a group of kids into simulated space. When the experiment turns into the real thing, he faces the challenge of his life. This wild adventure is as funny as it is serious, and Liam’s problem-solving skills, based on his success with role-playing computer games, serve him well. (Feb.)
CUSHMAN, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Clarion. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-547-23184-6.
Gr 5-8—Born with a deformed leg and believed to be cursed, Meggy Swann makes her way to London to apprentice for her estranged father and help with his obsession with gold. This gripping tale stars a feisty and resourceful heroine who makes true friends amid the squalor of the 16th-century city. (Apr.)
DOGAR, Sharon. Annexed. Houghton Harcourt. Tr $17. ISBN 978-0-547-50195-6.
Gr 9 Up—Dogar relates the well-documented events in the secret annex of Anne Frank’s diary from the point of view of Peter van Pels. The fictionalized 15-year-old is frustrated and angry to be in hiding and frequently butts heads with Anne before coming to see her with new eyes. This is a poignant look at a young man grappling with existential questions and trying to survive during this horrific time. (Sept.)
DONNELLY, Jennifer. Revolution. Delacorte. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73763-0; PLB $21.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90678-4.
Gr 9 Up—In this dual narrative, a modern American teen bereft by grief reluctantly joins her estranged father in Paris. While researching a musician for her senior thesis, she finds the diary of an 18th-century counterpart dealing with the terrors of the French Revolution. Donnelly offers readers an intriguing look at classical and contemporary music, a historical mystery, and a romance for the ages. (Sept.)
EPSTEIN, Adam Jay & Andrew Jacobson. The Familiars. illus. by Bobby Chiu. HarperCollins. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-196108-3.
Gr 4-7—Mistaken for a magical animal and chosen as a companion by a young apprentice wizard, a streetwise alley cat and his fellow familiars—a bombastic blue jay and a soothsaying frog—must take action when their humans are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. An enchanting fantasy with captivating characters, sprightly humor, and spellbinding adventure. (Aug.)
FISHER, Catherine. Incarceron. Dial. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3396-1.
Gr 7 Up—Finn, 17, is inside a living prison but has vague memories of a different life. Claudia is the daughter of the warden and leads an almost feudal existence in a society that has turned its back on technology. When the two young people acquire crystal keys that allow them to communicate, they work together to save her from an arranged marriage and help him escape. A vividly imagined fantasy. (Feb.)
GIDWITZ, Adam. A Tale Dark & Grimm. Dutton. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42334-8.
Gr 4-8—A tantalizing narrator warns children of the dangers of reading this book—“it’s not for the faint of heart”—and then encourages and halts them along the way. Hansel and Gretel escape their parents and enter eight other tales where they encounter adults who are cruel, thoughtless, or just plain snarky. A unique story of greed, jealousy, and forgiveness that’s grim and wickedly funny, yet wise and thoughtful. (Nov.)
GILL, David Macinnis. Black Hole Sun. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-167304-7.
Gr 9 Up—A high-stakes, sci-fi adventure. When a village of unlucky miners hires a disgraced teenage lawman and his gorgeous sidekick to save them from a band of cannibalistic marauders, all hell breaks loose in the year’s funniest dystopian thriller. Think Seven Samurai on Mars with wisecracking dialogue worthy of a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” flick. (Nov.)
GRAY, Keith. Ostrich Boys. Random. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85843-7; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95843-4.
Gr 8 Up—Three English teens steal their friend Ross’s ashes and embark on a trip to Ross, Scotland, to give him the send-off they feel he deserves. Their blunder-filled journey is marked by a lost train ticket; bungee jumping; girls; and, ultimately, powerful considerations of how much we are willing to know about ourselves and one another. (Feb.)
HARRISON, Michelle. 13 Treasures. Little, Brown. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04148-5.
Gr 5-8—In this frightening fantasy/ghost story/murder mystery, Tanya is tormented and bullied by fairies that no one else can see. When children start disappearing, she is compelled to enter the fairies’ realm even though she may be trapped there forever. Great characters, a fascinating plot twist, and a death-defying ending. (Apr.)
HEMPHILL, Stephanie. Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-185328-9; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-185329-6.
Gr 9 Up—This novel in verse gives voice to the “afflicted” girls of Salem, whose accusations led to the hangings of 19 residents in 1692. Mercy Lewis, 17, and Ann Putnam, Jr., 12, vie for control of the group of girls who quickly get caught up in their celebrity and become emboldened to brand townspeople as witches or wizards. Historical drama with multiple contemporary hooks. (Aug.)
MARCHETTA, Melina. Finnikin of the Rock. Candlewick. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4361-4.
Gr 8 Up—A vanquished and cursed kingdom, a dream walker, and the son of the King’s Guard, who may or may not have been chosen to lead his people home, are at the heart of this engrossing and heady fantasy. A rock-solid sense of place and marvelously delineated characters distinguish this tale about living in exile and the need to belong. (Mar.)
MULLIGAN, Andy. Trash. Random/David Fickling Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75214-5; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75215-2.
Gr 6-9—Three boys who survive by digging through mounds of garbage looking for things to sell find a bag that the police want at any cost and become embroiled in a mystery so dangerous that they are forced to flee their homeland. Through alternating narratives, the story of political corruption and murder emerges. A brutal but ultimately hopeful novel that will open readers’ eyes and touch their hearts. (Oct.)
NAYLOR, Phyllis Reynolds. Emily’s Fortune. illus. by Ross Collins. Delacorte. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73616-9; PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90589-3.
Gr 3-6—Recently orphaned, a timid eight-year-old girl journeys west via stagecoach to live with her kindly aunt, but it will take all of her gumption—and the help of fearless fellow orphan Jackson—to face down a passel of predicaments and an inheritance-snatching evil uncle. A breathless adventure told with mustache-twisting melodrama, tongue-tingling language, and cliff-hangers galore. (June)
O’CONNOR, Barbara. The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-374-36850-0.
Gr 4-7—In small-town Georgia, Owen Jester works hard to catch a bullfrog and then struggles with his conscience over his now-listless pet. Meanwhile, he and his pals are determined to secretly move a small submersible that fell off a freight train to the pond and get it started. They reluctantly include know-it-all Violet, who has the best ideas to complete the project. A high-spirited tale filled with youthful excitement and emotions. (Oct.)
O’CONNOR, George. Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess. illus. by author. Roaring Brook/First Second/A Neal Porter Bk. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-649-7; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-432-5.
Gr 5-9—This gorgeous graphic novel presents five thrilling tales about the headstrong goddess, beginning with her dramatic emergence from Zeus’s skull, “fully clothed, fully armored, already a young woman.” Unfolding with cinematic scope, O’Connor’s edge-of-your-seat retellings and kinetic artwork strike a compelling balance of intimate emotion and epic action. (May)
REEVE, Philip. Fever Crumb. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-20719-5.
Gr 5-8—This prequel takes place several generations before the earlier titles in the “Hungry City Chronicles.” An orphan girl raised in the cloistered existence of the Order of Engineers, Fever is forced to rethink everything, including who she really is, once she is sent out to help on an archaeological dig in a wild futuristic London and finds herself being hunted as a suspected mutant. Clever, slightly creepy, and compulsively readable. (Apr.)
REINHARDT, Dana. The Things a Brother Knows. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84455-3; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94455-0; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89762-7.
Gr 8 Up—On a very different kind of road trip, 17-year-old Levi follows his ex-Marine brother as he walks from Boston to Washington, DC, completing a circuitous itinerary that only Boaz knows. Radically changed by his wartime experiences, he tries to regain his humanity any way he can as Levi attempts to reacquaint himself with the sibling he thought he knew. Tender, timely, and true to life. (Dec.)
RHODES, Jewell Parker. Ninth Ward. Little, Brown. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04307-6.
Gr 5-8—Mama Ya-Ya has cared for Lanesha since she was an infant, but as Hurricane Katrina makes its inevitable way toward New Orleans, it’s Lanesha who must prepare for the storm when the elderly woman takes to bed. An atmospheric story about a magical place, a catastrophic event, and the support family and community can proffer. (Aug.)
RICHARDS, Jame. Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood. Knopf/Borzoi. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85885-7; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95885-4.
Gr 8 Up—The romance between a determined young woman from a wealthy family and the son of a coal miner is at the heart of this lyrical, free-verse novel that speaks to social-class boundaries and mores amid impending disaster. Tight plotting and a relentless sense of foreboding swiftly reach a crescendo in the wake of the 1889 Western Pennsylvania flood. (Apr.)
RIORDAN, Rick. The Red Pyramid. Hyperion/Disney. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-1338-6.
Gr 4-9—Bickering siblings Carter and Sadie are swept away from their Egyptologist father, kidnapped, and thrown into high gear as they try to outsmart evil gods in order to save humanity from total destruction. This foray into Egyptian mythology is as frenetic as it is funny. (June)
SHULMAN, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Putnam. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25096-5.
Gr 6-9—Elizabeth loves her after-school job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, especially the Grimm Collection, with its seven-league boots, a mermaid’s comb, and a know-it-all mirror. When items begin to disappear, she and her fellow pages set out to catch the thief and find themselves among the accused. This contemporary tale has a sweet romance and more than a touch of magic. (June)
STANDIFORD, Natalie. Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-10710-5.
Gr 9 Up—The Sullivans are about to be left penniless unless one of the children can appease their wealthy grandmother, who has taken offense at someone’s poor judgment. Each teen comes clean in a confessional letter to Almighty, exposing something she did and its disastrous ramifications. Heartwarming and funny, with distinct characters and a surprising ending. (Sept.)
STROUD, Jonathan. The Ring of Solomon: A Bartimaeus Novel. Hyperion/Disney. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-2372-9.
Gr 6 Up—The loquacious and crafty djinni becomes the servant of the Queen of Sheba’s chief guard and inadvertently becomes involved in saving the queen’s country from powerful King Solomon. A spellbinding fantasy that incorporates struggle for freedom, the quest for power, and some riotous moments. (Dec.)
TOMLINSON, Heather. Toads and Diamonds. Holt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8968-4.
Gr 7 Up—This richly reimagined Perrault tale is set in precolonial India where stepsisters Diribani and Tana encounter the goddess Naghali-ji; one ends up spewing gems and flowers each time she speaks and the other produces toads and snakes with each utterance. Which is blessed and which is cursed becomes a central question in this satisfying story of familial solidarity and sisterly love. (July)
TURNER, Megan Whalen. A Conspiracy of Kings. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-187093-4; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-187094-1.
Gr 7 Up—Despite being heir to his uncle’s throne, Sophos has no interest in affairs of state—that is until he is captured by the king’s enemies and sold into slavery. The harrowing experience helps him to mature and, once he escapes, he is ready to lead the kingdom of Sounis. No one does royals and political intrigue quite like Turner. (Apr.)
WARD, Rachel. Numbers. Scholastic/Chicken House. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1.
Gr 9 Up—Jem, 15, sees a number whenever she looks an individual in the eye, which turns out to be the date that person will die. Because of this, the tough-talking but tenderhearted teen keeps to herself until a gawky but persistent boy befriends her, and the two get caught up in a terrifying adventure. A haunting premise and compelling characters make this a taut page-turner. (Jan.)
WILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. One Crazy Summer. HarperCollins/Amistad. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-076088-5; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-076089-2.
Gr 4-7—It’s 1968, and change is in the air across the country and in the lives of three sisters sent to spend a month in Oakland, CA, with the aloof, poet mother they do not know. While the Black Panthers look after the girls during daytime programs, at home it’s a different story. Readers will fall in love with these self-possessed siblings, even if their mother does not, and carry their resilient voices with them well beyond the pages of the story. (Mar.)
ADLER, David A. Frederick Douglass: A Noble Life. Holiday House. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2056-8.
Gr 7 Up—Born a slave, and separated from his mother at a young age, Douglass was raised on plantations owned by people both cruel and caring. But freedom was never far from his mind and, once he achieved it, he became an eloquent spokesperson for the rights of others. A commanding biography enhanced by well-chosen black-and-white photos and reproductions. (Sept.)
ARONSON, Marc & Marina Budhos. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science. Clarion. Tr $20. ISBN 978-0-618-57492-6.
Gr 8 Up—This wide-ranging narrative looks at the bitter realities behind the growth, harvesting, and refining of sugar cane, including its role in driving the Atlantic slave trade and the displacement and brutalization of millions of people. Songs, oral histories, and archival photos and reproductions help to bring the history to life. (Oct.)
BARTOLETTI, Susan Campbell. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. Houghton Harcourt. Tr. $19. ISBN 978-0-618-44033-7.
Gr 7-10—A lucid and gripping account of the white supremacist organization that originated in the post-Civil War South, set in the context of the times. Carefully researched and documented, the narrative is supported by innumerable first-person accounts and archival images that add immediacy. (Aug.)
FREEDMAN, Russell. The War to End All Wars: World War I. Clarion. Tr $22. ISBN 978-0-547-02686-2.
Gr 7 Up—While historians continue to debate the causes of the First World War, there is no disagreement that it ushered in an era of modern warfare with weapons capable of mass destruction and death. Black-and-white archival photographs chronicle a conflict that left 20 million dead and a future war unthinkable, but not unlikely. (June)
GREENBERG, Jan & Sandra Jordan. Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. illus. by Brian Floca. Roaring Brook/A Neal Porter Bk./Flash Point. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-338-0.
Gr 2-6—This dynamic picture book presents the story of the collaborative genius behind the classic ballet. Dance lovers will be intrigued by the poetic narrative and bold watercolors, while readers interested in learning more about Graham and her fellow artists—composer Aaron Copland and set designer Isamu Noguchi—will appreciate the impressive back matter. (Aug.)
KRULL, Kathleen. Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything. illus. by Robert Byrd. Viking. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01114-8.
Gr 3-6—Distinguished watercolor-and-ink art details the splendors of an empire expanded by a man described as a brilliant military leader; a fierce but often tolerant ruler; a patron of the arts and sciences; and a sponsor of vast public projects and lavish displays of pageantry. (Oct.)
MCCARTHY, Meghan. Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum. illus. by author. S & S/Paula Wiseman Bks. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-7970-8.
Gr 2-4—Setting the stage in 1920s Philadelphia, McCarthy reveals how Walter Diemer, a candy company accountant who “knew lots about math but not much about gum,” managed to take charge of concocting this kid-favorite creation. Sparkling text and effervescent artwork make this true tale of persistence and passion a confection worth chewing on. (May)
NYE, Naomi Shihab, sel. Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-189637-8; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-189638-5.
Gr 9 Up—In an evocative introduction, Nye likens reading these poems to arriving at the “breath of ages,” that coming-of-age place on the cusp of adulthood, timeless in its hope, humor, intelligence, passions, and complications. The sampling of poems from each of these spellbinding young voices will bring readers there, too. (Feb.)
SHEINKIN, Steve. The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery. Roaring Brook/Flash Point. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-486-8.
Gr 7 Up—What made this general in the Continental Army known for his courage and loyalty betray the compatriots he fought so long aside? In this absorbing and enlightening narrative, Sheinkin recounts the life and times of a man whose name today is synonymous with the word “traitor.” (Nov.)
SIDMAN, Joyce. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. illus. by Beckie Prange. Houghton Harcourt. RTE $17. ISBN 978-0-618-71719-4.
Gr 1-5—From ancient organisms (single-celled bacteria) to relative newcomers (humans), this book showcases the resiliency and majesty of 14 commonplace species, presented in order of their appearance on Earth. Watercolor-tinted linocut spreads pair a beguiling poem with a fact-filled paragraph, shedding light on each familiar life form’s defining characteristics, amazing adaptability, and evolutionary longevity. (Mar.)
SMITH, Charles R., Jr. Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson. illus. by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Brook/A Neal Porter Bk. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-473-8.
Gr 2-5—Fighting came natural to Johnson: in the ring where he became the first African-American heavyweight champ, and outside it, where he sparred with Jim Crow. Smith’s impassioned staccato verses echo the rhythm of the boxer’s jabs, while Evans’s bold images capture the fearless defiance that defined the man. (July)
STONE, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us. Viking. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01187-2.
Gr 6 Up—Immensely readable and chock-full of entertaining photos, this narrative incorporates social history, a study of post-World War II entrepreneurial spirit and advertising, a biography of a farsighted toy manufacturer, and the voices of generations of fervent admirers and detractors. For a doll that sat for months on warehouse shelves before beginning her ascent as an American icon, she’s come a long way. (Oct.)
VOAKE, Steve. Insect Detective. illus. by Charlotte Voake. Candlewick. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4447-5.
K-Gr 3—Amble through woods where wasps can be heard scraping and ground beetles in jewel-like colors are waiting to be discovered. Notes in hand-lettered print add precious details about the creatures encountered while delicate pen-and-watercolor illustrations encourage the kind of close observation that yields rewards on outdoor excursions. (June)