Best Books of 2017

There were so many wonderful books published in 2017, it was hard to pick my favorites. But there were a few that I especially loved. Here they are:

Memoir

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe – by Kapka Kassabova

border1

In this book, the author returns to Bulgaria (where she was born and spent her childhood) after a long absence. Her goal is to better understand the human and cultural impacts of the Iron Curtain border that intersected this area of the world, and this goal leads her into an exploration of the concept of borders themselves and how they impact the current immigration crisis in Europe. She crosses the borders between Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece many times over the course of her journey — a powerful experience for her after growing up near a border that seemed truly uncrossable. Her interviews with the people she meets in these borderlands unlock astonishing stories, as well as a variety of perspectives on the impact of recent history in the Balkans.

Short Stories

The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories – by Penelope Lively

Purple swamp hen

This was my first venture into the work of Penelope Lively, and I’m eager to read more. I found each of these stories to be sharp, engaging, and witty. At first glance, the stories seem to be about the mundane — a broken down van, an elderly lady doing her weekly shopping, an uncomfortable lunch meeting. But each story delves into the recesses of the human soul, and reveals something extraordinary and unexpected by its close.

Fantasy

Stone Sky – by N.K. Jemisin

stone sky

When the first two books of a trilogy have been as widely lauded and won as much critical acclaim as The Fifth Season and Obelisk Gate have, I always worry that the author won’t be able to stick the landing with the final book. I shouldn’t have worried in this case. The ending is masterful. This trilogy creates one single (several thousand page long) story arc, and this final book brought the story to a thundering, earth-shattering close. This is not light and fun fantasy — it delves into difficult themes such as abuse, trauma, power inequality, and rebellion. The world-building is captivating, the storytelling is masterful, and the ideas and struggles are deep and powerful.

Science Fiction

Binti: Home – by Nnedi Okorafor

home

This book (the second installment in the trilogy) is refreshingly different from classic science fiction. The author is Nigerian-American, and her works generally focus on African-based science fiction and fantasy. This book explores a kaleidoscope of different elements: a tribal girl struggling with the pull between her ambitions and the traditional expectations of her community, the tensions of a burgeoning friendship between this girl and a squid-like being who is the traditional enemy of her people, telepathy and unexplained mental powers, tribal magic and alien beings. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the third volume of this unique and beautiful trilogy.

Non-Fiction

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult – by Bruce Handy

wild things

This book will appeal to adults with a literary bent who still enjoy reading kids’ books — in other words, right up my alley. It’s a delightful romp through American children’s classics as varied as Goodnight Moon Charlotte’s Web, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8. The book isn’t intended for a scholarly audience, but it does explore children’s books as literature — digging into the lives of the authors, the thematic and structural elements (why do anthropomorphic animals feature so strongly in children’s lit?), and what children’s books from different eras say about the changing way we see our kids.

Young Adult

The Hate U Give – by Angie Thomas

hate u give

The main character in this book is 16-year-old Starr, a girl who regularly moves between two worlds — the world of the underprivileged black neighborhood where she lives and that of the mostly white suburban school she attends. The uneasy peace she’s carved out for herself between the two worlds begins to splinter when she witnesses the death of her childhood best friend at the hands of a white police officer. The story is raw and powerful, but it’s also told with nuance and compassion. This isn’t a political tirade disguised as fiction — it’s a deeply felt story exploring many facets of a terrible situation.

Middle Grades Fiction

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus – by Dusti Bowling

events in the life

This is the story of Aven, a delightfully spunky girl who was born without arms (but likes telling people that she lost them wrestling an alligator), as she moves to a new town in order for her parents to take over the management of a run-down wild west amusement park. It’s a fun book, full of adventure, humor, and pluck, and I found it refreshing to read a book about a character with physical differences that didn’t treat those differences as the most important aspect of the story or of her as a person.

Graphic Novel

The Best We Could Do – by Thi Bui

best we could do

This powerfully rendered graphic memoir follows a Vietnamese-American woman’s exploration of her family’s past. She delves into her parents’ backgrounds, their lives in Vietnam, and their eventual journey to America as refugees. The theme of motherhood weaves throughout the book, as the author (a new mother herself) seeks to understand her own mother’s past through the lens of motherhood. For a more in-depth look at this book, check out this post.

Christmas Picture Books – 2017 edition

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is our picture book tree. Every year I wrap up 25 Christmas themed picture books and put them in a tree-like pile in our living room. Some of the books are one we own, but most I check out for us from the library.

Then every day from the beginning of December through Christmas, my son unwraps a book and we read it together. I love this sweet Christmasy time together each morning during the lead up to Christmas Day.

When we first started this tradition, I had Mom-guilt about not purchasing a bunch of new books for my son to unwrap each year. But then I realized that using mostly library books can be a good reminder that the gift is the story itself and the experience of reading together — not the material object.

We’ve done this for several years now, and while we have some favorite titles that we read every year, I always try to find fun new titles too. Here’s our list for this year — we’ve found each of these books to be delightful!

1. Twelve Days of Christmas – by Rachel Griffin

twelve days

2. A Star for Christmas – by Trisha Romance

star for christmas

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – by Dr. Seuss

how the grinch stole christmas

4. Christmas in the Trenches – by John McCutcheon

christmas in the trenches

5. Birds of Bethlehem – by Tomie de Paola

birds of bethlehem

6. Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht

pick a pine tree

7. Under the Christmas Tree – by Nikki Grimes

under the christmas tree

8. The Night Before Christmas – by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Raquel Jaramillo

the night before christmas

9. Red and Lulu – Matt Tavares

red and lulu

10. Samurai Santa – by Rubin Pingk

samurai santa

11. We Three Kings – by Gennady Spirin

we three kings

12. Bear’s First Christmas – by Robert Kinerk

bear's first christmas.jpg

13. When Santa Was a Baby – by Linda Bailey

when santa

14. Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes – by Linda Bronson

sleigh bells

15. Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree – by Lori Nichols

maple and willow

16. The Little Drummer Boy – by Ezra Jack Keats

little drummer boy

17. I’ll be Home for Christmas – by Holly Hobbie

i'll be home for christmas.jpg

18. The Twelve Sleighs of Christmas – by Sherri Duskey Rinker

12 sleighs

19. Apple Tree Christmas – by Trinka Noble

apple tree christmas.jpg

20. The Little Reindeer – by Nicola Killen

little reindeer.jpg

21. Silent Night: The Song and its Story – by Margaret Hodges

silent night

22. Baboushka and the Three Kings – by Ruth Robbins

baboushka

23. Christmas in the Country – by Cynthia Rylant

Christmas in the country

24. There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve – by Pam Muñoz Ryan

no snow on christmas eve

25. This First Christmas Night – by Laura Godwin

first christmas night

 

Picture Books about the Middle Ages: Monks and Monasteries

In the last 15 years or so, there’s been a change in the world of picture books. The picture books that explore history and the lives of famous people have gotten so much better. You can see it in the Caldecott lists, with titles starting to appear such as Henry’s Freedom BoxA River of WordsDave the PotterMe…JaneThe Noisy Paintbox, or Freedom in Congo Square — all books that tell compelling stories while at the same time exploring a particular historical person or event. As both a history buff and a lover of picture books, seeing more of this kind of picture books makes me very happy.

There’s something magical about exploring history through picture books.  Instead of a list of kings and battles and dates, you get a compelling narrative or personal story, complete with illustrations that give the kind of visual cues for the historical setting that are almost impossible to relate solely through words. A well done historical picture book engages the senses and gives a unique window into the time period.

So when I started looking over my 7-year-old son’s history curriculum for this year, I was disappointed with the lack of picture books. We homeschool and our curriculum (Sonlight) relies mainly on A Child’s History of the World and The Usborne Book of World History for its survey of world history. These are both good books, but I thought the experience would be enriched by adding in some well chosen historical picture books along the way.

In this first post, I will share the picture books we used to supplement our study of monks and monasteries during the Middle Ages. I’ll continue with an ongoing series of posts featuring the picture books that align with various periods of history as we study them. Our curriculum for this year covers the rather daunting period of the Middle Ages through World War II. With this large of a time span, it’s obviously going to be a high level survey, with just a few hand picked picture books to go along with each era.

So whether you’re a homeschooler, a teacher, a librarian, or just a parent or care-giver who wants to explore history with the kids, I hope you enjoy diving into this collection of picture books.

Picture Books About the Middle Ages:

Monks and Monasteries

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane – by C.M. Millen

theophane

This tale follows a plucky young monk named Theophane as he works in the scriptorium of an Irish monastery, copying manuscripts and creating books. Told in lilting verse, and with beautiful stained-glass style illustrations, the story brings to life a number of aspects of bookmaking — making the ink, collecting herbs and berries for color, binding up donkey hair for brushes, etc. My favorite aspect of this particular book was the fact that it incorporated into the text translated quotations of actual poems written by Irish monks in the margins of their manuscripts.

Magic in the Margins – by W. Nikola-Lisa

margins

This story also focuses on a young boy working in the scriptorium of a monastery, but the focus is different than in The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane. Our main character, Simon, is just an apprentice in the scriptorium, and he longs to progress from simple sketches and exercises to being able to fully illuminate pages in the manuscripts. An unusual assignment from the abbot of the monastery leads Simon on a journey of discovery about meaning and imagination in art. This book goes into more depth about the artistic marginalia that monks included in the illuminated margins of their manuscripts than other books I’ve seen.

Saint Francis and the Wolf – by Jane Langton

francis

Set in 12th century Italy, this is the tale of a wolf who terrorizes the town of Gubbio until Saint Francis steps in and brokers peace between the wolf and the town. The charming illustrations are in the style of medieval illuminations and give a good sense for both the dress and the architecture of the time.

curlicue1

{For fellow homeschoolers: this list of books aligns with Week 1 of Sonlight’s Core C}

 

 

10 Best Middle Grades Novels of 2016

So much fantastic middle grades fiction came out this past year. Here are the 10 that particularly captivated me:

1. Wild Robot – by Peter Brown

the-wild-robot

This quirky and charming story follows the adventures of Roz, a robot who wakes up alone on a wilderness island.

2. The Girl Who Drank the Moon – by Kelly Barnhill

the-girl-who-drank-the-moon

This evocative fantasy tells the tale of an oppressed village, a enmagicked girl who drinks light from the moon, and a snarky witch.

3. When the Sea Turned to Silver – by Grace Lin

when the sea.jpg

An exciting tale of adventure and discovery that features a variety of Chinese folk tales and beautifully rendered illustrations.

4. Wolf Hollow – by Lauren Wolk

wolf-hollow

At times rather brutal in its content, this book follows the compelling tale of a young girl caught up in the defense of an ostracized World War I veteran in small town Pennsylvania.

5. Anna and the Swallow Man – by Gavriel Savit

anna and the swallow man

The haunting tale of a young girl and the stranger she meets as they both try to escape from Nazi-occupied Poland.

6. Paper Wishes – by Lois Stepahban

paper wishes

A moving story about a young Japanese-American girl in a World War II era internment camp.

7. Grayling’s Song – by Karen Cushman

grayling's song.jpg

An engaging journey-style fantasy, with a memorable cast of characters.

8. Full of Beans – by Jennifer Holm

full of beans.jpg

A mischievous boy in Depression-era Florida tries to earn money and interacts with the “New Dealers” who come to implement changes in his town.

9. It Ain’t So Awful Falafel – by Firoozeh Dumas

it ain't so awful

The charming story of an Iranian girl adjusting to life in the states during the 1970s. Funny and serious at the same time, it explores the aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis.

10. The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price – by Jennifer Maschari

charlie price

This unusual and compelling story makes use of magical realism in its exploration of a young boy’s grief over losing his mother.

Diverse Children’s Books Link-up: Favorite Holiday Books

Our theme for this month’s Favorite Holiday Books. (Please feel free to share any holiday resources, not just winter holidays.) The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.

What Is #DiverseKidLit?

Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
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DiverseKidLit
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We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, January 7th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Holiday Books. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • January 7th and 21st linkups: Human Rights. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is celebrated in the US in January, think about your favorite books to share with children about the importance and the history of human rights and/or civil rights.
  • February 4th and 18th linkups: Love. Let’s spread the love of diverse books by sharing diverse books about love, families, and relationships.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from last time from The Barefoot Mommy: 15 Diverse and Inclusive Books about Christmas. Rebekah includes an overview of each book as well as a downloadable felt ornament craft. The stories showcase a wide range of cultures and countries celebrating Christmas, some focusing on the holiday and others happening around that time. A great place to start for thinking about this linkup’s holiday theme!

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

 

Beth @ Pages and Margins
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Carolina @ La Clase de Sra. DuFault
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Jane @ Rain City Librarian
Blog / Twitter / Instagram

Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Mia @ Pragmatic Mom
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram

Myra @ Gathering Books
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To join in, click on the blue button below:

Diverse Children’s Books Link-up: Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator

Our theme for today’s Diverse Children’s Books linkup is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Who is your must-read author or must-see illustrator? (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?


Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
<br />
DiverseKidLit
<p>

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, October 15th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • October 15th linkup: We will continue the Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator theme.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit linkup is KitaabWorld’s Bilingual Picks. This great round-up post includes bilingual favorites in a range of Asian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Urdu. There are also links to more titles and more languages at the end of the article.

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

We’ve started a new group board on Pinterest to highlight all the amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To join in, click on the blue button below!

Diverse Books for Back-to-School

The voices vary. But whether it’s a girl from Iran adjusting to school in America, a deaf girl learning to incorporate her hearing aid into her school life, or a native boy attending a white school off the reservation, they all have stories to tell and perspectives to share. School isn’t the only topic addressed in any of these books, but it serves as a central space in all of these stories, as the characters work out their struggles and identities.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel – by Firoozeh Dumas

it ain't so awful

This is the funny and heart-warming story of Zomorod, a young Iranian girl who changes her name to Cindy in order to fit into 1970s America. The Iranian hostage crisis occurs as the story progresses, forcing Cindy to confront her cultural identity in new ways. (Ages 10+)

Save Me a Seat – by Sarah Weeks and Rita Varadarajan

save me a seat

It’s the first week of 5th grade for both Ravi and Joe. Ravi was the star student in his school in India, but he can’t seem to get the hang of this new school in the US. School has always been difficult for Joe because of his auditory processing disorder, but he’s expecting this year to be even worse. A difficult first week of school unites the boys in ways they didn’t expect. (Ages 8+)

Unidentified Suburban Object – by Mike Jung

unidentified

Chloe is fed up with being the only Korean-American in her school. She’s tired of her band director comparing her to the famous Korean violinist, Abigail Yang, and she’s tired of everyone assuming that she’ll be good at math and music just because of her heritage. Her frustration and confusion isn’t helped by the fact that her parents refuse to discuss their Korean heritage. Told in Chloe’s spunky first-person voice, and ramping up into a fun sci-fi themed adventure, this book is hard to put down. (Ages 8+)

Full Cicada Moon – by Marilyn Hilton

full cicada moon

The year is 1969, and Mimi has just moved to a small town in Vermont with her Japanese mother and African-American father. Her mixed ethnicity is enough to set her apart, but she’s also a girl with stereotypically “male interests” — she’d much rather attend shop class rather than home-ec, and wants to go to the moon someday. Told in a series of narrative poems, this story is strikingly beautiful and stays in the imagination long after the book is put down. (Ages 8+)

El Deafo – by Cece Bell

el deafo

Cece lost her hearing in a childhood bout of meningitis. This is her warm and funny memoir (told in the format of a graphic novel) about what it was like to grow up and attend school with a bulky hearing aid strapped to her chest. (Ages 8+)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – by Sherman Alexie

absolutely true diary

When Junior decides to attend a mostly white school that’s off of his reservation, he’s almost immediately confronted by the issue of his split identity. The other members of his native tribe consider him a traitor and white-lover for attending the new school, and his classmates single him out as the only Indian in the school. Written in a strong, robust voice, and dealing with issues of racism, poverty, and alcoholism in a realistic yet compassionate way, this book is a powerful addition to the conversation around diversity. The book doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult subject matter, and is recommended for ages 12+.