2016 was one of those years that you had no qualms leaving behind. Outside of a historic World Series, there was little to be celebrated. However, authors & illustrators (along with quite a few filmmakers) made the year a veritable cornucopia. In terms of children’s books, it was indubitably a year of plenty.
A week from today, I will be at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, & I will be in the room where it happens when they announce the recipient of a number of awards namely the Caldecott & Newbery Medals. I have a new appreciation for the work of the professionals who bestow these honors as, this year, I did my level best to read as many highly-touted books published in 2016 as I possibly could. After pouring through a couple hundred of them, I have determined these to be my 16 favorites. My only displeasure is that it was not the year 2045 because shortening the list was difficult & even excruciating toward the end. Here are the 16 books from 2016 that you should put on hold at your local library or buy from your local bookseller (like Square Books Jr.!) as soon as possible.
16. Some Kind of Courage
I’m not an animal person, but apparently, Dan Gemeinhart is. His first book about a dog won me over, & that’s understandable because I’ve once owned a dog. However, I knew he couldn’t do it again this time with a story about a horse. I was wrong.
15. Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
If I was savvy enough, I would form this comment in the shape of something the way that Raczka did masterfully with all of his concrete — or shape — poems. Have a kid who sighs & grunts when you recommend poetry? Here’s a book to remedy that.
14. Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
What Javaka Steptoe has done here is take a brilliant yet complicated artistic mind & render it accessible for an audience that might not have experienced it otherwise. Featuring some of the most fantastic art of the year, this story is the perfect introduction into the world of Basquiat.
13. Counting Thyme
I am a natural cryer. It doesn’t take much — songs, commercials, a change in the breeze. Melanie Conklin’s loving tale of a middle child who needs & wants so much more than anyone is able to give her is to blame for a large share of tears shed. It had me feeling emotions in a way that only good art can do.
12. Daniel Finds a Poem
Furthering my idea that everything is poetic if you only know how to consider it, this beautiful book is a sumptuous feast of words & color. For what else could one ask?
11. Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
For anyone who has ever longed to see city streets & brick walls revitalized, here is a true story of what a coat of paint can do both to a building & to a community. The energy in these pages is pulsating.
10. Weekends with Max and His Dad
I read this one while waiting on the flood waters to recede, & its touching story of a boy & his dad finding their way was the lift I needed.
9. Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Think that the familiar tale of Snow White can’t possibly be presented in an appealing & fresh way that has you turning pages with a furor? Matt Phelan will have you thinking again.
8. Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
In this glorious gut punch of a book, Ashley Bryan uses details from authentic documents from a slave auction to give life to the memory of eleven slaves & what dreams they might have held. Every reader will immediately see the worth in others.
7. They All Saw a Cat
Perspective is everything. Need to teach point of view? Need to build empathy? Need to compare artistic techniques? Need to emphasize high frequency words & repeated vocabulary? Need to enjoy a book that does all of this & more? I have a suggestion.
6. Raymie Nightingale
Hooked from the very first line (a good sign, yes?), this one had me flexing my toes & rooting for an unlikely trio that was equally universal in their quests to belong. I can’t wait to hear Kate DiCamillo speak at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival.
Jason Reynolds first came onto my radar last year with 2 wonderful YA novels, & this year, he burst into the world of MG novels with equal fervor. This man is a born writer, & the magic he creates when he tells a story is enough to make you want to stop everything & listen forever. Every kid who reads this will love it.
4. Freedom in Congo Square
Nothing shames one quite like living down the road from history & being blissfully unaware. In regards to Congo Square, I could chalk it up to being not from Louisiana, but thanks to Carole Boston Weatherford, I now know about this historic place & the wonders that were once there. A masterpiece.
3. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White
This is a masterclass in writing for children. Not only is this book meticulously researched, organized, & presented, but the illustrations that accompany it are of divine creation. I can’t say that I particularly cared to read a biography of E.B. White, but my life is so much better because I did.
2. The Night Gardener
I won’t say more other than be prepared to have your breath taken away. Simply stunning to behold.
- Wolf Hollow
Gorgeous & haunting, no other book had an allure that enshrined me quite like this one. I loved the heroine. I was invested in every character. I could not put it down. Lauren Wolk has me reconsidering what I know about writing. Also, I’ve never seen a finer sociopath in children’s literature. (Yes, this is a compliment.)
I’d be very surprised if next week’s Caldecott & Newbery medalists are not listed here — & not just because I have great taste. These truly are sublime works of art, & they deserve to be read by children everywhere. Help me in my mission to share them, won’t you?