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September always feels like the start of awards season – the time when people who are into children’s and YA books get serious about what they think should win awards. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped to (isn’t that always the case?) and in no way am I trying to make predictions about what will win. These are just my favorites, out of the books I’ve managed to consume so far. If you have a favorite that I don’t mention, please suggest it in the comments!
- Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. She’s already won once, but not for a novel. This one felt like a heavy hitter – tons of atmosphere, great characters, rich historical setting, and some fantastical elements. Top of my list, so far.
- Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead. Again, she’s already won once. Some books by previous winners don’t live up to the expectations, but I thought this had a lot of the strengths of When You Reach Me without feeling derivative.
Those are the two that feel completely deserving of a medal. A few others that have felt solid, but not quite as distinguished, are The Humming Room by Ellen Potter, See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. These feel worth a look and some discussion.
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. That magical combination of superior writing and a story that I love, love, loved. I can’t imagine anything else this year beating this as my favorite for the award.
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yeah, it’s a tearjerker. But John Green has a way with characters and sharp dialogue.
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Fantasy! Dragons, like you’ve never seen them before! Oh, and great characters and world-building. Please give it an honor.
- The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. More historical fiction – characters you love to hate and a time period I was fascinated to learn about.
Any suggestions for me? You can check out the complete list of everything I’ve read this year to see what I’ve read that didn’t make the cut (so dramatic!)
I stopped beating myself up about writing something about everything I read (quality over quantity being the idea) and instead I’ve been writing…nothing much. So here’s an attempt to dip my toes back into the water and make it fun again. These are all February reads that I haven’t already blogged about, but wanted to put out there as well worth picking up:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This one hardly needs more buzz, and books with buzz often end up being disappointing – but this is the exception. The buzz is not wrong, but it’s still best if you can set it aside and enjoy the book on its own merits. It’s funny and raw. Some readers have accused the book of doing exactly what the characters hate – somehow romanticizing kids with cancer or turning into entertainment – while others wonder whether teens actually talk and think this way. The second question bugs me because I want to see more characters like these – smart, intelligent teens who also act like teens. While I can’t claim to being this smart or well-read in high school, I would’ve eaten these characters up with a spoon because I would’ve wanted to read and think and discuss like them. There is nothing wrong with a high standard. The first question is trickier, and I won’t try to answer it except to say that it didn’t prevent me from finding the book emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Also, I started this on a dinner break at work, but for the love of dignity, read the second half alone, or around people who understand crying over books.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. I listened to this one, as read by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren. It’s full of nods to the works of Charles Dickens, and he features as a character in the story, but they’re more extras than essential to enjoying this fun story of a cheese-loving cat and a band of mice. Fun, and especially recommended to fans of stories told from the perspective of animal characters.
The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. I had this one checked out forever before picking it up, but I’m glad I did because it’s my favorite so far in the series. This one has all the appeal factors of the first two – Victorian style, gore, monsters, fabulous characters – but the relationship between Warthrop and Will Henry deepens in a way that caught me off guard. Will Henry is growing up! Plus, the whole monster chasing bit at the end had some great twists. Recommended to fans of the series, but you should really start with The Monstrumologist and go on from there.
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. You’ve got to listen to this one on audio if you’re an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection. His voice is quirky and distinctive and serves to highlight all the black humor. The cover does this a disservice, because the story is dark and funny and a bit rambling, but filled with a fascinating sense of history and place and childhood. The whole thing is awash in nosebleeds and dead old ladies, with some fantastic obituaries and an appearance by the Hell’s Angels. Just read it already. This year’s Newbery winner!
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. After something of a slow set-up (I was puzzled by the alternate chapters from different viewpoints for quite a while) the story gets going. It’s both suspenseful and ordinary, dealing with the disappearance of Cullen’s younger brother and the everyday despair of a dying small town. It’s also frequently funny, enough to keep the whole thing from dragging down, and has brilliantly realistic characters. Recommended for teens & adults who like stories that pack a punch without much action, and for readers who like character-driven stories. This year’s Printz and Morris winner!
I have a few longer reviews that I’ll post separately, and then we can move onto March and (sooner or later) my hesitant embrace of ebooks.
First up – yes, I’m a huge nerd when it comes to the big children’s book award annoucements. Not quite enough of a nerd to get up at 6:45 to watch the live feed, but enough for it to be the first thing I thought about when I woke up. I was making some last-minute guesses in my head, trying to remember all my favorites before checking the internets to see what took home the shiny medals. It’s like the cat in the box that might be alive or might be dead – all the possibilities exist until I turn on the computer. This version of reality makes it possible to make last minute wishes (please not Madapple) and last minute hopes (wouldn’t it be nice if The Graveyard Book got the Newbery?)
For that real-time experience, I tried to follow the Twitter updates, where I got news on the Printz and a few other awards, but it stopped abruptly at the Wilder Award and left me hanging. Fortunately ALSC had a list up, which includes everything except the Printz, Morris, and Alex Awards (the YA awards) – as far as I can tell.
Printz: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Honors: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, and Nation by Terry Pratchett.
I’ve read them all (except for Nation, which is somewhere in my to-read pile) and I have to give an enthusiastic “well done!” to the Printz committee. There were some really fabulous books this year, and it can’t have been easy. I didn’t really think that Jellicoe Road had a chance, but I’m totally behind it. Octavian and Tender Morsels were my favorites, so I don’t have to feel slighted on their behalf. Frankie was my favorite from the Mock Printz I attended, so it’s nice to see her on there, too. And Nation was just recommended to me recently.
Happily, I’d also managed to read the Newbery and Caldecott medalists, too (although not all the honors). I’m so happy for The Graveyard Book taking the Newbery – it’s got great literary merit plus (I think) plenty of kid appeal, which is of course not a criteria, but more like a happy bonus. The House in the Night wasn’t one of my top favorites, but I can definitely stand behind it, and I think it’s a solid choice. I also really liked two of the honors – A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever and A River of Words were both awesome in totally different ways. I haven’t read the third honor book yet.
I was quite pleased with a few of the “smaller” awards, too – the Odyssey (for audiobook) went to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I’m about to start listening to. The Geisel (for early readers) went to one of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, and the question there is how the committee chose just one – Are You Ready to Play Outside? I haven’t seen it yet, since those puppies fly off the library shelves, but I’m confident that I’ll love it.
All around, it’s been a very satisfying morning – and now I get to geek out some more and see how other bloggers reacted!