Annemarie O'Brien, Brown Girl Dreaming, Candace Fleming, Carol Allen, Danielle Pignataro, E. Lockhart, Eliot Shrefer, Endangered, Evidence of Things Not Seen, I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, Jacqueline Woodson, Jandy Nelson, Linden McNeilly, Lindsey Lane, Romanov: Murder Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, Sue LaNeve, The One and Only Ivan, Varian Johnson, We Were Liars
So many books, so little time. How does one choose?
We Kid-Lit writers read books the way voracious squirrels gather acorns, consuming the precious finds to feed our passions, spitting out the empty shells to guide and inspire our work. If you’re looking for a good book to read or give, here are favorites offered by my VCFA 2009 grad class–The Super Secret Society of Quirk and Quill, aka S3Q2.
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. I loved this memoir written in verse. Woodson is an award winning writer, and in this book, she managed to trace not only her own development as a writer but her family’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement. The family, split among Ohio, South Carolina, and then Brooklyn, not only witnessed televised and personal experiences with the “Movement,” but they did so from an upbringing as Jevohah’s Witnesses. Woodword’s poetic talent leaps off the page, and her references to the differences of Whites and Blacks in our nation’s history, while not in-depth, are powerful enough to take the reader right to the scene.
My favorite book this year -not including any published from S3Q2- was I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that made it so amazing. The two different points of view, spanning years, created perfect tension that allowed things to be revealed at the perfect moments. I tried to read it slowly, but it was impossible to do so. I had to know what was going to happen next.
My favorite book of the year was BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. The use of poetry and well-placed line breaks allowed me to contemplate and measure each verse. The memoir was powerful but never heavy-handed. It was rightly chosen for a National Book Award, and I expect it to take Newbery gold as well.
Another favorite book is THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer Holm. The novel shows us a new take on the grandfather-grandchild relationship, but is never heavy-handed or didactic. Holm uses deceptively simple language to showcase very powerful moments for both Ellie and Melvin, her grandfather. While everyone doesn’t get what they want at the end of the novel, they all get exactly what they need.
My top three were:
BROWN GIRL DREAMING, by Jacqueline Woodson: I loved its close take on life, her use of essential details without bogging down or getting ham-handed, and overall core message of strength and family. I am not always drawn to novels or memoirs in verse, but she sold me with her use of spare, poetic language that was not cloying, singsongy or trite.
ENDANGERED, by Eliot Shrefer: Vivid, excellent plotting, fantastic use of the political and personal to establish setting and tension, and authentic in its close look at life with the bonobos. I couldn’t put it down, and my husband, who reads almost no kidlit, felt the same way.
EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, by Lindsey Lane: What a book. She uses many alternate voices, and a changing time period to continually spiral around a tragic event that feels unknowable, yet affected a whole town. She is an absolute master at voice, and the way she was able to move the plot through changing narrative was very admirable.
I’ve just begun BROWN GIRL DREAMING, and already understand why it is such a favorite. But of the books I’ve completed, E. Lockhart’s WE WERE LIARS gets my vote for my favorite. Emily’s unique voice and opening lines sucked me in with an intense gravitational pull. Her development of setting, characters, and relationships begged me to slow my pace to savor her unique plotting. But her slow reveal of what my gut screamed would grow as dark and forceful as a black hole kept the pages turning, rapidly. The twist caught me so off guard, I shouted OH MY GOD, nearly giving my husband a coronary. This was delicious fiction.
A special 10-year-old in my life led me to another honoree published a couple years ago, Katherine Applegate’s THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. This particular boy prefers non-fiction but he inhaled this tale so consider it for your reluctant or avid reader. I was drawn to its core, the power of kindness.
My two favorite books this year were BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson and THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION & THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA by Candace Fleming. I’ll focus on the latter since the former is getting well deserved coverage. I’ve read numerous adult books about the fall of Imperial Russia and the Romanov family over the past twenty-five years. I can’t think of a book aimed at young adults that is as thorough and engaging as Fleming’s. Her book is so well researched and written even adults would enjoy it. Unlike most of the adult books out there, Fleming’s book is the only one that also brings the peasant point of view to life with true accounts inserted in each of the chapters. If you like non-fiction, THE FAMILY ROMANOV is a gem and a story you won’t be able to put down!
If you’ve reached this point in the post, you’ll likely agree that Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING deserves all of the honors it has already earned and will likely continue to receive. So even as we honor the work of all the authors listed above, this post is for you, Jacqueline Woodson.