I stumbled across this round-up of best children’s books of 2008. It’s sorted in all kinds of ways — picture books to edgy YA — if you can’t find it here, you’re just not trying!
I mostly read in the teen category — middle and high school — so here’s my reading list for the foreseeable future. I’ve already read a handful of these, most have had great reviews in numerous places, but a few are new to me so I’m excited to start reading.
What were your favorite reads in 2008? Kids or adult … fiction or non-fiction.
ANDERSON, MT. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick) High school— Boston, 1775: Octavian “commences a life of hazard” (not to mention irony), choosing to fight with the British, who promise him freedom, against the Sons of Liberty, who would keep him enslaved. But war is chaos, and freedom elusive.
AVI. The Seer of Shadows. HarperCollins. Gr 4-6–In 1872 New York City, a struggling portrait photographer enlists his unwitting teenage apprentice in a shady, get-rich scheme to capture the images of spirits on film. An eerie and evocative historical thriller from a master storyteller.
BLUNDELL, Judy. What I Saw and How I Lied. Scholastic. Gr 9 Up–A 15-year-old revels in the attentions of an older man who is really interested in her mother; when her stepfather is accused of his murder, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Set in 1947 Florida, this riveting coming-of-age story delves into the heart of a naive teen coming to terms with her own perceptions, those of the adults around her, and the prejudices of the larger society.
CASHORE, Kristin. Graceling. Harcourt. Gr 8 Up–Katsa is “graced” with a gift for fierce fighting, which comes in handy when she must defy her brutal uncle and save the grandfather of the king of a neighboring kingdom, another graceling who proves to be her match. Danger, mystery, and adventure abound in this exciting fantasy/romance.
COLLINS, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic. Gr 7 Up–In reality TV run amok, an annual, government-run competition pits two dozen teens against one another in a fight to the death, and 16-year-old Katniss must hold her own against stronger and more ruthless players. A compelling and often-poignant portrait of young people forced to deal with unspeakable evil.
CONNOR, Leslie. Waiting for Normal. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Gr 6-8–When her kindly stepfather leaves and takes her half sisters with him, Addie is left alone to cope with her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. This tough yet tender story stars a caring father figure and a resilient protagonist who is ultimately able to embrace a new life.
DOCTOROW, Cory. Little Brother. Tor. Gr 10 Up–After a terrorist attack, 17-year-old Marcus and his friends find themselves victims of abuse and, along with the rest of San Francisco’s residents, under constant surveillance. This exciting techno-thriller asks readers to think about tough topics and to question authority.
DOWD, Siobhan. The London Eye Mystery. Random/David Fickling Bks. Gr 5-8–Two siblings, one who is an ace at deduction and the other who is a whiz at reading emotion, pool their talents after their cousin disappears. A thrilling mystery with well-delineated characters and an exciting clue-laden plot.
GAIMAN, Neil. Coraline: Graphic Novel. adapt. & illus. by P. Craig Russell. HarperCollins.
Gr 6-8–After her parents are kidnapped and taken to an alternative world, Coraline sets off on a dangerous mission to rescue them. This gripping adaptation of Gaiman’s novel is all the more horrific in a stunning graphic-novel format.
GAIMAN, Neil. The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins). Middle/High school —A toddler escapes the murder of his family by “the man Jack” but is pursued by ominous forces throughout his childhood, which he spends in the local graveyard as the adopted son of kindly ghosts. Creepy, bittersweet, and action-filled, this unconventional ghost story, enhanced with dark fairy-tale motifs, is as accessible as it is accomplished.
GREEN, John. Paper Towns. Dutton. Gr 9 Up–Quentin has been in love with Margo for years, so when she includes him in a madcap night of escapades and then disappears, he feels compelled to search for her and to learn why she is so unhappy. This suspenseful and emotionally taut story of self-discovery and compassion is laced with smart-aleck humor and graceful prose.
HARDINGE, Frances. Well Witched. HarperCollins. Gr 4-7–When three children take coins from a wishing well, the old hag who lives in it forces them to fulfill all of the wishes made on them—no matter how evil or hateful. A creepy, sinister fantasy that’s as riveting as it is clever and thoughtful.
HORVATH, Polly. My One Hundred Adventures. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. Gr 4-7–Twelve-year-old Jane longs for adventure, but gets more than she bargained for when she is tricked into babysitting for five messy, incorrigible children. Quirky characters, exquisite writing, and subtle humor make this coming-of-age story a standout.
IBBOTSON, Eva. The Dragonfly Pool. illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Dutton. Gr 5-8–It’s 1939 in London, and Tally, a high-spirited 11-year-old, reluctantly leaves home for a progressive boarding school where she makes a cadre of loyal friends and initiates a daring plan to help the 12-year-old prince of nearby Bergania escape the Nazis. A thrilling tale of compassion and heroism peopled with unforgettable characters.
LANAGAN, Margo. Tender Morsels. Knopf. Gr 9 Up–This powerful and lyrical novel, a reworking of the Grimm Brothers’ “Snow White and Rose-Red,” explores the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of human behavior and the lengths to which a woman is willing to go to protect her daughters from the devastating emotional traumas to which she was subjected. A complex and multilayered fantasy spun by a superlative storyteller.
LOCKHART, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Hyperion. Gr 7 Up–Frankie is gutsy and smart and brave, and when she infiltrates an all-male secret society at her elite boarding school, none of the boys catches on to her pranks. Readers will be fascinated by and fearful for her, wondering just what will happen when the time comes for her inevitable downfall.
MCKAY, Hilary. Forever Rose (McElderry). Intermediate — In the final installment of the Casson family saga, eleven-year-old Rose feels left out as older sibs Caddy, Saffy, and Indigo increasingly lead their own lives. The hectic but beautifully orchestrated plot includes triumphs, challenges, and two startling surprises. McKay delights us once again with her hilarious mayhem and entirely unsentimental celebration of kindness.
MURDOCK, Catherine Gilbert. Princess Ben: Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts. Houghton. Gr 6-10–When her parents and uncle are attacked and presumed dead, 15-year-old Princess Benevolence is rudely and reluctantly groomed to rule. Her chance discovery of magic within the castle’s walls helps to boost her confidence and allows her to prove her mettle as a strong and capable leader. An action-packed fantasy leavened with humor and magic.
MUSSI, Sarah. The Door of No Return. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Gr 8 Up–AfterZac’s grandfather is murdered, the teen’s investigation of his family history takes him to Ghana, where he learns about his royal ancestors and British government betrayal, and puts his own life at risk. A gripping tale of the present, and a harrowing story of the past, masterfully told.
MYERS, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. Scholastic. 8 Up–Seen through the eyes and emotions of a Harlem-bred enlistee in 2003, this is a sobering view of a Civil Affairs unit as it makes its way into the Iraqi War. Well-delineated characterization and torn-from-the-headlines action create a riveting and affecting read.
NICHOLLS, Sally. Ways to Live Forever (Levine/Scholastic). Intermediate —Eleven-year-old Sam, dying of leukemia, documents the final four months of his life and his pursuit of eight goals, from being a teenager to seeing Earth from space. Grappling with spirituality and family relationships, Sam is a fully authentic, vividly alive character whose story elicits remarkable heights of joy and depths of grief — often simultaneously.
NUZUM, K. A.The Leanin’ Dog. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler Bks. Gr 4-7–Traumatized by the death of her mother in a snowstorm, a lonely 11-year-old who is afraid to venture beyond the porch of her Colorado cabin befriends a stray dog that is wary of being indoors. A tender, quiet story of a transcendent, healing relationship.
PEARSON, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Holt. Gr 8 Up–When Jenna, 17, wakes after a yearlong coma, she doesn’t recognize anyone or anything, least of all herself. Slowly, memories begin to resurface and she realizes that her parents are keeping a terrible secret. Part dystopian tale, part medical thriller, and part coming-of-age novel, this page-turner has it all.
PENNYPACKER, Sara. Clementine’s Letter. illus. by Marla Frazee. Hyperion. Gr 2-4–Feisty Clementine’s beloved teacher has a chance to go on an archaeological dig for educators, and his class has been asked to write letters of recommendation. Should she wish for his success or think only of herself? Easy to read, with a spirited heroine and an angst-causing situation, this easy chapter book has kid-friendly charm, wit, and lots of laughs.
PRATCHETT, Terry. Nation. HarperCollins. Gr 7-10–A tsunami has hit Mau’s island home and washed away everyone he has known. Daphne is from the other side of the globe and is the sole survivor (or so she thinks) of a shipwreck on the island. The two come together and each of them brings wisdom, intelligence, and a sense of humanity to the dire situation. An absorbing novel of survival and discovery liberally infused with Pratchett’s trademark wit.
REEVE, Philip. Here Lies Arthur. Scholastic. Gr 8 Up–In this version of the legend, Arthur is a petty tyrant whose band of thugs raid villages and “protect” the populace from Saxon invaders for a price. It is Myrddin the bard and trickster who spins his lord’s exploits into the stuff of legend and spreads his fame across the land. A rich and nuanced exploration of the power of story and its role in people’s lives.
SMITH, Hope Anita. Keeping the Night Watch. illus. by E. B. Lewis. Holt. Gr 5-8–When their absent father returns home, C.J.’s younger siblings are ecstatic but the 13-year-old seethes with anger and resentment as the man tries to regain the family’s trust. Told in affecting free verse and complemented by distinguished watercolor-and-ink paintings, C.J.’s road to forgiveness is hard and heartrending.
THOMPSON, Kate. The Last of the High Kings (Greenwillow). Intermediate/Middle School — J.J. Liddy (from The New Policeman) is now grown, with children of his own — who must save the world from an ancient threat. Thompson’s adeptness at blending realism, fantasy, and Celtic myth is matched only by her remarkable fluency in shifting tones, from comic to folkloric to heroic.
WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Becoming Billie Holiday. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. Gr 8 Up–Through narrative poems that take their titles from Holiday’s songs, Weatherford tells her subject’s story, from “Why Was I Born?” to “Strange Fruit,” revealing stark biographical details along with the artist’s emotional journey. Cooper’s haunting, hyperrealistic images provide snapshots of a time and place, and one woman’s metamorphosis from a poor neglected child of the streets into the one and only Lady Day.
WERLIN, Nancy. Impossible. Dial. Gr 9 Up–This modern fairy tale revolves around a family curse: 17-year-old Lucy is destined to go mad at 18 unless she can perform three impossible tasks described in the ballad “Scarborough Fair.” There is plenty of darkness in this compelling story–rape, teen pregnancy, madness–but, in the end, love, logic, and family ties prevail.