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Favorite Books of 2015

Newbery MedalThe Children’s Media Awards announcements will be this coming Monday, January 11th, which is amazingly early! I have not been able to read as much as usual this past year for many reasons, but some of the books that I have read are certainly worthy, so I thought I would weigh in with my faves from the past twelve months. Click on the highlighted titles for full reviews.

Hired GirlMy favorite children’s book was The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz. This delightful historical fiction novel straddles that annoying fence between the Newbery and Printz age, but I consider it to be more suitable for the Newbery, so I’ll place it there. Other Newbery-age books that I found worthy of the medal are Echo, by Pam Nuñoz Ryan, and The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley.

Challenger DeepI found three teen books to be excellent this year, perhaps first of all Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, the story of his son’s struggle with schizophrenia. I am shocked to discover that I never reviewed this book! I think that I read it just before my mother passed away last summer. Please check it out. As you can see, it won the National Book Award. The second would be Most Dangerous, by Steve Sheinkin, a nonfiction title concerning Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. My third would be Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. Any of these would be eligible to win the Printz Award, in my opinion.

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt, is worthy of either award. Most blogs are tending toward Newbery for this title, but I prefer the Printz because of the theme.

WaitingMy two favorite picture books this year were Waiting, by Kevin Henkes, and Lenny and Lucy, by Philip and Erin Stead. The Caldecott Award is given to the artist of the picture book, but these two jewels appeal to me on many levels, not just for the brilliant illustrations.

 

Boats for PapaUpdate!— How could I leave out the poignant Boats for Papa, by Jessixa Bagley? This thoughtful picture book came into the library the week I returned from my mother’s funeral, so I interpreted the story one way, but the author left the reasons for Papa’s permanent absence open, so that children dealing with a parent’s death, divorce, or other change will be able to find solace and closure here. I passed this book around and brought a whole department to tears. Beautiful.

I enjoyed many other great reads this year, but the quality of writing may not reach to literary award status. No one reads fine literature all the time, and a steady diet of deep and serious books can be wearying, just as a daily regimen of spa food might be thrilling at first, but then the longing for ice cream sets in. I almost never review a book that I couldn’t recommend to someone, so please have fun with all the other books that I reviewed this year, as well.

Looking forward to a 2016 with less pain (of all kinds) and more reading. Let’s see how we do on Monday!

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Mosquitoland, by David Arnold

MosquitolandMary Iris Malone liked her old psychiatrist better. This new one wants her to take medication, and her father is thrilled to have someone finally agree with him. He is determined to have everything go smoothly and normally now that he left Mim’s mom in Ohio and moved to Mississippi with Mim and his new wife, Kathy. Now Mim hasn’t heard from her mother in a while, and when she is called to the office at school, she overhears her stepmother telling the principal that Mim’s mother will beat this disease, that she’s a fighter. What disease? Mim turns around before they see her and walks right out of school, finds the coffee can where Kathy keeps her cash, and takes off on a Greyhound bus to see her mom while she’s still alive.

Told in Mim’s inimitable voice and punctuated by letters to an unknown person named Isabel, this road trip story packs in a cast of colorful characters and wild situations. Equipped with a tricky epiglottis, Mim has to work to keep her lunch down, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whose shoes are in front of her. During the trip, she decides not to take her medication, so the reader is continually aware that everything Mim sees may be filtered through schizophrenia. Mim is precocious and well-read, with a vocabulary both prodigious and foul, a great storyteller who often ends a depressing tale with “…’twas ever thus.” Her journey is peppered with creepy old men, great old ladies, a homeless boy (“Hey, hey. I’m Walt.”), and a devastatingly handsome young guy, to name a few. All of these people work to help or hinder Mim’s desperate journey to reach her mother before it’s too late.

When I read the description of this debut novel, I didn’t think it would interest me, but I bought it for the library because of all the starred reviews. I read it only because I knew it would be a Printz contender next year. By about page two, I fell in love with it. This is a brilliant novel, and Mim is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Her voice is sterling: so tough, and yet terribly vulnerable. Smart, witty teens are one reason that my job is so gratifying, and I resent it when people say that the teen characters in some YA novels are unrealistic. I know too many great kids to believe them. Teens have little control over their own lives, and Mim is someone who has fought against the choices adults have made in her life—either ignorant choices for her or self-centered choices for themselves—with her natural intelligence and humor. Sometimes, she is afraid to trust the right people because so many have let her down before, and yet her heart is wide open to the inner beauty of the innocence she sees in Walt, another character who is just… well, I have tears in my eyes just remembering him.

I highly recommend Mosquitoland, with the caveat that the language can be rough and the situations are sometimes those that should be expected of a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone. Older teens and adults. Kudos to David Arnold on an incredible debut. May he write many, many more.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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