Favorite Books of 2008
Jean Hatfield, Youth Materials Selector
Airplanes: Soaring! Turning! Diving! by Patricia Hubbell, illus. By Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.
What would Wichita be without airplanes? This delightful picture book shows all kinds of planes doing all kinds of things. Great illustrations and book design keep children’s interest throughout.
Bats at the Library by Brian Lies.
While some people may think of bats in the library as creepy, this picture book shows what fun bats (and people) can have at the library.
The Black Book of Colors by Menina Cottin and Rosana Faria.
How do you describe color to someone who cannot see? This picture book uses words and pictures to convey the concept of color with a Braille text and raised shapes for illustrations.
Chester’s Back by Melanie Watt.
Chester the cat knows he is a star. Unfortunately, his creator (author/illustrator Watt) wants to tell a story without Chester. Will Chester let that happen? No!
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illus. By Beth Krommes.
Parents who are tired of Good Night, Moon will be happy to see a new, quiet, bedtime book on the scene. The quiet story and striking illustrations will continue to be a favorite for years to come.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz.
Which is more important: feeding the body or feeding the mind? This lovely picture book depicts a story from the artist’s own life.
I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems.
Willems continues his delightful stories of Gerald the Elephant and his friend Piggy. This one is a laugh-out-loud story of miscommunication and friendship.
In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck.
Everyone can see that Alice’s room ISN'T blue even though she wants to be in a blue room. Her mother fills Alice's senses with soft smells, sounds, tastes and touches. When mother turns out the light, Alice falls asleep in a blue room. This is a sweet bedtime story with lively illustrations that are filled with details and colors to delight any child who can stay awake long enough to find them.
A Perfect Season for Dreaming by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, illus. by Esau Andrade Valencia.
In a nod to Octavio Paz, this sweet story brings the magical realism of Latin America to a child’s appreciation of dreams and their potential.
Traction Man Meets Turbodog by Mini Grey.
A child’s imagination is a wonderful thing and author Grey has brought Traction Man back for more adventures with his sidekick Scrubbing Brush and a new pet, Turbodog.
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illus by Ed Young.
This beautifully illustrated book combines Japanese style art, haiku and Zen philosophy.
Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illus by Ross MacDonald.
The story of the men who invented Superman, illustrated with a wonderful retro look and excellent notes at the end.
Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex.
Adam Rex is back with another installment of silly poetry and wildly inventive illustrations. Put this in the hands of a boy who has to have a book of poems and watch him grin.
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up by Jon Scieszka.
Funny man and Children’s Literature Ambassador Scieszka answers many questions about “where do you get your ideas?” in these hilarious vignettes of growing up in a household with 5 brothers.
Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport, illus by Marc Tavares.
This is a beautifully illustrated story of how the Statue of Liberty came to New York Harbor. The artistic process and technical challenges are outlined in kid-friendly fashion.
Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg, illus by Christopher Bing.
2009 will be the year of Lincoln celebrations and this marvelous book will be a hit with history buffs and kids doing reports. Created to appear as if it is made of newspapers of the day, the text has a great deal of information, but the layout and pictures make it a treat to look at.
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola.
This is one of two picture book biographies published in 2008 of Nobel Prize winner Maathai and her crusade to plant trees throughout Kenya, thus not only saving the soil, but creating a new economy. Delicate illustrations add to the strength of the story. (Kansas connection alert! Did you know Maathai went to school at Benedictine College in Atchison?)
The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull, illus by Kevin Hawkes.
I confess I’m a Baum buff and I was impressed by the many little-known facts Krull managed to include in this very readable picture biography.
The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman.
By focusing on a slice of Twain’s life, Fleischman gives us an idea of what he was like as a person, what shaped his writing style and what made him so popular for so many decades. Fleischman writes in a conversational tone that keeps the reader interested while they are learning something about the Wild West.
We Are The Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League by Kadir Nelson.
This is a tour de force both for its relaxed and entertaining writing as well as the stunning pictures. This can be used for Black History month or to give to baseball lovers, but the illustrations are what makes this book a masterpiece.
Middle Grade Fiction
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson.
For Anne of Green Gables fans or historical fiction fans. Ever wonder what Anne’s life was like before she met the Cutburths? This heart-rending book answers that question. Commissioned by the L. M. Montgomery estate, this book matches the style and tone of the originals so perfectly you would think it has always been here.
Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse.
It is the summer of 1904 in Brooklyn and all Joseph wants to do is to visit Coney Island. But his family’s business is expanding and they have little time for such things. Joseph’s comfortable life is juxtaposed with the lives of the homeless children who live under the bridge for an interesting story that is well told.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
Nobody Owens was raised in a graveyard by the dead and never dead. He is a living boy whose life is a mystery and as he grows up, that mystery deepens. Full of humor and suspense, this is a great book for 4th grade and up. Listen to Neil Gaiman read it on the web-site http://www.mousecircus.com/.
The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas.
Conn has lived by his wits on the street for a long time. He is a pickpocket and can open any lock he encounters. But when he tries to steal from a wizard, he gets more than he bargained for. He finds his destiny. This is the first in what will likely be a popular series. Great for Artemis Fowl fans.
The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan.
What can possibly replace Harry Potter in the hearts of young readers? Who knows? But Scholastic Publishing is trying to stake their claim with a new series called The 39 Clues. This is the first book in the series and it is by acclaimed author Rick Riordan. The second book, One False Note by Gordon Korman, was released right before Christmas. Scholastic is adding to the hype by having a contest, a webpage, trading cards, etc. Is this all worth it? Will it replace Harry? The first two books are solid upper elementary school reading material that incorporate humor, suspense, evil-doers and good guys along with healthy doses of geography and history.
My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath.
As usual, Polly Horvath is able to blend humor and longing with quirky characters so seamlessly that we are able to easily move from one emotion to another, both as a reader looking in on a scene and as a reader feeling what the characters are feeling. The ending may appear to be a little pat but in fact it opens up so many new possibilities for the characters that I wanted the story to just keep going.
Savvy by Ingrid Law.
Mibs wonders what her “savvy” (her magical power) will be when she reaches her 13th birthday. But things get all upset when her father is in an accident on the way home. This is a wonderful story with a Kansas connection – Mibs is trying to get to her hospitalized father in Salina (KS), but takes a circuitous route through Nebraska to get there. We meet great characters and are kept wondering what her savvy will turn out to be.
Seer of Shadows by Avi.
A masterful storyteller creates an atmospheric story of ghosts and deceit coupled with great characters and a lot of information on the beginnings of photography.
Toy Dance Party: Being the Further Adventures of a Bossyboots Stingray, A Courageous Buffalo, and a Hopeful Round Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins.
The toys return! As their owner is growing older and discovering (gasp!) Barbies, the three friends are left to cope with loneliness and to find their way out of many encounters with such things as fingernail polish and a fearsome shark. Great fun for beginning readers or for reading aloud.
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.
This is a seemingly simple story of an unfortunate dog and three cats, but they are surrounded by evil in their backwater bayou.
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.
Kids who like the Penderwicks and the Beaudalaires will relish this story of 4 kids whose neglectful parents leave them with a hilarious nanny. Very tongue-in-cheek and fun to read. If nothing else, read the Glossary. Hilarious.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Vol. 2 The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson.
This remarkable book ably continues Anderson’s incredibly complex story of the slave Octavian Nothing. Not for the average reader, but give it to teens who like a challenge or adults who like historical fiction with a twist.
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman.
There are more books being published that focus on India and the everyday life of the youth there and this story of a determined young girl’s struggle to learn is set during the struggle for India’s independence and the beginnings of WWII.
A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth Bunce.
This engrossing Rumplestilskin story involves curses, woolen mills and love. Fans of re-told fairy tales and fans of light fantasy will enjoy this book. Give it to Gail Levine fans and watch them snap it up. (Kansas connection alert! Elizabeth Bunce lives in the Kansas City area.)
He Forgot to Say Good Bye by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
Two boys from very different backgrounds in El Paso find that even though their lives may be different, the hole left by absent fathers feels the same. Great characters and great writing take this book a step above the normal “problem” novel.
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier.
This fun fantasy is set in an unknown, modern land (think Australia) where everyone has their own personal fairy. Some fairies have great powers like the shopping fairy or the good hair fairy. But Charlie’s fairy is a parking fairy, which enables her to always get a good parking space, even if she isn’t old enough to drive. Her campaign to get rid of her fairy in order to get a new one is funny and surprising.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Take “Survivor” a step farther into the future but make the contestants teenagers and the reward is the ability of everyone in your community to lead a comfortable life. And there you have The Hunger Games. This is a remarkably crafted story that is an engrossing read for anyone over the age of 12. I couldn’t put it down.
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle.
Poet Engle returns to her Cuban roots to bring us another moving story told in alternating voices in verse form. This is set in the time of Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain, a time period that covered 30 years and 3 wars. The focus is on a nurse who tends the injured, the sick and the dying while hiding from authorities in the wilderness.
Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt.
Henry’s father thinks that trouble can’t reach them in their safe and secure lives. But he is wrong, as Henry’s family discovers. Gary Schmidt uses breathtaking language and writing to grab our attention and make us care about his complex characters.
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