I reviewed many outstanding books in 2015. It is a most difficult task to narrow the list down to 14 favorites. So here are my top favorite books covering several genres. All but the last book are for kids ages nine through fourteen. And chances are good that one of these just might receive the coveted Newbery Award to be announced later this month.
Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?, by Liz Kessler, begins with Jessica noticing part of her arm vanishing during school. Later that night, she decides to see if she can completely vanish. When she does, she begins searching for other kids who might have these super abilities. When you discover the secret, and the problems that come with it, you won’t stop reading!
By the Grace of Todd and In Todd We Trust, by Louise Galveston, are the first and second books in this clever series. In the first book, Todd has just discovered an entire tiny civilization amongst his socks in his messy room. Now these very small people idolize Todd and trust him to protect them. When he lets a bully in on his secret, his tiny companions are about to lose their kingdom. Both books are fun, funny and engrossing with their unique premise. They have a slight resemblance to the classic book, “The Borrowers”.
Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, is nothing like the traditional fairytale. This Rapunzel is actually happy up in her tower. It’s only when a boy by the name of Jack comes up to her high window seeking help for his injured fairy that she eventually descends to the ground where she becomes “grounded”. And thus, her great high adventures begin.
Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, is a magical story richly told about Twig who isn’t allowed friends or to do much outside her house. She has an older brother, James, who was born with an old family curse of wings by a witch long ago. James isn’t supposed to leave the house either, but he sneaks out late at night and flies over the village. Now the town believes a monster is lurking. When neighbors move in next to Twig, her world turns upside down!
All the Answers, by Kate Messner, has a very clever premise: a magic pencil that tells answers. Ava finds an old pencil and begins doodling with it. But when she writes a question on the margin of a test, the pencil tells her the answer. Soon she finds that this pencil only gives factual answers and she begins to worry she’s going to lose it as the pencil gets shorter every time she sharpens it. Eventually, Ava learns that life doesn’t always have all the answers.
The Detective’s Assistant, by Kate Hannigan, is a mystery with historical facts woven throughout the book. The story takes place prior to the Civil War and Nell is helping out at her Aunt Kitty’s detective agency. Nell is very clever and devises ways to crack codes and get suspects to confess. She also has a dear friend, Jemma, who is African American and this is where you get insight into slavery at this time in history. The book is loosely based on the first female detective, Kate Warne. There are also codes and riddles to solve throughout – with answers found at the back of the book.
One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser, is a delightful fantasy adventure rich with mystery and a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. When his friend trades his cow for magic beans, he becomes entangled with mysterious girls, a cross giant and accepting responsibility. This book is a page-turner so you’d better make time or you’ll be reading all night!
Masterminds, by Gordan Korman, who is another favorite mystery author of mine, is an amazing story filled with mystique and danger. When Eli and his friend, Randy, leave the town of Serenity’s city limits, they are about to walk into the biggest mystery of the book. This is another page-turner that you will not want to put down until the very end. It would be a great read aloud as well.
Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey, is a sweet story rich in showcasing important life lessons. Genuine has merited the gift of granting wishes. Now she can lift herself and her family out of poverty. However, she learns she can only give out wishes to others, and not to herself. How she deals with this fact and what she learns is more valuable than any wish she could ever bestow upon herself. The story takes place in rural Georgia and reads with a southern lilt, making this a perfect read-out-loud.
Echo, by Pam Muniz Ryan, takes place over several hundred years and begins with a young boy becoming lost in the woods. When he is rescued by three sisters who have been cursed by a witch, he helps carry their spirits out through a harmonica. Now hundreds of years later, this harmonica helps three children living in completely different circumstances and eventually guides them toward happiness. Through much hard work and persistence, these three overcome great adversity and bring their talents of music to fruition.
Firefly Hollow, by Alison McGhee, and illustrated with color sporadically by Christopher Denise, finds Firefly wanting to leave the Hollow because she has always wanted to touch the moon. Cricket wants to leave because he has always wanted to play baseball. But when they do leave the safety of the Hollow, they end up meeting someone they had only heard about. This someone is a giant to them. But he’s actually a boy who also has big dreams. This sweet tale is about friendship, support, and working toward achieving your dreams and is perfect for ages seven through nine.
A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, takes place during the fall of 1961 in Berlin, Germany when East and West became divided. This historical fiction showcases the bravery and hope that East Germans faced as families, who were suddenly cut off from loved ones, and how they dealt with these extreme difficulties.
Courage & Defiance, by Deborah Hopkinson, is an exhilarating non-fiction account of the brave men and women who helped save Jewish families living in Denmark during World War II. The accounts of these brave deeds are daring and amazing. There are photos, maps and illustrations found throughout the book. There is also tragedy found near the back of the book about the Jewish prison camps and for this reason this book is better suited for ages eleven and up.
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon, by Catherine Thimmesh, immediately has you enthralled from the blast off to all of the excitement that ensued. There were many thousands that helped in the planning, designing and building the spacesuits, the Apollo 11 spacecraft and much, much more. There were many major problems once the Apollo 11 took off. However, these challenges were faced head-on by many. Spectacular photos are found throughout the book.