Susan Bloom's Best Children's and Young Adult Books of 2011
Simmons English Associate Professor Emeritus Susan P. Bloom is a staff reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and has served on the Newbery Committee. Every year she makes a list of her picks for the "Best Children's and Young Adult Books" of the year. If you're doing some last minute shopping for the holidays, these make for great gifts. Here is her list for 2011:
1. Ray, Mary Lyn. Stars.
"Calmly and directly, Ray addresses the reader in this gentle, somnolent narrative. 'A star is how you know it's night. / As soon as you see one, there's another, and another. / And the dark that comes doesn't feel as dark.' Like a lulling tide, the text moves easily between grounded practical advice ('...[Y]ou can draw a star on / shiny paper and cut around it. / Then you can put it in your pocket') and naturalistic metaphor: 'Blow a ball of dandelion and you blow / a thousand stars into the sky.' Ideal for bedtime, this will shine on through repeat readings." - Kirkus
2. Sidman, Joyce. Swirl by Swirl.
A graceful poem about the spiral shape. "A spiral is a snuggling shape," begins the story of the ways the spiral appears in the world. "Exquisitely simple and memorable." - Kirkus
3. McDonnell, Patric˚. Me...Jane: Young Jane Goodall.
A young Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee, Jubilee, wander outside their country home observing every day animals. The story shows the groundbreaking primatologist during her early days, perfectly content lying in the grass. "Children will appreciate McDonnell's original format and take heart that interests logged in their own diaries might turn into lifelong passions." - Kirkus
4. Stead, Phillip. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat.
Jonathan's parents trade his teddy bear for a toaster, so he sets sail on a Big Blue Boat to find his lost friend. The illustrations will keep young readers engaged, shifting their focus from big to little and large shapes to tiny numbers. "Stead encourages children to puzzle over minutia, readying them to think about more opaque topics: growing up, obsolescence and the intrigue of old, forgotten things." - Kirkus
5. Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back.
A bear searches for his missing hat, asking a number of forest animals if they've seen it. Each animal denies seeing it, but the rabbit (wearing a pointy red chapeau) protests a bit too forcefully. Later as the bear is describing his missing hat, the realization sinks in, "I've seen my hat!" the bear exclaims. "Indubitably hip, this will find plenty of admirers...And the littlest ones will demand to know where the heck that rabbit went." - Kirkus.
6. Young, Ed. The House Baba Built.
War is coming and Baba (daddy) searches for a place to keep the family safe. The safest part of Shanghai is too expensive, but Baba uses his engineering skills to build a big brick house that his family can live in for 20 years. The artist's childhood in the house is full of games and the seeming distant war. "Sophisticated, inventive art invites close viewings for patient readers in this unusual family story." - Kirkus.
7. Say, Allen. Drawing from Memory.
Part autobiography and part history, Allen Say writes about escaping the 1941 bombings in Japan and his emancipation at age 12 when his mother supported him in his own Tokyo apartment. Say turned the one room apartment into his art studio, working on comics, still-lifes and life drawing. "Aesthetically superb; this will fascinate comics readers and budding artists while creating new Say fans." - Kirkus.
8. Smith, Lane. Grandpa Green.
"Watering a garden, pulling a wagon, collecting dropped gardening gloves and tools, a little fellow works in an amazing topiary world made of memories. The trees tell the story of his great-grandfather's life--from birth to chicken pox to high school to military service and, later, marriage. Though this book has lots of adult appeal, it will also be a wonderful bridge to exploring family history with the very young." - Kirkus.
9. Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races.
Every October on the island meat-eating water horses emerge from the sea, endangering the islanders. They are fast but if captured, with iron and magic, they can be trained. On the first of November, the horses are raced on the beach of Thisby; winning means fame and fortune, but losing often means death. 19-year-old Sean runs for the right to buy the water horse and 16-year-old Katherine races her land horse to save her home. The two form an alliance. "The final race, with Sean and Katherine each protecting each other but both determined to win, comes to a pitch-perfect conclusion. Masterful. like nothing else out there now." - Kirkus
10. Ursue, Anne. Breadcrumbs.
"Adopted from India as a baby, fantasy maven Hazel has always felt she was from a different planet. Hazel tries desperately not to disturb the universe at Lovelace Elementary, where she doesn't fit in with anyone except Jack, the only person she knows with a real imagination --until the day Hazel pelts Jack with a snowball, glass enters his eye and he disappears with a mysterious woman resembling the Snow Queen. Hazel enters the woods to find "an entirely different place," populated by creatures from the pages of Hans Christian Andersen. Hazel traverses the woods without a breadcrumb trail to save a boy who may not want to be saved." - Kirkus
11. Schmatz, Pat. Bluefish.
"Travis is filled with sullen resentment toward his recovering alcoholic grandfather, who moved them away from their old house despite Travis's devastation having to leave behind his lost dog, Rosco. At his new school, Travis is surprised to land on the radar of confident, kind Velveeta, and he increasingly looks forward to her friendly overtures each day, even as he worries that she might discover a secret of which he's deeply ashamed. In the meantime, Velveeta struggles with family trouble of her own and with the loss of a dear friend. A story rife with unusual honesty and hope." - Kirkus
12. Schmidt, Gary. Okay for Now.
"It's 1968. The Vietnam War and Apollo 11 are in the background, and between a war in a distant land and a spacecraft heading to the moon, Doug Swieteck starts a new life in tiny Marysville, N.Y. He hates "stupid Marysville," so far from home and his beloved Yankee Stadium, and he may have moved away, but his cruel father and abusive brothers are still with him. Each chapter opens with a print of a John James Audubon painting, and Mr. Powell, the town librarian, teaches Doug to paint and see the world as an artist. He meets pretty Lillian Spicer, just the feisty friend Doug needs, and a whole cast of small-town characters opens Doug to what he might be in the world." - Kirkus
13. Peet, Mal. Life: An Exploded Diagram.
"Clem came unexpectedly into the world, a 'wartime mishap,' whose premature birth was brought on by a German air raid over rural England. A smart, working-class boy with a talent for drawing, Clem attends school on scholarship. In defiance of the local prohibition against 'getting Above Yerself,' Clem falls in love with Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy man bent on bulldozing his land into a prairie. In delicious and often humorous meanderings through time and place, the author adroitly intertwines the brinkmanship of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis with the teenagers' secret romance." - Kirkus
14. Handler, Daniel. Why We Broke Up.
"On the exterior he's a gorgeous basketball-jock douchebag; she's an outspoken, outsider, romantic-movie buff with frizzy hair. They're opposites, and no one else in the novel sees why they're together. But as objects from the box are revealed in Kalman's vividly rendered paintings, readers are taken beneath the surface of what will no doubt be one of the most talked-about romances in teen literature. Handler frames their lives together with a sharp, cinematic virtuosity that leaps off the pages. Their relationship sparks and burns with so much passion, honesty, enlightenment and wonder that readers will feel relieved when they finish those chapters that don't end with '...and that's why we broke up.'"- Kirkus
15. Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
"The most intriguing part of Amelia Earhart's life is often thought to be the way it ended. A mysterious disappearance and an unsolved rescue mission is a powerful story on its own. But Fleming digs deeper and shows readers why everyone--from young girls who looked up to her to the First Lady of the United States--cared so much for this daring woman pilot. Chapters alternate between the days surrounding Earhart's fateful crash and her growth from child to trailblazer." - Kirkus
16. Wolf, Allan. The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic.
"Titanic was a floating city, 'the largest moving thing on the planet ever made by man.' She sank quickly on the night of April 14-15, 1912, and only 712 of the 2,207 passengers survived. Wolf brings the history and, more importantly, the human scale of the event to life by giving voice to the players themselves--the captain, the lookout, the millionaire, the socialite and various workers and passengers representing all classes of society that floated to their doom." - Kirkus
17. Aronson, Marc. Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet below the Chilean Desert.
"On August 5, 2010, 33 miners were trapped 2,300 feet underground in northern Chile's unsafe San Jose mine, setting off a story that captured the attention of the world, 'from experts on outer space to drill bit manufacturers from Pennsylvania, from nutritionists to camera crews.'" - Kirkus
18. Walker, Sally. Blizzard of Glass: the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
"Thousands of miles from the action of World War I, two ships headed for the conflict collided in Halifax Harbour and precipitated an astonishing disaster. On December 6, 1917, the MontBlanc and the Imo were slated to deliver supplies to Europe. 'In less than five minutes, an explosion--the likes of which the world had never seen before--and a tsunami had destroyed homes, factories, and businesses, wiping them from the land as though they had never existed.' Rescue was hampered by a blizzard the next day. Nearly 2,000 people perished in the town that a few years earlier had helped with the remains of Titanic victims." - Kirkus
19. Gleeson, Libby. The great Bear.
"'Once there was a bear,'" the simple narrative begins. Her life is one of drudgery and pain; she lives in a cage all day and at night performs for noisy crowds who throw stones and poke her with sticks. Then one night...high in the mountains...the crowd yells at her to dance. Cymbals crash and trumpets blast and stones strike, strike, strike. The bear stands very still, until finally she quiets the crowd with a tremendous roar. Pictures tell the rest of the story. The looming silhouette of the bear is seen against a background of brown dirt littered with articles left by fleeing townspeople. Beyond, a tall pole reaches to the night sky at one end of the street. Racing to the pole, she climbs higher and higher until, against a sky full of Starry Night stars, she jumps into the heavens." - Kirkus
20. Tullet, Herve. Press Here.
"One lone, yellow dot sits in the center of a blank, white page. Underneath is the inviting command (affirming the reader's already intrinsic urge): 'Press here.' Turn the page; now there are two yellow dots! Press again. Now, three! What happens if you tap them? Or tilt the book on its side? Gleefully, the dots scatter like marbles. Readers will clamor to press, poke, shake and blow the pages to find out what happens next." - Kirkus