Best of 2015: Liz

Article by liz

So the thing about kids books, right, is that everybody reads them. Okay, you may not still be reading them, but you definitely did, at some point in your past, read them. Pretty much everyone starts with picture books, then chapter books, then maybe some nice advanced middle-grade readers and boom, hey, young adult fiction, if you still want to read about protagonists your own age. Maybe you thought you were done with “kids stuff” and wanted to move on. That’s fine! I get it! But, really, why?

Myself, I grew up too fast. I had my first nervous breakdown in eighth grade because my algebra teacher would give us the homework to struggle through on our own before she taught us the lesson. (Teachers: please never do this.) I read adult books as soon as my vocabulary was up to it. It’s only now in life that I’ve turned back to children’s books, because, you know what? Kids lit is amazing. The stories are faster and sharper, the wit is cleaner and kinder, and I’m sad that I skipped so much of it when I was at the right age for it—but at the same time, I’m glad to be rediscovering it now.

Kids lit is one of the fastest-growing and most consistently outstanding genres of literature. How many other genres can contain the diary of a girl allergic to the world, next to a graphic novel memoir of coming out at summer camp, tucked beside a reimagined alternate history where women could be front-line soldiers in World War II? I learned a lot of great things from kids lit this year, like how to wait, how to remember a sense of wonder. It’s energized my own imagination and kick-started my own writing into places it’s never been before.

When I read books in grade school, they always made me give the moral of the story. Now that I read books as a bookseller, I’ve always got half a mind on who else would enjoy it. So, merging my past and present, here are the quick-and-easy morals for these ten phenomenal books, as well as the people who need to read them. Here are this year’s top 10 “kids” books for all types of “grown-ups.”

The Princess and the Pony Cover Image
By Kate Beaton, Kate Beaton (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780545637084
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Arthur A. Levine Books - June 30th, 2015

Who doesn’t love a farting pony? Or Kate Beaton, for that matter? The creator of HARK! A VAGRANT and now-famed illustrator, known for her sharp send-ups of history and literature, debuted her first picture book this year! True to Beaton form, THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY is the story of a fighting princess who can’t wait to have a steed of her own—only the bug-eyed, goofy-faced pony she’s given isn’t quiiite the noble mount she’d hoped for. Never fear: it all turns out all right, flipping fairy tale stereotypes on their heads and delivering utterly aww-worthy moments in the process.

Great for: The vicious fighters who secretly love fluffy kittens
The moral of the story: Learn to make the best of your goofy-faced disappointments.

Waiting Cover Image
By Kevin Henkes, Kevin Henkes (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780062368430
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Greenwillow Books - September 1st, 2015

My gosh, this book is calming. Everything from the texture of the pages to the colors of the art screams Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Put your feet up. Have you made a cup of tea? You should have a cup of tea. Caldecott-winner Kevin Henkes tells the simple story of five toys sitting on a windowsill and watching the world outside, just waiting for something to happen. They watch the weather, they enjoy each other’s company, and they simply...wait. I felt so relaxed reading this book, I wish I could have waited with them for longer.

Great for: Anxious adults, busy collegians, and anyone who still needs to learn a little patience
The moral of the story: Remember that waiting can be the best part of an experience.

George Cover Image
ISBN: 9780545812542
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Scholastic Press - August 25th, 2015

GEORGE got a ton of buzz on its release—and rightly so! This debut novel brings a new kind of voice—and a much-needed one—to middle-grade literature. See, George is a girl. Everyone around her thinks she’s a boy, but she’s a girl. And she really wants to be Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte’s Web, but boys can’t audition. With the help of her supportive best friend, George decides she’s going to do it anyway—and from there, this sweet story of friendship, love, and being yourself unfolds in the most heartwarming way imaginable. GEORGE is important to me, and to a lot of its reviewers, because of how very authentic it is: how it makes George’s struggle such a day-to-day thing, with compassion and care.

Great for: The friend who’s never fit in—or the one who’s finally found themselves
The moral of the story: We’ve all got a secret person inside us. Some of them are just louder than others.

The Marvels Cover Image
By Brian Selznick, Brian Selznick (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780545448680
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Scholastic Press - September 15th, 2015

Like his multiple-award-winning THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, Brian Selznick’s THE MARVELS is told half in pictures and half in prose. The first part of the book is a wordless array of continuous pictures, and it’s up to the reader to figure out how the prose of the second part connects to the first. This type of storytelling isn’t common once you grow past picture books, and I think my adult brain needed some practice to get back into it, at first. But once I did—y’all. Y’all. I think my sense of wonder has atrophied a little since growing up. This brought it right back.

Great for: Artists, doodlers, or anyone who’s obsessed with narrative structure
The moral of the story: Just...just look at the dang pictures and appreciate them. Come on.

Dumplin' Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062327185
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Balzer + Bray - September 15th, 2015

I’ll stop talking about this book when everyone in my vortex of contact has read it. Until then? WHY ARE YOU NOT READING THIS BOOK. I’m closer to it than most folks, I’ll admit, but still—nothing has made me so viscerally remember being a teenager like reading this book. And that was good for me! Because no one really completely grows out of feeling awkward in their skin, or like they don’t match what they’re “supposed” to be. The difference is, when you’re living that in a book, there’s someone there to experience it with you—and you’re gonna figure it out together. That helps a lot. And having a fearless, sharp, smart-mouthed friend like Willowdean to watch your back? There’s nothing like it.

Great for: Folks who feel like they need a kick-start of badassery
The moral of the story: Dolly Parton believes in you. You can believe in yourself, too.

The Last Leaves Falling Cover Image
ISBN: 9781481430654
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - June 2nd, 2015

This book is about assisted suicide. If that’s gonna bother you, skip on down to the next thing, but before you do, let me assure you that this book treats the issue with the deep consideration it deserves—not in spite of, but because it’s about, and for, teenagers. Japanese teenager Abe Sora finds some normalcy in making friends online, as the progression of his ALS slowly confines him further and further to his home. Finding inspiration from samurai death poems, Sora asks his friends to help him leave life on his own terms. THE LAST LEAVES FALLING is as complex as anything you’ll read that’s ostensibly “for adults”—its only concession to being for teens is that it’s far more straightforward with much less navel-gazing.

Great for: The philosophers fascinated with ethics, friendship, or morals
The moral of the story: Written for teens doesn’t mean “underwritten.”

Lizard Radio Cover Image
ISBN: 9780763676353
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Candlewick - September 8th, 2015

Are you bored of dystopia? GUESS AGAIN. Pat Schmatz’s LIZARD RADIO brings dystopia back more to the classic 1984-style, and in so doing really shows that YA literature is the place to push the boundaries of what coming-of-age narratives can be. Fifteen year-old “bender” (as in “genderbender”) Kivali has never been quite sure how she fits—not only is she uncertain of where she fits in the whole girl/boy thing, she’s been raised by a nonconformist who insists Kivali’s actually part-lizard person. In a scheduled and regulated Gov-run CropCamp, Kivali makes her first friends, and gets in touch with the “lizard radio” inside herself. It’s a fantastic story of self-discovery, first love, and being yourself in a sometimes-hostile world.

Great for: The cynic who thinks there’s nothing new under the sun
The moral of the story: Fight the Man and embrace the lizard person inside of you.

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir Cover Image
By Maggie Thrash, Maggie Thrash (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780763673826
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Candlewick - September 8th, 2015

Ah, young love. So impulsive, so passionate, so completely incomprehensible in every single way. And that doesn’t noticeably change the older one gets. Reading HONOR GIRL made me feel so...understood—even though I never had a completely unexpected same-sex crush on my older counselor at sleepaway camp. (Not at camp, at least.) There’s a wonderful urgency to Thrash’s graphic novel memoir—the emotions are real and powerful, and Thrash’s simple, beautiful drawings present them without any pretension or artifice. Recapture all that excitement and angst of youth with this book. It’s a vibrant, exciting, and necessary entry into the both the young adult memoir and graphic novel genres.

Great for: Baby gays, aspiring memoirists, and hopeless romantics
The moral of the story: First love is world-changing.

I Crawl Through It Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316334099
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - September 22nd, 2015

I don’t even really know how to describe I CRAWL THROUGH IT to you. It’s a masterpiece of surrealism and multiple narratives, telling the story of four students struggling to push through their trauma, anxieties, and losses. It’s nonlinear, it’s visceral, and while it’s as difficult to untangle as real experiences of trauma and pain, it’s just as rewarding in the end. It’s dreamlike and mesmerizing. It doesn’t talk down or condescend to its readers. It wants to be a struggle. It’s really freaking good.

Great for: Anyone who loved HOUSE OF LEAVES or ULYSSES
The moral of the story: Even if you have to crawl through your pain, you will make it through.

Staff Pick Badge
Out of Darkness Cover Image
ISBN: 9781467742023
Availability: BACKORDERED
Published: Carolrhoda Lab (R) - September 1st, 2015

Ashley Hope Perez is a wizard. OUT OF DARKNESS is one of the most sophisticated uses of multiple narrators I’ve ever seen. This immensely skilled novel is a love story set against the backdrop of the New London school explosion—a 1937 gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers, and the worst school disaster in American history. It’s a lot of darkness to claw its way out of, and nearly every single page of this book gave me chills—but its bright points are so incredibly bright. A love affair across racial lines in 1930s East Texas seems doomed from the start, but Naomi and Wash’s love and hope makes you want to believe everything will be okay. This book is set less than a generation ago, and Perez’s writing makes you feel how immediate and real the racism, abuse, and pain its characters experience still is. It’s an incredibly important—and timely—book, and we’ll have Perez here in January to sign and discuss it with us. I'll probably cry.

Great for: Eager weepers who re-read THE BOOK THIEF and Romeo & Juliet for fun
The moral of the story: Love may not always be enough, but hope matters more.

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