Librarians love lists, so we always enjoy the slew of annual “best of” lists published about the year’s plentiful offerings of movies, books, music and more.
We wanted to create our own “best” list detailing great books for kids and teens. Of course, there were many terrific juvenile fiction offerings to choose from, but here are some of our staff’s personal picks for the best reads of 2015.
The Book With No Pictures
by B.J. Novak
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Dial Books, 2014
For age 3 and up
Doesn’t a book without pictures sound boring? Well, that idea may pass after the narrator explains that the person reading the book will have to say aloud whatever the words say — or try. What follows in The Book With No Pictures is a hilarious litany of nonsense words, robotic voices and silly sounds.
This fun and highly interactive tale will have adults and kids alike rolling with laughter. Irreverent and irresistible, it is a great tool for bonding — although, possibly, it is best read during the day rather than at bedtime.
Emily’s Blue Period
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
For age 5 and up
Emily loves art and, while studying Pablo Picasso, she connects to the artist’s ability to look at ordinary things in different ways. When her parents get divorced, Emily enters her own “blue period,” and her art reflects her sadness. When a teacher gives a class assignment for students to create collages of their homes, Emily feels distressed. She isn’t sure whether her home is at her mom’s house or her dad’s.
Handling complex topics with ease and clarity, Emily’s Blue Period discusses Picasso’s affinity for cubism and relates it to everyday concepts. Lisa Brown’s illustrations capture the complex art practices of cubism in ways that even young readers can understand.
And the character of Emily uses these ideas to find her own voice using art, realizing some things along the way about what makes a family and what makes a home.
For age 12 and up
Kamala Khan is an ordinary 16-year-old Muslim girl from New Jersey — that is, until she’s exposed to a mysterious green gas that gives her superpowers. Struggling to determine who she really is, and to balance her new powers with her regular life, Kamala battles conflicts between her responsibilities to family and tradition, and her desire to catch bad guys and make a difference in the world.
Rich in both cultural details and comic book lore, this unique and diverse graphic novel features a strong, smart heroine who will appeal to readers new to the Marvel world or to devotees ready for a fresh take on superhero lore. In following volumes she even meets and fights alongside Wolverine, the Avengers and others.
by Aaron Reynolds
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
For age 4 and up
Nerdy Birdy just doesn’t fit in — he wears glasses, he’s allergic to birdseed, and he’s addicted to reading and video games. He also longs to be as cool as the eagles, cardinals and robins of the world.
Nerdy Birdy knows that being alone is very lonely. But one day he meets another bird who invites him to hang out with his group of misfit friends, and he quickly discovers that being unique can be very interesting and fun.
by George Shannon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015
For age 3 and up
On the surface, this is a counting book. But its real value lies in the gorgeous illustrations that show specific items to be counted (bananas, flowers, birds) and family units that represent each number. Starting at one with an older woman reading while holding a cat, the illustrations move up to a multigenerational family of 10 — representing a variety of diverse families along the way.
It also emphasizes that whatever families look like and no matter how different they may be from others, every family is an individual unit.
The Sea of Tranquility
by Katja Millay
Atria Books, 2013
For age 15 and up
Nastya Kashnikov doesn’t care to remember or relive her old life. She’s starting over at a new school and does her best to hold everyone at arm’s length. She has secrets and she isn’t sharing — in fact, she refuses to speak at all, to anyone. Gradually, however, she’s drawn to Josh, a classmate who has lost everyone in his life who loved him. He is truly all alone.
Although these two independent loners have little patience for each other, somehow they start to develop a tight friendship. Eventually, through the miracle of supportive friends, homemade baked goods and custom-designed woodwork, they discover that they just might be what the other most needs.
The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, deeply introspective story full of developed characters and enlightening details. It also contains the most elusive of all teen plots: boys and girls who are friends. Romance may enter the picture in the future, but refreshingly, it isn’t part of this story.
The Queen of the Tearling
Harper Paperbacks, 2015
For age 15 and up
Kelsea Glynn has grown up alone, hidden deep in the woods. Her adoptive guardians teach and train her in as many areas as possible. The true meaning behind this is revealed when the Queen’s Guard arrives on Kelsea’s 19th birthday to escort her to her destiny as the Queen of the Tearling. The secrecy was required to protect her life, and this theme continues throughout the book.
Lacking the perspective of others’ feelings, Kelsey acts quickly and decisively to make immediate changes. And while her country desperately needs these changes, not everyone is approving, so repercussions happen swiftly.
Backed by a stellar guard of mysterious and richly developed characters, this book and others in the “Tearling” series comprise an exquisite tale that will stick with readers for a long time.
You Are (Not) Small
by Anna Kang
Two Lions, 2014
For age 3 and up
Two furry creatures argue over who is small and who is big. When some surprise guests arrive, however, the creatures realize that you can be both big and small — it just depends on who is standing next to you.
This original and funny story illustrates that labels are nothing more than perspective. We all are everything.
Wendy Dunn is a teen programming librarian with the Fort Worth Library.