Best Books of 2017 – Children’s & YA!
I read more kid’s books and more YA in 2017 than in any previous year, and as usual, I ended up feeling greatly rewarded by that decision: I soaked up the urgency that’s the hallmark of so much YA, and I soaked up the pure delight that so often brings children’s books to life. The combination opens doors off the main hallways of my usual reading, and even when the subject matter was dark, this was a tremendously rejuvenating experience that led me to lots and lots of new books. These were the best of them:
10 Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Young-Ullman (FSG) – The first book on our list is also the most ambitious on the list, the fractured and multi-faceted story of the relationship between young Ingrid and her opera-singer mother Margot-Sophia, a story that’s told in flashes forward and backward as Ingrid takes readers through the surprisingly gripping process of trying to understand her own life.
9 At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse) – This psychologically intricate story – from one of the best YA authors working today – centers on a boy named Ozzie, who’s becoming reluctantly convinced that the universe is ending, one deleted chunk of reality at a time. One of those chunks was his best friend (and boyfriend) Tommy, and the story Hutchinson builds from there is both fascinating and touching.
8 A Place to Read by Leigh Hodgkinson (Bloomsbury) – This delightful book is pitched to the very youngest readers, but there isn’t a bookworm in the world who won’t instantly identify with its little hero’s ongoing attempts to find the perfect reading spot. My own such spot as 2017 draws to a close is a small sofa by a window (with a fuzzy puppy sleeping on my head), but the quest – the quest is real!
7 Monster’s New Undies by Samantha Berger (Scholastic Press) – If ever there were a kid’s book that epitomized why I love this genre so much, it’s this tense tale of a little monster who deeply loves his worn old undies and is doggedly certain he doesn’t need new ones. And in addition to the tale itself, Tad Carpenter’s insanely cheering illustrations had me smiling throughout. I speak with authority when I say: you don’t need to wear undies to love this book.
6 Life on Mars by John Agee (Dial) – The intrepid young astronaut who lands on Mars intent on discovering indigenous life isn’t easily daunted – he leaves his spaceship and looks everywhere. The fun of Agee’s terrific book comes the fact that our hero is thwarted in his big discovery by random bad timing: he’s never quite looking in the right direction. Right up to the twist on the last page, this book is a pure delight.
5 Rodzilla by Rob Sanders/Dan Santat (McElderry Books) – This brightly-colored story of a monster called Rodzilla who’s on the loose and stomping (and barfing on) a city full of frightened people will be instantly and perhaps a touch ruefully recognizable to any parents dealing with either a toddler or a fuzzy little puppy: the terror, the destruction … and also the clumsy affection, all perfectly portrayed.
4 Strange Fire by Tommy Wallach (Simon & Schuster) – This dark and insightful novel is the long-range sequel to Wallach’s fantastic novel We All Looked Up, in which a giant asteroid is headed straight for Earth. Strange Fire takes place thousands of years later and features the tribal, dystopian humanity that survived the planet-killer. As in that earlier work, Wallach here brings a tightly-knit central cast of characters to vivid life on the page.
3 Among the Red Stars by Gwen Katz (HarperTeen) – Gwen Katz puts at the heart of her story the memorable young heroine Valka, an eerily talented aviator who enlists in the Russian war effort against the Germans in the Second World War. She joins the all-female group of sky warriors known as the Night Witches, and although Katz does a crackerjack job on the book’s many actions sequences (a thing most YA novels either do poorly or not at all), her most wonderful achievement in these pages is the creation of Valka herself.
2 We Now Return to Regular Life by Martin Wilson (Dial) – This raw and oddly elegant novel revolves around the hoary concept of a missing person who returns: three years ago, Sam Walsh disappeared. Now, suddenly, he’s back, which fills his sister Beth and his best friend Josh with hundreds of questions – Beth about what happened to him while he was gone, and Josh, who has romantic feelings for Sam, wants to know how things might stand between them. But Martin Wilson turns the simple program of this plot into much deeper and more satisfying story of doubt and change.
1 Shark Dog! By Ged Adamson (HarperCollins) – In this whimsically delightful book, a world-famous explorer and his little daughter discover a shark dog – part dog, part shark – and bring the boisterous little freak home, where he makes lots of friends, raises lots of eyebrows, and eventually begins to pine for his fellow shark dogs. The explorer and his daughter make the tough decision to bring him back to his distant home, and the book’s ending will bring a smile to anybody who’s ever taken a strange little life-form into their home.