Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Books of 2008: Children’s Books

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland (Annick Press) 216 pages
As I read The Bite of the Mango, Mariatu Kamara’s account of, at 12, suffering at the hands of soldiers in Sierra Leone, I thought often about the first time I read Anne Frank’s story of hiding in a Dutch attic during WWII. The major difference, of course, was the thing that so upset me about Frank’s tale when I was a child: the outcome was very dire. Kamara, on the other hand, survived, while certainly not unscathed, at least seemingly stronger. Like Frank’s story, though, Kamara’s journey is very real: sometimes distressingly so. Soldiers -- some of them still children themselves -- cut off both Kamara’s hands. Kamara survives, however, and makes her way ultimately to Toronto where she meets journalist Susan McClelland. It was McClelland who would help Kamara craft her experience into a compelling, unmissable book.
“What does it feel like,” asks Ishmael Beah in a touching foreword, “to be unable to wipe away your own tears of deep sadness, to stand without hands to push you up?” As Beah points out, The Bite of the Mango is a chillingly honest account of one child’s journey through tragedy, brutality and -- ultimately -- to survive and thrive in a new place. -- Sienna Powers

Born to Read by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown (Knopf) 40 pages
Born to Read makes you smile. It’s like you just can help it. From the cadence of Judy Sierra’s signature rhymes to Marc Brown’s bold, colorful and exceedingly cheerful illustrations, every column inch of Born to Read is packed with happy goodness. It’s a great book. Young Sam just knows he was born to read and, using his special talent, he sets on a mini version of what looks a bit like a Forest Gumpian expedition. Until he meets up with book stealing baby giant Grundaloon, that is. Sam has to use his hard-won reading skills to outwit and outsmart the determined baby. Four to eight year olds must suspend belief and ride along. It shouldn’t be hard, Born to Read is a wonderful book. -- Sienna Powers

Crossing The Line by Dianne Bates (Ford Street Publishing) 215 pages
Crossing the Line tackles a serious problem, among teenage girls in particular: self-harm. The book doesn’t promise all the answers, but it does take an honest and brave look at a nasty subject, and allows us to feel sympathy for the heroine, Sophie, when she isn’t scaring us. We can understand why she does what she does, even as we shudder. When you have little or no control over your life, you may feel that this is something you can control, as anorexics do, even if the perception is wrong. It’s the sort of novel that teenage girls will find gripping and thought-provoking. Certainly, it fulfils my own criteria for a good book: a good story and characters you can care about. -- Sue Bursztynski

The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli (Schwartz Wade Books) 40 pages
This is one of those rare children’s picture books that just works on every level. Though Kate Bernheimer has never before written for children, her writing is well known and respected and as the editor of Fairy Tale Review, she’s certainly never out of depth with the material she’s chosen here. On the other hand, Nicoletta Ceccoli is a highly regarded illustrator of children’s books. It’s not difficult to see why. In 2006 she was awarded the silver medal by the Society of Illustrators. In 2001 she won the Anderson Prize, awarded annually to Italy’s top children’s book illustrator. Her illustrations for The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum are wonderful. This is work so luminous, it seems backlit even on the page. The details are splendid, as are the colors and the otherwordly quality you see throughout works very well with Bernheimer’s story about a girl trapped within her magical world. The book is recommended for children aged four to eight, but this is a stunning book: it’s my guess many of this edition will end up in the hands of collectors. -- Monica Stark

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer by Kate Klimo (Random House) 176 pages
I don’t remember the last time I encountered a children’s book with a premise as clever as the one Kate Klimo’s The Dragon in the Sock Drawer (Random House) is based upon. Here’s the idea: when an ordinary rock -- a thunder egg -- tucked into a 10-year-old’s sock drawer hatches into baby dragon, there are a few challenges. For one thing, it turns out that baby dragons are extremely noisy. For another, as cousins Daisy and Jesse discover, finding out what to feed an infant dragon is nearly impossible. The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is the whole package: smart, sometimes wise, thoughtful and funny. Klimo’s debut effort has the feel of an instant classic. -- Monica Stark

The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier by Laura Trunkey (Annick Press) 212 pages
Danny Chandelier is not as socially or physically impressive as his sisters. He’s not real smart or exceptionally good looking or great at sports. Or anything. His parents pack him off to boarding school: Lily Brook in Poplovastan where, the brochure tells him, “being not so good will finally be enough.” Once he arrives, however, he discovers, that not only is nothing as promised, it’s not even what it seems… if the school is even there at all. This is the first novel of a wonderfully talented new author who tells her story with skill and enchantment. With elements of magic, an engaging plotline bent on a thrillerlike pace and characters that breathe… and make horrible mistakes, The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier is a perfect debut. I can hardly wait to see what Trunkey dreams up next! -- Linda L. Richards

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (HarperCollins)
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a timely book which teases out the implications of the war on terror and comes in a year which Neal Shusterman’s Unwind was published in the United Kingdom. Both novels challenge us to ask “what type of world are we now living in?” Doctorow asks us to continue questioning the underlying logic of the post 9/11 world which has been presented to us. Marcus, a teen hacker, is caught up by the security services in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. His treatment leads him to start using technology to subvert the increasingly authoritarian environment and to link together with his friends and acquaintances. It is a call to arms but it does consider the implications of technology in a social context rather than just seeing it as a panacea. It is quite possibly his most thought-provoking novel to date. – Iain Emsley

Loathing Lola by William Kostakis (PanMacMillan) 352 pages
A laugh-out-loud novel with a serious point to make about our obsession with celebrity and the way we drool over gossip column stuff, whether it’s true or not. Nerdy Courtney Marlow sees her selection as star of television reality series Real Teens as a chance to be a good role model for the teenagers who watch the show, and to raise money for charity. Boy, has she got it wrong! Worse still, everyone wants a piece of the action, including her father’s dippy second wife, the Lola of the title. The author, a teenage boy with no sisters, somehow manages to get it absolutely right about girls. A very promising start to what is sure to be a great career. Plenty of laughs. -- Sue Bursztynski

Poison Ink by Christopher Golden (Delacorte) 279 pages
Christopher Golden has been writing for young adults for a long time and with great success. If you have to ask why, you haven’t read him: he’s terrific. And he also knows what older kids and teenagers like to read: his bibliography is likely as tall as you are. I loved Poison Ink, one of Golden’s most skillful books to date for his handling of several delicate topics. Poison Ink starts out like a straight-up peer pressure story and ends up completely ensnarled in a tale that leans towards magic realism and teen horror. So what is Poison Ink? It might be best not to try to nail it down. The book is engrossing, well-conceived and written and very tough to put down. A terrific book that should enchant those young women it’s targeted at, plus quite a few more. -- Monica Stark

Pool by Justin D’Ath (Ford Street Publishing) 188 pages
Centered around a community swimming pool in which a miracle once occurred and which has become a part of a flourishing pilgrimage industry in a small town in Victoria, Australia. Teenager Wolfgang Mulqueen, pool attendant and butterfly expert, has personal and family problems. His friendship with a blind girl and fascination with the black butterflies which have started to appear in the town are all mixed up with the miracle that turned his town into a place of pilgrimage. The mystery is solved, sort of, and Wolfgang becomes closer with his family -- more I can’t tell you without giving it away. This book was deservedly short-listed for the Young Adult section of this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. In my opinion, having read all the short-listed books, it should have won. Buy it, even if you’re not a fantasy fan. -- Sue Bursztynski

Screw Loose by Chris Wheat (Allen & Unwin) 336 pages
A very funny novel about a bunch of over-the-top Melbourne teenagers -- bossy rich girl Chelsea, who’s having to handle the idea of her mother shacking up with a man who is not only working-class vulgar, but the father of a schoolmate she doesn’t like, Matilda the dingo girl who has pinups of Inspector Rex in her room; obsessive-compulsive Zeynep, who boils her boyfriend’s shoelaces and gets arrested for suspected terrorism; streetwise Khiem who’s trying to reform from his life of crime; Georgia who is planning to come out of the closet while fleeing an arranged marriage with a nutty prince. Screw Loose is even crazier than Looselips, to which it’s a sequel, possibly even funnier. All I can tell you is that one of our students defied her bedtime curfew, reading this one under the blanket. -- Sue Bursztynski

Word of Honour by Michael Pryor (Random House Australia) 433 pages
Third in the delightful Laws of Magic series set in an alternative Edwardian England. The hero, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, has barely started university when he and his friends George and Caroline find themselves having to save the world again, this time from an old enemy who is building something nasty under the city streets and performing light opera above them. And someone is trying to steal from the museum this world’s version of the Rosetta Stone, which might just be able to help Aubrey overcome his condition (he’s technically dead). You’ll need to go back and read the others if you haven’t read them yet, but it’s well worth the effort. If you like steam punk, the Bartimaeus trilogy or even Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom stories, you’ll love this series. -- Sue Bursztynski

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OpenID wkos6295 said...

Whoa, thanks for the mention. Much appreciated :-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 5:21:00 AM PST  
Blogger Tony said...

A great list of books. I love reading and these seem like great books. Although dissapointed that I did not make the list, I did not expect to with my first book having just come out in September. Thank You for the post.

Tony Peters
Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 6:43:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Phyllis Johnson said...

I saw mention of Anne Frank and wanted to mention my book, a poetic interpretation of the diary, Being Frank with Anne- now posted at the New York Anne Frank Center's bookstore online. It has chronological dates above the poems that enable you to cross reference the diary entries with the poetry. Check it out!
Phyllis Johnson, author of Being Frank with Anne- now archived at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 7:42:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Linda Aksomitis said...

Great annotated list of titles to read -- I always appreciate finding such thorough reviews online.

Monday, December 29, 2008 at 11:08:00 AM PST  
Blogger Adam said...

There is an excellent children’s book called Other People’s Shoes. It does a great job of teaching kids the importance of kindness inside of a very captivating story. You should check it out! Here is a link:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 4:31:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Kate said...

Thank you *so* much for this special mention! --KB

Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 7:14:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I just came across this site, and want to thank you very much for the mention!

Laura Trunkey

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 2:15:00 PM PST  

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