Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Books of 2012: Children’s Books

This is the Best Books for Children and Young Adults segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2012 feature. Also available are our picks for best crime, mystery and thriller fiction of 2012, in two parts: one and two. As well, here are the best cookbooks of 2012. Still to come: our contributors’ selections of the Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, Best Art & Culture, Best Biography and Best Science Fiction/Fantasy. Look for them in the coming days.

Black Painted Fingernails by Steven Herrick (Allen & Unwin)
Steven Herrick is one of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary poets. His competence and passion for words shows up in his prose, as well and his late YA entry, Black Painted Fingernails, does not disappoint. James is shy and geeky. Sophie is sleek and confident. When life puts them together on a cross-country road trip, it is inevitable that life-changing and coming of age will ensue. James is looking for the strength to live his own life, away from family for the first time. Meanwhile Sophie is at the other end of the spectrum, trying to pull together the pieces of her own shattered past. On the road together as strangers, they open up to each other and help each other towards their own truths. Black Painted Fingernails is warm, real and unforgettable. -- Aaron Blanton

Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson (Dundurn)
Is there something odd about the boarding house down the street? That’s what 12-year-old Willa Fuller wonders, even thinking that the people who live there might be being kept as prisoners. But when Willa is hired on as a housekeeper, she learns the truth: Eldritch Manor is something like a magical retirement home, where strange and magical beings with stories to tell are living out their unusual years. But when Willa is left alone to keep the place in order, she is faced with crisis after crisis, including the possible unraveling of time. (Which is never good!) Eldritch Manor is slender but compelling: a fantastical adventure story in a small package with a big whallop. Filmmaker-turned-author Kim Thompson understands what makes a story work. She has been generous with that knowledge here. Eldritch Manor is charming, compelling and just the right amount of scary. I enjoyed this one a lot. -- India Wilson

Freakling by Lana Krumweide (Candlewick)
“If everyone is special, is anyone really special?” The famous phrase is what Lana Krumweide’s Freakling is about. In the future, there is an isolated metropolis called Deliverance where everyone has a telekinetic power called psi. Taemon is an 11-year old boy who’s finally starting to get the hang of using his power while his older brother, Yens, torments him and is believed to be the new successor of Deliverance, otherwise known as the True Son. But what is unknown is Yens has true evil inside him and everyone but Taemon is blind to that. Yens soon goes as far as almost killing his brother, which gives Taemon the ability to kill him. But Taemon can't do it, and the inner force that controls everyone’s psi takes Taemon’s away. Freakling is an amazing story about what happens when superpowers get out of hand. Ben Parker wasn’t wrong when he said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Five stars. You’ll be intrigued at every turn, wanting to read more and more. The book is full of wonderful ideas and things that you wouldn’t think of.  -- Ian Buchsbaum

Get Outside: The Kids Guide to Fun in the Great Outdoors by Jane Drake & Ann Love, illustrated by Heather Collins (KidsCan)
In an era when adults often complain about how kids don’t get out to play enough and spend too much time watching television or playing computer games, Get Outside provides a fairly complete list of what kids can do in the great outdoors. Get Outside is meant to be a strong tool against “I’m bored!” The book not only provides dozens of ideas for outdoor fun, it also offers historic, scientific and cultural context in the form of lists and sidebars intended to create a book that even reluctant readers will feel comfortable using. From making a scarecrow to flying a kite and juggling bubbles, Get Outside is a great tool to help create active readers. -- Monica Stark 

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
History and fantasy are often an uneasy blend, with neither coming out very well against the other. Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy proves the exception, a thrilling journey following an assassin nun on her deadly trail through a fantastic version of 15th century France. When she escapes from an unthinkable arranged marriage, 17-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at a convent where her gifts from the god of Death are discovered. She is trained as an assassin to serve as Death’s handmaiden, an uneasy robe, but one she must be willing to take in order to be able to move forward. “Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?” is the motto of Grave Mercy, the first book in a series called “His Fair Assassin.” Beautifully written and imaginatively realized, a new series this good only debuts every few years. I loved every word. -- Monica Stark

Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe Jacobs (Entangled Teen)
Though it’s not difficult to find someone to tell you that the whole teen paranormal book thing has been done to death, young readers don’t seem to be listening. Writers don’t either: though, thankfully, we’ve begun to see fewer vampires and evermore night creatures with only one thing in common: despite odd bits of lore and heritage, the weird dudes in YA novels these days need to be mindlessly hot. Without speculating on what impact this might have on the future mate selection of the young women who read these books, I get the fascination with sexy vampires, angels and all other manner of unexpected leading men. But I have to admit: it takes a bit of authorly magic to fit that sexiness around the most unlikely of love interests. Of course the title of Chloe Jacobs’ Greta and the Goblin King gives away the nature of the ultimate object of protagonist Greta’s affections. But a goblin? C'mon! Yet Jacobs makes it work. Before she can make any headway with Isaac, said Goblin King, bounty hunter Greta will be exposed to all sorts of nightmarish danger, enough, in any case, to keep readers perched at the edge of their seats. A contemporary fantasy quest with a strong romantic element, Greta and the Goblin King will have young readers swooning for a sequel. -- Linda L. Richards

The Mark of Athena: Heroes of Olympus, Book 3 by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
Rick Riordan fed readers with The Mark of Athena, the third book in the sequel series to the popular Percy Jackson novels. Although this book showed a lot of repetition, it shows the Rick Riordan still has it. I was hooked since before page one, since Riordan left the last book off at a massive cliffhanger; a clever trick. I was bothered by the repetition: one of the main characters frequently getting knocked out, long travels, groups of three, a god or goddess giving them advice in the form of a riddle. They would also reference things from earlier books, but it’s been so long since the last book, everyone forgot about that stuff. But you can ignore all those things, and let yourself get hooked. This masterpiece is for everyone, since it has so many genres to it; action, Greek mythology, Roman mythology, even a little bit of romance, and comedy. The best part about it are the many reveals to the prophecy we read about in the fifth book of the first series, like who are the demigods for a quest and what they have to do. This book hits the mark (of Athena), leaving readers wanting more. -- Ian Buchsbaum

Moonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson (Random House Australia)
Interestingly, this year my YA favourites were all by Australian women writers and all were based on, or inspired by, folk tales. Moonlight and Ashes is Sophie Masson’s version of Cinderella. It’s based on the German version, Ashputtel, in which the Cinderella character is a lot stronger than the French Cendrillon, who is very passive. She uses a hazel tree planted on her mother’s grave to get herself to the ball. This one simply uses the Cinderella story as a jumping off place and her heroine is even tougher than Ashputtel. Sophie Masson is very good with folk tale-based novels -- most of her books are inspired by fairy tales, so she has had a lot of practice in this area. The setting is firmly 19th century Europe, though in a fictional country. But among all the steam trains and newspapers, there is still the magic of a “once upon a time” kingdom. -- Sue Bursztynski

Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City by Hadley Dyer (Annick Press)
Potatoes on Rooftops is just about the best introduction to the new food movement that one could imagine. Intended for nine to 12-year-olds, there is a lot here for almost everyone who is interested in small-scale urban farming. Or, in the case of the kids who will read the book, everyone who should be interested. The book looks at what’s happening in cities with regards to foods we can all grow and be part of. Very much like Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Food and the City, but for the junior set, it’s impossible to read Potatoes on Rooftops without feeling like getting your hands dirty. The book looks at examples of city gardening including high school programs in Toronto and Detroit. It also looks at some of the specifics of urban gardening: composting, seeding and planting in small and unusual places and includes looks at innovative places to plant. It’s powerful to think Potatoes on Rooftops might set kids to digging. But even if it doesn’t, getting them thinking now might be enough for later. In any case, it’s a dead interesting book. -- Sienna Powers

Redwing by Holly Bennett (Orca)
Rowan’s entire family is wiped out by the plague and he’s left alone in a hostile world not unlike (but not entirely like, either) our own Middle Ages. He keeps himself going, traveling in his family’s old caravan, going from town to town playing music made all the more poignant by his broken heart. After a while, he forms an uneasy alliance with another young musician who has the ability to help Rowan communicate with his dead sister. The story turns on the twinned themes of friendship and grief and places an engaging story into a fascinating landscape. As she did in 2010’s Shapeshifter, Bennett brings a fantasy world into suspenseful, believable life. -- Sienna Powers

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allan & Unwin)
If, like me, you grew up on Celtic folk tales, you’ll be familiar with the story of the human male who gets himself an otherworldly bride. With a few exceptions, it’s really only in modern YA paranormals that it’s the other way around. Basically, there are two kinds: There’s the one where she’s the daughter of a king of the otherworld, whether it’s the sea or Faerie; and there’s the one where she’s a selkie (seal-maiden) whose skin is stolen while she’s dancing around in human form. There is always a condition -- the groom has to promise not to ask her certain questions, not to hit her without cause (Welsh -- The Physicians of Myddfai), not to see what she gets up to on Saturdays (Melusine, who is, in theory, the ancestress of the British royal family), or he has to keep her sealskin hidden because once she finds it, she’ll grab it and go home, even leaving her children by her land husband. Invariably, the husband breaks the contract, mostly by accident, and loses his wife and any wealth she brought with her. Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts asks: Yes, but what happens generations later when there are descendants of those seal maidens in a small community where presumably the gene pool is pretty small? Sea Hearts  is a series of connected novellas, told from the viewpoints of a number of characters, including Miskaella herself. Despite this, there is still a twist at the end, when you realize that Miskaella didn’t tell you quite everything. The writing is beautiful, your heart aches for those selkie girls and you can even understand why Miskaella is so bitter. It’s a fascinating take on the old folk tales, a wonderful “what if ... ?” In Sea Hearts (called The Brides of Rollrock Island outside Australia) the author asks what happens centuries later when the islanders are mostly descended from these reluctant brides? And what happens when Miskaella, a young woman who has been bullied by the other women finds she can bring beautiful women out of the island’s seal population? It’s an exquisitely beautiful novel, seen from a number of viewpoints over a couple of generations. -- Sue Bursztynski

The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger (Amulet)
Breaking the rule that says the first of a trilogy is the best, I thought that the third book the popular Origami Yoda series was the best one yet! This addition to the trio was full of hilarity and kept me hooked throughout the whole book, with interesting stories and fun concepts. Tom Angleberger has continued his streak of wonderful books with this great story. The star of The Secret of the Fortune Wookie is ... well, a Fortune Wookie: a cootie catcher designed to look like the famous character Chewbacca from Star Wars. This time, our origami wielder is none other than Sara, the girlfriend of our main character, Tommy. She lets the students ask questions, which are answered with roars and are translated by the Fortune Wookie’s friend, Han Foldo. But, while the students have fun with the Fortune Wookie, the infamous Harvey is trying to prove that all this origami stuff is fake, and that he’s been right all along. Meanwhile, the star of the first books in the series, Dwight and Origami Yoda, are trapped at a fancy private school where everyone has picked up on making Star Wars origami, making Dwight miserable and no longer unique. Read Secret of the Fortune Wookie to see how everything is resolved.  -- Ian Buchsbaum

The Third Wheel: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 7 by Jeff Kinney (Amulet)
After six books, readers couldn’t get enough, so Jeff Kinney gave it to them. The Third Wheel, the seventh book in Diary of a Wimpy kid series, has arrived. This time around, Greg is in the circle of love, but the third one. The book illustrates the complications Greg faces with school and girlfriends. This continuation fulfills all the archetypes the other ones filled; Greg wasting money, going out of his way to impress someone, shocking twists and something always going wrong. The book was so amazing, I read it in about an hour and a half. I crack when I read about the childish thoughts of Rowley -- Greg’s best friend -- alongside Greg’s street smarts and high expectations. I suggest this book for about 3rd to 7th graders, give or take. A definitely awesome book. -- Ian Buchsbaum

Toads on Toast by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Colin Jack (KidsCan)
I am invariably charmed by the combination of a delightful and slightly aberrant story with top notch illustrations. That was certainly the case with this year’s Toads on Toast by award-winning author Linda Bailey. In this story, Mama Toad is desperately trying to keep her brood out of a hungry fox’s frying pan. The matter is resolved by an entirely vegetarian version of toad-in-a-hole (recipe included). Colin Jack’s illustrations fairly crackle with the energy of his animation background and the story is compelling and entirely engaging. -- Monica Stark

Uncle Wally’s Old Brown Shoe by Wallace Edwards (Orca)
“This is Uncle Wally’s old brown shoe/This is the kitten that drove around in Uncle Wally’s old brown shoe/This is the pig in the fancy hat that tickled the kitten that drove around in Uncle Wally’s old brown shoe.” And so on. The rhyme is inspired by The House That Jack Built, but the illustrations seem inspired by many places and leave the reader with a plethora of input. Where to leave one’s eyes? So much is going on in every panel, it’s hard to know where to begin and end. The illustrations, also by author Wallace Edwards, have a Victorian feel. The depth, detail and wimsey seem vintage, as well. Children will enjoy the solid rhymes and deeply detailed illustrations, but I’ve a hunch that collectors will be on the list for this book, as well. -- Monica Stark

Under My Skin by Charles de Lint (RazorBill)
The premise of Under My Skin is very good. Something is happening to the young people in a town called Santa Feliz. And the thing that is happening is so dramatic, it’s difficult to believe. The kids are changing shape: shedding their human forms and becoming various animals. Basically, if you can think of it, the animal is represented. These are shape-shifters with a difference. The action focuses on Josh Saunders who shifts for the first time during an argument with his mother’s boyfriend that, from Josh’s perspective, goes from argument to Josh standing over the man, as blood drips from his mountain lion claws. Josh’s experience almost undoes him, but he will emerge as one of the leaders of the wildlings. de Lint is credited with the creation of the urban fantasy and readers will encounter that in this story. The setting is perfectly contemporary -- anytown and any group of kids. In a way, that’s what makes the story so chilling and helps make it work this well. The book is a wonderful exploration of a very good idea, but it is also a deeply human tale. -- Lincoln Cho

Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel (Dancing Cat Books)
When Lily MacArthur’s Aunt Su dies, Lily pretty much loses her tenuous hold on sleep. She’s was never terribly good at sleeping, but with Su’s death, sleep evades her entirely. As she begins to lose her health -- and maybe, to a certain degree, her sanity -- Lily begins to push away her human friends while drawing ever closer to the moon she struggles under every night. When she meets new boy Ben, it seems for a time that he’ll be able to help Lily recapture her lost sleep. But Ben’s own past is troubled and perhaps somewhat dark and he has problems of his own. Under the Moon is a classic coming of age story, yet our quirky narrator, Lily, holds us entranced. Lily is beautifully fleshed out. A damaged teen, but weren’t we all, to some degree? Damaged and confused to discover that the adult life that’s threatening to erupt all around us is not at all what we pictured when we were little kids. Kerbel captures all of these emotions so delicately, explaining why this book was so heavily awarded in its native Canada this year. -- Sienna Powers

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Rebecca said...

Great selections!

Toads on Toast was also one of my favorites. Love the illustrations!

Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:23:00 PM PDT  

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