By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
With the year coming to a close, I’m going to share some of my favorite books of 2017 with you. I typically read all kinds of books, so there should be something for everyone on this list. Keep in mind that this is all subjective, though, and that I certainly haven’t read even close to all the books released this year. Another librarian might have some better recommendations for you, and I can promise you that he or she would be thrilled for you to come in and ask his or her personal favorites. So without further ado, I present Katy’s Best Books of 2017:
Let’s start with what I’d say is the best young adult book I’ve read all year. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Soon afterward, Khalil’s name is a national headline, and all anyone wants to know is what really happened that night. But the only one alive who can answer that is Starr, and what she does or does not say could endanger her life. This book is FANTASTIC, and that’s not a word I use lightly, much less in all caps. It’s well-written and emotionally-charged and funny and so important.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is a tender, emotive family saga that I did not want to end. Instead of flying through it like I usually do with books I love, I read this book slowly, relishing each sentence and savoring the relationships between Rosie, Penn, and their five children. When Rosie and Penn and their four boys welcome the newest member of their family, no one is surprised it’s another baby boy. At least their large, loving, chaotic family knows what to expect, but Claude is not like his brothers. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world, and soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
I have to admit that my interest in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns is heavily biased by the fact that I had the chance to actually see Surtsey, a tiny new island off the coast of Iceland, this past summer. I only saw it from a distance because Surtsey is closed to the public in order to provide scientists with the opportunity to study how life takes hold in a sterile environment. Like the author, my family was visiting Heimey when we took a taxi to another part of the island, and the driver pointed out Surtsey to us, telling us how he watched its creation via volcanic eruption as a boy in 1963. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when this book came out, and I’m thrilled to recommend it to you today as it is an outstanding title for budding scientists, young biology and geology enthusiasts, or those traveling to Iceland who are looking for interesting facts about the country.
From the author of The Day the Crayons Quit (And come on, who doesn’t love that book?) comes The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, a rollicking and ridiculous picture book about how the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors began. This book is loud and absurd and hilarious, and it demands a full-on performance.
Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love a good dark, disturbing read. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson perfectly filled that gap for me. Mary B. Addison allegedly killed a baby when she was nine years old. She doesn’t say as much, but the media filled in everything people needed to know. There wasn’t a point in setting the record straight before, but now Mary has Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home, and their unborn child to think about. In order to find her voice, Mary must confront the person she distrusts the most: her Momma. Like I mentioned earlier, this book is dark, gritty, and disturbing, and it’s not for everyone. However, it blew. Me. Away. I started reading it during my lunch break one day, and it pained me so much to put it down that I read until I finished it as soon as I got home.
I’m not usually a big fan of holiday books, but A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman was so good that it instantly made my “Best Books” list. This book takes you across the globe, from the Philippines to Malawi, to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve, and it even includes recipes to make some of the treats you encounter. (The pineapple macadamia bars from Hawaii were a big hit with my family at Thanksgiving!) With interesting Christmas factoids about each country and vibrant illustrations, this book is sure to fill the whole family with holiday cheer!
The newest book by the author of the award-winning Roller Girl, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson is another graphic novel that accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of fitting in when you’re eleven. Impy has grown up with two parents who work at a Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to start her training as a squire. First, she’ll have to prove her bravery, and she knows just how to do this: go to public school after being homeschooled all her life. Impy thought she had middle school figured out, but as it turns out, it’s not easy making friends or fitting in. She’s always thought of herself as a brave knight, but could she really be a dragon instead? I love how thoroughly Renaissance Faire culture is woven into the story, complete with illuminated manuscript-style chapter headers and language like “Methinks she plans on throwing you in the stocks!”
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano is the birthday book of all birthday books. As I read it, I could vividly imagine a breathless young child excitedly chanting beside me, “When’s my birthday? When’s my birthday? How many days until my birthday? Will my birthday be on Tuesday? Will my birthday be tomorrow? Will my birthday be in winter?” This book is absolutely adorable, and it will definitely be loved by readers of all ages.
If you’ve read the popular, empowering Dumplin’, you probably couldn’t wait to get your hands on the author’s latest work, Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. And honestly, I think it’s even better than Dumplin’. Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home. Now a 6’3” teen, she lives in a dilapidated FEMA trailer with her well-meaning but ineffectual dad, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. She had some money saved up to get herself out of there after graduation, but when her sister got pregnant, she felt the weight of responsibility more than ever and knew she would have to put her plans on hold. But then Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie returns to town, and her life gets even more complicated. I know this story sounds like it’s depressing and that you may not find much appeal in what appears to be a story about a kid in poverty who’s unable to escape, but I just have to say that you would be so very wrong. With tons of small-town hijinks, swoon-worthy romance, and plenty of diversity, this book is a lot of fun!
I just had to snatch Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (or A.S. King), who is another of my favorite young adult authors, when I saw she had written a middle grade novel. Obe Devlin is having a hard time. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers, his best friend abandoned him for the development kids, and he keeps getting nosebleeds from that thing he won’t talk about. So Obe hangs out by the creek near his home, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he notices an animal he’s never seen before, an animal that only eats plastic that could very well change everything. This is a sweet coming-of-age story that tackles big topics such as bullying, alcoholism, and environmentalism without feeling heavy handed, out of place, or age inappropriate.
Remember how I mentioned that I like disturbing books? Here’s another that isn’t for the faint of heart. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is a bit of a cross between The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Never Let Me Go. Years ago, the ancestors escaped the ravaged Wastelands to colonize a small island and start a new society. They wrote Our Book to outline the strict hierarchy and structure that would dictate their lives, and their descendants still follow those rules. Life in this society can be difficult, especially for girls, so the children are given a taste of freedom in the summer, allowed to live wildly until they return home in the fall. But at the end of one summer, Caitlin Jacob sees something so shocking that she must share it with the other girls. This book is horrifyingly creepy and hauntingly compelling. The more I read, the creepier it got, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.
So maybe I’m a little biased when I recommend We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but LaCour is one of my favorite young adult authors. It’s a quiet story about Marin and Mabel, two best friends who haven’t spoken since the day Marin left her old life in San Francisco for college in New York. Something happened to Marin in the final weeks of summer, something that left her broken, alone, and unable to face anyone. But now Mabel is coming to her, and Marin must come to terms with what happened whether she wants to or not. Marin’s grief and loneliness is palpable in this beautiful, poetic story about love and loss. Nina LaCour’s writing is spectacular, pulling you into each page and forcing you to feel everything Marin feels.
If you’ve ever been afraid when faced with a new adventure, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall will surely tug on your heartstrings. Jabari has finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and today’s the day he’s finally ready to jump off the diving board. “Looks easy,” he says as he watches the other kids jump, but when his dad encouragingly squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. This book is a tender portrayal of a determined little boy and a patient, emotionally attentive father that’s perfect for sharing with children of all ages.
I was on a speculative fiction kick earlier this year, during which time I blew through American War by Omar El Akkad. Sarat Chestnut is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074, but even she knows that oil is outlawed, that her home state of Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drone bombers fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for refugees, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, who turns her into a deadly instrument of war. Chilling and thought-provoking, this is another book I couldn’t stand to put down, and it’s easily my favorite fiction book of the year.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Darling Reader, I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret. A couple of them, actually.
Most human librarians have not read–and occasionally don’t have an awareness of–every single book in their respective libraries.
And . . . brace yourselves for Librarian Secret #2 . . . there are books that some librarians don’t even like.
Okay, okay, simmer down now. I know this may come as an unpleasant shock to some of you, but it really shouldn’t. Just as even the esteemed Dumbledore enjoyed lemon drops but didn’t much care for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, so it goes with those of us who spend our days surrounded by the good, the bad, and the ugly of literature. (Dirty little secret #3: there are actually librarians who do not like the Harry Potter series, but in the interest of good citizenry, I shall not reveal their identities here. Hey, just because I love those books to the point of dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange on Halloween and random Tuesdays doesn’t mean that everyone has to love them.)
Since it is a bankable fact that I’m a tremendous slacker and try to get my colleagues to do my work for me whenever any opportunity presents itself . . . oh, wait . . . I mean, since I value the viewpoints and opinions of my co-workers and try to practice inclusion whenever I can . . . and because this would be a really boring article if I just rattled on about the books that I despise (Johnny Tremain), I have solicited (and paraphrased in some instances) opinions from my smart and talented fellow librarians, and several of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me about children’s books that they personally find odious, irksome, or just plain weird. I have also given my “guests” pseudonyms taken from the aforementioned Harry Potter series (and did I mention how much I love those books?) so that no repercussions may befall them for placing their confidence in me. Therefore, Darling Reader, I present to you in no particular order a short list of books that are disliked by at least one (and sometimes more) WCPL employee.
“The only book that I can truly say that I despise is Madonna’s The English Roses. And the reason has more to do with the fact that Madonna says she wrote it because, when she had her child, she ‘couldn’t find any good books out there for children, so she had to write her own.’ The arrogant ignorance of that statement caused me to hate the book on general principle!” says a kind and lovely librarian to whom I’ll refer as “Madam Pomfrey,” Hogwarts’ school matron, or school nurse, in American parlance. (Author’s aside: a used hardcover copy of The English Roses is available at Amazon for the astonishingly low price of fifteen cents. I am so not making this up.)
Librarian “Godric Gryffindor” is also not a fan of Madonna’s alleged books, or of those by almost any celebrity or pop-culture figure, whether they go by one name, or two or three. “However, I doubt if I could name a specific title, because I’ve banished all the crappy ones from my mind,” Gryffindor states. And by Merlin’s beard, don’t even get him started on some of the adult “classics” . . .
Next up, a two-for-one. Staffers “Kingsley Shacklebolt” and “Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank” weigh in on Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. “This book is sweet if you don’t think too hard about it; very stalker-mom if you do think about it, and once you do, you can never go back to sweet,” says Shacklebolt. “It is just so incredibly sad!” states Professor Grubbly-Plank. The author concurs on both opinions.
“I like books that teach or are an example of good behavior or qualities, and use proper grammar. Also, humor is wonderful, but not bathroom humor,” says a librarian I’ll refer to as “Molly Weasley.” Again, the author agrees. I adored the late Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones books, as she was a wonderful person and a fellow alumna of the University of Alabama, but I truly cringe every time I connect a child with ol’ Junie B. Some folks find Junie B. charming and funny, others find her to be ill-mannered and obnoxious. Ditto for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books, as well as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Personally, I try to make myself feel a little better about young patrons being devoted to these series; at least they’re engaged and reading something, I tell myself. The darker side of my psyche usually responds with a profanity-laced reply that I keep to myself.
The final entries in this ridiculous annoying snarky insanely funny blog are brought to you by two fabulous librarians to whom I shall bequeath the pseudonyms of “Luna Lovegood” and “Hermione Granger.” Hermione told me that she put some thought into my query, and that there aren’t that many kid-lit choices that she really detests, but that any books featuring Caillou (that whiny bald-headed Canadian kid who torments his little sister Rosie and the family cat Gilbert) are definitely on her list. Also, “there was this dead bird book that was pretty morbid.” Indeed—The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. Luna’s least-favorite children’s book also contains a theme of death and grieving: I Cried Too by Jim Schmidt. Our sweet Luna wants to make it clear that she doesn’t dislike this book, but that the subject matter just makes it so hard to get through.
Darling Reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. I hope this blog made you laugh, made you think, but most of all I hope it made you want to read—even if it is something that isn’t universally loved by librarians. Because really, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Read what YOU love, and have fun. Until next time–
Unlike most of my other blogs, the opinions and viewpoints in this article DO represent those of some other employees of WCPL. Names and other identifying details have been altered, via my intense love for the world of Harry Potter, to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. Lastly, just because your favorite librarian may not like a particular book, that doesn’t mean that she or he won’t help you find that one, or thousands of other amazing and wondrous books that are available at WCPL. Happy reading!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Looking for a great book to get your kids excited about reading? Do you have a picky reader who absolutely must only read one particular genre? Maybe you have a kid on your hands who just read the best book ever and needs something else that’s just as good. Sure, you could go to Goodreads, but sometimes their suggestions aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. You could also ask us, your friendly neighborhood librarians here at WCPL who are very familiar with our collection and would be more than happy to recommend you the perfect book. But admittedly, there are likely some gaps in our vast book knowledge, so here are five websites full of great book suggestions for kids.
Guys Read is a web-based literacy program founded by children’s author Jon Scieszka. Their mission is to encourage boys to become self-motivated, lifelong readers by helping them find books they’re interested in. This website has collected lists of books recommended by teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, parents, and other guys and grouped them into categories to make them easier to find. From “Creepy and Weird” to “For Little Guys” to “Robots” to “Classics That Actually Hold Up,” guys of all ages can find exactly what they’re looking for in a book, and if they find one they like, there are further recommended titles under each book suggestion.
Similar to Guys Read, A Mighty Girl prides themselves on having “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls,” and their impressive book section features over 2,000 girl-empowering books to choose from. Their best feature is easily the over 200 book categories available to explore, where books are grouped by character (from books, television, movies, and historical figures), genre, social issues, personal development, topic, and age.
The Best Children’s Books is curated by teachers who understand how important it is to find good books for children, and the books featured on this website are books that they use and recommend in their classrooms. For the most part, books recommended here are geared toward ages four through twelve. With blurbs describing how exactly books can be used, there is definitely more of a focus on classroom use, but this website could be an excellent resource for homeschooling families, teachers, or anyone needing a book for a particular report topic.
Bank Street College of Education Library excels at creating book lists. From “STEM” to “Back to School” to “Read Alouds for Children Twelve and Over,” there is a list on nearly any topic featuring a diverse array of characters and stories. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend browsing their Best Books of the Year list that features a whopping 600 titles broken down by age range.
Books & Authors is a database available through the library that provides recommended read-a-likes and an extensive selection of genres and authors to browse. You can even create lists of books you may come across that you want to save for later.
Once you’ve found a book to read, search our catalog for it and put it on hold, or give us a call for us to put it on hold for you. If we don’t have it in our collection, we can get most books from interlibrary loan. Now go forth and discover your new favorite book!
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
Have you ever read or watched something from the library that you absolutely LOVED and wanted to tell everyone about? Well now you can! Next time you check out something awesome from the library, return it to our Awesome Box. From there, we’ll spread the word that it is awesome!
What is an Awesome Box?
- An Awesome Box is a book drop for library items you think are awesome! It’s just like a regular book drop. But instead of putting items back on the shelf after you return them, we make a note of what you put in the Awesome Box and share it with everyone so they can know it’s is awesome, too!
What kinds of things should I put in the Awesome Box?
- Any library materials including books, DVD’s, or Audiobooks you find awesome. They can be helpful, mind-blowing, your all-time favorites, etc. Whatever you think other people would enjoy knowing about.
- Basically, if it was fantastic, helpful, amazing, valuable, entertaining, or just all-around awesome, put it in, so that everyone knows how good it was.
Does putting items in the Awesome Box actually return them?
- Yes – if you put an item in the Awesome Box it will be returned to the library (and then Awesomed!)
Where can I see what people have put in the Awesome Box?
- You’ll find what people have “Recently Awesomed” on our Awesome Box bulletin board just inside the Main Library’s entrance.
- For a full list of what has been “Awesomed” in the past 30 days at our library, visit this website from our homepage: https://wcpltn.libib.com/i/recently-awesomed. You’ll also find links to everything that our patron’s have declared Awesome, including movies and Awesome books for adults, teens, and kids.
So the next time you’re returning something, remember: the awesome things go in the Awesome Box!