Favorite Books of 2019
I’m a little late on the 2019 retrospectives, but I read a lot of books last year that I just can't stop talking about. Here were a few of my favorites. I hope you’ll pick them up to enjoy in 2020!
CATEGORY: Young Adult that climbs inside your heart and just won't leave.
WILD BEAUTY by Anna-Marie McLemore.
Strong women. Lost men. Vengeful earth. It’s magical realism so gorgeous and DEEP that you can’t help but feel the truths of it rattling inside your chest. It's not an exaggeration to say I think this might be the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. It's literally art, y'all. There’s fantastic queer (and especially Bi) representation. Themes of love, suffering, greed, racism, classism, and justice are lovingly woven into a narrative that goes to some really unexpected places.
I think about this book constantly, and I know I'll read it again before the end of 2020.
CATEGORY: Young Adult that's as exciting as racing an F1 car (but considerably less dangerous).
SLAY by Brittney Morris.
SLAY is an action-packed, cinematic book with epic, Marvel-style battle scenes that had my heart racing! Utterly un-put-down-able!
From the get-go, I was rooting for the main character, Kiera, and for the virtual world she built. All of the characters were deep and memorable-- in fact, I was cursing one of their names by the end (Read it: you'll know who I mean)!
It's a story about racism in gaming, but more than that, it’s also a profound dive into blackness, sisterhood, self-respect, family, and community. I actually bought this book, because I knew I wanted to keep it forever.
Other YA books which definitely deserve a place on your To-Be-Read list:
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram, THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS by Laura Sibson, FULL DISCLOSURE by Camryn Grant, DRAW THE LINE by Laurent Linn, UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson, THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and SHADOWSHAPER by DJ Older.
CATEGORY: Voice-iest middle grade
THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE by Leslie Connor.
Told from the perspective of a boy with severe learning disabilities, this is a story about prejudice, friendship, family, and taking control of your destiny. Mason's best friend was killed in a terrible accident in the family's apple orchard. He told the police everything he knew when it happened, but a year later, the detective is still coming around to ask the same questions.
Mason is kind and sweetly naive, but the brilliance of this story is that the reader picks up on the subtext that he does not: that not everyone is on Mason's side. It's a fantastic use of unreliable narrator. His growth as a character is wonderful & nuanced, & I loved seeing him take control of his life and find peace at the end.
This is an artfully-crafted, empathetic, heart-lifting book.
CATEGORY: Middle grade that made me hangry (as in: "Why don't I have gulab jamun cupcakes in front of me RIGHT NOW?!").
MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca.
This is the sweetest story I read all year! It's A Midsummer's Night Dream meets Food-Network-style baking competition. Mimi loves to bake for her family, but suddenly the people eating her food start acting SUPER-weird. Does it have anything to do with that new bakery in town? Or the boy she met in the woods? Cue the family drama, magical shenanigans, and ALL THE DESSERTS.
I have one complaint about this book: It doesn't come with cupcakes (seriously, Rajani, that's just rude)!
Other MG books which definitely deserve a place on your To-Be-Read list:
FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang. PIE IN THE SKY by Remy Lai. LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC by Anna Meriano. STRANGE BIRDS: A FIELD GUIDE TO RUFFLING FEATHERS by Celia Perez. DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy. EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE by Aimee Lucido. WHERE THE HEART IS by Jo Knowles. THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu. DACTYL HILL SQUAD (books 1 and 2) by Daniel Jose Older.
CATEGORY: Favorite book that refuses your labels!
PIE IN THE SKY by Remy Lai is a novel/graphic-novel hybrid. It's a full-length middle grade novel, but portions of the story are told in comics. It's the story of 11-year-old Jingwen, who moves to a new country after the death of his father. He doesn't speak the language, and it often feels like he's landed on an alien planet. To cope, he secretly begins baking all of the cake recipes his dad used to make-- becoming so emotionally invested in the project, that he's willing to risk almost anything to once again have the feeling of baking with his dad. It's a story about loss, change, family, friendship, and beloning. Remy's illustrations perfectly capture Jingwen's frustrations and heartache, as well as his triumphs.
CATEGORY: Picture books that made my kids snort-laugh at story time.
NOVA THE STAR-EATER by Lindsay Leslie and John Taesoo Kim. A wonderfully absurdist and STEM-focused story about a nova who accidentally eats earth's sun. My five-year-old laughed hysterically through the whole thing. For several months it was his favorite book and we read it every single night.
DANDY by Ame Dyckman and Charles Santoso.
Sweet, hilarious story that garnered a lot of audience participation from my 5-year-old AND my 3-year-old at story time. If I start reading it without them, they'll both come tearing into the room screaming "HI DADDY" (if you read the book, this makes more sense). It's a funny, sweet, and incredibly touching book. We had to buy a copy so that the library could have theirs back.
CATEGORY: Best picture book with a dead, jack-in-the-box pet.
THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO A BACKYARD FUNERAL by Stephanie Lucianovic and George Ermos.
This book is about holding a funeral for a pet. It's sweet, poignant, and provides useful coping tools for children processing grief. It's a remarkable book in that it allows the reader to feel however they feel without judgement: you can be sad about "your something wonderful that is now your something dead," or you can laugh if you feel like it, or you can feel everything or nothing all at once, and no matter what you feel, it's right and it's okay. My son and I laughed while reading this book, and then at the end, had a quiet moment of reflection where we discussed his dearly departed fish, Max. It was a good, important moment that we had together, and we had it because of this book.
CATEGORY: Most visually stunning picture book
GEORGIA'S TERRIFIC, COLORIFIC EXPERIMENT by Zoe Persico.
The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous, and the story is really sweet. Georgia's family is artistic, but she often feels misunderstood because she's a scientist, not an artist. Georgia and her family learn how to support one another's endeavors and appreciate their complimentary talents.
CATEGORY: Best picture book biography
SOMEDAY IS NOW: CLARA LUPER AND THE 1958 OKLAHOMA CITY SIT-INS
by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Jade Johnson. The moving story of a teacher who inspired her students to do the right thing, even when everyone else in the world told them it was wrong. Stories of civil disobedience and grassroots organizing for social change will always be near and dear to my heart, and this is a REALLY good one.
CATEGORY: Favorite feminist picture book of 2019
CHICKS RULE! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Renee Kurilla.
Adorable girl-power book about a chick that isn't allowed to join a boys-only rocket club, so she gathers her fellow chicks. By uniting and working together, they're able to reach the stars. The rhymes are excellent and the rhythm is superb. Very fun to read aloud.
Other picture books which definitely deserve a place on your To-Be-Read list (brace, it's a long list):
Small World by Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña.
Dress Like a Girl by Patricia Toht and Lorian Tu-Dean.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
We Toot: A Feminist Fable About Farting by Ashley Wheelock, Arwen Evans, and Sandie Sonke.
Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and Jaime Kim.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o and Vashti Harrison.
Captain Marvel: What Makes a Hero by Pamela Bobowicz and Eda Kaban.
Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein.
Take Away the A by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders and Steven Salerno
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff and Kaylani Juanita.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller.
Skulls by Blair Thornburgh and Scott Campbell.
At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell and Weshoyot Alvitre.