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The New York Times released a list of “notable” children’s books from this year. I’m pretty ashamed to say that I’ve only read one of the books on their list this year, that being The Impossible Knife of Memory, although I have seen a lot of these books on recommended lists and I personally wanted to pick up Rain Reign and Brown Girl Dreaming before the end of the year.
So this post is a little different from my usual – I’m going to go over the books I read that I found notable, although many of these were not published this year.
The Witch’s Boy; Kelly Barnhill
I will be honest and say I haven’t finished it, but I find it utterly engrossing. Its themes include loss and disability, and it wrestles with a lot of moral issues. It tells the tale of Ned, who lost his twin in an accident they both suffered and survived as “the wrong boy” and the adventure he undertakes with a girl named Aine, who lost her mother. Great language and motif work.
Knuffle Bunny; Mo Willems
I will be the first to admit that my specialty is not in picture books – I love them but I don’t know nearly enough about them to critically examine them. And Knuffle Bunny’s been around for a while – there are a couple of sequels, even – but I adore Mo Willems work and this book, which combines illustrations and photography really well, is so cute and well done I can’t help but recommend it. His other work, especially his pigeon books (I promise if you look into it, you’ll know what I mean) are really great too.
Out of my Mind; Sharon Draper
This book deals very strongly with disability and perceptions of intelligence, and it’s funny and really well done. I think it blows last year’s book on this topic, Wonder, right out of the park with its protagonist; a genius girl whose cerebral palsy is so severe she can’t speak, until one day she manages to get ahold of a device that allows her a voice, similar to Steven Hawking. It’s brilliant and well-done, and doesn’t have the same sort of softness that Wonder had that I personally disliked.
Godless; Pete Hautman
This is another book that’s been out for a while, and it’s sort of irreverent if you’re in any kind of a religious household – it’s about a group of teenagers who develop their own religion that worships the water tower in their town – but it has some really great examinations of God, and religion, and the culture we build around it. Very good book.
Finally: having a degree in Children’s Literature, especially this time of year, gets me a lot of requests like “what book should I get my kid for Christmas/Hanukkah/their birthday/to get them to read.” I’m not a teacher, and I’m not really an expert on childhood or children, exactly, though, so it’s hard to say. The books I talk about tend to be books I find have interesting themes or issues brought up, but aren’t necessarily books I would recommend for anyone (take, for instance, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making). But that said: if you have a child in your life you really want to give a gift of a book to, give them a gift certificate to a local, independently run bookstore. Unlike Amazon or Barnes and Nobles, no only are you supporting the local economy, but chances are these bookstores have less in the way of toys and games or things outside of books for them to choose from.
I’ll be back soon with some more academic musings!