Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Best Books 2023 #2

I read quite a few great middle-grade fiction this year and before the month is over I wanted to share the best of those plus a handful of banned books from a variety of different lists that are worth reading. If you have young people to buy or recommend books these titles will be wonderful. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (2021) : This is my favorite historical fiction in 2023 because the story centers around close-knit siblings Anna, William, and Edmund after they are evacuated from London.  They remember their deceased mother and wish for a permanent family in this small countryside village. The three of them make the best of it even during their hardest times, remaining true to their hopes for the future. I recently ordered another Kate Albus historical fiction, Nothing Else But Miracles, which centers on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during WWII. 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat (2022) : This is a Thai-inspired fantasy with amazing world-building as 12-year-old Sai apprentices to the last mapmaker and ends up on a high-seas adventure to chart unknown lands. This story captured my attention throughout Sai's journey. This author writes picture books, graphic novels, early chapter books as well as middle-grade novels. 

Starfish by Lisa Fipps (2021) : In this realistic novel-in-verse Ellie is tired of all the fat jokes about her weight. She loves to swim and free float in her backyard pool. She has lists of rules she is not supposed to do like no eating in public. With the support of her father, and a new neighbor Ellie starts to feel comfortable with herself. This is a fantastic debut!

The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye (2022) : This companion to The Turtle of Oman tells the story of Aref as he travels from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be with his parents. He misses his grandfather back home yet he is excited about his new life. I loved both these stories and offer them up to students who want to learn more about other cultures. 

The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart (2022) : This book defies labeling; it's part mystery, and realistic fiction, with a touch of magical realism. Ravani longs for neighbors and friends when one night as he looks out his bedroom window he sees a family move into the abandoned house across the street. Eventually, he is welcomed in by this mix of children and things begin to change for Ravani. I love Gemeinhart's entire catalog of books! 

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (2022) : Minni and her family live in the poorest part of Mumbai where water from the pumps is often hard to get with long lines and shortages. When she takes over for her mother's cleaning job in a high-rise apartment she is astonished to see water running freely from the taps for this other family.  This is a very humbling book to show real economic disparity. 

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021) : Set during the Pandemic this novel-in-verse tells the story of Malian, a young Wabanaki girl as she quarantines at her grandparents' house on the reservation. She helps around the house, learns the old ways, and begins to communicate with an old stray dog. Bruchac does a wonderful job of weaving in the history of other pandemics the Native population has survived as well as government schools and reservation life. His WWII story, Code Talker, is one of my favorites. 

School Trip by Jerry Craft (2023) : This beautifully done graphic novel is filled with micro-aggressions and life lessons like its predecessors New Kid and Class Act.  The entire series should be required reading for humans. Riverdale Academy students Jordan, Liam, and Drew take a trip to Paris with their classmates. This would pair nicely with Dan Santat's new graphic novel A First Time for Everything. 

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (2003) : Maggie Rose and a friend go missing from their private Washington DC school and Alex Cross comes in to work the case. This is the first in the Alex Cross series and I cannot find the banned book list I originally saw it on. It's a gripping often gory tale. 

Dry by Neal Shusterman (2018) : California draught causes teenager Alyssa to make life-and-death decisions for her family.  This was intriguing and all too real.  

Gender Queer by  Maia Kobabe (2019) : Autobiographical graphic novel about the author's journey to understand more about their own gender identity. This was such a personally told story I was gripped with how difficult it is when young people don't feel comfortable in the prescribed norms we've conditioned ourselves to be. Writing/drawing this was a true act of bravery for Maia made even more difficult by hateful backlash. Listen to the NPR interview. 

Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman (#1-4) (2020) : Charlie and Nick fall in love in this sweet graphic novel. I can understand why this was made into a Netflix series because it is a heartwarming tale of friendship and love between two very different teenage boys. Highly recommend for all humans as well. 

As a librarian and compassionate human, I will continue to read more from any current banned books lists, and even though I've put myself on a book-buying ban I've used Libby and our wonderful public library.  Before the new year, I did buy copies of a few young-adult banned books to stick in my little free library. 

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