Books

2015’s best books for children

Present tense, image-rich writing brings vividness to the story of a woman whose mother taught her “a tree is worth more than its wood” in “Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees” by Franck Prevot. Aurelia Fronty’s dramatic colorful art matches words and deeds of the environmental activist who fought sexism and developers in Kenya.
Present tense, image-rich writing brings vividness to the story of a woman whose mother taught her “a tree is worth more than its wood” in “Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees” by Franck Prevot. Aurelia Fronty’s dramatic colorful art matches words and deeds of the environmental activist who fought sexism and developers in Kenya. Charlesbridge

Editor’s note: Susie Wilde reviews children’s books for The N&O. This is her 19th year of presenting the Wilde Awards for the best books of the year for tots, tweens and teens.

Diversity has been the single most important focus of advocates of children’s books this year, and I’m hoping for even more representation in 2016 picture books. These 2015 award winners are distinguished by decidedly strong voices, distinctive illustrations and unmistakable originality which give them the read-it-again quality children crave.

Picture Books, from birth to age 4

“Bulldozer’s Big Day”

Candace Fleming (Atheneum)

Bulldozer wants to invite all his vehicle friends to his birthday. But Digger says it’s a scoop day, Cement Mixer believes it’s a stirring day and the others are busy, too. Active verbs and noises make this a dramatic read-aloud and there’s a special surprise for Bulldozer (and readers) at the end.

“The Full Moon at the Napping House”

Audrey Wood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Thirty years after Woods’ “The Napping House,” this new cumulative read-aloud places the same characters in a restless house flooded with the full moonlight. Once gain rhythms, repetitions and soft colors lull small children.

“If You’re a Robot and You Know It”

Musical Robot, David Carter, illustrator (Cartwheel Books)

Singing + pop-up + twist on the familiar song = guaranteed fun.

“Shapes”/“Homes”

Judith Nouvion (HMH)

The artistry of the natural photographs for these concept books will be as much a treat for parents as they are for toddlers.

“Snuggle Up With Mother Goose”

Iona Opie (Candlewick)

Rosemary Wells’ tender animal illustrations and Opie’s well-chosen classic rhymes picture busy toddler days.

“Wild About Us!”

Karen Beaumont (HMH)

It’s never too early to begin building a young child’s strong sense of self, especially in a way that’s playful. Karen Beaumont’s warthog narrator knows his tusks and warts are unappealing, but in “my own special way I’m as cute as can be.” Whimsical rhymes and pictures show other zoo animals similarly satisfied with their appearance.

Picture books, ages 4-8

“The Bear Ate Your Sandwich”

Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)

The narrator playfully and honestly offers readers a bear-like perspective on a missing sandwich. The strong sensory details illuminate bears’ adventures and the illustrations are luminous.

“A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat”

Emily Jenkins (Schwartz and Wade)

Author Jenkins and illustrator Sophie Blackall cross centuries and continents as they provide a view of four families who love the same dessert. There’s a lot to compare and contrast in terms of word usage, illustrations, technological advances, class differences and more.

“Frog on a Log?”

Kes Gray (Scholastic)

Rhyming and ridiculousness pair as a frog protests sitting on a splintery log and learns that he must do so because gophers sit on sofas, lions sit on irons, fleas sit on peas. ... There’s read-aloud humor all the way to the final twist!

“It’s Only Stanley”

Jon Agee (Dial)

Stanley’s family members recount the hound dog’s strange antics in rollicking, rhyming verses. Stanley’s doings make for a laugh-aloud ending that demand a re-read to view the brilliance of the story’s construction.

“Last Stop on Market Street”

Matt De La Pena (Putnam)

CJ and his grandmother travel by bus each Sunday after church to a location not disclosed until the final pages. The essence of this book is built from conversations between the two – CJ voicing disappointment and resentment about all he doesn’t have while his grandmother poses a lyrical, more optimistic point of view.

“Pool”

JiHyeon Lee (Chronicle)

A boy at a pool overcrowded with overbearing adult bathers dives deeply and discovers a fantastical world. This wordless book has details that urge storytelling and repeat examinations.

“The New Small Person”

Lauren Child (Candlewick)

Elmore Green, a quirky, creative only child, has a perfect setup until “the new small person” enters his life. Lauren Child expresses typical sibling reactions with originality and freshness. The book shows sympathetic views of an elder brother who’s annoyed because “jelly beans that have been licked, are not nearly so nice” and his younger sibling whose idolization is obvious and ignored until the ending.

“Wolfie The Bunny”

Ame Dyckman (Little Brown)

The bunny parents are “smitten” when they find Wolfie, a baby wolf on their doorstep. Young Dot warns her parents, “He’s going to eat us all up!” This refrain is as captivating as Dot’s personality.

Picture Books, ages 7 to 10

“Hiawatha and the Peacemaker”

Robbie Robertson (Abrams)

Based on his childhood memories of a revered elder’s storytelling, Robbie Robertson (best known for his work in the seminal group The Band) recalls the Iroquois legend of Hiawatha, a warrior grief-stricken by the destruction of his family by an evil chief. Hiawatha seeks an end his own anger and to bring peace into his world. David Shannon’s paintings are as dynamic as the story.

“The Most Wonderful Thing in the World”

Vivian French (Candlewick)

French revives the classic fairy tale structure of the suitor who wins the princess’s hand. She makes conflict clear with her characterizations of the overprotective parents and their daughter, who aches to experience the world. Angela Barrett’s illustrations add intricate Edwardian costuming and a rich Venetian setting.

“My Two Blankets”

Irena Kobald (HMH)

Spare, lyrical, symbolic language is completed by Freya Blackwood’s captivating illustrations. The artistry of both will be better understood by sophisticated readers. “My aunt used to call me Cartwheel. Then came the war. Auntie didn’t call me Cartwheel anymore,” begins the narration of a young girl trying to right herself after moving from her war-torn world to a foreign land.

“Tucky Jo and Little Heart”

Patricia Polacco (Simon and Schuster)

With a strong country tone full of imagery, Polacco tells the story of Johnnie Wallen. Wallen lied about his age to enlist as a soldier in World War II. Very quickly he learns how much humanity matters amid the horrors of war.

“Vasilisa The Beautiful: A Russian Folktale”

Anthea Bell (Mini edition)

Bell’s retelling is classical as she recounts the Russian fairy tale heroine who conquers the terrifying Baba Yaga with the help of her magical doll. Anna Morgunova’s illustrations strengthen the story with image, symbolism and mood.

Nonfiction

“Counting Lions”

Katie Cotton (Candlewick, ages 4-6)

Cotton’s lyrical words paint a poignant picture of 10 endangered animals, but it’s Stephen Walton’s stunning portraits that dominate this oversized book.

“Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans”

Don Brown (HMH, ages 8-10) The author presents the heartbreaks of Hurricane Katrina in a way that combines emotions, information, and illustrations with maximum clarity and engaging writing.

“Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear”

Lindsay Mattick (Little Brown, ages 3-6)

Twined stories tell the story of the real bear who inspired the character Winnie the Pooh. The story is told by the great-granddaughter of the veterinarian who rescued a little black bear as he was on his way to England to serve in World War I. Winnie, as he named the bear, ended up in the London Zoo for safety, and there he met a boy named Christopher Robin.

“Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game”

John Coy (Carolrhoda, ages 6-10)

Dramatic writing relates the story of a courageous game of basketball between the all-white squad from Duke University Medical School and North Carolina College of Negroes in 1944. The players’ risky game taught them the benefits of desegregated sports decades before it became legal.

“Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights”

W.H.Beck (HMH, ages 4-8)

Dramatic black backgrounds set off the striking bioluminescent creatures and plants in a simply written book that lets the photographs take center stage.

“I Don’t Like Snakes”

Nicola Davies (Candlewick, ages 5-9)

Fiction and nonfiction merge as the young heroine fights her family’s love of snakes. They offer so many intriguing facts that by book’s end, she “really, really, reeeealllly” likes snakes.

“Life-sized Birds: The Big Book of North American Birds”

Nancy J. Hajeski (Thunder Bay Press; ages 10-adult)

This oversized book holds facts, descriptions, classifications and location maps for more than 100 birds. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will be thrilled by the brilliantly colored life-sized photographs.

“Masterpieces Up Close: 20 Western Paintings from the 14th to 20th Centuries”

Claire d’Harcourt (Princeton Architectural Press, ages 4 and up)

This luscious oversized book has striking reproductions of classic pieces surrounded by pictorial details and comments that discuss the artists’ styles, offer context, and suggest questions to ponder.

“Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France”

Written by Mara Rockliff and illlustrated by Iacopo Bruno (Candlewick, ages 7-10)

Mystery, history, and scientific process unite in an engaging story in which Ben Franklin frees France from the mysterious hypnotic power of Dr. Mesmer. Writing and illustrations are full of humor and drama.

“Welcome to the Neighborwood”

Shawn Sheehy (Candlewick, ages 4-8)

Lyrical text and dramatic pop-ups create in an amazing tour of animal homes found in nature, including hummingbird’s “Craftbirdship” and garden spider’s “Loom of Doom.”

Picture Book biographies

“Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson”

Robbin Gourley (Clarion, ages 5-8)

The author-artist uses similes, verbs, sensory images and colloquial tone to give a sense of the mountain home and growing up of Doc Watson, who has a “heart full of melody and head full of song.”

“Trombone Shorty”

Troy Andrews (Abrams, ages 5-8)

This picture book represents the musician, his Treme neighborhood, and New Orleans with vivacity of language and energetic illustrations by Bryan Collier.

“Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees”

Franck Prevot (Charlesbridge, ages 5-8)

Present tense, image-rich writing brings vividness to the story of a woman whose mother taught her “a tree is worth more than its wood.” Aurelia Fronty’s dramatic, colorful art matches words and deeds of the environmental activist who fought sexism and developers in Kenya.

Holiday books

“Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Doreen Cronin (Atheneum, ages 3-6)

Duck has scaled a telephone pole, zip-lined to the farmhouse roof and is stuck in the chimney – “Ho! Ho! Uh-oh.” The same refrain accompanies other animals getting stuck. Thank goodness for Santa’s magic.

“Jingle Bells”

James Lord Piepont (Candlewick, all ages)

Niroot Puttapipat’s delicate intricate cut paper illustrations and costuming accent the mid-19th century snowy setting of the familiar holiday song.

“Miracle on 133rd Street”

Sonia Manzano (Atheneum, ages 4-7)

Jose’s mami is homesick for Puerto Rico and everyone else in the apartment building seems to lack holiday spirit. Soon fragrance of a holiday meal wraps “itself around all of them like a scarf” and everyone celebrates joyfully together.

“Oskar and the Eight Blessings”

Richard and Tanya Simon (Roaring Brook, ages 7-10)

After the Nazis’ Night of Broken Glass, Oskar’s parents put him on a ship to America with only a picture of an aunt he doesn’t know and a reminder that “even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” Oskar arrives in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah and the brief text and Mark Siegel’s powerful illustrations serve as witness for the many blessings he finds.

Starting out novels

“The Totally Secret Secret”

Bob Shea (Hyperion)

The path of friendship is never smooth, especially when Sparkles, the Pony is ready for new adventures and the tutu-garbed Ballet Cat only has dancing on her mind.

“Lola Levine is not mean!”

Monica Brown (Little Brown)

Lola Levine’s life is a mix of culture and emotions. These are captured in her first-person narrative and short diary entries. There’s a lot packed into one short book – Lola’s competitive soccer playing, her upset at being seen as mean, and a happy resolution.

Recommended new sequels: Karen English’s “Don’t Feed the Geckos!”(Clarion); Abby Hanlon’s “Dory and the Real True Friend” (Dial); Shannon Hale’s “The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party” (Candlewick); Grace Lin’s “Together in all Weather” (Little Brown); Hilary McKay’s “Lulu and the Hamster in the Night” (Whitman); Mary Pope Osborne’s “Shadow of the Shark” (Random House); and Sarah Pennypacker’s “Completely Clementine” (Hyperion)

Novels for ages 8-12

“Circus Mirandus”

Cassie Beasley (Dial)

This magical debut novel quickly engages and enchants. Ephraim Tuttle, a wheezing old man, calls in a miracle promised to him by the Man Who Bends Light when he was just a boy. Ephraim’s grandson, Micah, searches for Circus Mirandus’ tents and the miracle that will save his grandfather’s life. Beasley is a word wizard.

“Dear Hank Williams”

Kimberly Willis (Holt)

Tate P. Ellerbee, assigned a pen pal, chooses rising star Hank Williams. This eccentric choice introduces the uniqueness of this 11-year-old growing up in a small Louisiana town. Tate, an unreliable narrator, brags about her family, gradually fesses up about her real life, and finally tells truths so painful, she hardly comprehends them. This epistolary novel, woven with well-integrated historical details, packs an emotional punch.

“Full Cicada Moon”

Marilyn Hilton (Dial)

In 1969 when Mimi moves from California to Vermont, she’s surprised to be viewed for her biracialism rather than her scientific aptitude. Spare free-verse poems elegantly and evocatively describe the alien world Mimi finds and eventually changes.

“Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible”

Ursula Vernon (Dial)

Princess Harriet is smart, brave, adventurous … and cursed. Will she fall into a sleep by pricking her finger on a hamster wheel? Not likely for a heroine who can defeat Ogre-cat and cliff dive. Expected the unexpected along with humor, adventure and lots of illustrations.

“A Handful of Stars”

Cynthia Lord (Scholastic)

Twelve-year-old Lily has lived her whole life in Maine. Artistic Salma has come with her itinerant family to harvest summer blueberries. Confident Salma teaches the insecure Lily about artistic expression, appreciating differences and escaping self-limiting definitions.

“Lost in the Sun”

Lisa Graff (Philomel; audio from Listening Library, read by Ramon de Ocampo)

How could you make middle school more difficult? Trevor Zimmerman finds out after he fires a hockey puck into the chest of an opponent in a pick-up game and his opponent dies. Trevor thinks everyone hates him, but his self-hate is the most consuming. Unique characters and their genuine feelings paint a painfully poignant portrait of crippling situations, longing and grief.

“Listen, Slowly”

Thanhha Lai (Harper)

A culture clash occurs when 12-year-old Mia, a confident “Long Beach girl,” accompanies her grandmother, Ba, to Vietnam. Humorous situations, fabulous food, family she comes to care about and discoveries about the Vietnamese War move Mia from spoiled snarkiness to compassionate caretaking.

“The Nest”

Kenneth Oppel (Simon and Schuster)

Anxiety-prone Steven has disturbing dreams that intensify when his newborn sibling arrives from the hospital with severe health problems. Temporary relief comes when Steven’s dreams introduce winged beings he thinks are angels, but he soon realizes he’s made alliances with threatening gray and white wasps. Reality and fantasy blur, especially with the factual picture of wasps and Jon Klassen’s eerie illustrations. The hopeful ending shows Steven is more accepting of imperfections in the baby, himself and life.

“The Marvels”

Brian Selznick (Scholastic)

395 pages of gray and white pencil drawings begin in 1776 and encapsulate several generations of a fictional theater family. Next Selznick switches to 1990 and a narrative about Joseph who seeks a place to belong and discovers the truth about his family. It’s gripping whether you’re reading drawings or words.

“Sunny Side Up”

Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (Scholastic)

This semi-autobiographical graphic novel stars Sunny who’s sent to her grandfather in West Palm Beach where she puzzles out the life of the oldies and family problems at home with equal parts of humor and heartbreak.

“Roller Girl”

Victoria Jamieson (Dial)

Astrid, poised on the edge of adolescence, speeds into change as she discovers the roller derby. The graphic novel reflects Astrid’s rocky journey through physical and emotional transitions on her way to self-understanding.

“Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer”

Kelly Jones (Random House)

12-year-old Sophie Brown is self-sufficient and lonely, the perfect combination for a girl from Los Angeles stuck in the country with two parents trying to revive farm a deceased uncle’s farm. Sophie discovers magic, mystery, and adventure as she reclaims her Uncle Jim’s escaped flock. Sophie’s letters are heartfelt and Katie Kath’s drawings are humorous.

“The Way Home Looks Now”

Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Scholastic)

Grief, baseball, and acculturation make dynamic themes in the story of Pete, a Chinese-American boy in 1972 dealing with the tragic death of his brother. There are complex portraits of Pete’s family members, their sorrows and adaptations to change.

“The War That Saved My Life”

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial; audio from Listening Library, read by Jayne Entwistle )

Nine-year-old Ada’s worst problem isn’t her club foot, but her abusive mother. In 1939, she and her brother escape as evacuees from the bombs of WWII London. Housed with Susan, a grieving young woman, Ada gains new perspective and so does the woman who cares for her. This is a painful story with a complex heroine, difficult emotions, believable growth and impressive layering.

Recommended new sequels: Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks in Spring”; (Knopf) Barry Deutsch’s “Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish” (Amulet); Jacqueline Kelly’s “The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate” (Holt); Jeff Kinney’s “Old School” (Amulet); Adam Rex’s “Smek for President” (Hyperion); Jonathan Stroud’s “The Hollow Boy” (Hyperion); Sheila Turnage’s “The Odds of Getting Even” (Kathy Dawson Books); and Rita Williams-Garcia’s “ Gone Crazy in Alabama”(Amistad).

Young Adult (12 and up)

“All the Bright Places”

Jennifer Niven (Knopf)

High school seniors Violet and Theodore meet on the ledge of their school’s clock tower, both considering suicide. Their alternating narratives reveal complicated characters who struggle with love, loss, grief, loneliness, and mental illness. The author’s writing is heartbreaking, funny, philosophical, poetic and honest, and as complex as the characters’ she develops.

“The Accident Season”

Moira Fowley-Doyle (Kathy Dawson Books; Listening Library audio narrated by Colby Minifie )

Seventeen-year-old Cara and her family are girding themselves for the accident season when “bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom” randomly. Mystery, menace and magic, specters and secrets, make it difficult to tell the real from the fantastical as the gripping plot twists and turns.

“I Am Princess X”

Cherie Priest (Scholastic)

Adventure, mysteries, tech trouble and a graphic novel combine in this fast-read. When May’s best friend Libby dies in a car crash, she’s also lost the co-creator of Princess X. When Princess X graffiti appears all over Seattle, May, now 16, knows Lily is not dead and is determined to find her friend.

“Black Dove, White Raven”

Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)

Once again Wein shows her gift for grounding YAs in history with her well-rounded characters and compelling plots. This time her story is set primarily during the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Emilia and Teo’s mothers are fellow barnstormers, Black Dove and White Raven. Their children, like their brave mothers, are “in the soup together.” That soup has ingredients of prejudice, grief, war, and the loyalty of soulmates whose love endures.

“Carry On”

Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin; audio from Macmillan Audio read by Euan Morton)

Fans caught only glimpses of Simon Snow and his nemesis, Baz, in Rowell’s “Fangirl.” Now these characters are fully realized in the story of their eighth and last year at Watford School of Magicks. It’s a year that is unpredictable in love, heroes, magic and villains. Rowell transforms clichés and tropes into fresh opportunities for humor and reimagining. And no one writes about first love like this author.

“Don’t Fail Me Now”

Una LaMarche (Razorbill; audio from Listening Library read by Adenrele Ojo)

17 year-old Michelle has heartaches aplenty. Left with two younger siblings as her mother succumbs to drug addiction. Michelle learns her deserting father is dying. She sets off in a beat up car with her siblings, a half-sister and her brother. A dying car is the least of their problems as the travelers cross the U.S. They face shifting moods, clashing personalities, discordant dynamics and racial and economic divides.

“The Emperor of Any Place”

Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick; audio from Brilliance; read by Todd Haberkorn)

The author transitions facilely between characters, times and places in a book that twines two narratives. Evan, a high school student, is stunned by his father’s sudden death and its possible connection to a mysterious book recounting a WWII story of enemy soldiers stranded on a small Pacific island. His somber numbness contrasts with angry sarcasm when his cantankerous 90-year-old ex-Marine grandfather arrives.

“Everything, Everything”

Nicola Yoon (Delacorte; audio from Listening Library read by Bahni Turpin and Robbie Daymond)

Maddy, a biracial 18-year-old with severe combined immunodeficiency, doesn’t leave home. Her physician mother and Carla, her nurse, are Maddy’s only company. Until Olly moves in next door. These engaging characters fall quickly into a deep friendship that’s honest and flirtatious and bound for a love that’s worth taking risks for, and has more twists and turns than either can imagine.

“The Hired Girl”

Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick; audio from Recorded Books read by Rachel Botchan)

The story unfolds in the youthful journals of Joan, a 14-year-old girl whose 1911 farm life consists of caring for three unappreciative brothers and a cruel father. Her passion for learning leads her to run away, and she is hired into a wealthy, intellectual Jewish home. Joan’s naivety, romanticism, imagination and impulsiveness add up to an character who amusing, engaging and ultimately, endearing.

“Illuminae”

Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff’(Knopf)

Innovative in narrative and artistic design, “Illuminae” invites readers to reconstruct a series of disasters through a collection of documentary fragments – email exchanges, medical reports, personal logs and more. Science fiction fans will recognize plot threads reminiscent of “Ender’s Game,” “Battle Star Galactica,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and every zombie story ever written, but the authors weave something new out of these familiar plots and tropes. The robust action, strong female protagonist, and clever method of storytelling will leave readers anxious for a promised sequel.

“Kissing in America”

Margo Rabb (Harper; audio from Blackstone)

Eva still feels “griefy” two years after her father has died in a plane crash, that and her romantic nature leads her to follow her boyfriend across the country with her best friend Annie. The book is love story, road trip, mother-daughter conflict and coming of age all rolled into one. But it’s the emotional plot that shines as Eva struggles to find peace with her father’s unknowable ending, understand herself and her family, and the nature of loss and love.

“Orbiting Jupiter”

Gary D. Schmidt (HMH, audio from Audible read by Christopher Gebauer )

Gary Schmidt’s sparseness sings with rhythms and repetitions that soften the story’s difficult subject: 12-year-old narrator Jack’s innocence is sometimes sparked, and other times strained, by the arrival of his 14-year-old foster brother, Joseph. Joseph has been abused by his father and the social system and only wants to find his baby daughter. This book is short in length and long on heartbreak.

“There Will Be Lies” Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

17-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper is a sheltered, homeschooled young woman whose biggest problem seems to be her overweight, overprotective single mother. Then she’s hit by a car, her mother propels them into flight, and she’s drawn into “the Dreaming,” a mystical world. These are only the first shifting realities in this book—each providing half-truths and confusion, tension and mystery that create a driving force that tests Shelby’s strength and shows her growth.

“Wolf by Wolf”

Ryan Graudin (Little Brown, audio from Audible, read by Christa Lewis)

At 6, Yael is selected by a cruel commandant at a concentration camp for Experiment 85 and given a series of shots that result in her ability to shape shift. After Hitler has won WWII, 17-year-old Yael assumes the identity of an Aryan girl and must win a cross continental motorcycle race for an opportunity to assassinate Hitler. Physical dangers, intrigues, and betrayals make for fast-paced action. Continuous plot and psychological twists increase the book’s compelling quality, but the author’s lyricism also shines.

Recommended New Sequels: Ann Blankman’s “Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke” (Balzer and Bray); Libba Bray’s “Lair of Dreams” (Little Brown); Marie Lu’s “The Rose Society” (Putnam); Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” (Feiwel & Friends); and Andrew Smith’s “Stand Off” (Simon and Schuster).

Longer Nonfiction

“The Boys in the Boat”

Daniel James Brown, adapted by Gregory Mone (Viking, ages 11 and up)

Gregory Mone has adapted Daniel James Brown’s story-rich adult novel for younger readers. Subtitled “The true story of an American team’s epic journey to win gold at the 1936 Olympics,” this novel is a fast read. In the foreground is Joe Rantz, a self-reliant Depression-era hero, who joins the University of Washington rowing team. Battling for the right to represent the US at the 1936 Olympics, transforms him and all fellow crew members. Descriptions of places and people are evocative, the emotional details poignant.

“Most Dangerous”

Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook, ages 11 and up)

Subtitled “Daniel Ellsberg and the secret history of the Vietnam War.” With his usual gift for clarity, organization, drama and storytelling, Sheinkin reveals Daniel Ellsberg’s Cold War growing up, his horrific experiences serving in Vietnam, and his more difficult battle over a decision to leak America’s secrets about the Vietnam War. Espionage, heroism and politics converge in this compelling book.

“Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad”

M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, ages 14 and up; audio by Brilliance read by the author)

The writing itself seems symphonic as Anderson seamlessly, artfully blends his extensive research of Russia’s transitions from monarchy, Stalin’s Great Terror, the Nazi’s invasion of the USSR, and the life of Dimitri Shostakovich. His descriptions sing with specific sensory details and emotional power, his questions about this puzzling period foster wonder as he merge with the many dilemmas of the era with the composer’s vivid life, musical passions and difficult decisions.

Appearances

Susie Wilde will discuss the winning books at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill.

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