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Year End Wrap-Up

I read a lot of books this year. Mostly because I challenged myself on Good Reads to read 100 books this year and I wanted to meet the challenge (I did and am still reading--catching up on adult mysteries and some YA titles). A month or so ago, I was tasked with doing a presentation at a Children's Services Division workshop on 2012 releases, so I read even more. I'm reprinting the handout from that presentation here, with just a few edits and a book I've read since then. Cheating? Perhaps. Or maybe it's just a great way to cover lots of books.

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger
Lenny’s evil-genius best friend Casper (and his fake mustache) attempt to take over the world, and only Lenny and rodeo star Jodie O’Day can stop him.
Recommend It? Yes. To any kid who enjoys the absurd, a crazy chase, and a good laugh. 8 and up.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Partially based on a true story, this book imagines how a silver-backed gorilla used his wits and his love of drawing to rescue himself and other animals from a run-down mall exhibit to much healthier homes at a zoo.
Recommend It? Absolutely. Kids (and adults) will love Ivan’s spirit and be moved by this tale. 8 and up.
Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbit
A rich old man offers to make Joe, a parent-less boy, his heir because he sees something in the boy he likes. Joe, though, would rather study the moon.
Recommend It? Probably not. The narrative is a bit disjointed and though the “moral” is nice, it’s also a bit preachy and the ending is predictable. 10 and up.
The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman
Steampunk and faeries come to kid lit in this amusing book set in Victorian England. In a world where half-human children (Peculiars) are despised, an evil faery is plotting against the humans and using those Peculiars as part of his plan.
Recommend It? Yes. It’s a fun book for the right reader. Bachman began writing it when he was just 16, but it doesn’t show. First in a series. 9 and up.
Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill
On the one hand, this is a tale about the power of storytelling and how our stories can bring worlds to life. It’s also, though, a gallant tale about how a princess who may not be beautiful but is smart and brave can save the world.
Recommend It? Yes. The book has some detractors, but Barnhill weaves a great story. It’s exciting and new. And Violet is a princess to be reckoned with. 9 and up.

Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer
A little dog needs a home, a young boy needs a dog, and an old man needs some friends. It takes some time--and a town-wide rally--but they all come together in the end.
Recommend It? Yes. It's a sweet and simple tale. Don't let the fact that it's told in verse scare kids away. The well-written verse is part of the charm. 7 and up.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
In medieval Wales, the English are uprooting the Welsh and, in particular, one young English lady is going toe-to-toe with a Welsh girl who has much to hate the English for.
Recommend It? I think so. It’s a well-written historical novel about a time not many others have touched on. Both girl characters are strong and sympathetic. 12 and up.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
Orphan girls, a time-traveling boy, and two old ladies in Ireland are somehow woven together in this odd book.
Recommend It? Probably not. There are some lovely ideas in this book about family and friendship, but the plot is too confusing and tries too hard. Even Sharon Creech fans will be disappointed. 8 and up.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
In an England similar to our own, but not really, magic exists in all of us, but only some can actually do anything with it. Others, like our heroine Jennifer Strange, help manage it. But Jennifer has another destiny; one involving the last dragon.
Recommend It? Yes. Many books—including this one-- are touted as “the next Harry Potter.” This one is much funnier in a sly, knowing way. Give it to a smart tween who appreciates wry humor and a sarcastic look at our modern world. First in a series. 11 and up.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Here are the “true” stories of the Princes Charming. Maybe they didn’t really do much for Rapunzel or Cinderella, but they’re tired of being taken for granted. And so begins many misadventures as they try to save their reputations and rescue prisoners held by the most evil of witches.
Recommend It? A fun story, especially for those who like their fairy tales fractured. The first in a series, it’s slated to become a movie, so have at least one copy in the library and hope Disney doesn’t get its hands on it. 8 and up.
Sadie & Ratz by Sonya Harnett
Hannah can’t always control what her hands—Sadie & Ratz—will do. But she knows they aren’t responsible for all the trouble they are being blamed for by her younger brother.
Recommend It? Yes. It’s a very simple tale for young readers. And it’ll appeal to any child who has a hard time keeping his emotions contained, especially around a crafty younger sibling. 5 and up.

Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick by Jennifer Holm
The stresses of Ginny Davis’s eighth grade year are making her sick: She wants to fall in love and join a vampire club, but her family—and her body—have different plans for her.
Recommend It? Yes. This novel is not just told in Ginny’s voice, but also in her text messages, doodles, and scraps of paper that comprise her life. They’ll be familiar to any kid. Plus there’s a great narrative. 9 and up.
Mr. & Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath
Madeline’s parents have disappeared. Who better to hire to help her find them than a pair of bunnies trying out a new business venture? Can the Bunnys ferret out how all the strange goings-on and find Madeline’s parents?
Recommend It? This is a hard one for me to recommend. It’s a good story, but the plot didn’t appeal. Some kids will find it amusing, though. And the bottom line--what makes a family—makes it worth the read. 9 and up.
One for the Murphys by Lynda Hunt
Foster child Carley knows how to be tough. With her mom’s irresponsible parenting, she’s had to be. But now, with her new foster family, she needs to learn how to be loved.
Recommend It? Yes, but only if the reader has tissues nearby. The ending is realistic rather than “happily ever after.” 10 and up.
Homesick by Kate Klise
Covers the serious themes of hoarding and divorce in a lighthearted way. It seems wrong, but Klise makes it work with an interesting cast of small-town characters who truly care about one another.
Recommend It? Probably. Despite some reservations I have about the seriousness of the topics, the characters make it charming and the author has her fans. 10 and up.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Fern feels lost in a family that doesn’t have time for her. When tragedy strikes, Fern must come to grips with all their roles in it--and learn to forgive herself and her family.
Recommend It? Probably. I wish there were more to the ending. It almost wraps up too nicely. But as long as the reader knows grieving doesn’t end with a school dance, it works. 11 and up.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
It’s 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and two young girls—one white, one black--are learning that civil rights laws don’t matter when people are afraid and feel threatened. Can they be friends despite the forces keeping them apart?
Recommend It? Absolutely. This childhood perspective on racism deserves to be read and discussed. 10 and up.

Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy
After a freak accident, 12-year-old Lilah starts to communicate with the dead. Long lost relatives and others help her (sort of) find a new girlfriend for her lonely dad.
Recommend It? Probably. It’s a light-hearted story and it has a simple appeal. There’s nothing earth-shattering here. 8 and up.
The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons by Barbara Mariconda
Newly orphaned Lucy finds that magic is helping her keep her house and inheritance from her greedy and abusive uncle Victor
Recommend It? Lots of mixed feelings about this one. I'm going to say probably not. The narrative is odd and tries too hard and the ending is even odder (spoiler alert: the house turns in to a ship).

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
Three boys are taken from orphanages to be schooled in the way of princes. One will be selected to fool an entire kingdom and claim the throne. But one has a secret of his own.
Recommend It? Definitely. It’s a unique story and, yes, you will probably figure out the boy’s secret early on. No matter. It’s a good read and the start of a trilogy. 11 and up.
The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
Liza knows her brother’s soul has been stolen by the evil Spindlers. So, she embarks on an underground quest to recover it.
Recommend It? I think so. The story is fast-moving and the quest is exciting. Perfect for those who have imagination and aren’t afraid to use it. 8 and up.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Auggie Pullman was born with such severe facial deformities, they cannot be described. Sheltered for much of his childhood, his parents send him to school for the first time in fifth grade. This is the story of how he and his family cope that year.
Recommend It? Yes, with some reservations. Everyone has been talking about this book this year, and it’s a fine book. But it lacks balance. Nearly everyone is rooting for Auggie. Still, how can you dislike a book that asks us to just be kind to one another? 8 and up.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
Two girls from very different circumstances are brought together after a tragedy. They learn to rely and help each other over a difficult summer.
Recommend It? Yes! The events at the beginning of the novel may seem a bit outlandish at first, but the story has real heart and lots of girls will identify with the protagonists. And it has a great feel-good ending. 7 and up.

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
In this historical fiction tale of Nazi resistance in Norway, there’s plenty of excitement and intrigue, as well as real-life teenage problems. But the going is a little slow at times and the novel suffers from gaps in the narrative.
Recommend It? Historical fiction fans, those who love war stories, and anyone who wants to learn more about WWII will like this book. 10 and up.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
Ingredients: Orphans used as guinea pigs, possibly evil step parents, magical creatures used for nefarious purposes, Arthurian legends brought back to life, riffs on commercials and cereal, and send-ups of almost everything you can imagine.
Recommend It? Yes. Somehow it all works. And it’s funny. Give it to a smart, wise-arse kid. First in a series. 11 and up.
May B by Caroline Starr Rose
A lovely novel in verse in which 12-year-old Mavis Elizabeth Betterly has been hired out by her family to help a couple new to the Kansas frontier set up their home. When tragedy strikes, May B. finds herself using every ounce of courage she has to survive.
Recommend It? Definitely. Anyone who likes historical fiction will like this. Even those who don’t will. It’s that good. 9 and up.
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
It’s a little bit Victorian, a little bit Gothic, and a little bit magical. It all adds up to a unique tale. A master puppeteer is capable of turning children into puppets. And the only one who knows how to break the spell is a witch he tried to curse years ago. The witch and the puppeteer are important, but the real heroes of this story are two orphans and a rich and lonely little girl.
Recommend It? Yes. But note that the book is long and may be a trifle scary in some places, so give it to those kids who are capable of staying with it to the (very happy) end. 10 and up.
What Came From the Stars by Gary Schmidt
On a planet far, far away, an ancient culture is fighting a losing war against a malevolent bunch. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Tommy is mourning the death of his mother. The two worlds come together when Tommy receives a piece of that world, containing all its language, knowledge, and culture. And he becomes a major force in the battle of good vs. evil.
Recommend It? This is a hard book to like. Most adults will find it tedious. But there are some kids–budding Tolkienites, perhaps?–who will enjoy it, especially the battle scenes. 9 and up.
Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
There is intrigue upon intrigue in this tongue-in-cheek kid lit noir. Lemony Snicket himself is the sassy smart and hard-boiled 12-year-old narrator.
Recommend It? Yes! Even if kids don’t know what noir is, they’ll appreciate the humor and want to know what happens. First in a series. 10 and up.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Georges and his family must move to an apartment building a few blocks from their old house when his family experiences problems--problems Georges is hiding. In his new home he meets Safer, who also has secrets. I love the title because it makes you ponder, once you get to the end, who’s the liar and who’s the spy?
Recommend It? Yes. Some people have questioned whether this book would be getting any attention had Stead not won the Newbery. Ignore them. It’s a very good book and kids will like it. The characters are real and there’s a richness here that wants to be read. 9 and up.

The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Phoebe Stone
Louise can’t quite remember much of her childhood. She knows something happened to her mom, though. Meanwhile, she’s navigating middle school and looking for a secret admirer. 
Recommend It? Probably. But don’t be fooled by the cover. This book is not a tween crush story. It’s a real-life tale of a girl gradually remembering her mother’s suicide. 10 and up.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Moses LoBeau lives in the tiniest of towns in North Carolina. An orphan, she resides with two people who rescued her after a flood. Now her life may turn upside down again as new storm threatens her adopted home and her family.
Recommend It? Yes! The cast of characters and Moses are well-written, and the story has warmth and humor to spare. 10 and up.
The Templeton Twins Have an Idea (Book 1) by Ellis Weiner
Twins Abigail and John and their father are all coping with the death of mom, but that isn’t the real story in this clever book. Instead, the twins must help their absentminded father outwit villains trying to steal his latest idea.
Recommend It? Yes. The Lemony Snicket-like narrator, who poses questions to the reader at the end of each chapter, will amuse readers. And the twins are rather quite smart. 8 and up.



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