YA Books I Read in 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Apart from a brief period in my adolescence young adult (YA) books have never really interested me. Until now. This year I read more YA books than I have in the last 20 years put together. Maybe the quality of books has improved. Or perhaps I'm subconsciously trying to avert my actual age by escaping into young fiction. Who knows?

In truth, I tend to read in phases. A few years ago I read non-fiction pretty exclusively, so maybe this is further evidence that I appreciate variety. Luckily, reading—especially reading fiction—encourages exploration. Some of the best books I've read come from book clubs or best-of-lists, where other people are recommending titles I never would have picked up on my own. Then again, sometimes I like to think that I am vetting books for my daughter, even if she won't be reading them for another decade or more. Let's just say if you have any interest in YA books, I highly recommend these eight as a great place to start.
  1. The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan - A touching look at the bond children and pets share. A book that surprised me with its tenderness. 
  2. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin - A thoughtful telling of that infamous day, told through four different young adult characters. Though it gives a spoiler, I'm glad I read the author's note first.
  3. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas - Of all the books on this list, this one is my absolute favorite. Set in the late 1970s, the Iran hostage crisis makes this historical fiction book compelling, yes, but the insightful protagonist is funny and relatable in a holy-moley-I-also-survived-middle-school sort of way. 
  4. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson - Three twelve-year-old boys set off to make one special day for their teacher. The chase scene alone was laugh-out-loud funny. A recent publication that has already received well-deserved acclaim.
  5. Pax by Sara Pennypacker - A modern telling of a boy and his strong relationship to his pet. In this case, a domesticated fox. Reminded me a bit of The Yearling, although much shorter. Plus occasional illustrations by Jon Klassen obviously helped. 
  6. El Deafo by Cece Bell - A graphic novel of heroic proportions. A first-hand account of what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. I especially love Bell's attention to minor details such as the tiny rosette on her undershirt. 
  7. George by Alex Gino - Living life as a girl is difficult, particularly when you are in a boy's body. A thoughtful look at gender and what that might mean to a transgender child. 
  8. Wonder by R. J. Palacio - A young man, with an obvious physical deformity, tackles life at a new school. A beautiful homage to the need for more kindness. Soon to be a movie and a picture book.
Ps. Although I didn't read it this year, I also thoroughly enjoyed this book. 

Currently | 12.12.2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

READING: A collection of cozy winter stories. And looking forward to reading this in 2017. What's the best book you read in 2016? I can't choose between this novel and this graphic memoir. Both were remarkable in different ways.

WATCHING: Madame Secretary, which is a great way to get my D.C. fix. Also, have you watched The Crown yet? SO good. Finally, I need to carve out some time to watch one of my favorite holiday movies in the next couple weeks.

EATING: Tomato soup. Simple, homemade tomato soup. I make it every week. It simmers on the stove for over two hours and infuses the air with the most delectable aroma. The trick? Good tomatoes.

ENJOYING: The fact that we had family pictures taken back in October, meaning I could get Christmas cards in the mail immediately after Thanksgiving. This may be our new tradition.

FEELING: Grateful for all the people who have helped us over the past couple months, and really for the entire year.

LISTENING TO: The best radio of 2016, specifically the winners from The Third Coast Competition.

MAKING: Christmas cookies, including these ginger infused delights.

DREAMING OF: A New Year's getaway. Not sure if it will happen this year, but maybe we'll be able to escape soon for an overnight kid-free adventure.

LAUGHING AT: My daughter's antics. She recently pulled a packet of tuna out of the pantry and started skating around our wood floors with it. Plus her rendition of Frosty the Snowman always makes me laugh.

EXCITED FOR: The first snow of the season and more indoor fires.

Mural located in St. Louis, MO.   

Countdown to Christmas: A Children's Book Advent Calendar | 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

You guys, I have been waiting for this list ALL year. Seriously. I think it has been sitting in my draft folder since August.

Part of me feels like I've always been a children's book lover. Obviously books were a big part of my childhood, but then I started working in a bookstore when I was in college and couldn't restrain myself from the children's section. For whatever reason, during that time, I decided to start collecting children's Christmas books and this was the book that started it all. Have you read it?

We're certainly not alone celebrating advent with picture books. Many families have a similar tradition. Of course it makes the holiday season a little more festive, but it also gives us a chance to s-l-o-w down during what always feels like the craziest time of year. This list is a selection of old and new favorites. Five of which are new (published in 2016). Perhaps you'll find a brand new holiday classic amongst these books. As always, feel free to share your best holiday picture book recommendation in the comments below.
  1.  Presents Through the Window by Taro Gomi - Santa's in a bit of a rush this year, riding in on his trusty helicopter, which means he only has a chance to peek through the window and toss in a corresponding gift for each occupant. Needless to say, Santa doesn't always get it right. A comical take on gift giving. 
  2.  Christmas for Greta and Gracie by Yasmeen Ismail - Oh man, this might be my favorite holiday book published this year. Let's just say that I am one of the characters and my next younger sister is the other. A charming take on differences and holiday magic. 
  3.  The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy - This poignant picture book is about the life of a scraggly fir tree that gives warmth to a homeless boy on Christmas Eve and then continues its life for years to come in a local neighborhood park. The sweeping watercolor illustrations brim with color and light, reminiscent of European holiday markets. 
  4.  The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis - Another sweet story about sister siblings and the breadth of holiday sacrifice. Easily one of my favorite reads in recent years. 
  5.  Dream Snow by Eric Carle - Dare I admit that this is the only Eric Carle book we own? Luckily it's one of his best. When a farmer sits down for a rest he dreams that each of his animals gets covered in a layer of snow. With lift-the-flap transparencies and a push-the-button jingle at the end, this book is perfect for preschoolers. 
  6.  The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen - This book probably falls into my top five favorites category. Simple in scope, but enormous in spirit, it follow the secret wanderings of a young bear who gives gifts from his heart, that his family members can truly appreciate.
  7.  Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee - What does it take to become an expert? Practice and research, two things that Santa has clearly mastered. Anyone familiar with Frazee's other books will adore this riot of color and humor. Best read with a mug of chocolate and a candy cane. 
  8.  Herbie's Secret Santa by Petra Mathers - Herbie and Lottie are off to buy a Christmas tree when they make a stop at the neighborhood bakery. Herbie finds the Santa cookies a little too irresistible and accidentally eats one. The rest of the story is a charmer, one not to be missed. 
  9.  Slinky Malinki's Christmas Cracker by Lynley Dodd - Oh how this brings back memories of our black cat growing up and all the mischief she would unravel with a trimmed Christmas tree at her disposal. 
  10.  Ollie's Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen - When Ollie wakes to the sound of jingle bells, she treks into the night snow, bravely seeking the source of the merry sound. Into the woods she walks and discovers a reindeer! Together they fly into the inky sky on an adventure that befits a young girl at Christmas.
  11.  Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs - A classic by many accounts, this comic-strip like tale follows Father Christmas through the vicissitudes and victories of his most important night of the year. Now I need to track down Father Christmas goes on Holiday.  
  12.  Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco - This was my first introduction to the prolific author/illustrator, who's work I've now come to adore. Plus I love that this book explores Polacco's vibrant childhood culture in loving memory of her own uncle and their celebration of Epiphany. It also reminds me of the outdoor Christmas tree we created for my dad the Christmas after he passed away. 
  13.  Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano - Finding Christmas books with diverse characters is a little tough, but this book fits the bill. An entire neighborhood is cranky until they all get a whiff of a special Christmas roast. Soon they are all gathered into a small apartment sharing a meal and making new memories. 
  14.  You Can Do It, Sam by Amy Hest -  One of the sweetest books of the bunch is actually a winter story, but charming nonetheless, especially for anyone that still gives out neighbor gifts. Sam is tasked with delivering cakes to the neighbors on Plum Street all by himself. A gentle approach to encouraging altruism and independence amongst little ones. 
  15.  Small, Medium, & Large by Jane Monroe Donovan - This nearly wordless Christmas book is about a young girl that gets three animal friends for Christmas, one in each size. Together the four of them set out on a winter excursion, complete with an exuberant sleigh ride. 
  16.  Plum Pudding for Christmas by Virginia Kahl - The queen wants plum pudding and sends the Duke off on a mission to procure them for their special holiday dessert. This vintage gem is extra special as it reminds me of our family tradition of steam pudding on Christmas Eve. 
  17.  A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith - A young girl named Rebecca is asked to care for a small Donkey, while its mother takes another weary mother to Bethlehem. With characteristic stunning Wildsmith illustrations and gilded gold detail, stars and snow shine as they illuminate the way to the humble stable. 
  18.  Christmas is Here adapted from the King James Bible - A young family treks into the snow to see the Live Nativity and are immediately enveloped in the beloved words from the First Christmas Story. 
  19.  The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy - There are a few versions of the true story of what happened between troops during WWI in 1914, but this compact telling is a poetic rendition of the peace found on the battlefield, that starts with the tender notes of one voice singing. 
  20.  Harold at the North Pole by Crockett Johnson - Can you ever resist Harold's adventurous purple crayon? Follow along as he creates a candy cane wonderland, always drawing exactly what he needs in the moment.  
  21.  When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey - He loved the color red best, re-wrapped his birthday presents and gave them away, had an unusual fascination with chimneys, and liked to stand near the open cold refrigerator. A cute take on Santa's formative years.  
  22.  A Homemade Christmas Together by Maryann Cocca-Leffler - When the Pig Family decides to give each other homemade gifts for Christmas the littlest family member is stumped for an idea. This also reminds me of when we did this as a family growing up. 
  23.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka - I came to this book after reading Wet Cement earlier this year.  Not only are the endpapers festive it's a fun way to teach haiku with a holiday twist. (TIP: Have a fondness for a particular children's author? Check to see if they've written any holiday books. You might be pleasantly surprised.)
  24.  The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jane Ray - A whimsical variation of the timeless holiday carol. With so many versions it's hard to choose a favorite, but this one repeatedly tops our list. 

Printable advent tags available here.


Ps. Special thanks to my friend Rachel for taking these pictures on her beautiful book ledges. We mixed in all sorts of books, so you might spot a couple not on this list. If you'd like more Christmas book recommendations be sure to check out my 2015 list and follow along on Instagram, where I'll be sharing more books throughout the month. 

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