Best Books of 2007 Compiled

I am way, way behind, but here is the amazing MotherReader and her huge list of the compiled Best Books of 2007.  Get your scroll button warmed up and your fingers cracked, you are in for quite a list!

Knuffle Bunny Too

Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems.

This is one of those books that got me all atwitter with anticipation.  Returning to the world of Knuffle Bunny (which by the way, I was pronouncing CORRECTLY!  With a hard K) was like seeing a beloved friend.

Trixie is older now and heading to school with Knuffle Bunny in hand.  But when she sees Sonya, Sonya is holding Knuffle Bunny!  Another Knuffle Bunny!  This doesn’t make the girls friends at all, but rivals.  They argue over how to pronounce the name, glare and one another and generally get their feelings hurt.  Finally, the teacher steps in and takes the two Knuffle Bunnies away.  The happy girls get them back at the end of the day and it isn’t until the very middle of the night that they both realize that the bunnies have been switched!  Now the crisis must be resolved!

This book has the same sense of fun as the first one.  Readers will spot a pigeon on Trixie’s bedroom wall as well as quickly realize that the bunnies have been switched (one has a bow on its head).  The illustrations are just as fresh and amazing as the first, with the drawings superimposed on black and white photographs. 

A real treat, this book is best enjoyed by kids who have read the first one.  In fact, why not get them both in hand and read them back-to-back.  Any excuse to linger in the world of Knuffle Bunny!

The Wall

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

This book has gotten six starred reviews so far this year, making it one of the best reviewed children’s books of the year, if not THE best reviewed.  And it deserves each and every star.

Sis takes readers on his own personal journey through the darkness, suspicion and horror of growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.   Readers will watch the word “compulsory” repeated again and again as people are no longer allowed to make their own decisions.  But in almost every picture there is one little bit of dissent that gives the reader hope.  Otherwise the oppressive nature of the book would be too much to bear.

Sis has excelled at making this complex subject one that is accessible to children.  His art, done primarily in black ink with touches of red, is the perfect conduit to understanding the situation.  The colorful pages filled with photographs, his art and quotes from his journals offer a touch of sunshine in the book, giving readers a chance for a breath before they have to return to the dreary and dangerous world of Communism.  There are illustrations here that had me in tears, particularly the one showing the division between the free world and the world behind the Iron Curtain.  What a powerful image!

I traveled to Prague in the mid-1980s for a brief trip.  What I saw and felt there is captured perfectly in the illustrations.  While the people were vibrant and amazing, the feeling of dread colored everything.  What a masterpiece of a book to find a way to express that so directly that I can feel it again, including the pressure in my gut and chest.

Highly recommended for ages 7-10.  This is not a picture book for bedtime, but for understanding.  For seeing the world as it was and is.  For truth. 

Ridin' Dinos with Buck Bronco

Ridin’ Dinos with Buck Bronco by George McClements.

Take the popularity of dinosaurs and combine it with cowboys and you have this book!  After Buck Bronco found some strange eggs in his field, he became a dinosaur authority.  And he rides his dinos.  Readers get a quick lesson in selecting a mount, saddling them, and the various types of riding.  Buck also teaches about how to feed and care for your dinosaur. 

The text of this picture book is written all in western twang, so make sure to hitch up your britches and get your tongue loosened up and dancin’.  It is great fun to read aloud.  The illustrations are paper art that will have children clamoring to look at them.  The details are not tiny, so the book will work well with a group of children.

I’d highly recommend this for any dinosaur storytime or unit.  Some of the humor may be a little much for preschoolers, but 5 and 6 year olds should enjoy it immensely.  Yee haw!

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper.

Sparrow has a lot in her life that she doesn’t want other people to know.  She just wants to be “normal”.  But that’s not so easy for a teen who sees and communicates with ghosts.  Sparrow’s family are all mediums and they live in a small community called Lily Dale where everyone is a psychic.  But Sparrow rejects all of that and heads out to a different school to start afresh.  Even though she can communicate with the dead, she has never told anyone in her family about it.  Sparrow has been living a lie for her entire life, and now she has headed out of the small community and into a larger world where her life of lies will be tested.  On her very first day at the “normal” school, Sparrow meets a teenage ghost who will not accept her refusal to help.

What a fun romp of a book!  Combine ghosts, psychic ability and teen angst and how can you go wrong?  Harper writes the book with a light hand and lots of humor.  The pacing is pleasant with enough time to explore Sparrow’s world but no dragging or plodding.  Sparrow is a great character filled with self doubt, cynicism and lots of sarcasm.   I particularly enjoy the universal message of self acceptance and learning to life your own life.  It is not an overbearing theme, rather it is inherent in the book. 

This book will fly off of shelves and offers a light read with a lot of fun and a some depth to it.  Highly recommended for tweens and teens alike.

On Meadowview Street

On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole

Caroline just moved in on Meadowview Street and is hanging out in the back yard when she discovers a flower in the grass near where her father is mowing.  She dashes to create a string fence for it and finds another flower to protect, making her small protected area even larger.  As the grass grew longer, butterflies and flowers popped up all over.  Caroline’s father gives up the mower and she creates a shady spot in the yard by planting a tree and she and her father build a pond to give the birds and insects a water source.  And then there was a real meadow on Meadowview.

What a wonderful book to share with children, who will immediately head home to preserve some of their trimmed yard for the animals and insects.  The illustrations vividly show the transformation of the yard from its dull green to dots of color, height and action.  It may be a little too simple for adults, who will wonder what community would allow this sort of unmown lawn, but the message is direct and perfect for children. 

Share this in an environment unit to show children that they too can make a difference.  Recommended as a read-aloud for ages 4-8.  It is sure to start discussion for older children who may also find inspiration.

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney.

Junior is a Native American who has always been the butt of many jokes.  He has only survived his many fights thanks to his best friend, Rowdy, who is a huge athletic kid.  Now Junior has decided to leave the reservation and head into a neighboring town to attend school.  He will be the only Indian in his classes.  Junior decides to go ahead with his plans though it means people on the reservation consider him a traitor, especially Rowdy.  Junior works through his nervousness, self-doubt and many obstacles through art.  He draws cartoons and comics that encapsulate what is happening to him.  Art appears throughout the book, often capturing what words could not. 

Let me just say that I don’t think that any words I place together will ever convey the power of this novel.  The straight-forward honesty about Indian issues like alcoholism will leave readers breathless.   The raw truth of Junior’s character is not only compelling but mesmerizing.  Junior’s fights and battles become the reader’s in a very immediate way.  His insights into racism, pain and being Indian offer readers a window into a life we would love to deny but are unable to.  There is such a truth here that it would be impossible to hear without Junior there as a conduit. 

The writing is profound and deep with sudden currents that sweep into unexpected places.  It is a book that is never dull, but doesn’t read like a thriller or action movie.  Rather it is a quick-witted study of one teen who is not going to give in and just disappear into the reservation.   With the addition of the cartoons in the novel, readers are drawn deeper into the story and into Junior as a character.

This is my pick of the year for the Printz Award.  Due to its power, rawness and energy that is bound to draw in many different types of reader.  It is a true window into a person’s life which is what reading is all about.  It is a book that will stay with me for some time and I will continue to wonder how that much intensity can be held in such a slim volume for teens.  A masterpiece. 

Author Names

TeachingBooks.net has one of the handiest guides for us children’s lit types.  Especially if you ever have to talk to people aloud about authors!  It is the Author Name Pronunciation Guide which has the authors saying their own names aloud. 

Here’s the one I went to immediately:  Jon Scieszka.  Rhymes with Fresca! 

Bean Thirteen

Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott.

Even though Ralph tells her not to pick the unlucky thirteenth bean, Flora goes ahead and picks it.  She figures that they can simply divide the thirteen beans between them and not have thirteen any more.  But math is not quite that simple, and they are forced to divide again and again until they finally reach a solution that doesn’t divide evenly, but solves the problem.

The glory of this book is in its use of math as a real part of the storyline.  Add to that the humor of the text and you have one of those rare math books that can be enjoyed by an audience!  Even better, the vibrant illustrations feature luscious and bulging beans and pop-eyed insects.  The entire book is friendly, fun and filled with math. 

Recommended as a read-aloud for math classes in kindergarten and first grade, this could also be used in other classes or story times because the story is so good all on its own.  Be prepared to have some items around for children to practice dividing!