Top Teen Picks of 2008

I tend to fall head over heels in love with teen novel, and I love all the ones listed below.  So here we go, the links are to my previous reviews.


Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock


Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Season of Ice by Diane Les Becquets


Peeled by Joan Bauer

Looks by Madeleine George

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

May: read no teen novels?!


Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner


Ivy by Julie Hearn

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Paper Towns by John Green


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott


Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci


Skim by Mariko Tamaki

Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne


Any lovely novels I missed?

Best Children's Books of 2008!

Continuing my retrospective of the year, these are my top picks each month for children’s chapter books and easy readers.  The links are to my previous reviews of each title.


Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis


Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor


The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd


Forever Rose by Hilary McKay

Clementine’s Letter by Sara Pennypacker

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry


Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli

Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall


Savvy by Ingrid Law

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt


Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-You Notes by Peggy Gifford

Guardian by Julius Lester

Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty


Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

What the World Eats by Faith D’Aluisio

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse


The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

November – interestingly didn’t review any books from this age group!


Where the Steps Were by Andrea Chang

Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith

The Savage by David Almond


So once again, please let me know what I missed!

Top Picture Books of 2008

I’ve decided to do a retrospective this year.  I found that I have to take it in easily digestible pieces, so here are my picks for top picture book listed by the month of the year that I reviewed them.  The links are to my original reviews.


Blue Goose by Nancy Tafuri

Previously by Allan Ahlberg


Nature’s Paintbox by Patricia Thomas

Jazzmatazz by Stephanie Calmenson


A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

Red Truck by Kersten Hamilton


My Friend the Starfinder by George Ella Lyon

Ladybug Girl by David Soman


Skunkdog by Emily Jenkins

Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola


The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray

Manfish by Jennifer Berne

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre


In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck

Beware of the Frog by William Bee

Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff


The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg

Winter Trees by Carole Gerber


The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin

Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu


Wave by Suzy Lee

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein

Dinosaur vs Bedtime by Bob Shea


Lincoln and Douglass by Nikki Giovanni


Snow by Cynthia Rylant

Peter and the Wolf by Chris Raschka


So what did I miss?  What picture books were your favorites this year?

Happy Holidays!

I’m taking the next week or so off to be with my family.  If I finish a great book, I may pop in and review it, but I am not planning to update regularly.

I’ll leave you with a super link WPClipart that has 24,000 clip art and public domain images!  But wait, head to browse the collection and then click on the fictional characters section.  Yes, over 250 images of fictional characters!  Yippee!  Lovely vintage images (like the one above) many that you will recognize and probably more that you will happily use online and on flyers and such.  Enjoy!

Too Many Toys

Too Many Toys by David Shannon

Spencer has way too many toys.  They pile up in his room, fill his sandbox and float in his bath.  Everyone gives him toys, all of his relatives, his friends, and even the restaurants his family eats at.  His parents reached a point after stepping on Legos and tripping on train tracks where something had to be done.  Spencer’s mother asks him to fill a box with toys he is willing to give up.  But it isn’t that easy.  Deals must be made and agreed to before any toys can be put in the box. 

Shannon always manages to capture perfectly the state of mind of children.  In this case, he captures the relationship of children to their toys.  His illustrations are perfection: the jumble of toys will make any child want to dive in and play forever.  I recognize the anguish of stepping on a Lego and the struggle of getting a child to relinquish a toy. 

The message here is clear.  Too many toys don’t add to the fun.  The ending is good humored and childlike.  A winner, especially around the excesses of the holidays.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.


Skim by Mariko Tamaki, drawings by Jillian Tamaki

Skim is a teen who defies easy categorization.  She’s trying to become a Wiccan, sometimes leans toward goth, is very artistic, and just may be gay.  She attends an all-girl private school where the boyfriend of one of the other students has just committed suicide.  Skim and her best friend, Lisa, begin to drift apart through a series of misunderstandings while Skim is drawn to one of her teachers.  This complex graphic novel captures perfectly the stress, depression and quest of being a teen.

This graphic novel has so many things going for it.  First and foremost is Skim as the main character.  She is a girl we see all too rarely in teen literature, a complicated and questing teen with brains.  The illustrations are equally compelling in their black and white palette.  They often take interesting perspectives on the scene they are portraying and offer further insight into the characters and story.

One of the top graphic novels of the year, this is a winner that is sure to be a hit with those who enjoy the Janes graphic novels by Cecil Castellucci.

Absolute Brightness

Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

15-year-old Phoebe lives with her mother and older sister Deirdre in a house attached to her mother’s beauty salon.  Leonard, their uncle’s stepson comes to live with them and neither of the girls is ready to give him even the slightest chance.  It doesn’t help that Leonard is unusual.  He doesn’t seem to care that his behavior may get him beat up or at the very least ignored by everyone.  He goes ahead and wears the clothing he wants to, which include platform sneakers that he made himself.  Leonard quickly makes a place for himself, catering to the ladies who come to the salon, much to Phoebe’s relief and dismay.  When Leonard disappears, he leaves behind a huge hole in everyone’s lives, Phoebe’s most of all. 

The writing here is nearly incandescent with beauty.  It is writing that makes one pause, sometimes gasp, reread and then think for awhile.  It is writing one reads aloud to another person just to hear the words spoken.  It is the writing that makes this book so exceptional and such a gem of a novel.  Here’s just one passage amongst so many that shine:

I had suddenly realized that I didn’t have the slightest idea who Travis was.  For the past month, I’d been making up a picture of Travis in my head, and in the process I had refused any information about him that came to me from the real world.  If it didn’t fit with the picture of Travis that I already had in mind, I had no use for it.  Travis Lembeck was my creation, my Frankenstein.  Even the very real business of kissing him, smelling him, being pressed up against him in the dark couldn’t disturb my fine-tuned, half-baked fantasy.  Now with the revelation that he was going to join the service, that he blew up cyberpeople and destroyed cybervillages just for fun, the Travis I’d been cherishing in my heart suddenly seemed trumped-up.  Like those life-size, cardboard cutouts of presidents and movie stars that you can stand beside and have your picture taken with so you can give everyone the impression that you hobnobbed with the genuine article.

Lecesne crafts realizations and sudden insights with such care.   The novel is filled with corners that you round just to come upon a moment like this.  It is appropriate that a novel that starts as a character study becomes a mystery and then a court drama.  As Lecesne leads us through these conventional novel settings, he continues to write a book that surprises, quite an accomplishment.  His characters are unconventional, interesting and thoroughly complex.  They act like real humans, people you would know, and the joy is that you get to experience things through their eyes. 

Highly recommended for teens ages 14-17, this novel is piercingly intelligent and will reflect your own life and choices back on you. 


Snow by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Lauren Stringer.

From the deep midnight blue endpages featuring a single snowflake drifting, you know that you are in for a special treat.  This picture book explores the various types of snow through its poetic verse and deeply colored illustrations.  There is snow that is peaceful, snow that holds promise, snow that outlines and illuminates, snow that buries and snow that is full of memories.  As a native Wisconsinite, I have seen all of these snows and loved each and every type too. 

Rylant’s verse is simple and deep, taking the time to reveal the magic of each type of snowfall, the beauty of thick and thin snow.  Stringer’s illustrations are lovely, filled with the different colors of snow from peachy warm to midnight blue to chill white.  They move from coldness to warmth and back again using deep colors.  Each of her illustrations evokes a different emotion or feeling, together they marry into a landscape of snow.

Highly recommended for anyone having a snowy day like we are.  This book’s poetry allows it to work with small children, but will also be of interest to older children for the same reason.  The verse expands the age level considerably from other picture books.  Appropriate for ages 3-9.

Mighty Max!

Mighty Max! by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Elliot Kreloff.

In his flowing red cape, Max is eager to be a super hero who saves the day.  Max’s father wants him to sit down and just be calm for a bit.  Max tries, he sits for awhile, but is always up and moving again with a new imaginary game to play.  When he and his father head to the beach, Max finds plenty of ways to be Mighty Max and help out at the same time.  But, he is still moving fast and imagining big.

The fast pace of this book perfectly captures the race and movement of a small boy with a big imagination.  His inability to sit still is seen as something wonderful though sometimes exasperating.  I love the pairing of a fast-paced child and imagination, because I think that is something that is often overlooked.  I have a child who moves when speaking, runs when thinking, and races when pretending.  I see him in Max and Max in him so clearly. 

Kreloff’s illustrations further the connection between the book and children with their child-like think crayon lines.  They are also stylish at the same time, creating a book that is accessible for children but doesn’t lose itself to childishness.

Highly recommended as a readaloud for preschool groups, this is also a great book to read with your own fast-paced child.  Humorous, fun and buoyant, this book will fly off the shelf even without its red cape.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.