Top 2012 Teen Reads to Wake Your Brain Cells

What an amazing year for teen literature!  We had books that explored fantasy and science fiction in new ways and others that caught the heart of reality.  I managed to narrow my favorites down to twenty that are below with links to my full reviews:

ask the passengers bitterblue brides of rollrock island

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King – A striking read about a teen questioning her sexuality that beams with love and acceptance.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – This sequel to Graceling takes place 8 years later and took Cashore 4 years to write.  The result is a beautifully conceived world and a heroine who is a complicated survivor of abuse.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan – The selkie legend retold in a series of short stories that come together into one glorious novel.

children and the wolves code name verity difference between you and me

The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp – Stunning, violent, vile and filled with heart wrenching beauty of its own unique sort, this book is one that you can’t turn away from, though you may want to.  Amazing.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Two incredible British teen girls become involved in fighting the Gestapo during World War II.  This is a achingly beautiful and brave read.

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George – The tension between principles and love comes to a head in this book that explores lesbian teens and internal contradictions.  It’s a complex book that calls people to action and is populated with intriguing characters.

drowned cities dying to know you FINAL every day

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi – This second book in the Ship Breaker series takes us to new characters who are just as amazing as those in the first book.  Filled with action and violence, Bacigalupi offers us the tragedy of war and child soldiers set against a decaying world.

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers – The friendship between a teen and an older man is at the heart of this novel that is quietly powerful.

Every Day by David Levithan – A wakes up as a different person each day, quickly leaving each life behind, until he meets Rhiannon a girl he can’t leave behind.  Bold, vibrant and unforgettable, this book explores issues of race, sex and individuality.

false prince fault in our stars girl with borrowed wings

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen – Conner is an orphan boy chosen to compete for the right to pretend to be the lost prince.  Filled with twists, violence and lies, this book is a riveting read perfect for tweens and young teens.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – As an unabashed Green fan, I was thrilled when he came out with a new book.  Then I was entranced and amazed as I read the story of Hazel, a girl with terminal cancer, and Augustus, a cancer survivor.  There is reason for the buzz on this one.  Simply incredible.

The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti – Frenenqer is the perfect teen girl, kept closeted away from the world, until a boy who can shapeshift and fly enters her window.  Lush, beautiful and exotic, this is a love story that features a unique and complex heroine.

girls-of-no-return grave mercy lies knives and girls in red dresses

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin – Horrible truths are hinted at and the tension becomes almost unbearable in this slow-building thriller set in the wilderness of northern Idaho.

Grave Mercy by R. L. LeFevers – Ismae escaped into the convent of St. Mortain where she is trained to be an assassin.  Sent to the court of Brittany, she is quickly caught up in its politics and passions but must continue to kill as instructed.  This is a luminous gem of a book with a sequel coming in 2013.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge – Subversive poems just for teens that show what happens after “Happily ever after.”  Dark chocolate stories that surprise and delight.  Bet you can’t read just one.

obsidian blade seraphina shadow_bone_sketch_both3

The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman – A triumph of a book, this is the first in a new series by veteran Hautman.  Beautifully written, it’s an intoxicating blend of technology, time travel and religion.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is hiding a secret that she can tell no one.  It’s marked into her skin: dragon scales.  Complex world building, an organic love story, and dragons make this an amazing fantasy.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – This debut novel will amaze with its original fantasy concept where a young woman discovers her own unique powers but not before someone else does first.

small damages son

Small Damages by Beth Kephart – A pregnant teen is sent to Spain to keep her pregnancy secret.  Staying with a friend of her mother, Kenzie slowly comes to realize that she has choices.  This novel is a celebration of Spain and extended families.

Son by Lois Lowry – The final book in The Giver series, this book ties the various threads from all of the books in the series into one glorious ending.  It will leave you satisfied but also surprised.

Top 2012 Picture Books to Wake Your Brain Cells

Picture books are some of my favorite reads in any year.  This year I’ve picked my favorite fifteen that I think are simply amazing.  Here are my favorites with links to my full reviews:

and then its spring baby bear sees blue bear has a story to tell

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead – Enchanting and memorable, this is a timeless and effortlessly lovely look at spring and gardens. 

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff – Lush and rich, this picture book has amazing illustrations that celebrate the colors of nature.

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead – OK, I admit that my passion for the work of both of the Steads is definitely showing in this list.  You will see another further down on the list as well.  This is a hauntingly lovely look at seasons, friendships and the power of story.  Gorgeous!

chloe and the lion each kindness extra-yarn-cover

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex – Pure silly fun, this book is a delight to share with children or to read giggling all on your own.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, E. B. Lewis – Pair the power of Woodson’s writing with the realistic and amazing art of Lewis and you can’t help but have a winning read.  Add the timely subject of bullying with a fantastic ending and you have one of my best of the year.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Another personal bias is for Mac Barnett’s writing.  He manages to be riotously funny at times and then magical at others.  This is his magical form in a story about unending yarn.  Combined with the art of Klassen and his beautiful take on yarn, makes it one amazingly fresh read.

green home for bird house held up by trees

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger – As I said on my review, this one can just be reviewed as WOW.  Simply WOW.  Surprises, colors, new perspectives, and amazing illustrations, this is a real contender for the Caldecott.

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead – Finding ones home, friendship and a grand quest fill this picture book to the brim and combine wonderfully with the charm of the illustrations.   The last of the Steads on the list.

House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Klassen’s art is so amazingly diverse from one picture book to the next.  Here he uses a real delicacy that works beautifully with Kooser’s poem.  This is a deep, courageous read about nature and families.

jimmy the greatest lesters dreadful sweaters oh no

Jimmy the Greatest by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng – A warm beautiful book about the hero who stays to make a difference. 

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K. G. Campbell – The horror of truly awful knitting is unraveled in this book that is unwaveringly silly and funny. 

Oh No! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann – Bravo!  A virtuoso performance by two masters of the picture book craft. 

step gently out town mouse and country mouse

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder – Frost’s poem celebrates slowing down and looking closely and is perfectly accompanied by amazing photographs by Lieder.  Worth lingering over.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward – Sumptuous illustrations combined with simple writing make this a version of the fable that is worthy of celebration.


Unspoken by Henry Cole – This is a profound book that speaks to the importance of personal courage and the difference a person can make.  Wordless, the illustrations soar.

Top 2012 Children’s Poetry to Wake Your Brain Cells

Unfortunately, I didn’t read a lot of children’s poetry this year.  Not sure how that happened, but it’s something that I want to remedy in 2013.  At any rate, here are the top five poetry books that I loved this year with links to my full reviews:

i too am america 

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes – Hughe’s gorgeous poem is married with the story of the African-American Pullman porters in Bryan Collier’s extraordinary illustrations.

Last Laughs by J. Patrick Lewis – Dark and fiercely funny about dead animals, perfect for Halloween but worthy of reading all year round.

north outside your window

North: the Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson – A striking mix of poetry, art and science tells the story of this unique ecosystem.

Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies – Explore nature through the seasons in this vibrant book of poetry illustrated with collage art that speaks to the beauty of nature.

strange place to call home

A Strange Place to Call Home by Marilyn Singer – Another wonderful combination of poetry, science and art, this book explores habitats that are dangerous and unusual.