Kirkus has announced their list of the Best Children’s Books of 2013. Lots of favorites here! Others that I have to get around to yet! I love the feeling of seeing books I love on these lists mixed with the potential for new favorites in the ones I haven’t read yet.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Things have been a lot worse for Eel in the past, he now has a place off of the streets where he can sleep safely and he only goes to the River Thames to dig for things to sell to make ends meet. He has serious responsibilities that he keeps entirely private. It helps that he faked his own death to get Fisheye Bill Tyler off of his trail. But Eel still keeps his street smarts and listens, so he knows that Fisheye is back after him. Then in the summer of 1854, his entire world turns upside down and the Great Trouble begins as the Blue Death of cholera comes right into his neighborhood in London. Everyone knows that it is spread through the air, but one doctor, that Eel does small chores for, thinks differently. Now it is up to Eel to help the doctor prove that it is the water that carries the disease before hundreds more die.
Celebrating the visionary Dr. John Snow on the 200th anniversary of his birth, this book successfully mixes historical fact with historical fiction resulting in a dynamic book with engaging characters. At the outset of the book, Hopkinson takes care to make sure that readers understand what living in poverty and parentless was like in Victorian England. She shows the filth, the danger, the loneliness and the skill that it took to survive.
Eel is a wonderful protagonist. He is incredibly smart, driven to help those he cares for, and a mixture of brave and desperate, something that keeps him at the center of this medical mystery. Hopkinson does a great job of keeping all of her characters true to the time period, offering no modern sensibilities into the equation, but presenting it just as it would have been.
This is a dark and thrilling novel that will not let you escape until the epidemic is over and the mystery solved. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Gran Gran has given Alex a very saccharine sweet birthday book filled with bunnies as a gift. But Alex is clearly not a fan of the original book since he takes his pencil and makes lots of changes so that it’s a book that he wants to read. Birthday Bunny is turned into Battle Bunny, complete with helmet, utility belt and walkie talkie. His goal is to unleash his evil plan on the forest and the world that only a boy named Alex can prevent. Expect danger, cut-down trees, epic battles and much more as Alex tries to defeat the evil that is Battle Bunny!
Told and drawn in layers, this book is something very special. First you have the rather sickly sweet story underneath that celebrates Birthday Bunny’s birthday with lots of dancing and balloons. It’s silly, friendly and pure sugar. Over the top of that comes the brilliance of the writing of Scieszka and Barnett who manage by changing a few words in every sentence to make an entirely different story. Most sentences just have a few words changed, but others towards the end are more edited to really let the story flow. It works so well that one can forget the words underneath until you eye snags on one and you just have to read a bit of the silly story that has been edited.
Myers’ art is equally successful. He takes a dance scene and deftly turns it into an epic battle but one where you can still see the dancing underneath. On some pages little comics are added in the white space so that more story can be told. The cutesy nature of the underlying story is captured in his illustrations and one can feel the glee with which he reworked them just as a little boy would.
These three gifted book creators truly channeled their inner children to create this book. It is funny, smart and immensely creative. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.