Here are my favorite reads of 2014 for children in elementary grades. Perhaps they reveal a bit too much about my quirky personality!
More great reads for elementary kids will be part of my Graphic Novel and Nonfiction lists, coming soon.
Aviary Wonders, Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth
The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke
Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Toben Kuhlmann
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz
The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
These are only selected from the books I managed to read this year, so please share other favorites of your own in the comments!
The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
Sedgwick once again takes readers on a unique journey, this time all bound together by spirals both symbolically and tangibly. Told in four sections, which Sedgwick explains can be read in any order, the book begins in Paleolithic time with a young girl who has become a woman but not yet borne children being selected to travel to the special caves where someone more important with do the painting on the cave walls. She is meant solely to climb the walls burdened with his supplies. But the story twists and turns away from what is expected into a different story entirely. The second tale is of the witch hunts in England, where another girl is trying to survive after her mother’s death. Her mother was the cunning woman of the village, caring for the health of everyone. And the girl has caught the eye of the landowner’s son, but things are not that simple and when a new religious leader comes to town, the girl finds herself at the sharp end of his attention. The third tale brings readers into the world of a 1920s asylum for the mentally ill where a poet who is incarcerated there is obsessed with spirals and draws a young doctor into his world. The final story is set in the future, aboard a spaceship where only one person wakes at a time, keeping the ship maintained as it heads on its lengthy journey that will save the human race. Then things start going wrong. Four stories, each spiraled with one another into a whole novel that is dark, deep and incredibly engaging.
Each of these stories stands on its own merit, each one more dazzling than the next. Yet as a whole it is where they are truly powerful, tied together with spirals of time, spirals of power, the spiral of humanity too. Sedgwick excels at creating tension in each of these stories, each building ever so cleverly and enticingly towards an ending that readers long to arrive and yet dread. Sometimes you know where they are headed, others you have no idea, and in each there are connections to the others, echoes from one story to the next through time and space.
This is a book that requires strong teen readers. Some of the stories are less about teens than about adults, yet it is the stories of those teen girls that echo through time, tying the stories into one novel. It is a book that will be welcomed in high school classrooms, one that insists on discussion, one that will resonate with certain readers who see the world as one enormous spiral too.
Exquisite writing, beautifully plotted and filled with powerful tension, this novel for teens is a great way to start a new year. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Roaring Brook Press and Netgalley.
How to Grow a Friend by Sara Gillingham
Growing a friend is a lot like growing a flower as this picture book proves. Just like flowers, friends need a seed and good soil. You need space to bloom. You need to be patient. Sometimes your friend will bug you, but chase the bugs away together. Don’t let your friend get stuck in the weeds. Grow a whole garden of friends and know that there is always room for one more friend. Along the way, the analogy of gardening strengthens the ties of the friendship, making this a very tight and strong picture book that shows that hard work, patience and time make for a great friendship.
Gillingham writes in a very earnest and straight forward tone here. This is not a subtle analogy, but one that is presented straight to the reader. The text of the book speaks about friendship while the illustrations show mostly the gardening aspect though at times it too is all about the human connection. Young readers are shown clearly that friendship takes work and time.
Gillingham’s bright illustrations add greatly to the appeal of the book. With an organic feel thanks to the texture of the prints, the illustrations have strong shapes, bright colors, and lots of patterns yet never get too busy or fussy. They have a jaunty and frolicking feel to them that is very cheery.
Perfect for gardening and friendship story times, this picture book will have us thinking spring early this year. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.