31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 30 – Wonderful 2016 Children’s Novels
No excuses! These are just the books that I read in 2016 that I thought knocked it out of the park. These aren’t the “best of the year”. These are just the books that were particularly good and that somehow crossed my radar. I read a lot more than what you’ll see here, but I loved these the best. For your consideration:
Wonderful 2016 Children’s Novels
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet
My dark horse Newbery front runner. I found it because Roger Sutton mentioned it off-handedly on his podcast, but it was Monica Edinger’s Horn Book review that got the most attention from the folks at Heavy Medal. It’s just the most delightful little Cold War, East Germany, book you could name. I’m gaga over it. If your kids read it, they will be too.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
Again with the book recommendations from Monica! This time a couple years ago, when she found the English edition of this book. It came out this year with surprisingly little fanfare, but I just adored it. The question is whether or not kids unfamiliar with the works of E. Nesbit will get anything out of it. The eternal optimist, I vote yes! I mean, it’s about a tyrant finding its (his) soul. There’s something to that.
Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
Funny that I never reviewed this one, but with Jenni Holm you sort of don’t have to. The woman’s masterful. To read her book is to marvel at how seemingly effortlessly she pulls various elements together. I will say that though this book is a prequel, you will not need to have read its predecessor to get anything out of it. It is, in a nutshell, sort of perfect.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
To ask anyone to craft a wholly original fantasy novel for kids is just setting that person up for a fall. If Mafi succeeds in any way here it is in her writing rather than her ideas. Not that her ideas aren’t interesting. They are, but it’s the characters, their interactions, and their personalities that sold it for me. It is infinitely readable and a lot of fun to boot. I like fun. I liked this book. I don’t hold it against it that it’s a New York Times bestseller either.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Years ago (three?) I said this Jason Reynolds guy was gonna be a star. I had a chance to hear him speak for the NYPL librarians after the publication of his first solo YA novel. In 2016 he started publishing middle grade in earnest and if he doesn’t win any major awards this year it’s simply a matter of time before he does in the future. I don’t know if Ghost is gonna take home a Newbery in any way, shape, or form. I just know that it was incredibly fun to read. One of my favorites of the year.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
It’s anyone’s guess as to why it took me 8 months or so to finally pick this book up. When I saw Kelly speak at BookExpo here in Chicago this year I knew she was on to something. But to be perfectly frank, I’ve loved her work since she wrote The Mostly True Story of Jack (a book that I would contend still doesn’t get the attention and respect it deserves). I liked this one a lot. It’s a thick one, no question, but it also compelled me skip ahead a little just so that I could make sure that the villain wouldn’t win. There’s only one other book on this list this year that made me do that. I’ll let you guess what it was.
The Inn Between by Marina Cohen
I include this book not because it’s some deep, insightful, heavily meaningful book fraught with consequence and award-worthy pain. No, this is just the kind of book I would have LOVED as a kid. I was the one who checked out all the Apple paperbacks that involved ghosts from my Scholastic Book Fair orders. So, naturally, this would have appealed. I mean, the back flap copy calls it “The Shining meets Hotel California” and that ain’t wrong. You’d never know it from the cutesy cover, though, would you? Someone needs a cover do-over.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
It doesn’t need my help. It never needed my help. But it’s wonderful and winning. Smarter than almost every other book on here by half. Gutsy. Challenging. And I can’t wait for the movie. I call dibs on Tom Hiddleston to play the King of France.
Poor little book. You were the first novel I read in 2016 and I came dangerously close to forgetting you here today. I liked this one very much, going so far as to say in my review that it was similar in tone to The Princess Bride. It actually makes a rather good pairing with THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, come to think of it. If you’ve a kid looking for light, frothy fantasy, this is the one to pick up.
Makoons by Louise Erdrich
Does anyone ever point out how funny these books are? Yes, we all know Louise Erdrich to be a master writer, but she’s also incredibly hilarious when she wants to be. The latest book in the Birchbark House series did not disappoint and even gave us a few new characters. My favorite is the character done in by vanity, brought low, and ultimately redeemed. I’m a sucker for that kind of tale.
The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow
If you could have any superpower, would you choose the normal one or the weird one? If you chose the weird one then this book is for you. I think we’ve seen the outcasts-with-superpowers motif a lot (Spiderman, arguably, was one of the first) but I like Ignatow’s style so much that this is one of my current favs. How much do I love it? I actually bought a copy for my niece and I almost never ever buy books. What can I say? It was just that good.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Not usually my kind of book but I liked Anderson’s Sidekicked years ago and figured that in spite of the description it might work for me. And it did! Granted, there’s more than a touch of Dead Poet’s Society to it, but all I cared was that it had an honest ending. An honest earned ending. This title doesn’t pander and I appreciate that. Worth discovering.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Can you believe this book came out in 2016? I feel as if we’ve been talking about it for two years. It’s still one of the strongest of the year, no matter what anybody says. When I was a child, I had a thing for foxes. Clearly I missed my era. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid reading this title, you have time to get your hands on it before award season. Do that thing.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
While I would repeat that this book would be Because of Winn-Dixie if you dipped that book in a vat of sadness, that doesn’t mean it isn’t remarkable. I found it breathtakingly sad, but also smart. I didn’t care two bits for the main character (she’s remarkably forgettable) but the other characters just popped off the page. Quite a book.
Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino
Poor action/adventure fans. What do I even have for you here today? Well, I have a fantasy novel coming from one of the co-creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, and that ain’t peanuts. Though it does come across as a slightly less scholarly His Dark Materials, I enjoyed the premise of Rebel Genius (a great title, if ever there was one). The big bad villain never makes an appearance but plenty of other baddies do. It’s compelling to its core.
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
I just finished reading my daughter Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and wanted to just skip directly to this one, but Starry River of the Sky is next on our list and we shall not go out of order. Of the three books in the series, this is by far my favorite, and you certainly don’t have to have read the other books to enjoy it. Lin gets better and better with every book she writes. Annoying for her fellow authors, I’m sure, but great for the rest of us!
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
This marked Peter Brown’s debut as a novelist. Doesn’t seem quite fair that he should be able to write AND draw. Leave a little talent for the rest of us, won’t you, Peter? In any case, I’m all about the strong female heroines. So often in robot books the de facto pronoun is “he”. Brown made it “she” and it works for her. Better still, it works for us.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Remember earlier when I mentioned that there was one other book on this list that made me so tense I had to skip to the back to know precisely who would live, who would die, and what would become of the villain? Because the villain in this book does meet a terrible fate, but even so remains a cussed little wretch to the end. She is, without a doubt, the best villain I’ve encountered in a children’s book in years. A true blue psychopath. Best you know now.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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