Regrets, I’ve had a few: five books I wish I had read in 2018

You may think that if a person reads and reviews a book every day for a year, that person would feel like there was nothing left to read by the end of the year.  This is sadly untrue, and as year-end lists appear, I find myself wishing I had had the time and inclination to read a few more books.  This will be my final 2018 wrap-up before I take a few weeks of vacation.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Published by Candlewick

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Look at that shiny new National Book Award Finalist sticker on the cover.  Candlewick even sent me a free copy, but every time I opened it and saw all those detailed black-and-white illustrations, I thought, “I just can’t”.  Not my cup of tea, but many others loved it.


Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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I have to force myself to read fantasy, and usually leave it for vacation weeks.  This came out the end of September, so I never got to it.  It had multiple starred reviews, and I loved Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, so I’m sorry I missed this one.


The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom book 1) by Sayantani Dasgupta

Published by Scholastic

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I never saw this until it appeared on School Library Journal‘s best books list.  It like good fun for fans of Rick Riordan or Aru Shah and the End of Time, which also features Indian mythology.  Book 2 will be out at the end of February.


Apple in the Middle by Dawn Quigley

Published by North Dakota State University Press

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I actually checked this out of the library a few weeks ago, but it was close to the end of the year, and it looked a little YA for my blog.  Still, a middle grade novel with a contemporary Native American protagonist is a rarity, and I wish I had gotten around to it.


Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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As someone who imagines purgatory as a place where I would be forced to spend eternity reading Faulkner novels and The Secret Life of Bees, I tend to shy away from books with quirky Southern settings.  But I enjoy a good coming-of-age novel as much as anyone (maybe more than most), so I should probably have pushed past my prejudices to give this a try.

Five middle grade favorites

This didn’t make my list of Newbery contenders, but here are five middle grade novels I enjoyed this year:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Everyone loves a good scary story, and this one has plenty of creepy details, plus three interesting main characters who have to fight off the evil forces.  Prepare to never look at scarecrows the same way again.


Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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I thought this might be a Newbery contender, but I haven’t seen it on anybody else’s list.  Although this seems like a “coming out” story (and it is…Ivy is attracted to a girl in her class), it’s also a story for everyone who has struggled to be themselves.


Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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This World War II novel in verse will appeal to fans of I Survived as well as history buffs.  Based on a true story, with obvious attention to detail and research.


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Amal’s story is powerful, and a good one to share with American kids who may not be aware of the dangers she and other kids like her face in Pakistan.


The Nebula Secret (Explorer Academy) by Trudi Trueit

Published by National Geographic

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This series has gotten off to a promising start with this action-packed adventure that introduces some interesting characters, a mysterious murder to investigate, and an evil librarian.

Five favorite nonfiction books

It’s hard to narrow the list down to five; I love nonfiction, and there were a lot of good books to choose from in 2018.

They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts by Carlyn Beccia

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I think it was the story of Elvis’s wart that really won me over.  I’ll say this: it’s an easy book to book talk.


Saving Fiona: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hippo by Thane Maynard

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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The story is engaging, the photos are adorable, and readers can research hippos while learning about real scientists working in the field…what’s not to like?


Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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I loved this memoir by Ibtihaj Muhammad, who became the first Muslim American woman to compete in the Olympics wearing hijab, and who continues to pursue her dreams on her own terms.


The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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This gorgeously illustrated biography shines a light on Maria Merian, a 17th-century German woman who defied the expectations of her time and became a scientist and artist.  It’s not the easiest book to sell to kids, but I loved the story and the artwork.


Every Month Is a New Year by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Published by Lee and Low Books

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Designed like a calendar, this book can be used for poetry, geography, or teaching about different cultures, and the collage illustrations add plenty of color and texture.



Five fun read-alouds

“Fun” is one of my main requirements for read-alouds.  Here’s my final picture book roundup for 2018, a list that I will definitely draw from when reading to kids in 2019.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder

Published by The Minnesota Historical Society Press

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I was delighted to find a few books this year about contemporary Native Americans, and this was one of my favorites.  I love the illustrations of the dogs at the powwow.


Potato Pants by Laurie Keller

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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This book pretty much defines fun.


Dude! word by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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I’ve already tested this out, and it is, indeed, fun to read aloud.  Divide kids into two groups; one can read the part of the beaver and the other, the platypus.  There’s only one word, so it’s all about the delivery.


The Hen Who Sailed Around the World by Guirec Soudee

Published by Little, Brown

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The story of Guirec’s travels with his intrepid hen Monique is both an adventurous travelogue and a quirky, funny, and very French story of a chicken.


Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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When Teddy’s mom accidentally throws out his favorite toy, she uses her superpowers to undo her mistake.  Gender stereotypes are turned on their heads throughout.

Five favorite picture books with a Kleenex rating for each

Nothing like getting to the last page of a book in front of a bunch of 8-year-olds and find yourself with tears streaming down your face.  If this is something you enjoy, try some of these, listed in order of the number of Kleenexes you will need:

Be A King by Carole Boston Weatherford

Published by Bloomsbury

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I loved this book so much that I wanted to put it on a year-end list.  It connects Martin Luther King Jr.’s life to kids today in a way that I find inspiring.  However, the emotion is more stirring than sad, so I give this a 0 Kleenex rating.


Night Job by Karen Hesse

Published by Candlewick

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A father and son work together through the night to clean the school.  The father’s love and devotion to his son shine through, resulting in a 1 Kleenex rating.


I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet

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A touching wordless picture book about a girl who stands up to a bully and inspires the rest of the school to join her.  Not sad at all, but the sight of all those kids joining forces to show kindness to the new girl leads me to give this a 1 Kleenex rating.


The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Published by Greenwillow Books

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When Evan loses his dog, he must find a way to work through his grief before he is ready to love again.  Even with the happy ending, it’s a 2 Kleenex read.


Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Krensky and Patrick Downes

Published by Candlewick

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Is it just because I’m from Massachusetts that this book by two Boston Marathon bombing survivors gets me every time?  I still can’t read the last page without choking up, so I must give this the highest 3 Kleenex rating.


Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be wildly popular at all levels.  Here are five of my favorites–something for everyone, starting in elementary school and going through high school.

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Already a National Book Award Finalist, there may be another sticker or two on the cover by the end of January.  Jarret Krosoczka doesn’t spare too many details about his difficult childhood; how he overcame those difficulties to become the beloved author of the Lunch Lady books and others makes compelling reading for teens and adults.


All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux

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Bina’s struggles over the summer between seventh and eighth grade make fun and inspiriring reading for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.


Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Published by Graphix

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A Google search of Aron Nels Steinke reveals that he is a second and third grade teacher by day and graphic artist by night.  Ha!  I should have guessed by how firmly he has his finger on the pulse of both elementary school students and teachers.  Looking forward to the February 2019 sequel about Mr. Wolf’s class.


New Shoes by Sara Varon

Published by First Second

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Francis the Donkey was one of my favorite characters this year, a master craftsman who had to leave his well-established routine to go off in search of a lost friend.  The story is targeted toward younger elementary readers, but Sara Varon treats them with respect and isn’t afraid to use a big vocabulary.


The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

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Fashion, fairy tales, and feminism come together in this “be yourself” story of Frances, a dressmaker who gets hired to design clothes for Prince Sebastian and his alter ego Lady Crystallia.

Five favorite early chapter books

Some of the books on this list are borderline early chapter/middle grade.  I have several third grade book clubs at my school, and I either have used or planned to use these books with those groups.  I would say they are good choices for enthusiastic readers in grades 2-4.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Published by Joanna Cotler Books

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Louie and Nora save Winslow the donkey, and deal with their own grief in the process. This book packs an emotional wallop in 176 pages with big font and a fair amount of white space.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win a few awards.


Survivor Diaries series by Terry Lynn Johnson

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Fans of the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis will enjoy these contemporary survival stories of kids who have to stay alive in the snow, the ocean, the rain forest, and a dust storm.


Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream series by Hena Khan

Published by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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The dream Zayd is chasing is to be the first Pakistani-American player in the NBA.  His family is supportive, but doesn’t always understand why basketball is so important to him.  At 144 pages each, the first three books in this series are perfect for sports fans and will also broaden the horizons of readers who may not be familiar with the immigrant experience.


Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

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At 240 pages, this is the longest book on the list, but the characters and illustrations make it a good choice for third or fourth graders to read to themselves, or for younger kids to enjoy as a read-aloud.  Alix’s week at the beach with her family makes a satisfying summer read.


Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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A year in the life of Flora, a quiet, introspective fourth-grader growing up in Rosewood, Indiana in 1972.  There’s not a lot of action, but plenty for kids to connect to as Flora deals with a multitude of changes and learns to draw on her own strength.