Our best children’s and YA books for 2019November 25th, 2019 By Services to Schools staff
Working in a library full of children's and young adult (YA) literature brings the unique pleasure of seeing the regular arrival of new books. Artfully designed covers all competing to lure young readers while their contents reflecting the stories, issues, themes, and topics of their time. As children's book expert and historian Leonard Marcus said in an article for 'The Atlantic':
They are the message-in-a-bottle that each generation tosses out to the next generation... the record of one generation's hopes and dreams for the next.
Here are some great children and YA books and reads that National Library Services to Schools' staff have selected as standouts from the last year or so.
Note: Stars next to book titles in the list below indicate books selected by more than one staff member.
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2019) — A sumptuously designed picture book with vibrant colour, collage, and font to accompany Kwame Alexander’s poem about the experience of reading. He uses a metaphor of opening a clementine, which leads to a rewarding, inviting read that engages all the senses and describes the experience of diving into the book world and all its layers. Great for all levels to add to the range of picture books about books and the joy of reading.
Oh No! Look What the Cat Dragged In by Joy H. Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (2018) — Delightful for anyone who knows just what can appear in the house after your cat has been out for the night. Children go to visit Grandma, and each morning the cat has brought in something new. Has rhyming language and a repeating phrase that children will join in with.
The Good Egg by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald (2019) * — 'The Good Egg' is cute, funny, and wise and has a great message for ‘A-types’ young and old. The illustrations by Pete Oswald are brilliant and readers aged 7+ will get the jokes. You may also like John's previous book, The Bad Seed.
There’s a Hedgehog in My Pants! by Amy Harrop, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird (2019) — What’s not to love about a book with a warning sticker on the front: 'This book contains multiple words for "bottom"'. A funny book in rhyme about how a boy tries to get a hedgehog out of his pants, which ends with a message of kindness and sharing.
You’re Not a Proper Pirate Sidney Green by Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Deborah Allwright (2019) — This is a story that reminds us all, adults and children alike, about the importance of making time to play and the power of using your imagination. With witty text and dynamic illustrations featuring pirates, ships, diggers and dinosaurs, car races and alien chases, this is a guaranteed rip-roaring time.
Hazel and the Snails by Nan Blanchard, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (2019) — A tender and unusual story about a family faced with a terminal illness. Six-year-old Hazel looks after her collection of snails and copes with life’s day-to-day ups and downs while her father’s health fails. Unfolds slowly and gently. Don’t forget to flick the pages to watch the snail move.
Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan (2019) * — 12-year-old Lizard scrapes out a living in 1940’s Singapore. Ordered to steal a teak box holding a mysterious and highly sought-after after object, Lizard finds himself pursued by Japanese spies, British spies, and a determined redhead. Engaging characters, rollicking action, and wry observations — lots of fun for tween readers.
The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell (2019) * — Plucky young heroine, Vita Marlowe, devises a plan to take back her beloved grandfather’s home from a lowdown, thieving con man. She ropes in three unusual kids from the streets of New York, each with a unique talent to help execute her plan. 'The Good Thieves' has all the right ingredients to captivate primary and intermediate readers.
She Wolf by Dan Smith (2019) * — A well-paced and thoroughly immersive, younger teen fiction read, with an unusual setting of 866 in northern England. Ylva is a Viking, washed ashore, abandoned, and newly orphaned in a new land. We enjoyed (and was frustrated by) Ylva’s stubbornness, but she is strong-willed, unexpected, and resilient. Action-filled, but brace yourself for some of the vividly described, violent scenes as the mystery about her background unfolds.
Sophisticated picture books
I Go Quiet by David Ouimet (October 2019) — Stunning sophisticated picture book. Small, lonely girl, out of step with the world finds refuge in books, which also give her the power to find her voice and place in the world.
Young adult fiction (YA)
I Am Thunder and I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan (2018) * — Muzna is a 15-year-old Muslim teenager living in London. She has dreams of becoming a writer but her strict parents want her to become a doctor and marry a cousin from Pakistan. When Muzna befriends school 'hottie' Arif and his older brother Jameel, she becomes entangled in radical Islam and a plot involving The Shard in London.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) — A nervously awaited release from Angie Thomas following on from the brilliant The Hate U Give (THUG). 'On the Come Up' is set in the same neighbourhood, and expertly explores many of the same issues — social injustice, gang violence, systemic racism, finding and using your voice — this time with Brianna, a rising hip-hop star. It’s sometimes hard to handle music as a theme or plot arc but Brianna’s character and voice leap off the page — angry, determined, sometimes rude and resentful. The rap battles are great, as are Bri’s clever responses and songs. Read it and introduce it to all teens.
The Boy Who Steals Cars and the Girl Who Stole His Heart by C.G. Drews (2019) — Two brothers on the wrong side of the law break into empty houses to have somewhere to sleep. Sam finds a house but the owners come home. Their response to finding him there is not what he thinks it would be and he finds out what family is. Complicated and action-packed, this is a moving, beautiful story.
Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh (2019) * — A graphic memoir illustrated and written by Selina that celebrates being different.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi by Toby Morris (2019) * — Bilingual graphic novel style book about the Treaty and the issues surrounding it, told in an easy to understand and relatable way.
Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books by Clare Pollard (2019) — There is magic in discovering the 'story behind the story' — the context of the author's or illustrator's life and times, and how that has inspired or influenced their creative works. This book takes us on a fascinating, surprising, entertaining journey through picture books over time, from Peter Rabbit to The Gruffalo, with plenty of background detail, personal response from the author, and many resonances of shared favourites.
Project Collage by Bev Speight (2019) — If you’re looking for summer hands-on projects, this beautifully designed book for teens and above has 50 ideas for contemporary collage using a variety of everyday materials.