Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favourite Books of 2016

It has been quite a year! So, the books published for young people have been in the position of having an enormous impact on their lives. They help make sense of things, and give voice to the issues that they are dealing with, while the world goes on turning and the adult world goes on doing whatever it does. This year, the books published have been outstanding at doing just that, and with providing the outlet for the imagination. Here are a few of my favourites of 2016.
I'll get stuck right in and shout loudly that my book of the year choice for young people has to be GOLD by Geraldine Mills.This is a classic adventure story set in a future landscape scarred by volcanic ash and tightly controlled by the official bodies governing it. Two young boys show great courage, imagination and integrity by building a glider styled after Leonardo DaVinci's instructions and sail away to a forbidden sector. It contains elements of nearly every issue we ponder in these times; governmental control and corruption, education, environmental calamity in a way that never beleaguers the core story. Written with beautiful use of language, story-telling, mythology, world-building, family relations and a boldness that all alludes to the great childrens classics, it is the full package. This is one everybody will enjoy and savour.


There have been a number of books published this year (and at the end of the last) that take the lives of foxes and their interaction/collision with the human world as their theme. This is not surprising when you look at the environmental concerns spreading out over our lives in general. Foxes stand out as the one animal that (seem to) most readily adapt to the urban world we have made. Also, they reflect the human condition, how we live, perhaps by their readiness to infiltrate human society. The most beautiful of these new 'fox' books is PAX by Sara Pennypacker. A simple story of a boy and the fox he has raised since it was a cub, and now has to abandon due to war, PAX speaks gently, yet with much impact, of loyalty, bravery and growing up. Physically, this is a beautiful book, with exquisite illustrations by Jon Klassen. Also holding the fox theme, it was a great pleasure to see the reissue of RUN WITH THE WIND by Tom McCaughren, before the release of the new title in this classic series, RUN FOR THE HILLS, in October. It is so gratifying  to see the Glensinna foxes and return to their lives once again.  MAYBE A FOX by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee tells an exquisite and poignant story of family, friendship, love, grief and acceptance that will stick with you. At the time her sister, Sylvie disappears, Jules encounters a young fox cub that seems extremely familiar. This is really beautiful, but do expect a few tears...totally worth it.Let me also not forget THE FOX AND THE STAR by Coralie Bickford-Smith, released in paper this October; a wonderful, artistically designed picture book that is moving and eloquent, both in its' illustrations and its' simple storyline. Magic of the most warm and wonderful kind.

Time-travel and science-fiction has been a recurring them in childrens literature this year. THE MANY WORLDS OF ALBIE BRIGHT by Christopher Edge sees young Albie concocting a time/dimensional traveling machine out of his mothers' computer, a cardboard box and a rotting banana to find a world where his mother may still be alive. But traveling through alternate dimensions is not quite as straight-forward as it may seem. Humourous, lively and filled with curiosity, this is a wonderful read. Likewise, TIME-TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford sees Al Chaudhury receiving a letter from his deceased father on his 12th birthday. His dad instructs him on how to build a time-machine in order to go back in time and save his life. Hilarious antics and a moving story open up the possibility that perhaps, if we are careful, we may just be able to change past events for the better. In PERIJEE AND ME by Ross Montgomery, a young and lonely girl finds a shrimp-like alien baby on the shore after a storm. Caitlin takes it home and begins to look after it as though it were her little brother. The problem is, Perijee eats a lot...of everything. And his rapid growth soon causes enormous fall-out and fear, with the only person who can save both him and, apparently the planet (quite by accident, mind) is Caitlin. A tale of friendship, loneliness and being where you belong.
How about some fantasy? We all need some fantasy. COGHEART by Peter Bunzl is a brilliant classic-style, steam-punk adventure! 13-year-old Lily has by sent to a finishing school, mostly for her own protection. But she dreams of a life as a sky-pirate. Her dreams become reality in a most unexpected way, as she is held prisoner by her governess, dodges clock-work bad guys, arson attempts on her life and sets sail in an airship to discover the truth about her father...with unexpected results. THE UNCOMMONERS: THE CROOKED SIXPENCE by Jennifer Bell takes us on an incredible adventure to a world just beneath our own, where common, everyday objects such as toilet brushes, belts,etc. have magical properties and unusual uses. Ivy and Seb Sparrow find themselves in Lundinor to solve an old family mystery and bring back Grandma Sylvies' memory. Exceptional! I am absolutely loving the KAPHEUS series by Marguerite Tonery, and this year saw the release of the third in the series; KAPHEUS WATER. Elisa and Jamie find themselves traveling, once again, to the fantastical world of light to fight off pirates, the Dark One and save the animals, Kapheus and even themselves. As Kapheus grows with even more substance, I can't wait for the series to continue.

THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a book of extraordinary depth and beauty. Isabella lives on the island of Joya, an island from which she can never escape. But she dreams of adventure in faraway lands once mapped by her her cartographer father, and of her brother and mother, now lost to her. When her friend, Lupe disappears and another is attacked by a strange, blood-thirsty beast, Isabella follows an old map drawn by her mother, her heart and an ancient myth to save her life and the island itself.


Historical fiction  holds a special place on my bookshelf. This year has seen KINGS OF THE BOYNE by Nicola Pierce gives a poignant and realistic account of the Battle of the Boyne, when we meet brothers Daniel and Robert Sherrard fresh from the siege of Derry. In the Boyne Valley, they soon learn that war is not only affecting the soldiers and their kings, but the lives and hearts of everyone. Brilliantly researched, this offers a stunning picture into the lives of the people, the planning, and the successes and failures of one of Irelands' most pivotal moments. THE MAKING OF MOLLIE by Anna Carey takes us back to the spring of 1912. Young Mollie lives with her family in Drumcondra and is thoroughly convinced that her life is boring. That is until she discovers her older sisters' secret... Phyllis is a suffragette! After attending a meeting, Mollie decides to join the cause as well. A dynamic, interesting and exciting look at the early days of the suffragette movement in Ireland. STRANGE STAR by Emma Carroll gives us a glimpse of the time when the story of Frankenstein was first conceived. In a weird, tense, troubled environment, 'scientific' experimentation is all the rage, without even dreaming of its' consequences in the lives of people. Out of a strange circumstance involving experimentation, kidnapping and coming face-to-face with mortality, Carroll creates a very realistic, eerie vignette in 1816 which leads to the inspiration of one of the most memorable and beloved novels of all time. THE SECRET HORSES
OF BRIAR HILL by Meghan Shepherd leads us to December 1941 and an evacuation hospital for young people with tuberculosis, or 'the still waters' as it is sometimes known. Emmaline is one of the evacuees, with few companions at Briar Hill, spending most of her days indoors and alone. But a surprise discovery, that there are winged horses in the mirrors and one of them escapes, takes Emmaline on a magical, imaginative adventure. Sweet, compelling and meticulously drawn, this book is exceedingly beautiful, with it's illustrations by Levi Pinfold. Amazing!


We all need friendship, loyalty and the day-to-day shown to us in ways that make these things extraordinary. So let's look first at RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate
DiCamillo. If Raymie can do a few good deeds, learn to twirl a baton and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, she knows that her Dad will see her in the newpapers and return to the family. In the process, Raymie makes two unlikely friends, both of whom have their own reasons for wanting to win. The three soon discovers that good deeds often go wrong, adventures easily turn into disasters, and what's lost doesn't always need to be found. Kate DiCamillo simply cannot write a bad book...this one is just wonderful! I loved A LIBRARY OF LEMONS by Jo Cotterill. Calypso' mother died 5 years ago, her father is always busy researching his book and she can mostly be found with her head buried in a book. When Calypso discovers a heart-breaking secret hidden in her Dads' library and understands that something is horribly wrong, it is her new friend, Mae and her busy, busy family that step in to give Calypso and her father exactly what they need. In MIRACULOUS MIRANDA, Siobhan Parkinson reveals the life and family of Miranda, her passion for the Word of the Day competition in school, her belief in miracles and how to make them happen. She also has a few problems with people misunderstanding what she is saying....maybe because they aren't listening. Funny, warm, wonderful and very, very real. A VERY GOOD CHANCE by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald glimpses what happens when Mintys' world falls apart and she befriends Ned Buckley, considered to be the wrong sort for her...nothing but trouble. Of course, preconceived notions are seldom right, and this new
friendship gives Minty hope and adventure as they embark on a journey that changes everything in both their lives and in the very small town in which they live.
You are probably thinking I could go on for ages...and you'd be right. But I'm going to stop there. Each and every one of these books will take you on a wonderful adventure of your own. And it has been a pleasure to share 2016 with them.


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