Sunday, January 1, 2017

More Favourites of 2016 - Picture Books and Teen/YA

I am going to add a few more to my list of favourites. While yesterday, I focused on books that were largely 'middle-grade'/ages 8-12, today, I will complete the list for those not in that category.
I begin with Picture Books...a particular passion of mine. We have a tendency to let go of picture books far too early. I think, as we grow older, we should read more, not less picture books. They give a clear, unvarnished view of the world and are very tricky to create. I believe that our visual literacy suffers because of the desire to put 'real books' in our hands. Nothing is more real than a picture book.
No prizes for guessing what my Picture Book of the Year is; it has to go to A CHILD OF BOOKS by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. A clear, eloquent tale of a young girl who 'sails across a sea of words' (quite literally) to meet a somewhat unsure and reluctant young boy and take him along on an amazing journey. In the end, he himself becomes A Child of Books and ventures off on a journey of his own. The illustrations are crafted using typesetting...excerpts from a wide variety of childrens' classics that we all know and love. This typesetting is chosen in consideration of the action of the picture; so the pages involving sailing across the seas will have excerpts from The Swiss Family Robinson, Pinocchio, Gullivers' Travels; the mountains of make-believe are crafted with text from Peter Pan; the fairy-tale forest has trees with branches of lines from time-honoured fairy tales and so on. This is not simply a childs' picture book, but an 'everybody' picture book...one to be treasured across a lifetime.
Birgitta Sif has quickly become one of my favourite picture book author/illustrators and this year, she gave us a wonderful gift in WHERE MY FEET GO. Little Panda is ready for adventure. As he walks down the street, could it be there is more than meets the ye with every step he takes? His flight of imagination is marvelous! Sif's lively, wondrous child-friendly illustrations are pure delight that truly replicate a childs' world-view. Adventure, entertainment and a real sense of cosiness. WHEN DAD SHOWED ME THE UNIVERSE by Ulf Stark/illustrated by Eva Eriksson tells the story of a father taking his young son on a walk to show him the universe. Along the way, they pick up provision and see many things. Just at the moment when Dad becomes down-hearted, feeling that he has failed to reveal the universe to his son, the young boy gets it! Fresh, dynamic, utterly lovely drawings reveal a story that everyone must hear and see. THE WHITE CAT AND THE MONK by Jo Ellen Bogart/illustrated by Sydney Smith is a retelling of a 9th century Irish poem, Pangur Bán. The eloquent illustrations have an ancient, but feel of aliveness as this quiet retelling of a monks' life alongside his cat is something of great beauty....again, not just for the small ones.  THE KNIGHT WHO WOULDN'T FIGHT by Helen and Thomas Docherty offers the story of Leo, who will never be a proper knight if he won't put down his books and learn to use his sword. Sent on a quest to see off a dragon making mischief, Leo has packed everything he needs...including his books.The fearsome creatures he meets along the way are all ones he's read about...so Leo has no trouble dealing with them. An absolutely enchanting story with warm, colourful illustrations, this is a parable (of sorts) about the power of reading and a wonderful adventure! 
The wordless, stunning . OWL BAT BAT OWL by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a silent book that shouts loudly about friendship, family, acceptance. While there are no words to read, the story is expressed perfectly through the pages with colour, positioning, facial expressions and body language. It sings with clarity, expressiveness and uncluttered simplicity. One of the best I've seen in ages.



The teen/YA sector has had a particularly strong year in 2016. Here are just a few of my 'best' reads.
I love a good fairy-tale, it has to be said. One of the best comes in the form of THE BOOK OF PEARL by Timothée de Fombelle. Joshua Pearl comes from a land not so very far from our own. Thrown here in an attempt to save his life, he has memories of his great love and all that lies waiting for him in his former home. With a stolen name and life, Joshua embarks on a journey to recover what was lost and make sense of the things that haunt him so. Expert crafting tells a story that is enduring and intricate; one of first love, longing and self-discovery. Everything a fairy-tale should be. A DARKNESS AT THE END by Ruth M. Long continues the story of Jinx and Izzy, as the worlds they both know are threatened by Holly, the fae matriarch seeking ultimate power for herself...and she doesn't care who or what she has to destroy to get it. Ancient pacts are destroyed; the angels and demons are drawing down sides, each daring the other to start a war that will end everything. High-octane, powerful, unnerving and an exceptional close to the story that began with A Crack In Everything.
We make a most welcome return to the Old Kingdom with GOLDENHAND by Garth Nix. Lirael, our favourite librarian and now Abhorsen-in waiting; finds Nicholas Sayre deeply wounded after being hideously attacked by a Free Magic creature. But Nicholas is now tainted with Free Magic and Lirael must travel to her childhood home, Claryls' Glacier, to save him. Simply one of the best fantasy series I have ever read by a master storyteller.
Back in the real world, NEEDLEWORK by Deirdre Sullivan is the story of Ces, a young woman who longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider a stronger, braver sort of beauty on the skin. Her own back story is very sensitively revealed in a book that is hard to read, but impossible to put down. BLAME by Simon Mayo takes us into the world of a not-to-distant future, where hereditary crimes are punished in the extreme. Unrest and tensions are brewing high within the prison system, and Ant and her little brother Mattie are right at the heart of it. When all comes to a head, they have one chance to escape and prove to the world that they, like all the other inmates, are not to blame. Powerful, deeply considered and a breath-taking read.
For those who feel the need for something gentler, quieter, can I recommend THE MOONLIGHT DREAMERS by Siobhan Curham? Four girls who simply don't fit in with their contemporaries band together to create The Moonlight Dreamers club. Each with their own issues and aspirations, they find friendship, support, courage and solace in their lives. It is joyous and imaginative to watch these 4 bound together to go against the norm and take on whatever life throws at them while they struggle to be themselves. And CARAMEL HEARTS by E.R. Murray gives us a glimpse into the complicated life of Liv Bloom...far more complicated than any 14-year-olds' life should be. Her father left the family, her mother has descended into alcoholism and her sister Hatty has taken a break from Uni to care for Liv while their mother can't. Finding a recipe book written in her mothers' own hand, Liv discovers something she is really good at while trying to replicate her mothers' recipes. But things are never straight-forward. A possible first love, bullies from school and reconciliation with the past bring more chaos into Livs' life. A heart-felt novel about growing up and the true value of friendship, family and understanding.
I'd better stop there, or I'll never get on with 2017! Happy reading to you all and I hope you find something to enjoy within these lists.

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