Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011: My Favorites and My Best

While I read many great books this year, I do have a few favorites... I hereby present to you my favorite books from 2011. (No effort has been made to balance this list! These are my from-the-heart favorites of the books I've read!)

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet. Ms. Sweet combines fabulous, colorful mixed-media art and fascinating text about a relatively unknown artist to create my favorite kind of picture book biography. This is an inspiring story about the unknown side of a well-known Thanksgiving tradition.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. If you found a mysterious red button in the middle of nowhere, wouldn't you push it, too? After Zita pushes the red button and her friend is taken into a parallel universe, the only thing Zita can do is follow him and try to bring him back. With expressive, colorful artwork that is at turns both funny and poignant, Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel that won my heart.

Amelia Lost by Candance Fleming. I am not exaggerating when I say that just booktalking this book has brought me to tears (my staff will tell you!). This is an account of Amelia Earhart's life and disappearance as you've never read it before. Ms. Fleming weaves together information on Earhart's life with a play-by-play of the day she disappeared and the days and weeks immediately after, bringing the story to life for young readers.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Selznick has taken his ground-breaking format and ratcheted it up a notch, creating a story that's even more suited to his breathtaking art than Hugo Cabret was. Two stories, one in prose and one in pictures, wind together toward a riveting conclusion.

Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker. Do not miss this action-packed account of the explosion in Halifax in 1917. When a ship packed to the brim with TNT and combustibles was hit by another ship, the resulting explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the atomic bombs went off in 1945. This is a must-read for any Titanic fan.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. This is the book that broke my heart and put it back together about a thousand times. This is a book about bullying that takes a slightly different perspective. Doug Swieteck will forever have my heart and I'll never stop recommending this powerful story.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. Hands-down one of the best dual narrator books I've ever read, this is the story of two very different girls, thrust together by circumstance and each navigating a tricky, grief-filled situation. Sara Zarr is a superstar of contemporary YA.

Trapped by Michael Northrop. This is the book that I will never stop recommending to teen guys (and girls) looking for a book they won't be able to put down. When an apocalyptic snowstorm hits, trapping Scotty and six other students at their high school, they'll have to figure out what to do to survive. The book felt so real that I found my mind wandering to whether I had canned goods in the cabinet and I couldn't help but get up to look outside periodically, even though it was not snowing at all.

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson. With searingly real voices and a heartbreaking story that is reality for too many teens, this is a layered story about finding the right person at the wrong time and what it takes to find your way home again.

Past Perfect by Leila Sales. This is the book about love that I wish I could hand to my 18-year-old self. It's funny and romantic with some meat on its bones. Plus, it's set at a living history museum and features genuine characters and a plot with a lesson that never feels didactic. Ms. Sales's Mostly Good Girls was one of my favorite books of 2010 and for me her sophomore effort definitely held up to her stellar debut.

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I loved the storytelling style and characters in this unforgettable novel. Sam hasn't been to school since the second grade when his schizophrenic father took him and his younger brother Riddle and went on the lam. Since then, they've moved every time his father starts getting paranoid, and Sam and Riddle are on their own for pretty much everything. Our story starts when Sam walks into a church and hears a girl singing a solo he's sure is meant just for him. And everything begins to change.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. In 1941, Lina and her family are taken from their homeland in Lithuania and forced into labor camps by the Soviets. This rarely-heard story of a different genocide that happened during World War II is based on the author's ancenstors. It's a riveting story that I wasn't able to put down.

You Against Me by Jenny Downham. This is an engrossing story about love, loyalty, and the shiftiness of truth. It's about finding out who your enemies are and then realizing that your definition of enemy is fluid and subject to change. It's about first love, that overpowering secret that lights you up from the inside.

 I'd also like to mention a few stellar audiobooks that I listened to this year, even though they weren't published in 2011:

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl. The audiorecording had me laughing out loud, as did the sequel Carter's Big Break. Nick Podehl's voiced narration brings the story to life and makes for a truly enjoyable listening experience.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, read by MacLeod Andrews. MacLeod Andrews's stellar narration and soft drawl definitely made this audiobook a treat for my commute.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laua Hillenbrand, read by Edward Herrmann. This harrowing and inspiring tale of survival against all odds is brought to life by Edward Herrmann's distinguished narration. His voice is a perfect fit for the story.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, read by Grayce Wey. This is another instance of a well-matched text and narrator. Although I tend to prefer fully voiced works, Grayce Wey's understated partial voicing let the writing shine through.