My Top Ten of 2013

One of the best parts of working on Lemon-Squash has been the excuse it provides to read. A lot. While I try to share all of the really good books I discover with you, there are a few that have stood out as particular favourites. If you know me in person, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve already insisted that you read these. For those who don’t (and those who need a refresher), here are my top ten kids’ and YA reads from 2013.*

*These are titles I discovered and loved this year, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. That said, at least a couple have sequels released this year or due to come out in 2014 that you should watch for, too.

Tea Rex coverFavourite All-Ages Picture Book:
Tea Rex (2013) by Molly Idle

Why I loved it: I fell in love with Molly Idle’s illustrations–colourful, heavily stylised, and full of humour–with her earlier book, Nighty Night, Noah. Tea Rex takes it to the next level, with age-spanning wit and the casual inclusion of both brother and sister in a dainty-to-destructive tea party.

Zita the Spacegirl coverFavourite Sci-Fi Adventure Graphic Novel:
Zita the Spacegirl (2011) by Ben Hatke

Why I loved it: I discovered a particular fondness for middle grade graphic novels this year, and this one tops the heap. Hatke has a knack for building layered, likable characters in the midst of keep-the-pages-turning adventure. It didn’t hurt that the story reminded me of some of my childhood favourites, but with a girl in the hero’s spot. Can’t wait to share this one with my niece!
Don’t miss: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (2012) and 2014’s The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Around the World coverFavourite “It Really Happened” Book:
Around the World (2011) by Matt Phelan

Why I loved it: Phelan does an amazing job of capturing time, place, and personality in three brief glimpses into his subjects’ lives. The graphic novel approach adds immeasurably to the effect: Phelan’s gorgeous illustrations communicate the details of each story in expressions, body language and setting as much in words and numbers.

The Breadwinner coverFavourite War Story:
The Breadwinner (2000) by Deborah Ellis

Why I loved it: I’ve always loved stories that offer insight into another way of living. The Breadwinner is such a story, drawing readers into a reality of life far from what most are used to while revealing similarities in human experience. Ellis’s characters — particularly her women — are exceptional, but they also feel true.
Don’t miss: Parvana’s Journey (2002), Mud City (2003), and My Name is Parvana (2012)

Hattie Big Sky coverFavourite Home Front Historical Fiction:
Hattie Big Sky (2006) by Kirby Larson

Why I loved it: I grew up with homesteading stories, and grew to love home front stories as a grad student. Hattie combines both threads, setting a whole lot of real life challenges in front of an inexperienced but determined and compassionate young woman.
Don’t miss: Hattie Ever After (2013) — review to come

Ways to Live Forever coverFavourite “Heavy” Story:
Ways to Live Forever (2008) by Sally Nicholls

Why I loved it: There are plenty of articles out there championing the need for dark and/or difficult material in books for kids and teens. War is one, illness is another. While not all authors handle the material well, those who do often highlight the transparency and resilience with which their characters address their circumstances. It is these, I think, far more than any particular resolution of the problems they face, which offer readers hope in facing their own giants. Sally Nicholls is one of those authors who handles darkness well.

The Seeing Stone coverFavourite Arthurian Tale:
Arthur: The Seeing Stone (2000) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Why I loved it: Before this year’s Arthur Retold challenge, I didn’t know much more about the Arthur legends than Disney’s The Sword in the Stone had told me. I still have a long way to go, but Crossley-Holland’s novel does a great job of introducing the stories while giving loads of insight into daily life in medieval Britain.
Don’t miss: At the Crossing Places (2001) and King of the Middle March (2003)

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail coverFavourite Victorian-Era Mouse Story:
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail (2013) by Richard Peck — review to come

Why I loved it: Peck’s use of language is fantastic. His use of language to build a detailed, cohesive mouse-world underneath (and underpinning) the human world is even better. (And the audiobook is truly delightful. Trust me on this one — go audio.)
Don’t miss: Secrets at Sea (2011), a companion novel about an American mouse family crossing the Atlantic within weeks of the events of this story.

Flora and Ulysses coverFavourite Contemporary Animal Superhero Story:
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (2013) by Kate DiCamillo

Why I loved it: It’s a rare thing to find subtlety in a children’s book. Rarer in one that makes comic books and an intelligent squirrel central elements of the story. And yet DiCamillo manages it, allowing a fairly substantial conversation on the strange power of hope carry on underneath a crazy story about a little girl and her superpowered squirrel. I also thoroughly enjoyed her writing style, which seems to just get better and better.

The False Prince coverFavourite Alternate History:
False Prince (2012) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Why I loved it: Honestly, I didn’t think I would like this one. But the plot is so well constructed, and the characters so skilfully and believably developed, that I couldn’t help it. And I do love a dash of political intrigue!
Don’t miss: The Runaway King (2013) and 2014’s The Shadow Throne


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