My Favorites of 2017 – Part 1

Yikes. It’s been such a long time since I added anything new to the blog, I wasn’t sure I would remember how to log on. Just kidding. I’m not that old yet (plus I keep my passwords in a notebook next to my computer). Anyway…

I wanted to get my favorites lists ready for you in case you need some book ideas for the gift-giving season. My first post is going to be for kids and YA. I started reviewing in this realm for Shelf Awareness this year and it has been absolutely delightful. I admit that reviewing the picture books was a challenge at first, but I’m getting the hang of it, I think–they haven’t fired me yet, anyway. There is so much great fiction–and non-fiction–available for our young people (and those of us who are maybe not so young but still young at heart). I’ve been exposed to only a small segment, so I’m sure my list will be quite different from the average “best of” for children’s literature but from what I read this year, these are the books I’m most recommending.

For the tots:

5. Now – this is the first of two mindfulness-themed books for children on my list. Antoinette Portis wrote and illustrated this one focusing on the narrator’s favorite things–a breeze, a tooth, a smell. It’s a beautiful reminder of all the wonder in our everyday environment.  You can read my full review for Shelf here

4. The Little Book of Little Activists – This inspiring book from Viking Penguin is a collection of photographs featuring children taking part in events for women’s rights, diversity, immigration and more. The photos are accompanied by quotes from the kids, information about the First Amendment, definitions of terms like democracy and protest, as well as an introduction from one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington and an afterward by the author of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom. And as the title indicates, the book is small–a perfect size for little hands.

3. My Little Cities – I didn’t review these books for Shelf and I’m honestly not sure why they were sent to me, but Chronicle books sent me four small board books from this series–My Little Cities: New York, My Little Cities: San Francisco, My Little Cities: London and My Little Cities: Paris. All four were written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. I had a blast going through them, and I can just imagine reading the sing-song text and pouring over the whimsical illustrations with someone who is learning about the world around them. Incorporating opposite concepts like “Moving fast, Moving slow” in NYC or “Travel high, Travel low” in San Francisco with famous locales such as Abbey Road in London or Notre-Dame in Paris makes for fun learning and exploration wrapped up in the joy of storybooks. The end of each book includes a listing of all the locations featured in the book with some context for each. I really loved everything about each of these books, but I think my favorite part came in the San Francisco book. Here, I’ll let you see for yourself:

2017 Favorite: My Little Cities: San Francisco

Fortunately, I have a good home for these books to go to. They’ll also be added to my list of new baby gifts. I’m very smitten with these board books.

2. Breathe Like a Bear – this is the second of the mindfulness books on my list. Breathe Like a Bear is written by Kira Willey, a kids yoga expert, and illustrated by Anni Betts. This is actually a collection of activities to do with kids–or for adults if you like–to work on being calm, focusing, relaxing, imaging and getting energized. They are simple activities you can do anywhere: in the bed before lights out, in the car on a long drive, waiting in line at the grocery store. They are great habits to start young and Willey presents them in an entertaining fashion, like “Snake Breath” where kids focus on their breathing and making hissing sounds in the process or “Listen!” where kids focus on being still and quiet so they can notice all the sounds around them. The accompanying illustrations are as mesmerizing as the activities. Gorgeous colors, patterns and textures on an array of plants and animals. This is a fun, interactive book that can benefit kids of ALL ages.

2017 Favorite: King Louie's Shoes1. King Louie’s Shoes – I absolutely adore this book! King Louie’s Shoes is a charming–and true–story about King Louis XIV and high heeled shoes. It’s smart and funny and engaging. The illustrations are magnificent. And at the conclusion, there’s additional historical information about the king who “was a shrimp.”  I rave more about it in my review for Shelf Awareness here

For the middle grade readers:

3. Locked Up For Freedom – I’m digging non-fiction lately and I love books that share important information with young people in a way they will enthusiastically consume it. They have enough textbook time and they tend to forget that content, but books like Locked Up For Freedom by Heather Schwartz imprint the atrocities of our nation’s past on the brains of their readers. Our young people need to know this and they need to remember it. The more educated and aware they are, the less likely they will be to carry on the biases and hatred that fueled events like the one resulting in these young Civil Rights protestors being locked up at Leesburg Stockade. You can check out my review of the book for Shelf here.

2. Pablo and Birdy – The diverse and idiosyncratic characters in Alison McGhee’s charming tale about an orphan washing up on an island off the southern tip of Florida make Pablo and Birdy a delight to indulge in. There are elements of mystery, adventure and coming of age. There are human and animals beautifully co-existing. In this day and age when people so irrationally fear the “other,” Pablo and Birdy is a glowing reminder of everyone’s value. The overarching theme of family is also a strong selling point on this illustrated novel. You can read my review for Shelf here.

2017 Favorite: Older Than Dirt1. Older Than Dirt – I’ve experienced graphic novels for the first time this year and Older Than Dirt is phenomenal. I’m especially fond of this book because of the societal (or at least part of society) disregard for science of late. Older Than Dirt tells the history of the planet in terms middle graders can access while making it a boat load of fun with humorous conversations between a groundhog and a worm. I loved the art, loved the dialogue, loved the content–I was reminded of many things I’d long since forgotten and even learned some new tidbits–and I’ve been raving about the book ever since. I now want to check out Don Brown’s Drowned City. Read my review of Older Than Dirt for Shelf here.

For the young adults:

5. Thick as Thieves – This was the book that opened the door to children’s/YA for me. It was a strange situation and I happened to be in the right place at the right time when Shelf needed someone to cover this last minute. It was fun and engaging and made me want to read more YA. This book actually ties into Megan Waylen Turner’s world of the Queen’s Thief, but I was unfamiliar with all of it and still found myself lost in her stellar fantasy. You can read what I had to say about it here.

4. Without Merit – It still makes me laugh to think of the people who wrote me with disbelieving questions. Is that romance? Did you read a romance? Colleen Hoover is traditionally a romance/new adult author and Without Merit was published by her regular publisher, Atria Books. The problem is Atria doesn’t publish young adult and Hoover is best known for her new adult novels. So that’s the way Without Merit was marketed. It’s really a young adult novel, though. There’s a sub-plot that is sort of romance like, but it can’t hold a candle to some of the romantic suspense out there that are being marketed as thrillers, so no, I don’t believe this is romance novel. I handed the book off to my teen niece. The protagonist is a high school teen with a wacky family who live in an old church still endowed with a crucified Christ statue. I loved the family dynamics and the struggles Merit, the protagonist, battles with.  You can find out what else I had to say about Without Merit here.

2017 Favorite: Beasts Made of Night3.  Beasts Made of Night – I’m slowly becoming a fan of fantasy and Beasts Made of Night is evidence of that. I was in awe. I desperately want to know what’s coming next in this world created by debut novelist Tochi Onyebuchi. I think one of the major things that pulls me into magical fantasy like this is the complexity. Onyebuchi was influenced by Nigerian folk lore and from that built an entire world with rules and guidelines. He mixed in heavy themes and seriously conflicted characters. I can’t imagine picking this book up and not being completely enchanted by its beauty. You can see what I said about Beasts Made of Night for Shelf here.  

2. You Bring the Distant Near – This book you may actually see on other lists. It was longlisted for the 2017 YA National Book Award. You Bring the Distant Near is Mitali Perkins’ multi-generational story of the Das women. I love the diversity, not only in race but in personality. The women in this brilliant novel are so well drawn and lovingly flushed out, it’s a challenge to remember they’re fictional and not your friends who will show up at your next gathering. You can read what I wrote for Shelf about You Bring the Distant Near here.

2017 Favorite: My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen1. My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen – I finished this debut from David Clawson (in one sitting) and wanted the whole world to read it. It was so. much. fun. A modern twist on Cinderella, the protagonist is a young, gay teenage boy living with his step-family after his father dies. The “prince” is an up-and-coming politician whose family bears a striking resemblance to the Kennedys. And the fairy godmother is, yes, a drag queen. A flamboyant, hilarious, smart, compassionate, complex drag queen. I wanted this guy to show up as MY fairy godmother. The dialogue in this novel is fantastic, the characters are pitch perfect, the plot is ingenious. This is not just my favorite YA book, it’s one of my favorite books of 2017, period. You can read–no, I HOPE you read–my gushing about My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen for Shelf here.


Whew! That’s it for the kids. If you read some children/middle grade/YA, what were your favorites? Tomorrow I’ll tackle my audiobook faves. Check back!