Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Top 15 Books of 2018

I haven't ranked my favourite books before.  In previous years, I've just listed my five star reads in different categories (picture book, fiction, non-fiction etc).  One thing I've noticed from putting the covers of the books I've read on my door is that I've had a fair few students ask me to name my top five books I've read, or even worse, my top three!  It's hard!  But I am up to the challenge, and this year I'm going to be strong and decisive and choose the top 15 books I've read (I can't possibly choose any less than that!).  

15.  How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

Bren MacDibble won a number of NZ and Australian book awards for her story about a future where real bees are extinct and children must pollinate flowers by hand.  It wasn't surprising to find out that Bren had grown up on a farm, as her descriptions of life on one are particularly vivid.  This book isn't all about farms though, as Peony's mother takes her from the home she lives in with her grandfather and sister and brings her to the city to help her earn money.  Domestic violence, poverty and agoraphobia are all part of this impactful and compelling book.

14.  Boy Underwater by Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

Cymbeline Igloo has never been swimming but somehow manages to boast that he's a brilliant swimmer just before his first school swimming lesson.  He's borrowed a pair of his dad's old swimming togs, and let's just say that size does matter when it comes to togs!  This book has an amazing combination of laugh-out-loud humour and heartbreaking sadness.  It deals with some big issues - like death and mental health.  The nine-year-old protagonist, Cymbeline Igloo, is a lovely character, whose voice shines through as being really authentic.

13.  The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins

This is a hilarious story about Mabel Jones, who commits "The Deed" and ends up on The Feroshus Maggot (a pirate ship).  I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because the narrator, Toby Jones, is marvellous with voices.  I love the characters' names, like Omynus Hussh and Captain Idryss Ebenezer Split, and the use of the narrator (who stops in the middle of the action to eat a pickled onion!).  One of our Year 5 & 6 classes read this book and we got to Skype with Will Mabbitt, which was a lot of fun.

12.  Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

I loved "Mighty Jack" and this sequel is just as fantastic.  Ben Hatke, who also wrote the "Zita the Spacegirl" series, is one of my favourite graphic novel author/illustrators.  In this book, there's lots of action and drama, with both Jack and Maddy getting to fight the bad guys.  The story is interesting, the art is great, and the last page....wow!  I can't wait for the next book.

11.  The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

This was another book I enjoyed listening to in audio form this year.  Pacy, also known as Grace, is Taiwanese-American and this book gives a nice glimpse into what everyday life for her is like.  I really appreciated this beautifully written insight into the life of someone with a different culture to me.

10.  Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julián is riding the subway with his grandmother when he sees women dressed up as mermaids.  He is captivated and on his return home, he sets about creating his own costume made from a curtain and a fern.  It is the grandmother's reaction to Julián's outfit that makes this picture book so heart-warming.  The illustrations are also special, with many of the background characters unique and memorable.

9.  The Sloth Who Came to Stay by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Vivienne To

This is a lovely story about the importance of slowing down and taking the time to appreciate things.  Our Year 5 & 6 students loved it, it came runner-up in our Picture Book World Cup.

8.  The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Jacqueline Woodson's poetic text combines with the striking art of Rafael López in this wonderful picture book.  It starts with "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you" and goes on to encourage children to share their stories and find friends that are "a little like you - and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all".  Beautiful.

7.  Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

The Hilo series of graphic novels is one of my all-time favourites and this, the fourth book in the series, did not disappoint.  The artwork is superb, especially the giant robot monsters that are intent on squashing towns.  Izzy's inventions - a tiny, floating rhino that sneezes and keeps bugs away without hurting them, a skunk that makes popcorn, a parrot that sings in Italian, made from a microwave oven - are hilarious.  Yet the book doesn't shy away from some more emotional storylines.  The backstory about why Razorwark is fighting humans is very poignant.

6.  Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

This book is told from the perspective of an oak tree called Red.  This immediately made me apprehensive, because it didn't sound like the kind of book I'd enjoy (trees can't move, how was this book going to be interesting?).  However, I'm a fan of Katherine Applegate's "The One and Only Ivan" so I gave this book a go.

I was pleasantly surprised - this book gave me the feels!  There are lovely interactions between Red and his friend, a crow called Bongo, as well as the other animals that call Red home.  Humans are part of the story too, with the arrival of a new family to Red's neighbourhood making his role as "wishtree" even more important.  Add to that the lovely dashes of humour in the book (I love the way the animals name their children!) and this turns out to be a small but perfectly-formed book.

5.  Dear Sister by Alison 

This story is a lovely exploration of a brother/sister relationship when there is a large age gap between them.  It is told via a series of letters and messages from the brother to his sister.  The book is short and filled with excellent illustrations, making it instantly appealing to students.  It is a fun, sweet book that manages to make you go "awwww".

3=  Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed, blamed for all the misfortunes of those around her, and due to die at midnight on Eventide.  Instead, she is whisked away in a giant metallic spider to a magical city named Nevermoor.  

There are some wonderful characters in this book, and author Jessica Townsend has done a fantastic job of making the world come alive in your imagination.

3=  Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

Wundersmith is the second book in the Nevermoor series, and it was, thankfully, just as good as the first.  Which is why I have made them both 3rd equal!  I tried very hard to read Wundersmith slowly so I could remain in Nevermoor as long as possible!  

Jessica Townsend avoids overly long descriptive passages and yet I could still see Nevermoor really vividly in my mind.  I really enjoyed Morrigan's new adventure and now it is on to waiting impatiently for the next one.

One of my highlights of 2018 was being able to hear Jessica Townsend speak at Southwell School.  I took a carload of students, the first ones who read her book, and as soon as she walked in they went "ohhhhh" and were starstruck.  "She's my dream author," said one.

2.  Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase falls from a roof, hits his head and loses his memory.  When he returns to school he realises that while some kids like him, others appear scared of him, and he doesn't know why.  Those two sentences are all that's needed to entice many students to read this book!  

I love that this book is told from multiple perspectives as it really adds insight into the impact of the actions of the bullies in this story.  There's some great humour in the book too, making it a lot of fun to read. 

1.  Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang is a Chinese immigrant to the United States.  She lives in a motel and she manages the front desk while her parents clean the rooms.  Mia experiences bullying, racism and poverty and both her family and other immigrants in the story are taken advantage of and treated poorly.  Despite these circumstances, Mia shows tolerance, hope, perseverance and love.  

This is an important story that will hopefully encourage children to understand the experiences of new immigrants better and to feel more empathy with them.  It's a book that I've been recommending to anyone who will listen!

NB: Make sure to get this cover, we got a second copy with a different cover that was far less appealing to our students (we ended up copying this cover and pasting it over the other copy).