The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving!
Nothing can save eleven-year-old Alex Sennefer’s life. That’s what the doctors say, but his mother knows better because of her knowledge of the Lost Spells, the most powerful piece of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which can crack open a door to the afterlife. But when she uses the spells, five evil ancients known as the Death Walkers are also brought back to life . . . It's Indiana Jones and more, with Egyptian mummies awakening in New York City, scorpions taking over, and our hero is only eleven years old and “dying” of a unknown disease. Readers will find drama, action and suspense on every page.
Grades 4-7: 13-year-old Lizzie, who is smart and headstrong, discovers many secrets and surprises surrounding the quarantine of San Francisco’s Chinatown due to plague. Though set in 1900, this fast-paced, action-packed novel deals with surprisingly timely issues of prejudice, racism, women’s rights, and vaccination.
Grades 2 & up
This fourth collaboration between Janeczko, who selected the poems, and Raschka, who illustrated the poems, features verse about objects, written during nine distinct phases of poetical history. Plenty of white space keeps the vibrant watercolor adornments from overpowering the text. It's a lovely compilation comprised of both famous and lesser-known pieces by a diverse wealth of wordsmiths.
Pity poor Miss Drake, a 3000-year-old dragon, who is mourning the death of her most recent pet, Fluffy (otherwise known as Winnie’s Great Aunt Amelia). Now Miss Drake has to deal with ten-year-old Winnie, who invades her basement lair, exhibits no fear and few manners, but somehow manages to intrigue the grumpy old dragon with her persistence, creativity, and welcoming heart. Which is good, because they’re going to need to work together to capture the escaped creatures that Winnie drew in a magical sketchbook before they wreak magical mayhem on the city of San Francisco.
Grades Pre-K-3: A little girl dreams of pounding on congas and bongos at a time when everyone thinks only boys can play the drums in this richly illustrated rhyming story. Inspired by the life of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the drummer for Cuba’s first “all-girl dance band,” it’s a powerful lesson that “both girls and boys should feel free to dream.”
Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California, find themselves caught up in the same thread of destiny during the darkest days of the twentieth century, struggling to keep their families intact, and tied together by the music of the same harmonica.
Olivia Grace Clarisse Harrison has always known she was different. Brought up by her aunt's family in New Jersey, book-and-music-loving Olivia feels out of place in their life of high fashion and fancy cars. But she never could have imagined how out of place she really was until Mia Thermopolis, Princess of Genovia, pops into her school and announces that Olivia is her long-lost sister. Olivia is a princess. A dream come true, right? But princesses have problems too.
Fourth grader George knows she is a girl. When she wants to try out for the role of Charlotte in the school's production of Charlotte's Web, her teacher won't allow it because she sees George as a boy. It's only with the help of George’s best friend, Kelly, that she's able to pull it off and, in the process, communicate to the important people in her life who she really is. Grades 4 & up.
Grades 1-3:This is an admirable introduction to the photographer Gordon Parks and his work, and an evocative testament to the important role artists can play in movements for social justice. Weatherford’s spare, clear prose, and Jamey Christoph’s expressive art create a moving biography belied by its brevity. Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. Before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed.
When Harriet the Hamster Princess finds out she was cursed by an evil fairy at her christening and will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and die when she’s 12, she refuses to play the part of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she heads off to have the adventures she’s always dreamed of. And the day she turns 12, well, she has a few tricks up her sleeve to deal with Ratshade the Evil Fairy. Harriet is a princess like no other – snarky, brave, smart, a little obnoxious, and altogether awesome!
DJ is used to being just an average kid in a family of overachievers, but he’ll need to find some special courage very quickly after he makes first contact with a boy who falls from the sky. Lots of fun and action in this story of friendship and the fate of the planet.
McClure’s captivating bold cut-paper illustrations, intricately detailed in black and white with splashes of yellow, perfectly fit this story of a child’s morning indoors, playing in a basket turned rocketship, exploring only inner space until . . . it is time to be outdoors in the rain, and explore long into the evening, until the owls emerge! Clever and charming.
A twelve-year-old boy, worried that his parents may divorce, discovers that an island in the middle of the lake where he is spending the summer is the testing grounds of the mysterious Dr. Libris, who may have invented a way to make the characters in books come alive. Just imagine if your favorite book characters came to life just by imagining them. What would happen if Hercules met Robin Hood, or if Tom Sawyer met Pollyanna? What if they all met a space invader villain? Well, this happens and more in The Island of Dr. Libris. It’s a fun romp through different stories with the only limits being your imagination.
Grades 1-3: Based on the true story of Ketzel, a cat who walked across a piano keyboard in the presence of her human composer companion, Moshe. Surprising recognition ensues when Moshe writes down the notes played, and enters Ketzel in a contest for a composition of no longer than a minute in duration. The watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations charmingly evoke a very special interspecies friendship centered around music.
When Leo, a lonely ghost, meets Jane, he is dismayed to realize that his new friend thinks he’s imaginary. When burglars break into Jane’s house, Leo has to admit the truth when he saves the day. Jane’s acceptance is simple and deftly handled.
Grades 3 & up
Two seemingly disparate stories must be pieced together. The first told in pictures belongs to the infamous Marvel family of British actors that began when stowaway Billy Marvel’s boat shipwrecked, and he arrived in London penniless, finding a job at the Royal Theater. The second story told in words belongs to Joseph, who runs away from his boarding school to London, with the vague idea he's going to find the mysterious uncle he's never met.
Dr. Mesmer has much of France believing he can cure any kind of sickness with a mysterious force that streams from his wand. It’s up to Ben Franklin and the scientific method to reveal the truth.
A dazzling and informative picture book biography of engineer George Ferris, inventor of the famous wheel ride which debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Truly one of the most celebratory books of the year, this all-inclusive counting book features families of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, ages, orientations, religions, cultures, and every other thing you can think of, in the most natural and unremarkable way. The final spread, a cityscape filled with all the families, proclaims “One is one and everyone. / One earth. One world. / One family.” Oh, it looks like a simple counting book, but it is much, much more.
Twenty-six pigs find the letters of the alphabet in a field one day. Each has an interaction: "Abigail Pig admired an A," etc. The entire alphabet in upper case borders the top edge of each page, with lower case letters bordering the bottom edge. An item beginning with the featured letter is also included discreetly on each page for readers to find and identify. Irresistible fun!
Vibrant, close-up photographs of raindrops and rain-soaked leaves, petals, and insects transform the brief rhyming text into an invitation to inquisitive kids to explore their own backyards. Two final pages have information about the science of rain and raindrops for readers looking for more concrete explanations and facts.
Grades K & up
Fifteen aquatically-themed short poems by Hughes are gleefully enhanced by Bryan’s cut paper collage artistry. Each poem is set in its own double spread bursting with color and movement. Truly inspiring!
Yukio worries that he may have ruined Christmas for the other little ninjas by tricking them into fighting a battle against Samurai Santa. Digitally rendered illustrations give a flavor of more formal Japanese art mixed in with Sunday comics, which mashes up nicely with the Saturday Matinee-tinged text that just begs to be performed in a reader’s most dramatic voice. Super fun!
Change is in the air for the magical Beaumont Clan, and not all of it is good! Grandma Pat is moving in, and everyone’s savvy (magical talent) has changed. Momma is now the exact opposite of perfect, Samson is fiery rather than invisible, and rather than her newly acquired ability to see into the past AND future, 13-year-old Gypsy can now stop time! But it’s the magic of kind strangers, imagination, and love that will save Gypsy’s unmagical (and sometimes unlikeable) grandmother when she disappears in a snowstorm. Funny and heart-wrenching in turn, and utterly satisfying.
This intriguing adventure features elements of many familiar tales melded into a new and unique story. Kikko sets out to take a pie to grandma, but is diverted and arrives at a tea party attended by a multitude of talking, clothed animals who also play musical instruments. They hospitably tend to the young girl and help her get back on track. The charcoal, pencil and colored ink illustrations are rendered with skill and charm. Readers will want to visit this lovely world again and again.
A little girl invites three very special friends to a pajama party: a bunny named Clement, an elephant named Jean, and a bear named Alan Alexander. They play games and dance and eat, listen to stories, and list all the things they are thankful for. A tender and subtle homage to both the joys of friendship and to the classic books that have delighted children and their grown-ups for so many years.Thank you, Mr. McDonnell, for reminding us that we have much to be thankful for.
Three inquisitive toys, each with their own unique talents and personalities, go outside to discover snow for the first time. At once tender and intelligent, humorous and heartwarming, Jenkins and Zelinsky have teamed up to create a wintertime winner.
When Sophie moves with her non-farming parents from Los Angeles to her Great Uncle Jim’s farm, she doesn’t know what to expect. It turns out that her Uncle Jim had some pretty unusual chickens, and they are suddenly finding their way back to the farm, which means Sophie needs to learn all about them – and fast! She chronicles her chicken adventures in letters to her dead relatives and to Agnes, the proprietor of Redwood Farm (who is pretty unusual all on her own). Sophie is great--smart, sensitive, and willing to accept that chickens can be magical, and friends can be found everywhere. A smart and funny story, with a dash of the unexpected.
We wait for so many things – vacation, payday, the movie to start, the light to turn green . . . But Kevin Henkes acknowledges the very real magic that imagination can play in that most mundane of activities. Five toys sit on a shelf, looking out of a window, waiting for various things, like the moon or the rain or the snow. It’s always a happy surprise when these things happen. Everything that happens, and the time in-between when nothing in particular is happening, is like a gift - much like it is for a young child, experiencing things for the first time. Lots to talk about and appreciate in the gently luminous illustrations. A lovely book to share, especially when you’re waiting . . .
A simple and poetic look at the water cycle, seen through the eyes and activities of a brother and sister and their multicultural group of friends over the course of a year. From one autumn to another, the children experience water in all its different forms – a liquid to drink, steam rising from a kettle, clouds in the sky, fog, rain, and snow.The entire book is a fine read-aloud, with entertaining and attractive illustrations and extra information at the end about each phase of the cycle.
An entertaining and quite frankly adorable introduction to earthworms that will entertain very young readers and listeners, as well as the grown-ups they read with and listen to! Learn about the parts of the earthworms, both inside and out, all the good things they do, and meet the Australian Gippsland Worm, who can grow to be almost ten feet long!
On his way to World War I a soldier buys a real live bear cub, but ultimately places her in the London Zoo, where her gentle ways make her a star, and where she catches the attention of a little boy and his rather famous author father. A lovely and fascinating look into the true story of a storybook legend.
When a bunny family finds a baby wolf on their doorstep, it’s only Dot who thinks that “He’s Going to eat us all up!”. Her fears are only made worse by the universal annoyances felt by big sisters everywhere: drooling, siblings following her everywhere and eating all the carrots. Retro illustrations, complete with Wolfie in a big pink bunny suit, make this a fun share for families.
Bert is a humorous cartoon bird standing on a tiny branch. It is his big day. After several false starts, he finally leaps from the tree with his wings covering his eyes. He makes no attempt to flap his wings, but instead dives into a body of water below where his friends await him. They praise Bert’s bravery and then all go back up to the branch together. This time, Bert dives head-first with no hesitation!