Thursday, June 12, 2014

Top Ten YA And Middle Grade Reads of 2014 (So Far)

This week's Top Ten on Tuesday prompt from The Broke and The Bookish is "Top Ten I've Read So Far This Year" which puts me into a bit of a quandary.  My Beach Reading list of last week covered a lot of the books I read and thought were wonderful, though it's by no means exhaustive. Plus, I am planning a big first half round up post in a few more weeks. Rather than harping on the same set of books, as wonderful as they are, I'm taking a slightly different tack and opting for a list of the YA and Middle Grade books I've read and enjoyed the most in 2014. Yes, I do realize the title of the post says 'Ten' and I've only included nine books on the list. I owe you one.

Middle Grade Great Reads of 2014 (So Far)

As I consider writing about each of these great Middle Grade books, I realize that I love them because they tell entertaining stories, foster a love of literature or the visual arts, encourage respect for others, and advocate openness to experiencing the world. Appropriately for this age range, these are more directive than the YA novels below, but they are never preachy. They are a bit sappy for most adult tastes, but that may just me trying to excuse the fact that I cried at some point while reading them. Buy them for youngsters in your circle of family and friends, or, just because it's so much fun to revisit the joy you felt at discovering a book that spoke to you when you were 10 or 11.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

This was as close as I can imagine to recreating the excitement I felt when I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as an eight year old. Like that most wonderful of books, this one is built around a quest to understand a mysterious work of art. Impressively, this debut author also introduces 8-12 year olds to Nazi plundering of art and a little known piece of concentration camp history in ways that are age appropriate and integral to the story. The ending is a bit convenient for my taste, but I'm a grown-up and I don't think my vote counts in that regard.

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

Time travel, labor history, Quaker principles and the power of empathy all come together in this tale in which13-year old Margaret risks traveling back to 1937 to save her father who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The voices of the young teens are smart, but not smart-alecky. The plotting can be a bit melodramatic, but the emphasis is always on character. It turns out friendship and understanding are more potent than semi-magical super-powers. A lovely book, enhanced by a spectacular cover.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

Three fourteen year olds engage in a bit of literary terrorism to get others in town excited to read Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird over the summer before they enter 8th grade. Using social media the campaign takes off and builds into a national phenomena. Woven into this appealing and funny novel is a deep love for books, bookstores, libraries and the power of reading -- think The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for a younger audience. If I taught 5th or 6th grade, I think this would be perfect to get kids ready and excited to read Lee's wonderful book.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Another fabulous Middle Grade novel that combines a deep love of books (in this case centered on Madeline L'Engle's 1962 classic A Wrinkle in Time) with a reverence for the joys, and understanding of the difficulties, of friendship on the verge of middle school. I loved that it is set in my childhood neighborhood, at my elementary school in 1978-79, the year I graduated from high school. I may be biased, but I promise you needn't be familiar with either the time or the place to love it since I can't believe the committee that awarded this the Newberry Medal in 2010 are all Upper West Siders of a certain age.

Great Young Adult Reads of 2014 (So Far)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Yes, this was on last week's list too, but it's a great read and deserves to be touted repeatedly.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Weird, idiosyncratic and marvelous. Not for everyone, but I relished Austin's confusion, history obsession and the marvelous 50s sci-fi campiness of this book.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

A high fantasy quest in a world built upon a magic system that is infused with Russian folkloric elements. Siege and Storm, the second book in the trilogy is waiting on my iPad and the conclusion to the trilogy, Ruin and Rising, comes out next week, so I'd better get reading.

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

What if your father wasn't really the good man you loved, but a dictator leading a repressive regime? How would you cope with leaving the sheltered world of your home country and craft a new identity in an American High School? What if the political machinations of your past seep into your new life? I very much appreciated the depth of thought, moral questioning and solid spy thriller plotting of this debut.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

This powerful book about trauma, grief and healing through the power of poetry has gotten very mixed reactions from readers. It is a quiet book and breaks with the current predilection for first person teen narrators, which many find off-putting. I, however, am solidly in the group that found it moving and effective. I am interested to see how it compares to Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar when it is published in September.

What are some of your 2014 favorites in YA or Children's literature?

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