Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 15 favorite books of 2015

Holy cow! How did it get to be December 31st already? I am completely unprepared to write this traditional end-of-year post but here we go.

I did not even come close to my goal of reading 515 books in 2015. I was so busy with finishing my last semester of grad school this fall that reading sort of fell off the priority list. I only read 394 books this year, 76 of which were novel-length.

Despite not making my reading goal, I have to say that 2015 was a great year for books. I didn't read much middle grade this year, but I had many YA and picture book favorites.

Picture books:

Waiting by Kevin Henkes
I get the sense that this is a book the Caldecott committee is discussing at length. It has beautiful illustrations, it bares no obvious lessons (award committees tend to shy away from didacticism), and disguises itself as a simple story shrouded in complexity (the Waiting for Godot of the kid lit world as Betsy Bird likes to call it). Henkes fills your heart with affection for these sweet, quirky toys sitting on the windowsill waiting for nothing in particular it seems... 

The Moon is Going to Addy's House by Ida Pearle

Poetry doesn't always have to come in words. Sometimes poetry speaks in pictures, movement, music, or all of these things at once. The Moon is Going to Addy's House is a beautiful example of how poetry can be created in the confluence of art forms. It is a book that feels both classic and modern, both back in time and of the time. 

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael  Lopez

This is the story of Millo Castro Zaladarriaga, a young Cuban girl who wanted desperately to play the drums, but she lived in a time when only boys were allowed to play them. This book is a gorgeous poem that celebrates the power of a passion, which is paired beautifully with Rafael Lopez's vibrant, dreamlike illustrations.

 This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad   
This book is everything. This book is about as perfect as a book could possibly be. This book isn't just about Sadie. This book is about us all. We are all Sadie. Some of us just have to look harder to find her within ourselves than others. But she is there. To quote one of my 8th graders, "Sadie represents the child within us all."

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli  
This is what all nonfiction should be: exciting, engaging, and page-turning. Wow! Any guy who conned Al Capone and lived is a guy worth reading about.  

Graphic novels:

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L Holm & Matthew Holm  
I was born in the very late 70s (Two months before 1980, in fact) but despite the fact that this book takes place in 1975-1976, an incredible sense of familiarity and nostalgia from my own childhood came creeping into my experience of reading this book. Little details as simple as the screen door on Sunny's house in Pennsylvania to the way the Sears logo looked back then, Jenni and Matt Holm clearly did their research on even the smallest of details from this time period. More importantly though, Jenni and Matt Holm tell a heartfelt and compassionate story about a young girl who comes to realize the torment her family is experiencing at the hand of her brother who is overcoming substance abuse. It is through Sunny's experience that many kids will see their own families and the ways a family member's struggles become an entire family's burden.

Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley 
In this graphic memoir, Knisely, accompanies her grandparents, who are failing in health and mental faculties, on a Caribbean cruise. It is a sensitive, earnest, fatalistic look at family and mortality, yet also done somehow with a lighthearted touch.

Middle Grade:
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This is one of the most stunning audiobooks I have ever listened to. As someone who studied classical piano for over a decade, the musical themes and accompanying soundtrack with the audiobook made this story come alive. Echo is a book for not only the readers in your life who love music, but also for those sensitive readers who are looking for books to be transcendent – to give you an experience beyond your emotions, becoming almost a spiritual experience. And that is what makes Echo more than just a heartprint book for me – it is a book that feeds my soul.

Young Adult:

Stand Off by Andrew Smith
Ryan Dean West is my all-time favorite character in YA literature. I'm so glad Andrew Smith brought him back for a sequel to help readers heal from the sadness that occurred at the end of Winger

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely 
Books save lives. And they change hearts and minds. This will be one of those books. This book is in your face enough to start conversations, but nuanced enough to make it more than a black vs. white, us vs. them issue.  This book is a great ladder to Ta-Nehisi Coates' book which is also on my list of favorite books of 2015.

Enchanted Air  by Margarita Engle
Before I read Engle's memoir in verse, I had very little desire to ever visit Cuba someday. During and after reading Engle's memoir in verse, I have now very eagerly added it to my bucket list.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
An incredibly powerful and personal tale of a young man's descent into the depths of schizophrenia. The book is a masterfully woven extended metaphor that would benefit a close reading of certain passages because important details are sure to be missed upon first reading.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman  

Tori Spring is a modern-day female Holden Caulfield. Solitaire is a genius work of young adult fiction. It is both literary and accessible. It's a book that I think hasn't been given enough marketing buzz, and so I will be personally recommending it to anyone who likes a good angsty teen drama with a whip-smart, self-deprecating protagonist.  

Adult non-fiction:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A book that will continue conversations started by All American Boys by looking further into the depths of white privilege and how black bodies are treated in this country. A book every white American should read and one that will make you uncomfortable. That's supposed to happen. And while you wade around in your discomfort, just know that many others continue to drown.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert 

Big Magic is a revelation. It is a paradigm shift in how we should approach creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert posits that we need to throw away the trope of the tormented artist in favor of lightness, curiosity and play in our creative work. She has definitely inspired me in how I will approach my writing life from this moment forward. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 12-28-15

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

Bring on Christmas break! I'm making up for all the reading I missed out on over these past few months because of finishing up my last semester of grad school.

I finished reading:

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
While it took me longer to get into this book than A Snicker of Magic (I was in by page 1 of that one), The Key to Extraordinary still has that sweet, sensitive, magical prose that Natalie Lloyd is becoming known for. 

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
An enjoyable read, though I liked Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret better.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Transformative. World-view changing. A book every American should read.

Currently reading:
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Currently reading with my ears:
A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern 

Monday, December 21, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 12-21-15

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

I didn't get as much reading done this week as I had hoped. I'm in the throes of grading finals before we leave for Christmas break so I'm hoping this week I will go on a reading binge now that Christmas break starts at noon today.

Here's what I did finish last week:

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Currently (still) reading:

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
The Marvels by Brian Selznik

Currently reading with my ears:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Actually, this is a bit of a misnomer to say I'm reading this with my ears. I started reading it with my ears last week but quickly realized this is a book I need own and read with my eyes because I will need to annotate it like crazy. So I bought a copy and will be reading it over Christmas break.

Monday, December 14, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? (Return from hiatus edition) 12-14-15

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Hey everybody! I'M BACK!!!! It feels good to be back.

I had to take a short hiatus as I was finishing my last semester of grad school because my final project was making me a tad monomaniacal. I needed to take a blogging break, but fear not! I have returned. :)

Unfortunately, I haven't done a whole lot of reading the past few weeks because I just haven't been able to focus on anything other than grad school. But I will share some of the things I've read and enjoyed during my blogging break.

My one, lone review that I wrote during my break from regular blogging was:

Stand Off by Andrew Smith

I recently read a couple fun holiday books:
Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kimberly Smith
The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas by Ellis Paul, illustrated by Scott Brundage

Other picture books I read and loved:

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger

Book by David Miles, illustrated by Natalie Hoopes
I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I also read and loved:

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
I need to write a full review of this book soon. It is life-changing and soul-stirring. It came at the perfect time for me as I was finishing my master's degree. And I don't usually read adult books, but I got a taste of this book over the summer when I listened to Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcast and I knew I had to read the book as soon as it came out.

Currently reading:

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
The Marvels by Brian Selznik

Currently reading with my ears:

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Stand Off by Andrew Smith

In this sequel to Winger, fifteen-year-old Ryan Dean West is now a senior in high school and is still dealing with the aftermath of what happened at the end of the first book (no spoilers here!). Not talking about it however has resulted in some psychological torment that seems to be playing out most noticeably in his dreams and in his drawings, which once used to bring him solace. Now his rugby coach wants him to play a position that will no doubt dredge up a lot of painful memories despite the fact that he still doesn't know how to handle his own grief.

To make matters worse, Ryan Dean has been given a twelve-year-old freshman roommate, Sam Abernathy, who has his own psychological issues to deal with. No matter how hard Ryan Dean tries to be a jerk to Sam, he can't seem to shake the kid, and they turn out to be quite the comedic odd couple throughout the entire story.

I'm going to come out and make a bold proclamation right now: Ryan Dean West is my favorite character in all of YA literature. He is hilariously dysfunctional and even though he claims he only swears in his head, not out loud, this book, along with Winger, has a whole lot of swearing going on -- and you know what? I absolutely love that about it! Andrew Smith is the poet of expletives.

The addition of Sam Abernathy, Ryan Dean's equally dysfunctional twelve-year-old roommate, makes this a novel you will no doubt be laughing out loud while reading. And that is the genius of Andrew Smith. While you are busy laughing, there is also a great deal of heart and healing going on. As Smith recently said at a dinner I attended at NCTE, he felt like he needed to write a sequel to help readers move on from the trauma that occurred at the end of Winger. And with Stand Off, he achieved that in spades.

Since this is partially a food blog, I'm also going to give a shoutout to Andrew Smith for using Sam Abernathy's obsession with the Cooking Channel as comic relief in the story. When Ryan Dean can't deal with his own feelings, he always seems to be commenting on the strange dishes or new cooking techniques the Abernathy is watching in their shoebox of a dorm room and that always gave me a good chuckle.

If you are a lover of YA literature and haven't read Winger yet, stop what you're doing and go read it right now. And then when you're done with Winger, after you curse out Andrew Smith for ripping your heart out of your chest (based on some of his Facebook posts, apparently readers do send him angry emails cursing him out), then you'll immediately want to pick up Stand Off. And once you read Stand Off, all will be right with the world again.

Stand Off by Andrew Smith
Published: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 448
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Finished copy received from a Simon & Schuster rep

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