Friday, December 31, 2021

Favorite Books of 2021

2021 was such a hard year of reading for me. I constantly found myself not wanting to even pick up a book let alone being able to immerse myself in the pages of a book. Despite that, I still managed to read over 400 books this year (most of them picture books) and these were some of my favorite books published in 2021. 

This was my last book I read in 2021 and so I was elated that it was one of my favorites given my reading rut this year. I hope this will give me a little momentum and motivation in 2022. I loved the lightheartedness of the humor and despite the hyperbole of the cultural touchstones discussed in this book, there is also so much truth to it. As a born and bred Midwesterner, I felt seen reading this book. 

In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
I actually finished reading the ARC of this book on Christmas of 2020, but was published in August of 2021 so that's why I'm including it on my list of favorite books of 2021. One year later, I can't stop thinking about it. This book's exploration of gentle masculinity, of loving familial and platonic male relationships, is one that will stay with me for a long time.

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
I've always loved the Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl ever since I learned he was the drummer for Nirvana and then became the guitarist and frontman for his own band after Kurt Cobain died. Foo Fighters is very much a band of my generation. I listened to the audiobook of The Storyteller which Grohl narrates so it felt more like I was sitting with him at the kitchen table while he regaled me with stories from his life in rock n roll. I love how salt-of-the earth Grohl is, managing to stick pretty close to his humble roots despite having a life in an industry that can get you swept up in the fame, money, and vices pretty quickly. But Grohl is quick and frequent to credit his public schoolteacher of a mother who recognized that her son would never be fit for the academia track and let him go to pursue his dreams of being a musician before he even finished high school. What a gift that was to him to live his own life rather than trying to get him to fulfill her dreams that she had for him. Prior to listening to The Midwest Survival Guide, this was my favorite audiobook of 2021. But it's still pretty high up there. 

This is a book that I would have never picked up had I not already been a longtime fan of John Green's writing. He sets up the book in the introduction perfectly, reminding readers what a gifted writer he is, compelling you to keep turning the pages, even if you're not particularly interested in the topic of the essay you're currently reading. What you soon come to realize, however, is that these essays are not just about the topic listed in the chapter heading. That title is just an entry point for Green's meandering, yet purposeful style of writing. 

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
Huda F Are You? is a compelling, humorous, and page-turning graphic novel that also deals with serious and sometimes heavy issues like identity, family, and Islamaphobia. And it wins for best book title in the history of book titles. 

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a shameful moment in our nation's that most Americans didn't even know about until recently. For families that want their children to learn actual history and not just "feel-good" history that seems to be what state legislatures are forcing in schools, add this book to your collection. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Florene Michiko, illustrated by Yuko Jones
This picture book biography is a feast for the senses. After I read this book even sought out the episode of Chef's Table that Nakayama was featured on so I could learn more about her and the type of cuisine in which she specializes. If you have a budding chef in your life or just want to learn more about badass women busting glass ceilings, I highly recommend this wonderful book.

Oliver Jeffers ingeniously uses vellum throughout this book as a way to overlay pages so that, in a brilliant use of dramatic irony, the reader sees the ghosts but the main character does not. Before Halloween, I read this book to all of my library classes, K-8, because I knew when I first read this that it would be one of those books that every age group will love... and I was right. Even my 8th graders were completely rapt and engaged when I read this book to them. 

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker
Recently there have been quite a few picture books to come out about the 9/11 Survivor Tree, so it takes a lot to make each one stand out. With this book, what stands out is when the single turn of a page makes you gasp and leave you speechless, you know you've experienced something special. 

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
A stunning tribute to Nina Simone. The writing is engaging while the pictures draw you in and beg you to pore over them and ask questions. I could totally see a Caldecott sticker on this next month. 

More Than Sunny by Shelley Johannes
The playful language in this book just oozes joy and coziness for each and every season (even the ones we don’t like). 

Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin
This quiet but powerful story will leave a lasting impression with its complicated but nuanced approach to immigration, family, culture, and inter-generational tensions. I wouldn't be surprised if this book also has a Caldecott or even a Newbery sticker come January.

What were your favorite books of 2021? 

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  1. I started In the Wild Light but I got distracted by other books before I could finish. Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner is one of my all time favorite books so I'm hoping I like that one just as much. Survivor Tree and The Midwest Survival Guide both look great.
    I have a pretty decent sized list of my favorite reads but I'd say my top five were probably...
    Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
    Survive the Night by Riley Sager
    The Last Apothecary by Sarah Penner
    None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney
    The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

    Ash @ Essentially Ash

  2. I didn't have the energy to write a best of books for 2021, but if I had In The Wild Light would most certainly have been at the top of the list. My granddaughter and I took our time with There's a Ghost in This House. It is a brilliant concept that held both of us in awe. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre is just profound. Watercress gave me shivers and took me back to memories of time with my mom searching for wild asparagus.
    I've added The Storyteller to my list.