What a year! There have been so many amazing titles that have come out, and many I have not even read yet. So please know that this list is skewed, being only based on titles I have read.
Top Young Adult Titles of 2016:
10. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle – Quinn Roberts hasn’t been to school since December 20th. That was the day his sister, and best friend, Annabeth died in a car accident while texting HIM. Quinn feels he cannot forgive himself, let alone finish the screenplay he was writing when she died. Quinn’s mother is struggling as well, so it’s his best friend Geoff that decides it’s time for Quinn to get out again. They go to a college party, and that’s where Quinn meets Amir. Now Quinn is confronted with more than just the death of his sister, and soon things are changing quite quickly for him. After reading that author Tim Federle wrote this book about an accident his own high school, I understood why it seemed so real. This book is from the heart. I experienced all that Quinn, Geoff, Amir, and even Annabeth did right along with them. What an amazing book!
9. The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely – Teddy Hendrix is a good kid, but a bit lost. He doesn’t really have any true family except his paternal grandfather Gpa, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. His mother is always away for work, so Hendrix is the one who sees his Gpa losing his mind more each day. He chooses this, for he loves Gpa and the stories he tells about his grandmother. Gma was the love of his life, and one thing Hendrix does know is that he wants to write all these stories down before Gpa’s mind goes and they loses them forever. One day, however, good, sweet, Hendrix does the unthinkable. He asks Corrina, the girl he has a crush on, to help him spring Gpa from the facility he’s living in. Corrina, who is just looking for a reason to leave, takes him up on it. They steal his mother’s car, and decide to drive across country to Ithaca, NY, where Gpa and Gma first began their love story. I made so many different connections with this book. From the grandfather with Alzheimer’s to the many impressive classic rock references. In Chapter 18, when Hendrix and Corrina were “looking for a miracle” I thought I was back at a Phish or Dead show! I’ll definitely be thinking about this book for a long time.
8. March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell – A beautiful end to an important trilogy. John Lewis’s narration of his involvement in the fight for equal rights is amazing, and the art work brings it all to life for this generation. I can only hope that this trilogy makes it into classrooms and households all over the world. I know I’ll be doing a lot to promote it in my classroom!
7. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – Rainbow Rowell finally brings her popular characters from her novel Fangirl back in their own story. Simon and Baz have hated each other ever since they were made to room together at Watford School of Magicks. Simon has always though Baz wanted him dead, and Baz has his own secrets to hide from “the Chosen One.” In Carry On, Rowell finally brings their story to life, and in the exact way fans had been hoping she would. What a read!
6. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – Yoon has a knack for creating memorable characters. This latest novel made me fall in love with main characters Daniel and Natasha. Both are teens struggling with very different family issues when they meet one day in New York City. At first, I liked them for different reasons. Daniel was full of optimism and had a strong belief in fate, despite what it made Natasha think of him. He believed the universe brought them together. Natasha, who loved her grunge music and science, had a tough time believing in fate, but she saw something in Daniel that made her trust him. They were so different, but as their love began to grow, I began routing for them too. Though Natasha and her family were being deported that very day, I began having that same hope that Daniel always believed in: I wanted them to find a way. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say this is a must read!
5. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Annabelle is a good daughter to her parents, and she seems content with the friends she has in the small little town of Wolf Hollow. Even Toby, who is dubbed the town weirdo by many, is a quiet friend of Annabelle’s. She is happy, this is, until a new girl named Betty joins her class. From the moment I was introduced to Betty, I just knew she had no good in her. She was not just a bully, but pure evil. Annabelle soon realizes her safe town is not so safe anymore. Everywhere she turns, Betty is doing something unspeakable to her or someone else. Even Toby is not safe from Betty’s wrath. This book teaches so many important lessons, but most of all the importance of being open minded.
4. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King – Sarah is 16 years old, and she’s having an existential crisis. She sees her 10-year-old self, her 23-year-old self, and eventually her 40-year-old self. She follows around a homeless man named Earl, and she dreams of seeing her older brother Bruce who she hasn’t seen since the family trip to Mexico when she was ten. After witnessing something at school, she starts skipping, not able to handle it anymore. Sarah is dealing with more than just what she witnessed at school, for she is living with a tornado. A.S. King is, without a doubt, one of my favorite authors. On the back flap of this book is a quote that reads, “The New York Times called her ‘one of the best YA writers working today.'” I couldn’t agree more.
3. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – It’s winter in 1945. Four teenagers, unknown to one another, must fight to survive and get to the sea as the Soviets get closer to them each day. Joana, a nurse, fight to save whomever she can, but her guilty conscience haunts her. Florian, a Prussian wish his own secrets, meets Emilia, with a bulging secret of her own. Together the three of them, and a large group of other refugees, work together to survive constant horrors. The fourth teen, a wannabe soldier named Alfred, already left his mind a while ago. This remarkable story is based on real life events during World War II that few people know about. This is definitely one book I will be sure to share again and again.
2. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – Kaz and his crew are back in the truly remarkable sequel to Six of Crows. I loved Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but this duology is even better! I got sucked into this book as much as the first one. I think Bardugo not only has a knack for creating memorable, likable characters, but also for fantastic storytelling.
1. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – I honestly didn’t know what to expect with this book, but oh I’m SO glad I read it! I immediately fell in love with main characters Dill, Travis, and Lydia. All three of them are teens dealing with hardships, some worse than the others. Dill is the son of a preacher who is now in jail after the police find inappropriate pictures of children on his computer. Travis is the son of a drunk father who can’t get over the death of his oldest son. Lydia may have a normal family, but deals with bullying at school for dressing different than the other teens in their small Tennessee town. How can they cope? Thankfully, they have one another, but is that enough? What amazing debut by Jeff Zentner! I’ve already read his next book Goodbye Days, and I’m sure it will be on my 2017 list. I’m a forever Zentner fan now!
Top Middle Grade Titles of 2016:
10. Pax by Sara Pennypacker – Pax the fox is just a young kit when Peter rescues him. Peter becomes his boy, and the two are inseparable. Unfortunately, they live during a time of war, and Peter’s father must fight. Peter is sent away to his grandfather’s and must leave Pax behind. From then on, the boy and his fox resolve to find each other. Both go through hardships and meet others along the way, but they refuse to give up. This is a truly beautiful story, and a memorable one.
9. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – A story about Roz the robot, who has a heart of gold. She may be new to the wilderness and to the animals in it, but none of that stops her. The book has a lot of important themes that young children can relate to. I immediately thought my son and I would enjoy this one together, for it takes place out in the wild.
8. Ghosts by Raina Telegemeier – Loved Raina Telgemeier’s latest! She does a wonderful job weaving together a special story that deals with the Day of the Dead, illness, courage, and, of course, ghosts! I think this is my favorite one yet!
7. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson – Ms. Bixby is one of the good ones. You know the ones. A teacher who is memorable, remarkable, and someone you enjoy coming to school to see each day. Sure, she’s not perfect, but she is special. Brand, Topher, and Steve all know this, and they are proud to tell others they have Ms. Bixby. It is because of their adoration for her that they decide to hatch a plan to skip school and go on an adventure. For Ms. Bixby is sick. Too sick to finish out the school year. These three boys decide they will do anything to make sure Ms. Bixby knows what she means to them. I had Ms. Bixby’s in my life, and I can only hope all children do. They are desperately needed by so many more children than we could ever imagine. Thank you John David Anderson, for a true treasure.
6. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – I picked up this book after reading some amazing reviews, and I was not disappointed! The main character, Carol, is stuck spending the summer before 7th grade in the New Mexico desert. She has to help her parents move her grandfather Serge, who she is meeting for the first time, from his ranch into an assisted living facility. Carol is dreading it all, but instead she is surprised by her desire to be with her grandfather and hear his stories about his past and her grandmother Rosa. Lindsay Eager’s first novel is original and magical. I eagerly awaited Serge’s stories about Rosa, the bees, their land, and the tree. Definitely a must-read!
5. Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo – Oh, this book! Kate DiCamillo did it again! Raymie is determined to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. She must win. When she does, her picture will be in the paper. That means her father will have to see her picture and come home. He will want to see his famous daughter and not with the dental hygienist he ran off with. Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski at her first baton lesson, and it is there that the adventures of the Three Rancheros begin! What a beautiful book. Just like DiCamillo’s other books, she created a truly memorable cast of characters.
4. Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart – What an amazing tale of love, friendship, loyalty, and determination! Joseph doesn’t have much anymore. His parents and sister are gone, so the only family he has left is his horse Sarah. Unfortunately for Joseph, the old man that was supposed to care for him sold Sarah behind Joseph’s back. But Joseph is determined. He plans to get Sarah back, no matter the cost, so he takes off on his own. I fell in love with this book from page one, just like I did with The Honest Truth. I will forever read any book that Dan Gemeinhart writes.
3. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart – Lily Jo McGrother has a wonderful, loving mother and sister. They don’t see how the kids at school–especially the group of Neanderthals– pick on Lily though. She doesn’t want them to know about the bullying, for then people besides her family may find out her secret that she’s just not ready to share yet. You see, Lily was born in a boy’s body and named Tim. She goes by Tim at school, for it could be so much worse if she didn’t. Since she can remember, she has never felt comfortable as a boy, and her mother and sister get that. Her father is a different story. He struggles with Lily’s decision, and is embarrassed by it. At least Lily has one friend who understands: Dare. She calls her Lily and supports her. Soon Lily meets Dunkin, a new student at school. They have a strong bond, but Dunkin cares more about what others think of him and won’t be seen with Lily at school. Dunkin desperately needs Lily though, for he is struggling with his own problems. This is a story for everyone: parents, teachers, and students. I truly loved it, and plan to share it with students right away. Lily is a spectacular child, and does not let the fact that she is a transgender 8th grader stop her. Dunkin’s mental health issues are all too real for so many people today. All readers will fall in love with Lily and Dunkin just as I did.
2. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – What a beautifully written fantasy novel! Each year in the town of Protectorate, the people sacrifice one baby to a supposed witch that lives in the forest near by. There is really a witch in the forest, not one that the people need protecting from. Xan is a sweet, gentle soul who each year rescues the baby and brings it to a family on the other side of the forest. One the novel opens, Xan is on that journey with a child, and she accidentally feeds it moonlight instead of the starlight she usually uses. She decides to keep this child, and name her Luna. Luna gains powers as she gets older, and it soon she will need to use them. What a truly amazing, gorgeously-written book! Kelly Barnhill’s words flow throughout this book in a way I have never seen before! The tale she weaved is beautiful, breathtaking, and downright impressive. I look forward to the day I begin to read this book again, for I know I will.
1. Ghost by Jason Reynolds – 7th grader Castle Crenshaw can’t seem to make it more than 17 straight hours without getting into some kind of trouble. He feels he can’t help it, for he has so much anger built up inside of him. Three years before, his drunk father chased his mother and him out of their house with a loaded gun. Now he’s in jail, but Castle can’t move past it. One thing that this awful incident did teach him was how to run. He’s like a Ghost; lightning fast! When a coach for a league called the Defenders sees him run one day, Castle, now called Ghost, decided to join. Will running be what he needs to get away from the awful memories he has? Another masterful piece of writing by Jason Reynolds! Loved it and I can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Top Picture Books of 2016:
10. Be a Friend by Salina Yoon – Dennis is an extraordinary boy who is not understood by the other children around him. He’s lonely, until he meets Joy. A sweet, heart-warming story about the importance of accepting others, no matter how different.
9. The Night Gardener by Terry Fan – Something is going on in William’s town. Each day, a new topiary appears, each one more creative than the previous one. Seeing how his town is transforming, William decides to investigate. Beautiful illustrations!
8. The Thank You Book (Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems – We are HUGE Mo Willems fans in my house, so this one had to be on my list. This book ends the series perfectly. My children loved seeing everyone again.
7. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers – I’m in love with this book! I don’t know if any book can explain my love of reading more than this one. Gorgeous illustrations.
6. The Water Princess by Susan Verde – What a gorgeous book, and I loved Gie Gie and her determination. My own children had a lot of questions about this book, and I think a lot of middle school teachers could pair it with A Long Walk to Water.
5. Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat – What an amazing book about how to make a long road trip a little more interesting with an active imagination! My children loved the QR codes and flipping the book over to see all that the boy came up with.
4. Giant Squid by Candace Fleming – Beautiful words! Beautiful pictures! My son loves anything about ocean animals, and I found myself enjoying this one just as much as he did!
3. Shy by Deborah Freedman – My children and I loved Shy! Because Shy is shy, they had to figure out who he was as he chased a bird he loved. Beautifully written and gorgeous illustrations.
2. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie – Thunder Boy Jr. does not like that he has the same name as his father. He loves his father, but he wants something original for himself, not something that reminds him of how small he is. A great message, and beautiful writing!
1. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel – A gorgeous book about how different living things see one cat in so many different ways. A wonderful book about perspective that can be helpful in any classroom!
NOTE: These titles are ones that came out in 2016. I did not count any books I read from 2015 or earlier, as well as any ARCs. Also, all of the book descriptions come from my Goodreads reviews.