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100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Top 20 Children’s Books of 2011 (#20-16)

Let the singing of praises commence.

Over four days, fellow school librarian John Schumacher and I will count down our top 20 books of the past year. It’s a K-6, anything goes sort of list, with picture books, chapter books, nonfiction, and graphic novels all tossed into one big pot. This year Watch. Connect. Read. is providing bonus features for every book we mention – trailers, additional resources and the like.

But down to business. These are our favorite books of 2011.

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

20. Perfect Square by Michael Hall [HarperCollins | Grades PreK-2]

Click here for additional resources from Watch. Connect. Read.

If the job of a picture book creator is to seamlessly merge artwork and text, then Perfect Square is about as successful as picture books come. Each day of the week brings a new challenge for the square, as it is cut, ripped, and shattered to pieces. But each time, something beautiful comes from the destruction. Big, bright, and bold, but with a subdued tone, Perfect Square will quietly inspire creativity in young readers.

-Travis Jonker


19. Around the World by Matt Phelan [Candlewick | Grades 4-7]

Click here for additional resources from Watch. Connect. Read.

Nonfiction graphic novels are not an easy sell in my school library. When I booktalk them to fourth and fifth graders, they usually give me a look that says, “Nice try, Mr. Schu! I think I’ll check out Lunch Lady and Babymouse.” Their unwillingness to try nonfiction graphic novels changed when an advanced reader’s copy of Matt Phelan’s Around the World made its way around a fourth-grade classroom.

It was a game changer.

This original, intriguing graphic novel took them around the world with bicyclist Thomas Stevens, reporter Nellie Bly, and sea captain Joshua Slocum. Each adventure motivated them to learn more about circumnavigating the globe. If I had given the class a motivational rubber stamp kit, they would have stamped its cover with words and phrases like “AMAZING”, “YOU DID IT”, “A HOME RUN!” “SUPER JOB”, “FANTASTIC”, and “PUT SOME SHINY STICKERS ON THIS COVER.” Bravo, Matt Phelan! You’ve created a pitch-perfect graphic novel for grades 4-7.

-John Schumacher


18. Sidekicks by Dan Santat [Arthur A. Levine | Grades 3-6]

Click here for additional resources from Watch. Connect. Read.

Stand in front of a group of third graders and hold up Dan Santat’s graphic novel Sidekicks. Just stand there. This is what you’ll hear:

“Oh, that cover is amazing.”

“May I be the first one to check it out? Please?” (Such a polite child)

“I love graphic novels. I’ve read every graphic novel this library owns. I want that book.”

I don’t think Travis has ever done a Cover Curiosity post on “Books You Hold Up and Kids Take Them Without Any Commentary.” But if he ever does, I will argue Sidekicks deserves a spot on the list. It has total shelf appeal. The interior art and storyline are mighty fine, too.

How many sidekicks can you name? Batman has Robin. Snoopy has Woodstock. Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson. Frankie Pickle has Argyle. Captain Amazing has ???.

Captain Amazing, the aging superhero of Metro City, decides after getting injured that he needs a new sidekick. He holds open auditions. Captain Amazing’s dog, cat, hamster, and chameleon all vie for the position. Will it be too much for the animals to take? Will sibling rivalry destroy their relationships? Will Dr. Havoc take them down? The answers are found inside this action-packed graphic novel that will leave readers hoping for more volumes. Are you listening, Dan Santat?

-John Schumacher


17. Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger [Amulet | Grades 4-6]

Click here for additional resources from Watch. Connect. Read.

It’s the rarest of feats, when quality and popularity align. So often books contain one or the other – Darth Paper Strikes Back has both. Continuing the story of outcast Dwight and his curiously sage Jedi finger puppet, each interconnected chapter reads like a short story – at turns funny, touching, and odd. Containing all the heart and humor of its predecessor (2010 Top Book The Mysterious Case of Origami Yoda), this is not the sequel slump you may have been looking for. You can go about your business. Move along… move along.

-Travis Jonker


16. Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder [Random House | Grades 4-6]

Click here for additional resources from Watch. Connect. Read.

Laurel Snyder creates believable and memorable characters. They pop into your head when you’re driving to work, grocery shopping, or recommending a book to a fourth grader. She writes stories that keep readers turning pages and absorbed until the very last word. Her latest middle-grade novel, Bigger Than a Bread Box, follows twelve-year-old Rebecca as she deals with her parents’ separation, moving from Baltimore to Atlanta to live with her grandmother,and finding her place in a new school. She discovers a magical bread box in her grandmother’s attic. The box provides any item that fits inside it – a spoon, lip gloss, an iPod, money. The bread box seems like a perfect item that makes life easier – little does Rebecca know the repercussions of using the box and the moral dilemma she faces as she finds herself in a sticky situation. If only the bread box could grant her biggest wish: her parents getting back together.

I wish I could magically place Bigger Than a Bread Box inside the backpack of every fifth-grade girl who wishes her parents would get back together, or inside the locker of every reflective sixth-grade boy who wishes his life would return to the way it used to be. There are hundreds of kids just waiting for someone to give them this book. It deserves a special place in every school and public library collection.

-John Schumacher

#20-16 | #15-11 | #10-6 | #5-1

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Some great titles on this list. And I love the connection with Watch.Connect.Read. – Great job!

  2. I like the way all ages are mixed in — I hope it encourages kids and parents to pick up interesting books above or “below” their reading level. I put “below” in quotes since picture books have so much to offer kids who have mastered chapters — great rhythm and humor, and the satisfying experience of being able to finish a story in a sitting.

  3. Great list – so hard to choose from so many books, but you really have singled out some books we’ll be reading for years to come.

    I especially have to agree with your comments on Matt Phelan’s Around the World. I have loved the reaction from kids at my school. They don’t often read biographies for free choice reading, and nonfiction graphics are also a hard sell. But they are loving Around the World – it’s appealing to all sorts of readers. I think Matt Phelan structured it in an engaging, accessible way – creating original dialog, but also incorporating interesting primary sources. Bravo, indeed!

  4. Great list! I love it when a list contains a bunch of books I adore and then a few surprises not yet on my radar. I look forward to checking those out!

  5. Judy Russell says:

    Appreciate all the help I can get in keeping up with the best books for my students! Thanks for sharing.


  1. […] in Battle Creek, MI. I am here to tell you that I finished the top 20 list on Mr. Schu and Mr. Jonker’s blogs, and I’m very excited that I […]

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