10. Marty McGuire by Kate Messner [Scholastic | Grades 3-5]
2011 may well be remembered as the year princess culture suffered its first real twinges of backlash. Few books exemplified this better than Marty McGuire, the vastly entertaining story of a tomboy forced into the role of a princess for a school play. Cultural themes aside, Messner’s most skillful move was tying the whole operation to the natural plot arc of prepping for and performing a play. You don’t get more climactic than opening night. And Marty delivers one of the most satisfying conclusions of the year. A wonderful start to one of 2011’s best new series.
9. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming [Schwartz & Wade | Grades 5 and up]
Amelia Earhart had been resting pretty comfortably under the patina that American folk legends tend to acquire. Years of having her story boiled down to “groundbreaking pilot meets mysteriously tragic end” left us with a need for further exploration. Leave it to Candace Fleming, the preeminent nonfiction writer for young people, to bring the elbow grease. In Amelia Lost, she turns over more stones and produces better results than any Earhart bio you can name. The most insightful and whole picture of this American pioneer young readers have ever seen.
8. Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell [Little, Brown | Grades K-2]
Spend time with the young Jane Goodall and her stuffed toy chimpanzee Jubilee. Jane and her faithful companion watch birds making their nests, read about plants and animals in books, and dream of a life in Africa helping all animals. It is no surprise Jane grows up to be an animal activist, environmentalist, and a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Patrick McDonnell’s detailed India ink and watercolor illustrations make this the most beautifully illustrated book of 2011. Me…Jane proves that childhood dreams can come true.
7. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Grades 6 and Up]
No other 2011 release has been more dissected and discussed, disputed and adored than Gary D. Schmidt’s return to the world of Doug Swieteck. This companion to The Wednesday Wars places “skinny-thug” Doug in a new town with no friends to speak of. Throw the turmoil of his abusive home life into the mix and you get a book where things could explode at any moment. Doug’s refuge comes if the form of two new loves: drawing to match the wildlife paintings of John James Audubon, and for a girl who sees the best in him. The highs are more moving, the lows are more jarring than anything else you’ll read in 2011.
6. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai [HarperCollins | Grades 4-7]
My personal copy of Inside Out and Back Again looks like it was attacked by a pack of neon Post-it notes. Every syllable, every word, every punctuation mark screamed, “Notice me. Underline me. Re-read me. I’m important.” I wanted to travel back to 1975 and help ten-year-old HÀ as she and her family traveled from war-torn Saigon to Alabama. If only I could have protected her from the insults and ignorance of her new classmates and neighbors. Many times while reading, I imagined myself as HÀ’s school librarian, offering her a safe and encouraging environment.The passages I marked and underlined stayed with me for months–like these:
In the distance
lighten the sky,
falls like rain.
yet within ears,
Not that far away
One cannot justify war
unless each side
flaunts its own
Brother Quang says
add an s to nouns
to mean more than one
even if there’s already an s
through my teeth.
must have loved snakes.
They chase me.
They yell “Boo-Da, Boo-Da” at me.
They pull my arm hair.
They call me Pancake Face.
They clap at me in class.
This novel-in-verse will lead to thoughtful and important discussions about war, immigration, grief, and hope. Thank you, Thanhha Lai, for telling HÀ’s story.