I’ve been quite the absentee blogger this past while, and I apologize for that. Frankly, things have just been a bit heavy and work has been intense (good! but intense, yes). December, however, is upon us and I didn’t want to leave 2017 behind without a bit of a chat.
It’s been a strange year! Difficult in terms of how the world goes, but really astonishingly good in terms of children’s books. I mean, stupendously good. And from what I’ve seen and heard, 2018 is going to be at least as good. There are so many talented authors, illustrators, and editors at work that it really warms my heart. Whatever else is going on right now, there are good people at work, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
I want to highlight that good work with a little look at some of the best books of 2017. I was going to do a “Best Three Books” but I was struggling to narrow it down to three, so I’ll be doing a “Best Five” because that was as low as I was willing to go.
Here we go:
Karl, Get Out of the Garden! This was one of the earliest books I fell in love with this year, and I continue to love it. It’s exactly the kind of book Charlesbridge does best, and it’s one of the reasons I love them so much. It’s offbeat, eye-opening, and educational without being didactic. It tells the story of Karl, the boy who wants to spend all his time in the garden and ends up doing exactly that– and naming the plants therein for posterity! I love how it rearranges the way you think about gardens and science so that the next time you see a lilac bush, for example, you’ll catch yourself thinking, “I wonder what Linnaeus would call it?” It’s clever and beautiful, and, in true Charlesbridge fashion, as interesting to the adult reader as the child, but without ever forgetting that its primary audience is the child.
Town Is by the Sea is the first of the Canadian books on this list, but it won’t be the last. It’s the story of a boy in Cape Breton, and his life by the sea as his father works in the coal mines. I remember rhapsodizing in my original post about the blurring of light and dark in the story (the light of the sun sparkling on the sea, the darkness of the mines). The illustrations emphasize that quality in the text to perfection. I remember, too, thinking that it was too young for my four-year-old Changeling. That’s true, too; it’s geared towards an older audience. And the Changeling loves it despite that. And I love it. I love that we love it together, each on our own level.
How to Make Friends with a Ghost
OK, here’s another Canadian one, from Tundra this time. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me complain about the lack of good new Hallowe’en stories. I remember a ton of old ones from my childhood, but I didn’t see new ones in stores. This one is new, original, witty and sweet at the same time. It’s a guide to being friends with a ghost throughout one’s life and beyond– and the lessons in here work just as well for living friends as for friends whose lives may be in the past tense. It’s just a tiny bit gross and a teensy bit spooky, but my Changeling, who is currently hyper-sensitive to being scared, loves it, so I don’t think it could be called scary. And we enjoyed reading it even past Hallowe’en!
The disadvantage of a novel over picture books is that it takes actual time to read and reread them. One of the sorrows of my life at present is that I don’t have time to reread The Glass Town Game. It’s so rich, so densely packed with history and literary and artistic allusions that I’m dying to read it again, really thoroughly, and unpack all of the hints that Cat Valente has woven into the text. The story is of the Brontë children and the games they played, but virtually all of the 19th C seems to make its way into the book in some fashion or other. And it does so without ever disrupting the fact that the story belongs to the children and the games they played. It’s genius. You should read it, and reread it, if possible.
Dear readers, this last one (another Canadian one– hello, Kids Can Press!) is going on my list of books to give to almost everyone. It’s a story about seeking and sharing shelter, about selfishness and generosity, about loving one’s neighbour as oneself. It’s warm and touching without ever being saccharine or denying the cruel realism that not everyone will be generous. When the big bear tells the little bear that maybe the cold hillside will be more welcoming than the animal homes where they’ve been denied shelter– well, my heart twisted in my chest a little. It’s a wonderful conversation starter with a child. My Changeling noticed that the animals who said they didn’t have food to share actually did have plenty of food according to the illustration, and so we had a chat about lying and sharing. In short, it’s both beautiful as a story and literature and a good way to start some difficult conversations with children. It’s a keeper.
And so ends this little review of some of the best books in 2017! It is by no means exhaustive, but these are the ones which sprang to my mind when I sat down to write. What are some of your favourite books from this past year? Did you discover anything new?