End of the Year: YA picks of 2010

It was harder to chose 2010 release books to focus on for this year's End of the Year YA post.  In my attempt to read with more diversity, I didn't read as many 2010 releases as I had hoped to read.  However, there were some incredible reads and I decided to go with my 5 top picks from 2010 and several sequels that I really enjoyed.  I am also going to reflect on my favorite debut author books in a separate post.

Top 5 picks (in no particular order):

FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Anthony John - I tend to prefer fantasy or sci-fi fiction.  So when I come across a contemporary fiction book that I loved, it means I really loved it.  I can't rave enough about this book.  Great concept (a deaf teen who becomes the manager of a rock band), an ensemble cast of characters that are all well developed, and a great sense of place & people (Seattle, references to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix).  This was my absolute favorite YA read of 2010.

WHITE CAT by Holly Black - This is the first book in The Curse Workers Series and Black has done an outstanding job in mixing fantasy with present day.  In some ways, this book is the Sopranos meets Magic but way better.  In this world, everyone is required to wear gloves because you never know who might be a Curse Worker and by wearing gloves it prevents people from using touch to unleash their powers.  Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers and yet doesn't seem to have a gift/ability.  However, he does have a secret and can run a con as well as the rest of them.  One of the many things I loved about this book is that there are consequences to the use of these powers.  I so can't wait for Red Glove (Book 2) to come out this spring of 2011.

CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder - I had been under some erroneous impression that I didn't like novels in verse.  This probably came from the belief that I am not really a big fan of poetry so I wouldn't like novels in verse.  However, in about a span of a couple of days (really more like a couple of hours), I read through all three of Schroeder's novels in verse.  I loved the books, and I loved her writing.  Chasing Brooklyn is a companion novel to I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and though it can be read separately, I was glad that I had read them in order.  This book was particular strong in that it is told from both Brooklyn's and Nico's perspectives in alternating chapters.  Chasing Brooklyn is filled with grief, loss, healing, love, and hope.  And Nico is one of my top fictional crushes.  *heart beats a little faster*

THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - I was trying to reserve all of the debut books for a separate post but I just had to add this one to the list.  The Red Umbrella is a historical novel that takes a look at a lesser known part of history - the children who fled Cuba in 1961-1962 during Operation Pedro Pan.  I had an unique opportunity to hear Diaz Gonzalez speak to an audience of predominately Cuban American who had experienced this reality first-hand.  To feel their appreciation for having their story told was amazing.  And Diaz Gonzalez was so wonderful with them as well.  This may be an underdog but I do hope it garners some kind of award recognition.

CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare - I might be cheating here but this is the first book in a new series even if it is a prequel to her previous series.  And since this is my blog and my picks, I'll allow it. Set in Victorian England in the late 1800's, Clockwork Angel mixes in steampunk features with the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders that we have come to love in Clare's Mortal Instruments Series.  Though this book seems to bring up more questions than it answers, I am certainly hooked and ready to find out more about Tessa, Will, Jem and the others. 

Just a quick nod to the following 2010 sequels:

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins - How can a look at 2010 books not include Mockingjay?!  Three years ago I discovered The Hunger Games.  It was literally one of the best books I had ever read.  The conclusion to this series by Collins came in August with the release of Mockingjay.  Though probably the most hotly debated book this year, I appreciated that Collins choose to end her book in a way that was faithful to her vision even if that was different from how I might have wanted the book to end. 

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - I love the world that was created by Garcia & Stohl in Beautiful Creatures.  I wasn't disappointed with this second book in the world of Caster Magic.  Old friends, and new characters, and new challenges move the series to the next level.  The third book in the series will be on my books I pine for in 2011. 

And technically this is a 2011 release, but I read the ARC in 2010 so I will add it here.....

FURY OF THE PHOENIX by Cindy Pon - I had the great privilege of reading this in 2010 despite the release not being until March/April 2011.  This is Pon's sequel to her 2009 Debut SILVER PHOENIX.  I will be reviewing this soon, but let me say that Pon took her sequel in a new direction that shows her growth as a writer.  Fury is a beautiful story of decisions & choice, and love & forgiveness in the beautiful world of Xia that she created in book one.  If it isn't on your list of books to read, it definitely should be.

So what were your favorite YA reads in 2010?  

End of the Year: Middle Grade Book Picks of 2010

Recently, I listed my top picture books for 2010 (click here to read the post).  Just as with the picture book category, there are a lot of great books that fall within the reading level of first grade to sixth to choose from.  I have limited my choices to releases within the 2010 release year.  The books listed below are not in any particular order of preference.  I loved them all because each spoke to me in their own way.  There may have been some better written books out there and even some that will win awards but these were books that I just plain loved - simple as that.

LULU & THE BRONTOSAURUS by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith - Lulu wants a brontosaurus for a pet.  Lulu is use to getting her way.  Brontosaurus has other plans.  I found myself laughing as I read this book.  I have used this as a read aloud for first and second graders and have lent out my personal copy to so many children that I have lost count.  If you haven't read Lulu, what are you waiting for.

BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile - Graphic Novel? Comic Book? Early Reader? Call it what you may but this story of friendship, imagination, and adventure between an unlikely pair is just so fun.  I can't wait for the next Bink & Gollie book. 

GABBY & GATOR by James Burks - This comic-book style story about a friendship between the list making vegetarian (Gabby) and the meat eating, toilet fearing Gator is another fun read that makes you want more.  I need to particularly give this book some love and shout outs since it is only available on-line (Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.). This is local Los Angeles author/illustrator Burks' first book and I am looking forward to more from him. 

THE CLOUD SEARCHERS (AMULET BOOK #3) by Kazu Kibuishi - Emily, Navin, and an unusual crew are in search of a mythical city.  There is adventure, trouble, and a struggle to make the right decisions.  I don't know if I just love Kibuishi's illustrations or the fantastical element of this story or the combination but I will say that there are a lot of fans of this graphic novel series over at my school.  This and the previous two books were a big hit at our Winter Book Fair and the copies in my office are checked out as soon as they are returned.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger - Is the origami Yoda on Dwight's finger really dispensing wise advice or is it all a joke that Dwight is playing?  Follow along as a group of students try to navigate friendship, pop quizzes, and crushes while trying to figure out the answer to the question about Origami Yoda's advice.

This was one of the books I bought in the summer and finally had to buy a second copy because students kept taking it from me before I had a chance to read it.  This is a great book to recommend to kids who are fans of The Diary of a Wimpy Kids Series but need prompting to move to something else.  I was thrilled to hear that there would be a sequel to this book. 

A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz - This debut offering by Gidwitz does the Brothers Grimm proud while offering an interesting re-telling of the story of Hansel and Gretel.  I loved this book and couldn't put it down.  Children who love scary tales will find this book to be just right for them. 

TORTILLA SUN by Jennifer Cervantes - A debut novel that mixes loss, hope, love, friendship, magical realism & homemade tortillas and produces a winner.  I read this aloud to my fourth graders who loved it.  Cervantes' book inspired our first Book Cafe which was a huge success and it sold out at our Winter Book Fair. 

OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper - This story of a 10 year old girl with severe Cerebral Palsy who finally discovers her voice moved me deeply and reminded me of why I first went into teaching children with Special Needs so many years ago. As I read the book the first time, I find myself nodding in agreement - I knew and worked with many Melodies. What a powerful story.  I read this to the same class as I did Tortilla Sun and the discussion and thought that the book provoked was phenomenal.  If this book doesn't win an ALA award (Newbery, Schneider Family Award) I just may scream.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia - As much as I loved OUT OF MY MIND and want it to win an award, this is very likely the book that will challenge it for the Newbery.  Delphine and her sisters are sent to stay with their mother in Oakland during the summer of 1968.  The same mother who had walked out on them 7 years earlier.  This book left me feeling sad in some ways.  I think that despite the strong sense of place & history for the story (Oakland, 1968, Civil Rights) the message is timeless.  There are still children that parents have walked out on and children who are still trying to find a connection to those same parents.  But books that move me are often the ones I want to share with others and to read aloud with students.  And this is one of them. 

THE KNEEBONE BOY by Ellen Potter - I love watching an author grow as a writer and to develop his or her craft.  After reading SLOB by Potter in 2009, I really didn't think her next book could be better, but  I was so wrong.  Potter knocks it out of the park with this tale of 3 siblings in search of the mysterious Kneebone Boy but who eventually discover a more powerful truth.  Beautifully written and a personal favorite of the year and worthy of an award.

IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder -  This book is deceptive.  The title and cover may seem whimsical and light and sure there are recipes for cupcakes, but there is also a powerful little story here.  Isabel's mother decides to open a Cupcake shop but it is Isabel who needs to keep her mother from giving up when a mega-bakery opens nearby.  Isabel must also decide whether to please her mother by entering a cupcake recipe in a Baking Contest or to honor her own creativity and submit a completely different recipe that she has personally created.  Schroeder does an amazing job at capturing the struggles of living in the shadow of others and learning to grow into your own person. 

SPILLING INK: A YOUNG WRITER'S HANDBOOK by Anne Mazer & Ellen Potter - I had a chance to review this book before it was released and to try out the writing exercises with my sixth graders last winter.  I knew the book would be a winner when I read it but I didn't realize how much my reluctant writers would love this book until we started using it with them.  It did more for encouraging them to write then any other thing we tried.  If you are looking for a gift for a teacher in your life, I would highly recommend this one.

Now that I shared my favorite Middle Grade books of 2010, leave me a comment with what books moved you?

End of the Year: Thoughts on Picture Books of 2010

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Last year, I was barely blogging and I did one "End of the Year" post and featured mostly YA books.  This year I have read more widely and will need to do 3 post because I have at least 5 to 10 favorites for Picture Books, Middle Grade Books and Young Adult.  Since I have read nearly 270 pictures books this year, I am limiting the selections to 2010 releases. 

Here are my top five:

CHALK by Bill Thomson - This wordless picture book has the most amazing illustrations.  When I gave it to my teachers for Christmas, I felt like I was giving more than just a book but a true piece of art.  I am already conspiring to do a school-wide activity around this book. I would love to see this book win a major award though unfortunately I have not seen enough buzz for this one.  I will still keep my fingers crossed. 

MIRROR, MIRROR! by Marilyn Singer - Every time I open this book, I am utterly and thoroughly amazed by it.  This book of reversible verse and the images that reflect it as well.  I can barely write a poem in one direction let alone make it reversible.  And then to have the pictures so thoroughly capture the words.  Amazing! 

ART & MAX by David Wiesner - This book about an odd pairing is complex, and one of those books that can be used with older students for discussion and inspiration.  Every time I have read it, (yes, my top 5 have been read multiple times), I smile.  I love how the book starts in one place and how the characters grow and evolve through the book.

OH NO! OR HOW MY SCIENCE PROJECT DESTROYED THE WORLD by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat - This is truly an example where the illustrations moved this from a fun book to brilliant.  Santat's illustrative nod to Japanese Monster movies adds another level to this book.  You have to read it more than once just to get all of the references and little additions. 

SHARK VS. TRAIN by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld - I loved the illustrations in this book.  Bright, fun, imaginative!  The text and illustrations work beautifully together in this story.  I suggest covering the initial page (which I feel is kind of spoilerish) when reading it for the first time. 

Not to be forgotten or left out....

CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth - There is a lot of buzz around this book.  The illustrations are lovely, and emotion evoking.  The story is tender and touching and grab a tissue worthy. 

THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee - It's Marla Frazee - what is not to love.  This is a creative twist on the nature of a being first time parents.  What a great book to give as a gift. 

DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier - This non-fiction picture book takes a look at the life of man who despite being a slave found a way to leave his mark.  Collier's paintings are phenomenal and this book needs more buzz. 

MAMA MITI by Donna Jo Napali, illustrated by Kadir Nelson - If Nelson illustrates a book it will likely be on any top ten list.  I loved the illustrations.

THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Renata Liwska - A look at all the different ways a child can be quiet throughout the day.  Simple text supported by beautiful, gentle illustrations.  I hope it comes out in a Board Book format. 

I feel sad that I limited myself to only 10 but this post would have gone on and on if I mentioned every picture book that I loved this year.  Looking forward to more in 2011.  So what is on your top 10 picture books for 2010?