We asked children’s publishing staffers to tell us their favorite book they read this year – one published outside of their company – and where they heard about it. We received a wide variety of responses; read on for the new and vintage titles your industry colleagues devoured this year.
Tamra Tuller, Chronicle Books
When I visited the Penguin booth at ALA Midwinter, Colleen Conway, a Penguin sales rep, told me about Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s. She promised me I would love it. And she was right. This book has everything I look for in a novel: a strong and compelling voice, a writing style both complex yet simple, and an offbeat and totally loveable main character, Willow Chance. Willow is such a keen and honest observer, she teaches us to see the world, and the people in it, in new and different ways. And she teaches us to appreciate all the little quirks, both the good and the not so good, in us all. I was utterly charmed by her and her story, and I felt for her, wanting so badly for her to find “home.” I love books that make me feel. If a book can make me laugh, great. If it can make me cry, even better. If it can make me do both, then I am completely won over. If there was one book this year that I could have edited myself, it would have been Counting by 7s.
Betsy Groban, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Despite all the great attention it received, I hesitated to read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein at first because I feared it would be too dark. So it sat on my bedside table way too long. When I finally read it this past year, it completely blew me away. It did for me what the very best fiction can do: it took me right out of myself and my own circumstances and transported me to the heinous reality of World War II. “Verity” is at the top of my Most Unforgettable Characters Ever list, and I loved the strong female (dare I say feminist?) aspect of the story as well. The writing was utterly magnificent. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that, for me, Code Name Verity has absolutely everything going for it.
David Levithan, Scholastic
I like to play it all cool and calm (ha!), but when it comes to getting an ARC I really, really need to have, I can be as mercenary as any librarian, bookseller, teacher, or blogger. So it was at BEA where I besieged the Abrams booth, refusing to leave until they’d given me Lauren Myracle’s The Infinite Moment of Us. I carried it around everywhere I went the following week, always longing to return to it. Because it’s that kind of book – so honest, so touching, so funny, so full of life that you can ignore your own life for long stretches. Pulling off a love story that feels entirely true is no small feat. But sure enough, here one is.
Connie Hsu, Little, Brown
For one of my favorites of 2013, I’ve got to say it was Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin. The art is just lovely and oh-so dreamy, with a brushstroke texture that makes you want to run your fingers over the pages. The text is gentle and soothing, yet there’s an edge to it too. The design is also beautiful, bringing to mind retro classics, but with a definite modern appeal. The book not only celebrates imagination, it also reveres how weird and wonderful our dreams can be. I found this gem while browsing at the bookstore. Amid all the brighter, glossier holiday titles, this one stood out for me!
Sally Morgridge, Holiday House
I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio after hearing much buzz, and I adored it. I loved the Pullmans and their ever-growing strength, love, and support for each other; I loved the urban setting and the realistic issues intertwined with life in New York; I loved Auggie most of all, for being so brave and wonderfully lifelike. I’ve never encountered a character with so much to offer his readers. His resiliency, his kindness, and his ability to forgive are so inspiring that I could not get him out of my head for weeks. Anyone who feels sorry for August Pullman has read the book wrong.
Kathy Dawson, Kathy Dawson Books, Penguin
I read and loved The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider. I am a sucker for YA literature about smart teen boys in emotional pain (like Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, The Spectacular Now, America, Fat Kid Rules the World, etc.) and this was yet another completely fresh, smart voice that made me laugh out loud on one page and tear up on the next. I learned of it from my assistant, Claire Evans, who is amazingly good about getting the newest, buzzed-about books from the local library and spreading the word when she reads something good!
Nancy Hinkel, Knopf Books for Young Readers
I am completely mad for Crankenstein by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat. I found it in a bookstore and was immediately taken in by the hilarious cover. The text and artwork both bring so much humor to the idea of kid crankiness, and from start to finish it’s laugh-out-loud funny (because it’s true...). I’ve given it to adults with kids as well as to adults simply having a bad moment – there's something about picturing Crankenstein on the cover, with his furrowed brow and ice-cream-dabbed lip, and saying “Mehrrrr” really loud that is extremely satisfying.
Andrew Harwell, HarperCollins Children’s Books
At a conference in March, I was asked to pick a single favorite book from 2012, and I felt confident in my choice of Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. I had read Everybody Sees the Ants for a YA book club and so was already convinced of A.S. King’s genius, but Ask the Passengers hit me like a fast-flying airplane. This year, before reading Reality Boy, I went back and read The Dust of 100 Dogs and Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and wished I hadn’t waited so long. To my mind, King falls in a camp with George Saunders as a writer who flouts conventions of genre and structure out of a sense that the world is full of meaning, but it is also totally crazy. King’s books repeatedly stretch the boundaries of YA fiction, and are always grounded by their unflinching looks at real, imperfect families. So while I would be hard-pressed to say which of her books was my favorite read in 2013, it would definitely be one of them, and I think that says it all.
Alli Brydon, Sterling Children’s Books
My favorite children’s book of 2013 came into my life very recently. After I saw Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s The Dark on many year-end Best Of lists, my husband went out this past week to buy it for our two-year-old son, Alex. We have all been having trouble around Alex’s bedtime recently, and he’s been begging us to keep the light on when we leave him in his bedroom at night. The first night my husband read the book to him, there were no tears at bedtime, and Alex even went to turn off his desk lamp himself before giving goodnight kisses! I read The Dark to Alex the next night; same thing happened. The book is beautifully written and illustrated, and the words feel great to read aloud. It addresses such a natural fear in a very real and relatable way, and I think it’s giving Alex the power to deal with his fear of the dark. We will be reading this book well into 2014 and beyond.
Margaret Coffee, Egmont USA
I finally read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which I had owned since its release and everyone recommended to me. For the first time in over 20 years, I got on the wrong commuter train and didn’t even notice until I was 30 minutes past my destination. The grief you feel for the deceased character in the last chapters is overwhelming, as though the reader personally had suffered the same loss.
Morgan Dubin, Abrams
In 2013 I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay. I was sent the book from a college friend who now works at Candlewick Press. Usually we request specific books from one another but she sent this very special title to me on a whim. I loved so much about this enlightened, sad tale: the elements of classic horror stories, the bravery of a terrified Conor, the dark and intense humor, the pairing of haunting illustrations with masterful text, even the silences. Ness writes about loss and sorrow so beautifully and honestly that the reader feels both consumed and cradled by the story and the relationships within it. I squeezed the book sporadically as I read it – I wanted to hold Conor and twist the arm of the monster... I wanted to hug the author for conquering the picture book for adults that doesn’t spare any compassion. I’m a wide-eyed child over this book.
Jane O’Connor, Penguin Young Readers Group
I just reread Bill Keller’s Treeshaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela, which Kingfisher published several years ago, and it struck me that it is everything a biography for children should set out to do: it brings to life the man behind the myth. Mandela comes across as both heroic and human, someone who not only survived decades of imprisonment but stuck out seven years of intense wrangling with a man he disliked (de Klerk) in order to forge a new day for South Africa. Keller (the former executive editor of the New York Times and an acquaintance of mine) reported events for the newspaper as they unfolded in the early 1990s, and his first-person memories as well as a slew of other news articles at the end of the book bring a special immediacy to historic times.
Rex Ogle, Scholastic
I had never heard of The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer when a friend recommended it to me with the highest praise. I was doubtful, until he told me it was about a boy struggling with the revelation of being a clone and thus considered less than human. I’ve always been intrigued by science fiction, but often found it poorly written. The House of the Scorpion was the opposite – well written with words illustrating a dark future for a young boy born between Mexico and the U.S. I bought the book, took in the back copy, and was immediately intrigued. I read it in just a few days, and was moved – not just by the style of writing, but the imagery and heavy themes. The landscape of a future world, the dynamic of the Alacran family, and the various perspectives brought into view by everyone (from innocent Maria to hardened Tam Lin) were just a few of the things that tugged at my heartstrings and made me want more. I am recommending to everyone.
Leila Sales, Viking Children’s Books
My middle grade/YA book club read Bennett Madison’s September Girls a couple months ago, and it was so beautifully written, it really walloped me. The voice is funny, full of swears, as if it doesn’t take itself too seriously – yet at the same time it’s peppered with these intense statements of truth, like “She was different and the same, and I had known her insofar as you can really know anyone, which is to say not much,” just casually thrown in there. If I were still a teenager, I would be pinning up quotes from this book all around my room.
Miriam Newman, Candlewick Press
I was completely blown away by Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet – which, yes, is slightly cheating because it’s technically two books. But only technically. I finished Dreamhunter, sighed that deep, satisfied reader’s sigh, picked up a completely unrelated book to read next... and got about five pages before deciding that no, I needed to read Dreamquake right away. Elizabeth Knox creates a stunningly real fantasy, with amazing world-building; you’re just dropped onto this magical South Pacific island nation during Victorian times, a nation that’s undergoing more change than it understands. It’s epic in the best way, and it all comes together perfectly.
Amy Cherrix, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A colleague recommended Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and I devoured the novel in one sitting. Then I turned it over and read it again. I’m still pining for them. I wonder where they are and hope that they are happy; living satisfying lives... with each other. Maybe I’ll spot Eleanor on a subway, or bump into Park as he pores over vintage Black Flag vinyl at the world’s last real record store. If not, I’m at least grateful to know the two best people I met this year.
Jillian Vandall, Simon & Schuster
Wonder by R.J. Palacio is the best book I have read all year. It is heartbreaking, moving, thoughtful, and unforgettable. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to go out and buy a bookshelf for it. One of my coworkers found an advance reviewer copy on our take shelf.... After the discovery we decided to make a distribution list for the lucky find. That one copy is now touching the heart of a fourth reader and it will keep traveling on in our office. It is a must read.
Selina Meere, Workman Publishing
I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, so pretty much all of my “reading” is picture and board books. I read about Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack in PW and ordered it for my three-year-old online – it’s become a staple in our nightly books-before-bed routine. Not all the books on the regular rotation are enjoyed equally by my husband and me, but this one is. It’s bright and clever in the simplest way – and even us adults need a reminder of its core message. It doesn’t hurt that before her vocabulary developed, Scarlet would ask for it in a very adorable way – calling it Good Bad News. And she asks the question with every page – “What happened?” – the way it’s written, we can answer in a variety of ways that spark some wonderful conversation. Now we always buy it for birthday presents – given along with a favorite Workman Publishing book, of course!
Andra Miller, Algonquin Books
I came across Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn at Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, N.H. The bright green, vintage-looking cover pulled me in (it was nice to see something simple, among all the brassy über-commercial children’s book offerings). This book, first published in 1965, tells the story of a boy whose wacky inventions makes him a menace to his parents and his many siblings – even though he’s just trying to help them – so he runs away into the woods and builds himself a home there, so he could have a place to tinker to his heart’s content. Soon, other children who feel they need a new place to be themselves come find Henry and ask him to build them houses, and so he does, each to suit the child’s needs: a tree house for the bird lover, a soundproof yurt for the musician, and so on. Soon, an entire neighborhood of runaway children are living in the woods – and eventually their families set out to find them, and welcome them back home with a new appreciation for their talents and hobbies. My four-year-old son loves this book because of the adventure and outlandish homes Andrew Henry builds (though I hope he doesn’t plan on running off to the woods, or more like to Prospect Park, for that matter) and I love it for how it celebrates ingenuity, individuality, and ultimately acceptance.
Maggie Lehrman, Abrams/Amulet
This year I read two books that brought me back to the joy, passion, and heartache of high school theater. They were both unflinchingly real, at least to my experience, and they reminded me what it felt like to be backstage again. Drama by Raina Telgemeier did it in a middle-grade graphic novel, and Drama High by Michael Sokolove did it in a nonfiction book for adults. I’d been hearing great things about Raina’s latest since it came out and finally picked it up, and as for Drama High, I found out about it in the most traditional way possible: after reading a long excerpt in the New York Times Magazine.
Katherine Harrison, Knopf Books for Young Readers
I came across If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan while searching for comp titles to one of my own books. In searching, I’d been dismayed to learn how few YA novels feature Middle Eastern teens, much less in a contemporary setting. The premise alone was a draw, but beyond that I discovered a tender, character-driven story that is simply and beautifully told. Later on I had a chance to hear the author read, and her heartfelt delivery inspired me to go back to the beginning and read it all over again.
Alison Weiss, Egmont USA
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys was a pick for my middle grade/YA book club, and I just couldn’t put it down. Sepetys evokes a sense of place and time so brilliantly – I felt I was in the 1950s French Quarter in a heartbeat. And I really appreciated the bittersweet tones that gave the narrative a sense of keen realism.
Rebecca Behrens, Grosset & Dunlap/PSS!
My favorite book of 2013 was The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya, a moving and uplifting story of friendship between a girl and the most “beautiful, brilliant” bird in Brooklyn. It has such a great voice and wonderful characters. I discovered this book while attending the SCBWI-hosted “Inside Story” middle-grade event at Bank Street Bookstore – once I heard [author] Jane Kelley describe the research she did on African grey parrots for the book, I knew I had to read it!
Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a dog person to the core, but three-time Caldecott medalist David Wiesner’s gorgeous and delightfully hilarious Mr. Wuffles! made me into a cat fan. Discovered via the New York Times Book Review, this brilliant, virtually wordless book, featuring cameos by tiny alien visitors and their ant allies, tops my list of must-give books for young and old this holiday season.
Rachael Cole, Random House/Schwartz & Wade
Trains are the theme with my two-and-a-half-year-old son right now. My husband came home with a stack of train books from the library a few weeks ago, and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg was an instant favorite for us. The rhythmic, spare text, the calm, nighttime imagery with warm bursts of light, the mysterious journey to the North Pole, and the surprise of a train appearing on one’s own street, all struck me as quite perfect. And that ending! The first time I read it I had to choke back tears so that I wouldn’t alarm my son.
Erica Zappy Wainer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I rarely, and by rarely I mean almost never, buy a hardcover, full-price book strictly at the insistence of a bookseller, without even flipping it over and reading the back jacket or flap copy, but that’s what I did when I visited my former employer Terri Schmitz at the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., over the summer. “What’s good?” I said. “You know me. What will make me cry?” Typically my crying comes from books about sad dogs and abandoned animals, but Terri pressed Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt into my hands. What a special, marvelous book. The package is stunning, the illustrations wistful and moving; the gray palette speaks to the loneliness of the bullied Hélène, the main character, until a camping trip and a fateful encounter with a fox changes everything. This is not to mention the Jane Eyre thread woven throughout, as Hélène often loses herself in her favorite story, at times seeing a sympathetic equal in the oft-put upon young governess. This graphic novel is magical and unique, and certainly the most memorable book for children I read this year. I’m glad I took a chance on it!
Lara Starr, Chronicle Books
I was tickled by Bridget Heo and Joy Ang’s Mustache Baby. The surreal premise and matter-of-fact way the nurse advised the family to keep an eye on their newest member hooked me in from the first few pages. And I’m a sucker for illustrations that see the world through a child’s imaginative eyes – cats are a “cattle” that need protecting from a pint-sized cowboy, and a the bars of a crib are a junior jail. Beneath the silly sweetness is question we all confront: how do our physical attributes determine our destiny?
Ardi Alspach, Tor/Forge
I picked up Parrots over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth, as a gift for a friend’s daughter, and I fell in love with the beautiful textures the artist created with paper. The amazing illustrations coupled with a brief history lesson on Puerto Rico and the parrots that live there made it a wonderful book that I will have a hard time giving away. I might have to buy another copy for myself!
Rachel Kempster, DK Publishing
My nine-year old niece, Delaney, lives in Florida, and I miss her. When I can, I try and read what she’s reading – it’s the next best thing to an in-person visit. This fall she was assigned to read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in school. I kept getting the title wrong (“What’s the name of that star book again? You said it took place in Denmark? You think I’d like it?”), but after our next call I wrote it down and bought it. I can’t quite understand how it missed my reading radar for so long. I was so excited to read something she recommended and loved. And I am beyond excited that she’s in the fourth grade and loves reading as much as I did. (She’s moved onto The Secret Garden now so it looks like I’ll be re-reading that over the holidays – after I finish Teeth and Fangirl.)
Michael Joosten, Random House
Hands – or should I say paws – down, my favorite picture book of 2013 is Benjamin Chaud’s The Bear’s Song. When Little Bear can’t settle down to hibernate, he sets out on an adventure to the big city. When Papa Bear finds his little cub is gone, he sets off to find him. Full of gloriously active spreads with pops of rich color, and a simple yet comical text, this book is Madeline meets Where’s Waldo. Everything from the trim to the end papers is a feast. I keep a copy in my file drawer – and yes – I’m going to read it again right now!
John Mason, Scholastic
This year I took part in the ALSC preconference on 75 years of the Caldecott Medal at the American Library Association convention, which included breakout discussion groups on winners through the decades. One of the books my group was assigned to read was The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward, winner of the 1953 Caldecott Medal. This was the only one of the seven Caldecott winners on my group’s list that I had never seen before, and I was delighted to discover this old-fashioned masterpiece. The one-color artwork, reminiscent of Robert McCloskey, strikingly supplements the understated text and conveys the emotional arc of the story, which is really about the bond between a boy and his father as they jointly tackle the problem of an adopted baby bear who grows too big and refuses to go back to the woods when fully grown. It’s a period piece that is timeless and still enjoyable today in a humorous way, and a great read-aloud which I hope to share with my kids and grandkids.