The Best Books I Read in 2017: Middle grade, YA & Adult

I’m back with a continuation of yesterday’s post on my favorite picture books I read in 2017. Today’s list covers my favorites from middle grade through adult.

What were the best books you read last year?

Middle Grade
The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I love everything about this book! Manga-style illustrations are infused with fairy tale magic resulting in wonderfully diverse characters, adorable dragons, memory-evoking tea, and a gentle friendship story about a capable girl learning both the craft of blacksmithing and the art of tea dragon caretaking.

In addition to the story there are some delightful “Extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” at the end. Reading it enriched my second and third looks at the tea dragons’ quiet behavior throughout the illustrations. The handbook includes descriptions of four tea dragons not featured in this book; I sure hope that means we’ll get to see them in a sequel!

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. WhiteSome Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

This book made me want to buy a farm house in the woods where I can live and write. (Except I wouldn’t want to take care of pigs.) A lovely biography of a beloved writer, illuminated by all kinds of archival document treasures and Melissa Sweet’s wonderful collage and illustration work. Quite long, so more for an older elementary school crowd, especially those who’ve read White’s books!

Roller GirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl evokes all the joys and frustration of pre-teen friendship in the fun, off-beat setting of a roller derby camp.

 

Young Adult
Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book is enchanting, clever and also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking not because of a single event but the accumulation of small ones gone wrong, mostly due to the folly of youth and inexperience. It’s the truth of that woven into this fantasy world that made me cry — and pick it up to re-read immediately.

FlygirlFlygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I picked this up at the library with only a glance at the synopsis — seeing that it was about a young woman training to be a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot, a WWII program) was enough of a hook for me. But within a few pages, and after getting confused by the cover art versus the opening narration, I learned that there’s an extra layer of social complexity at play in Flygirl. The light-skinned black main character, Ida Mae, is not only breaking gender barriers as a pilot; she’s also defying Jim Crow roles by passing as white to enlist. The book’s historical setting is thoroughly researched and the plot is crafted with strong, believable emotional stakes. Sometimes Ida Mae’s internal feelings could be delivered more subtly, but that didn’t prevent me from becoming totally absorbed in this story. Would love to see this as a movie.

Adult

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia WoolfA Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa

One of my favorite books I read this year. The subject is inherently interesting to me, but it also very well executed. Each literary friendship the authors selected has a narrative arc and the writing rich with description that make it easy to imagine the time, place and people. So it almost feels like reading one of the subjects’ novels rather than a work of nonfiction.

Additionally, I loved reading about Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney’s own writing friendship and their research process for the book. Unfortunately, gaps in historical records led to a lot of sentences that begin with phrases like “She must have felt …”. I don’t mind their informed conjectures but the repetition of those phrases disrupted an otherwise active and engaging writing style. I also wasn’t overly compelled by their arguments that female literary friendships have been vastly overlooked in contrast to male literary friendships. I was not familiar with any of the latter examples they cited, but that may just be because I don’t dwell in the world of literary biographies. Other readers may be more convinced of the argument that this book is a historical corrective. Either way you see that, it’s a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys British literature, women’s history and shine theory.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Totally absorbing. A rich world full of enchantment, complicated characters and political twists that will keep you guessing as to whose story you can really believe. And the ending! Gah. If you’re averse to cliffhangers, wait till the next book comes out before you start this one.

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American TeenWhat Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

A tough read given the subject — a college athlete’s suicide and the broader issues around mental health among American youth — but also a must-read for anyone working with teens. Fagan sensitively crafts a heart-wrenching narrative while acknowledging the things she/we cannot know about what was going on in Maddy’s mind leading up to her death. I do wish some of the data and other research referenced had been footnoted for further reading.

The Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again ChristiansThe Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan

I picked up “The Reappearing Act” from the library on a Saturday afternoon and finished it by Sunday morning. Why couldn’t I put it down? Because this slice-of-life memoir has all the page-turner-y goodness of a novel, plus the authenticity of author’s real struggles as a gay college athlete circa 2001. Fagan deftly alternates between the process of coming out over several basketball seasons and flashbacks to earlier memories that play off the main action as it unfolds. The result is a narrative arc propelled by both vivid details and emotional heft.

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Cirque du Soleil. If you love all of these things, you’ll love The Night Circus.
*This was actually one I returned to and re-read because I loved it so much in 2016.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Don’t wait. Read this now. Funny, relatable, smart and compassionate essays on being a fat woman in a world that disdains both those characteristics.

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Inspiring women on the silver screen: Dolores Huerta and Billie Jean King

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Dolores Huerta leads the audience in chanting “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power!” at a screening of the new documentary about her life, Dolores, in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15. Photo by Kara Newhouse.

On any given day I’m much more likely to be found reading a book than watching a movie. But tell me about a film featuring rad women in history, and I’m in. I recently wrote about two such films.

In a piece for Excelle Sports, I interviewed female sports leaders such as Olympian Nancy Lieberman and Peachy Kellmeyer, the first full-time employee for the Women’s Tennis Association, about their memories of the Battle of the Sexes. That historic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is the subject of a new movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carell. The women I spoke with all shared powerful stories about how the real event affected their lives as women in sports.

For Images & Voices of Hope, I wrote about Dolores, a documentary about farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta, a critical leader in the grape boycott of the 1960s and 1970s. The story includes video clips of Dolores from the post-screening Q&A I attended in D.C.

On the kidlit front, if you’re interested in sharing the stories of these women with your children or classrooms, check out Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren. Surprisingly, I was unable to find any standalone picture book biographies about Billie Jean King, though she does appear in some sports anthologies for children.

 

Nonfiction picture book Wednesday: Fearless Flyer and Queen of the Track

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Check out the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Last week I discovered an author kindred spirit.

It started when I pulled “Fearless Flyer” off the new books shelf in the children’s section of the library. After reading the story of pilot Ruth Law’s attempt to fly from Chicago to New York in one day in 1916, I did what I always do at the end of a when a book rings my kidlit bells: I read the author bio. Continue reading

True stories of 3 diverse athletes and 1 female sportswriter | #IMWAYR 4/18/16

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“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. as a way for bloggers to swap reading lists. Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, gave it a kidlit focus. Check out the links on their page to see what others are reading this week.

It finally turned springlike in recent days, with buds on trees, and kids returning to baseball diamonds and lacrosse fields.

Apropos of the change in season, I’ve read several great children’s books about athletes (and one sportswriter) recently. Here are my Goodreads reviews for those books.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the GameThe William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Hoy is a man worth knowing about. Plenty of details and events in here for all kinds of kids to relate to. Well written and well illustrated.

Continue reading

Two picture books about … Girls who dared

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You know how a lot of people have been binge-watching TV shows like “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? Well, I’ve been binge-reading books by Shana Corey.

That’s because she writes about “old-time gals with gumption.”

Who doesn’t love an old-time gal with gumption?

Okay, maybe kids who love truck books and the like, but the description applies to many of my beloved children’s book characters, like Anne Shirley. Continue reading