It’s that most wonderful time of the year, and what could be a more perfect gift than an awesome book? The books below have all made reviewers’ “best of” lists for 2014. Each book has a brief description or review, with a link to the original source. If you’d like to see the full lists these books appeared on, check out the links at the bottom of this post.
Please note: Each book has a suggested grade level range. These are suggestions only; every person is a unique reader and may find that books outside his or her grade level are more enjoyable. As the gift-giver, you know your lucky recipient best.
… on to the books!!
The Accidental Highwayman
Former circus performer Kit Bristol unwittingly stumbles into the shoes of his master, who moonlights as the highwayman Whistling Jack, and must take on his dangerous quest to rescue the fairy Princess Morgana from her fate as King George III of England’s bride. A tale of swashbuckling adventure, goblins, fairy magic, and derring-do. (Gr 6+) – From School Library Journal
Part oversized album and part encyclopedia, this “museum” of the animal kingdom showcases its variety and diversity with numerous examples from around the world. What distinguishes this collection from similar overviews is its presentation. The illustrations look like nature prints from long ago, but unlike those old engravings and lithographs, these fine-lined drawings began with pen and ink and were colored digitally. Each image is labeled with a number or letters keyed to a gloss that includes identification (including Latin name and size) and a general explanation, usually on the opposite page. (Gr 2-8) – From Kirkus
In this visual and verbal (dialogue balloons galore) response to the query “Where does a story start?” a few kid characters help the author/artist explore how colors, random words, scraps of paper, and some doodles can lead to the germ of an idea. This engaging and inspiring look at the creative process results in an imaginative and enormously appealing story-within-a-story. (K-Gr 2) – From School Library Journal
Jeth Seagrave heads a motley crew of teen space pirates, who work for an interstellar crime lord, in hopes of regaining his family spaceship, Avalon. During a disastrous exploit, he reunites with his long-thought-dead and supposedly treasonous scientist mother and a half-alien half-sister, which spirals into an out-of-this-world mission. A riveting sci-fi thriller. (Gr 9+) – From School Library Journal
Woodson throws open her family history to readers in this elegantly crafted memoir-in-poems, sharing memories of life with her grandparents in segregated South Carolina, a move to Brooklyn, and her ongoing awakening to the power of words and writing. A vibrant, image-rich account of growing up in the civil rights era. (Gr 5+) – From Publisher’s Weekly
Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. (Gr. 5-8) – From Kirkus
Navigating a new school and friendships can be tricky, but when things get tough, Cece dons her alternate persona, El Deafo, whose superpowers—which emanate from the Phonic Ear strapped to her chest—help her find her way in the hearing world and discover the person she wants to be. With liberal doses of humor and quirky color drawings, this touching autobiographical graphic novel leaps off the pages straight into readers’ hearts. (Gr 2-6) – From School Library Journal
Gaston, an adorable pup, lives with his loving and proper poodle pack, until an outing reveals there’s more to family than meets the eye. Robinson’s brilliantly designed acrylic paintings, done in an earth-tone palette, beautifully enhance DiPucchio’s clever and witty text. His simple, graphic style, reminiscent of M. Sasek, is full of energy and sophistication, and the interplay among type, text and compositions leads to humorous results. Gaston will win hearts, as will his story’s message of belonging and family. (PreK-Gr 3) – From Kirkus
In this richly textured coming-of-age story, Glory O’Brien finds herself blessed—or cursed—with the gift to see the pasts and futures of those around her. A master of magical realism, King has crafted a nuanced portrait of a whip-smart but troubled teenager, skillfully weaving in themes of feminism, friendship, family, and identity. (Gr 9+) – From School Library Journal
Joey takes on his toughest set of challenges yet in this heart-rending, triumphant series finale. Dark, funny and pawzzz-i-tively brilliant. (Gr 5-9) – From Kirkus
In this charming story based on a Yiddish folksong, a young man comes to America with “little more than nothing at all” and makes a life for himself and his family. McClintock’s warm and lovely watercolors brilliantly follow the story thread of the hard-working tailor’s handmade coat, which he wore on his wedding day and revamped over the years into a jacket, a vest, then a tie, and, finally, a toy for a grandchild. (PreK-Gr 2) – From School Library Journal
It can be hard for children to imagine that their teachers have lives outside the classroom, but Brown goes a long way toward building empathy in the story of Bobby and his “monster” of a teacher, Ms. Kirby. Brown comically highlights the human complexity and depth of teachers (even the ones with fangs) and students (even the ones throwing paper airplanes). (K-Gr 3) – From Publisher’s Weekly
In this spine-tingling and atmospheric tale in the Victorian gothic tradition, orphan Molly and her little brother Kip find work as servants for an odd and sickly family in a dilapidated English mansion. Creaky stairs, darkened hallways, malevolent spirits, and one terrifying tree will set readers’ hearts pounding. Auxier explores the power of storytelling and the unbreakable bond between siblings. (Gr 5-8) – From School Library Journal
Newbery Medalist Perkins basically outs herself as a squirrel whisperer with this buoyantly funny tale of a group of squirrels trying to keep their habitat safe from a perceived threat by humans. Perkins’s evocation of squirrel language and culture is as clever as it is entertaining, and the same is true of the illustrations she scatters like acorns throughout the book. (Gr 3-6) – From Publisher’s Weekly
On July 17, 1944, at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, an explosion—the largest man-made explosion in history to that point—killed more than 300 men, leading to the largest mass trial in United States history. An important chapter in the civil rights movement, presenting 50 new heroes. (source notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, picture credits) (Gr 6-9) – From Kirkus
Literal-minded Rose finds joy in discovering homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). Diagnosed with Asperger’s, Rose struggles when rules are broken, making her an outcast in school and straining the tenuous relationship with her impatient and verbally abusive father. A surprising bond with a stray dog and the loving support of her Uncle Weldon help Rose discover hidden strengths. Readers will root for this seemingly unlikely hero. (Gr 4-6) – From School Library Journal
A boy’s far-ranging adventures with his domineering older brother are conveyed via succinctly stated precepts and stunning surreal paintings replete with outlandish creatures and reality-tilting events. Mesmerizing scenarios ranging from disconcerting to wondrous are underpinned with revelations about sibling relationships and the rule-smashing possibilities of imagination. (K-Gr 4) – From School Library Journal
In this deliciously imagined contemporary fantasy, debut novelist Johnston crafts a version of Earth in which dragons are a persistent and very real threat. Families of dragon slayers do battle with the dragons, and bards like 16-year-old Siobhan are never far from the action as they sing these warriors’ praises. A rollicking story that, primeval threats aside, has much to say about modern society. (Gr 7+) – From Publisher’s Weekly
Middle sister Lara Jean Song is content to live vicariously through her older sister’s relationship with boy-next-door Josh, until her secret love letter is mysteriously mailed to him—along with every other missive she’s written to past infatuations. Juggling that catastrophe, grief at her mom’s death, and a possible new love interest, the teen struggles to stay true to heart in this light romance and family-centered story.(Gr 7-10) – From School Library Journal
Already a star of the New York City art and nightlife scene, teen prodigy Addison was the envy of many—but now she’s dead. Told entirely from diary entries, interviews, photos, newspaper clippings, emails, and reproductions of the boundary-pushing artist’s work, this faux memoir defies convention and will have readers contemplating genius, longevity, and the cost of fame and questioning whether Addison’s death was really an accident. – From School Library Journal