Sunday, January 30, 2011

5 Notably Overlooked Books from 2010

One month into 2011 and my thoughts are already on this year's batch of excellent books. Major awards have been awarded, the Battle of the Kids' Books roster has been announced and we're just a few days away from the announcement of the CYBILS winners.

I'd like to take a moment to look back at some of my favorite 2010 titles I thought deserved mounds of praises but seemed to be overlooked in year end lists and by award committees.

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

This was by far the best young adult novel I read this year. I enjoyed Shusterman's The Schwa was Here but this titles absolutely floored me. I thought Shusterman did an absolutely fantastic job juggling the multiple narrators. The characters and their motives all seemed so realistic that the fantastical elements that come out and shock you about 25% of the way through the novel hit that much harder. I'm not one for too much narrative summary in a review or recommendation and for this title I'll simply say that you're in for quite a big shock and it's not one that is likely to go away after finishing the book.

Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

2010 was a huge year for Mr. Willems. Both City Dog, Country Frog (with illustrations from Jon Multh) and We Are In a Book! are destined to become classics. The later earned a Geisel Honor and the former was robbed of both the Caldecott and Newbery. Willems also completed his "Knuffle Bunny Trilogy" with Knuffle Bunny Free. With all the justifiable praise heaped on these three titles it seems like Can I Play Too? managed to fall through the cracks. I am not going to claim that this installment of the incredible Elephant and Piggie series is stronger than We Are In a Book! but I do think it might be the second or third best of the E&P books, which is saying quite a lot.
In this installment a small green snake hopes to join Gerald and Piggie as they play catch.
Unfortunately, the snake (like most snakes) lack the appendages essential to the game. After a ton of bonks on the head and a blizzard of falling balls, Gerald and Piggie figure out a delightful way of getting the snake into the game.
When I saw this title last summer I thought Willems had topped himself once and once again locked up the Geisel. Little did I know he would surpass this jewel of a book just a few months later. Nevertheless you don't want to miss this fantastic addition to the best early reader series since Frog and Toad. (Also next week sees the release of the next installment in the series: I Broke My Trunk )

13 Words by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Maira Kalman

I have a confession to make. I'm not a fan of Snicket's Unfortunate Events series. I read The Bad Beginning recently and just could not work up the enthusiasm to read the next 12 books. It's not that I thought the book was bad, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I do, however, enjoy Snicket's The Composer is Dead and share it with my second graders every year.
Last week I received a review copy of 13 Words in the mail and gave it a quick read. I found myself laughing out loud. The next day I read it to my class and they too were in hysterics (even the boys, not sure that's scientifically possible so let's just say the boys were laughing a lot too). I love the concept of lampooning the idea that vocabulary learning can be done consciously. My students are almost all English language learners and are constantly encountering new words. During the their first two years of school they were most likely presented with words and corresponding pictures in a systematic/artificial manner and told to understand and remember the words. While this type of explicit instruction does not take place in my classroom my students are familiar enough with the method to take particular joy in the examples Snicket provides here. The biggest laugh of the book occurred on the eleventh word: baby. Kalman's wonderful painting of the infantile haberdashery owner sent my students over the edge.

Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! by MT Anderson
The Ghostwriter Secret by Mac Barnett

Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! is the fourth installment of the Pals in Peril (nee Thrilling Tales) series by MT Anderson. The Ghostwriter Secret is the second book in Mac Barnett's Brixton Brothers series. I've lumped these two titles together because they appeal to a similar type of funny bone which I happen to possess and clearly award committee members do not.
There was a three year gap between the Anderson's Case of the Linoleum Lederhosen (the second adventure of Jasper, Kate and Lily) and 2009's Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware so I was surprised to see the fourth installment appear on the shelf so quickly. Agent Q might be the weakest of the four novels but that does not make any less brilliant. Anderson continues his story immediately following the events in Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware and the reader gets the privilege of spending another novel in the strangest state in the union. (Note: between reading Jasper Dash and Agent Q I had the chance to spend a night in Delaware. I was extremely disappointed, not a single catapult or dinosaur was spotted.)
As we've come to expect with this series, Angent Q is pure adventure. We get great chase sequences, absurd villains, convoluted plotting and footnotes from the best footnote writer in the business. What's not to love?

The Ghostwriter Secret benefits greatly from being a the second in the series. Without having to spend too much time setting up the characters' back stories, action gets underway quickly and does not let up. The plot is full of enough u turns and double backs to keep you guessing the whole way. One of the things I like best about the Brixton Brothers series is the realness of the violence. There is a real sense of danger to Steve and his friend Dana's situations. Knowing that Barnett is willing to seriously hurt, kill or maim Steve or Dana sets this series apart from the cartoon violence of most middle grade adventure titles. Just check out the bullets on the cover just missing the kids! I'm not sure who the audience for this book is since so many of the jokes seem to be aimed at adult readers, but I'm not complaining.

Well those are some of my favorite but overlooked books from 2010. What are some of yours?


Anonymous said...

I agree with many of yours. Two of mine are:

>> Theodosia & the Eyes of Horus (#3 in series) I hardly ever see this series mentioned and that's a shame. It's action packed and stars a girl heroine, which is pretty rare in the genre. For what it's worth, it's also a good HP read alike

>> Binky to the Rescue (#2 in series) A really fun graphic novel from Canada (which would explain the lack of buzz here in the States). A good "clean" graphic novel for older elementary students.

Rachel Cornelius said...

Bruiser was one of my favorite books of the year. I, too, was disappointed by the lack of attention it was given; especially since Shusterman tackled his subject matter so well.

Betsy Parkes said...

13 Words looks so great! I'm excited to get a copy myself. Thanks for letting us know about it!

You have a great site. I've check it out several times since discovering it a few weeks ago. I've added it to my bookmarks so that I'll remember to check back often. :)

Betsy Parkes

Cindy Dobrez said...

Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill is an overlooked book from 2010. Most science fiction for teens are dystopian novels but here is a smart, funny, hard sf with great world building, fabulous aliens, inventive technology, strong characters and a rip roaring plot. Somehow this gem of a boy book did not make the cut on ALA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Thanks for letting me give it a little boost here.