I have been looking forward to writing this blog post for a whole year. After my list of the best books of 2014, I decided that I wanted to do this every year. All of 2015, I have kept a running list of new books I’ve read that were really, really good. (I’m a children’s librarian, and as it so happens, all of the new books I read were children’s or YA books.) I’ve sorted them into seven categories and picked two to seven favorites from each one. For the picture books and the middle-grade novels, I had such a long list of favorites that I included ten additional titles that I particularly liked, mostly ones that I think have a shot at the ALA youth media awards to be announced later in January 2016. Before I go ahead and get started on the list, I want to reiterate some of my disclaimers from last year. Although I have read quite a lot of great books this year, including most of the children’s books that have gotten good reviews, I obviously have not read everything worthy of attention, so if your personal favorite is on this list, that might just mean I haven’t read it. Although I like to consider this “The Kaleidoscope49 Book Awards”, it is in no way official and is really just a list of my individual personal opinions. And the little annotations I’m writing are in no way intended to be formal book reviews, although you are encouraged to use them as book recommendations.

 

Picture Books

McToad Mows Tiny Island by Tom Angleberger

McToad Mows Tiny IslandThe author of the popular Origami Yoda series has now come out with a charming picture book about a toad with a lawn mower. Thursday is McToad’s favorite day of the week. Instead of mowing the grass on Big Island, on Thursday, McToad mows Tiny Island. The book enumerates the various forms of transportation, each listed in a different font, that are used to take the lawn mower from Big Island to Tiny Island, which will fascinate children who like to read about trains and airplanes and the like. But what really makes this book special is John Hendrix’s gorgeous, warm-toned artwork. This is a fantastic read-aloud for preschoolers.

Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tadgh Bentley

Unlike the majority of books on my list, I haven’t noticed this one getting much hype in the world of children’s literature. But I think it deserves some attention because it’s funny, the penguin is adorable, and it’s just the sort of book that’s sure to entertain preschool-aged kids. It gets bonus storytime points for being interactive; the kids get to yell BOO to scare Penguin’s hiccups away.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

Zachariah Ohora’s two-dimensional acrylic artwork has a sentimental, old-fashioned feel to it that will appeal to readers of a variety of ages, but the humor is perfectly geared towards preschoolers. When the Bunny family finds and adopts a baby wolf, Dot is concerned that Wolfie is going to eat them all. This book will leave readers guessing about who is going to eat whom right up until the end, (spoiler: nobody gets eaten except the carrots) and Dot and Wolfie’s adoptive-sibling relationship gives the story a bit of depth beyond the humor.

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk

Lady Pancake and Sir French ToastIf you’re ready for a break from cute anthropomorphic animals, try this book about cute anthropomorphic breakfast foods. The rhyming text tells a story about a race through the refrigerator, with the syrup as the finish line. The slapstick humor and the feel-good message about friendship round out the list of appealing factors of this book. Because of the amount of text, it isn’t ideal for a storytime book, but it could be enjoyed as a read-aloud at home for children of a variety of ages.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

The red crayon has a problem. His drawings never look quite right. Everyone has suggestions, but no matter what he does, he just can’t draw red. When his new friend purple asks him to draw an ocean, the red crayon realizes that he is, in fact, blue. If the message about acceptance goes a little over the heads of the target audience, (about age three to four, in my opinion) that’s fine because the color mix-up will strike them as funny. There’s plenty of opportunity for interaction when this book is read aloud, because readers will know that the crayon is blue much sooner than the other crayons come to that conclusion.

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins

A Fine DessertIn this book, the same dessert is made by four families living in four different American time periods. The idea is sweet (pun not intended) and the artwork is picturesque. For me, the most interesting thing about this book is the contrast in cooking utensils over the different time periods. A Fine Dessert has generated quite a bit of controversy due to its depiction of slavery. The eighteenth-century portion shows a slave mother and daughter cooking for the master’s family, and the slaves are smiling and happy. When I first saw this book, it didn’t strike me as being politically incorrect because it seems clear that it’s the relationship between the mother and daughter that makes them smile. In retrospect, I can understand the concern, and I considered not calling this one of my favorite picture books of 2015. But I feel that the author’s note at the end rectifies the problem by acknowledging the reality of slavery and gives a bit of a disclaimer saying that this book doesn’t intend to “explore the topic of slavery fully”. For its artwork and the concept, I decided to include the book on this list. I would recommend it for a slightly older audience than most picture books, specifically kindergarten through second grade, although older children and even adults could appreciate it as well.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

If You Plant a SeedMoving back into the realm of animal stories—although they’re less anthropomorphized because they don’t talk—we have this book about gardening, not planting seeds of selfishness, and instead planting seeds of kindness. This book makes the list entirely because of the gorgeous oil painting artwork. The sky is vivid blue, the vegetables are colorful and so realistic that they genuinely look edible, (that tomato actually makes my mouth water) and the birds are the best part of all. If You Plant a Seed is a book that will appeal to a wide variety of ages; the text is brief and simple enough for even babies and toddlers, and the artwork is good enough to merit the appreciation of adults. In my opinion, this would make a good Caldecott winner, since the Caldecott award is specifically for artwork. In fact, at the school where I got my MLIS last year, this won the mock Caldecott award.

More Picture Books

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert

Waiting by Kevin Henkes

The Snow Beast by Chris Judge

Grasshopper & the Ants by Jerry Pinkney

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter

Where’s Walrus? And Penguin? By Stephen Savage

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead

Little Puppy Lost by Holly Webb

Early Readers

Pig is Big on Books by Douglas Florian

This is a great book for beginning readers who have just barely reached the stage where they’re ready to read full sentences. With its short sentences, controlled vocabulary, and large font, Pig is Big on Books is manageable for a preschooler or kindergartener to read, but it still tells a complete story. Pig loves to read, but one day, he can’t find any books, so he makes his own. The artwork is colorful enough to appeal to younger children, too. It’s a combination of watercolor, pencil, and collage, although in my opinion, the overall effect is similar to a child’s crayon artwork. That fits with the concept that Pig himself created the book. Incidentally, that’s another thing I like about it; not often do you find meta-narrative in an early reader.

That’s (Not) Mine by Anna Kang

The characters from last year’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small are back, and this time, they’re arguing over a chair. Their tactics include adding a spinning chair to the deal, tickling one another with a feather, and yelling, before they finally apologize and abandon the chair to go play, and someone else gets the coveted seat. All of this is done with short sentences and mostly monosyllable words, making it age-appropriate for a kindergartener and perhaps some even younger readers.

Crow Made a Friend by Margaret Peot

Crow Made a FriendI’m not kidding when I say that this is one of the best romance stories I’ve ever read. First, Crow makes a friend out of sticks and autumn leaves, but they blow away. Then, crow builds a friend out of winter snow, but it melts. Then, Crow meets another crow and they build a nest together and have three baby crows and it’s adorable. The artwork is beautiful, too, although it’s not realistic because the crows are brightly multicolored instead of black, which might bother some children who are particularly literal. In terms of the reading level, I would primarily recommend this book for kindergarteners, but the storyline and artwork will appeal to a wide range of ages.

I Really Like Slop! By Mo Willems

Of the two new Elephant and Piggie books from this year, I like this one better. In fact, it’s one of my top two favorite books in the whole series. Pig really likes slop, but Elephant thinks it’s disgusting. Out of friendship for Piggie, Elephant tries some. He doesn’t like it, but he says he is glad he tried it. The best thing about this book, aside from the dialogue format that makes it so much more approachable for young readers than most books of this length, is Piggie and Elephant’s faces when they eat the slop. Any child who has ever had to try a food that they don’t like at all will relate to Elephant’s conundrum and will find it hilarious. Like the rest of the series, this book is great either as a read-aloud to preschoolers or for slightly older readers to read themselves.

­Chapter Books

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett

The Terrible TwoI had originally intended to put this under the Children’s Novels heading, but it’s not very difficult and it has a lot of pictures, so it’s a pretty quick and easy read considering that it’s over two hundred pages. Also, it has less literary merit than laugh-out-loud merit. Miles isn’t happy about moving to Yawnee Valley, an “idyllic” but boring town characterized by its cows. In fact, he’s dreading starting his new school. After years of being an established prankster at his old school, he now has to start all over. And what makes it even worse is that his new school already has a prankster, and that prankster is very, very good.  I would recommend The Terrible Two for kids in third or fourth grade who love humorous books, as well as advanced second grade readers or older reluctant readers.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

This is the second book in a new series that is perfect for the demographic group that loves princess stories, especially if those princesses are more adventurous than the stereotypical princess. Princess Magnolia essentially has a secret identity as a monster-fighting ninja, although the terms “secret identity” and “ninja” are never used. In this book, it’s her birthday, but her party is repeatedly interrupted as she must find excuses to change into her black clothes and go defeat a monster. Princess Magnolia’s story is hilarious, full of colorful pictures, and simple enough for most first-graders to easily read on their own.

Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne

Danger in the Darkest HourThis book from the highly popular Magic Tree House series is a super edition, and as such, is significantly longer and a bit more advanced than most of the series. In my opinion, it also has an especially good plot. Jack and Annie’s friend Kathleen is on a secret time-traveling mission and hasn’t returned. Now, Jack and Annie must go to Normandy, France in June 1944 to find and rescue her. Guided only by Kathleen’s cryptic message, they travel through WWII Normandy on an adventure even more exciting and historically informative than their others. Although the bulk of the series is written at about a second-grade reading level, I would consider this more of a third-grade book, and it certainly has appeal for older readers as well.

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve

It’s hard to find good science fiction for younger readers, but Cakes in Space fills that niche. Picture a version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a ten-year-old female protagonist, written at about a third-grade reading level, with lots of pictures, and you should have a pretty good idea of at least the tone of this book. Astra’s family is moving to a new planet, and since the voyage will take 199 years, they will spend it in sleeping pods. Astra wants the ship’s Nom-O-Tron machine to make her a bedtime snack, but it isn’t ready on time. When she wakes up early, she discovers that the Nom-O-Tron did eventually produce a cake, and that the ship is now being taken over by cake-based life forms.

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

The Story of Diva and FleaDiva is a very small white dog living as a pampered pet in a fancy apartment building in Paris. Flea is an alley cat who wanders the streets of Paris. The two become friends, and the result is something halfway between the plot of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse and the 1970 animated Disney movie The Aristocats. As Mo Willem’s fans have come to expect, this story is playful and humorous, but both the word choice and Tony DiTerlizzi’s artwork have a sophistication that shows a great respect for the intelligence of the reader. (In terms of reading level, I would recommend The Story of Diva and Flea primarily to second and third graders.)

Novels in Verse

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

Full Cicada MoonAt the beginning of 1969, twelve-year-old Mimi Oliver moves from California to Vermont. In her new home, she faces prejudice because she is half black and half Japanese, but that is only part of the story told in this book. It also includes anecdotes about good times with her new friends, her successes and challenges in school, her fascination with the Apollo 11 mission, her dreams of becoming an astronaut, and her struggle to take Shop class instead of Home Economics. Critics have compared this book to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming from last year, and I agree with that assessment. Although Mimi and the target audience are in middle school, older elementary-school-aged readers could certainly handle this book; the verse format makes it a relatively easy read even though it is long and has a good deal of emotional depth.

Believearexic by J.J. Johnson

I admit it, I’m a bit biased about this one because I relate to it so much. Believearexic is an autobiographical story about treatment for an eating disorder, and although my own eating disordered tendencies were never nearly as severe and my treatment was nowhere near as intense, Jennifer’s experiences were very familiar to me, and, I thought, very well-articulated. The book is very emotional; parts of it are even somewhat triggering for people with eating disordered tendencies, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, I would just warn sensitive readers to be prepared for the fact that it deals very honestly and openly with difficult topics. I loved the way the format subtly shifted. The book started out in verse with short lines and an abstract, vague tone. Then it morphed into prose-like language even though the format still looked like verse. About halfway through, it fully turned into prose. I wondered if that was done to reflect the changes in Jennifer’s state of mind, but regardless of the reasoning behind it, it was interesting. Jennifer is fifteen years old in this book, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to readers much younger than that. In fact, I kept on forgetting that this story was geared towards teens rather than readers my age. I’m going to say that I suggest it for ages fourteen and up, including adults.

Children’s Novels

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this book much, since I’m not a big fan of the talking-animal genre, and the imaginary-friend trope feels to me like it’s been slightly overdone lately. But Crenshaw really is a good book, and the talking/imaginary animal/friend isn’t even a particularly major part of the plot. It has more to do with the hardships of poverty, the fear of homelessness, and the comforts of friendship and family. It’s very sentimental, but not in a cheesy way. Crenshaw is not a particularly challenging book, so children as young as third grade could handle it, but it also will hold some appeal for readers as old as middle school.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing about JellyfishIf I had to make a Newbery prediction, this is one of the two books I’d be torn between. (Scroll down just a little to read about the other, which is Echo) After Suzy’s ex-best-friend Franny dies unexpectedly, Suzy stops talking and then becomes obsessed with jellyfish. She believes that Franny actually died of a jellyfish sting. This train of thought eventually leads her to run away from home in an effort to visit an expert on jellyfish on the other side of the world. Although this book is sad and emotional, it also is something that a nerdy science-lover like Suzy will find fascinating for its fun facts. Suzy is in seventh grade, and I would recommend this book for readers in fourth through eighth grade, but especially the middle of that range.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Anyone who loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein will enjoy Book Scavenger, too, and will probably notice similarities between the two. Twelve-year-old Emily has just moved to San Francisco when she finds herself working on solving a mystery that she thinks is a puzzle set up by Garrison Griswold, creator of an internet-based scavenger hunt. But what she doesn’t realize is that Griswold has been attacked, and that this mystery is more important than a scavenger hunt. Perfect for middle schoolers who love mysteries, especially but not only those who read widely enough to be familiar with some of the literary references in the book. (Edgar Allen Poe is pretty significant to the plot.)

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold

This one is ineligible for ALA awards, not only because it’s not an American book, but because it was originally published last year. But it’s eligible for my list because I say so and because it’s very good. Its main asset is the humor. Amanda, who (spoiler!) dies pretty early on in the book, has some pretty entertaining one-liners. But for such a silly book, it has a pretty scary antagonist, (Mr. Bunting, who eats imaginaries) not to mention that Amanda’s death is sad and very surprising. After the first few chapters, the humor sort of takes a backseat to the action, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the action is good, too. The illustrations add a lot to the story, even though most books at this reading level don’t have pictures. (It’s best suited for fourth- and fifth-graders) I know I said earlier that the whole deal with imaginary friends has been overdone lately, but this is a book where it was done very well.

All The Answers by Kate Messner

All the AnswersI think that my favorite genre is what could be called low fantasy. That is, it has magic or supernatural elements, but it’s set in the real world and has some plot points that are consistent with realistic fiction. If we’re going by that definition, All The Answers is very low fantasy, and as such, I love it. It’s essentially realistic fiction, but with one magical element: Ava’s pencil. When she gets stuck on a math quiz, Ava writes “What is the formula to find the circumference of a circle?” in the margin of her test, and the pencil answers her question via a voice in her head. After that discovery, Ava and her friend Sophie use the magic pencil to answer trivial questions just for fun and to figure out how to do favors for other people. But Ava can’t resist using the pencil to set some of her worries at rest, and she ends up finding out a horrible secret she can’t do anything to fix. Recommended for fourth through eighth graders.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

This historical fiction (and sort of fantasy) book follows the story of a harmonica as it is owned by three different characters in the general time frame of World War II. (There is also a brief introductory section with a fourth character, and a brief concluding section that ties the characters together.) First, there’s Friedrich, whose sister horrifies the family by embracing the ideals of the Nazi party. Then, the harmonica finds its way to America, into the hands of an orphan named Mike. Later, it belongs to Ivy, a girl in California whose family is caring for the property of a Japanese family who have been put in an internment camp. This is not a quick or an easy read; I would suggest it for middle schoolers, but I definitely would expect them to take a while with it. It has a lot of merit as a work of historical fiction, and it would especially appeal to readers who have an aptitude for music themselves, as that is a thread that links all of the main characters.

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas MarsdenOf all the books on my list, this is perhaps the one that has received the least attention. Maybe that’s because it’s written for a fairly niched audience. It’s supernatural and dark, yet it has fairies. The plot is fairly complex and the language is old-fashioned, yet it’s geared towards kids in the fourth-to-sixth-grade age range. It’s set in a very specific historical setting, yet it’s more fantasy than historical fiction. On the night before his twelfth birthday, gravedigger Thomas Marsden finds his own body. As is later explained to him, the body he found was actually a fairy named Thistle. Fairy mothers have the power to split a newborn child into two beings—one completely non-magical and one extra-magical—and this is what happened in Thomas and Thistle’s case. Fairies also have the power to communicate with the dead, which is why a famous medium has captured a group of fairies. Thistle was supposed to be able to rescue them, but he failed and died trying, so now, they want Thomas’s help.

Other Middle Grade Novels

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

George by Alex Gino

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

Graphic Novels

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

Grunhilda comes from a long line of successful witches, but her career isn’t going so well. Neither selling potions nor giving tours as a fake witch work out, so she becomes a school lunch lady. A student named Madison needs help boosting her intelligence and demands help from Grunhilda, but Grunhilda accidentally turns her into a toad. This graphic novel for elementary-school-aged readers is dark, disgusting, and very, very clever.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola

Baba Yaga's AssistantNot to be repetitive, but this one also involves a witch. Baba Yaga is a character from Russian folklore, and this graphic novel begins with a girl named Masha finding an advertisement asking for an assistant for Baba Yaga. Masha misses her deceased mother and grandmother and dislikes her soon-to-be stepmother and stepsister, so she’s all too glad to apply for the position. The story is emotional and slightly creepy, and Emily Carroll’s artwork is perfect, especially because the style changes depending upon the context. Baba Yaga’s Assistant could be considered a YA book, but it’s also entirely appropriate for and could be appealing to children as young as fourth or fifth grade.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Based on a webcomic by the same author, this graphic novel is a cross between a superhero story and fantasy. The title character is a shapeshifter with such a complex personality that it’s impossible to pin her down as either a good guy or a bad guy, or even to tell whether she’s impulsive or working towards some goal. She is a self-proclaimed assistant to Lord Ballister Blackheart, who is working to undermine Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, who aren’t really the good guys that everyone thinks they are. Recommended for readers ages twelve and up who like adventures with dragons, big battles, and ambiguity about which side is the good side.

YA Novels

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Accident SeasonCara’s family is inexplicably accident-prone during the month of October every year. They take every precaution that they can, but everyone has a feeling that this will be a bad year. The book starts with Cara noticing that Elsie, an acquaintance who she doesn’t know very well, is in every single one of her pictures. From that very first moment, this book is mysterious, suspenseful and intriguing. For teens that especially like Halloween, it’s an appropriately creepy read for late October. I may have been slightly biased by the setting, because it takes place in Ireland, which is cool.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Lex is struggling to move on after her brother Tyler committed suicide. Some chapters take the form of journal entries that Lex writes at the suggestion of her therapist, Dave. Early in the book, Lex thinks she sees her brother a couple times, but this is not a ghost story, it’s a story about recovery from grief. I’m including it as one of my favorites not so much for the basic plot points as because it’s very well-written and Lex is a highly likable character. Between the length, the discussion of suicide, and the emotional depth, I would say that this book is best suited for readers age fifteen or older.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Finding AudreyMinor spoiler: We never do find out what the traumatic event was that triggered Audrey’s extreme anxiety. We just know that she was in the hospital at some point after something bad happened at school. When she develops a crush on her brother’s friend Linus, it helps pull her out of her shell and overcome her anxiety. Unlike most books about mental illness, this one is light-hearted and humorous, particularly in the depiction of the relationship between Audrey’s gamer brother Frank and their mother, who hates gaming with a passion. I thought that the blend of humor, romance, and honest depiction of mental illness makes this book very unique. It’s a little on the long side for younger readers, but I think that middle-schoolers as well as high-schoolers could enjoy it.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

The farming town of Bone Gap is an unusual place that seemed to me to lie somewhere between the realm of realistic fiction and fantasy. The chapters told from the point of view of Finn, a teenager who lives with his older brother, are almost realistic, but the chapters told from the point of view of Roza, Finn’s brother’s mysterious girlfriend, are otherworldly. Roza was kidnapped and Finn is determined to find her, but he doesn’t know how. Bone Gap first attracted my attention when the National Book Award longlists came out, and it definitely deserves its place on that list, both for the unusual and compelling writing style, and for the twists and turns that keep the plot suspenseful.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger DeepI was pretty excited when this book won the National Book Award for the youth category. It’s about schizoaffective disorder, a mental disease that is characterized by episodes of depression, mania, and psychosis. Caden Bosch’s narrative switches back and forth between his real life and a dreamlike story in which he’s on the crew of a ship on an expedition to the Marianas Trench, and as the book progresses the reader gradually makes the connections between Caden’s experiences on the ship and his experiences in the mental hospital where his parents have brought him. Shusterman’s source is his own son, and the book even includes artwork drawn by Brendan Shusterman when he was experiencing psychosis. The book is very interesting and very well-written, but this is yet another case in which my fondness for it is somewhat biased by my own experiences. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression, I always like reading things that give an accurate and sympathetic view of mental illness.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Ballet, mystery, murder, and hints of time travel and the supernatural… This novel has it all, especially when you take into consideration how unique the prison setting is. Readers are left wondering who is guilty and who is innocent until fairly late in the book. It’s dark and disturbing, but too fascinating to put down for long. I’ve read reviews that call it haunting, and I really can’t think of a better adjective to describe this book. Like a couple others that I’ve included on this list, it’s not really ideal for most readers younger than high school, although I wouldn’t dissuade an intelligent and interested twelve- or thirteen-year-old from giving it a try.

Nonfiction

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

This autobiographical story was originally written for adults, and as such, was a New York Times bestseller, but there is also a “young reader’s edition” written at about a fourth-to-sixth-grade reading level. It takes place in a small, poor farming community in Malawi, Africa, where Kamkwamba grew up experiencing poverty and famine. But his dedication and innovation, as well as inspiration from a library book, led him to build a windmill that brought electricity into his home. Kamkwamba was eventually able to return to school and now has a college degree and is a public speaker. Not only is his story inspirational, but it is fascinating to read about how someone who was a child so recently (he’s only four years older than me!) grew up in an environment so different from what we experience in America.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Most DangerousThis one is really a crossover between YA and adult. I could see some readers as young as twelve or thirteen enjoying it, but only if they had an interest in the Vietnam war or mid-twentieth-century American history. It’s not a quick read, but it is interesting, more so than I had expected. Daniel Ellsberg’s mark on history is that he leaked secret documents regarding America’s activities in Vietnam, demonstrating to the general population that many decisions were made for different reasons than what the government publicly said. This book, as the subtitle implies, is a cross between a biography of Ellsberg and an account of the Vietnam war as a whole.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder

Picture book biographies aren’t always good, but when they are, they’re very good. This one is very good. It’s fairly sparse on text and could appeal to readers as young as kindergarten, (I would recommend it to older readers as well, but it wouldn’t be much of a reading challenge) but it’s informative and will fascinate readers who like ballet and might not be familiar with the history behind the art form. Anna Pavlova, who was a famous Russian ballerina in the early decades of the twentieth century, was dancing at a time when the ballet world was significantly different than it is now, and her story is interesting and inspirational.

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

The subtitle itself gives a pretty descriptive summary of this book. It’s another picture book biography, (if you can count a book about a bear rather than a human as a biography) but it has a little more text, making it suited for a slightly older audience. I’ll just say elementary-school-aged as a whole, although few readers older than second grade would find it challenging. The artwork is beautiful and the story is sweet, but the main appeal of this book for me is that it gives the complete story behind a fun fact that we’ve all heard without knowing all the details.