Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2017

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Time for the end-of-the-year reflection: If you’ve been with me for more than a year, you’ll know this has become something of a tradition. I believe that the books that receive from me that coveted 5-star rating deserve some extra recognition. And it’s always fun to get in on the act of guessing who might win which awards. 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

Qualified for This Year’s Awards

Several of these picture books could deserve a Caldecott, but none so much as Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson’s. Nelson has deserved the Caldecott several times over. He is like the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Caldecott. He has two honorees but no winners. This was a timely book with beautiful, touching, imaginative, realistic, and diversely populated illustrations. Both Not Quite Narwhal and Trains Don’t Sleep I think the Caldecott committee might decide are too much fluff, especially given the winners of the last two years. This Beautiful Day by Jackson and Lee might be in the running, but I feel like it didn’t generate hardly any chatter when it was released; I just enjoyed it a lot, and pushed it at our store. Ditto to Trains Don’t Sleep. That being said, the Caldecott winner last year, Radiant Child, was a book that escaped almost everyone’s notice and was out of print before it was awarded the medal; it’s since been rereleased. It still doesn’t sell, maybe because it’s a biography and not a fiction book, so it is not shelved where people often look for Caldecott winners, but Barnes & Noble Corporate has learned to display Finding Winnie, a history book and 2016’s winner, among fiction books, and it does sell from those displays. 

I reread a few classics that I didn’t feel capable of fairly rating, and a few books by authors towards whom I know I’m largely blind in favor of their stories.  Not rated this year were How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Goodnight Moon, The Story of Ferdinand, then the Elephant and Piggie books, Watch Me Throw the Ball! and I Broke My Trunk!.  It’s possible all of those deserve a 5-star rating, but I feel unqualified to say.  None of them, anyway, can win any awards this year.

MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8-12) 

Neither of these are really Newbery material, and only The Ship of the Dead would be eligible for any awards this year. The Hammer of Thor did pull off that surprise Stonewall award win last year. Could The Ship of the Dead do the same? I don’t think the committee is likely to choose a second book from the same series a second year in a row.

I reread a whole bunch of middle grade fiction this year that I didn’t feel able to rate objectively: books 5-7 of Harry Potter, two older books of Riordan’s, and C. S. Lewis’ first in the Chronicles of Narnia (fight me), The Magician’s Nephew. All of those subjectively might receive a 5-star rating from me, but I can’t separate the stories themselves from my nostalgia and author blindness.

TEEN (AGES 13-19)

The Hate U Give has already won a bunch of well-deserved awards: a National Book Award nomination, a Boston Globe Horn Book Award, a nomination for the Kirkus Prize, two Goodreads Choice Awards…. Who knows what else is in store for it? A Coretta Scott King Award perhaps? It’s more teen than middle grade or elementary, so I think it’s disqualified from the Newbery, but I would have thought that picture books were disqualified too, and the committee proved me wrong there. (I half-hope they don’t do so again; it causes quite a bit of confusing when shelving.)

I also finished reading but didn’t rate every available issue of the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, which are more teen than middle grade simply because these kids past the end of the series have grown definitely into teenagers and arguably into adults, ruling countries, forming governments, or becoming business partners.  I love these characters, and I love this world, but the comics don’t have the same continuity or comedic timing of the television show.

ADULT (AGES 20+)

I really read hardly any books for adults this year, and none of them received a 5-star rating from me.  The only books for strictly adult audiences that I read were:

Arguably, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game Alive (2013, Ender’s Game first published 1985) and Shadow of the Hegemon (first published 2000) could be adult fiction, particularly Shadow of the Hegemon, which I think I would hesitate to recommend to younger teenagers particularly, but mostly because I’m not sure they’d be interested in the subject matter than because it’s inappropriate for younger teens.

These all received from me 4 stars, except for A Place at the Table, which I gave only 3, and Wodehouse’s which I didn’t review or rate; too much time had passed after I had finished it and I no longer felt confident in my recollection of the books (it was enjoyable in the way that all Wodehouse’s satires are, with loud, large characters and ridiculous situations probably caused by the rich having too much leisure time). None of the adult books that I read this year are qualified for any of this year’s awards.

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About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

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