Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2018

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It’s January 2019, so that means that it is time to reflect back on 2018’s best books. I have been doing so since 2014. I have collected all this lists here so you can easily view all of my 5-star rated books. There are doubles. Some of this year’s have shown up on lists from other years. Last year I started using these lists as a chance to discuss award predictions, and this year I have one that I thought would be a very strong contender.

TODDLERS-KIDS (0-8) 

Possible candidates for this year’s awards:

Special mention needs to be made of Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. I read this book in June, but never did get around yet to reviewing it (so we’re going to take care of that right now.)

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, sample pages, awards list, reviews, trailer, and articles.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  Intended audience: Age 3-5.

I’ve been recommending and championing it since June. I’ve loved it since then. It left a really strong impression on me, stronger than most books for sure. A very personal story for both creators, it tells the story of a grandson who struggles to communicate to his Thai grandfather, who doesn’t speak English and whose culture the boy really doesn’t seem to share either. The book begins basically wordless, told through the illustrations of their disconnect, sitting in silence, awkward questions that can’t be answered, different food, television that one or the other can’t fully understand. But when the boy gives up on connecting and pulls out his drawing pad, the grandfather is intrigued, and he comes back with a sketchbook of his own. As the two draw their avatars, the text begins, reflecting the communication that has begun to happen between the two family members. The two bond over illustration in whimsical, clever, magical illustrations by Santat that mix a more classical, detailed, refined style inspired by Thai art, and a more childish, brighter style. Their two avatars adventure together and eventually need the skills and tools of the other to defeat the Big Bad—the distance between them, represented by a dragon that is only partially finished before it decides to fight them. The defeated dragon becomes a bridge over which the two race towards one another, finally “happily speechless.” The text is beautiful, elegant, just right. This book moved me to tears reading it in the store. It nearly did so again refreshing my memory with a video of it being read aloud. I think it a likely contender for the Caldecott—if not other awards besides.

Love has the chance of sparking a Caldecott nomination too. When it was first published, one illustration in particular sparked a flurry of online articles either declaiming or praising the inclusion of a soured marriage that leads to a toxic environment for the child in the illustration, who hides as his parents scream. I think I prefer Drawn Together over Love for the medal though. As much as I love Loren Long’s illustrations in this book, I think the mixed styles of Santat’s drawings in Drawn Together will be hard to top; it’s a mastery of two styles—almost three since the two eventually blend together, and the book shares a lesser-known (in the US) culture besides. 

None of the books that I read won the Caldecott—nor honors; awards were announced today.  The Caldecott medal went to Hello, Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall.  I remember admiring Blackall’s illustrations for this book, but I never did sit down to read it; I judged it too long for my toddler story time and too long to sneakily read while walking it to its shelf.  I will enjoy it when it returns to the store.

MIDDLE GRADE (8-12) 

Possible candidates for this year’s awards:

Honestly, the pool of important, relevant, well-written books that came out this year I think will keep this book from winning any awards—other than the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Middle Grade and Children’s 2018, which it already has won.

TEEN (13-19)

I didn’t read any teen books that earned 5 stars from me this year.

ADULTS (20+)

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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