Charles Wright Academy’s librarians—Deborah Baldwin (Lower School), Sam Harris (Middle School), and Jane Riches (Upper School)—reflect on their favorite books of 2014 for their respective age groups. Share your favorite book of the year in our comments section. Happy reading!
Ms. Baldwin’s Best Books of 2014
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet: Ever had that moment when you must look for that “right” word and need a thesaurus? Author Jen Bryant introduces a timid boy passionate about list-making and learning in her biography of Peter Mark Roget. Roget’s lifelong endeavor to compile a “treasure house” of synonyms accessible to all resulted in the publication of his thesaurus in 1852 (that remains in print to this day). Sweet’s collage artwork is filled with cascades of words and antique prints.
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: This memoir explores the childhood relationship of the author and illustrator with her younger sister. Focusing on a summer family road trip with flashbacks to fill in the gaps, the annoying strains and heartwarming moments of family life are balanced with humor and expressive art in this graphic novel.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney: This powerful narrative told in poems and pictures explores 12-year-old Amira’s family life that is shattered when militants attack her Sudanese village. Forced to flee to a refugee camp, her dreams of going to school are shattered. How can the gift of a tablet and a red pencil make any difference? Can Amira’s spirit be restored?
Ms. Harris’s Best Books of 2014
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: I fell in love with this book from page one. The memoir-in-verse from Woodson describes her life as an aspiring writer growing up in the 1970s in South Carolina. The writing is magical and powerful. Also, I met her recently at a conference and she is as amazing a person as she is a writer. This book just won the National Book Award in the young adult category.
Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin: If you loved Charlotte’s Web, this book is for you. Franny is recovering from polio in 1952 Pittsburgh and falls in love with Charlotte’s Web when a nun reads it to her in the hospital. When she returns home to recuperate, she discovers her own Charlotte in the form of a genius flea living on the tail of her dog. Fleabrain wants nothing more than to communicate with someone else (genius fleas are few and far between). They are soon fast friends, and adventures follow,
Clariel, prequel to the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix: The first three books in this series, Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, are fantastic—one of my all-time favorites and, in my opinion, one of the best YA fantasy series around. There’s dark magic, mystery, suspense and adventure.Clariel is the prequel, set long before the original series begins. If you are looking for a gift for a fantasy-loving teen or adult, all four books would be great!
Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen: I’m currently reading this book… because of course I am! Humor, romance, and a librarian who is also a demon—fun all around! It’s got all the snark and dark humor of a great Buffy episode.
Ms. Riches’s Best Books of 2014
Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta: I have a bad habit of peeking at the ending of suspenseful books somewhere around halfway through to see who makes it and who doesn’t. By the end of Chapter 4 (page 41) of Those Who Wish Me Dead I was ready to see if 13-year-old Jace Wilson survives. He is being pursued by some seriously evil bad guys—two brothers who epitomize the meaning of psychopath. Brothers Jack and Patrick Blackwell are soulless killers who leave a trail of dead—and frequently tortured—victims who either witnessed their previous crimes or can identify them as they proceed to commit their next one. Only three characters stand between them and their prey: an instructor in wilderness survival skills, his wife, and a fire spotter. Outgunned and outthought at every turn, Ethan Serbin struggles to keep his promise to protect the boy, but first he must find him. Nonstop suspense, with some useful tips for outdoor enthusiasts.
Hidden Girl: The True Story of A Modern-Day Child Slave by Shyima Hall with Lisa Wysocky: UNICEF estimates that 50 percent of victims of human trafficking globally are children. In the U.S., roughly 27 percent of known trafficking victims who have been identified are children. What this book does is describe what slavery or involuntary servitude can mean to a child. Not only is Shyima subjected to inhuman living conditions and exhausting labor, she is denied any chance to socialize with other children, to receive an education, or to even learn English so she can communicate her need for help. Worse, she has to live every day knowing her parents abandoned her. Shyima’s story is both shocking and inspirational, exposing the reader to a world far beyond what most of us imagine, and crediting a child’s resilience and selfless social services workers for her eventual escape.
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern: The story revolves around the growing friendship between a high school senior, disabled by cerebral palsy, and her peer caregiver, a boy so bedeviled with fears and anxieties that he suffers from severe OCD. Their relationship is told through conversations that reveal much about their secret hopes, fears, and problems. Ultimately, McGovern does a great job writing from a “people-first” perspective, presenting her characters as individuals who have a disability but are not defined or stereotyped by that disability. Amy and Matthew frequently use wit and sarcasm to hide their underlying feelings. I found it easy to care about them and to hope that they could finally be totally honest with each other. If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you should enjoy Say What You Will.
Scan by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine: Scan is all fast-paced action that pits a super smart and talented teen (think MacGyver with jui-jitsu skills) against a variety of ruthless agents that want what he has—a super-secret piece of technology, developed by his father, that can tell the difference between humans and aliens.