My Favorite Reads from 2017

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Each December, my Twitter feed is buzzing with Top 10s and Top 20s, and I AM A SUCKER. FOR ALL OF THEM. I have an incredible online professional network, and I love hearing about the books that have inspired and excited my teaching friends from all over the world. I find some of the best titles from these “Best Of” lists, and they often shape my reading journey for the next year. For years, I have been an enthusiastic consumer of these lists, but I have never had the guts to make one myself. Until now.

In case you need some background, I’m not a professional book reviewer. I work a full-time job (with a couple of side hustles), often teach and coach after school, and have a busy personal life. I don’t receive Advanced Readers Copies and have to wait in library hold lines just like everybody else. I haphazardly read old and new books, and my selection criteria makes no sense (unless “OH this one is close to my hand and I like the cover” is part of a scientific process that I don’t know about). I provide these disclaimers because I know that there are fabulous new books that I missed out on this year, and that some of these books are old news. If I’m missing anything great, please, fill me in!

Another note: My timeline is a bit messy. I review and snap photos of books as I read them, but because I try not to post more than twice a day, it can take anywhere from one to four months for the photo to make it to my Instagram (I mean, those cute photos of kids reading and #brianthecat are not going to post themselves). To fit my 2-3 posts a week format on the blog, it’s another three to five months before most Insta reviews make it here. To give you some context, that review of Piecing Me Together I just published this week? Featured on Instagram in July; actually read in April. For this list, I’ll be selecting from the titles published on the blog during 2017. To get a sneak peek of the best books coming your way soon, check out the list at the bottom of this post.

Let’s do this! My favorite reads from 2017, in no particular order, are after the jump.

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw has been running for as long as he can remember. It isn’t until he accidentally joins the school’s track team that he learns the difference between running toward something and running away. Full disclosure: I had to read Ghost twice before I really got it. It was worth it.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
One of my favorite girl-power graphic novels ever. I said it best in my original review: “Nimona is a hero, a villain, brave, terrifying, and a personification of humanity, all wrapped into one pierced, tattooed, and spiked package. It’s time to teach our girls to be strong and loud; to take up space and make noise without apology. Nimona is ready to help.”

Al Capone does my Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
Character-driven historical fiction that touches on big young adult themes with the lense of living with, and loving, someone with special needs. Fabulous.

 

Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My first read that features 9/11 as historical fiction. Hard to believe. Deja’s character is big and heartwrenching and lovely and is still with me, even to this day.

 

A Boy Named Queen, by Sara Cassidy
Written with all the conciseness and eloquence of a short story, this novella made me proud to be a weirdo. Because despite all of the labels we get as we go through this life, its what we are on the inside that counts.

 

Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
This graphic novel is consistently described by my middle schoolers as “creepy but awesome.” I agree.

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What is it like to be the child of a parent secretly suffering from mental illness? In So B. It, a novel I reviewed earlier this year, mama’s mental illness is obvious, and Heidi gets by with help from kind strangers. But in Small as an Elephant, Jack’s mother is charismatic and unpredictable, looking to outsiders like a mysterious but perfectly capable mother – hiding her bipolar disorder and it's dramatic effect on her son’s life. In the middle of a vacation, Jack wakes up to find his mother gone along with all of their luggage and money. No note, no voicemails, nothing. Determined not to get her in trouble by contacting the police, Jack attempts to live using just the contents of his backpack and anything he can steal or borrow until he can track her down. As he travels, sleeping in stores, stealing candy, and avoiding police, Jack tries to understand whether what's happening is his fault – and what his future will hold, whether he finds his mother or not. Despite its dark subject matter, Small Like an Elephant is a favorite of my fifth graders and an enjoyable read. Thoughtful readers will be left with earnest questions about parenthood, mental disability, and how to determine blame in a situation where everyone is trying their best. A great story to start a discussion about empathy, perspective, and the stigma of mental health and asking for help.

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Small as an Elephant, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
This peek into the life of a child with a parent struggling with mental illness is a quick read, an empathy builder, and a great conversation starter.

 

Moo, by Sharon Creech
Sharon Creech + novel in verse + farm animals. Done deal.

 

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk
Historical fiction that doesn’t read like historical fiction (in the best way). A dark, haunting story that makes you consider the power of your words and actions. Also, that cover!

 

Better Nate than Never, by Tim Federle
Nate’s hilarious and endearing coming-of-age tale will have you wishing you could be best friends in real life. I dare you not to root for this underdog.

 

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
Did you not see the author? It’s Jerry Spinelli. I don’t need to say anything else. How I went so long without reading this one, I have no idea.

 

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt
My love for Gary D. Schmidt kept going strong in 2017. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

 

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and other Natural Disasters, by Lenore Look with pictures by LeUyen Pham
One of my only lower-grade reads to make the list, Alvin Ho is funny, curious, and a great role model for young boys. Wonderfully, this is one in a series.

 

Pax, by Sarah Pennypacker
Can’t talk about Pax yet. Still crying. I got so into this one, it almost made me forget that I was laid up on my couch with a back injury.

 

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I wish I could step into the brain of Peter Brown. Author and illustrator of picture book mega hits like Creepy Carrots and My Teacher is a Monster, I feel like his brain would be like stepping into a cartoon twilight zone. Brown’s middle grade debut, The Wild Robot, is a lot of fun, with a great message. A cargo ship carrying a large shipment of robots crashes off the coast of a small island. Only one robot washes up on the shore unscathed – and through a series of fateful events, robot Roz ends up not only activated, but as a valued member of the island’s community. The Wild Robot is straightforward, just like the text in Brown’s picture books – no frills or fancy language to be found; imaginative readers will appreciate this, as it leaves room for daydreaming. With short chapters and frequent illustrations, it almost reads like a series of picture books published together. The Wild Robot would make a great read-aloud and is sure to attract a wide range of readers. I love the way Brown lets readers hurt and question along with Roz as the native residents of the island exclude her because she looks and acts different, and then come to realize just how much this different creature has to offer their community. There are amazing conversations to be had here, and Brown makes it happen like no one else. I dare you to read without getting attached to sweet, lovable Roz and her island family. Brown leaves the door open for a sequel, and I look forward to it. #brianthecat #meow

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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown
The book so beloved, it inspired an entire Tech-mas season. Roz the robot’s exciting and heartfelt journey will engage readers of all ages. I can’t wait for the sequel.

 

We are Growing, by Laurie Keller
One of my favorite read-alouds of the year. Quirky and funny with a great message, my kindergarten and first graders still ask for it weekly.

 

Drowned City, written and illustrated by Don Brown
And thus began my love affair with non-fiction graphic novels. A chilling and important retelling of the events of Hurricane Katrina.

 

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Jade lives in the “bad” part of town. Her dark skin, curvy body, and unruly hair make it easy for people to assume that they know all about her – and she is so tired of fighting the stereotypes. Even the people trying to help make her constantly aware of how broken she seems, always providing her with great “opportunities” and nominating her for programs to make her better, different, to get her out. Jade summarizes it beautifully in one heart wrenching quote – “Why am I only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” Piecing Me Together had a visceral effect on me. I read the book in the midst of several difficult conversations about implicit bias; by the end it felt like my entire career, based on providing opportunities and experiences to students that seemed as though they needed or wanted them, had been wrong. After some reflection, I see now that the truth is somewhere in between what I’ve lived and what Jade writes – that I have done more good than harm, but that as an educator I need to be more mindful with my “help” and my intentions. Piecing Me Together is about finding yourself, finding your voice, and learning to be okay with all of the different pieces that make up a complicated and beautiful human life in any color. The book has nothing inappropriate to restrict age, but many of the weighty issues will be lost on younger readers (I would probably recommend to mature 4th graders and up). I highly recommend this book not only to students, but also to teachers hoping to better understand the students that they love and have dedicated their lives to serving. #stabsummerreading

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Piecing Me Together, by Reneé Watson
Almost a year after reading, Jade’s question still sticks with me – “Why am I only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” Some books change you. Piecing Me Together was one of those for me.


*Some of the best titles that I read this year won’t make it to the blog until 2018. Keep an eye out for these favorites:

  • Amina’s Voice, by Hena Khan
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  • Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • American Street, by Ibi Zoboi
  • One Half from the East, by Nadia Hashimi
  • Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
  • The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon
  • The Selection, by Kiera Cass
  • The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz
  • Noggin, by John Corey Whaley
  • The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner
  • When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandyha Menon

Plus many, many more that haven’t made it to Instagram yet – and many of those were excellent. (To give you an idea, I have a backup of about 65 reviews. I know! I’m working on it.)

I hope that your 2017 was as exciting and fulfilling as mine. Here’s to another year of stories, sharing, and learning in 2018!

 

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