2014 Blue Ribbons
Poetry! That was the big story this year, with so many impressive collections that we broke them into a separate section, and with a trio more of individual biographies/autobiographies in compelling verse scoring under the nonfiction. There’s a pleasing streak of adventure running through the fiction list, while poignancy and humor, sometimes in the same book, make strong showings in the picture book list. It’s been a profound and delightful journey.
Auxier, Jonathan. The Night Gardener. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 4–6 (May)
Nineteenth-century rural England provides the perfect spooky setting for this brilliant ghost story of a tree that grants wishes—but at an extraordinary cost.
Caine, Rachel. Prince of Shadows: A Novel of Romeo and Juliet. New American Library. Gr. 9–12 (May)
This irresistible reconceptualization of Shakespeare’s tale of doomed love offers a strong setting, lush language, and a complex, well-developed cast centered not on the star-crossed lovers but on secondary player Benvolio.
Cokal, Susann. The Kingdom of Little Wounds; illus. by Pier Gustafson. Candlewick, 2013. Gr. 10–12 (January)
An immersive and fascinating blend of fairy tale and history, this darkly lyrical story, following three young women in sixteenth-century Scandinavia, is as challenging as it is ultimately rewarding.
Giles, L. R. Fake ID. Amistad/Harper Collins. 7–10 (March)
Nick wearies of life in Witness Protection, but he knows it is his family’s lifeline, which makes him all the more determined to solve a risky mystery that threatens his secret in his new hometown; cutting dialogue and impeccable character development add to the mix.
Grove, S. E. The Glass Sentence. Viking. Gr. 5–8 (September)
Cartography is cool in this clever yet emotionally engaging novel about a world where time and location have all been shifted around and one small group must use maps to battle against an exceptionally compelling villain.
Nelson, Blake. The Prince of Venice Beach. Little. Gr. 7–10 (July/August)
A dreamy, surf-influenced detective story features a memorable protagonist, Cali, and his slow move toward adulthood and responsibility through his noir-tinted investigations.
Petruck, Rebecca. Steering Toward Normal. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 6–10 (September)
In this warm, well-crafted novel, two boys discover that they are bonded by more than their individual but similar losses: they are actually half-brothers.
Sax, Aline. The War within These Walls; tr. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson; illus. by Caryl Strzelecki. Eerdmans, 2013. Gr. 10 up (January)
Understated narration and a spare book design make for a startling and moving effect in this fictional memoir of a young Jewish man’s time in the Warsaw ghetto.
Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle: A History. Dutton. Gr. 9–12 (February)
Smith’s wryly humorous postmodern style matches surprisingly well with a sci-fi B-movie plotline in this Vonnegut-esque tale of a plague of six-foot tall, man-eating praying mantises.
Tamaki, Mariko. This One Summer; illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second. Gr. 7–10 (June)
A poignant graphic novel highlights the painful, joyful, sometimes frightening moments between childhood and adolescence, and one girl’s summer on the cusp.
Yang, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero; illus. by Sonny Liew. First Second/Roaring Brook. Gr. 7–12 (September)
This tour de force graphic novel takes a little-known Asian character from 1940s comic books and gives him a vivid and humorous new story.
Chin, Jason. Gravity; written and illus. by Jason Chin. Porter/Roaring Brook. 4–7 yrs (May)
This exceptional picture book explores the concept of gravity, and what would happen if it suddenly stopped working; vivid illustrations offer high-impact spreads worth lingering over, giving enough time for some science to sink in as well.
Farrell, Mary Cronk. Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific; illus. with photographs. Abrams. Gr. 6–10 (April)
Interviews, memoirs, and photographs provide compelling source materials and lend immediacy and intimacy to this account of World War II through the eyes of the female nurses that were stationed in the Pacific.
Fleming, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia; illus. with photographs. Schwartz & Wade. Gr. 7–12 (September)
This compelling nonfiction narrative reads as absorbingly as any fictional drama while providing a close examination of the factors leading up to the fall of Russia’s most famous family.
Kuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out; written and with photographs by Susan Kuklin. Candlewick. Gr. 9–12 (February)
The remarkable variety in the cultural, social, and sexual identities of the six teens highlighted is impressive, but even more inspiring for readers will be the subjects’ honest, nuanced, and engaging personal stories.
Nelson, Marilyn. How I Discovered Poetry; illus. by Hadley Hooper. Dial. Gr. 7–12 (March)
This slender poetry sequence covers a large span of the author’s early life as she and her military family, often the only black people at their post, moved around the country and the author negotiated her identity as a writer and as an African American against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.
Powell, Patricia Hruby. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker; illus. by Christian Robinson. Chronicle. Gr. 2–5 (January)
This jazzy, lively free-verse biography of legendary performer Josephine Baker embodies the determination, beauty, and spirit of the woman herself.
Rappaport, Doreen. To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt; illus. by C. F. Payne. Disney Hyperion, 2013. Gr. 3–5 (January)
A large trim size, wryly humorous illustrations, and a general tone of amused awe make this addition to Rappaport’s biography canon a worthy match for its ambitious, energetic subject.
Sheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights; illus. with photographs. Roaring Brook. Gr. 7 up (February)
With gripping first-hand accounts and a commanding narrative voice, this title recounts a historical injustice that remains unresolved: the supposed mutiny of fifty African-American seamen after a horrific World War II tragedy.
Stewart, Melissa. Feathers: Not Just for Flying; illus. by Sarah S. Brannen. Charles-bridge. 4–7 yrs (March)
Even very young children will appreciate this lush, informative book about all the myriad uses for feathers, and they’ll linger over the stunning individual portraits of each highlighted bird.
Sutcliffe, Jane. The White House Is Burning: August 24, 1814; illus. with photographs. Charlesbridge. Gr. 5–8 (September)
Sutcliffe pulls together a variety of primary sources and eyewitness accounts to offer a gripping play by play of a dramatic moment in one of our less-studied American wars; this page-turner is an obvious complement to a classroom unit and also serves as a thrilling read for history buffs.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. Paulsen/Penguin. Gr. 7–12 (September)
Budding writers will find much inspiration in this lyrical, layered free-verse memoir that traces Woodson’s life and family from before she was born onward to her own childhood and her budding love of writing. [End Page 286]
Duffy, Chris, ed. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics; illus. by Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, et al. First Second. Gr. 9 up (November)
A cadre of comic book artists offer their graphic interpretations of trench poetry, bringing the works of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to a new generation and connecting modern readers to World War I through artistry that is both searing and compassionate.
Heppermann, Christine. Poisoned Apples; illus. with photographs by Regina Belmonte, Ashley Gosiengfiao, Lissy Laricchia, et al. Greenwillow. Gr. 10 up (December)
Lyrical and lacerating poetry, coupled with moody black and white photographs, draws on familiar fairy tale plots and tropes to lay bare the cultural perils of being young and female.
Janeczko, Paul. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems; illus. by Melissa Sweet. Candlewick. Gr. 2–5 (April)
Thirty-six well-chosen poems divided into four seasonal sections leap into luminous life when paired with stunning and inventive mixed media art
Sidman, Joyce. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold; illus. by Rick Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Gr. 5–8 (December)
Dimensionally layered linocut illustrations add vivid drama to these skillfully crafted and truly lovely poems evoking the natural world in winter.
Black, Michael Ian. Naked!; illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Simon. 4–7 yrs (July/August)
What’s more fun than running around post-bath naked? This effervescent, carefully illustrated (all full frontals are cleverly obscured) book takes a look at a boy’s joyful quest to keep the clothes off for as long as possible.
Campbell, Scott. Hug Machine; written and illus. by Scott Campbell. Atheneum. 4–7 yrs (September)
This sweet, cuddly picture book about a boy who is so good at what he does that he is known as a hug machine will be the perfect tool for adult readers-aloud who want to encourage snuggling time with their own little ones.
Dolan, Elys. Weasels; written and illus. by Elys Dolan. Candlewick. Gr. 1–4 (February)
It’s pretty clear that if any animal was going to be sneaky enough to take over the world, it would be weasels, as Dolan illustrates in this visually elaborate and irreverent look at their world domination headquarters.
Dubuc, Marianne. The Lion and the Bird; written and illus. by Marianne Dubuc; tr. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. Enchanted Lion. 5–7 yrs (July/August)
Minimal text pairs with serene illustrations to explore the enduring friendship between a lion and an injured bird he rescues; impeccable use of white space emphasizes the loneliness that accompanies having a friend who isn’t always near.
Frazee, Marla. The Farmer and the Clown; written and illus. by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane/Simon. 4–6 yrs (November)
This wordless picture book, describing a lonely farmer’s kindly rescue of a lonely child clown who’s fallen off of a circus train, has all the poignant comedy of an old silent film.
Haughton, Chris. Shh! We Have a Plan; written and illus. by Chris Haughton. Candlewick. 4–7 yrs (November)
Four little guys out on a cool blue night are determined to catch themselves a bird despite their rampant ineptitude in this tightly structured, very funny tale where the littlest one knows best.
Nolan, Dennis. Hunters of the Great Forest; written and illus. by Dennis Nolan. Porter/Roaring Brook. 4–7 yrs (December)
No words are needed in this silent, comedic depiction of a great hunt, where a delightfully motley group of tiny people evade the hazards of an oversized landscape to acquire and bring back to their village a great bounty: a kid’s campfire marshmallow.
Offill, Jenny. While You Were Napping; illus. by Barry Blitt. Schwartz & Wade. 6–9 yrs (October)
In this comic piece of literary torture, an older sister describes all the kid-irresistible, utterly fantastical wonders her younger brother missed due to his having to nap; absurd and dreamy illustrations emphasize the unreality while still making the proceedings tantalizing.
Ruth, Greg. Coming Home; written and illus. by Greg Ruth. Feiwel. 4–7 yrs (January 2015)
Spare text echoes the thoughts of a young boy, combining with understated but dramatically composed illustrations as he searches the airport crowds to find the soldier he’s there to welcome home.
Shea, Bob. Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads; illus. by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook. 5–8 yrs (December)
Flavorful text and a hilarious premise mark this comic Western, about a tortoise-riding kid sheriff whose obsession with dinosaurs hides a cunning plan for victory over some ornery villains.
Tan, Shaun. Rules of Summer; written and illus. by Shaun Tan. Levine/Scholastic. Gr. 3–5 (July/August)
True to Tan form, this book is exquisite and bizarre, all at once, as it describes the changing relationship between two brothers over the summer in spare allusive text and surreal art.