#CelebrateLU- December 30, 2016

30 Dec
Thanks to Ruth Ayers of Discover. Play. Build. for creating this meme!

Thanks to Ruth Ayers of Discover. Play. Build. for creating this meme!

This week I’m celebrating my favorite books of 2016!

Overall Favorite Books of 2016

You can read my review of this graphic novel memoir trilogy here. I’ve been telling everyone it’s a must read for everyone ages 10 and up. Not only will readers learn about history but maybe inspire them to be part of history and thinking about how their actions can shape current events!

Picture Books

Be a FriendBe a Friend by Salina Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My first favorite picture book of 2016 is a great story about being oneself and friendship. Being extraordinary can be lonely and sometimes it takes someone just as special to break down the wall between them, even if the wall is imaginary.
View all my reviews

Thunder Boy Jr.Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow! This is a book I’d been wanting to read since I knew they were working together and the book managed to live up to all the expectations. Great father and son tale about finding one’s own identity within the family structure. Run- don’t walk- to your nearest independent bookstore to get a copy!
View all my reviews

There Is a Tribe of KidsThere Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gosh, this feels like a special book. A beautifully drawn and told story of a kid encountering different animals in his quest to find where he belongs.
View all my reviews

Nanette's BaguetteNanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mo Willems never fails to entertain. He’s really this generation’s Dr. Seuss! This picture book has become one of my favorite books to listen to as adults read it to their kids at the store!
View all my reviews

(Caldecott Picks)

School's First Day of SchoolSchool’s First Day of School by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s not only kids who get first-day jitters as we see in School’s First Day of School.

This charming picture book introduces a newly built school wondering how the students will like him! He worries they don’t like him. He’s a little bit mean to one of them. He’s embarrassed when his fire alarm goes off. But as the day progresses, he’s excited to learn new things and meet new friends.

Paired with Christian Robinson’s vibrant and playful illustrations, Adam Rex has created a story perfect for any classroom read-aloud.

View all my reviews

The Uncorker of Ocean BottlesThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book deserves all the pre-pub positive buzz it received. Absolutely beautiful in both written and visual storytelling and style. Reminiscent of the Stead’s A Sick Day for Amos McGee, it truly is a tender tale of kindness (and appreciating the good works of others) one should experience. Caldecott contender.
View all my reviews

Nonfiction Picture Books

(Caldecott Pick #1)

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous PhotographJazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jazz Day deserves all the awards it should receive. Just thinking about this book makes me happy because it’s just that good. Taking a photograph and giving it context through poetry is brilliant. Focusing on the different musicians and making up backstories to the kids featured on the famous Harlem 1958 photo, we are taken back to that day and that place. The illustrations are as lively as the subjects. Also included are the actual photo itself in a beautiful foldout, an author’s note, short biographies on certain musicians, and a look into the impact of it. I definitely want to see the other works about this photo including the documentary.
View all my reviews

(About Hillary Clinton)

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to LeadHillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a whole slew of picture books focusing on presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton that have just come out. It is incredible to read about all her accomplishments- and what else she has yet to accomplish.

Michelle Markel’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead seems to be the most kid-friendly (with LeUyen Pham’s signature illustrations) with an invitation for girls to pave their own way despite obstacles. I appreciate all the details Pham includes and the explanations of who the people are who she drew.

View all my reviews

Middle Grade

When the Sea Turned to SilverWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my favorite middle grade of 2016! I love the entire series, comparing it often to The Wizard of Oz. Grace Lin manages to get better with each book. I love the smaller stories of Chinese fairy tales and folk tales interwoven to the larger narrative and the moment every time the connections are made. The illustrations are stunning as well.
View all my reviews

(Newbery Pick)
Hour of the BeesHour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book reminded me of Tuck Everlasting, which is kind of misleading since I didn’t like that book but enjoyed this one. A girl and her family end up staying with her grandfather over the summer as they help him with his dementia. She wonders if her friendships can survive the distance and where she fits in with her family who are close at hand but feel distant. And then her grandfather begins telling her a story about a magical tree and she’s torn between believing in it or just treating it as a fairy tale.
View all my reviews

(Newbery Pick)
Some Kind of CourageSome Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some Kind of Courage had everything I detested in a book: a sob story premise (his parents and sister are dead) about an animal (his horse gets taken away from him and he’s out to get her back) set in a historical setting. Luckily, the writing was superb. The pacing was great in what is basically a chase novel. The main character is just so darn likable that you want to make sure he’s at least in a good place by the end of the novel. One of the strongest friendships I’ve ever read despite their language barrier and cultural differences. Plus, there was a rather intense bear scene that was very gripping.

I would choose this as my first Newbery contender.
View all my reviews

Ghost (Track)Ghost by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love that I didn’t even know about this new release and it’s one of my top middle grade novel of 2016! It reminded me a little bit of Maniac Magee because of the running aspect. And while I was annoyed at Ghost’s character in the beginning- but only because I hate it when people are randomly picked out for their “special-ness” like he was when he decided to crash their practice- I loved the authenticity of his thoughts and actions. Of all the drama they threw at him, I appreciated how Jason Reynolds decided not to overdo it and it made the story flow so much better. I’m hooked. I can’t wait for the other books in the series. (This is also a great example of a novel with which I think people are calling “casual diversity.”)
View all my reviews

BookedBooked by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This year has completely surprised me in terms of what books I’ve ended up liking. You may or may not know how I absolutely didn’t like The Crossover but I was hooked on Booked! I kept wanting to talk about it with someone.

Maybe I knew what to expect with a novel told in verse. But I think the characters were definitely more likable and relatable. And the “corny like Fritos” factor was still there but it worked with Booked.

I would have enjoyed a list of all the books mentioned in this book. And props to Kwame Alexander for being such a literacy advocate!
View all my reviews

The Key to ExtraordinaryThe Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was afraid The Key to Extraordinary would suffer from the sophomore slump but I should have had more faith in Natalie Lloyd’s writing and storytelling skills. Her first middle grade novel, A Snicker of Magic, is one of my favorite books to recommend. It truly is a wonder of a book.
I admit Key started off slow for me- and I felt the language was too flowery for my taste. I’m such a manly man you see. And I’m also quite vain so when a character named was Earl was introduced, the book got all the more interesting. I’m always curious how Earl’s in the media fare and I always want them to do well in their respective stories.
Once the story picked up a few chapters in, I couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up all night so invested was I to know what would happen next. I loved the friendships and other relationships. I loved the adventure and the magic and the realness of the situations. I loved the little surprises here and there.
With some books, you can feel the heart and soul of the writer in the words they share with the readers. And I feel with this book, we get a more of a glimpse of how extraordinary a human being Natalie Lloyd is!
View all my reviews

SlackerSlacker by Gordon Korman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of my favorite novels of the year- surprisingly so considering the awful cover which was why I never had the desire to read it in the first place. I love books about kindness and always am in the look out for books for kids that wasn’t depressing or overly serious. Slacker is fun and substantial. It’s about a gamer boy who almost burns down his house. To avoid getting into trouble, he creates a fake school club- the Positive Action Group- that, before he knows it, becomes something real. Today through different characters’ perspectives, we see how a little good can go a long way. I’d love kids to read this and see themselves with that same power and still be kids.
View all my reviews

Full of BeansFull of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn’t know what to expect from this novel plus it was a prequel to another book and I tend to read things in chronological order. But Full of Beans was a great standalone novel and full of surprises. I loved the characters and the lively language. I’m not usually a fan of historical novels but this had enough to actually get me curious. There are some historical contexts included at the back of the book as well. I’m looking forward to actually reading Turtle in Paradise now! Definitely one of my top 5 middle grade novels of 2016!
View all my reviews

Young Adult

Ghostly Echoes (Jackaby, #3)Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This series just keeps getting better!

We dig deeper into the histories of characters we’ve come to know revealing surprising secrets. We learn of dark forces ready to make their ultimate moves to get what they want. Our heroes undertake unique ways to fight back but things will never be the same which makes me wish the fourth and final book is out already!

I love this series for its cleverness, sophistication, and its ability to speak on certain topics you wouldn’t expect in a supernatural mystery.

View all my reviews

Plus, I celebrated and reviewed the entire series (so far) here. And, I’m excited that book four- The Dire King– is expected to come out August 22nd, 2017! That’s definitely on my Must Read in 2017 list!

Graphic Novel

Snow White: A Graphic NovelSnow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was so impressed by this retelling of Snow White. It’s very artsy and noir-ish. Evocative illustrations and sparse text. Set in the Roaring Twenties and Depression eras. I would say fans already familiar with the awesomeness of graphic novels will appreciate this more than casual readers. Of course, fairy tale fans would want to add this to their collections as well.

View all my reviews



You can read my review of this series in this Gene Luen Yang mega-post featuring all his other graphic novels!


You can read my review of this nonfiction graphic novel series here.

Adult Fiction

Further Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #3)Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Apparently I’ve been reading one Armistead Maupin Tales of the City novel a year. I find myself completely engrossed in them every time I pick one up but I haven’t had a desire to binge read them. Book three in the series brings back the characters readers have grown to love and putting them into even more ridiculously good situations. (Depending on which edition you read, the publisher-provided summary is too spoilery considering some of the thing it mentions doesn’t happen until much later in the book.) There was hardly a chapter I didn’t at least laugh out loud or shake my head in disbelief at what was happening.
View all my reviews

A Streetcar Named DesireA Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A gripping read. I was familiar with the plot because it’s such a big part of pop culture but I hadn’t read it until now when a local theater company staged it. Memorable characters and stand-out dialogue and such a sensational story. I can only imagine how this was received when it was first released!
View all my reviews

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original ScreenplayFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Even though I feel burnt out with all the Harry Potter releases this year, I decided to read this because I’ve read all the other books so why not? While I appreciated the illustrations, I wish they would have released a bare bones screenplay as well. This is definitely a more difficult read than Cursed Child because of its technicalities. Fortunately, a glossary of these terms is included in the back. I actually enjoyed the screenplay but have no desire to see a film- although I know I will eventually.
View all my reviews

Adult Non-Fiction

Spirit of Service: Your Daily Stimulus for Making a DifferenceSpirit of Service: Your Daily Stimulus for Making a Difference by HarperOne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a great inspiring read for people who want to make a difference in the world. Each day of the week focuses on a different category- like money, energy, companion, and passage to name a few- and invites readers to mull them over and perhaps act upon what they’ve read. It took me awhile to get through this because I was constantly having ideas! A worthwhile read.
View all my reviews

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’d been hearing a lot about this book recently. Adapted from her Tedx Talk, this is a call to action to change the way women are being treated and mistreated. By simply allowing things to continue as they are, we unknowingly promote outdated and harmful and disrespectful behavior. We should indeed all be feminists because it’s just an extension of fighting for human rights.
View all my reviews

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being CreativeSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some insights that stuck with me:
-Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with; it’s the book that leads you to.
-Write what you like.
-The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use- do the work you want to see done.
-Keep all your passions in your life.
-Keep a log book.

There was another passage that I wrote down but I couldn’t read my note. It started with, “Study everything there is to know about them.” And I guess it goes off to say to then find three people they admire and find out all there is know about them.

This quick read is great to have for instant motivations.
View all my reviews

Audio Books

I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I listened to the audiobook version of this which was a treat since it was narrated by Maya Angelou herself. It’s a very candid look into her childhood full of escapades and adventures in a small town. However enthralling the situations were and the beauty of her text, she also suffered greatly in the forms of a racist society and the abuse she endured as a child.

This being the first part in a seven part memoir series, it ended at a good place. I don’t know if I’ll read the other books but her and her family have been so fascinating to know.

I was surprised that the kids (Maya and her brother Bailey) were reading such advanced books for their age. I think it just goes to show that kids can handle what is usually thrown at them. If you expect great things from them, you will likely get great things.
View all my reviews


I listened to the audiobook version of Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. (I hadn’t planned on doing so but it was narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I don’t know if it’s even called a coincidence but Alexander Hamilton was mentioned in the story.) I loved it when I first read it a couple of years ago. I may love it even more now.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“i love falling in love w/a good book, getting lost in its words, living in a world of pure imagination.”

I tweeted that after reading a few pages of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” which now has made my list of favorite favorite books, which currently has 37 titles.

I wasn’t even aware of it until the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards where it won multiple awards- the Pura Belpre (Author), the Stonewall, and as a Printz Honor Book.

Official Summary:

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Immediately, I wanted to read it. Plus, I love long titles!

I literally couldn’t put the book down. I was so engrossed with the story, the characters. I wanted to know what happened next. I wanted to see how the inevitable conflicts were handled. I wanted to make sure they were in a good place when I said goodbye to them.

I wasn’t particularly in love with the ending. It’s not that it was bad, it was just a bit overdramatic. But the majority of the book was great.

It’s when you can’t stop thinking about the characters even after the last page that made “Aristotle and Dante” a favorite of mine. And, I relate when there’s an issue of identity, when the characters show actual, realistic growth. This was more than a book about being gay, though. Sáenz’s words were powerful and emotional. He put his characters in beautiful and awful situations- just like life.

After finishing this, I wondered what it was that made a book truly stand out to make it be not just a favorite book of mine but a favorite favorite. I really shouldn’t have overanalyzed because the answer was simple. It’s when I feel grateful that a book like that exists in the world and “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is definitely one of those!
View all my reviews

I’m excited that there will eventually be a sequel to this called There Will Be Other Summers which I will definitely read when it does come out!

What are you celebrating this week?


3 responses to “#CelebrateLU- December 30, 2016

  1. Loralee

    December 31, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    What a collection! People will love seeing it! So much to celebrate in books!

  2. mayawoodall

    December 31, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks for the reviews. Many of these books are by authors I heard speak and heard mentioned at NCTE. I have some ideas for a few book store gift cards now.

  3. jarhartz

    January 1, 2017 at 10:13 am

    I love this post! Some Kind of Courage and Ghost were both HUGE successes with my 5th graders. So many book to read!! Thank you, Earl!


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