I used to think it would be excellent to be on the Caldecott or Newbery or Printz committee. Can you imagine getting to decide which book is the best of the year? Now, after two years of creating a “10 (or so) Best Books of the Year” list, I will with no regrets admit that I’m not cut out for such a job. I’d be the one wailing, “But they’re ALL the best! They ALL have to win!” (Has anyone ever been thrown off of an award committee?)
So here I will gladly share what are, in my opinion, the best fiction books of 2012—and they are ALL the very best.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. 9780061992254. 2012. Gr 3-6.
Ivan, a silverback gorilla, has lived most of his life in a cage at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, his only friends a captive elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. Ivan’s fame is his art; people come to watch him as he paints inside his cage. He no longer thinks about his life before the mall…until Ruby joins Stella. Ruby is a baby elephant, recently captured, and she remembers her life with her family. Ivan determines to find a way to help this homesick baby. This story is told through the voice of Ivan, a gentle, intelligent voice telling a heart-sick and heartfelt story. I challenge you not to care.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio. 9780375969027. 2012. Gr 3-6.
August Pullman considers the real him to be just like all the other fifth-grade boys—smart, funny, and brave. But other people don’t see it that way—they have a difficult time looking beyond the extreme facial malformations that he was born with. His parents have always homeschooled him; this year August is going to school for the first time, and hopes merely to be treated as a kid. An excellent read-aloud to start discussions on compassion and empathy.
Goblin Secrets by William Alexander. 9781442427266. 2012. Gr 4-6.
Rownie lives with other stray children in the household of the witch Graba. His only relative is his brother, Rowan, who left Graba’s house to become an actor. But acting is forbidden, and Rowan has disappeared—so Rownie escapes the witch and joins a troupe of goblins who put on plays despite the law. But their masks and plays are not just for make-believe. They believe that the town is about to be destroyed by a mighty flood—and that Rownie is the only one who can save it. (Goblin Secrets is also a 2012 National Book Award winner.)
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. 9780385904872. 2012. Gr 4-7.
Deza Malone would love to start everything she writes with “Once upon a time…” and end it with “…and they lived happily ever after.” And when the book opens, Deza’s life with her brother and parents does seem to be rosy—even for a black girl living in Gary, Indiana. But she lives during the Great Depression; there are no jobs for black men in Gary, so one day her father leaves to try to find work in Flint, Michigan. And when her mother loses her job as well, they end up in a Hooverville, fighting poverty and racism. Curtis’s characters and setting are well done, and though the ending is a bit unrealistic, I don’t mind a happy ending for such an appealing individual.
Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor. 9780399254598. 2012. Gr 4-8.
Pride, Nightingale, and Baby Star are orphans and live with their grandfather, Old Finn, in rural Minnesota. Old Finn is very independent and self-sufficient, and the girls have learned to be wary of outsiders. But their self-reliance comes at a price, which they find out when Old Finn gets very sick—and is transported to a hospital way up in Duluth. The girls try to fend for themselves, and Pride even finds a way for them to earn some money for bus tickets to Duluth. But when they see Old Finn, they realize that there is no way that he will soon be able to care for them. A lovely story about a close family and the friends that they must learn to rely on.
The Obsidian Blade (Klaatu Diskos : 1) by Pete Hautman. 9780763654030. 2012. Gr 8-12.
When Tucker Frey sees his father vanish through a shimmering disk, he is shocked—but even more so when his father comes walking down the road an hour later, looking older and with a young girl he says is from Bulgaria. A year later, both parents vanish, and Tucker goes in search of them with the girl and his crazy uncle. He finds out that these disks allow travel through time and space, and in his journey he travels into the past (9/11) and far into the future. This is a great beginning to a fascinating science fiction trilogy.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. 9781423152194. 2012. Gr 9-12.
Two young women become friends while working for the British war effort during the first days of World War II, one training to be a spy and the other a pilot. When their spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, the spy is captured—and she doesn’t know if anyone else survived. In order to stop the torture, she promises to provide information. In the meantime, the pilot has made contact with the French Resistance—but can they find her friend before it is too late? A deeply intense historical fiction that I couldn’t stop thinking and talking about.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 9780525478812. 2012. Gr 9-12.
Hazel is a terminal cancer patient, living on borrowed time. At a group therapy session for teens with cancer, she meets Augustus, who is there with his friend. Gus knows first-hand about cancer as well—his leg was amputated before his own cancer could spread. From their first conversation, Gus and Hazel have a connection, but Hazel wonders how she can let this boy fall in love with her when her prognosis is so grim.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. 9780375966569. 2012. Gr 9-12.
In a land where the peace is held together by an uneasy truce between dragons and humans, dragons are able to hide what they are and take human shape. On the day of Seraphina’s birth, her father found out that her mother was one of these dragons, a fact that Seraphina did not discover until scales started appearing on her arm and around her waist. Now the Queen’s son has died—obviously murdered by a dragon. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation and uncovers a plot to destroy the fragile peace in the land. Click here to see my original post.
Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles : 2) by Melina Marchetta. 9780763647599. 2012. Gr 9-12.
Three years after the end of Finnikin of the Rock, Froi is sent on a mission to Charyn, the kingdom that was responsible for unleashing bloodshed and evil on Lumatere. But when he arrives, he finds a curse…and a history. This second of Marchetta’s epic Lumatere Chronicles is amazing, and ends with not just one cliffhanger, but four or even five. I usually finish one book and immediately pick up another; but when I finished Froi, I was so swept up in it that I couldn’t get involved in another story for two days. Quintana of Charyn, the final book in the trilogy, comes out in April, 2013.
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. 9780061730948. 2012. Gr 9-12.
When Arn’s Cambodian village is invaded by the Khmer Rouge, everyone is marched into the countryside. Arn is separated from his family and sent to a labor camp, where intense work, blazing sun, insufficient food, and disease cause the deaths of many children. Prisoners are taken to a nearby mango grove and do not return. Arn learns to be invisible to the Khmer Rouge, until the day the country is about to be liberated, and Arn is handed a weapon and forced to become a soldier. He lives by one rule: Never fall down. This book, based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, is heart-breaking…and uplifting.
October Mourning : A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman. 9780763658076. 2012. Gr 9-12.
Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, died in October of 1998. He was lured out of a bar on the night of October 6 by two men who drove him to a remote area, beat and tortured him, tied him to a fence, and left him to die. Days later, Leslea Newman was the keynote speaker at the university’s Gay Awareness Week, and now has written this tribute to Matthew Shepard. The book contains 68 poems from many perspectives, including the killers and even the fence itself. It is a quick, but very moving, read; and it should be recommended to all high school readers, and especially for a unit on tolerance.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. 9780545424929. 2012. Gr 9-12.
Blue Sargent is from a family of clairvoyants, but she herself has no psychic gift—except maybe to strengthen the talents of others, which is why she stands with her mother every year in the churchyard on St. Mark’s Eve, the day that the soon-to-be dead walk past. Other psychics have predicted that if Blue were to kiss her true love, he would die. That’s OK, because she’s not interested right now…until the spirit of a boy walks up to her on St. Mark’s Eve and speaks to her. And then she meets that boy, Gansey, a Raven boy from a local private academy, and he pulls her into a quest with him and his friends—a quest that could be dangerous for them all. The Raven Boys is the first of four books in the series.
Disclaimer: I listed 173 books as “Read” on Goodreads last year, and these have been chosen only from those books that were published in 2012. I didn’t get to all of the great books…and now 2013 is here already!
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