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The year’s top book picks for young readers



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Updated: January 17, 2014 6:03AM

Busting your brain to think of non-toy, non-video game gift ideas for the tots? Know someone who is? We have a suggestion: good old-fashioned books. Actually, new old-fashioned books.

So as to cull a list for your consideration, we consulted the well-read folks at Women & Children First bookstore in Andersonville and the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library at the Harold Washington branch downtown, who chimed in with popular and personal young reader favorites released in 2013.

Here they are, suitable for ages 5 to early teens. (All descriptions are from the books’ respective publishers.)

1) “Cameron and the Girls” (Clarion Books)
Author: Edward Averett
Age group: 14+

“Fourteen-year-old Cameron Galloway of Lexington, Wash., understands that he has schizophreniform disorder and needs to take pills to quiet the voices in his head. But he likes the voices, especially the gentle, encouraging voice of The Girl. Conflicted, he turns to his friend Nina Savage, who is clinically depressed and can relate to his horror of the numbing effects of medication. They make a pact to ditch the pills. At first they feel triumphant, but soon Cameron’s untreated mind goes haywire — to disastrous effect.”

2) “Counting By 7s” (Dial)
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Age group: 10-14

“Willow Chance is a 12-year-old genius who is obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions and who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life ... until now.

“Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd but extraordinarily endearing girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.”

3) “Flora and Ulysses” (Candlewick)
Author: Kate DiCamillo and
K.G. Campbell (illustrator)
Age group: 9-12

“The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.”

4) “Hold Fast” (Scholastic)
Author: Blue Balliett
Age group: 8+

“Where is Early’s father? He’s not the kind of father who would disappear. But he’s gone ... and he’s left a whole lot of trouble behind.

“As danger closes in, Early, her mom, and her brother have to flee their apartment. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to move into a city shelter. Once there, Early starts asking questions and looking for answers. Because her father hasn’t disappeared without a trace. There are patterns and rhythms to what’s happened, and Early might be the only one who can use them to track him down and make her way out of a very tough place.”

5) “How To” (Simply Read Books)
Author: Julie Morstad
Age group: 5+

“Explores whimsical ways of doing a host of different tasks, including ‘how to wonder,’ ‘how to see the breeze,’ and ‘how to be brave.’ ”

6) “Mermaid in Chelsea Creek” (McSweeney’s
Author: Michelle Tea and
Jason Polan
Age group: 12+

“Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Mass., has a story too worn to repeat — from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they’re somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.”

7) “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Author: Peter Brown
Age group: 4-7

“Are you bored with being so proper?

“Do you want to have more fun?

“Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.

“But does he go too far?”

8) “Picture Me Gone”
(Putnam Juvenile)
Author: Meg Rosoff
Age group: 11-15

“Mila has an exceptional talent for reading a room — sensing hidden facts and unspoken emotions from clues that others overlook. So when her father’s best friend, Matthew, goes missing from his upstate New York home, Mila and her beloved father travel from London to find him. She collects information about Matthew from his belongings, from his wife and baby, from the dog he left behind and from the ghosts of his past — slowly piecing together the story everyone else has missed. But just when she’s closest to solving the mystery, a shocking betrayal calls into question her trust in the one person she thought she could read best.”

9) “Please Bring
Author: Lindsay Ward
Age group: 3-6

“Ever wondered what it would be like to ride a carousel right off its platform? As Emma discovers, all it takes is a handful of balloons and a very kind polar bear to show you the way. This soaring story of friendship, between a carousel bear and the little girl who noticed him, will take readers to the Arctic and back — in time for bedtime, of course — and remind them anything is possible. Even flying.”

10) “Sophie’s Squash” (Schwartz & Wade)
Author: Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf (illustrator)
Age group: 3-7

“On a trip to the farmers’ market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes. ... What’s a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble?”

11) “The Dark” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Author: Lemony Snicket and
Jon Klassen (illustrator)
Age group: 5-8

“Laszlo is afraid of the dark.

“The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.

“This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.”

12) “Two Boys Kissing”
(Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Author: David Levithan
Age group: 14+

“The based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record — all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites — all while the kissing former couple try to figure out their own feelings for each other.”

13) “Who Goes There?” (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Author: Karma Wilson and Anna Currey (illustrator)
Age group: 4-8

“Lewis Mouse is preparing his nest for winter. It is cozy and it is warm, and yet something is missing. All of a sudden —


“Lewis hears the scariest noises! Who can be making those sounds? He uses his bravest voice to shout, ‘WHO GOES THERE?’ and scare off whoever it is. But could it be that he has nothing to be afraid of? Perhaps whoever is making the noise might make Lewis’ home even cozier!


Twitter: @MikeTScribe

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