Best Books of 2017: A List of Lists (and What to Do with It)

list of lists

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to weigh in with a list of Best Books of the Year–from libraries and magazines to authors and bloggers, including our own Rosalyn Eves and Amanda Rawson Hill. I’ll admit, I’d planned to post my own list today, and it included Long Way Down, The 57 Bus, Orphan Island, and Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.

I love poring over the lists: seeing if my favorites made the cut, adding to my already-overwhelming TBR pile. Since my first book came out, I’ll admit there’s sometimes a tiny hope that my own book will have been found list-worthy. But as I talked with a friend about what I might like to write next, she suggested something I’d never considered:

“Have you studied the lists?”

Her assertion was that there’s a lot to be learned from the lists, both for the sake of our art and the necessary commerce that accompanies it–because books that make the lists are often successful in both regards. Of course, we seek to be original, we long to tell our stories. But we can find inspiration, instruction on craft, and a sense of the marketplace by looking at books on the lists that have been successful in all these areas.

So, without further ado, I give you a list of lists so you can find new books to read and love and recommend, but also with the hope that you’ll study and learn from it (as I plan to!) as an early step toward creating something that’s wonderfully, uniquely you.

What lists did I miss? Feel free to link in the comments!


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

Favorite Books of 2017/Anticipated Books of 2018

It’s the end of the year, which means seeing how you did on your Goodreads Challenge! Did you make your goal? I set out to read 72 books, and have read 80 so far! I’m hoping to get in another five at least before the end of the month. Wish me luck!

Even better than seeing that “Congratulations” message in Goodreads, though. Is looking back on all the amazing stories you read in the last year and remembering which were your favorites. I read so many great books this year. Some were old classics, like A WRINKLE IN TIME and MATILDA. But most were released this year and those are the ones I want to focus on for this post. So without further ado, I give you my favorite books of 2017!

Paper Chains by Elaine Vickers.

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I loved Elaine’s debut, Like Magic. And her sophomore novel lived up to the quiet, gentle storytelling she wowed me with in her first novel. I loved the well-developed characters and the loving friendship between the two girls. The authentic feelings and worries around adoption were a welcome addition to MG lit as well.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green.

I read this book with my daughter’s homeschool book club. They all loved it. One girl declared it “the best book [she’d] ever read.” A book with a big heart all about family and the fact that everyone has a story. It also has a delicious cookie recipe at the end that has become my kids’ new favorite.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I listened to this on audio and kept finding excuses to drive to the store or go on walks so I could keep listening. A YA Russian fairytale retelling without a romance (*gasp*). Beautiful voice and this quiet growing tension that slowly builds up until it finally explodes.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

I’ve heard the term “book boyfriend” before, but had never really been able to apply it to any other character besides Gilbert Blythe…until this book. I loved the romance, loved the kick-butt heroine, and the different take on pirates. I absolutely CAN’T wait for the sequel to come out next year!

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell

This book is funny and heartbreaking. At times hilarious and heartwarming and then gut-punching. Really fun characters and a great message about self-acceptance. It definitely lives up to that fantastic blurb from Gary Schmidt.

The Last Namsara by Kristin Ciccarrelli.

A YA fantasy with dragons and stories as a weapon. This book was thoroughly engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading and I absolutely loved the dragons!

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling.

This is one of those books with a fantastic voice and a character you will never forget. A beautiful story about friendship with a positive, yet unflinching, look at disability.

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Words can not express how much I love this book. The poetry is so beautiful. The story is wonderful and lovely. I read it with my 8-12 year old girls at church and they were all obsessed. Creates some great discussions about differences and being kind.

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The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

I’m usually not a straight romance book person, but this one just sucked me right in. The questions it asks about neurodiversity and what makes us who we are was intriguing. I loved the relationship between the two main characters and the humor of Lily.

The Someday Birds by Sally Pla

If it seems like I read a lot of neurodeverse lit this year, that’s because I did! Though I didn’t plan to. This is an #ownvoices books with an autistic MC. It was hilarious and heartwarming. A summer, road trip book. Who doesn’t love those? It also included a sidestory about the Muslim genocide in Bosnia in the nineties.

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As an author with a debut coming out next year, I have had the opportunity to read some amazing books coming out next year. I can’t feature all of them here, but these are four of the ones I’m most excited about. (Some for obvious reasons. 😉 )

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin.

Cindy is my writing twin, Pitch Wars co-mentor, and CP who I try not to feel insanely jealous of. Her writing is lovely and this book will rip your heart in a million tiny pieces and then sew it back together.

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Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen.

This book is so ambitious for a middle-grade novel and it pulls it off beautifully. The story tackles kleptomania, privilege, social justice without ever becoming preachy. It poses deep and interesting questions to the reader and is told in a mixture of prose and lovely verse. I can’t wait to shove it into the hands of everyone I know.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

This is a verse novel about the artist Artemisia Gentileschi and her rape by another artist and the subsequent trial that happens when she takes her charges against him public. It is breathtaking, unflinching, and heart-wrenching. It will haunt you for months, if not years, after reading it.

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

Okay, okay. This is my book. I won’t talk it up to you. But I am totally excited about it hitting shelves next year.

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Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves

I’m in the middle of Blood Rose Rebellion right now and already can’t wait for the sequel to come out next year!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

 

Elaine’s Five Favorites from 2014

Happy December! This week, we’re each spotlighting five of our favorite reads from the genre/age group we write for. For me, this meant picking five favorites from the eighty-one middle grade and chapter books I’ve read so far in 2014. (Not all of these books came out in 2014, but I read them all for the first time this year.) In the end, I was able to narrow it down to ten, so I decided to spotlight five here and five on my blog. So without further ado, here are five of my favorite middle grade and chapter books of 2014!

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

Kevin has a bad attitude. He’s the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way–and he’s even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader’s journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people’s lives.

Not only am I crazy about this book, but my son and daughter and their classmates are crazy about it as well. It is totally engaging and visually fascinating, and the characters and construction of the whole story are just awesome. I’m a fan of any story that invites kids to celebrate poetry and learn empathy, especially when the author is as talented as K.A. Holt.

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Dear Jamshed,

America is not so different from what we thought. I told you I wouldn’t see a single cowboy riding across the plain, and I haven’t.

I have not even seen a plain.

Still, there are some silver linings. They are:

1.) Trapper and King, the cat and dog who live in the apartment building. They are cuddly and waggy. I am not allowed to play with them, though, becayse they are supposed to catch mice and keep burglars away.
2.) Ironman. He owns a pig and talks to me a lot. But he is a grown-up.
3.) Kids. I can hear them playing outside. Too bad they do not want to play with me.

I wish you were here.
Do you wish I was in India? 
Write back soon.

Your friend,
Lowji


This sweet, funny chapter book was not only one of my favorites, but one of my seven-year-old’s favorites as well. Lowji is such an endearing character with such a unique perspective, and between the cast of kids, adults, and animals, there’s plenty of humor and excitement to keep young readers turning the pages.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafeh

I Am Malala. This is my story. 

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.

No one expected her to survive.

This is the young readers edition of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir. At seventeen, she’s the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and I finished reading this just days before that announcement was made. I remember seeing it at the bookstore and thinking, “This is such an important book for young girls to read. And such an important book for young boys to read.” A great nonfiction choice for showing kids how much good they can do in the world–and how much that’s needed right now.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.


This book is funny and suspenseful and all kinds of clever. There are seven girls here, and each is so well-drawn and distinct that they feel absolutely authentic. I had such a great time reading this book, and don’t doubt that slightly older middle grade readers who are ready for a good mystery would absolutely devour it. Julie Berry is so fabulous at so many things, and this book is definitely another bright and brilliant feather in her cap.


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

This book received so many accolades–four starred reviews, multiple best-books-of-the-year lists–and deservedly so. I love books where the main characters are dealing with difficult things, and the adults in their lives, though imperfect, are there for them and helping them. Albie is the kind of kid young readers will root for and remember, the kind of character who might make a difference in their lives. And that’s a great thing. 


What books did I miss in 2014 that I need to catch in 2015? (There were a lot of them!) What were your favorites–middle grade, chapter books, or otherwise? Click here to see my other five favorites…

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Elaine Vickers writes middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, or generally anywhere there’s food and/or books for her consumption. 🙂

Erin’s Five Favorites from 2014

Every day this week we’re spotlighting five of our favorite books from the genre we write. So, yay! I get to gab about the middle grade books that I adored this year.

But….um….only five? Wow. This is gonna be tough.

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Changed the World
by Henry Clark

The adventure of a lifetime begins between two sofa cushions….


When River, Freak, and Fiona discover a mysterious sofa sitting at their bus stop, their search for loose change produces a rare zucchini-colored crayon. Little do they know this peculiar treasure is about to launch them into the middle of a plot to conquer the world!

The kids’ only hope is to trap the plot’s mastermind when he comes to steal the crayon. But how can three kids from the middle of nowhere stop an evil billionaire? With the help of an eccentric neighbor, an artificially intelligent domino, a DNA-analyzing tray, two hot air balloons, and a cat named Mucus, they just might be able to save the planet.

Ok. This is a zany, silly, original and crazy fun book. I mean, come on…spontaneous showtune-singing flash mobs the whole town is involved in, smoldering coal fires in the abandoned mines beneath the town and a teleporting, intelligent couch? 

Yeah, it is strange. And fantastic. 

I loved watching the relationship between Fiona, Freak and River. The story starts with Fiona being too embarrassed to be friends with Freak and River in public. But it’s funny how your priorities change when you’re suddenly responsible for saving the world. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This remarkable novel holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart. 

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.


But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.


I could not stop talking about this book after I finished it! It is so clever and fun and mysterious. And that moment. THAT MOMENT, when I realized what had been happening, what the notes were all about, what the point of it all was….wow. Ok. Yeah, it’s just so good. READ THIS BOOK!


Almost Super by Marion Jensen

Everyone over the age of twelve in the Bailey family gets a superpower. No one knows why, and no one questions it. All the Baileys know is that it’s their duty to protect the world from the evil, supervillainous Johnson family. *shake fists*
But when Rafter Bailey and his brother Benny get their superpowers, they’re, well . . . super-lame. Rafter can strike matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his innie belly button into an outie. Along with Rafter’s algebra class nemesis, Juanita Johnson, Rafter and Benny realize that what they thought they knew about superheroes and supervillains may be all wrong. And it’s up to the three of them to put asides their differences and make things right. They may not have great powers, but together, they’re almost super.


Superheroes, supervillians, and sworn enemies forced to work together and stop the real villian? But they have to use the lame-o powers they got instead of super awesome powers that everyone else in their family got? Yeah, I’m in. This is a great adventure full of twists and turns and is a whole lot of super fun.

 Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends Aaren and Brock might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and recklessness that usually get Hope into trouble might just save them all.

There is so much to love about this one. Action, adventure, brilliant world building and a girl who learns to believe in herself and her abilities while attempting to save her town. (And inventing! Oh, and the sky jumping!) Loved it! And so did my ten-year-old son. We can’t wait to read the sequel. (Good thing he’s getting it for Christmas. Shhhh!) 

Drizzle by K.D. Van Cleve

Eleven-year-old Polly Peabody needs to make it start raining. For her entire life, it has rained at exactly one o’clock every Monday afternoon on her family’s magical rhubarb farm, until one Monday, when it stops. And then Polly’s brother gets sick, really sick. Polly has to figure out how everything is connected and make it rain before her beloved Aunt Edith sells the farm.  She has help from the farm itself, in the form of the plants and insects, including her best friend, Harry, a chocolate-tasting rhubarb plant.  They all push Polly to confront her fears.  But is it enough, and more importantly – is there enough time?

I am a sucker for a strange and interesting world. And a farm with chocolate rhubarb, rain that always falls at 1 p.m. and bugs that can spell, is definitely interesting and strange and fantastic. 

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Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist. She is the southern Utah coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.