Now that 2011 is officially over, I can finally start compiling the requisite end-of-year lists. Last year I posted my most memorable reads of 2010. This time I’m going for books that I loved, but which I think were overlooked in some way:
Migrant by Maxine Trottier, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (March 2011)
NYT named this one of the best illustrated books of 2011, so it’s gotten its share of praise, but I haven’t heard much chatter elsewhere. I can honestly say it’s the first picture book I’ve encountered on migrant workers, and it’s written with sensitivity and grace. Anna, the little girl at the heart of the book follows her family from Mexico to Canada in search of seasonal work. She’s old enough to wish for a stable, more “normal” life and young enough to escape the hardships through daydreams. Arsenault’s fantastic illustrations bring Anna’s imagination to life, and the family’s unusual background (they’re Mennonites from Mexico who speak a dialect of German) emphasizes the universal challenges faced by migrant workers all over the world. A wonderful, wonderful book.
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (Sept 2011)
Speaking of unusual subjects…when was the last time a picture book tackled death head-on? Duck is understandably unhappy when she first meets Death—a ghoulish skeleton clad in plaid. Time goes by; Duck and Death contemplate life and strangely become friends. There’s a streak of dark humor floating about (Death has a phobia of water) and the ending is surprisingly gentle. A brave and unsettling (in a good way) read.
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney (April 2011)
Jen’s already sang its virtues, so I’m just going to say that this is one of my top five middle grade books from 2011. I haven’t seen it brought up in any Mock Newbery discussions, but come Jan. 23 I’d love to see some kind of sticker on its cover.
The Returning by Christine Hinwood (April 2011)
I think this one’s gaining a cult-like following, but a lot of people have picked it up only to drop it in frustration. Be patient. Forget about conventional story structure and read it for the characters. The story—a chronicle of how communities deal with the aftermath of war—will sneak up on you. And by then you won’t be able to put it down.
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (May 2011)
From my original review, which pretty much sums it up:
Sloan has written a story about family—the families we’re born to and the families we choose. Emily and Sam’s relationship forces them to step outside their comfort zones, as Sam makes his first friend and Emily confronts the kind of poverty that’s often invisible. The result is a daring, often wondrous book on finding the people you need where you least expect them. Of all the YA books I’ve read this year, this one gets my vote for the Printz award.