It’s time for my choices of the best books from 2013. This is the first of two lists and will be completed next week. All of these books are good for ages 9 and up. Some of these books could become Newbery winners that will be announced toward the end of January.
Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein, is full of puzzles, wit and skill. Clever Mr. Lemoncello recently built an amazing library full of challenging games and puzzles. Kyle is thrilled to win a spot to be one of twelve kids to get to sleep in the newly built library (built by his hero: a creative genius who loves games). But when morning comes, Kyle and the eleven others find they are locked inside. Now there’s a new twist to this event. The first one who can solve their way out will win a grand prize. There is a fantastic element running throughout this exciting adventure. Mr. Lemoncello has stated that “knowledge not shared remains unknown”. And the group of kids begins to learn the importance of working together to solve problems.
The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech, is a beautifully and sparsely written story about a young mute boy who is found one day on the porch of a childless couple. He’s found with a note on him that says “Plees taik kair of Jacob”. That’s all they know about this small boy and so they do just that. They love and care for him knowing that at any time his parents could show up and take him back. As time goes on, and they begin to believe he may be able to stay, the unthinkable happens. How they deal with this crisis, and their own life, will bring a few tears. There are some strong lessons of courage and selflessness particularly with a shelf of shoes.
North to Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, is a gripping mystery with time-travel intertwined throughout the story. Thirteen-year-old Mia has to leave her friends and travel with her mother to a tiny fishing village where her grandparents live. Her grandfather has suddenly disappeared and they’ve gone to help her grandmother. But what Mia finds is much more than she ever expected. She meets Peter who is also visiting this tiny town and she also discovers a secret diary tucked away in an abandoned fishing boat. Finding that journal begins her time-travel adventures where she travels fifty years back in time. There are many threads that begin to weave together including meeting Peter. This is a wonderfully written story that emphasizes friendship, family and grandparents.
Will in Scarlet, by Matthew Cody, is a thrilling adventure that takes on a new spin to the classic stories about Robin Hood. The year is 1192 and thirteen-year-old Will is trying to prove to his father, the lord of a large manor and property, that he can take over when it’s appropriate. His father is away fighting the Crusades and now the manor is threatened by an evil representative of the court. Will escapes to Sherwood Forest where he meets up with a band of thieves. Much is part of the thieves and is disguised as a boy. This is when the story becomes more complicated, funny and exciting. The chapters alternate between Will and Much seamlessly as you read about honor, loss, injustice and medieval life.
Counting by 7’s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, is a beautifully-written story that will grip your heart and stay for a long time. Twelve-year-old Willow is a genius who loves her parents, her garden and is obsessed with the number seven. But her life is about to turn upside-down when her parents are suddenly killed in a car crash. Through an interconnecting web that involves the school counselor, she finds a friend in a Vietnamese family who helps ground her and love her.
What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World, by Henry Clark, has a crazy title but this may be just what this book needed to get kids to read it. It turns out that the storyline is engaging, well-written, funny and full of adventure. Three kids find a discarded sofa sitting near their bus stop. So they begin searching through the cushions for loose change. Instead of coins they find an item that could alter the course of history and evil invaders that are about to raid the Earth. This fast-paced book is perfect to even the most reluctant reader.
The Key & The Flame, by Claire M. Caterer, is a fantasy that centers on a young girl, Holly, who discovers an old iron key that unlocks a door inside of a tree. This key and door opens a magical medieval world. Now she finds that she holds magic within herself and has power that is both powerful and ancient. Her younger brother and another boy end up coming along with her and this presents some problems because they are suddenly taken away by the royals who live there. Now she must save them and find her way back home.
Duke, by Kirby Larson, is a tremendous historical fiction that teaches bravery, selflessness and overcoming difficult trials in life. Fifth-grader Hobie sees his father leave to help fight in World War II in Europe. He decides to help with the war effort by collecting rubber and buying war bonds. But when he decides to loan his precious German Shepherd pet, Duke, to the Army he soon believes he’s made a mistake and wants his dog back. Then his father is taken prisoner by the Germans and Hobie knows Duke is needed by America. The questions of ever seeing his father and his dog ring throughout this riveting story.
The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure, by Martin W. Sandler, took place in 1897 and concerns 9 whaling ships frozen in the arctic waters. There were 300 sailors left up near the top region of Alaska with little shelter, warm clothing and food. Three men were given charge to rescue the men by bringing food and supplies. The great challenge was they had to travel over 1,500 miles of uncharted territory in the middle of winter where temperatures dropped far below zero. There were many instances where the Lord must have had His hand involved for these great men to reach the stranded ships in time.