Thursday, December 1, 2016

Our Favorite Kids' Books of 2016

As a family, we have read thousands of books this year. To be fair, Will, who reads several multi-chapter books every single day, has pulled most of the weight in getting us to this number, but the rest of us are no book-reading slouches, either!

That being said, I actually feel a lot more confident in giving out our favorite book recommendations for 2016. I mean, we played with a few toys in 2016, but we read a LOT of books.

We came to this late in the year--I'd read Wonder before, but the kids just read it last month for a library book club meeting. It was, however, a revelation for them, one of those instances when someone reads the perfect book at the perfect time. Will, who normally prefers books that take place in imaginary realms or at least star talking animals, even loved the book, and Syd listened to it once, read it once, listened to the Playaway of the Wonder stories SEVEN times, read pretty much all of Mr. Brown's Book of Precepts out loud, and recently requested the Wonder Playaway again so that she could listen to it some more. It's a beautiful book about a kid dealing with a really big difference, and all the other kids in his life who have to learn how to accept really big differences.

And if you read it, you MUST read the Wonder stories next. Julian's chapter touched me more than the entire first book.

Percy Jackson has been another absolute phenomenon this year, at least in Syd's world. Will and I have read them all, but Syd? Oh, my gosh, she LIVED in them. For months. Still does. She talks about Percy and Annabeth like they are friends who live in the next town over, and knows just as much about their god and goddess parents. This obsession was the inspiration for our current Greek mythology unit study, which has been just as big of a hit with both kids.

Syd likes Riordan's other series, as well, but that's nothing in comparison to how deeply she feels for Percy.

Normally, Will has a "love 'em and leave 'em" attitude towards the dozens of books that she blows through every week, but Skulduggery Pleasant has stuck with her. The books are witty, gothic but not spooky, and full of adventure and intrigue, She is smitten by the idea of "taken names," and is desperately into the intricate plot of the series of books.

We all really like these books of famous events and stories retold in LEGO, but Will especially loves them, and has discovered new genres of literature and new events in history. The assassinations book isn't completely kid-friendly (although... why would you assume a book about assassinations would be?), as one of the highlights of the story of Boston Corbett (the guy who killed John Wilkes Booth), is that he was a religious fanatic who castrated himself before dinner one evening because he was upset at having been tempted by some prostitutes during his walk home.

And yeah, there's a LEGO illustration for that. Anyway, Will was totally titillated by this tale, so much so that we conducted more research on Corbett, and even found some photos of the hole that he spent the latter part of his life in---yes, a hole. Will REALLY wants to make a pilgrimage there one day.

We read a LOT of comics and graphic novels in our family, but many of them aren't kid-friendly. Will can read whatever she wants, but Syd is my baby, so it's nice to have graphic novels that everyone can enjoy, but that she, especially really likes. Phoebe and Her Unicorn is super kid-friendly, but it's not baby-ish--the unicorn has an attitude, and the banter between the two is witty and engaging. Phoebe and Her Unicorn is actually a comic strip, and it's my dream that one day it will run in our newspaper, perhaps instead of For Better or For Worse, which I abhor.

 And speaking of graphic novels that Syd loves... she has spent the entire year worshiping Raina Telgemeier. First, she fell in love with her Babysitter's Club adaptations--and I even tried to give Syd the novels, but she didn't like them, just Telgemeier's graphic novels of them--then she discovered her original works, and has eagerly read all of them several times. I also really like her work, which has the kind of drama that many tweens like, but isn't schlocky. Her newest novel, Ghosts, has only been out for a couple of months, so it's still possible that you could happily surprise a kid who hasn't read it yet.

I've mentioned a few times before that we have a Family Read-Aloud. Now that the kids are older and their evening extracurriculars run later, we don't do this as often as we used to, but at least two or three nights a week, we come together as a family and Matt reads us the next chapter of our current book. The kids and I braid each other's hair, or color in our Tolkien coloring book, or just sit under a blanket and listen. For over a year now, it's been Tolkien, first The Hobbit, and now we're well into The Lord of the Rings--it'll probably take us another year, at least, to finish! I am very adamant that the kids do not see film adaptations of books until they've read the books, so although we've watched the Hobbit films as a family (with MUCH criticism), we're saving the wonderful Lord of the Rings movies until after we've finished the entire book. It's even better that way, as our world-building can take place entirely in our heads. We talk about it a lot, reference it to each other, the kids and I have been known to invent Lord of the Rings fanfiction, and basically it's just given us a very large common reference point in interests and conversation. I highly recommend it as a family read-aloud.

Syd recently re-introduced us to David Wiesner, when she brought home Mr. Wuffles and Matt and I basically snatched it out of her hands so that we could read it, too. If you have kids, you probably read him a lot when your kids were little, but then forgot about him when you stopped browsing the picture book aisles at every library visit. Well, he's still awesome, and still fun even for older kids and adults (I'd argue that he's even MORE fun for older kids and adults, because we get his sense of humor better).

Probably every kid in America has read the Warrior Cats series, which is fine, because they're awesome. They're another of the few books that Will still re-reads and still talks about after she's read them, so out of the thousands of books that she's read this year, you know they must be very, VERY good! This is also a good series if you've got a voracious reader, as not only are there a billion books in the series, but there are also manga and field guides, etc.

I could seriously give you dozens upon dozens more recommendations of books that we've read and enjoyed--I didn't even tell you about the Al Capone series that we love, or the Dark is Rising series that we're currently listening to in the car, or the more mature graphic novels that we let Will read with us--so feel free to comment if you want even more recommendations or something more specific. And also feel free to comment with your own and your kids' own favorites of the year, because we can ALWAYS use something new to read!

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