When people hear the name Ann M. Martin, they naturally think of her wildly popular Baby-sitters Club series. What was supposed to be just a four-book set turned into a 130-book saga, not counting the 120-book series for younger readers, Baby-sitters' Club Little Sisters and other spin-offs. In recent years, she's added other series about children and teens experiencing challenging times, but she will always be known for The Baby-Sitters Club books, several of which are now graphic novels.
Why did these books about four very different middle-school friends take off on the bestseller lists? The secret must lie with Ann's gift for remembering her feelings throughout childhood and young adulthood. She was a babysitter herself, and a lot of the things that she writes happened to the babysitters on the job happened to her or her friends. She also remembers what it feels like to lose a parent, have an annoying little sister, and deal with family secrets.
Jack Gantos knows that a kid can be wacky AND wonderful. Crazy things happen to kids all the time. Take Joey Pigza. He can't sit still in class, and accidents seem to be waiting to happen. He's a live wire, just like his dad and his grandmother. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't settle down. But Joey is lucky; he does have people who care about him and can help him get what he needs to be happier.
Beginning-to-be-eleven-year-old Portia and her little brother Foster are excited to be visiting their relatives in the countryside for the summer in Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake. Besides seeing their favorite aunt and uncle, there is Katy the boxer dog who has just had a litter of puppies “with flat faces like pansies, and ears that felt like pieces of silk, and claws like the tips of knitting needles”—but best of all for Portia is having time to hang out with her cousin Julian, he of the hundred-thousand freckles. Closer than a friend and nicer than a brother is how she thinks of him. Julian is interesting and interested in everything that goes on around him.
Award-winning author Sharon Creech wove a lot of her own life into her books for young adults, including her first one, Absolutely Normal Chaos. Written as a journal as are many of her novels, what strikes a reader immediately are her humor and casual way of storytelling. Everything is told offhand, as if it doesn’t really matter—just a 13-year-old chattering. Until what happens does matter and things get serious. That’s when readers are grateful for the humor, and having a strong if strange family really becomes important.
Last week I was on the edge of my seat, along with other lovers of children’s literature, as this year’s Youth Media Awards were announced by the American Library Association. I’m always thrilled when one of my favorites wins, and I rush to read the winners and honor books that I am not familiar with. These books exemplify the richness of children’s literature and are some of the best-of-the-best picture books from 2017.
A Solid Beginning
Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexandria, Louisiana, a child of middle class parents of mixed racial heritage—what is sometimes called Creole. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was descended from French plantation owners living in Haiti and their slaves. After coming to the United States, the Bontemps family lived free in Louisiana for decades, and the many of the men worked as skilled brick and stone masons for generations. In addition to working his trade, Arna’s father also played music with a popular band. Arna’s mother, Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Carolina Pembrooke was descended from an English planter and his Cherokee wife. Maria taught public school and enjoyed creating visual art.
Theresa, better known as Tree, is just at the age when guys are starting to notice her. She doesn’t have any time for them, though. She’s got to get home after school. With her mom working and living somewhere else and no dad they can remember, it’s up to Tree to look after her brother Dab. Dab might be older in years than Tree, but he’s younger inside. Always been that way.
No, Tree doesn’t have time for the boys and men who call her name on the street—until she sees the finest looking young man ever. He doesn’t call her name. He doesn’t say anything at all. The truth of the matter is, Brother Rush, for that is his name, is a ghost.
Growing into womanhood is a very hard experience for Shabanu and her beautiful sister Phulan. They belong to a nomadic culture in Pakistan where it is absolutely normal for 12- and 13-year-old girls to be married off to older men.
In El Deafo, author Cece Bell loses her hearing at age four. Despite this sudden tragedy, Bell's graphic novel memoir is an inspiring and even entertaining look at her childhood. Most importantly, it clearly explains navigating life in ways that would not occur to hearing people.
Author Jean Fritz has written many books that kids enjoy. They’re often funny and full of adventure and always have great characters. They’re also pretty much absolutely true. Jean specializes in history books, especially people’s life stories. As a biographer, she tries to get to know the people and the times in which they lived through research including reading their own words. Then she takes all that history and turns it around in her mind until it becomes a story her readers will enjoy.