2016 End of the Year Selections

The semester is coming to an end and so is the calendar year. We’ve read a lot of fascinating books from our 2016 collection and we are happy to present our 2016 End of the Year Selections. This list features Butler Center staff picks from 2016 that would work well for book clubs, gift choices, or personal reading, on a variety of topics. In keeping with our focus on ALSC’s core values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), we’ve intentionally chosen books that exemplify one or more of these values. These books were selected by Diane Foote, Butler Center Curator (informational books), Alena Rivers (picture books and children’s fiction), and Hal Patnott (children’s and teen fiction).

We hope you find something that inspires your reading choices over the coming weeks.



Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital by Tonya Bolden (Abrams, 2016)

The nation’s capital is in the news these days, from the recent presidential election to nuanced issues about how to present (or not present) its history in literature for young people. Here is a factual, welcome volume based on primary source material from the journal of a man born enslaved, who lived through, observed, and wrote about happenings in Washington, DC from 1814 to 1869. Not least remarkable is Shiner’s literacy at a time when it was illegal for slaves to be taught how to read and write. (ALSC Core Values: Inclusiveness, Responsiveness)


Circle by Jeannie Baker (Candlewick, 2016)

Intricately detailed collages bring to life the incredible journey of bar-tailed godwits, a type of shorebird that migrates immense distances. Along the way, various ecosystems are portrayed including the original beach, cities, woodlands, and parklands; subtle environmental messaging appears when a lone bottle mars an otherwise beautiful strand. The tactile look of the collages invite touch, especially on the downy godwit chicks in their nests. (ALSC Core Values: Excellence, Innovation, Inclusiveness)


Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box edited by Leonard Marcus (Candlewick, 2016)

Graphic novels are often a refuge for reluctant readers, and the best of them offer sophisticated story arcs, fast-paced action, engaging dialogue, and visual elements that help tie these elements together. Now, fans have a compelling reason to dive into informational books: In their own words, graphic novel creators including Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Gene Luen Yang, and ten more reveal thoughts on their own art and lives, along with an original short graphic piece to keep the visual interest up. (ALSC Core Values: Collaboration, Inclusiveness)


Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown, 2016)

At first glance, Basquiat’s energetic, colorful creations seem childlike with their unstructured composition and wild, bold strokes and splashes. Upon closer study they reveal layers of meaning and power that will resonate with young art lovers, along with the compelling story of young Basquiat’s life, put thoughtfully into context here for child readers. (ALSC Core Values: Excellence, Inclusiveness)


We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolph Hitler by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 2016)

Who better than Newbery and Sibert Medalist Freedman to help readers today understand the climate that first enabled Hitler’s rise to power, then the courage it took on the part of these young people to defy the Nazis? In his trademark factual, non-hyberbolic way, Freedman conveys the terror of these times but doesn’t allow current young readers to become overwhelmed by it. Source notes, an index, clearly captioned archival photos, and picture credits complete the package and make this an example of the very best in nonfiction, for any age. (ALSC Core Values: Leadership, Integrity and Respect)


Vietnam: A History of the War by Russell Freedman (Holiday, 2016)

What’s better than one book by Russell Freedman? Two books by Russell Freedman! The Vietnam War marked a turning point in American history; the intertwining issues of domestic policy, foreign policy, geopolitics, and American culture including the maturing antiwar movement, are all effectively addressed here, again, fully supported by clearly captioned and credited photos along with backmatter including a time line, source notes, a glossary, and an index. Now that “fake news” is having an impact on our national discourse, Freedman’s approach is more welcome, and more necessary, than ever. (ALSC Core Values: Inclusiveness, Excellence, Integrity and Respect)



Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (Candlewick, 2016)

A group of insects ponders the presence of an unknown plant that continues to grow in front of their home log. An invented language advances the story as readers use context clues from the illustrations to decipher the insects’ conversation. Young children will be enthralled by watching the small yet meaningful changes unfold in the intricately drawn images that carry from page to page in a muted, earth-tone color palette. The insects’ invented argot risks being perceived as “pidgin,” and may distract rather than appeal, but it does present an opportunity for discussions about language and fluency with both children and adults. (ALSC Core Value: Innovation)


Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

A young girl who loves to draw shares her art with members of her community. She is invited by a muralist to join him in creating a vibrant colored mural on a building in their otherwise gray neighborhood. They are soon joined by their neighbors whose enthusiasm for the project ignites a block party filled with music, dancing and painting the walls, sidewalks, benches and utility boxes. The lively text is complemented by colorful illustrations. Inspired by a true story, Maybe Something Beautiful is a reminder that everyone’s efforts can impact change and that art is a powerful tool for transformation.(ALSC Core Values: Collaboration, Leadership, Responsiveness)


As Brave As You

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Simon and Schuster/Atheneum, 2016)

Twelve-year-old Genie and his older brother Ernie spend a month with their grandparents in North Hill, Virginia while their parents spend time together sorting out their fading marriage. Genie struggles to adapt to an environment unlike his home in Brooklyn and make sense of the growing concerns he has for his parents’ marriage. Readers will laugh and empathize with this coming of age story as Genie deepens his understanding of himself, his family history and his role within the family. (ALSC Core Values: Integrity and Respect)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Alongquin, 2016)

Everyone knows a witch lives in the swamp, because every year the people of the Protectorate sacrifice their youngest child to keep peace with her. What they don’t know is how she transforms the lives of their abandoned children with starlight and magic. A book about the power of stories and the dangers of sorrow, The Girl Who Drank the Moon has enormous heart. (ALSC Core Values: Innovation, Excellence)


Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan (Candlewick, 2016)

Samantha, or Snow as she becomes known, is sent away to school as a young girl by her cruel stepmother. While she is gone her father passes away and upon her return her own life is threatened by an assassin hired by her stepmother. Snow runs to safety and finds herself in an alley with a band of seven boys who protect her from the evils of their city and Snow’s stepmother. Set in 1928, New York City, Phelan has created an engaging retelling of a classic fairy tale in a graphic novel format. (ALSC Core Value: Innovation)



If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Macmillan/Flatiron, 2016)

Amanda moves in with her father after her transition for a fresh start and to escape the prejudice in her old town. She wants to fit in at her new school, but she has to decide how much of her past to share with her friends and the boy she is starting to fall in love with. An important book from an authentic voice, Amanda’s story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. (ALSC Core Value: Integrity and Respect)

Saving Montgomery Sole

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, 2016)

Montgomery Sole, a girl with a passion for the unexplained, discovers a dark and mysterious stone with the power to punish her enemies. When a new preacher, hell-bent on saving the “American Family” from “sinners” like her moms, moves to town, she must decide what it means to be a hero and whether to risk her friendships by wielding the stone’s dangerous power. This book has a strong theme of overcoming prejudice and taking the high road.  (ALSC Core Values: Leadership, Responsiveness)

Stolen by Magic


by Hal Patnott

The following titles from our young adult and middle grade 2016 collections share a common motif, children stolen by magic. Stop by the Butler Center to check out our advanced review copies of The Call by Peadar O’Guilin and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, Scholastic/David Fickling (August 2016)

Start counting. The Call lasts three minutes and four seconds to be exact, at least, in the mortal realm. In the Grey Lands, where armies of vicious and eternally beautiful Sidhe await their human prey, the Call might seem to last days. They know exactly when and where their victims will arrive in their treacherous and colorless wildlands. The choice is simple: run or die. For twenty-five years, the Sidhe have been stealing teenagers. No one can predict when the Sidhe will call, but they always do. Only one in ten survive.

Fourteen-year-old Nessa  can’t run. As an infant, she contracted Polio and now her legs prevent her from keeping up with her classmates at her survival college. Still, she refuses to give up her fight, despite the ridicule she receives from classmates, and teachers. On her tenth birthday, she decided, “I’m going to live. And nobody’s going to stop me” and she’s determined to fulfill that promise even if that means pushing away the people she loves (3). However, when mysterious and terrifying reports crop up of mass murders at other survival colleges around the country, Nessa has more to worry about than her impending Call. She must find a way to save her school and herself.

Peadar O’Guilin writes without pity. Nessa is as fierce as Katniss Everdeen, and the odds are definitely not in her favor. The Call is a dark and brutal adventure perfect for fans of horror and fantasy.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Algonquin (August 2016)

Everyone knows a witch lives in the forest, because every year the people of the Protectorate must sacrifice their youngest child to keep her at peace. No one knows what she does with the children, maybe she eats them or makes them her slaves. The witch is not the Protectorate’s only problem. No one ever has enough to eat.They scrounge what they can from the Bog. Heavy clouds of sorrow hang over their isolated village.

Xan has lived on the volcano in the forest for five hundred years with her bog monster Glerk and her “Perfectly Tiny Dragon,” Fyrian (17). Although she can’t fathom why, every year the village at the edge of the forest abandons a baby in the swamp. She doesn’t ask questions. The Protectorate is so clouded with sorrow, that surely, she believes, those abandoned babies would be better off some place else, where they can grow up strong and loved. So every year she collects the baby and then sets off for the Free Cities where people are kind and love children. Along the way, she feeds the babies goat milk, and when that runs out, she uses magic to feed them starlight. However, one year, when Xan reaches up for starlight, she pulls down the light of the moon instead. While starlight might make “marvelous” food for a baby, moonlight is dangerous, because moonlight is pure magic (20). One sip enmagicks  the baby, so Xan has no choice, but to keep her and raise her herself.

At its heart, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book about the power of stories and the dangers of sorrow. Quirky and enchanting characters keep the overall tone lighthearted. Like Fyrian the “Perfectly Tiny Dragon,” The Girl Who Drank the Moon has “Simply Enormous” heart.

Mock Newbery Results

I spent this past weekend immersed in deep, insightful book discussion with fourteen other astute, committed individuals, in search of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” published in 2014. This was the culmination of a semester’s worth of reading, nominating, and more reading. By dedicating the time and energy of an entire course to the endeavor we were able to really dig into the Newbery process, replicating not just the book discussion, but the nominations, introductions, and balloting. In the end we spent 15 hours over two days discussing and voting on a list of 29 titles, arriving at a winner and two honor books. I’ll talk a bit more about our lists in a bit, but let me now get to our results:

The committee chose two honor books:

the art of secretsThe Art of Secrets by James Klise, published by Algonquin Young Readers, 2014

When arsonists torch Saba Khan’s apartment, tensions are high. Is this a hate crime, targeting Saba’s Pakistani immigrant family? Was is staged? Who is responsible? The community at her independent school steps up, raising funds to help the family, but when one of the items collected for auction turns out to be the work of Chicago outsider artist Henry Darger, valued at half a million dollars, things get bona fide complicated. Klise exposes the truths, and misdirections, through a series of blindered e-mails, texts, journal entries, phone conversations, and other exchanges between a diverse cast of players, threading the compelling mystery with obfuscation and intrigue. Taut plotting, masterful characterization, and nuanced exposition combine in a satisfying, surprising novel.

bad bye good bye

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean, published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014

A little boy travels with his family from their old home to their new one, lamenting their losses, considering their transitions, and hoping for their future. Underwood composes 57 discrete single-syllable words into forty rhyming couplets, with every couplet being an adjective/noun pairing (with the exception of one critical turning point). Within this structured framework she achieves a staggering range of emotion and experience, equally resonant to the lap-based toddler, the emerging reader, or budding poet. Simple words take on layers of meaning that shift and grow in their careful sequence, drawing the reader or listener along the journey’s immediate, indelible arc. While Bean’s energetic, substantial images add atmosphere to the outing, establishing meaningful context and reinforcing the emotional tug, Underwood’s spare, rhythmic, verse has its own unmistakable, dramatic power.

And the committee chose, as winner of our 2015 Mock Newbery:

RevolutionRevolution by Deborah Wiles, published by Scholastic Press, 2014.

The town of Greenwood, Mississippi becomes the battleground for a nation in turmoil during the freedom summer of 1964. “Agitators” from the north descend to establish and protect black voters’ rights while the local communities erupt at the challenge to the status quo. Wiles tells the story in two first-person narratives, of twelve-year-old Sunny, whose eyes are opening to habituated racism she couldn’t see, and fourteen-year-old Raymond, who experiences that racism first-hand. Wiles embellishes and interrupts those two distinct voices with a jarring battery of primary documents, submerging the reader in a cultural context that includes everything from frothy invocations of pop-culture to noxious expressions of hatred, all of them documented and real. The resulting combination makes for a piercing, illuminating, and especially human exploration of a tumultuous episode in our country’s history.

A note about our lists:

We began our reading with a list of 15 titles selected by me (as instructor for the course) in July, which included both published and anticipated books. Unlike the “real” committee, that short list was curated to represent a wide range of style, tone, format, and reading level, as well as a balance of cultural diversity. In addition to those titles we all read widely from an ever-growing list of suggested titles from which each student nominated one. And in the end we arrived at our final 29. We can never know how well our final list might compare to the books the “real” committee is looking at this year. Indeed, in many ways our purposes are different. But we have great confidence in the depth and precision of the investigation we undertook, and great pride in the results.

mock newbery committee