Miss Megan’s Five Star Favorites, Part I

I’m a pretty critical reader. I guess that’s because I read a lot of things, so inevitably I start to feel a little jaded. But when a special book crosses my path, one that jolts me out of my stupor with its originality or voice or what have you, I get very excited.

For this reason, I love Goodreads. Not only can I keep track of what I’ve read, but I can organize books based on how I rated them. And at the tippy-top of the list is my handful of five star picks, the books that I think are just plain extraordinary.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press; 15.99; Ages 3-adult

Opening line: “This hat is not mine. I just stole it.”

For fans of: I Want My Hat BackI’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean

Also, it’s this year’s Caldecott medalist.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam RexHyperion (HarperCollins); 16.99; Ages 3-8

Opening line: “This is me, Mac. I’m the author of this book.”

For fans of: The Three PigsOh, No!: or How My Science Project Destroyed the World

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteSquare Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 9-adult

Opening line: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.”

For fans of: The Chronicles of NarniaAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Breadcrumbs by Anne UrsuHarperCollins; 6.99; Ages 9-adult

Opening line: “It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.”

For fans of: Peter PanLiesl and Po

Okay for Now by Gary SchmidtClarion (Houghton Mifflin); 16.99; Ages 10-adult

Opening line: “Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap. I’m not lying. He gave it to me. To me, Doug Swieteck. To me.”

For fans of: The Wednesday WarsAl Capone Does My Shirts

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy SchlitzCandlewick Press; 17.99; Ages 10-adult

Opening line: “The witch burned. She tossed in a sea of blankets, dizzy with heat. It was fever, not fire, that tormented her, fever and the nightmares that came with it.”

For fans of: Charles DickensCatherine, Called Birdy

And it’s a 2013 Newbery Honor Book!

Want to read more from any of these awesome titles? Call us and we’ll put them on hold! (703) 548-4092.

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

Hot Off the Press: Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

I love magical realism. I love when a story starts in our world and then somehow (usually through a portal of some kind) transitions to a fantasy setting. Last year was prime time for fantastic middle (and upper) grade books of this genre. As any reader of this blog will know, we’re crazy about Breadcrumbs, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandand A Monster Calls, all of which hit shelves last fall. And, if Lauren Oliver’s Spindlers is any indication, this year’s shaping up to be equally great.

Oliver just keeps getting better and better. I enjoyed her debut novel Before I Fall, and her YA Delirium series is a big hit with fans of dystopian lit. But it wasn’t until Liesl & Po, her foray into middle grade fiction, that we saw what she can really do. She’s a tremendously gifted storyteller who knows how to craft characters with emotional depth that radiates from the page. 

In The Spindlers, young Liza is the only person to see the truth: her little brother Patrick’s soul has been stolen by Spindlers, the hideous spider-like creatures from the hidden world beneath her parent’s basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza sets off on what she thinks is a quest to save her brother. But as she adventures on, it soon becomes clear that if Patrick’s soul is lost, her own will be forfeit as well.

I tore through this book in a matter of hours. It’s not that the reading level is low, or that Oliver skimped on action or plot. In fact, the opposite is true—this story flows absolutely beautifully. The arc feels complete, the adventure is fully developed, but there are no gratuitous plot lines and absolutely no opportunity for boredom. It’s a fully satisfying tale that will suck you in and then let you go at precisely the right moment. And even though I read The Spindlers in an afternoon, I spent the rest of the day still entrenched in that world—which is one of the highest compliments I can give to an author.

Just when I think I can’t be more of a Lauren Oliver fan, she releases something new, and I fall in love all over again. I may have a serious author crush going here.

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver, illus. by Iacopo Bruno and Lauren Oliver; HarperCollins; 16.99; Ages 9-12

New in Paperback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this remarkable novel until now. It’s absolutely brilliant. Along with Breadcrumbs and A Monster Calls, it was one of my favorite books of 2011—and now one of my favorite books of all time! Everyone else here at HFB seems to agree, because it made our Newbery shortlist in January.

Here’s a big statement: everyone should read this book. Everyone. Even adults. Especially adults.

When a young, plucky girl named September is spirited away from her home in Omaha by the jovial Green Wind, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime. Drawn into Fairyland, September is confronted with an epic quest: to unseat the cruel Marquess, the childlike tyrant who holds Fairyland in her tight grasp. Joined by A-Through-L, a library-oriented dragon, and Saturday, a quiet, loyal Marid child, September attempts to right the wrongs done in the kingdom.

Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination is magnificent, and her storytelling is breathtaking. September’s tale is given such incredible depth that it belongs in the hands of readers of all ages. This is a tale about growing up, becoming brave, and embracing the truth, even if it’s dangerous. This is a tale about friendship, creativity, and sacrifice. Anyone who has loved the rich, dark, classic works by greats like C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie, or Lewis Carroll will be utterly entranced by The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.

I obviously can’t recommend this book enough! Read it immediately. (Pretty please with a cherry on top.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan; Square Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 10-adult

Our Newbery Shortlist

Booksellers and librarians all over the country are on pins and needles, waiting with anticipation for the Newbery and Caldecott announcements on January 23! The staff here at Hooray for Books is no different. We’ve read a a lot of books over the past year, and we’ve agreed on our top picks for the Newbery. Check out our favorites!

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Macmillan); Ages 10-13

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu; Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins Childrens); Ages 10+

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente; Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan); Ages 10-13

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; HarperCollins; Ages 8-12

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Ages 10+

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illus. by Jim Kay; Walker & Company (Macmillan); Ages 12+

There you have it, folks! Stop by the store any time to check out these great titles.

Miss Megan’s Favorites of 2011

Each of us here at Hooray for Books has our favorites that we’ve fallen in love with throughout the year. Today, Miss Megan shares the books that became her favorites over the past 12 months.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness; Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 12+

Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt; Clarion Books, $16.99, ages 10+

Chime, by Frannie Billingsley; Dial Books, $17.99, ages 14+

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen; Chronicle Books, $15.99, ages 3+

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu; Walden Pond Press, $16.99, ages 10+

Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King; Little Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, ages 14+

If you would like us to reserve  a copy of any of these titles, call us at 703-548-4092 or come on in! We would love to show you more of our favorite books!

Miss Megan’s Picks for Fall!

Fall is quite possibly my favorite time of year. I’m a sucker for the season’s various delights–hot apple cider, crunchy leaves, pumpkin pie, cozy scarves, and freshly printed books! It’s a time when booksellers start singling out their holiday gift choices, their Newbery/Caldecott picks, and their own personal favorites. So, in the spirit of the season, I give to you my list of books that you absolutely, positively must read this fall!

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee, Ages 2-6 (Simon and Schuster)

Far and away my favorite picture book yet this year. Ray and Frazee’s adorable read aloud gives children beautiful visuals on where to find stars, literally and figuratively. We also get helpful hints on where to keep them (in your pocket) and what to do with extras (give them to friends). Caldecott-winning Frazee (All the World) is as good as ever here, providing whimsical illustrations that combine perfectly with Ray’s simple, imaginative text. One of the things I love about Stars is its appeal for both children and adults–the format and style will keep little ones engaged, but the insights of the text are equally applicable to grownups. In other words, this is one that parents won’t get sick of reading before bed!

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Kei Acedera, Ages 9 and up (HarperCollins)

After her father’s death, Liesl’s stepmother locks her away in the darkness of the attic. But when Po, a ghostly figure from the Other Side, appears, Liesl sees the first warm flicker of hope in a long time. With the help of Will, an alchemist’s apprentice who unknowingly is carrying the most potent magic in the world, the three escape the dank grayness of the city. Little do they know that their actions  will set right a world thrown into chaos and, in the process, heal their own broken lives. Known previously as an author for teens, Lauren Oliver’s first transition into middle grade fiction is excellent. This is a genre she should spend more time in, because she has a knack for simple, heartfelt storytelling that has a poignant, satisfying feel.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Ages 10 and up (HarperCollins)

I don’t take the forthcoming statement lightly. Ready? Here it is: this book is going on my list of Favorite Books of All Time. It’s not often that a book comes around that is so unanimously beloved from the very beginning, but not one of us at HFB can do anything but sing the praises of this spectacular novel. With her best friend and next door neighbor Jack, Hazel has always felt free to be unique. So when Jack starts behaving oddly, giving Hazel the cold shoulder and acting downright mean, she knows that something is dangerously off. When he disappears altogether, Hazel realizes that a dark enchantment has spirited him away. Mustering her courage, she plunges into the dark unknown of a magical forest to bring him back. Hazel’s voice is clear, honest, wise, and compelling. Authors love to attempt “quirky,” “off-beat” characters, but few succeed in creating people readers can plausibly root for. Anne Ursu’s characters, though, are instantly recognizable as fully human, flaws and all. We have all felt like outsiders at one time or another, and Hazel’s acknowledgment of her own inability to fit in with the rest of the world triggers our recognition as readers. This book is awesome. Read it. Then share it with everyone you know.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ages 14 and up (Little, Brown Books)

Lucky Linderman’s got problems. His father’s a turtle (detached), his mother’s a squid (spineless), and for years he’s been the target of bullying from Nader (most disgusting specimen of macho-jock-he-man ever to roam the planet). Just when Lucky thinks he can’t handle one more day, things begin to change. For starters, he’s seeing ants. Realistic, intelligent ants who comment on his every action and offer their advice. And, to top it all off, he’s met his granddad, which is impossible, since Granddad has been listed as POW/MIA since Vietnam. But every night Lucky dreams, and in his dreams he’s with Granddad, and now he’s certain that he has to bring him back. Somehow Lucky has to find a way to rescue his grandfather from the jungle, reach his parents, and stand up for himself before everything falls apart for good. A.S. King’s latest novel is an unflinching, humorous, insightful examination of a truly remarkable underdog. For fans of I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson comes a hero’s journey so engrossing you will be physically unable to stop reading. I repeat: you will stay up all night because you will be incapable of putting this book down!

Bonus pick for grownups: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)

I was initially suspicious of the buzz surrounding this book, since people were raving about it long before it was actually released. Could it possibly live up to the hype? Answer: YES! Erin Morgenstern’s unique tale of magic, rivalry, and romance is coupled dramatically with her ability to craft entrancing characters and intricately intertwined plotlines. Her imagery is simply breathtaking, and the overall effect is enchanting. I didn’t want it to end! Get your hands on this title ASAP–rumor has it we’ll be seeing a movie version in the near future.

There they are, folks. The cream of the crop, in my humble opinion. Happy reading!

Megan G.