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!