Jillicious Reading - Fourteen (Plus One!) Favs of 2014

The past semester has been crazy busy.  They all are, but with added responsibilities at work, it seems I have struggled more than ever to find time for all I want to do.  I haven't read as much as I like and have blogged even less.  But, it's a New Year, a fresh start, and a chance to begin anew!  

I thought I'd start with some of my favorites of the past year.  Then, I'll try to post my recent read more regularly in 2015 ... and maybe even actually keep up with my progress on Good Reads!  

Here's to great books and new beginnings! 

Picture Books

1.  Sparky
by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
This unusual pet can't do many tricks but turns out to be the perfect companion. I adore sloths, so that drew me right in.  But, I quickly fell in love with the charming illustrations, the humor, and the hand-lettered text.  Sparky! is a true delight.  

2.  Gaston 
by Kelly KiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Gaston isn't quite like his sisters, and Antoinette isn't quite like her brothers.  But, as it turns out, each pup is in the right dog house.  I love this book's bold, abstract artwork, sense of humor, and messages of acceptance and belonging.  And, of course, all the dogs! ... with funny names ..... and some wearing kerchiefs!   :)     

3.  The Farmer and the Clown 
by Marla Frazee
When a little clown bounces off of a circus train, an old farmer rescues him. I am a longtime admirer of Marla Frazee and pretty much love everything she does.  But, this wordless book is a true stunner.  Frazee packs so much story, feeling, and heart in the pages of this book.  From the big open skies and the wide horizons to the expressions and movements of the little clown, every stroke is perfect and meaningful.  This gentle story of unexpected surprises and journeys home is a grand achievement.  
** This is my prediction for the winner of the Caldecott Medal :) 


4.  Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla 
by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
My first reading of Ivan was the display copy in the exhibit hall at ALA Annual and within minutes I was in tears.  I loved The One and Only Ivan so much, and I felt this was the PERFECT picture book companion.  Katherine Applegate retells the story brilliantly and G. Brian Karas's artwork is so compelling, expertly depicting the gorilla and his journey.  After reading, it took me several minutes to pull myself together.  The book's editor was standing there; she felt so sorry for this crazy, sniffling mess of a woman that she gave me an Ivan tote bag!  :/ 

5. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
by Lois Ehlert 
I would love to be an artist and love all things having to do with art.  So, of course, I adored Ehlert's book telling how she grew as an artist, developed her unique collage style, and became a book illustrator and author.  My favorite page says: "I created lots of art, though not for books right away. But I didn't worry. Everyone needs time to develop their dreams.  An egg in the nest doesn't become a bird overnight."  This is wonderful encouragement to a dreamer who is still developing.  ;) 

6.  Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson contributed a beautiful memoir to the world this year.  Brown Girl Dreaming tells her story of growing up in two very different worlds - South Carolina with her grandparents and then Brooklyn with her single mother.  She describes how she overcame a struggle to read and eventually found her voice in the gift of weaving words into amazing stories.  Click here for my original post about this outstanding book.
** This is my prediction for the winner of the Newbery Medal  :)   

7. El Deafo 
by Cece Bell 
Another memoir, I loved this year was El Deafo.  This is Cece Bell's story of growing up hearing impaired and how she learned to embrace her difference and see it as a superpower!  I wrote about this unique, inspiring graphic novel memoir in this post too

Middle Grade

8.  The Meaning of Maggie 
by Megan Jean Sovern
Maggie is not your typical 11 year old and is also very different from her two older sisters.  While they are interested in boys, make-up and popularity, Maggie is focused on her grades, stocks, defending her Science Fair win, and being President of the United States one day.  That is until the whole family's life is turned upside down when her father is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and confined to a wheelchair.  This is the story of "the year that changed everything." 

Maggie is a hilarious, honest, spunky character.  I love her uniqueness, and the way she deals with her family, more the parent than the youngest daughter.  The novel is an authentic look at how a family pulls together to face the challenges of illness .... there are moments of laughter, tears, breakdowns, and triumphs.  And Maggie is an unforgettable narrator, calling it all like she sees it every step of the way.  

9.  Courage for Beginners 
by Karen Harrington
Seventh grade is not going how Mysti planned at all.  Her longtime friend, Anibal, is suddenly popular and has left her at the table of misfits in the cafeteria.  Her father is in the hospital and she is having to hold the family together because her mother doesn't leave the house - something no one knows about.  It's all getting to be a bit too much.  But maybe a new friend and a quirky Texas History teacher will help Mysti find the courage she needs to carry on. 

Karen Harrington is one of my new favorite authors.  I love her Texas settings, her quirky characters, her female heroines who are stronger than they think they are, and the way she explores mental illnesses.  Courage for Beginners is funny, honest, heart-wrenching, and hopeful. I can't wait for her next book!   

10.  Revolution 
by Deborah Wiles
This follow-up to Countdown takes place in the summer of 1964 - the Freedom Summer - in Greenwood, Mississippi.  Sunny doesn't know what it all means, just that volunteers are coming to the town from up North to register blacks to vote and the town's adults are not happy about it.  Sunny has her own problems as she is trying to get used to her new stepmother and siblings. As the summer progresses, though, her world view starts to expand.  Local businesses start to close so they don't have to serve blacks, and Sunny starts to wonder what's right and what she really believes.  

Wiles once again effectively uses newspaper clippings, song lyrics, photographs, excerpts from speeches, Bible verses, and other memorabilia to set the stage and provide details of the time period.  She skillfully blends Sunny's story with the historical landscape.  Sunny is plucky and daring - the right character to question what is happening and to begin to think for herself.  The book is tied to the characters in Countdown in a clever way.  This is a quality novel and an excellent introduction to (or a brush up on!) the Freedom Summer.  

Young Adult 

11.  To All the Boys I've Loved Before 
by Jenny Han
To Jenny Han:  I love your books and this one is my favorite!  Click here to read my original post about this engaging novel that explores the challenges of family, loss, identity, and first loves. 

12.  The Winner's Curse 
by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Curse is a very original novel. That's what I loved about it.  It was quite different from anything I'd read in a while.  And the cover ... Isn't it awesome?  Click here to read my original post about this novel that will pull you into a new, compelling world.  

13.  We Were Liars 
by E. Lockhart
This is the most talked about book of the year.  And for good reason.  It is beautifully written and completely surprising.  E. Lockhart is such a talented writer, and she stuns and succeeds with this gem.  Click here to read my original post about this incredible novel. 
**  This is my prediction for the winner of the Printz Award  :) 

14. Belzhar 
by Meg Wolitzer 
Jam's boyfriend Reeve has been gone for over a year but she is still mourning and cannot move on.  Her parents enroll her in a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont - The Wooden Barn - hoping there she will receive the help she needs.  When she arrives, Jam finds herself enrolled in a Special Topics in English class, a highly coveted course, that will be studying only the works of Sylvia Plath.  When she and her few fellow students in the class begin the journal assignments, they are mysteriously pulled into another world where they can return to their pasts.  But, as the pages of her journal begin to fill up, Jam must face some truths and make some important decisions about her reality. 

A boarding school in New England + an exclusive English course + an inspiring teacher + troubled teens who heal through reading and writing + surprising plot twists + an amazing cover featuring a book, a journal, pens, and Keds! :) = an outstanding book and an instant hit with me!  I loved it. 

**  my prediction for a Printz Honor ;) 

And one more ... 
I Kill the Mockingbird
by Paul Acampora
Three 8th graders are excited about their summer reading list, because they love to read.  But, since everyone doesn't, they decide to launch a campaign to increase interest around To Kill a Mockingbird, the beloved novel of their former teacher.  This involves hiding the book on bookstore and library shelves to increase demand.  Their efforts start to take off and do get people reading and talking about the classic novel.  But things quickly start to spin out of control. 

To Kill a Mockingbird is, not surprisingly, one of my favorite novels, so I was intrigued with the premise of this book right off.  Then add a beloved teacher, kids who love to read, and a campaign to get others to read .... sold!  And that's not all!  There's snappy dialogue, oodles of talk about books and reading (so many great quotes!), clever humor, and important lessons learned.  This book is a must-read for book lovers and middle school teachers. 

2014 was filled with many, many great books.  I could easily have listed 14 plus one more! What were YOUR favorites?   

Here's to hoping for more time to read and blog in 2015!  Cheers!  

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