A list of my favorite children’s and YA books could make up a small book in itself, so I’ll limit myself to the ones I’ve read most recently: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is an absolute must-read for those who love dark fairy tales and books-within-books. Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind is the heartbreaking, incredible story of a girl with cerebral palsy (it’s a middle grade novel, so for those who prefer YA, try Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will). The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis reminded me very much of Richard Peck’s Voices After Midnight, one of my old middle grade favorites – both are well worth reading if you like historical fiction, paranormal, and time travel. Julie Murphy’s new book Puddin’, a companion to Dumplin’, keeps to the same high standard – read both! I could go on…but suffice to say, YA and children’s lit is bursting with more books than anyone could read in a lifetime…
My favorite juvenile fiction books are part of His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass). I read them when I was in college and fell in love with the stubborn, strong, clever, manipulative, and adventurous main character, Lyra, and her daemon, Pantalaimon, a loving companion who often takes the shape of a white ermine. It was refreshing to see a young, imperfect girl take the reigns to save her friend who is kidnapped by child abductors called Gobblers. As the story continues, revealing a beautiful and dangerous world with witches and armored bears, we learn that Lyra is part of a bigger scheme involving prophecy, parallel universes, and power-hungry people. I think my favorite book of the three is The Subtle Knife, which is where Lyra meets a boy from another world named Will and they both join forces to find his missing father, a powerful knife capable of opening up doors between worlds, and the meaning behind Dark Matter and Dust. Pullman didn’t write the book with an audience in mind, so even though it’s marketed for younger readers, adults will find that along with the fantasy, the author weaves in concepts such as theology and physics.
Here’s a quote from The Amber Spyglass that makes my heart ache every time I read it:
“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they wont’ just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight…”
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Anything by Holly Black
The Hired Girl by L. A. Schlitz
The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Ms Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson
Miss Twiggley’s Tree – This picture book was one of my favorites growing up. An odd, shy lady lives in a willow tree, has a very talented dog who does her shopping, and invites bears over for tea. The story deals with acceptance of differences, and forgiveness of ignorance. Wonderful illustrations, and a very sweet story.
Red: a crayon’s story – This one is much more recent, discovered it within the last few years. The characters are crayons, drawing pictures according to their color/label. One crayon is labeled “red”, but is completely unable to draw any red pictures. It’s obvious in the pictures that this crayon is actually blue, but they keep trying to be red because that is what they are “supposed to be”. Again, it deals with acceptance, with some wonderful imagery.
Tiffany Aching series – This series by Terry Pratchett deals with a young girl becoming a witch and growing into her power. She is aided on her adventures by the Nac Mac Feegle, a rowdy clan of tiny blue Pictsies (not pixies). They are incredibly strong and fast, and very loyal.
My favorite children’s book is Ferdinand by Leaf. A story about an animal that was kind and calm even when those around him expected a fierce fighter hit really close to home for me as a child. I always felt like a lamb in the guise of a lion so Ferdinand was just one more story to see myself in.
I don’t think any books had greater impact on me as a child than the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I know much more about her family now and see it all from a new perspective, but I still love those stories about what life was like in those days – where they lived, what they ate, the games they played. I still re-read them every now and then.
One of my favorite teen books is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, in which a young woman at a boarding school infiltrates an all-male secret society and manipulates them into pulling off large-scale pranks that she organizes without them finding out who she is. And if you like feminist-themed books like this one, I also highly recommend Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu and Beauty Queens by Libby Bray.
The Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood is SO underrated. I can’t believe this series about witch sisters in an alternative version of early New England isn’t more popular.
Another series I love is The Selection by Kiera Cass, which is sort of like a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor.
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Moonstruck: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis
- Dreadnought by April Daniels
- The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
- Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh
- Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
- The Art of Starving by Sam J Miller
- Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller