Liz’s 2015 Best Books List

book-pile

Hello readers,

Way back in the spring my aunt asked me if I had any book recommendations to share with my little cousins. Luckily, I get to be surrounded by great books every day at my job, so I definitely have a few ideas. I put together a list of my favorite books from the last five years, sorted by intended readers’ ages and summarized in one sentence. Picking my favorites ended up being a lot of fun, so I think I’m going to do a new list at the beginning of every summer. And by all the saints was it difficult to keep these lists under control, even with only five years of books!

I’m posting them individually by category, so if you don’t want to scroll through all of them just click on the one you’re interested in. Also, I know I have missed some really good books in these lists. The only items on here are books I’ve actually read and even then I really cut down the list, so you’ll notice some striking gaps. If you have recommendations for me, leave it in a comment or get at me on twitter and I’ll try to get it read before next year’s list. Links are below to each individual post.

(At the bottom you’ll see the key I’m going to use for all these lists.)

Elementary Readers

Middle School Readers

High School Readers

Graphic Novels (all ages)

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

2015 Best Books – Elementary

The Princess in Black, Shannon Hale.
The Princess in Black, Shannon Hale.

Here are my picks for the best elementary level books of the last five years.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

Early Elementary (K-2) – Beginning readers.

These kids are heavily reliant on pictures to tell the story, and although they can read anywhere from key words to full sentences they need pictures to follow the story. Answering questions about what just happened and what might happen next really helps these readers’ comprehension. They are probably excited to read on their own but it’s still a challenge.

The Princess in Black. (featured image) Shannon Hale. 2014.

Princesses aren’t supposed to wear black, but they also aren’t supposed to fight dragons during tea time.

🏰❤

Mercy Watson series. Kate DiCamillo. 2006 (Book 6 released 2010).

Mercy Watson is a talented problem solver, a loyal family member…and a hungry pig.

😅

Fly Guy series. Ted Arnold. 2006 (Book 15 released 2014).

Can a fly really be a pet? Buzz is determined to prove it can by winning the Amazing Pet Show.

🌍😅

Elephant and Piggie series. Mo Willems. 2007 (Book 23 to be released 2015).

Piggie is crazily optimistic and Elephant is overly cautious, but together they’re the perfect team.

😅

Late Elementary (3-5) – Partner readers.

Although their ability to read is growing, they still need you to ask them questions about their books in order to comprehend subplots or larger themes. They will begin to distinguish character’s choices as part of a character and not just part of the story, which is important to future reading abilities. Some illustrations will help reluctant readers stay invested in the story. Books for this age group should stay fairly short to mid length so they can feel like they’re making progress in it.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness. Tricia Springstub, Eliza Wheeler. 2015.

Cody’s summer is full of ups (the fountain of happiness) and downs (the dreaded whim-whams.)

🌍

Flora and Ulysses. Kate DiCamillo. 2013.

When Flora performs CPR on Ulysses the squirrel, he comes back to life with superpowers.

😅🌟❤️

I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus! Jack Prelutsky. 2012.

A collection of poetry in the footsteps of Shel Silverstein, with new jokes for a new generation.

😅

Spirit Animals Series. Various Authors. 2013.

Four kids summon Great Beasts instead of regular spirit animals and must work together with the mystic Greencloaks to defeat a great evil.

🏰

Wonderstruck. Brian Selznick. 2011.

The stories of two deaf kids weave together through time and across cities into modern day NY.

📆🌍🌟

Fortunately, the Milk… Neil Gaiman. 2013.

Dad has a perfectly good reason why it took him so long to get milk from the corner store.

🏰😅

Janitors series. Tyler Whitesides. 2011.

When Spencer can suddenly see monsters at every turn, he learns what janitors really do.

🏰

The Candy Shop War. Brandon Mull. Book 2 released 2012.

Could candy that gives the eater magical abilities possibly have a downside?

🏰

My Sister the Vampire. Sienna Mercer. Book 16 released 2014.

Olivia is surprised to find Ivy, an identical twin, in her new hometown. Well, not exactly identical.

👻

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series. Brandon Sanderson. Book 5 expected 2016.

Breaker-of-stuff Alcatraz Smedry must face a cabal of librarians bent on hiding the truth.

🏰❤️

Wonder. R.J. Palacio. 2013.

August wants a normal 5th grade year, but that’s unlikely considering his 27 past surgeries.

🌍🌟

Beast Quest. Adam Blade. Book 82 released 2014.

Tom is sent on a quest to save his town, but it turns out his isn’t the only city that needs saving.

🏰

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

2015 Best Books – Middle School

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry.

Here are my picks for the best middle school level books of the last five years.

Key
🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Fave

Middle School (6-8) – Independent readers.

They no longer need illustrations to keep their attention or draw them in, and they are less likely to share what they are reading with you. Their reading vocabulary has expanded enormously and their comprehension no longer relies on questions. Stories should move quickly to keep their interest and they will become easily frustrated with main characters they can’t see themselves in. They are unlikely to be interested in literary or thematic experimentation, but they will enjoy more serious themes and situations.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Catherynne M. Valente. 2011.

September hitches a ride on the wind out her kitchen window and into a new world.

🏰❤️

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. (featured image) Julie Berry. 2014.

Sure, the girls could report the mysterious murders, but that wouldn’t be as fun, would it?

📆👻

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. 2014.

Jackie tells the story of how she became who she wanted to be despite all the odds.

📆🌍🌟

Museum of Thieves. Lian Tanner. 2010.

Goldie runs away and discovers her seemingly perfect city has a dark side hidden in a museum.

🏰

Ranger’s Apprentice series. John  Flanagan. Book 12 released 2013.

The story of Will’s training to become a Royal Ranger, protector of the kingdom and its people.

🏰

The Kane Chronicles Book 1: The Red Pyramid. Rick Riordan. 2010.

Sadie and Carter face down angry Egyptian gods in a battle to save the world.

🏰

W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin. Eoin Colfer. 2013.

It’s not Riley’s fault he’s an assassin, but he’s in real trouble when he accidentally time travels.

🏰📆

Monstrous. MarcyKate Connolley. 2015.

Kym’s father created her from human and animal parts to save Bryre, but is she just a monster?

🏰👻❤️

All The Wrong Questions series. Lemony Snicket. 2012.

For anyone who didn’t want SOUE to end, Snicket himself recounts his childhood in the VFD.

🌍😅

The Menagerie. Tui Sutherland. 2013.

Logan discovers a refuge for mythical creatures that aren’t so mythical after all and must protect them.

🏰

N.E.R.D.S. Book 1: National Rescue, Espionage, and Defense Society. Michael Buckley. Book 5 released 2013.

They might look like outcasts, but they’re actually inside agents, running a spy network in school.

🌍😅

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Chris Grabenstein. 2013.

In a competition for the prize of a lifetime, Kyle must battle his way out of the new library.

🌍

The Crossover. Kwame Alexander. 2015.

Josh and Jordan are both basketball stars, but they aren’t so good at being brothers.

🌍🌟

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister. Collection. 2014.

A collection of short stories from twisted minds that are sure to leave you shivering.

🏰👻

Key
🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Fave

2015 Best Books – Graphic Novels

Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke

Can we talk about graphic novels for a second? This is kind of a sore spot with me. Graphic novels get a bad rap for two reasons. First of all, they’re called graphic novels. Do you know how many parents balk when I show their kids the graphic novel section and then whisper to me “Wait, but aren’t they…graphic?” Yes! Yes they are! Because “graphic” means “giving a clear and effective picture! vivid! of, relating to, or expressed by writing! depicted in a vivid manner!” And sure, the actual dictionary uses semicolons instead of exclamation points to separate those definitions, but I feel exclamation-pointy about graphic novels. The second reason people tend to look down on graphic novels is that they don’t consider it reading, or real reading. Here’s the thing: fewer words DO NOT equal fewer brain cells being stimulated. Graphic novels, like comic books, are packed with brilliant cover-to-cover art. They’re loaded with symbolism, art history, and creative genius, as well as basic storytelling techniques and literary themes. Trust me, you want your kids reading graphic novels.

Anyway, here they are, my picks for the best graphic novels of the past five years.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

Late Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Cleopatra in Space. Mike Maihack. 2014.

Young Cleopatra is needed for an intergalactic war, so aliens time-kidnap her from Egypt.

🏰😅

Cardboard. Doug TenNapel. 2012.

What started as a simple birthday gift turns out to be a fantastic adventure with hidden dangers.

📆🏰👻

Meanwhile. Jason Shiga. 2010.

Chocolate or Vanilla? That’s the first choice of many in this choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel.

🌍😅

Zita the Spacegirl. (featured image) Ben Hatke. 2011.

Zita jumps into a portal to save her friend and ends up fighting her way through a different planet.

🏰❤️

Hazardous Tales series. Nathan Hale. 2012.

Real history meets graphic novels in these exciting tales of America’s most unbelievable stories.

📆

El Deafo. Cece Bell. 2014.

Starting school is scary, even if you’re not deaf. Luckily Cece is secretly…El Deafo, a superhero!

📆🌍🌟

LumberJanes. Grace Ellis. 2014.

Eight friends earn merit badges by protecting the Lumberjanes camp from mythical creatures.

🏰🌟❤️

High School/New Adult Graphic Novels

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki. 2014.

Two best friends deal with issues new to them after growing up during their year apart.

🌍🌟

Ms. Marvel. G. Willow Wilson. 2015.

Kamala Khan thought high school was hard enough before she suddenly became a superhero.

🏰🌟

Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi. 2000.

On the verge of revolution, Marjane is sent from her home in Iran to boarding school in Paris.

🌍📆🌟❤️ *2000? Am I even trying to follow the 5 year rule???

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

There are also countless graphic novel adaptations of classic literature, fairy tales, mythology, operas, and even ballet. These are usually easy to get sucked into, which is great for reluctant readers, and a great way to understand difficult stories. I’d recommend the graphic novel adaptations of A Wrinkle in Time, The Graveyard Book, George O’Connor’s Olympians series, and the Graphic Spin adaptations published by Stone Arch Books.

2015 Best Books – High School

The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

Here are my picks for the best Young Adult books of the last five years.

*PS: Please forgive my horrible failure to read all the great new YA fiction of the last five years. Hopefully next year’s YA list will be more robust and more recent. You’ll notice I cheated on a couple titles.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

High School (9-12) – Proficient readers.

They can deal with complex or difficult themes and antiheroes or unreliable narrators. They will recognize narrative trickery so they can handle more complex books and literary experimentation. Many of the books recommended here include historical themes or dystopian worlds because they can assimilate it with the real world they see. It’s important that they find stories outside their own realm of experience or likely future experience because it will make them more empathetic adults. It’s also important to let them read on their own and not control or censor what they are putting into their minds. They are becoming their own person; let them.

Code Name Verity. Elizabeth Wein. 2012.

A pilot and a spy crash land in Nazi-occupied France in this twisting-and-turning historical story.

📆🌟❤️

The Scorpio Races. (featured image) Maggie Stiefvater. 2011.

Puck is the first girl ever to ride in the Scorpio Races, a battle on carnivorous water horses.

🏰❤️

The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006.

Liesel is a 9 year old book lover in 1939 Germany, a time when books were not loved.

📆🌟 *”2006?!” you’re saying to yourself. “She picked one from 2006?!”

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki. 2014.

Two best friends deal with issues new to them after growing up a little during their year apart.

🌍🌟

The Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins. 2008.

Come on, you don’t need a summary of this. “I volunteer as tribute!”

🏰

The Basic 8. Daniel Handler. 2006.

Flannery wants you to know she did not murder that kid. Well, not strictly speaking.

🌍❤️ *ANOTHER 2006 book?! I have no excuse.

Roomies. Sara  Zarr, Tara Altebrando. 2013.

The summer after high school, two girls assigned as roomies get to know each other by email.

🌍

The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil Gaiman. 2013.

A man tries to reconcile his memories of unleashed dark forces with the reality of his hometown.

🏰🌟  *I know, I know, this one isn’t even YA! Forgive me my sins.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

My Van Without A Name

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When I was two my parents bought a van without a name.
We were fast friends, the three of us- my car seat, van, and I.
When physics reared its ugly head the van let no one die
Despite the rude attempts to passenger and driver maim.

The van liked California’s clime so it began to curse
That fateful year we moved to Utah in the driving snow.
It said to us “This awful climate is my greatest foe.”
But it was wrong. The moniker-less van would soon see worse.

I got my learner’s permit on the day I turned fifteen.
I punched the gas, I stomped the brakes, I jumped my share of curbs;
I played that I was Ottoman and bicyclists were Serbs,
But even lacking in a name the van let me play mean.

It went away to school with me without giving a fuss.
So maybe its repairs cost more than all my textbooks’ sum.
I didn’t care, I had a car! So what if it looked dumb?
That unnamed turquoise beast could fit more students than a bus.

As an adult I didn’t learn, so really I’m to blame.
Two hundred thousand miles later, a U-turn was too hard.
For thirty silver coins I sold you to a salvage yard,
And so, adieu, my fearsome friend, my van without a name.

Julia’s Demise

Skull

Julia’s Demise

Julia loved spending time on the net
More than she loved playing with her pet.
She could surf the web for hours on end.
Everyday she added a new online friend.
She loved telling all the people at school
The things she had learned online that were cool.
At first people loved it! She “Shared” and they “Liked.”
But shortly thereafter her classmates went “Psych!
“We’re tied of your tweeting and blogging and posting.
We want a friend who’s not always ghosting.”
But give up her internet? She knew she could not!
So Julia blogged where she wouldn’t get caught.
She hid in the stairwells and skipped her math class
So often there was no chance she could pass.
She said to herself “If I can’t pass this course,
I might as well learn all this straight from the source.”
She subscribed to PBS and The Washington Post
And took to Twitter to brag and boast
That her education was leagues above theirs,
So they unfriended her and she hid in her lair.
Alone in her room, Julia gave up rest.
Why sleep when there’s a new Buzzfeed test?
She stayed indoors, never venturing outside,
Watching videos instead of sports played worldwide.
She saw no point in eating real food
When over her Pinterest recipes she could brood.
One day she stood up and felt weak at the knees.
“I should probably eat,” she managed to wheeze.
Her voice all but gone, she went back to bed.
“I might as well watch one more show,” she said.
But those were the last words from Julia’s mouth,
For despite WebMD, her health had gone south.
Her computer lay faithful as always at her side,
And with the next episode loading, Julia died.
Internet stars lost one follower that day,
And it was decided her tombstone would say
“Here lies Julia, who neglected to eat.
If you love the internet like she did, retweet!”

Liz Gabbitas