2024 Walter Awards Celebration

On March 13, 2024, I got to attend the Walter Dean Myers Awards Celebration at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. The Walter Awards are presented by the organization We Need Diverse Books, begun ten years ago by Ellen Oh and other like-minded people.

Ellen Oh started us off, honoring ten years of the Walter Awards. The theme this year is: “There Is Work to Be Done.” I didn’t get the quote down exactly, but I believe she said that last year in children’s and young adult publishing, 45% of newly published books were diverse in some way. So yes! We have made great strides in having more diverse books available in our diverse country. But we all know that book banners are pushing back, and there is still work to be done.

Elizabeth Acevedo was the moderator this year. She’s a former Walter Award recipient herself, and she did a beautiful job moderating the discussion and giving out the awards.

But I was there to see Ari Tison and Hannah V. Sawyerr!

Why? Because they are two of “our” Finalists for the 2024 Morris Award, and I read their books two and three times and helped select them as Finalists. And love, love, love their books. Ari Tison, author of Saints of the Household, is pictured above. She was the winner of the 2024 Walter Award for Young Adult Literature, and as such she got to give a speech.

Highlights from Ari’s speech:

Of course, she first talked about how much she appreciates this honor and said that previous award winners were her mentor texts.

Life is sacred in a world with so much ugly. Her book is about art, family, monsters, brotherhood, and intertribal relationships. (I love this list, because I made a similar one on a sticky note when I was planning how to talk about this book with the Morris committee.) This book made her braver.

“Through books, we are woven together.”

“We write so young people can hold the world more fully.”

We see ourselves and the mosaic of life in books.

There are only five Bri Bri people (an indigenous group from Costa Rica) in the entire U.S. right now.

Diversity is reality. We (humanity) contain multitudes.

Keep going, so that the world of books looks like the world.

Next up was Jacqueline Woodson, who won the Children’s Literature Walter Award for her book Remember Us. First, Elizabeth Acevedo acknowledged that Jacqueline is the GOAT.

In Jacqueline’s speech, she spoke about her neighbor in Brooklyn, Walter Dean Myers’ granddaughter, Kazay. (I’m probably spelling that incorrectly.) She sees a future. She’s grinning, proud and grateful.

After that came a wonderful panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Acevedo. The two winners were joined by the Honor Book Authors, Hannah V. Sawyerr (young adult) for All the Fighting Parts, and Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (children’s) as one of the four co-authors of Grounded.

The panel discussion was wonderful. I’ll repeat what I got written down in my notes.

The first question was in keeping with ten years of the Walter Awards, and was “Where were you ten years ago?”

Jamilah: She was the mom of a 4-year-old and a baby, and she was falling in love with picture books. But she wanted to see Black Muslim children. She started writing in 2015.

Jacqueline: She’d just won the National Book Award with Brown Girl Dreaming. It was time for change. She had a five-year-old. And people were taking a hard look at young people’s literature.

Hannah: She was a Senior in high school. She was annoyingly passionate, and always writing in the margins when in class. She was obsessed with open mics and really loved words and poetry.

Ari: She was also a Senior in high school and also annoying. [I got to thinking that 10 years from high school to award-winning debut novel is fantastic for both women.] Her reaction to difficulties was being an overachiever, after a scholarship to college. She bought herself a two-month novel-writing workshop. She had tenacity and annoyingness.

Next question: What do you hope this book shows readers and what did it show you?

Jacqueline: Her character loves basketball and gets bullied. We have so much more than what the world sees in us. It made her grateful for the past. This is a journey, a movement.

Ari: It’s important to have hope in books for young people. She learned about PTSD – wanted to show you can get past trauma. She showed opportunities for healing: Art, friendships, community.

Hannah: Her book is a Me, Too, novel. She’d experienced shame and self-blame. Her book is about believing: It was not your fault. She hopes that message gets to readers.

Jamilah: It’s an important book for their community, a fun book in a space (an airport) that’s often fraught for Muslims.

Elizabeth: Sometimes the way we define success is different than the world. How do you define success?

Ari: We all come from storytellers. Her people haven’t had their stories told. In Bri Bri, Story = History = Wind = Knowledge. It helps her get grounded. Everything is a gift. She’s here because of something beyond the physical.

Hannah: Her writing is selfish – to figure things out and address honestly. Writing is taking risks. Success is wrapped up in integrity. (But later she did say that her book is not Autobiography. It’s “Auto-fiction.” Her character is not herself.)

Jamilah: Success is feeling like her work is opening spaces for other authors. When others take inspiration from her writing, that feels very successful.

Jacqueline: Success is doing what she loves, and making that choice to do it, even though her family told her not to. (Because Black people don’t make a living writing books.) Mentors began the journey and many are no longer here. Folks of color don’t live as long as white folks. Still being here and doing the work is success. She loves her people and she loves writing.

Elizabeth (to Hannah): Part of the journey is passing it on. [Then Jacqueline made her tell the story of, as a teen, prompted by her middle school teacher Phil Bildner, writing a letter to Angela Johnson about the book Heaven. She didn’t get an answer — until the book The First Part Last came out, dedicated to her. It was the first time she saw her name in print.] Healing is also part of fighting back. How do you make space for the many definitions of it?

Hannah: Her journey in the court system was eight years long. She came forward about abuse her senior year of high school. For a long time she didn’t think she was a fighter, and felt very small. Her biggest accomplishment was finishing the first draft. Many times, she was tempted to drop out. She got the contract on her book before she got the verdict in court. You get so fed up with the process. She survived that event, but it doesn’t define her. She’s so much more than that and is carrying on. (And the secondary character, who didn’t take the abuser to court, was fighting, too.)

Elizabeth (to Jamilah): How did the story come together with four authors?

Jamilah: Lots of credit to Aisha Saeed – it was her original idea. She wanted representation of different Muslim voices. There’s lots of diversity within their diversity. They each took from their own communities. They wrote Grounded during the pandemic to help feel grounded. They met every couple weeks on Zoom, wanting to escape.

Elizabeth (To Ari): Some of the Bri Bri stories you used in your book had never been put into English before. How did you work them into your narrative?

Ari: There were three levels of colonization in Costa Rica. She also learned Spanish when there in their territory. For Native people, story is a big way they survived. She cited a study that if Native teens know their creation stories, they are less likely to self-harm. She was looking for ways to make the story bigger than hers alone. Her ancestors’ stories are there, too. Folklore gives us insight into our own lives, and it was important to include those, too.

Elizabeth (to Jacqueline): Why that neighborhood and background?

Jacqueline: Bushwick started out as Irish and German. When Black folks moved in, the landlords started setting fires to get insurance money. Now, it’s an artist-hipster neighborhood. Folks talk about “discovering” Bushwick, which erases the history that went before. There were no trees when she grew up there. Now destruction is still happening, but now it’s through unhousing people by building expensive housing. We don’t have to recreate the wheel for social justice.

Okay, after that the teens attending got to ask question. They had brought in students from local high schools, and it made my heart happy to see how excited they were about the books and to talk with the authors. After all our discussing the books on the Morris committee, I loved seeing that teens love the books, too.

After that was a signing. I was anxious by this time. I’d been told I could go to the Awards ceremony, but I should get back for our department staff meeting at 1:30.

But I had to meet Ari and tell her how much I loved the book! It made her smile to see the Morris Finalist sticker on the front of mine!

I got in Hannah’s line next, but finally had to give up. Both Ari and Hannah were spending time talking with each person (mostly teens) who got a signature — and that was beautiful to see, so I couldn’t begrudge them.

So I took a picture of the happy crowd before I left. Then I was late back (and Constitution Avenue was blocked off, so I had to take a detour past the just-beginning cherry blossoms of the Tidal Basin) — but the meeting had been cancelled! I wish I’d checked email before I left that morning – and stayed in Hannah’s line!

But the whole thing was a fabulous celebration of diversity in young people’s literature. May this legacy continue!

Singing the Praises of Good Books

It’s Book Award Season!

Monday was the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, and it’s a time to celebrate Book Joy!

What’s more, yesterday I spent five hours online deliberating with the committee to select this year’s Mathical Book Prize winners (announced February 21), and I’m also in charge of getting some annotations in for the zero to five reading group of Capitol Choices and overseeing the Young Adult Speculative Fiction judges choosing a Cybils Award winner (announced February 14). So awards are on my mind!

Now, I put a huge number of books on hold Monday. And was feeling smug that I already have several honorees checked out. But I wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the books I’ve already read and already love.

First, I was on the Morris Award committee this year and am super happy that now I can post the reviews I wrote of our winner and finalists. (I will try to get them posted within the next week or so.) Almost all of them won other awards, and I was so proud! So I have to celebrate them first:

Rez Ball, by Byron Graves
Our William C. Morris Award Winner!
American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner, Young Adults
CYBILS Young Adult Fiction Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 More Teen Fiction

Saints of the Household, by Ari Tison
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Walter Award Winner, Teen Category
Pura Belpré Award Winner, Young Adult Author
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 More Teen Fiction

Once There Was, by Kiyash Monsef
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Odyssey Award Honor (for the audiobook)
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Speculative Fiction

All the Fighting Parts, by Hannah V. Sawyerr
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Walter Award Honor, Teen Category
CYBILS Finalist, Novels in Verse
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 More Teen Fiction

She Is a Haunting, by Trang Thanh Tran
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Teen Speculative Fiction

For the other awards, the one that simply filled me with joy was the beautiful book Big, by Vashti Harrison, winning the Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book of the year. Everyone, read this wonderful book! Read it to your children!

Big, by Vashti Harrison
Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner
Coretta Scott King Honor, both for Author and Illustrator
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Picture Books
(Number one was my personal favorite for quirky reasons, but this was the book I wanted to win the Caldecott — and it did!)

Another super joyful moment with recognition for a book of my heart was this one:

Simon Sort of Says
John Newbery Medal Honor
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist
Schneider Family Book Award Honor, Middle Grades
CYBILS Middle Grade Fiction Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 More Children’s Fiction

And more favorites that picked up wins:

Mexikid, by Pedro Martin
John Newbery Medal Honor
Odyssey Award Honor (for the audiobook)
Pura Belpré Award Winner, for both Illustrator and Children’s Author
CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Children’s Nonfiction

A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Winner
CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Nonfiction

In Every Life, by Marla Frazee
Randolph Caldecott Medal Honor

Remember, by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goode
American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor, Picture Books
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books

The Lost Year, by Katherine Marsh
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children’s Fiction

Warrior Girl Unearthed, by Angeline Boulley
American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 More Teen Fiction

Hidden Systems, by Dan Nott
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Teen Nonfiction

America Redux, by Ariel Aberg-Riger
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Teen Nonfiction

Now, because of reading for the Morris Award in 2023, I did not read widely this year. So this is a small sampling of award winners, but I am very sure that many more will show up on my 2024 Sonderbooks Stand-outs list.

Happy reading!

Celebrating 20 Years of Writing Sonderbooks: 20 Favorite Nonfiction Books

20 years ago, in August 2001, I began writing Sonderbooks!

I’ve been celebrating by writing posts for each year I reviewed books, highlighting favorites. Now I’m doing one last post, listing my 20 favorite Nonfiction book I’ve read over the last 20 years. (I tried to do 20 favorite books, but the only way to narrow it down was to separate novels from nonfiction.)

It’s an interesting set, reflecting my journey from happily married to divorced to dating, as well as my spiritual journey, and some just plain good stories. It was hard to narrow it down, and I’m not going to rank the list, so I’ll present them in alphabetical order by author. Click on a title to find out what each book is about. They are all wonderful and/or amazingly helpful.

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, by Joel ben Izzy

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle

Angels in My Hair: The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic, by Lorna Byrne

Once Upon a Midlife, by Allen B. Chinen

Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life, by Patricia Evans

In Code: A Mathematical Journey, by Sarah Flannery with David Flannery

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculée Ilibagiza

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, by Bradley Jersak

The Script: The 100% Absolutely Predictable Things Men Do When They Cheat, by Elizabeth Landers and Vicky Mainzer

Forgive for Good: A PROVEN Prescription for Health and Happiness, by Dr. Fred Luskin

Camino Divina: Walking the Divine Way, A Book of Moving Meditations with Likely & Unlikely Saints, by Gina Mammano

Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy, by Mike Mason

Sacred Choices: Thinking Outside the Tribe to Heal Your Spirit, by Christel Nani

Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, by Ken Page

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, read by Jason Reynolds

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, by Richard Rohr

The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, by Dr. Robin Stern

You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One, by Steven Stosny (Later retitled to Love Without Hurt)

The Inescapable Love of God, by Thomas Talbott

Educated, by Tara Westover

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Top 20 Fiction Books

20 years ago in August 2001, I began writing Sonderbooks!

I’ve been celebrating by posting highlights from each year of my website, but now I want to celebrate one more way. Since I’ve been looking over and remembering favorites, I decided to make a list of my 20 favorite books I read for the first time over the last 20 years.

This was possible only if I split it up between Fiction and Nonfiction, so expect a Top 20 Nonfiction Books post next. I also did my best to let first books represent their whole series.

You’ll see that I’m a big fan of fantasy. These are all books that still warm my heart when I think of them. Almost all of them I’ve read more than once or plan to read more than once, because they’re that good.

I couldn’t bring myself to rank them, though, so I will list them in alphabetical order by author. Click on the titles to read my reviews.

20 Novels I love which I met in my last 20 years of reading:

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Sand-Reckoner, by Gillian Bradshaw

Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card

The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle

Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale

Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier

The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith

Beyond the Limit: The Dream of Sofya Kovalevskaya, by Joan Spicci

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2020

As of August 2001, I’ve been writing Sonderbooks for 20 years!

To celebrate, I decided to write 20 posts, highlighting favorite books I reviewed each year of Sonderbooks. I didn’t intend for it to take so long, but here at last is my post celebrating some of the most wonderful books I read in 2020.

2020 of course was the year I did some working from home during the pandemic and learned how to get our library’s eaudiobooks on my phone. Some of these books I fondly remember listening to while doing a jigsaw puzzle.

For Grown-Ups

A Dance with Fate, by Juliet Marillier

Book Two in Juliet Marillier’s latest Celtic fantasy trilogy. I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Book Three.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

The story of a girl who’s been abandoned again and again, but who learns to understand the natural world with all its beauty and wonder — and a mystery and a dramatic courtroom scene as well.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

A joyful book about a Paris bookseller who unhooks his book barge on the Seine and travels to the land of his lost love — picking up companions along the way.

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller

The true story of the young woman who was raped by a Stanford swimmer and left for dead. She writes about the entire ordeal and how much she went through during the whole long trial. An important, though painful story.

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal

This is a follow up to the “Modern Love” column Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote in 2017, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” that was published a few days before her death from cancer. Jason Rosenthal tells the story of their marriage and joyful life together — and then has wise things to say about navigating loss without forgetting the joyful times. The author reads the audiobook himself, making it all the more personal.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla F. Saad

This book, more than any other, helps you come to terms with racist attitudes, conscious and unconscious, in your personal history and in your heart. A powerful though uncomfortable book that asks you to do some ongoing work.

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, by Maggie Smith

I still read a couple pages from this book every morning. It’s full of inspirational pep talks about carrying on after loss and helping you go on to new things.

Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment, by Keith Giles, and Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism, by David Artman

Two more books explaining the teaching of Christian Universalism and how strongly the Bible supports this teaching. They also explain how this teaching honors a God of love and results in more loving Christians.

Shameless: A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex), by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A healing and redemptive way of looking at sex and spirituality, attempting to heal some things we may have heard from the church.

For Teens:

The Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

The amazing conclusion to one of my all-time favorite series, as the Medes attack, and it will take all of Eugenides’ cleverness to save the smaller countries of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis.

Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Another series culmination — this time it’s technically finishing a duology, but that duology was a follow-up to a trilogy, all of them rich historical fiction about the duchy of Brittany and young women who are daughters of the god of Death, and trained in a convent to be courtly assassins supporting the duchess of Brittany. Now she’s been married to the king of France and needs support even more.

The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black

And here’s a trilogy conclusion. This one is about a teen who’s grown up in the faerie court and manages to get power over the High King of faerie. But there are many twists and turns and as this volume begins, it seems her power is gone. And if she doesn’t act, he may not be High King much longer, anyway.

Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold

Here’s a fairy tale retelling for the time of the Me Too movement. The Little Red Riding Hood figure in this novel is not prey for wolves — she hunts them down. Then the next day there will be a dead man in the woods….

Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger

A beautiful paranormal tale set in an alternate reality where different cultures use different magic. Our Native American main character has a ghost dog, and dreams about her uncle who died. He tells her he was murdered. Rather than try to do something on her own, Elatsoe’s whole family works together with her to bring justice. It’s not easy, as they’re working against discrimination and abusive use of power.

The Guinevere Deception, by Kirsten White

A tale from Arthurian legend — from the perspective of Guinevere, who is an imposter put in place by Merlin. And she is forgetting who she really is.

Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

I love the trans main character in this novel, who is at the age where he should be trained to do magic — but magic is very gendered in his family, and his family needs to see he is a brujo. So he sets out to do magic on his own, with some disturbing results.

The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg

This book explores what might have been. Two teens come to a bridge at the same time. We find out what happens if the girl jumps, but not the boy. Then if the boy jumps, but not the girl. Then if they both jump. And finally what happens if neither one jumps. It’s surprisingly suspenseful and moving.

Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

A thriller set in an isolated cabin where people start dying, one by one. I enjoyed the well-drawn trans characters in this edge-of-my-seat book.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, read by Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds remixed Dr. Kendi’s award-winning work on the history of racism, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and made it accessible to teens and easily understandable — resulting in a book that’s more easily understandable for adults, too.

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

Another effective adaptation of an adult history book — this time looking at the history of the United States from the perspective of Indigenous people. It’s a shocking and sad story, but an important one.

For Children:

Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

It’s hard to describe how good Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s books are — about girls who’ve been abused, who manage to rise above and see that they’re special. My words don’t do them justice. Read this book!

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park

The setting of Little House on the Prairie with a half-Chinese girl as the main character. She gets some different responses than Laura Ingalls Wilder did, but the story is told as a tribute to the original books.

Wink, by Rob Harrell

A story about a kid dealing with cancer in his eye — told with lots of humor mixed into the poignancy.

When Stars Are Scattered, by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

A powerful and touching true story about a boy growing up in a refugee camp while taking care of his younger brother with special needs and always hoping to find his mother. This book is wonderful both in graphic novel form and audiobook form.

Create Your Own Secret Language: Invent Codes, Ciphers, Hidden Messages, and More, by David J. Peterson, illustrated by Ryan Goldsberry

This amazing book starts with codes and cyphers and goes on to teach kids how to create their own language complete with phonemes and writing systems and grammar. The author helped create languages for the Game of Thrones series.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

This is a detailed and child-friendly look at the life of a honeybee, with gorgeous close-up paintings to illustrate everything.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan, by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

A picture book biography of the great mathematical genius Ramanujan, who came up with amazing mathematical insights before he was trained, insights that mathematicians are still working to understand and appreciate.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

A touching picture book about two best friends — as one moves away from the neighborhood.

Rita and Ralph’s Rotten Day, by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Pete Oswald

A wonderful picture book for storytime, as Rita and Ralph go “down the hill and up the hill and down the hill and up the hill.”

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2019

20 years ago, as of August 2021, I began writing Sonderbooks! To celebrate, I’m making 20 posts, highlighting some of the best books I reviewed each year I’ve been doing Sonderbooks. It’s taking longer than I anticipated, but I’m up to the 19th post, about my favorites from 2019.

for Grown Ups:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

A wonderfully detailed novel about Joy Gresham and her life before she fell in love with C. S. Lewis and eventually married him. This novel looks at many of her writings and shows how she may have profoundly influenced his writing Till We Have Faces.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

This magical novel is loosely based on the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” with a moneylender’s daughter who boasted that she could turn silver into gold and got the attention of the king of the Staryk people.

The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier

The beginning of a new fantasy trilogy by Juliet Marillier! In fact, I’m eagerly awaiting the third volume, which I’ve preordered, coming soon.

Marilla of Green Gables, by Sarah McCoy

A prequel to L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, showing us Marilla’s life was not as commonplace as we might have thought.

Educated, by Tara Westover

The amazing true story of the author’s growing-up years among radical Mormons in the mountains of Idaho and how she managed to get out and get herself educated.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

A story of a young lawyer working to bring justice out of a criminal justice system that doesn’t work as well for poor people. The movie is wonderful, but the book follows many more cases than the main one highlighted in the movie.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story! Of course I loved it!

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

This book looks at design — and how certain choices in the things around you can bring joy.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid

I got to go to Prince Edward Island in 2019! And this book was a perfect memento of the island I will never forget.

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, by Richard Rohr

Strongly based in Scripture, Jesuit priest Richard Rohr makes the case that the Christ principle is eternal and universal, while Jesus was the human embodiment of that principle. He goes deeper than I can explain in a few sentences, but this is a beautiful and revolutionary book which I’m saving to read over repeatedly. It also started me on daily emails from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.

Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire, by Julie Ferwerda

Notably, this is the first book on Universalism I’ve read that was written by a woman. And it’s a good one, with the Scriptural evidence and argument explained well, along with her process of study and how she came to the conclusion – from the Bible – that God will save everyone.

That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation, by David Bentley Hart

Another book on Universalism, but this one is more academic, written by a theologian and a philosopher, making a brilliant and hard-to-refute case.

Creation and the Cross, by Elizabeth A. Johnson

I especially appreciated that this book takes on the Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement proposed by Anselm in medieval times and refutes it — helping me dispose of any uneasiness I had not believing what I was taught from childhood — as well as presenting some beautiful and affirming theology that includes all of creation.

For Teens

Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold

A convention-breaking fantasy tale about a damsel who is told she was saved from a dragon — and ends up deciding to save herself. I also found a new favorite female audiobook narrator, Elizabeth Knowelden.

Stepsister, by Jennifer Donnelly

A story from the perspective of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters — as she learns she does not have to cut off pieces of herself to make her way in the world.

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

A moving and all-too-timely graphic novel memoir about when George Takei’s family was imprisoned in the internment camps during World War II, even though they were U. S. citizens.

Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced, by Laurie Halse Anderson

A memoir in verse about the author’s own experiences with sexual abuse as a teen, and how she learned to make her voice be heard.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, by Nikki Grimes

Another memoir in verse about a difficult childhood. This one is also about rising above and finding joy and light.

For Children

We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

A wonderful tale of a family of refugees from earth’s Mars colony who must take refuge on an alien planet that doesn’t want them. Lan’s family is representing all earthlings, and if they don’t win over the hostile aliens of Choom, all their shipmates will die. Believe it or not, this story is told with lots of humor.

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

A heart-warming immigrant tale — this time to Australia — has the older brother trying to adjust to missing his dad — by baking through his dad’s cookbook of fancy cakes. Doing this while keeping an eye on his little brother and keeping his mother in the dark is challenging.

Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle

A true story of being poor in middle school and all the ways that grinds you down — but told with humor and grace.

Best Friends, by Shannon Hale, artwork by LeUyen Pham

A graphic novel memoir about the challenges of finding friends in sixth grade.

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

A wonderful nonfiction picture book showing how a baby grows in the womb, with just enough detail for a slightly older sibling to read and appreciate.

How Many? A Different Kind of Counting Book, by Christopher Danielson

Such a delightful open-ended book about real world math for preschoolers. It shows kids photos of things to count — but lets the reader decide what should be counted.

Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest, by Peter Wohlleben

This book convinced me to finally read the author’s book for adults, The Hidden Life of Trees. But honestly, the children’s book communicated the main chunks of information in a fascinating and memorable way, with photographs.

Truman, by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

A sweet picture book about a loving and persistent turtle.

Maybe Tomorrow, by Charlotte Agell, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González

A lovely picture book that shows how friends can make your burdens lighter.

And there are more on the 2019 Sonderbooks Stand-outs page! Since this was so recent, it was hard to narrow them down, but if you missed any of these, now’s your chance!

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2018

As of August 2021, I’ve been writing Sonderbooks for 20 years! It began as an email newsletter, quickly became a website, and eventually added a blog. To celebrate, I’m doing 20 posts looking back at the past years of Sonderbooks and the wonderful books I read for the first time.

Now I’m looking at 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. 2018 was the amazing year I read more books than any other in my life, because I was on the 2019 John Newbery Medal Selection Committee! So not only did I get to read amazing books, I got to reread the best of them more than once, and so many have a special place in my heart. I will try to restrain myself from going on too long, and only mention the ones I really hope my friends get a chance to read.

For Children

I have to start with our Newbery books!

Newbery Medal Winner:

Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina

Sixth-grader Merci is navigating middle school on scholarship at a private school while also facing pressures from her big family taking her for granted and treating her like a kid, while her beloved grandfather is beginning to act strange.

Newbery Honor Winners:

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

This one-of-a-kind book set in medieval times tells of a kid named Boy who has a hunchback and is shunned by others, but gets pulled into a quest with a pilgrim who wants to collect relics of St. Peter. The trip involves surprising revelations and liberating redemption.

The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani

Set in Pakistan during the Partition, Nisha and her family must move to India to live with other Hindus, even though her mother had been Muslim. She writes to her dead mother in her diary during the journey, exploring questions of conflict between religions and the peaceful teachings of Gandhi – and the good and the bad they encounter in their travels.

Other Favorites

The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

A wonderful retelling of the fairy tale where a princess must save her six brothers, turned into swans by the witch who enchanted their father. To save them, she must not speak for six years and must knit them shirts out of nettles.

The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

Mason Buttle is the biggest kid in seventh grade, and he’s got dyslexia and a disorder that makes him sweat profusely, so he’s not very popular, but he’s got a big heart. In this book, he begins a friendship with one of the smallest kids in seventh grade, and as they explore together, we learn about what happened to Mason’s previous best friend and why so many in town won’t speak to Mason any more. Mason is one of my favorite characters ever in children’s literature.

Snow Lane, by Josie Angelini

A book about a family almost as big as the one I grew up in! I knew the author had to be from a big family herself, because she gets the dynamics exactly right. But mostly, you’ll root for Annie Bianchi, the youngest of nine, and a good listener, a good sister, and a good friend.

Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh

The parallel story of an American kid living temporarily in Belgium and the refugee boy who hides in the American family’s basement.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier

A chimney sweep girl in Victorian London is on her own — until danger activates the gift of a golem, who grows into a size to protect her.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

A story told from multiple perspectives, with words and pictures, of an ambassador from the elves to the goblins who thinks he’s making peace but doesn’t know he’s carrying a bomb. His goblin host wants to be hospitable, but misunderstandings and missteps abound.

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Set in medieval times, the youngest in the family sets out to save her father and brothers, in the company of someone left behind by the lord’s soldiers.

The Eleventh Trade, by Alyssa Hollingsworth

A heart-warming story about a kid who’s come to America from Afghanistan with his grandfather. After his grandfather’s rebab is stolen from him, he tries to figure out how to get it back, by making progressively better trades. What I love about this trading-up story is that each person making a trade gets a good deal, and the effort helps Sami makes friends along the way.

The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson

Two modern-day kids work on a treasure-hunt puzzle that leads to clues about the history of the town during the Civil Rights era. That story is revealed in alternating chapters.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

A kid handles the front desk at the motel her immigrant parents manage. She hears stories from the long-term residents of the motel and decides to use her pen to fight injustice.

Children’s Nonfiction

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, by Joyce Sidman

This is the story of a 17th century woman who changed how the world looked at insects. Maria Merian was both a scientist and an artist, and many of the pictures in this gorgeous book are from Maria Merian’s own art.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler, by John Hendrix

This book is almost a graphic novel, but not quite. We’ve got the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the resistance against Hitler told with charts and pictures making everything memorable and clear.

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, by Temple Grandin with Betsy Lerner

Temple Grandin tells kids how she became an inventor and explains how patents work, while also providing multiple projects kids can create themselves, with clear warnings as to which ones require sharp objects or power tools.

Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno

This picture book tells about Lizzie Magie, the person who actually invented the game of Monopoly.

Hey, Kiddo! How I Lost My Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, by Jarrett Krosoczka

A graphic novel memoir about a kid growing up in a family with challenges, but a lot of love.

Picture Books

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

The author tells of her arrival in America, not understanding the language, feeling lost — and how she discovered picture books in the public library and began to feel at home.

The Stuff of Stars, by Marian Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This book is a gorgeous work of art, all about how things came into existence, beginning with the Big Bang and progressing to particular details like caterpillars and lions and You. The paintings are glorious and the text sings.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins

A delightfully silly book about a young T-rex who needs to learn to behave properly when she starts Kindergarten.

Thank You, Omu!, by Oge Mora

A contemporary story with a folk tale feel about a grandmotherly lady who makes a big fat pot of thick red stew and shares with all who are enticed by the smell. Her reward at the end shows everyone’s appreciation.

We Are Brothers, by Yves Nadon, illustrated by Jean Claverie

A little brother wants to be like his big brother and dive off the big rock this year. The pictures perfectly capture the range of emotions.

Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love

After seeing three tall, beautiful ladies dressed as mermaids, Julián wants to dress that way himself — with happy results.

For Teens

West, by Edith Pattou

This is a sequel to the author’s wonderful book East, a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” In this book, the Troll Queen wants revenge on the happy couple — and the human race.

Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough

This is a verse novel about the distinguished artist Artemisia Gentileschi when she was seventeen years old in 1611 in Rome. It’s also a novel about rape and a woman standing up to those in power. And she paints the stories of other strong women.

What the Night Sings, by Vesper Stamper

This is a powerful illustrated novel about learning to live again after a multitude of losses during World War II.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khoram

A wonderfully honest book about an American teen visiting family in Iran and dealing with feeling like an outsider, making friends, feeling like he’s disappointing his father, and having depression.

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi

Pride and Prejudice set among Black families in Brooklyn. Lots of fun!

Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

The start of a mystery trilogy with a decades-old kidnapping combined with modern-day dead bodies in a private school in the mountains.

For Grown-Ups

The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Thrillers! I listened to these on my commute as a nice contrast to the children’s books I was spending so much of my time with.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion and Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, by Gregory Boyle

Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has a thriving ministry with gang members in Los Angeles. Lives are transformed, because he sees them as wonderful people who have much to teach him. His love and compassion shines through in these books.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, by Brian Zahnd

Another book helping to transform my ideas of what Jesus’ death meant for the world — and giving wonderful, loving, joyful ideas.

Heaven’s Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed!, by George W. Sarris

This book clearly explains the biblical support for universalism and how it fits with what we know about our loving God.

The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible, by Sarah Ruden

A linguist shows us some beautiful things about the text of the Bible that have been lost in translation.

Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians, by Austen Hartke

Biblical support for welcoming and affirming transgender Christians.

And I have to finish with this one because I still talk about it:

Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid, by Shaun Gallagher

The author gives a list of 150 serious psychological studies that have been done on babies to learn about their cognitive development — and how you can repeat them at home and learn about your own baby. I would have loved this as a big sister!

So — those are some highlights from my most amazing reading year ever! Be sure to check the rest of the list of my 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2017

As of this month, I’ve been writing Sonderbooks for 20 years!

To celebrate, I’m going through my Sonderbooks Stand-outs posts from each year and highlighting my favorite books.

Today we’ll cover 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. A quick glance tells me this is going to take a while! Is this because I still remember them or simply because I read many great books that year? I’m not sure, but here are some I can’t resist mentioning:

For Grown-Ups

While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

A retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, told by a servant in the castle, who saw all the events take place.

Angels in My Hair: The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic, by Lorna Byrne

All her life, Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels and talk with them. She tells her story, and what angels would like to say to us. A lovely message.

Flames of Love, by Heath Bradley

A strong scriptural defense of Universalism, the teaching that all will (eventually) be saved.

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, by Bradley Jersak

Here’s a beautiful book on theology, going deeper into why Christ came and what he told us about God with his life, death, and resurrection. He blasts the notion that God can’t look on sin, because Jesus looked at sinners, saw them, and loved them.

Accidental Saints, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I’ve come to love Nadia Bolz-Weber’s writing. She helps you see the image of God in even the most fallible human folks, and she helps you see how much God loves and cares for all of his messy people.

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal, by Jen Waite

A gripping account of the author’s own marriage — which ended up being to a psychopath.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah

Hilarious and challenging at the same time, Trevor Noah tells about growing up mixed-race in South Africa under Apartheid. The audiobook is extra good with the author telling the stories.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Shetterly

The true story of black women excelling in mathematics that I wish I’d known about back in my college days when I knew few other female math students.

For Teens

Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M. T. Anderson

Brilliant, pointed social commentary (again!) by M. T. Anderson. This book takes place after aliens have come to earth and offered us their advanced technology. The trouble is — only those who afford it can use it. The humans who can’t afford it are basically left to starve. Teenage Adam has found an innovative way around the problem, but he’s running into problems.

Thick As Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

The much-awaited fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series. This one follows the adventures of Kamet, Nahuseresh’s most important slave, as he tries to escape the Mede empire with the help of an Attolian.

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

The beginning of an amazing trilogy. Mankind has defeated death. We’re overseen by a wise and powerful artificial intelligence that’s so much beyond the Cloud, it’s called the Thunderhead. But the earth will become overpopulated if people live forever, and we didn’t want to entrust that to a machine. So a brotherhood of Scythes was chosen to select and Reap people periodically. Two teens are chosen to join this brotherhood, at the same time that a new, disturbing faction is developing.

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

The first half of a mesmerizing duology about a lost city and magical children and meeting someone in a lucid dream.

For Children

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

The culmination of the Lockwood & Co. series — fighting ghosts in London and those who caused the problem in the first place.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz

A sweet beginning reader about a princess who lets a crocodile take her place while she runs out and plays.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis

A dragon gets discovers chocolate and gets tricked and turned into a human. But she still has her love of chocolate!

Real Friends: A True Story About Cool Kids and Crybabies, by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A graphic novel memoir about growing up, going to school, and all the intricacies of making friends.

March, Book Three, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This multiple-award-winning graphic novel is the culmination of the story of the Civil Rights Movement, as witnessed by John Lewis.

Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team, by Daniel O’Brien, illustrations by Winston Rowntree

This very silly book teaches lots of interesting facts about the presidents by taking the approach of preparing for an alien invasion. If aliens attacked, and you got to pick a team of past presidents to help you defeat them, who would you pick? A silly approach to their strengths and weaknesses. Only dead presidents were included, though, so there was no modern-day commentary.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

This picture book gives us a modern fable about refusing to bow when powerful forces try to silence us.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex

A very silly picture book telling us how the popular game got started. This one begs to be read aloud in your best announcer voice. Too much fun!

And be sure to check the 2017 Sonderbooks Stand-outs page for more wonderful books to catch if you haven’t seen them yet.

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2016

20 years ago this month, I began writing Sonderbooks!

To celebrate, I’m looking back at each wonderful year of reading and reminiscing about some extra-special favorites.

Today I’m looking at the 2016 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

For Grown-Ups

Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy, by Anne Leckie

This amazing award-winning science fiction series follows a person who was once a sentient ship. As a ship, they had been able to experience the world through many ancillary bodies, and the ship was destroyed when one ancillary was away from the ship. Now they live on, with all the knowledge and experience of the ship.

Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier

The third and final book in Juliet Marillier’s wonderful Blackthorn & Grim trilogy.

Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy, by Mike Mason

This is my favorite book ever for going through in a church small group. He’s got ninety short meditations on joy and helps you look for joy in your daily life, a wonderful habit to start.

Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress, by Steven Stosny

Steven Stosny’s books are great at helping you rise above difficulties. This one doesn’t talk about a specific situation such as marital difficulties, so can apply to anyone who wants a happier and more meaningful life.

Camino Divina: Walking the Divine Way, A Book of Moving Meditations with Likely & Unlikely Saints, by Gina Mammano

Gina was my good friend from college, and she passed away a few years ago from colon cancer. Before she did, she wrote this beautiful book of walking meditations. Each chapter highlights a different poet or author and gives you lines to mull over as you walk with the words.

How To Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng

Here’s a general interest book about the mathematics of Category Theory, using recipes as examples.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World, by Rachel Swaby

This book has short, readable biographies of 52 important women in science who are not household names but should be.

For Teens

The Passion of Dolssa, by Julie Berry

A beautiful novel about a medieval mystic and miracle-worker being hunted by Inquisitors.

23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde

A girl has the ability to rewind time precisely 23 minutes. When she’s witness to a bank robbery and someone dies, she keeps trying to do something to change those 23 minutes and make everyone survive. This turns out to be more difficult that she thinks at first.

My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

A playful novelization of the life of Lady Jane Grey — with magic. Instead of Protestants and Catholics, we’ve got shapeshifters and non-magic users. Things also don’t end up as tragically for the people involved, so it’s a nice feel-good tale.

For Children

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

An incredibly moving tale about an abused girl with a clubfoot who gets evacuated during World War II and finds a surprising new family.

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud

Book Four of Lockwood & Co., the series where ghosts roam an alternate-reality London, and the agency run by kids starts tracking down why this happened.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson

A heartwarming story about three sixth-grade boys who devise a plan to ditch school and do something special for their teacher in the hospital. Then every part of their plan begins to go wrong.

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

The story of a fox and his boy, separated by circumstance, trying to find one another again, in a landscape scarred by war.

A Hungry Lion, Or: A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, by Lucy Ruth Cummins

The title of this picture book makes me laugh every time I see it. There is some eating in this book. There are also some surprises. Delightfully silly.

Grumpy Pants, by Clare Messer

A wonderful solution to toddler grumpiness — blame it on your underpants and wash your grumpiness away.

Nanette’s Baguette, by Mo Willems

One of my favorite books to read aloud! A Mo Willems tongue twister about a little frog who — accidentally — eats the baguette she was entrusted to buy.

If you’ve missed any of these books, I recommend making up for lost time! And there are more on the 2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out page!

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2015

This month I’m celebrating 20 years of writing Sonderbooks!

I decided to borrow from another blog celebrating ten years and do 20 posts, each highlighting stand-outs from a year of reading. Today, I’ll look at books I read in 2015 and still remember fondly. And as I look at the page, I see some really good ones.

For Grown-Ups

Dreamer’s Pool and Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier

The beginning of a wonderful new fantasy series by Juliet Marillier, with some in-depth looks at healing from abuse.

The Martian, by Andy Weir

An amazingly realistic book about an astronaut left behind on Mars and how he survives.

The Coincidence of Chocolate Cake, by Amy E. Reichert

A delightful romance where the couple truly knows and values one another.

The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, by Sydney Padua

A graphic novel about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage actually building the Analytical Engine and programming it.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

A psychological thriller with lots of twists and turns. It’s all about what a girl sees from the train.

Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother’s Life with a Daughter’s Anorexia, by Clare B. Dunkle

An author tells what it’s like to try to help her daughter in a struggle with anorexia.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, has the gift of making you laugh uproariously at indeed horrible things, such as mental illness and medical insurance fiascos.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans

A lovely book about why people are disillusioned with church, but especially about what the church should look like to truly represent Christ to the world.

Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, by Ken Page

A lovely book about dating that takes the approach of finding and appreciating your own core strengths and the things that give you joy rather than trying to change yourself. I’m going to enjoy rereading this now that I’m finally dating someone.

Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, by Tony Jones

This is the book that showed me that the way I’ve been taught since childhood to look at Jesus’ death isn’t even the majority view in the church. The book lays out different historical views along with scriptural support for each one.

For Teens

Rook, by Sharon Cameron

Another science fiction retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel! As far as I’m concerned, there can never be enough.

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim and Prairie Fire, by E. K. Johnston

Dragons, dragon slayers, and bards in modern day Canada. Plus a beautiful portrayal of friendship.

For Children

The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud

The adventures of Lockwood & Co, an ghost-hunting agency run by children, continue in alternate-reality England — with ghosts.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones

A girl’s family inherits a farm and they’re learning to run it — when she discovers they own chickens with magical powers. Good silly fun.

Really Big Numbers, by Richard Evan Schwartz

Mind-bending ideas about the biggest numbers you can possibly imagine — and how to go even bigger.

Madame Martine, by Sarah S. Brannen

A picture book about a woman who lives in Paris and never visits the Eiffel Tower — until a little dog intervenes. This book made me decide to go out and visit tourist sites in Washington, DC, close to where I live. (This was a good plan until the pandemic hit.)

Troll and the Oliver, by Adam Stower

This is one of my favorite books to read for storytime. I try to make them jump when Troll comes out. Don’t worry — it’s got a happy ending.

Meet the Dullards, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

The parents in the Dullard family try to protect their kids from excitement, but there’s a rebel in their midst. Good silly fun.

Be sure to check out the other 2015 Sonderbooks Stand-outs! If you missed any of these, better late than never!