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!

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