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Librarian in Residence: Holiday gift list 2015 – books for children and teens

By Jessica Green on November 28, 2015

Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.

Here is Part two of the 2015 Holiday Gift List. [Editor’s note: You can read part one, which covers books for adults, here, and check out Jessica’s 2014 kids’ book picks here!] This time, I started out with my reviews of seven teen novels, then four juvenile novels and finally, ten picture books plus one bonus book that I had almost forgot about, but it’s such a great book, I had to add it. There’s something here for all the tiny and not so tiny people on your list:

Teen Novels

With a really neat mash-up of prose and comics, this story tells the tales of two best friends who create a comic all about a mysterious princess. Unfortunately, one of the friends dies in a car crash, or so May thinks, but all that she can see around town is the princess she created with Libby. But she’s dead, right?  A neat mystery with an action-packed ending.

Carson is stuck in Montana with his mother as they look after his estranged father who is dying. His summer is looking up when he meets Aisha, who was kicked out of her family for being gay.  They embark on a road trip to discover the truth behind the secrets around Carson’s grandfather who took off thirty years ago. It’s a great tale of friendship and being true to yourself.

Emi is trying to make her mark working in set design in Hollywood. While hunting for pieces at an estate sale, she finds a mysterious letter written by a recently deceased film icon. Along with her best friend Charlotte, Emi goes off searching for the intended recipient, all while trying to work her job and avoid her ex. This story felt very real, unlike some of the more glamorous renditions of Hollywood.

Socially awkward Stewart and popular Ashley are thrown together when their parents move in together. Stewart is trying to be 89.9% happy about the change while having trouble at his new school and Ashley is trying to hide the real reason why her parents split up in the first place. Although complete opposites, Ashley and Stewart end up finding common ground as they grapple with the changes to their families.

Shane is the resident love guru of his high school and shares his love expertise to help those in need of romantic advice. This all came about when he was rejected by his crush, and discovered the Galgorithm. Shane offers his expertise far and wide, but it all comes crashing down when the Galgorithm gets published, and Shane has to come to grips with the fact that life and romance cannot be reduced down to a simple equation.

When Bennett asks his long time crush, Sophie, to the prom and she agrees, things are beginning to look up for him. But then Sophie gets abducted by aliens, and Bennett joins a intergalactic band of washed up musicians to try and save Sophie in time for them to attend the prom together. It’s a very silly book, but with great banter, and an action packed plot.

Nimona is a shape shifter who wants to work with the biggest villain of them all, Ballister Blackheart. While trying to do evil, they uncover a sinister plot by the so-called heroes that threatens their whole world. This graphic novel could just be a tale of two villains up to no good, but it keeps turning your expectations upside down. It’s a cool world, and a great story.

Tween Novels

The Fletcher family is made up of two dads, four adopted kids and a menagerie of animals. The books follows a full year of school as the boys try to deal with a variety of challenges like 12 year old Sam wondering whether he can be both a football player and in the school play, or 10 year old Eli discovering that his new gifted school isn’t what he had expected. Very touching and funny.

Arthur Bean is convinced he will win the writing contest at school this year as he is going to be a rich and famous author when he grows up. Arthur is hilariously clueless to how he comes across to those around him, making this a fun read. The sequel came out this year, Scenes From the Epic Life of A Total Genius, which will be a fun read to see if Arthur does win the heart of his love and exasperate another teacher.

Muchoki and Jata lose their father to violence in Kenya and end up in a refugee camp with their sick mother. When further drama strikes, the siblings decide to walk to their mother’s home, which is 100 miles away from the camp, to see grandparents they have never met. Although classified as a tween book here, I’d say this is better suited to older pre-teen readers or young teens.

Cece Bell tells the true story about how she became deaf at age 4 and started learning in a deaf school. She later moves to a regular school and has to use a phonic ear to hear the teacher. It’s not a subtle form of hearing aid so Cece stands out, when all she wants to do is blend in. Cece shows the highs and lows of being deaf in a hearing world with humour and empathy.

Picture Books

All Sophia wants for her birthday is a pet giraffe, but she has a hard time convincing her family members, even after she tries to convince them with special presentations and supporting materials. All it takes is one special word… I laughed out loud the first time I read this, as her presentations are hilarious and the language is perfect. The art is animated and accompanies the text well.

Baby Billy has a mustache so you know he means business. A sequel to Mustache Baby, Billy has a play date with Javier, another baby who sports a beard. Each one tries to outdo the other to prove who should be the hero and who should be the sidekick. It’s very silly, and full of Old West references.

Polar Bear cannot find his underwear and asks for help from his friend Mouse. They look for his underwear all over but only find underwear for other animals. It’s a silly book for younger kids and the die cut pages make the illustrations stand out. Wait for the punch-line in this story.

I have to agree with Adam, Koala is a creepy stuffed animal that keeps turning up no matter how hard Adam tries to lose it all over his house. But one night, when something even more terrible shows up, Koala is there to keep Adam safe. It’s a good punch-line at the end and the illustrations add to the demented look of Koala.

Much to her horror, bunny Dot’s parents find a tiny wolf cub on their doorstep and decide to raise him as their own. Dot reminds them time and time again that the tiny wolf will eat them up, despite Wolfie’s preference for carrots. Despite her annoyance, Dot comes to his rescue when a bear wants to eat Wolfie at the grocery store. The illustrations suit this story about siblings perfectly

Hoot Owl is hungry but he has a hard time finding food, despite being a master of disguise. This is a great book that combines simple art with pretty hilarious timing and fun prose. Kids will enjoy his absurd costumes that don’t quite work the way Hoot Owl thinks they will. It was a hit with ages 4-6 when I read it to some classes this year.

If you read one children’s book this year, you should make it this one. Princess Pinecone wants a real war horse for her birthday but ends up with a cute, chubby pony who farts. Despite her pony’s shortcomings, Princess Pinecone takes him into the big battle with hilarious results. It’s a charming book that will please many ages.

I featured The Day the Crayons Quit last year on the 2014 list, and the sequel is just as charming. Some of Duncan’s crayons have been scattered all over and want to come back home. Maroon has been lost under the couch, Orange and Yellow have been melted together, and Pea Green has changed his name to Esteban the Magnificent, as no one likes peas, and wishes to see the world. It’s quite funny.

In this retelling of that famous fairy tale, Cinderella is a skilled space mechanic with a robot mouse sidekick named Murgatroyd. Cinderella studies space ship repair late into the night which helps when the Prince’s royal spaceship breaks down during the Royal Space Parade. The rhyming text and fabulous illustrations make this a lively story with a great modern twist.

The fashion in which this over-the-top story is told might seem familiar to anyone who has spun a tale to throw others off the scent of the truth. We see how the bear came to the city by accident and tried to adapt to the new surroundings, only to succumb to a delicious sandwich left on a bench. Once the narrator is revealed, the tale about this bear is a little flimsy. The paintings really suit the story well.

Red tells the tale of a crayon that is labelled “red” but is actually blue. Red tries to fit in and follow everyone’s suggestions that if he just tries hard enough, he can do what is asked of him. Finally another crayon sees who Red really is and changes his life. It’s a profound idea and done is such a lovely way. One of my absolute favourites this year.


Bonus book: 

Beekle lives on an island of imaginary friends and waits to be picked by a special friend. Tired of waiting when everyone else is being picked, Beekle sets out to find his friend in the real world. The real world is scary and grey but Beekle finally finds his special friend and they live happily ever after. With fabulous pictures, this is a brilliant book for the young and old.