You may have noticed there was no Best of the Indies 2013 list. I had every intention of creating one and was in the midst of doing so when my home became a casualty of the “polar vortex” last January. A pipe burst in the ceiling of the room where I keep the bulk of my 6,500-plus collection of books. Water was everywhere but I somehow managed to lose only 30 or so books to water damage. My hand-made wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves also miraculously escaped water damage. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, remember that newspaper is excellent for absorbing moisture—another excellent reason for continuing your print subscriptions! The bad news is that much of what is in this huge, cluttered room had to be removed for cleanup and repair. Alas, the 2013 list fell by the wayside in the midst of this chaos.
This winter has been gentler (where I live anyway) and so here is a new list. These are my favorite books for children and young adults published by independent publishers in 2014. My only criterion is that I find these books beautiful and/or brilliant and I want everyone to read them. This is a lengthy list because it was an exceptionally good year for indy publishers. Clicking on the titles will take you to further information about the titles on Goodreads. If you are not yet a member of Goodreads, resolve to join in 2015 ASAP! Cheers and Happy Reading!
For All Ages
Arégui, Matthias and and Anne-Margot Ramstein. Before After. Candlewick.
A delightful wordless concept book with wonderful touches of humor and surprise.
Camcam, Princesse. Fox’s Garden. Enchanted Lion.
A beautiful wordless story about compassion, kindness, and gratitude.
Dubuc, Marianne. The Lion and the Bird. Enchanted Lion.
One autumn day, a lion finds a wounded bird in his garden. With the departure of the bird’s flock, the lion decides that it’s up to him to care for the bird. He does and the two become fast friends. Nevertheless, the bird departs with his flock the following spring. A spare, poignant, and deeply moving story.
Hole, Stian. Anna’s Heaven. Eerdmans.
A stunningly illustrated, surreal, contemplative, and affecting portrait of a grieving father and daughter.
For Younger Readers
Adderson, Caroline. Norman, Speak! Illus. Qin Leng. Groundwood.
Dog understands Chinese but the family who adopts him doesn’t speak the language. Charming story, delightful illustrations.
Baldacchino, Christine. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. Illus. Isabelle Malenfant. Groundwood.
A little boy named Morris loves painting, puzzles, running around outside, pretending to be an astronaut, and wearing a tangerine dress from the dress-up center at school. A thoughtful, sensitive, reassuring story beautifully told and illustrated.
Brian, Janeen. I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. Illus. Ann James. Kane Miller.
An affable little dinosaur gleefully revels in his dirtiness. Nothing remarkable or innovative here, but an excellent read aloud choice for preschoolers who will find this completely irresistible.
Bryant, Jen. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Illus. Melissa Sweet. Eerdmans.
The remarkable team of Bryant and Sweet return with a superb picture book biography of Peter Roget.
Burningham, John. The Way to the Zoo. Candlewick.
“In her bedroom wall, Sylvie spots a door … and beyond that door she finds a passage … and beyond the passage she discovers … the ZOO!” A wonderfully whimsical delight.
Carnavas, Peter. The Boy on the Page. Kane Miller.
A young boy ponders the meaning of life in this charming metafictional tale.
Dolan, Elys. Weasels. Candlewick.
The plot for weasel world domination is temporarily halted by a minor technical glitch. To be continued… Abundant silliness and quirky hilarity.
Graham, Bob. Vanilla Ice Cream. Candlewick.
In the hands of a masterful storyteller like Bob Graham, tasting vanilla ice cream for the first time is a momentous event.
Grill, William. Shackelton’s Journey. Nobrow/Flying Eye Press.
A large, beautifully designed, and wonderfully illustrated chronicle of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. Grill’s colored pencil illustrations are vibrant and finely detailed. There is a glossary but other back matter is unfortunately lacking. A great introduction to this remarkable true story especially for primary school-age readers.
Hoban, Russell. Jim’s Lion. Illus. Alexis Deacon. Candlewick.
This story about a young boy facing a life-threatening illness was originally published in 2001 as a picture book illustrated by Ian Andrews which I have not seen. This book is reimagined in a graphic novel format with the same text but new illustrations by Alexis Deacon. Deacon’s bold, dramatic, emotionally intense wordless dream (or nightmarish) sequences effectively captures Jim’s adversity and courage confronting it. Inventive and sophisticated storytelling.
Kuhlmann, Torben. Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. North South.
The absolutely delightful story of the heroic little German mouse whose own transatlantic journey inspired Charles Lindbergh. Elegantly illustrated and beautifully designed.
Landmann, Bimba. In Search of the Little Prince: The Story of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Eerdmans.
A richly imagined, poetic introduction to aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Beautifully illustrated in dreamlike images.
Merino, Gemma. The Crocodile Who Didn’t like Water. North South.
A story that seems to be about not fitting in has a surprising, funny twist. A delightful tale, wonderfully illustrated.
Millard, Glenda. Once a Shepherd. Illus. Phil Lesine. Candlewick.
Tom must leave his beloved wife and his unborn child to go off and fight in the Great War and never returns. Beautiful, tragic, and profoundly moving.
Neri, G. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. Illus. A.G. Ford. Candlewick.
An exceptionally well-written and handsomely illustrated introduction to the music legend chronicling his life from childhood to the beginning of his recording career. Neri draws much of his text from Cash’s own words. Lots of good end matter offers additional information on Cash’s later years and career highlights.
Pittau, Francesco and Bernadette Gervais. The Open Ocean. Chronicle.
Another remarkable, fascinating book about ocean dwelling critters from the collaborators who created the wonderful Birds of a Feather and Out of Sight.
Powers, J.L. Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza. Illus. George Mendoza. Purple House Press.
What’s more remarkable than a blind Olympic-record setting runner? How about a blind Olympic-record setting runner who creates amazingly bold abstract paintings of swirling colors? This is the true story of the remarkable George Mendoza, the blind artist with a unique vision of the world. Beautiful, inspiring and triumphant.
Schmidt, Annie M.G. A Pond Full of Ink. Illus. Sieb Posthuma. Eerdmans.
A delightful collection of a dozen fun, whimsical poems wonderfully complemented with colorful, surreal illustrations.
van Hout, Mies. Surprise. Lemniscaat.
Stunning colors and single words describe the journey of bird parents and children. Beautiful and imaginative.
Yamada, Kazuaki. My Red Balloon. Michael Neugebauer/Minedtion.
A little girl begins a happy bus outing with her beautiful red balloon but is crestfallen when her balloon suddenly flies away. The bus driver and a bear on board come gallantly to her rescue. A wild chase begins and along the way other animals join in to help as they follow the wayward balloon. A charming, warm friendship story.
Yoo, Paula. Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank. Illus. Jamel Akib. Lee & Low.
An engaging, informative introduction to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist who developed the microcredit economic movement that gives small loans to the impoverished with the goal of breaking the cycle of rural poverty around the world. An inspiring story, told well and appealingly illustrated.
For Older Readers
Abirached, Zeina. I Remember Beirut. Lerner/Graphic Universe.
In this companion to A Game for Swallows, Abirached recalls the details of daily life inside a war zone in Beirut. Stark, evocative, and poignant.
Aronson, Marc and Adrienne Mayor. The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science. Illus. Chris Muller. National Geographic.
The fascinating and completely engrossing story of a largely self-taught scholar’s irrepressible quest to discover the scientific basis of a mythological creature. This is the sort of book that will spark the imagination of readers and inspire them to seek their own answers to questions through research, observation, and investigation.
Bass, Karen. Graffiti Knight. Pajama Press.
An exceptional historical novel set in 1947 in Leipzig, Soviet-occupied Germany. Bass’s vividly detailed and compellingly written story explores the effects of war and occupation from a unique perspective.
Brimner, Larry Dane. Strike! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights. Calkins Creek.
An outstanding history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) beginning with the action of a group of Filipino farm workers who walked off the California fields in 1965 under the leadership of Larry Itliong. Brimner thoroughly chronicles the rise of union and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and the controversies surrounding him. A compelling narrative with great use of primary sources, photographs and other archival images. Accessible and attractively design. An exemplary work providing great insight into an essential chapter of American labor history.
Broom, Jenny. Animalium. Illus. Katie Scott. Big Picture Press.
Magnificent! The next best thing to visiting a natural history museum.
Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Leatherdale, eds. Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices. Annick.
A handsomely designed, wonderfully diverse collection of art, photographs, essays, and poetry.
Conaghan, Brian. When Mr. Dog Bites. Bloomsbury.
Dylan Mint has Tourette’s. For Dylan, life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in – the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that escapes whenever he gets stressed. A great debut novel, funny and honest with a wonderfully memorable protagonist.
DeLuca, Laura M. and Leah Bassoff. Lost Girl Found. Groundwood.
Poni becomes one of the “Lost Girls” of Sudan when war comes to her small village in the south. A poignant, gripping story that unflinchingly depicts the realities of life in war-torn Africa.
Ellis, Deborah. Moon at Nine. Pajama Press.
The day she meets Sadira, Farrin’s life changes forever. Sadira is funny, wise, and outgoing; the two girls become inseparable. But as their friendship deepens into romance, the relationship takes a dangerous turn. It is against the law to be gay in Iran; the punishment is death. Despite their efforts to keep their love secret, the girls are discovered and arrested. Separated from Sadira, Farrin can only pray as she awaits execution. A powerful, moving treatment of a tough subject and one of the darkest times in Iran’s history.
Fleischman, Paul. Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines. Candlewick.
This is a title I would love to see high schools select as a “one book, one school” read so it can be discussed at length and hopefully spark some organized action. It’s one of the most challenging, provocative, and cogently written books about the world’s current and coming environmental crises. Fleischman avoids the platitudes and addresses the important matters like living in a culture obsessed with materialism, consumption-based economies, scientific denialism, corporate greed, and political impotence. I particularly love the section, “How to Weigh Information.” It offers great advice to young people on how to recognize propaganda and sort through the bullshit in web sites, media reports, and opinion pieces. A book worthy of a wide audience and deep, thoughtful discussion.
Foley, Jessie Ann. The Carnival at Bray. Elephant Rock.
Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. An impressive debut novel, honest, real, and well-written.
Freedman, Russell. Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America. Holiday House.
Through short chapters, a compelling narrative, and great use of powerful photographs and primary sources, Freedman offers a superb account of this momentous, troubled and violent time in American history.
Hartnett, Sonya. The Children of the King. Candlewick.
Cecily and Jeremy have been sent to live with their uncle Peregrine in the English countryside, safe from the war, along with a young refugee named May. But when Cecily and May find two mysterious boys hiding in the ruins of a nearby castle, an extraordinary adventure begins. A brilliant story beautifully told.
Jones, Kari. So Much for Democracy. Orca.
Set in 1979 Ghana in the midst of a military coup, this concise, compelling story study depicts recently arrived Canadian family caught up in both political and domestic crises in a foreign land.
Kuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Candlewick.
Interviews with six transgender or gender-neutral young adults. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Exceptional and immensely important.
Leavitt, Martine. Blue Mountain. Groundwood.
Tuk, a bighorn sheep, is born to lead his herd to the fabled Blue Mountain at a time when they are threatened by predators, decreased food supply, and human encroachment. An absorbing, gracefully written story with a folkloric quality reminiscent of Watership Down.
Lehmann, Devra. Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker. Namelos.
This is an outstanding introduction to the 17th century philosopher, his times, and his ideas. Lehmann does a superb job lucidly and concisely explaining Spinoza’s ideas and why they were so influential, as well as the ideas of contemporary philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz. It’s difficult to imagine many young adult readers finding a biography of a seventeenth century Dutch-Jewish philosopher appealing but Lehmann’s fascinating portrait of Spinoza as a radical thinking visionary outsider, courageously devoted to breaking down long-held preconceptions and conventions may find an audience.
Maier, Corrine. Marx. Illus. Anne Simon. Nobrow/Flying Eye Press.
Good, breezy graphic introduction to Karl Marx’s life and philosophy with some nice touches of humor.
Martinez, Claudia Guadalupe. Pig Park. Cinco Puntos.
An engaging, uplifting story about a community working together to revitalize their urban neighborhood. This novel is notable for its well-defined characters, particularly the fifteen-year-old protagonist, who are appealing and relatable. Reminiscent of Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks.
McMullan, James. Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. Algonquin.
A wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated memoir in which McMullan recounts events from his childhood and youth–growing up in China in the 1930s, having to leave with his mother after the Japanese invade, attending boarding school in India, the death of his father who served with the British Army in China, and leaving China for the last time after the war to live in Canada. Vivid, rich, and appealing for a wide range of readers.
Qitsualik-Tinsley, Rachel. Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic. Inhabit Media.
In the ancient Arctic, a wandering Inuit hunter named Kannujaq encounters a Tuniit camp under siege from Viking raiders. A wonderfully engaging, vividly detailed work of historical fiction, reminiscent in style to the works of Rosemary Sutcliff.
Quintero, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos.
Gabi Hernandez’s diary of her senior year of high school relates all the anxieties she experiences on a near-daily basis with family, friends, boys, her future, body image, and more. Although she faces tough things in her life, Gabi’s voice is consistently fresh, funny, and sassy. With great honesty and humor, Qunitero deftly captures the awkwardness, absurdity, and heartbreak of a teenage girl’s life that will resonate strongly with so many readers.
Ros, Hana. Neurocomic. Illus. Matteo Farinella. Nobrow/Flying Eye Press.
A surreal, informative journey through the human brain. A fun, novel way to learn about neuroscience.
Stewart, Elizabeth. Blue Gold. Annick.
The human price of digital technology is explored from the perspectives of three teen girls in this novel set in the present. Fiona, a middle-class Canadian makes an impulsive decision that haunts her virtually, and she learns a big lesson in digital responsibility. Sylvie is a Congolese refugee living in Tanzania. Her father was killed and she raped and disfigured by soldiers fighting over Coltan, a mineral used in technology that powers cell phones and computers. Laiping works in a factory assembling cell phones, enduring slave-like conditions that cause her fellow employees to develop serious medical problems and some to commit suicide. Though the problems of the three girls are resolved too neatly, Stewart offers readers a character-driven, absorbing narrative artfully blending insights into global politics and business ethics, and reveals the interconnectedness of the global economy.