Best children's books of 2008

Birmingham, 1963
By Carole Boston Weatherford (Wordsong, 39 pp., $19.95)
In this 2008 award winner aimed at “tween” readers, Weatherford relies on spare but powerful verse paired with a picture-book format to examine a notorious day in civil rights history. (4/15/08)

Shift
By Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 256 pp., $16.99)
This lovely story for teen readers is a tale of friendship, self-discovery, and coming-of-age explored through a cross-country bike trip and the mysterious disappearance of a friend. Young readers will lose themselves in its breathless, brilliantly woven plot. (6/17/08)

Eleven
By Patricia Reilly Giff (Random House, 165 pp., $15.99)
Tough, skinny Sam struggles with a learning disability so he turns to Caroline, a new girl at school, to supply the reading skills needed to help him unravel a mystery about his own identity. It’s the excellently rendered relationships that make this book sing. (6/17/08)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

The Calder Game

By Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press, 375 pp., $17.99)
Calder’s whimsical yet sophisticated art is at the center of Blue Balliett’s new puzzle novel. Fans of her earlier book “Chasing Vermeer” will be thrilled to join Calder Pillay and his friends Pietra and Tommy on another adventure, this time in Woodstock, England, where a Calder sculpture has just been donated to a 1,000-year-old village – only to vanish. (6/17/08)

A Thousand Never Evers
By Shana Burg (Delacorte Press, 320 pp. $15.99)
This superb coming-of-age novels set within the African-American struggle for freedom and equality is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old named Addie Ann Picket living in the small town of Kuckachoo, Miss., in 1963. Good storytelling and historical facts and events are interwoven into the fabric of this tale in a natural, unfeigned manner. (8/1/08)

The Underneath
By Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 320 pp., $16.99)
This tale of a lonely, loving dog who watches over twin kittens is an old-fashioned parable of good overcoming evil and of the consequences of breaking the rules. The book’s hauntingly dark themes and lyrical language make it most appropriate for readers ages 10 and up. (8/15/08)

Masterpiece
By Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Christy Ottaviano Books,
292 pp., $16.95)
Elise Broach offers readers ages 9 to 12 a lively mystery about great art, a boy, and his unlikely helper (a beetle). As James (the boy) and Marvin (the
beetle) find themselves unwittingly involved in the world of forgeries, art heists, and FBI operatives, there are both thrilling moments of suspense as well as places where young readers will just plain laugh out loud. (11/24/08)

A River of Words
By Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(Eerdmans Books, 34 pp., $17)
This poignant biography introduces readers from ages 8 to 12 to poet William Carlos Williams through a marvelous combination of collage-style illustrations, period paraphernalia, and excerpts of Williams’s poetry. (11/26/08)

Something Wicked
By Alan Gratz (Dial Books, 272 pp., $16.99)
Alan Gratz follows up the success of “Something Rotten” (based on Hamlet) with this smart, droll remake of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “Something Wicked” has a snarky narrator  who will speak perfectly to older teen readers as they become involved in a mystery that threatens damage to the environment. (11/22/08)

Chalice
By Robin McKinley (Putnam, 272 pp., $18.99)
“Chalice,” by Newbery Medal-winner Robin McKinley, is a contemplative story geared toward readers of high fantasy ages 8 to 12. The book’s unlikely heroine is a beekeeper and its plot is both compelling and a delightful change from formulaic fantasy. (11/25/08)

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