Best Books for Young Adults

The Young Adult Library Services Association puts together a yearly list of best books for young adults. The list includes both fiction and nonfiction and is chosen by committee to identify and annotate a list of significant works for this age group. The committee also identifies the top 10 books of the list, which often runs to as many as 90 books a year. These two books were both identified in the 2004 list, although only East made it into the top 10. Since 2010 this has become Best Fiction for Young Adults list, leaving the nonfiction behind.



Pattou, Edith. East. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005. 528 pages. $8.95 ISBN-13: 978-0152052218

Rose goes to live in the castle of a magical white bear, but after breaking the rules of his spell must try to save him from the Troll Queen.


Age Range: 11 and up

Best Books for Young Adults, 2004

4 out 5 for quality, 2 out of 5 for popularity.

This is a fairy tale that is part Beauty and the Beast, part East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Rose is the wild child of her family, a family run by their mother’s superstitions, especially concerning the direction of their birth born. As Rose grows up she finds the white bear of her dreams is real, and when he asks her to come live with him, she agrees although she finds the cavern castle to be beautiful, but lonely. She makes friends with the White Bear, but also finds  that a stranger joins her to sleep in her room every night. Once the bear prince is taken away after she breaks the rules of the spell, she follows him across the arctic to save him from the troll Queen.  This is a fairy tale love story, but with enough depth of characters to make it more deep and interesting than a simple “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. It is unsurprising to see a book with a spirited, adventurous female lead paired with a quiet, mysterious man, and that is probably the greatest weakness of the book, that this love pairing seems obvious, but not really understandable. I enjoy fairy tale retellings, it is always interesting to see where the author is going to take a simple story to make it last 500 pages, and except for a little bit of dragging in the middle, this was a fun and entertaining read.

Read alikes:

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Beauty: A retelling of beauty and the beast by Robin McKinley

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Book Discussion Questions:

1.Why was it important for Rose to find out she was North born, and how did that change her relationship with her mother?

2. Why can’t Rose and the Bear prince just talk to each other about their feelings?

Book Talking

There is a white bear stalking you, but instead of being afraid, you are excited. Who knew that following the bear could lead to an arctic journey and a battle with a Troll Queen?


Author Website

Author Interview at iglobe

Interview at booktrust


mortal engines


Reeve, Philip. Mortal Engines. Scholastic, 2012, 2001. 269 pages. $14.91 FollettBound ISBN-13: 978-0-329-82272-9

Tom finds himself outside of his roaming city of London, following Hester, a girl trying to kill his hero for revenge.

Science Fiction

Age Range: 12 and up

5 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for popularity.

Best Books for Young Adults, 2004

Tom lives in a London of the future that roams the European wasteland centuries after the sixty minute war destroyed the cities there. Tom is a member of the historians guild, but it is the engineering guild and the mayor who run the city. After a disturbing assassination attempt of the city’s historian hero, Valentine, Tom and Hester are both pushed off the roaming city and must make their way through the outside world trying to avoid slavery, assassination attempts and the anti-traction league. Inside the city of London, Katherine is trying to understand her father Valentine’s secret and gets the help of an apprentice engineer and the Historian’s Guild. This is an exciting science fiction novel with, rich with social commentary and anti-armament messages. The characters are all multi-faceted and interesting, with a willingness to change their minds in the cause of truth. There are some obvious plot points that make it clear it is a first book, but overall a fun, thought-provoking read.  I have read other novels by this author and have enjoyed them all, which is why they make it onto the YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list.


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Worldshaker by Richard Harland

Book Discussion :

  1. What finally makes Tom change his mind about Valentine and the Anti-Traction League?
  2. Why does Hester change her mind about her mission?

Book Talking

Tom has just been pushed of his giant moving city of London by his hero. Now he is stuck in the mud with a disfigured, angry assassin and no clear way to get home. Can he get home? Can he uncover the evil plot before it is too late?


Author Website

Mortal Engines Website

Interview with author on Tall tales and Short Stories Blog

Interview with author


2 Seuss Award Winners

seuss award “The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.” From the ALA website.

bink and gollie

DiCamillo, Kate and Alison McGhee. Bink and Gollie. Illustrated by Tony Fucile. Candlewick Press, 2010. 96 pages. $15.99 ISBN-13: 978-0763632663

Bink and Gollie are friends.  They share adventures and meals in this book of short stories.

Genre: Easy Reader Fiction

Age range: 5-8

Rating 4 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for popularity.

Theodor Suess Geisel Award, 2011

Bink and Gollie are friends that love each other but who often need to compromise in order to get what they want. Bink is younger, wilder, Gollie older, and more reserved, but these girls love an adventure and want to head outside (or into their imaginations) to move and play. In the first story they go roller skating and Bink buys some rainbow socks, which Gollie disapproves of. In the second story, Gollie is trying to climb the Andes and Bink just wants to hang out, but keeps being confronted by do not disturb signs at Gollie’s front door. The final story is one where Bink adopts a goldfish and wants him to come roller skating with her, but this has disastrous results, luckily Gollie saves the day.

This is such a charming book about friendship and compromise. Both girls work to come together despite irritations and different outlooks. The illustrations of their unique quirkiness and coloring the characters but not the backgrounds help to emphasize the importance of their relationship.  It is a wonderful, fun book to read aloud.


Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst

Discussion Questions

1. Bink and Gollie are very different, and yet are friends, how do you think that works out?

2. How do Bink and Gollie resolve their differences?


Here are two very different girls, one tall, one short, who are fast friends and like to adventure together. They also like to share pancakes.


Kate DiCamillo website

Alison McGhee website

 watermelon seed

Pizzoli, Greg. The Watermelon Seed.  Disney/Hyperion Books, 2013. 32 pages. $16.99 ISBN-13: 978-1423171010

The crocodile loves watermelon, but gets worried when he accidently swallows a seed.

Genre: Easy Reader Fiction

Age 5-7

Rating: 3 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for popularity.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, 2014

Using simple and colorful illustrations and easy reader words, this book tells the story of a crocodile who loves watermelon, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But when he accidently swallows a seed, he worries about the possibilities. The illustrations are bold and carried out successfully with just four colors: watermelon pink, green, black and white. This book will appeal to a young audience that finds burps funny and will relate to the silliness of the crocodile fixating on his favorite foods. The cover and illustrations are appealing, as is a book that an adult can find funny when reading aloud.

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. Could a watermelon seed grow in your belly?
  2. Would you still eat watermelon after eating a seed? Do you think the crocodile will?


What happens when you eat a watermelon seed? This crocodile might find out!


Author Website

Interview with author at Design of the Picture Book

Book Trailer

2 Newbery Award Winners

Newbery Medal“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” From the ALA website

the giver 2

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Delacourte Press, 1993. 179 pages. $13.51. FollettBound ISBN-13: 978-1-41565-110-0

Living in a small, sheltered community, Jonas begins to understand the secrets of the protection and rules upon his twelvth birthday when he becomes apprentice to The Giver.

Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction

Age Range: 11-16

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality, 5 out of 5 for popularity.

Newbery Award, 1994

When Jonas reaches age 12, he and all the other 12 year old’s are assigned their career aprentiships, but Jonas is assigned an unusual position as apprentice to the Giver, the man who carries the memories of the community. In order to protect themselves from unpleasantness, the community is strictly organized, but the more Jonas learns about the past, the more unsettled he becomes with the present. This book is well known for exploring the confusing coming of age of a 12 year old, faced with the rules of a society that are confusing and mysterious.

This book has long been recommended to me by friends and young adults, and was well worth the read. It plays into all the strangeness of our society, questions our choices and looks at possible futures, just like good science fiction should. The characters are interesting and believable, and the mystery unfolds beautifully.


The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the community define family? How is that different from how we define families?
  2. What is Jonas’ last straw for being able to live happily in his community?

Book Talking

What would you give up for a world that was perfect and smooth and orderly? What if someone else decided who your parents are, what your job would be, who you are going to marry? Would that make your life easier? But at what cost?


School Library Journal Interview

New York Times Interview




out of the dust

Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. Scholastic Press, 1997. 227 pages. $15.99 ISBN-13: 978-1439526866

Billie Jo lives in Oklahoma when the dust storms and depression hit and tells of her daily life in a series of poems.

Genre: Fiction, Poetry

Age Range 11-17

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for popularity.

Newbery Award, 1998

Scott O’Dell Award, 1998

Living in the dust bowl of depression era Oklahoma, Billie Jo tries to live up to her mother’s expectations. She plays the piano and helps out on her family’s farm, but as the years continue to fail to bring rain enough to water the crops, the family is finding it harder and harder to have hope. Billie Jo loses her mother to fire and has to find a way to continue on with just her quiet, withdrawn father, and without the music that used to comfort her, since her hands are horribly scarred and damaged. The emotional heaviness of the story is balanced by the poems that give little glimpses and small stories. The poems also give the experience of living through the dryness and horror of the dust storms that ravaged the Midwest in the 1930’s.

This book is a popular title among adults, and was a very sad, intense read. Many websites list its lower age range to be 9, but I think some of the events and themes are clearly for older youth. It is clear why it is an award winner, the poems are well written, the story within them compelling and well constructed.


Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why doesn’t Billie Jo go see a doctor about her hands once they start healing? How does that relate to the way she feels about her father failing to go to the doctor?
  2. Why does Billie Jo come home?



What does it feel like to live during a dust storm? Billie Jo can tell you. She finds solace in family and music, but what will happen if that is all taken away?


Author Website

Author Biography

2 Boston-Globe Horn Book Winners for Picture Book


“First presented in 1967 and customarily announced in June, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards are among the most prestigious honors in the field of children’s and young adult literature.

Winners are selected in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction. Two Honor Books may be named in each category. On occasion, a book will receive a special citation for its high quality and overall creative excellence.

The winning titles must be published in the United States but they may be written or illustrated by citizens of any country. The awards are chosen by an independent panel of three judges who are annually appointed by the Editor of the Horn Book.” From the Horn Book Website

at night

Bean, Jonathan. At Night. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. 32 pages. $15.99. ISBN-13: 978-0-374-30446-1

This sweet night-time story follows a little girl who cannot sleep up to her rooftop to enjoy the breeze and the view.

Genre: Picture Fiction

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality. 2 out of 5 for popularity.

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2008

This simple book is a small square, with even smaller illustrations that start out as little picture windows into the family’s bedtime. All fall asleep except the eldest daughter who lays in bad, awake. Following the hint of a breeze, she climbs up to the rooftop to make a bed and sleep with a view. As she finds her way onto the roof, the pictures change in scope, from small intimate windows to whole-page night-time landscapes that the child is seeing from her makeshift bed.

The watercolor illustrations are charming and detailed the moonlight views majestic and cool. This book is attractive because of its dim and lovely illustrations, and for its simple, sleepy story.  This is a nice bedtime book, except I would hate to give children the idea to wander up to the roof alone.


Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson

So Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz

 Book discussion questions:

  1. Why does the girl go up to the roof? What makes her like the roof?
  2. What other characters show up in the story?


Awake, alone at night? See the city, the moon and the water from rooftop heights.


Author Website

Interview with author on Seven Impossible Things Blog

pocketful of posies

Mavor, Salley. A Pocketful of Posies: a treasury of nursery rhymes. Houghton Mifflin Books, 2010. 62 pages. $21.99 ISBN-13: 978-0618737406

Traditional nursery rhymes illustrated with embroidery and felt arts.

Genre: Picture Book, Poetry

Age range: 3-8

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality, 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book, 2011

Here is a book of traditional nursery rhymes with nontraditional illustrations. The illustrations are made by embroidery, felt, painted doll faces, and beading. The result is delightful, full of astounding details and colorful scenes. Often rhymes are joined together, creating, for example, a small townscapes for “pat-a-cake” and “cobbler, cobbler” along with “polly put the kettle on”. The trees and flowers are especially wonderful and detailed, each one covered with tiny embroidered leaves, all hand-stitched by the artist.

I found this book while looking for nursery rhymes, and it is one that never fails to please me, but I wonder if small children can appreciate the intricate handwork and substantial time that went into this project. Either way it is a wonderful book and well worth its award.


Mother Earth and Her Children: A quilted fairy tale by Sibylle von Offers and Sieglinde Schoen-Smith

Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho and Holly Meade

Will Moses’ Mother Goose by Will Moses

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes this book of nursery rhymes unique?
  2. What kinds of objects did the artist find to put in her scenes?


How long does it take the artist to embroider individual leaves in this detailed book of nursery rhymes?


Artist’s Website

Interview with artist at Feeling Stichy Blog

Artist interview at

2 Biographical Picture Books

balloons over brodway

Sweet, Melissa. Balloons Over Brodway: The true story of the puppeteer of Macy’s parade. Houghton Mifflin Books, 2011. 34 pages. $16.99. ISBN-13: 978-0-547-19945-0 

Tony Sarg starts his career with marionettes, but his skill leads him to design the first giant puppet balloons for the Macy’s parade.

Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography

Age Range: 5-10

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality. 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Robert F. Sibert  Informational Book award, 2012

The book follows Tony Sarg from his inventive childhood to a job at Macy’s designing animated mechanical puppets for their windows in the 1920’s. After the Thanksgiving day parade had gained so much popularity that the crowds could no longer see all the floats, Macy’s asked Sarg to design bigger puppets, which he did and was incredibly successful in his project to create animated floating puppets.

This book has bright, enticing illustrations that make the puppets and scenes look fun and playful. Many of the pages have collages to indicate Sarg’s works in progress and the design process. The endpapaers are photos of actual advertisements and items from Sarg’s life. There are maps and other little bits and pieces throughout the book to emphasize and add to the overall excellent design of the illustrations. This was a fun book to read with my 5 year old, we both enjoyed it and then when looking for more information about the parade its balloons.


The Man Who Walked Between the Two Towers by Mordicai Gersein

Milly and the Macy’s Parade by Shana Corey

The Boy Who Drew Birds: a story of John James Audubon by Jaqueline Davies

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Tony Sarg get inspiration for his balloons?
  2. Why does  Macy’s throw a parade? Do you think the reasons have changed over time?


Balloons! Puppets! The Macy’s Parade!


Author website the website contains teaching guides and other resource information for this book and her other books as well.

Interview with The Horn Book

Interview and more photo’s of Tony Sarg’s balloons at Jama’s Alphabet Soup 

martin de porres

Schmidt, Gary D. Martin de Porres: The rose in the desert. Illustrated by David Diaz. Clarion Books/ Haughton Mifflin Books, 2012. 32 pages. $16.99. ISBN-13: 978-0547612188

Martin de Porres grew up in the barrios and grew to become a miracle working monk in Lima, Peru.

Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography.

Age range: 6-10

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality. 2 out of 5 for popularity.

Pura Belpre Award for Illustration, 2013

This is a beautifully illustrated book of the life of St. Martin of Porres, the first black Saint, who spent his life starting out as a poor fatherless child in the barrios and eventually became a monk. During his life he learned to heal, and became devoted to helping the poor and sick, humans as well as animals. His love of people and his clearly miraculous touch earned him a place in the monastery that would otherwise have been unavailable to him due to his fatherless state. The writing is lyrical and nice, the illustrations are rich, jewel toned pastels, giving the story a magical quality.

Surprisingly, this is one that is beloved by my preschool aged son, perhaps because of the lovely pictures, perhaps because he heals dogs and adopts them. The image on the front is vibrant and draws the reader in to see what this animal loving priest could be about.


The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Kathleen Norris

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the priest expect so little out of Martin?
  2. Why does Martin work in the monastery before becoming a monk?


He heals animals, adopts dogs and makes lemon trees bear fruit year-round. Who is this man?


Gary D. Schmidt website

Biography Page for Dacid Diaz from the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature

Interview with Davis Diaz on Kidlit, Fantasy and Sci-fi –Feed Your Head!  

Informational Picture Books

parrots over puerto rico

Roth, Susan L.  and Cindy Trumbore. Parrots Over Puerto Rico. Illustrated by Susan L. Roth. Lee & Low Books, 2013. 48 pages. $19.99 ISBN-13: 978-1620140048

The story of Parrots in Puerto Rico from the time of early people, through their near extinction and then to their reintroduction to the island.

Genre:  Nonfiction Picture Books

Age Range: 6-10

Rating: 3 out of 5 for quality. 3 out of 5 for Popularity.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, 2014

The Puerto Rican Parrot is a lively green parrot native to the island, a species who has watched the introduction of people to the island and nearly suffered extinction at the loss of habitat and invasive predatory animals and people. In 1968 the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico developed the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to try to bring a small population of parrots back to their habitat. The parrots had to be bred in captivity and trained to live in the wild, but the program has been a success in that every year more parrots are raised, released, and survive in the wild.

The collages are stunning, colorful and full of life and movement, bringing the island of the parrots to life. The book acts as a history through the eyes of the parrots, starting before people lived on the island and follows their rise and fall until modern day when they needed to be hand hatched in order to increase the population. Than back pages contain contain more real photos of the parrots and the scientists dedicated to helping them survive. The writing, while incredibly informative, does not live up to the liveliness or the interest of the illustrations, leaving my 5 year old bored about 4 pages in.


All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon

The Tree Lady: The true story of how one  tree-loving woman changed a city forever by H. Joseph Hopkins

Lifetime: The amazing numbers in animal lives by Lola M. Schaefer

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the story of the parrots also tell the story of the Island of Puerto Rico?
  2. What kinds of things did the recovery project have to do to make the parrots ready for release into the wild?


Brightly colored parrots fly overhead the island, calling out their brash call, Iguaca! Iguaca! Follow the history of Puerto Rico and the parrots as scientists work to save a species on the brink of extinction.


Author Website

Publishers Interview with the authors

A drop of water

Wick, Walter. A Drop of Water: a book of science and wonder. Scholastic, 1997. 40 pages. $19.99 ISBN-13: 978-0-590-22197-9

With stunning and fascinating photographs, this book explores the mysteries of water in its many forms.

Genre: Non-fiction

Age: 8-12

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality. 2 out of 5 for popularity.

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, 1997

Here are a series of beautiful and fascinating photographs depicting the properties of water as it evaporates, splashes, condenses and bubbles. This book is certainly for the tween crowd,  the writing is descriptive and interesting, sneaking the facts in subtly. The glossary in the back of water related terms helps give clarity to the concepts. The author discusses molecules, states of matter, surface tension, soap bubbles, snowflakes, and the water cycle.

I picked this book up, curious about the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award for nonfiction that is geared toward a younger audience than most of the others. It is beautiful and fascinating to look at these micro pictures of water in action.


A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney

Splash! Learn About Water by Nadia Higgins


Watch the moment a snowflake forms, a droplet falls, or the water condense,.


Walter Wick Website

Scholastic Kids Interview

2 Classic Award Winners

mixed up files

Konigsburg, E.L. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1967 162 pages. $15.34 ISBN-13: 978-0-689-20586-6

A sister and a brother run away to the Metropolitan Museum of art and try to solve the mystery of the artist of an angel sculpture.

Genre: Fiction

Age range: 8-13


Newbery Medal, 1968


When Claudia decides to run away, she wants to do it with adventure in mind; so plans carefully, takes her frugal brother, and rides the train to New York City to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together she and Jamie hide carefully to avoid being caught while they spend the night in the exhibits, bathe in the fountain and learn by following tour groups around. What they find is a mystery, a new angel statue has been bought inexpensively by the museum but may be a Michelangelo. The only person with an answer is Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and her files.

I loved this book as a child and was delighted to find that it was just as enjoyable and charming as I remembered. It has the perspective of some precocious but interesting children setting out on their own in a big city, and this makes it appealing to its young audience.

 Book Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Claudia run away?
  2. Jamie accuses Claudia of running away and still being too much of an adult? Do you think that is true? Do you  think that she should not have?

Booktalking Points:

Runaways hide out in a museum for over a week, while tring to solve a mystery!


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

The sixty-eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin


Interview With author

 make way for ducklings

McClosky, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. Viking, 1969. 65 pages. $16.19 ISBN-13: 978-0-670-45149-4

A family of ducks makes a home in Boston, first in the Charles River, then through a journey to the Boston Garden.

Genre: Picture Book Fiction

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 5 out of 5 for Quality. 5 out of 5 for Popularity.


Caldecott Medal, 1942


This is a classic of children’s literature that has stood the test of time and remained popular for 72 years. It starts with Mr. and Mrs. Duck looking for a place to nest in Boston. After finding delicious peanuts in the pond at the Boston Garden, they almost settle down, until Mr. Duck is nearly run over by a bike. Traveling further they find a small island in the Charles River just in time to hatch their 8 ducklings. Finally, Mrs. Duck travels with the ducklings to the Boston Garden, with the help of the friendly police. The illustrations are in brown pencil, and though the images are simple, they impart lovely details and emotional content. This book still manages to entertain and delight small children and the parents who were raised on this book.

This book is just an excellent book, with beautiful illustrations and fun text that is engaging and warmhearted. I chose this book to focus on because I have loved it since I was a child, and my son loves it as well. There are plenty of medal winners that fail to stand the test of time, that get lost in the stacks and never looked back on, but Make Way for Ducklings seems to always be a book that parents will pick up for their children.


Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Have You Seen My Ducklings by Nancy Tafuri

Booktalking Points:

Funny duckling names! Ducks vs. cars! Police stop traffic for duck family.


Interview with Author from Horn Book Review