The Best Kids Books (I Read for Myself) in 2015

Last week I shared my favorite books from 2015, and this post was originally going to feature all of the best children’s books I read in 2015 – board books, picture books, readalouds, and the ones I read for myself.

Except 2015 was a knockout year with great kid lit, and I needed to split it up so it’s not completely ridiculous.

So, today is all about the books I picked and read for myself. Not books I read to a child or three – these were my reads.

The Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill by Kirkpatrick Hill

A reread in preparation for the online kids book club I’m doing with Jessica (Quirky Bookworm). I adored this book the first time I read it, and suggested it for our Arctic theme. Then I was scared that it wouldn’t hold up well to rereading, or what if people hated it?

Well, so far everyone who has commented about it has said they’ve enjoyed it (yay!) and I loved it just as much the second time through. It’s heartwarming and inspiring, and all around a lovely read.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
by Grace Lin

Also read when it was a possibility for that book club (we ended up not selecting China as a theme this year). It’s gorgeously written, and charmingly illustrated – go for the print version, not the electronic as I did, or you’ll miss out on some of the illustration details. Loved, loved, loved it.

The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

An uplifting look at World War II evacuees, and how being sent away from London ended up being the best thing to happen to one girl. It’s heart-rending but ultimately hopeful. Because of the descriptions of abuse that Ada suffers I wouldn’t advise it for younger readers, but for those emotionally ready to read it, it’s a fantastic book.

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

A heartbreaking account, beautifully written in verse that manages to make the semi-autobiographical story emotionally easier to read. Well-deserved winner of the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book.

Listen SlowlyListen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

Yes, a second book by the Thanhha Lai. Unlike Inside Out and Back Again, this is written in prose, and she is just as adept in that form. It’s a captivating story, with lots of appealing characters, that brings contemporary Vietnam to life.

Sparrow RoadSparrow RoadSparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor by Sheila O’Connor

Relationship-focused middle grade book with beautiful language and appealing characters. I like how it’s got a bit more depth in the content than some books I’d recommend to early elementary readers, while still being gentle enough for all but the most precocious of readers.

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead by Rebecca Stead

Precocious reader alert: because of some of the topics addressed (including bullying and sexting), this isn’t one you’ll want to hand off to younger readers, but it’s a wonderfully written tale for those old enough for the content. It’s not as amazing as Stead’s When You Reach Me, but it’s still a solid book.

The ThiefThe ThiefThe Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1) by Megan Whalen Turner by Megan Whalen Turner

(a reread)

It still is one of my favorites, and I gave away my copy this year and may need to replace it soon so I can read it another time. 🙂 If you’re new to this series, don’t give up on this one – it has a slow start – but ultimately it is so good. Vaguely historical in feel, with some fantasy elements as well, and flashes of humor add up to a winning read.

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) by Rebecca Stead by Rebecca Stead

(A reread for book club)

Possibly even better as a reread, as you know what’s going to happen, and can appreciate the clues Stead weaves throughout the text. No more details, lest I slip and give spoilers, but READ THIS BOOK.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

Listen, Slowly

Listen SlowlyListen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

If you saw my post about my favorite books of the year so far, this one will look familiar, and the fact that I’m about to gush over it will be no surprise. Lai is a new discovery for me this year, and I first read her book Inside Out and Back Again. As a Newbery Honor book and National Book Award winner, it’s no surprise that the book is FANTASTIC.

Could her new title Listen, Slowly live up to the high standards she’d set?

Happily, yes. While it’s a very different book (written in prose instead of verse, set in contemporary Vietnam, instead of historical Vietnam and the US), it’s still a beautifully written and captivating story. She brings Vietnam to life, and compels you to both continue reading, and care about all the individuals you meet.

I loved how well she differentiated the relatives. It would have been easy for them to become merely a group of extended family (kind of how they are when Mai first arrives), but most of them quickly become individuals.

The book is perfect for middle schoolers or high schoolers, and easily enjoyable by adults as well. Super sensitive readers might have a bit of trouble with some details at the very end, but I don’t want to share specifics for risk of spoilers. Ask me if you’re concerned with appropriateness for your kids and I’ll fill you in. Another possible concern for those with really strict standards on what they allow is that Mai is thinking about one boy quite a bit, and frets about her figure slightly (she’s not the curvy supposed American-ideal). Nothing is detailed, and it felt very accurate for her age. It also all ends up resolving nicely, if that makes a difference.

This could also work very well as a discussion book if you’re looking for one to read with your kids. Topics addressed include the obvious ones of family and history, but it also touches on friendships, prioritization, Americanization, travel, war, culture, food, and more.

Highly recommended, and do also read her other book, Inside Out and Back Again.

Publisher’s Description:
This remarkable novel from Thanhhà Lại, New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award–winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again, follows a young girl as she learns the true meaning of family.

A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Linda Sue Park, Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

Book Details

Title: Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Author: Thanhha Lai
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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Favorite Books of 2015 (So Far)

Favorite Books of 2015 so farQuick looks at my what are so far my favorite books of 2015, since it’s close enough to halfway through the year. 🙂 Links go to my previous posts if I’ve written one, Amazon if I haven’t.

Nonfiction

As You WishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

I don’t generally read celebrity bios, but made an exception for this one, and am so glad I did. It’s funny and witty and oh so entertaining. Perhaps because it’s more the story of a movie, than the story of just a celebrity. Read it and then read The Princess Bride. And then watch the movie. Actually, skip reading it and go for the audible versionAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes – it’s fantastic!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Not sure if it really will be life-changing, but so far I think it just might be. Love the tone of this one, and how it is so gentle and kind. I also love her change in focus from what you’re discarding, to what you’re keeping.

Better Than BeforeBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I love her style and approach, and I love the focus of this book: how can I change my habits to change my life? It combines nicely with Kondo’s book too.

Cold TangerinesCold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist

She’s one of my favorite authors, and I finally read her first book. Not as good as her more recent titles (you can see how she’s grown as an author), but still an excellent memoir of sorts.

The Road from CoorainThe Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

A re-read for my book club, and it was just as good the second time around. It also made for a fabulous discussion at book club – one of the best ones we’ve had in awhile. Highly recommended if your book club reads memoirs!


Fiction

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Loved this book. Don’t be put off by the length – it’s captivating and reads much quicker than you’d think almost 500 pages could possibly. You’ll feel like you’re there with them in Depression-era West Virginia, and you’ll appreciate air conditioning so very much.

The Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

Short stories featuring Miss Marple. I’m slowly working my way through all of Agatha Christie’s books and I can’t decide if I’m annoyed at myself for waiting so long to read them, or delighted that I have so many still to look forward to reading.

The Murder of Roger AckroydThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

More Christie, but this one features Detective Hercule Poirot. Perhaps her most famous of mysteries, and I loved figuring it out before it was revealed. She is so good at writing compelling stories without lots of extra padding.


Favorite Kids Books:

The War that Saved My LifeThe War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A look at the children evacuated from London during WWII, but it takes a different perspective than you might expect. Hard to read at times because of tough content, it’s well worth the emotional effort, and I appreciated that the author skipped any easy resolutions that would have felt unrealistic.

National Geographic Kids Animal StoriesNational Geographic Kids Animal Stories: Heartwarming True Tales from the Animal KingdomNational Geographic Kids Animal Stories: Heartwarming True Tales from the Animal Kingdom by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple; illustrated by Jui Ishida by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple; illustrated by Jui Ishida

Gorgeously illustrated and engagingly written, this would make a great readaloud for any animal-loving children. Or it makes for a great book for any older kids or adults too, as I read it through the first time on my own, as I was deciding whether or not to read it to my kids. Fascinating looks at some animals in history.

Book of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

A retelling of a not-very-familiar fairy tale. Well-written and engrossing, with a very satisfying ending. I loved the characters in this one, and how Hale manages to make the story her own, while still basing it so much on the original tale.

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Written in verse, this is another one that has tough content, although the format softens it a bit. Absolutely compelling.

Listen SlowlyListen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

Another gorgeously-written book by Lai, although this one is in prose, not verse. I kept wanting this to be more obviously connected with the previous book but it’s not. No matter – it’s still a wonderful story.

Winnie the PoohWinnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

A classic for a reason. Loved reading it aloud to my children, and they loved hearing the stories.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

I’ve had great luck reading novels written in verse, so much so that I keep thinking surely the streak can’t continue – one of these days I’ll hit a dud. So far though, the streak is intact, as Inside Out and Back Again was fantastic.

While the content of Lai’s novel could make it a difficult read, it’s so beautifully written it ends up being a pleasure. I still might hesitate to hand it over to younger readers depending on their sensitivity, but it’d be an easy one to pre-read if you’ve got any concerns about your children reading it. However, don’t avoid this thinking it’s just for children – it’s not at all – it’s a great book.

My only complaints with it are simply because of the target audience, there ends up being not as much depth to her story as I’d like. Overall though it’s one that I enthusiastically recommend. It’s easy to see why it’s a Newbery Honor book.

The author has a second book out this year, Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, and after reading this one I requested the new one. Listen, Slowly is written in prose, so if you’re not interested in Inside Out and Back Again due to being written in verse, the new one may work for you. I’m eagerly anticipating it.

Don’t skip the information in the back – it adds some of that extra depth I was wanting, and was very interesting! [Read more…]