Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Culture Children's Books
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway
Greg Heffley’s parents have always been strict, frugal, and unconcerned with appearances. Their decision to take the whole family to a packed and pricey beach resort for Christmas seems a little out of character, as does much of the storyline in this best-selling series’ latest book. Instead of stressing over how to survive middle school, the main character complains about late flights, overcrowded swimming pools, and tropical insects. Though The Getaway has a few laugh-out-loud pages, it forgoes the teachable moments that have made the stories funny and endearing. “Diary of a Whiny Kid” might be a more appropriate title for this installment. (Ages 8-12)
In the follow-up to her best-selling graphic novel Awkward, Svetlana Chmakova explores how a bullying victim learns to be a better friend to himself and others. Chmakova’s drawings capture the frenetic atmosphere of middle-school hallways and the aching disappointment of young Jensen Graham as he realizes the students he calls friends are anything but. The relativistic morals of the story create confusing scenarios, such as when a Muslim youth who wears hijab advocates for a friend’s “civil liberty” to wear a short skirt. While Jensen’s peers come together to support him, it’s concerning that he faces the rest of his academic career without a moral compass. (Ages 8-12)
Swing it, Sunny
Jennifer L. Holm
Sunny Lewin feels isolated as her family recovers from the wounds of her brother’s drug use and abusive behavior. With brother Dale now at military school, the crisis has passed, but grief and uncertainty still haunt the family. Sunny hopes for an easy solution to make everything better, but healing comes one small step at a time in the form of support from her grandfather, mother, and a new friend. The story, told with age-appropriate dialogue and drawings, paints a realistic but hopeful picture of a family dealing with a prodigal child. (Ages 8-12)
Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond
In this adaptation, Sherlock Holmes is a precocious middle schooler who drags his pals, John Watson and Martha Hudson, on an adventure to solve a mystery that unfolds during a field trip to the local museum. Author Sam Hearn, who previously wrote and illustrated picture books, tells the story from Watson’s perspective using a mix of comic strips, news-style articles, and plain text narration. The format might be slightly hard to follow for readers who aren’t familiar with all of those media, but those who are will have fun trying with Watson to stay a step ahead of Sherlock. (Ages 8-12)
Competitive youth sports can affect nearly every aspect of a family’s life, determining budgets, schedules, vacations, and even diets. Veteran sports writer Mike Lupica’s books envision a world where youth sports have a positive effect on the children and families involved in them. In Team Players, the latest and final installment in his Home Team series of novels, eighth-grader Cassie Bennett has more friends than she knows what to do with, and they all look to her as a role model.
So when a standout player with Asperger’s syndrome joins her softball team, she’s confident she can help the new recruit fit in. But after interpersonal conflicts escalate out of her control, she has to learn to temper her confidence with humility to make it through her most important season yet. Cassie’s friends and family rally to advise her through this challenge, which doesn’t have an easy answer. —L.L.