Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Culture Children's Books
Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt
Narwhal wants to be a superhero, but other than his unique appearance (he’s the unicorn of the sea), he doesn’t have any powers. As he helps his friends uncover their abilities, though, he discovers the power of encouragement, and that makes him super after all. This second Narwhal and Jelly Jolt book keeps the series’ signature hand-drawn look that engages emerging readers, but the simplistic drawings and minimal dialogue make the storyline tough to follow at times. Some of the puns might also be too complicated for the book’s intended audience—all the more reason to read along with a grown-up. (Ages 6-9)
With this graphic novel memoir, Hale empowers grade schoolers, especially girls, to seek out healthy relationships with their peers. When the girls at school start to mistreat Shannon, she has to decide whether to take the emotional beating or stand up for herself and risk isolation. Shannon handles her troubles with the help of her imperfect family and a perfect God. The book includes a rare—for popular children’s novels—scene of Shannon praying for Jesus to intervene in her friendship problems. The book is an antidote to the self-interest promoted by Raina Telgemeier, another graphic novelist popular with tween girls. (Ages 8-12)
All Summer Long
Larson’s latest book tries to answer the age-old question, “Can boys and girls just be friends?” Bina and Austin have been besties their whole lives, but their relationship changes after they turn 13. When Austin leaves for summer camp and strands Bina home alone, she searches for something meaningful to pass the time. She learns to accept her circumstances and herself but doesn’t really resolve the interpersonal conflicts she has with other characters. Some critics have praised this book’s portrayal of diversity, but rather than exploring their differences, the characters in All Summer Long decide to ignore them and hope everything turns out OK. (Ages 10-13)
The Cardboard Kingdom
Author Chad Sell uses exciting illustrations to tell how neighborhood kids have a magical summer. Children from all backgrounds live in the “Cardboard Kingdom” and learn to have fun by including everyone. The book extols the lost art of playing pretend as not only a pastime but a tool to make the trials of childhood more bearable. Sell challenges traditional gender roles as the kids transform into kings, queens, knights, and monsters. Parents should note that one character cross-dresses, but the story stops short of openly exploring transgenderism or sexuality. Overall, The Cardboard Kingdom inspires children to put down their video games, go outside, and play. (Ages 9-12)
Pat and Jen are among the most successful YouTubers ever, and they got that way by recording themselves just having fun. The couple (who use only first names or usernames online) met in high school and married in 2015. They’re not yet 30, but Pat’s YouTube channel “PopularMMOs” earns millions of dollars in YouTube ad revenue from videos of the couple playing the video game Minecraft with running commentary.
Their new graphic novel, A Hole New World (HarperCollins, 2018), incorporates characters from their videos and real life, including their white Persian cat, Cloud. The plot and dialogue are as frenetic and silly as the videos. Pat and Jen don’t take the Lord’s name in vain nearly as much in the book as they do on camera, but at least one instance makes an appearance. A Hole New World probably won’t become a children’s classic, but it may be the “it” book at school book fairs over the next year. —L.L.