Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Culture Children's Books
A Map of Days
The story of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman heads home to try to make things work with his parents. But his tutor and her pupils with powers quickly re-recruit him. Jacob grows bored with Miss Peregrine’s assignments and decides to take matters into his own hands. But things would have gone much better if he had just trusted Miss Peregrine in the first place. The other peculiar children raise thoughtful questions about teenage obsessions with fashion and electronics, but that is the only redeeming theme in a book that recycles every tired trope in young adult fantasy and science fiction. (Ages 13 and up)
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Sixteen-year-old Felicity Montague wants to become a doctor despite the profession’s prejudice against women in the 1700s. Her quest to land an apprenticeship with a famous physician takes her on a cross-continental, swashbuckling adventure. Like Felicity, the book (a sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) suffers from an identity crisis, taking turns as a coming-of-age tale, an LGBT love story, a treatise on women’s rights, and a quest for dragons. It’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, marketed as historical fiction but breaking all the moral norms of the period in which it is set. (Ages 16 and up)
Dear Evan Hansen
Anxiety-ridden high-school senior Evan Hansen writes himself a motivational letter every morning. One of his missives falls into the wrong hands and causes a case of mistaken identity that catapults Evan to popularity. His dreams start to come true, but he risks losing everything if his peers find out the truth about the letter. Based on the Tony Award–winning musical of the same name, the novel is intended for older teens and includes discussion of suicide, sexual confusion, and sneaking around behind parents’ backs. But it also defines a clear line between the healthy and unhealthy ways teens handle loneliness and isolation. (Ages 16 and up)
The Berrybrook Middle School gang is back in Crush, Chmakova’s third graphic novel in this series. Jorge is a big dude with a bigger heart who mentors his schoolmates as they figure out which friends are worth fighting for and which ones aren’t worth the time. Though the plot centers on Jorge’s first crush, the book studies the challenges of adolescent relationships. Too bad Chmakova doesn’t reveal anything about Jorge’s family or where he got his morals and maturity. Still, the strong emphasis on right and wrong combined with a fun, diverse cast of characters make this the best Berrybrook story yet. Note: A character is in a same-sex marriage. (Ages 12 and up)
In The War Outside (Little, Brown, 2018) Monica Hesse weaves a story about life inside a family internment camp during World War II. Haruko, a Japanese-American teenage girl, is drawn to Margot, the German-American daughter of a suspected Nazi sympathizer. Margot helps Haruko adjust to the oddities of camp life—there are free movies on the weekends but no plumbing in the homes—and Haruko gives Margot something she’s never had, a true friend. In each other’s company, the girls almost forget the injustice of their imprisonment—almost.
The camp in Crystal City, Texas, really existed, and the questions the story raises about immigration and culture are timely in today’s political climate. At one point, the author implies the heroines might have crossed the line into same-sex attraction, but the strength of their bond ultimately comes from their sisterly commitment to one another, no matter what the cost. —L.L.