Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
Eleven-year-old Ware was looking forward to summer vacation at his grandmother’s retirement village, hanging out at the pool and reading of knights and chivalry. But a sudden stroke puts her in rehab and Ware at the community center day care. Bye-bye, peaceful summer—until he meets a prickly girl named Jolene at the condemned church lot next door and becomes involved in an unlikely reclamation project. Christian imagery figures largely in this redemption story. Art is the active agent, not the Holy Spirit, whose day has presumably passed. But the creative spirit of the image of God remains. (Ages 10-14)
Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome
After Lymon’s father serves his time at Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi, Lymon hopes he will take to fathering. But Daddy is a musician first, so nightclub gigs take priority. After the boy’s beloved Grandpops dies and his contentious grandma succumbs to diabetes, no other option remains but big, noisy Chicago, where Lymon’s flighty mother has married a man who has no use for an extra kid. The heartbreak and trauma of Lymon’s abandonment are painful, but his faithful, prayerful aunt cares deeply for him. Daddy finally comes through, admitting, “Sometimes even grown folks got growing up to do.” (Ages 10-14)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Hanna Edmons, age 14, is a “half-breed.” Even in California she and her Chinese mother were oddities. But now that her widowed father hopes to start a retail business in Dakota Territory, Hanna must decide whether to stay out of sight or try to compel acceptance from provincial townspeople. Her deceased mother’s advice is crucial: “You stop thinking about yourself. … You do things for other people, it fills you up with good feelings, less room for bad ones.” Quiet determination wins Hanna a place in the community. (One scene involving an attempted assault may make the novel unsuitable for younger readers.) (Ages 12-15)
Things Seen from Above by Shelley Pearsall
After trying and failing to fit in with her fellow sixth graders during lunch period, April Boxler volunteers to monitor fourth grade recess. There she meets Joey Byrd, who occupies his own world and spends recess walking in circles, scuffing up gravel. Though sympathetic, April doesn’t understand what a “rare bird” Joey is until the school custodian shows her a breathtaking view from the roof: the striking patterns produced by Joey’s artful meandering. When his gifts draw unwelcome attention, April feels called to protect him, even though he may not need protection. Instead, Joey teaches her a wider perspective, “seen from above.” (Ages 10-14)
The committee also recommends Echo Mountain, a Depression-era novel of a girl discovering her healing gifts while living off the land. Orphan Eleven, set during the same time period, is the lively story of a band of outcasts running away to the circus. In The Time of Green Magic a blended family leases an ivy-covered cottage where they learn to bond against a supernatural threat. And We Could Be Heroes pairs an autistic boy with an overzealous, hyperactive girl in a partnership that stretches and challenges both.
—The next story in the Children’s Books of the Year section is on WORLD’s picture book winner, Saving the Countryside.