The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016

“I’m not human, I’m a librarian!”  

CoverThese words had the audience in laughter at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening held Wednesday 23rd November, hosted by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries. One of the speakers at the event, Jane Boniface from Heaton Normal Intermediate, perfectly illustrated a best/worst children’s book when she read this proclamation aloud as the punchline from a passage in Remade. Although the novel, filled to the brim with gory details of a virus on the loose liquefying people, wasn’t her cup of tea, she said it was a real hit with the intermediate age boys at her school who clambered to read it after she told them it was “disgusting, grizzly and grotesque.”

What turns a cringe-worthy story into a ‘best’ book is that it encourages the love and pleasure of reading for a certain kind of reading interest and shows that while reading tastes are subjective, the right book for the right person at the right time is what matters. The books showcased at the event covered the spectrum of wondrous and picturesque, funny and gross, through to beautiful and poignant – including sobering reminders of the realities of social problems facing children today.

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A community of children’s literature enthusiasts, in attendance at the Best / Worst Children’s Books of 2016 evening, held at South Library, 23rd November.

In light of changing times, be they due to earthquakes or bookstores closing, it is heartening to see supporters of children’s literature and literacy continue to come together as a community to celebrate and reaffirm their shared joy of children’s books.

Highlights from the annual Best (& Worst) event, attended by over 70 people, were primary students from several schools speaking about their current favourite books. Alongside this youth voice was book-talking from Mary Sangster (The Original Children’s Bookshop) and even some impromptu book-singing with the audience spurred on by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach at Christchurch City Libraries, as part of her picture book discussion.

Best Children’s Books of 2016 as selected by Mary Sangster, The Original Children’s Bookshop

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Picture books

  • Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik is a playful children’s story about a caterpillar/butterfly, words, books and the wonder of life.
  • Circle by Jeannie Baker follows the godwit’s incredible flight over awe-inspiring scenes as above such beautiful landmarks as the Great Barrier Reef and China’s breathtaking cityscapes.
  • The Night Gardener by Terry Fan. One day, William discovers that the tree outside his window has been sculpted into a wise owl. More topiaries appear, each one  more beautiful. Soon, William’s gray little town is full of color and life. And though the mysterious night gardener disappears as suddenly as he appeared, William—and his town—are changed forever. With breathtaking illustrations and spare, sweet text, this book is about enjoying the beauty of nature.

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Younger and older fiction

  • Olive of Groves and the Great Slurp of Time by Katrina Nannestad. Starting off in 1857 at Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, this story goes backwards and forwards in time after Olive is invited to go time-travelling by a strange visitor. Disturbing things start to happen at Groves as a result. Mary felt there was a nice use of language and reckons boys would like it just as well as girls. Time travel books for children in 2016 seem to be popular.
  • The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon. Subhi’s imagination is as big as the ocean and wide as the sky, but his world is much smaller: he’s spent his whole life in an immigration detention centre. The Bone Sparrow is a powerful, heartbreaking, sometimes funny and ultimately uplifting hymn to freedom and love.
  • Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition. This novel, published in New Zealand, is about practising solo, performing like a rockstar and how contributing your best self to something can create a force much greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Dear Charlie by N.D. Nomes. Recommended for older high school students. Sixteen year old Sam is picking up the pieces after the school shooting that his brother Charlie committed. Yet as Sam desperately tries to hang on to the memories he has of his brother, the media storm surrounding their family threatens to destroy everything. And Sam has to question all he thought he knew about life, death, right and wrong. “Absolutely fantastic.” says Mary.
  • Yong: The Journey of an Unworthy Son by Janeen Brian. Thirteen-year-old Yong resents leaving his home in China to travel with his father to the goldfields in Ballarat, Australia.

Best Picture Books of 2016 as selected by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach for Christchurch City Libraries

Lynette has been a librarian for all her working life and is passionate about both illustrations and words. “I’m always looking for a resource that creates a surprise and smile to its reader, be that young or old.” She says that what makes a good picture book in her world is: “One that takes me out of my comfort zone; one that pushes boundaries; something I might not of seen or heard before; something familiar but different; something that can cover all ages and something that makes me go WOW!”

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Lynette Griffiths

Lynette’s top 3 picture books of 2016

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  • A Tree in the Courtyard: Looking through Anne Frank’s window by Jeff Gottesfeld. The tree’s version of the girl in the window (Anne Frank).
  • Armstrong: The adventurous journey of a mouse to the moon by Torben Kuhlmann – Kuhlmann’s picture book transports readers to the moon and beyond! Here, dreams are determined only by the size of your imagination and the biggest innovators are the smallest of all. The book ends with a brief non-fiction history of human space travel from Galileo’s observations concerning the nature of the universe to man’s first steps on the moon. Lynnette loved the superb clever illustrations and says there’s so much information that it is nearly non-fiction.
  • Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers. A lyrical picture book about a little girl who sails her raft ‘across a sea of words’ to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure where they can journey through ‘forests of fairy tales’, ‘across mountains of make-believe’ and ‘sleep in clouds of song.’
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A selection of some of the best picture books this year as selected by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach at Christchurch City Libraries, at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening.

Other picture book titles showcased by Lynette

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  • A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy. A young wolf must fulfill his prey’s last wishes before he devours them.
  • They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. In simple, rhythmic prose and stylized pictures, a cat walks through the world, and all the other creatures see and acknowledge the cat.
  • Little Red by Bethan Woolvin. A twist on the classic fairy tale.
  • Colin & Lee, Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood. Lee is a pea. All of his friends are peas; except Colin. And so begins the deliciously funny story of two very different friends.  
  • Shhh! This Book is Sleeping (board book) by Cédric Ramadier.  A mouse puts a book to sleep by covering it with a blanket, reading it a story, and giving it a big hug.

Lynette concluded by singing to the picture book version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and it was heartwarming to have the audience join in in song.

See Lynette’s list of recommended Best Picture Books for 2016.

Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads of 2016 as selected by Jane Boniface, Heaton Normal Intermediate School

Jane has a wealth of knowledge of intermediate age and young adult great reads for tweens and teens. Jane is well-recognised by the National Library and School Library Association (SLANZA) in her position as the Learning Resource Centre Manager at Heaton Normal Intermediate School. She is a leading light at the school in promoting the culture of reading and provides a variety of seminars for classes in the skills required in today’s use of libraries and accessing information.

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Jane Boniface, Learning Resource Centre Manager at Heaton Normal Intermediate School, shares a great read.

Jane’s 4 ‘Best Books’, in her own amusing made-up categories, were:

  1. Best laugh-out-loud read-aloud with short chapters:
    Charlie & the War Against the Grannies by Alan Brough. Charlie just wants a paper round but he has to battle for it against the local hostile grannies already doing it. Fans of David Walliams would enjoy this funny story set downunder. Bite-sized chapters make for an easy read. “This book is not for the erudite or sophisticated reader” says Jane, “it includes how to say ‘fart’ in 10 different languages.”
  2. Most poignant tear-jerker where one character must be a dog:
    When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin. Like a The Fault in Our Stars for 12-year-olds. Ben, always an outsider, is led into a deep friendship with Halley, who is being treated for cancer, by the special dog he and his adoptive mother take in. “It is well-written, about humanity and themes of friendship and love. It is beautiful versus morose,” says Mary. “If you liked Wonder you’ll like this.”
  3. Book with the most potential to spark the most meaningful enquiry questions:
    Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis. Deep in the heart of the African jungle, a baby gorilla is captured by a group of rebel soldiers. Two children also imprisoned in the rebels’ camp. When they learn that the gorilla is destined to be sold into captivity, they swear to return it to the wild before it’s too late. But the consequences of getting caught are too terrible to think about. Will the bond between the gorilla and the children give them the courage they need to escape? Jane says: “Thought-provoking and disturbing,” It covers the not much heard about mining of coltan, used for mobile phones, and incorporates child slavery and child soldiers, climate change and gorilla habitats being destroyed. Uniquely told from different points-of-view: of both the children and the baby gorilla.
  4. Best/Worst book:
    The aforementioned Remade by Alex Scarrow. Leon and his sister have moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa fills the news. They witness people turning to liquid before their eyes and run for their lives. Great for reluctant intermediate readers.

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See the list of highlighted older fiction and young adults reads discussed by Mary Sangster and Jane Boniface

Youth voice: Christchurch students pick their favourites for 2016

Viewpoints from young Christchurch readers were represented by 4 students Years 3 -6 from Heathcote Valley School, Waitakiri School and Halswell Primary School.

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This Best/Worst evening was a opportunity for these students to hone their book reviewing and book-talking skills in a nurturing environment.

Teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers, writers and illustrators cater for a wide variety of children’s tastes, interests and needs and for all types of readers (from the enthusiastic to the reluctant). The audience will have taken away a lot of new and varied book suggestions, not to mention some great book prizes in the book raffle draw. And if you want to hear about the couple of ‘worst’ books chosen, you’ll have to come next time. Chatham House Rules and all that.

Speaking of reading…

Holiday Reading List 2016 Launch
The evening also saw the launch of Christchurch City Libraries 2016 Holiday Reading List for kids. Categories include picture books, younger & older fiction, young adult and non-fiction.

Summertime Reading Club 2016 / 2017 Announced
At this event, Christchurch City Libraries also announced their annual Summertime Reading Club competition for 2016 / 2017 – this summer it will be a passport of reading activities to complete to be in to win some fabulous prizes.

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Thanks to the Canterbury Literacy Association for their organising of this annual event. The purpose of the New Zealand Literacy Association is to encourage literacy learning.

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