Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This was the middle grade book that had the greatest impact on me this year. It's told from multiple viewpoints, but the heart of the story is August (Auggie) Pullman, a ten-year-old kid who was born with a craniofacial deformity. This book absolutely avoids being patronizing or manipulative; it's so heartfelt, humorous, and genuine that I fell totally in love. And the precept that surfaces throughout, "Choose Kind," is perhaps the most important lesson of all, both for kids and grownups. I can't say enough great things about this book. (Watch the trailer here.)
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
In all honesty, foster care isn't something I've spent a great deal of time thinking about, and I can't recall having read a book about it. But I am so, so glad I read this one. It tells the story of twelve-year-old Carley Connors and the time she spends in foster care. I shed more tears over this book than anything else I read this year--children's or adult. One of the things I love about middle grade fiction is the sense of hope and possibility that are so raw and real through a kid's eyes. Hunt managed to do this so beautifully and to make this reader care so deeply for Carley. Beautifully written. (Watch the trailer here.)
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
So far, I've featured a book about a boy and a book about a girl. This is absolutely a book about a gorilla. (Okay, a boy gorilla...) Based on the true story of a gorilla who was kept in a shopping mall for 27 years, this is a lovely story of friendship and compassion that will make kids really consider the animals around them--especially those in captivity. The voice is truly unique here since the story is told from the point of view of Ivan the gorilla. Kids will read this very quickly, but I have a feeling it will stay with them for a long time. I know it did with me. (Watch the trailer here.)
Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
On the surface, this is lighter fare than my previous picks. There's an element of tongue-in-cheek fun in this story of a remarkable town with a mysterious sea creature, a pirate captain, mischieveous twins, and the worlds greatest jelly factory. It's well crafted and fun and full of adventure. But I think it really resonated with me, and will resonate with younger readers, because it's main character, Jane, feels so unremarkable and ordinary. And she saves the day by being precisely that--ordinary--and not by finding some hidden superpower. She saves the day because she is thoughtful and careful and kind and persistent outside of any spotlight. And that is a remarkable thing indeed.
One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin
There is a lot to love in this book--elements of mystery, humor, growth, and adventure, all within the scope of a single day and the following morning, all within the setting of a few homes and a very special vacant lot with a single orange tree. There are several main characters here and it's fascinating to watch how well Rocklin tells each of their stories, and to watch the ways those stories conflict and overlap and ultimately connect. I loved it.
There they are! Feel free to debate in the comments below. What books did I miss in 2012 that I need to catch in 2013? (There were a lot of them!) What were your favorites? And (eek!) what do you think of my picks?