Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants Among Blue Ribbons Books of the Decade

January 6th, 2011

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

2010 Blue Ribbons

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It’s a year of surprises, at least for us. We’re surprised and wistful that fewer stellar picture books meant less difficulty than usual in winnowing down the list, and we’re surprised and delighted by the unusually strong showing of the younger-than-YA titles in the fiction section. It was a good year for history, poetry, and well-turned whimsy, and a fairly even-handed year on the gender front.

It was also a year that saw us again facing the challenge of the multivolume series, those sequential volumes that work together to create a literary achievement beyond that of each individual book. We’ve decided to try something new: since it’s the end of the decade, we’re using the past ten years as the focal period and honoring, in a list we’re calling True Blue Series, what we consider to be the top-flight series that completed their cycle between 2001-2010.

FICTION

* Couloumbis, Audrey. Jake. Random House. Gr. 3-5 (December)
This tender yet unsentimental story follows ten-year-old Jake as he discovers the strength of his extended and somewhat makeshift family after his mother breaks her leg prior to Christmas.

* Donnelly, Jennifer. Revolution. Delacorte. Gr. 7-10 (November)
When Andi, staying with her father in Paris after her brother’s death, finds the diary of one of the French Revolution’s victims, she becomes obsessed with the two-hundred-year-old tragedy and its resonance with her own grieving in this rich, original, and compelling story.

* Gaiman, Neil. Odd and the Frost Giants; illus. by Brett Helquist. Harper/HarperCollins. Gr. 4-6 (February)
Topping out at just over one hundred pages, this slim novel packs plenty of heroism and Norse mythology when a boy assists Loki, Odin, and Thor in reclaiming their kingdom from an endless winter.

* Klise, Kate. Grounded. Feiwel. Gr. 4-6 (January 2011)
The lively picture of an eccentric small Missouri town remains rich, funny, and touching without becoming campy in this story of sixth-grader Daralynn, who ends up knee-deep in the competition between two family-connected funeral businesses after the death of her father and siblings.

* Lynch, Chris. Hothouse. HarperTeen. Gr. 8-12 (October)
Russell, whose firefighter father has just died in a conflagration along with his best buddy, finds that the firefighter culture he’s grown up in hides some secrets in this moving story of heroism, community opinion, the evanescence of reputation, and father-son love.

* Nelson, Jandy. The Sky Is Everywhere. Dial. Gr. 8-12 (April)
In this touching, authentic tale of grief, family, and romance, eleventh-grader Lennie struggles to redefine her identity after the death of her vivacious older sister, even as she finds the possibility of love with a talented fellow musician.

* Nelson, Marilyn. Snook Alone; illus. by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick. Gr. 3-6 (October)
A bouncy, rat-chasing terrier finds himself eking out a living on an unpopulated island when bad weather separates him from his master; Nelson’s flowing, humor-touched text and Ering’s springy, sweeping art make this picture-book-styled survival story a winner.

* Peet, Mal. Exposure. Candlewick, 2009. Gr. 10-12 (February)
This dramatic novel uses Othello as a template but brings it to contemporary South America, where soccer star Otello falls for pop singer Desmerelda, unaware that he’s being manipulated into disaster by his Machiavellian agent.

* Pratchett, Terry. I Shall Wear Midnight. Harper/HarperCollins. Gr. 8-10 (November)
Good witch Tiffany Aching has saved the world more than a few times, but in this touching (but, as always, wildly funny) sendoff for Pratchett’s Discworld heroine, she must guard herself against an evil spirit intent on her destruction.

* Reeve, Philip. Fever Crumb. Scholastic. Gr. 5-7 (June)
This prequel to the fabulous Hungry Cities quartet (set in a steampunky neo-Victorian England with religious worship for technology) focuses on young apprentice Fever Crumb, who is delightful in her own right as she learns the truth about her strange world.

* Stroud, Jonathan. The Ring of Solomon. Hyperion. Gr. 6-9 (December)
The titular djinni from Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy and his snarky wisdom feature front and center in this splendid series prequel that recounts the spirit’s travails in ancient Jerusalem.

NONFICTION

* Atkins, Jeannine. Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. Holt. Gr. 7 up (June)
Free-verse poems follow the complicated relationship of three famous mothers, all born in the same year, and their daughters; the lyrical yet accessible verse offers both biographical insight and an emotional treatment of that fundamental connection.

Bishop, Nic. Nic Bishop Lizards; written and illus. with photographs by Nic Bishop. Scholastic. Gr. 3-6 (November)
In the hands of master nature documentarian Bishop, lizards are both gorgeous and fascinating.

Bristow, David L. Sky Sailors: True Stories of the Balloon Era. Farrar. Gr. 4-8 (November)
This enticing blend of history, engineering, physics, and just plain thrilling tales of derring-do will enthrall even the most earthbound reader.

Freedman, Russell. The War to End All Wars: World War I. Clarion. Gr. 7-10 (June)
With taut storytelling and clear, thorough explanation, veteran historian Freedman narrates the story of the wasteful atrocity that ushered in modern warfare.

Montgomery, Sy. Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot; illus. with photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton. Gr. 5-9 (June)
An awkward yet strangely beautiful flightless green bird found only one one small island off New Zealand is the subject of a dedicated preservation effort—and this arresting and informative photoessay.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. Time You Let Me In. Greenwillow. Gr. 7 up (May)
Over a hundred poems by gifted young poets treat family, the craft of writing, and other subjects in moving, memorable verse suitable for reading aloud or alone, in quick browses or in one absorbing read.

O’Connor, George, ad. Zeus: King of the Gods; ad. and illus. by George O’Connor. Porter/First Second/Roaring Brook. Gr. 6-12 (March)
A classic creation myth gets the superhero treatment in this stunning graphic novel that retells Zeus’ overthrow of Kronos with appropriate majesty and just a dash of humor.

Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom. Viking, 2009. Gr. 6-10 (January)
The turmoil of the 1960s civil rights struggle is brilliantly captured in this moving photoessay that focuses primarily on the role that young people played within the movement.

Sidman, Joyce. Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night; illus. by Rick Allen. Houghton. Gr. 4-7 (September)
Sidman produces another stellar volume of nature poetry, here following the activities of nocturnally active organisms from raccoons to snails to mushrooms; crisp, intricate linocut prints trace the journey from dusk to dawn and entice readers to hunt for featured creatures in their backgrounds.

PICTURE BOOKS

* Clark, Emma Chichester, ad. Goldilocks and the Three Bears; ad. and illus. by Emma Chichester Clark. Candlewick. 2-5 yrs (February)
British illustrator Clark breathes new life into the classic tale in her delicious, spirited, yet respectful adaptation.

* Cooper, Elisha. Farm; written and illus. by Elisha Cooper. Orchard/Scholastic. 5-9 yrs (June)
Cooper’s fluid watercolors capture the wide-open spaces, animal doings, and hard labor on a Midwestern farm.

* Fleming, Denise. Sleepy, Oh So Sleepy; written and illus. by Denise Fleming. Holt. 1-3 yrs (September)
A tour of adorable baby animals at the edge of sleep will encourage even the most fractious toddler to join them for a little shut-eye.

* Graham, Bob. April and Esme, Tooth Fairies; written and illus. by Bob Graham. Candlewick. 5-8 yrs (November)
Graham’s carelessly cozy, unfussily domestic art brings Borrowers-esque charm to this tale of a young girl and her sister who follow in the tooth fairy tradition of their parents by going on their very first commission.

* Newman, Jeff. The Boys; written and illus. by Jeff Newman. Simon. 6-9 yrs (April)
This nearly wordless picture book follows a little blond tyke as a richly characterized quartet of old guys take him under their wing in the park, build up his social and ball-playing confidence, and become his cheering section as he finally joins his age-mates on the field.

* Nyeu, Tao. Bunny Days; written and illus. by Tao Nyeu. Dial. 3-6 yrs (February)
Controlled old-fashioned art recalls Crockett Johnson while poker-faced humor provides gentle silliness in this picture book following the misadventures of a flock of toylike bunnies and the tender assistance of their friend Bear.

* Pien, Lark. Mr. Elephanter; written and illus. by Lark Pien. Candlewick. 4-7 yrs (October)
It’s hard to imagine a more endearing literary outing than this picture book, wherein poker-faced text and softly detailed illustrations create a fantastical yet matter-of-fact bijou world wherein kind Mr. Elephanter spends his days caring for and entertaining the tiny anthropomophized “elephanties” in the Elephantery.

* Solheim, James. Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist; illus. by Simon James. Philomel. 6-9 yrs (May)
In this hilarious picture book, our infant narrator carefully documents the novelty and indignities of being a brand new human.

* Wilson, Karma. The Cow Loves Cookies; illus. by Marcellus Hall. McElderry. 3-7 yrs (July/August)
In this cumulative and rollicking rhyming story, most of the farmer’s livestock has traditional tastes, but, for reasons that a surprise ending reveals, “the cow loves cookies.”

* Winter, Jonah. Here Comes the Garbage Barge; illus. by Red Nose Studio. Schwartz & Wade. 5-9 yrs (April)
Uniquely illustrated with photos of clay models and found objects, this fictionalized account of a New York barge charged with the task of hauling one town’s massive garbage heap cleverly blends humor and environmentalism.

TRUE BLUE SERIES

* Jinks, Catherine. Pagan’s Crusade; Pagan’s Vows; Pagan in Exile; Pagan’s Scribe. Candlewick, 2003-2005. Gr. 7-10
The brutality of medieval life is tempered with adolescent brashness as the streetwise Pagan narrates his adventures as a squire to Lord Roland in this historical fiction series that matches its vivid setting details with plenty of wisecracking.

* McKay, Hilary. Saffy’s Angel; Indigo’s Star; Permanent Rose; Caddy Ever After; Forever Rose. McElderry, 2002-2008. Gr. 5-9
With astuteness and warmth, McKay offers up a portrait of the Cassons and their four children as they navigate the familiar landscapes of domestic drama.

* Pratchett, Terry. The Wee Free Men; A Hat Full of Sky; Wintersmith; I Shall Wear Midnight. HarperCollins, 2003-2010. Gr. 6-10
A young witch-to-be battles a host of magical faeries, malignant spirits, and one rather amorous elemental force in this rollicking series set in Pratchett’s brilliantly conceived Discworld.

* Reeve, Philip. Mortal Engines; Predator’s Gold; Infernal Devices; A Darkling Plain. (The Hungry City Chronicles) Eos/HarperCollins, 2004-2007. Gr. 7-12
Steampunk is at its best here as Reeve portrays a world ruled by Municipal Darwinism, in which mobile cities wreak havoc across the earth as they search for weaker cities to devour.

* Stroud, Jonathan. The Amulet of Samarkand; The Golem’s Eye; Ptolemy’s Gate. (The Bartimaeus Trilogy) Miramax/Hyperion, 2004-2006. Gr. 7-10
A power-hungry magician, a rebellious young girl, and a djinni with a penchant for the acerbic aside are drawn together in a web of political scheming and demonic machinations in this dynamic series marked by thrilling adventure and irreverent humor.