For children: Best books of the year

daniel haskett for the boston globe

This year’s writing for young people is especially notable for its sweeping variety. Some years it’s all about young-adult novels; other years are for the very young. But 2011 brought something for every age and interest. From lyrical or antic picture books, to ingeniously illustrated picture-novels, to biographies of figures as different as Jane Goodall and Jim Henson, there has been a lovely eclecticism. No young reader needs to leave this year empty-handed.

“Little Owl’s Night’’ by Divya Srinivasan (Viking, ages 3-7)

This is the most visually and verbally gorgeous picture book of the year. Owl loves the beautiful night and hearing about mysterious daybreak when “[d]ewdrops sparkle on leaves and grass like tiny stars come down . . . the sky brightens from black to blue, blue to red, red to gold.’’ Simple, dazzling - and simply dazzling.


“E-mergency!’’ by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer (Chronicle, ages 5 and up)

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What happens when the letter “E’’ has an accident and slides out of the language? Sheer madness, enhanced by Lichtenheld and Fields-Meyers’s unceasingly witty, manic visual, and verbal jokes. “O’’ does most of the hard work; the reading is easy for children and their adults.

“Wonderstruck’’ by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, ages 9 and up)

A worthy follow-up to his Caldecott Medal-winning “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,’’ here Selznick creates a fast-paced illustrated novel full of mystery, pathos, beauty, and, yes, wonder. Whatever book you miss this year, do not miss this one. The twists and turns of plot are breathtaking, Selznick’s use of graphics nothing less than stunning.

“Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played With Puppets’’ by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Random House, ages 4-10)


This tribute to the creator of the now iconic Muppets is among the year’s best children’s picture book biographies, alongside my next pick.

“The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps’’ by Jeanette Winter (Schwartz and Wade, ages 4 and up)

Both the Henson book and this one about anthropologist Jane Goodall celebrate the eccentricity and passion that drove these two very different characters to become pioneers in their fields.

“The Flint Heart’’ by Kathleen and John Patterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, ages 7 and up)

Almost nothing is tougher to do well than a classic middle-grade fantasy novel. The Pattersons have created an inventive confection full of literary allusions, eccentric heroes and heroines, wild adventures, and oddities worthy of a new Alice. Not for the timid, but for adventure lovers with a sense of humor. Great read-aloud.


“The Romeo and Juliet Code’’ by Phoebe Stone (Arthur A. Levine, ages 9 and up)

Phoebe Stone introduced us all to the most irresistible 11-year-old British children’s hero since the inimitable Harry Potter. Felicity “Fliss’’ Bathburn Budwig is no wizard, but an ordinary, touching, witty girl who ferrets out the secrets of her family’s past and present. The prose simply sings.

“Okay for Now’’ by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, ages 10 and up.)

“Okay for Now’’ manages to juggle themes of family, bullying, abandonment, greed, art, friendship, and - believe it or not - John James Audubon, all in one remarkable novel. Gripping, hilarious, realistic, the perfect book both for avid and reluctant readers, “Okay for Now’’ should win some major prizes.

“The Barefoot Books World Atlas’’ by Nick Crane, illustrated by David Dean (Barefoot, ages 8 and up)

This atlas does more than simply provide a vivid and up-to-date view of the world -though it does that, too. It shows cultures and connections between countries, bringing a truly global perspective to children in eye-popping color. An altogether invaluable resource.

“What We Keep is not Always What Will Stay’’ by Amanda Cockrell (Flux, ages 12 and up)

When the stone statue of St. Felix comes to life, 15-year-old Angie wonders about more than miracles. Add Jesse to the mix, a troubled Afghanistan veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Cockrell balances on the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy. The depth and darkness of her themes makes an absorbing read for older young adults.

Liz Rosenberg, the author of, most recently, “Tyrannosaurus Dad,’’ teaches at Binghamton University. She can be reached at