The Children’s Book Review | November 20, 2013
The best kids books of 2013 for kids ages 7 through 14, as picked by the editors and contributors of The Children’s Book Review.
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Ages 10 and up | Publisher: Dial | August 29, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-0803738553
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.
In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall’s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?
Readers who enjoyed the action, suspense, and humor in Jonathan Stroud’s internationally best-selling Bartimaeus books will be delighted to find the same ingredients, combined with deliciously creepy scares, in his thrilling and chilling Lockwood & Co. series.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | September 17, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1423164913
By James L. Swanson
A breathtaking and dramatic account of the JFK assassination by the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER!
In his new young-adult book on the Kennedy assassination, James Swanson will transport readers back to one of the most shocking, sad, and terrifying events in American history. As he did in his bestselling Scholastic YA book, CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER, Swanson will deploy his signature “you are there” style — a riveting, ticking-clock pace, with an unprecedented eye for dramatic details and impeccable historical accuracy — to tell the story of the JFK assassination as it has never been told before.
The book will be illustrated with archival photos, and will have diagrams, source notes, bibliography, places to visit, and index.
Ages 12 and up | Publisher: Scholastic Press | September 24, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-0545490078
By Kathi Appelt
Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this National Book Award finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.
Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.
And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.
The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…
Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt’s story of care and conservation has received five starred reviews, was selected as a National Book Award finalist, and is funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers | July 23, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1442421059
Dark times have fallen on McQuarrie Middle School. Dwight’s back—and not a moment too soon, as the gang faces the FunTime Menace: a new educational program designed to raise students’ standardized test scores. Instead, it’s driving everyone crazy with its obnoxious videos of Professor FunTime and his insidious singing calculator! When Principal Rabbski cancels the students’ field trip—along with art, music, and LEGO classes—to make time for FunTime, the students turn to Origami Yoda for help. But some crises are too big for Origami Yoda to handle alone: Form a Rebel Alliance the students must. United, can they defeat the FunTime Menace and cope with a surprise attack from Jabba the Puppett?
With this latest episode in the explosively popular Origami Yoda series, Tom Angleberger proves once again that he “has his finger puppet squarely on the erratic pulse of middle-school life” (Washington Post).
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams | August 6, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1419708589
Girls who are fans of Judy Moody, Matilda and Clementine will love spunky Alice-Miranda!
Alice-Miranda is thrilled to be back at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, where the girls are rehearsing a play with the neighboring boys’ school. But it’s not all glamour and stage lights: there are rumors of a witch in the woods, and Alice-Miranda’s friends, Jacinta and Millie, are clashing with Sloan Sykes, a rude new student whose pushy mother comes up with a get-rich scheme that could have disastrous results. When Alice-Miranda learns of the plot, she tries to set things right–and on the night of the big performance, no less!
Ages 7-10 | Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers | May 14, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-0385743334
In this haunting, lyrical novel told from three perspectives, Sarel has just witnessed the death of her parents. But she is not completely alone on the drought-ridden land. Nandi is the leader of a pack of dogs who looks out for her pups and for skinny Sarel-girl. Nandi knows they are all in trouble, and she knows, too, that a boy is coming—an escaped prisoner with the water song inside him. A hard-hitting but ultimately hopeful survival story.
Ages 10 & up | Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | June 4, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-0547976518
By Tony Cliff
Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk is an Indiana Jones for the 19th century. She has traveled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.
A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.
A Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2013
Ages 12 and up | Publisher: First Second | August 27, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1596438132
There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.
Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.
The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.
Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luckmust be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.
Cynthia Kadohata’s ode to the breadbasket of America has received six starred reviews and was selected as a National Book Award Finalist.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers | June 4, 2013 | ISBN-13: 978-1416918820
See our full list of the best kids books of 2013!