School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2010



While some of the novels here include some historical settings and contemporary concerns, it is fantasy that continues to reign supreme. More original than ever, these selections are frightening, edgy, wildly funny, electrifying, and magical, with protagonists fighting evil in brilliantly created new landscapes, realms, and kingdoms, as well as in our world. This year’s humor is found mainly in the fantasy; most of the realistic books revolve around more serious events—children surviving Hurricane Katrina, a teen trying to understand what his ex-marine brother is going through, three boys who survive by sifting through trash mounds.

Keeper small(Original Import)

APPELT, Kathi. Keeper. illus. by August Hall. S & S/Atheneum. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5060-8.
Gr 4-7-Ten-year-old Keeper and her guardian live happily with BD (Best Dog) in a tiny Texas coastal community until the day things go terribly wrong. The impressionable youngster decides to take advantage of the blue moon’s magic to meet up with her mermaid mother to make things right and puts her life at risk in the process. A lovely, lyrical book about loss and redemption. (July)

BARRETT, Tracy. King of Ithaka. Holt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8969-1.
Gr 8 Up-When soft and spoiled Telemachos sets out to find Odysseus, the father he barely knows, he encounters danger, betrayal, treachery, and terrifying creatures as he searches land and sea, accompanied by a brazen but loyal centaur and a runaway weaver. In the end, his quest has become one of self-discovery and maturation. With vivid characters and nonstop action, this is a perfect introduction to the classic tale. (Nov.)

zombie.1(Original Import)

BLACK, Holly & Justine Larbalestier, eds. Zombies vs. Unicorns. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-8953-0.
Gr 9 Up-Two authors, each unabashedly zealous about her cause, assemble 12 creature-centric stories intended to settle that age-old debate: Which are better, zombies or unicorns? Penned by YA’s elite, these edgy, finely crafted tales reach far beyond the expected shambling corpses and shimmering steeds to ponder themes of love and loss, moral dilemmas, and the state of modern society. (Oct.)

BOYCE, Frank Cottrell. Cosmic. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-183683-1; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-183686-2.
Gr 5-8-Twelve-year-old Liam Digby looks so much like a full-grown adult that he’s accepted as an in-flight chaperone for a thrill ride that sends a group of kids into simulated space. When the experiment turns into the real thing, he faces the challenge of his life. This wild adventure is as funny as it is serious, and Liam’s problem-solving skills, based on his success with role-playing computer games, serve him well. (Feb.)

CUSHMAN, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Clarion. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-547-23184-6.
Gr 5-8-Born with a deformed leg and believed to be cursed, Meggy Swann makes her way to London to apprentice for her estranged father and help with his obsession with gold. This gripping tale stars a feisty and resourceful heroine who makes true friends amid the squalor of the 16th-century city. (Apr.)

annexed.3(Original Import)

DOGAR, Sharon. Annexed. Houghton Harcourt. Tr $17. ISBN 978-0-547-50195-6.
Gr 9 Up-Dogar relates the well-documented events in the secret annex of Anne Frank’s diary from the point of view of Peter van Pels. The fictionalized 15-year-old is frustrated and angry to be in hiding and frequently butts heads with Anne before coming to see her with new eyes. This is a poignant look at a young man grappling with existential questions and trying to survive during this horrific time. (Sept.)

Read an interview with Sharon Dogar.

DONNELLY, Jennifer. Revolution. Delacorte. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73763-0; PLB $21.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90678-4.
Gr 9 Up-In this dual narrative, a modern American teen bereft by grief reluctantly joins her estranged father in Paris. While researching a musician for her senior thesis, she finds the diary of an 18th-century counterpart dealing with the terrors of the French Revolution. Donnelly offers readers an intriguing look at classical and contemporary music, a historical mystery, and a romance for the ages. (Sept.)

Read an interview with Jennifer Donnelly.

EPSTEIN, Adam Jay & Andrew Jacobson. The Familiars. illus. by Bobby Chiu. HarperCollins. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-196108-3.
Gr 4-7-Mistaken for a magical animal and chosen as a companion by a young apprentice wizard, a streetwise alley cat and his fellow familiars—a bombastic blue jay and a soothsaying frog—must take action when their humans are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. An enchanting fantasy with captivating characters, sprightly humor, and spellbinding adventure. (Aug.)

incarceron(Original Import)

FISHER, Catherine. Incarceron. Dial. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3396-1.
Gr 7 Up-Finn, 17, is inside a living prison but has vague memories of a different life. Claudia is the daughter of the warden and leads an almost feudal existence in a society that has turned its back on technology. When the two young people acquire crystal keys that allow them to communicate, they work together to save her from an arranged marriage and to help him escape. A vividly imagined fantasy. (Feb.)

GIDWITZ, Adam. A Tale Dark & Grimm. Dutton. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42334-8.
Gr 4-8-A tantalizing narrator warns children of the dangers of reading this book-“it’s not for the faint of heart”—and then encourages and halts them along the way. Hansel and Gretel escape their parents and enter eight other tales where they encounter adults who are cruel, thoughtless, or just plain snarky. A unique story of greed, jealousy, and forgiveness that’s grim and wickedly funny, yet wise and thoughtful. (Nov.)

GILL, David Macinnis. Black Hole Sun. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-167304-7.
Gr 9 Up-A high-stakes sci-fi adventure. When a village of unlucky miners hires a disgraced teenage lawman and his gorgeous sidekick to save them from a band of cannibalistic marauders, all hell breaks loose in the year’s funniest dystopian thriller. Think Seven Samurai on Mars with wisecracking dialogue worthy of a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” flick. (Nov.)

Read an interview with David Macinnis Gill.

Ostrich Boys(Original Import)

GRAY, Keith. Ostrich Boys. Random. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85843-7; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95843-4.
Gr 8 Up-Three English teens steal their friend Ross’s ashes and embark on a trip to Ross, Scotland, to give him the send-off they feel he deserves. Their blunder-filled journey is marked by a lost train ticket; bungee-jumping; girls; and, ultimately, powerful considerations of how much we are willing to know about ourselves and one another. (Feb.)

HARRISON, Michelle. 13 Treasures. Little, Brown. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04148-5.
Gr 5-8-In this frightening fantasy/ghost story/murder mystery, Tanya is tormented and bullied by fairies that no one else can see. When children start disappearing, she is compelled to enter the fairies’ realm even though she may be trapped there forever. Great characters, a fascinating plot twist, and a death-defying ending. (Apr.)

Wicked Girls.1(Original Import)

HEMPHILL, Stephanie. Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-185328-9; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-185329-6.
Gr 9 Up-This novel in verse gives voice to the “afflicted” girls of Salem, whose accusations led to the hangings of 19 residents in 1692. Mercy Lewis, 17, and Ann Putnam, Jr., 12, vie for control of the group of girls who quickly get caught up in their celebrity and become emboldened to brand townspeople as witches or wizards. Historical drama with multiple contemporary hooks. (Aug.)

MARCHETTA, Melina. Finnikin of the Rock. Candlewick. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4361-4.
Gr 8 Up-A vanquished and cursed kingdom, a dream walker, and the son of the King’s Guard, who may or may not have been chosen to lead his people home, are at the heart of this engrossing and heady fantasy. A rock-solid sense of place and marvelously delineated characters distinguish this tale about living in exile and the need to belong. (Mar.)

MULLIGAN, Andy. Trash. Random/David Fickling Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75214-5; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-385-75215-2.
Gr 6-9-Three boys who survive by digging through mounds of garbage looking for things to sell find a bag that the police want at any cost and become embroiled in a mystery so dangerous that they are forced to flee their homeland. Through alternating narratives, the story of political corruption and murder emerges. A brutal but ultimately hopeful novel that will open readers’ eyes and touch their hearts. (Oct.)

Emily's Fortune(Original Import)

NAYLOR, Phyllis Reynolds. Emily’s Fortune. illus. by Ross Collins. Delacorte. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73616-9; PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90589-3.
Gr 3-6
-Recently orphaned, a timid eight-year-old girl journeys west via stagecoach to live with her kindly aunt, but it will take all of her gumption-and the help of fearless fellow orphan Jackson-to face down a passel of predicaments and an inheritance-snatching evil uncle. A breathless adventure told with mustache-twisting melodrama, tongue-tingling language, and cliff-hangers galore. (June)

O’CONNOR, Barbara. The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-374-36850-0.
Gr 4-7-In small-town Georgia, Owen Jester works hard to catch a bullfrog and then struggles with his conscience over his now-listless pet. Meanwhile, he and his pals are determined to secretly move a small submersible that fell off a freight train to the pond and get it started. They reluctantly include know-it-all Violet, who has the best ideas to complete the project. A high-spirited tale filled with youthful excitement and emotions. (Oct.)

O’CONNOR, George. Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess. illus. by author. Roaring Brook/First Second/A Neal Porter Bk. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-649-7; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-432-5.
Gr 5-9-This gorgeous graphic novel presents five thrilling tales about the headstrong goddess, beginning with her dramatic emergence from Zeus’s skull, “fully clothed, fully armored, already a young woman.” Unfolding with cinematic scope, O’Connor’s edge-of-your-seat retellings and kinetic artwork strike a compelling balance of intimate emotion and epic action. (May)

fever(Original Import)

REEVE, Philip. Fever Crumb. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-20719-5.
Gr 5-8-
This prequel takes place several generations before the earlier titles in the “Hungry City Chronicles.” An orphan girl raised in the cloistered existence of the Order of Engineers, Fever is forced to rethink everything, including who she really is, once she is sent out to help on an archaeological dig in a wild futuristic London and finds herself being hunted as a suspected mutant. Clever, slightly creepy, and compulsively readable. (Apr.)

REINHARDT, Dana. The Things a Brother Knows. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84455-3; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94455-0.
Gr 8 Up-On a very different kind of road trip, 17-year-old Levi follows his ex-Marine brother as he walks from Boston to Washington, DC, completing a circuitous itinerary that only Boaz knows. Radically changed by his wartime experiences, he tries to regain his humanity any way he can as Levi attempts to reacquaint himself with the sibling he thought he knew. Tender, timely, and true to life. (Dec.)

Ninth Ward(Original Import)

RHODES, Jewell Parker. Ninth Ward. Little, Brown. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04307-6.
Gr 5-8-Mama Ya-Ya has cared for Lanesha since she was an infant, but as Hurricane Katrina makes its inevitable way toward New Orleans, it’s Lanesha who must prepare for the storm when the elderly woman takes to bed. An atmospheric story about a magical place, a catastrophic event, and the support family and community can proffer. (Aug.)

Read an interview with Jewell Parker Rhodes.

RICHARDS, Jame. Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood. Knopf/Borzoi. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85885-7; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95885-4.
Gr 8 Up-The romance between a determined young woman from a wealthy family and the son of a coal miner is at the heart of this lyrical, free-verse novel that speaks to social-class boundaries and mores amid impending disaster. Tight plotting and a relentless sense of foreboding swiftly reach a crescendo in the wake of the 1889 Western Pennsylvania flood. (Apr.)

RIORDAN, Rick. The Red Pyramid. Hyperion/Disney. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-1338-6.
Gr 4-9-Bickering siblings Carter and Sadie are swept away from their Egyptologist father, kidnapped, and thrown into high gear as they try to outsmart evil gods in order to save humanity from total destruction. This foray into Egyptian mythology is as frenetic as it is funny. (June)

Read an interview with Rick Riordan.

SHULMAN, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Putnam. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25096-5.
Gr 6-9-Elizabeth loves her after-school job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, especially the Grimm Collection, with its seven-league boots, a mermaid’s comb, and a know-it-all mirror. When items begin to disappear, she and her fellow pages set out to catch the thief and find themselves among the accused. This contemporary tale has a sweet romance and more than a touch of magic. (June)

sullivan.1(Original Import)

STANDIFORD, Natalie. Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters. Scholastic. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-10710-5.
Gr 9 Up-The Sullivans are about to be left penniless unless one of the children can appease their wealthy grandmother, who has taken offense at someone’s poor judgment. Each teen comes clean in a confessional letter to Almighty, exposing something she did and its disastrous ramifications. Heartwarming and funny, with distinct characters and a surprising ending. (Sept.)

STROUD, Jonathan. The Ring of Solomon: A Bartimaeus Novel. Hyperion/Disney. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-2372-9.
Gr 6 Up-The loquacious and crafty djinni becomes the servant of the Queen of Sheba’s chief guard and inadvertently becomes involved in saving the queen’s country from powerful King Solomon. A spellbinding fantasy that incorporates struggle for freedom, the quest for power, and some riotous moments. (Dec.)

TOMLINSON, Heather. Toads and Diamonds. Holt. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8968-4.
Gr 7 Up-This richly reimagined Perrault tale is set in precolonial India where stepsisters Diribani and Tana encounter the goddess Naghali-ji; one ends up spewing gems and flowers each time she speaks and the other produces toads and snakes with each utterance. Which is blessed and which is cursed becomes a central question in this satisfying story of familial solidarity and sisterly love. (July)

TURNER, Megan Whalen. A Conspiracy of Kings. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-187093-4; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-187094-1.
Gr 7 Up-Despite being heir to his uncle’s throne, Sophos has no interest in affairs of state-that is until he is captured by the king’s enemies and sold into slavery. The harrowing experience helps him to mature and, once he escapes, he is ready to lead the kingdom of Sounis. No one does royals and political intrigue quite like Turner. (Apr.)

WARD, Rachel. Numbers. Scholastic/Chicken House. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1.
Gr 9 Up-
Jem, 15, sees a number whenever she looks an individual in the eye, which turns out to be the date that person will die. Because of this, the tough-talking but tenderhearted teen keeps to herself until a gawky but persistent boy befriends her, and the two get caught up in a terrifying adventure. A haunting premise and compelling characters make this a taut page-turner. (Jan.)

One crazy summer.2(Original Import)

WILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. One Crazy Summer.HarperCollins/Amistad. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-076088-5; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-076089-2.
Gr 4-7-It’s 1968, and change is in the air across the country and in the lives of three sisters sent to spend a month in Oakland, CA, with the aloof, poet mother they do not know. While the Black Panthers look after the girls during daytime programs, at home it’s a different story. Readers will fall in love with these self-possessed siblings, even if their mother does not, and carry their resilient voices with them well beyond the pages of the story. (Mar.)

Read an interview with Rita Williams-Garcia.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jacob Black
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 17:49:09

    Thanks – helped me out with some research for a school paper.


  2. Book Mama
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:05:07

    My pleasure, Jacob.


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