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Arts & Culture

San Diego Librarian Shares His Top 12 Kids Books Of 2016

"We Are the Ants" cover
Simon Pulse
"We Are the Ants" cover
San Diego Librarian Shares His Top 12 Kids Books Of 2016
San Diego Librarian Shares His Top 12 Kids Books Of 2016
The San Diego County Office of Education's head librarian lists his top children's and young adult books of 2016.

Every year the San Diego County Office of Education evaluates the books that wind up on shelves in school libraries throughout the county. Jonathan Hunt is the man tasked with reading them, usually several hundred each year.

"I am looking for a book that will not stay on the shelf," said Hunt, the office's library and media coordinator.

More and more, Hunt said, those books include LGBT characters. He said 2016 was the year LGBT young adult novels moved from tokenism to inclusion.

"Any time you have a dearth of books about a particular group — like, we need to have more books for this audience, they need to be able to see themselves — it can be one representation representing everyone in the group," Hunt said. "The early representations of a group or an issue can be very didactic."

Now, Hunt said, some of the best books put LGBT characters in front of a broader audience.

Take "We Are the Ants" by Shaun David Hutchinson. It's part science fiction, part coming of age as the protagonist deals with his boyfriend's death.

"It would be really hard to think of this as a gay and lesbian book. It's just one piece of it," Hunt said. "Our main character has been abducted by aliens periodically throughout his life and they've abducted him one final time and given him the option of pushing a red button and detonating the world. So he has to decided if life is worth living under the present circumstances."

"Samurai Rising" cover
"Samurai Rising" cover

Hunt said critics this year are praising some two-dozen young adult books with LGBT characters, including "Beast" by Brie Spangler and "Unbecoming" by Jenny Downham.

Another of Hunt's favorite 2016 trends: nonfiction books written — or illustrated — to capture the imagination like fiction. These include a third graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis, documenting the Civil Rights Movement, and "Samurai Rising" about a 12th century samurai.

"It's got a great warning. 'Very few people in this story die of natural causes.' So I think that really telegraphs the excitement and adventure that a lot of readers are going to be drawn toward," Hunt said.

Written and selected by Hunt, here's his favorite picks of 2016:

Picture Books

"Animals By the Numbers" by Steve Jenkins: With his signature cut- and torn-paper collage art, Jenkins uses infographics to convey a dizzying array of trivia to readers curious about the natural world.

"The Bossier Baby" by Marla Frazee: In the new-sibling genre, we have a clever sequel to "The Boss Baby" (which is the basis of a forthcoming movie). Here the reigning CEO is shunted aside by his baby sister.

"It Is Not Time for Sleeping" by Lisa Graff, illustrated by Lauren Castillo: Depicting the eternal bedtime struggle between parents and toddlers, this team delivers a cumulative story with soothing rhythms and gorgeous artwork.

"Thunder Boy, Jr." by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales: Alexie’s debut picture book is about a young boy who shares his father’s name but wants his own. Morales’s illustrations perfectly complement the humorous, touching story.

Middle Grade

"Ghost" by Jason Reynolds: A young teen with a troubled past has a natural talent for running fast and joins an citywide track team. His coach, who has a similar background, is the perfect mentor to get this kid back on track.

"Ms. Bixby's Last Day" by John David Anderson: When a one-of-a-kind teacher leaves mid-year for cancer treatment, three of her students are determined to give her the last day she never had. The feel-good book of the year.

"Raymie Nightingale" by Kate DiCamillo: DiCamillo has won Newbery Medals for "A Tale for Despereaux" and "Flora & Ulysses," but "Because of Winn-Dixie" remains the favorite of many of her readers. With this book, she returns to those semi-autobiographical roots to deliver the story of another winning heroine.

"When the Sea Turned to Silver" by Grace Lin: With this book, Lin completes her Chinese folklore-infused fantasy trilogy. When Pinmei’s grandmother is kidnapped by the emperor, she must find the Luminous Stone that lights the night.

Young Adult

"The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge: In this historical fantasy set in the time of Charles Darwin, a young girl must solve the mystery of her father’s death and uncover the strange and menacing plant that he has hidden.

"March: Book Three" by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell: The final volume in this graphic novel trilogy delivers pivotal events in Civil Rights Movement from the point of view of one of its last living legends, Congressman John Lewis.

"Samurai Rising" by Pamela Turner: This rollicking work of narrative nonfiction introduces readers to the world of the greatest samurai warrior of all time. Bold, daring and violent, this book should satiate any appetite for action and adventure.

"The Sun Is Also a Star" by Nicola Yoon: A Jamaican-American girl and Korean-American boy engage in a whirlwind romance over the course of a single day in Manhattan as she struggles to avoid deportation for herself and her family.

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