Holiday Gift Ideas: The Winged Pen’s Favorite Books

Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is in ten days. That means the gift-giving season is right around the corner! For most of us, it’s panic time. But the Pennies at The Winged Pen are going to make this holiday season easier for you. Below are some of our favorite books. They are great choices for the readers in your life (including yourself!)

Gita 

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson This fast-paced thriller, set in Kenya and Congo, follows Congolese refugee Tina, who joins a street gang in order to avenge her mother’s murder. I loved the deftly drawn characters, the high stakes, the nail-biting tension, and the window the author opened onto this part of the world. She spent a decade working for NGOs in Africa. (YA)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy This novel is so many things at once: a heart-breaking family saga; a story of a childhood spent in Kerala, India; a political awakening; a commentary on India’s caste system, its mythology, and history—as well as a fantastically beautiful meditation on the nature of time itself. John Updike said of it, “A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.” (Adult, 16+)

Laurel

The Inquisitor’s Tale (or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog) by Adam Gidwitz Three children race through France in the middle ages to the final showdown at Mont-Saint-Michel where all question if the children can perform the miracles of saints. This warm, funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring story of adventure effortlessly brings the middle ages to life. The dialogue made me laugh out loud. Adam Gidwitz makes thought-provoking topics like miracles, racism, antisemitism, and Chaucer amazingly accessible. (MG)

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booream Conor O’Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee, a harbinger of death shows up in his bedroom. The banshee insists on going to middle school and as Conor attempts to hide her identity and keep his family safe, he realizes he’s going to have to visit to the underworld. It is a zany story of a boy whose normal, middle school life gets a mixed-up shot of Greek and Irish mythology that makes him into the hero he never thought he could be. It is a laugh-out-loud excellent adventure story for reluctant readers. (YA)

Kate

To Stay Alive by Skila Brown An American history story of the wagon train journey west by Mary Ann Graves, her family, and the Donner and Reed parties. Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann’s narrative, told in verse, is of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere. This book blew me away with its gorgeous language. I was riveted from page one, and Brown handles the difficult subject unflinchingly, but without veering into the grotesque.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman Thrilling adventures of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds, where they meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them. I listened to the full-cast audio recording of these, which was so well done. I loved the epic scope of it, the interrogation of religion, and the stunning imagination of it.

Richelle

Homegoing by Yaa Gayasi This is a breath-taking novel built from a series of interlocking stories about the descendants of two Ghanian sisters — one sold into slavery and one raised free in Ghana. It was one of those reading experiences that made me feel changed when I put it down. (Adult)

You May Already Be A Winner by Ann Dee Ellis I loved this compassionate and hope-filled look at a child trapped in poverty. The main character’s fantasies of winning contests reminded me so vividly of the feeling of being a kid powerless to fix what’s wrong, but desperate to find a way to do it anyway. (MG)

Julie

Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill Xan, the witch from the Forest, accidently feeds baby Luna moonlight, filling her with extraordinary magic. As Luna’s magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences–a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Luna must protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known. This was one of those books I read slowly at the end to make it last longer. Barnhill’s world building is amazing and her storytelling shines in this magical tale. It is a 2017 Newbery Medal winner and NY Times bestseller. (MG) Check out our interview with Kelly Barnhill here.

Girl From Everywhere/Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig If there is a map, Nix’s father, a time traveler, can sail his ship across the globe and through centuries. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. If her father changes the past, it could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures, and her connection with the charming Persian thief. These two gorgeous historical fantasies are full of heart and magic. I flew threw them and can’t wait for the third. The first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. Its sparkling wit, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo. (YA)

Halli

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via a red balloon to 1988 East Berlin and meets an underground group who uses these magic balloons to help people escape over the Wall. As they try to get Ellie back to her time, it becomes clear someone is using dark magic to change history. There are so many wonderful things about this book. The stories of survival and dedication of those willing to help people trapped in dangerous and oppressive conditions are heartwarming. The characters are well developed with strengths, weaknesses, and strong motivations. You can’t help but root for them all, and even those with questionable methods have commendable goals. (YA)

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry Calliope June has Tourette syndrome and makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves to a new school, she tries to hide her TS, but the kids laugh and tease her. Only Calliope’s neighbor, the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is—an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?  This is a beautifully written story of fitting in and finding courage. It is a dual point of view story told in verse and prose. This was my first time reading a story told in both formats and I loved it! The author’s writing is amazing, especially her descriptions of emotions that utilize all the senses. Readers of any age will love this book of growth and acceptance. They will also have the ability to learn about a misunderstood disorder and realize how a little knowledge can result in a new friend. (MG)

Michelle

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder Nine children live alone on an isolated island with no memories of their past. Every year, a mysterious green boat appears bringing a new young child to the island and sailing the eldest away. With vivid characters that feel like our dearest friends and a lushly detailed setting, this heartfelt story beautifully captures the emotional ups and downs of saying goodbye to childhood and moving toward adolescence. For ages 8+, this book is on the 2017 National Book Award Longlist. (MG)

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez Julia isn’t the perfect daughter. That was her obedient sister Olga, who got run over by a semi. Julia wants to go to college to become a writer instead of living in agony, both grief stricken by her sister’s death and stuck with her undocumented and unbearably old-fashioned parents. A stunning and beautifully relatable story about family, cultural expectations, growing up, and mental illness. A Finalist for the National Book Award. Due to mature themes, I recommend this one to 15+.

Rebecca J. Allen

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor If you’ve read Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (if you haven’t, you should), this is more of the same type of awesome. There are mortals and monsters; sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. The setting ranges from a re-imagined Library of Alexandria to barren deserts to a palace floating in the sky. Fully crafted characters and charged actions scenes, as well as the author’s lush writing, make it a book to read and reread. This is the first book in a duology. (YA)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab is the third and final installment in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series. The Darker Shades series is set in four Londons. Red London, bright with magic; White London, starved of magic and desperate for it; Gray London, magicless; and Black London, dead, overrun by dark magic and cut off to protect the other Londons. The dangerous magic of Black London escapes the barriers and is drawn feed on the rich magical of Red London. There, Kell, prince and Antari, must battle to protect his home from the danger he inadvertently unleashed. At his side are Lyla, a thief; Alucard Emory a pirate; Rys, first in line for the throne; and his enemy from Gray London. It is action-packed with rich characters and world-building. (YA)

Rebecca Petruck

Peak by Anders Ericsson After studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens, the author provides powerful learning strategies that are fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring new abilities. This book inspires me with the reminder that “genius” likely doesn’t exist. Nearly anyone can become very good, even expert, at a variety of skills with deliberate practice.

Dear Ijeawele, a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The author received a letter from a friend asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. This book, fifteen invaluable suggestions, is the author’s response on how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. This book not only inspires me, but also fills me with hope for girls and young women today. It’s a book I wish all women and men would read.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, during his lifetime, the author weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the extraordinary love of the Van Gogh brothers. This book inspires me because Vincent Van Gogh worked and worked and worked at his art, and it all could have been fruitless but for the faith and support of his brother Theo. I’m so grateful for the support I have from my family and friends. These are the books I think about when I’m feeling low and questioning choices I’ve made about my work. I hope they encourage other readers, too!

There are so many great books, we couldn’t pick just one favorite. Or two. Below is a list of more books we love.

 

Picture Books

Windows by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship by David Elliott, illus. by Melissa Sweet

Middle Grade

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Patina by Jason Reynolds

This is Our Constitution by Khizr Khan

OCDaniel by Wesley King

Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

Young Adult

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Steifvater

These books can be found at your local independent bookstores, along with Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

More information on the loves and preferences of The Winged Pen writers, check them out on the Bio Page.

 

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Dear Anne of Green Gables

Welcome to a brand new series on The Winged Pen!

Here, we write love letters to our favorite books—the ones that shaped us, as writers and as people.

First up is the book that inspired me to start this series: Anne of Green Gables!

In case you haven’t read it, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is the story of an orphan girl who, after being shipped to various abysmal foster homes, lands with an older couple (actually brother and sister) on an idyllic farm on Prince Edward Island.

I am an Anne girl. I get a glow just holding the book (especially the lovely edition from Puffin and Rifle Paper—yum!). My red-haired daughter is named Lucy, after Lucy Maud Montgomery.

There are a few things that made this book so influential to me.

First, Anne is not perfect. She tries really hard to be good, but she loses her temper, she messes things up royally, and she is given to fits of despair. I was a kid who worried all the time about doing the right thing, and seeing Anne’s horrid mistakes and tantrums gave me a gleeful thrill, and permission for my own imperfection. (Imperfection is good! I wrote a whole post on it.)

Second, L.M. Montgomery taught me about writing description. Here is how she describes the road to Anne’s new home, when Anne first sees it:

The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Isn’t that lovely? Oh, it makes me sigh every time.

Montgomery elevates the scenery of her beloved home while also being so specific that I can picture it. I see it perfectly, and I feel the same awed reaction that Anne experiences in that moment. I strive in my own writing to make descriptions that not just make a place real, but make it magical and inspiring.

Finally, Anne loves with her whole heart. Her joy at her new home is palpable. She takes the time to feel every moment and savor it. She doesn’t dwell on her unhappy background, but she is constantly amazed at her good fortune to end up in a place so enchanting. May we all be so grateful for the good in our lives!

Here’s my favorite quote:

“Dear old world”, she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

In the comments, please share yours!

Kate Hillyer writes middle grade novels in the D.C. area, but is certain she’s going to make it to Prince Edward Island someday. Look for her in long red braids soon. In the meantime, she blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, and maintains her own book blog at Kid Book List. She’s also a 2017 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katehillyer.com. 

 

 

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2016 Cybils Awards

The window to nominate YOUR

Favorite Children’s and Young Adult

books for prestigious Cybils Awards is open

now through October 15th!

 

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-14-08-pmWhat are Cybils Awards?

The first Cybils Awards were presented in February 2007. If you are really sharp, you probably just figured out that makes this year the 10th anniversary for Cybils! 10 points to your favorite Hogwart’s house for being a genius!

Yay! Congrats, Cybils!

Cybils Awards are given by the KidLit blogging community each year to the best books in the following categories.

This year, we have FOUR Winged Pen members who have been selected as second round panelists. We are honored and very excited to be able to choose the best of the best this year! During the first round, panelists read the books that are nominated by the public. They pick a handful of books to nominate for the second round. During the second round, judges select a WINNER in each category.

We’d like to introduce ourselves, the category we are judging, and give you a hint about what we’re looking for in the Best Book of 2016.

Rebecca Allen: I’m excited to be reading Middle-Grade/Young Adult Non-fiction. Truth is stranger than fiction so give me all the stuff too crazy to put in a novel! I’d love to find some books that make great learning opportunities for kids both inside and outside the classroom, and some narrative non-fiction. For a list of MG/YA Non-fiction books published this year that would make awesome Cybil nominees, take a look at this post by Kelly on Stacked Books. Nominate away!

Sussu Leclerc: Two thumbs up for the Cybils Literary Award. This idea comes from people like me, by bloggers, by lovers of books. How wonderful! And you must share the books you’ve enjoyed for a chance to get them nominated. In my opinion, each book is a garden that deserves to be explored. I will be looking especialy for books that talk about Peace, art and Diversity. Non-fiction has been my first love in the path to writing. And who doesn’t use non-fiction books as a base for their stories? I’m proud to be part of the world of writers who not only write books, but also think sharing and communicating with their readers is important. I have been doing it for twenty years. I will be judging Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-fiction with Rebecca this year. I hope to help some fantastic books to shine to the world. Thank you to the Cybils’ team for choosing me! And thank you for trusting us.

Michelle Leonard: I’m excited to read the Juvenile/Elementary Non-fiction short list entries this year. My favorite books have engaging voice and inspire readers to either try or learn something new. Anything related to science, math, technology, or interesting/obscure events, places, or people appeals to me! Check out this list of suggested titles by Jennifer Wharton or Alyson Beecher.

Katharine Manning: I’m thrilled to serve as a second-round reader for Poetry, which includes novels in verse. I love word play, rhyme, and silliness, as well as heart-wrenching, literary, and evocative. Send it all! If you’re looking for inspiration in nominating, see here and here. Learn from my mistakes: The publication date of the paperback may not be the book’s actual publication date. Look for the hardcover edition. I can’t wait to read all those beautiful words!

Who can nominate books?

You!

Cybils books are nominated by the public. Then a group of panelists reads and nominates books for the final round. The nomination window for the public closes on October 15th. Authors, publishers, and publicists have a separate window for nominations from October 16th-25th. You can nominate one book in each category. We know how hard it is to pick one book!

When are the awards announced?

On January 1st, the short list is made public. On February 14th, the winners are announced.

How do I nominate books?

It’s easy to nominate but first you must understand what type of books fit in each category. For descriptions of each category go here. Again, you can only pick ONE BOOK for each category. To be eligible, a book must be published in the U.S. or Canada between October 16, 2015 and October 15, 2016. Also, you can only nominate books that have not already been nominated. If your favorite book has already been chosen, you’ll get the opportunity to try another book. More info on the rules is here.

Once you have your list of dream reads ready, head on over to the Cybils nomination page to enter your picks. If you’re not ready to share your favorites yet but are curious to see what has already been nominated, just click on the categories above.

Click HERE to Nominate Your Favorite Books!

We hope you’ll take a few minutes to nominate your favorite books by the October 15th deadline!

Also, we’d love for you to share this post in your social media hangouts to spread the word. If you do, we’ll award 10 more points to your favorite Hogwart’s house!

Happy nominating!

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