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!)
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+)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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
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
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.