Franny's February Recommendations


57th Street Books' Children's Manager Franny Billingsley with this month's top recommendations of Children's, Middle Grade, and Young Adult literature. 

On January 23, the “Oscars” of the children’s book world were announced, among them the Caldecott (illustration), Newbery (literature), and the Printz (teens) Awards. This month’s picks will focus on the award winners, some of which were Franny and/or Kevin’s picks in 2016. We’ll reprint their reviews in full.


The Caldecott Winner (Gold Medal)

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Javaka Steptoe

“Like Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, Steptoe’s illustrations radiate energy and immediacy. A patch-worked canvas of scavenged wood, painted and collaged with photos, and images of human anatomy, evokes the improvisatory nature of Basquiat’s art. Radiant Child resonates with emotion that connects Steptoe with Basquiat and Basquiat with young readers.”  (From the Caldecott Committee.)

The Caldecott Honor Books (Silver Medals)

Leave Me Alone!, Vera Brosgol

“At the end of her rope, Granny is desperate for time alone to finish knitting sweaters for a house filled with dozens of rambunctious children. Brosgol’s expressive watercolor and cartoon art presents a genre-breaking journey taking Granny from the traditional forest setting to the mountains to the moon and beyond.”  (From the Caldecott Committee.)

Freedom in Congo Square, Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by R. Gregory Christie

“As they work throughout the week, slaves look forward to their afternoon of music, hope, and community in Congo Square, New Orleans. Christie’s folk-art inspired paint and collage images powerfully capture the emotions of this little-known historical event. Vibrant color and brilliant use of line heighten the impact of the rhyming couplets.”  (From the Caldecott Committee.)

Du Iz Tak?, Carson Ellis

An immersive experience as much as it is a picture book. Ellis's artwork is stark and tells a tale all its own. Coupled with her created "Insect-ese" language that all of the characters speak, this story is a joy to read again and again. With an inventiveness that is visual, contextual, and linguistic, each subsequent reading reveals another wonder happening within the confines of a tiny, but vast environment. Be sure to read this one aloud to those around you.  (From Kevin’s Holiday Guide picks.)

They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel

What does a fish see when it sees a cat?  What about a child or a bee?  Fabulous illustrations illuminate the different way animals perceive their world.  A terrific celebration of nature.  (From Franny’s September picks.)


The Newbery Medal (Gold Medal)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill

“’Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.’ Barnhill’s story is also pure magic, distinguished by careful development of a complex plot and indelible evocation of unique characters. Love, heartbreak, hope, sorrow, and wonder all shine in exquisite, lyrical prose.”  (From the Newbery Committee.)

Newbery Honor Books (Silver Medalists)

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to LifeAshley Bryan 

“Inspired by an 1828 estate appraisement, Ashley Bryan honors the lives of eleven slaves in poetry and collage. Conveying the terror of the patterroller and the hope of voices raised in song, Bryan imagines for each person a life of oppression and a dream for freedom.”  (From the Newbery Committee.)

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, Adam Gidwitz, illus. by Hatem Aly

In a twist on the Canterbury Tales, travelers at a French inn in 1242 tell stories of three children, among them Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future.  At once funny, subversive, and moving, this beautifully researched and illuminated novel will delight readers from ages 9 to 90.  (From Franny’s October picks.)

Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk

It’s 1943, rural Pennsylvania, and Annabelle’s existence is upended by the arrival of Betty.  Betty is the original bad seed and she sets out to frame Toby, a shell-shocked veteran, whom the community regards with suspicion.  Annabelle—strong and goodhearted—tries to save Toby, but Betty is tricky and cold as a snake.  The tone is ominous, the writing beautiful, the questions profound.  A bittersweet story with no easy answers.  (From Franny’s September picks.)


The Printz Winner (Gold Medal)

March: Book Three, John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

“March is a memoir chronicling Lewis’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights. Carefully selected dialog and first-person accounts combine with panels, word balloons, and creative lettering in a stunning display of the comics medium.”  (From the Printz Committee.)

Printz Honor Books (Silver Medalists)

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

In this 2016 National Book Award Finalist, a poet and a practical math geek, who’s about to be deported to Jamaica, fall in love during a single action-packed day in New York City.  Romantic but never saccharine, the novel explores such wide-ranging themes as immigration, the nature of love, and fate.  (From Franny’s November picks.)

Asking for It, Louise O’Neill

“After a party, Emma Donivan is found dumped outsider her house with no recollection of the previous night.  Pictures go viral showing her being raped. Lacking support from her small Irish town, Emma becomes a shell of her previous self, struggling with the question of whether she asked for it.”  (From the Printz Committee.)

The Passion of Dolssa, Julie Berry

“This beautiful historical epic tells the tale of Dolssa, an accused heretic on the run, and the three sisters who find and help her during the time of the Inquisition. Through recollections and testimonies, Dolssa’s layered story unfolds across time periods with rich language and historical detail.”  (From the Printz Committee.)

Scythe, Neil Shusterman

“In a future where death has been eradicated, scythes are selected to control overpopulation by ‘gleaning’ random members of society. Teens Citra and Rowan are selected as apprentices and are thrust into a world of political intrigue. ‘Scythe’ is a powerful examination of ethics, humanity and the flaws of immortality.”  (From the Printz Committee.)