The best books and YA novels of 2018 for younger readers

(published in the News and Observer, December 9, 2018) (

Last week, I kicked off my annual Wilde Awards, the 22nd annual edition, with my list of favorite books of 2018 for children and young readers.

This week, I look at longer books for older readers.

Like the Wilde Awards picture book winners, where I found books reflecting today’s society, I found novels with more characters of color. These characters model, both historical and present day, broaden the visions of all children. They answer questions that adults should consider when seeking novels that matter.

▪ Will it engage readers?

▪ Is it unique? Does it offer a different perspective?

▪ Will the book lead to meaningful discussion or understanding?

▪ Does it have strong characters, compelling tension and a resolution that will lead to meaningful understanding, or inspire questioning.

Here is my list of favorites.

Early Novels

▪ “Dear Sister,” Alison McGhee (Atheneum): There are more illustrations and lots more attitude than words in this short novel about a boy who is not pleased with the arrival of his new sister, but grows into understanding, love and caring by book’s end.

▪ “Fairy Mom and Me,” Sophie Kinsella, read by Cassandra Morris (Delacorte): The well-known adult author perfectly represents the enthusiasm of Ella Brooks whose mother, with a wiggle of her bottom and the word “Marshmallow,” turns into a fairy. Ella has to deal with her mom’s magical missteps as well as a snoopy mean girl next door.

▪ “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book,” Alice Kuipers (Chronicle, ages 5-8): Polly’s life is crazy with a little sister and another baby coming any day…and that’s before she receives a book that writes back to her and grants her every wish.

▪ New in established series: 

Tedd Arnold’s “Fly Guy and the Alienzz” (Scholastic)

Aaron Blabey’s “Alien VS Badguys” (Scholastic)

Mac Barnett’s “The Terrible Twos Last Laugh” (Abrams)

Peter Brown’s “The Wild Robot Escapes” (Little Brown)

Debbi Ichiko Florence’s “Jasmine Toguchi: Flamingo Keeper” (FSG)

Bea Garcia’s “Tale of a Scaredy Dog” (Dial)

Dean & Shannon Hale’s “The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare” (Candlewick)

Abby Halon’s “Dory Head in the Clouds”

Sara Pennypacker’s “Waylon! Even More Awesome” (Hyperion)

Dav Pilkey’s “Dogman Lord of the Fleas” (Graphix)

Linda Urban’s “Road Trip with Max and Mom” (HMH)

Ursula Vernon, “Little Red Rodent Hood” (Dial)