Ebony Elizabeth Thomas picks the best children’s books of 2015

December 23, 2015

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Penn GSE
Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Throughout the year, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas reads dozens of books written for children and young adults as part of her research on how race, class, and gender are portrayed in children’s literature, and how those portrayals affect children. She reviews some of these books for the Los Angeles Times.

As 2015 comes to a close, Thomas, a Penn GSE assistant professor of literacy, picked the best children’s books of 2015. Her lists of the top picture books, young adult fiction, and comic and graphic novels highlight the best storytelling of the year that deals with issues like gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and socioeconomic class in ways that are real and empathetic.

 “Children’s literature shapes the terrains of our imaginations from our earliest years,” Thomas said. “If today’s children grow up with diverse books and media, they will create a more just and equitable world in the future.” 

Among Thomas’ 2015 picture book picks are Matt de la Pena’s delightful Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson, featuring an African American boy and his grandmother exploring their city on a memorable bus ride, and Jake Makes A World, a beautiful bio of famed painter Jacob Lawrence by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, illustrated by Christopher Myers.

Top 10 Picture Book Picks for 2015

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Chris Barton; illus. Don Tate)

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music (Margarita Engle, illus. Rafael Lopez)

In a Village by the Sea (Muon Van; illus. April Chu)

Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem (Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts; illus. Christopher Myers)

Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Pena, illus. Christian Robinson)

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation (Edwidge Danticat, illus. Leslie Staub)

The New Small Person (written and illustrated by Lauren Child)

The Night World (written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein)

Sidewalk Flowers (JonArno Lawson; illus. Sydney Smith)

Water Is Water (Miranda Paul, illus. Jason Chin) 

Thomas’ 2015 young adult fiction picks include Latino protagonists featured in unforgettable speculative debut novels (Shadowshaper, More Happy Than Not), characters exploring questions of gender, identity, and fate (None of the Above, The Game of Love and Death), and the retelling of a hero’s journey from the bystanders’ point of view (The Rest of Us Just Live Here).

Top 10 Young Adult Fiction Picks for 2015

Challenger Deep (Neal Shusterman)

The Game of Love and Death (Martha Brokenbrough)

Ink and Ashes (Valynne E. Maetani)

More Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

None of the Above (I.W. Gregorio)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness)

Shadowshaper (Daniel José Older)

This Side of Home (Renée Watson)

Tiny Pretty Things (Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton)

X: A Novel (Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon)

 Thomas’ 2015 comic and graphic novel picks feature the first Muslim superhero of color from a major comics house (Ms. Marvel Vol 2-3), the evolution of US Congressman John Lewis from civil rights activist to icon (March Vol 2), and the aftermath of one of the greatest disasters in contemporary history (Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans). Rounding out the list is Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening, a thoughtful graphic novel about the significance of comics and graphic novels for education that will remind readers of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

Top 10 Comic & Graphic Novel Picks for 2015

Awkward (Svetlana Chmakova)

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans (Don Brown)

Little Robot (Ben Hatke)

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy (Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters & Brooke Allen)

The Lunch Witch (Deb Lucke)

March, Book 2 (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

Ms. Marvel, Vols. 2 & 3 (G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona)

Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

SuperMutant Magic Academy (Jillian Tamaki)

Special Mention: Unflattening (Nick Sousanis)

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