Monday, December 29, 2014

El Jefe's Top Tier Books of 2014

Being a severely anal retentive engineer at heart, I track my reads in a spreadsheet, ranking books into five tiers with a line of notes for each. How else are you going to learn about the children's book market, eh?

A book makes my second tier if it has an appealing concept along with excellent plot, characters, and scene-setting. To gain entrance to the vaunted Top Tier, it has to be near perfection. As my writing group knows, I'm not bashful about delivering constructive criticism, and Top Tier picks are ones where not a single major piece of feedback came to mind.

Without further ado, my stats for 2014:

BOOKS READ: 98 (dang it, I still have two days!)

Middle Grade


Many MG books are about orphans, because getting rid of the parents puts all the action squarely on the kid's shoulders. So for a book about an orphan to stand out for me, it has to be spectacular.

DAVE AT NIGHT delivered. Dave's adventures, his navigating the orphanage landscape to find friends and keep enemies away, and his schemes to get back at the bullies were so engaging. It's hard not to find charm in an orphanage where all of Dave's peers call each other "buddy," generating a feel of camaraderie in the midst of a gloomy situation.

Hey buddy! Don't miss this one.

Middle Grade / Young Adult


Long ago, I started a project to read all the Newbery Medal books. Many of the have been fantastic reads, but I must admit that some of them have felt much more "awardy" than "engaging to an actual kid."

I've found the Newbery Honor books often to be more compelling. CHARLOTTE DOYLE was a perfect example. Set in olden days where the only way to do the trip across the Atlantic was in a ship, often a rickety and unsafe one. Charlotte ends up traveling by herself to America, and things get hairy on the journey.

Pirates. Maiming. Swordplay. Scheming. And a prim and proper girl slowly realizing that she must take life and wrestle it to submission if she is to survive.

Can't say enough about this book. An easy add to my all-time favorites list, not just in historical fiction, but in fiction fiction.


It's not easy to read non-fiction about terrible times in history. And it's tough to pick out a darker period than the height of Nazi Germany. Not having seen "Schindler's List," I knew little to nothing about Oskar Schindler, and wow, were my eyes opened by reading Leyson's recounting of his experiences, ultimately being saved by Schindler.

Now, Schindler was a complicated man, far from being a paragon of virtue. That made it all the more interesting to see him wrestle with his conscience as he made decisions that put his own life in jeopardy.

Gripping tale. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I frequently found myself sitting in my car, already at my destination but unwilling to stop listening.


Another Newbery Honor making my Top Tier list! This proves my theory, Q.E.D., ipso facto, expecto patronum.

I'm not going to say much about this book, as I don't want to give anything away. The characters are memorable, the scene-setting impeccable, and the plotting . . .

I'll say no more, expect go read this book. A true classic.

Young Adult


Hey, another book about orphans! Well, not really. But Carley is a foster child, having been removed from her mother's care after a terrible incident.

I work with a couple of foster kids through Treehouse for Kids, so I know the very basics of the foster care system as well as some of the aspects that are broken about it. I felt like ONE FOR THE MURPHYS helped me double or triple my comprehension of what it's like to be placed in a home which must be temporary, where the family might have mixed feelings about you, and the level of day to day stability is nil.

I stayed up all night, glued to Carley's journey as she fought for so long before starting to realize that everything she thought she knew was perhaps not as right as she once thought. An amazing story, told with such mastery of language, plotting, and character development. A gem of a book; I didn't want it to end.

So there you have it. Happy New Year from the kidliterati crew!


  1. ONE FOR THE MURPHY'S is a top tier book for me, too. I love seeing that you're reading the classic award winners! I started doing the same thing this year, with A YEAR IN COAL HARBOR and EVERYTHING WITH WAFFLES. I find it really eye-opening to read Newbery winner and honor books, plus they cover such a wide range of subjects!

  2. Thanks Jeff. I take your recommendations very seriously so I will be adding ALL THE BOOKS to my TBR pile. Curiously, I just picked up CHARLOTTE DOYLE at a recent Scholastic sale. It's sitting on my shelf calling to be read.

  3. Ah, CHARLOTTE DOYLE! That was one of my favorites as a kid. :D


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