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Best 2015 books for reading or holiday gifts

Bestselling teen writer Allie Condie signs copies of “Matched” during a recent event at the Bellingham Public Library.
Bestselling teen writer Allie Condie signs copies of “Matched” during a recent event at the Bellingham Public Library.

It’s been a fantastic year for fans of children’s literature in Whatcom County, with visits from such celebrated writers as Kwame Alexander (2015 Newbery Medal), Jandy Nelson (2015 Printz Award), Eugene Yelchin (2012 Newbery Honor) and Kate DiCamillo (Newbery medals 2004, 2014).

In addition, Western Washington University librarian Sylvia Tag was a member of last year’s American Library Association committee that selected the Newbery winners. Bellingham is home to several accomplished writers for children and teens, who joined other writers with local ties in offering their favorite books for 2015 — for reading or holiday giving.

“I’m a big fan of nonfiction for holiday reading, mainly because it can provoke wonderful and heartfelt conversations between the generations,” Tag said.

Two nonfiction works for teens that Tag loved were “Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club” by Phillip Hoose, and “Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War,” a National Book Award finalist by Steve Sheinkin.

“(‘Boys Who Who Challenged Hitler’) is a thriller. It is also a book about the courage of youth in the face of evil,” Tag said. “Sheinkin actually makes the significance of the Pentagon Papers understandable. I learned so much from this book — and I lived through the Vietnam War. Provocative and important.”

Tag also enjoyed “Rhythm Ride” by Andrea Davis Pinkney. “The history of Motown! There are notes, songs and legends to explore — consider this book a launching point for a journey into a musical holiday season.”

I’m a big fan of nonfiction for holiday reading.

Sylvia Tag, WWU librarian

In addition, she recommends these nonfiction picture books: “Water is Water” by Miranda Paul, and “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear” by Lindsay Mattick. “Intended for ages 3 to 6, this remarkable books tells the story of a rescued baby bear that travels from Canada to England and eventually comes to be known as Winnie-the-Pooh. The illustrations by Sophie Blackwell are stunning.”

Other favorites of Tag include “The Moon is Going to Addy’s House” by Ida Pearle; “Float” by Daniel Miyares (“Perfect for the rainy Northwest); “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Pena; “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate; “Echo” by Pam Munoz Ryan; and “Gone Crazy in Alabama” by Rita Williams-Garcia.

Ally Condie, an acclaimed and bestselling writer who visited Bellingham recently on a book tour, discussed some of her favorite 2015 books for teens. Condie, author the bestselling “Atlantia” and “Matched” trilogy, recommends “How It Went Down” by Kekla Magoon, about the shooting of a black teenager by a white man.

“It’s this super-fantastic multiple-point-of-view narrative,” she said in a recent phone conversation. “It’s like she took the Trayvon Martin story and fictionalized it. She gives you no easy answers.”

For middle grades or younger, Condie likes “The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp” by Kathi Appelt (mid-2014). The story truly sings when it’s read aloud.

“We thoroughly enjoyed that one as a family,” she said. “You could not stop turning the pages.”

Aubri Kelleman, public services librarian with the Whatcom County Library System, has been reading graphic novels lately — a genre that’s gaining literary respectability as quickly as it gained fans.

The art (in “Marvels”) is so gorgeous that you have to remind yourself to breathe.

Aubri Keleman, Whatcom County librarian

Among Keleman’s favorites this year were “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson, which was a National Book Award finalist, “Secret Coders” by Gene Luen Yang; and “March Book Two” by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis, an autobiography of the civil-rights hero. “This graphic novel will startle you, engross you, and change the way you see history,” Keleman said.

Celebrated writer/illustrator Brian Selznick’s new work “Marvels” is drawing high praise.

“The art is so gorgeous that you have to remind yourself to breathe,” Keleman said. “It takes you through 200 years of family history, and just as you think you understand the flow of the story, a mystery at the heart of the book turns everything on its head. It’s over 600 pages, but the story still rushes by too quickly. You have the sense when you are reading this book that children 100 years from now will be reading it too.”

Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor novel “Hattie Big Sky” and a graduate of both WWU and Sehome High, said via email that “I would highly recommend: ‘Sunny Side Up’ by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm; ‘The War That Saved My Life’ by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and ‘The Way Home Looks Now’ by Wendy Shang.

“Next up on my reading list is the much talked about ‘The Thing About Jellyfish’ by Ali Benjamin,” said Larson, whose novel “Audacity Jones to the Rescue” will be released in January.

(“How It Went Down”) is like she took the Trayvon Martin story and fictionalized it. She gives you no easy answers.

Allie Condie, bestselling teen writer

“The War That Saved My Life,” about a was atop Tag’s list and my personal favorite this year too. I also loved two-time Newbery Honor writer Gary D. Schmidt’s “Orbiting Jupiter,” a heartbreaking story of an abused boy who’s a father at age 14 and just released from juvvie for assault. Other favorites of mine were the picture books “Flutter and Hum,” “From Apple Trees to Cider, Please” and the silly “Wolfie the Bunny” by Ame Dyckman, in which a wolf is adopted into a rabbit family.

Royce Buckingham of Bellingham, a prosecuting attorney and author of “The Terminals,” “Dead Boys” and Demon Keeper,” suggests “A Darker Shade Of Magic” by Ve Schwab and “Hit” by Delilah Dawson.

“I’m a sucker for a fun concept, and I loved the concepts I found in these two,” said Buckingham, who won a 2014 Sasquatch Award from the Washington Library Media Association for “Lost Boys,” a creepy novel set in Hanford. “Of course, they’re fantasy and futuristic ... just my thing. I don’t have time to read a lot (I’m doing to much writing of my own!), but these are worthwhile.”

Buckingham’s “Demonkeeper” sequels II and III — which are available in Germany — will be published in the U.S. soon, he said, “I also have a middle grade U.S. novel I’m pitching to publishers now,” he said.