Tag Archives: Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction


Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 5 of 5

Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.

So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.




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The Cardturner

the cardturnerAuthor: Louis Sachar

My rating: 4 of 5

Alton’s parents have been trying to charm their way into his rich, taciturn great-uncle’s graces for ages, so when Alton gets asked to help “Uncle Lester” (now blind) with his bridge playing, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Took bad that Uncle Lester, better known as Trapp, is not one to be tooled by false charm. As he spends more time with Trapp, Alton grows to truly appreciate both his great-uncle and the game he loves. Who knows, Alton might even figure out how to become a decent bridge player himself–if his parents’ scheming, his best friend’s girl-chasing, and Trapp’s former cardturner’s slightly-crazy attractiveness don’t get in the way.

Normally, I shy away from anything resembling a sport- or game-centric book; I find them appallingly boring. However, anything written by Louis Sachar deserves a try, and I wasn’t disappointed by The Cardturner. The characters come through well, particularly Alton. The first-person tone is excellent–conversational and nice-high-school-kid-ish. There is also sufficient plot aside from the game to keep the story interesting. I think what surprised me most was Sachar’s honest attempts to include bridge into the story: as Alton learned, he explained what he learned in beginners terms, and he typically tied the explanations into the story so that they also had a point (and didn’t just sound like a rule book). The Cardturner flows well, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. I would recommend it both for those who enjoy game-related books and for those who simply enjoy a good slice-of-life, human drama sort of story.

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