Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
During 2022, we read extensively in all subgenres of fiction and sent to each other our “you-must-read-this” favorites. By the end of the year, these lists were long, so as it always seems to be, it was challenging to agree on our Looking Back at 2022 Fiction list.
African Town. Irene Latham & Charles Waters. Illus. by Vivian Shih. (2022). Putnam.
African Town is the epic story of the last illegal transportation of 110 enslaved African men, women, and children to the U.S. in 1860. The verse novel is presented in the voices of Kossola (captured from his Bantè home), Timothy Meaher (the illegal importer of African slaves to Mobile, Alabama), Clotilda (the schooner converted to a slave ship), William Foster (captain of the Clotilda), and ten other characters. (map, author’s note, Africatown today, timeline, glossary, poetry forms, bibliography) (Gr 6 Up)
Air Miles. John Burningham & Bill Salaman. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. (2022). Candlewick.
Miles, Norman’s puppy who drove a car in John Burningham’s Motor Miles (2016), is now an old dog who flies a small red plane until the day he takes to the skies flying higher and further than ever before as Norman waves and waves until he can no longer see the plane. “Goodbye, Miles.” Conceived by Burningham as a tribute to his beloved Jack Russell terrier who had died, Air Miles was completed by Bill Salaman and Helen Oxenbury after Burningham’s death in 2019. (PreK Up)
Black Bird, Blue Road. Sofiya Pasternack. (2022). Versify.
Twelve-year-old Ziva is determined to save Pesah, her twin who has leprosy and has had a vision that the Angel of Death will come for him on Rosh Hashanah. In this historical fantasy set in the medieval empire of Khazaria, what begins as a journey to Constantinople to find a cure for Pesah becomes a harrowing trip to Luz (the mythical city of eternal life) with a half-demon boy, Almas, that leads to Ziva’s bargaining with the Angel of Death. (afterword, glossary) (Gr 3 Up)
Cress Watercress. Gregory Maguire. Illus. by David Litchfield. (2022). Candlewick.
After Papa went out one night to find ginger root and honey and never came back, Mama Watercress, Cressida (Cress), and baby brother, Kip, leave their rabbit warren on the riverbank and move into the one-room basement lodgings of a treehouse apartment in an old dead oak tree. Adventure abounds—and so does wit—in the short episodic chapters of this animal fantasy with colorful, stylized digital illustrations. (Gr 3 Up)
Dadaji’s Paintbrush. Rashmi Sirdeshpande. Illus. by Ruchi Mhasane. (2022 ). Levine Querido.
A young boy lives in a tiny village in India with his beloved Grandfather Dadaji, who teaches him to paint. When Dadaji dies, the bereft boy inherits his best paintbrush and their house full of paintings which, in time, he opens to teach village children to paint just as Dadaji had taught him. Ruchi Mhasane’s expressive illustrations complement Rashmi Sirdeshpande’s tender tale of using one’s legacy to deal with loss of a loved one. (author’s note) (PreK Up)
Echoes of Grace. Guadalupe García McCall. (2022). Tu.
When 18-year-old Graciela Torres accidentally runs over and kills her young nephew in Eagle Pass, Texas, the tenuous bond between her and her 19-year-old sister, Mercedes, breaks. While Mercy continues to turn to men for comfort and stability, Grace’s “echoes,” paranormal visions and premonitions, draw her to her maternal grandmother’s home in Mexico where she recovers her memories of a missing week of her life, uncovers family secrets, and begins the process of familial healing. (author's note, resources). (Gr 9-12)
The Great Zapfino. Mac Barnett. Illus. by Marla Frazee. (2022). Beach Lane.
As the ringmaster announces the Great Zapfino’s death-defying dive, Zapfino peers down from a high platform at the tiny trampoline below. On the wordless pages that follow, he disappears without making the leap, leaves the circus, and becomes an elevator operator at a high-rise apartment. Readers will cheer when a toaster fire in his tenth-floor room has Zapfino making a perfect acrobatic leap from his window to the firemen’s trampoline below. “Behold! THE GREAT ZAPFINO!” (PreK-Gr 2)
Healer & Witch. Nancy Werlin. (2022). Candlewick.
In 1531 France, 15-year-old Sylvie discovers that she has the power of healing by the laying on of hands. When touching someone, however, she sees and can remove their thoughts and memories. Setting out for Lyon to find a wisewoman to teach her how to use her unusual healing power safely, Sylvie’s quest is filled with danger as she encounters individuals who consider her a witch or wish to use her gift for personal gains. (Gr 6-8)
Love in the Library. Maggie Tokuda-Hall. Illus. by Yas Imamura. (2022). Candlewick.
Tama, the librarian at Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, and George, a daily visitor to the library, fall in love. They marry, and their first son is born in the camp. In the author’s note, Maggie Tokuda-Hall provides a context for the story about her Japanese American grandparents’ incarceration at Minidoka during World War II and shares thoughts on how racism remains a problem in the U.S. today. (PreK Up)
Nine Color Deer. Kailin Duan. Trans. by Jeremy Tiang. (2022). Levine Querido.
A man rescued from drowning by the Nine Color Deer breaks his promise of not revealing its location and leads the king and his soldiers to the deer’s forest. Warned by the mythical deer that it is guardian spirit of the kingdom, the king wisely orders that no one should ever harm it. Kailin Duan’s exquisite artwork for her adaptation of a traditional Buddhist tale was inspired by the one thousand-year-old Mogao Cave paintings in Dunhuang, China. (PreK Up)
The Ogress and the Orphans. Kelly Barnhill. (2022). Algonquin.
Once upon a time a kind Ogress and 15 orphans lived in the town of Stone-in-the-Glen, where people were kind and cared for each other until mysterious things started to happen. Is there a dragon involved? Is the smarmy mayor, who assures the citizens that he is the best mayor ever, hiding a dark secret? The Ogress and orphans work together to expose the culprit and reunite the townspeople as they rediscover what it means to be good neighbors. (Gr 3 Up)
Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories. Yamile Saled Méndez & Amparo Ortiz (Eds.). Illus. by Ricardo López Ortiz. (2022). Algonquin.
This horror anthology of short stories is filled with folklore, magic, and monsters (including vampires, werewolves, shape changers, ghosts, witches, and spirits). Ricardo López Ortiz’s chilling black-and-white artwork introduces the stories by Latinx authors that explore human and other-worldly intersections in themes of loss, good vs, evil, justice, betrayal, vengeance, and forgiveness. (about the authors) (Gr 9-12)
Still This Love Goes On. Buffy Sainte-Marie. Illus. by Julie Flett. (2022). Greystone Kids.
Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie’s lyrics to her song “Still This Love Goes On” and Cree-Métis artist Julie Flett’s stunning illustrations commemorate the Indigenous community’s connection to nature. This joyful picture book celebrates the power of love that “goes on and on” for family, community, traditions, and nature throughout the seasons and places of one’s life. (glossary, sheet music and lyrics, author’s note, illustrator’s note) (PreK Up)
A Thousand Steps into Night. Traci Chee. (2022). Clarion.
In this Japanese-inspired fantasy, after 17-year-old Otori Miuko is kissed by a demon during the forbidden “verge hour” of dusk, she pursues a quest along the Thousand Step Way to break the curse that is turning her into a demon. Accompanied by trickster Geiki (part human, part magpie), she wrestles with injustices wrought by humans and demons before returning to her village. Her transformation complete, Miuko is ready to take on whatever the universe throws her way. (footnotes, pronunciation guide) (Gr 6 Up)
Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls (Too Small Tola #2). Atinuke. Illus. by Onyinye Iwu. (2022). Candlewick.
Too Small Tola lives with Grandmommy and her older siblings, Moji and Dapo, in “a run-down block of apartments in the megacity of Lagos, in the country of Nigeria.” In the three episodic stories of this early chapter book with numerous line drawings, Tola proves that although she is small, she is a “fine-fine girl” with a big personality and an important member of her family and community. (PreK Up)
Ways to Make Friends. Jairo Buitrago. Trans. by Elisa Amado. Illus. by Mariana Ruiz Johnson. (2022). Aldana Libros.
Toad offers both conventional and wacky suggestions about making friends in this playful how-to guide with colorful cartoonlike illustrations. He ends with a thoughtful reminder: After you are tired of making friends, just “be yourself and forget everything this book has told you to do” and consider doing some things such as drawing, reading, and daydreaming alone to learn how to be your own best friend. (PreK Up)
When Spider Met Shrew. Deborah Kerbel. Illus. by Geneviève Côté. (2022). Groundwood.
When down-on-their-luck Spider and Shrew meet and decide to help each other out, they are soon joined by other creatures with problems: Bat, Possum, Dog, and Pony. The result is a community of unlikely friends who find their needs met by helping others. Colorful illustrations featuring the charming animals and repetitive exclamations of “I’m hungry,” “I’m homeless,” “I’m wet,” . . . make this cumulative tale a great read aloud. (PreK-Gr 2)
Windswept. Margi Preus. Illus. by Armando Veve. (2022). Amulet.
Seven years ago, Tag’s three older sisters were windswept by a mysterious snow squall and disappeared in the Unknown when they disobeyed the edict that “Youngers under the age of fifteen are not permitted in the Out of Doors!” Now 13, Tag, who has never been outside her house, sets out with four other Youngers on a quest to rescue their windswept siblings. (map, author’s note, tales referenced and borrowed from, bibliography) (Gr 3 Up)
The Year We Learned to Fly. Jacqueline Woodson. Illus. by Rafael López. (2022). Nancy Paulsen.
Heeding their grandmother’s encouragement to use their imaginations—“Lift your arms, / close your eyes, / take a deep breath, / and believe in a thing.”—a brother and sister cooped up in their apartment imagine flying over the city. In an author’s note, Jacqueline Woodson shares her inspiration for this story, Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). (PreK-Gr 2)
Yellow Dog Blues. Alice Faye Duncan. Illus. by Chris Raschka. (2022). Eerdmans.
Alice Faye Duncan’s folksy text and Chris Raschka’s illustrations created with fabric paint and embroidery thread on raw canvas take readers on a Mississippi Delta road trip with a young Black boy who is looking for his runaway puppy. Duncan weaves in blues history as Bo Willie discovers that Yellow Dog has gone to Memphis where he is singing the blues on Beale Street. (notes on Delta Blues music and the Mississippi Blues Trail). (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).