Is there anything quite so lovely as an empty bookcase? Mine are rarely this beautiful. My office is in a constant state of packing and unpacking, with boxes and packages arriving by the dozen every day. I have a fairly complicated and not-quite-capacious-enough system of storage for the floods of books that ebb and flow (mostly flow) over the course of the year. This particular bookcase is reserved for titles starred in Kirkus. I save them all year long and then sift through them as I compile my lists of the best.

Having finally finished 2012’s lists, I have moved the accumulated volumes out of my office and out of my house and am now in the rare position of having more space than I need. I’ve even celebrated the occasion by taking the time to alphabetize those 2013 books that have already received stars and await their distinguished younger cousins, out for judgment with reviewers or even not yet arrived in my office.

By the end of the year, this will be a rats’ nest of books, the final November and December titles jammed in higgledy-piggledy wherever I can find room, alphabetization and any other order a distant memory. Mind you, by “year” I mean that stretch of months between, roughly, October and October, when I make my final decisions about the past year’s best books and when next year’s best books begin to be reviewed.

But I don’t have to think about next fall now. I can enjoy the illusion of expansive space and dwell happily on the few volumes I have collected so far.

Continue reading >


Black History Month always accounts for the first rush of starred titles of the year, as publishers position their explorations and homages for January publication in anticipation of the next month’s celebrations. There’s Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson, a magisterial portrait of the great South African leader who brought apartheid down; A Splash of Red, by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, an inspiring glimpse into the life and work of Horace Pippin, self-taught African-American artist; and You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Terry Widener, an appropriately enthusiastic and energetic biography of the Giants great.

Older readers share in the Black History bounty as well. Tonya Bolden offers a characteristically vigorous account of the events and arguments that led to the Emancipation Proclamation, and Tanya Lee Stone’s impassioned chronicle of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, proves that Courage Has No Color.

(And here’s hoping that the industry does not forget or neglect books by and about African-Americans for the next 11 months.)

Turning to middle-grade novels, there is a clutch of new titles from Newbery medalists and honorees. With Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson follows up on the story of the indomitable Hattie Inez Brooks, who’s left Montana’s big sky for a career in journalism in San Francisco. Patricia Reilly Giff mines her own childhood for Gingersnap, a gentle ghost story set in World War II Brooklyn and flavored with soup. Jerry Spinelli imagines childhood as a physical place in Hokey Pokey, capturing the moment when one boy grows up. And Clare Vanderpool returns with Navigating Early, a picaresque meditation on the power of story.

Teens will not be left with nothing to read in 2013. Erica Lorraine Scheidt gives readers a compelling heroine in Anna, child of a single teen mother who desperately seeks the love and stability her family has never provided, in the haunting Uses for Boys. Hannah Moskowitz places a family desperate for a cure on an island where the fish have magical healing properties in the unsettling fable Teeth. Steven Arntson challenges a teen with her imminent death, giving her just a week to ready herself in the darkly funny The Wrap-Up List.

And that’s just January—not even all of it. 2013, I’m ready for you: Lay it on me.

Vicky Smith is the childrens & teen editor at Kirkus Reviews.