All Ages

2016’s Most Memorable Moments in Children’s and YA Literature

by Devon Corneal

Image details (left to right): Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Johhny Depp as the Mad Hatter, "Alice Through the Looking Glass"; Hilo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick; Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson; The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Some years, it’s easy to write a year-end roundup. There are big book releases, unexpected awards, surprising trends, a viral video, or a blockbuster that takes the country by storm. Other years are more challenging — you have to look for hidden gems and subtle patterns. 2016 was one of those years. That’s not to say it was boring, far from it. 2016 gave us diversity, history, and quite a bit of fun. See what you think of our choices for the most unforgettable moments from the past year and be sure to let us know what we missed!

A presidential election always makes for interesting reading, and 2016 did not disappoint. No matter your politics, it’s hard to deny that women made history this year. New picture books reflected the i-dissent-bookrole of women in all facets of public life, including the stories of detective Kate Warne, aviator Ruth
Law, suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, photographer Dorothea Lange
, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Speaking of history, 2016 was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, with new middle grade and YA novels to help older children process the complexities of the attacks.

On a happier note, there were plenty of literary anniversaries to recognize in 2016. Beverly Cleary turned 100 in April and we are thrilled she is still with us. Roald Dahl was also born 100 years ago this year, although he lives on only in his stories. The same is true for Beatrix Potter, who was born 150 years ago. To honor the 400th wills-wordsanniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Jane Sutcliffe brought us Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk. Although written for elementary school readers, it’s a fascinating read for kids and adults. And last, but not least, Curious George turned 75 — but he doesn’t look a day over 4.

Some long lost art from the prolific Dr. Seuss went on display in Vancouver. If you missed the show, you can see a few of his previously unknown drawings here.

The conversation about the need for diversity in children’s books continued in 2016. The #weneeddiversebooks movement is growing and, with it, resources for finding books that reflect the diverse experiences of all readers, no matter their ethnicities or race, religious or cultural backgrounds, sexual orientation, disabilities, or gender. Young Marley Dias is helping to lead the charge, pledging to collect 1,000 books about black girls and generating her own hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks. Marley has collected over 4,000 books so far and she’s still going.

A photo posted by Marley Dias (@iammarleydias) on

Break out the champagne for this year’s big award winners! Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson won the Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia and Trombone Shorty illustrated by Bryan Collier won the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which recognize African American authors and illustrators. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. (Coincidentally, Winnie and his companions Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, and Kanga all got makeovers from the New York Public Library. This takes plastic surgery to a whole new level.)


The graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang also had a very good year. The Library of Congress named him the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and he was awarded a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Is this a sign that the graphic novel will finally get the credit it deserves? Far more than mere “comic books,” graphic novels merge innovative narratives with exquisite illustrations to create stories that kids can’t put down. This year’s standouts include Dog Man, Ghosts, Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World, and The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade.


In an interesting meeting of technology and literature, The Neverending Story got a Google Doodle. That alone is plenty exciting for anyone who grew up dreaming of Falkor and Atreyu, but Google took things one step further, recognizing children’s authors from around the world including Gloria Fuertes (Spain), Louisa May Alcott (United States), Ratchanee Sripaiwan (Thailand), and Charles Perrault (France). That’s extra exciting for anyone who appreciates the richness of stories from other cultures. Without Perrault, for example, you might never have heard of Cinderella.

Google wasn’t alone in 2016 in finding new ways to bring children’s stories to life. Audiobooks, long the salvation of commuting adults everywhere, continued to expand their children and teen offerings. Amazon introduced a new reading app for kids that presents books in the form of text exchanges. It’s fun and may grab a few reluctant readers to use their iPads or iPhones for more than just games. Not to be outdone, Apple has a new app designed to help kids read along to their favorite books. Next time your kid seems glued to a screen, you may not want to yell at them to put it down. They just might be reading.

If you love seeing your favorite books brought to life, you were in luck. The live action imaginings of “The Jungle Book” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” hit the box office this past spring while “The BFG” gave us a chance to escape the summer heat. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” arrived with the fall leaves. For a sneak peak of what’s coming in 2017, get ready for “A Monster Calls” in January. You will need tissues. Consider yourself warned.


Sequels remained hot in 2016. Rick Riordan kept readers captivated in the second of his Norse Myths series with Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor. Spoiler alert: As I promised last year, Magnus and Percy Jackson are about to get acquainted. Victoria Aveyard’s The Glass Sword continued the Red Queen series and Cassandra Clare started a new Shadowhunters line with Lady Midnight. Life just got very, very good.thankyoubook

We saw Mo Willems write the last Elephant & Piggie book, bringing to an end a series of 25 funny and meaningful stories that helped early readers transition to their first chapter books. We’re eager, however, to see what Willems comes up with next.

As 2016 comes to a close, we remember the authors we lost, including Harper Lee and Natalie Babbitt, who both passed in their 80s, and Anna Dewdney, author of the Llama Llama series, and a fierce advocate for children’s literacy who we lost too soon. Her last wish was that we would all read to a child. In that spirit, one barber is doing just that, encouraging his pint-sized customers to read to him. When asked why he asks children to read aloud as he cuts their hair, Ryan Griffin says, “You know, maybe someday some kid will grow up and be a journalist, be a writer, and he’ll say, ‘You know what, when I was young, my barber used to make me read.’” Anna would be proud, and so are we. As Brightly nears two, we stand with Mr. Griffin and each of you as we help children learn to love books and reading.