The Children’s Books That Took Our Breath Away in 2015

by Devon A. Corneal

Every year, there are a handful of books that we can’t forget. Whether because of their beautiful illustrations, astounding writing, meaningful messages, innovative styles, or groundbreaking themes, certain books are truly memorable.

We asked the Brightly contributors, the people who know books best, to share their choices for the most breathtaking book of 2015, and now we’re sharing them with you. Prepare to be captivated by 2015’s spectacular standouts.

  • Liz-Lesnick-Full

  • Waiting

    by Kevin Henkes

    It seems funny to choose Kevin Henkes’s Waiting as the book that blew me away in 2015. Waiting is a quiet, gentle picture book about a group of toys on a windowsill looking at the window, each one waiting for something to happen. Henkes’s pastel illustrations and crystalline prose are enchanting. This is the perfect before-bedtime book. I can’t wait to read it to my 6-month-old niece.

  • Sharon-Holbrook-Full

  • The Penderwicks in Spring

    by Jeanne Birdsall

    Available from:

    The Penderwicks in Spring is the fourth book in Jeanne Birdsall's charming series about the adventures of four sisters. Nana gave my Penderwick-crazy 8-year-old a copy, and she promptly disappeared until she devoured the whole thing. My daughter bubbled over with desire to tell me what's happening to all her favorite characters, and I shushed her right back, because I love them too, and I want my own turn to sit back and get my Penderwick fix.

    Also available from:
  • Tom-Burns-Full

  • Lockwood & Co.: The Hollow Boy

    by Jonathan Stroud

    Jonathan Stroud books make me happy. I hoard them like a miser, waiting, just waiting until I can share them with my daughter and slowly but surely blow her mind. Stroud’s best works fall into the category of “supernatural YA,” which might be one of the most over-saturated genres in literary history, but his stories are so good, his worldbuilding so confident, his characters so vivid that they stand above the rest. In Stroud’s latest series, we follow a group of pre-teen ghost hunters trying to make a difference in a spirit-plagued London and, with the newest volume, The Hollow Boy, I have become as invested in this story as I have been for any beloved TV series that I’ve ever binged on Netflix or Hulu. I can’t wait for the next one.

  • OPR-Full

  • The Jumbies

    by Tracey Baptiste

    My daughter was thrilled when Baptiste held a reading at a local bookshop — meeting a Black woman writer reminds her that she has the power to tell the stories she wants to tell. Then she heard an excerpt from this book about a courageous girl who takes on supernatural forces with flair, and that was it! She dove into the story (to the point where I was saying that "Put that book down NOW and eat/do your homework/go to bed" type of thing I'd thought I'd never say) and devoured it in what seemed like minutes. Then she hounded me to read it too — she wanted to talk about the chills and magic, yes, but was especially intrigued by the nuanced story of power, culture, and ownership that Baptiste tells. I loved that my daughter wanted to talk about the book with me; I picked it up, and yep, could NOT put it down. Left me breathless for sure, and thinking ... and left both of us absolutely itching for a sequel!

  • Kari-Ness-Riedel-Full

  • The War That Saved My Life

    by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

    Available from:

    This wonderful historical fiction novel is a page-turning adventure set in England in World War II. The story centers on Ada, a 10-year-old girl born with a clubfoot who has been hidden away in a cupboard her whole life and led to believe she is worthless. When she escapes her apartment in London with other children being sent to the countryside due to the impending attacks from Hitler's German army, a new world unfolds to her. There are so many important themes that come alive in this story — from what's it like to live with a disability to what defines a family to the impact of war on our society. The many layers of this story, coupled with the intriguing characters and perfectly paced plot, took my breath away. I've been recommending this book to mature fourth graders and up who loved Number the Stars or other historical adventure stories.

    Also available from:
  • Melissa-Taylor-Recommends

  • Orbiting Jupiter

    by Gary D. Schmidt

    Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is a heartbreaking story that still lingers with me months after reading it. It made me weep. It made me think. It made me see love in a new way. It also reminded me that each of us have a story, even a 14-year-old foster boy on a dairy farm, desperate to see the child he fathered by the only love he ever knew, a love that is now gone.

  • Devon-Corneal-Full

  • The Thing About Jellyfish

    by Ali Benjamin

    And me? I’m having a hard time choosing between The Thing About Jellyfish and The Marvels and since I get to compile the list this year, I don’t have to! The Thing About Jellyfish is a rare middle grade novel that realistically captures the emotional conflict of late elementary school and provides readers with a protagonist they can really relate to. Handling death and survivor’s guilt in a developmentally appropriate and compassionate way is no small feat, but Ali Benjamin manages it beautifully.

  • The Marvels

    by Brian Selznick

    In The Marvels, Brian Selznick continues to highlight his talents as both an author and an illustrator in a tale that covers generations of a single family and their adventures on sea and on the stage. The illustrations alone are extraordinary, but the story is equally engaging.

What about you? What were some of your favorite children’s and YA books of the year?