Quill & Quire’s Books of the Year 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, Quill & Quire has picked their top five books for young people. According to Q&Q staff, “There’s no formula for deciding. Some are critical darlings, some are word-of-mouth favourites. Some introduce us to important new voices, some represent the best work from established authors. And some are simply exceptional works we think people will be reading and talking about for years to come. Together, these five books made the biggest impact in YA and kidlit in 2011.” Their top picks are listed below, along with their reasons for choosing these wonderful titles.

The Qalupalik The Qalupalik
Written by Elisha Kilabuk
Illustrated by Joy Ang
Inhabit Media
“Mainstream attention to Inuit culture is still relatively rare. The introduction of Inhabit Media’s Unikkakuluit series, featuring traditional stories presented by contemporary Nunavummiut storytellers and artists, should be a big step toward resolving this issue, especially if the quality of the first picture book is any indication of what’s to come. Iqaluit-born storyteller Elisha Kilabuk draws on the rich oral tradition of the Inuit for this tale of a quick-witted orphan triumphing over a qalupalik, an Arctic Ocean–dwelling monster who preys on unsuspecting children and drags them into the water’s icy depths. Edmonton artist Joy Ang’s stunning illustrations don’t shy away from showing the monster in all its hideous glory, free of any cutesy trappings. It’s a refreshing take on an old myth that is sure to engage children across the country.”

My Name is Elizabeth My Name is Elizabeth!
Written by Annika Dunklee
Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
Kids Can Press
“What’s in a name? For Elizabeth, the star of Annika Dunklee’s adorable debut picture book, plenty, apparently. It has a lot of letters and makes her mouth do fun things when she says it. And there’s even a queen with the same name, so it must be special. Picture books are often either silly or visually stimulating, but rarely both at the same time. My Name is Elizabeth captures the best of both worlds, offering a fun, vivacious character and simple story arc complemented by the whimsical illustrations of Matthew Forsythe (whose 2008 graphic novel, Ojingogo, was also a Q&Q book of the year). It’s safe to say this is the kind of story children will ask to have read to them again and again (and again), regardless of their monikers.”

Tilt Tilt
Written by Alan Cumyn
Groundwood Books
“Coming-of-age stories for YA readers are a dime a dozen, so when one comes along that is geared to (often reluctant) male readers, and is interesting, well-written, and smart, it tends to get noticed. Alan Cumyn’s first foray into fiction for an older YA market (following his lauded Owen Skye trilogy for middle-grade readers) is just such a book. Tilt tells the story of 16-year-old wannabe junior varsity basketball player Stan, his complicated family life, and his seemingly uncontrollable hormones, accelerated by an increasingly close relationship with Janine, who may or may not be a lesbian. There is a lot of sex in this book, both real and imagined, but it’s depicted in a manner that comes across as funny and honest rather than salacious. Cumyn’s novel, while simple on the surface, elevates the boy-meets-girl formula to become a touching, nuanced portrayal of a boy reaching tentatively into maturity.”

This Dark Endeavour This Dark Endeavour
Written by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
“The talented and prolific Kenneth Oppel already garners much attention from readers, award juries, and critics alike. So why feel the need to include him here? Here’s the thing: sometimes the hype is justified. A gothic tale of love, lust, ambition, and the supernatural, Oppel’s latest effort, which has roots in Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, combines eloquent language and an action-filled plot. His young Frankenstein brothers, Victor and Konrad, are sure to get as much attention as those Twilight kids, especially once the movie (optioned by the producer of Stephenie Meyer’s hit franchise) hits the big screen. “Victor’s seething passions and mixed motives – coupled with his clear-eyed assessment of them – make him by far the most complex and, oddly, sympathetic character Oppel has created (at least, among those that are human),” wrote Q&Q reviewer Chelsea Donaldson.”

The Tiffin The Tiffin
Written by Mahtab Narsimhan
Dancing Cat Books
“With her latest tale of courage, determination, and success in overcoming hardship, Mahtab Narsimhan reminds us that, sometimes, all you need to engage young readers is a really good story. The Silver Birch Award–winning author (for her debut novel, The Third Eye) transports readers into the frenetic world of the dabbawallas of her native Mumbai, who deliver lunch to white-collar workers in metal containers called tiffins. Against this backdrop we meet Kunal, who is on a quest to find his birth mother using the tiffins as a tool. It sounds fantastical, but Narsimhan’s lush rendering of Mumbai is so vivid the reader can almost hear its sounds, see its sights, and smell its scents. In her starred Q&Q review, Shannon Ozirny wrote that ‘this world will be just as awe-inspiring to North American young people as any fantasy realm could hope to be.'”