Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt - A surefire Newbery contender, though it does lean a little towards YA (both it and Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars are included in my library's YA collection), this coming-of-age novel hits all the right notes and has created one of the most memorable characters of the year. Personally, I think Okay For Now bests The Wednesday Wars, if only by a smidge, and it's probably my favorite novel of the year so far.
The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer - A fantastic story paired with great illustrations make this a highly enjoyable modern fable storybook. Tim always tells the truth, about the ninjas, astronauts and giant squids that cause trouble all around him, but no one believes him. So one day, Tim starts lying, and confessing to the broken TV antenna and the pencils thrown at Grampa while he is sleeping. It's a great flip of conventions and Latimer's illustrations are wonderfully playful and colorful.
Chamelia by Ethan Long - The text is simple and straightforward, about a chameleon that longs to stand out and fit in, but the illustrations in this little story are top notch. Chamelia is as darling as she can be, and the subtly mixed media drawings with gentle pastels and outrageous colors and textures for Chamelia's clothes create both a relaxing background and an energetic pop. And the book jacket, book cover and endpapers are to die for!
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy - This was a tricky book to get right, but Reedy manages very well in this story of thirteen-year-old Zulaikha, an Afghani girl on the cusp of womanhood with many changes to undergo. First she starts to learn to read from an old friend on her mother, then an American doctor with the troops wants to help fix her cleft lip. This coming-of-age drama is bittersweet and offers very few answers for the many questions in Zulaikha's life, but presents a character who is strong enough to seek them out for herself.
Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O'Connell George, ill. Nancy Carpenter - Little sisters are a blessing and a curse, and Jessica's poems about her little sister Emma run the gamut. This is a very sweet (but not too sweet) look at sisterhood, and all the rewards and pitfalls of having and being a sister. Nancy Carpenter's illustrations perfectly capture Jessica's frustration and love for her Emma Dilemma as well as Emma's exuberant and occasionally troublesome behavior
Chuckling Ducklings and Baby Animal Friends by Aaron Zenz - Cute. So so cute. Nigh unbearably cute. Baby animals are everywhere in Zenz's rhyming exploration of the animal world. We get everything from puppies and kittens to poults and squabs (those are baby turkeys and pigeons). Did I mention this book is cute? And it has a baby giraffe in it, which is full of win right there.
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke - Full of weird and wonderful characters, a shaggy anti-hero and a spunky, relatable heroine on a classic homeward bound journey Zita the Spacegirl makes for a good graphic novel, one-sitting read. There's action, evil creepy crawlies, great art, and did I mention the shaggy anti-hero? I've always been fond of a shaggy anti-hero.