Best chil­dren’s books of 2018

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Community - BY CHRISTINA BAR­RON, KATHIE MEIZNER, ABBY MCGANNEY NOLAN AND MARY QU­AT­TLE­BAUM

Ja­son Reynolds of­ten tells fans that he didn’t read a novel cover to cover un­til he was 17. The ad­mis­sion gives him cred­i­bil­ity with mid­dle-school­ers who don’t want to be seen at the li­brary. It also brings a sigh of re­lief to par­ents who strug­gle to get their kids to read. Af­ter all, this non­reader turned into a best-sell­ing author. “Lu,” the fi­nal book in his mid­dle-grade track se­ries, pub­lished last month.

Reynolds says the sto­ries avail­able to his young self weren’t ap­peal­ing. They didn’t speak to his life, grow­ing up in Oxon Hill, Mary­land, in the 1990s. What did fas­ci­nate him were words. When asked about the books of his child­hood, Reynolds men­tioned Mau­rice Sen­dak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

“It was the first time I heard the word ‘mis­chievous,’” he said re­cently.

An­other fa­vorite was Dr. Seuss, a mas­ter of wordplay.

“Dr. Seuss was a king to us,” Reynolds said. “That kind of stuff stays with you.”

At age 9, he dis­cov­ered other words that would stick with him: the lyrics of hip-hop artists. Not only did he like the sto­ries, which re­flected modern life, but he also liked the form. It was po­etry, and he said it seemed like a magic trick, “the mas­ter­ful abil­ity to make words that you don’t think are sup­posed to go to­gether go to­gether.”

So Reynolds be­gan to write po­ems.

“I be­came ob­sessed with how can you say a whole lot with­out say­ing much of any­thing,” he said.

At 16, a friend’s cousin in­tro­duced him to places he could read his po­etry.

“The city had an open­mic night ev­ery night of the week in a dif­fer­ent place, and I wanted to be there,” he said.

That pas­sion for po­etry led him to the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, where he stud­ied English. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2005, he and artist friend Ja­son Grif­fin headed to New York with a self-pub­lished novel in verse, hop­ing for

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