Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading Roundup: November and December 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 13
Early Readers: 1

Sources
Library: 14

Standouts
Writing: Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don't) by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
Oh, please. I'm practically obligated to pick this one. That said, I loved seeing a quirky, funky young librarian and the steadfastly conservative kid that's the toughest nut she ever cracked.
Illustration: Seeds of Change: Wangari's gift to the world illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, written by Jen Cullerton Robertson
Oh man, I drooled over the scratchboard and oil illustrations in this one. Thick blocks of gorgeous color bring the story of Mama Miti to life.
Overall: Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon
What a beautiful book this was. It covers many different religions (let's hear it for non-Western!), highlighting the ways they are the same at a level even the youngest children can understand, without dumbing down the importance of spirituality across all cultures. The photographs are double-thick cream cheese icing on this cake.

Because I Want To Awards
Weirdest: Thumb Love by Elise Primavera
Best It's-Okay-to-Have-Feelings Book: Mouse was Mad by Linda Urban, illustrated by Henry Cole
Girliest Book Ever: Goldilicious by Victoria Kann
Am Totally Doing Shark or Train Storytime SOON: Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Note About November's Reading Roundup

Due to a very busy month, I didn't read nearly enough picture books or early readers to make a decent roundup. Even I was kinda surprised at how small the list was. I'll combine November and December together next month.

In the meantime, what's the best book you read this month?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Best Illustrated Children's Books

. . . at least, according to the New York Times. But hey, our own Fuse #8 was one of the judges, and her I trust.

This year they're all picture books, which is not always the case ("best illustrated," remember), with a wild variety of artistic styles. Go see the slideshow now! I guarantee you'll want to print out that Blexbolex spread and hang it on your wall.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: Mama, Is it Summer Yet? by Nikki McClure

Book: Mama, Is it Summer Yet?
Author: Nikki McClure
Illustrator: Nikki McClure
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Starting in winter, a little boy asks his mama whether it’s summer yet. Each page takes them a step closer, through the springtime awakening and into the summer they've both been waiting for.

You wouldn’t think a book that only uses a few colors (black, pale beige, and white, with occasional pastel highlights) would be able to bring spring and summer to life so vividly. As summer approaches, McClure adds a few more colors to her illustrations (the cut-paper style that was so eye-popping in her previous All in a Day) until the final spread fairly glows, even though it would seem muted in any other book.

What a lovely and tender celebration of both the seasons and the relationship between mother and son.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Glee: Sesame Street Cupcakes!

Like it says up there. Om nom nom.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom. Posted because . . . does there need to be a reason to post about Sesame Street cupcakes? Because if you really require that then I am sad for you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dia de los Muertos Books

Halloween is undoubtedly one of the juggernauts of the fall/winter holiday season, but in my town and many others with vibrant Mexican-American communities, there's one to rival it. This is Dia de los Muertos, November 2nd. Originating in Mexico, this is a day to celebrate and honor your dead, and not incidentally, have a great party!

If you've got a Mexican-American community (note that I don't say Latino or Hispanic, because we come from many, many countries) or you just want to expose kids to a beautiful and fun holiday that celebrates life, try these books out.

Caveat: The images of lushly decorated skeletons, coffins, and gravestones may seem morbid to some. It's an opportunity to explain that, to those who grew up with the holiday, these are not meant to be frightening or threatening, like the similar decorations associated with Halloween. Instead, they are beautiful and familiar, as much a reminder of life as they are of death.

Calavera Abecedario by Jeanette Winter
This book goes through the Spanish alphabet using both calaveras (skeletons) and papel picado, the traditional cut-paper decorations. Many of the letters feature calaveras engaging in everyday occupations like baking or snuggling with novios (boyfriends or girlfriends). In Mexican and Mexican-American art, skeletons are often featured dressed in clothing, acting as if they were alive. It's a reminder that they were once living people who really did these things and a way to honor the memory of their life.


Clatter Bash! by Richard Keep
The calaveras climb out of their graves to party in the graveyard. They chatter, dance, sing, feast, and even tell stories! At the end of the night they say adios and gracias to their living family members and climb back into their graves for another year. Since the text is all based on the sounds made in the story, when reading it aloud to a group, I talk about the events in the pictures.



 Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales and its companion book Just in Case
While these aren't tied specifically to El Dia de los Muertos, you can see its influence in Señor Calavera. Look at that guy! Isn't he beautiful? In Just a Minute, Grandmother Beetle holds off Señor Calavera by promising that she'll go with him, but she's got one more thing to do before she does. And then just one more thing . . . and just one more . . .


In Just in Case, Señor Calavera is on his way to Grandmother Beetle's birthday party, but can't decide what to bring her. A helpful ghost makes suggestions that proceed through the alphabet. When Señor Calavera arrives at the party, he realizes he's unknowingly brought the gift Grandmother Beetle wanted most of all.

Are you familiar with Day of the Dead? What are some of your favorite books about the holiday?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reading Roundup: October 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 76 (oh yes! We kept getting stacks of new stuff at work, all shiny and irresistible . . .)
Early Readers: 8

Sources
Library: all

Standouts
Writing: Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires
The contrast between the narration and the story that the illustrations tell will tickle many a young funnybone.
Illustration: A Bedtime for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, written by Bonny Becker
I love the soft watercolors, the expressive characters, and all the fussiness of Bear's neat little world.
Overall: Finn Throws a Fit! by David Elliott, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
What a familiar story to parents of toddlers! Ering's illustrations are both over-the-top and right on the nose. Extra kudos for the realistic end.

Because I Want To Awards
Oh My Gosh, I Can't Wait to Use This in Storytime: The Secret Circus by Johanna Wright
I Think It's Pretty Darn Cute, Last Page Notwithstanding: It's a Book by Lane Smith
Every Teacher Should Get a Copy Upon Graduation: How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
Yes! Dinosaur is Back!: Dinosaur vs. the Potty by Bob Shea

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Essential Picture Books

If there's one good thing about the "Death of the Picture Book OMG The World is Ennnnnnnnding!" article in the New York Times, it's that people are paying more attention to the humble picture book. Strollerderby shares its list of the 5 Essential Picture Books for a Perfect Childhood.

Honestly, after reading the list, I can't say that I agree that these books are essential. Like, your kid will grow up to be a sociopathic mass murderer or somebody who doesn't pay library overdue fines if they don't read them. But I do agree they're great books and well worth reading over and over again.

My Essential Five would be:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Okay, I'm with StrollerDerby on this one. There's just something about the rhythm of the language, the soothing repetition, and that mouse.

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
. . . and this one. People talk about books with appeal to both parent and child, and this may just be the perfect example of that. Adults can sympathize with poor frustrated Daddy while children will know exactly what the devastated Trixie is going through. Plus, the combo of black-and-white photographs and color cartoons? Genius.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
I remember the art most of all, those thick blocks of color in varying intensities. And the holes. Why were those holes so fascinating? I know not.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Oh gosh, talk about simplicity in art. But this book is all about the power of imagination. Is Harold pretending, or is it really a magical purple crayon that makes him a pint-size God? Who cares?

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A book about adventure and wild rumpuses and journeys across the sea and monsters that can be tamed, and a kid who can go through all this without Learning a Lesson of some sort.

Now admittedly, this is what I came up with after about twenty minutes of cogitation, and heavily weighted toward the books that had a permanent place on my childhood shelves. It's a highly subjective thing, picture book essentialism. What would you call your Essential Five?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Off to Minneapolis!

Well, not yet. But my various devices are charging up, my clothes are packed, and so far I've remembered to include all the things I traditionally forget (glasses, contact solution, on one memorable occasion shoes. Oy). I leave bright and early in the morning for Minneapolis and the Fourth (!!!) Annual KidlitCon, where I look forward to a weekend hanging out with people I haven't seen in a year or more, talking blogs, books, and the confluence of both.

Will you be joining us? If not, I'll be tweeting the con under the handle @mosylu, with the hashtag #kidlitcon and possibly even doing little posts at this blog. Follow!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Save the Picture Book! If It Needs Saving at All

First, there was the New York Times article. Then the blogosphere went bananas (it's a popular activity, you have to admit), with this post by MotherReader  probably best representing our collective mindset. Then Lisa Von Drasek published this piece on HuffPo, which articulat all our rebuttals for the non-book-blogging public.

Now that the furor has died down (and we've all realized that we've played right into the NYT's hands by uproaring about it), what do you think?

Speaking from my very small experience sample as the reigning dictator of the children's section in a public library of a book-lovin' town, the picture book is doing just fine. We've got new books from author/illustrators like Mo Willems, Emily Gravett, and Nikki McClure, plus scores of others, rolling in every day. Parents are maxing out their library cards on Fancy Nancy, munchkins are staggering out the door clutching books wider than their heads. Storytimes are stuffed to the gills. If the picture book is really in trouble, I'm not seeing it.

There are some parents who disdain them. I can't deny it. Much like the poor, the pushy parent will always be with us. Tell yourself it's a teachable moment. (Point of interest: the mom who was quoted in the article as not "allowing" her six-year-old reluctant reader to pick up picture books had her quotes taken totally out of context, which she addressed at her own blog.)

Maybe picture books are not being bought in the same numbers, but in this economy, what is? As somebody mentioned (and if this was you, please comment so I can attribute!), the picture books that are being bought are the ones that the parent has checked out forty-four times already.

That's me, though. What are you seeing?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The End of Knuffle Bunny

This was tweeted awhile ago from @The_Pigeon, the Twitter feed of childlit's most famous bird since that one in Are You My Mother?


Mo Willems discusses the end of the Knuffle Bunny trilogy with his daughter Trixie, on whom the Trixie in the books is loosely based. Everyone together: awww.

P.S. That kid is astonishingly self-possessed. Don't you think? I don't know how old she is, but whatever her age, she's very articulate.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review: Can You Make a Scary Face by Jan Thomas

Book: Can You Make a Scary Face?
Author: Jan Thomas
Illustrator: Jan Thomas
Published: 2009
Source: Local library

A ladybug asks readers to play pretend. Prompts include a tickly bug, a little dancing, and a giant hungry frog--who then shows up! Yikes!

Oh, Jan Thomas. Ever since Where Will Fat Cat Sit, you’ve been a sure thing for storytime-doing librarians everywhere. This one is especially perfect for toddler storytime, with Thomas' trademark thick lines, bright colors, and solid backgrounds, just right for a big group. Storywise, there's a variety of options for jumping around and wiggling, not to mention extremely silly faces on the part of the librarian.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book Review: The Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle

Book: The Pirate Cruncher
Author: Jonny Duddle
Illustrator: Jonny Duddle
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

In a pub called the Thirsty Parrot, a wizened fiddler approaches the captain of a pirate ship with an irresistible offer: treasure beyond his wildest dreams! What pirate worth his sea salt could turn that down? Certainly not Captain Purplebeard and his scurvy crew. But the further out to sea they get, the more the sailors start to notice that there’s something funny about that fiddler. Maybe there’s something he’s not telling them?

Something to do with . . . monsters?

As if the purely delightful storyline of this book isn’t enough, Jonny Duddle piles on silly details of the illustrations (especially one you’ll notice on the second reading) and the word-bubble asides from the sailors. It could be a little scary for pre-elementary, but older swabbies will gulp this book down like a dram of grog.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reading Roundup September 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 43
Early Readers: 3

Sources
Library: 42
Other (read at the bookstore): 2

Standouts
Writing: My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza
A wolf thinks it's his lucky day when dinner knocks on his door. But dinner might have other plans . . .
Illustration: Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood
You'll be as dazzled as the owl by the profusion of bright colors in this story of a nocturnal creature seeing the daylight world.
Overall: Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren
A daughter follows her mother around the sheep farm, watching the path of wool from the sheep in the pen to the sweater on her own back.

Because I Want To Awards
Best Twist in the Tail: The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep by Mircea Catusanu
Best Family Story: Ten Days and Nine Nights by Yumi Heo
For Your Picky Eaters (and their parents): Too Pickley by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Geneviève Leloup

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Cybils Eve!

Taking a break from Banned Book Week for a day, I have to remind everyone that the Cybils nominations start tomorrow. Woot! And double woot! This is the 5th year for the kidlitosphere's beloved homegrown book awards.

October 1st - 15th, anyone can nominate a book in any category. Teachers, librarians, kids, parents, if you loved it, shout it out! Then the first-round judges swing into action, reading like crazy folks, and winnow the giant piles down to a few finalists for each category. Those lists are released January 1st, and that's when the second-round judges clock in, taking the next month to intensively read and debate every single book on their category's shortlist until one is declared the winner. All winners are announced on Valentine's Day.

I've judged for the past three years, and I can tell you it's a lot of work, but so worth it! If you want to check out the judges for this year (and, of course, their blogs!), stop in and have a gander at the panels. Congratulations to everyone who made the cut!

Also on the Cybils website, along the sidebar: finalists and winners from the last few years, a fine resource for anyone who wants to find marvelous books. If you want to show your support for the bestest little award on the internet, get shopping at the CafePress store.

But most importantly of all . . . what are you going to nominate?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Got Kleenex?

Okay, I'm posting this Ounce of Prevention ad not only because it will bring tears to your eyes (WAAAAAAAH), but also because of its focus on early childhood education, including--you guessed it--reading together as a means of cementing family bonds.



Thanks to Pima County Public Library's Facebook feed for the heads-up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oh, Now I'm Very Hungry Too

One of the cuter sites I visit regularly is My Food Looks Funny. A few days back, they featured a little lunch box filled with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Nostalgia Overload!!!
see more My Food Looks Funny

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, y'all! You know what slays me, is the little holes in the food. That's thoroughness, right there.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Farewell, Booklights!

One of my favorite blogs is going offline- PBS's Booklights is closing down after a couple of great years of posts about child development, early literacy, and reading with your kids. Siiiiiiiiiigh. I hope they'll keep the archives up, because some days I just want to print out entire posts and pass them out in storytime.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Roundup August 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 45 (I know! I changed positions this month, and now I'm back to being a children's librarian, where having a stack of picture books on your desk looks like work.)
Early Readers: 4

Sources
Library: 46

Standouts
Writing: The Daddy Mountain by Jules Feiffer
Adventure and derring-do with a courageous little girl and her daddy. Perfect.
Illustration: If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen
I mentioned it in my review, but the slick, retro look of this book was the perfect choice for the anything-goes flight of fancy in the text.
Overall: Mama, is it Summer Yet? by Nikki McClure
A tender, gorgeous book about mothers, sons, anticipation, and the slow turning of the seasons. I don't usually make award predictions, but I will be very unhappy if this doesn't get some love come January.

Because I Want To Awards
What the . . . ?: The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez
Even Better on the Second Reading, Because You Know What to Look For: The Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle
Yep. You're Gonna Cry: Remembering Crystal by Sebastian Loth
A Worthy Sequel: A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cybils Days Are Here Again


You have to imagine that with balloons and stuff.

The Cybils, our beloved blogger-run literary awards, are ramping up again, and they're kicking things off with a call for judges. If you've never judged, now's your chance! If you've judged before, you know what it's like! So . . . yeah, follow the link and throw your name in the hat. You have until September 15.

Even if you don't want to judge, start gathering up your favorites of 2010 now, because the noms start October 1.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review: If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

Book: If I Built a Car 
Author: Chris Van Dusen
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Published: 2005
Source: Local Library

A boy tells his dad all about the car he will invent. This isn’t any old jalopy--it contains a pool, a snack bar, and a robot that will drive if you want to take a nap. But wait, there’s more! It’ll be made of a special squishy material rather than steel. Plus, it’ll transform into a boat, a submarine, AND it’ll fly!

Chris Van Dusen capitalizes on the innovative, anything-can-happen air of the 1950s with his illustrations. From the geometric designs on the furniture to the peach-and-teal color scheme of the car, even to the funky two-level nightstand in the boy’s room, lovers of retro decor will adore this book. Also sure to be fans: car lovers and invention-seekers.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reading Roundup July 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 31
Early Readers: 2

Sources
Review Copies: 1
Swapped: 6
Library: 24

Standouts
Writing: Do Not Build a Frankenstein! by Neil Numberman
Just, massive hee! all around. I can see this being a hit in 1st grade classrooms.
Illustration: Mirror by Suzy Lee
Actually, my coworker was kind of freaked out by the ending of this book. I'm interested to hear how Actual Kids (tm) reacted to it.
Overall: City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
When I first heard that Mo Willems wasn't illustrating his latest picture book, I was taken aback. But when I read this lovely book, I understood.

Because I Want To Awards
Well, That Didn't Go Where I Was Expecting: Over at the Castle by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
 How Can I Help But Love the End?: Stella Louella's Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Okay, Where Are They Getting All Those Ingredients?: Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Paulette Bogan

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: Far Far Away! by John Segal

Book: Far, Far Away!
Author: John Segal
Illustrator: John Segal
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

After a stressful day at the market, a little pig announces his intention to run away. "Tonight. Forever. You can't stop me." He warns his mother that he's going "far far away from HERE!" His mother helps him plan the various logistics of his journey, including what to pack. When he discovers that he will depart before the chocolate cake is ready, however, the little pig has a change of heart.

Almost every kid has announced their intention to run away, knowing subconsciously that the act of announcing it has prevented it from happening. They'll recognize themselves in the little pig, both through his initial bad mood and his desire to take everything along with him, and be reassured by the very end.

The clean, warm watercolors really shine when portraying the little pig's possible troubles on his journey, but Segal also contrasts mama's serenity with little pig's slowly lifting bad mood to keep the feel purely fantasy.

Written in dialogue format, this would work well as a storytime readaloud, or even a two-man show.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: I Have a Little Problem, said the bear by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Silke Leffler

Author: Heinz Janisch
Illustrator: Silke Leffler
Published: 2007 (Austria) 2009 (US)
Source: Local Library
 
The bear has a problem. He goes around town, seeking help. He gets wings, a scarf, boots, pills, even a lucky charm, but none of these will fix his problem. What can?
 
Every child who has ever been ignored or frustrated will recognize this bear's plight. Everyone thinks they know what the bear needs, while not listening long enough to hear what his real problem is. In the end, the bear doesn't need anything but a friend.  
 
On another level, this book is about consumerism and the modern desire for stuff to fill the gaps. Everyone the bear talks to wants to sell him something, from hats to honey. But his real problem--loneliness and fear of the dark--can only be solved by a friend. And of course, the friend, a modest little fly, is the first one who listens to the bear's problem all the way through, without interruptions.
 
It's on the long side for preschoolers, but it's perfect for a class or a parent/child read-together. This deceptively simple book could prompt discussions about the value of friendship and companionship over material goods, and the importance of listening instead of jumping to conclusions.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash

Author: Andy Rash
Illustrator: Andy Rash
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library
 
When Roy gets a saddle for his birthday, he's a little flummoxed about how to use it. The instructions aren't helpful, either: "1. Find a horse. 2. Enjoy the ride." You see, despite being a cowboy, Roy's not exactly sure what a horse is. So he sets off through the Wild West, attempting to find a horse. Apparently, they have some very specific qualities. The rusty thing with wheels is not a horse (it's not alive), the spiny green thing is not a horse (it's not an animal), and the wiggly, hissing thing is not a horse (it doesn't have legs). Oh, dear! How will Roy ever get to use his brand-new birthday saddle?
 
This book develops like a game of twenty questions. From the initial question ("animal, vegetable, or mineral?"), Roy slowly narrows down the qualities of a horse until he finally finds one that fits all the categories. Roy's clearly not the shinest spur in the ranch house. That's part of the fun. The other part is the sheer silliness of this book. Besides cacti and snakes, recognizable Wild West artifacts, Rash also includes lions, zebras, sloths, and crabs in the category of non-horse. My favorite spread was the sloth, who apparently takes the better part of a day to inform Roy that he's not a horse because horses are fast.
 
This book is just plain fun. I kind of want to turn this into a puppet show so I can hear the shrieks of hilarity as kids correct Roy's misperceptions.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reading Roundup June 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 24

Sources
Library: all

Standouts
Writing: Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Andy Rash
Too long for storytime, but I really cottoned to this story of a kid who goes to superhero school and is terribly disappointed to discover that it's still school. Lots of funny, clever metaphors and phrases.
Illustration: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Yes, I just got to reading it this month. I know. I know! The dry Serengeti heat seems to blast off the page. I'm from Arizona, people. We know heat. Pinkney got the baked, bleached, and beautiful landscape just right.
Overall: I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Silke Leffler
Works on many levels. I'll drone on about them in a review, soon.

Because I Want To Awards
Really Wanna Read This Aloud: Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash. (Side note: I gave this to a co-worker when I first read it. He fell so deeply in love with it that he's still forcing people to read it three weeks later. I regret nothing.)
Never Flinches from the Realities of Antarctic Life: The Emperor Lays an Egg by Brenda Guiberson
Got a Green Kid? This is for Them: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Book: The Curious Garden
Author: Peter Brown
Illustrator: Peter Brown
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Once upon a time, there was a dreary city, where the air was thick with pollution and nobody ever went outside, except Liam. One day, Liam found a struggling little garden in the remains of an elevated railway. With his help, the little garden of moss and wildflowers flourishes, spreading throughout the city and bringing Liam's grey world to life again.

This book kept cropping up on my blogroll, and after reading it, I can see why. The story's very simple, but what makes it really stand out for me are the illustrations. I particularly loved the use of color to subtly bring Liam's world awake. Brown renders the initial pages with muted colors that all seem to have undertones of browns and yellows. After a couple of pages of that, the first introduction of the garden's vivid colors catch your eye, and that color spreads. Everything that the garden and Liam touch seem to brighten up.

The final spread shows the same view as the first, but it took me a few moments to realize that. The colors are completely different--the air clear and blue, the buildings covered with greenery, and most of all, people outside enjoying it. It's rather long for a crowd of preschoolers, but try this one-on-one or with early elementary. Inspired by the real story of Manhattan's High Line, The Curious Garden is a lovely fable about the power of nature to renew.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Moving Targets, Shocking News, and Nostalgia Ahoy

It's that time again, when I cull bits and pieces from around the web for your more-than-possible enjoyment. (Six points if you can identify that musical. Go!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kidlitosphere Conference 10 Info!

The next Kidlitosphere Conference has been set for October 23 in Minneapolis, Minnesota! Click through to the official KidLitCon10 blog (hello, of course there's a blog!) for all the details.

If you've never been, consider it! If you have, I don't need to convince you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Honor of Father's Day . . .

. . . follow the dancing link (no, it doesn't really dance; sorry about that) to the blog Hot Guys Reading Books. Normally, this photoblog focuses on pictures of good looking men reading (I know! Shocker!)

But all this week, they've featured men reading with, or alongside, their kids. With all the furor about boys who don't read, it's reassuring to know that there are some who do, and grow up to pass it on to their own kids.

I don't know whether to coo or fan myself.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: My People by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr

Book: My People
Author: Langston Hughes
Illustrator: Charles R. Smith Jr
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

One of Langston Hughes' most emotional and shortest poems is brought to life by Smith's glorious photography of African-American faces--men and women, all ages, smiling, solemn, serene, and silly.

This book won the Coretta Scott King award this year at the ALA Youth Media Awards, and it's richly deserved. Looking over the photographs, I realized to my astonishment that they were all in sepia tones. Somehow, their richness and beauty had overwhelmed my memory of the monochromatic style. My favorite part was the way he used parts of the photographs to illustrate the concepts in the poem. For instance, instead of a starry night for the line, "the stars are beautiful," Smith photographs the sparkling clips in a little girl's dark hair. And "Beautiful, also, the sun" was paired with two shining faces, tipped upward as if to a noonday sun. Wowee.

While the length of this book would ordinarily make me put it in a storytime collection, I stopped. The deep emotions and abstract concepts embedded in the poem text seem above the library's storytime age, as well as the crowd setting. It's a more intimate book, one that asks for discussion and contemplation. I would most definitely read it to a school-age group, along with a discussion of the poem itself, as well as Langston Hughes' life and work. What do you think? Who would you read this book with?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

People of Color Picture Books

This one came to me via the Child_Lit email listserv. There's a new wiki in town, called People of Color Picture Books. As you can tell, it's a resource for picture books featuring people of color. She has it broken down by ethnic group (including one for multiracial, yeah!) and also by age group,

If you're like me and have a devil of a time finding good picture books that feature non-Caucasian protagonists, this could come in handy. This is just starting up, so if you know of jim-dandy picture books that aren't mentioned, get a wikispaces account and add away.

Monday, June 14, 2010

King and King video

And now, rating a 10.0 on the Aww-O-Meter, a fan adaptation of King and King.



All together now . . . awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

King and King is the subject of much controversy, but as this video shows, it's all external. At its heart, this book is the story of two people meeting and falling in love. For kids with two daddies, it's the fairy tale of their own family's beginning.

Thanks to Lee Wind of I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? for the video.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reading Roundup April 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 13

Sources
Review Copy: 1
Library: 12 

Standouts
Writing: Chicken Little by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley
Delicious snark is the only way to approach this well-known tale of mass foolishness. Sweet, sweet snark.
Illustration: Dinotrux by Chris Gall
They're dinosaurs! And trucks! And also dinosaurs! I think the little part of my brain that's still about four years old just exploded with delight.
Overall: My People by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith
Just beautiful. I'm not sure I have the words.

Because I Want To Awards
Deftest Book About a Father's Non-Presence: A Father Like That by Charlotte Zolotow
Deliciously Ridiculous: The Emperor of Absurdia by Chris Riddell

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sing to Your Baby

A tweet from @abbylibrarian alerted me to this unspeakably adorable video of YA author John Green singing to his four-ish-month-old. (Though I must say, for a kid I'm convinced was born in January, that one certainly has plentiful hair.)



Besides being cute and hilarious, it brings up one of my favorite pre-literacy tips, and that's singing to your baby.

There are oodles of kiddie CDs, and they're marvelous. Ella Jenkins and Hap Palmer and my own personal childhood favorite, Raffi. It's all out there. But when you sing to, or with, your children, it's a million miles removed from simply popping in a CD. It's all the fun and benefit of music, plus opportunities to cuddle and be silly and get face time, and teach them by example that music is not only something you consume, it's something you produce and take joy in. Letting them make their own music later with rattles, drums, and, yes, singing, has a host of benefits, some of which are mentioned in this article: 5 Scientific Ways That Music Benefits Infants and Toddlers.

How does this all tie into literacy? Words are literacy. Letting children hear words, how they match up with other words, how a melody breaks them down into syllables, makes them familiar to a baby brain that will soon start assembling its own toolbox of speech.. From "Hush Little Baby" to "Hey Jude," songs also tend to use wider vocabulary than regular speech, exposing your baby to even more words.

Listen, you may not know all the lyrics, and you may not have a concert-ready voice. You may not even be karaoke-ready. But to your little one, you're Mommy or Daddy, and that's a bigger superstar than Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. You might even give Elmo a run for his money.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole

Book: Chicken Butt!
Author: Erica S. Perl
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

You remember that playground classic: "Guess what? Chicken butt!" Erica Perl and Henry Cole capture both the hilarity of this nonsensical joke and all its iterations for the child protagonist. Equally hilarious, especially for adults reading, is the exasperation of the very patient parent who has to listen to all those different chicken body parts, but finally forbids any further recitation. Of course, you know kids. They'll find a way around it.

You guys, I can't wait to read this one aloud. But it's got to be the right class--ideally, a crew of first-graders, who will start giggling by the first joke and be rolling on the floor by the chicken eyebrow. There may be some wetted pants at the end.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Links! Getcher Hot Links!

Oh look! Links! Here, pretend it's a real blog post.
  • Okay, Under the Green Willow actually posted this on April Fool's Day, and I usually toss links that I've saved that long. But my sick and twisted sense of humor meant I just had to share: Under the Gruesome Willow. Every day of the year is the right one to ruin cherished picture-book memories. (Although to speak as a YA blogger for just a weensy second here, Criss-Cross and Zombies might have actually improved that book.)
  •  Susan Kusel, mommy and blogger and librarian and all-around-awesome gal, answers FAQs about Baby Storytimes over at Booklights. Being in the library world, I forget that this is a new and befuddling concept to many parents of babies. If you have a gummy drooler at your knees, ask your local library what they've got for them.
  • Abby (the) Librarian posted on almost the same day about the books she likes to read in Baby Storytime. Great booklist for board-book-seekers.
That's it for today!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fangirlishness

I'm just going to be totally honest and admit that I have added Matt Phelan to my (rather large) stable of obsessions. Ever since reading The Very Hairy Bear a few years back, (so long ago the review is located at my other blog) I've been enchanted with his dreamy, wispy artwork. I was at work today and saw a book with his distinctive illustration. Snatched it up and read it right there.

If you love his art too, check out these links:

Matt Phelan's Page at Writer's House


Matt Phelan's Webpage - with added value blog!

Who are you an artistic fangirl/boy for?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reading Roundup April 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 21
Early Readers: 1

Sources
Library: all

Standouts
Writing: Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole
Do I really have to summarize this one? I regressed to about the age of seven when reading. Review forthcoming.
Illustration: Just in Case by Yuyi Morales
Señor Calavera is back, with all the lush, warm colors and traditional motifs from Mexican art. If it wouldn't be thoroughly against copyright, I'd muralize every wall of my library with Morales' art.
Overall: Without You by Sarah Weeks and Suzanne Duranceau
Nontraditional family roles for the win! Although since this is the way these penguins have operated since time immemorial, I don't know that it's that nontraditional . . . but say that to the people who freak out over the gay penguins.

Because I Want To Awards
That One Page Just Made Me Crack Up: Little Panda by Renata Liwska
Dude Seriously Needs Some Anti-Anxiety Meds: Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watts
Such a Familiar Scenario: Harry Hungry! by Steven Salerno

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lyle's Back!

Remember Lyle Lyle Crocodile? Word on the street (and by street, I mean Publisher's Weekly) is that the original author/illustrator has teamed up with his daughter for a new Lyle book. Due to Bernard Waber's macular degeneration, daughter Paulis has taken over the illustration duties for this new book, titled Lyle Walks the Dogs, and planned subsequent books.

I often have mixed feelings about new or updated versions of classics. But seeing as this is the original author, I think it has a better chance of being the same Lyle, or at least a worthy progression. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Picture Book Linkeration

I ran across these two links awhile ago, and have been carrying them around in my Google Reader ever since.

First, courtesy of Bookshelves of Doom, is The Most Depressing Children's Books Ever Written from the 10 Zen Monkeys webzine. I've read most of the books on the list and they are all, indeed, depressing as hell. Two are about 9/11. However, there's an annoying undertone to the commentary that seems to run, "OMG, this isn't about hugs and puppies! Don't you know the tender kiddies can only handle hugs and puppies?" . . . Sheesh.

Second, from my Google newsfeed, is The Five Most Overused Children's Book Plots at ParentDish, which made me laugh but also roll my eyes a little. Yeah, we're tired of them, but we're not the target audience.

The best part of both articles, of course, are the responses. This being the Internet, they range from slavish agreement to sharp, child-development-aware slaps upside the head to "You are mean and have no sense of humor" responses to said slaps.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reading Roundup March 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 11
Early Readers: 1

Sources
Swapped: 1
Library: 10

Standouts
Writing: Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Want to learn how to write accessible and interesting nonfiction for the emerging reader? Sit yourself down in front of this book and take notes.
Illustration: Posy, illustrated by Catherine Rayner, written by Linda Newbery
Posy is a mass of squiggles and wiggles, just like a real kitten.
Overall: Sleepy Boy by Polly Kanevsky, illustrated by Stephanie Anderson
A little boy is soothed to sleep at bedtime with sensory memories of his day at the zoo and pictures himself as one of the lions he saw. Relaxed me all over.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Obvious Pairing When You Stop to Think About It: As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's amazing march toward freedom by Richard Michelson and Raúl Colón
Most Disturbing Illustration: That one with the pig frying bacon in The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers. Eurghhhhh . . .
Most Universal: A Ride on Mother's Back: A Day of Baby Carrying Around the World by Emery Bernhard, illustrated by Durga Bernhard

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Night of the Moon by Hena Khan

Book: Night of the Moon
Author: Hena Khan
Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Yasmeen is very excited, because her favorite holiday is starting. Her family is getting ready for a month of feasting, community events, and togetherness, also known as Ramadan.

Ramadan?!

If non-Muslim kids know about Ramadan at all, they know it as that time when you're not allowed to eat during the day. Night of the Moon brings a very important Muslim holiday to joyous life by focusing on the family and community aspects of the celebration. Yasmeen's family move from dinner at home to parties at the mosque to food for the hungry to barbeque parties--all after sunset, of course, but if anything they are more meaningful because they've been delayed.

Paschkis weaves motifs from Islamic countries throughout her richly colored illustrations. Borders reflect traditional tile or plaster patterns in Moorish, Egyptian, Persian, African and other traditions. Elements within the illustrations pick up the same style.

My favorite part of this whole warm, lovely book was that the illustrations represented a wide range of ethnicities. Yasmeen's community includes faces that are brown and pink and every shade in between, reflecting the diversity of Islam in America. There's even a range of devotion shown--some women wear the hijab, or head-scarf, and some don't. A short author's note after the story gives a few more details and definitions, but nothing overwhelming.

What an awesome book to share with your kids, either to teach them about a holiday that their friends might be celebrating or to affirm their own experiences.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Review: Something to Do by David Lucas

Book: Something to Do
Author: David Lucas
Illustrator: David Lucas
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Two bears, one big and one little, moan, "There's nothing to do!" They wander around in search of occupation, until they find . . . a stick. With the stick, they draw a line, which turns into a ladder, which turns into an adventure.

I talked about this one with a picture-book-loving friend, and to my astonishment, she hated it. She hated it with a fiery burning passion that no amount of Preparation H could ever douse. For her, it was way too much like Harold and the Purple Crayon. Which, okay, point granted. It's definitely very close in theme and feel. Yet I fell in love with it, even having read and loved Harold all through childhood. I guess your reaction will vary. For me, the really special part was how two characters share their imagined world. Their relationship is never defined, so they could be parent and child (of either gender), siblings, or simply friends. The world of your imagination is a wonderful one, but when you can find someone to share that world with, it's even better.

Like those of Antoinette Portis or Mo Willems, the beauty of these illustrations lie in their simplicity. Using mainly two colors of crayon in childlike line drawings, Lucas creates a world of dreams to swim in. When he adds a few more colors in a starscape, the effect is more magical than if he'd been working in full colors the whole way through.

I read it in a toddler storytime and was a little worried that they wouldn't get it, but the simple, charming images and short monologue-like text caught their attention and held it. This would work equally well as a read-aloud or a bedtime story.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reading Roundup February 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 19
Early Readers: 4

Sources
Library: 22

Standouts
Writing: The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Even the scariest people can be wonderful if you scratch the surface.
Illustration: Through the Animals' Eyes by Christopher Wormell
Bold woodcuts combined with actual Middle Eastern animals make this Nativity story a unique one.
Overall: TIE There Are Cats in This Book by Vivian Schwarz AND Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems
Something about the cats this month. The first is a delightfully interactive tale of cats, in a book. The second is about confident Cat the Cat running into a stranger, whose very strangeness oversets her, but just for a moment.

Because I Want To Awards
Why Does This Book Make Me Crave Chocolate Frogs?: Lucia and the Light, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Mary Grandpre
That's a First: Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig, by Kate diCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Perfect Reading for Future Snowpocalypses: Red Truck by Kersten Hamilton, illustrated by Valeria Petrone

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Harold and the Purple Screen??

The latest news from the MTV Movies Blog:
Crockett Johnson's classic children's book "Harold and the Purple Crayon," which follows a little boy and the adventures he creates through drawings, is now set up at Sony Animation, where Will Smith, James Lassiter and children's book author Maurice Sendak are producing an adaptation that will reportedly be all-computer-rendered.
I'm . . . not entirely sure how to feel about this, y'all. I still haven't seen "Where the Wild Things Are" (I know! I know!) but from what I've heard, they had to add a lot to flesh it out into a 90-minute movie. Some people are of the opinion that it was a hideous travesty, others think it was a masterpiece, and still others think they took a children's book and made it into a movie for grownups. Which, depending on your point of view, could fit either of the first two options.

On the other hand, Spike Jonze isn't anywhere near this one, and James "Mr. Pixar" Lassiter is, along with Maurice Sendak. Both these gentlemen could be said to know a thing or two about storytelling for children. And the example of "Cloudy with a Chance of Vomit" excuse me, "Meatballs" notwithstanding, I can really see computer animation working for this story. I guess we'll see.


Thanks to the approximately 76 billion folks who tweeted this.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: Millie's Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura

Book: Millie's Marvellous Hat
Author: Satoshi Kitamura
Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

One day, Millie sees a beautiful hat in a store window. She tries to buy it, but the price is a little beyond her means. The storekeeper has another one, which she can well afford (free), and this hat is even better, because it can be anything that Millie wants it to be! Feathered? No problem. Flowered? Sure! Built out of cakes? Naturellement!

Then she realizes that anyone can have the same hat she does. All it takes is a little style, and a lot of imagination.

This is a book that takes imagination and playing pretend seriously. The hat store man is my favorite, as he instigates the hat game without a breath of condescension and allows Millie to pay him everything in her empty purse for the privilege of wearing her marvelous hat out of the store.

Possibly the most fun is perusing the two spreads that take place in the park, where everyone is wearing a hat especially suited to their personality. Two pregnant women walk along with a full bird's nest and a kangaroo with joey, respectively. A very important man struts along with a very important statue on his head. Kids will have a lot of fun guessing the personalities of the people based on their hats, and also imagining what their own marvelous hat might look like. (Hop on over to the review at Bookie Woogie to see how three artistic kids answered this question!)

It's a little long for the youngest storytimes, but try this out with preschool or older, especially if you're reading one-on-one and can discuss the lovely illustrations.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Congratulations to the Cybils Winners!

It's the day you've been waiting months for, the day we announce the winners of the 2009 Cybils!

Courtesy of the Cybils website, here are the winners:

Picture Book (Fiction)
All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Musical text and breathtaking illustrations capture a day in the life of children "from morning sun becomes noon blue" to "crickets, curtains, day is done." From a quiet beach, to a busy garden, to a rained-out park, the fun and work and disappointment are shared and acknowledged in a way that encourages reflection. Diversity is naturally woven into community life where family, friend and neighbor connections cross age, ethnicity, gender and roles, embracing our distinction and our unity. Young readers will love finding the small stories within the pictures or going back to look at the page before to find the "hint" of the landscape coming up on the next page. This charming, lovely book is a delight to read and share.

Picture Book (Non-Fiction)
The Day-Glo Brothers
by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani
Charlesbridge
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
It’s hard to imagine a world without Day-Glo’s shocking greens, blazing oranges and screaming yellows. But before World War II, those colors didn’t exist. After an accident in a ketchup factory derailed Bob Switzer’s hope to be a doctor, he and his brother Joe, who was interested in magic, set out to find a paint that glowed. Eventually, the Switzers did what nobody else had — they invented new colors. The war produced a need for fluorescent paint, and today it’s everywhere. The brothers’ invention allowed both to do what they wanted; save lives and dazzle crowds.

This book is the first on its topic, a result of original research from family interviews and newspaper clippings. Barton explains the science with a kid-friendly manner and an easy narrative style. Readers can relate to the brothers’ thwarted plans and celebrate their persistence. Persiani’s stylized art evolves with the story, from a dull gray to splashes of color to brilliant Day-Glo tones at the end.

Easy Reader
Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Hyperion
Nominated by: Melissa
The Elephant & Piggie series continues with another perfectly pitched early reader. The book is a conversation between two friends who speak in simple repetitive phrases about their ball throwing prowess. The illustrations are dynamic and vibrant, offering many clues to help readers decode the text. In just a few words, Willems creates two very distinct, likable characters. Everyone can relate to the central idea that taking joy in what we do is sometimes more important than outstanding achievement.

Early Chapter Book
Bad to the Bone (Down Girl and Sit) 
by Lucy Nolan; illustrated by Mike Reed
Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books
Nominated by: Jennifer Wharton
This dog’s eye view of the world is laugh-out-loud funny. The book is narrated by Down Girl, who has learned her name from how she is most often referred to by her master. Down Girl spends the book trying to teach her master, whom she calls "Rruff," lessons like the need for vigilance where cats and squirrels are concerned and that paying attention to your dog is more important than house painting. The combination of humor and distinctive voice in Nolan’s writing made this a winning book.

Poetry
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Elizabeth Bird
Observation, discovery, connection . . . Red Sings From the Treetops embodies everything  poetry is meant to be. The vivid words of poet Joyce Sidman -- which are fresh even when writing about the oldest of concepts, color -- and the gloriously hue-soaked pictures of illustrator Pamela Zagarenski combine  to create a poetry book that is both thoughtful and exuberant. Readers can hunt for small details in the sweep of larger images and thrill to a-ha! moments of discovery. They can read the book as one full, circular story or as a series of individual, eye-opening poems. Either way, the beauty of this book will leave them feeling  connected to something larger than themselves.

Graphic Novel
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
by Eleanor Davis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Scope Notes
This book rose to the top of a strong selection of finalists because of the richness and variety of ways Davis engages the graphic novel format. This is a story that could not be told in any other form but  comics. Charts, diagrams, maps and lists all pour forth, creating a wealth of material for the reader to come back to and get lost in. The art is accomplished, with rich inks and a humorous line that captures the tongue-in-cheek sense of old-school adventure in the story. Of particular note are the characters, three very different kids who discover they have very similar interests in the fun, dramatic and loopy possibilities of not just science, but "Science!"

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Melissa
The judges were blown away by the three-dimensional world-building, believable characterization, lyrical writing and non-stop adventure of this complex fantasy. Silksinger picks up where Blackbringer left off, as fairy champion Magpie fights to find the sleeping Djinn and restore them to their rightful places of power. We meet two new fairy heroes along the way, each with secrets of his or her own. Themes of friendship and betrayal are explored in a way that doesn't shy away from ambiguity or nastiness, while retaining strong appeal for middle grade readers. Although it is a sequel, Silksinger is satisfying on its own -- but why wouldn't you want to start with the first book in this compelling series?

Middle Grade Fiction
Chains
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: melissa
Chains is a novel with guts and heart and an unforgettable central character. It tells the story of two slave girls, Isabel and her sister Ruth, who are sold in the 1770s to a wealthy Loyalist family. They're taken to New York where Isabel gets swept into the intrigue of the Revolutionary War, becoming a spy for the rebels.

Anderson writes in such a way that both the characters and New York City at the time come vividly to life. The everyday nature of cruelty is realized, and what was not shocking then, will be to today's readers. From the opening moments straight through the streets of New York, Anderson has readers hoping and praying that Isabel will make it through. It is incredibly well researched, and the historical detail flows seamlessly, never feeling like a lesson. The opposite of dry fact, here is an unflinching look at a cruel time. Expect Isabel's story to grab onto you and hold tight till the end.

Cybils Awards For Young Adult Books

Non-Fiction
The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Laurie Thompson
The Frog Scientist covers the ongoing research of biologist Tyrone Hayes into the effects of atrazine on frogs. Atrazine is the most commonly used pesticide in the United States, but Hays has discovered that exposure to atrazine causes "some of the male frogs to develop into bizarre half-male, half-female frogs." His careful development, both in the lab and the wild, of experiments researching diminishing frog populations is an example of science at its best.

Author Pamela S. Turner shows the control Hayes and his assistants exert over their experiments so there can be no questions when their results are determined. For this real-world example of textbook standards alone, The Frog Scientist would be a winner. That Turner makes the biologist's very compelling personal story key to the book's narrative raises it above similar titles in the field. Teens will find the heavily illustrated volume visually appealing but more significantly be intrigued by this powerful example of significant science at work. It's nonfiction writing (and photography) at its best, and incredibly inspirational to boot.

Graphic Novel
Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation
by Tom Siddell
Archaia Press
Nominated by: Paradox
Strange happenings at a mysterious British boarding school involving magic. A talented student who seems to have unique and special abilities. And the dark past of the characters' parents has come back to haunt them all. These elements, which may on the surface seem so familiar, are brought together in fresh and inventive ways in Gunnerkrigg Court. Tom Siddell has published nearly 300 pages of his webcomic in this first collection, and the length really allows for the reader to absorb the entire spectrum of adventures presented here: protagonist Antimony Carver and her growing assortment of friends have humorous, creepy, action-packed and mysterious storylines, all of which allow us to see the different facets of Annie's complex and fascinating world. It also puts lots of meat on the bones of those seemingly overly familiar story elements, to tell tales both unexpected and new.

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fire
by Kristin Cashore
Dial
Nominated by: Jenny Moss
As her homeland of the Dells descends into civil war, Fire struggles with changing relationships and her own dangerous powers. If she misuses her gifts, she runs the risk of turning into her psychotic and amoral father. But if she doesn't use them at all, her beloved kingdom and the royal family she has come to love may be lost forever. Nobody combines the fantasy and romance genres like Kristin Cashore. With preternaturally beautiful monsters and unruly children, psychic powers and very human power struggles, her masterfully crafted worlds are close enough to ours to make sense and different enough to captivate.

Fire herself is a dynamic character, a mix of vulnerability and strength, and she is surrounded by others who challenge and support her, especially in the character of Brigan, one of the few who sees beyond her stunning beauty to the complex young woman beneath. Throughout the book, Fire learns to see the people she loves in shades of grey, and in the process learns to accept her own virtues and flaws. Out of all the books we read, this is the one at the top of everybody's list. It's great, start to finish, with appeal for both boys and girls, and the moment you finish it you'll want to read it again.

Young Adult Fiction
Cracked Up to Be
by Courtney Summers
Macmillan
Nominated by: Robin Prehn
Cracked Up to Be, Courtney Summers's debut novel, is a page turner that is sure to please. Once a model student and cheerleader, Parker Fadley has given up that life and turned instead to drinking and failing classes. But what could have caused this sudden change? Spare writing, carefully placed flashbacks, and strong character development create an intense and fascinating read, while the mystery unfolds. Whether or not you fall in love with Parker, her story will not soon be forgotten.

Congratulations to all the finalists and the winners! Also, many kudos to the judges and the administrators. I can tell you, it's a lot of fun, but oh boy, is it a lot of work too!

See everyone next year!

P.S. What's this Valentine's Day I keep hearing about? Is there chocolate for it?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life Lessons in Picture Books

Psychology Today recently published this article, The Value of a Picture Book, about life lessons kids get from picture books. Nothing new here for most of us, but I really liked that the article has a couple of different approaches to the life lessons and how picture books embody them. Some books recommended include the quality as a part of the story, and some books bring out that quality as part of the experience of reading.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reading Roundup: January 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 50
Early Readers: 4

Sources
Swapped: 11

Library: 42
Standouts
Writing: If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand
Nature and animal haiku doesn't exactly scream Jack Prelutsky to me, but wow can he do it.
Illustration: Something to Do by David Lucas
Okay, it does have a haunting similarity to Harold and the Purple Crayon. But I loved it anyway. Review to come. 
Overall: Millie's Marvellous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura
A tribute to imagination, and wacky chapeaux. Review to come.


Because I Want To Awards
More Than I Expected: Hippopotamus Stew by Joan Horton
What, No CD?: Peter and the Wolf, by Chris Raschka
Trippiest: Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review: Hippopotamus Stew by Joan Horton


Book: Hippopotamus Stew and other silly animal rhymes
Author: Joan Horton
Illustrator: JoAnn Adinolfi
Published: 2006
Source: Local Library

Meet a beaver with braces, a billy goat who just can't stop eating, and a sheep plagued by moths! These and more feature in the pages of Hippopotamus Stew. How does a centipede find matching shoes? Just how many tissues does a sniffly elephant require? I know you've been wondering.

So I opened this up and thought, "Oh, wow, more cute animal poems. Ho-hum." Then I started reading. There's an edge to these poems, something in the wit that's like Shel Silverstein at his most enjoyably heartless. You know the kind, where kids are being eaten by lions or crushed by garbage--a sense that the world is both goofy and dangerous, and neither negates the other. The crocodile poem warns of getting too close to a reptile in case you "see a napkin tucked under his chin." In the mosquito poem, the bitten bites back. The anteater reacts in the most logical way to demands from the ants. Hilarious, but with a hint of sharpness about them too.

Illustrator JoAnn Adinolfi uses a number of different media, including collaged photos and watercolor scraps, to illustrate all the different animals. Perhaps it was her style that lead me into thinking these would be fluffy poems, because while the art is vivid and attractive, it's very nonthreatening. She uses lots of curvy lines, round faces, bright colors, and simple features. I did, however, appreciate that the humans shown were not all Caucasian. I think they're good illustrations, well-done and happily kooky, they just don't betray that whisper of darkness that come out in the poems.

I loved this, and I think kids will too. Try these poems as readalouds to preschool and up, or let strong early readers try a few on their own.