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Early readers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the children's book world. They get no respect. Or not much. The intent of this blog is to redress the balance and to showcase the many delights inherent in early readers and beginning chapter books.
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Taking his inspiration from the silent film era, Mo Willems has crafted another winner. His latest picture book is set up to resemble a silent movie with the wolf cast in the role of villain. Playing the leading lady--make that leading bird--is a seemingly sweet, trusting goose. Spread by spread, the wolf tempts her nearer and nearer to his home in the woods. The journey is interrupted at regular intervals by a chorus of goslings who warn at increasingly higher and higher decibels that their hookup is not a good idea. But whom exactly are they warning?
As always, Willems knows how to pace a suspenseful tale, and his bold illustrations, especially those which highlight his character's expressive faces, add to the unfolding drama. Young readers might be savvy enough to see the twist that lies ahead--but this mature reader certainty didn't!
That Is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems
Balzer + Bray 48 pages
Published: May 2013
National Bike Month is upon us! So if you haven't already, hop on a pair of wheels and go for a spin--and don't forget to bring the kids. When you're finished, rest your saddle-sore rear in a comfy chair and share some of the following books with the training-wheels set.
Chris Raschke's latest picture book breaks down the steps involved in mastering how to ride a bike. The young girl starts with training wheels, then raises them a "smidge" and finally they're off completely. A few spills and a lot of tries later and she's a bona fide rider. Yay!Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bikeby Chris RaschkeSchwartz & Wade, 32 pagesPublished: 2013
A boy takes his new bike to his friend's house, where it disappears. The mystery is soon solved with no hard feelings. Although skimpy on story, the appealing illustrations make this picture book.New Red Bike!by James E. RansomeHoliday House, 32 pagesPublished: 2011
When Sally Jean outgrows Flash, her bicycle, her family can't afford to buy her another right away. Ever resourceful, Sally Jean repairs the bike and eventually builds herself a new one from spare parts. And her beloved Flash is gifted to another rider who's outgrown his bike. A happy ending for all!Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queenby Cari Bestillustrations by Christine DavenierFarrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pagesPublished: 2010
Visually stunning, this deceptively simple picture book features a cyclist as he pedals through town and country along a long road. Viva uses simple text and just five colors to create this contemporary masterpiece. Along a Long Roadby Frank VivaLittle, Brown, 40 pagesPublished: 2011
And if you would like more choices, check out my previous post, Animals Riding Bikes
. Happy pedaling and happy reading!
In their third outing, Bink and Gollie are again true to form. Gollie is superior as ever and Bink as stubborn. Luckily these character traits make for some great stories. In the first of the three tales that make up this beginning reader, Gollie sees a photo of her great aunt wearing a crown. Always suspecting she came from royal blood, Gollie now has all the proof she needs. (I confess I have a slight preference for Gollie. Perhaps it has something to do with the nickname my family bestowed on me as a child: Her Majesty.) Gollie's haughty manner does not hold water with Bink, and how Gollie is brought back to her senses is subtly and touchingly portrayed.
Story two showcases Bink's pressing desire to be tall. She falls prey to an advertisement for a Stretch-o-Matic device, something akin to a medieval torture rack, only this one suspends you from the ceiling with weights. Needless to say, results don't turn out as planned, but Bink finds a way to be satisfied with her purchase. The last story has Bink and Gollie on the search for something to collect. Inspired by Flicker's Arcana of the Extraordinary
, the girls attempt to get their names and photos in the hefty tome. In the end they succeed, but not in a way most readers would have predicted.
As always, Tony Fucile's illustrations are a delight and in this book they are especially strong. The image of Gollie standing all alone in the rain adds to the story's pathos and the depiction of what happens to the Stetch-o-Matic is dramatic indeed. I especially like the fun details Fucile includes, such as the portrait hanging on Bink's wall of Marcellus Gilmore Edson, inventor of peanut butter. According to Google, Edson did, in fact, hold a patent for peanut butter, issued in 1884. Who knew?
Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
illustrations by Tony Fucile
Candlewich Press 96 pages
Published: April 2013
I love children's literature, poetry, and pugs (not necessarily in that order, mind). So when the three came together in one tidy package, I knew I had to read it. A companion book to Animal Poems (
Worth and Jenkins' first collaboration), Pug and Co. more than holds its own. Worth has constructed a number of exquisitely simple poems about everyday animals, the kind a child is likely to see while out and about, such as rabbits, geese, toads, and even the humble fly. The only featured animal a child would be unlikely to meet in town or countryside is the Bengal tiger, and even that creature is seen at a zoo, so there you go.
Jenkins, with his bold collages, does a marvelous job of showing each animal off to its advantage. The bull, "hacked-out, rough-hewn, from the planet's hard side," has its massive bulk placed against an intensely red background. Sparrows and pigeons cavort above silhouetted city buildings, while a cat winds its mysterious way through shadowy bushes, "like an old familiar spirit."
As for my favorite canine, Worth describes pugs as having "goggling eyes and stumpy noses, wrinkled brows and hairy moles." And if some people consider them "plug-ugly," perhaps that's because "for dogs, they look a lot like people." How true!
Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
illustrations by Steve Jenkins
Farrar Straus Giroux, 40 pages
Published: March 2013
In this latest installment, Dodsworth and the duck continue their adventures in Tokyo, where Dodsworth cautions the impetuous duck to be on his best behavior since "Japan is a land of customs and manners and order." The very qualities duck most certainly isn't. But for the most part duck does manage to contain himself, to the surprise of his friend. Together they take in the sights of Yoyogi Park, eat sushi, visit the Imperial Palace, stroll through the East Gardens--where duck falls in and must be rescued (even though he's a duck he never learned to swim)--and tour the Museum of Imperial Collections.
It's only when the pair travel to a temple that things start to fall apart. A festival is underway and duck disappears into the crowd. Soon he's flipping and jumping and sliding all over the place, crashing into people and knocking things over. Has duck lost it for good? No, there's a reason for his crazy antics and a very satisfying one.
Tim Egan has written and illustrated another winning easy reader featuring this odd pair of mismatched travelers. And according to a recent interview, which you can read here
, their next stop is Athens. The Parthenon had better watch out!
Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin, 48 pages
Published: April 2013
For a book featuring the high-energy Clementine, number six in the series is rather subdued. Clementine is growing up and instead of bouncing in and out of trouble as she usually does, she struggles with some big issues.
She's looking forward to the school trip to Plimoth Plantation, but her third grade class is going with the big kids, fourth graders who've enacted tough rules about eating: no sounds allowed...or else. Clementine is also having problems speaking Olive, a language invented by the new girl in class, whose name is--you guessed it--Olive. (If you want to give it a try, put "olive" into every syllable you say. "Likoliv tholivis.")
When the day of the big trip arrives, Clementine is paired with Olive and instructed with the task of making the new girl feel comfortable. When Olive opens her lunch bag and reveals a meal destined to incur the wrath of the fourth graders (celery, chips, apples, carrots, etc.), Clementine has to decide whether to play by the rules or not. On the trip she also befriends a chicken, which leads her to make a major change in her diet.
And that's not all! Clementine is also waiting for the birth of her new sibling and trying to decide if it would be better if the baby was a boy or a girl, while building a five-side table with her father as a surprise for her mother. Then there's Margaret OCD problems to deal with (really, I think it's time for an intervention here!) and the mystery of the overpowering odors on Bus Seven to solve.
Pennypacker packs a lot of plot into one chapter book, but she weaves each thread so expertly that the overall effect is seamless. Like Beverly Cleary, Pennypacker is doing an excellent job of showing her characters maturing. Frazee's illustrations, as always, are delightful.
Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrations by Marla Frazee
Hyperion Books, 160 pages
Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet joined forces to create one of the best picture book bios I've read in a long, long time. All too often picture book bios leave me underwhelmed. They either are skimpy with the facts or too much information is crammed into 36 or so pages. A Splash of Red
strikes just the right balance.
Bryant does a superb job of getting at the essence of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who, after being wounded during WWI, reinvented himself as a painter. Pippin's early love of art, his thrill of winning an art contest as a boy, and his determination not to give up are dramatically told in clean, vigorous prose. Particularly interesting is that nowhere in this bio does Bryant mention that Pippin is a black man. Although obvious from the art, Pippin's standing as an determined artist is what's stressed, not his color.
Sweet more than holds up her share of the partnership. Her illustrations mimic Pippin's folksy style, yet she brings her own sensibilities to the mix. Sweet includes Pippin's quotes into her artwork and she uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, and collage to obtain her effects.
The book's back matter includes a historical note that gives a straightforward account of Pippin's life. There's also a list of resources (and a website
) for readers who'd like more information. Highly recommended.
A Splash of Color: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant
illustrations by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 40 pages
The March/April special issue of the Horn Book is called "Different Drummers
," and it features books outside the scope of mainstream literature. In the issue the editors asked leading kidlit authorities: "What's the strangest children's book you've ever enjoyed?" The answers were fun to read and got me thinking about my own choices. Here, in no particular order, are seven of the strangest children's books I've ever read. What are yours?1. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
It's easy to forget just how strange this classic is, especially if you rely on the cutesy Disney version.2. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
According to a recent bio, Dare Wright was a bit kinky. Well, it spilled right over into this odd book about a doll and her relationship with two stuffed teddy bears.3. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrice Potter
Rats tie up a kitten and roll him into dough to bake in a pie! Read the reviews on Goodreads to see how many readers were traumatized by this book as children.4. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
Edward Gorey's illustrations add to this story's strange charm about a little boy whose shrinking goes unnoticed by the grown-ups around him.5. Slugs by David Greenberg
This little known gem features poems about people torturing slugs--eating them, dissecting them, even carving them into pumpkins. In the end, slugs get their revenge on all this mistreatment. Victoria Chess's hilariously disturbing illustrations make the book.6. Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
I've written about this exceptional picture book
before. Its one of the more unusual, yet ultimately moving, books about death you'll ever read.7. Oddballs by William Sleator
Really, pretty much all of Sleator's books are strange. If you don't believe me, read Among the Dolls
. Unlike his others, though, this one's a memoir. Sleator's unconventional upbringing definitely shaped his future work. As a bonus, this book is laugh aloud funny.
Bad Kitty's back and she's badder than ever, if that's possible. This time she's off to school to deal with her behavior problems. Puppy goes along to get his drooling under control. What I like best about these graphic easy-to-read novels are the zany details and the way things never turn out the expected way. For instance, before Kitty heads off for her first day, her family presents her with a complete line of Love Love Angel Kitten school supplies, including backpack, notebook, eraser, calculator, bowling ball, cinder block, and tractor tire--with spot illustrations of each one. Clearly a spoof on the Hello Kitty craze, the items point up how much Bad Kitty is the antithesis of all that saccharine goodness.
When the school bus finally pulls up to the Diabla Von Gloom's School for Wayward Pets, the building is a stereotypical Addams house of horrors. The next spread shows the door creaking open and the shadow of a monstrous crone with sharp fangs and long talons. Turn the page and the shadow is an illusion formed by a young, attractive teacher holding an assortment of books, boxes, and pencils.
The kindly teacher is determined to get Bad Kitty to reveal what she's so angry about, but the cat's a tough cookie and won't crack. Besides she has more pressing problems--like a scary bulldog who hates cats. Luckily Bad Kitty has managed to convince Petunia that she's a cow.
As always, Uncle Murray checks in with his Fun Facts spreads. This time around the topic centers on why dogs and cats don't get along.
Graduation takes place at the end of the first day--it's a very short semester--and each animal student has to demonstrate what he or she has learned. Will Bad Kitty carry away a diploma? Don't bet on it, but an amusing epilogue suggests that school wasn't so awful after all.
Bad Kitty: School Daze
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Book Press, 160 pages
Published: January 2013
Ah, the power of guilt. As Edgar Allen Poe fans know, there's no escaping it. Penny, the mouse heroine of Henke's easy-reader series, learns this the hard way when she spots a marble on her neighbor's lawn. The marble, big, shiny and as blue as the sky, proves irresistible. It seemed to say to Penny: "Take me home." And so she does.
Guilt soon plants itself in Penny's heart, and she hides the marble in her dresser drawer. At dinner she loses her appetite when she notices how the oranges look like big orange marbles and the peas like little green ones. In bed that night she tosses and turns, and when she finally falls asleep, she dreams the marble grows so big it demolishes her dresser.
The next morning Penny makes a decision about the marble. Beginning readers, many of whom have probably struggled similarly with their conscience, will be relieved to see Penny do the right thing.
In Penny and Her Marble
, Henkes has delivered yet another winner. In the Horn Book's March/April issue, he confesses the seeds of the story. When he was five, he swiped a plastic medallion from his neighbor and was stricken with guilt. See, crime does pay!
Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow, 48 pages
Published: March 2013
Do you ever Google yourself? I'm not too proud to admit that I occasionally type my name into the search engine and see what pops up. Last night I also clicked on the images that went with my name. Wow, what an assortment of Catherine Nichols exist!
The most intriguing to me by far was the portrait on the left. According to the AFA news site where it appears
, the portrait was painted around 1830 by one I. Gillbert, a little known folk artist who worked in New York state. The subject was a thirty-six-year-old woman named Catherine Nichols. She lived in Paris, New York and was married to Roy Nichols.
Now Roy's wife doesn't look much like me, but that doesn't matter. I still feel a connection with her--and wouldn't you know--she's holding a book!
So many spring releases to choose from, so little time. Here are ten children's
books I'm dying to get my hands on. Check out other people's lists on The Broke and the Bookish
by Holly Black
This middle grade novel sounds creepy and fun--right up my alley. Pub date: May 2013Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
BFF Bink and Gollie are always up to something in this amusing beginning reader series. Pub date: April 2013Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Loved Dodsworth and his duck's tours of Rome and London so I'm betting Tokyo will be a blast. Pub date: April 2013Maggot Moon
by Sally Gardner
This dystopic novel from the U.K. has garnered a lot of buzz. I snagged a copy from my library and I'm all set to read. Pub date: February 2013Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
The latest from a great beginning reader series by a master craftsman. Pub date: March 2013Definitely No Ducks
by Meg McKinlay
I was charmed by McKinlay's first chapter book about a girl and her pet duck. I'm glad to see they're back and quacking. Pub date: March 2013Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
by Stephan Pastis
Timmy is an eleven-year-old detective and his partner is a polar bear in this comic middle-grade novel. What more do you need? Pub date: February 2013Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Clementine. I missed you. Pub date: March 2013Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
pugs! Woo-hoo! Pub date: March 2013That is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems
An interactive picture book by the one and only Mo Willems. Can't wait. Pub date: April 2013
I don't just read children's books, of course. Two adult books for I'm super psyched to read are: Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson and The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout.
Now what's on your Spring TBR list?
It's World Read Aloud Day
so do what you can to encourage a love of reading in children. Read a book to your kids--or to other people's kids. Some of my best memories are of listening to my mother read to me and my sisters. And she didn't just do picture books. She read The Wind and the Willow
, The Lion and Witch and the Wardrobe
, Winnie the Pooh
, and Charlotte's Web
So go on--create some memories today.
Making a house from scratch isn't an easy task, as this delightfully detailed picture book shows. A young girl narrates the process, starting on the day she and her parents and baby brother move from their old house in the city to the country. For the next year and a half the family pulls together to build their new home, living in a trailer set under a large oak tree in a big, weedy field.
The text outlines the grueling work involved, while the illustrations highlight the adventures. One of the most charming aspects of this book is the way the family bands together to get the work done. The title page shows the two children hoisting boxes to their father as the family moves from their city row house. Once building starts, the kids continue to lend a hand, carrying tools, collecting rocks from a quarry, and mixing concrete. Of course, kids will be kids, so we also see them sliding down piles of sand, cooling off in a pool, and sledding as their parents toil.
When it's time to raise the frame, relatives, friends, and neighbors come to help and stay to celebrate. The work doesn't end there and young readers will see how many details are involved in making a house livable. Through fall and winter the family puts the finishing touches on the house, installing plumbing, insulation, and painting the woodwork. At last spring arrives and it's moving day. Again family and friends gather to help. (Alert readers will notice the addition of a new baby.) The final illustration shows the family in their cozy living room snuggled together on the couch, the father reading aloud from a book. (According to a Horn Book interview
, the book is likely Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House
In an author's note, Bean explains that in the 1970s his parents built their own house in the countryside, although the process took considerably longer--five long years. Photos showing the author and his siblings "helping" make this engaging story all the more convincing.
Building Our House
by Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 48 pages
Published: January 2013
It's the 109th birthday of Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. Here's a photo of my pug dressed in his party hat ready to celebrate the big day.
Get into the spirit by reading your favorite Seuss book to a child. Mine is The Sneetches
. What's yours?
This week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish
is authors you'd put on auto-buy. I divided my list into two, one dedicated to children's book authors and the other to writers who pen for adults.
Authors Who Write for Children
1. Jack Gantos
Everything I've read of his I've loved. Gantos has a unique voice that captures children the way they really are, not how adults want them to be.
2. Kevin Henkes
From picture books to easy readers to middle grade fiction, Henkes does it all and does it well.
3. Polly Horvath
Horvath's characters are quirky, but in a believable way. And she's laugh-aloud funny.
4. Sara Pennypacker
Her Clementine books are some of the best early chapter books around.
5. Mo Willems
The mighty Mo. 'Nuff said.
Authors Who Write for Adults
1. Kate Atkinson
She's got a new novel on the horizon and it's already on my pre-order list.
2. Alison Bechdel
Bechdel can't write--and illustrate--them fast enough for me. My all-time favorite graphic novelist.
3. Amy Bloom
A master of the short story, Bloom writes about people you won't soon forget.
4. Ruth Rendell
Even though I've sometimes been disappointed by her work, I still read every Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novel that comes out. When she's at her best, no other suspense writer can touch her.
5. David Sedaris
Who could pass up a David Sedaris collection? Not me.
So that's my list. What authors make your cut?
Check out Mrs. Noodlekugel on Goodreads
and you'll find that it has an overall rating of three stars. But the number is misleading as the majority of reviews fluctuate between one or two stars and four or five. Reviewers either exclaim how wonderful this short chapter book is--"quirky and fun"--or bemoan its undeveloped plot--"the story also kind of goes nowhere"--and stilted language. How can this be?
I'm always fascinated when a book receives wildly divergent reviews. Sometimes I'm on the side of the pro-reviews and other times I'm with the naysayers. Either way, I'm unshaken in my belief that my take is the correct one, and I suspect that's true of the reviewers of this book as well.
And while I can certainly see the charms of Mrs. Noodlekugel
, I have to cast my lot with those who gave the book two stars. The book has an engaging premise. A brother and sister move into a apartment building and soon after discover a little house eclipsed by the surrounding tall buildings. Inside the house lives a cheerful old woman (Mrs. Noodlekugel) with her talking cat and four far-sighted mice. Disobeying their parents, the children visit Mrs. Noodlekugel and have tea with her. On a second visit--this one with their parents' permission--they bake gingerbread mice and listen to the cat play the piano. And that's pretty much it, although the book ends with the promise of another book in the series.
The lack of a plot, of any serious conflict, bothered me, as it did a number of reviewers. I was also put off my the simplistic, unnatural-sounding dialog. Here's a sample:
He looked out the window and down. "I see grass. I see trees and flowers. There is a little old-fashioned house."
While easy readers often eschew contractions, short chapter books usually don't. Here, the stilted sentences and formal language gave the book a dated feel.
Interestingly, a handful of reviewers mentioned that while they didn't care for the book, their child did. One reviewer, quoting her second-grader, a reluctant reader, wrote: "His review: 'It has no scary parts, only fun parts. The exciting parts are fun without being scary fun.'"
As reviewers all we can do is deliver our opinions as thoughtfully and truthfully as we can--and let the chips fall where they may.
by Daniel Pinkwater
Candlewick Press, 80 pages
Published: April 2012
There's a new app in town--and I write for it! News-O-Matic is an interactive daily newspaper for kids 7 to 10. The app, which has different subscription plans, is offered on iTunes App Store
. For teachers, there's a daily teacher guide as well. And if your school is sans tablet technology, don't fret. A free school version
of News-O-Matic is available as a PDF.
Each issue features five news articles (some penned by you-know-who), maps, timelines, factoids, puzzles, games, and more. There's even a news room where kids can ask questions and have them answered by the editor. All in all, it's a pretty nifty app.
So check it out, spread the word, and keep an eye out for my byline. Brenda Starr and Lois Lane, move over!
How often can grown-ups read a nonfiction easy reader and learn a bunch of cool stuff? That's what happened to me when I thumbed through Castle: How It Works
by the amazing David Macaulay. This Level 4 easy reader is packed with engrossing details about life inside a medieval Welsh castle. Macaulay acts as tour guide as he leads young readers up a rocky hill, across a moat, and through two gatehouses. Once inside the castle's fortress, readers gambol through a courtyard and climb the castle's spiral staircase. They get to inspect every inch of the building, from the high towers where the lord and lady live all the way to the depths of the dungeon, crammed with enemy soldiers.
So many terms are bandied about--battlement, catapult, portcullis
--that I was relieved to see a glossary at the end. While the vocabulary might pose a challenge for beginning readers, the high-interest subject matter more than pays off. What child wouldn't be fascinated to know how a castle's plumbing system works or that hay was used for toilet paper?
Macaulay confesses in an author's note that he didn't like reading as a kid. Pictures were the lure that drew him in. It's fitting then that the illustrations work so perfectly to support the text. My favorite shows a catapult chucking a deceased pig over a castle wall. Again, details add to the fun. Is it my imagination or does a drawing of an eel pie show an eel's tail peeking from the crust?
Castle: How It Works
by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan
David Macaulay Studio, 32 pages
Published: September 2012
Today is Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to The LibraiYAn
and join the fun!
This is the kind of book that sends librarians over the moon. The precise, poetic language, the creation of an evocative setting, the charmingly detailed black and white illustrations, all work their magic as readers sink into one family's celebration of winter and its number one glory, ice.
The book is composed of a series of vignettes. From the very first ice "that came on the sheep pails in the barn--a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to the final "dream ice that came in our sleep," ice serves one primary purpose, to create a surface firm enough for the family and their friends to skate on. And skate they do. On fields, streams, ponds, and their own homemade skating rink, they twirl and dart and glide.
Based on the Obed's memories of growing up on a six-acre farm in Maine, the book has an old-fashioned quality to it, one that McClintock's illustrations reinforce, as do the figure-skating girls and hockey-playing boys. Twelve Kinds of Ice
appears on many folks' best-of-the-year lists and there are whispers that it might be nominated for a Newbery. While I can clearly see its many charms, I haven't quite fallen under the book's spell. It's just too quiet for me. I kept waiting for a nasty spill on the ice to happen. I know, I know, but that's me. Other, less bloodthirsty readers should curl up beside a fire and read this low-key yet ultimately appealing book.
Twelve Kinds of Ice
by Ellen Bryan Obed
illustrations by Barbara McClintock
Houghton Mifflin, 64 pages
The Oscars of the KidLit world, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced today in Seattle. Here in snowy PA, I had to be content with watching them on webcast. Like all fancy award shows, the big ticket items were saved for the end.
The Caldecott went to This Is Not My Hat
by Jon Klassen.
I was surprised, since I hadn't realized it was in the running and the reviews I'd read didn't rate it as highly as his previous book, I Want My Hat Back
(which I loved).
For lovers of picture books, there were five, count 'em five, honor books: Extra Yarn
(written by Mac Barnett and again illustrated by Klassen), Creepy Carrots
(Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown), Green
(Laura Vaccaro Seeger), One Cool Friend
(Toni Buzzeo and David Small), and Sleep Like a Tiger
(Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski).
Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan
snagged the Newbery. I haven't read it yet (I have a hold on it), but I love the backstory. The novel is based on a silverback gorilla who spent 27 long years along in a cage, an attraction in a mall, before finally being moved to a zoo. The real Ivan died last year at the ripe old age (for a gorilla) of 50.
The honor books are Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
(Steve Sheinkin), Splendors and Gloom
(Laura Amy Schlitz) and Three Times Lucky
The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award is given to the most distinguished beginning reader, so naturally I gripped the edge of my seat when it was announced. The winner is Up, Tall, and High
, a picture book by Ethan Long. Another title that slipped through my radar, I will read it pronto and report back. The honor books are: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
(Eric Litwin), Let's Go for a Drive
(Mo Willems), and Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover
(Cece Bell). You can read my reviews for Let's Go for a Drive here
and for Rabbit & Robot here
Congrats to all the winners! Click here to see a full list.
Contrary to what you might think, the winner of this year's Theodore Seuss Geisel award, Up, Tall and High!
isn't about an insomniac basketball player on speed. Instead a flock of cheerful birds demonstrates the differences between the directional terms up
, and high
(but not necessarily in that order).
Using bright, bold colors, strong lines, and sparse text, Ethan Long successfully illustrates these words in a humorous way. Adding to the fun, each of the three stories has a gatefold that opens up or down and that further throws light on the concept. In the second story, for instance, a landlocked penguin bemoans the fact he can't fly. An enterprising bluebird hands him some balloons and off he goes. Lift the flap and our penguin friend is now floating into the sky as he exclaims, "Yes, now I can go very high!"
Beginning readers just starting out on the road to fluency are sure to rejoice in a book that has so much to offer--simple text, boisterous art, interactive flaps, and giggles galore.
Up, Tall and High! (but not necessarily in that order)
by Ethan Long
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 40 pages
Published: February 2012
If A Pet Named Sneaker
has a traditional feel to it, perhaps it's because its author, Joan Heilbroner, penned several easy readers back in the day. Her most famous is the 1962 charmer Robert the Rose Horse
(with illustrations by P. D. Eastman).
The hero of her latest book is Sneaker, a snake who can contort himself into seemingly endless shapes. At the story's start, he lives a lonely existence in a pet store until a boy named Pete takes him home. (I applaud the choice of Pete for his name. Beginning readers will learn how adding a final "e" changes the title's "pet" to "Pete.") Sneaker goes everywhere with Pete, including to school, where he learns to read and write, and to the park pool, where he saves a toddler from drowning and ends up as the lifeguard's helper.
The story has definite kid appeal and the cartoony illustrations humorously showcase the snake's antics. I'd have preferred the story to have been broken into two separate books, one featuring Sneaker's adventures in school and the other set at the pool. As is, the transition from school to summer vacation is abrupt. But I doubt kids will mind, and I bet many after reading this book will beg their parents for their own pet snake.
A Pet Named Sneaker
by Joan Heilbroner
illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre
Random House, 48 pages
Published: January 2013
Valentine's Day is here and you know what that means. I'm not talking about long-stemmed red roses, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and flutes of Champagne (although I sure wouldn't mind a glass or two tonight). No, I mean today is when the CYBILS announce the winners of the 2012 books they love best of all. As a second round judge this year, I got to debate the merits of some fantastic books in the Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book categories. My fellow judges provided some top notch critiques and I'd like to thank them all for their passion and zeal. These folks seriously dig children's books. So a big round of applause to Julie Azzam
, Stacey Loscalzo
, Nancy Talan
, and Zoe Toft
! And a special shout-out to Terry Doherty
, our fearless mediator!
As for the winners, we selected Frank Viva's A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse
for best Easy Reader, an exceptionally gorgeous book with eye-popping illustrations and laugh-aloud text. For Early Chapter Book we chose Sadie & Ratz
by Sonia Hartnett and illustrated by Ann James. I didn't know about this remarkable book about sibling rivalry run amok until judging time. All I can say is I'm so glad I got the chance to read it.
So hop on over to the CYBILS website
and take a gander at all the other fine winners. You're sure to see many of your favorites as well as a few surprises.
Now where's that Champagne?
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Last year, right as we were moving into our new house, I was frantically at work completing my latest book. I'm proud to announce it was just released. A fancy coloring book for adults, not kids, Masterpieces of Art
is part of Thunder Bay's Color Yourself Smart series.
Here's the book description:Research has shown that there are many different learning styles, and adding a tactile/kinesthetic element helps your brain to retain the information you’ve learned. Color Yourself Smart: Masterpieces of Art does just that. Have fun while learning and improve your memory with this revolutionary new series. Author Catherine Nichols has selected 52 of the world’s most iconic masterpieces of art throughout history and has compiled them here, along with intriguing facts about the artist, the scoop on what was happening during history to make each masterpiece relevant, art terminology and the techniques employed, and information about the work of art itself. Everything you need for a crash course in art history is right here in one set, ready to open and begin, or to take on the go.
- This incredible set includes 52 plates to color, colored pencils from Faber-Castell, and everything you need to begin your introduction to the most iconic masterpieces.
- Journey throughout history and to the most famous museums in the world, page by page.
Color Yourself Smart: Masterpieces of Art offers a holistic and fun way to learn about the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time.