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Preschool-perfect nursery rhymes, a potpourri of new-reader-friendly seasonal verse, a presidential history lesson in rhyme, and a picture book biography about a famous poet — these new books offer unique avenues for celebrating National Poetry Month.
Editor and illustrator David McPhail’s My Mother Goose: A Collection of Favorite Rhymes is an affable collection of sixty-three nursery rhymes plus seven interspersed short sections of concepts (counting, “Getting Dressed,” “Action Words”). McPhail portrays a classic, though updated, Mother Goose world, populated with people (not all white) and anthropomorphized animals. Each spread is devoted to one or two mostly familiar poems, and the playful illustrations are afforded plenty of room to interpret the verses, giving the whole an uncluttered, approachable look. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)
Melissa Sweet’s child-friendly mixed-media illustrations — loosely rendered, collage-like assemblages in seasonal palettes — enhance the thirty-six excellent poems showcased in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, the verses — some as brief as three lines or a dozen words — are largely by familiar poets (Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes), including those known for their children’s verse (Alice Schertle, Charlotte Zolotow). (Candlewick, 4–7 years)
Natalie S. Bober draws on her own 1981 young adult biography A Restless Spirit for her new picture book Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost, focused on the pivotal years (1900–12) when Frost lived in Derry, New Hampshire. Skillfully, Bober introduces Frost’s idiosyncrasies along with his gifts, and frequently incorporates lines from Frost’s poems. Rebecca Gibbon’s acrylic, pencil, and watercolor art quietly captures the era’s essence. Quotes from Frost on poetry and a dozen iconic poems inspired by those Derry years are included. (Ottaviano/Holt, 5–8 years)
For slightly older readers, Marilyn Singer’s Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents offers thirty-nine poems for our forty-three presidents, touching on sophisticated subjects such as political ideology, foreign policy, and domestic programs. A quote from George Washington in a bold hand-lettered font opens the book, and with the poem positioned on the facing page, readers have space to contemplate its meaning. John Hendrix’s expansive, richly colored art captures each man’s likeness, and brief biographical notes give pertinent background information. (Disney-Hyperion, 6–10 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Every fantasy fan knows the exquisite agony of anticipating the next entry in a favorite series — particularly if that entry will be the last. These four new novels continue (and in some cases, complete) popular trilogies.
In The Cracks in the Kingdom, the follow-up to Jaclyn Moriarty‘s BGHB Fiction Award Honor book A Corner of White, Madeleine (in Cambridge, England) and Elliot (in the Kingdom of Cello) continue to communicate through letters they send through a “crack” between their two worlds. At the behest of Princess Ko, whose parents and siblings have disappeared into Madeleine’s world, Madeleine and Elliot attempt to cross into each other’s worlds and avert the threat of war in Cello. They achieve a measure of success and give readers a tantalizing hint of romance to come. This wholly entertaining book outdoes the first — not an easy task. (Levine/Scholastic, 13–16 years)
Marissa Meyer’s fairy tale/sci-fi hybrid Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet) continues with Cress, a “Rapunzel”–inspired story. Cress, taken from her Lunar parents as a baby, is forced to live alone on a satellite spying on the Earthens for Queen Levana. But her real loyalty lies with cyborg Cinder’s plan to protect Earth by dethroning Levana. After an attempt to rescue Cress goes awry, Cinder and an injured Wolf head to Africa; Scarlet becomes Levana’s prisoner on Luna; and Cress and Thorne survive a crash landing on Earth and desert trek. This action-packed page-turner is sure to please series fans. (Feiwel, 13–16 years)
In The Klaatu Terminus, Tucker and Lia (The Obsidian Blade, The Cydonian Pyramid) join together for their final confrontation with the murderous religious sect known as the Lambs of September. Born in the same geographic locale hundreds of years apart, the two have been drawn to each other since Tucker first spotted Lia with his father, Reverend Adrian Feye (soon to become Father September). Other characters, similarly intertwined, also cross paths again in wholly unexpected ways. Author Pete Hautman pulls together the elaborate strands of the previous Klaatu Diskos books, rewarding readers with a surprising yet satisfying chronicle across time. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)
An uneasy truce between chimaera and seraphim allows Laini Taylor‘s star-crossed lovers Karou and Akiva (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight) the chance to reconcile. This sets the stage for looming confrontations with the despotic seraph Jael, the mysterious Stelians, and a new threat that the pair could never have imagined. For all the well-made trappings of fantasy and horror, the amalgamation of myth and legend, the machinations of plot, and the colorful menagerie of characters, Dreams of Gods & Monsters — the final entry in the trilogy — remains, at heart, a tender, satisfying romance. (Little, Brown, 13–16 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Visiting big cities can foster both excitement and anxiety. Whether young children are already well traveled or just curious about new places, these four picture books can provide them with excellent armchair tours of New York City and Europe.
A little girl traveling on the subway counts from one (“1 MetroCard”) to ten (“10 friends sway, boogie and bop…”) and back down again in Count on the Subway. Paul DuBois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender’s pleasantly rhyming text is full of the sights and sounds of a subway ride. Shout-outs to some New York City stations and train lines (“Find the 7 at Times Square”) give readers their bearings, but familiarity with the city isn’t a necessity. The clean page design encourages young children to participate in counting the objects and people mentioned in the text. Dan Yaccarino’s graphically dynamic illustrations pop with crisp lines and solid blocks of dazzling crayon-box colors. (Knopf, 3–5 years)
Join a little boy and his father In New York, an enthusiastically busy story-book guide to New York City. Just about all of Manhattan’s child-pleasing sites get a place in Marc Brown’s stupendously detailed gouache and watercolor pictures, including the Empire State Building at sunset, Rockefeller Center at Christmas, the Statue of Liberty, the dinosaur gallery of the American Museum of Natural History, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The minimal text is inviting, the endpapers offer additional child-friendly vignettes and facts, and appended info includes phone numbers and websites for all the highlights. (Knopf, 4–7 years)
In City Cat, a small smoky-gray cat follows a family on its trip through Europe, making herself supremely comfortable wherever she goes. Kate Banks’s text is confident and rhythmic, dotted with rhymes and half-rhymes that bounce off the tongue. “She sits on piers with perked-up ears / and gazes out to sea.” Lauren Castillo’s drawings capture both the grandeur of great cities and their human dynamism. In each picture, we look for the family, and the family looks for the cat. An appended spread, both child- and cat-oriented, identifies the cities and the sights, and a map lets us trace the family’s eight-city journey. (Foster /Farrar, 4–7 years)
Salvatore Rubbino (A Walk in New York, A Walk in London) showcases another iconic city in A Walk in Paris. This time, a small girl and her grandpa tour sites such as Notre-Dame and the Pompidou Center; a bistro and an outdoor market; and the Métro. Following streets medieval and modern, they finally arrive, with a foldout, at the Eiffel Tower, “fizzing with lights!” It’s an amiable amble, the child’s travelogue nicely extended with extra facts in discreetly tiny type (“book stalls have lined the river since the mid-sixteenth century”). Rubbino’s evocative mixed-media art is full of gentle tones enlivened with verdant greens and a pâtisserie’s inviting raspberry-reds. An endpaper map details the route, and major sites are indexed. (Candlewick, 4–7 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.
La gallina grande / Big Fat Hen
by Keith Baker; translated by Carlos E. Calvo
Houghton 30 pp.
4/14 978-0-544-17398-9 $4.99
Baker’s Big Fat Hen debuted as a generously sized picture book in 1994. The popularity of the original was reinforced in 1997 with a board book edition, and the book finds new life in this Spanish/English bilingual board edition. It is unfortunate that both board versions employ a greatly reduced trim size; Baker’s brightly hued acrylic illustrations are still effective but somewhat less impressive on this smaller scale. Calvo’s translation of the traditional rhyme is fluid and rhythmic, although the ocho/bizcocho couplet and the “big fat hen” page do not exactly match their illustrations. Still, this is a valuable addition to the bilingual bookshelves.
by Mary Brigid Barrett; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Candlewick 16 pp.
1/14 978-0-7636-4358-4 $6.99
Don’t be fooled by the title: this is not an illustrated version of the ubiquitous nursery rhyme. Barrett takes the rhyme out of the baker’s shop and into the life of a toddler, inviting youngsters to pat puddings and puddles, acorns and oak trees, and finally parents and pillows. The rhyming text is complemented by Pham’s joyful illustrations, which feature a multi-ethnic cast of smiling young explorers. Additional book in the series: All Fall Down.
Who Can Swim?
by Sebastien Braun
Candlewick 14 pp.
3/14 978-0-7636-6752-8 $6.99
For animal-loving readers and listeners looking for a little variety, Braun moves beyond the usual parade of pets and livestock. In this stylishly illustrated offering, the repeated question, “Who can swim?” is answered as flaps lift to reveal not just fish, but also penguins, polar bears, seals, and whales. The final flap hides a happy toddler, complete with red floaties, representing for the young listener that “You can swim,” too.
Sally at the Farm
by Stephen Huneck
Abrams Appleseed 20 pp.
3/14 978-1-4197-1030-8 $7.95
Sally in the Sand
by Stephen Huneck
Abrams Appleseed 20 pp.
3/14 978-1-4197-1029-2 $7.95
Huneck first introduced readers to his big black Lab, Sally, and his distinctive artistic style in a series of picture books in the early 2000s. Happily, Sally is back in these adaptations of two of her early adventures (Sally Goes to the Farm, 2002; Sally Goes to the Beach, 2000). Sally is, for the most part, an endearingly realistic dog who sniffs, licks, digs, swims, and cleans her plate. Using a subdued palette that combines color washes and woodcut prints, Huneck has created a friendly and folksy landscape for young dog lovers to enjoy alongside Sally.
Bringing In the New Year
by Grace Lin
Knopf 28 pp.
12/13 978-0-385-75365-4 $6.99
Originally published as a picture book in 2008, Lin’s introduction to the traditional celebration of the Lunar New Year is now available as a board book. The gatefold of the waking dragon featured in the picture book is missing in the new format, as are the decorated end pages, but the story of welcoming the new year retains all its charm and vitality. The illustrations have a festive energy that mirrors the family’s building excitement. Like the picture book, the board book closes with useful back matter for young readers or listeners.
You Are My Baby: Garden [Petit Collage]
by Lorena Siminovich
Chronicle 12 pp.
3/14 978-1-4521-2649-4 $8.99
You Are My Baby: Ocean [Petit Collage]
by Lorena Siminovich
Chronicle 12 pp.
3/14 978-1-4521-2650-0 $8.99
Continuing the series reviewed in the fall 2013 roundup, Siminovich brings her “book within a book” concept to two new environments. The use of specialized terms for several of the babies (hatchling, spiderling, calf, kit) adds a vocabulary-building element to the books. Never fear; this educational element doesn’t detract from the fun of mixing and matching the babies with their grown-ups.
by Andrew Zuckerman
Chronicle 20 pp.
3/14 978-1-4521-1668-6 $7.99
Vivid photographs and generous white space are the hallmarks of this concept book. Zuckerman introduces ten colors and ten creatures with seeming simplicity. His layouts, however, feature animals off center, in profile, walking on and flying off the pages. These unexpected configurations add an appealing visual sophistication. Three additional books are planned for the series: Creature: Numbers, Creature: Baby Animals and Creature: Sounds.
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A heartrending and hilarious junior-high road-trip novel; a story about stepping up in dire straits; an exploration of grief, false exteriors, and hope; and a riveting depiction of a boy feigning manhood. These new novels featuring teenage boys offer coming-of-age drama with real heart.
Two teens abandon their lackluster lives and hit the Autobahn in the audacious tragicomedy Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf. Unpopular Mike lives a life of quiet desperation at his Berlin junior high; new kid “Tschick” comes to class drunk and might be in the Russian mafia. When Tschick rolls up to Mike’s house in a hotwired car and proposes a road trip without a map, destination, or driver’s license, Mike says yes. Mike’s narration is an anxious stream of wry humor and linked anecdotes, but the moments when his façade slips are startling windows into the pain of social exclusion and the aching loneliness of being fourteen. (Levine/Scholastic, 12–15 years)
Jake Cole’s father had been one of the best shell fishermen in Narragansett Bay until he injured his back and settled into running the Riptide Diner. When he goes missing, Jake and his mother lose their house, and now the diner is in danger of being repossessed. A mysterious character named Captain and the seasoned fisherman Gene Hassard help Jake earn money and learn the ways of the bay. With lushly detailed sense of place and character, Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano delineates the struggle of a boy coming to terms with his situation. (Candlewick, 12–15 years)
In Matt Blackstone’s Sorry You’re Lost, seventh grader Denny “Donuts” Murphy has felt alone and small since his mother died. So he intentionally develops a big persona: clowning in the classroom, making everything into a joke. Gradually, with the help of friends and a budding romance, Donuts sheds his manic showman exterior and learns to appreciate the good of the world. The first-person narrative reveals Donuts’s inner self, and what might have been just a series of cliched middle-school antics turns out to be a story of substance and hope. (Farrar, 11–14 years)
Thirteen-year-old Tyson figures he’ll make a fine outdoorsman: he’s been to a shooting range and owns all the Great American Hunter video games and Planet Earth DVDs. So when his grandfather (and, basically, best friend) invites him to go hunting in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, he sees it as his chance to prove himself a man. But the combination of an inexperienced boy, a sickly seventy-seven-year-old man, and a killer grizzly bear reported in the park is a dangerous one. Ryan Gebhart’s There Will Be Bears is a satisfyingly complicated realistic drama that deals with big issues; excellent pacing will hold readers in its grip. (Candlewick, 11–14 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (illustrated by K. G. Campbell; Candlewick, 6–9 years) — that warmly told and illustrated story of a comics-loving girl, a superheroic squirrel, and their friendship — took home the 2014 Newbery Medal. The following primary and early intermediate novels also star smart, spirited girls on adventures big and small, all accompanied by energetic illustrations — a winning combination for Flora fans.
Lulu (Lulu and the Brontosaurus; Lulu Walks the Dogs) may not be the “serious pain in the butt” she once was, but she’s still a tough customer. When Lulu’s parents go on vacation without her, she meets her match in babysitter Sonia Sofia Solinsky. Ms. Solinsky thwarts Lulu’s schemes to oust her, eventually revealing that she is a spy and a spy-trainer. Readers may wonder: is Ms. Solinsky truly a spy? No matter; craving her tutelage, Lulu behaves with uncommon decorum. Author Judith Viorst and illustrator Kevin Cornell’s farcical Lulu’s Mysterious Mission will tickle younger listeners and emerging readers. (Atheneum, 6–9 years)
A black-and-white movie featuring a tough-talking private investigator inspires Ivy and Bean to solve some mysteries, starting with “The Mystery of What’s Under the Cement Rectangle” in everyone’s front yard. The other kids on Pancake Court become less impressed with each case — until a mysterious yellow rope appears tied to the chimney on Dino’s house and the friends investigate whodunit. With Ivy + Bean Take the Case, the tenth entry in the popular series written by Annie Barrows and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, it’s no mystery why these chapter books continue to please: clever stories and illustrations to match. (Chronicle, 6–9 years)
In author Sally Gardner’s and illustrator David Roberts’s Operation Bunny, Emily is demoted to Cinderella status after the birth of her (deliciously nasty) adoptive parents’ own triplets. Fortunately, an elderly neighbor and her talking cat change everything. Soon Emily is neck-deep in magic: figuring out her role as the Keeper of the Keys, tracking down a mysterious shop she has inherited, and thwarting a witch who turns people into unlikely-hued rabbits. While reaching a satisfying conclusion, this first brisk, entertaining entry in the Wings & Co. series will leave readers eager for the next. (Holt, 8–11 years)
Exploring the museum where her father is a curator, Ophelia spies a boy through a cleverly hidden keyhole. He tells her that he’s a prisoner of the Snow Queen. To defeat her, someone must find the boy’s missing sword — and that someone is clearly Ophelia. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fable of psychic healing, in which Ophelia, mourning her recently deceased mother, must battle the queen and her sword, the Great Sorrow. Author Karen Foxlee’s deftness with characterization and setting makes this a satisfying fantasy. (Knopf, 8–11 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Need a break from that perennial favorite Cars and Trucks and Things That Go? These four new transportation-themed picture books for preschoolers combine well-paced texts, dynamic illustrations, and entertaining stories — the perfect companion for daytime journeys and journeys into night.
Byron Barton‘s My Bus (companion to My Car; Greenwillow, 2–4 years) takes readers along with Joe as he drives Bus #123 across a bold-hued landscape. “At my first stop, one dog gets on my bus. / At my second stop, two cats get on my bus.” After four stops, there are five dogs and five cats onboard. And then…Joe drops off his passengers in ones and twos at a boat, a train, and a plane; the last dog (“My dog!”) goes home with Joe in a car. Each stop offers more excitement for young motorheads (as well as some subtly introduced math concepts). (Greenwillow, 2–4 years)
“Here is the traffic, all ground to a halt, / and the policeman calls out… / ‘What’s causing this holdup? / Move along, now. Move along!’” The vehicles may be at a standstill in William Bee’s And the Cars Go…, but the rhythmic text motors along as the officer investigates the problem. Each double-page spread features a fancifully detailed auto and its idiosyncratic occupants; Bee’s stylish compositions with eye-popping colors have a distinctly sixties vibe. The predictably patterned, onomatopoeic verses encourage audience participation. (Candlewick, 3–6 years)
Charise Mericle Harper’s quirky Go! Go! Go! Stop! stars two traffic lights and a fleet of construction vehicles. Little Green shouts “GO!”, and Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Mixer, and friends get to work. But without a way to not go, things threaten to spiral out of control. Then a red “stranger” rolls onto the site, and disaster is averted — eventually. Harper’s action-packed illustrations feature cheerful trucks in colorful cartoonlike scenes. Lively dialogue adds to the storytime fun. (Knopf, 3–6 years)
Everything Goes: By Sea is the latest in Brian Biggs’s transportation-themed series. Henry and his parents (the intrepid travelers from Everything Goes: On Land and Everything Goes: In the Air) ride a car ferry to their island destination; along the way, they talk about the variety of boats on the water and the jobs those vessels do. There’s a brief (and helpful) explanation of buoyancy, along with some accessible history and a little science/engineering. The pleasingly busy cartoon illustrations are packed with details and visual jokes. Biggs navigates this nautical lesson with a steady hand. (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 3–7 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Picture book biographies provide young children with glimpses into the lives of notable men and women. The following books highlight people whose accomplishments in the arts, on the seven seas, and on the world stage are inspirations to us all.
Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, tells of visiting Sevagram, India, as a child in Grandfather Gandhi (co-written by Bethany Hegedus). Young Arun, who gets fidgety during prayers and who angers easily while playing soccer with village children, feels he will never live up to the Gandhi name. After he confides this to his grandfather, Gandhi tells Arun that he, too, often feels anger but that he has learned to channel it for good. Unusual for its child-centered and intimate portrait of Gandhi, the graceful narrative is nearly outdone by Evan Turk’s vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in, among other materials, watercolor, paper collage, and handspun cotton yarn. (Atheneum, 4–7 years)
In the early 1800s, young Ellen Prentiss (1814–1900) learned to be a keen and fearless sailor on her father’s trading schooner. Captain Prentiss also taught Ellen navigation, and later she and her husband, Perkins Creesy, traveled the world’s oceans. When the Creesys took command of The Flying Cloud to transport passengers from New York to the California Gold Rush, Ellen accepted the accompanying challenge to smash the record for shortest voyage around Cape Horn. In lively, nautically infused text, Dare the Wind by Tracey Fern details the adventures of this remarkable woman. Ink and watercolor illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully reflect the resplendent blues and greens of vast, changeable oceans. (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years)
One of the pioneers of abstract art, Vasily Kandinsky experienced “colors as sounds, and sounds as colors,” a neurological condition called synesthesia. Concentrating primarily on the artist as a child and young adult, Barb Rosenstock, in The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, takes known events and embellishes them with dialogue and specific sounds for the colors (“He brushed a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings”). Illustrator Mary GrandPré does a fine job showing color and sound as abstractions while presenting the artist and his surroundings in a more realistic manner. (Knopf, 4–7 years)
Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History begins in the early decades of the twentieth century, when Benny Goodman was a working-class Jewish boy growing up in Chicago and Teddy Wilson was a middle-class African American boy living in Tuskegee, Alabama. Jazz brought them together when their paths crossed at a party, and their styles melded so well that they soon began to record together, along with Gene Krupa on drums, as the Benny Goodman Trio. The story is recounted here in short bursts of text, almost like jazz riffs, accompanied by pencil and watercolor illustrations by James E. Ransome that capture distinctive moments in the subjects’ lives. (Holiday, 4–7 years)
From the March 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Warm weather and long days create the perfect conditions for one of summer’s greatest pleasures: playing outside. Three new picture books and one early reader offer fun-filled adventures in the great outdoors, from the everyday to the out-of-the-ordinary.
The action-figure hero of Traction Man Is Here!, along with his sidekick Scrubbing Brush, hits the beach in Mini Grey’s Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey. Traction Man’s valiant security patrol of the family picnic comes to an abrupt end when a wave whisks the pair away, landing them in the clutches of another young beachgoer. Once again, the duo entertainingly inhabits the world-within-a-world of creative play. (3–6 years)
A young girl celebrates summertime in Wong Herbert Yee’s Summer Days and Nights. During her busy day — which includes chasing butterflies, jumping into a pool, and taking an evening walk — she asks questions about the various insects and animals she encounters. Meticulously layered and blended colored-pencil art captures both the warmth of summer sunshine and the coolness of shade beneath trees. (3–6 years)
In James Proimos and Johanna Wright’s The Best Bike Ride Ever, Bonnie O’Boy is so eager to ride her new bike that she takes off before learning how to stop. She rides over mountains and elephants, through downpours and windstorms, up the Statue of Liberty and down the Grand Canyon. Careful observers will realize that this whole thrilling adventure takes place in the safety of Bonnie’s cluttered backyard. Energy springs off the page; it’s no wonder that Bonnie wants to ride off without training wheels…or even training. (4–7 years)
For primary readers, R. Kikuo Johnson’s graphic novel/beginning reader The Shark King retells the legend of an underwater shape shifter married to a mortal woman who bears their son, Nanaue. Nanaue’s aquatic superpowers make living among mortals a struggle, but eventually he discovers where he belongs. In the illustrations, the characters’ rounded black outlines convey strong energy and emotion, while the panels and spreads feature a lush, colorful Hawaiian setting. (5–8 years)
Here are some more great summer reading suggestions from The Horn Book.
From the July 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book. For bibliographic information please click here.
Taking a trip to the beach this summer? These poetry and nonfiction picture books work swimmingly to teach children about ocean life.
David Elliott and Holly Meade’s In the Sea combines poetry and art to create memorable portraits of twenty different ocean creatures, including an octopus, golden starfish, moray eel, and blue whale. The tone of Elliott’s very short poems varies nicely, from lightly humorous to evocative and majestic, and Meade’s full-spread woodcut and watercolor illustrations are at once striking and simple. (3–6 years)
The creatures and allure of the sea are captured in Kate Coombs’s twenty-three poems and Meilo So’s splendid illustrations for Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Some of Coombs’s poems are comical while others are thoughtful. The ocean itself is the star of So’s beautiful art, whether in translucent underwater greens, intense blue against a dazzling white horizon, or simply as splashes of color and light. (5–8 years)
Dolphin Baby! is a lively story with scientific details about the developmental milestones in the first six months of a dolphin’s life. While Nicola Davies’s main narrative concentrates on one particular dolphin as he matures, smaller text on each spread provides more general information about the species. Brita Granström’s illustrations, set at various depths in the ocean, feature broad brushstrokes of every watery hue. (5–8 years)
Claire A. Nivola’s picture book biography Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle focuses on Earle’s intimate knowledge of the creatures she has spent over half a century observing. Accompanying the informative text are Nivola’s exquisitely detailed watercolor illustrations that are perfect for depicting the natural world. An author’s note explains why we all need to get involved in efforts to curtail the threats of overfishing, climate change, oil spills, and other pollutants. (5–8 years)
Here are some more great summer reading suggestions from The Horn Book.
From the July 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book. For bibliographic information please click here.
The books recommended below were published within the last several years. While some titles contain only a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary, many are fully bilingual. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Suggested ages level for all titles: PS
¡Muu, Moo!: Rimas de animales / Animal Nursery Rhymes written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy; illus. by Viví Escrivá; English versions by Rosalma Zubizarreta (HarperCollins/Rayo)
Sixteen traditional nursery rhymes are presented first in Spanish and then in a free retelling in English that captures the flavor of the original. Soft, warm watercolor illustrations accompany the rhymes. 48 pages.
Waiting for the Biblioburro written by Monica Brown; illus. by John Parra (Tricycle)
Ana impatiently anticipates the arrival of a burro-riding librarian in her remote village; she reads avidly, writes, and creates her own book while she waits. Spanish words are defined in context and in a glossary. 32 pages.
Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche written by Ina Cumpiano; illus. by José Ramírez (Children’s)
Quinito’s (Quinito’s Neighborhood) bilingual descriptions of his family, friends, and activities are accompanied by naive-style paintings. This book of opposites also succeeds as an exposition of bilingual vocabulary and a portrayal of community. 24 pages.
My Way: A Margaret and Margarita Story / A mi manera: Un cuento de Margarita y Margaret by Lynn Reiser (Greenwillow)
This bilingual tale is structured in an ingenious way, with the English (Margaret’s voice) and Spanish (Margarita’s) mirroring each other on facing pages, but with each girl presenting a distinct self. 32 pages.
Suggested grade level for all titles: K–3
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People written by Monica Brown; illus. by Julie Paschkis (Holt)
Neftali’s boyhood love of reading, writing, and nature informed his poetry and his “dreams of peace.” Stylized illustrations are embellished with words—in English, Spanish, and other languages—related in both sound and sense. 32 pages.
Número Uno written by Alex Dorros and Arthur Dorros; illus. by Susan Guevara (Abrams)
When their village needs a new bridge, architect Socrates Rivera and builder Hercules Hernandez entertainingly pit brains against brawn. Simple Spanish dialogue punctuates the story-hour-ready text with verve. 32 pages.
My Papa Diego and Me: Memories of My Father and His Art / Mi papá Diego y yo: Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte written by Guadalupe Rivera Marín; illus by Diego Rivera (Children’s)
In this bilingual tribute, Marín pairs thirteen of her father’s paintings with first-person text. Her personal insight is conveyed simply, letting the art speak for itself. End matter offers more information about the paintings. 32 pages.
Tía Isa Wants a Car written by Meg Medina; illus. by Claudio Muñoz (Candlewick)
The young narrator describes how Tía Isa wants a car that’s “the same shiny green as the ocean.” However, they don’t have enough money—yet. Spanish words are incorporated naturally. Soft watercolor illustrations mirror the text. 32 pages.
Gracias / Thanks written by Pat Mora; illus. by John Parra (Lee and Low)
A boy says thanks to everything, from the sun that wakes him up to his pajamas. Poetic
Sendak drew and painted to music, and in his later career would design operas including The Magic Flute, The Love for Three Oranges, and his own Where the Wild Things Are, set by Oliver Knussen.
The Tony Kushner/Sendak collaboration Brundibar (2003) re-creates the story line of a Czech opera written by a Terezin concentration camp inmate and performed there by children whom the Nazis later murdered. It will be read on at least two different levels: adults will recognize the yellow stars sewn on the Jewish characters’ clothing and other ominous details while young listeners will want to know what happens next to the two little heroes, Pepicek and Aninku, who set out with an empty bucket to fetch milk for their ailing mother. Sendak’s crayon, colored-pencil, and brush pen illustrations feature rosy tones emphasized by bursts of crimson and yellow, or contrasted with intense blacks, browns, blues, and greens. Characters in nonstop action fill the pages, but there’s plenty of vivid white space to absorb them. (5–8 years)
Lullabies and Night Songs (1965), edited by William Engvick, with music by Alec Wilder, and illustrated by Sendak, is an extraordinary songbook, wholly enchanting in words, music, and illustrations. The editor has selected verses, in addition to some of his own, from poets notable and varied as well as many traditional pieces. The pictures – in muted yet luminous colors – are instantly engaging: by turns robust and delicate, mischievous and droll, tender and vigorous. The manuscript notation and the hand-lettered text contribute to the artistic whole. (3–7 years)
The mysterious, powerful, and slightly grotesque flavor of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker is re-created through Ralph Manheim’s smooth, elegant translation (1984). The illustrations, spectacular and remarkably effective, are either taken from Sendak’s stage settings for the ballet or are newly drawn for this volume. Many of them show clearer and more pristine color and have a greater delicacy and lightness of line than do most of Sendak’s drawings (though there is an unmistakable, enormous Wild Thing peering from behind an island). Altogether a magnificent, splendid combination of talents — the author and the illustrator each worthy of the other. (5–8 years)
Sendak never settled for prettiness; his illustrations for folklore demonstrate a respect for the tales’ immense power.
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973), selected by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak, translated by Segal and Randall Jarrell, and illustrated by Sendak, features Grimm favorites including “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In his meticulous drawings, Sendak ranges far and wide for methods of suggesting the imaginative depths inherent in the tales. There is a quiet intensity in the illustrations, each of which seems to have its own aura. Originally published as a slipcased two-volume set, then in paperback in 1976 as a joint volume, the book was reissued in 2003 in a handsome hardcover edition. (7–10 years)
Generously embellished with illustrations from full-page compositions to vignettes illuminating individual verses, this newly edited reissue of 1947’s I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book (1992) edited by Iona and Peter Opie, is certainly an event. The Opies’ rhymes belong to the hidden culture of childhood, chants learned in the schoolyard or on the street and never sanctioned by adult approval. In Sendak’s illustrations, the characters seem more like miniaturized streetwise adults than children — or perhaps they are reminders that the conventional images of childhood are far too idealized. (5–8 years)
In We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), a passionate plea for social responsibility set to the text of two little-known nursery rhymes, Sendak created some of his most gripping and powerful images. In a setting of a dump, where homeless urchins live in shacks and cardboard boxes, two terrify rats steal a child and all the kittens in the area. Jack and Guy are challenged to play cards for “the kittens and the poor little kid,” but the rats hold the trump card. The double-page spreads with large images right at the surface pull us into the action and bombard us with emotion. Though readers will be alternately moved and repelled, this book should be studied and discussed. (5–8 years)
It’s a shame that Sendak’s only extended prose work for children is the wonderful Higglety Pigglety Pop, but his tender illustrations for novels by Randall Jarrell and Meindert DeJong demonstrate the artist’s reach beyond the picture book.
Sendak’s daring imagination weaves a simple rhyme into the complex and brilliantly original tale Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life (1967).Sealyham terrier Jennie, convinced that “there must be more to life than having everything,” packs her bag and confidently goes forth into the world. The fantasy is ordered and controlled, full of allusion, wisdom, and flashes of wit. The story is enormously extended by the pictures, each one a masterpiece of impeccable drawing, restraint, and emotional depth. (7–10 years)
At the start of the 1966 Newbery Honor Book The Animal Family (1965), written by Randall Jarrell and illustrated by Sendak, the Hunter lives alone in his log house. In time the mermaid comes to live with him; then he brings home a bear cub and a lynx kitten. The lynx finds a little boy whom the sea had cast ashore, and the family is complete. In so simple a thread of story, but in singing words, is caught the essence of family. Harmonious landscape drawings are a tribute to the sensitivity of the artist; they decorate and set a mood without trying to illustrate a story so universal in its emotion, yet so personal in its meaning. (7–10 years)
Sendak illustrated several novels by Meindert DeJong, among them the Newbery-winning The Wheel on the School (1954). The setting is the Dutch village of Shora, a place that’s always passed over when storks come to nest in neighboring villages. Young Lina and her classmates wonder why the storks (which bring good luck) don’t come to Shora — and as they wonder, things begin to happen. As always in this collaboration between masters, simple, atmospheric pictures add greatly to the mood of the book. (9–12 years)
There’s no need to leave Sendak behind when children begin reading for themselves.
Entirely original in approach and content is Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig (1952), illustrated by Sendak. In this “first book of first definitions,” Krauss, with the help of children themselves, gives us such gems as “a seashell is to hear the sea” and “cats are so you can have kittens.” The illustrations are perfect whether they are making it clear that “buttons are to keep people warm,” or picturing the boy who feels he has thought of an excruciatingly funny definition: “A tablespoon is to eat a table with.” This can start children off on a fascinating game. (5–8 years)
Little Bear (1957) by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Sendak, was the first in publisher Harper’s legendary “I Can Read” series. Minarik and Sendak would go on to create four more books about Little Bear. Distinctive features include the imaginative quality of the story’s simple text, which divorces it from the feeling of controlled vocabulary, and the charm of its quaintly humorous drawings. Little Bear contains four play adventures, each in harmony with the instincts and interests of the young child. Mother Bear, in her full-flowing gown, conveys warmth and tenderness just as Little Bear has the playfulness, eagerness, and wistfulness of a child himself. (5–8 years)
Sendak’s Nutshell Library (1962) includes four tiny books in a box, each complete in itself with droll jacket, hard cover, and humorous pictures and funny text. One Was Johnny is a counting book in rhyme; Alligators All Around is a complete and original alphabet book; Chicken Soup with Rice has a lively nonsense rhyme for every month (each involving chicken soup); and “cautionary tale” Pierre is “a story with a moral air about Pierre, who learned to care.” (5–8 years)
Sendak’s self-styled trilogy about children confronting and mastering fear has inspired much debate and more than a few dissertations, but generations of children have managed all on their own to “only connect” with these three masterpieces.
Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Sendak’s best-known work and the 1964 Caldecott Medal Winner, has proved utterly engrossing to children throughout the decades. As well as the pictorial grotesqueries — both deliciously monstrous and humorous — they love the idea of a small boy, punished for his naughty “wildness,” dreaming up hideous wild things, taming them, and then becoming their king, before returning home to find his supper, still hot, waiting for him. This vibrant picture book in understated full color is a sincere, perceptive contribution to literature and bears repeated examination. (3–7 years)
The star of the 1971 Caldecott Honor Book In the Night Kitchen (1970), young Mickey falls “through the dark, out of his clothes . . . into the Night Kitchen.” Mixed into cake batter, he escapes in an airplane of dough and dives into a gigantic milk bottle — then is able to supply the cake bakers with the ingredient they need (milk). Line drawings of juxtaposed geometric forms are washed with subtly darkened tones of delicate color, and the bold whites and yellows add an element of luminosity to the eerie setting, a city transformed by night. (3–7 years)
In the 1982 Caldecott Honor Book Outside Over There (1981), goblins kidnap Ida’s baby sister, leaving a changeling made of ice. In hot pursuit, Ida hears “her Sailor Papa’s song” telling her to “catch those goblins with a tune.” The story is haunting and evocative; the art, with echoes of Sendak’s previous work, mature and masterly. The setting of the book is eighteenth-century pastoral — appropriate for a story that reverberates with overtones of Grimm, Mozart, and German romantic poetry. (3–7 years)
In addition to his authored work, Sendak was a generous picture-book collaborator, nowhere better demonstrated than in the 1963 Caldecott Honor Book Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (1962), written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Sendak. The story has the quality of a realistic dream, wandering through scenes that change in tone from bright daylight with accents of cherry red through the blue of a starry moonlit night. The book is drenched in atmosphere, with glowing colors and lively depth in scenes that invite repeated and lingering enjoyment. (3–7 years)
You know it’s spring when, in any available yard or park, kids can be found kneeling on the ground, inspecting the local bug population. These four picture books will help answer kids’ questions about their favorite neighborhood critters as well as about a bunch they’re unlikely to encounter in real life.
One insect you won’t find in your backyard (unless you live in the Amazon) is the titan beetle, with jaws “powerful enough to snap a pencil in half.” Kids have the opportunity to marvel over this and numerous other beetles in Steve Jenkins’s The Beetle Book. Colorful cut-paper beetles stand out crisply from the white backgrounds. They’re remarkably detailed, right down to the intricate patterns on wing casings and the delicate nature of the insects’ legs. (5–8 years)
Profiles of eight insects (and one spider) that make their own dwellings are presented in Roxie Munro’s Busy Builders. As always, Munro expertly employs perspective, on one page zooming in close enough to see the hairs on an insect’s legs and the shape of its antennae, and then on the next backing out to feature the geometric details of its home. Detailed explanations on the construction techniques and purposes of the structures are interwoven with facts about life cycles, food sources, and habitats. (6–9 years)
In Douglas Florian’s UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings, puns and wordplay enliven the poems, and rhythmic verse echoes bee behavior, as much with sound as with sense (“I’m a nectar collector. / Make wax to the max. / A beehive protector. / I never relax”). A paragraph of facts elucidates each spread, but the real energy here is in the deceptively casual watercolors that illustrate this offbeat and attractive book. (5–8 years)
As selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, poets including X. J. Kennedy, Alice Schertle, and Kristine O’Connell George celebrate Nasty Bugs. Kids who love bugs for their yuck factor will appreciate these verses about lice, ticks, bedbugs, stink bugs, cockroaches, and more. Will Terry’s luridly vivid illustrations show the anthropomorphic critters up-close and personal. Three pages at the back provide scientific information about each bug. (6–8 years)
With the digital literary world ever-expanding and evolving, picture book apps are multiplying like Wanda Gág’s cats. In this rapidly changing climate, what gives a book-based app staying power? A successful picture book app…
Is interactive—but not too interactive
What distinguishes a picture book app from a traditional picture book or an e-book is the integration of interactive elements. But these should be used wisely, as too much interactivity can overwhelm or distract from the narrative. A busy adaptation of a well-known book, such as Pop-Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit or Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most users will already have a sense of the story. But the narrative thread of the app-only (and thus initially unfamiliar) tale A Present for Milo may snag on the plethora of opportunities for animations. It may take a child several times through to really follow the trajectory of story.
A straightforward translation, Donald Crews’s Freight Train (see pages 47 to 50) contains relatively few interactive features, mostly sound effects and opportunities to explore the cargo. The train’s journey remains the focus; users move through the book without much delay—or opportunity — for play.
The best approach may be a balanced one, such as Bean Creative’s in When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic and Wes Hargis. Narrator Billy enthusiastically discusses his many improbable career options (e.g., “snail trainer”), with brief interactive moments throughout. More extensive games based on his potential occupations (“EXtreme Snail Race”) may be played as they’re introduced in the story, but can also be accessed from the main menu.
Creates meaningful counterpoint between all parts of the app
Every aspect of an app—text, images, narration, music and sound effects, and interactive enhancements—should be accessible and enjoyable, not distracting. The features should also be interdependent, creating an experience greater than the sum of an app’s parts. In Nosy Crow’s Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale, speech bubbles (separate from the “official” text) pop up when a character is tapped to reveal more information about his or her personality and behavior. Nosy Crow uses interactive elements as a narrative tool as crucial as text or illustration; the deepest understanding and appreciation of the story comes from interplay among all the parts.
In The Monster at the End of This Book, Grover’s narration of the text is enhanced by his reverse-psychology invitations to explore—“If you touched right here, that would turn the page…so do not do that”—and his frantic animated attempts to contain the “monster” lurking at story’s conclusion. Flying dust and tool sound effects ratchet up the humor.
Makes use of the “drama of the turning of the page”— even without physical pages
Loud Crow Interactive’s book apps photographically represent the book itself from cover to cover, maintaining all original page-turns and pacing so that animated elements seem to come to life inside the pages of an ordinary book. Many apps just as effectively display an individual page (or spread), then move to the next when the reader swipes to trigger an animated page turn. Some developers—such as Random House in Tad Hills’s How Rocket Learned to Read — additionally zoom in on one part of each illustration at a time, directing attention to moments as they’re narrated.
Puts users in charge
Users should be able to customize their experience of an app by turning on and off or changing narration, sound effects, or music. Users may prefer to have the
“Absurd,” “preposterous,” “slapstick.” Know any middle-grade readers who like their stories like that? Here are three new novels that fit the bill.
In Mr. and Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire!, Madeline, in the manner of many previous Polly Horvath heroines, has lost her parents. It turns out that they have been kidnapped, and capable Madeline engages the services of a couple of detectives. So much for sensible; bring on the absurd. The kidnappers are foxes; the detectives are rabbits; lovers of the zany will revel in this laugh-out-loud funny and highly original romp, illustrated with aplomb by Sophie Blackall. (9–12 years)
Adam Rex’s Cold Cereal takes place in the town of Goodborough, home to the Goodco cereal company, where new kid Scott is seeing things. Specifically, a rabbit-headed man, a unicat, and a leprechaun. When Scott discovers that he and his only friends, brainy twins Erno and Emily, are subjects in a dastardly Goodco experiment, the three set out to right some wrongs. Built on a happily preposterous edifice of a plot, this wacky adventure is consistently entertaining. (9–12 years)
In Andrew Norriss’s I Don’t Believe It, Archie!, ordinary kid Archie always seems to be in the middle of crazy happenings. For instance, his mother sends him out to mail a letter, but on the way he sees a piano racing down the street, then saves two people from being buried alive in gravel. Of course, he never mails the letter. Archie’s mother is unaware that anything exciting has ever happened; she is only exasperated that he hasn’t completed the errands. Each chapter ends with her frustrated “Honestly! I don’t believe it, Archie!” Hannah Shaw’s humorous black-and-white spot illustrations help move the action along in this benign slapstick comedy. (8–11 years)
As we (in the northeast, anyway) move from winter into “mud-luscious,” “puddle-wonderful” early spring, the outside becomes irresistible. Here are four new picture books celebrating nature and outdoor play to read after all that puddle-splashing.
A young bear explores his surroundings in Ashley Wolff’s Baby Bear Sees Blue. Baby Bear asks about the birdsong he hears, the fragrance he smells, the wings that tickle him. Each time, Mama gives him the answer, and Baby Bear stops to look at the corresponding color: blue jays, red strawberries, orange butterflies. Block print and watercolor illustrations capture both the natural world and the loving relationship between parent and child. (2–5 years)
In Anita Lobel’s 10 Hungry Rabbits: Counting & Color Concepts, Mama Rabbit plans to make vegetable soup for dinner, so her ten children — each wearing a different color — gather ten matching colorful ingredients: one purple cabbage, two white onions, three yellow peppers. Each ingredient appears in a large, realistic portrait with the corresponding color-coded number. Concept books don’t get much better than this. (3–6 years)
Audrey Wood’s Blue Sky presents a succession of double-page spreads showing skies, from “blue sky” to “sunset sky” to “moon sky.” The pastel illustrations feature a wordless story about a small boy and his family, who wait out a storm (“rain sky”) and then head to the beach, enjoying their day by the shore (“sun sky”) all the way through “star sky.” The progression through the day makes for a satisfying journey. (4–8 years)
In A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play, Marilyn Singer explores different kinds of outdoor games, from simple to complex. Singer’s range of poetry styles and forms complements the varied kinds of creative outdoor play throughout the day. LeUyen Pham’s slightly retro-feeling illustrations feature a multicultural group of children enjoying nature and imagination together. (5–8 years)
By: Roger Sutton
Blog: Read Roger - The Horn Book editor's rants and raves
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Like you (I’m guessing), I felt my soul give a little lurch at the news that Encyclopaedia Britannica was getting out of the book business to go online, all the time. Part of my reaction was nostalgia—when I was a child we owned the first four or five volumes of some encyclopedia that my parents had picked up as a supermarket premium, and I would browse them endlessly. As any devotee of the Guinness World Records or the Farmers’ Almanac can tell you, it’s fun to pinball around within the structure a reference book gives you: it has rules so you don’t have to.
But as a librarian, I understand that digital reference sources, done right, have it all over print. The online Britannica is no less authoritative, arguably more so because it is more quickly updated than print. It’s still browsable and inspiring of serendipity: having secured a trial subscription for the purposes of writing this editorial, I’m having trouble keeping myself on task. Wikipedia without shame! Less expensive (given you have the means to access it, which is a big given) than print and more compact—what’s not to like?
Here is the question for children’s book people, though. Does the thought of a kid whizzing his or her way around an electronic reference source give us as much satisfaction as the picture of a kid doing the same thing with a printed book? I thought not. Whether librarian, teacher, publisher, or writer, when we say that at least part of our shared goal is to promote the “love of reading,” what we have always meant is the “love of books.” (Some books.) What will our goal be once books no longer provide our common core?
This is partially a question about e-books. Yes, e-books are books, and libraries want to buy them and enthusiastically promote their circulation to library patrons, who demonstrably want to read them. But publishers complain that they need “friction” to ensure that library borrowing doesn’t take too much of a bite from consumer purchases, and libraries are put into the position of licensing rather than acquiring e-books, just another borrower in the chain. However, this economic tussle is only an early warning sign of the real problem that librarians and (as Stephen Roxburgh argued in the March/April 2012 Horn Book) publishers face: thanks to the leveling power of the internet, electronic literature doesn’t need either one of us, at least as we currently understand our respective missions.
But this is also a question about the independence of readers. In libraries, even those kids who wouldn’t talk to a librarian if their lives depended on it rely far more than they know on the professional expertise provided by the library’s staff, systems, and policies. Readers’ advisory is found as much in the shelving as it is in a friendly chat. When we are reading online, however, we are far more on our own, for good (we can read what we want when we want it) or ill (finding what we want to read can be an adventure beset by false leads, commercial interests, and invasions of privacy).
What can children’s book people become? I reveal my fantasy of what we could make of the future on page 16 of this issue, but in reality what we need to do is to redefine our gatekeeping role. Along with giving up any notion that the only real reading is book reading, like the online Britannica we have to believe in our own expertise and convince others that our knowledge is worth attending to. We’ve spent more than a century dedicated to the idea that some reading is better than other reading, an elitist position we can defend by pointing to decades of excellence in books for youth. Publishers and librarians together, we made that happen. Let us continue to do so.