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1. Books with Bundles: Holiday Gift Giving

Books make the best gifts! And they are even better when bundled with toys.

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2. Mock Caldecott Catch-up, part 1

In a recent post we asked for your local school and library Mock Caldecott lists, and several titles came up that we wanted to add to the Calling Caldecott conversation. Two of these are the subjects for today: Big Bear little chair by Lizi Boyd and The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle.

big bearBoyd’s Big Bear little chair was named a NYT Best Illustrated book this year, along with others we’re discussing this fall (A Fine Dessert; The Skunk; Tricky Vic; Leo; Funny Bones). Here’s what the NYT said about Big Bear little chair: “This ingenious take on the ‘opposites’ book shows the youngest children that big, little and tiny are all in how you look at things. Using just black, white and a velvety gray, with a bit of red, Boyd’s delightful cut paper compositions juxtapose the large and the small in unexpected ways: a ‘big meadow’ is big because it’s full of small flowers; a ‘big seal’ towers over a ‘tiny castle’ that’s made of sand.”

It is an opposites book, but it also encompasses the concept of relative size (big, little, and tiny). So it’s clever-clever. And as you can see from the cover, it has a striking shape and an equally striking palette (red, black, white, and gray) with the promise of strong, eye-catching compositions. Each individual page is striking. The art is stylish; so is the book design. The juxtapositions (of large and small) are indeed unexpected. The gouache illustrations are sometimes delicate; sometimes bold; always beautifully composed. It’s easy to see why the judges chose this book for the best illustrated list.

But who is the intended audience? The interspersed bears’ story (in which two bears eventually get matched up with her appropriate chair —and with each other) is clearly for very young readers, but the “opposites” in the intervening pages are sometimes quite sophisticated in concept. See Big Elephant/little trick. “Trick”? That’s an idea, not an object — different from and more advanced than most of the other pairs (Big Moon/little star; etc.). Visually, the use of red is inconsistent. Red almost always spotlights the “little” item on each page, but not always. Crucially, it isn’t used for the first example, where we see a “Big Plant” and a “little cocoon.” On this page the red highlights berries on the plant, not the cocoon. For the rest of the first section, though, and into the next section, red will be used for the “little” item on each page. This wouldn’t be a problem in a book for sophisticated readers, but — see the young-ish interspersed bear-chair story…

moon is going to addyThe Moon Is Going to Addy’s House is not your typical, sleepy looking-at-the-moon story. This is, rather, an ecstatic, intoxicating experience: a bacchanal for the picture-book set. In tour-de-force cut-paper collages, Pearle uses a controlled riot of vivid colors and patterns to evoke intensity and emotion. The text is much less emotional; all the feeling here is in the illustrations.

The Kirkus review said that the book is “exquisite, electrifying, soothing, and soporific, brilliant in color”; that the landscapes “throb with vitality.” The use of bright pink and deep purple is unusual and intense. Some of the double-page spreads take one’s breath away with their sheer beauty: such as the one where a striated purple sky and pink moon above and their reflection below (in a body of water) are separated by a thin stretch of dark-brown road. Other illustrations capture that universal human sense of connection with the moon: such as the one in which the girl sees the moon reflected in the car’s rear-view mirror and feels as if she could catch it in her hand (echoes of Thurber’s Many Moons?).

But in some illustrations, it’s difficult to know where to look; and although the way the moon sometimes seems to jump around in the sky may be realistic, it can be disconcerting. The book’s horizontal shape sometimes works in its favor (as in the gorgeous spread mentioned above) and sometimes to its disadvantage: see the “Look way up high / and way down low” spread, where the “high” and “low” aren’t that different.

So. Will the Real Committee have these two (very beautiful) books on its radar? Do you?

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3. DinoWriMo: Great Ladies

Who was dinosaurs’ favorite children’s book review journal editor? (sorry, Roger)

Zena Sutherland

Zena Sutherland

Xenotarsosaurus Sutherland.



For more terrible puns, click the tag DinoWriMo.

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4. Native American Heritage Month resources

charleyboy_dreaming in indianNovember is Native American Heritage Month, a celebration of Native American people, their varied cultures, and their accomplishments. Check out the official website for more information and lots of resources; here some additional resources from our archives.

Recommended books

Articles on representation of Native Americans in children’s books

Check out Debbie Reese’s blog American Indians in Children’s Literature for much more on this topic.

And here’s author Sherman Alexie’s 2008 BGHB Fiction Award acceptance speech for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

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5. Recommended books about adoption

This past Saturday, November 21st, was National Adoption Day, “a collective national effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families.” To celebrate, we’ve pulled together a list of recommended titles featuring adoption, all reviewed and recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews (with dates) reprinted below.

Picture books

cordell_wish“We wish you were here.” Two elephants describe their experience anticipating their child’s arrival in Matthew Cordell’s Wish. This poetic birth/adoption tale has an exquisitely light touch; pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations make what’s at stake clear. Try to keep a dry eye when a late-in-the-book illustration shows an ocean parting to reveal a child for its expectant parents on shore. (Disney/Hyperion, 2015)

dyckman_wolfie the bunnyIn Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, Dot isn’t pleased when a baby wolf foundling is left on the Bunny family’s doorstep — “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her smitten parents ignore her. At the market, however, Wolfie is a boon to his big sister when a bear lunges toward them yelling, “DINNER!” The text’s humor keeps scariness in check; Zachariah OHora’s cartoonish acrylic paintings with comical touches match the tone. (Little Brown, 2015)

friedman_star of the weekCassidy-Li, whose parents adopted her from China, is Star of the Week in kindergarten. She’s making a poster with photos of the important people in her life, “but something is missing.” What about her birth parents, whom she doesn’t know? Author Darlene Friedman and artist Roger Roth, adoptive parents themselves, give their protagonist plenty of personality as they thoughtfully explore questions faced by adoptive families in Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles. (HarperCollins, 2009)

heo_ten days and nine nightsA Korean American girl eagerly anticipates the adoption of her baby sister from Korea in Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story. Details are basic: Mommy leaves on an airplane, and big-sister-to-be helps Daddy, Grandpa, and Grandma prepare. Commendably, the story focuses on the girl’s experience rather than attempting to tug at parental heartstrings. Author-artist Yumi Heo’s airy illustrations match the child-friendly perspective. An author’s note offers brief facts about international adoption. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009)

joose_nikolai the only bearBecause he growls and doesn’t “play nice,” Russian orphan Nikolai hasn’t been adopted yet; the art portrays him (and only him) as a bear. But Nikolai turns out to be the perfect child for one American couple, who feel “soft-bearish” and who know how to growl. Touches of humor in Barbara Joosse’s text and Renata Liwska’s art keep Nikolai, the Only Bear from becoming cloying. (Philomel, 2005)

lopez_best family in the worldContrary to her fantasies, orphan Carlota’s terrific new parents don’t turn out to be pastry chefs, pirates, etc., but they do bring her yummy pastries and pretend to dig for buried treasure. In Susana López’s The Best Family in the World, the light-handedness of storytelling belies the book’s depth, and the domestic scenes of Carlota and her new family are as wondrous as the scenes she imagined in Ulises Wensell’s illustrations. (Kane/Miller, 2010)

miura_big princessTaro Miura’s The Big Princess is a companion to The Tiny King with a welcome adoption-story aspect. A childless king finds a bug-size princess. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily — as does the princess. How to stop her from outgrowing the castle (and the family)? Digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: geometric shapes coexist with realistic imagery, and characters with Hello Kitty–like blank faces live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 2015)

parr_we belong togetherTodd Parr’s We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families lists things that children need (a home, kisses) and explains that the parents and children pictured belong together because the adults can provide these things. The text is as simple as Parr’s bold illustrations, which feature many gender and color combinations (some people are blue and purple). The message is a bit obvious, but it’s a worthy and welcome one. (Little/Tingley, 2007)

sierra_wild about youWhen the zoo animals start having babies, two pandas and a tree kangaroo bemoan their childless state. Soon, however, the three find themselves with families that aren’t what they expected. Judy Sierra’s rhymes include plenty of surprises; Marc Brown’s illustrations feature a gently colored palette and little patterns. Like the duo’s Wild About Books, Wild About You! is good both for group sharing and as a bedtime story. (Knopf, 2012)

thisdale_niniA baby in a Chinese orphanage misses “a special voice and the promises it had made.” Far away, a couple longs for a baby to love. François Thisdale’s heartfelt sentiments in Nini are illustrated with a striking combination of drawing, painting, and digital imagery. At times this adoption tale strains for lyricism, but the feelings will resonate with many adoptive parents (if not their children). (Tundra, 2011)


Chapter books

harper_just grace and the terrible tutuTwo chapter books in Charise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace series have adoption-related plotlines. In Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu, Grace’s best friend Mimi’s parents are adopting a little girl. When the friends are hired as mother’s helpers by a neighbor, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Mimi to practice being a big sister. In Just Grace and the Double Surprise, Mimi’s little sister arrives, and things don’t go as planned. These entertaining stories are filled with Grace’s insightful, humorous commentary and amusing cartoon drawings, charts, and lists. (both Houghton, 2011)


Middle-grade fiction

ellis_out of the blueIn Out of the Blue by Sarah Ellis, Megan learns that as a young woman, her mother gave birth to a baby girl and placed her for adoption. Now, twenty-four years later, that child has sought out her birth mother. The family adjusts to this new situation, but Megan cannot reconcile herself to knowing that she may no longer be first in her mother’s affections. A rich story, written with grace and empathy, in which very real troubles are tempered with humor and love. (McElderry, 1995)

hof_mother number zeroIn Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof, well-adjusted adopted child Fejzo decides to search for his birth mother (whom he calls “Mother Number Zero”). His hugely understanding parents are nervously supportive, but his sister (also adopted) is resentful. Once the search becomes official, Fejzo begins to have his own doubts. This quiet, thoughtful, and nuanced Dutch import is an original and touching addition to the literature of adoption. (Groundwood, 2011)

levy_misadventures of the family fletcherDana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, four adopted (and racially diverse) brothers and two dads star in this Penderwicks-esque chronicle of a year in their lives. Focusing each chapter on one boy while still keeping the whole family in the picture, Levy provides a compelling, compassionate, and frequently hilarious look at their daily concerns. Readers will want to be part of (or at least friends with) this delightful family. (Delacorte, 2014)

walter_close to the windIn Close to the Wind by Jon Walter, young Malik escapes from an unnamed war-torn country and grows up quickly in the company of older boys on the refugee ship. Once Malik arrives in the New World, he is adopted–but now that he is safe, Malik falls apart emotionally. Walter tells this suspenseful displacement story with restraint, the accumulation of small, concrete details in each scene sustaining tension. (Scholastic/Fickling, 2015)


Young adult fiction

kearney_secret of meIn Meg Kearney’s The Secret of Me, fourteen-year-old Lizzie was adopted as an infant, a fact she shares only with her closest friends. With their help, she reconciles her desire to know her birth mother with her overall contentment as part of a loving family. This sensitive, cathartic novel is told entirely through Lizzie’s poetry and includes author’s notes on poetics, recommended reading, and Kearney’s own adoption experience. The sequel, The Girl in the Mirror: A Novel in Poems and Journal Entries, is also beautifully wrought with memorable characters and true-to-life issues. (Persea, 2005 and 2012)

smith_alex crowIn Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow, fifteen-year-old war refugee Ariel is adopted into the family of “de-extinction” scientist Jake Burgess and sent to camp with adoptive brother Max. Meanwhile, psychotic Leonard Fountain is on a deranged road trip. And the crew of the ship Alex Crow fights for survival on an ill-fated late-nineteenth-century Arctic voyage. Strong prose with a distinct teenage-boy sensibility anchors this ambitious novel’s exploration of survival and extinction. (Dutton, 2015)

zarr_how to save a lifePregnant eighteen-year-old Mandy agrees to live in the home of the woman, Robin, who is adopting her baby in Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Robin’s daughter Jill hates the idea, still grieving her father’s death. Mandy and Jill’s distinct voices tell their intertwined stories. The girls’ growth is made realistic through small inroads and slow progress. The depth of characterization is exceptional in this rewarding read. (Little, 2011)



deprince_taking flightMichaela DePrince’s inspirational memoir Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (co-written with Elaine DePrince) traces Michaela’s journey: from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone, through her adoption by an American couple, and finally to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant. (Knopf, 2014)

hoffman_welcome to the familyMary Hoffman’s Welcome to the Family, a chatty, informative survey, covers all the bases, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in friendly cartoon art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the Ros Asquith’s illustrations. The tone is light, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly.” A teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary. (Frances Lincoln, 2014)

rotner_i'm adoptedI’m Adopted! by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly features simple, conversational text and loads of colorful, engaging photos to cover how families are formed through adoption. The authors approach the subject in very general terms, allowing children to impose their own experiences. While most of the book is upbeat, the loss inherent in adoptions is also acknowledged. Children touched by the subject will find the straightforward discussion reassuring and easy to understand. (Holiday, 2011)

skrypuch_one step at a timeOne Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (sequel to Last Airlift) describes Tuyet’s adjustment to life with her adoptive Canadian family, the drama revolves around the surgery she must have on her leg due to polio. Readers will be just as riveted to this quieter but no-less-moving story as Tuyet bravely dreams of being able to run and play. Illustrated with photos. Reading list, websites. Ind. (Pajama Press, 2013)

warren_escape from saigonIn 1975 a child named Long emigrated from Vietnam to the United States and was adopted. In Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy, Andrea Warren deftly weaves into Long’s story information about the Vietnam conflict, life in Saigon, the plight of children during war, and the political machinations involved in airlifting thousands of youngsters to safety during the American evacuation. Reading list, source notes. Ind. (Farrar/Kroupa, 2004)

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6. Lenny & Lucy

lenny lucyIt’s hard to believe that there was once a time when full-color picture books were uncommon. It was usually an indication that the artist had somehow proved himself worthy (::cough:: Maurice Sendak) and was awarded with a full palette to use on his masterpieces (::cough:: ::cough:: Where the Wild Things Are). When you look back on the Caldecott Medal books prior to the mid-1970s, one thing that stands out is the near absence of full-color books. And it’s amazing to see what artists like Evaline Ness, Marcia Brown, and Lynd Ward were able to create with black and white or one, two, or three colors. These books don’t look at all flashy to our modern eyes, accustomed to full color. But the books are a testament to the artistic discipline and commitment to craft that we often see in the picture-book artists of yore.

Erin Stead would likely be right at home among these artists. Her latest picture book, Lenny & Lucy, gracefully written by Philip Stead, is a quiet, understated story about fear, specifically fear of change, as represented by the dark woods on the other side of the bridge. Peter can see them from the bedroom window of his new house, and he knows scary things are hiding behind the trees. Accompanied by his golden retriever, Harold, he creates a gigantic figure out of blankets and pillows, names it Lenny, and places it as a sentry next to the bridge. Lenny does the job but he looks lonely, so Peter creates another pillow person, Lucy. Lenny and Lucy give Peter a bit of added security, but he doesn’t start to feel truly safe and comfortable until his new next-door neighbor Millie stops by to play.

It’s interesting to note what Stead has done with color here — or perhaps to note what she hasn’t done. She hasn’t splashed it all over the page, covering every bit of white space with pigment. She has used it sparingly — a touch of blue on Peter’s hat, gold on his jacket and shoes and all over Harold (of course), green on Lenny’s blanketed torso and pink on Lucy’s. And when Millie shows up, she’s dressed in red. These small bits of color are amplified against the monochromatic gray background used to illustrate the woods and the loud floral wallpaper on the wall in Peter’s new house. Both the woods and wallpaper loom large, and are almost claustrophobic, representing Peter’s fear of the unknown. Once he meets Millie, the woods recede, and the gray pages open up to wide white spaces.

Stead’s use of gray and white with just a bit of color demonstrates that a picture book does not need to be flashy to be distinguished. Too often, it seems, we fall victim to what I call the “magpie syndrome” — always reaching for the brightest, the shiniest, the most dazzling when we look for the best in picture books. I’m glad we have artists like Erin Stead to remind us that less is often more. Her pictures leave room for interpretation and the reader’s imagination, just as Philip Stead’s text has left room for the artist to add her own touches to the story.

It’s rare for any picture book to hit all of the criteria the Caldecott committee uses to identify a “distinguished American picture book for children.”

  1. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
  2. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
  3. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
  4. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
  5. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

This one has it all.


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7. Jacqueline Woodson, why are you so poet?

woodsonWhen the Cambridge Public Library announced that Brown Girl Dreaming would be this year’s Cambridge Reads book I was beyond thrilled. Now Jacqueline Woodson and I would be best friends! I’d say, Jacqueline, you are my hero, thank you for your perspective, your advocacy and for creating windows and mirrors for my students! Then she would say, Liz, I love your outfit and I would be like, I love your shoes! And together we would join forces to bring children representative literature and diversity to publishing practices and live happily ever after librarian and author best friends. The end.

While this particular fantasy did not come to fruition, she did in other ways fulfill my dreams for myself and my students who I brought with me. I don’t know if you have seen Jacqueline Woodson in person or heard her speak, but do yourself a favor and try to do just that. She is not only a dynamic author and speaker but also quite relatable, adding another layer to her already great capacity as a social commentator and leader in the field.

woodson_brown girl dreaming_170x258The audience was immediately endeared by her “Just Like Us” struggle to find the right outfit for that night (OMG you guys — I never know what to wear!). And just as you might think, she brought a deeper meaning to that seeming mundanity — recounting to the audience the advice passed down through the women in her family, now including Jacqueline’s thirteen-year-old daughter, about always looking smart. It’s a reminder that when you enter a room, your arms enter, your legs, your butt, your body…so wrap them up presentably. Jacqueline told us that’s why she usually wraps herself up in black.

The evening continued like this, bringing meaning and enlightenment to the audience. Adults were clearly moved. But it was the children in the audience — they added the poignancy and importance to the night. I felt immense pride as I looked over to see my students leaning forward not to miss a word, how they dutifully looked through the copies of their books to find the passages she was reading from, how when they asked questions, there were forethought, curiosity, and eagerness in their words.

The question-and-answer line went on for miles — all children! and all great questions (people were really interested in Jacqueline’s little brother, Roman). Close to the end, one girl in the audience asked  earnestly, “Why are you so poet?”I am not sure, little girl, but thank god she is.

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8. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

drowned cityI was fortunate enough to be in the crowd when the Tamaki sisters’ This One Summer was announced as a Caldecott Honor book (at the Youth Media Awards, where the Coretta Scott King, Caldecott, Newbery, etc. are announced) this past January. I remember hearing more than a few audible gasps in the theater, and with good reason: not since The Invention of Hugo Cabret had a book for the older end (what I’d consider ages 10-14) of the Caldecott age range been recognized. (Incidentally, This One Summer was arguably the most controversial pick of last year’s award winners, as evidenced by the lively discussion found here.) Admittedly, this year’s committee members don’t have anything to do with last year’s books, but at the same time the fifteen folks on the 2016 Caldecott committee do not live in a vacuum. They are no doubt aware of books for older kids, probably more so than any other committee BT (Before Tamaki).

But what about the actual books? Have there really been any graphic novels for older readers that have a chance this year? Absolutely, and to my mind, Drowned City heads the list. Don Brown’s second full-length graphic novel is brilliant in its conciseness, both textually and visually, and is certainly one of my top three Caldecott-eligible books this year.

The reader’s first glimpse of New Orleans is iconic and terrifying: an eagle’s eye–view of the city in the distance with a foreboding gray-black mass of … SOMETHING … in the foreground. The menacing cloud obscures the borders of the large panel. An inset above the faraway skyline shows a FEMA staffer claiming, “When I have a nightmare, it’s a hurricane in New Orleans.” It’s a brilliant bit of storytelling and design, with text and graphics combining to create a palpable feeling of dread.

When Katrina “crashes ashore” in the nearby town of Buras, Brown uses four panels stacked top-to-bottom to show the storm’s destruction in sequence. This is not the only time panels are laid out to maximum effect: at one point later in the book, two wordless panels follow a textbox which reads, “Swollen dead bodies lie in streets and float in the water.” The illustrations show just that: stark depictions of death over which additional words truly would have been intrusive. This gruesome, yet brutally effective, montage effect would fit perfectly in a war documentary.

But as chilling as Brown’s artwork is, it can also be quite beautiful. In one illustration, Brown depicts the storm as a sort of buzzsaw with a hole in it (the eye of the hurricane). The water being churned up by the monster storm is a gorgeous blue-green, the kind of water you’d expect to see at a resort in Cancun or off the coast of some Greek island. His people aren’t exactly pretty (they never are in any of his work; Kadir Nelson, he ain’t), but the messy lines, the imperfect humans with poorly defined features … they fit this subject perfectly.

Many from the children’s book world will question why the Caldecott committee would seriously consider graphic novels: thankfully, Elisa and Pat Gall have covered this. But for an award given to a book that “essentially provides the child with a visual experience,” why wouldn’t graphic novels get a look? Of course the committee will consider this book, and hopefully several other graphic novels (Jessie Hartland’s Steve Jobs: Insanely Great is another one that’s high on my list), but the real question is: will graphic novel–loving committee members be able to build consensus around one or more of them? Fingers crossed: I do so love those gasps of disbelief when certain award winners are announced.


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9. Holiday High Notes 2015

Have yourself a merry little read-through of 
our annual selection of new holiday books, with 
reviews written by the Horn Book staff.

bailey_when santa was a babyWhen Santa Was a Baby
by Linda Bailey; 
illus. by Geneviève Godbout
Primary   Tundra   32 pp.
10/15   978-1-77049-556-2   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-77049-558-6   $10.99

In the tradition of Agee’s Little Santa (rev. 11/13) and Krensky’s How Santa Got His Job, here’s another Santa origin story. This child is Santa from the word go, booming “HO, HO, HO!” in the cradle, delivering presents to other children as a toddler, training hamsters to pull a makeshift miniature sleigh. His proud, adoring parents speculate about his future: his insistence on wearing red might mean he’ll be a firefighter; his interest in the chimney’s soot, a scientist; etc. Young readers, who know better, will enjoy watching Santa grow up to be exactly who he is. Warm, textured pastel and colored-pencil illustrations on generous double-page spreads enrich this gentle, humorous, love-suffused tale. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

barash_is it hanukkah yetIs It Hanukkah Yet?
by Chris Barash; 
illus. by Alessandra Psacharopulo
Preschool, Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-8075-3384-0   $16.99   g

This quiet rhyming picture book begins with a wintry outdoor scene: “When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around / And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground… / Hanukkah is on its way.” Two children eagerly await the holiday, first frolicking outdoors with the friendly forest animals, then playing inside. Anticipation builds as the trappings of Hanukkah appear — decorations, guests, a menorah, dreidels — until finally: “Hanukkah is here!” Warm, soft-hued illustrations of smiling, rosy-cheeked people and creatures resemble those on old-fashioned holiday greeting cards. JENNIFER TAYLOR

barton_nutcracker comes to americaThe Nutcracker 
Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers 
Created a Holiday Tradition
by Chris Barton; 
illus. by Cathy Gendron
Primary, Intermediate   Millbrook   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4677-2151-6   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8848-9   $19.99

Barton’s folksy, direct-address text introduces three brothers from Utah, all dancers, who eventually teamed up at the San Francisco Ballet to present the first full production in the United States of The Nutcracker, on Christmas Eve 1944. Tchaikovsky’s music had become popular by then, but the general public didn’t know his ballets. The vaudeville-trained Christensen brothers knew a good thing when they saw it. Gendron’s art effectively reproduces traditional ballet poses and makes the most of the book’s large trim size. This is a good book to share with children after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker. LOLLY ROBINSON

chaconas_cork & fuzz merry merry holly hollyCork & Fuzz: Merry Merry Holly Holly
by Dori Chaconas; illus. by Lisa McCue
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-451-47501-5   $16.99   g

In their first picture book, easy-reader best friends Cork (a deep-thinking muskrat) and Fuzz (a happy-go-lucky possum) roam the snowy landscape, wondering why the day feels so special. Cork keeps looking for a quiet place to think, while Fuzz distractingly sings ditties (“Merry, merry, holly, holly, ho-ho-ho!”) and shakes a jingle bell. Finally, as darkness falls, they come upon a lighted fir tree, and Cork realizes why the day is special. His conclusion is not the expected one — yet it may feel just as Christmas-y as an overt recognition of the holiday. Expansive watercolor illustrations evoke a beautiful winter’s woodland day but keep the focus tightly on the two friends. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

cronin_click clack ho ho hoClick, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho!
by Doreen Cronin; 
illus. by Betsy Lewin
Preschool, Primary   Atheneum   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4424-9673-6   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9674-3   $10.99

It’s Christmas Eve, and Farmer Brown (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, rev. 3/00) is putting the final touches on his holiday decorations. When he hears a “pitter-patter on the roof,” he runs off to bed, believing Santa has arrived. But the pitter-patter isn’t Santa: Duck is attempting his own Santa-like entry. When Duck gets stuck in the chimney, the sheep, cows, pigs, and rest of the farm animals arrive to lend a hoof, paw, or webbed foot. Lewin’s watercolor illustrations, with their slapstick situations and expressive animal body language, work beautifully with Cronin’s humorous (“Ho! Ho! Uh-oh”) text: a smattering of expertly placed wordless spreads allows Duck’s stealth antics to do the talking. SIÂN GAETANO

crow_zombelina dances the nutcrackerZombelina Dances 
The Nutcracker
by Kristyn Crow; illus. by Molly Idle
Primary   Bloomsbury   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-61963-640-8   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-61963-810-5   $9.99

Zombie-girl Zombelina is overjoyed to win the coveted part of Clara in the Nutcracker ballet, but she’s sad for Lizzie, cast in a minor role. Zombelina comforts her friend: “You’ll have your big moment someday.” That moment comes sooner than expected when Zombelina’s ghostly grandpa causes mischief during opening night and Zombelina lends Lizzie her (detachable) legs to take over the performance while Zombelina handles Grandpa. Colored-pencil illustrations perfectly capture 
the dancers’ graceful movements — check out that friendship duet after the casting announcement — and supplement the punny rhyming text (“everyone needs a leg up”) with visual humor. Part Nutcracker primer, part supernatural comedy, part friendship tale, and an all-around bravura performance. KATIE BIRCHER

detlefsen_time for cranberriesTime for Cranberries
by Lisl H. Detlefsen; 
illus. by Jed Henry
Primary   Roaring Brook   32 pp.
9/15   978-1-62672-098-5   $17.99

Detlefsen’s story follows a boy named Sam, who is finally old enough to participate in his first fall cranberry harvest on his parents’ farm. With waders donned, the family gets to work. From the flooding of the cranberry marshes to the booming, corralling, suctioning, cleaning, and delivering, details of the harvest throughout are educational and informative. The illustrations’ reds, yellows, and oranges create a vibrant and cozy fall setting as the family works together in a labor of love (and commerce), and the payoff comes at the end, with cranberry pie for Thanksgiving. Recipes, an author’s note, and a glossary are appended. WILLA ZHANG

holub_knights before christmasThe Knights Before Christmas
by Joan Holub; illus. by Scott Magoon
Primary   Ottaviano/Holt   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-8050-9932-4   $16.99

Brave Knight, Polite Knight, and Silent Knight are “guarding the castle / for their illustrious king” on Christmas Eve. Too bad they didn’t get the memo about Santa’s visit. When the jolly old elf tries to deliver presents, these well-intentioned protectors of the castle take a defensive stance: “Dash away, dash away! / Invader, get out!” A fierce (not really) battle plays out with Santa catapulting (via a Christmas tree) sugarplums and more as he “storms” the castle. This rousing, ridiculous medieval “Night Before Christmas” parody jingles with castle- and holiday wordplay. Cheeky digital illustrations brim with good cheer. KITTY FLYNN

isadora_bea in the nutcrackerBea in The Nutcracker
by Rachel Isadora; illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-399-25231-0   $16.99   g

“Here is Bea. She is excited because her ballet class is going to perform The Nutcracker. She will be Clara!” Bea (Bea at Ballet, rev. 7/12) and her diverse group of classmates put on an all-little-kid rendition of the famous Christmas ballet, gently introducing listeners to a simplified version of its story while providing a warmly humorous glimpse of life on the stage (Bea to a mouse-costumed classmate: “You forgot to put on your tail!”). The main text follows the action; word balloons allow the kids to interject their enthusiasm. Textured oil-painted paper collage adds traditional Christmas reds and greens as well as the production’s candy-hued pastels to the friendly black-and-white line art. KATIE BIRCHER

manzano_miracle on 133rd stMiracle on 133rd Street
by Sonia Manzano; 
illus. by Marjorie Priceman
Primary    Atheneum   40 pp.
9/14   978-0-689-87887-9   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2892-7   $10.99

Mami rues having left Puerto Rico when the Christmas Eve roast won’t fit in the family’s tiny New York City apartment’s oven. Little José jokingly suggests they use a pizza oven instead. “That’s not a bad idea!” says Papi, and the two head out, carrying the roast through their snowy neighborhood to Regular Ray’s Pizzeria. Nearly everyone is curmudgeonly along the way —
 neighbors (“I thought someone’s television was being stolen!”), kids bickering outside — until the roast’s aroma knocks some holiday cheer into them and they all parade back to José’s family’s fourth-floor apartment to celebrate together. It’s a cheerful Christmas story notable for its nonchalantly multiethnic cast and its vibrant urban setting, brought to high-spirited life in Priceman’s bright, swirling gouache and ink illustrations. KATRINA HEDEEN

miller_sharing the breadSharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story
by Pat Zietlow Miller; 
illus. by Jill McElmurry
Primary   Schwartz & Wade/Random   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-307-98182-0   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-307-98183-7   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-307-98184-4   $10.99

As Thanksgiving dinner approaches, everyone in this industrious nineteenth-century family — from Grandma and Grandpa down to Baby — takes part in preparing for the feast. “Mama, fetch the cooking pot… / Brother, baste the turkey well… / Uncle, swing the cider jug…” The little-boy narrator, meanwhile, checks in on all the preparations until the family is finally seated around the table to say grace and enjoy the fruits of their labor. McElmurry’s gouache illustrations, in a textured palette of browns, oranges, and dark blues, are imbued with quiet energy. Miller’s patterned rhyming text has the cadence of a folk song and captures just how joyful (and exhausting) Thanksgiving feasts can be. J. ALEJANDRO MAZARIEGOS

moore_night before christmasThe Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore; 
illus. by David Ercolini
Primary   Orchard/Scholastic   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-545-39112-2   $16.99   g

In this laugh-out-loud version of Moore’s famous poem, the 1823 text is unchanged, but Ercolini’s deadpan acrylic illustrations scream modern-day America. Here, the house in which “not a creature was stirring” is the most over-decorated one in the neighborhood — or possibly the world. A huge neon “WELCOME SANTA” sign points to the blazing-with-lights house; an enormous inflatable Santa adorns the roof. Inside, every possible inch of space is devoted to Christmas (while Dad peruses Home Decor magazine for yet more ideas). Santa himself is jolly, gluttonous, and fond of playing with remote-control toys. Myriad details invite repeated readings, and the subplot involving the resident dog, cat, and (yes) mouse adds even more humor and goofy charm. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

murray_gingerbread man loose at christmasThe Gingerbread Man 
Loose at Christmas
by Laura Murray; 
illus. by Mike Lowery
Preschool, Primary   Putnam   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-399-16866-6   $16.99   g

This jolly book, in addition to bringing us another entertaining Gingerbread Man escapade (The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, rev. 9/11; The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck, rev. 7/13), serves as a sort of pre-origin story for our hero. He may have been baked in the oven by schoolchildren, but where’d they get the recipe? Over the course of this book the students dash around town spreading cheer to community helpers. At the story’s climax, the Gingerbread Man meets his maker (don’t worry, it’s just in the literal sense; though there is some actual cookie-peril along the way). Lowery’s festive illustrations of cookie and co., done in “pencil, traditional screen printing, and digital color,” are a treat, while Murray’s rhymes are continually surprising and satisfying. She can make you work, but the payoff is there: “Next came a garbage man picking up trash, / so we dropped off some goodies to stash on his dash.” ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

naylor_shiloh christmasA Shiloh Christmas
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Intermediate   Atheneum   246 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-4151-3   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-4154-4   $10.99

This is a Christmas story, but first Marty and Shiloh and their family must get through a new-school routine, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, not to mention a drought and subsequent wildfire. As in the three previous books centered on the now-iconic dog Shiloh, the rural West Virginia setting and the relationships among its inhabitants are warmly but unsentimentally drawn. The story is episodic, with through-lines provided by a new girl in an unhappy home and the continuing (and believable) rehabilitation of Judd Travers. The Christmas Day conclusion provides the best kind of heartwarming: earned. ROGER SUTTON

newman_hanukkah is comingHanukkah Is Coming!
by Tracy Newman; 
illus. by Viviana Garofoli
Preschool   Kar-Ben   12 pp.
9/15   978-1-4677-5241-1   $5.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8837-3   $5.99

The family from Shabbat Is Coming! and other board books in publisher Kar-Ben’s series about Jewish life eagerly awaits the start of Hanukkah. “Winter is near. / Long nights are here. / Hanukkah is coming.” The yarmulke-wearing dad, pigtailed big sister, and strawberry-blondies mother and son — plus cheerful dog — light candles, fry latkes, sing songs, spin dreidels, and pretend to be Maccabees, all shown in warm digital-looking illustrations. The timeline is a titch confusing (are these scenes all in flashback? Is the family doing prep work? Are they imagining what Hanukkah will be like this year?), since it’s not until the last spread that “Hanukkah is here!” But the “Hanukkah is coming” refrain, coupled with simple, child-friendly rhymes, is reassuring, and effectively builds anticipation for the Festival of Lights. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

peet_dear santa love rachel rosensteinDear Santa, Love, 
Rachel Rosenstein
by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer; illus. by Christine Davenier
Primary   Doubleday   40 pp.
10/15   978-0-553-51061-4   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-51062-1   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-51063-8   $10.99

Rachel Rosenstein is bummed to be the only kid in her decorated-to-the-hilt neighborhood who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. When her pleas for twinkly lights and a tree go unheeded in her Jewish household, Rachel takes matters into her own hands, festooning the living room with homemade decorations on Christmas Eve and waiting for the big guy to arrive. There’s lots of humor in the text (“Dear Santa…I know that you are a fair person and will not mind that I am Jewish. After all so was Jesus, at least on his mother’s side”) and in the lively, scribbly, colorful illustrations. But the authors wisely don’t gloss over Rachel’s feelings — which can be common for anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas that time of year, a notion that steers the text toward a happy, multi-culti ending. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

pingk_samurai santaSamurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas
by Rubin Pingk; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-3057-9   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-3058-6   $10.99

It’s hard to be a ninja when no one will join your snowball fight for fear of landing on Santa’s naughty list. There’s only one thing for Yukio to do: trick his fellow ninjas into chasing the “bright red intruder” away. They think they’re successful when the interloper disappears — but here comes a snowball-fighting samurai, complete with snowman army, and the desired snowball fight ensues after all. No points for guessing the samurai’s identity, but major points to Pingk for his digital art, with its simple, bold limited palette and seamlessly integrated red or white lettering that can render any scene “EPIC!!!” SHOSHANA FLAX

reagan_how to catch santaHow to Catch Santa
by Jean Reagan; 
illus. by Lee Wildish
Primary   Knopf   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-553-49839-4   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-49840-0   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-49841-7   $10.99

You know you’d like some face time with Santa to ask your burning questions and maybe slip the poor guy a nose warmer. But how will you catch him? Reagan and Wildish’s (How to Babysit a Grandpa) latest how-to guide warns would-be Santa-snatchers not to get too crazy: no lassoing, for instance. Instead, listen for sleigh bells, lure him with cookies and riddles, and leave out carrots for Rudolph. Letters to Santa on the endpapers fit right in with digital illustrations that look almost hand-drawn, creating a sense that it’s all up to the kids — even if alert readers notice the parents winking in the background. SHOSHANA FLAX

simon_oskar and the eight blessingsOskar and the Eight Blessings
by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon; illus. by Mark Siegel
Primary, Intermediate   Roaring Brook    40 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-949-8   $17.99

In 1938, the last night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Eve, and for a young Jewish refugee in Manhattan, both holidays provided blessings. Following Kristallnacht, Oskar’s parents had put him on a boat to New York with just the name and address of his aunt; his walk from the harbor takes him more than a hundred blocks up Broadway. Along the way he encounters friendly and helpful strangers, Macy’s Christmas windows, and Count Basie and Eleanor Roosevelt (whose historical presence in the city that night is confirmed in an author’s note). The changing light of the day and developing snow are beautifully conveyed in the illustrations, an engaging blend of large and small panels paced to echo the starts and stops and blessings of Oskar’s (successful) journey. An appended map of Manhattan details the route and visually reprises the gifts Oskar receives along the way. ROGER SUTTON

singer_parakeet named dreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel
by Isaac Bashevis Singer; 
illus. by Suzanne Raphael Berkson
Primary, Intermediate   Farrar   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-374-30094-4   $17.99

In this short story (from The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, rev. 2/81) repackaged as a picture book, a mysterious Yiddish-speaking parakeet flies to a Jewish family’s window on Hanukkah and promptly earns the name Dreidel. Though the narrator is an adult — with an unusually mature voice for a picture book — the art emphasizes his son David, who is a child for most of the story (and, when he’s older, benefits from Dreidel’s matchmaking skills). This feels like a story a reminiscent zayde might share. Lots of golden light in the cheerful, loose-lined illustrations creates a sense of Hanukkah’s warmth. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Five Family Favorites with Linda Ashman, Author of Over the River & Through the Wood

In looking at the list, the common themes seem to be naughtiness and humor—especially of the silly, slapstick variety. So here goes:

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11. DinoWriMo: Literary classics

What classic novel do dinosaurs love?


Allosaurus in Wonderland

tenniel alice in wonderland

For more terrible puns, click the tag DinoWriMo.

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12. The best-of-the-year lists have begun

Teachers often ask how to keep up with the best new books. Good intentions are one thing, and real life (long days, class prep, paper grading) is another.

For those with limited time, I recommend going online near the end of the year when children’s book review journals post their “best of the year” lists. They tend to print these lists in their December or January issues, but well before publication you can find those same lists on their websites. Take a look at each one and see which titles pop up on multiple lists and make sure you read those few titles that everyone is talking about. But do try to read all the annotations and think about which books might work in your classrooms, either for the entire class or for free reading.

Here’s a list of the lists, with links.

Already out:

Coming soon:

And of course there are the ALA awards which will be determined during the Midwinter conference in Boston in January

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13. From the Guide: Comics for Middle Graders

colossal_rutabega the adventure chefThis year’s ALA honorees El Deafo and This One Summer show that graphic novels and comics continue to soar in popularity and critical acclaim. In their article “Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea,” Elisa and Patrick Gall urge audiences to look at the form with fresh (and less intimidated) eyes; and on our Writer’s Page, Matt Phelan provides a glimpse into his creative process. Below are some more recommended graphic novels from the fall 2015 Horn Book Guide.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Colossal, Eric Rutabaga the Adventure Chef
128 pp.     Abrams/Amulet     2015     ISBN 978-1-4197-1380-4
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4197-1597-6

Gr. 4–6 Chef Rutabaga’s portable kitchen; his anthropomorphic sidekick, Pot; and his love of foraging for unique ingredients (e.g., “sweetened blood berries” and “pop-shrooms”) may encourage readers to be more adventurous with their own culinary pursuits. The quirky series-starting graphic novel includes easy-to-make recipes and uses comic vignettes to concisely introduce such entertaining characters as sword-slinging Winn and comrades Manny and Beef.

Fred The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure
45 pp.    TOON    2015     ISBN 978-1-935179-83-2

Gr. 4–6 Toon Graphic series. To save his friend the well-digger, Phil returns to the parallel world of alphabet-named islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Landing on the letter N causes him to inadvertently break the law, and he’s sentenced to battle a wild piano, matador-style. This vibrant graphic novel first published in France in 1973 brims with Little-Nemo-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland whimsy. Back matter explains some of the story’s references.

Hugo, Victor Les Misérables
60 pp.      Candlewick     2015     ISBN 978-0-7636-7476-2

Gr. 4–6 Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Colorful detail and an adroit comic-book layout make this retelling especially charming and eminently humane. Along the borders of each page, cats chase mice and rats frolic in sewer sludge in echo of Valjean’s long journey to escape Javert and provide a home for his beloved Cosette. As it condenses an immensely complicated novel, brevity is both this volume’s greatest feature and its limitation.

Liniers Macanudo #2
96 pp.     Enchanted Lion     2014     ISBN 978-1-59270-169-8

Gr. 4–6 Translated by Mara Faye Lethem. This collection of comics is by turns contemplative and slapstick. Characters such as a girl and her cat, Fellini; Oliverio the Olive; and Z-25, the Sensitive Robot, float in and out of the pages, putting on performances that range from Godot-like to foolish and seemingly pointless. The cartoonist uses a light touch in rendering his drawings, which make observations about life that are worth savoring.

Maihack, Mike Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword
190 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-52844-3
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-52845-0

Gr. 4–6 Five months after being zapped from ancient Egypt to the distant future in book one, Cleo, the hotheaded “savior of the galaxy,” tries to nab a thief, discover more about the prophecy she’s fulfilling, and navigate new friendships — all while attending school (and, ugh, the winter dance). Panels of crisp, jewel-toned art showcase the graphic novel’s blend of action and humor.

Proimos, James III Apocalypse Bow Wow
215 pp.     Bloomsbury     2015     ISBN 978-1-61963-442-8
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61963-443-5

Gr. 4–6 Illustrated by James Proimos Jr. Spouting hysterically funny dialogue, two dogs await their people’s return. Eventually desperate, they break out of the house, discover that all humans have disappeared, and make a grocery store their home. Challenged by some tough animals, they win because of a tick who dispenses military advice. Black-and-white comic panels add quirky humor, although it can be difficult to tell the characters apart.

Smith, Jeff Bone: Out from Boneville: Tribute Edition
175 pp.      Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-80070-9

Gr. 4–6 New ed. (2005). Color by Steve Hamaker. Greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, and his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. This tenth-anniversary edition of the comics collection includes Smith’s “An Ode to Quiche,” nine pages of “Pinup Art” from the book, and a “Tribute Gallery” by sixteen comics artists, including Dav Pilkey, Dan Santat, and Raina Telgemeier.

TenNapel, Doug Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks
186 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-67647-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-67646-5

Gr. 4–6 Color by Katherine Garner. Herk, a Nnewt, is separated from his family during a covert mission to rout the Lizzarks, scaly reptilian bipeds, who have been spying on Nnewtown. Though “just a little fry,” willful Herk learns the true meaning of hope when an ancestor helps him. The spunky Nnewt’s journey is characterized by offbeat humor and portrayed through dark panel illustrations.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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14. Fairytale of New York

BrooklynIf I ruled the world, Brooklyn would be the teen movie of the season. It has the vicissitudes of young romance, a love triangle, a heroine who blossoms from being pleasant-looking to full-on Titanic-era Kate Winslet, right down to the hair blowing and glowing in the ocean sunrise. It’s probably too quiet for wide appeal, though, and the which-guy-will-she-pick is definitely secondary to to the story of a young woman making her way in a new world both actual and otherwise. But you should go–the cinematography is as gorgeous as the music, and the strong central performance of Saoirse Ronan as Eilis is matched by great supporting performances, especially by Jane Brennan as Eilis’s mother (and Don Draper’s second wife has finally found the job she was born to do). While other fans of Colm Toibin’s novel might not be happy with the less ambiguous ending of this film adaptation, I was just so darned happy for everyone I didn’t mind it a bit.

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15. DinoWriMo: Theme parks

What’s a dinosaur-publisher’s favorite theme park?



Scholastic Park.


For more terrible puns, click the tag DinoWriMo.

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16. A Call for Mocks!

shareThe fall is whooshing by, and here at Calling Caldecott we’ve just about covered the spring 2015 titles (those published from January thru June) —whew! — and are ready to move on to discussing the fall season’s books. But time feels short.

With ALA Midwinter being so early this year, perhaps you’ve already begun to organize your local school or library Mock Caldecott discussions. We’d love to hear about them — from your shortlists to your process to the outcomes.

Here’s a link, if you’re interested, to a post Robin wrote a few years ago about her own classroom process.

Please share your experiences below. Thank you!


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17. The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing Aboutu JellyfishThrough NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, a middle grade book that will debut mid-September 2015. In this book, Suzy Swanson processes the death of her old friend Franny and the end of a friendship. She grieves the way that she and Franny grew apart before Franny drowned. Suzy’s way of making sense of this loss is to fixate on jellyfish: she reads about them and believes that Franny must have drowned after being stung by a jellyfish because otherwise Franny’s death makes no sense.

When I worked in children’s publishing many years ago, I remember that we had specific educational books and then we had fiction. Years after I left that industry, I learned that even fiction books need some kind of educational component in order to sell them to the school and library market…I say that to say that this book has a lot of educational material. The author really packs in the scientific info and uses a science teacher’s explanation of the scientific method to introduce each chapter. This is not a bad thing but it is noticeable. When you choose fiction do you consider its academic as well as its storytelling merits?

At the end of the book, the author explained how the book began with the copious research she did for a different project that was rejected. She repurposed that research to create Suzy, a character who finds subjects she is passionate about but misses the social cues that would tell her when others may not be quite a interested as she is.

As a reader, I came to feel a lot of compassion for Suzy because she is so lost. The first half of the book alternates between the present and Suzy slowly narrating just how she and Franny went from young BFFs to sitting at separate lunch tables and no longer hanging out in middle school. As a parent, the book is a reminder of a child’s rich inner life: you just can’t know all your child is going through. Suzy’s well-meaning parents put her in therapy and try their best but they aren’t really reaching her.

The tone of the book changes when Suzy decides to embark on a trip to see the one person she thinks will understand her interest in jellyfish. While I’m not one who believes that every wring must be severely punished, I was surprised at the lack of consequences in this book. Suzy steals significant amounts of money from family members but I guess they feel that she has been through enough so they don’t address the theft in a punitive way.

Towards the end of the book Suzy finally reveals her rather disturbing actions that may have done away with any chance that Franny would reach out to her again. Suzy is never found out and doesn’t get to speak to Franny again before Franny dies but clearly Suzy feels a lot of guilt, which can be its own punishment.

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18. Monsterland, by Michael Phillip Cash | Giveaway

Would you rather be a werewolf, a zombie or a vampire? Enter to win an autographed copy of Monsterland, by Michael Phillip Cash; plus a living dead themed travel mug and a $50 Amazon gift card! Giveaway begins November 14, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends December 16, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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19. The Children’s Book Review Book Trends | November 2015

This month, The Children's Book Review's book trends indicate that you're all still loving our giveaways—who wouldn't want to win a Kindleor an iPod nano! Plus, with Thanksgiving right on the horizon, readers have been digging into our list of books for Thanksgiving.

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20. Judy Moody & Stink: The Wishbone Wish | Book Giveaway

Enter to win all four full-color Judy Moody and Stink books; including Judy Moody & Stink: The Wishbone Wish (Candlewick, Reprint, 2015), written by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Giveaway begins November 9, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends December 8, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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21. Five questions for Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim_Wynne-JonesAt the start of Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place (Candlewick, 14 years and up), Evan, reeling from the death of his single father, has no choice but to contact his paternal grandfather, Griff — whom Evan’s dad called a murderer. A gripping story-within-the-story unfolds about a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a haunted island. How Wynne-Jones weaves these strands together is elegant, surprising, and exhilarating.

1. How much did you know about WWII Japan and Japanese folklore before writing this book?

TWJ: Very little! I’ve had the good fortune to travel in Japan, and loved it, but I cannot claim any particular prior knowledge of Japanese culture or folklore. For years I had wanted to write a World War II book to honor my father, whose experience of the war in Europe scarred him. What we would call PTSD now, but which he did not acknowledge as more than “shell shock,” haunted him and had an effect on us, his children. War does that: spirals down the years and decades, affecting generations. Whenever I tried to write myself into the war, so to speak, I found it impossible, and only after a great deal of time did I come to the realization that the European war was my father’s war. Which left me with the “Other War,” in the Pacific Theater, the one I knew next to nothing about. That gave me the freedom to research deeply, to dig and imagine and finally find a corner of the war that I could inhabit, fictionally.

As I was getting to know Isamu Oshiro, I realized he would have grown up with the folklore of his people just as I have grown up with the folklore of mine. And as soon as I started reading up on that, I knew it would be an integral part of Kokoro-Jima. I have played with the idea of the jikininki, giving them a unique back-story. This is what Bram Stoker did with Dracula: take an existing folktale and breathe new life into it. It has happened down the ages and was one of my favorite parts of writing this book.

2. Did you write the different threads of the story one at a time or were you working on them all at once?

TWJ: Oh, the threads. The threads were a complete schmozzle! There were so many threads — far more than made the final cut. At one point I had thirteen point-of-view characters all clamoring to tell their stories. “Me, me!,” they shouted until my head hurt. What really came first was the story-within-the-story, that of Isamu’s adventures on the island of ghosts and monsters. Then there was the very lengthy task of finding out who else was going to make their way to that mysterious place and how it would all play out and how those people were related to the contemporary characters. I drew a whole lot of family trees!

wynne-jones_emperor of any place3. Did you make Griff up? Or is he based on someone you know?

TWJ: Griff grew out of my research and wide reading about the war, but with aspects of various people I’ve met, including my father. War shapes a man, whether he wants it to or not. A lifetime of fighting wars has shaped Griff. There was a whole novella-length part of the book that I eventually took out, about when Griff was a young man, Evan’s age, stationed in Iceland, before he was shipped over to the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was, among other things, a love story. He alludes to that in the novel, but originally I had the whole story as part of this book. That was when the novel was over six hundred pages long and…well, something had to go. But I’m so glad I wrote his story. It really helped me to get to know him and see that he wasn’t always like he is now. Once he was young and in love, with his whole life before him.

4. This book is: realistic family story; fantasy; mystery; ghost story; historical fiction; war story; contemporary fiction; story-within-a-story; and more. How’d you make that all work?

TWJ: Phew! Put that way, I’m not sure! It took a long time, I’ll say that much. I usually spend a year or so writing a novel. This one took more than three and a half years. There were so many parts of the story I wanted to tell, and I juggled all that in such a way that there were many, many versions. Gradually, the stories that needed to be there stayed and the other parts fell away. Along with the Griff novella, there was another whole novella telling us Hisako’s story as she lived through the invasion of Sampei. I think it was only when Evan rose to the top as my central character that I knew what I could include and what had to go, no matter how interesting it was to me in and of itself. This is, in the end, Isamu’s and Evan’s book, and there is nothing in it now that doesn’t shore up their stories and, hopefully, weave them together: the Emperor of Kokoro-Jima and the Emperor of Any Place.

5. Do you believe in the afterlife? (Or the beforelife, in this case?)

TWJ: Do you want the long answer, the short answer, or the truth? The afterlife has been a part of human culture — the Human Mind — for so many millennia it’s not something one can simply dismiss. I don’t believe in heaven as a place, per se, so much as a deeply rooted concept, but I do believe that the idea operates on us and through us while we are alive. So in a way it does exist as we live in a world with this unanswered and persuasive question hanging over our heads. It was only after a long time of writing this novel that I came up with the idea of preincarnation, and I loved the poetry of it. I quickly learned that there are other definitions of this word out there, but my own definition and its appearance on Kokoko-Jima captivated my imagination. I love the idea that there was — is — this magical island in the largest of our oceans where the future waits in ethereal form and recognizes us for who we are, if we happen to wash up on the shore there. I suppose that even if heaven is only a metaphor, it’s a particularly powerful one. And I take metaphors very seriously. A metaphor is how we describe something we have no description for. Sounds like heaven to me!

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. Drum Dream Girl

drumI love a story that I have never heard before. Enter Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, which tells, in the simplest language, the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. It does not surprise me that I had not heard of one little girl in Cuba; what surprised me was that girls were not allowed to play drums in Cuba in the 1920s. It was actually considered taboo. I simply had no idea. Which brought me to my next thought, “Were women in the good old USA allowed to play drums?” This book did that thing that books sometimes do: open the crack in the door to the realization that I sometimes accept things without examination. I really had never even thought about drummers, let alone girl drummers. So, when I could only bring Karen Carpenter and Meg White to my mind as female drummers, this book sent me running to the Internet to do some quick research about the many other female percussionists. I hope Millo’s story will inspire young readers to do the same.

Margarita Engle and Rafael López team up to tell Millo’s story — Engle in poetry and López in deep, saturated acrylics on wood board. The Caldecott Committee will undoubtedly spend some time talking about López’s color choices. He uses deep blues, purples, and greens, with each painting filled with images of flowers, birds, and butterflies, allowing the reader to feel a part of Cuba. Millo and her sisters are always clad in white, which allows the reader both to see them on the bright pages and to feel how separate Millo must have felt when she could not follow her dream. On the pages where their father is chastising the girls, the artist uses hot orange and browns to show his ire and the sisters’ disappointment.

The illustrator requires the reader to turn the book 90 degrees for two tall spreads — a carnival scene and an affecting image of Millo’s drum shut up in a birdcage. The committee will surely discuss why he chose to have the reader turn the book. I am not sure myself, especially when there is another image (when she is flying to the moon) that seems to be made for a vertical illustration. It always makes for interesting table discussion when artists make these sorts of choices.

We learn in the historical note that Millo was of Chinese-African-Cuban descent. There are a few nods to those cultures in the art, most notably a Chinese dragon and costumed drummers. I did not pick up on any image that refered to Millo’s African heritage, though I bet some of you will!


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25. Monsterland Blog Tour 2015 with Michael Phillip Cash

You've received a free VIP ticket to join us as we go on the Monsterland tour with award-winning author Michael Phillip Cash.

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