Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My New Favorite Snow Book

There's not much more to say about snow, is there?  It's white, it's wet, it's cold.  Kids sled, build snowmen, throw snowballs.  You know the drill.

But the difference lies in how it is said, and, more importantly here, how it is shown.


Into the Snow is a beautiful, playful book. Using colors that look like they come straight out of the Crayola box (one of the smaller sets, not the 64-crayon one!), with a texture that almost looks like rubbings (it turns out that the artist used oil pastels, gouache, acrylic colors and colored pencils), illustrator Masamitsu Saito perfectly captures a child's playfulness, fear, wonder, and exhaustion in a style all his own.  From the cover, on which our nameless child narrator mischievously pulls his hat down over his eyes, throughout the story as he works hard to pull his sled up the hill, and until he has had enough and goes back inside for the warm, cozy comfort of a cup of hot chocolate with mama, Saito renders each moment with warmth (or coldness, as the case may be!).


Author Yuki Kaneko's language is simple but vivid: "I've found an icicle.  It is shiny and clear like glass." and, at times, whimsical: "Oops, I snapped it.  I hope I didn't upset an ice fairy."

This book does the impossible: it makes playing in the snow fresh and new again.

A lovely book for toddlers and preschoolers - and their parents.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Results: Mockdecott 2016

The votes, all 162 of them, are in.  I have tallied and multiplied and added and my school's mock Caldecott winner was Drum Dream Girl!

The standings were as follows:

  1. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
  2. We Forgot Brock!, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
  3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
  4. Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
  5. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
  6. In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by Amy Chu
  7. My Pen, written and illustrated by Christopher Myers
  8. Waiting, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
  9. Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin
  10. Home, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis
  11. Lenny & Lucy by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
  12. The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Did the fact that I read Drum Dream Girl and We Forgot Brock! to many classes play a role?  I'm sure.  In retrospect, I wish I'd omitted We Forgot Brock! (which admittedly had a story that really appealed to the children) from the nominees and replaced it with Last Stop on Market Street.  I also wish I could have included Wait.

I'm looking forward to the announcements of the real awards tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

More 2015 Favorites

So many good picture books came out this year!  Here are a few more favorites.

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed. This story, based on real events about a cat who "composed" a piece of music for a competition, is utterly delightful.  I love how the illustrator captures the real composer's frustration, the cat's mischievousness, and the hustle and bustle of New York City.  By the way, ketzel means cat in Yiddish, and ketzele (pronounced KETZ-el-uh) is the diminutive.  You can even buy - separately - a CD of the piano competition at which the piece was played.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.  How clever to use fingerprints for the faces of the "bad guys!"  This unique book about a con man is great for older children.

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by Amy Chu.  Lovely illustrations show a Vietnamese fisherman's family waiting for him to come back from the sea.  The story-within-a-story (or painting-within-a-painting) element has readers questioning what is real.


Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York. Kebbi's energetic pencil drawings capture New York's frenetic energy better than (almost?) any I've seen.  The conceit that the narrator is a French dog who is visiting New York for the first time is unnecessary (any ignorant visitor would do; e.g., an alien, or, even better for a children's book, a young child) except to create the occasional pun ("haute dog"), the art more than makes up for it.  And there's the Orthodox Jew who appears in almost every drawing... why?  Are there any other recurring characters?  I suspect spending a bit more time with this book would pay off.

Imaginary Fred.  Have you ever attended a concert where two imaginary friends were the musicians? Have you ever introduced your imaginary friend to your friend's imaginary friend? This take on imaginary friends is unique and hilarious.  The sight of the baffled audience listening to music played by the imaginary friends (or perhaps they only hear silence?) is priceless.  There are quite a few new books about imaginary friends this year (We Forgot Brock! is another, and a big hit with my students), but this is my favorite.  

Wait. This one is perfect for the toddler-preschool crowd.  Mommy's in a hurry, but look at all that she's missing out on!  A beautiful take on how children live - and force their parents to live - in the moment.  Portis's style reminds me a bit of Lauren Castillo's here, especially as this book is set in New York City like much of Castillo's work.  I wish I'd included this one in my mock Caldecott.

Leo:A Ghost Story.  Shades of blue predominate in this story about a ghost who saves the day and finds a friend.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.  Showing how one dessert - blackberry fool - has been made in different ways throughout time not only serves as a timeline of kitchen technology (bundle of twigs - whisk - mechanical mixer - electric mixer), but also shows societal changes throughout history.

Home, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis.  A palette of brown, blue, and red showcases all kinds of homes, from the real (apartments, wigwams, boats), to the imaginary (a home on the moon with a view of Earth, the home of a Norse god).  Pair it with A House is a House For Me for a fun discussion of houses and the completely different types of art (one stark and simple; one extremely detailed) in each book.

The Little Book of Big Fears.  A clever take on alphabet books (the missing letters spell GUTSY and BRAVE) that is perfect for your little worrier.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.  This poetic biography of Anna Pavlova has the reader enter a winter wonderland.

See You Next Year.  The pleasures of visiting the same vacation spot year after year, thrown into greater relief by one change - the making of a new friend.

The Tea Party in the Woods.  In black-and-white-and-shades-of-gray with touches of red and yellow, this book tells the sotry of Kikko as she tries to bring a pie to Grandma through the woods. Sound familiar?  Not quite!  Betsy Bird wrote the perfect review.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

(Some of) My Favorites of 2015

Here are some of my favorite picture books of the year.  I realized that if I listed them all in one post, I wouldn't finish writing about them until January!  So here is what I hope is only the first installment.

Black Cat, White Cat. This book is just gorgeous. Borando uses the contrast and symmetry between black and white to stunning effect.  And the surprise ending (although genetically impossible), is hinted at by the one spot of orangey-red color on the cover. 
How the Sun Got to Coco's House.  Bob Graham is the master of the "small moment" story.  He takes one moment, expands on it, and makes it universal.  Or, as here, he does the opposite.  Rather than show us everything that happens in one moment, as in The Silver Button, here he takes us around the world as we follow the sun.  This is a beautiful, visually poetic take on time. A nice companion to non-fiction about time zones and the movement of the earth.

Whatever Happened to My Sister?  I think this is the only picture book which addresses the sadness - even grief - a younger child feels as her older sibling grows up and, in some ways, outgrows her.  When I asked my 7-year-old what the book was about she said, "Yeah, it's about the sister getting her period and stuff."  While the book never addresses the physical aspects of puberty, it addresses the emotional ones - for both the child going through it and her younger sibling. The resolution at the end shows that although growing up has changed the sisters' relationship, it has not severed their sororal bond.  

Bright Sky, Starry City.  A blackout allows a city girl to see the stars. Lovely.  Factual information at the end about light pollution is an added bonus.

When Dad Showed Me the Universe.  A touching, funny story about the differences in the perceptions of adults and children. I loved it, but I must admit it was lost on my 7-year-old.  


Is Mommy? This seemingly silly book, with illustrations to match by one of my favorite illustrators, Marla Frazee, is really about the enduring love children have for their mothers. Toddlers answer all the questions about their mommies in the negative - she is messy, old, ugly, mean.  But do they still love her?  Of course!  My 10-year-old loved this one and was thrilled to read it to her 2-year-old cousin.  

Mesmerized.  The true story of how Benjamin Franklin exposed Dr. Mesmer as a fraud is fascinating in itself.  This well-written, well-illustrated book goes one step further and explains the scientific method in a clear, coherent manner. Great for history buffs, budding scientists and doctors, older children, and well, pretty much everyone else, too. Now that I think of it, why hasn't this book been mentioned anywhere for an award? Perhaps the Sibert, for informational books?  

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear.  In addition to the beautiful illustrations, which have been justly heralded and talked about as deserving a Caldecott, I love this book for the way it talks about the power of stories.  The book is framed as the author telling the story of her great-grandfather to her son, who is named after him.  Her great-grandfather is the man who bought a bear he named Winnie, who eventually lived at the London Zoo, who in turn was the inspiration for A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  As the author says, "Sometimes you have to let one story end so the next can begin."  When her son asks if the story is all true, she answers, "Sometimes the best stories are."  With photos of her great-grandfather, Winnie, and the real Christopher Robin at the end, this book is a treasure. Although it is a bit long for younger children, the book separates the two stories, so that it could easily be read in two separate installments.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  The more I read this to classes at school, the more I love it. The vibrant colors, the musical free verse, the determination of the heroine.  This may be my first choice in our mock Caldecott.

Which picture books were your favorites this year?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mockdecott 2016!

For the second year in a row, I am running a mock Caldecott competition at my daughters' school.

I nominated 12 books this year.  There were lots of wonderful books that have also been mentioned as possible contenders, but I couldn't include all of them.

Although the Caldecott committee is only supposed to consider the quality of the work, I try to present the students with a mix of books: diverse in subject matter, medium, ethnic background of the author/illustrator/characters, fiction and nonfiction.

So without further ado, our 2016 nominees are [drum roll]:

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by Amy Chu

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

Waiting, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes

My Pen, written and illustrated by Christopher Myers

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Home, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis

We Forgot Brock!, written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich

Lenny & Lucy by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Are you running or participating in a mock Caldecott this year?  Is your child?  What books are on your short list?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

For the (Younger) Child Who's Read Everything

In a previous post, I gave you books for 4th and 5th graders who have read everything.  Now, for the child who is not ready (reading-level-wise or content-wise) for those books, here are a few ideas.

Oldies but Goodies

The Adventures of Ali Baba Bernstein by Johanna Hurwitz.  David Bernstein is sick and tired of being one among many "Davids."  The ending, where he invites all the David Bernsteins in the NYC phone book to his birthday party is priceless (and may have your children asking what a phone book is).

The Riverside Kids books by Johanna Hurwitz.  These interconnected stories of neighbors in a Manhattan apartment building have a timeless appeal.  Sadly, a lot of these are out of print.

The Two and Only Kelly Twins by Johanna Hurwitz.  My 2nd grade daughter thought the part where twins pretend to have a triplet so hysterical that she read it three times.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cures tiny-bite-taker-itis, don't-want-to-go-to-bed-itis, can't-stop-quarreling-opathy, and other childhood illnesses by giving the victims a taste of their own medicine, in the funniest way possible.

Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald.  Orphaned sisters suffer under a Miss Hannigan-like orphanage matron, but find a happy ending.

The Elevator Family by Doug Evans.  The hotel is fully booked, so this family takes a strange little room that moves up and down!

The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy.  Mildred Hubble is the worst witch.  Not worst as in meanest, but worst as in most unsuccessful.  Poor Mildred is the hapless type of child bad things just seem to happen to.  Lucky for us, those children make for the most entertaining stories.

The Chalk Box Kid by Robert Clyde Bulla.  A boy can't have a real garden in his new apartment, but he still manages to bring the beauty of nature to his home.

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey.  Old-fashioned but funny.  The donut scene is priceless (think Lucille Ball with the chocolates).

Some more recent books:

The Two and Only Kelly Twins by Johanna Hurwitz.  My 2nd grade daughter thought the part where twins pretend to have a triplet so hysterical that she read it three times.

The Franklin School Friends and other books by Claudia Mills.  My 2nd grader gobbles these like candy.

And just in case you missed these:

Books by Andrew Clements.  Some of these may be a bit too hard for younger kids, but it depends on the child.  My 2nd grader has read and loved Lost and FoundNo Talking, and The Report Card. Frindle is fantastic although some of the concepts may be lost on younger children.

Freckle Juice and The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume.  Need I say more?

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling.  Everything John Midas touches turns to chocolate!

What are your 2nd and 3rd graders' favorite books?

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Myriad, a Plethora, An Abundance of (Okay, Just Three) ... Books About Collective Nouns

From A Zeal of Zebras
I found A Zeal of Zebras: An Alphabet of Collective Nouns at a museum gift shop and was drawn in by the visually stunning cover.  As a word-lover, the topic of collective nouns also piqued my interest, and I was sold.  Although I wonder if these terms are ever actually used, their vivid imagery is irresistible.  I even picked up an adult version of this book and found gems such as "a squint of proofreaders!"   A Zeal of Zebras presents animals in alphabetical order and is as informative as it is gorgeous.

And you know how, once you notice something, it seems to be everywhere?  All of a sudden, I noticed books about collective nouns everywhere.

A flock of sheep from A Tower of Giraffes
A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups takes the same tack, providing information about each animal and its community.  But while I loved the art (I dare you to not to touch the woolly-seeming sheep!), the animals seem arranged in no particular order and the book comes to an abrupt end.

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns takes a completely different approach.  My wordplay-loving 7-year-old loved this rhyming book, which asks questions like "Would a labor of moles wear polka-dot ties when it goes to work for a business of flies?" and "When a murder of crows leaves barely a trace, is a sleuth of bears hot on the case?"  In a nice touch, it has a glossary which gives the alternate (more common) meaning for each word used to name an animal group.  Fun and funny, this is a more accessible introduction to collective nouns than a mere list.  But it lacks information about the animals and animal communities themselves, which is why these books work so well together.

A sleuth of bears
Interestingly enough, the books do not always use the same word for a group of animals.  An Ambush of Tigers and A Tower of Giraffes both feature flamingos  - but the former calls a group of them a bland "stand," whereas the latter identifies such a group as a much more vivid "flamboyance."  A romp of otters or a raft of them?



What is your favorite collective noun?