Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Non-Contending Contenders

I picked our school's mock Caldecott nominees based on, as I said before, personal preference combined with online buzz.  I had to leave out at least some of the most-talked-about possible winners.  But I also left out two books that haven't been talked about anywhere but are two of my 2014 favorites.

A Home for Mr. Emerson. Haven't you ever wanted to just dive into a book?   In this biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which centers on his home, the illustrator shows Emerson doing just that.  I love everything about this book - the text, the illustrations, and how they work together.  The oversized books which appear everywhere drive home the point that Emerson's home is not just the building he lives in, but the ideas, words and books he surrounds himself with, not to mention the nearby woods, and, most of all, a caring community of neighbors.  The use of different fonts for the text and for direct quotes from Emerson himself works especially well.  And despite the illustrator's very British-sounding name (Edwin Fotheringham), he is, indeed, a U.S. resident, making this book Caldecott-eligible.  There's a great interview with him here.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. The color palette of vivid blues, golds, chartreuses and purples bring to life a world recently lit up by electricity. Together the text and the illustrations also convey the excitement associated with all sorts of new technology, embodied by the World Fair, and all kinds of races to build the next biggest and/or best thing.

Of course, since there are nominations for the real Caldecott, no short list, these two ARE contenders.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My Caldecott Votes

Art is a matter of personal taste.  There's no getting around it.  Sure, you can judge artists based on technical mastery, but when you have talented artists working in different styles, media, and palettes, a lot comes down to personal taste.  Which is why awards like the Caldecott are so interesting.  The committee members who award the Caldecott change every year, which means that, while there's no predicting who will win, different types of art and artists are given a chance.  It also means knowing that if only the committee from year X judged in year Y, the line-up would be completely different.

So what follows is my take on our school's mock Caldecott nominees,.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Sweet's work is always beautiful and intricate.  I recently went to the Original Art exhibit at The Society of Illustrators and one of her works for this book was shown.  It had so much layering and depth in person, it was astonishing.  I love how she incorporates synonyms and words into her collages.  But I keep hesitating.  There's something about the art here that seems a little too busy, a little distracting.  Unlike her work in Firefly July, which is simpler and more pure, somehow, or her work in Brave Girl, which her collage style fits perfectly, given that the story is about the garment industry.  Finally, I know this is not supposed to be a consideration, but there's something that bothers me when an illustrator's work feels repetitive.  It is nice - especially for children - to be able to recognize an illustrator's work at a glance, but sometimes it feels unoriginal.  

Draw! by Raul Colon.  Technically lovely, this style - and palette - do not appeal to me.  I can't cite a specific reason!

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo. I love this one!  I love how the playful, almost childlike style complements the fact that the child is the narrator.  I also like how the illustrations add to the story; for example, when the grandma gives money to a homeless person, which is not explicitly mentioned in the text.  Her depiction of New York is beautiful but not completely idealized.  The buildings are so tall they literally cannot be contained on the page.  And the grandmother's relationship with the boy is so tender.

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd.  The use of the flashlight to illuminate areas of the pictures is ingenious but I feel like the use of cut-outs as well is overkill.  I feel like it actually takes away from the other elements.  

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper.  This book has been growing on me.  The use of the blue-gray colors capture the drabness of where Matisse grew up and the contrast with the colors and patterns of the textiles he loved is dramatic.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson.  When I saw this book, I had a sense of deja vu.  Where had I seen it before?  It turns out I was thinking of another book illustrated by Christian Robinson, Harlem's Little Blackbird, a biography of Florence Mills, which treats a similar topic and uses a similar color palette.  Which brings me to the same complaint I had about Melissa Sweet's work.  Can you tell which picture above is from which book?  Nevertheless, I love the colors - mustardy yellow, mossy green, persimmon orange.  The use of different fonts here is stunning and Robinson really captures a sense of movement and jazziness in still pictures.  This one might be my favorite!

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert.  Beautiful and so interesting.  My younger daughter says Lois Ehlert's books are boring but this book about how she makes those boring books is interesting!  But since it is an amalgam of her earlier work, a collage of collages in a way, I feel like it is lacking an element of originality that is award-worthy.

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales and Tim O'Meara (photographer).  Okay, I know it's not a technical term, but this book creeped me out!   

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.  Painterly.  The expression on the girl's face is one of sheer joy.  

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler.  Original with a wonderful incorporation of the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts which fits the text perfectly.  

So in the end, out of these, I think I'd rank Josephine or Nana in the City first, followed by The Right Word.  Tune in next time to find out what I think of other contenders that didn't make it into our school competition.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Standings

So, after approximately a week of voting, here are the current standings.  I gave each book 3 points for each first-place vote, 2 points for each second-place vote, and 1 point for each third-place vote. Draw! is far in the lead and has been since the very beginning.  It has been very educational for me, seeing what appeals to the kids.  My order would be completely different!

Most of the votes so far come from second-graders.  They are old enough to understand the project and read the instructions, yet they are not in a "testing grade."  Sad to say, but that is certainly a factor.

In order of how they currently stand in the voting:

1.  Draw!: 75 points (14 first place votes, 12 second place votes, 9 third place votes)

2  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus: 33 points (8 first place, 2 second place, 5 third place)

3.  Flashlight: 31 points (4 first place, 8 second place, 3 third place) (This one moved from a distant last place at the end of last week.)

4.  Nana in the City: 30 points (4 first place, 6 second place, 6 third place)

5.  Josephine: 28 points (5 first place, 4 second place, 5 third place)

6.  Viva Frida: 27 points (6 first place, 3 second place, 3 third place)

7.  Brother Hugo and the Bear:  26 points (4 first place, 5 second place, 4 third place)

8.  The Scraps Book: 25 points (3 first place, 5 second place, 6 third place) 

8.  A Dance Like Starlight: 25 points (4 first place, 3 second place, 7 third place)

9.  The Iridescence of Birds: 22 points (3 first place, 5 second place, 3 last place)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Mockdecott is Coming!

I am the volunteer librarian at my daughters’ K-5 school. The library does NOT get a lot of love and support from the administration, and even the teachers who love it are pressed for time. However, I’m making our first attempt at a mock Caldecott this year. I picked our 10 nominees based mostly on online "buzz," . I also wanted some diversity of subjects, genre, illustrators, artistic styles and media, and wordless books as well as those with text.  In a school that is nearly half Latino and a quarter black, I wanted the students to see themselves reflected either in the subject matter and/or the authors and illustrators themselves in at least some of the books.  Of course, those are all factors that the committee is not supposed to consider. But my goals are a bit different. Here is my list, in no particular order:
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Draw! by Raul Colon

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales and Tim O'Meara (photographer)

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler

I'm asking the students - and teachers - to rank their top three.  I'll rank mine in an upcoming post.  What are yours?  Or do you have other favorites this year?

Do you do a mock Caldecott at your school?  Are your criteria for choosing nominees different from those considered by the real Caldecott committee?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

I'm running a mock Caldecott this year!!

I haven't been posting much because I'm now basically running my daughters' school library.  As a volunteer.  And I have wanted  to tell you about all the interesting things I've been doing there, such as our "guess the theme" competition and the 4th Grade Library Club, but I've been too busy actually doing them to write about them.

But I couldn't resist posting this.  In preparation for our mock Caldecott (or our Mockdecott, as my husband christened it), I did some research about the award.

And then, when wrapping various Chanukah and birthday gifts, I came across this:

Let's go in for a close-up, shall we?

Do you see what I see?  Tell me in the comments!

I let Amazon, where I purchased the book, know, and I emailed Grace Lin as well.  Let's see if I hear back.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

I'm generally not a fan of fantasy or science fiction, but realistic books with just a touch of magic seem to me to be of a different class.  Plus they have none of that dystopian, end-of-the-world, battle-to-survive element which seem to cast such a shadow (in my opinion) over the fantasy and science fiction genre.  These, instead, are pretty realistic, except that, you know, the protagonist can fly, maybe, or travel through time.  A side benefit of the time travel ones is that they also function as historical fiction.  Many play with the idea of meeting one's parents or grandparents as children and changing the future.  (Does anyone else feel a sudden urge to watch Back to the Future?)  Here are some of my favorites.

Black and Blue Magic.  This lovely story of a fatherless boy who is given wings (literally) is really about the power of faith - whether in god or the possibility for goodness in people and in life.  Mistaken for an angel as he flies through the night sky of San Francisco, Harry gives those who have given up on life new hope.  As his neighbor says, "... a little more believing in things would do this world a lot of good.  You take all the believing out of life and it doesn't leave much room to grown in... and... the unbelievable can happen almost anywhere."  What a beautiful, uplifting sentiment.

Half Magic and other books by Edward Eager.  Edward Eager's books all involve time travel as well. In Half Magic, four siblings come into possession of a magic coin, which grants wishes by halves. Until they realize how to wish for double what they want (e.g. "I wish to go back in the distance of home but twice as far...), they end up in some pretty sticky situations.  His other books have similar twists, including times when the protagonists meet their parents as children.  Eager's protagonists go back in time to Camelot, the Revolutionary War, the time of the Underground Railroad, and other exciting times in history and literature, which may either spark an interest in those periods and/or stories, or leave young readers confused.  

The Magic Half.  Miri is a singleton born between two sets of twins... or is she?  When she goes back in time to 1935 and rescues Molly from an abusive cousin, she realizes that "Magic is just a way of setting things right."  A sequel, Magic in the Mix, was recently published.

Seven Stories Up and other books by Laurel Snyder.  Published 6 years after The Magic Half, these two books are eerily similar, right down to the time period that the protagonists go back to, the fact that they both "fix" their families, and the presence of a character named Molly!  When Annie goes back in time to 1937 and meets her grandmother as a child, she gains insight into her grandmother's prickly, unpleasant nature... and changes the future.  Seven Stories Up contains more historical details than The Magic Half and author Laurel Snyder includes a note at the end about the research she did and what things were really like for children in 1937.  Her book, Bigger than a Breadbox, also features magic, but this one is my favorite.

What are your favorite magical - but not scary or dystopian - books?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Library Round-Up #15, Part 2: Picture Books

Mini-reviews of what we're reading now.

Picture Books

Chengdu Would Not, Could Not Fall Asleep.  Beautiful art complements a book that addresses a problem everyone - adult or child - has had at one time or another, and how snuggling with mom or dad or sister or brother can sometimes solve it.

Are You Awake?   This would make a nice complement to Chengdu, as it is about a child who wakes too early.  Clever and sweet, it exactly captures how an exasperated and exhausted parent still treasures this special time with her child.  If it sounds like one of those books more appreciated by adults than kids, it's not.  My 6-year-old loved it.

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.  The true story of an elephant seal who chose to live in the Avon River and sun herself on the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, despite  being repeatedly returned to what was allegedly her natural habitat.   A lovely book about how home is where we choose to make it, with fascinating facts in the back matter.
Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing.  A work of historical fiction that tells of when P.T. Barnum's circus elephants traipsed over the Brooklyn Bridge to prove its safety and strength.  The compelling facts overcome the weakness and confusion of the text - is it free verse?  Is it prose?  Why does some of it rhyme?

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon.  More historical fiction, with interesting facts about Audubon and about scientists' and philosophers' very unscientific speculations about which birds migrate.  Melissa Sweet's trademark collage style is a nice match for the text.  This would be great paired with Summer Birds: The Butterfliesof Maria Merian, about another naturalist/artist.

In Front of My House.  A great concept, this book situates the narrator's house in it's place in the universe: "On a little hill, behind a brown fence, under a big oak tree, is... my house.  In front of my house... a rosebush.  On the rosebush... a little bird."  What starts out as a charming goes on for far too long, however.  While sorely in need of editing, this is still a fun read, with lovely, simply artwork, if your child has the patience for it.

The Emperor and the Nightingale.  A beautiful, and beautifully illustrated, retelling of a Chinese folktale about the power of true art and nature to move us and how wild animals should not be caged.  In this version, the live nightingale lives to continue to entertain the emperor.  I seem to remember other versions where the nightingale falls silent once caged and either remains so or is finally set free never to return.  Can anyone refer me to those?

The Green Line.   A quiet meditation on a walk in the park, illustrated with photographs, and a child's delight in simple pleasures, like rolling down a hill and blowing on dandelions.  A lovely little book for a child in the right mood.

I'm in Charge of Celebrations. The child narrator tells the reader in free verse about all the things in nature she celebrates, such as a rabbit in the mist looking at a triple rainbow, meteor showers, and the animals and weather of the desert southwest.  Again, a book with a more quiet feel.

Yussel's Prayer.  A retelling of a Jewish folktale about a boy who is unable to pray the traditional Hebrew prayers and plays his flute instead.  It turns out his flute playing is more sincere than all the rote prayers recited by the congregation, and it is his tune which opens the gates of heaven.

A Library Book for Bear.  Curmudgeonly Bear is back, with his bright-eyed, irrepressible friend mouse.  Not quite as funny as the other Bear stories, my daughter was amusingly shocked (or shockingly amused?) at Bear's proclamation that he owns 7 books and that is all he needs.