Thursday, December 17, 2009

And Other People's Best Books

Now that The Horn Book has finally put out their Fanfare list, I can commence with compiling all the "best" book lists of the year for kids and teens, you know, for those of you who may not have seen them all already. Surely in all these great lists, you will find the perfect book for you and your young readers.

A compilation of all starred reviews of the year from the top review publications. This comes from the lovely folks at Publisher's Weekly's Shelftalker blog. Can I just say that we have needed this sort of thing for years? Thank you so, so much!

The aforementioned Fanfare from The Horn Book.

School Library Journal has published their best list and also their Heavy Medal blog (a mock Newbery discussion blog) has posted their final list of contenders.

Old news, but here's the New York Times Notable Children's Books and Best Illustrated Children's Books lists.

Even older news is Publisher's Weekly's Best Children's Books list. I suppose they can have theirs out by November 2, since they represent publishers, right?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Most Beautiful Books of the Year

The children's staff at the library had our mock Caldecott discussion this morning and it really hit home what an amazing array of gorgeous picture books were published this year. Favorite illustrators had more than one book each, even, making it harder and harder to choose. While our consensus (and that of bloggers and reviewers) was that Jerry Pinkney's wordless The Lion and the Mouse is an odds-on favorite to win the Caldecott this year, we were completely flummoxed in how to order the other books we love. Here is a list, organized by author, rather than by preference, of the picture books I thought were the most beautiful or creative this year. (I couldn't order it if I tried. I have 10 favorites!)

1. The Longest Night - words by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrations by Ted Lewin

2. Redwoods - words and illustrations by Jason Chin

3. A Book - words and illustrations by Mordicai Gerstein

4. The Negro Speaks of Rivers - words by Langston Hughes, illustrations by E.B. Lewis

5. Tsunami! - words by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrations by Ed Young

6. The Lion and the Mouse - illustrations by Jerry Pinkney

7. Duck! Rabbit! - words by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld

8. All the World - words by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrations by Marla Frazee

9. But Who Will Bell the Cats? - words and illustrations by Cynthia von Buhler

10. The Scarecrow's Dance - words by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline

Illustrators I love who produced multiple books this year included Steve Jenkins, Bagram Ibatoulline, Ed Young, E.B. Lewis, and Barry Moser.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Best Books of 2009 Picks

The end of the year is fast approaching and I've been busily reading away. Every time I was about to post some of the gems I had found, something would come up and now suddenly I find it's time for me to share my favorite books of 2009 (sorted by age and by title). If you're using my suggestions as a gift guide, please visit your local independent bookseller this holiday season!

Toddler & Preschool:
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the World pairs Frazee's busy world of characters with Scanlon's spare text. Frazee is at her best here, following three diverse families around in all kinds of weather, settings, and situations. When the wind blows, you feel it. When the night stars come out and the fire is crackling, you hear it. You want to be there, in that perfect world. It's a very well-done piece and has a tone reminiscent of Robert McCloskey.

Big Frog Can't Fit In by Mo Willems
This is Mo Willems' first pop-up book and fits right in to his humorous oeuvre. Big Frog really wants to fit in - both to the group and literally into the book. With the help of some smaller froggy friends, little readers will help Big Frog fold into the book.

Birds by Kevin Henkes
Birds is a wonderful introduction to what makes birds unique and special. It is very appealing to a young audience with simple ideas and colorful illustrations. For example: "Once I saw seven birds on the telephone wire. They didn't move and they didn't move and the didn't move. I looked away for just one second...and they were gone." These are truths about birds that young children can relate to.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
I see a duck over there. No, it's a rabbit. It has a bill! Those are its ears, silly. What will you see in this tricky picture book? A duck? Or a rabbit? There are lots of ways it could be either one, but it's up to you to decide. This is the perfect book to teach young children about optical illusions.

Happy Belly, Happy Smile by Rachel Isadora
Louie takes readers behind the scenes at his grandfather's Chinese restaurant, his very favorite place. This multicultural & multi-generational book celebrates the diversity of our world, our food culture, and shows how restaurants work. All of this is paired with Isadora's signature collage illustrations.

Machines Go To Work by William Low
This is an outstanding "things that go" book, covering every genre of machines from backhoes to freight ships. Simple text makes this perfect for the youngest audience and colorful paintings show the machines and their operators hard at work. My favorite part is that you get to fold-out each page and see what the machines will do next.

Not All Animals Are Blue by Beatrice Boutignon
Pictures help children spot differences in colors, movement, and attitude. The illustrations are beautifully rendered watercolors and the things we are hunting for are whimsical and not always easy to spot. Sometimes, it's up to interpretation. This is a perfect book for examining and discussing one on one.

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila Kelly.
This book explores the many different shades of human skin, and points out that skin is
just a covering that does not reveal what someone is like inside. Beautiful and fun
photographs make this the perfect introduction to race for very young children.

What Should I Make? by Nandini Nayar, illustrated by Proiti Roy.
While his mother makes chapatis, Neeraj transforms a piece of dough into different animals. From snake to mouse to lion, Neeraj's imagination quickly runs away with him, but his mother reminds him each time, "Roll it up, quick, quick!" The end of the book provides a glossary for the new words introduced in the text and a recipe for making your own chapatis at home.

Early Elementary:
13 Buildings Children Should Know by Annette Roeder
This book is a fantastic introduction to architectural concepts as well as the thirteen famous buildings from around the world. With photographs and detailed illustrations of building plans, cross-sections, and imagined construction, the authors have thoughtfully considered how to explain things to young readers at a variety of levels.

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jon Muth
Here is a beautiful little story about Santa getting ready for Christmas Eve. He does all of his work and gathers his animals with joy and anticipation. The calm, carefully chosen words and perfectly matched, stunning watercolors by Jon Muth make this a truly special book that stands well above any other Santa books out there.

Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile
Sal and Frankie have done it all. Now they're going to try to do nothing. But Frankie can't quite do nothing because if he imagines he's a statue, he also imagines pigeons all over him. If Frankie imagines he's the Empire State Building, he imagines King Kong climbing up him and he just has to react! This hilarious book celebrates the imagination with funny scenarios and great illustrations.

Princess Hyacinth (The Suprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith
This is the delightful story of a princess who floated unless she was weighted down with all her finery. Not allowed to play outside, lest she float away forever, Hyacinth spends her days watching out the window while other children play. One day she has the brilliant idea to tie herself to a string like a balloon! Mayhem and hilarity ensue. Lane Smith's wackadoodle illustrations make this a five-star fun read.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
As three dust bunnies, Ed, Ned, and Ted, are demonstrating how much they love to rhyme, a fourth, Bob, doesn’t seem to understand how to rhyme, or is he up to something else? This is a consistent read-aloud favorite and has kids laughing aloud. If you're not already familiar with Jan Thomas, all her books are winners.

The Scarecrow’s Dance by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
A scarecrow happily dances away from his post one windy night, until a child's prayer
teaches him how important he is to the farm. The most gorgeous illustrations of the year
depict the scarecrow’s winsome dance across an autumn landscape.

Sneaky Weasel by Hannah Shaw
Weasel was a mean, sneaky, nasty, bully. All his sneakiness made Weasel very rich and he had a castle and a fancy car. When Weasel went to throw a big, important party to show off all his stuff, nobody came! How can a super sneaky weasel make friends? This is a very humorous book where the illustrations tell a large part of the story and include little inside jokes.

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Stick Man ends up far away from his family tree when he is fetched by a dog, thrown by a child, used as a snowman's arm, and even put on a fire! Finally Santa Claus steps in to make sure that Stick Man and his family have a joyous Christmas. The catchy rhyming rhythm in this funny book will make it a year-round favorite.

Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed by J.C. Phillips
Wink is in ninja school where he is supposed to learn to be silent and stealthy. No one is supposed to see a ninja - but if no one can see him, how can anyone know what a great ninja Wink can be? Wink loves attention! Wink finds his enthusiasm gets him into trouble with his teacher until he finds the perfect way to express himself.

You are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien
This is the coolest space book! It imagines what it would be like for a kid to travel to Mars, with great facts about space travel and then both fact and speculation about what it would be like if humans were living and studying on Mars. Perfect for young readers obsessed with space or as an introduction to space travel.

3rd & 4th Grade:
Bobby vs. Girls Accidentally by Lisa Yee
Bobby is entering 4th grade and things between him and his longtime friend Holly are strained as she starts doing more "girl" things -- wearing dresses, changing her hair style. Throw in a professional football player turned stay-at-home dad who brings burned cookies to the school bake sale, humorous girl vs. boy pranks and a heated class president race and 4th grade is turning out to be a lot more complicated than Bobby expected.

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by David Roberts
Each of the kids in Ms. Breakbone's class has a special talent or interest - but she calls them all dunderheads! When Ms. Breakbone unfairly confiscates a present Junkyard has for his mother, the Dunderheads unite to get even and get it back. Using each of their special skills, the Dunderheads come up with a sneaky way to get into the teacher's house, distract her, and find the missing gift. Will they succeed? This is a fun heist caper with humor for fans of Roald Dahl.

Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan
Emmaline lives in the town of Neatasapin where nothing messy is allowed. She desperately wants a bunny, but it’s against the law. One day, Emmaline takes a trip to the next town over, Untidy, where she meets a bunny that needs dirt to dig in and shrubbery to hide in. She invites the bunny home to live with her, but learns she can’t take the bunny home until she makes her home bunny ready. She sets about changing the environment, both physically and culturally to get ready. Lyrical language and watercolor illustrations make this a beautiful read.

Food for Thought: The Stories Behind the Things We Eat by Ken Robbins
Here is an excellent investigation of the history and mythology of food. From apples to pomegranates to mushrooms, the author humorously relates both fact and fiction about our most elemental and ancient foods: fruit and vegetables. A great gift for a foodie parent, this volume with its gorgeous photographs can be enjoyed by all ages.

The Gecko and Sticky: Villain’s Lair by Wendelin Van Draanen
This is an adventurous, mysterious, and TRUE (really!) story about a Hispanic boy named Dave and his talking gecko, Sticky. Sticky leads Dave to a scary old mansion that is booby-trapped with hollow walls and shrunken heads where they will steal back a magical Aztec armband that is currently in the possession of the evil villain, Damien Black. The armband, combined with powerful gold ingots, gives the wearer the ability to fly, turn invisible, or in Dave’s case, walk up walls like a gecko. Villain's Lair is the first book in a fun new series by the perennially popular Van Draanen.

Melonhead by Katy Kelly
In the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Capitol Hill, Adam "Melonhead" Melon, a budding inventor with a knack for getting into trouble, enters a science contest that challenges students to recycle an older invention into a new invention. Melonhead’s hilarious scrapes will keep readers laughing.

Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
It is the Depression, so ten-year-old Allie's family has to move to a new town where her father can find work. When she hears that they will live on Strawberry Hill, Allie can hardly wait. Surely a place with such a name will make a perfect home! But the moving transition is harder than she expected and Allie spends the next year learning the true meaning of friendship. Fans of old-fashioned stories like The Penderwicks or The Saturdays will love this new story.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
Minli, an adventurous girl from a poor village, buys a magical goldfish, and then joins a dragon who cannot fly on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon in hopes of bringing life to Fruitless Mountain and freshness to Jade River and happiness to her parents. This lovely story combines many elements of Chinese folklore to create an original and moving story. Grace Lin has illustrated the story with illuminations in a classical Chinese style.

5th & 6th Grade:
Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted
Cody's dad is an undercover agent with the CIA, so they have always changed their names and moved around the world. When someone tries to kill them with an explosion, Cody is sent to live with his Aunt Jenny in the safety of small town Connecticut. But it's the first time Cody has ever been to school or had to interact with kids his own age. His clothes are wrong, his answers are wrong, everything about him doesn't fit in with American junior highers. Will Cody's mission to keep himself safe ever allow him to make friends and navigate junior high? Filled with hilarious situations and dangerous escapes, this book is the perfect blend of school and spies.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
This is the story of John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators as they plot, carry out, and flee from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. With great archival photographs, a cool sepia type, and lots of details you never knew, this reads like a fast-paced adventure story, quick to grab the reader. There are some great gross out moments too.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia Tate is living in a time when becoming a proper lady is the only job a girl should aspire to, but she is terrible at piano, tatting lace, and baking pies. Instead, Calpurnia wishes to be a naturalist like Mr. Charles Darwin, and maybe attend the University. The balance of these two desires drive this wonderful and timeless story. This novel lives and breathes with rambunctious brothers, a cantankerous granddaddy, and the surprisingly rich world of 1890's Texas.

The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley
Seventh-grader Abby Lovitt grows up on her family's California horse ranch in the 1960s, learning to train the horses her father sells. Her daddy calls all the mares "Jewel" and all the geldings "George" so that Abby won't get too attached to them, but Abby gets along much better with horses than with people and finds refuge from the difficulties of middle school cliques with them. Full of detailed information about training horses, this tender story will delight both horse fans and novices.

Scat by Carl Hiassen
On a school field trip to the Black Vine Swamp, Nick Waters is amazed when the swamp catches on fire. But even more amazing is the disappearance of his feared biology teacher, Bunny Starch. Did someone light the fire to cover up her kidnapping? Nick also thinks he might have seen a rare endangered black Florida panther right before the fire. Could the two be related? Nick teams up with his best friend Marta to try and find out the truth of what really happened and why, in this story full of interesting characters and humorous situations.

The Seven Keys of Balabad by Paul Haven
Oliver Finch is trying to adjust to life in Balabad, but it is nothing like he is used to in New York City, that’s for sure! Homesick for his native land and bored with life in Balabad, Oliver spends most of his time with his friend, Zee, and a used carpet salesman, who tells the boys the most incredible stories about Balabad’s history. When a priceless ancient carpet goes missing and mysterious artifacts are being stolen from prominent families, suddenly life gets a little more interesting. And when the unthinkable happens, it is up to Zee and Oliver to solve the mystery of the Seven Keys of Balabad and an ancient buried treasure.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Manhattan in the late seventies combines with A Wrinkle in Time to flavor this story of the everyday world of 12-year-old Miranda. The neighborhood, the school, even the bums on the street are casually portrayed, but all contain essential pieces of a puzzle. Notes from the future begin to appear at odd times and places, and it’s up to Miranda to decipher their meaning, sorting between what is irrelevant and what matters. This intriguing story of time travel holds truths that resonate with us all.

7th - 9th Grade (& up):
Change-Up: Mystery at the World Series by John Feinstein
Stevie and Susan Carol are teen reporters with national name recognition after they have covered a series of mysteries at major sporting events. In this installment, the two head to Boston for the World Series and meet up with a pitcher who has just rocketed to stardom from the minor leagues. But his squeaky clean image is not what it seems, so Stevie and Susan Carol try to work out what he might be hiding and learn an important lesson about journalistic integrity. This is a really great sports series and starts with Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery.

Escape by Sea by L.S. Lawrence
Escape by Sea tells the story of Sara, her father, and the crew of his ship as they must escape the Roman invasion of Carthage. With a ship full of goods, the group makes their way around the Mediterranean trading, battling pirates, and avoiding danger at all sides. An important Roman soldier they take hostage makes their situation even more precarious. Sara is in her teens and chafes against the rules and expectations for women. As calamity after calamity befalls the group, Sara becomes more powerful and is able to express herself and be heard. This is a rich historical novel of a time we rarely read about.

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis
Teens Octavia and Tali learn about strength, independence, and courage when they are forced to take a car trip with their grandmother, who tells about growing up Black in 1940s Alabama and serving in Europe during World War II as a member of the Women's Army Corps. Sassy heroines really bring this little-known piece of history to life.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas awakens to find himself alone, in a dark elevator, unable to remember anything meaningful about himself. When the doors open, he is greeted by 40 or so hostile teenage boys like himself, welcoming him to the Glade, a post-apocalyptic, manufactured world where they live to run a maze and escape from creepy blob creatures with needle appendages. Thomas's arrival starts a series of weird events that disrupt the monotonous life the boys had been leading, so naturally they suspect him of bringing them to their doom. Thomas himself is full of questions: What is the point of the Maze? Who put them there? And why does it all seem really familiar to him? This was a gripping read, full of action and mystery.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
This re-telling of the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is filled magic, adventure, and romance. It's a heady mix of dark and light, lush descriptions, rich characters, and fun new details. In other words, it is exactly what one would want in a fairy tale re-telling. It can be difficult to flesh-out twelve princesses in addition to the other characters, but George does a great job focusing on a few of the girls and creating memorable details about the others. The setting and backstory she creates also work brilliantly with the story.

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford
It is 1611, Jack and his father are employed as sailors headed for Japan when their ship is damaged in a storm and pirates take it over, killing everyone but Jack. Spared because he is so young, Jack is taken to the home of a prominent samurai where he feels like a prisoner. After he shows bravery during an attempted robbery, Jack is adopted as part of the family and is given a Japanese tutor and training to be a samurai. While his new life is exciting, Jack is worried about the younger sister he left behind in England. How can he possibly get back home? This is an awesome fish-out-of-water story with intrigue, samurais, ninjas, and fight scenes.

10th grade & up (adults, you'll probably enjoy these too!):
First, let me say that the hottest and best books of 2009 are the sequels to two of the hottest and best books of 2008: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Graceling by Kristin Cashore. If your teens (especially girls) haven't read these yet, I would recommend them and their new companion books Catching Fire by Collins and Fire by Cashore.

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan
This is the story of Aidan and Maddy, two orphans who are on the verge of starvation out on the Kansas prairie when a wagon train comes by and rescues them. Off on the adventure of the Oregon Trail, Aidan and Maddy actually have an easier life than they have ever known before. Aidan befriends some Native Americans who saved his life and in the last third of the novel, the title earns its place. The "devil's paintbox" is another name for smallpox and it is illegal for Indians to get vaccinated. Aidan's new friends beg him to help get them the vaccine. The policies and prejudice of our past are once again shocking as this true practice is explored and Aidan has to choose between his sense of justice and his desire keep to himself.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Two oddballs, Bea and Jonah (aka Robot Girl and Ghost Boy) become unlikely friends when Bea arrives at a new school. They share an interest in listening to obscure radio shows, dressing up in costumes to go out, and photography. But things take a turn when Jonah discovers a huge lie that his father has told him and the new truth consumes his life. Jonah is the first true friend Bea has ever had. Can she help Jonah? Can she let him go? This is a tender and well-told story that includes great inter-generational friendships and celebrates being true to yourself.

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
Jessica thinks that she’s just a normal senior in high school with another boring year to look forward to - that is until Lucius shows up. Under the guise of being a foreign exchange student from Romania, Lucius is really there to tell Jessica who she really is (Antanasia, a vampire princess) and what her destiny is (to fulfill a pact made between the warring royal vampire families by marrying Lucius). What ensues is a roller coaster ride of teenage emotions as Jessica struggles to come to terms with who she is and what that means not only for her future, but also for the future of an entire race. This book is a surprising blend of humor and challenging choices.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
At seventeen, Marcelo has found his Asperger’s Syndrome less of a challenge than trying to survive a summer challenge set by his competitive lawyer father of working in the law firm and dealing with “the real world.” All the characters and events are seen from Marcelo’s eyes and sensibility. The result is a riveting read depicting life from a viewpoint not often seen, and a revealing portrait of what most of us call normal.

The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford
This first novel reads like a classic pulp mystery, with an anti-social teen detective, fast-talking femme fatale journalist, and plenty of corruption to go around. It is the summer after senior year, and Christopher takes a job cleaning the morgue because he thinks he wants to be some kind of investigator, CIA or something. Well, contrary to his expectations, Christopher finds himself knee-deep in a murder with the medical examiner and the sheriff in on the deal. Joined by a foxy newspaper reporter, he unravels clues and follows surprising twists to a satisfying conclusion. This mystery has all the best elements with memorable characters, moody settings, and colorful language.

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Seventeen-year-old Tamsin was born into a family of witches and her grandmother predicted that she would be "a beacon for us all". When her 8th birthday comes and her Talent has not manifested itself, Tamsin is basically rejected by everyone and must make her way, not fitting into her clan, but not fitting in with the regular world either. One day, a stranger comes to her with a request to find a missing magical clock, mistaking Tamsin for her highly Talented sister, Rowena. Tamsin is determined that this is her chance to prove that she can do something, just like the rest of her family, and she takes on the challenge. Needless to say, things do not go as planned, and Tamsin's actions threaten to bring down her entire clan.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Ever since she was attacked by wolves in her backyard at age 11, Grace has been obsessed with the wolf pack that lives in the woods behind her house. Rather than being afraid, she's drawn to them. Especially to the one with the golden eyes. When she meets Sam for the first time, she looks into his golden eyes with shock and recognition. Who is this boy and where did he come from? Why does she feel like she's known him forever? In this stunning romance, Grace and Sam come to terms with the reality of his life as a both boy and wolf and try to make their complicated relationship work.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
Nina Khan is the only Pakistani-American Muslim at her school in upstate New York. While she has no problem making friends at school, the difference between her life at home and theirs is pronounced. Her friends are allowed to go out, date, and have jobs. Nina is expected to study and live up to her genius older sister’s example, go to college, and marry the good Muslim boy that her parents pick out for her. Nina struggles between keeping her parents happy, keeping to her religion, and being a teenager in a U.S. high school. And don’t get her started on the body hair that is her genetic legacy. There's lots of humor in this coming-of-age story.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne Jones
Mimi really needs to get away from a bad relationship, so her father has given her the key to his cabin in Canada, where he hasn't visited in years. When Mimi gets there, she finds a guy her age, Jay, already living there. She and Jay hit it off immediately, but Jay tells Mimi that sinister things have been happening at the house - a dead bird placed in the kitchen, someone's been messing with his recording equipment, and there's a tunnel under the house that's being used. Mimi and Jay team up to figure out why someone would be doing bizarre things and who it might be. The outcome of their search is shocking. Written with gorgeous language and creepy undertones, this is a perfectly chilling, but not terrifying, read.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Fall Picture Books

When I stepped out of my house this morning, the first sound I heard was a lone leaf skittering across the street. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees overnight and suddenly, it was autumn! I have been saving up some fall-themed picture books and now seems the perfect time to share them.

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree: A Book about Nothing by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Shino Arihara
While basically just a book about the concept of zero, Franco's evocative, poetic word/concept choices and Arihara's gorgeous paintings make this one of my favorite books of the year. The book follows the seasons, beginning with fall, with vignettes both in the classroom at out in the world. The title is one example of zero, referring to the leaves left on the tree in fall: zero. Another, "Zero is...the bikes in the bike rack on the last day of school."

The Sc
arecrow's Dance by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
I'm not always a fan of poem picture books, but Jane Yolen's newest is completely engaging and is paired with luminous illustrations that perfectly match the mood of the piece. The whole thing is perfect for autumn; somber and joyful, you can almost taste the crisp air as you're reading.

And T
hen Comes Halloween by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Holly Meade
Gorgeous, descriptive language accompanies paper collage illustrations in this perfect book describing the sights, sounds, and feelings of autumn that lead up to Halloween. Each page perfectly evokes an autumnal moment as step-by-step and day-by-day children prepare their costumes and decorations. "When nighttime creeps closer to suppertime, And red and gold seep into green leaves...Then it’s time to decide what to be."

Boo to You! by Lois Ehlert
I'm really a big fan of Lois Ehlert's collage style, especially the pieces she uses from nature. It's fun to use the books with kids and make your own "found" art. Anyway, her newest book celebrates harvest and Halloween as two mice who are trying to eat in the garden get a good idea for scaring away the cat that is stalking them - they will scare the cat away! The collages are made from paper, vegetables, seeds, nuts, twine, and many other materials. I love the color palette; it's perfect for fall, except for the blue mice who really stand out from the other oranges, browns, and greens

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli! by Barbara Jean Hicks, illustrated by Sue Hendra
Fum, foe, fie, fee, monsters don't eat broccoli! But they do eat tractors, space ships, fences, and trees! See what else monsters do and try to get them to eat some broccoli in this fun new rhyming book that slightly encourages eating one's vegetables. Okay, this isn't really a fall themed book, but everyone loves a monster at Halloween.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill, by Mary Ann Hoberman, is a perfectly sweet and old-fashioned story that will delight fans of The Saturdays, Betsy-Tacy, and other classic favorites.

It is the Depression, so ten-year-old Allie's family has to move to a new town where her father can find work. When she hears that they will live on Strawberry Hill, Allie can hardly wa
it. Surely a place with such a name will make a perfect home! But the moving transition is harder than she expected and Allie spends the next year learning the true meaning of friendship and what it means to be a "best friend". The families that live on Strawberry Hill are by no means perfect and have their own troubles that are spot-lighted, but not dwelled upon.

The book is full of darling and pitch-perfect lines like when Allie is looking for a place to hide her lucky aggie, "Finally I had decided to put it under my mattress, just like 'The Princess and the Pea.' Afterward, I had lain down on my bed to see if I could feel it, but I couldn't because I wasn't a princess."

It's a treat to have such a novel from Mary Ann Hoberman, whose poetry and picture books are perennially wonderful. Thank you, for straying from your norm to give us this gift!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Princess Plot

The Princess Plot is a great choice for young teens who are still into princesses but maybe not fantasy. It's a fun, adventurous, and fast-paced read.

Jenna's mom is way over-protective and Jenna never gets to do anything. When some movie producers come to town to audition girls for the part of a princess, Jenna sneaks away and doesn't tell her mom. She's thrilled when she gets the part, but that's when things turn a little weird. Like, the producers whisk her away on a private jet to Scandia, without even letting her talk to her mom.

Meanwhile, in Scandia, the king has just died and the princess has disappeared. On the brink of civil war, the regent can't risk the backlash if the citizens knew that the princess was gone, so he replaces the princess with Jenna (who happens to look exactly like her)!

While it may sound like any girl's dream, a nefarious plot is afoot and soon Jenna is deeply entrenched in more secrets than she could have imagined.

This German import is a welcome treat for the end of summer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Crush

I'm giddy, I'm nervous, I can't stop smiling and I just have to tell you about it - it's a book crush! I only started reading Shannon Hale's The Actor and the Housewife at lunch and already I feel like I've never felt this way about a book before. Never have I been so consumed... strange, considering all the books I love all the time. Like any infatuation, I don't know where this is going or how it will end, but in the meantime, I'm loving every minute of it. Now to just get through the work day...

Do you know this feeling?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Today I finished reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, and had to write about it immediately. What a satisfying read!

Calpurnia Tate is living in a time when becoming a proper lady is the only job a girl should aspire to, but she is terrible at piano, tatting lace, and baking pies. Instead, Calpurnia wishes to be a naturalist like Mr. Charles Darwin, and maybe attend the University. The balance of these two desires drive this wonderful and timeless story.

The Tate family is made up of six boys, Calpurnia, her long-suffering parents, a naturalist granddaddy, and the household servants. None of the family knows their granddaddy very well, even though he lives with them, because he's always pursuing his own interests. One day, Calpurnia's interst in the animal and plant life around their Texas farm drives her to seek out her granddaddy's company. The bond that blossoms between them is the heart and soul of this story. Grandaddy imparts many life lessons as they observe the ways of the natural world together, keeping notes in a journal and samples in jars.

While Calpurnia's own wishes to escape being made into a lady are the motivation that drives the novel, it is largely an old-fashioned family story (set in 1899) and reminded me for some reason of Cheaper by the Dozen. The six brothers are characters in their own rights that become fleshed-out as Calpurnia matures and sees them more as individuals than as a noisy group.

This story lives and breathes. It is the best juvenile novel I've read in a long time. One of my colleagues questioned whether children would read this and argues that it's just another "children's book for adults", but I think the good readers will enjoy it. Definitely a Newbery contender for me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Newest Mo Willems

On Friday, Mo Willems posted a very brief preview of his up-coming pop-up book Big Frog Can't Fit In on his blog. Check it out!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Wonderful Pile of Picture Books

I've been mulling over a zombie post for the last two weeks and time has slipped away from me. In the meantime, I read a whole bunch of really great picture books today, so I'm going to recommend those now.

Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Golson
Tillie Lays an Egg is simliar to the Minerva Louise books by Janet Stoeke, but is fun it its own way with vivid photographs of the lovely chickens.
There are seven chickens in the henhouse, but only Tillie is not interested in eating corn or laying eggs in a nest. Tillie is an adventurer, always exploring and looking for worms. She lays her eggs is amazing places! Children must search the pictures to find the eggs left in funny and unusual situations. Recommended for 2-4 year olds. The author has a hen-cam on her website that is really fun to watch:

Here is an excellent investigation of the history and mythology of food. From apples to pomegranates to mushrooms, the author humorously relates both fact and fiction about our most elemental and ancient foods: fruit and vegetables. A great gift for a foodie parent, this volume with its gorgeous photographs can be enjoyed by all ages.

I absolutely love this book of differences. This is one that is meant to be looked at individually with parent and/or child, as the illustrations and the things the reader needs to hunt for are quite small. Each page features an illustration in which the reader must find the differences between the animals pictured. The illustrations are just beautiful and the things we are hunting for are whimsical and not always easy to spot. Sometimes, it's up to interpretation and there are difficult new vocabulary words. This is a perfect book for examining and discussing.

Birds by Kevin Henkes
Henkes has of late been focusing on a much younger audience with his picture books. Birds is a wonderful introduction to what makes birds unique and special. It is very appealing to a young audience with simple ideas and colorful illustrations. For example: "Once I saw seven birds on the telephone wire. They didn't move and they didn't move and the didn't move. I looked away for just one second...and they were gone." These are truths about birds that young children can relate to. The book also has the nostalgic feel of favorites of a bygone era like those of Lois Lenski or Charlotte Zolotow.
Three Little Kittens and Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes selected and illustrated by Tony Ross
Tony Ross's new nursery rhyme collection is right up there with my favorites like Rosemary Wells and Richard Scarry. The illustrations are big, bold and bright. They clearly illustrate the predicament of the characters in the antiquated rhymes and will help children learn new vocabulary and help parents explain what's going on. There's also quite a bit of humor here, in characteristic style for Ross. If you're not famliar with Tony Ross, think Quentin Blake's humourous illustrations of his own and Roald Dahl's books. Some parents might find them too sassy. Ah well, back to Rosemary Wells if you do.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

SLJ's Battle of the Books

In April, School Library Journal launched their very first Battle of the (Kids') Books. This fun and ambitious project pits the favorite and best books of 2008 against each other in brackets. The judges are well-known and award-winning authors and experts such as Tamora Pierce, Roger Sutton, and John Green . The Battle has been so engrossing and satisfying to watch. Finally, favorites get the recognition they deserve, even if they didn't win the big awards. The reviews are thought-provoking and well-reasoned. I can't wait for the final showdown this week when my favorite The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) is pitted against The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (by M.T. Anderson), a book that I did not warm to in the least. Go Hunger Games! To read back over the whole comptetition, go to the Battle of the Books blog.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Escapes to the Sea

This week, I read two ARCs I picked up at ALA mid-winter: Escape by Sea, by L.S. Lawrence and Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic, by Suzanne Weyn.

Escape by Sea tells the story of Sara, her father, and the crew of his ship as they must escape the Roman invasion of Carthage. With a ship full of goods, the group makes their way around the Mediterranean trading, battling pirates, and avoiding danger at all sides. An important Roman soldier they take hostage makes their situation even more precarious.

Sara is in her teens and chafes against the rules and expectations for women. The Sara in her head has all kinds of opinions and comebacks she wishes she could share, but good Sara knows to keep her mouth shut. As calamity after calamity befalls the group, Sara becomes more powerful and is able to express herself and be heard.

The novel ends with a perfect resolution, though readers looking for a romantic conclusion will be disappointed. This is a great historical novel of Roman times and lays out the way the different people groups around the Mediterranean felt about each other and their powerful neighbor. Escape by Sea was published last year in Australia and is due out from Holiday House later this month in the U.S.

Distant Waves is a well-paced but ultimately silly historical novel set mainly in the Victorian spiritualist colony of Spirit Vale, New York. Jane and her four sisters have been raised by their single mother who is a medium. Jane is interested in science and becoming a journalist and is skeptical about her mother's communication with the other side, but when her younger sisters seem to have a genuine gift as psychics, Jane is torn about her feelings.

Regardless of her own feelings, spiritualism is very popular and soon Jane's whole family is invited to attend a spiritualism conference in London. Jane meets many famous people there, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini. Jane's mother befriends a couple of men who have premonitions about the fate of a luxury ship, Titanic, that is making its debut voyage. When it is discovered that two of Jane's sisters are sailing aboard the Titanic, Jane's mother sends her to persuade them off the ship. Soon, Jane is trapped aboard with all of her sisters, two of whom know that their lives are doomed. The events that follow on the ship, to the conclusion of the novel, are ludicrous but entertaining.
If the reader takes Distant Waves as a historical fantasy, then it's a pretty enjoyable novel. The author has written thorough notes about the real people and events that are portrayed in the story, which is good for giving an idea about how people viewed spiritualism during the early 1900's. All in all, though, it's way too far fetched for me, but I'll give it a thumbs-up for the cool cover art. This novel is available now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Devil's Paintbox

A few years back, I really enjoyed Victoria McKernan's first novel for young adults, Shackleton's Stowaway. Now, she has written another gripping historical novel.

The Devil's Paintbox tells the story of Aidan and Maddy, two orphans who are on the verge of starvation out on the Kansas prairie when a wagon train comes by and "rescues" them, in return for a year of work at a logging camp near Seattle. Off on the adventure of the Oregon Trail, Aidan and Maddy actually have an easier life than they have ever known before. But, of course, the westward journey is fraught with danger, hardship, and difficult relationships, and events catch up with the kids. While attempting to ford a river, Aidan's life is saved by some young Native American men. He has to confront his prejudices and in the last third of the novel, the title earns its place. The "devil's paintbox" is another name for smallpox and it is illegal for Indians to get vaccinated. Aidan's new friends beg him to help get them the vaccine. The policies and prejudice of our past are once again shocking as this true practice is explored and Aidan weighs his sense of justice and his desire keep to himself. Aidan's life in the logging camp is vividly described and he becomes a prizefighter in the camps. There is no shortage of adventure in this tale.
Well-written and well-researched, this is the historical novel for any reader to dig into before spring lures us outside.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mormon YA Fantasy Novelists

At the library, the growing group of really fantastic Mormon YA authors is something that we talk about quite often. We've often speculated, without a Mormon colleague to ask, if there are elements to the religion that lend themselves especially well to the creation of fantasy. Look at the popularity of Orson Scott Card in the past and now Stephanie Meyer, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and even Obert Skye. All of them are creating fantasy worlds that strike a chord with young readers and critics alike. (I would list Shannon Hale as one of my favorites, and her blog, squeetus, is a delight!) A recent article Boston Globe perfectly addressed this phenomenon and talked with some of the authors.

I read Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball (a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses") last week and really enjoyed it. Like her Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow (a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), it beautifully retells a less popular and very romantic fairy tale. The author uses exquisite details to fully realize the world in which the fairy tale is set to make it work. In this tale, twelve individual princesses are a lot to take on, but George handles the challenge by naming each sister after flowers in their mother's garden. I loved the description of the enchantment that makes the princesses dance and how George is not easy on the queen mother for her selfish wishes that cursed her daughters.

Lately, I've been having a rough time staying with anything I pick up, but Princess of the Midnight Ball had me in nearly one sitting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reminiscences from the Greats

And while I'm just throwing links up here...I just read the most wonderful article from Publisher's Weekly. Here are a handful of legends from the field of children's publishing reminiscing about how things used to be. What a delight!


The children's literature blogging community issues its own year-end awards and they announced them on Saturday. Here's some love from the Cybils.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lovely New Novels for Teen Girls

I always like to take a little breather from children's books right after all of our end of the year reviewing and awards build-up, but this year, since I went to ALA mid-winter, I picked up tons and tons of ARCs for great up-coming stuff and I haven't really had a break at all. Where's that hot 2008 adult novel I was going to read? Oh well. And I'm still far down on the waiting list for The Graveyard Book.

I've most recently read a trio of novels that will appeal to teen girls, and the next two on my pile will as well. The first is The Musician's Daughter, by Susanne Dunlap. Fifteen-year-old Theresa is the daughter of a violinist playing in the glamorous royal court of 18th century Vienna. When her father turns up murdered, Theresa is determined to find out more about his death, if not solve the mystery. But the social constraints of both her sex and her social position get in Theresa's way as she tries to move in various circles to get more information. Gypsies, musicians, courtiers, and even Haydn himself are all part of the wider mystery that grows more and more complicated the closer Theresa looks. The historical setting is uncommon for young adults novels and provides an in-depth look at the social class structure and the view of Romanies in the 18th century. The story is engaging with intrigue, romance, and music woven throughout. This is not a five-star novel, but it is definitely appealing and would be perfect to hand to fans of historical fiction.

Next, I read the fabulous Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, by Beth Fantaskey. Jessica is so excited for her senior year and everything is going her way when Lucius, a vampire prince from Romania, shows up and tells her that she is really Antanasia, his betrothed vampire princess. Lucius is enrolled in her high school as an exchange student and lives with her family while he tries to convince Jessica to embrace her inheritance and join him in ruling the vampire clans. Jessica is rational, doesn't believe in vampires, and already has her sights on a guy - all of this is going to ruin her perfect senior year! What starts out as a hilarious fish out of water story soon becomes a dark and serious gothic tale perfect for readers who love OR hate Twilight. Jessica and Lucius are really well-rounded characters who really stay with you. This was a serious page-turner and I had to stay up until I finished it; it was absolutely delightful and the ending did not disappoint. I'm telling everyone about it right now.

Finally, I just finished the ARC for Deb Caletti's newest, The Secret Life of Prince Charming, due out in April. At first I was not in love with the premise of this newest; it seemed a little too much like a movie theme, kinda like the last one (but you see, I can't go into depth, because I don't want to give away the plot). However hokey the premise, Caletti's writing always conquers all. This, to me, was her most powerful novel. It's all about love and relationships and what women are willing to put up with for love. Like so many of her other novels, it's a multi-generational story and while the heroine is a teen; her mom, grandma, aunt, and the women who have been in her father's life are all multi-faceted, important characters. The story of Quinn and her journey to learn more about her charismatic father is interwoven with the life lessons and stories of all the women in her life and their disasters with love. It's heartbreaking and empowering and seems like a really important novel for teen girls to read. Finally, I love how misleading the title is - any girl would pick this up with totally the wrong idea about this as a "romance" and it will end up being something she really ought to read. Fantastic!

I've finally started Kristin Cashore's ARC for Fire, the prequel to Graceling, which will be released in October. I'll have more on that soon. And my eagerly awaited copy of Envy in the "Luxe" series by Anna Godbersen, also just came in, so I'll be very busy reading this weekend. Hurray!

Monday, January 26, 2009

And the award goes to...

Publisher's Weekly's rundown of today's children's and young adult literature awards is the most concise, so that's the link I'll give you, if you haven't already looked up the awards for yourself.

I was at the awards press conference in Denver this morning and had both cheers and jeers. I do think the choice of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book as the Newbery winner might answer some of this year's debate about commerical viability and popularity of the award winners, but does not satisfy those who wish the award would skew younger. So there. I haven't read it yet because our library copies had publisher errors and had to go back, thus making those on the waiting list wait even longer. I liked The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson, and I am fine with it winning the Caldecott, but it wasn't my favorite. What really disappointed me was not seeing any honor for either of the books many of the librarians felt were stand-outs: Diamond Willow and Chains. Ah well, we'll go on reccommending them anyway! Some of the other, less well-known, awards were much more satisfying. Hurray for The Blacker the Berry, by Joyce Carol Thomas, and We Are the Ship , by Kadir Nelson, for their many honors.

The newest award, the William C. Morris Award, for a debut young adult title, had really strong contenders and we've been hotly debating the possibilities ever since we heard they were giving the new award. The winner, A Curse as Dark as Gold , by Elizabeth Bunce, was not my favorite on the list. It's quite good, though. (Obviously, if you've read my blog before, you'll know that I'm a huge Graceling fan. Which reminds me...I have an ARC of the prequel, Fire, right now and will get around to reviewing it soon.)

And that's my round-up. How are you feeling about the results?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Some Awards Links

If you're interested in hearing the winners of the aforementioned children's book awards as quickly as possible tomorrow morning, the blog for the Allen County Library System has a great round-up of ways you can hear the big news, from the Today Show to Twitter.

If you're interested in seeing what titles other librarians have loved and think are worthy of awards, the author Jim Averbeck has created a great spreadsheet of nationwide mock discussions lists. Enjoy!

Mock Newbery Awards 2009

This week at the Denver Public Library we held a lively Mock Newbery discussion. We had created two lists of excellent titles during the year and encouraged our participants to read as many as possible. Here is the list of the books we read and discussed:
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Hummingbird by Kimberly Green Angle
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Quadruped Delights by David Elliott
The Trouble Begins at 8 by Sid Fleischman
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost
Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff
Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Trouble by Gary Schmidt

The Newbery Medal is given by the American Library Association each year to the author of the most distinguished work of literature for children, which includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Here is a link to the criteria considered for the award. Here is a link to past winners.

Our group discussed and debated the pros and cons for each title and determined what we believed to be the most distinguished titles. Our winner was Diamond Willow and the way the votes played out, our only honor vote went to Chains. Yay! Those were definitely the ones I'm hoping to see recognized at tomorrow's awards ceremony. Speaking of...

The American Library Association's Mid-Winter Meeting/Conference is in Denver this week and I was fortunate enough to attend the notable children's picture book discussion yesterday and picked up tons of ARCs for hot new titles coming out this year. I'm sure you'll be seeing my reviews of those books in the coming months. As a part of the group being in town, the announcement of the chidren's book awards will also take place in town, so I'll be up bright and early tomorrow morning at the press conference to hear their winners firsthand. So exciting!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So exciting

The most exciting new today is that the Hunger Games sequel is coming out in September and ARC copies will be given out at Book Expo America in May. If you're going and you want to grab me a copy, I'd love to get my hands on it!!!
Here's a link to the notice in today's Publisher's Weekly:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Non-Fiction Book Reviews

I've been given mostly non-fiction books to review lately, which has me rather bogged down. Here are a couple of current reviews.

Making Cents, by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson and illustrated by Bob McMahon.
The United States has a lot of different forms of currency, or money, from the penny up to the $100 bill. How much is the money worth and how can you get some of it? This non-fiction title describes each monetary unit, shows a nice picture of it, and describes what you can buy with it. Turn the page, and the penny is multiplied to the nickel, and its buying power is multiplied too. As the amount of money grows, the illustrator continues drawing pennies, nickels, and dimes so that the reader can see the pile of money growing and growing. The author also shows how the choices of purchases multiply along with the money. For a penny, the kids can buy one-penny nail, but for one dollar, the kids can buy one hundred penny nails or twenty spiraled wood screws or ten marking pencils or four sandpaper squares, or a hinge for a door. The ascension of money and products is simply laid out and explained and makes a bold impression. In addition to the text, the bright and appealing illustrations show kids doing various neighborhood tasks to earn the money they are going to need to build a clubhouse, so the concepts of earning and saving are mildly introduced as well. An author’s note at the end discusses other currency not mentioned in the text, such as the two-dollar bill or the one-dollar coin. The author also describes how the pictures on our coins change all the time and gives the websites for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the U.S. Mint so that kids can see the various designs for themselves.

Hide and Seek: Nature's Best Vanishing Acts, by Andrea Helman with photographs by Gavriel Jecan.
Animals around the world and across many habitats use camouflage to hide themselves from predators. Giraffes in the savanna, candy crabs in the sea, grasshoppers in the desert, seal pups in the arctic, tigers in the forest, and jackrabbits in the mountains are just some examples of the varied animals that use their skin to stay safe. In this book, dramatic photographs show how difficult it can be to see these, and other, animals hiding in plain sight. Notes at the end of the book will help you find animals you might have missed hiding in the photographs. The notes also pinpoint where in the world the photos were taken and give further information about the animals pictured, including each animal’s Latin name. Large, bold-face type and simple text make this an accessible choice for younger elementary children. The layout of the book is not particularly special, but the space on the page devoted to the amazing photographs makes up for the lack of jazzy editorial features.