Children’s literature is a booming business, and with good reason. As a genre, it is among the most densely populated with high quality, richly developed stories – new classics in the making. And yet, amidst this abundance of new literary treasures, have you found yourself pining for the pastoral tales of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame? Do you fear that children’s classics of a bygone era are in danger of becoming bygone themselves? Newbery Honoree Jacqueline Kelly and illustrator Clint Young put such fears to rest in a new masterpiece: Return to the Willows.
Both a sequel and homage to Grahame’s time-honored The Wind in the Willows, author Kelly has created a joyful continuance to the collective adventures of the original author’s beloved characters, Toad, Mole, Ratty, and others. Demonstrating a keen sense of Grahame’s voice and whimsical style, Kelly succeeds in deftly merging Grahame’s attractive setting and fanciful characters with her own conversational and lively style of narration. The result is a jubilant new adventure in the style of the original, rendered uniquely accessible to a 21st-century audience.
Because of its playful tone and engaging language, Kelly’s Return to the Willows shines as a read-aloud and is best enjoyed as shared reading. Some of the words may be challenging for younger readers, who may wish to follow along looking at the lush pictures as an adult reads aloud. Recommended for fans of pastoral, anthropomorphic tales, in the tradition of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame. Longing for read-alikes? Kelly is not the only author revisiting the classics. Readers who find they are craving similar titles will also enjoy Emma Thompson’s tribute to Beatrix Potter in The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Take a peek inside the mysterious and mischievous world of twins in three books for children with appeal for multiples and singletons alike. The nineteenth century counting rhyme “Over in the Meadow” inspired Ken Geist’s Who’s Who which puts the spotlight on twin animals. These six pairs of twins include calves, bunnies, monkeys, and fish and are featured in their natural habitats. Illustrator Henry Cole vividly depicts these landscapes in acrylic and colored pencil and moves from farmyard to jungle to bat cave. The memorable rhymes highlight the twins’ activities through the day and match the warm, detailed illustrations.
The Twins’ Blanket, written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, shares the story of identical twin sisters who at age five are growing up and a little apart. The girls’ favorite blanket is no longer big enough for sharing, so Mom creates new blankets for each girl with pieces from the old. Yum does a fabulous job of differentiating between these twins, by giving each girl her own side of the book. It isn’t until the girls reach out to comfort each other that they cross over the center of the book. Yum, a twin herself, uses prints, colored pencil, watercolor, and other media in her bright illustrations, and makes great use of white space to complement the quiet, narrative text.
In Take Two: a Celebration of Twins, J. Patrick Lewis, the current Children's Poet Laureate teams with Jane Yolen to present more than forty poems about life as a twin. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor, pencil, and collage illustrations complement the varied poems which are divided into sections representing stages and milestones, and a final section features famous twins. Lewis is a twin himself and Yolen is the grandmother of twins, so the two are quite familiar with the world of doubles. Readers will also enjoy the “Twin Fact” feature found throughout, such as the Russian woman who was mother to sixteen sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets!
When was the day? Most grownups can hardly remember. There is a day for each of us when playing with dolls becomes babyish; when windwhooshing down a hill on your bike – your faithful steed! – can’t offer the mad thrill it used to do; a day when, inexplicably, you seem to outgrow your best friends. For Jack, that day is today.
Newbery Award winner Jerry Spinelli has written an unusual love story. Not a tale of boy and girl, but a tale of Kid and Kid-dom; of Jack and Hokey Pokey. In Hokey Pokey, there are no adults and there are no babies – there are only Kids and all the delicious experiences of being a Kid. For the littlest Newbies and Snotsippers all the way up to Groundhog Chasers and Big Kids, Hokey Pokey brims with the best that childhood has to offer. There, bikes roam wild until caught and tamed by a daring Kid. Boys and girls are mortal enemies, but mortality only extends as far as playing dead. Cartoons can be watched at any time of day and Jack and his amigos share the stuckfast bond of brotherhood. And until today, until things were different, Jack has relished it all.
Bittersweet and oddly restorative, Hokey Pokey will have fully as much as appeal for adults as for its intended middle grade audience. The thoughtful, almost metaphysical chapters will selectively draw in readers who are ready – those readers who are just reaching the outer limits of Kid-dom and those who have traveled far enough beyond to enjoy looking backward. It is a story of remembering what it was all about. It is a story about embracing what comes next.
The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, named for beloved children's author/illustrator Dr. Seuss, is given by the American Library Association to the author and illustrator of the “most distinguished American book for beginning readers.” The 2013 medal winner is Up, Tall and High, written and illustrated by Ethan Long. Silly, brightly colored cartoon birds are the stars of this trio of brief stories that use broad humor to get across the meanings of the words up, down, tall, small, and high. Fold-out pages and flaps to lift make this a fun book for brand new readers, who will gain confidence as they quickly master basic sight words deftly illustrated with visual cues.
Three honor books have also been named. Well known author/illustrator Mo Willems was given the accolade for Let’s Go For a Drive!, starring his wildly popular characters Elephant and Piggie. Simple yet expressive cartoon drawings, color-coded speech bubbles, and an imaginative, laugh-out-loud storyline make this honor book a perfect choice for emerging readers. “Buttons come, and buttons go” in Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by illustrator James Dean, and author Eric Litwin, allowing for a counting down opportunity and a reminder to look on the bright side. Repetition, rhyme, bold colors, and a familiar feline character add to the appeal of this picture book.
Rounding out the list is Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, written and illustrated by Cece Bell. Following in the grand tradition of comically mismatched friends, this duo must find a way to compromise and give-and-take to get through their get-together. Bell’s humorous cartoon illustrations will engage new readers as they make their way through this dialogue-driven book, a great choice for children who have mastered the basics but are not yet ready for easy chapter books.
The Newbery award, given for “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature” by the American Library Association, was announced yesterday. The 2013 medal winner is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, a book narrated by an artistic silverback gorilla who has spent the majority of his life on display at a circus-themed shopping mall. Ivan never questions his life in captivity, until the arrival of Ruby, a young elephant who has been taken from her family. Applegate’s award-winning novel explores themes of friendship, humanity and the idea that it’s never too late to become the person—or gorilla—you’re meant to be.
The Newbery committee also named three honor books for 2013. Baltimorean Laura Amy Schlitz, librarian at The Park School, was given the nod for her complex, suspenseful Dickensian tale, Splendors and Glooms. Orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, assistants to an evil puppeteer, Grisini, must clear their names when they are all implicated in the disappearance of Clara, the only daughter of a wealthy doctor. The children must escape not only Grisini, but his longtime rival, a powerful witch. Schlitz was the winner of the 2008 Newbery medal for Good Masters!, Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village.
A second honor novel is Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky, set in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.Told in a distinctly Southern voice, this character-rich novel follows strong-willed sixth grader Mo LoBeau as she and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, attempt to find out the truth behind a murder. Rounding out the list of Newbery honor books is a nonfiction title, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. A well-written, true historical thriller, Shienkin’s book provides an in-depth exploration of the scientists, politicians, and spies involved in the creation of the devastating atomic bomb. While written for a teen audience, Bomb will appeal to older history buffs as well.
Picture book author and illustrator Jon Klassen, known for his wry illustrations rendered in a muted color palette, was honored today by the American Library Association with the Randolph Caldecott Medal for This is Not my Hat. The book follows a sly minnow who has purloined a hat from a much larger fish and is certain he will get away with his petty crime. The illustrations, however, tell a different story. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the illustrator of “the most distinguished picture book for children.”
Five Caldecott Honor Books were also named, including Extra Yarn, another book illustrated by Klassen, written by Mac Barnett. Extra Yarn shows the power of one young girl to change her town through kindness and generosity. Rounding out the list are the boy-and-his-penguin tale One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo, and illustrated by David Small; Green, a meditation on the color, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; the Twilight Zone-inspired Creepy Carrots!, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown; and the lyrical bedtime story Sleep Like a Tiger, written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia, the first book in Parish’s series about the literal-minded housekeeper whose misadventures have entertained young readers since 1963. As she starts her 50th year, Amelia Bedelia has some big news! She is going to star in her own line of chapter books for new readers. The first two books of Herman Parish’s (Peggy's nephew) new chapter book series about young Amelia Bedelia will soon be available. In Amelia Bedelia Means Business, Amelia wants a bike like her new classmate Suzanne’s, but it’s very expensive. Amelia decides to earn the money for the bike herself with hilarious results. Amelia Bedelia’s parents say that she can get a new puppy in Amelia Bedelia Unleashed, so she sets out to find the puppy of her dreams. These new chapter books are a great step up for new readers who are ready for something a little more challenging than the original Amelia Bedelia series.
You can join in the celebration of Amelia Bedelia Day on January 29th by reading your favorite Amelia Bedelia book, or trying one of the crafts and activities on Amelia Bedelia’s birthday website.
Ever wondered what your cat is thinking? Why do they do what they do? It’s All About Me-Ow, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott, deciphers all those mysteries and more in a hilarious romp through the life of felines. Spot on and laugh-out-loud funny, Buddy, the family’s older, experienced orange tabby takes on the schooling of three new kittens with "A Young Cat’s Guide to the Good Life". From comical explanatory charts, lists of "fabulous feline features", to instructions for making the most appealing face for every situation, Buddy schools the wide-eyed kittens in the rigors of "cat-itude", as well as the proper training of humans. Endlessly amusing, the cat’s antics, interspersed with actual information and a bit of history, will keep readers in stitches. Slyly humorous, the cartoon illustrations in watercolor, colored pencil and ink, charm and disarm as does the worldly Buddy and earnestly ingenuous kittens. This is a purrfectly fun book for all ages.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings: A Guide for Crocodilian Parents (and Curious Kids) is another cleverly humorous picture book, notable as children’s nonfiction. Author Bridget Heos (whose favorite book as a child was Lyle, Lyle Crocodile) blends witty reptilian wisdom with real facts in an easy to read Q & A format and playful conversational tone. Turns out reptile parents have the same concerns as human parents – "where should I lay my eggs?"; "what happens after they hatch?" Hatchlings have questions too, like "when do I eat my first water buffalo?" The colorful anthropomorphic cartoon-style artwork, by Canadian illustrator Stephane Jorisch, adds to the whimsy. Included are a glossary and a list of books for further reading and websites. Readers will also want to check out two similarly amusing titles from the author: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents and What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents.
Welcome, fellow members of the VFD and other esteemed colleagues of Lemony Snicket. You are apologetically invited to endure the somber account of a celebrated member’s decidedly inauspicious apprenticeship: Who Could That Be at This Hour? All other readers are invited to stop reading right now.
Oh, all right, tag along if you absolutely must.
By his own account, Lemony Snicket’s education was an unusual one. Just how unusual? Well, that would certainly be the wrong question, but since you’re new at this, we’ll indulge your overdeveloped sense of curiosity – a phrase which here is the polite substitution for "nosiness". Suffice to say that Snicket’s education supplied him with the skills necessary to escape drugging by tea; send secret messages through library loans; free-fall, and other similarly uncomfortable exploits encountered in this book.
What strange sort of book is this? Call it a prequel to unfortunate events, call it a nod to the noir; whatever the classification, Snicket’s latest is most certainly a restorative. Who Could That Be at This Hour? is the first in the intended four-volume series, All the Wrong Questions. Chronicling the latter days of his uncommonly strange childhood and early career, the authorized autobiography of the dear and drear Snicket is at turns gloomy and startling, but always entertaining. Readers who have enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events will not be disappointed. Staples of Snicket’s style – clever wordplay and melancholic narration – are abundant in this new venture, accompanied by superb woodcut illustrations.
Real life doesn’t always have a happily ever after. Kids may want to try these two well–written books for stories of real life with real endings. After a violent episode of abuse by her mother and stepfather, twelve-year-old Carley Connors is sent to her first foster home where she is welcomed by Mrs. Murphy, herself a first-timer. In One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Carley tries to survive in a strange new environment while being haunted by broken pieces of memory from that horrible night. New clothes, home-cooked meals and a return to school is a lot of adjustment for this tough, neglected girl from Las Vegas. A less-than-warm welcome from her foster brother and foster father adds to her anxiety. Hunt displays a deft touch with serious issues, showing Carley’s discomfort and distrust of the kindness shown to her without hitting the reader over the head with her angst. Her characters feel genuine with real emotions and concerns. Carley learns a lot about herself and about love while staying with the Murphys.
First published in 1978, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is another foster child story with similar themes of finding family and finding yourself. Gilly Hopkins is an eleven year old girl bouncing from foster home to foster home until her beautiful mother, Courtney, can come claim her. The book tells the tale of her stay with Maime Trotter, her foster son William Ernest and family friend, blind Mr. Randolph. Gilly is independent, strong-willed and blunt with her opinions, particularly about the “freaks” she has been stuck with. Gilly’s crude language and bad behavior makes her particularly unlikable at first. The reader begins to cheer for this unhappy creature as the details of her life emerge and as she grows to care for her foster family. The winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, The Great Gilly Hopkins still resonates with children today.