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.
Are You Normal? More Than 100 Questions That Will Test Your Weirdness satisfies one of the most basic and pressing needs of tweens and near-tweens: to minutely assess how they compare to others. Look at Greg Heffley, the “hero” of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series – he introduces himself as the “52nd most popular kid” in school. Greg is pretty oblivious to the feelings of others, but he knows exactly where he stands in relation to his peers.
For this book, author Mark Schulman and his team polled hundreds of kids about their school and leisure activities, family situations, habits and preferences. Readers will learn that if they cut their spaghetti instead of twirling it, they are in the minority – only “15% of kids cut it, versus 82% who twirl (3% don’t eat spaghetti at all).” So whether you like pepperoni on your pizza or not, bite your fingernails or toenails (eww!), or prefer smooth peanut butter to chunky, there’s something in this book that everyone can say “yes” to. Sneaky math bonus – the book uses a variety of graphing techniques to meaningfully display relationships between numbers.
“Will my personality change as I get older?” “Is my voice unique?” “Does my brain stop working when I am asleep?” Older kids love learning about themselves too, and Richard Walker’s Who Am I? The Amazing Science of Existence discusses topics ranging from emotions to metaphysics, and delivers concrete answers to questions teens might not have even considered. The author presents facts about issues related to bioethics, such as stem cell research, but avoids controversial statements. Sharp photos and snappy design add to this book’s appeal, while puzzles and other interactive elements keep it challenging.
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!
Ask a kid where their dinner comes from and you might hear, “McDonald’s”. That trend is reversing, however, as more of today’s families are re-discovering the joy of cooking and paying attention to where their food comes from as well as how to prepare it. Cooking with kids is a hot activity right now and an easy way to introduce skills such as reading, math, science, even art.
Tyler Florence, celebrity chef on the Food Network and co-founder of Sprout organic baby food, encourages kids to explore cooking in Tyler Makes Pancakes! Little Tyler and his dog, Tofu, decide to start the day right with a plan to make breakfast for mom and dad. Armed with a list of ingredients they head to the local market. Simply colored stick figure illustrations by Craig Frazier are highlighted by lots of white space and short text which gives a pleasing clean-as-a-chef’s-kitchen flavor to each page. Tyler’s blueberry buttermilk pancake recipe is included so kids can learn to measure and combine ingredients and make a quick and easy meal. A list of interesting food facts will encourage them to learn even more.
The life of Julia Child, doyenne of classic French cooking in the U.S., has had renewed interest in recent years. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, by Susanna Reich, is a charming picture book homage which will delight both children and adults. While Julia perfected her cooking skills, she would prepare a variety of delicacies and offer tastes to little cat Minette, who more often than not, preferred a simpler palette of traditional mouse or bird. This gentle story blends facts from Julia’s life and her various books into a mélange of fact and fiction. Peppered throughout are quotes from Julia’s original letters and a sprinkling of French words and cooking terms. Amy Bates draws the reader in with engaging pencil and watercolor illustrations of multi-colored Minette and charming kitchen and street life scenes in muted tones.
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 2013 Sibert Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished informational book for children,” was given to Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin. This narrative nonfiction book is a compelling historical thriller that follows the behind the scenes science and political intrigue involved in developing and building the world’s first atomic bomb.
Bomb has also been recognized with two other prestigious 2013 Youth Media awards from the ALA. It was named as the only nonfiction Newbery honor book. In addition, it was selected as the winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, the first national award that honors the best nonfiction books for teens.
The Sibert Medal Committee also named three Honor Books. Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, written by Phillip M. Hoose, follows one individual migratory shorebird, a rufa red knot, as scientists gather data in an attempt to understand how he has survived for nearly 20 years. Numerous photographs, maps, and informational sidebars help to draw the reader into this story of science, ecology and conservation as related to this four-once avian.
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, written by Robert Byrd, uses a picture book format to deliver both detailed, colorful illustrations of his subject’s colonial life along with a rich narrative. Although Electric Ben makes a good research source, children with an interest in history will be drawn to it as a book to simply enjoy. Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, written by Deborah Hopkinson, provides a fresh look at a topic that never seems to lose appeal. The author engages readers with detailed accounts of the tragedy told in the voices of actual survivors. Historic photographs and copies of primary source materials like a distress telegram sent by the ship’s wireless operator, and the front page of The New York Times from the day following the sinking enhance the narrative.
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.
Earlier this week, the American Library Association announced the winners of the 2013 Youth Media Awards. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. This year, the award for authors went to Andrea Davis Pinkney for her historical retrospective Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Written in an honest and forthright style, Pinkney takes a new look at these influential and historically significant men. The award for illustrators was won by Bryan Collier for his interpretation of the Langston Hughes poem I, Too, Am America. Collier uses varying images of the American flag to tie together mixed media collages, creating an inspirational and patriotic look at the Pullman porters and the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
King Honor Books were also awarded on Monday. Author Book Honors went to Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrator Book Honors went to H.O.R.S.E written and illustrated by Christopher Myers, Ellen’s Broom illustrated by Daniel Minter and written by Kelly Starling, and I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated by Kadir Nelson from the speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
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.