Monday, November 23, 2015

Children's Book Awards Guessing Game

It's that time of year again. You're probably thinking back to all the great children's books of 2015 and trying to decide:

Which are your special favorites? Which ones might win awards at the American Library Association's conference on Monday, January 11, 2016?

Here's a quick list of possible winners and books that can't win, but sure caught my attention:

Great read-aloud that scared my kids and will probably win the Newbery Award: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The great writing and well-drawn historical setting (World War II in England) sold me. My kids, however, thought I read the role of the (REALLY not nice) mother with too much gusto.

Wonderful first novel that deserves a silver Newbery Honor on its cover: The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. The quiet intense kid at the center of Jellyfish writes stuff in a notebook and is on the outside of her school's social world. Sounds a little like Harriet the Spy to me. I loved this book for being fearless, for allowing its character to stumble badly, and for reminding me of Harriet Welsch.

Inside Spread, Sidewalk Flowers

Best illustrated picture book that can't win the Caldecott Award: Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith. Why can't this lovely, wordless meditation on life in the city win? It's Canadian.

Best picture book text, although the artwork is darned good too: Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. This rhyming picture book will have you tapping your toes. Miller won a Charlotte Zolotow honor award (for the best writing in a picture book) for Sophie's Squash in 2014. This new Thanksgiving book is just as good, with great illustrations by (Little Blue Truck) Jill McElmurry.

Are children's book awards important? I'd answer a resounding YES.

Great YA Novel I Would Never Have Read Without That Medal on the Cover: Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley. It won a silver Printz Honor Medal in 2015. Every time I think about it, I want to thank the Printz committee. Foley's Carnival is a poignant, bracing look at what happens when sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch moves from Chicago to Ireland. It's a book that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page--the sure sign of a winner.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Big Top Burning

Check out this great nonfiction children's title!

Children's nonfiction can be tricky. As a writer, you want to tell a story accurately, while also engaging the reader. But much of nonfiction for children comes in series, where each story has to fit the same number of pages, the same reading level, the same number of illustrations.

For a critical look at the Who Was...? series,
here's a blogpost from the Children's Atheneum.
Sometimes a series covers many topics well. Take the Who Was...? series of biographies, each with a bobble-headed figure on the cover.

Sometimes, however, a story needs to stand alone and not be pushed into a series format. 

Laura A. Woollett's Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Chicago Review Press, 2015) is a stand-out standalone.

At just under 170 pages, this title for readers in grades 4 and up conveys a horrifying story: the devastating 1944 fire at the Barnum & Bailey Circus while in mid-performance in Hartford, CT. Nine  short chapters cover all of the ground of the title and subtitle. Photos add to the story and help break up the text. Notes from extensive sources come at the end.

What's great about this book: The author includes tons of primary source information (some from interviews she did with survivors). The chapters are so clearly written and engaging that Big Top Burning would be a great read-aloud.

For more on the author, shown here at the circus,
check out this great blogpost on Cynsations.

Finally, the book doesn't have easy answers. Many people died on that hot, hot day in Hartford and the hows and whys are still not entirely clear. But Woollett gives readers all they need to imagine what it might have been like to be there, to see the flames rising, and to hear the shouts and screams.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Blizzard-y Picture Books

Blizzard by John Rocco
(Disney-Hyperion, 2014)
After the record-setting-bad winter in the greater Boston area, summer's almost here. It's a good time for a look back at great picture books about snow.

Drawing on his own experiences, John Rocco (Caldecott Honoree for Blackout) recounts the story of the great & horrible Blizzard of 1978, which stranded motorists, shut down schools, and pretty much paralyzed the Northeast. Rocco was a kid in Rhode Island, and his book follows a kid’s travels through and over the massive drifts. It's like Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, only much more active.

Terrible Storm (Greenwillow, 2006)
Terrible Storm by Carol Otis Hurst with illustrations by S. D. Schindler goes way back in time to the history-making blizzard of 1888, which walloped New York City and New England. 

A pair of old-timers reminisce and recount their adventures in hilly Massachusetts during that amazing storm. This story mixes subtle amounts of gentle humor with masses of snow.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013)
Finally, Jonathan Bean's Big Snow gets at the best part of a snowstorm: the delicious feeling of anticipation. A boy awaits the first flakes, helps his mom clean house, and then drifts into sleep.

The dream sequence Bean creates--with mom struggling to vacuum up drifts of snow--is great. 

When the boy wakes to find real mountains of white stuff, at last, it's hard not to share in his delight.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Snicker of Magic

Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic made me breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally, a really great middle grade novel that’s also got read-aloud potential.

Several recent (and really good) middle grade novels are written in multiple perspectives, which makes them tough to read aloud—unless you’re Jim Dale. Not to diminish the wonderfulness of books like Wonder by R.J. Palaccio or Schooled by Dan Gutman, but they are tough read-alouds, at least when read aloud by me.

A Snicker of Magic is different. Here’s a read-aloud to sink your teeth into, particularly if you have a trace of a southern accent. 

Factofabulous: this book is meant to be read out loud by ordinary people. PLUS it’s full of sparkling writing, made-up words that should be real, a whole town I want to visit if I could just find it on the map, delicious ice cream, and characters you’ll want to get to know.

Not only that, it’s a great story that meets my Newbery-Worthy Criteria all around.

Look for Snicker and try reading its first pages aloud. You'll be hooked. One suggestion: have a quart of your favorite ice cream on hand as a reward when your voice gets tired.