Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It's that time of year. CYBILS 2012 is gearing up for an exciting new awards season. For those who don't know, the CYBILS are an annual award given by bloggers in children's literature. There are many different categories, from picture books and book apps to graphic novels and YA.

Last year I had the honor of being a first round judge in the easy reader/short chapter books category and what a hoot that was. I got to read a stack of amazing books and work with some fabulous bloggers. This year, I'm proud to announce, I'm a second round judge, again in the easy reader/short chapter books category.

Nominations start October 1, and I urge you to submit your favorites. And be sure to check out the CYBILS site for a list of the 2012 judges. Congrats to them all!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cecil the Pet Glacier

Mary's fleecy white lamb of nursery-rhyme fame has nothing on Cecil the Pet Glacier. The heroic chunk of compressed ice not only follows its mistress, Ruby Small, to school, it risks its very life performing a daring rescue.

Before this dramatic event occurs, the story opens with a glacier-less Ruby, "a normal little girl" who values conformity. Her eccentric parents test her sanity daily by dancing the tango on the front lawn among the fabulous topiary Mr. Small trims and shapes. Ruby keeps her distance from the pair, staying indoors, curtains drawn, and playing with her trio of dolls, "The Three Jennifers," each one dressed like Ruby in plain brown pinafores.

When the family travels to Norway for vacation, a "tiny, strange-shape glacier" befriends her and follows her around. The attachment is one-sided as Ruby is mortified by the glacier's attention. She looks forward to the end of vacation when she'll be leaving "the ice-pest" behind. Except her parents, delighted with the unusual pet, purchase an ice chest and Cecil travels back home with them. There, Ruby ignores Cecil until the fateful day on the school playground when the little ice floe distinguishes itself by saving one of Ruby's beloved dolls at great cost to itself, earning in the process Ruby's admiration and gratitude.

This quirky picture book exudes charm and the details are spot on. Cecil, for example, is fed a diet of pebbles. "Finicky like a cat, he liked white and black pebbles but wouldn't eat the gray ones." And my favorite line: "He didn't speak, but when he was happy he creaked." Potter's surreal watercolor illustrations are a perfect marriage with Harvey's quirky text.

Cecil the Pet Glacier
by Matthea Harvey
illustrations by Giselle Potter
Schwartz & Wade, 40 pages
Published: August 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

Reading Mo Willem's latest picture book, I had flashbacks to when I was a kid watching the hilarious Fractured Fairytales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. A vivid memory is my father laughing even harder than me or my sisters. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs will likewise appeal to grown-ups as much as their offspring, which is a good thing as parents will probably be reading it aloud a lot.

Willems tweaks the familiar storyline so that Goldilocks is the victim and not the callous housebreaker of the Grimm version. The dinosaurs lure "a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks" to their home by preparing chocolate pudding and leaving the front door unlocked. What will keep kids chuckling is that the dinosaurs' nefarious plans are never directly stated. In fact,  Willems goes out of this way to assure young readers that the dinosaurs "were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by." The heavy-handed irony is consistent throughout the book and provides much of the humor. The more Willems insists the dinosaurs mean no harm, the more obvious it becomes that they do.

The illustrations give some of the best laughs. There's the door mat with the words "Tee-Hee" in parentheses under "Welcome" that Goldilocks blithely skips over. Or the telephone with an extremely long receiver designed to fit the dinosaurs' huge heads. Even the endpapers continue the fun. Willems has filled them with alternative ideas for titles, such as "Goldilocks and the Three Prairie Dogs," "Goldilocks and the Three Naked Mole Rats," or my favorite, "Goldilocks and the Three Wall Street Types." Now there's a scary fairy tale!

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
by Mo Willems
Balzer + Bray, 40 pages
Published: September 2012