Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Year-End Round-Up

As I write this it's snowing outside, the perfect backdrop for composing a post about some of my favorite children's books of the year. All would make great gifts for young readers. Without further ado:

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean
This lovingly detailed picture book describes building one's own house from scratch. A young girl narrates the story of how she, her parents, and baby brother move from the city to the country to build their own home. A fascinating look at a process most kids will be unfamiliar with.

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
Hands down my favorite picture book of the year, if not the decade. It's a love story between a girl and her squash. Sophie picks out a butternut squash at a farmers' market and before long the gourd has become a beloved toy. When dinner arrives, she can't bear for Bernice to be eaten. Like the best picture books, the story captures the essence of childhood.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrations by Melissa Sweet
A stunning picture book biography about Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist. Bryant and Sweet join forces to present Pippin as a black man determined to create his art, even when he loses the use of his arm as a soldier in World War I.

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
The third in a series--and the best one yet--about Penny, a small mouse, who finds and takes a blue marble that doesn't belong to her. The guilt this causes is worthy of an Edgar Allen Poe tale. Kevin Henkes can do mice like nobody's business. An easy reader that is destined to be a classic.

My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrations by Eva Eriksson
Originally published in Sweden, this early chapter book describes Dani's year in first grade. It's a time of change, as she makes a best friend and then loses her when the girl has to move away. Lagercrantz respects her protagonist's emotions and doesn't shy away from showing Dani's grief or her resiliency.

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci, illustrations by Sara Varon
A wacky read about two ducks who are very different but who ultimately find they do share things in common--namely that they are both rather odd--and that's okay. A graphic novel for the six-to-ten-year old set.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Billy Miller starts second grade worried that he won't be smart enough to tackle the demands of the school year. His father reassures him, telling his son that "this is the year of Billy Miller." In this short novel, Henkes has created a totally believable seven-year-old boy in Billy Miller. Young readers will root for him as he faces and overcomes the obstacles life throws at him. A quiet gem of a book.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
I knew I wanted to read this middle-grade novel the second I laid eyes on its eerie cover. The doll, made from the bones of a dead girl, is believed to be haunted--or is she? That question is left deliberately unanswered by the author as Zach, Poppy, and Alice undertake an epic journey to return her to her rightful place. Underpinning the spooky ghost story is the friendship between the three protagonists as they struggle to put childhood and childish things behind them.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Toilet: How It Works

What kid--or grown-up for that matter--hasn't wondered what happens when a toilet is flushed? In yet another superior beginning reader nonfiction book, David Macaulay provides the answer. With a generous dose of humor, Macaulay begins at the beginning--how food is processed into human waste--and proceeds to explain how a toilet works and how waste is treated as it is processed through septic and sewer systems.

Each illustration reinforces the text. Some drawings show labeled cutaway views, such as a toilet tank or a septic system. Another provides an impressive bird's-eye view of a city. Many of the illustrations include clever details, such as the empty toilet paper roll with just a scrap of paper dangling or the walking set of human organs complete with a How Things Work manual.

The book begins with "Everybody knows what a toilet is for," showing spot art of a dog drinking from the toilet bowl, a goldfish being sent on its way to the afterlife, and an toilet remade into a flower-fille planter. By the time they reach the last page, readers will have a much more inclusive knowledge of what a toilet is for and how waste is disposed.

Toilet: How It Works
by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan
David Macaulay Studio/Roaring Brook, 32 pages
Published: September 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pinch and Dash and the Terrible Couch

Anyone who has ever tried to fit a large piece of furniture in a tiny space will sympathize with poor Pinch. (Count me among them. I once had to return a couch that wouldn't fit through the apartment door.) While oversized furniture might not be a pressing problem for most kids, the humor in this easy reader will win them over and they are sure to relate to the plight of being the recipient of an unwanted gift.

That's what happens to Pinch when he unwittingly opens to door to a huge couch on his top step, a present from his Aunt Hasty, who sold her house and moved into a tiny apartment. The movers, Push and Shove, cram the couch into Pinch's small den without any regard for his other belongings. The guff duo have little patience for Pinch's predicament and have some of the book's best lines. When Pinch dillydallies about where to set the couch, Shove tells him: "We move things. We do not stand around holding things." I think I met these guys during my last move.

Unlike the first book in the series, Pinch and Dash Make Soup, Dash doesn't appear until midway through. He tries to help his friend by rearranging the furniture in the den, but when that doesn't work to Pinch's satisfaction, Dash falls sound asleep on the offending couch. And that is the beginning of an idea that leads to an amusing visual conclusion.

Pinch and Dash and the Terrible Couch
by Michael J. Daley
illustrations by Thomas F. Yezerski
Charlesbridge, 48 pages
Published: 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Meanest Birthday Girl


How mean is she? Dana, our birthday-girl heroine, is a pincher, a name caller, a show off, and a dessert stealer. She especially picks on Anthony, who, while visibly annoyed, does not retaliate. At least not at first. Although not invited to Dana's birthday party, Anthony shows up after the festivities have ended with his birthday present--a white elephant. Now, fyi, long ago kings of Siam used to make a present of white elephants to obnoxious courtiers who caused them displeasure. The cost of keeping such a huge animal ruined the person financially. But Dana, alas, hasn't read the Wikipedia article on white elephants. She's thrilled with her present--at first, that is. The elephant's demands soon render Dana hungry (the elephant eats her food), exhausted (it needs exercise and keeps her up nights), and bikeless (the elephant attempts to ride it). Luckily, Dana undergoes a change of heart and finds the perfect recipient for her unwanted pet.

Early chapter book readers are going to love this one for sure. The lesson--what comes around goes around--is so humorously presented that kids will gobble it up as easily as they do spinach sneaked into brownies. (And yes, there's a recipe for that!)

The Meanest Birthday Girl
by Josh Schneider
Clarion Books, 48 pages
Published: 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ling and Ting Share a Birthday

Of course they do! Ling and Ting are twins and in the second outing of this easy reader series their birthday serves as the anchor for six charming stories. Ling and Ting try on birthday shoes, go shopping for presents, bake cakes, make wishes, open their gifts, and read a story about Ming and Sing, twins who--surprise--also share a birthday but, unlike their counterparts, don't excel at sharing.

Each story cleverly focuses on how the girls are alike and how they are different, just as in the first book in the series. In story 3 for example, the girls decide to each bake a cake. Ling's comes out perfect, but Ting, who didn't read the instructions carefully, is left with an inedible mess. Ling has a solution. She cuts the cake in half, and, presto, they each have their own cake. In the next story, it's Ling's turn to mess up. She doesn't blow out one of the candles on her cake and fears her wish won't come true. Ting steps up to the plate and tells her twin not to worry. "We will share my wish. I will wish that we both have wishes. Then we will each have a wish." Now that's a good sister!

The bright and cheerful gouache images were inspired by 1950s children's textbook illustrations, as Lin explains in an author's note.

Ling & Ting Share a Birthday
by Grace Lin
Little, Brown and Company 48 pages
Published: 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cybils Nominations

Woo-hoo! Tomorrow, October 1st, is the big day! That's when nominations for the 2013 Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) open to the public--that's you! Be sure to stop by and nominate your favorite books and apps. Any English or bilingual book published in the U.S. or Canada for the youth market between October 16, 2012 and October 15, 2013 is eligible.

I'm happy to report that this year I'll be a second-round judge for elementary and middle-school nonfiction. I can't wait to see which books are nominated and, of course, I'll be taking a extra long look at the books nominated in the easy readers/short chapter books category.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sophie's Squash

I love, love, love this picture book. Perfect for the fall season, Sophie's Squash tells of an abiding friendship that forms between a young girl and her, well, gourd. Sophie spots an appealingly shaped butternut squash at a farmers' market and by the time suppertime rolls around, she's named her new acquaintance Bernice and given her a face with markers. Her mother, who is shown thumbing through a cookbook looking for squash recipes, says, "I'll call for a pizza."

If the mother thinks her daughter will tire of her new friend, she's mistaken. Sophie and Bernice enjoy idyllic fall days playing together. When Bernice develops some spots, Sophie, undeterred, calls them freckles. But soon even Sophie can't deny that her friend isn't her usual self. "Bernice seemed softer, and her somersaults lacked their usual style."

On advice from a farmer, Sophie tucks her friend into "a bed of soft soil" to recover. And recover she does, and come summer Sophie has two new friends that are "just the right size to love."

Pitch perfect and with exquisite pacing, this book is sure to charm young readers. I only wish it was around when my daughter was a first grader. That's when she created--without any help--a sister doll from a rolled-up sleeping bag, tee shirt, hat, and a pasted-on face. That's why I wasn't surprise to learn that first time author Pat Zietlow Miller based the story on her daughter, who, like Sophie, met a squash she couldn't resist.

Anne Wilsdorf's illustrations are endearing and full of life. Her Sophie looks just the type of girl who would tenderly bounce a squash on her knee or cuddle it in her arms.  

Highly recommended!

Sophie's Squash
By Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf
Schwartz & Wade Books
Published: 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Happy Life

In this charmer of an early chapter book, Lagercrantz brilliantly captures the essence of first grade with all its ups and down. Dani, the book's resilient heroine, is concerned that she won't make friends. She does, of course, and she and Ella experience all the joys of getting to know each other. They share swing rides, a friendship necklace, and sleepovers. There is also the pain of the first fight, when Ella refuses to swap her angel bookmark.

But all good things must come to an end, and Dani's world crumbles after Ella moves away. Until her friend's departure, Dani used to go to sleep counting all her happy times. Now she no longer can. Dani is deeply sad and one of this book's strengths is that it doesn't shy away from childhood grief. Dani misses her friend and although her teacher and father try their best to make her feel better, things go from bad to worse. In the days that follow Dani skins her knee, is tackled playing soccer, and feels terribly guilty after injuring a boy during a class free-for-all. Slowly, though, Dani regains her old cheerful self. She makes new friends (although none can take Ella's place). She gets two hamsters. Finally, she receives a letter from Ella and an invitation to see her new home. Joy.

Translated from Swedish by Julia Marshall, the book's twenty easy-to-read short chapters explore the day to day life of a young child, respecting each experience, from the small joys of jumping rope 500 times to the larger issues of death and loss.

"Dani used to have a mother who lived there too, but she passed away. That's what people said when someone died. They said she had passed away, but how could a dead person pass anything? And away to where?"

The pen-and-ink illustrations are full of life and vitality, just like Dani. Eriksson manages with just a few strokes of her pen to capture a multitude of expressions on the children's faces. The world she creates rings true and subtly adds to the story. Just by looking at the illustrations of Dani's teacher we know she's great at her job.

A treasure of a book!

My Happy Life
by Rose Lagercrantz
illustrations by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press, 134 pages
Published: 2013 (U.S. edition)  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On a Beam of Light

I wouldn't have thought Albert Einstein, poster boy for the word genius, a good candidate for a picture book biography. How could the life of the creator of E = mc2 be crammed into a few pages of text? Well, happily, Jennifer Berne has proven me wrong. Her biography, aimed at young readers between ages 6 to 9, is a masterful condensation of big ideas into clear and accessible prose.

The book begins, appropriately, with the universe: "Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by the river, a baby boy was born. His parents named him Albert."

The text then follows him through his childhood (puzzling the secrets of the universe) to adulthood (still puzzling the secrets of the universe). We see young Albert mystified and enchanted by the workings of a compass and later wondering what it would be like to ride his bike on a beam of sunlight. As an adult, he watches sugar dissolve in his tea and pipe smoke vanish into the air and questions how one thing could disappear into another. By focusing on such concrete everyday examples, Berne grounds Einstein's remarkable abstract discoveries into things a child can comprehend.

Radunsky's innovated illustrations cast Einstein as a wide-eyed free spirit and allow you to see the child in the old man and vice versa. Through Radunsky's free-flowing hand, Einstein springs to life, striding through these pages as a wild-haired prophet in an endless search for the truth.

For readers eager to learn more, Berne provides an author's note covering other aspects of Einstein's life, such as his playful nature and his lifelong pacifism. A short bibliography is also included.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky
Chronicle, 56 pages
Published: 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Squirrel's Fun Day

It's a sunny summer afternoon and what am I doing? Sitting in my office writing this post. Why? Because that's my version of a fun day. What's Squirrel's? To play with his friends: Mouse, Turtle, and Rabbit. Trouble is Mouse is busy cleaning. So Squirrel helps, but he makes more of a mess than before. Next he urges a sleepy Turtle off his log and ends up slathering his friend in mud. Finally he convinces Rabbit to alter his routine and poor Rabbit ends up lost. In the final chapter of this easy reader, Squirrel realizes that while he had fun, his friends didn't. Or did they? Sometimes going outside your comfort zone and trying new things can lead to, yes, fun.

Squirrel, a rambunctious fellow with a tendency to repeat himself, makes an engaging character that young readers will identify with and root for. Although he's often clueless, his heart is in the right place and, like many children I've known, he can't contain his exuberance for life. The quartet of friends, each charmingly portrayed, cavort through Gorbachev's idyllic landscape, a forest rendered in soft mossy hues. Reading this pitch-perfect book, the second in a series, beginning readers are sure to have their own fun day.  

Squirrel's Fun Day
by Lisa Moser
illustrations by Valeri Gorbachev
Candlewick Press, 46 pages
Published: 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Joe and Sparky Go to School

Stories that feature animals in a school setting are always lots of fun, and Joe and Sparky Go to School, I'm happy to report, is no exception. Joe, an inquisitive giraffe, teams up with Sparky, a turtle more interested in sleeping than adventure, to investigate a school bus parked in Safari Land's lot. The bus, filled with "noisy short people" is heading back to school, and when Sparky mistakenly gets whisked away, Joe takes off after him. When the pair arrived at the school, Joe decides a field trip is in order. (Poor Sparky just wants to go home.) Luckily for Joe--and for young readers--Miss Hootie, the teacher, breaks her glasses and never discovers that two zoo animals are among her students. This, of course, provides for more belly laughs as Joe gets into trouble because he's, well, a giraffe. Sparky does much better and by day's end his shell is plastered with gold stars. Don't worry, though. Joe manages to get a star too, in a heartwarming way.

The third in a series, Joe and Sparky Go to School is sure to win over beginning readers. The action moves along at a brisk pace and something to chuckle over happens on nearly every spread. The section in which Joe and Sparky visit the boys' restroom is sure to have kids rolling on the floor! Remkiewicz's cheerful illustrations help reinforce the story line and add to the humor. All in all, this is one easy reader that will have kids eager to go back to school. Who knows? Just maybe a giraffe and his sidekick turtle will visit their class.

Joe and Sparky Go to School
by Jamie Michalak
illustrations by Frank Remkiewicz
Candlewick Press 48 pages
Published: June 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories

This the second in a series about Annie, a preschooler, and Simon, her big, big brother. Catharine O'Neill based the stories on her own daughter and stepsons. Refreshingly, the sibling relationship is free of angst. Simon is a protective, sympathetic older brother,  and Annie is an admiring younger sister. ("Simon," she said, "do you know everything?")

The four stories involve casual moments as the two hang out together. Is Simon minding Annie? Perhaps, but if so the author never lets on. In the first story, which takes place on a dock, Annie sketches animals while Simon incorrectly identifies them. (He thinks a clam is a rock.) In "The Sneeze" Annie nurses Simon through his allergies, although in actuality it's Simon who ends up doing the bulk of the work. Chapter Three has Annie learning to appreciate her dog Hazel's dogginess, and in the final story Annie learns (with some gentle prodding from Simon) to share the horse chestnuts she's collected with a deserving squirrel.

While the pace of these stories might be a bit slow for some tastes, the underlying humor and the real sense of affection between brother and sister more than makes up for it. The typical reader for this book most likely falls somewhere between the two protagonists ages: older and more savvy than Annie, yet younger and less accomplished than Simon. Again, this might be a problem for certain readers. Most, however, should be able to feel comfortably superior to Annie (who's just learning to read), while aspiring to Simon's sophistication. All in all, this is a worthy series for beginning chapter book readers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Niño Wrestles the World

When two of my nephews were around six and seven nothing delighted them more than tuning in to Thursday night's wrestling shows. Naturally, they refused any adult's attempt to inform them that the performances were fake. When I read this page-turning picture book, I thought of them (now young adults) and how much they would have enjoyed it.

The niño of this title sports a pair of tighty whities and not much else. Using his way too active imagination, he casts himself as a luchadore, a professional wrestler popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Niño's opponents are nothing to sneeze at. What I liked best about this book was Morales' depiction of these truly scary characters. There's La Momia de Guanajuato, a zombie-like creature; Cabeza Olmeca, an ancient stone-head sculpture; La Llorona, a ghost, El Extraterrestre, a space alien; and El Chamuco, the devil himself. Niño creatively dispatches his opponents with ease--until, that is, he faces his most fearsome match. Las Hermanitas, his twin sisters, wake from their nap and gleefully attack their big brother.

The bold art offers surprises on every page and the graphic text adds to the excitement. An informative end note explains lucha libre, Mexican professional wrestling, in greater detail. Great fun!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fog Island

Ungerer declares his latest picture book a homage to Ireland. Set in a coastal town "in the back of beyond," The Fog tells an atmospheric tale of two children, a brother and sister, who become lost in a soupy fog at sea and must find their way back home.

Finn and Cara live with their parents in a cozy cottage. Their father is a fisherman; their mother manages the family farm. The children help out, tending sheep and cutting peat for the hearth.

As a surprise, one day their father presents them with a small rowboat--a curragh. He also warns them never to go near Fog Island, "a jagged black tooth" miles offshore.

But while out in their boat, a thick fog surrounds Finn and Cara, and strong currents pull them to the island. While exploring the eerie place, the children encounter Fog Man, "a wizened old man" covered from head to toe in strands of long, seaweed-green hair.

A genial host, Fog Man shows the children how he makes fog and promises to provide them a fog-free journey home the following morning. The trio spend the night singing songs and slurping shellfish stew. Although Fog Man is not around when Finn and Cara wake up, true to his word, the fog is gone.

After a eventful trip home--in which they lose the boat in a fierce storm and are rescued by fishermen--the children are reunited with their parents, none the worse for wear. They find, however, that no one believes their story about the Fog Man. But the brother and sister know the truth, and when Cara finds an extremely long strand of hair, they giggle in mutual appreciation.

The mist-colored illustrations are studded with intriguing details for young readers to wonder at. As they climb a steep mountain stairway, claw-like branches seem to reach out for them, adding to the scene's tension, and the jagged slabs of stones appear eerily human. Yet throughout their adventure, the children show no fear and prove themselves resilient. Ungerer's message of curiosity and imagination trumping fear is one that will resonate with many readers. It certainly did with this one.

If you'd like to hear Ungerer talk in length about Fog Island, I urge you to watch this YouTube video.

Fog Island
by Tomi Ungerer
Phaidon, 48 pages
Published: April, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Odd Duck

Theodora swims balancing a teacup on her head, enjoys mango salsa with her duck pellets, and exercises her wings every morning (yet never flies). Claude dyes his feathers strange colors, constructs crazy art projects in his yard, and spends his nights gazing at the stars. So which duck is the odd one?

Cecil Castellucci has written a touching and sophisticated graphic story about two friends who learn to appreciate the other's nonconformity. Readers see the story through Theodora's POV, from the day that Claude moves into the empty house next door--disrupting her routine--to their gradual realization that "even though they were very different, they felt the same way about most things."

Then one day as the pair waddle past a group of snickering ducks, they overhear one remark, "Look at that odd duck." Theodora and Claude each assume the comment was meant for the other. Their fallout drives them back to their respective houses and appears to end the friendship. But Theodora finds life isn't the same without her odd friend and ultimately comes to a realization about herself.

Books about friendship are big with six to ten year olds, the group this book is clearly aimed at. Young readers will find much to enjoy in the six short chapters. And the illustrations are a joy, with hundreds of details for readers to ponder in the duck universe that Varon creates. In fact, pairing Castellucci, best known for her YA graphic novels, with Varon (Robot Dreams) was an inspired choice. Both are rather odd ducks themselves (in the best possible way) and their collaboration is proof that birds of a feather flock together!

Odd Duck
by Cecil Castellucci
illustrations by Sara Varon
First Second, 96 pages
Published: May 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight

The clever projects in this crafts book take art to the next level. What you make is important, of course, but what you do with your creation counts too. Aimed at elementary-age kids, Sneaky Art tempts budding artists to call forth their inner sneak, which for most will not be a problem. Each of the 24 projects uses everyday materials that are easily found around the house. Simple-to-follow directions allow kids to customize the project. Jocelyn then offers suggestions about where to place the projects for maximum effect.

Ideas for what to make and where to display the finished projects abound. Make a fractured face out of sticky notes and facial features snipped from old magazines and arrange them on a parking meter. Float a cheerful styrofoam boat in a public fountain. Click a flock of bright red bird silhouettes on a tree branch or a grocery store cart.

Many of these good-natured projects are designed to bring a smile to a viewer's face, like "Lucky Penny," in which kids glue a penny to a cardboard shape and then compose a cheerful message. The penny can be slipped into a friend's backpack or left on the sidewalk for a stranger to find.

Throughout the book, Jocelyn stresses the playful, surprising nature of sneaky art and cautions against creating anything that will damage property or cause hurt feelings. Sneaky art isn't permanent, something kids may have trouble wrapping their heads around. But as Jocelyn points out, "although it's hard to leave behind a treasure that you're proud of, you can always make another work of art."

If you'd like to check out some sample crafts from the book, including "Lucky Penny," click here.

Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight
by Marthe Jocelyn
Candlewick Press, 64 pages
Published: March 2013



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That Is NOT a Good Idea!

Taking his inspiration from the silent film era, Mo Willems has crafted another winner. His latest picture book is set up to resemble a silent movie with the wolf cast in the role of villain. Playing the leading lady--make that leading bird--is a seemingly sweet, trusting goose. Spread by spread, the wolf tempts her nearer and nearer to his home in the woods. The journey is interrupted at regular intervals by a chorus of goslings who warn at increasingly higher and higher decibels that their hookup is not a good idea. But whom exactly are they warning?

As always, Willems knows how to pace a suspenseful tale, and his bold illustrations, especially those which highlight his character's expressive faces, add to the unfolding drama. Young readers might be savvy enough to see the twist that lies ahead--but this mature reader certainty didn't!

That Is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems
Balzer + Bray 48 pages
Published: May 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Books for Bike Month

National Bike Month is upon us! So if you haven't already, hop on a pair of wheels and go for a spin--and don't forget to bring the kids. When you're finished, rest your saddle-sore rear in a comfy chair and share some of the following books with the training-wheels set.

Chris Raschke's latest picture book breaks down the steps involved in mastering how to ride a bike. The young girl starts with training wheels, then raises them a "smidge" and finally they're off completely. A few spills and a lot of tries later and she's a bona fide rider. Yay!
Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike
by Chris Raschke
Schwartz & Wade, 32 pages
Published: 2013

A boy takes his new bike to his friend's house, where it disappears. The mystery is soon solved with no hard feelings. Although skimpy on story, the appealing illustrations make this picture book.
New Red Bike!
by James E. Ransome
Holiday House, 32 pages
Published: 2011

When Sally Jean outgrows Flash, her bicycle, her family can't afford to buy her another right away. Ever resourceful, Sally Jean repairs the bike and eventually builds herself a new one from spare parts. And her beloved Flash is gifted to another rider who's outgrown his bike. A happy ending for all!
Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen
by Cari Best
illustrations by Christine Davenier
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pages
Published: 2010

Visually stunning, this deceptively simple picture book features a cyclist as he pedals through town and country along a long road. Viva uses simple text and just five colors to create this contemporary masterpiece.
Along a Long Road
by Frank Viva
Little, Brown, 40 pages
Published: 2011

And if you would like more choices, check out my previous post, Animals Riding Bikes. Happy pedaling and happy reading!

UPDATE: Sunday's New York Times featured picture books about bikes (copy cats!). Here's the link.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever

In their third outing, Bink and Gollie are again true to form. Gollie is superior as ever and Bink as stubborn. Luckily these character traits make for some great stories. In the first of the three tales that make up this beginning reader, Gollie sees a photo of her great aunt wearing a crown. Always suspecting she came from royal blood, Gollie now has all the proof she needs. (I confess I have a slight preference for Gollie. Perhaps it has something to do with the nickname my family bestowed on me as a child: Her Majesty.) Gollie's haughty manner does not hold water with Bink, and how Gollie is brought back to her senses is subtly and touchingly portrayed.

Story two showcases Bink's pressing desire to be tall. She falls prey to an advertisement for a Stretch-o-Matic device, something akin to a medieval torture rack, only this one suspends you from the ceiling with weights. Needless to say, results don't turn out as planned, but Bink finds a way to be satisfied with her purchase. The last story has Bink and Gollie on the search for something to collect. Inspired by Flicker's Arcana of the Extraordinary, the girls attempt to get their names and photos in the hefty tome. In the end they succeed, but not in a way most readers would have predicted.

As always, Tony Fucile's illustrations are a delight and in this book they are especially strong. The image of Gollie standing all alone in the rain adds to the story's pathos and the depiction of what happens to the Stetch-o-Matic is dramatic indeed. I especially like the fun details Fucile includes, such as the portrait hanging on Bink's wall of Marcellus Gilmore Edson, inventor of peanut butter. According to Google, Edson did, in fact, hold a patent for peanut butter, issued in 1884. Who knew?

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
illustrations by Tony Fucile
Candlewich Press  96 pages
Published: April 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pug and Other Animal Poems

I love children's literature, poetry, and pugs (not necessarily in that order, mind). So when the three came together in one tidy package, I knew I had to read it. A companion book to Animal Poems (Worth and Jenkins' first collaboration), Pug and Co. more than holds its own. Worth has constructed a number of exquisitely simple poems about everyday animals, the kind a child is likely to see while out and about, such as rabbits, geese, toads, and even the humble fly. The only featured animal a child would be unlikely to meet in town or countryside is the Bengal tiger, and even that creature is seen at a zoo, so there you go.

Jenkins, with his bold collages, does a marvelous job of showing each animal off to its advantage. The bull, "hacked-out, rough-hewn, from the planet's hard side," has its massive bulk placed against an intensely red background. Sparrows and pigeons cavort above silhouetted city buildings, while a cat winds its mysterious way through shadowy bushes, "like an old familiar spirit."

As for my favorite canine, Worth describes pugs as having "goggling eyes and stumpy noses, wrinkled brows and hairy moles." And if some people consider them "plug-ugly," perhaps that's because "for dogs, they look a lot like people." How true!

Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
illustrations by Steve Jenkins
Farrar Straus Giroux, 40 pages
Published: March 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dodsworth in Tokyo

In this latest installment, Dodsworth and the duck continue their adventures in Tokyo, where Dodsworth  cautions the impetuous duck to be on his best behavior since "Japan is a land of customs and manners and order." The very qualities duck most certainly isn't. But for the most part duck does manage to contain himself, to the surprise of his friend. Together they take in the sights of Yoyogi Park, eat sushi, visit the Imperial Palace, stroll through the East Gardens--where duck falls in and must be rescued (even though he's a duck he never learned to swim)--and tour the Museum of Imperial Collections.

It's only when the pair travel to a temple that things start to fall apart. A festival is underway and duck disappears into the crowd. Soon he's flipping and jumping and sliding all over the place, crashing into people and knocking things over. Has duck lost it for good? No, there's a reason for his crazy antics and a very satisfying one.

Tim Egan has written and illustrated another winning easy reader featuring this odd pair of mismatched travelers. And according to a recent interview, which you can read here, their next stop is Athens. The Parthenon had better watch out!

Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin, 48 pages
Published: April 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clementine and the Spring Trip

For a book featuring the high-energy Clementine, number six in the series is rather subdued. Clementine is growing up and instead of bouncing in and out of trouble as she usually does, she struggles with some big issues.

She's looking forward to the school trip to Plimoth Plantation, but her third grade class is going with the big kids, fourth graders who've enacted tough rules about eating: no sounds allowed...or else. Clementine is also having problems speaking Olive, a language invented by the new girl in class, whose name is--you guessed it--Olive. (If you want to give it a try, put "olive" into every syllable you say. "Likoliv tholivis.")

When the day of the big trip arrives, Clementine is paired with Olive and instructed with the task of making the new girl feel comfortable. When Olive opens her lunch bag and reveals a meal destined to incur the wrath of the fourth graders (celery, chips, apples, carrots, etc.), Clementine has to decide whether to play by the rules or not. On the trip she also befriends a chicken, which leads her to make a major change in her diet.

And that's not all! Clementine is also waiting for the birth of her new sibling and trying to decide if it would be better if the baby was a boy or a girl, while building a five-side table with her father as a surprise for her mother. Then there's  Margaret OCD problems to deal with (really, I think it's time for an intervention here!) and the mystery of the overpowering odors on Bus Seven to solve.

Pennypacker packs a lot of plot into one chapter book, but she weaves each thread so expertly that the overall effect is seamless. Like Beverly Cleary, Pennypacker is doing an excellent job of showing her characters maturing. Frazee's illustrations, as always, are delightful.

Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrations by Marla Frazee
Hyperion Books, 160 pages
Published: 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet joined forces to create one of the best picture book bios I've read in a long, long time. All too often picture book bios leave me underwhelmed. They either are skimpy with the facts or too much information is crammed into 36 or so pages. A Splash of Red strikes just the right balance.

Bryant does a superb job of getting at the essence of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who, after being wounded during WWI, reinvented himself as a painter. Pippin's early love of art, his thrill of winning an art contest as a boy, and his determination not to give up are dramatically told in clean, vigorous prose. Particularly interesting is that nowhere in this bio does Bryant mention that Pippin is a black man. Although obvious from the art, Pippin's standing as an determined artist is what's stressed, not his color.

Sweet more than holds up her share of the partnership. Her illustrations mimic Pippin's folksy style, yet she brings her own sensibilities to the mix. Sweet includes Pippin's quotes into her artwork and she uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, and collage to obtain her effects.

The book's back matter includes a historical note that gives a straightforward account of Pippin's life. There's also a list of resources (and a website) for readers who'd like more information. Highly recommended.

A Splash of Color: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant
illustrations by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 40 pages
Published: 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seven "Strange" Books for Kids

The March/April special issue of the Horn Book is called "Different Drummers," and it features books outside the scope of mainstream literature. In the issue the editors asked leading kidlit authorities: "What's the strangest children's book you've ever enjoyed?" The answers were fun to read and got me thinking about my own choices. Here, in no particular order, are seven of the strangest children's books I've ever read. What are yours?





1. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
It's easy to forget just how strange this classic is, especially if you rely on the cutesy Disney version.

2. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
According to a recent bio, Dare Wright was a bit kinky. Well, it spilled right over into this odd book about a doll and her relationship with two stuffed teddy bears.

3. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrice Potter
Rats tie up a kitten and roll him into dough to bake in a pie! Read the reviews on Goodreads to see how many readers were traumatized by this book as children.

4. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
Edward Gorey's illustrations add to this story's strange charm about a little boy whose shrinking goes unnoticed by the grown-ups around him.

5. Slugs by David Greenberg
This little known gem features poems about people torturing slugs--eating them, dissecting them, even carving them into pumpkins. In the end, slugs get their revenge on all this mistreatment. Victoria Chess's hilariously disturbing illustrations make the book.

6. Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
I've written about this exceptional picture book before. Its one of the more unusual, yet ultimately moving, books about death you'll ever read.

7. Oddballs by William Sleator
Really, pretty much all of Sleator's books are strange. If you don't believe me, read Among the Dolls. Unlike his others, though, this one's a memoir. Sleator's unconventional upbringing definitely shaped his future work. As a bonus, this book is laugh aloud funny.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bad Kitty: School Daze

Bad Kitty's back and she's badder than ever, if that's possible. This time she's off to school to deal with her behavior problems. Puppy goes along to get his drooling under control. What I like best about these graphic easy-to-read novels are the zany details and the way things never turn out the expected way. For instance, before Kitty heads off for her first day, her family presents her with a complete line of Love Love Angel Kitten school supplies, including backpack, notebook, eraser, calculator, bowling ball, cinder block, and tractor tire--with spot illustrations of each one. Clearly a spoof on the Hello Kitty craze, the items point up how much Bad Kitty is the antithesis of all that saccharine goodness.

When the school bus finally pulls up to the Diabla Von Gloom's School for Wayward Pets, the building is a stereotypical Addams house of horrors. The next spread shows the door creaking open and the shadow of a monstrous crone with sharp fangs and long talons. Turn the page and the shadow is an illusion formed by a young, attractive teacher holding an assortment of books, boxes, and pencils.


The kindly teacher is determined to get Bad Kitty to reveal what she's so angry about, but the cat's a tough cookie and won't crack. Besides she has more pressing problems--like a scary bulldog who hates cats. Luckily Bad Kitty has managed to convince Petunia that she's a cow.

As always, Uncle Murray checks in with his Fun Facts spreads. This time around the topic centers on why dogs and cats don't get along.

Graduation takes place at the end of the first day--it's a very short semester--and each animal student has to demonstrate what he or she has learned. Will Bad Kitty carry away a diploma? Don't bet on it, but an amusing epilogue suggests that school wasn't so awful after all.

Bad Kitty: School Daze
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Book Press, 160 pages
Published: January 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Penny and Her Marble

Ah, the power of guilt. As Edgar Allen Poe fans know, there's no escaping it. Penny, the mouse heroine of Henke's easy-reader series, learns this the hard way when she spots a marble on her neighbor's lawn. The marble, big, shiny and as blue as the sky, proves irresistible. It seemed to say to Penny: "Take me home." And so she does.

Guilt soon plants itself in Penny's heart, and she hides the marble in her dresser drawer. At dinner she loses her appetite when she notices how the oranges look like big orange marbles and the peas like little green ones. In bed that night she tosses and turns, and when she finally falls asleep, she dreams the marble grows so big it demolishes her dresser.

The next morning Penny makes a decision about the marble. Beginning readers, many of whom have probably struggled similarly with their conscience, will be relieved to see Penny do the right thing.

In Penny and Her Marble, Henkes has delivered yet another winner. In the Horn Book's March/April issue, he confesses the seeds of the story. When he was five, he swiped a plastic medallion from his neighbor and was stricken with guilt. See, crime does pay!

Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow, 48 pages
Published: March 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Cool Is This!

Do you ever Google yourself? I'm not too proud to admit that I occasionally type my name into the search engine and see what pops up. Last night I also clicked on the images that went with my name. Wow, what an assortment of Catherine Nichols exist!

The most intriguing to me by far was the portrait on the left. According to the AFA news site where it appears, the portrait was painted around 1830 by one I. Gillbert, a little known folk artist who  worked in New York state. The subject was a thirty-six-year-old woman named Catherine Nichols. She lived in Paris, New York and was married to Roy Nichols.

Now Roy's wife doesn't look much like me, but that doesn't matter.  I still feel a connection with her--and wouldn't you know--she's holding a book!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring 2013 Books TBR


So many spring releases to choose from, so little time. Here are ten children's books I'm dying to get my hands on. Check out other people's lists on The Broke and the Bookish blog.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
This middle grade novel sounds creepy and fun--right up my alley. Pub date: May 2013

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
BFF Bink and Gollie are always up to something in this amusing beginning reader series. Pub date: April 2013

Dodsworth in Tokyo by Tim Egan
Loved Dodsworth and his duck's tours of Rome and London so I'm betting Tokyo will be a blast. Pub date: April 2013

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
This dystopic novel from the U.K. has garnered a lot of buzz. I snagged a copy from my library and I'm all set to read. Pub date: February 2013

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
The latest from a great beginning reader series by a master craftsman. Pub date: March 2013

Definitely No Ducks by Meg McKinlay
I was charmed by McKinlay's first chapter book about a girl and her pet duck. I'm glad to see they're back and quacking. Pub date: March 2013

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis
Timmy is an eleven-year-old detective and his partner is a polar bear in this comic middle-grade novel. What more do you need? Pub date: February 2013

Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Clementine. I missed you. Pub date: March 2013

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth
Poetry and pugs! Woo-hoo! Pub date: March 2013

That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
An interactive picture book by the one and only Mo Willems. Can't wait. Pub date: April 2013

Addendum

I don't just read children's books, of course. Two adult books for I'm super psyched to read are: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.

Now what's on your Spring TBR list?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ready, Set, Read Aloud!

It's World Read Aloud Day so do what you can to encourage a love of reading in children. Read a book to your kids--or to other people's kids. Some of my best memories are of listening to my mother read to me and my sisters. And she didn't just do picture books. She read The Wind and the Willow, The Lion and Witch and the Wardrobe, Winnie the Pooh, and Charlotte's Web.

So go on--create some memories today.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Building Our House

Making a house from scratch isn't an easy task, as this delightfully detailed picture book shows. A young girl narrates the process, starting on the day she and her parents and baby brother move from their old house in the city to the country. For the next year and a half the family pulls together to build their new home, living in a trailer set under a large oak tree in a big, weedy field.

The text outlines the grueling work involved, while the illustrations highlight the adventures. One of the most charming aspects of this book is the way the family bands together to get the work done. The title page shows the two children hoisting boxes to their father as the family moves from their city row house. Once building starts, the kids continue to lend a hand, carrying tools, collecting rocks from a quarry, and mixing concrete. Of course, kids will be kids, so we also see them sliding down piles of sand, cooling off in a pool, and sledding as their parents toil.

When it's time to raise the frame, relatives, friends, and neighbors come to help and stay to celebrate. The work doesn't end there and young readers will see how many details are involved in making a house livable. Through fall and winter the family puts the finishing touches on the house, installing plumbing, insulation, and painting the woodwork. At last spring arrives and it's moving day. Again family and friends gather to help. (Alert readers will notice the addition of a new baby.) The final illustration shows the family in their cozy living room snuggled together on the couch, the father reading aloud from a book. (According to a Horn Book interview, the book is likely Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House.)

In an author's note, Bean explains that in the 1970s his parents built their own house in the countryside, although the process took considerably longer--five long years. Photos showing the author and his siblings "helping" make this engaging story all the more convincing.

Building Our House
by Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 48 pages
Published: January 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

It's the 109th birthday of Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. Here's a photo of my pug dressed in his party hat ready to celebrate the big day.

Get into the spirit by reading your favorite Seuss book to a child. Mine is The Sneetches. What's yours?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Put on My Auto-Buy List


This week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish is authors you'd put on auto-buy. I divided my list into two, one dedicated to children's book authors and the other to writers who pen for adults.

Authors Who Write for Children
1. Jack Gantos
Everything I've read of his I've loved. Gantos has a unique voice that captures children the way they really are, not how adults want them to be.
2. Kevin Henkes
From picture books to easy readers to middle grade fiction, Henkes does it all and does it well.
3. Polly Horvath
Horvath's characters are quirky, but in a believable way. And she's laugh-aloud funny.
4. Sara Pennypacker
Her Clementine books are some of the best early chapter books around.
5. Mo Willems
The mighty Mo. 'Nuff said.

Authors Who Write for Adults
1. Kate Atkinson
She's got a new novel on the horizon and it's already on my pre-order list.
2. Alison Bechdel
Bechdel can't write--and illustrate--them fast enough for me. My all-time favorite graphic novelist.
3. Amy Bloom
A master of the short story, Bloom writes about people you won't soon forget.
4. Ruth Rendell
Even though I've sometimes been disappointed by her work, I still read every Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novel that comes out. When she's at her best, no other suspense writer can touch her.
5. David Sedaris
Who could pass up a David Sedaris collection? Not me.

So that's my list. What authors make your cut?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Look What Just Came Out!

Last year, right as we were moving into our new house, I was frantically at work completing my latest book. I'm proud to announce it was just released. A fancy coloring book for adults, not kids, Masterpieces of Art is part of Thunder Bay's Color Yourself Smart series.

Here's the book description:

Research has shown that there are many different learning styles, and adding a tactile/kinesthetic element helps your brain to retain the information you’ve learned. Color Yourself Smart: Masterpieces of Art does just that. Have fun while learning and improve your memory with this revolutionary new series. Author Catherine Nichols has selected 52 of the world’s most iconic masterpieces of art throughout history and has compiled them here, along with intriguing facts about the artist, the scoop on what was happening during history to make each masterpiece relevant, art terminology and the techniques employed, and information about the work of art itself. Everything you need for a crash course in art history is right here in one set, ready to open and begin, or to take on the go.

- This incredible set includes 52 plates to color, colored pencils from Faber-Castell, and everything you need to begin your introduction to the most iconic masterpieces.
- Journey throughout history and to the most famous museums in the world, page by page.

Color Yourself Smart: Masterpieces of Art offers a holistic and fun way to learn about the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

CYBILS Winners Announced!

Valentine's Day is here and you know what that means. I'm not talking about long-stemmed red roses, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and flutes of Champagne (although I sure wouldn't mind a glass or two tonight). No, I mean today is when the CYBILS announce the winners of the 2012 books they love best of all.  As a second round judge this year, I got to debate the merits of some fantastic books in the Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book categories. My fellow judges provided some top notch critiques and I'd like to thank them all for their passion and zeal. These folks seriously dig children's books. So a big round of applause to Julie Azzam, Stacey Loscalzo, Nancy Talan, and Zoe Toft! And a special shout-out to Terry Doherty, our fearless mediator!

As for the winners, we selected Frank Viva's A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse for best Easy Reader, an exceptionally gorgeous book with eye-popping illustrations and laugh-aloud text. For Early Chapter Book we chose Sadie & Ratz by Sonia Hartnett and illustrated by Ann James. I didn't know about this remarkable book about sibling rivalry run amok until judging time. All I can say is I'm so glad I got the chance to read it.

So hop on over to the CYBILS website and take a gander at all the other fine winners. You're sure to see many of your favorites as well as a few surprises.

Now where's that Champagne?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Pet Named Sneaker

If A Pet Named Sneaker has a traditional feel to it, perhaps it's because its author, Joan Heilbroner, penned several easy readers back in the day. Her most famous is the 1962 charmer Robert the Rose Horse (with illustrations by P. D. Eastman).

The hero of her latest book is Sneaker, a snake who can contort himself into seemingly endless shapes. At the story's start, he lives a lonely existence in a pet store until a boy named Pete takes him home. (I applaud the choice of Pete for his name. Beginning readers will learn how adding a final "e" changes the title's "pet" to "Pete.") Sneaker goes everywhere with Pete, including to school, where he learns to read and write, and to the park pool, where he saves a toddler from drowning and ends up as the lifeguard's helper.

The story has definite kid appeal and the cartoony illustrations humorously showcase the snake's antics. I'd have preferred the story to have been broken into two separate books, one featuring Sneaker's adventures in school and the other set at the pool. As is, the transition from school to summer vacation is abrupt. But I doubt kids will mind, and I bet many after reading this book will beg their parents for their own pet snake.

A Pet Named Sneaker
by Joan Heilbroner
illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre
Random House, 48 pages
Published: January 2013
 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Up, Tall and High!

Contrary to what you might think, the winner of this year's Theodore Seuss Geisel award, Up, Tall and High! isn't about an insomniac basketball player on speed. Instead a flock of cheerful birds demonstrates the differences between the directional terms up, tall, and high (but not necessarily in that order).

Using bright, bold colors, strong lines, and sparse text, Ethan Long successfully illustrates these words in a humorous way. Adding to the fun, each of the three stories has a gatefold that opens up or down and that further throws light on the concept. In the second story, for instance, a landlocked penguin bemoans the fact he can't fly. An enterprising bluebird hands him some balloons and off he goes. Lift the flap and our penguin friend is now floating into the sky as he exclaims, "Yes, now I can go very high!"

Beginning readers just starting out on the road to fluency are sure to rejoice in a book that has so much to offer--simple text, boisterous art, interactive flaps, and giggles galore.

Up, Tall and High! (but not necessarily in that order)
by Ethan Long
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 40 pages
Published: February 2012

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Big Round of Applause!


The Oscars of the KidLit world, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced today in Seattle. Here in snowy PA, I had to be content with watching them on webcast. Like all fancy award shows, the big ticket items were saved for the end.

The Caldecott went to This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. I was surprised, since I hadn't realized it was in the running and the reviews I'd read didn't rate it as highly as his previous book, I Want My Hat Back (which I loved)

For lovers of picture books, there were five, count 'em five, honor books: Extra Yarn (written by Mac Barnett and again illustrated by Klassen), Creepy Carrots (Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown), Green (Laura Vaccaro Seeger), One Cool Friend (Toni Buzzeo and David Small), and Sleep Like a Tiger (Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski).

Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan snagged the Newbery. I haven't read it yet (I have a hold on it), but I love the backstory. The novel is based on a silverback gorilla who spent 27 long years along in a cage, an attraction in a mall, before finally being moved to a zoo. The real Ivan died last year at the ripe old age (for a gorilla) of 50.

The honor books are Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Steve Sheinkin), Splendors and Gloom (Laura Amy Schlitz) and Three Times Lucky (Sheila Turnage).

The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award is given to the most distinguished beginning reader, so naturally I gripped the edge of my seat when it was announced. The winner is Up, Tall, and High, a picture book by Ethan Long. Another title that slipped through my radar, I will read it pronto and report back. The honor books are: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (Eric Litwin), Let's Go for a Drive (Mo Willems), and Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover (Cece Bell). You can read my reviews for Let's Go for a Drive here and for Rabbit & Robot here.

Congrats to all the winners! Click here to see a full list.