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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Twelve Kinds of Ice

This is the kind of book that sends librarians over the moon. The precise, poetic language, the creation of an evocative setting, the charmingly detailed black and white illustrations, all work their magic as readers sink into one family's celebration of winter and its number one glory, ice.

The book is composed of a series of vignettes. From the very first ice "that came on the sheep pails in the barn--a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it" to the final "dream ice that came in our sleep," ice serves one primary purpose, to create a surface firm enough for the family and their friends to skate on. And skate they do. On fields, streams, ponds, and their own homemade skating rink, they twirl and dart and glide.

Based on the Obed's memories of growing up on a six-acre farm in Maine, the book has an old-fashioned quality to it, one that McClintock's illustrations reinforce, as do the figure-skating girls and hockey-playing boys. Twelve Kinds of Ice appears on many folks' best-of-the-year lists and there are whispers that it might be nominated for a Newbery. While I can clearly see its many charms, I haven't quite fallen under the book's spell. It's just too quiet for me. I kept waiting for a nasty spill on the ice to happen. I know, I know, but that's me. Other, less bloodthirsty readers should curl up beside a fire and read this low-key yet ultimately appealing book.

Twelve Kinds of Ice
by Ellen Bryan Obed
illustrations by Barbara McClintock
Houghton Mifflin, 64 pages
Published: 2012

Monday, January 21, 2013

Castle: How It Works

How often can grown-ups read a nonfiction easy reader and learn a bunch of cool stuff? That's what happened to me when I thumbed through Castle: How It Works by the amazing David Macaulay. This Level 4 easy reader is packed with engrossing details about life inside a medieval Welsh castle. Macaulay acts as tour guide as he leads young readers up a rocky hill, across a moat, and through two gatehouses. Once inside the castle's fortress, readers gambol through a courtyard and climb the castle's spiral staircase. They get to inspect every inch of the building, from the high towers where the lord and lady live all the way to the depths of the dungeon, crammed with enemy soldiers.

So many terms are bandied about--battlement, catapult, portcullis--that I was relieved to see a glossary at the end. While the vocabulary might pose a challenge for beginning readers, the high-interest subject matter more than pays off. What child wouldn't be fascinated to know how a castle's plumbing system works or that hay was used for toilet paper?

Macaulay confesses in an author's note that he didn't like reading as a kid. Pictures were the lure that drew him in. It's fitting then that the illustrations work so perfectly to support the text. My favorite shows a catapult chucking a deceased pig over a castle wall. Again, details add to the fun. Is it my imagination or does a drawing of an eel pie show an eel's tail peeking from the crust?

Castle: How It Works
by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan
David Macaulay Studio, 32 pages
Published: September 2012

Today is Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to The LibraiYAn and join the fun!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mrs. Noodlekugel

Check out Mrs. Noodlekugel on Goodreads and you'll find that it has an overall rating of three stars. But the number is misleading as the majority of reviews fluctuate between one or two stars and four or five. Reviewers either exclaim how wonderful this short chapter book is--"quirky and fun"--or bemoan its undeveloped plot--"the story also kind of goes nowhere"--and stilted language. How can this be?

I'm always fascinated when a book receives wildly divergent reviews. Sometimes I'm on the side of the pro-reviews and other times I'm with the naysayers. Either way, I'm unshaken in my belief that my take is the correct one, and I suspect that's true of the reviewers of this book as well.

And while I can certainly see the charms of Mrs. Noodlekugel, I have to cast my lot with those who gave the book two stars. The book has an engaging premise. A brother and sister move into a apartment building and soon after discover a little house eclipsed by the surrounding tall buildings. Inside the house lives a cheerful old woman (Mrs. Noodlekugel) with her talking cat and four far-sighted mice. Disobeying their parents, the children visit Mrs. Noodlekugel and have tea with her. On a second visit--this one with their parents' permission--they bake gingerbread mice and listen to the cat play the piano. And that's pretty much it, although the book ends with the promise of another book in the series.

The lack of a plot, of any serious conflict, bothered me, as it did a number of reviewers. I was also put off my the simplistic, unnatural-sounding dialog. Here's a sample:

He looked out the window and down. "I see grass. I see trees and flowers. There is a little old-fashioned house."

While easy readers often eschew contractions, short chapter books usually don't. Here, the stilted sentences and formal language gave the book a dated feel.

Interestingly, a handful of reviewers mentioned that while they didn't care for the book, their child did. One reviewer, quoting her second-grader, a reluctant reader, wrote: "His review: 'It has no scary parts, only fun parts. The exciting parts are fun without being scary fun.'"

As reviewers all we can do is deliver our opinions as thoughtfully and truthfully as we can--and let the chips fall where they may.

Mrs. Noodlekugel
by Daniel Pinkwater
Candlewick Press, 80 pages
Published: April 2012

Friday, January 4, 2013


There's a new app in town--and I write for it! News-O-Matic is an interactive daily newspaper for kids 7 to 10. The app, which has different subscription plans, is offered on iTunes App Store. For teachers, there's a daily teacher guide as well. And if your school is sans tablet technology, don't fret. A free school version of News-O-Matic is available as a PDF.

Each issue features five news articles (some penned by you-know-who), maps, timelines, factoids, puzzles, games, and more. There's even a news room where kids can ask questions and have them answered by the editor. All in all, it's a pretty nifty app.

So check it out, spread the word, and keep an eye out for my byline. Brenda Starr and Lois Lane, move over!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year = CYBILS Finalists

January 1 isn't just the start to a spanking new year--it's also the day the CYBILS committee announces its finalists. Click here to take a peek at which of your favorite 2012 books made the cut. I'm happy to report that two books I nominated have been selected--Pinch and Dash Make Soup (Easy Reader category) and Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses (Poetry).

Naturally, the category I turn to first is Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books. This year I was especially interested in the finalists as I'll be one of the second round judges in the category. I'm happy to say I've reviewed a fair number of the finalists in the past year. To read a review click the title.


A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

Bink and Gollie, Two for One

Penny and Her Doll

Penny and Her Song

Pinch and Dash Make Soup


Marty McGuire Digs Worms

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover