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)