Newbery / Caldecott 2018: Final Prediction Edition

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/16/newbery-caldecott-2018-final-prediction-edition/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30621

I was all prepped to begin today by saying that the entire reason I’m doing this post in January is because the ALA Youth Media Awards are slated to go live in February this year . . . but then I looked at last year’s Final Prediction Edition and saw that it was posted on January 4th of that year. So, honestly, everything old is new again. Be sure you’re ready to watch the results on February 12th at 8 a.m. MT on the live feed. I’ll be going to work a little late that day, so that I can yells, scream, sob and cheer in the privacy of my own home (thereby freaking out my sleeping children). Can’t get the feed to work? Then follow on Twitter at #alayma, or Facebook live stream @AmericanLibraryAssociation.

Soon enough the committee members will pack up their bags and fly to Denver. They’ll disembark and perhaps get a good night’s sleep in before the discussions begin. Some committees will work fast and furiously, like a well-oiled machine. Others will find themselves doing yoga at 2 a.m. just to keep their heads on straight. But all of them will reach their decisions after long discussions and great deep thoughts. All of them are putting 100% into this and I have every confidence that they’re gonna knock ’em out of the park.

It won’t be easy for them. Some years the award winners seem to spring from the very earth, fully formed, ready for any medals you’d care to slap upon their covers. Then there are years like 2017 where it can sometimes feel like anything’s fair game.

As this is my final prediction edition, I’ll just say right up front that it is entirely possible that not a single title I mention here today will make it to the finish line. Wild Card Years are part of the reason I love these awards so very much. But this one? It’s a doozy, man. This may be the most unpredictable year I’ve encountered thus far.

Here’s what I think:


 

Caldecott Honor Books

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat

AftertheFall

I’ll just present everything alphabetically here today. And truth be told, I think Santat is probably my second most likely Caldecott Award winner. I know folks are all about the Beekle, but I am squarely Team Humpty on this one. It has all the right elements in place: A personal connection to the book, a story arc for the main character, something to say about our times, and what I’d say is probably Dan’s best art to date. Now weird as this may sound, I have encountered several people that are confused by the ending. For folks like myself that think it’s pretty clear (Humpty cracks open and flies away, free now that he’s overcome his anxieties) this may seem baffling. However, there are a fair number of people that interpret that ending to mean that he’s died. This confusion may or may not end up shifting the Caldecott committee one way or another on the book. However you look at it, though, it’s clearly a very strong contender.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

BigCatLittleCat

I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I’m trying not to think too hard about this. And yet, and yet, and yet . . . Elisha Cooper is due. He’s been due for years, but for the first time he’s changed up his style a little bit. Then he added in a truly heart-warming/wrenching tale of cats and it’s the sheer seeming simplicity of this book that could push it into the upper strata. Honestly, if they announced that this won the Award proper I’d be floating on cloud 9. As it stands, I’m happy just to root for it from the sidelines. I certainly hope the committee thinks the way I do.

Crown by Derrick Barnes, ill. Gordon C. James

Crown

Because there is always ALWAYS a chance. Now I suspect that the Caldecott committee wouldn’t give the Gold to a book that references Basquiat in some way, if only because of last year’s winner. That said, the art and text in this book meld so seamlessly together that there is a distinct chance that this Wild Card could garner an Honor of its own. Caldecott committees love to honor debut illustrators, when they are able, and few debuts this year cut as clear a path as this book. Plus, I love books from small publishers, and Agate Press is about as small as you can get these days.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, ill. Ekua Holmes

OutofWonder

The Caldecott committee can’t take into consideration the fact that next year Ms. Holmes could well be the front-runner with the art she’s done for The Stuff of Stars. With this book she hones her skills even further, playing with papers and techniques alongside wizardry and creativity, which is something award committees are known to love. The only point against its favor in terms of the gold is the fact that she’s illustrating poems. Often, committees prefer to give Caldecott and Newbery Medals to books with a single storyline, not multiple works of poetry. So I can see this getting an Honor (lots of room for shiny medals on this cover, don’t you think?) but not necessarily the top one.

And the gold goes to . . .

2018 Caldecott Award Winner

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

WolfInTheSnow

To be fair, it does look as if this Award splits evenly between After the Fall and Cordell’s breakout hit. Both Cordell and Santat have a lot in common, actually. They overwork themselves, creating a great vast swath of content every year. Each one, no doubt, has had to field jokes about how many books they have out in a given season. Both are completely comfortable illustrating other people’s books too. The one edge that Cordell may have here isn’t even technically something we can take into account. It may well be that in the back of the committee members’ brains they remember that Santat won only three years ago. They cannot, of course, act on this thought. Each book is brought before the committee based on its own merits, and not on its creator’s past wins. But Cordell has another advantage at his disposal. If a committee member argues that this book is about otherness, looking past our bubbles, and reaching out to those that are different even in the face of fear . . . well THAT is awfully timely, don’t you think? Not that anxiety isn’t timely too, but where one feels personal the other feels universal. It may all fall to which feeling the committee believes speaks to the times in which we live.


 

Newbery Honor Books

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

beyondbrightsea

Wolk’s advantage in this case is also her disadvantage. When I picked up this book and read it, I was filled with a palpable sense of relief. At last! Here HERE was a Newbery challenger. This is where all the great, grand writing for the year went. And yet . . . I couldn’t help but wonder the degree to which I was enjoying the book as an adult versus what a child would enjoy. The committee will wonder the same thing, and I could see them going the route of the 2016 Newbery committee, giving Wolk an Honor in the end. Nothing wrong with Honors, after all. And nothing wrong with this book.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

OrphanIsland

Huh. How did I never notice that the cover of Beyond the Bright Sea and the cover of Orphan Island go together like peas in a pod? Check it out:

beyondbrightseaOrphanIsland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently the universe is trying to tell us something.

If it’s trying to tell ME anything, it’s that boats are the new bicycles for kids these days. Hop into one and find an island that will offer you both secrets and possible dangers. Snyder’s book is a bit of a wonder. I’ve been trying to assess the degree to which it’s dividing people. In my experience, books that could or could not be metaphors fare poorly because interpretations of metaphors vary widely. Yet for the most part, Snyder’s book is garnering some gruff admiration from all corners. It may be dismissed as too slight by the committee in the end, but I hope they give it their full consideration. It may not have the language of Wolk’s book, but the plot’s a deep dive into childhood itself. And that ain’t nothing.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, ill. Brian Floca

PrincessCora1

Normally I’d say that a book this charming and delightful wouldn’t have a chance at an award, but the sheer star power behind it may tip it over the edge. Not that committees are supposed to pay attention to any of that. Under normal circumstances they would act as if there were a strip of brown paper covering up the author and illustrator’s names. But who could mistake Ms. Schlitz’s seemingly effortless writing? Who could look at Floca’s art and not instantly recognize his style? And if the committee is worried at all about selecting books that are only appropriate for very advanced readers, giving this book an Honor would certainly go a long way towards alleviating that fear.

And the gold goes to . . .

2018 Newbery Award Winner

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes  

OneLastWord

There is a GREAT big “if” attached to this win, however, so let’s look at it. Each ALA committee walks into its room knowing that it is up to them alone to interpret the rules of the past. Consider how the 2008 Caldecott committee decided that The Invention of Hugo Cabret could certainly be called a “picture book”. Or how the 2014 Newbery committee decided that even though there were graphic and visual elements to Flora and Ulysses, you could still consider the book strong based on text alone. In the case of One Last Word, it is up to the committee to decide if the inclusion of poems by Harlem Renaissance poets (which prove to be the jumping off point for the poems of Ms. Grimes herself) disqualify it from contention. The terms and criteria of the Newbery clearly state that the award must go to an “original work”. And what constitutes an original work? They write:

• “Original work” means that the text was created by this writer and no one else. It may include original retellings of traditional literature, provided the words are the author’s own.
• Further, “original work” means that the text is presented here for the first time and has not been previously published elsewhere in this or any other form. Text reprinted or compiled from other sources are not eligible. Abridgements are not eligible.

It seems pretty clear that the poems in this book would fall into the category of “text reprinted or compiled from other sources”. That said, I’ve seen books that I considered out of contention go on to win big awards in the past. If the committee can make a strong argument for the book’s inclusion in consideration, I think it could win the gold. If not? Then I think the award is going to be a Wild Card. Something none of us have even been talking about.

It could happen.


Now you’re wondering why I didn’t include a bunch of other titles out there. Where’s Little Fox in the Forest? Where’s Muddy? And where the HECK is Her Right Foot (a book I’d been touting as a possible winner for a couple months there)? I should note that I’m not actually predicting what I want to win necessarily, but what I think will win. And looking at this winners and their Honors, I’d say this is a pretty convincing list of potential wins.

Maybe I’m really far off. There’s only one way to tell. See you on Monday, February 12th, everyone!

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Fuse 8 n’ Kate: The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/15/fuse-8-n-kate-the-lonely-doll-by-dare-wright/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30634

Lonely_Doll_CoverOver the last few podcasts I’ve introduced Kate to a great many “classic” picture books. But what about cult classic picture books? Don’t they deserve love as well? When I decided to initiate Kate in the ways of The Lonely Doll, I wasn’t entirely certain how she would act. Would she take to it like a duck to water or reject it outright for its tone? Only this podcast will let you know for sure. Though, and I mean this truly, I highly recommend that you seek out the book yourself when you’ve a chance. I think both its fans and its detractors would agree that it’s one in a million.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or your preferred method of podcast selection.


 

Show Notes:

– No. Honestly. What IS the most classic pop-up book out there? I’m wracking my brain but I’m still not sure what it might be.

– I wasn’t making that up. Famke Janssen really did have a home invasion and this book really was left behind.

– Run, Edith! Run!

LonelyDoll4

– Too late. Now why has it never occurred to me that this might be some kind of Paper Moon situation? The little bear really never does say that Mr. Bear is his father.

LonelyDoll3

– Now I ask you. Is that the face of a girl having fun?

LonelyDoll5

– Kate and I could have gone back and forth all day over whether or not this constituted a story where the doll in question really is a doll. Hence, not ever exploring her own house.

LonelyDoll7

– This photo backs up the theory that this is just an elaborate heist.

LonelyDoll8

– Ultimately, this is what the book is remembered for.

LonelyDoll6

– Kate, again, was right about this one. That Little Bear is the devil. Promises promises, Little Bear.

LonelyDoll9

– See? LIAR!

LonelyDoll2

– By the way, I don’t mention it in the episode but back in 2016 it was reported that Naomi Watts and Jessica Lange were slated to star in The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll. Don’t know how the project is coming along, but I think I’m good on this one.

– And it turns out that Lisa Brown did a great write-up on Curious Pages back in the day. This explains much. Plus, she makes a lot of the points we’ve made here.

– Our readers are so attentive. Elisabeth H. pointed out to us that we really should have alluded to the other books in the series. Like, say, this one:

EdithBigBadBill

Which led her to make a book jacket for the series that best sums up a lot of what’s going on:

LonelyDollStockholm

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Cover Reveal: Ekua Holmes Book Jacket for The Stuff of Stars

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/15/cover-reveal-ekua-holmes-book-jacket-for-the-stuff-of-stars/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=29625

There comes a time when agreeing to post the occasional book jacket on your blog pays off huge dividends. Not monetarily, of course, but from the perspective of quality. When I was asked if I’d have any objection to premiering the cover of the latest Marion Dane Bauer book with art but none other than Ekua Holmes I leapt at the opportunity. Holmes is one of those artists that appears to get better and better as the years go by. But this latest book jacket is so good that I’m beginning to wonder if my luck in these matters is going to run out soon. You have not, you CAN not, have seen anything this pretty for 2018 yet.

Feast your eyes on this:

Stuff of Stars

Curious? Who wouldn’t be? Particularly as you won’t see this book on Amazon or Baker & Taylor yet. Well, here’s the deal then.

It’s a Candlewick Press title coming out September 11th. Karen Walsh best described it this way:

“It’s a vivid, stirring blend of science and art, capturing the moment when our universe was born and the ensuing life that burst across the galaxies. AS you know, Ekua is a rising star on the picture book scene. VOICE OF FREEDOM launched her with a bang, and OUT OF WONDER made an equal splash. With STUFF OF STARS, Ekua is trying out a new art technique; she made the paper she used, and the spreads have an evocative, grand scale we haven’t yet seen from her. The book works as both a new baby book, connecting the birth and milestones of a baby with the wonder of the natural world (in this way it reminds me of ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN by Debra Frasier) but it’s also a wonderful, visual introduction to the concept of the big bang.”

I’ll just repeat one part there. SHE MADE THE PAPER.

Isn’t it nice when you can predict Caldecott 2019 so early in the year?

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Fusenews: Blue Oxen, Irish Accents, and an Iron Curtain Oz

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/12/fusenews-blue-oxen-irish-accents-and-an-iron-curtain-oz/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=29703

BabyBrainsScience Alert, people. New Study Shows It Does Matter Which Books You Read to Your Baby: Not all stories are equal when it comes to development. Naturally I read that and immediately wanted a listing of books that were good for babies. It’s not that kind of article (dang) thought it does namecheck those old stand-bys Pat the Bunny and Dear Zoo. Eh. We’ll take what we can get. Thanks to Mr. Scieszka for the link.

Do you feel that? Do you feel that tremor in the air? That is the feeling of anticipation, my friend. That is the feeling of a world getting reading for the upcoming Youth Media Awards. What’s going to win a Newbery or Caldecott this year? Something unexpected? Something entirely predictable? If you and your fellow librarians have engaged in a Mock Election this year, then do be so good as to submit your mock election results here at the ALSC blog, if you please.


 

Not too long ago I heard in the Star Tribune that the Minnesota Opera had commissioned a kid-friendly opera “based on a Kate DiCamillo bestseller”.  Naturally, I was hoping for Flora & Ulysses. The reasons are, I should thing, obvious. What’s the only thing cooler than a vacuumed squirrel with superpowers? A vacuumed squirrel with superpowers that can SING! As it turns out, the book in question is instead a title I’ve maligned to various degrees over the years. Yep. It’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. And you might think this would disappoint me . . . but actually, this could work. Maybe the problems I’ve had with the book was that they were so overly dramatic. Perhaps Tulane doesn’t work for me in book form but would be perfect if done on a big stage. Think about it! The bunny on the cross. The girl dying of an unnamed disease. The restaurant owner smashing the bunny to bits. Oh. It could work.


 

In other news, I saw a very keen blog post from my old blogger in kind, Even In Australia. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of the picture book/comic book hybrid Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Well, in the post A Dinosaur’s Literary Ancestory the history of the urban dinosaur in works of literature for children is examined quite thoroughly. A rousing, fun piece.


 

Candlewick hasn’t been talking about this all that much, but Laura Amy Schlitz’s books were recently given new book jackets to match the jacket for The Hired Girl. Here’s what they look like now:

hiredgirl

DrownedMaidens

SplendorsGlooms

Right after I saw the new look for Splendors and Glooms, I saw this jacket for Charles Finch’s Woman in the Water:

WomanWater

Great minds think alike.


 

Breaking News: Lisa Von Drasek is blogging again! As Curator of the Kerlan Collection, she took a bit of a hiatus from reviewing. Now she’s back, baby, with The Blue Ox Review and it’s a lot of fun. Check it out if you get a chance.


 

The Reading With Your Kids Podcast interviewed me about Funny Girl. It’s very perky. I tried to match the perk levels, but I don’t think I was able to manage it. This thing is upbeat! Check it out:


 

And what the hey. Since we’re already talking about podcast stuff, the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature has their very own podcast series. Including such topics as “The Afterlife of the Author”, “Conferences and Conferencing” and “Come Away, Oh Human Child!: The Adaptation of Adult Texts for a Child Audience” this is what you listen to if you want to listen to people talk about children’s books with lovely lilting Irish accents. Sold!


 

BehindtheCurtainDo you remember the middle grade novel Cloud and Wallfish from 2016 that talked about what life was like behind the Iron Curtain in 1989? Great book. Really thought it deserved a couple awards. Anyway, there’s a little throwaway moment in the book that I was reminded of lately. In the book, our hero discovers that a plagiarized version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been making its way throughout the Communist countries for years, and no one realizes that it originated in America. Turns out, this is a true story. Now The University Press of Mississippi is releasing a book about this entire story. Here are some details from the publisher’s page to whet your whistle:

“In 1939, Aleksandr Volkov (1891- 1977) published Wizard of the Emerald City, a revised version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Only a line on the copyright page explained the book as a “reworking” of the American story. Readers credited Volkov as author rather than translator. Volkov, an unknown and inexperienced author before World War II, tried to break into the politically charged field of Soviet children’s literature with an American fairy tale. During the height of Stalin’s purges, Volkov adapted and published this fairy tale in the Soviet Union despite enormous, sometimes deadly, obstacles.”

 

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Review of the Day: Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/11/review-of-the-day-baby-monkey-private-eye-by-brian-selznick-and-david-serlin/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30572

BabyMonkeyPrivateEyeBaby Monkey, Private Eye
By Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-338-18061-9
Ages 3 and up
On shelves February 27th

Brian Selznick. Honey. We’ve got to talk.

Now look, it was all well and good when you started getting a little crazy and shaking up notions of what an “illustrated book” actually means. Winning the Caldecott for a novel? Never been done before. And the fact that Hugo Cabret and its companion novels Wonderstruck and The Marvels push every conceivable envelope, in terms of what a visual novel can be, is not just noteworthy but historic. But now you’re getting all slick on us. It wasn’t enough to conquer the middle grade illustrated novel, eh? Now you’re just fudging the lines between early chapter books and picture books in ways I’ve honestly never seen before. Baby Monkey, Private Eye is, as anyone looking at the cover could tell you, freakishly adorable. And funny. But it may also be the most subversive little number to hit our shelves in a very long time.

Got a crime? Then who you gonna call? Forget Sam Spade and his ilk. The true brains in this town belong to Baby Monkey. He’s a baby, he’s a monkey, and he’s a crime fighting genius. With every client that crosses the threshold of his office, he has a routine in place. Examine the evidence. Take notes. Have a snack. Put on some pants (that particular part of the job is a bit on the trying side). And solve that crime! Baby monkey always gets his man (slash zebra/lion/snake/mouse). But when his final case involves a missing baby, that’s when things start getting personal.

Have a seat. I need to tell you a story. About three years ago I got wrapped up in a wave of hubris that almost knocked me flat. I had been suggested by an academic friend to contribute a chapter to a Routledge resource on picture books. Please bear in mind that I have almost no experience with academia in any form. Blithely I agreed and was subsequently floored when it became eminently clear that I was in over my head. My assigned chapter was “Picturebooks and Illustrated Books”, a distinction that I wasn’t overly familiar with. It all worked out in the end (thanks to the intervention of a friend who knew this territory better than I) and I got a crash course in the difference between an “illustrated book” and a “picture book”. Would that Baby Monkey, Private Eye had been available when I was determining these distinctions. As it turns out, there is a very good reason that press for this book calls it “a winning new format”. I’ll break it down for you.

BabyMonkey1Let us first pick up our copy of the book and just give it a good going over. As you can see, it’s your standard 5-1/4 X 7-3/4 inch sized novel. 192 pages in length. Seems pretty standard stuff. And yet from the moment you open it up it’s pretty clear that the bulk of the book is going to be art rather than text. Though it contains five chapters, a Key, an Index, and a Bibliography (more on that later) the actual book is perfect for very young readers. It is also perfect (and I cannot stress this enough) for reading ALOUD to large groups of very young readers. This realization had me pondering what it would have looked like if Selznick and Serlin had kept the page count but pulled a Bolivar and made the pages picture book-sized. Certainly that would have taken much longer to create (lotta cross-hatching would ensue) but in an era when the walls between formats is a lot more fluid than in the past (thanks in large part to the aforementioned Hugo Cabret) it certainly could have been done. And yet, the creators clearly wanted this to be an early chapter book. Selznick actually got his start back in the day with The Houdini Box, which was early chapter fare of a different sort. And reading this book with my 3-year-old and 6-year-old (who both loved it equally) this book may indeed be one of those pan-age level titles that transcend audience. Doggone it.

Why do both of my small children love this book so much? Because it’s a gut-buster, frankly. Funny? Sister, you don’t know the half of it. The very opening of the book sets the stage for hilarity. You open it up and are accosted by an oversized call to “WAIT!” It then challenges you with the question “Who is Baby Monkey?” The answer? “He is a baby.” Page turn. “He is a monkey”. Page turn. “He has a job to do.” That’s when you see his detective agency. Now as any good children’s book author knows, when writing a funny book for children, ideally you should direct some humor at the kids and some at the adult readers. Go too far in the children’s direction and you get Walter the Farting Dog. Go too far in the adult direction and you get some crappy Dreamworks movie that’s more of a prolonged wink than a film. In this, Serlin and Selznick find the perfect sweet spot. For the adults there’s a kind of seek-and-find element to Baby Monkey’s ever changing office. For kids, there’s the fact that baby monkey cannot easily put on his own pants. Pants are, by their nature, hilarious. I think it has something to do with the word itself. Pants. And while most jokes work best when you’re operating under the Rule of Threes, the choice to give this book five chapters (which involves four pant-struggling sequences) is bold. Surely there was a temptation somewhere in the process to limit the chapters to three. I respect the fact that it’s an unwieldy five instead. Gives the jokes more time to percolate.

BabyMonkey2Monkeys should, by all rights, be classic picture book staples. With that in mind, I ask you this: Who is the most famous monkey in the whole of children’s literature? If you said Curious George I’m gonna whip out the old “Curious George is actually an ape” line and we’ll have at it. But beyond George there are shockingly few famous kidlit monkeys to choose between. This is particularly strange because monkeys should potentially fill all the requirements of children’s book illustration. They are small, like human children, and cute, like human children. They are, in fact, the perfect stand-ins. Selznick, for his part, has gone and gotten cute on us. His baby monkey is remarkably tiny. Do you remember that old Disney-drawn explanation of “The Cute Character” where the ratio of the head to body, ears to head, legs to feet, etc. are explained? Well, Selznick clearly knows his stuff. Baby monkey’s proportions are carefully calibrated for maximum cuteness, as are his facial expressions, and body language. This is part of the reason the book works as well as it does with the youngest of readers. Who wouldn’t love that guy?

The art is indicative of Selznick’s trademark graphite, with one notable difference. Color! That’s right, baby, there’s at least one singular jolt of color making itself known in each chapter. I had just assumed that the red of the missing jewels / pizza / clown nose / etc. was the same as the red on the cover of the book, but this does not appear to be the case. While the red of the letters on the cover are deep, the jewels / pizza / nose have this extraordinary tint to them. Maybe just a hint of orange? I couldn’t say, but whatever it is it just pops off the page. I think longingly of what this book could have been had the author written it in a picture book format. Then I get ahold of myself again and appreciate it for what it is.

I mentioned earlier that in writing a book for children that’s funny, an author has to walk a fine line between humor for kid readers and humor for adult readers. In the case of Baby Monkey, though, this applies to far more than the jokes. In his art, Selznick takes care to hide in plain site multiple references to whatever case it is that Baby Monkey is about to solve. His office before the opera singer comes in is outfitted with portraits of Maria Callas and Marian Anderson. A bust of Mozart overseas Baby Monkey’s note taking. There’s even a reference to that old Marx Brother classic (my personal favorite) A Night at the Opera. With each case the décor changes. Don’t think for a moment that I’m good at spotting all these references, though. While I got the poster for the 1980 production of Barnum and recognized the image from A Trip to the Moon (a bit of an homage to Hugo Cabret in its way) I had to rely heavily on Selznick’s “Key to Baby Monkey’s Office” at the back of the book. There you will find all the hidden references laid out before you. It’s really nice, actually. Few artists take the time to let their readers in on their jokes. But the book’s most subtle jokes for adults are also the most superfluous (and, consequently, the most charming). After the aforementioned “Key” you’ll find an Index and Bibliography that honestly have no reason at all to be there. The Index may be worth it entirely for the entry on “Wainscoting” (Warning: it’s intense). The Bibliography, however, is a carefully crafted labor of lovable nonsense. It is filled from guggle to zatch with nonsense books. From a 1997 edition of Animals Who Look Like They Have No Noses (2nd edition, if we’re going to be specific) to Moshe Moshi’s Famous Babies I Have Known the faux titles, authors, and presses abound. Honestly, just read it for the authors’ names. Barbara Bathtowel. Luis Gergle. Herbert Hobbypocket. I could go on all day.

I wonder if there’s a moment where a children’s book creator peaks and then crosses over to a whole new level. Sendak sort of did it, the consequence being that he traded his mortality for some truly obtuse works for kids. Selznick is traveling on a Sendakian course, but along the way he’s never lost his penchant for kid-friendly fare. Credit collaborator David Serlin (who’s getting the short end of the stick in this review) or credit is unequivocal love for the audience (a weapon Sendak never had in his own back pocket). For all its seeming simplicity, Baby Monkey packs a wallop. It challenges what an early chapter book can be, it’s the funniest fare you might read this year, it’s beautiful to look at, and there’s plenty to please small children and grown adults alike. Taken as a whole, the Serlin/Selznick duo is a force to be reckoned with. Will we see more Baby Monkey in the future? I cannot know the answer. All I can hope is that these guys pair up frequently. I like where all this is headed.

On shelves February 27th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Interviews:

Shelf Awareness sat down with the creators of this book for a bit of a tête-à-tête. You can find the full text here.

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Walking and Talking with . . . Joseph Bruchac!

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/09/walking-and-talking-with-joseph-bruchac/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30594

Steve’s back, baby. And what an auspicious day it is. Today Steve Sheinkin’s new early chapter book series “Time Twisters” kicks off with Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler and Abigail Adams, Pirate of the Caribbean. That feeling that’s dancing about in your soul right now? That’s you. Wanting to read these. More than your kids. Yep.

But today is perhaps even more auspicious because for today’s extraordinary guest Steve has broken his own rules. Under normal circumstances he allots only two panels to his subjects. But since he’s talking with Joseph Bruchac, nothing but three panels will do.

Joe.B.1.final copy

Joe.B.2.color.revised copy

Joe.B.3.final copy

Don’t forget to catch up with the whole series!

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Fuse 8 n’ Kate: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/08/fuse-8-n-kate-the-snowy-day-by-ezra-jack-keats/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30577

SnowyDayThis is one of those cases where the weather determined the subject of this week’s podcast. And there are few picture books out there snowier than this old Keats classic. Easily considered one of the Top 5 picture books in the nation in terms of fame and popularity, Kate had nevertheless not really even heard of it. If this podcast does nothing else it will be a shining example on how to educate a little sister. What’s the sororal equivalent of mansplaining? Sisplaining maybe. If that was a job, I’d be a rich woman by now.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Source Notes:

– Here are The Snowy Day stamps

SnowyDayStamps

– Here’s the Christmas special with Boyz II Men.

snowyday

– The disappearance of Peter’s legs.

A page from &quot;The Snowy Day,&quot; by Ezra Jack Keats</p

A page from “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats</p 

– The red Telletubby’s name was Po, by the way. We are geniuses. And that was true about Lloyd Alexander being a big time fan of them.

Po– I love the idea that this television snow is a different kind of snow.

SnowyDaySnow

– If you’re curious about this book, you should certain read my post when it hit #5 in my Top 100 Picture Book Poll.

– Here’s one of the controversial images in the book featuring the mom.

SnowyDay2

– Here’s how people used to dress for the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. This is the snazziest picture in the history of children’s literature.

keatslengle

– Further information! Here’s the link to The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

– And here’s the link to The Ezra Jack Keats Award

– This statue of Peter is actually one of my favorites:

WhistleWillieStatue

– Such a cool picture. These are the fibers I was talking about:

SnowyDaySlide

– Here’s A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney:

poempeter

– Yep. The Welsh straight-to-video movie of The Little Engine That Could has lots of info here.

– And here is The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy, in case you somehow missed it.

Odd-Fish-PB

– By the way, I know I already mentioned this on a recent Video Sunday, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put it here as well. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton spends a good amount of time talking about Keats, this book, and what it meant to her as a child:

– This Tablet Magazine article by Marjorie Ingall called Missing is about Ezra Jack Keats, his religion, and his work. Read it through, don’t skimp, and stay on for that killer ending. How that particular unpublished manuscript hasn’t seen the light of day remains a mystery.

– And I can NOT believe I failed to mention this to Kate but about five years ago now the ALSC blog celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Caldecott Medal with this killer post about Caldecocktails. Check out this truly beautiful Snowy Day:

SnowyDay

The recipe is:

The Snowy Day
2 oz vanilla ice cream
2 oz brandy
1 oz half and half
Maraschino cherry

You think THAT’s good? You should try the Lon Po Po.

 

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Video Sunday: “My hero, my mentor, and my friend in my head”

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/07/video-sunday-my-hero-my-mentor-and-my-friend-in-my-head/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=29790

Video Sunday is back, baby! After our extended month-long hiatus it’s time to stretch the old video muscles and get back in play. Now I don’t know about you, but this first video excites me considerably because it features an illustrator (and sometimes author) that I have never had the chance to see speak in person. One of these days, Vanessa, one of these days I’m gonna meet you. Then I’ll be able to thank you personally for Drum City. Seriously. In the meantime, Vanessa Brantley Newton gave a TED talk worth noting. I am beyond pleased to present it to you today.

I want to see her do a really good picture book on dyslexia next. Universe? Make that happen, please.

And for the record, giving a TED talk is still my #1 nightmare situation. Seriously. Like someone’s gonna just walk up to me one day and say, “Betsy! What are you doing?!? Your TED talk is in 30 seconds! Get in there and give it to them.” And I’m going to have nothing prepared. Not even one of those nifty little head mics.

Oh. It could happen. Moving on.

So I had a problem the other day. Over the winter break I took home the upcoming (February release) book BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE. Then promptly lost it. This has happened before and I’m always too ashamed to contact the publisher to send me a replacement, so I just sort of resigned myself to not seeing the book until next month. You can tell from this that my instincts are usually “give up rather than clean”. Is who I am. In any case, I’m cleaning out my purse yesterday and lo and behold THERE it is! I had the power to read the dang book all along (it’s a big purse, in case you’re confused).  So I read it with my kids who promptly fell in love with it. Review to come (probably this week) but in the meantime I have to share this video of its creators. I’d have done it even if I hadn’t read the book because, and let’s be honest, people without pants are funnier than people with pants. Case in point:

BabyMonkeyVid

 So in about two days this cool book by Erica Perl called ALL THE THREE STOOGES will be released, and as luck would have it I actually interviewed her about it at the last ALA. How’s that for a coincidence! Actually, this video has apparently been up for a while, but I just didn’t notice. That’s professionalism for you! I like to watch videos of myself with the sound off, because I find my gesticulations far more amusing than anything I actually say. You should probably listen to Erica though. Whip smart and funny to boot, she also is very interesting to talk to about the history of Jewish female comedians. That’s not in the video. I just thought I’d mention it.

And for our off-topic video, I have Tobin Anderson to thank for this one. Isn’t it amazing what a little sound editing can do?

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 10.43.37 PM

 

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Review of the Day: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/05/review-of-the-day-julian-is-a-mermaid-by-jessica-love/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30560

JulianMermaid1Julián Is a Mermaid
By Jessica Love
Candlewick Press
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-7636-9045-8
Ages 4 and up
On shelves May 22nd

When you walk into another person’s home, there’s always a distinct smell to the place. Homes absorb the lives of their occupants, and the end result is as much an olfactory experience as a visual one. I love it when a friend moves house because when I walk into their new home it smells just like their previous place of occupancy, with just a twinge of difference. It is this experience of walking into a house and being overwhelmed by the sense of the place that I hope for in my picture books. When I enter a character’s house I want to almost be able to smell the shampoo in the carpet or the faint aroma of dinner from the night before. Imbuing a book with that kind of realism is beyond difficult, though. You cannot require an illustrator to be able to capture the intangible in their art. That’s why I bide my time and wait. And wait. And wait. And then one day, my waiting is rewarded. A book like Julián Is a Mermaid comes along and there. I can smell the apartment that Julián shares with his abuela. I’m there because Jessica Love has been granted a very remarkable gift. She can make paint reflect reality. Even when it’s a reality that some people refuse to see.

Coming home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián’s subway car is suddenly boarded by three beautiful mermaids. Their gowns flow like tails, their hair moving like it’s caught the ocean currents, and everything about them is simply wonderful. In short order Julián begins to imagine himself as a mermaid and when he gets home he starts his own transformation. While abuela showers he turns plant fronds into hair, lacey curtains into a tail, and on his lips goes some lipstick. Caught by his grandmother he’s unsure of how to feel. That is, until she leads him by the hand to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. They join the throng and Julián knows he belongs. With minimal language and an abundance of love, the author/illustrator gives everyone with a mermaid inside of them a tale of sweet, near speechless belonging.

JulianMermaid2

When children’s books break taboos it’s usually done in fits and starts. A book here, a book there. In this case we’re talking about picture books where boys identify with nonconforming ideas of gender identity and beauty. Over the years we’ve seen this tackled in a number of different ways. There’s been Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman, I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman, Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe, 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, and (of course) William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. [No word yet on when we’ll get this many similar titles for girls, but that’s a debate for another day] These books vary considerably in quality from title to title, but they all offer a challenge to society’s demand that boys look and act in a very specific way, and woe betide you if you’re different. The funny this is that even though Julián Is a Mermaid is just the latest in a long line, it feels to me like this is the one I’ve been waiting for all these years. These other books have specific messages, just like Julián, but unlike those books Julián’s story is more than just figuring out who you are. It’s about realizing that you aren’t alone and that there’s a great big welcoming community out there, if only you can find it. And sometimes, just sometimes, it’s just been around the corner from you all along. If those other books laid the groundwork, Julián is taking the message to the next level. It’s like Stephen Sondheim said. “No one is alone.”

JulianMermaid3

A picture book is a conversation between pictures and words. Unless it’s wordless, of course. Then all bets are off the table. In this book, Love works with watercolor, gouache, and ink, and for her story to work much of the action must feel weightless. In a bit of inspiration Love lets us into Julián’s head pretty early on, allowing us to see him and he sees himself in wordless sequences that require no explanation. Interestingly the pictures appear to have been painted on brown paper, which was such an interesting choice. Of course, I got all kinds of distracted by the details Love has hidden along the way. In an early dream sequence, Julián imagines himself receiving a necklace from a large blue fish with white patterned scales. Later in the book, when his grandmother hands him his own necklace, she is wearing a dress made of the same pattern. Now look at the front and back endpapers. At the beginning we see Julián swimming beneath his abuela and her friends in the local pool. At the end of the book he’s reimagined them all as mermaids and the blue of the water, which was confined to the pool edges at the story’s start, has spilled over to fill the entire page.

JulianMermaid4And then there are the people. My favorite image in the book isn’t Julián in his mermaid dream sequence (though it is pretty good). It’s not the Mermaid Parade itself or the old ladies in the pool. It’s a simpler spread than all of those. Julián is dressed in his mermaid costume, walking down the street with Abuela, holding onto her arm. He asks “Where are we going?” and is about to pass an old man with high socks walking two wiener dogs and two young women, leaning on a brick wall, sipping something cool, mighty cool themselves. The first time I read this book I just stared at this sequence. Every single person in this picture is a real person. If you followed that old man you’d get to see exactly what his life is like. If you stayed with the girls you’d get wrapped up in the fun and confusion of their world. When Jessica Love illustrates a human being, her brush has weight. That person has life. Abuela herself has seen things. Things that have taught her that life is too short not to allow her grandson to grow to be the person he was meant to be. I think she knows exactly all the problems he may face later in life but on this day she’s going to give him something he can hold onto for a long long time. Something that will be able to sustain him as he grows up. She’s giving him his people. “Like you, mijo”, she says. “Let’s join them.”

I worked in New York City as a children’s librarian for eleven years, and now think I’ll live in the Midwest for, what I suppose will be, the rest of my life. This means I have a superpower. I am capable of reading a book both as a New Yorker, and as a Midwesterner. You have no idea how useful this power is. Things that I would have taken for granted in one part of the country can be seen as potentially baffling in another. Which brings us to the end of this book. Now I lived in New York long enough to be fully aware of the Mermaid Parade of Coney Island. It takes place once a year to welcome in the summer season. People of all stripes get decked out as mermaids or sea creatures or Neptunes and then parade down the wooden boardwalk, right before throwing fruit into the sea. Honestly, if you want to know anything about it you should read Melanie Hope Greenberg’s seminal picture book Mermaids On Parade. But I think it’s easy for people to forget that not everyone knows about this event. When I showed this book to a colleague they interpreted the ending differently than I did. For them, the finale was far more metaphor than reality. The boy’s abuela has taken him to the people that will understand and accept him so that he can discover himself fully. The fact that there is an actual parade out there with actual mermaids is almost superfluous in that light. Nice to see that the book works on multiple levels then.

I read so many picture books in a given week that they all have a tendency to run together in my brain. Maybe that’s why I’m so grateful when something stands out like Julián Is a Mermaid. Not simply because of its subject matter. I mean, I think I’ve shown that this is a road that has been well trod. What stands out here is the art, the characters, and the deeply felt emotions. That moment when Julián has been caught by his grandmother and she leaves him to get dressed is one of the most highly charged instances I’ve seen of someone waiting to find out whether or not what they feel (and, for that matter, who they are) is going to be embraced or denied. There is nothing about this book that is forgettable. In fact, you may have a hard time not thinking long and hard about it after you put it down. A book for mermaids and boys and girls and parents and teachers and booksellers and librarians and . . . aw, heck. Let’s just simplify things and say it’s a book for the human race. Lord knows there are some people out there that will need it. Let’s hope it finds the ones that need it most.

On shelves May 22nd (just in time for the June 16th Mermaid Parade!)

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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The Lost Reviews 2017: Books and Their Hooks

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/01/03/the-lost-reviews-2017-books-and-their-hooks/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30503

Julie Danielson calls it her Ghost File, and that’s as good a name as any for the books a blogger fails to talk up sufficiently in the previous year. 2017 was a pretty nice year for me personally, all things considered, so I’d like to pay it forward a bit and offer an homage to the books that deserved more from this site.

Now, the thing about this list isn’t that it consists of ALL the books I wanted to review last year. I read hundreds of great books, all of them worthy, but the way that I write requires a “hook” of sorts. There has to be something about the book that lures the reader in. You’re not just reviewing the book, after all. You’re trying to say something about the current state of children’s literature today. So the books I’m most regret not reviewing are the ones that had the grabbiest “hooks”. Honestly, I could have done any one of these, if I just hadn’t run out of time. Here then are the books and the hooks.

Picture Books

All Around Us by Xelena Gonzalez, ill. Adriana M. Garcia

AllAroundUs

The Book: Here’s the description from the publisher: “Grandpa says circles are all around us. He points to the rainbow that rises high in the sky after a thundercloud has come. “Can you see? That’s only half of the circle. That rest of it is down below, in the earth.” He and his granddaughter meditate on gardens and seeds, on circles seen and unseen, inside and outside us, on where our bodies come from and where they return to. They share and create family traditions in this stunning exploration of the cycles of life and nature.”

The Hook: Oh, this is such a kick in the gut. If you know me then you know my penchant for reviewing books from small publishers. I’ve admired the works of Cinco Punto Press for years and I’ve been waiting for just the right title. It took me a little while to realize it, but this book fit the bill perfectly! Written by Xelena González (a member of the Auteca Paguame family of the Tap Pilam Coahuitecan nation) the book references her characters’ mestizo heritage even as it also talks about life and death and interconnectedness. The art by Adriana M. Garcia makes my job selling this book easy. It’s gorgeous, quite frankly. I was so looking forward to doing this title, but doggone December snuck up on me this year. *sigh*

I Give You My Heart by Pimm van Hest, ill. Sassafras De Bruyn

IGiveYouHeart

The Book: Description from the publisher: “Yuto receives a special gift. A gift that will change his life. A gift that moves him and brings him comfort, warmth and shelter. A gift for life. A gift to pass on. A poetic fairy tale with valuable life lessons, 56 pages of stunning artwork and magnificent laser cutouts that will enchant you. The story is about a special life-changing gift; I GIVE YOU MY HEART is an ideal gift itself, one that will change the life of all who read it.”

The Hook: I was already well into my 31 Days, 31 Lists countdown when this book arrived in my mailbox. The image you’re seeing here of the cover doesn’t really do it justice. This puppy is a large format and from the small Belgian publisher Clavis, best known here in the States for their imports. What’s remarkable about it is the art, though. I’ve seen die-cuts in books before, but the laser cutouts in this story act like songs in a good musical. Which is to say, they aren’t just there for show. They further the plot. There was also something simultaneously hopefully and mildly melancholy about the storyline that I found darned appealing. I guess that’s the problem with being an individual and not a publishing journal. You always get something too late.

The One Day House by Julia Durango, ill. Bianca Diaz

OneDayHouse

The Book: Description from the publisher: “Wilson dreams of all the ways he can help improve his friend Gigi’s house so that she’ll be warm, comfortable, and happy. One day, friends and neighbors from all over come to help make Wilson’s plans come true. Everyone volunteers to pitch in to make Gigi’s house safe, clean, and pretty. Inspired by a friend’s volunteerism, author Julia Durango tells a story of community and togetherness, showing that by helping others we help ourselves. Further information about Labor of Love, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity is included at the end of the book.”

The Hook: Since moving to the Chicago area I’ve had a radar installed in my cranium that allows me to detect any and all children’s books with a possible local connection. So imagine my delight when lo and behold this book plops in my lap. Julia Durango is a resident of Ottawa, IL and this book was inspired by various Illinois organizations. It looks good, it reads great, and it has a connection to my adopted home state. What’s not to love?

What What What? by Arata Tendo, ill. Ryoji Arai

WhatWhatWhat

The Book: Description from the publisher: “He’ll talk to anyone―even total strangers―to satisfy his curiosity. But not everyone likes his questions. And because some people get annoyed with him, he asks his grandparents, “Why does everyone always get mad at me?” Still, when Pan discovers that what he mistook for Halloween makeup on a schoolmate’s face won’t come off, he knows he’s got to get to the bottom of things. His search leads him from his teacher, to his classmate’s doorstep and before long, Pan has the entire community asking the same questions he is, “What’s up? What’s happened? What’s going on?” Pan shows us all that a little bit of curiosity can go a long way, and that some things deserve more than a second glance.”

The Hook:  Ahhh. Meet the most overlooked picture book of 2017. This import from Enchanted Lion Press is an outlier. Somehow, it didn’t manage to get a single professional review. I might understand that if the book wasn’t any good, but this story is so packed with information that kids both will and will not get that I’m just dumbfounded. This isn’t to say that this is an easy book. It’s a Japanese import tackling issues like abuse and how easy it is to hide in public when that public doesn’t notice or care about you. Still, I thought it was well done and important and I only wish I could have given it the review it deserved.

Easy Books

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

GoodNothingButton

The Book: Description from the publisher: “Yellow Bird has a button. It does . . . nothing! It is a good for nothing button. Red Bird and Blue Bird are excited to try the button. But when they press it, they discover that the button makes them happy. Happy is something! A flabbergasted Yellow Bird insists the button does nothing. But it sure does seem to be making him mad. Mad is something! The hilarious debate that follows takes readers on an emotional roller coaster that pokes at the power of imaginative play.”

The Hook: It’s funny that in the midst of all these small publishers I’d be including this title that probably doesn’t need another drop of publicity. The dollars spent on its ad campaign alone would probably sustain most of this little pubs for a year. Still, there was something so appealing in the make-up of this book, that I wish I could have spent more time picking it apart. Basically, Harper confronts the idea of nothingness and what it must be. Can something be derived out of nothing? Can you ever even have nothing when by discovering that nothing you make something? Any easy book that makes me feel pensive and philosophical is, as far as I’m concerned, a rousing success. Sure, it didn’t need my help, but I would have loved to have indulged in a nice long review of being and nothingness.

Comics

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Brave

The Book: Description from the publisher: “In his daydreams, Jensen is the biggest hero that ever was, saving the world and his friends on a daily basis. But his middle school reality is VERY different–math is hard, getting along with friends is hard…Even finding a partner for the class project is a huge problem when you always get picked last. And the pressure’s on even more once the school newspaper’s dynamic duo, Jenny and Akilah, draw Jensen into the whirlwind of school news, social-experiment projects, and behind-the-scenes club drama. Jensen has always played the middle school game one level at a time, but suddenly, someone’s cranked up the difficulty setting. Will those daring daydreams of his finally work in his favor, or will he have to find real solutions to his real-life problems? The charming world of Berrybrook Middle School gets a little bigger in this highly anticipated follow-up to Svetlana Chmakova’s award-winning Awkward with a story about a boy who learns his own way of being brave!”

The Hook: Oh, I’m still kicking myself over this one. It was pretty much the last comic I read in 2017 and when I realized how clever Chmakova is and how much work she’s put into this book, I decided that this might be one of the best written books of the year. Her website says she “makes her home somewhere between Toronto, Canada and California” so that means she might be Newbery eligible. I’m not even joking about that. In this book she takes a very standard topic in children’s books these days: bullying. Then she proceeds to make everything harder for herself. I feel like when it comes to bullying we’ve almost been trained to look for simplicity in our children’s fare. Bullying = bad, sure but is all bullying the same? What if it’s from a friend? What if the bullied person doesn’t know they’re being bullied? Isn’t it worse to tell them? In this book Jensen isn’t the smartest or the most talented kid around, but he has a good heart and maybe some family stuff going on as well. Chmakova then picks apart his life and his options and what he learns about good old-fashioned basic human kindness. This isn’t so much a #choosekind book as it is #choosedecency. Man. You gotta read this.

Nonfiction

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp

BeautyBeak

The Book: Description from the publisher: “BEAUTY AND THE BEAK is a new, nonfiction picture book about Beauty, the wild bald eagle that made world news when she was illegally shot, rescued, and received a pioneering, 3D-printed prosthetic beak. BEAUTY AND THE BEAK follows Beauty close up from the moment she uses her baby beak to emerge from her egg, through her hunt when she uses her powerful adult beak to feed herself, to the day her beak is shot off leaving her helpless. This brave and heartlifting story continues through her rescue, into the months of engineering her 3D-printed prosthetic beak and intense hours of her beak surgery, to the moment she takes the first drink of water by herself with her new beak.”

The Hook: ERG! I was this close to reviewing this book several times. Unfortunately, every time it was ready for its review I’d either lent the book to someone else to read or I’d left it at work. In the end this incredibly cool idea for a title was forgotten in my various piles o’ books. This is particularly disappointing when you consider the fact that the publisher is Persnickety Press, a small but clever little company. Now the story itself is good, no doubt. Honestly, I’m just fascinated whenever anyone puts 3D printers to good use. But when you get to the backmatter at the end your jaw will surely drop. I think it may be fair to say that I’ve never seen this much backmatter in a book before. Hope you like bald eagles, because you are about to learn every last stinking thing about them.

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome

BeforeSheWasHarriet

The Book: Description from publisher: “A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist. We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.”

The Hook: If there were any justice in this world, the book would win a Newbery. I say this not because of the subject matter (though Harriet Tubman is always a good get) but because this book may well be Lesa Cline-Ransome’s greatest masterpiece to date. Who else would have thought of defining the life of Harriet Tubman in terms of her occupations, moving backwards through her life? You know what this book pairs well with? Nathan Hale’s The Underground Abductor, that’s what. Of all the Harriet Tubman picture books I’ve seen over the years, this is the strongest out there. Please read the Seven Impossible Things examination of the book, if you’d be so kind. If you don’t believe me when I tell you it’s magnificent, believe her.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, ill. Yutaka Houlette

FredKorematsu

The Book: Description from the publisher: “Fred Korematsu liked listening to music on the radio, playing tennis, and hanging around with his friends—just like lots of other Americans. But everything changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941 and the government forced all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to distant prison camps. This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up. Inspired by the award-winning book for adults Wherever There’s a Fight, the Fighting for Justice series introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. The story of Fred Korematsu’s fight against discrimination explores the life of one courageous person who made the United States a fairer place for all Americans, and it encourages all of us to speak up for justice.”

The Hook: Once in a while I’ll make an easy but abominable mistake: I’ll judge a book by its cover. And generally when I do this I don’t regret the mistake later. I’d seen this book early in the year from a positive Kirkus review, sure I did. But after staring at that cover I wasn’t so sure I actually wanted to read it. It wasn’t until the book started showing up on various libraries’ best of the year lists that I realized my mistake. Fortunately the book is a nice tight length so it wasn’t hard to buckle down and read it in one sitting. When I was done I was shocked. I’ve read Japanese internment camp histories for kids before, but nothing compared to this. Fred Korematsu really and truly is one of the unsung heroes of American history, but it took a children’s book for me to realize it. This book deserves to be placed alongside all the other freedom fighter titles we place into children’s hands. An honest, unflinching look at a historical injustice, nearly forgotten.

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