Nov 18, 2015

More Worthy Cybils Contenders: Post-Paris Attack Reflections

If you haven't yet seen the brief video showing how a father in Paris talks to his young son about his fears, please watch here. It only takes minutes, but will stay with you forever. 

Then there's this, by Antoine Leiris, a young husband/father's open letter to the terrorists. Even if you've heard or read it, I believe it's worth taking time to read again (here). 
Every word is powerful, but since this is a picture book blog, I'll excerpt this portion from his Facebook post:
"We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don't have any more time to devote to you. I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either."
In both cases the focus of the parent is intently on his child, aware in those moments that joy and peace are not words on holiday greeting cards but are experiences to be recognized, savored, and fully appreciated.
Among the fiction picture book titles I've been reading are two that may remind us all of that truth, not just in times of crisis, but every day of our lives.

Roaring Book Press (A Neal Porter Book) June, 2015
Current events shaped my choice of titles to share in this post, but the value of each of these is timeless. BOATS FOR PAPA is written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley. 
"Buckley and his Mama live in a cozy cabin by the ocean. He loves to carve boats out of the driftwood he finds on the beach nearby. 
He makes:

big boats
long boats
short boats and
tall boats,

each one more beautiful than the last, and sends them out to sea. If they don't come back, he knows they've found their way to his papa, whom he misses very much. 
In this stunning debut, author/illustrator Jessixa Bagley explores the subtle and deep emotions associated with loss in a heartwarming tale that is sure to stay with the reader long after the book is closed."

"The colors, scenes, and language of this book allow a complex and difficult story involving grief and longing to seep gently into our minds and hearts. These animal characters (beavers) become instantly humanized, not because they are wearing clothes, but because what they experience is universally recognizable. Even the youngest will understand and appreciate this story, but it offers a rich menu of emotions and responses to readers of any age.
It stands up well as "just" a picture book, but elevates itself into so much more than that."

Grounded Books, March, 2015

Take a careful look (or a dozen) at SIDEWALK FLOWERS, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Seriously, spend some time with this one. it is so much more than either Goodreads or I can describe, which should be true of any outstanding picture book, I suppose.
Here is the Goodreads synopsis:
"In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. "Written" by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers is an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures."

And here are a few comments I added
"This wordless book uses color, detail, subtle facial and body expressions in black/white illustrations with the spot color contrast to lead readers through an emotionally complex story. It is accessible to the very young but offers content to spark potentially intense discussions at any age about relationships, personal expression, and pursuing that often-referenced "in the moment" awareness in daily life."

If you're looking for other titles (released in the current or past years) that offer not "only" the entertainment or diversion of a picture book but open doors to discussions and emotions that can be too intense to approach directly, I recommend the  blog, BOOKS THAT HEAL KIDS. (Here)

These recommendations are my own responses and evaluations of the books, not a reflection of our Cybils panel discussions or deliberations. 

Nov 13, 2015

Cybils Fiction Picture Books: Worthy Contenders

We're making progress on the stacks and stacks of fiction picture books nominated for this year's CYBILS Awards. As I mentioned in this post, the reviews and opinions I share here are my own and don't reflect any deliberations by our panel. Those haven't even begun yet. 

What I'm excited to do here is to shine a light on several books that surprised me, in the best possible ways. I love books, especially picture books, and I read tons of them. Along with books I read myself, I follow blogs and reviews by some of the most engaged folks in the kid-lit world, including teachers, librarians, parents, kids, authors, illustrators, and editors. I read every edition of Horn Book from cover to cover, scour bookstores, and follow social media. 

Surprising me about picture books is hard to do. 

And yet these titles did just that. In a few cases I hadn't heard about them, or had less than stellar expectations, or had the highest hopes for them and they blew right past those and into the upper atmosphere. My reviews from Goodreads are used here for a couple of the best, in my opinion, with more to come in the days ahead.
Abrams Appleseed, 2015
Let's start with TICKLE MONSTER, written by Aedouard Manceau, illustrated by Edouard Manceau. This is one of those that slipped under my radar, so much so that I first read a different book with the same title. I refer to it at the end of this review, in part to caution you that THIS is the Tickle Monster I recommend, for these reasons:

"I love everything about this "tickle book": vibrant colors leaping off a black background, empowering young readers to control things they fear, emphasizing creativity and imagination, using if/then language patterns, kid-friendly simple text in a hands-firendly trim size, predictable patterns that allow kids to name and learn to read body parts, and a reassuringly "safe" tone at bedtime despite the imposing cover image. 

Compare these features to my thoughts on this other picture book with the same title, reviewed here."

NorthSouth, January, 2015

I'm a huge fan of squirrels, so I should have expected Mr. Squirrel and the Moon, written and illustrated by Sebastian Merschenmoser, to be a treat. And yet... this is what I had to say after reading:
"Oh, my. I can't exactly say why, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy this from the title alone. It won me over from the cover and endpapers and wrapped itself around my heart with each page turn. The stark contrasts throughout seemed like a perfect parable of life- conflict, worry, determination, surprises, apparent success leading to more challenges and absurdity, balanced with an earnest belief in ourselves. Mr. Squirrel's reality (in contrast with his somber black and white imaginings) basks in the brilliant glow of the "moon". The illustrations themselves and the color palette elevate this to brilliant, in my opinion.
This is "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" flipped on its head and given a moral spine without hint of preaching. In fact, it's overflowing with cheeky, wry humor.
The somber "punishment" scenes are utterly hilarious, and the eventual final scene mirrors the hunched silhouette from those somber scenes.
In my many teaching years I often witnessed innocent, earnest kids imagining that some unexpected development in their lives could result in disproportionately negative consequences. I wish I had this book to share with them at the time."

Hope you'll take a closer look at these titles, too. For more of my reviews on the many books I'm reading and evaluating, check out other Goodreads reviews here, and I'll be back with more in a day or two.

Nov 9, 2015

Some Veterans Day Recommendations

I paused this series of posts for PICTURE BOOK MONTH to take a brief weekend trip. It was a privilege to arrive at the airport on the morning of a VETERANS HONOR FLIGHT to Washington. I've admired and contributed to the organization since it began, but hadn't witnessed the operation in process, and walked right into that opportunity. The veterans, their escorts, and the amazing volunteers displayed contagious energy and excitement.
 These flights require an incredible amount of coordination and a complex support system. They proceed throughout the year, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would otherwise never happen. 

Wednesday, November 11, is VETERANS DAY. Picture books are an ideal way to transport young readers into the past, distant or recent. They provide the perfect vehicle for increasing understanding, appreciation, and connections to the human side of wars and military service in general.

Several books related to this topic come to mind. I'll spotlight three that are especially suited to spark interest and increase understanding about this annual commemorative day. The first two are nonfiction, the last is fiction.

Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
Veterans Day was established as Armistice Day, calling for quiet recognition of the suffering and loss of life that ended "The Great War" on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. A Splash of Red:The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, is written by Jennifer Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Since its release it has received numerous awards, including:

An ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book 

Horace Pippin, the subject of this remarkable biography, was a severely wounded survivor of the notorious trenches of World War One. Determination drove his recovery and eventually he resumed a life of painting.
This is a perfect example of a book that will appeal to and intrigue young readers while adults will find themselves wanting to learn even more of Pippin's story. 
On Goodreads I noted: "From its dedication "For the Veterans" to its vibrant, colorful illustrations, this biography of self-taught artist Horace Pippin inspires from cover to cover."

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
Next up is another TRUE story, this one profiling the survivor of a recent war. NUBS: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle. Co-written by Major Brian Dennis and author Kirby Larson, with photos by Mary Nether, NUBS documents a remarkable Iraqi dog of war. 
On Goodreads I had this to say:
"Stories of survival, of veterans and those they have encountered in war, are (sadly) prolific. This one is a sure-fire winner for many reasons, not the least of which is the quality of the storytelling.

Here's a segue to those who wait at home. Their struggles are challenging enough for adults who have more life experience, world awareness, and other resources. Children, though, have less capacity to cope with the absence of loved ones who deploy for long periods, whether to combat zones or not. 

WAITING, created by Kevin Henkes, is fiction of the purest sort: utterly fantastic and achingly real at the same time. The entire comforting, hopeful story takes place on the windowsill while the world outside moves through the seasons. Each character has dreams, hopes, and varying moods, but these friends/family always have each other. This is a picture book that will touch adults as deeply as it does the youngest. 
"Characters and the setting appear to be as "simple" as the premise of this book. Don't be fooled, because even the youngest will quickly note the talented use of tiny line shifts, angles of perspective and positioning, and scenes outside the window. Waiting is not just an issue for the youngest set, it is ubiquitous at every life stage. The way we view those waiting passages in our lives determines more than the length or nature of those waits. And the company in which we wait matters even more."

These books are just a few of the many picture books that open windows to awareness of the human side to service, in times of war and peace. Add your own suggestions in comments, or find more excellent titles on  this post on the blog, READ ALOUD PICTURE BOOKS, here

On Veteran's Day another post about  picture books on this topic appeared on GROG (Group Blog) written by school librarian and maker-space innovator, Todd Burleson. Check out his great title suggestions here.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.