Feb 25, 2014

A Shortcut to Sharing Titles

Depite my best laid plans to allow this blog to take a short moratorium, I have not neglected my picture book reading. I do record titles read and review them on my Goodreads account, which you're welcome to follow.

I suddenly realized that I could share some of those short reviews here occasionally without investing as much time as a post usually requires. So, here's a start on that plan. If you already read my reviews on Goodreads, just ignore these. I won't be exploring them with further thoughts here, but perhaps I'll introduce you to some worthy titles you've otherwise missed. In each case a short Google search will take you to the author and illustrator websites, reviews, blog posts, etc. I often provide in links. All are perfect examples of the power of picture books to reach readers of every age and for every purpose. And they're gorgeous in word and image to boot!

First up, a book that's had lots of spotlight lately, with good reason: 

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Hardcover) 

Gorgeous illustrations and design, embedded quotations, and fascinating details bring Josephine Baker's life story to readers with vibrancy and excitement. It will (or should) enrage reads with the injustices she suffered and inspire admiration for the dignity and creativity with which she confronted these assaults.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Hardcover) 

The most immediate and compelling aspect of this picture book is the vertical format and multi-media art/illustration/collage. It allows the brief but thorough text to soar in its scope and impact, tracing millennia of Puerto Rican history, both social and environmental, through the perspective of the parrots. The extent to which the survival  of the species is affected by encroachments of civilization and natural forces is as frightening but the steps taken by scientists to address those is astonishing. Their success makes me want to cheer.
Photos and other resources in back matter make this ideal for deep reading of narrative and expository non-fiction text. 

Deep in the Sahara (Hardcover) 

As the author's note indicates, this brief and simple story is placed authentically in Mauritania, West Africa in modern times. It's important to note that and share the information with young readers/listeners because its timeless imagery and poetic phrasing make it appear to be, as the say, "in a place and time long ago". 
The rhythm and evocative language of the spare text rolls off the page with the lumbering poetic pace of a camel crossing the desert. It's accessible to the youngest but can also serve as mentor text and an informative resource for older readers (including the vocabulary/glossary in the back matter). 

That's going to do it for now. Hope these brief reviews are helpful.
Back soon to share more. 
Gotta run now!

Feb 16, 2014

CYBILS Award Winners: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards


The CYBILS Awards are nominated by the public and carefully selected by a committee of bloggers who focus on literature for young people. Some are teachers, some are authors, some are parents, and others are librarians. It's a diverse and experienced group.

What's a Cybil?
The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles. Nominations open to the public on October 1st.

Without further ado, here is the link to their 2013 winners. Detailed reviews are provided for each winning title, and many are books reviewed or featured in earlier posts here or on my Goodreads pages. I've read most of the winners and the nominees, but my "to-be-read" list and library holds just got longer. 

Take a look.  This list represents some of the best of the best.

Feb 9, 2014

Matching Books to Readers: Be a Book Cupid!

Despite best laid plans to put this blog on hiatus for a few months, I find myself having something to say about picture books every week. News, other blog posts, and books themselves shake me by the shoulders and insist that I get my thoughts out into the world.
This time a confluence of  events all pointed to the critical process of matching books to readers, mindfully and intentionally. No, I don't mean Lexile readability levels or key vocabulary or   content.
Qualities that make matches magical, ones that allow both the book and reader to benefit to the max, are as indefinable as the chemistry underlying soul mates.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I want to share a few "book Cupid" thoughts.

Knowing both books and readers well is the best place to start. Age, interests, background, and style contribute to compatibility. Use caution, though, in considering them as "veto" factors.

I recently attended a reading conference which brought that point home. In one session preschool teachers were improving their skills and understanding of the uses of wordless  story books to develop early literacy with four-year-olds. Later that day I watched a demonstration using the same wordless books with middle grade readers to develop high-level comprehension and writing skills. Identical books were motivating, effective, and entertaining with widely different readers.

What made both matches work so well was knowing the books, the readers, and the intention behind their pairing. In much the same way as meeting a first date, expectations make or break the experience.

Which brings me to my "virtual" friend and fellow picture-book-lover, Richa Jha. We met through social media and our friendship developed despite differences in  age, culture, and experience. Richa has worked in children's publishing in India and is a young mother, in contrast with my longer life here in  midwestern US as a teacher. Nevertheless, we are kindred spirits when it comes to our belief in the importance of quality picture books in the lives of children.

Richa currently lives in Lagos but wrote and released two picture books in English intended her home market. This post about one of Richa's recent picture book releases, THE SUSU PALS, shares two very different online opinions from US readers. The linked post thoroughly explores the  concept of openness and expectations, of approaching books with a receptive rather than a disparaging eye. It's worth taking the time to read it.

Readers of any age can dig beyond the surface (even in wordless books), examine details, consider characters, and explore connections to themselves and the world through books. It's a red letter day when any reader recognizes a soul mate in a given book. Thankfully, the reader-book relationship isn't monogamous, and shouldn't be. Opening the cover of every book with an expectation that the pages have something to offer of value is a virtual guarantee that something of value will be found there. Including among those openings books that reflect other cultures expands the reader's world in the best possible ways. Expectations are key.

The best thing we "book cupids" can do is foster that attitude and offer unlimited introductions to books reflecting our wide and wonderful world.

Feb 1, 2014

Take a Closer Look, and a Look Back!

Monday morning I "virtually" attended the announcement of the annual American Library Association's Youth Media Awards. If you've got plenty of time, try watching the full hour-plus of announcements from Monday morning. The energy and excitement in the room are palpable!

My list of titles to-be-read grew that morning and are now on my library hold list. The happy news was that several titles honored at the event have been reviewed here in the past year. 

I'll keep this short and sweet, offering links to those.

One of three Caldecott Honor books is FLORA AND FLAMINGO, reviewed here, including an interview with author/illustrator Molly Idle.

One of three  Coretta Scott King author honors went to March: Book One, reviewed here last summer.

The only Coretta Scott King illustrator honor went to Kadir Nelson for Nelson Mandella, reviewed here at the time of Mandella's death in December. 

One of three honors for the  Pura Belpre illustrator award went to Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh

One of three honors books for the Theodore Seuss Geisel award was presented to BALL by Mary Sullivan, reviewed in this post.

I've reviewed many of the other honored titles on my Goodreads account and invite you to read them there. If you stop by, send me a friend request while you're there.

ALA's full list of awards and honors can be found here. With the many outstanding books of 2014 to choose from, these honorees deserve a closer look. Pull up your library link and get busy on your own to-be-read hold list!

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.