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 two 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 little-hands-friendly trim size, predictable patterns that allow kids to name and 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 a 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.

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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.