Feb 8, 2018


The clock is ticking away the few remaining days until the annual AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION Midwinter Conference.  (February 9-13, Denver, CO). I've been looking forward to sharing a 2017 picture book about JOHN NEWBERY but held back until this very moment. If you're at all involved with books for kids and teens you'll recognize the name of the man for whom the annual NEWBERY AWARD is named. You may also have heard of (or even led) a mock Newbery contest among your learners. Whatever level of  awareness you have of this prestigious award, I urge you to read this book and share it with others in your family, at a library, or in a school. 
Hold on to that earlier reference to mock contests, because I'll circle back to it after sharing more about the book below.
Chronicle Books, 2017

BALDERDASH: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books is written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. (Click on Carpenter's name to see sample finished art pages from the book and a short clip of the accumulating layers of color that turned her line drawings into full color spreads.)
Author Markel works in similar ways with the unfolding text in this nonfiction/biography of a man who changed the world, literally (pun intended.) Newbery's emerging impact on the literary world is revealed in stages and layers. On the opening spread this book speaks directly to young readers, happily announcing that their bookish young lives are NOTHING like the literate lives of young folks before John Newbery came on the scene. Adults will find the history impressive and may even learn a bit about a savvy and innovative business person. 
Take a look for yourself. Read the shrewdly selected words and enjoy the clever page-turning invitation to learn more about what life was like before Newbery made his mark on the world. Author Markel wisely launches this Newbery biography when John was a book-loving boy, despite his minimal book options. He turned his back on farm life to pursue a career in printing, book-making, and bookselling. His eager pursuit of book-lovers, book readers, and book buyers INCLUDED children, to the shock and dismay of adults in London. 

What was wrong with that Newbery fella from the country? Didn't he know that reading books by choice would turn perfectly polite youngsters into wild beasts? Hadn't he been schooled using the same miserable, preachy, painful texts that had raised generations of British children for centuries? 

But John did not agree with the many complaining adults. He wrote books with those essential school lessons, incorporating accepted learning content into entertaining and lively stories, ones filled with lively characters familiar to children.  
And he found that readers (kids and their families) adored his books, devoured his books, celebrated his books. He placed kids' books prominently in colorful window displays at his shop, pairing them with toys in his promotions, and putting smiles on young faces. In fact, John Newbery has long been considered the FATHER of Children's Literature! Why? Because he shared his love of books with young readers and knew that the old ways were nothing but:

Don't neglect the engaging backmatter when you get your hands on this book. Really, you'll adore this very timely title and want to share it with kids. 

Nothing attracts kids to books more than shiny silver or gold stickers on the cover. Which brings me back to those mock Newbery (and Caldecott) contests that engage and excite young readers. Kids wait anxiously for announcements of winners and honors on Monday morning. (Click the link to watch the announcements on live stream on 2/12, 8 AM MT, or catch it on video later and share with kids.) It's an amazing celebration of authors, illustrators, and literature. Among a generation of kids who respond to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with "FAMOUS!", this is a rare opportunity to see book-world-creators being honored and celebrated like rock stars.
The downside to the mock contests, though, is that kids too easily invest in the process as a "win-lose" activity. If their choices win, they fist-pump and cheer. They are celebrating their favorite books, and what's wrong with that? 
Oh, but what about those who selected other titles? They not only feel rejected, like "losers",  but they even second-guess their choices, forsaking their valuable persuasive arguments in support of their personal favorites, conceding that they were wrong.
These are very NORMAL human reactions, but should not pass without comment. That's why I hope you will share this book, with some additional discussion. I have no doubt that Newbery would be honored to see the way his name has  inspired book creators to aspire to excellence. Even so, I'm firmly convinced that he would NEVER want to pit excellent books against each other, dismissing non-awarded titles or undermining an individual child's opinions about a beloved book. 
I rarely offer specific classroom activity suggestions, but in this case I can't resist. Why not make each reader a designated award-selector, like this, using imaginary student Mika Sanchez:

  1. Establish 3-5 criteria for the Sanchez Award of Excellence.
  2. Narrow finalists to five-ten titles.
  3. Read carefully and evaluate each, using the stated criteria. 
  4. Design a medal, front and back, for the Sanchez Award (see Newbery sample above)
  5. Plan an event at which each participant names his/her winner and honor(s) titles in a grand and glorious celebration, complete with bright new stickers on the covers!
Now THAT, I think, would make John Newbery smile!

Feb 1, 2018

Meet Sergeant Reckless, an Amazing Little Hero Horse

I'm taking a cue from this real life hero in getting this post out. As I was planning this post more than a week ago, I fell and broke my wrist before getting it typed. Now I am awaiting surgery as I type this with one hand, rather heavily medicated. My post will be short, but I hope no less persuasive to readers. I've inserted multiple links for further exploration of an amazing book. By no means is my effort of the magnitude of the horse or the soldiers in this remarkable nonfiction book. The real characters it portrays deserve a major spotlight, so help me pass on the links, if possible. You're going to love this book, I promise.

I can't begin to understand how this picture book missed my radar until January. Now that I've had a chance to read it and examine it thoroughly, it's an instant favorite among the 2017 book-birthday crowd. I'm hoping it will appear on some or many of the upcoming awards and honors lists.
Balzer and Bray, 2017
SERGEANT RECKLESS: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero is written by Patricia McCormick and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. The cover alone reveals so much about the true story revealed in its pages of compelling text and images. 

There is an adult book about this remarkable horse and this is not a first attempt to share the true history from the Korean War. 
To my way of thinking, though, a picture book of this quality is the best possible way to reach readers of any age, but especially young readers. There are so many things to admire about Reckless; anecdotes to make you laugh out loud and others that will nudge you to tears. 
Here's a summary from Indiebound.org:
"When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they'd ever known. And one of the biggest appetites 
Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle--again and again--becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank--becoming Sgt. Reckless--and receive two Purple Hearts."
I'm not alone in singing its praises. A Kirkus review praises it, and Publishers' Weekly gave it a starred review. It's an endearing but achingly honest version of nobility, in humans, animals, and a tribute to the relationships they forge, during good times and bad. 

Jan 21, 2018

Bedtime Book for Insomniacs: Wide-Awake Bear

I'm excited to share another new picture book written by the very talented Pat Zietlow Miller and charmingly illustrated by Jean Kim: WIDE-AWAKE BEAR.

Harper Collins Books, 2018

Skim through your friends' social media posts and, if your friends are anything like mine, you'll soon find one or many groaning comments about being unable to sleep. 
Not complaining about being too overworked or too busy to sleep.
Just laments about lying there in bed, tossing and turning, plumping pillows, shifting covers, maybe even hot-flashing. Nothing works. The posting friends are up and typing because they are 
Plenty of little ones have similar issues but lack the outlet to post about it. Instead they call for help.

Little bear cub Elliott understands completely. 

When leaves drop, snow dusts the hillside, and the last of the berries are gone, Mama Bear calls him into the den to "nap" until Spring. Elliott, with his teeny patchwork quilt, is one cooperative and self-sufficient bear. He snuggles, sleeps, and dreams- of SPRING! Then, when a tickled nose wakes him, he is THE BEST at problem solving- shifting positions, plumping his bedding, daydreaming about spring, but 
So far so good. Elliott's approach offers good examples for adults or wee ones for self-comfort and independence. 

But shadows on the walls and worries about spring require Mama's support. No spoilers here, except to say that the sweet factor ratchets up considerably from that point on, but there is nothing cloying in the way Elliott and Mama resolve his issues. 

This makes a wonderful bedtime book, or hold it in reserve until the next time your tot wakes you in the night. One reading should do it, but expect to have him or her asking for a reading every night after that. 
Miller's genuine emotion and patented lyrical voice are enhanced by Kim's gentle illustrations. The opening and closing end papers are a special treat. In every picture book it's all about the eyes, and in this case the TINY little black eyes and eyebrow dashes manage to convey more authentic emotion than more typical wide-eyed attempts. 

This book is a great gift for parents of struggling sleepers, or check it out at the library when a young one hits a bumpy stage. In fact, it could be just the right gift for an adult you know with chronic sleep issues. Add some chamomile tea, a jar of honey, and some berry jam to make a wonderful encouragement for a good night's sleep. 

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.