Wednesday, February 3, 2016

And now to postgame analysis

On January 11 at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting – the children's award news was good!

The Caldecott Medal selection was a bit of a surprise, but a nice one: Finding Winnie: the true story of the world’s most famous bear with illustrations by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick. This was one of two books published last year presenting the touching tale of how Winnie the Pooh got his name (from a real little bear).

But oh, were we knocked on our keisters by the winner of the Newbery Medal, which usually goes to a chapter book or novel in recognition of the excellence of the text. It didn’t this year. A picture book won for the first time ever. The book we thought might snag the Caldecott instead reaped the Newbery – Last Stop on Market Street! (It did win a Caldecott Honor.) It is indeed a lovely book, about a boy and his grandmother taking a bus ride to a slightly bedraggled section of their city, and enjoying everything they see and everyone they meet. Nevertheless, it’s a picture book - and worth your time, however many - or few - words it has.  (Our two top choices for the Newbery did win Newbery Honors: The War that Saved My Life, and Echo.)

We felt a little better when the winner of the Printz Award for teen literature was announced; this year it was Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby - our pick, too! This novel is a enigmatic mixture of fantasy and contemporary fiction, with a remarkable use of metaphor and particularly engaging characters.

And here’s the ALA notable books list for 2016, which includes the titles listed above. Enjoy!

Children's Literature 2016: ALA Award Predictions

Looking into our crystal ball on January 3....

The Caldecott Medal goes to the best picture book; this year the competition for the award is wide open. Lisa is rooting for Float by Daniel Miyares, a wordless adventure starring a boy, a boat, and a rainy day. My favorite is pretty wet, too: Water is Water, a beautiful book about the water cycle by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Jason Chin. Lisa also liked The Marvels, another long, extensively illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, who won a Caldecott for a similar book a few years ago. A book we both liked, the poignant Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt Le Pena with pictures by Christian Robinson, has been touted as the title to beat. We’ll see!

Ah, the Newbery, for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. This year has been a bit unusual; there is one title that has enchanted every librarian who’s read it: The War That Saved My Life.  A novel by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley set in World War II Britain, it follows the travails and triumphs of young Ada and Jamie. I loved it, Lisa loved it, you’ll love it, it’s a classic in the making – but will the Newbery committee agree?

OK, there were in fact other children’s novels published in 2015 that might snag an award. Standouts were: Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan, a set of three stories linked by a musical theme; Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, about an American girl travelling to Vietnam with her grandmother to investigate the mysterious fate of her grandfather; Goodbye, Stranger, Rebecca Stead’s depiction of middle-school social life; and Full Cicada Moon, a novel-in-verse about a black Japanese teenager, raised in Berkeley, now adjusting to life in Vermont in 1969.

Lisa and I are feeling more confident about the Printz Award, given to books exemplifying literary excellence for teens. Lots of possibilities this year, starting with our first choice, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, a captivating blend of myth, romance, and thriller, seasoned with a soupcon of horror. We also loved The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, an intense read about three girls linked by violence, and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, with its appealing heroine.  Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman provides uncommon insight into schizophrenia, while Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli offers laughs galore with her coming-of-age, coming-out saga. And let’s not forget 2 great nonfiction titles: the riveting history of the Vietnam War recounted in Steven Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous, and the story of the horrendous siege of Leningrad presented in Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson.

Let's see how we do on January 11!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's award season for books, not just movies!

It’s time to predict the American Library Association’s children’s literature awards, a task we take on with enthusiasm every year (irrespective of our track record)!

Lisa and I agree that the most likely winner of the Caldecott Award for best picture book is Marla Frazee’s poignant THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN. Or perhaps MY GRANDFATHER’S COAT (written by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock) will get the nod. We both loved Oliver Jeffers’ ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET, an amusing collection of 26 short stories based on letters of the alphabet – but will the awards jury?

The Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” (more simply, the year’s best chapter book or novel) also has a front runner this year: the beautifully-written verse memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson.  Our personal favorite, however, is another story written in verse:  THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander. And there is a third verse tale in contention: THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Not to be ignored are two additional nonfiction candidates: THE FAMILY ROMANOV, a historical page-turner by Candace Fleming, and EL DEAFO, Cece Bell’s graphic memoir of her childhood, which was shaped  by a severe loss of hearing at age 4.

The Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature has at least three likely contenders: I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, an intense novel about teen twins and the artistic life by Jandy Nelson; GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, a crazy but appealing mashup of 1950s science fiction and coming-of-age themes by Andrew Smith; and THIS ONE SUMMER, a subtle and superbly drawn graphic novel by the Tamaki sisters, about the summer two young girls are forced to grow up. We loved (or at least liked...) them all.

February 2 is the day of the awards ceremony. Are there surprises in store?  Check back next week!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Look, listen - and read

After a busy day at work or at home, do you have the energy to hold a book and keep your eyes open at the same time? If we tend to regard reading with our eyes as the more serious and highbrow way to take in information (see second link below), what do we do if we are thirsting for some intellectual stimulation, but are just too tired to do anything about it?

Fortunately, a number of cultural critics are throwing the exhausted multitudes a lifeline: they insist that intellectual engagement is not entirely dependent on the perusal of literary tomes these days.

To wit:

The shows in our present "Golden Age" of TV may actually be our new novels

Audiobooks allow us to appreciate the role of story in contemporary fiction

Series fiction deserves some respect

So visit the library, grab a "new novel" on DVD, a compelling story in audio, even a print page-turner or two, and feel free to enjoy: it's brain food!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

The medals have been awarded!

No, all you Olympics fans, not for flips, twirls, or crossing the finish line first, but for the most distinguished children's literature of 2013.

The Caldecott Medal, for the year's best picture book, was given to Brian Floca for LOCOMOTIVE. This was an unusual, but obvious, choice.  Unusual, in that it was only the 7th time in 76 years that a nonfiction book won the prize, but obvious, since LOCOMOTIVE has been showered with acclaim since it was published. (Even I predicted it would win.) Children and their parents will find this beautiful book to be an enthralling introduction to the history of the American railroad.

The Newbery Award committee's selection for best children's novel was unexpected, but nevertheless a very popular decision.  Kate DiCamillo received her second Newbery, for FLORA AND ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES. Flora and her two new friends - Ulysses, a squirrel (with superpowers) and the "blind" William Spiver - race around town getting in and out of trouble, and delighting readers with their wacky antics at all times. Most adults thought this book was just too much fun to win a "most distinguished" prize, but I'm glad to say we were wrong!

The Michael L. Printz Award for the best book written for young adults was a surprise as well, but this one not as welcome. It was won by Marcus Sedgwick, the author of many well-received young adult novels, for his book MIDWINTERBLOOD. Set on a vaguely Scandinavian island, MIDWINTERBLOOD is a collection of seven stories, loosely connected by the two characters Eric and Merle, whose identities in each tale are different in everything but name.  The stories go back in time, concluding with the religious sacrifice of one of the two protagonists.  The successive characters and plots were, in my opinion, so diffuse that it was hard to do more than admire the style of the book. But whether I liked it or loved it, I wonder - as have many other readers - why this is considered a young adult novel, as it has almost no characters or themes related to teens.  A literary conundrum, or just a publisher's business decision? Read it and let me know what you think.

This year’s awards made it clearer than ever that the decisions of literary prize committees are difficult to predict. But lucky us, we now have a staff member who can provide some insight into the decision-making process. My colleague Allison Murphy is in her second year of service on the Connecticut Nutmeg Awards intermediate-level committee. For the second year in a row, she will read 150+ books appropriate for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and meet regularly with 14 other committee members to produce a list of ten titles; young Connecticut readers can then read them and vote for their favorite. Lots of work but very satisfying, Allison says. (And I reply, when do you find time to sleep??)

Last but not least, here is Allison’s and my 2013 favorites list.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Just a few days....

......until the prestigious 2014 American Library Association book awards for young people are announced.

With justifiable trepidation (we are usually wrong!), Allison and I offer our predictions for the winners.

For the Caldecott "most distinguished" picture book award, Allison thinks that the wordless JOURNEY by Aaron Becker will get the nod; I lean more toward the nonfiction LOCOMOTIVE by Brian Floca. We both would be delighted (but stunned) if the popular favorite THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, won. I smile every time SOPHIE'S SQUASH, written by Pat Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, comes to mind (and I giggle at the sight of NINO WRESTLES THE WORLD by Yuyi Morales!). And of course, there's my annual shout-out to Steve Jenkins; this year it's for his spectacular compilation THE ANIMAL BOOK.

Allison and I diverge on the most likely Newbery "most distinguished" children's literature prize. She's rooting for the poetry collection WHAT THE HEART KNOWS by Joyce Sidman, and the novels COUNTING BY 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan, THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu, and P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita Garcia-Williams. While I loved P.S. BE ELEVEN as well, I am a major fan of DOLL BONES by Holly Black, and would be happy if the sweet THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER by Kevin Henkes gets some recognition; JINX by Sage Blackwood was a delightful read.

The Printz award for the best teen/young adult book often comes as a surprise. But maybe the popular FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal will win; Allison and I both think it should. (McNeal's book is also being touted for the Newbery.) Allison also likes the chances of FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by adult author Matthew Quick in his debut novel for teens; I would add THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by the double-threat author Holly Black. And speaking of double threats....Rainbow Rowell has two teen novels strongly in the running for the Printz: ELEANOR AND PARK and FANGIRL. Last but certainly not least, I would love to see Melina Marchetta's QUINTANA OF CHARYN, the third in her fabulous fantasy trilogy, THE LUMATERE CHRONICLES, win.

Have we called them right? We'll see, in just a few days.....


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year's resolution you'll enjoy (We promise.)

You know, New Year's seems to be one of our more burdensome holidays. First, there's a good chance you woke up this morning with a headache.  Then the focus of the day is getting started on those annoying self-improvement pledges - more exercise! less snacking! What's there to celebrate?

Well, we've got a resolution for you that has a high probability of success - and satisfaction, too. Why don't you aim to read a book a month? Keep yourself entertained or informed with the latest in good reading.  To start you off, we've got plenty of  "best" and "notable" books for you to choose from.

NEW YORK TIMES 10 Best Books  and 100 Notable Books of 2013

LIBRARY JOURNAL Best Books 2013: Top Ten as well as Best Books in 10 different nonfiction categories  

KIRKUS REVIEWS  Best Fiction Books of 2013 and Best Nonfiction Books of 2013


So put your feet up, your reading glasses on and start the new year right!