This is part of the picture book project. I need to read all of these books. Or I get to read all of these books. Or something like that. I want to become better acquainted with picture books both new and old, and help our school library assistants to pick good ones for their libraries. As you can see, I am starting mostly with the brand new, but soon enough I’ll be hitting the classics and the back catalogs as well. (I’ve long had an unfulfilled goal to read the complete works of Dr. Suess; I wish they had an omnibus edition like a complete Shakespeare.) Wish me luck, and give me suggestions.
I no longer house these lists on this site. Here are links to some of the recent Beehive nominee lists:
For more information about the Beehive Book Awards, please visit the Children’s Literature Association of Utah.
Three siblings: Otto, Lucia, and Max; the story is told by one of them, but the teller has been sworn not to reveal him or herself by the other siblings. They live with their dad in a small town in England where they were long ago labeled the weird kids of the town, but only because their mother mysteriously vanished and/or died before they were old enough to really remember her, and the super-tall and oldest brother Otto never speaks and always wears a scarf. The nasty theory is that he strangled his own mother with the scarf in a rage of madness, and their father covered it up to protect his son.
With The Kneebone Boy, American author Ellen Potter lets loose her anglophilia and successfully hijacks the magic of the long and storied history of British children’s literature, from Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis to Roald Dahl and J. K. Rowling, that she clearly loves so much; except there is no magic in The Kneebone Boy. Our unidentified narrator makes this ever so clear from the outset, lest we end up disappointed.
Oddities? Does the rumored existence of a boy born with bat ears and fur all over his body and locked in the top chamber of a crumbling old castle sound normal to you?
Mysteries? If a missing mom and a furry boy locked in a castle aren’t enough mysteries for you, then you are a tougher reader than me.
Adventures? Would getting in a fight with a tattooed thug while stranded in the streets of London parentless count? How about exploring the treacherous secret passageways of the aforementioned crumbling castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea?
With all that, who needs magic?
Told by one of the cleverest narrative voices I’ve read in a long time and abounding with the weirdness, mystery, and plot twists of the children’s books I grew up loving, this is the first book I’ve read in a while that made me genuinely excited about children’s literature written primarily for children. For that, and even though and maybe actually partly because of the fact that this book probably won’t win any awards, it was my favorite book of 2010.
The Kneebone Boy
Written by Ellen Potter
Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Abilene has spent most of her life riding the rails with her father, but in the summer of 1936 he sends her to his once-upon-a-time home town of Manifest, Kansas, telling her that he has to work a railroad job in Iowa alone and that he will return to pick her up at the end of the summer. Her father has always told her happy stories of the town of Manifest and Abilene is warmly welcomed by several of the townsfolk, but she immediately feels that they are holding something back from her. When she finds an old tin filled with mysterious keepsakes and letters under a floorboard, she sets out to discover the secrets of Manifest, and hopefully those of her own father as well.
This is a well-rounded historical novel abounding with great characters, stories and details, ultimately providing an epic view into numerous historical events from what is basically a story of a young girl in a depression-era Midwest town. The small town mysteries, adventures, and con jobs slightly echo The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, while the experiences and stories of individual characters take us far from Main Street to places as diverse as the Ellis Island immigration inspections, tent revivals, orphan trains, a KKK rally, the bottom of a coal mine, influenza quarantines, bootlegging operations, hobo camps, and the French front lines of the first World War. Moon over Manifest is an engaging read that underscores the power of story and will give young readers a taste of many real flavors of American life during the first third of the 20th Century. It was a nice choice for the 2011 Newbery.
Moon over Manifest
Written by Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Books for Young Readers / Random House
Release Date: October 12, 2010
So, um, I guessed pretty far off on the Newbery awards this year. I thought I would do awesome because I so easily picked last year’s winner.
I am now about to proceed to read the actual Newbery winner, Moon over Manifest, and as I went in to my Goodreads account to search for the book and faithfully record my commencement of its reading, I was greated with the above friendly suggestion from a search robot. I really hope this book isn’t a barf manifesto; it looks too cute. However, it certainly would be a lot more fun for the kids if a book called something like Barf Manifesto won the Newbery. I guess we can only hope for next year.
In the summer of 1968, when sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are put on a plane across the country from Brooklyn to Oakland, they are cautiously optimistic. They are going to California, after all, but they are going there to meet and stay with their mother, who left them before they could really remember her. Instead of the welcome hug they hope to receive from a long lost mother, they get a cranky, secretive woman who barely tolerates their being in her house, treating them neither like her children nor even like decent house guests. Instead of a vacation filled with trips to Disneyland, playing on the beach, and seeing movie stars, their California trip is four weeks stuck in a poor black Oakland neighborhood, spending their days at a youth summer camp run by revolutionary Black Panthers because their mother will not have them around all day, distracting her from her cryptic work as a poet. Will the sisters be able to get through these four weeks nearly on their own, and will they figure out the multitude of mysteries surrounding their mother, who won’t even let them set foot in her kitchen?
Delphine, at eleven years old, is one of the more mature, practical and memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in children’s literature, a strong and steady oldest daughter taking on the role of mother for her two little sisters. She deftly negotiates her sisters through numerous tense and tumultuous situations, showing great wisdom. Through Delphine’s eyes, the author shows us what it was like to be a black child in the midst of the radical late 60s. From the way she smartly calms her sisters on the plane to avoid them “making a grand negro spectacle of themselves,” to her studied assessment of the revolutionary rhetoric the girls are taught at the People’s Center as it compares to what she has learned from her father and grandmother, she shows a great understanding and gives the reader an insightful view of these times.
This would be a great book for any child who has ever been or felt abandoned by a parent. It gives no easy answers, neither unfettered condemnation nor forgiving justification for the mother’s actions, but rather shows things how they really are, without a false happy ending. It is also a great piece of historical fiction, giving readers an appreciation for the challenges and complexities of the times. Although its appeal may actually be more adult and I suspect most young readers won’t be busting down the library doors to read this one, One Crazy Summer is the best-written children’s novel I have come across this year, and therefore the strongest contender for the Newbery. (We’ll find out tomorrow.)
One Crazy Summer
Written by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad / HarperCollins
Release Date: January 26, 2010
Every night, after she’s read a couple of chapters of Nancy Drew, Franny closes her eyes and drafts a letter to Chairman Khrushchev, asking him to come to an understanding of things and not blow up America. But she can never get the wording quite right. In fact, she can’t seem to get anything quite right. She can’t duck and cover correctly during the school air raid drills, she can’t stop her eccentric uncle from digging up the front lawn to make a bomb shelter, she can’t figure out the mystery of her college freshman sister’s weeklong disappearance, and she is escalating a cold war with her former best friend Margie, with implications that will proliferate the entire neighborhood.
In Deborah Wiles’ documentary novel, the first of a planned Sixties Trilogy, the great and small dramas of Franny’s life are interwoven with a text-and-image collage of the pop singles, presidential television addresses, children’s books, and photojournalism of the historic moments of 1962. Underlying everything is the doomsday promise that was the Cuban Missile Crisis; Franny’s whole world is just one blinding flash away from total annihilation.
The mash-ups of primary source photos, historical notes, and pop culture ephemera that serve as interludes to the novel’s narrative are by turns clever, informative, ironic, and portentous, and give great context to the story. However, much like last year’s Newbery winner When You Reach Me won readers over as much with its realistic 6th grade social drama as with its time travel mystery, Franny’s day-to-day school and family concerns are just as engaging as the high concept collage aspect of the text.
And speaking of the Newbery, this book is a worthy contender for that prize in 2011. Giving a vivid picture of childhood in early 1960s, yet describing family and social situations still highly applicable to children today, this book is worth the attention of any young person or teacher of young people.
Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy, Book 1)
Written by Deborah Wiles
Release Date: May 1, 2010
“Not so lucky when it came to their parents, though.
“Mr. and Mrs. Scroggins were simply awful people.”
These parents soon prove to be so awful that they make the parents of Matilda seem somewhat decent. So awful that they randomly leave Honey on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and tell Hope simply to “forget her.” Her little sister Honey was the only good thing in her life, so of course it is impossible to forget her. So, left to herself, Hope does nothing but sleep, and in her dreams she tries to find her sister.
Then one day Hope receives an unusual letter stating that her memory account is woefully out of balance, and soon she is picked up by a repo man of sorts and taken to The Memory Bank, a strange quasi-magical institution where all people’s memories, in the form of glowing physical globules, are catalogued and carefully stored. Hope has not been living and creating memories for herself, and so the head of the bank is greatly concerned. Hope is taken in by people at the bank, and hopes her access to the memory bank will help her find her sister, all while the bank takes measures against a rogue organization that is threatening to destroy memories.
Meanwhile, we learn through parallel, illustrated interludes that Honey has been adopted by a band of laughing children led by a teenage girl who perform “terrorist” activities against the memory bank, such as dumping candy into the memory receptacles with a dump truck.
Much like the illustrations in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Rob Shepperson’s drawings for Coman’s novel are as essential to the advancement of the plot as the written narrative, making this a truly collaborative work. It is one of several recent titles (along with The Dreamer) that show a growing and welcome trend towards exquisitely illustrated children’s novels.
There are a lot of things to like about this book. The illustrations are fun and generous in their frequency, making this a fast-moving but satisfying read for young readers. There is a surreal, dream-like quality to the book that is appealing, somewhere at the intersection of Roald Dahl and Kate DiCamillo. Unfortunately, like most dreams, it doesn’t seem to quite come together or make complete sense once you are finished with it. Is it an allegory that I haven’t made sense of yet? Is it a fun fantasy? Is it just a random dream? Although appealing, the book ultimately doesn’t deliver the punch that it seems it should, and I think it will leave young readers scratching their heads.
The Memory Bank
Written by Carolyn Coman, Illustrated by Rob Shepperson
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Long before the meteoric rise of Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize-winning poet and one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century, there was a sensitive and shy young boy in a small town in Southern Chile named Neftali Reyes. In The Dreamer, Pam Muñoz Ryan gives us the story of how that young boy grew to become the great Latin American poet, succeeding despite or perhaps because of the repression of a hard-willed father who had no regard for his son’s curiosity, creativity and abilities for self-expression.
“On a continent of many songs, in a country shaped like the arm of a tall guitarist, the rain drummed down on the town of Temuco.” From this opening sentence onward, Ryan gives us a narrative of a boy who sees magic and wonder infused in the everyday things of the world. This is a creative outlook native to so many children, but often squelched by societal, educational, or parental demands of conformity. One clear message from this book to children is that it is acceptable and desirable to be curious about the world and empathetic to others, and it is valuable to express oneself, even if in some circumstances it requires great bravery. To this end, the negative portrayal of Neruda’s “blunt father” seems at times extreme to the point of being cartoonish and unbelievable, and yet may be entirely accurate. Ryan’s writing, while clear and direct, attempts to incorporate a sense of the poetic style of Neruda and other modern Latin American writers, full of pleasant figurative language and surrealistic imagery.
Middle grade readers who possess the curiosity or creative impulse of the young Neftali will find much to enjoy and identify with in this book. This book would also serve as an excellent classroom read-aloud in association with any unit on creative writing or poetry. Curiosity, creativity and inquiry are major themes. Teaching applications are multifarious: potential writing prompts abound, and the text overflows with examples of figures of speech.
The book is beautifully printed in green ink (Neruda drafted his own writings in green ink, calling it “the color of hope”) with many interesting illustrations throughout. Peter Sís’ clever and whimsical drawings occasionally stray a little too close to cloying cuteness, but their comprehendible surrealism and symbolism are well-suited for the enjoyment and intrigue of the middle grade reader, and more often than not add depth and meaningful counterpoint to the text.
Overall, this is another strong contender for the Newbery Award in 2011, and it would be surprising to this reviewer if it did not obtain at least an Honor status.
Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Illustrated by Peter Sís
Release Date: April 1, 2010