Disappointment runneth over.

So, nearly six weeks ago the Caldecott and Newbery awards were announced and I was completely wrong on all predictions. And quite disappointed by the awarded books, to be honest. I felt like the committee for the 2016 year’s selection was pretty off-the-mark.

I felt like certain books were far and away better than the awardees, actually. Here are some of my favorites from 2016:

Ida, Always by Caron Levis. See previous post from oh so long ago. I finished out the year of 2016 still considering this book as one of the best of the year.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke. I read this book several times to school groups and it was a hit each time. It’s a great story and well illustrated.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. WHY DIDN’T THIS GET ANY SORT OF RECOGNITION BY THE NEWBERY SELECTION COMMITTEE? This was fantastic. Well-written, great illustrations, simply amazing story line, and just a really beautiful children’s chapter book. If this isn’t turned into a movie, I would be shocked.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas. I thought the illustrations in this book were far and away the most beautiful of all the 2016 releases. The story was gentle and sort of sad, but also sweet. It didn’t really get a great reception from the kids, but I think it’s one of those books adults buy for themselves (or, is it just me?).

 

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My first book recommendation for 2016

On a scale of emotional reading rated 1-10, I’m in the neighborhood of a 10 when it comes to getting ‘feels’ about books. I want a book to make me feel something. I don’t even mind if it’s anger or confusion, but I need to feel some sort of emotion when I’m reading. This goes for books I read for pleasure and books I read to my storytimers (at times, these categories overlap, of course). If I feel happy when I’m reading a picture book, it will come through to my littlest ones in my programs. If I’m feeling sad, it comes through as well. I try to avoid the sad books in storytime. But, sometimes those sad books are so beautiful that I do a mini book talk to the parents and grandparents of my storytimers while the kids are choosing their books for the week. I have several parents who ask me for recommendations for books for their children and some who I just sort of butt in and say, “Have you guys read this yet? I think you’ll like it!” and they tend to placate me by taking it and checking it out.

I’ve mentioned before that I process all the new books that come into my library, so I have a chance to read the new picture books before I put them out on the shelf. I also read the publisher magazines to get a feel for what’s coming my way. That way, I can also get my name on the hold list to ensure I get a copy of a certain book if I know I definitely want it at my branch. This scenario happened last week with a book I’ve been awaiting arrival for a few weeks. It’s my favorite book of the year so far and I think it’s definitely setting the bar super high for children’s books this year. I know this is only March, but this book is outstanding.

But: It will make you cry. This is where my hesitance to read it at storytime comes in. I don’t want to cry in front of my little preschoolers and I don’t want them or their parents crying, either. It could really bring down the storytime. I’m not sure how we’d go from bawling about this book to singing a nursery rhyme or doing a craft. So, this book (while SPECTACULAR) is not on my list for storytime. However, I’ve been recommending it to some of my favorite families and the feedback has been good, except that they’ve all cried and haven’t necessarily made it through the entire book with the kids because the kids start crying because their parent/grandparent is crying and they don’t fully understand why.

Still, all this goes to give you fair warning if you read this book you will have feels. All the feels. But, it will stick with you and be beautiful. So, without further ado, I recommend to you the new picture book “Ida, Always” by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso:

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This is inspired by a true story of a bear friendship and is the story of Gus and Ida, who live in a zoo in a big city. They are the best of friends, but one day Ida gets sick and Gus has to learn to deal with the changes that illness bring to his small world. (It makes me tear up to even remember the storyline.)  Gus and Ida are so wonderful and lovable. Levis describes the pain of illness and loss with gentleness, but without glossing over the confusion, helplessness, and anger that you feel when you’re losing someone you love and you can’t do anything about it. This such a beautifully written and illustrated book and I wish everyone would read it.

It’s too early to make ponderings about Caldecott and Newbery for next year, but this is hard to beat, I feel. So good. Just keep the tissues nearby.

 

 

I’ve just always loved books.

I’ve been doing some research on long-term memory, lately. Just reading some articles and asking people about things, really. Not becoming an expert or anything, but it’s really interesting. I became intrigued when I read an article that said that children don’t retain memories until they are about 3 or 4 years old. It made it sound as though preschoolers’ brains are too busy soaking up all the stimuli around them that memories don’t form and “solidify” until later. This is why adults don’t remember things like learning to walk or talk or their first birthday party or anything.

But then I was thinking about my experiences with preschoolers at the library and they definitely have long-term memories. Whether or not they will remember the things they know now years from now? I don’t know. But they certainly retain memories for several months at a time. I know this because of the kids who come to my music & movement program and, if they happen to miss  a week or two, they ALWAYS ask to do things that we did several weeks before like wanting to do the parachute songs/activities, or making sure that bubbles are on the agenda this week, etc. They remember a lot of things, really. They’re still learning and soaking up information, but they remember their friend’s name, they remember books and stories they particularly enjoy, they remember songs, etc. So, I was skeptical about this theory that kids are unable to retain long-term memories from a very young age.

So, I started asking people (adults) what their earliest memories and that was really fascinating. Most people I talked to don’t remember anything before about age 3. Their earliest memory tends to be something rather ordinary, too. Not a party or Christmas morning or a big event, but things more mundane. Going out to eat, the way the living room looked in the house they lived in at that time, picking out pumpkins. People also seem to have a tendency to remember colors more than anything else. The earliest memories that I heard were filled with descriptive colors about the environment around them and what they’re wearing. That’s interesting, to me. It makes sense to me that preschoolers pick up on the colors around them. Most are beginning to learn colors, so those are things they know at that age.

Upon further digging, I found an article that compared cultures to try to discover what impact, if any, a person’s culture has on their ability to retain memories. This was really interesting because the study compared children in Canada to children in China and found that Canadian children tended to have memories from about age 3 or 4 (like American kids), but Chinese children didn’t tend to remember anything earlier than age 5 or 6. The researchers chalked this up to the emphasis on the individual in Canada/USA culture and the emphasis on the community, rather than the individual in China.

Anyway, it has all been pretty interesting and has made me think more about the experiences I’m trying to create for the kids I serve. Reading to children from an early age is so important in many ways and I have several families who have brought their kids to my programs practically from birth, but I better understand that perhaps these kids won’t remember me or the library or storytime when they get older, but I hope that they will have a happy feeling about the library as they grow up. Whether or not they understand where that feeling comes from is not important, so long as they feel it! I have always had a good feeling about books, but I don’t remember my parents reading to me (although I know that they did). I know that they instilled a love of reading and it’s just a part of who I am. I hope that the families I serve have similar experiences with reading. It’s just a part of who they are and it’s a part of their lives because the two can’t be separated, although maybe they can’t explain why it is other than to say:…”I’ve just always loved books.”

 

 

Books from all corners of the world!

With less than a week left of 2015, I’ve started thinking about this past year and the future year to come. The past few days at the library have been really slow, but has allowed the few of us who have worked there over the holidays to talk a lot and sort of get to know each other a little bit better. One of my co-workers is resolving to read more books next year. This seems to be a fairly common resolution, with people coming up with challenges and goals around how many books they want to read, certain topics they want to delve more into in the coming year, etc. A regular patron of ours came in yesterday to pick up an inter-library loan that arrived for her this week and, for the first time, I heard that she’s actually working toward a reading goal herself. I thought she was just very interested in books and topics that we don’t seem to have in our library system, but no! She’s doing a very interesting and cool project. She is trying to read one book from every country. She’s not just wanting to read a book about every country; her project is to read a native author’s writings about their native country. There are some good links to websites that can help with this sort of project. Yesterday she picked up Malta. I hadn’t known this was something she was doing, so I really need to ask her more about it the next time I see her. I find this goal really fascinating! What a good idea, I thought! The most difficult part seems to be finding these books translated into English.

I don’t know how this particular patron came about deciding to do this. When googling around about it, I found an article from The Atlantic about a woman in London who did this project: International Literature Challenge

Here’s another really decent list: Reading the World

I remember a Goodreads challenge from several years ago that included reading books translated from another language. It is really not as easy to find translated materials as you might expect. Now that I know what this particular patron is doing, I’m remembering all of the ILLs that she’s had recently. Public libraries are somewhat limited to what they can offer someone in this type of project, but the beauty of inter-library loan is that you don’t just have one library at your disposal, you have hundreds!

Anyway, as you leave 2015 behind and are thinking about the next year, is there any sort of reading goal that you’ve set for yourself? I haven’t yet set one for me. I was looking over the Reading the World list though, and there are some interesting looking titles on there. I don’t want to hop on a bandwagon, but it would be nice to broaden the scope of what I’m reading. I’m not a reading snob by any means. I applaud anybody reading anything. However, I felt a pang of inadequacy for a brief moment when a co-worker told me he’s reading his way through Proust. I’m reading my way through “A Duke but No Gentleman”, the first in a new series of romance paperbacks.

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Mock Caldecott 2016

It’s less than a month until the Caldecott 2016 Award will be announced. The committee doesn’t do a shortlist for the Caldecott or Newbery that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s all sort of hushed up, which leaves us children’s librarians to our own devices. Throughout the year, I’ve been processing the new books with an eye toward the illustrations and a wonder at which of these artists will be given the coveted Caldecott Award for best illustration in an American Picture Book come January. Well, I don’t know. Unfortunately, being immersed in the world of picture books and storytimes and preschoolers doesn’t make me inherently knowledgeable about what the committee is looking for when picking their winners for the children’s book awards.

But, if I were to choose a set of nominees, here would be mine. I can highly recommend all of these books if you’re still looking for a beautiful picture book to give away this Christmas:

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The Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
I liked this book so much last summer that I wrote a blog post dedicated to it. I still love it. My preschoolers loved the illustrations. Plus, I feel like the story is set in the reality that my community confronts every day, and that’s good for my kids to see. It’s good that there is a story that reflects the beauty of their community, even when that community includes things like homelessness and graffiti and is not the typical storybook setting.

 
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Boats for Papa written & illustrated by Jessixa Bagley.
This is it for me. This might be my top choice for Caldecott. The problem for the committee might be the topic that it deals with, but the illustrations are beautiful and I really really love this book. This is the exact type of book that I look for when recommending titles to parents who are searching for books dealing with major issues and how to explain things to children when the parents themselves are struggling to find the words. This book deals with loss and grieving in the most beautifully loving way. No judging the ways in which someone grieves, no time limits for grieving, nothing. Love and understanding and patience are what shine in this beautiful and gentle story. The illustrations are so well done and very detailed. You see the details in the boats and the emotions on the faces of Mama and little Buckley. It’s just…great. If this book isn’t even a nominee for Caldecott 2016, I will be sad.

 

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Sidewalk Flowers “written” by Jon Arno Lawson; illustrated by Sydney Smith
This is a wordless book, so the entire story is told by the illustrations alone and Smith does a fantastic job. It’s really a beautifully written piece of art. The father and daughter are out for a stroll and the father is pre-occupied while the little girl collects wildflowers she finds along the route and she gives them to people as they go. The illustrator uses black and white at first, and as the story progresses and the girl gives away more and more flowers, the pages become beautifully colorful. She lights up the world with her generosity. It’s gonna give you a big case of the happies. I haven’t really heard much buzz about this book, so I don’t know if it’s even on people’s radar, but I’m putting it out there as one of the best wordless books I’ve seen this year.

 

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Waiting written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
So, Henkes is sort of a King among children’s lit authors. He’s won this award before. He is revered in some circles. But, there’s a reason and this book is a great example of the genius of Henkes. He just gets it. It’s simple. It’s about waiting for something to happen. Seriously, that’s all it’s about. The book is about five friends who sit on a windowsill and wait. Each are waiting for something different and amazing to happen. The illustrations are gentle and pastel-y and beautiful. It’s just…adorable. That’s what it is. Adorable. I would be surprised if it’s not a big contender for the Caldecott, not just for the name recognition, but it is freaking adorable.

 

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Water is Water : A book about the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul; illustrations by Jason Chin
Okay. This title is not good. I will give you that. It totally doesn’t scream ‘PICK ME UP AND READ ME. I’M AWESOME.’ Beautifully written and illustrated non-fiction picture books are somewhat rare, which is why, when one comes along, we all need to shout it out to the heavens. I’m shouting out because this book is excellent. It is written in a bit of a language pattern, showing the different states of being for water through liquid phase, gas phase, solid phases, which is great for kids. It hits water, fog, mist, rain, ice, snow, etc. The illustrations are out of this world, too. This should be a major contender for the Caldecott if the title doesn’t hurt it’s chances.

 

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The Whisper written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
This is probably the big buzzy leader going into the final few weeks of the year. Zagarenski is an amazing artist, no doubt. The book is beautifully written and deals with librarians favorite topics: books and the power of imagination. I see what the fuss is about. It is for these reasons that I think it’s got a really strong chance at being named the top picture book of 2015. I think it’s a great book, but I wouldn’t read this to my preschoolers. This is the sort of book that I think adults love more than kids do. This is the book that you buy as an adult because you love books and you love to read and this book makes you feel all the feels about the power of reading. It’s good. But, as for best picture book of the year, I personally hope it goes to a book that kids would love to read as well. The story here is just a bit abstract, although the illustrations are beautifully detailed. Zagarenski has been a Caldecott honoree twice, so perhaps the third time is the charm this year?

 

Other possiblities:

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Yard Sale written by Eve Bunting; illustrations by Lauren Castillo
Another favorite book of mine because it deals with a difficult topic for kids and parents alike. The family is facing foreclosure and having to sell all their belongings and move into a small apartment. The yard sale is the final effort at making some money to begin anew in the little apartment. Bunting and Castillo handle this difficult topic so gently and beautifully. The struggle of the parents and the little girl to let go and accept what’s happening is so clear in the illustrations but the story with Eve Bunting at the helm (another giant of children’s lit) is so well done. It’s a really great book. Highly recommended. I don’t know if it will make it onto the committee’s nomination list or not, but it’s a fantastic book no matter what.

 

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A Fine Dessert : Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Another non-fiction picture book that knocks it out of the park! Hurraaaay! This one is about a simple recipe, but illustrates the progress of the culinary industry over the course of four hundred years. The illustrations are detailed and beautiful. The story is repetitive, but distinctly shows the differences in each century and each family’s living arrangements. I really liked this book. It has been on a few lists of the year’s best picture books, so it has a recognition base already. It might be a good sleeper choice for the Caldecott!

 

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The Day the Crayons Came Home written by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is the follow-up to the wonderful book “The Day the Crayons Quit”, which is a big hit with my preschoolers. This time, there are crayons who want to be rescued rather than quit their job as coloring tools. I like this book, but I am pulling for a picture book that’s original (not that this idea is old or anything, but these two did so well on the first book, I sort of wish they’d have just left it alone rather than trying to cash in again…but that’s sort of a petty reason to leave them excluded from a list like this.) It’s already won some awards based on popularity by readers. Whether or not that pulls the awards committee into giving the Caldecott to Jeffers, I don’t know. As I said, a great book, sure to please the kids and adults alike, but I’m hoping for the winner to be something more original this year.

 

 

Okay, those are my picks. I hope I have at least a few honorees and maybe the medal winner on here. The choice is announced on Monday, January 11th at 8 am during the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in Boston. Happy reading!