Newbery Notes – Catching up my Reviews

January 20th, 2019

I DID IT! Tonight I finally finished posting the reviews I’d written in 2016 and 2017.

When I started reading books for the 2019 Newbery Medal (children’s books written in 2018), I was around 300 reviews behind — reviews I’d written but hadn’t posted.

One of the drawbacks to being on the Newbery committee was that I can’t post reviews of any eligible book before we announce the winners. I thought that would mean I wouldn’t be able to blog for a year. Well, that would have been true if I’d gotten on the committee the first time I tried, four years earlier. But this year — I was already so far behind, I had enough reviews to last the whole year!

Of course, I’m still way behind. If I didn’t forget to list any, I now have 317 reviews of 2018 children’s books written. However, I can use those as filler when I don’t have a current review to post. I’m going to try not to cry if I don’t get all of these posted. After all, the main reason I wrote them was so I’d have a chance to remember what I liked about each book I read, in case it got nominated.

Also, those 317 reviews are still Word documents. The other reviews were written here on the blog and saved as drafts — so it will be easier to forget about the 2018 reviews and not feel as overwhelmed by their existence if I don’t get them posted.

I’m also going to try to get a little bit choosier about which books I review. But my reading is almost certainly going to slow down after next week — so now I will still have reviews I can post. It’s going to feel great to be able to tell people about the amazingly wonderful books that were published in 2018!

I also still plan to post my 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs — my personal favorite — not necessarily the most distinguished — books I read in 2018.

But let me talk a little bit about how this next week is going to go. It’s almost here! The weekend I’ve been looking forward to for two years!

Thursday very early (extra early if the shutdown is still going on), I’m going to the airport to board a plane to fly to Seattle. The Newbery committee is going to meet for dinner that night to be sure we all make it, even though this is the middle of winter. (Also, one committee member is expecting a baby — I think I heard the baby was due today — so we really hope the baby cooperates and is born today if not before and Mom is able to participate. I’m hoping we’ll get to deliberate with a newborn in the room.)

Friday and Saturday, a room is booked for our discussion from 8 am to 10 pm! The room has restrooms attached! We are bringing snacks, but I presume we will emerge for meals. We’ve also been told we won’t necessarily work until 10 pm.

I have fun telling school groups that ALSC will ship all the nominated books to the conference in a locked trunk. Only our committee chair has the key! Committee members have been assigned to bring a second copy of some of the books we nominated. I’m planning to reread one of my favorites on the plane — am in the process of looking for an older book with the same size cover that I can use to camouflage what that title is, in case other librarians are on the plane.

Yes, deliberations are Top Secret! I can never tell what books I nominated or voted for or argued for. I can never tell the opinions of anyone else on the committee.

I am so looking forward to it! Each committee member has nominated 7 books. And yes, there has been some overlap, but I won’t say how much. At this point, I’m envying the Caldecott committee, who evaluate picture books, because I have not had time to reread every single nominated book. (But I had already read everything at least once and written a review.) So that’s where I had to prioritize — based on which books got the most nominations as well as which books I want to speak up for. And let’s be honest, which books I wanted to read again.

I did find that most of the nominated books I wasn’t crazy about the first time — when I read them again, I noticed how much craft went into writing them and gained a new appreciation for them. This is going to be a TOUGH decision! The upside of that is I am absolutely confident that we are going to choose outstanding books, and certainly some books I deeply love will be included.

We had 7 nominations. However, when it comes time to vote — we only get 3 votes — 4 points for 1st place, 3 points for 2nd, and 2 points for 3rd. You might think, Why would anyone vote for a book they didn’t nominate, if they don’t get as many votes as nominations?

Well, there’s a requirement in the Newbery Manual that the Medal-winning book must have at least 8 first-place votes. (There are 15 people on the committee, including the chair.) My conclusion about that is that I doubt the Medal winner is often chosen on the first ballot. Though perhaps our discussion will reach a consensus before we start voting.

Anyway, we only have two hours, 8 am to 10 am, scheduled in the room on Sunday morning — so we’re going to have to reach a decision. The rest of Sunday, I think there are details with ALA’s press office (still very top secret). And at 6 am on the morning of Monday, January 28, 2019, we will call the winning authors on speakerphone! I will get to hear someone’s reaction at the moment when their life changes.

The decision is announced to the world at the Youth Media Awards press conference at 8:00 (Seattle time) that morning. It will be live-streamed at ala.unikron.com Many other awards will be announced as well, with the Newbery, the oldest and most prestigious children’s book award, going last.

That won’t be quite the end. There will be a banquet where the awards will be officially presented at ALA Annual Conference in June — which happens in Washington, DC, this year. So that one I won’t have to fly to.

But first, we get to make the decision! And NOW I need to get back to rereading books and taking notes! (Guess how my day off will be spent!)

Review of Next to You, by Lori Haskins Houran and Sydney Hanson

January 20th, 2019

Next to You

A Book of Adorableness

by Lori Haskins Houran
pictures by Sydney Hanson

Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, 2016. 32 pages.

I was recently asked what would make a good baby shower gift, if you didn’t want to buy a pink fluffy outfit. Naturally, being a librarian, I suggested a book.

Next time I’m on the spot like that, I will think of this book. Yes, it’s designed to be a gift book and has a place for an inscription at the front. It’s designed to be read by a parent or doting relative to a small child.

I’m resistant to such blatant design lures. But even I have to admit – this book is utterly adorable!

Here’s how it begins:

Next to you,
the softest puppy in the world
is only kind of cute.

Two kittens with a ball of yarn?

A line of fuzzy yellow ducklings?

A squirrel eating a doughnut
with his tiny hands?

Adorable, sure.
But next to you?
Meh. Just OK.

Naturally, there are big-eyed, sweet pictures to accompany this catalog of cute creatures. At the end, after saying all these critters are nothing next to you, the reader emphasizes that where they like to be is next to you, and we’ve got a cozy picture of all the adorable animals cuddled up next to each other.

Grandmas, do you have the cutest grandchild ever? This book will be a lovely welcoming gift to read to them over and over again.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Queen of the Track, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

January 19th, 2019

Queen of the Track

Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 40 pages.

This is another picture book biography about a person I never heard of but am very glad to know about.

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She won in 1948, and had to miss the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, when she was at her peak, because of World War II.

Born in 1922 and very poor, Alice faced many obstacles to living her dreams. Being black and being female were both obstacles to being an athlete.

The print in this book is small and there are lots of words on the pages, so the intended audience is older than the usual picture book crowd. However, it’s in good company with other picture book biographies.

The excellent picture book biographies written today are why I was happy our library created a children’s nonfiction browsing collection. This book isn’t designed for someone writing a report, but for someone wanting to read the true story of an inspiring person.

And she is inspiring. I’m so glad this book exists so I could learn her story.

The note at the back tells us more.

Alice credits her success to the support she received from her family, teachers, coaches, and sometimes people she hardly knew. In an effort to give back and help others, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which supports young athletes and helps former Olympic athletes adjust to life after the games.

Many do not know Alice’s story, since her gold medal came in the early days of broadcast television. But it was Alice Coachman who paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

heatherlangbooks.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Year of Borrowed Men, by Michelle Barker

January 18th, 2019

A Year of Borrowed Men

by Michelle Barker
illustrated by Renné Benoit

Pajamapress, 2016. First published in Canada in 2015. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book for older readers that’s based on a true story from wartime Germany. The author used a story her mother told her.

Here’s how the book begins:

I was seven when the French prisoners of war arrived at our house.

It was 1944. Mummy told us the government had sent them because all our men were gone to war, and someone needed to keep the farms running. She said we were just borrowing the French men. When the war was over, we would give them back.

The French men do work on the farm. The family is supposed to treat them like prisoners. When they slip up one cold night and let the borrowed men eat with the family, the next day the mother is taken in for questioning and warned that if there is any repeat, she will go to prison.

So they have to keep their distance – but this story is how friendship builds between them, anyway.

And it’s lovely. I like the scenes where they speak to each other in their own languages. Gerda (the narrator) shows them her Christmas doll. They learn that eine Puppe in German is very close to une poupée in French.

Old photographs at the back of the book emphasize the truth of this story.

It’s always inspiring when those who are told to be enemies make friends.

pajamapress.ca

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Antsy Ansel, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale

January 17th, 2019

Antsy Ansel

Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature

by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
illustrated by Christy Hale

Christy Ottiaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2016. 32 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of Ansel Adams, famed photographer, especially of our national parks. The language is simple, appropriate for younger elementary school students. But a lot of information is packed into these pages, with more in the notes at the back.

The author relates Ansel Adams’ life to kids by telling us he was a child who could never sit still.

Indoors, Ansel felt trapped and sick. At school he got into trouble. Everyone thought they knew what he needed.

“Keep him calm,” the doctor said, “away from light and sound.” Ansel yearned for wind and waves.

“Give him discipline!” the principal said. Ansel felt like a fly buzzing inside a jar.

Ansel’s father had a different idea. “Give him open air,” he said. He took thirteen-year-old Ansel out of school and let him learn at home.

The first twenty-two of thirty-two pages are about Ansel’s growing up years. Here’s the entire text of a spread about the San Francisco world’s fair, which Ansel visited every day (as we learn in the notes):

A season ticket to the San Francisco
world’s fair filled Ansel’s mind with
mysteries and marvels,
impressionists and organists,
flavors and aromas,
and fun and games.
Ansel was on fire for learning.

When Ansel was fourteen was when his family first visited Yosemite — and they gave Ansel a camera. I like the pages showing Ansel in Yosemite. The picture of Half Dome turns the book on its side to capture its tall majesty, as does a spread with a Sequoia.

So this book is a nice introduction to the story of a boy who loved to be outside and learned to make his living by staying outside and sharing the beauty he saw with others.

cindyjensonelliott.com
christyhale.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, by Lynne Rae Perkins

January 16th, 2019

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled

by Lynne Rae Perkins

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is a story about a boy and his dog – and how everything a boy and his dog do together is educational.

That doesn’t sound as charming as it is. I’ll give some examples. Imagine detailed and bright pictures with word bubbles for Lucky’s thoughts.

Lucky could always help Frank with his homework, because Lucky did a lot of learning on his own.

For example, Lucky was very interested in Science. Who isn’t?

Science is when you wonder about something, so you observe it and ask questions about it and try to understand it.

Lucky wondered about ducks.

He wondered about squirrels and deer and bees and porcupines and little birds. He observed snow and rain, mud and grass, ponds and streams. He asked questions….

The time Lucky wondered about skunks, they learned about Chemistry, which is Science about what everything is made of, and how one kind of thing can change into another kind of thing.

It’s very fun the way the boy and dog look at different subjects. Math involves what fraction of the bed belongs to Frank and what fraction to Lucky. (It changes throughout the night.) History involves the question of what happened to the cake on the table when a chair was accidentally left pulled out.

They look at Art, Composition, Astronomy, Geography, even Foreign Languages when they find a friend.

This book is charming all the way along.

And the whole wide world with Lucky was the subject Frank liked best.

lynnerae.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of No Fair! No Fair! poems by Calvin Trillin, pictures by Roz Chast

January 14th, 2019

No Fair! No Fair!

And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood

Poems by Calvin Trillin
Pictures by Roz Chast

Orchard Books (Scholastic), 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Oh this book made me laugh! It compelled me to read it aloud, first to people at work, then even when I was home alone.

This is a book of poetry in the tradition of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein — rhyming poetry about the logic and illogic of children’s lives.

Here’s a stanza from one of my favorites, “The Grandpa Rule Is in Effect”:

Whenever Grandpa’s minding us,
There’s just one rule we must respect:
To do what we would like to do.
The Grandpa Rule is in effect.

Here’s the beginning of “Who Plays What?”

I like all our games of pretending,
But why is it always routine
That I am the queen’s loyal servant
And Claudia’s always the queen?

Here’s the refrain from “The Backseat”:

She’s over the line,
She’s over the line.
She occupies space
That’s rightfully mine.

And here’s a nice one full of kid logic, from “Could Jenny Get This Shot for Me? I’ve Done So Much for Her!”:

I know this shot will guard me from the measles and the mumps —
Diseases that could leave me with two different kinds of lumps.
I’m glad the stuff that’s in the shot will keep me safe from harm,
But can’t they put the needle into someone else’s arm?
If so, my older sister is the person I’d prefer.
Could Jenny get this shot for me? I’ve done so much for her.

I like all the small poems in “Evening Complaints.” This one’s called “Going to Bed”:

Though Nate stays up, to me you’ve said,
“Okay, my friend, it’s time for bed.”
I’ll bet when I’m as old as Nate,
You still won’t let me stay up late.
I’ll say, “I’m eight,” but you won’t care.
No fair, no fair, no fair, no fair.

I have to admit, a few of the poems didn’t quite work as well read aloud — but the majority are so well done, they compel reading aloud.

And Roz Chast’s pictures are the perfect companion! She gets a child’s eye view of the world just right — with that touch of cynicism and humor in every one of her pictures.

scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Not-So-Faraway Adventure, by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

January 13th, 2019

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure

by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

Kids Can Press, 2016. 32 pages.

This picture book charmed me. Here’s how it begins:

Theo’s Poppa was an explorer.
He had been everywhere.
He kept an old trunk packed with the pictures, postcards, maps and menus that he had collected on his adventures.
Whenever Theo looked inside the trunk, she found something interesting.

Theo, a little girl, shows us some of the things. The art is simple drawings combined with collage for some authentic-looking souvenirs. Theo wants to be an explorer like Poppa when she grows up.

But now it’s almost Poppa’s birthday, and Theo doesn’t know what to get him. When she asks him, he reminisces about how he used to go to a restaurant on the beach with Nana.

That gives Theo an idea. She went to a beach on a streetcar with her class last year, and there was a restaurant there.

It wasn’t long before Theo and Poppa were sketching a map.

“This is where we are,” said Poppa, marking an X on the page.

“And this is where the streetcar goes,” said Theo, drawing a long line from where they were to where they wanted to go. “Here’s the way from the streetcar to the beach.” She made a dotted line, like footprints. “And the restaurant is right here!” She marked another X on the map.

“And there’s you, and there’s me,” laughed Poppa, drawing two smiling faces. “We’re happy because we’ve just discovered something delicious to eat.”

The rest of the book is their adventure. They ride on the streetcar and play on the beach and take pictures of each other and eat at the restaurant.

When they come back, Theo’s Mom and Dad and little brother have a surprise party for Poppa. And Theo puts their map into Poppa’s trunk, remembering a wonderful adventure.

This book seems suitable for early elementary school kids, with the mapping and planning and riding the streetcar (with Poppa). However, I thought Theo looks younger than that. (But that just may be me.) There are a lot of words on each page, so I’d think twice about using this in preschool storytime.

But here’s a cozy inter-generational story of the perfect gift for grandpa — complete with mapping and planning and documenting their wonderful time together.

kidscanpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Let Your Voice Be Heard, by Anita Silvey

January 12th, 2019

Let Your Voice Be Heard

The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

by Anita Silvey

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 101 pages.

This is a straightforward biography of Pete Seeger for upper elementary audiences. There are plenty of photographs and the print is large and lines are widely spaced, so it’s not an intimidating amount of reading.

I hadn’t known a lot about Pete Seeger’s life, and I was inspired. His approach to music — reviving folk songs, popularizing them, and collaborating with others — is partly what makes him such a likable character.

But he also stood up for causes. He provided a voice — and songs — for the Labor movement, for anti-war protesters, for the Civil Rights movement, and for cleaning up the environment.

But a big part of his life I hadn’t known much about was him being brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and how much that impacted his life. I hadn’t realized how much was done against people suspected of Communist sympathies — in America.

It’s also impressive that Pete Seeger didn’t let those things make him bitter. He continued to sing and spread the belief that working together we can make the world a better place. “Pete would call up a radio station, get a spot on the air, and then be out of town before the American Legion could protest.”

Here’s how the author sums up Pete Seeger’s legacy:

Throughout his life Pete Seeger remained committed to the idea that people need to come together. “It’s been my life’s work, to get participation, whether it’s a union song, a peace song, civil rights, or women’s movement, or gay liberation. When you sing, you feel, I’m not alone.”

Support for workers. Peace. The right to speak and sing in freedom. Civil rights for all people. The preservation of the planet. The causes to which Pete Seeger dedicated his life remain relevant and evergreen. He lived with purpose and meaning. As he often said, “Nobody really knows what the world’s going to bring. . . . We always find solutions, we’re an intelligent race . . . As long as I’ve got breath, I’ll keep on doing what I can.”

His life stands as a testament for social and political change, reminding everyone to fight for what they believe in and to let their voices be heard.

childrensbookalmanac.com
www.hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Flora and the Peacocks, by Molly Idle

January 11th, 2019

Flora and the Peacocks

by Molly Idle

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2016. 32 pages.

Flora’s back! She’s dancing with a new kind of bird – this time not one, but two peacocks!

Flora looks a little more sophisticated this time, with flowers in her hair and holding a fan. She’s still got her child-sized round body shape.

Again, Flora dances with the birds, using the fan to mirror the peacocks’ tails.

Besides the beauty of the illustrations, the fun and motion of the flaps, and the way the child and birds mirror each other’s movements, Molly Idle always puts in a surprising amount of story in her books, even without words.

In this case, the fact that there are two birds means that a rivalry springs up. Jealousy threatens to destroy the dance – but then they come together in the biggest fold-out section of all.

Will the book and the huge fold-out hold up to library usage? That remains to be seen. It also makes me think it would be difficult to use in a storytime. But one on one, or with a few children at a time, I can easily imagine children reading this book again and again, enjoying the beauty and telling you all they notice about the characters, the feelings involved, and the ultimate happy ending. Without printed words, children will take pride in reading this book long before they can decode print. And what a wonderful way to introduce them to story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

chroniclekids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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