Monday, August 21, 2017

Caldecott 2018: Early Favorites

With the year halfway through and the Fall 2017 publishing season creeping upon us, I wanted to take a look at my favorite reads of the year--so far!--and think about their Caldecott/Newbery/Printz possibilities. I have a dismal track record with my favorites winning, but hope springs eternal, right?

(Randolph) Caldecott Medal

What is the Caldecott Medal? The Caldecott Medal, first awarded in 1938, is given to the illustrator of the "most distinguished American picture book for children."

Who is eligible for the Caldecott Medal: Illustrators must be residents or citizens of the United States. The book must be published in the previous publishing year, and not originally published in another country (US territories and commonwealths not excluded). Audience for the book includes children 14 years and younger.

Top favorites:

A Perfect Day has been my top favorite for the Caldecott since we received it in February; there's still a lot left in the year for outstanding picture books, but I keep returning to this one. While there are many books about simple (and simply) wonderful days, Lane Smith brings his offbeat humor to this gem, which makes it less saccharine than others.

Elisha Cooper is DUE a Caldecott; if you're not familiar with his work, you are missing out. Cooper does animal/nature themes exceptionally well, and  Big Cat Little Cat  is even better than my (previous) favorite Cooper picture book, Homer. Be warned: you might need the tissues for the middle of the story, but it's one of the best "circle of life" picture books in recent memory. And although this has nothing to do with criteria, I love the fact that it's a NICE cat story, instead of a sneaky/snarky cat (as much as I love the Bad Kitty series!).

You know who else is due a Caldecott? Antoinette Portis, and Now  just might be her ticket. Not much story to this one; just gorgeous illustrations and a sweet message about enjoying everyday moments.

Kadir Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor recipient; could Blue Sky, White Stars earn him the Medal? It's a stunning tribute to American heritage, symbols, landmarks, and the diversity of this country's people. From the Statue of Liberty to the wonder of the US space missions, it's a gorgeous reflection of our unique country.

Other considerations:

Early Sunday Morning is gorgeous and glorious in its depiction of a young girl preparing for a special children's choir performance at church. This is the inaugural title from Denene Millner Books, which seeks to publish stories featuring everyday lives of African-American children; can't wait to see more from this line!

Mighty Moby's illustrations by Ed Young are jaw-dropping; the story's premise is a stretch (a young boy reenacts Moby Dick in the bathtub...?), but dismissing that, has a great read-aloud quality that isn't always present in Caldecott books.

As I mentioned, read-aloud quality is not a criteria for the Caldecott, but it's always a sweet (and rare) bonus when the Medal/Honor books are awesome read alouds. Over and Under the Pond is not only a fabulous read aloud, but it's a fabulous NONFICTION read aloud. And with its detailed and mesmerizing illustrations, this is surely one to watch for Caldecott 2018.

If you're longing for days spent at the seashore, you must read There Might be Lobsters. It's a darling tale about a dog that faces its own fears, with illustrations by Laurel Molk that will sweep you away to a lovely beach paradise.

 2017 is the centennial birthday for poet Gwendolyn Brooks, which makes We Are Shining a beautiful tribute to her work. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's illustrations are illuminating and joyful; one of my favorites from this year.

I still have plenty of 2017 picture books to go through (and more are on the way!); I'll update this post in December with my final choices! In a future post, I'll discuss why these books are on my radar for Newbery 2018 (want to add a few more possibilities before I discuss Newbery):

Genevieve's War (My second favorite--ending is a bit rushed.. But one of Giff's best in some years.)

The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming  (I. LOVE. THIS. Currently my top favorite.)

Short (always root for the "lighter" reads!)

If you want to learn more about the Caldecott Medal (and other Youth Media Awards), including past winners, check out ALSC's comprehensive site.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sweet Reads: Books for National Honey Bee Day

Beekeepers and other friends of bees have celebrated National Honey Bee Day on August 19 since its inception in 2009. While it's certainly fine to be alarmed by bees (doubly so if you are allergic), children should understand that, for the most part, bees will leave you alone if you keep a respectful distance, and that bees are actually our "friends" that  play crucial roles in food production. If you'd like to introduce your children/students to the importance of bees in our world, here are some awesome titles for a wide range of ages:

Bear does not like bees! Not only do they bother him, but they steal honey. Luckily, Bee is right there to teach him a lesson about not only the helpfulness of bees, but also their willingness to share honey. Bear and Bee is a charming story about two unlikely friends, with a subtle message about assumptions.

Want to explain the process of beekeeping to young listeners? The Beeman is your best bet. Through simple rhyming text, a young boy narrates his grandfather's care of his hives, from wearing protective covering to finally collecting the honey. Grandfather's tools are also labeled and defined, and the activity of the bees is also detailed; a lot of great information is packed into this story!

One of my favorite nonfiction series is Scientists in the Field; each volume is a fascinating introduction to scientists (often working with local communities when they can) dealing with a specific crisis, animal, or naturally occuring event. The Hive Detectives follows a group of scientists researching the reasons behind an apiarist's loss of four hundred hives, complete with brilliant photographs.

Anne Rockwell's nonfiction titles are ideal for young readers; in Honey in a Hive, she takes readers through the life cycle of a honeybee and how nectar is produced into honey.

If you have a kindergarten or lower elementary school student, The Honey Makers (and everything else Gail Gibbons has written) should definitely be on your list. Like Gibbons's other informational picture books, this would work well as a read aloud.

Everything is calm and quiet for a little girl collecting berries for jam when...UH OH! A bee happens to be buzzing about in the same spot she is! Thankfully, although both are a bit suspicious of each other, both learn to peacefully coexit.  Jam and Honey is a gentle and loving story with a sweet message about respecting other creatures.

These Bees Count! brings us on a super cool field trip to a beekeeper's farm! Farmer Ellen teaches these lucky students how collect pollen, produce honey, and help the environment. An author's note provides more indepth information on the importance of bees and how colony collapse is threatening these vital insects.

For more information on bees, check out the J 595.799 section.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, August 07, 2017

Kindergarten Kids: Books for a New School Year

Even if a child has experienced preschool, starting full-day kindergarten is a huge step! We have many outstanding stories that will help ease the transition:

Follow the Line to School is a fun interactive tour of a school: when readers follow the line, they "explore" the classroom, library, art room, cafeteria, and more.

If you're familiar with Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs...? series, you know that the books present incorrect and correct manners in a funny and lighthearted manner.  How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? illustrate what to do (have fun playing with friends at recess) and what not to do (jump on your desk!) in the series' usual hilarious way.

Ollie's School Day: A Yes-and-No Book is another interactive book that's sure to spark some giggles and conversation. Ollie has several choices to make about his school day, such as what to wear...should he wear a bathing suit? A police officer's uniform? Of course not!

School's First Day of School  takes the "first day of school" concept with a different twist; instead of presenting children who are nervous about starting school, we see the SCHOOL express worry about the new school year. Will the students like him? Be nice to him? Adam Rex's wacky humor is on full display here, with charming results.

This is My Home, This is My School is one of the few picture books that address homeschooling; through a young boy's perspective, readers follow a large and active family through a typical school day. This is a followup of sorts to Jonathan Bean's darling Building Our House.

Looking for more "back to school" books? Check out my recent ALSC post featuring unique books about schools in different countries.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Random Reads: Check Them Out!

With the summer winding down, I hope you've found some awesome reads for your vacations or every day reading! Here's what I've recently enjoyed:

OK, so American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, The Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best Loved Cakes From Past to Present wasn't really on my agenda when I was looking for interesting and healthy cookbooks. However, food history is endlessly fascinating to (and any kind of domestic history), so I knew I had to read it! Anne Byrn presents each recipe with tantalizing information about the cake's origin, significance, and small changes she's made to recipes in order to make it feasible for the modern baker. If you're super into food/homelife history, you'll also love the information about changes in measurements, ovens, ingredients, and more. It's probably no surprise that American cakes and tastes have grown sweeter in recent centuries; white refined sugar was quite expensive and out of reach for most home bakers (as with most  modern wedding "traditions," Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding cake; a cake made with white sugar and completely covered in white icing showed to your guests that you were quite well off). In fact, chocolate cakes weren't really a thing until the 1860s, while Americans were unfamiliar with brownies until the 1890s; gingerbread, fruitcake, and spices were popular cakes with colonial and frontier families. While some cakes are still quite common (angel food cake, pineapple upside down cake), some cakes have faded from popular memory (I'm totally making an election cake in November! If you're familiar with early American history or have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Virginia Barbecue, you know that Americans used to party down on Election Day; for various reasons, including Christmas and Thanskgiving becoming public holidays and laws against politicans throwing public parties for their constituents, Election Day partying for the masses is no more). Tons of sidebars add tremendous detail, including one on presidential cake favorites (and pie choices for the presidents that preferred pie, such as Lincoln and Obama; you can also see the gradual sweetening of American cake preference through their choices). I do have some quibbles with her assertions, and she spells Culpeper incorrectly; overall, it's still a fun read.

Kate & Jim McMullan continue their very popular vehicles series with I'm Smart!, just in time for the new school year! Like their other picture books, the story is narrated by the vehicle in question--in this case, a school bus. This school bus's smarts are put into play when navigating roads in all sorts of weather and traffic in order to bring the students safely to school.

The late Anna Dewdney's Little Excavator is a sweet addition to her work; Little Excavator wants to help with the new park project, but he's not big enough for such an important project. However, Little Excavator (and the big rigs) learn that there's no job too small! This is a great choice for little construction fans, as well as anyone who loves a good underdog story.

A Cinderella story about a gifted mechanic? Mechanica has some similarities to Cinder, but it's a fun and engrossing story on its own (and there's fewer catastrophic illnesses to boot). The happily-ever-after ending with the prince has a twist; if you enjoy Mechanica, its sequel, Venturess, will be here next month.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers has received a ton of buzz, including six starred reviews and early predictions for Newbery 2018 consideration (I think it's a tad too old for the Newbery, but I think it would be a strong choice for the Printz). Deborah Heiligman tenderly, joyfully, and sorrowfully captures the deep and tumultuous relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. This YA novel is a sophisticated and literary read for mature readers, as aspects of the Van Gogh's behavior led to irreversible medical and psychological issues. It's not a fast read by any means, but definitely a rewarding and memorable reading experience.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is an extraordinary memoir by Sherman Alexie, who writes painfully and even lovingly at times about his childhood on the Spokane reservation. Alcoholic parents, bullying from other students, and long-standing poverty made childhood rather harsh; Alexie writes openly about the abuse he suffered and its effect. Poems about his mother and life in general are inserted throughout the book, as well as his thoughts on his Spokane/Coeur d'Alene heritage and his siblings, who continue to struggle. This can be emotionally difficult to read at times, but it's a must read for those who are drawn to powerful and intimate memoirs.

Looking for another new read? Check out Wowbrary for current and recent issues!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tappers, Toe Pointers, and More: Books for National Dance Day

Break out the tutus and tap shoes--National Dance Day is upon us! National Dance Day (July 29) was established in 2010 to "educate the public about dance and its many benefits, as well as make dance accessible and inclusive to everyone." We have many fabulous books about all kinds of dance and dancers that will entice both young dancers and dance fans; check them out before or after your next dance lesson! 

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring is a glorious depiction of the creation and performance of famed modern dance choreographer Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring. As a celebration of American pioneer heritage and spirit (Aaron Copeland's composition includes varations on the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts"), it became Martha Graham's favorite ballet ("Ballet for Martha" was the program's original working title).

Rachel Isadora has several ballet-themed picture books, but Bea at Ballet is my favorite. It's a simple and sweet story about a little girl attending a ballet class (and learning basic positions).

Jingle Dancer is a modern classic tale about a young Muscogee/Creek girl preparing for her first jingle dance. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, so her insights are authentic and relevant.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina is the young readers' adaptation of Misty Copeland's adult memoir by the same name. Copeland's original memoir is a compelling read suitable for high school students, but this brings Copeland's remarkable story to a younger audience. Copeland's unlikely and difficult journey to ballet stardom is a powerful and inspiring read.

Princess Cupcake Jones looks forward to every dance class, but executing an arabesque remains tricky. Will she be able to master it in time for the dance recital? Princess Cupcake Jones and the Dance Recital is one of several Princess Cupcake Jones stories, which are great for Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious fans.

Song and Dance Man was published in 1988, when its audience likely had grandparents who lived during the vaudeville era. Despite that, this charming 1989 Caldecott Medal winner is an endearing story about a former vaudeville performer who shows off his signature moves to his delighted grandchildren. Thankfully, children's books are getting better about their depiction of grandparents and reflecting modern day grandparenting (rather than only featuring grandparents dealing with illness or forgetfulness); this remains one of the best for featuring an active and vibrant grandfather.

Want nonfiction books about dance? Look through the J 792.7 (tap dance) and J 792.8 (ballet) sections for more fantastic titles.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Crazy for Comics: Books to Celebrate Comics and Comic Con International

While there are multiple Comic-Cons throughout the year, the oldest and the most prestigious one is the original Comic-Con International in San Diego. Attending Comic-Con in San Diego is definitely on the bucket list for comics/graphic novel superfans (I'm envious just reading through the program guide!). Since 1970, Comic Con International has celebrated not only the popular comics of the day, but also lesser-known works as well as movies and science fiction/fantasy stories. The highlight of the convention is the announcement of the Eisner Awards, the most prestigious award in the comics/graphic novel industry. To get in the spirit of Comic-Con, let's take a look at some of our awesome comic books and graphic novels:

Truthfully, I've been rather lukewarm about the barrage of superhero movies until recently, when I saw Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming. I'm hoping that the pendulum is swinging away from overly dark and dreary plots and remembering the fun and escapism that comics and superhero movies were meant to be. The recent reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man has endearingly captured Peter Parker's awkward adolescence, his humor, and his frequent instances of getting in situations over his head. If you need a Spider-Man refresher (the recent movie does not include the origin story, but doesn't everyone already know that he was bitten by a radioactive spider? The character's been around since the 1960s.), pick up the Essential comics.

Before the Black Panther movie opens, check out the new comic book series launched in 2016 (you have time--it won't be out until February 2018). The first mainstream black superhero first appeared in 1966; the story of the nation of Wakanda ruler is epic and unique.

Young comics fans should definitely investigate the Comics Squad series; each collection features a variety of fun comics from top creators in the children's graphic novels field, including Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, Raina Telgemeier, and more.

Sure, you may know that DC Comics=Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, but what about the other 1000+ superheroes, villains, sidekicks, and other assorted characters that fall under the DC Comics umbrella? The DC Comics Encyclopedia is a comprehensive and up-to-date (published in 2016) guide to both popular and lesser-known characters.

Hilo is one of my top favorite graphic novel series; it's a funny and adorable tale of a young blonde-haired alien who falls to earth and forms a close friendship with two humans.

Gareth Hinds is creating an impressive body of work with his graphic novel reimaging of literary classics, including Macbeth, Beowulf,  and The Odyssey. I'm really looking forward to his collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories in August!

While picking up the DC Comics Encyclopedia, why not also take Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know? Characters including Spider-Man, The Avengers, Thor, and many more are fascinatingly detailed.

Ms. Marvel aka Kamala Khan is one of Marvel's recent breakthrough characters; the first volume, featuring the first Muslim American mainstream superhero, was a New York Times bestseller and received the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. Like Peter Parker, she is a smart teenager dealing with insecurities and feeling different from her peers. Kamala is a huge Avengers fan (especially of Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers) and writes Avengers fan fiction, to the puzzlement of her Pakistani immigrant parents. When she is enveloped in the Terrigen Mists and encounters the Avengers in her unconscious state, she awakens to find that she has actually emulated Captain Marvel--blond hair and tight superhero costume to boot. Kamala's journey to finding her own superhero identity (including new costume!) in which she is comfortable and confident is heartfelt.

The recent Star Wars comics have varied in quality (IMO), but the storytelling and art in the Darth Vader comics (sadly discontinued for now) are consistently powerful and even emotional at times. Beginning with the end of A New Hope, this series follows Vader as he seeks his own vengeance against the Rebels (particularly rebel pilot Skywalker) and attempts to discover the Empire's secrets.

A Superman comic from graphic novelist master Gene Luen Yang? Yes, please! Superman vol 1: Before Truth is a compelling and gripping tale featuring the Man of Steel.

Wonder Woman's reintroduction to a new generation makes me happy; Diana is compassionate, kind, and a true warrior for justice (no grey area with her). Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is a gorgeously created origin story, and it's been hugely popular at all branches since the launch of the movie.

George O'Connor's Olympians series is a sure-fire hit for young fans of both graphic novels and Greek mythology. Each slim volume includes a retelling of myths associated with its featured god or goddess.

The 2017 Eisner Awards will be announced July 21. We have several nominated titles, including Batgirl, Ghosts, and Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, July 10, 2017

Allons-y! Let's Go! Books for the Tour de France

While the Tour de France has a controversial past, I still enjoy watching parts of it when I can. While I admire the skill it takes to compete in the tournament, the main attraction (for me!) is the scenery, whether it's through the countryside or in the final stretches on the Champs-Élysées. If watching the Tour de France has ignited an envie for books about bikes or France, here are some outstanding books to read while you keep an eye on the race:

Frank Viva's picture books are fabulous read alouds for young audiences. Along a Long Road follows a cyclist on a trip, with brief text and illustrations conveying the twists, turns, up and downs of his ride.

If you want a thorough and fun bike book for young readers, Popular Mechanics for Kids's The Best Book of Bikes is for you. Everything from the history of bikes, the different types of bikes, and how to keep your bike in working order is covered.

For something on a simpler scale, Gail Gibbons's Bicycle Book is a top choice. Brief overviews of bicycle history, design, and care are included.

Learning to ride a bike can be quite the challenge, but as the dad patiently teaches his daughter in the darling Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, you just have to get back up and try again!

I always look forward to Allan Drummond's positive stories about environmental issues; Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World is another winner. Amsterdam is known as one of the most bicylist friendly cities in the world, but it wasn't always like that. In fact, Amsterdam was so crowded with cars that it was extremely dangerous for cyclists to maneuever, especially the mothers and children who relied on bikes for transportation. The people of Amsterdam, mostly led by women, advocated and protested for changes until city officials created plans to reduce the vehicle congestion.

If you're more inclined to books with a French setting, here are my favorites:

La La Rose perfectly evokes the beauty of Luxembourg Gardens as we follow the adventures of a beloved bunny temporarily separated from her owner.

When Monsieur Saguette bought his humble baguette, he had no idea that he would use his loaf to save a child from a menacing alligator to stopping a robbery. Monsieur Saguette and His Baguette is a funny escapade on an otherwise ordinary day.

Lonely Planet Kids has the best line of "travel books" for kids that highlight both historic and offbeat facts about individual cities. Paris City Trails is a gorgeously designed guide to Paris packed with cool facts about the City of Lights.

Oooh la la! Diva and Flea are two very different animals; Diva is quite the pampered Parisian pooch, while Flea roams the streets of Paris as an independent cat.  The Story of Diva and Flea is an adventurous romp through Paris with two very different friends.

Au revoir, mes amis! Until next time!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library