Cybils (a little late)


The Cybils winners were announced last Friday. I was too busy to post a comment that day. Unfortunately I wasn’t busy being wined and dined for Valentine’s day but instead I was taking care of a vomiting child. As a side note, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day so I wasn’t really expecting to be wined and dined. But all things considered, I can think of better ways to spend the day than with a 4 year old with a stomach bug.

I read a LOT of Cybils nominees this year, but not that many of the final winners. The only two I had read were the winners in the two picture book categories: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown for fiction and Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate for non-fiction. I was happy with both of those winners. As for the others, several look intriguing to me but the  one I’m really hoping to read is the poetry winner, Forest Has a Song: Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Sadly, our library system has a dismal selection for children’s poetry and doesn’t yet have this one. But one can hope, right?

This year the Cybils were more interesting to me for having been a first round panelist. Now that the whole thing is over I thought I’d give a few reflections on what I learned.

1)There is way more that goes into judging a book than “good” or “bad”. There were so so many really good books that just weren’t going to make it to the shortlist. There were books I loved that didn’t make it to my own personal shortlist for various reasons. Sometimes it was too narrow of an appeal, sometimes it was something well-done but that has been well-done before and so lacked the originality of the other choices. Sometimes it was a lack of reference material (important in a nonfiction category). It made me look at book contests like the Caldecott with a new appreciation for how tough it is. I think in the past when a book I didn’t like won, I would think either the judges had poor taste or I’d question my own judgement. (Usually the first.) But now I appreciate more that the judges might be looking at different criteria than me. Or that a book I don’t personally like can still be award-worthy.

2)There is a LOT of really excellent children’s literature being published. Especially in the category of non-fiction. I knew that already, but this really drove it home.

3) There are a LOT of people who love children’s literature and books as much as me. I’ll even go so far as to say maybe even more. Probably the most fun part of the process (other than the actual reading) was “meeting” people who shared a passion for excellence in children’s literature.

And since this year’s Cybils are over I thought I’d also share my own personal shortlist in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category. Each panelist submitted a list of 10 titles and then after lots of good (and not too heated) discussion we narrowed it down to 7 titles for the final shortlist. As you can see, five of the seven books on the final shortlist were on my personal list. Which means five of my favorites were left off. Each of the other panelists had favorites that also didn’t make the final cut.

In the end, we all felt really good about the list we submitted as a panel. Everyone didn’t love every book but someone loved every book. We wanted a list of books that at least one of us felt passionate about and that’s what we got in the end.

Anubis Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter-“one of the quirkiest and most enjoyable books I read…”

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel- Melissa Sweet illustrations plus inspiring story made this one of my favorites of the many picture book biographies in the category.

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin- I never reviewed this biography of a retired professional basketball player turned urban farmer. Look here at Readers to Eaters for a full review.

Locomotive  by Brian Floca I’d just like the record to show that our panel beat the Caldecott committee to the punch with this one. And that I think they had excellent taste this year. 

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Back Yard by Annette LeBlanc Cate- The winner, of course. David, our resident bird-lover, was quite happy when I told him that this one won.

That’s a Possiblity by Bruce Goldstone An engaging book about statistics that all three of my kids (ages 10, 7, and 4) really enjoyed. I’m fairly sure that’s not a sentence that could be written about any other book.

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heligman With appeal for even the biggest math-hater.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library  by Barb Rosenstock Delicious, bookish quotes. Offers a slightly new perspective on an iconic figure and his passion for books.

Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch Gorgeous illustrations. Packed with facts. Looks at the creative rather than destructive nature of volcanoes.

The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins by Lee R. Berger and Marc Aronson Both John and I found this real life science detective story fascinating. A wonderful look at how science is really done and one that goes one step further and invites the reader to be part of the process.

One last thought in this already too long post: if you are a blogger who loves children’s literature and you’ve thought about applying to be a Cybils panelist, do it! It is a lot of work. But it’s even more fun.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars


At first glance this book by Ian Doescher looks like it could be either the worst kind of bad fan fiction or a something you would buy as a clever gag gift. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is neither. Doescher has taken the story of Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode VI or otherwise known as the real Star Wars before George Lucas ruined our childhood icon) and rewritten it in Shakespearean language. He doesn’t just drop in a few thees and thous. He writes the entire thing in iambic pentameter. This serves to underline the classic themes in Star Wars that really recur in all literature (good vs. evil, a hero going on a journey to discover his heroic nature, a princess, friendship and honor).

I think there is a lot that could be done with the book in a school setting. I hesitate to say that it could make Shakespeare accessible because I think Shakespeare can be made accessible to kids in many other ways. However, I do think this would be a great tool for kids who might already have decided that Shakespeare is boring or too hard or just dumb. I also think it would make a great accompaniment to the study of an original Shakespeare play. I can imagine a lot of discussion around whether or not just putting something in iambic pentameter makes it as beautiful as Shakespearean language (no). Or the difference between a play and a movie screenplay. Or the common themes we see in say Hamlet and Star Wars. I would also love to see this performed. Humphrey pointed out it would make for great forensics competition pieces.

Mostly, it’s just a really fun book to read. I enjoyed it. John loved it. And now Humphrey is reading it and loving it. It’s the rare book that three of us would read and enjoy equally.

I first heard about William Shakespeare’s Star Wars when it was shortlisted for a Cybils in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category. Cybils winners will be announced tomorrow as a Valentine’s gift for all of us book lovers. Be sure to check them out then!.


January Reading


Fiction Read in January:

Someone by Alice McDermott:
Told in beautiful, somewhat spare prose, this is the story of an ordinary life, made extraordinary only in the telling. McDermott captures the feel of a small Irish Catholic Brooklyn neighborhood as we follow one woman, Marie, through her childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
Fictionalized story of a serial killer in 1930s West Virginia. I did not enjoy this book although I do typically enjoy true crime or mystery novels. Phillips tells the story through the perspective of a woman reporter following the trial of the murderer. Most of the story is about the reporter (a purely fictional character) and a romantic relationship she has with a married man. The romance is written in a way that we are obviously supposed to be sympathetic to (the man’s wife suffers from some kind of dementia and doesn’t know him) and repeatedly we are urged to find that the “goodness” of their happiness somehow outweighs the “badness” of the murders. I don’t require that all characters in novels act in ways that I find morally and ethically correct. But, this one really bothered me.  I think because it so completely buys into the “whatever makes you happy is good” ethic of our modern culture. Instead of arguing that there are shades of gray in morality, Phillips seems to want us to believe that the illicit relationship isn’t gray at all but pure white, purely good. She also chooses to have the story partly told through the perspective of the ghost of one of the victims, who exists in one of those weird limbo type of afterlife that make me think that if that is really all there is after death, I’d prefer to just stay dead, thank you.

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
Sigh. I used to be a huge Elizabeth George fan, but I haven’t really loved any of her books in a while. I keep reading them because I’ve read them all and I keep hoping to love one again. As I read this one, I realized that what bothers me about George more and more is that she is really good at seeing and exploring the dark side of humanity but really bad at seeing the good side. I’m at the point where none of the characters are really anyone I want to root for or care about. I can appreciate that people are complex, and that characters that are “good” can act bad but in George’s world EVERYONE (and I do mean everyone ) is hiding some kind of dark secret or nasty habit or great inner conflict/character flaw. If you live in the world of Elizabeth George you cannot be happy. Period. Added to that is that her books are getting longer and longer. There was so much in this one that could have been edited out, in particular details about the dark secrets of minor characters. One of the things she excels at is characterization but she seems to have lost the ability to focus on the main plot thread, which is really essential to enjoyment of a mystery.

Joshua Dread: Nameless Hero by Lee Bacon

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
As I mentioned before, I didn’t like this one very much. The Newbery committee disagreed with me. I will say that I can see why this one won. It’s award-worthy, it just wasn’t my particular cup of tea. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
A re-read for the 5th (?) time. I read this one in preparation to lead a co-op class discussion. The experience of preparing for the discussion reminded me how much more we learn when we have to teach.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher
A Cybils young adult speculative fiction finalist. Fabulous fun and really well done. Check out the blurb on the Cybils site for a more full review.

Sidekicked by John David Anderson
A Cybils middle grade speculative fiction finalist. I saw this one on the shortlist and got it for John who quickly read it and really liked it. I also really liked it. It has a fun main plot of a thirteen year old with superpowers who is training to be a sidekick and trying to figure out how to learn to use his powers while navigating middle school. There is also the big theme of good and evil (and what those really mean). There were some twists and turns in this one that surprised me, not just because they were clever but because they involved a deeper level of nuance than I expected.

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
A novel told in verse about a friendship between two boys: one a Native American and the other a white settler at the time of the War of 1812.

Non-Fiction Read in January:

The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Mind-blowing. Partially because of the sheer weirdness but more because of the unbelievably sad accounts of abuse within the church. I’m fairly sure that this one will end up on my “best of” list at the end of 2014.

With the kids:

Betsy-Tacy-Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
It has been sheer joy sharing the first two Betsy-Tacy books with Ruth.

Knight’s Castle by Edgar Eager
I love Eager’s magic books. This is my third (at least) time through this one and again it makes me think I need to read the real Ivanhoe. Maybe this time, I’ll actually do it.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
As a Christmas present, I gave the boys tickets to see this Peter Pan prequel in the theater. We’re going in a few weeks and trying to finish the book first. John and I have read it before, but David hasn’t.

The Moffat Museum by Eleanor Estes
It took us way too long to get through this last of the Moffat series. I really do love these books as read-alouds but I think we’re all ready for something new at lunchtime.

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp
Listening to the audiobook in the car.

Read Aloud Thursday: Bear Books


When John and David were in preschool, I used Five in a Row with each of them. I loved the gentle curriculum but thought it might be nice to do something different with Ruth. I was afraid that if I did the same thing with her I might not approach it with a fresh excited look. I started the year planning to do an Around the World preschool approach and that lasted for roughly two countries. We’re pretty structured for school for the boys and I think I just burnt out on trying to plan and be structured with preschool also. So I’ve decided to just pick topics that sound good and read about them and see where that gets us.

The past three weeks we’ve been reading about bears, inspired by our planned trip to the zoo to see the new panda cub. But we’ve branched out from pandas and read about all kinds of bears. David likes to listen in while we do “Ruth school” so we’ve also reviewed mammals and a bit about classification and we’ve talked a bunch about hibernation and migration and the difference between the two. David has also been studying the woods (part of an ongoing study of different habitats) and memorizing Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost so it’s all come together well. Probably better than if I had planned it all out.

Here are some of the many bear books we’ve enjoyed.

Polar Bear Morning is the new companion to the award-winning Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson. It’s a simple story: a polar bear cub wakes up, goes out to play in his Arctic home and finds a friend. The clean crisp illustrations are visually appealing and the text is playful.

We also enjoyed Mark Newman’s non-fiction book about Polar Bears. The author is a photographer who has worked for National Geographic and the photo illustrations are stunning. Each page has a single sentence describing polar bears: they are big, patient,hungry, not really white. Smaller text elaborates on the idea in the first sentence for older kids who want to learn more.

Technically, there isn’t a bear in this book, although the unseen BIG HUNGRY BEAR is a character, sort of. Don and Audrey Wood’s The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear has been a favorite of ours for a long time. So much so that John made sure we didn’t read it until he was there. This despite having heard this very short and simple book many many times. A mouse picks a strawberry. The narrator notices but warns the mouse that the big hungry bear who loves strawberries might come and steal it. The mouse tries to find ways to hide it or disguise it but the narrator finds problems with each idea. Finally, the narrator suggests a solution that is the only way to make sure that the big hungry bear doesn’t get the strawberry. The solution has my kids giggling everytime as it suggests that perhaps the narrator isn’t so innocent.

Other Bear Books: 

Our Three Bears by Ron Hirschi- Beautiful photographs accompany this look at the three bears in North America (black, brown and polar).

Books on Pandas reviewed at Supratentorial

Bear Books previously reviewed (including our favorites by Karma Wilson and Bonny Becker)

and even More Bears 

Books On Hibernation:

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple- Sweet rhyming lullaby looking at many different hibernating animals.

A Den is Bed for a Bear by Becky Baines This one inspired quite a few blanket and chair and couch pillow “dens” being made.

Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows Fun, kind of silly look at hibernation for preschoolers.

Turtle Spring by Deborah Zagwyn Obviously no about bears. I think David especially enjoyed this more complex and very sweet story about Clee, a girl who thinks her beloved turtle has died in the winter. She buries him under the compost heap, only to find in the spring that he returns to her. There is a lot more going on here, as Clee also learns to accept her new baby brother and anxiously awaits her father’s return home from a job that has him gone the whole winter. It’s a beautifully done story and book.

Stop by Read Aloud Thursday for more great read aloud recommendations. Consider participating this month! It would be great to see what you are all reading with your kids.


Non-Fiction Monday: Two about Matisse


These two relatively new books on Henri Matisse offer complementary accounts of his life and work and make for a great elementary artist study. Colorful Dreamer by Marjorie Blain Parker looks at Matisse’s entire life, with about half the book in the period before he really became an artist. The most striking thing about the book is the illustrations which mirror the description of Matisse’s development as an artist. In the beginning when he is a child living in a small industrial French town, everything is shown in black and white pencil sketches except his dreams which are in vivid color. The black and white color scheme continues through his law clerk days and hospitalization with appendicitis. However, while hosptialized his mother brought him a box of paints and when we turn the page it sings with color and movement. The next pages gradually become all color. Even more striking, the illustrations in the second half show visually show Matisse’s change in styles from realistic to fauvist to the final pages which show a town much like he may have grown up in but in the style of his famous paper cutouts.  This is one of the more effective ways I’ve seen to have kids really feel how an artist’s style changes over time.

Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter focuses briefly covers Matisse’s early years but instead focuses on the time after he is confined to bed as an old man and how he managed to find a way to continue creating art when he couldn’t paint by using his giant paper cutouts. Winter includes actual quotes from Matisse and gives much more detail on how the cutouts were made than in Colorful Dreamer. Winter’s illustrations more directly reflect the shapes and feel of the cutouts and indeed, she actually uses cut paper for some of them.


Art books are an accompaniment to what I call “Art with Daddy” on David’s weekly schedule. David is very much like H. in many ways and one of those is his creativity and love of art. This project took them three weekly art sessions to complete (one to make the painted paper, one to work on the cutouts and one to put it all together) and I think it turned out beautifully.

Visit Non-Fiction Monday for more great juvenile non-fiction!

Non-Fiction Monday: Let’s Go Nuts: Seeds We Eat


April Pulley Sayre celebrates seeds of all kinds in Let’s Go Nuts!: Seeds We Eat. The simple, rhyming text and bold photographs are a perfect introduction for preschoolers to the wide variety of foods that are seeds. From beans to rice to corn to quinoa, Sayre covers the familiar and the more exotic. Coconuts, cashews, and even spices like cardamom and vanilla have a place here.

End pages give fairly extensive extra information on seeds and their place in diets around the world. I can see this one easily as a read-aloud time on food or as part of a preschool unit, especially combined with Sayre’s other food books: Rah, Rah Radishes! and Go, Go, Grapes! 

And don’t forget to visit the Non-Fiction Monday blog for more kid’s non-fiction!



Xander wants to have a panda party. Just one problem: he’s the only panda at the zoo. So he decides to invite all the other bears:

Black Bear, Brown Bear, Both the Polars,
Grizzly is a rock-and-roller!
Koala is a little dozy, likes her tree all leafy-cozy.
I will ask her anyway. Surely she will want to play!

But when he sends out the invitations Koala tells him she isn’t a bear but a marsupial. Is she still welcome? Xander mulls it over and decides to invite ALL the mammals. But Rhino won’t come without his bird friend. What to do? Xanda’s Panda Party gets bigger and bigger as kids learn a bit about animals and have a lot of fun along the way. Linda Sue Park’s rhyming text is never sing-songy but is fun to read. I counted eleven rhymes for celebration alone! Matt Phelan’s simple ink and watercolor illustrations complement this sweet story.

When Chu sneezes, bad things happen. His Mom takes him to the library where there is dust in the air. But he doesn’t sneeze yet. His Dad takes him to the diner where there is a lot of pepper. But he doesn’t sneeze. But when he goes to the circus we finally get to see exactly what his sneezes can do. My kids thought Chu’s Day was hilarious. I loved Adam Rex’s illustrations, with fantastic details like The Moby Diner with a whale as the short order cook.

Matt Baek’s Panda and Polar Bear tells the story of two bears who live close to each other but never meet until one day when Panda slips down the icy cliff separating them. He gets covered with mud and mistaken for a Panda. He has fun playing with the other Panda he meets there but becomes homesick. Panda helps Polar Bear figure out how to get back home but they wonder if they will ever get to play again. I was all set to give a little lecture when we finished on how Pandas and Polar Bears don’t actually live close to each other. Yes, I know it’s just a story but it still bugged me. But in a surprise ending, the last page shows that they have been in the zoo all along and it’s their enclosures that are next to each other. My kids liked that twist and it saved them from my lecture.

More panda books:

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter (illustrations by Melissa Sweet)

Giant Pandas by Gail Gibbons


The reason we were reading about pandas was that we were planning a field trip to the National Zoo to see Bao Bao . The 4 month old giant panda cub is BIG news here in the nation’s capital. We’re usually only mild fans of the giant pandas; they are cute but it’s so crowded around their enclosure that we tend to skip them and go to see the other lesser known animals. Plus, they sleep a lot. Still, as members we were able to go last week to see the cub before her public debut so I took advantage of the opportunity. The member only preview combined with a weekday morning and cold weather meant for no lines or crowds.

Still, Bao Bao slept the whole time. Apparently she naps 20 hours a day so it’s hard to catch her doing anything else. We did see both the adult pandas more active than I had ever seen them (that’s the mother having a bamboo feast above).

IMG_6443 IMG_6451Bao Bao may have disappointed a bit, but the five month old tiger cubs did not. They were super cute and active, wrestling with each other and engaged in a game of what looked like hide and seek combined with tag with their mother. We could have watched them all day if it wasn’t for the new zoo carousel beckoning my smallest cub away. IMG_6459

And two for next year.


Next year’s Cybils, that is. These two new books are the first to go on my own list of possible books to nominate. (And yes, I keep a list.) Fraidyzoo is author-illustrator Thrya Heder’s first picture book and it’s an amazing debut. It’s a perfect day for the zoo but Little T is afraid to go. She can’t remember why she is afraid. Her loving family tries to help her remember so they can help her not be afraid. They go through the alphabet of animals but none of them seem to be the answer. As they guess they dress up in homemade costumes and act out the animals; the costumes get more and more elaborate as the book goes on. From Dad in a pink tutu as a flamingo to yaks made out of all their winter coats and sweaters, the crazy costumes are what make this book so unique. There is a funny twist at the end that my kids loved but what I loved most was the way the book celebrates both the sweetness and quirkiness of the family. I love that they respect Little T’s fears and find a silly way to help her overcome them. I also love the detailed illustrations (reminiscent of one of my favorite illustrators, Marla Frazee). Endpages that look like a family bulletin board identify all the animals portrayed in the book.

Battle Bunny is definitely NOT the first book of authors’ Jon Sciezka and Mac Barnett. It is also definitely not sweet. It is hilarious and brilliant. Designed to look like an old-fashioned Golden Book type of book named Birthday Bunny, ostensibly the book has then been altered by a boy named Alex who received it for his birthday. The genius comes in the two stories and how spot on they are. First, there is an underlying saccharine sweet story about a bunny on his birthday and all his friends in the woods that are planning him a surprise party. Then there is the overlying story, told through what looks like penciled in writing over crossed out text and crudely altered illustrations. Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny who has an an evil plan to takeover the forest. None of the other animals can stop him until Alex is called in. There are grenades and rocket launchers and zombie animals and ninja warriors. In other words, it’s exactly what many boys would think would make this  kind of insipid story better.

As an aside, I’ll say that I have two boys. They are sweet and funny and smart and loving. But let’s just say that for a long time a favorite game to play in the car was “what destroys what”. Where they would think of successively more powerful and destructive things to destroy what ever the other person thought of. John is on an Odyssey of the Mind team this year with a group of 7 other fifth grade boys and every time the team does a “spontaneous” (kind of a thinking game) the answers end up being about death, destruction, bombs, weapons, or body fluids. Or farts. They can start with something like “name blue things” and end up talking about “the blueberry that exploded and blew off so and so’s head”. I know not all boys are like this, so please don’t leave me comments about how your boy would never engage in such behavior. However, many many perfectly normal are exactly like that. And they will love this book.

The reason Battle Bunny is so good goes beyond the mildly subversive story. It’s in the details. From the way the cover looks slightly scuffed to make the book look like an mid-century Golden Book to the way “Alex” has scribbled in birthdays for the authors to make them seem impossibly old, it’s all well-done.

Armchair Cybils: Fiction Picture Books


I was able to read all the books shortlisted in the Cybils fiction picture book category except one. (The exception is Journey by Aaron Becker which has something like 27 holds on it at my library so it might be awhile on that one.) First up is Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett. Apparently we had read this one earlier in the year but I had forgotten it. All three kids clearly remembered it and were very excited to see it in the book basket again so I’d say it meets the kid appeal criteria. It’s a counting book with a twist. We’re supposed to be counting monkeys but a different animal or creature has intruded on every page. Kids love the interactive text and sheer silliness. Ruth at 4 years old was the perfect age for this one as she excitedly followed the directions one each page (move your hand in a zig-zag, yell “Scram”) to get rid of the intruders. The boys (ages 7 and 10) liked it also which makes this the unusual counting book with wider age appeal.

We read If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano sometime last year also. At the time I didn’t like it very much, which was disappointing given that I am a fan of Fogliano and illustrator Erin Stead. This one improved for me on second reading. There isn’t much plot per se: the text relates all the things that you should and shouldn’t do if you want to see a whale while the illustrations show a young boy and his dog engaging in those actions. The first time through passages like this perplexed me:

if you want to see a whale
you’ll just have to ignore the roses
and all their pink
and all their sweet
and all their wild and waving
because roses don’t want you watching whales

It seemed like the point was that if you wanted to “see a whale” (achieve a goal) you had to ignore all the other distractions around you. This time through it read more nuanced to me, like the the author was saying that you might have to ignore those things, but maybe you shouldn’t and maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about seeing a whale. The illustrations don’t always match the text, which makes the intention more unclear. I think that’s a good thing here and could lead to interesting discussion. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I think in fact this is just a much more complex book than typically seen in a picture book format.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown was on my own personal shortlist back in December so I was excited to see it on the official shortlist also. Mr. Tiger lives in a proper urban environment but is getting tired of it. One day he finds himself going a little wild. He gets wilder and wilder until he ends up living on his own in the wilderness. He finds it lonely there and makes his way back to the city to his friends. The theme of celebrating differences and being yourself is obvious but not too heavy-handed. And I enjoy the clean, strong, illustrations. The difference between city and wilderness can be seen as much in the colors and patterns of the drawings as it is told in the text.

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier is another deceptively simple book. A series of characters (ladybug, frog, rabbit, bear and giant) read books. As each character reads a book they are reading about one of the other characters. The format of the book is unusual and very appealing to little ones: each book that the character is reading is a successively smaller book that can be opened by the reader. The pattern repeats as the books get successively larger. There is a lot of preschool learning that can happen here: sizes, patterns, colors. But mostly it’s just a fun and unique celebration of the love of reading and books.

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller is probably the most traditional of the nominees in that it just tells a story. The story it tells feels fresh and new and refreshingly familiar at the same time. Based on the author’s daughter, the book tells of a little girl named Sophie who falls in love with a squash one day at the farmer’s market. She names the squash Bernice and takes it everywhere with her. Her Mom tries to warn her about the fate of vegetables but Sophie ignores her, even when Bernice becomes troublesomely spotty. One day, on the advice of a farmer, Sophie puts Bernice to sleep in the nice soft dirt (to help her get better). Sophie misses Bernice but is thrilled in the spring to meet Bernice’s children who appear on a big beautiful squash plant.

I can’t think of any other book that celebrates a girl’s love for a vegetable but I could completely see this actually happening. In fact, Ruth asked me after we finished if  “we could do that”. Meaning that she wants a pet squash to plant and grow into baby squash. The illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf add to the charm and humor of this sweet story.

 The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud follows a Papa Bear as he chases his Baby Bear through the forest and then through the city. It is time to hibernate but Baby Bear has run away, chasing after a bee. The mad chase ends in an opera house where Papa Bear decides to sing the Bear’s Lullaby for the patrons, a beautiful song that all bears love. What is a lullaby for bears is apparently just a bit frightening for humans, and the  opera house is left empty except for a finally reunited Baby and Papa.

The illustrations are what make this large format book really special. Each page is incredibly detailed and deserves to be looked at again and again. On first reading, we enjoyed trying to find Baby Bear and bee on each page. On the next reading we noticed more of the other, often humorous things happening in the background. And on the next reading we started to notice details like more bees and honey and bears or intricately hidden animal sketches in the opera house walls.

If I had to pick a winner among these books, it would be hard. I think I’d pick Sophie’s Squash, mostly because I’m kind of old-fashioned and would like to reward a book that is mostly about story and has more of a classic feel but that is still excellent. And it had a lot of kid appeal in our house. I think the two enjoyed the most by everyone here were Count the Monkeys and The Bear’s Song. But really, I could see any of these winning, it’s a great group of books.

The only other shortlisted books that I’ve read that I hadn’t already read was A Big Guy Took My Ball! (Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems in the Easy Reader category. Not much to say about that one except that it’s just as good as all other Elephant and Piggie books. Which is to say it’s great. I did get a bunch of the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction shortlisted books out of the library for John to read (and possibly me to read) but he’s been working his way through the Eragon series (again) and I don’t think he’s read any of them yet. I haven’t been reading anything quite as all-consuming as Eragon but I haven’t quite gotten to them yet either.

And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more Armchair Cybils.



Non-Fiction Monday: Flight of the HoneyBee


Raymond Huber focuses on the flight of a single scout bee in this lovely new book about honeybees. Flight of the Honey Bee follows Scout as she flies out looking for a food source for her hive. Along the way, the reader briefly is introduced to the other types of bees in the hive but the focus is on the scout’s flight. We see the danger the Scout encounters along the way, learn how the Scout carries the nectar and pollen back to the hive and see a bit of the waggle dance the bees use for communication. Keeping the focus on one bee makes this a very accessible book for young preschoolers and early elementary students.

Brian Lovelock’s brightly colored illustrations are equally appealing for young kids and show the story from varying perspectives (high above the world or a bee’s eye view). It’s difficult to describe how truly lovely these luminous paintings are but they really elevate this book to something beyond the average non-fiction book .

Huber also includes extra facts on each page in a smaller print which add interest for older kids as well. The most memorable new fact for us was that bees have hair on their eyeballs. End pages include some additional facts on bees and an index but no bibliography.

Stop by Non-Fiction Monday for more in what’s new in children’s literature.