Cybils (a little late)

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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

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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!.

 

Armchair Cybils: Fiction Picture Books

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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.

 

 

…and just a few more

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As I may have mentioned once or twice, the Cybils shortlists are out. I’m proud of the list that our panel came up with for Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction but inevitably there were some books that didn’t make the list but that are still great books. I thought I’d list some of my favorites that didn’t make the list but that are fantastic reads.

If you’re looking for even more great non-fiction books for kids you can’t go wrong with any of these:

*The Skull in the Rock by Lee R. Berger and Marc Aronson

*Thomas Jefferson’s Library by Barb Rosenstock

*That’s a Possibility by Bruce Goldstone

*Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Cybils!

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Happy New Year! I’m sure you all know what that means, right?

The Cybils shortlists are being announced today, of course! Head over and check out the best of children’s and young adult literature in 11 different categories. There is something for everyone, I promise.

Having served as a first-round panelist this year in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category, I can say I don’t envy the job of the second-round panelists. We took 96 books and narrowed it down to an outstanding list of seven. They have to somehow pick the one finalist and I don’t know how I’m going to wait until Feb 14th to find out which one they choose. And I’m even more excited to see the shortlists in the other categories.

The main thing I learned from this process is that when you take 96 books and narrow them down to 7 there will inevitably be really great books left off the list. Books I loved were left off the list. I had to leave books I loved off my own shortlist that we had to turn in. What better way to discuss what was shortlisted and what wasn’t than by participating in the Armchair Cybils over at Hope is the Word. What better way to ring in the New Year than by talking about books! I hope to be back later today with some of my thoughts.

Armchair Cybils- December Link-Up

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Cybils nominees reviewed since November:

Elementary/middle grade non-fiction:
Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness

Tito Puente: Mambo King by Monica Brown

War Dogs by Kathryn Selbert

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heligman

Anubis Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter

I’ve read considerably more in this category but I can’t post my shortlist since I’m serving as a panelist. There are some great books in this category and I’m excited to see what we ultimately come up with as a final shortlist. Be sure to check on Jan 1st to see what we came up with (and to see the other shortlists)!

Fiction Picture Books:

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner

That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

Middle-Grade Fiction:
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
by Chris Grabenstein

I didn’t really read enough of any category other than non-fiction to make an educated shortlist but just for fun here is my personal and fairly uneducated shortlist for fiction picture books:

Ah ha! by Jeff Mack
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
Ollie and Claire by Tiffany Strelitz Haber
That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
123 vs ABC by Mike Boldt
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Stop by Hope is the Word for more Armchair Cybils! If you are looking for Christmas presents you are sure to find some great books there.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

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I’ll be surprised if this book doesn’t end up on many “best of” lists at the end of the year and on at least a few award shortlists. The buzz surrounding it has been tremendous and not without good reason. Part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, part Mysterious Benedict Society, it is full of enough puzzles and literary allusions to satisfy even the biggest book-nerd. (Perhaps one reason it’s been so widely beloved in the kid-litosphere. And I say that as the biggest book-nerd of them all.)

You can find longer reviews of this one in book blogs all over so I’ll keep it short. Briefly, the town of Alexandriaville has been without a library for 12 years. To celebrate the opening of the new library built by world-famous game creator Mr. Lemoncello (and Alexandriaville native), a contest is devised for twelve 12 year olds. The first one to find his way out of the library is the winner. But to find his way out the winner has to decipher clues that have been planted all over the library. The kids quickly pair off into teams to solve the puzzle. The teams are led by Kyle, an average nice guy kind of kid who loves games and tolerates books, and Charles Chiltington, the evil rich kid who is wiling to win at any cost.

Ruth has a new saying these days. She will very seriously say “I don’t like_______” about something. “I don’t like this soup.” “I don’t like this book.” And then when you ask why she’ll say “I LOVE IT!” I’d have to say the opposite about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. I did like it. But I just didn’t LOVE it.

That might be partly due to hype. By the time we read it I had heard it compared to every great kid’s book of this century and last. I did really like the puzzles and the literary references were fun (although mostly missed by my two boys, both of whom have had a lot of books read to them or read themselves). I wonder if the literary references are one of those things adults think are cool but kids miss. I liked imagining the library and all it’s bells and whistles (although I’m enough of a Luddite to keep thinking that it would have been nice if the coolness of the library were due primarily to the books and not to the all the cool technology).

I found myself wishing that the characters weren’t quite so much caricatures. You have the khaki-wearing evil preppy rich kid. The cheerleader who pretends to be ditzy but is smart. The shy bookworm. And some of the plot seemed thin. Primarily, I kept wondering if there has been no library in this town for these kids’ whole lives then how come so many of them basically have the DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM MEMORIZED. It seemed odd that the argument was how important libraries are, yet, in this town with no library, all the kids had been able to grow up unusually into libraries and books WITHOUT A LIBRARY.

However, those points could be overlooked. Lots of children’s literature is full of stock characters. The thing that bothered me most though was the way the adult characters dealt with Charles Chiltington.  He’s a nasty little suck-up of a kid. But the adults seem to be as against him as the other kids are. Mr Lemoncello clearly doesn’t like him and is rooting for Kyle’s team. It’s not so much that I felt sorry for him but that I thought this added to the one-dimensional aspect of the book. Yes, it’s fun. But I think the author could have achieved something a little deeper if his characters had developed more or if we could have seen that Charles wasn’t just pure evil in a polo shirt. Think about Dumbledore seeing the good in Draco or Mr. Benedict trying to reach out to S.Q. In this book it’s as if Mr. Benedict mocks S.Q. or Dumbledore never tried to help Draco.

So fun, yes. But one dimensional fun. That’s not always bad but I wished for a little more.

 

Non-Fiction Monday: The Boy Who Loved Math

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It’s likely that you’ve seen this book reviewed elsewhere. There has been a lot of buzz about it in the kid-lit world. And for good reason. The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable LIfe of Paul Erdos is a wonderful biography of a fascinating man. In case you’re ignorant like me, Paul Erdos was a Hungarian mathematician known for his work in number theory and for his eccentric personality.

Deborah Heligman strikes a perfect balance  in this book between the story of Erdos’ life and an explanation of the mathematical problems that so intrigued and consumed him.The main focus of the text is on the life of Erdos: from a childhood where he was kicked out of school for not following the rules; to his ability at the age of four to quickly tell a person how old they were in seconds once he knew their birthdate and time; to his love of prime numbers and to his mostly itinerant life as an adult as he traveled the world collaborating with other mathematicians.

When it fits with the story Heligman goes into more detail on the math itself (for example a terrific explanation of prime numbers). However, numbers and math are primarily incorporated into the book through the illustrations by LeUyen Pham. The endpages include an extensive explanation of the math she worked into the drawings. One example is that of equations and diagrams from problems Erdos puzzled over drawn into the architecture of buildings in Budapest on one page. And that’s just one example of many.

Mathematicians have coined a term “Erdos number” that describes how close someone was to Erdos. If a person met him or worked with him directly, their number is 1. If they worked with someone who worked with Erdos, their number is a 2. One of my favorite illustrations is a detailed double page graphic that shows this web of influence that Erdos had in the world of mathematics.

Erdos was also known for being eccentric. Heligman doesn’t ignore this. She describes how he never learned to butter his own toast, even as an adult. Or that his friends around the world essentially took care of him: doing his laundry, paying his bills, cooking his food. I think many adults who read this book will not be able to help but wonder if Erdos was autistic or had Asperger’s (and in fact a quick Google search found that many Asperger sites claim him as a famous person with the syndrome). Kids probably won’t pick up on this, unless they themselves have a diagnosis of Asperger’s or HFA. In that case, they will likely find Erdos’ success despite his quirks inspiring.

Heligman refers in the author’s note to a biography by Paul Hoffman on Erdos: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. I was intrigued enough by this story that I looked up Hoffman’s biography and did some quick reading on the Internet about Erdos. As with most picture book biographies, his life is more complicated than it appears here. I think Heligman’s biggest achievement with this book is that she has taken a figure that might seem weird or geeky or unapproachable and humanized him in a way that should make kids who don’t like math think it’s a little more cool than they thought before. And at the same time kids that are a little bit weird or geeky or who just love math will read this book and be inspired.

This book is a nominee for a Cybils Award in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category for which I am a Round 1 panelist.  I received a review copy from the publisher specifically for the Cybils. My opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the other panelists.

 

Volcano Rising

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One of my kids has always been fascinated with volcanoes. I’m pretty sure that he just thinks that the potential for explosion is  cool. And that’s pretty much the picture I have of volcanoes, big powerful disastrous eruptions of lava and ash. What I loved about Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch is that it focuses on the creative nature of volcanoes and not the destructive side that we stereotypically think of.

Rusch shows how volcanoes make new mountains, both on land and below the sea. She uses examples around the world to show how volcanoes are currently involved in changing the landscape around them. I appreciated that each page had two levels of text, one in bolder print that is fairly simple yet still gives a solid understanding of volcanoes and creative eruptions. The second smaller text block gives more in-depth information for those kids who want to learn more. This is a great way to write a book that can appeal to multiple ages. You could easily skip the smaller text while reading this book out loud to young elementary students, yet an older student could read all the text as research for a project on volcanoes (or just for fun).

The beautiful mixed-media illustrations by Susan Swan complement the text. The photo of the cover shown above doesn’t really do justice to the intensity of the colors and textures in the book itself. Suffice to say that as good as the writing is, this one would almost be worth picking up just to look at.

This book is a nominee for a Cybils Award in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category for which I am a Round 1 panelist. I obtained a copy of the book from my library. My opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the other panelists.

Armchair Cybils Round-Up: Not non-fiction (or everything else)

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I’ve read more from other Cybils categories than I realized before I sat down to write this post. I haven’t reviewed very many of these. (Yet. I have big plans). However, unlike the category for which I’m a panelist I can give more of my opinion on these, so I’ll include some brief comments on favorites and not-so favorites.

Fiction Picture Books Read:
A Long Way Away
by Frank Viva
Abe Lincoln’s Dream by Lane Smith (nominated by me)
Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack
I loved this almost wordless picture book, as did H. and all three kids. It’s simple but incredibly clever. Reviewed here by Amy at Hope is the Word.
Ball by Mary Sullivan
Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Somewhat similar to Chopstick by the same author, this one has a lot of clever word-play and induced giggles in all three of my kids.
Hello, My Name is Ruby by Phillip Stead
Also a favorite of all three kids, David the bird lover in the house especially loved this sweet book. Reviewed here by Amy at Hope is the Word.
If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
I really liked this tale of a tiger who just wants to be a little wild in the midst of a buttoned-up world. I found it silly and delightful. My kids were less impressed. Reviewed in full here at Delightful Children’s Books (by a different Amy).
123 versus ABC by Mike Boldt
A clever twist on  preschool ABC or counting books. In this one, numbers and letters argue about who is more important and just who the book is really about.
999 Frogs Wake Up by Ken Kimura
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
I haven’t had a chance to share this one with my kids yet (I read it while browsing at a bookstore) but I think they will love it. There are many holds at our library so we’ll have to wait awhile. It’s a really clever story about what happens when a box of crayons quits and the notes they leave for their boy explaining why they are quitting: pink is tired of never being used, another color is tired of being used too much and worn down to a nub, yellow and orange are fighting over what color the sun really is).
Ollie and Claire by Tiffany Strelitz Haber
Sort of a “Pina Colada Song” for young kids (bonus points if you get that reference). I liked this sweet story about friendship a lot and hope that there are more Ollie and Claire books in the works.

I don’t envy the picture book panelists. They have over 200 books to whittle down to a slim seven book shortlist. My picks  at this point would be: Ah Ha!, The Day the Crayons Quit, Hello My Name is Ruby, ABC versus 123, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Ollie and Claire. But obviously I’ve only read the tip of the iceberg for this category.

Middle Grade Fiction Books Read:
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library 
by Chris Grabenstein
This is one I hope to review in the near future, although it’s been reviewed many other places. For now, I’ll just say that for the most part we are part of the large cheering section for this new Mysterious Benedict Society-like novel.
Nine Days by Fred Hiatt
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
This book about an ordinary second grader was my recent second grader’s special read aloud. It is reminiscent of the Ramona books or Clementine. Henkes has managed like Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume before him to capture the every day problems of an average kid and convey how things that may seem small can seem really big to a 7 year old. For a more full review, see Amy at Hope is the Word
The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson
Another one I hope to review in full in the next few days. I read this historical novel about the cholera epidemic in nineteenth century London and Dr. John Snow’s famous epidemiological investigation with interest. I handed it to John to read as his next assigned book for school, thinking he’d like it. He read it in a day so I’d say he did.

Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Read:
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
See Semicolon for a review by Sherry.
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Poetry Read:
Cat Talk by Patrician MacLachlan
Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
Pug: And other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth (with illustrations by Steve Jenkins)
Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More!: Poems for Two Voices by Carole Gerber

Young Adult Non-Fiction Read:
Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Solves History’s Mysteries by Elizabeth MacLeod
A fascinating look at forensic techniques using historical mysteries to show how the techniques could have perhaps helped solved the mystery. Overall I really liked this one but sometimes the highlighted technique seemed to be a stretch to go with the historical mystery and often the mystery wasn’t really solved. Also, a particular annoyance to me was that graphics showing extra information were depicted as if on a tablet computer, that seemed an odd choice for a book.
Breakfast on Mars and 37 Delectable Essays edited by Rebecca Stern/ Brad Wolfe
I got this one out of the library thinking it might be a good read for my 5th grader as writing inspiration. I decided it was a little too old for him but I’m keeping it in mind to use in a few years. It’s a great idea for a way to help kids see what an essay can really be beyond the typical five-paragraph format taught in school.
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin