Armchair Cybils

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It’s time for the best book challenge around, the Armchair Cybils hosted by Amy at Hope is the Word. The great thing about this challenge is it really simple: just read as many Cybils nominated titles as you can/want to. Simple, fun, with a goal to read a lot. Sold!

As I have in the past few years, I will concentrate on picture books. It gives me an extra reason to look for and read books with my youngest kids (and the 11 year old still enjoys a good picture book too). I haven’t read as much as I had hoped to by this point so I’m just going to link to reviews of what I have read and talk about a few books I’m looking forward to reading. I’ll save discussions of favorites and predictions for when I’ve read more in any one category.

First what I have already read and reviewed:
Fiction Picture Book Reviews:
Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (nominated by me)

Non-Fiction Elementary and Middle-Grade Book Reviews:
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
Colors of the Wind by J. L. Powers
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward
Mysterious Patterns by Sarah C. Campbell
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock (nominated by me)

I have a lot more in my book basket and even more on hold at the library. I’m looking forward to the new Bear and Mouse book: A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker. There are three (count ‘em) books by Mac Barnett that look like they could be great (Telephone, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and President Taft is Stuck in the Bath). There is a new book by Marla Frazee, who I love, that looks odd but intriguing: The Farmer and the Clown. In the non-fiction category, there are quite a few in our book basket that I want to read: The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert and Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins. I also want to get my hands on Jason Chin’s Gravity.

Outside of the picture book categories I really can’t wait to read the poetry book Firefly July, reviewed here by Amy. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade by Kevin Brockmeir is hard to pass up as a memoir of seventh grade in the 1980′s. I listened to one Meg Wolitzer book and found it kind of meh, but I’ve been wanting to give her another chance since I see so many positive reviews of her work. Belzhar, her new young adult novel, might be the time for that second chance. I think both John and I will enjoy Minion, the companion book to John David Anderson’s Sidekicked. And I can’t pass up Paul Acampora’s I Kill the Mockingbird as a lifelong lover of Harper Lee’s masterpiece.

Ok, that should keep me busy. Wet your appetite for more? Check out the nominations at the Cybils site or see what everyone else is enjoying at the Armchair Cybils round-up.

Nonfiction Monday: Mysterious Patterns

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When you think “math picture book” the words captivating, beautiful, and great kid appeal don’t typically come to mind. At least not to my mind. I might think educational but dull. Or interesting but not visually appealing.  Sarah C. Campbell breaks all those stereotypes with Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature.

The book begins with simple shapes familiar to most kids: spheres, cylinders and cones. She shows how these shapes are found in man-made items and also in nature. Campbell then introduces the concept of fractals (regular repeating patterns of shapes of diminishing size) by showing shapes from nature that traditionally were thought to be too messy to describe. (Think broccoli or a fern.) In 1975, a mathematician named Benoit Madelbrot introduced the concept of fractals and showed that those messy complex shapes are really made up of patterns of smaller parts. Campbell uses photography to highlight many examples of fractals: trees, lightening, mountains, human lungs.  Although fractal geometry is mathematically complex, even young kids should come away with some understanding of the concept.

Campbell includes instructions for making your own fractal at the end of the book. An afterword by Michael Frame, a Yale math professor and colleague of Mandelbrot, gives a little more background information on Mandelbrot himself and further expounds on why the concept of fractal geometry is so useful. (The wiring on the Internet is a fractal, DNA is a fractal, seismography uses fractals.) The coolest example he gives that should leave older kids wanting to learn more is an example of a radar invisibility cloak that uses the concept of fractals. (Just one step away from Harry Potter.)

More math books reviewed here at Supratentorial: 

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heligman (biography of Paul Erdos)
Edgar Allen Poe’s Pie by J. Patrick Lewis (math puzzle poems)
Mathematickles by Betsy Franco (simple math poems)
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang (simple counting puzzles)
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (goofy story with math puzzles)
Mystery Math by David Adler (algebra introduction)
That’s A Possibility by Bruce Goldstone (probability and statistics for elementary students)
Zero is the Leaves on the Tree by Betsy Franco (introduces concept of zero)
You Can Count on Monsters by Richard Evan Schwartz (incredibly creative book on factoring)

Ok, so maybe I should go back and amend that statement about math books not being captivating or appealing to kids. Or maybe I should go back and read my own archives more often. I’m thinking of putting several of these on my library list; I’d forgotten about them and how good they are.

 Mysterious Patterns was nominated for a Cybils award this year in the Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction Category.

Armchair Cybils!

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It’s October and you know what that means, right? If your’e thinking cooler weather, kids in costumes and candy and pretty leaves…we’ll you’re technically right but that’s not the best part of October. The best part is that it’s the beginning of book award season, of course. And of my very favorite bookish challenge, the Armchair Cybils, hosted by Hope is the Word.

It’s super easy and super fun. Just read as many books nominated for the Cybils awards as you want to. Post about them on your blog. Link up. Read about the other great children’s books people are reading. Read more. Repeat. See? Easy and fun.

Head over to Hope is the Word for more details and to join in!


Cybils!!!

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Applications to be a Cybils judge are available now at the (new and super fancy) Cybils website. I was a Round 1 panelist last year and had so much fun doing it. If you are a blogger who loves children’s literature I would highly recommend it. It’s a lot of work (if you can call reading stacks of books “work” ) but a really great experience.

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.