As you know, I’ve been having fun playing along with Amy’s Armchair Cybils Challenge. The shortlists came out Jan 1st and I’ve had a chance to read through the fiction and non-fiction picture book lists. Today, my thoughts on the fiction shortlist.
Me….Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a biography of Jane Goodall suited to preschoolers or younger elementary kids. I reviewed it in full here. I really liked the illustrations and McDonnell’s use of some of Goodall’s own artwork and notebook pages.
I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn is a sweet and charming book about the creative way a little girl and her mother handle her “favoritest” dress getting too small. Reviewed here, this was one that both Ruth and I loved.
Press Here by Hevre Tullet is a very clever concept. Each page has a simple direction for the reader to perform (press on the yellow dot, shake the book lightly, blow on the page) and when the page is turned something has changed. The yellow dot turns into a red dot or all the dots slide to one side of the page. It’s very simple but clever. Best for preschoolers.
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea is a fold it/pop up style of book in a question and answer format. Each page asks a question about what grows, “If a snakelet grows and becomes a snake, can a cupcake grow and become a cake?” It’s cute and probably also best for preschoolers. David (age 5) thought it was funny but he also said it was “kind of for babies”.
The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett on first glance is a classic fairy tale-like story of a pig and a princess switched at birth. On second look it’s a funny and clever story with lots of tongue in cheek references to classic fairy tales. All four of us laughed a lot and enjoyed this one.
The only Cybil nominee I haven’t been able to read so far is I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. I’m on the hold list at the library. Based on the glowing reviews I’ve seen this one is quite likely to be the winner.
One of the most interesting things about the Armchair Cybils challenge for me has been thinking about what goes into judging books. The Cybils website doesn’t really talk about what criteria they use. The seven books on the shortlist are incredibly diverse, not to mention the hundreds nominated. How do you judge which is “best” between books like Press Here, which is inventive but really geared towards the very young and I Had a Favorite Dress which is not as creative but has a much more engaging story? I’m also not entirely sure why Me….Jane and Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? are classified as fiction. I think both of them, in particular Me…Jane would be better classified as non-fiction.
So, because I don’t really know how to objectively judge between these books if I was a judge I’d have to choose the ones that we liked the best. For us that would clearly be I Had a Favorite Dress or The Princess and the Pig. I also like that both were story-driven. I like the inventiveness of picture books like Press Here but I feel the trend in picture books in the past few years has been toward the clever concept rather than the well-written story. I appreciate these two for the stories they tell.
Many of the books we liked the best weren’t chosen for the shortlist (Grandpa Green, Naamah and the Ark at Night, Doodleday). In the end, that doesn’t really matter because the best part of this challenge for me has been in discovering and reading a lot of great new books with my kids. Even though it’s a bit corny to say, it’s also true…we are the real winners here.