Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award

The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Children’s Poetry has been awarded. 

The winner is Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford.

The two honor books are:

Blue Lipstick
by John Grandits

This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
by Joyce Sidman

Ender's Real Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is set to be made into a video game!  Can you imagine a more likely title to be converted to a game?

According to the Reuters article
, it will be a downloadable game available in 2009.  It will hopefully be the first game in a series of them based on the book. 

Out of the Wild

Out of the Wild
by Sarah Beth Durst.

Due out in June 2008.

I was fortunate enough to serve on the Cybils Committee nominating a final slate of science fiction/fantasy books to the judges.  Into the Wild by Durst was one of our selected books for younger readers.  And then I was lucky enough to nab an ARC of this new book from someone who attended ALA Midwinter (thanks Marge!)

Out of the Wild is one of those incredibly rare sequels that is even better than the first book.  The green hungry mass of the Wild has returned to hiding in Julie’s bedroom, but her community still feels the effects of having once been swallowed by the Wild.  When the Wild swallows one of the Three Blind Mice, Julie and her mother are astonished to see that her father is spit out, returned to her mother after 500 years apart.  Her father is confused by this new world, but continues to act as a prince in a fairy tale.   He can’t be stopped from trying to rescue Sleeping Beauty despite the fact that his beloved is also in some danger.  Julie chases after her father on his quest, desperate to continue protecting the secret of the fairy tale characters living in the real world.  But her father is impossible to stop even when they realize that they are walking into a trap.

Durst’s writing continues to be the same high quality as the original book.  Her tone is completely consistent between the books, two halves of a whole story.  After the first story, I never expected a sequel.  It had been a completely satisfying and complete tale.  But now having read the second book, I realize that half of the story was missing though I didn’t know it at the time.  What an accomplishment – to create a complete tale and then create another book that makes the first even more complete and powerful.

Durst’s books are very friendly, filled with humor, and will be enjoyed by many types of readers.  This is fantasy that has an ease about it and should be recommended to readers who enjoy fantasy but also to any child who enjoys a great read.  Highly recommended for ages 9-12.

Waking Beauty

Waking Beauty
by Leah Wilcox, illustrated by Lydia Monks.

See the bright pink cover?  What you can’t see is the glitter on the title too.  Looks like quite a book for little girls, doesn’t it?  But I am here to tell you that this is one version of Sleeping Beauty that will have the little boys clamoring for another reading! 

When Prince Charming approaches the castle covered in vines, he hears a horrible noise that he thinks is a dragon.  He draws his sword, prepared to do battle, but to his dismay finds a snoring princess fast asleep.  Three fairies appear and offer advice to the prince, but he refuses to listen.  He tries many ways to get Beauty to wake up.  He shouts, jumps on the bed, dumps water on her, and finally resorts to firing her out of a cannon.  But nothing will wake Beauty up except a kiss, which is something that completely terrifies the brave prince.  Will he be willing to wake her?

A great rhyming story, you will get delighted responses from both boys and girls to this story as they realize it is a real twist on the traditional tale.  The rhymes add to the jolly nature of the story and the pure fun of the twists.  Monks artwork is beautiful, graceful and lovely, but doesn’t shy away from the slapstick nature of the book either.  The art offers a bridge between the beauty of the traditional tale and the silliness of this version.

Highly recommended for 4-7 year olds, especially as a final book in a story time.  I always guaranteed good laughs in my final book at a preschool story time.  This one is a perfect candidate and definitely guarantees giggles.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin.

This was one of this year’s honor books for the Belpre Award for the best Latino/Latina writer of the year. 

Martina is now 21 days old and ready to get married.  People in her family offer her things to make her even more lovely, but her Abuela gives her some strange advice instead, recommending the coffee test on each suitor to see how they respond when angry.  Martina doesn’t really think it will work, but her Cuban Abuela insists.  Martina is astonished to see how each person’s demeanor changes when she dumps a cup of coffee on their feet.  That is until she finds exactly the right suitor.

This book is beautifully written with prose that dances along, making it a great read aloud for slightly older children.  It is filled with puns that will be appreciated most by older elementary students.  The art of the book is digital and evocative of recent animated films, so children will immediately be drawn to it.  The art is often filled with movement and excitement that matches the tone of the story perfectly.  A wonderful collaboration.

Recommended as a read-aloud for ages 7-10, because of the great puns that deserve a good groan.  Children younger than that will enjoy the story, but may miss some of the humor in the tale.


Sweethearts by Sara Zarr.

How early in a year can one declare that they have read one of the best teen novels of the year?  Well, maybe I will set a record!

Zarr has followed her very popular Story of a Girl with another tremendous read.  Jenna used to be fat and unpopular, but she has transformed her life into one of a popular pretty girl.  Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  She remains caught, hearing the voice of the girl she used to be buried deep within her and unwilling to let go.  Jenna is living close to the edge emotionally already, but when her childhood friend returns after Jenna had thought he died eight years earlier, he brings a flood of memories with him.   And one of those memories cuts a little too close to them both even with eight years having passed. 

The tension of the this book is masterfully achieved.  Zarr uses vivid memories, crawlingly desperate prose, and no theatrics to create this book that begs to be finished in a single sitting.  Zarr also uses Jenna’s relationship with food to convey her emotional state.  The wonderful thing about this is that she doesn’t simplify it, but allows it just be there in all of its complexity.  Here’s an example from the book:

“My stomach was already beyond full from the tuna sandwich and leftover spaghetti I’d wolfed down along with the stolen candy bar, but I was still hungry in the back of my throat, in my chest, in my limbs — every part of me but my stomach.” 

It is Zarr’s ability to live with complexity in her characters that make her books work so well.  No one is free to be a cardboard character here, they all are human puzzles to enjoy and fully believe in.

Highly recommended with a wonderful cover, this book belongs in all libraries serving teens.  It is one of the best of the year, despite the fact we aren’t out of January yet.  A real winner that is bound to fly off of shelves and to readers who will come back begging for more.   I’d recommend Gail Giles novels to fans of Zarr.

You Were Loved Before You Were Born

You Were Loved Before You Were Born by Eve Bunting, illustrated be Karen Barbour.

This book is a celebration of a new life.  It follows the expressions of love from parents and family as they prepare for a new baby.  They paint the baby’s nursery, give presents, plant roses, and make toys, all with great joy.  It is a quiet, loving book, perfect for a child who is expecting their first sibling, because it reassures them that the same joy was present when they were being expected. 

Bunting’s language is simple, strong and lovely as always.  Here she creates a feeling of blissful expectation with her words.  Barbour’s illustrations are gloriously folksy and warm.  Every child should emerge into a world filled with such bright colors and warmth. 
Too quiet and personal to be shared with a group, I recommend reading this to a 4-6 year old looking forward to a new baby.  It is also the perfect gift for new parents expecting their first child.

Interview with Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang was recently interviewed by NPR about the medium of the graphic novel, getting started as a comic book artist, and how American Born Chinese started as a series of mini-comics.  A fascinating glimpse of Yang, Chinese culture, and shame.

Duck Soup

Duck Soup by Jackie Urbanovic.

There is sort of a fowl (not foul) trend happening today.  Remember last year when all the books were bunny books?  Well this year may be the year of the bird. 

Returning to the world of Duck at the Door, Max the duck is creating his own soup recipe for the first time.  When he heads out to the garden for an herb, his friends come in and wonder where he is.  The soup smells fantastic and they think about eating some, until it occurs to them that Max has fallen in the soup and been cooked.  They call into the pot for him, beg him to grab the spoon, and finally pour the soup through a strainer and down the drain.  Max returns from the garden to find his soup gone, his friends relieved and realizes that it is best that he did not end up making duck soup.

There are two winning components of this book.  First is the art of Urbanovic, which is humorous, cartoony, and charming all at once.   All of the animal characters have their own personal vibe that comes through not only in the text but in the art.  Even better, this charming art is big enough and vibrant enough to be used with quite a large group.  The second winning component is the pacing of the book.  It begins with a slow savoring of soup, a litany of soups that Duck has made before, and a pondering of how to improve the recipe.  The friends sidle in happily, but then the panic sets in and the pace reaches a breakneck speed.  The relief is expressed in the pacing too as they all sit down to a soupless supper. 

This is one for the story time pile.  It shouldn’t be saved for duck or bird story times, but instead it should be pulled out whenever children may get restless.  The humor only improves with additional readings.  Highly recommended for a great laugh for 4-6 year olds.