International Reading Association 2014 Book Awards

The winners of the 2014 IRA Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards have been announced.  The award focuses on debut authors, considering only the first and second books by an author.  The authors must show early and “unusual promise in the children’s and young adults’ book field.”



Dear Santasaurus

Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Jef Kaminsky


17822894 16277528 Open This Little Book

Digby Differs by Miriam Koch

Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship by Tania Grossinger

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee



War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus by Kathryn Selbert



Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff


Paperboy  The Water Castle

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore



Draw Out the Story: Ten Secrets to Creating Your Own Comics

Draw Out the Story: Ten Secrets to Creating Your Own Comic by Brian McLachlan



Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Absent The Tragedy Paper

Absent by Katie Williams

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

Read Aloud to Children from Birth


Hurrah!  The American Academy of Pediatrics announced that they will be focusing on having pediatricians tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth.  This marks the first time that this organization which represents 62,000 pediatricians has made an early literacy recommendation. 

Programs like Reach Out and Read offer connections for pediatricians to get books that they can then offer families living in poverty.  Simply reading aloud to children will dramatically increase the number of words children hear before preschool.  Reading aloud to infants is a powerful message to send to all parents, one that is sure to pay dividends in the years to come!

The New York Times has the story here.

Review: Froodle by Antoinette Portis


Froodle by Antoinette Portis

Everyone knows that cats say “Meow” and dogs bark.  The birds is the neighborhood all sand their specific song too.  The little brown bird sang “Peep” every day, all seasons.  Until one day, the little bird decided that she wanted to sing something else.  Something silly!  The big black crow did not think this was funny at all.  The little brown bird tried to go back to singing just “Peep” again, but she just couldn’t stop the silly words from slipping out.  Soon the silliness was spreading and the red bird started saying things too.  Then Dove proved that there could be silly white birds too.  The only one who would not be silly was the very serious Crow.  But we all know that silliness is very contagious!

Clever, clever, clever.  This book takes a very simple premise of one little bird being silly one day and wanting to do something unique and different, and then shows how one small change can have larger ripple effects on a community.  The tone throughout is pure cheer and laughter.  The words that all of the birds come up with are ridiculous and great fun to read aloud.  Children will enjoy working these and other nonsense words into their day.

The illustrations for the book were done in pencil, charcoal and ink with the color added digitally.  The result is a book with a traditional feel mixed with a modern spin.  The colors are flat and bright, the textures give depth, and the birds themselves pop on the backgrounds.

Silly, funny and a delight to read aloud, this book is pure oobly snoobly fun.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

2014 Cilip Carnegie & Greenaway Medal Winners

The winners of the 2014 Cilip Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals have been announced.

The Bunker Diary 13531024

The medals are the oldest children’s book awards and are voted on by librarians in the UK.  The Carnegie Medal is given to one outstanding book for children or young adults.  This year’s winner is Kevin Brooks for The Bunker Diary.  Brooks, author of ten teen novels, has been shortlisted for the medal three times before.

The Kate Greenaway Medal for excellence in illustration in a book for children was awarded to Jon Klassen for This Is Not My Hat.  Klassen becomes the first Canadian to win the award.  He was nominated for two titles in this year’s short list. 

Review: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The author of A Tangle of Knots returns with a brilliant new protagonist in her new novel.   Albie doesn’t get good grades, in fact he was asked to leave his private school and is going to be starting public school instead.  Albie isn’t the best artist.  He isn’t the best at anything at all.  Except maybe at eating doughnuts for breakfast.  But when he changes schools, things start to change for Albie.  It could be the great new babysitter he gets, since his parents are very busy.  Calista is an artist and she thinks it’s OK that Albie reads Captain Underpants books even though he’s in 5th grade and that he sometimes needs a break from school.  It could be math club, that starts each day with a joke and sneaks math in when Albie isn’t paying attention.  It could be a new best friend, Betsy, someone he can talk to and joke with and who doesn’t get mad when Albie gets confused.  But things aren’t all great.  Albie’s other best friend is appearing on a reality TV show and suddenly Albie gets popular at school, risking his friendship with Betsy.  Albie has a lot to figure out before he knows exactly what he’s good at.

Graff’s writing here is stellar.  She writes with an ease that makes for a breezy read, yet it deals with deep issues along the way.  Thanks to her light touch, the book reads quickly, never bogging down into the issues for too long before lightening again.  Still, it is the presence of those deep issues that make this such a compelling read.  The fact that the book deals with so much yet never feels overwhelmed by any of them is a wonder and a feat.

Throughout the entire book the real hero is Albie.  He is a character that is ordinary, every-day and yet is still a delight to read about.  His perspective is down to earth, often confused, and he walks right into every social trap there is.  He is a character you simply have to root for, a regular boy who is also a hero.  He shows that simply making it through each day being yourself is heroic, and a win.  The world is filled with Albies and this book shows why they should be celebrated.  He’s a delight.

A book with at least four starred reviews, this is a standout novel this year.  Get your hands on it and share it with kids.  It’s a unique and surprising read, just like Albie himself.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Promise by Nicola Davies


The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

In a gritty city filled with dust and yellow wind, a girl survives by stealing from other poor people.  Her life was just as dust filled and ugly as the city around her.  Then one night, she saw an old frail woman with a fat bag walking along.  She would be an easy mark, so the girl tried to get the bag away from her.  The old woman held on tightly, but eventually asked the girl to promise to plant them and she could have the bag.  The girl promised.  In the bag were only acorns, nothing to eat, no money to spend, but a wealth of trees.  So the girl started planting them one by one, and nothing changed for a long time.  Then green sprouts started to appear, then trees grew and green returned to the broken city.  But the girl had already left, going to other cities that needed a forest too.  Until one night she had her fat bag of acorns with her, and a young person tried to steal it from her.  All it took was another promise and she let them have the bag.

This allegory is lovely.  The setting is hauntingly familiar, a war zone where all that is left behind is the dust and rubble of war and people who cannot escape the city or see a future beyond it.  The transformation of the theft of property into a promise is stunning.  Simple and profound, it is courage, passion and change all wrapped into a single act.  I also love the moments before the trees appear, the anticipation, the question of whether it will work, the effort before the payoff.  And then the fact that the girl leaves to go to other cities, makes this entire story less about her than about her deeds.  It’s one intelligently written book that works so well.

Carlin’s illustrations are done in muted grays and sands, they are images that suck the color out of the day, cover you in their dust.  And yet, they are also filled with hope.  When that first green hits the page, it’s like you can smell it in the air.  Then the transformation that is so colorful, so fresh. 

This radiant allegory would be appropriate for classrooms learning about allegories or about peace.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Grandmaster by David Klass


Grandmaster by David Klass

Daniel is a freshman in the chess club of an elite private school.  He knows he’s one of the poorest kids attending the school, one of the least popular, and also one of the worst chess players.  So he’s surprised with two popular and wealthy seniors approach him to invite Daniel and his father to a father son chess tournament in New York City.  He’s even more shocked to find out that his own accountant father who doesn’t seem to be good at anything in particular, used to to be a chess grandmaster thirty years ago.  Daniel convinces his father to participate and quickly realizes that his father has a profound gift for chess.  But as the tournament continues, the stress gets more difficult to deal with and Daniel realizes that his father quitting chess may have been a matter of life and death.

Klass, who was a competitive chess champion himself, writes a book about chess that never lags with too much chess information and is filled with real drama.  Klass wisely mixes drama on the board with drama in real life, showing the complexity of competition on a variety of scales.  I also appreciate that Klass slowly broke down the shell of the wealthy fathers and sons, showing them for whom they truly were.  Happily, he did not end up with stereotypes in any way, rather he showed them all as individuals with various flaws.

Daniel is a great character.  He doesn’t realize his own potential and is actually beyond humble.  He has a great sense of humor as well, something that works well as he deals with his father.  And what a paternal character that is!  His father is an amazing mix of wounded chess veteran, incredible brain, and distant man.  But that changes, grows, reverts and organically continues throughout the book. 

A riveting book about chess, competition and father son relationships, get this book into the hands of chess playing middle schoolers, but even more it may inspire some kids to give the game a try.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren

whispering town

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar.  They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden.  Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read.  On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering.  Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away.  But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night?  It will take an entire town to save them.

Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book.  Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well.  The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support.  That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.

Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them.  Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community. 

This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.

Review: Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

number one sam

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race.  His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best.  He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race!  Sam is devastated.  He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race!  Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead.  But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time.  So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race.  Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!

Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas.  His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children.  At the same time, his books are not predictable.  I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend.  I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth.  That takes real skill.

Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple.  He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own.  This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page.  Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.

Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.