2014 Finalists for Kirkus Young Readers Prize

The finalists for the Kirkus Young Readers Prize are selected from all of the books given a starred review by Kirkus between November 1, 2013 and October 31, 2014.  For the Young Readers category, six books were selected: two in each age category of picture book, middle grade and teen. 

Here are the finalists:

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual El Deafo

Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Freedom Summer Murders The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza, #5)

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus The Story of Owen (Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, #1)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston

Review: Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea

kid sheriff and the terrible toads

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

The Toad brothers have taken over Drywater Gulch and are causing no end of trouble.  But then a new sheriff arrives in town, a kid in a white suit riding a tortoise.  He doesn’t have many skills with guns and has an early bedtime, but he does know all about dinosaurs.  He is hired on the spot.  And that’s right when the Toad brothers blow up the bank, rob the stagecoach, and jump someone’s gold claim.  The sheriff is quick to point out how each of the escapades involved dinosaurs, T-Rex and velociraptors.  It seems that the crimes will never be solved by this young sheriff, but soon his paleontological plans turn out to be just what was needed to capture some human bandits.

Shea clearly has great fun creating these characters, this town and this world of dinosaurs mixed with the Wild West.  He plays with language throughout, creating wonderful moments where the new sheriff rides – very slowly – into town on his tortoise.  Just the way the Toad brothers are introduced early in the book will show how fun this book is to read aloud:  “Why, those Toad brothers would steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili.  Hootin’, hollarin’, and cussin’ all the while.”  You can’t read that without a drawl and huge grin.

Smith’s illustrations are equally fun.  Using a palette of browns, blacks and tans, he creates the world of Drywater Gulch on the page.  There is a great sandiness and grit to the illustrations, and he also plays with perspective and fascinating rock formations of the desert.  The wild characters are placed in this world, popping on the page against the gritty backgrounds.

A great read aloud, this picture book is silliness through and through with a western twang.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Ben Franklin’s Big Splash by Barb Rosenstock

ben franklins big splash

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Ben Franklin grew up the son of a soap maker and loved to spend his free time on summer days swimming in the river near his home.  In the time of his childhood, people just did not swim or wash regularly because they thought it would make you sick, so Ben was considered rather odd for the amount of time he spent in the water.  As he swam, Ben started to wonder why it was that fish swim so much better than he could.  And so Ben starts to come up with inventions that would help him swim like a fish.  First, he made swim fins for his hands out of wood and they did make him much faster, but they also made his wrists sore and tired.  The next invention was swim sandals, but they didn’t improve things much since they slid off his feet.  But Ben was not a quitter and so he took each defeat as a way to improve his idea.  After all, he was a scientist through and through.

Rosenstock sets just the right playful and rather silly tone with this biographical picture book.  She includes plenty of details about the society in the 1700s and how it was different from our modern one.  Using different fonts and repeating words, she also emphasizes the importance of trial and error in science and solving problems.  She also ties in the fact that this is how science works and how scientists learn things, along with a healthy dose of dedication and resolve.

The illustrations by Schindler are marvelous, cleverly covering up the more private parts of the naked swimming boy with splashes and waves.  They have a light-hearted quality to them and also a visual lightness that makes the book even funnier as they swim across the page.

A book to inspire children to try to solve problems they discover, this is a fresh and summery look at a boy genius at play.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.