2014 National Book Award Finalists

On my way to work today, I got the thrill of hearing the National Book Award finalists being announced on NPR.  I rather enjoy being able to shout with joy on my way to work, and some of the finalists for Young People’s Literature definitely had me cheering:

Brown Girl Dreaming Noggin

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights 

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Revolution Threatened

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Review: Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke

emma and the blue genie

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke, illustrations by Kerstin Meyer

Emma often spends her nights out by the sea with her dog, away from her pesky brothers.  One night she finds a bottle floating in the waves and opens it to discover Karim, a very small blue genie inside.   Karim has had most of his magic stolen away when Sarim, the huge yellow genie, stole his nose ring and trapped him in the bottle.  Now Karim has to head back to avenge himself and to save the kingdom from the evil rule of Sarim.  Emma decides to go with him and she sets off aboard his magic carpet for the kingdom of Barakash.  There, she is quickly caught up in the battle against Sarim, but once he sees her yellow hair, he immediately takes her prisoner.  There’s not much that a girl can do to escape from an evil genie who keeps you in a cage, but all is not lost when you have a blue genie and a brave dog on your side!

Funke has written a wonderfully original book for young readers.  The Middle Eastern setting comes alive as Emma walks through the busy castle on her way to see the young king.  Funke incorporates many references to the desert into people’s vernacular, even more firmly setting this book in a specific place.  Emma is a great female character, filled with plenty of gumption and not scared of much.  She doesn’t shrink away from anything in the book, enjoying flying on a magic carpet, seeing new places and having wild adventures.

The illustrations are in full color and add a lot of life to the book.  Used differently from one page to the next, they add a dynamic piece to the book design.  The differences between the two genies could not be more clearly shown, with the calm blue and the wild yellow.  Meyer also manages to show the opulence without things becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eye. 

Fun and original, this book will share aloud well with a class and will be an inviting pick for children reading chapter books.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner

mitten string

The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

Released October 28, 2014.

Ruthie’s family was known for their wool and the mittens they created from it.  They sheared their own sheep, prepared their own wool, spun their own yarn.  At night, Ruthie and her mother knitted together, with Ruthie in particular making mittens.  On market days, they traveled to town to sell their fabric and knitting.  One day, they found a woman on the road with her baby where their wagon had broken down.  The woman wrote on a slate to communicate, because she was deaf.  She used sign language with her little son.  Ruthie’s family offered her a place to stay for the night and Ruthie noticed a deep blue piece of yarn around the woman’s wrist.  That night, she saw how the women used the yarn to tie herself gently to her baby so that she would know if he needed anything in the night.  Ruthie had a great idea and quickly went to work creating a mitten on a string with one sized for an adult and the other for a baby.  In return for her kindness, the woman gave Ruthie her string of yarn of the deepest blue and then also showed Ruthie what plant to use to create the blue dye. 

As Rosner says in her author’s note, this book is inspired by her great-great-aunt Bayla who was deaf and used the trick of tying a string to her baby’s wrist from her own.  She also offers a knitting glossary at the end along with some knitting-related sign language signs.  I appreciate that while this book is about a woman who is deaf, she is also a very capable person.  The family may offer her help, but it is more about her circumstances than about her deafness.  It is a pleasure to have a book about a disability address it in such a positive way.

Swarner’s art has the softness of yarn.  Done in the same rich, deep colors that Ruthie knits her mittens out of, the entire world is soft and warm.  There are small touches throughout that add details of homeliness and kindness.  From the different sizes of mittens around the home to the flowers all over the grass. 

This is a picture book about kindness and caring for one another with a brilliant blue thread of love woven throughout.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.