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Caldecott Honorees and Winner 2014

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded for the most distinguished American picture book for children. There was one winner and three honor books named this year.

LocomotiveTitle: Locomotive
Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 9781416994152
Pages: 64 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2013.

I had actually included this title in a local newsletter article about train books, so I will let my earlier comments about the book stand on its own. For older readers, there is the incredibly detailed Locomotive by Brian Floca. Starting with the cover and continuing inside on more than one occasion the watercolor illustrations appear to burst from the page. The book follows the story of a family traveling by rail across the country from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California in 1869. You’ll find this title not with the picture books, but with nonfiction due to the detailed narration. Packed with information, Floca uses short sentences that mimic the steam engine, and his generous use of onomatopoeia means the pages are filled with banging, clanging, huffing, puffing, and chugging. The various jobs on board are distinguished from one another, and the mechanics of the train are outlined not only in the text but also in the back jacket where steam power is explained with words and pictures. Pay careful attention to the little details too, as each station and location are identified by name and small details such as the cowboy’s horse running away at the sound of the train might be missed on first glance.

Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named, with two out of the three Caldecott honorees this year being wordless and the third one is nearly wordless. Has it ever happened where all the honorees are wordless?
JourneyTitle: Journey
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
ISBN: 9780763660536
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press,c2013.

Bored children have been escaping into other worlds for years, including Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alice and her looking-glass, and the siblings who visit Narnia through the wardrobe. The same applies to this unnamed young lady in Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book. With her dad on the computer, her mom on the phone, and her big sister on a handheld device, the girl draws a door on her bedroom wall with a red crayon and escapes into another world. The red crayon creations, including a boat, a hot air balloon, and a flying carpet, pop against the primarily blue, green, gray and yellow landscapes. The other part of the pictures that is unique is the purple bird that requires the girl’s help to escape its own cage. It is a story of imagination brought to life, and two kindred spirits finding each other at the end.

Flora and FlamingoTitle: Flora and the Flamingo
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
ISBN: 9781452110066
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2013.

Personally, this is not my favorite honoree. On minimalistic white backgrounds bordered by pink flowers, a girl in a yellow bathing cap, pink swimsuit, and dark flippers tries to imitate the actions of a flamingo. Initially perturbed by the unwanted admiring copycat, the flamingo eventually extends a wing and they engage in a ballet that ends in a cannonball and a bow. While the fold out spread works for the double page cannonball spread, there are other pages with lifting flaps that I think instead would have worked better as a page turn. But you can definitely see the author’s background with Dreamworks, which is mentioned in the back jacket biography. The emotions are beautifully portrayed through the body language and slight changes in facial features for both the girl and the flamingo.

Mr. Wuffles!Title: Mr. Wuffles!
Author/Illustrator: David Wiesner
ISBN: 9780618756612
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2013.

I talked in my Coretta Scott King post about authors and illustrators whose names have come up for awards again and again and again. David Wiesner is one of those people for the Caldecott. He has won the award three times (Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam) and this honor now makes three honors (Free Fall and Sector 7). Give someone else a turn already! But I do see the appeal and the reason for the ongoing admiration. This latest title appears to be partially influenced by Wiesner’s own cat, and the observations of the cat’s attitudes and movement show. There is disdain towards a handful of toys until Mr. Wuffles the cat stumbles across a tiny silver spaceship occupied by even smaller green spacemen. We can’t say the work is completely wordless, as the cat’s owner courts the cat with new toys at the beginning and end of the story, spacemen talk in geometric symbols and the ants they encounter communicate with tiny dots. But the thing that really caught my attention was how Weisner conveyed the sense of motion with the cat, especially on the penultimate page where we see multiple tails as it flicks back and forth in anticipation. It’s a technique that is repeated several times in the book, designating motion with the cat’s paws and head. The pictures are vibrant, colorful, oversized, and action packed as the aliens try to repair their broken ship and escape the cat with the help of their new ant friends. And those claws on the cat… Watch out! Give this to any cat owner, as they will be able to relate.

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill

 

 

Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“Umm…”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

Coretta Scott King Awards 2014

The American Library Association announced their Annual Youth Media Awards earlier this year, and I’ve been slowly but surely catching up on reading all the winners and honorees. The Coretta Scott King Awards are a set of three awards that honor African American authors, illustrators, and new talent of outstanding literature for children and young adults. I’ll be focusing on the Illustrator and New Talent Awards in this post, with the longer author winner and honorees in a separate post once I finish reading them. I have to say though, there were really no surprises in these categories, as the same people are continually recognized for their contributions.

For the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award, the committee chose one winner and one honoree.
Nelson MandelaTitle: Nelson Mandela
Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
ISBN: 978006178374
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: January 2, 2013

The honor was given to Kadir Nelson, who authored and illustrated a picture book biography on Nelson Mandela, published at the very beginning of 2013. Nelson Mandela’s passing at the end of 2013 serves as an ironic footnote to the book’s publication and award recognition. Kadir Nelson’s name has cropped up a host of times, and his work has been recognized over an over again.
Won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Caldecott Honor for Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award;
Won Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange
Won Coretta Scott King Author Award for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Are you sensing a theme here? Whenever he writes something, he gets recognized by someone! And most people will say rightfully so. In his newest book, readers see Kadir Nelson’s signature style of life-like renderings from the cover (which mimics the design of his biographies on Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.) all the way to the end. Most striking I think is the first page, where we see a young Nelson playing with the village boys and the sun shines forth from behind the hill with such warmth your eye is immediately drawn to the contrasting shadowed silhouettes. The sparse, poetically formatted text supplements the pictures, that carry the light and dark themes throughout the book.

My one complaint about this and other picture book biographies is that very few specifics are included. Annual biography assignments for school children often have a checklist of facts that need to be contained in the books or require an inclusion of a time line. While this would be a great asset to children studying biographies, especially during February’s Black History Month, readers would be hard pressed to find specifics. Would it have been so hard to add a timeline in the back of the book along side the author’s note, or include specific dates in the text instead of “in early 1990″? Or am I the only person getting frustrated by this oversight?

Knock Knock My Dad's Dream for MeTitle: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
Author: Daniel Beaty
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
ISBN: 9780316209175
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.
Publication Date: December 17, 2013

More recently published Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me won the Illustrator award. Bryan Collier is another illustrator who has been recognized time and time again, with three Caldecott Honors and four Coretta Scott King Awards over the years. Collier’s collages and Beaty’s text follows a young boy as he experiences the loss of his father’s influence. The author doesn’t specify in the story that the father has been incarcerated until you read the end notes, which I appreciate because it lends versatility to the story and could be used for divorce situations in addition to incarceration. The illustrations follow the boy as he grows into an educated man and an involved father in his own right, but at the end you still see the influence his own father had on him, regardless of or maybe because of his absence.

The more symbolic structure of the illustrations lend the impression this is meant for older audiences, and I can see where this might be a recommendation for patrons specifically looking for material of this nature. Most poignant is the subtle nods to the father’s absence, such as the main character wearing his father’s tie as he peruses his dreams, and an elephant statue peeking out of his office background mimicking the child’s bedroom wallpaper. The ending picture seems slightly out of context with the rest of the story, but although overall I think the less abstract images make the most impact when reading, that last picture makes a memorable ending to a tale of perseverance.

When the Beat Was BornTitle: When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
Author: Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
ISBN: 9781596435407
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2013.

According to the ALA website the John Steptoe New Talent Award was “established to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year within the structure of the two awards given annually by the Coretta Scott King Task Force.” This award is often overlooked because it’s not awarded every year.

I can understand why this book was recognized by the committee, as it sheds light on the start of Hip Hop, something that most people have never considered. The story focuses on DJ Kool Herc rise from Jamican music lover peering over the fence at party set-ups to hooking up his father’s super-sized speakers to street lamps and christening the break dance style that evolved during his days of being a DJ. While Laban Carrick Hill includes a personalized author’s note and a partial time line of hip hop in the 1970s and 1980s, just like Kadir Nelson’s picture book biography he avoids specific dates and details.

The pictures by Theodore Taylor III are well drawn, with clean lines showing children what the different break dancing moves look like. His work showcases the old technology of speakers bigger than people, boomboxes bigger than babies, and turntables plugged into one another instead of through wireless connections. It’s almost a time capsule for readers, where parents can talk about the music they used to listen to, and I wish it had a compilation CD that featured some of the “Hip Hop” beats that are discussed in the book. I especially enjoyed the scene of community where Herc is playing street parties in the park and we see people of all ages, including one gray haired woman and a small child with a jump rope, listening to the music. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and didn’t have that type of environment, I’m surprised to find myself wanting to seek out that community network.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Check out the blog for other reviews of nonfiction books.

Changes come and go…

I recognize that I’ve been sporadically absent from the blog scene for a while. And while I’m constantly comparing the children’s department during summer reading as Santa’s workshop between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when all the elves are under the age of ten, that’s not the only reason for my absence.

Moving to a different state is hard. Doing it by yourself is even harder. I used to think that people who did that were slightly crazy. Picking up everything you own and moving it to a place where you know no one and nothing. While the language is still English (thank goodness!) there are so many things that you have to get used to, like habits and highways, politics and professional sports, and the distance now between you and all your friends and family.

This past week, I hit the one year anniversary of accepting a full time job outside the state where I was born and raised. I can confirm that you do indeed need to be a little bit crazy. But in a “boom boom ain’t it great to be” kind of way. Things will not go as planned, the transition will not be as smooth as you anticipated, and you will hit some speed bumps. In my case, the first one was a dead car battery within a week of starting the job!

And that’s not to say that I’m done hitting speed bumps. I’m sure there are more to come down the road. But the reason I took the leap was opportunity, possibility, and a chance at a fresh start. And maybe your reasons for taking your most recent directional change are different from mine. But I’ve found that things are easier when I stop asking what if and start asking what next.

So what is next for me and my blog? I have some ideas. But really, who knows? However, I do intend to find the fun again, both in blogging and in “real life”. What changes this next chapter in my life brings is anyone’s guess, but I hope you stick around to find out and I hope no one is disappointed.

Me and Momma and Big John

Me and Momma and Big JohnTitle: Me and Momma and Big John
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: William Low
ISBN: 9780763643591
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

This slight story features a mother and her three children. Told from the perspective of her oldest son named John, the book makes readers aware of his mother’s job carving stones for the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Also called “Big John” and “Saint John the Unfinished”, a afterward more detailed than the actual story talks about how the building of this cathedral has taken over a century and still isn’t completed. Construction was halted for both World Wars and didn’t begin again until forty years later. After resuming construction in 1982 with a program to teach skills to the unemployed which lasted twenty-five years, construction today is again halted due to lack of funds. Even under a temporary roof that probably feels more permanent to the community that utilizes the unfinished structure, people still gather for services and shelter. The illustrations by William Low are appropriately grand in scale, showcasing the size through the use of aerial shots and sweeping landscapes, but I half-expected something more detailed, like David Macaulay’s work. The jacket cover description also makes mention of being “inspired by one of the first women in the United States to learn the traditional craft of stonecutting,” which is not even mentioned much less detailed within the pages. In fact, there are few details about the trade, the history of the building, or information about the family contained in the actual tale.

Overall, I wanted more.

Ship Breaker

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780316056212
Pages: 326 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2010.

He called up to her. “Hey, Sloth! I got me a way out. I’m coming for you crewgirl.”
The movement stopped.
“You hear me?” His voice echoed all around. “I’m getting out! And I’m coming for you.”
“Yeah?” Sloth responded. “You want me to go get Pima?” Mockery laced her voice. Nailer again wished he could reach up and yank her down into the oil. Instead, Nailer made his voice reasonable.
“If you go get Pima now, I’ll forget you were going to let me drown.”
A long pause.
Finally Sloth said, “It’s too late, right?” She went on. “I know you, Nailer. You’ll tell Pima no matter what, and then I’m off crew and someone else buys in.” Another pause, then she said, “It’s all Fates now. If you got a way out, I’ll see you on the outside. You get your revenge then.” (33)

Nailer works on the light crew, stripping copper from sunken and grounded rigs and ships in the future’s Gulf Coast region, where oil, gold, and any industrial scrap is even more precious than it is today. Everyone dreams of hitting a Lucky Strike, of hitting an unknown pocket of resources and secretly siphoning and selling it off so they can make their own way instead of crewing up. It’s a hard life, one that gets even more complicated after a big storm strands a rich girl on his tiny island. After his own recent brush with death, it’s impossible for Nailer to kill her and claim her riches. Instead, he finds himself on the run from everyone, including his own father, who are intent on using the girl as their ticket out of Bright Sands Beach. But the girl is hiding secrets of her own, and as she slowly and grudgingly reveals them to Nailer, Nailer’s prospects of getting rescued from his rash actions become bleaker.

I’ve been trying to get to this book for a while now, ever since my coworker finished and raved about it shortly after it was published. My first thought upon finishing is that this book has extraordinary world building. Located in what amounts to a distant future shanty town somewhere in the Gulf, readers are lead to believe that the area finally succumbed to the severe storms that slice through the cities. It’s similar to the movie Water World in that resources are so scarce they are scavenged. What sets it apart though is Nailer. The sheer brutality of this world is both astonishing and frightening, yet completely understandable as it’s every man for himself, and the descriptions bring everything into focus.

Bacigalupi sets up the story so that we have a clear idea of how conflicted Nailer is when he finds his stranded mystery girl. Any other time, he would have had no qualms killing her and taking the Lucky Strike for himself and his good friend Pima, getting them out of the slums. But he is also desperate to distance himself from his father, and he realizes that killing the girl would be the same thing that would have happened to him if he hadn’t been so lucky; killing the girl would be the same thing his father would do, no question, and he hates the idea of becoming his father.

Not knowing who to trust is a common theme running through everyone’s story. Nailer and the girl must trust each other as they flee for their lives. The girl is completely out of her element in this foreign environment and has no one else to rely on. Nailer must trust that she is telling the truth about who she really is, even though time and again that identity changes and her honesty is called into question. Neither one though can turn back once they start, because they know that there’s a better chance of surviving — of keeping each other alive — if they stay together.

I’m not the only one who sees this book as an examination of the humanity, trust and courage. It received a boat load of recognition, including being named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, winning the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book nominated for the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and included on the 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

I read this as an e-book, where they provided a sample of the companion novel Drowned Cities which features one of the secondary characters who I’d definitely be interested in learning more about, as he seems to be an anomaly all his own. A good industrial strength read (pardon the pun).

Dark of the Moon

Title: Dark of the Moon
Author: Tracy Barrett
ISBN: 9780574581323
Pages: 310 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, c2011.

It isn’t true what they say about my brother–that he ate those children. He never did; he didn’t even mean to hurt them. He wept as he held out their broken bodies, his soft brown eyes pleading with me to fix them, the way I always fixed his dolls and toys. [...]
I couldn’t fix the children, of course. They were dead, their heads flopping on their necks, their arms and legs pale and limp. My mother ordered the slaves to take them away and give them a proper burial, and I held my brother as he sobbed over the loss of his playmates. [...]
When the replacement children died as well, my mother said: No more playmates. My brother wailed and roared in his loneliness, deep beneath the palace, until the Minos took pity and said: Just once more. But not children from Krete. The people would stand for it no more, he said.
And so they came in their long ships. (prologue)

Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, having been born to her mother while had assumed the role of the Goddess and will assume the role when her mother dies. Her brother Asterion is He-Who-Will-Be-Minos, a kind of token king who assists with the rituals where the Goddess promises wealth and prosperity. The problem is that her brother will never be able to perform the necessary duties of the position, having been born with physical and mental deformities. Neighboring communities call him the Minotaur, believing him to be half man and half beast, but Ariadne knows differently. However, she soon finds her loyalties torn between her brother, her village, and her obligations as a new batch of slaves arrive and she struggles to explain her culture to strangers, especially Theseus, the son of the king of Athens.

The most engaging aspect of this book is the unique presentation of the Minotaur myth. Asterion seems to be a cross between the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) and a highly autistic child. Ariadne’s religion/culture is difficult for Theseus to understand (and I keep using the word unique to describe the whole concept). One woman doesn’t just assume the symbolic role of the Goddess, but every year actually becomes the Goddess in order to promote growth, health, and a good harvest. The rest of the time, the Goddess is separate from the chosen woman, her presence and watchfulness represented by the cycles of the moon. It’s presented as almost like a temporary possession of the person in question. The same can be said for her consort Velchanos, who every year chooses a male body to inhabit for the harvest celebration, during which time the two “deities” consummate their relationship. Then the male is sacrificed by the Minos (similar to a high priest/protector of the Goddess) and the blood will be used to fertilize the fields for the coming year. The first boy and girl who are born to the She-Who-Is-Goddess as a result of the consummation become She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and He-Who-Will-Be-Minos.

The problem of course arises because Asterion, the Minos-to-be, is completely incapable of fulfilling his duties due to his inability to communicate and his physical limitations. While Ariadne’s initial lack of this realization seems implausible to me, especially considering how involved she is in this culture’s religion and events, it adds political upheaval and tension to the climax of the story. Also adding climax to the story is Theseus’ naivety to the whole blood spilling process, thinking that a pin prick will be enough for this sacrificial society.

Another unique aspect of this book is the way Ariadne’s relationship with Theseus ends. EPILOGUE SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text below if you REALLY want to know):
“Now that I know what love is, I know I felt nothing like that for Theseus. Friendship, yes; gratitude for his kindness to Asterion and for seeing me as a woman and not a goddess in training, yes; but not love. That is something different, and something I hope my friend Theseus will find.” (309-310) It’s interesting to see a character change her idea of her feelings and not get swept away by the gorgeous new stranger (how often have we seen that plot?). Ariadne is a woman who knows what she wants out of society and eventually questions her blind acceptance of a role thrust upon her. She’s a strong female character who doesn’t lose sight of her more feminine qualities.

For readers who are familiar with the fantasy genre, this is some extreme out of the box thinking, and I’m seriously impressed. This wholly original take on a very old story will intrigue fantasy fans and inspire a new way of viewing a well-known and popular myth. What Gregory MaGuire did to Elphaba in Wicked, Tracy Barrett does for the Minotaur and Ariadne in Dark of the Moon. (And with a very cool book cover to boot!)

Ghetto Cowboy

Title: Ghetto Cowboy
Author: G. Neri
Illustrator: Jesse Joshua Watson
ISBN: 9780763649227
Pages: 218 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2011.
Publication Date: August 9, 2011

The front door’s open. I walk in and the first thing I smell is . . . horses? I ain’t never smelled a horse before, never even saw one up close before a few minutes ago. But if a horse got a smell, I think this is it, ’cause that’s all that’s in here: horse stuff. A coupla old saddles, blankets, brushes, work boots, horse things like you see on TV. Instead of furniture, there’s even them square things of hay to sit on.
This ain’t no house–it’s a barn.
To top it off, there a big ol’ hole from floor to ceiling knocked into the side of the living room, leading into the place next door, like he just wanted to epand his crib and took over the abandoned one next to his.
I peek inside the hole, but its dark ’cause all the windows is boarded up. But man, it really smells like animal in there. Suddenly, something big moves in the dark, and I jump back.
“That’s Lightning,” says Harper.
My eyes adjust to a pair of dark eyes staring back at me.
It’s a horse. He got a horse in the house.
No wonder Mom left him. (22-23)

Fed up with Cole’s behavior, skipping school and getting into trouble, his mother drives him through the night to Philadelphia, to the house of the father he’s never met. Cole isn’t sure which parent is crazier, his mother for doing this to him or his father for claiming to be a cowboy and caring for horses out of a rundown stable in an abandoned lot. But Cole realizes that his father isn’t the only crazy one, as he quickly meets the rest of the black cowboys trying to maintain country lifestyles in the city. Will the fight for the horses finally bring Cole and his father together, or just drive them farther apart?

I’m always up for a good “based on a true story” book, and this is no different. G. Neri does a great job with the dialogue and urban dialect without going overboard with language that would force it into the teen area. I could still see teens enjoying this book, especially the reluctant/struggling/hi-lo readers. The conversations and flow is typical of everyday speech patterns, which makes it a very fast and easy read. But the relationships are what make it compelling, as we see that not everything is black and white. Cole’s father probably says it best when explaining that the city has turned some people against them, while other city people are glad that the horses provide an alternative activity for youth besides gangs. Cole realizes the complexity of the issue when he finds out that Cole’s father is even friends with a cop who used to stable a horse in the city.

This seems to be an ongoing issue, with no cut and dry answers. Neri respects that struggle by not giving his own story a cut and dry happy ending. Even with the epilogue, the characters still have their own battles to fight, but it in no way makes the ending any less satisfying. This is a book ready-made for discussion, with Mr. Neri providing websites, videos, and even a discussion packet on his own website, http://gregneri.com/cowboy.html that teachers and librarians should really check out. Looking through some of the news stories, you can tell that the author did his research and based some of the events in the book on actual events in the Federation of Black Cowboys history and experience. Although I read the physical book, and the illustrations are phenomenal, the audiobook did receive an Odyssey Honor Award and an AudioFile Earphones Award, so I guess that format would be just as impressive.

Carnival of Children’s Literature

Image taken from the Flickr account of jdmuth (All Rights Reserved)

We’re ringing in the new year in style, with fireworks and cotton candy and all the rides and treats you can stand! Since it is a new year, quite a few of my fellow bloggers and I have focused on the new.

NEW PERSPECTIVES!
Shelf-Employed asks the compelling question “What’s new in the library world?” And the answer might surprise readers: “perhaps our greatest challenge is to ensure that we use the latest technology to do our ages-old job.”

So are you now interested in how libraris make their decisions? Jean Little Library presents an inside look at collection development for the young adult department for new year. Take a look.

Many bloggers, librarians, and literary like-minded people were anticipating the Newbery and Caldecott winning authors to pay a visit to the Today show and were disappointed when it didn’t take place. Gregory reflects on the possible reasons over at GottaBook, and asks what we can do to make books better for TV viewers.

An edited version of Mark Twain has also been getting a lot of buzz on the blogosphere recently.
Rick Marazzani of MindPosts has posted his opinion, stating “I love books, hate censorship, loathe racism, and really enjoyed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.”

Katie Davis posted a podcast (a few days early) in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in which she scores a much coveted interview with Dr. Alan Gribben, who has made waves by suggesting the substitution of words in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. She also has several links to various points of view regarding the debate that are worth checking out. *Note* I had to download it to my computer and access it through Media Player, as it wouldn’t play past the first minute from her website. Do you have a new opinion after listening to the discussion?

Lori Calabrese recently had the opportunity to interview Ellen Schreiber about her attraction to writing paranormal and the evolution of the Vampire Kisses series.

Teaching Authors is not only interviewing Cynthia Leitich Smith (author of Tantalize, Eternal, and most recently Blessed), they’re also featuring her book trailer and giving away a copy of Blessed! You have until Feb. 2nd to enter, so visit their post.

Lee Wind at I’m Here, I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read? gives a wonderful interview with Mo Willems, who has recently received yet another award, this time a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor for We Are In A Book! One of the memorable quotes:

“Branding” is what you do to cattle. Being true to your sensibility and open to new challenges is what you do to build a career. I trust my audience will allow me to follow my evolving interests if I continue to give them my best efforts when I do.

Another award-winning author gets interviewed at Tales from the Rushmore Kid, so head on over and witness Susan Campbell Bartoletti stopping by to answer some questions.

Want more? Bethanie Murguia presents a behind the scenes look at her office (also known as the kitchen) before and during a project. One commenter proclaims that it’s the “best wallpaper I have ever seen!”

NEW GENERATION
Aaron Mead gives new life to a self-described “dormant” series on how to choose children’s books. This latest post in describes how exemplary characters can give children’s books developmental value.

Bloggers, whether we intend to or not, are influencing a new generation of readers. Sometimes it’s good to think back to how you felt when you finally learned a new skill. Cath in the Hat reminisces about what it was like the first time she read by herself.

Book Aunt is providing an introduction of sorts to graphic novels, ranging from grade-school all the way to adult. Be sure to check out the comments, where readers suggest additional titles.

A whole generation of children might only be familiar with the Disney version of Peter Pan. Others might have recently read Peter and the Starcatchers. But Veronica at The Fox Wood reminds us that the original was not what we might remember it to be.

Anastasia Suen presents the Carnival for New Readers, which celebrates “easy readers and illustrated chapter books to encourage kids working to become successful readers.” This month, kindergarteners everywhere can count the days to the 100th day of school.

Interested in what the kids are thinking? We had several bloggers solicit opinions.
Pat Zietlow Miller presents a review (with help from a very adorable guest reviewer named Josie, age 6) of Bella and Stella Come Home by Anika Denise and illustrated by Christopher Denise, which tells the story of Bella and her stuffed elephant Stella as they move to a new house.

Four-year-old Emmy steps in to help her mom feature books, a poem, activities, and even a video about snow at Emmy’s Book of the Day.

For some books, one child reviewer just isn’t enough. The Bookie Woogie transcribes the opinions of his four children, Gracie (10), Lily (7), Elijah (5) and Isaac (12) regarding Chalk by Bill Thomson. Mom also makes a guest appearance to voice her opinion about this picture book that reminds me of a scene from Mary Poppins. What do you think?

Johnny Boo (age 5) gives us his perspective of Little Mouse Gets Ready over at LitLad. Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith, the editor’s note states that it’s “one of 11 beginning graphic novels put out by Toon Books that are aimed at the preschool and early elementary crowd.”

Kerry is starting something new for this new year, and you can follow along at her blog, Picture Books and Pirouettes. She’s recommending a picture book for a dance educator to use with her creative movement class. First up is Lisa Brown’s debut picture book How to Be. I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued!

NEW COVERS!
The Cave of the Mishzilla presents a review of an old favorite, The Little White Horse, with new packaging.

Feeling a little blue this winter? You’re not the only one. Jacket Knack points out that there’s a lot of that going around, especially with new YA fiction. Did they forget any?

Another cover that’s getting some buzz is the newest publication of The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It won the Newbery Honor back in 1956. Rasco From RIF features it in one of her Cover Stories, and provides background information on the author, illustrator, and the argument over whether it’s eligible for the Caldecott Award next year.

NEW FICTION!
Originally posted on PBS Booklights, Jen Robinson of JKRBooks brings new life to an old post about ongoing series featuring strong female characters.

Julie Stiegemeyer of Jottings and Such brings to light a new picture book challenge hosted by There’s a Book where you can pledge to read a certain number of books either by yourself or with someone. She’s provided reviews of the first five out of her pledged 120 which she got off the new shelf at her library.

Read Aloud Dad presents a magnificent way that you can keep your expenses down as a parent, while providing your kids with dozens and dozens of new picture book classics. Rather than buying used books, you could buy one (or both) of these anthologies.

Storied Cities provides a review of Tommaso and the Missing Line, which she admits captured her attention with the “whimsical beginning” and “the tangerine orange page.

Brimful Curiosities provides a printmaking craft suggestion for use with A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead, the newest Caldecott winner.

Jeff Barger at NC Teacher Stuff presents Yuck! That’s Not a Monster written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Alison Edgson. He says it was a “popular read aloud in my class.” I’m thinking this is a combination of the Ugly Ducking meets Monsters, Inc.

Dude. No, I’m not calling you a dude, I’m talking about the book by award-winning author Christopher Aslan and illustrated by Emily Mullock. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Pay a visit to BookDads, where Chris Singer talks about this nearly wordless picture book. Chris asks “Have you ever thought about a word being worth a thousand feelings?”

Tomie dePaola won the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award this year, which honors an author or illustrator whose books have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. De Paola has authored and illustrated more than 200 children’s books, but Children’s Books to Love reviews her personal favorite, Pancakes for Breakfast.

The only teen fiction of the bunch, Litland provides a review of Awakening by Claudia Cangilla McAdam, which she describes as an accurate portrayal of a teen’s life in both modern and ancient times.

NEW NONFICTION!
Tammy, blogging at Apples With Many Seeds, reviews not one but two books about X-Rays, photographed by Nick Veasey. In her e-mail to me, she writes “My preference leans towards the first book which has more teaching potential because of its creative presentation, than the second book. However, if a book is needed about x-rays, how they work and their importance,then X-treme x-ray is the one to consider.”

Simply Science Blog introduces us to a new book, Journey into the Deep by Rebecca Johnson, which explores the fascinating array of marine life within the deepest ocean and reveals the myriad unknown creatures living there. There are a couple of ideas for activities, but my most pressing question: What IS that thing on the cover?

Carrie’s Comfy Cozy Reading Nook blogs 14 Cows for America, which reveals how Kenyan cows can help a nation heal after September 11th.

Wendie Old of Wendie’s Wanderings says that “Sometimes you simply decide not to write a book because there’s a much better one already on the shelves.” Case in point: Take the Lead, George Washington, written by Judith St. George and illustrated by Daniel Powers.

Trina over at Book Loving Boys proves that new books can be funny and interesting, even if they are *gasp* educational. How did she do it? Read more here.

Looking for a biography about someone a little more current? Head over to Great Kid Books and read a review of Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson. Illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, who won Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration, it tells the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The Children’s War brings to everyone attention the book Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson. Described as a having “minimal text, yet so much is conveyed,” the review post is also informative, packed with links and statistics about the Tuskegee Airmen.

NEW DESTINATIONS!
And finally, have you ever been tempted to get away from it all? Librarians nationwide might want to take note of the blog Playing by the Book, since the Collaborative Summer Reading theme is One World, Many Stories. For this Carnival, Zoe has posted book themed destinations in Sweden. Upcoming posts will include Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.

Thank you for visiting our January Carnival of Children’s Literature! Please mark your calendars for
February as it will be posted at Kristi’s Book Nook (I’ll update this post with the Carnival’s link when it’s posted next month.) If I messed up any links or forgot anyone, please let me know. Comments are appreciated, but first-timers will have to be approved.

A Note About My Choices

Regardless of whether or not people read this blog (there are days when I wonder)…

You might notice a shift for the next six months from primarily children’s fiction to primarily young adult fiction, and relatively new fiction at that. This is because I have been appointed to an awards committee for new young adult book within my state’s Library Association. (YEAH ME!) The preliminary list contains about 150 books as of about two weeks ago. While I certainly am not required to read all of them (especially as the list gets bigger), I would feel remiss if I didn’t read a substantial quantity. They are assigning them to five groups of readers, so I’m only obligated to read one fifth of them. (WHEW!)

In any case, I’m quite excited about the opportunity. So don’t fear, there will still be children’s books on here, just maybe less of them while I read 2009 Young Adult publications.

**EDIT: I’ve decided (for my own sanity as well as yours) to add the tag “Committee Reads” to each book that I read off the list of books eligable for this year’s award.

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