WINNER

We Are Growing!.jpgTitle: We Are Growing
Series: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!
Author/Illustrator: Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems?)
ISBN: 9781484726358
Pages: 53 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Winner (2017)

Possibly taking a page from Dr. Seuss’s Bright and Early Book Readers, Mo Willems has created Elephant and Piggie like reading. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult to determine how much Willems contributed to the story within, but I wasn’t impressed. Elephant and Piggie introduce and conclude the story of grass growing. Yep, you read that right. Each of the blades of grass can claim to be the most something, whether it be curliest, tallest, crunchiest, or pointiest… you get the idea. When a lawn mower removes some of their unique attributes, they are all reassured with a page turn and a rather abrupt ending that they will grow again. It’s unfortunate that they all had to be the best at something, although refreshing that not every attribute was physical in nature and that they were cut down to size (quite literally) during the telling and had to deal with their loss of individuality, however temporarily it might be. Obviously a necessity due to Willems’s association, but I had trouble finding the humor, charm, and character that made the originals so enjoyable.

HONORS

Infamous Ratsos.jpgTitle: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
ISBN: 9780763676360
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

The Ratso brothers live in the Big City. They live in this apartment with their father, Big Lou.
“There are two kinds of people in this world,” Big Lou likes to say. “Those who are tough, and those who are soft.” […]
Let’s do something,” Louie says to Ralphie. “Something to make us look tough.” (1-7)

Fifth grader Louie and his brother, third grader Ralphie, want to be tough like their father. Every time they try to be tough — including stealing hats to covering their neighbor’s windows with soap — their actions are mistaken for good deeds. Due to the length of the book, the brothers are basically interchangeable and the supporting cast is barely developed. However, the pranks pulled would make this a unique selection for April Fool’s Day, and are mostly harmless. It’s also an informal introduction to perspective and perception, as the brothers think they are being tough and bad, but everyone else sees them as being kind, generous and helpful. The illustrations reinforced this idea, with the opening page showing the brothers with armfuls of water balloons, and the very last page closing out the story with an image of how those balloons are used. Their father also offers a lesson that “Life is tough enough […]. We might as well try to make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (55) Classroom connections like these make this a welcome addition.
Go Otto Go.jpgTitle: Go, Otto, Go!
Author/Illustrator: David Milgrim
ISBN: 9781481467247
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon Spotlight, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

See Otto go.
Bye-Bye, Otto! (unpaged)

Author and illustrator David Milgrim returns after a decade-long hiatus for a sixth adventure featuring his little robot named Otto. Otto yearns to return to his home among the stars, but the rocket he builds takes him “up, up, up” and then develops a glitch, redirecting him down, left and right, and here and there. Finally depositing him back where he started, Otto realizes that this is his home, surrounded by all his friends. Extremely reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane stories, the repetition of the simple text (only one word has more than one syllable) should encourage beginning readers.

Good Night Owl.jpgTitle: Good Night Owl
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781484712757
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Owl was settling into bed when he heard a noise.

A baby blue owl with a heart-shaped face and pink bathrobe is preparing for bed when hears a “SQUEEK!” (which is never detailed in the text but solely in the pictures). After searching outside, in the cabinet, and under the floorboards. When he eliminates those possibilities, his blame turns to the house itself, tearing down the roof and walls before finally learning the cause of the noise is a mouse, which readers have seen as he hides around the house. What starts as an amusing game escalates quickly, and while the owl doesn’t seem phased by the destruction of his house, you can see by the mouse’s sliding smiles that he at least is getting concerned. Owl though seems content to sleep under the stars (aren’t owls nocturnal?) and even invites the mouse up into his bed to spend the remainder of the night (don’t owls eat mice?). Regardless of what adults might see as inconsistencies, children will love knowing before Owl the cause of the noise, the repetition, the building suspense, and the over the top actions that Owl takes. The pictures include nods to previous works by Pizzoli, and the only reason I didn’t miss the beautiful cross-stitched cover underneath the jacket is because Rotem Moscovich’s work was referenced on the copyright page.

Oops Pounce Quick Run.jpgTitle: Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper
Author/Illustrator: Mike Twohy
ISBN: 9780062377005
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2016
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Asleep
Ball
Catch
Dog

So starts the adventures of a mouse, who wakes up from his nap when a dog’s ball bounces into its whole in the wall. The dog scrambles, the mouse skitters, and the chase is one through the house until the dog recovers his ball. Cleverly bookended with sleep (Asleep followed by “ZZZZZ”), the story is told primarily in pictures with one alphabetically appropriate word or phrase per page accompanying them. The accompanying background is minimal, with almost no color and the focus is squarely on the participants and the ball. A missed opportunity might have been using “victory” instead of “very cool,” but all of the words are ones children would use and hear in daily conversation.

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