Monday, February 8, 2016

Book of the Week: How the Sun Got to Coco's House

How the Sun Got to Coco's House

by Bob Graham
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8109-8
Ages 3-6

“While Coco slept far away, the sun crept up slowly behind a hill, paused for a moment, and seemed to think twice … before it plunged down the other side and skidded giddily across the water.” Bob Graham once again displays his masterful ability to extend a small series of moments into an expansive picture book, in this case one that traverses the globe describing the journey of the sun from east to west, across artic snow and frozen tundra, touching the tip of an airplane wing, meeting rain over a desert, passing over a small village in mountains. “Then the sun leaped whole countries, chasing the night.” Eventually, the sun comes to Coco’s, following her through the house and out the door, where they spend the day together. In words and pictures, each scene conveys a stunning, soothing sense of the natural world—-usually in winter-—or an intimate snapshot of life on our planet, both animal and human, in a playful, delightful offering. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Looking Back/Looking Forward

The following is excerpted from the brief commentary on 2015 children's and young adult books that will appear in CCBC Choices 2016, our annual best-of-the-year list. The CCBC Choices 2016 booklet will be available after March 5. ( How to get a copy of CCBC Choices 2016).

Throughout the year as we read, we try to observe trends, themes, welcome surprises, and sometimes simple coincidences among the books published for children and teens. In 2015, one of the first things we couldn’t help but note as books came into the CCBC was the continued explosion in young adult fiction. Our shelves are still groaning under the weight of all that teen drama.

Among all those books were some themes and common threads. This included quite a few titles about teens with mental illness, ranging from anxiety to OCD to depression to schizophrenia, among them the National Book Award-winning Challenger Deep. This was also the year of the road trip in young adult literature. It was a device used with varying degrees of success, with The Porcupine of Truth among our favorites.

We also continue to see books that blur the lines between young adult and new adult. Taking Hold, which concludes Francisco Jiménez’s memoir cycle, follows him through graduate school at Columbia. The intriguing graphic novel Sculptor is about a fine artist in New York City. Sculptor is one of the several books we’ve included in Choices in recent years in which not only the audience but the publisher (in this case, First Second) is a crossover, with titles that are not always distinctly either young adult or adult.
There were a number of fine works of fiction for children, including one that broke new ground: the blithe and tender George, about a transgender child. It's among a few such titles, and has solid elementary-age appeal. Gender and sexuality were also given groundbreaking treatment for children in the outstanding informational book Sex Is a Funny Word.

The new baby/sibling theme in picture books seemed more abundant than usual in 2015, explored in a variety of freshly engaging ways in books such as DoubleTrouble for Anna Hibiscus, Rodeo Red, The Nesting Quilt, and The New Small Person.

The picture books we found most arresting were those tackling difficult topics with incredible honesty and sensitivity. The extraordinary Two White Rabbits speaks in the voice of a child describing things she sees on a journey with her father. Only the essential illustrations reveal they are refugees fleeing toward the U.S. / Mexico border. The moving Mama’s Nightingale is in the voice of a young girl whose mother is in prison awaiting a deportation hearing. And reassuring Yard Sale speaks in the voice of child whose family is having to sell many of their belongings.

In nonfiction, while we continued to see fewer works of literary nonfiction, especially those of substantial length, there were again singular standouts, from Symphony for the City of the Dead to Most Dangerous to Funny Bones, among others. 

Funny Bones, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, leads us into what we consider the real story when it comes to children’s and young adult literature in 2015: increased focus on and discussion about multicultural literature. Some would say this began in 2014, with the launch of the We Need Diverse Books initiative, and that group’s work is welcome and critical. But many people of color and First/Native Nations have been drawing attention to issues of race and racism in children’s literature for years, as well as to the need for more books by authors and artists of color and First/Native Nations.

The 2015 ALA children’s and young adult literature awards, recognizing books published in 2014, were notable and invigorating regarding the diversity represented in choices across the awards (rather than seeing diversity only in awards whose purpose is to recognize books by authors and artist of color and First/Native Nations). That excitement continued with the recent announcement of the 2016 ALA awards, for books published in 2015, which reflect even greater racial and cultural diversity. The choice of Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book (picture book!), for the Newbery Award, written by a Latino author with an African American protagonist and illustrator (it also received a Caldecott Award honor citation for the art), was as deserving and welcome as the choice of Crossover last year. But the good news didn’t stop with the Newbery. Across the ALA awards, this year’s list of winners and honor books is one that reflects and speaks to multiple dimensions of the identity experience.

In the year between these two award announcements, a lot was happening in children’s and young adult literature and in our nation with regard to race and racism. It’s been a hard year in so many ways. Perhaps no book captures some of this agony as well as All American Boys, a groundbreaking look at racism, police violence, and white privilege.

Late in the year, a lot of attention in the children’s and young adult literature world focused on the depiction of enslavement in the picture book A Fine Dessert. There was also conversation about references to American Indians in the historical novel The Hired Girl. Those discussions were hard, painful, and honest in ways that weren’t always easy to read. They revealed not only how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go in our field in understanding racism and working to challenge it. Yes, what’s in a book matters. Of course it does.

The recent ALA awards make us hopeful. And so do many of the books we see from week to week and month to month, whether it’s a first book by a new author of color, such as Hoodoo or Blackbird Fly or See No Color; a new and essential perspective on historical events by a First/Native Nations author, like In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse or Hiawatha and the Peacemaker; or any of the other many other wonderful titles that we receive.

Increased diversity of representation within and across racial and cultural experiences in literature for youth, and indeed across the human experience, is not an option, it’s essential. So, too, is critical thinking in how such books are made. Children and teens deserve no less.

(Check back in the next week or so for our 2015 statistics of the number of bookspublished by and about people of color, which will also appear in the Choices 2016 publication.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book of the Week: Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

by Robbie Robertson
Illustrated by David Shannon
Published by Abrams, 2015
48 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1220-3
Ages 8-11

Hiawatha is consumed by thoughts of revenge after his village is burned and his wife and children killed by Onondaga Chief Tadoaho. Then a leader called the Peacemaker convinces him that unity, not fighting, is the path to take, and asks Hiawatha to help him carry his message of peace among the nations of the Iro-quois. They travel in turn to the Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, and finally, the Onondaga. On the journey, the Peacemaker meets skepticism and anger with quiet courage and soft-spoken wisdom and his cause is championed by the Clan Mothers. Eventually, Hiawatha’s thoughts of revenge are replaced by for-giveness. He meets his former enemy with understanding, helping Tadoaho de-feat the evil that possesses him. Robbie Robertson’s emotionally rich retelling of the origin story of the Iroquois Confederacy he first heard as a child visiting his Mohawk and Cayuga relatives is vivid and compelling. Punctuating the longer narrative is a slightly varied, repeated refrain that gives the story the rhythm of a cumulative tale, this one drawn from history. A historical note explains that Hia-watha and the Peacemaker, a spiritual leader named Deganawida, are thought to have lived in the 14th century. The story is set against strong, beautifully ren-dered oil illustrations by David Shannon that respect rather than romanticize the characters.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook

Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook

by Anne Vittur Kennedy

Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
32 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7417-5


Ages 4-8

A how-to handbook offering sage advice from an experienced farm dog begins, “Here’s the first thing you need to know: The rooster wakes the farmer early in the morning. That’s his job. That’s not your job. Don’t wake the farmer. You will really, really want to wake the farmer … If you DO wake the farmer, you can get a biscuit just to go away.” Each lesson proves to be a slight variation on this theme as Ragweed, one of the most entertaining and authentic canine narrator’s ever to speak from the pages of a picture book, lays out who does what on the farm, what not to do as a farm dog, and how doing it anyway will generally result in a biscuit (or three!). Ragweed’s enthusiasm and almost single-minded focus on biscuits is consistent and convincingly doglike, while the occasional variation on the pattern only adds to the humor. (“If the farmer is away, chase the sheep! No biscuit. It’s just worth it.”). Anne Vittur Kennedy’s pairs her terrific narrative with illustrations full of color and movement. Ragweed’s joy in the life he lives is irresistible.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Drum Dream Girl" by Margarita Engle Wins 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award

Margarita Engle's picture book Drum Dream Girl is the winner of the nineteenth annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book.

Engle’s striking story tells the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who grew up in Cuba in the 1920s at a time when drumming was considered to be only for men and boys. She dared to drum anyway, “tall conga drums / small bongo drums / and big, round, silvery / moon-bright timbales … Her hands seemed to fly / as they rippled / rapped / and pounded / all the rhythms / of her drum dreams.” 

Engle’s musical narrative goes on to describes Millo’s eventual triumph in convincing others that girls could play. Her words are set against the vibrant tropical colors of illustrator Rafael López’s lush illustrations.

The 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award Committee named five honor books: 
  • Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick
  • Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise written by Sean Taylor
  • Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña
  • The New Small Person written by Lauren Child
  • When Otis Courted Mama Written by Kathi Appelt

The Zolotow committee also named 10 highly commended titles:
  • Goodnight, Good Dog by Mary Lynn Ray
  • How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham
  • Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat
  • Maya’s Blanket / La manta de Maya by Monica Brown
  • Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter
  • A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara
  • Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy
  • Waiting by Kevin Henkes
  • Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul
  • When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang

For more about the Charlotte Zolotow Award, administered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, and the 2016 Zolotow Award books, see the complete press release

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

CCBC Choices 2016: Final List!

While we work madly to finishing annotating all the books in CCBC Choices 2016, the final Choices 2016 list is now available.  We are featuring 259 titles published in 2015.

The fully annotated Choices booklet, with author/title/illustrator and subject indexes and a brief commentary on the publishing year, will be available after March 5.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book of the Week: Untwine

by Edwidge Danticat

Published by Scholastic, 2015
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-42303-8

Age 13 and older

After her identical twin Isabelle is killed in a car accident, Giselle’s grief is compounded by her own injuries. Gisele wakes up in the hospital in small fits and starts. At first, there is the realization that Isabelle is dead; then comes the understanding that the staff and her aunt think that she is Isabelle and Giselle is the one who died. The mistake is rectified, but the loss remains, deep and ravaging, as Giselle moves through the first days and weeks after the accident. She and Isabelle were different, and sometimes fought, but even as they sought to be independent of each other, their closeness was a foundation. The loss changes the way Giselle sees her future, her friends, and her family, and underscores both the ways she and her sister strived to be individuals and also how deeply they were connected. Edwidge Danticat’s beautifully written look at the early days, weeks and months of grieving is grounded in a Haitian American family that was already in transition, not only because the two sisters were starting to think about life beyond high school but also because their parents were separating prior to the accident. Deeply moving, ultimately cathartic, it is a story that speaks, most profoundly, of love. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center