By Mary Elizabeth Bezanson
Children treasure small things. The Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel, and King Award winners for 2010 each provide a small thing worth treasuring.
The Lion and the Mouse. Pinkney, Jerry. Hatchette Book Group (Little Brown), 2009. [email protected], (800-759-0190). 40pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0316013567.
In this luminous book, Pinkney retells the Aesop tale of the lion and the mouse. Although the book is essentially wordless, the reader senses the fear, generosity, courage, and ingenuity of a lion and a mouse. Viewers also see Africa as a vibrant character in the story and the importance of family and friends as focus for our lives. The illustrations fill the page, spill through the pages, are bound by boarder, and are borderless.
The book is absolutely delightful as a way of teaching a timeless story and a way of exploring the art of illustration.
All the world. Scanlon, Liz Garton. Simon and Schuster (Beach Lane Books), 2009. [email protected], (800-223-2336). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1416985808. Illustrated by Marla Frazee.
Frazee’s marvelous illustrations evoke “hope and peace and love and trust,” the central themes of Scanlon’s lovely poem. The reader—viewer moves from the seashore to the farmer’s market, through a storm to the comfort of a local diner wrapped in love and contentment.
The book is a beautiful celebration of the world at her best when she cares for her children. The illustrations reflect human racial diversity without focusing on that issue. This is a wonderful book that belongs in all library collections.
Red sings from treetops: A year in colors. Sidman, Joyce. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. [email protected], (800-597-6127). 32pp. $16.00. ISBN 978-0547014944. Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Red sings from treetops is truly a magical book combining beautiful, intricate pictures with a lyrical poem. The book explores dimensions of each season by examining the colors that each possess. A careful reader notes how colors are lost, pink appears in spring and does not return until winter; and added, brown appears after spring in summer, fall, and winter.
As worthy of a Caldecott honor book, the pictures deserve special attention being created by paint, symbol, and collage.
This is not a book that could easily be read aloud to a class. The book must be studied and savored in the lap. A beautiful book meant for quiet reading or inspiring an art project.
When you reach me. Stead, Rebecca. Random House, 2009. [email protected], (212-782-9000). 208pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0385737425.
Fantastic. This book is fantastic in two quite different senses of the word. The book is fanciful, outlandish, and strange tracing the experience of a twelve-year old girl as she helps her mother prepare for her appearance on the $20,000 Pyramid and confronts an unexpected aspect of time. The central character, Miranda, appears to live a typical middle class life in New York City. The book captures the school experience of a child in the city including school, bullies on the streets, and the homeless. Miranda also faces the typical problems of losing and gaining friends and negotiating changing relationships as she ages. Miranda’s atypical experiences involve her mother’s preparation for a game show and seemingly disparate, odd events that evolve around the conception of time.
The book is also fantastic in the sense of great, terrific, and wonderful. Rather than shaking the reader’s sense of place, often the focus of science fiction, this work shakes the reader’s sense of time. Readers who think of time only as an arrow will be intrigued to confront the prospect that time is a circle or orb having no absolute direction.
The book also deserves commendation as a science fiction book written by a female author with a female main character. Often, science fiction works are very male centered. This book gives librarians and teachers a way to engage a wider audience for works in this genre.
An understanding of the $20,000 Pyramid would deepen an appreciation for the book. Note in particular the chapter titles. Information on “Dick Clark” would also help readers better appreciate the book.
Claudette Colvin: Twice toward justice. Hoose, Philip M. Macmillan Publishing (Farrar, Straus & Girox), 2009. [email protected], (646-307-5151). 144pp. $19.95. ISBN 978-0374313227.
We often teach history as a series of major events, but we forget the events before those major events. In Claudette Colvin we learn the story of a high school student from Montgomery, Alabama hauled from a public bus, handcuffed in a squad car, and arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. The cost of segregation is made real and vivid through the story of this one young woman refusing to allow discrimination to define her.
Readers also learn of the cost this brave woman paid for being an unwed, single mother thereby failing to meet the exacting standards of the leaders of the civil rights movement as they pressed their case in court. One of the most compelling chapters of the book recounts Colvin’s testimony in court when the case was finally heard.
The book makes a particularly difficult period of American history vivid and accessible. History is often taught in very broad strokes. This book helps children understand the contribution that individuals make and the price that individuals pay to change history. Older students will also begin to understand the nuance of hero in this country. Rosa Parks became the face of the civil rights movement not only for refusing to give up her seat but also because of her exemplary personal life. Claudette Colvin engaged in the same act of civil disobedience over a year earlier but was passed by because she became pregnant in high school and refused to name her child’s father.
We would all do well to be reminded that acts of courage are often judged by our limited perceptions of those who are courageous.
This book was also an honor for The Robert Sibert Medal awarded to the most distinguished informational book published in English.
The evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Kelly, Jacqueline. Macmillan Publishing (henry Holt and Co.), 2009. [email protected], (646-307-5151). 352pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0805088410.
This book can be treasured for a lifetime. The evolution of Calpurnia Tate tells the tale of a young girl growing into her own at a time when girls were to be wives and mothers and not scientists. Told in the first person, Calpurnia invites the reader to experience being eleven in 1899 Texas. During the year, she discovers that her grandfather loves the outdoors as much as she does. Together they roam the countryside and discover what they believe to be a new plant species. Through all this excitement, Calpurnia must cope with the constant demands to be someone she does not want to be.
The book is wonderfully evocative. One feels the Texas heat, the despair, the triumph, the joy of being Calpurnia. This book will spark interest in both the scientific and natural worlds. Sometimes, if we are very lucky, we meet someone for the first time we just know is going to be our best friend. That is the experience of reading this book.
The mostly true adventures of Homer P. Figg. Philbrick, Rodman. Scholastic Inc. (Blue Sky Press), 2009. scholastic.custhelp.com, (212-343-6100). 224pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0439668187.
Rip-roaring. There are very few times when that adjective accurately describes a book, but this is one of them. From the moment the story begins, the reader is captivated by the adventures of Homer P. Figg as he tries to escape his miserable childhood and rescue his brother who has been conscripted into the War Between the States.
One cannot help but fall in love with this character. He is feisty, intelligent, and caring. The reader roots for him from the very first sentence. Readers will also learn about the war that threatened to destroy the United States from the perspective of someone caught up in it.
Where the mountain meets the moon. Lin, Grace. Hatchette Book Group (Little Brown), 2009. [email protected], (800-759-0190). 288pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0316114271.
Minli, a young girl in China living in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain, decides to take a journey to change her family’s fortune because her mother is dissatisfied and her father exhausted. Through a series of challenges that test Minli’s character she learns that with love, shelter, and food, her family already has a fortune.
After a futile search to find Minli, her parents could do nothing but wait for her return. As time passed, her parents also came to realize that they had a fortune in a loving family who has shelter and food.
Lin uses the story of Minli’s adventures to provide a structure into which she inserts fables and tales from China. The experience of the book is deepened by the complex structure as the reader sees how the smaller tales expand the appreciation for the experience of China that is the ultimate focus of the book.
Some readers might find the episodic nature of the book intrusive. At times one just wanted to focus on Minli’s experience rather than having them interrupted.
Most will find the book a fascinating way to experience the enchantment of China.
According to the American Library Association web site the award was established in 2004, given annually beginning in 2006, to recognize the authors and illustrators of beginning reading books published in the United States during the previous year. Presumably the book wins the award rather than the author or the illustrator.
Benny and Penny in the big no-no! Hayes, Geoffrey. RAW Junior LLC, 2009. [email protected], (212-431-9106). 32pp. $12.95. ISBN 978-0979923890.
Benny and Penny are two young mice wanting to know more about their new next-door neighbor. They climb the fence that separates their yards and begin to explore. Benny is alarmed to find that his new neighbor Melina, a mole, has taken his pail. After climbing back over the fence, Benny and Penny are horrified to realize that his pail was in the sandbox all along. Predictably, the children reconcile their differences and become friends at the end of the book.
The story is told within a cartoon format. New readers might need some assistance in understanding the flow of pictures and text. There also might be some initial puzzlement regarding the use of dialog balloons.
Two notions unite the episodes of the story. One is “cry-baby.” Initially, Benny hoped the new neighbor would be a boy because girls were “cry-babies.” At the end of the story, Benny cries and is accused of being a “cry-baby” by Melina. The sexism in the early instance is not confronted; Penny merely sticks her tongue out at Benny’s back. When Benny cries, Penny defends him saying that he is hurt. That difference would make a nice quick lesson on how we judge people.
The other recurring notion in the book is “no-no.” As reflected in the title, the children explore a number of “no-no”s throughout the story.
I Spy Fly Guy! Arnold, Tedd. Scholastic Inc., 2009. scholastic.custhelp.com, (212-343-6100). 32pp. $5.99. ISBN 978-0545110280.
Tedd Arnold has written a number of stories about Fly Guy’s adventures. In this tale, Buzz, his human friend, and Fly Guy are playing I Spy. Things go wrong when the garbage truck accidentally picks up the garbage that Fly Guy is hiding in. Buzz and his father make a hurried trip to the dump and Buzz searches for his lost friend. The book ends happily when Buzz spots Fly Guy on the bill of his baseball hat.
The illustrations are typical: heavy line drawings filled with color and then contrasting squiggles. Children who are Fly Guy fanatics will enjoy this tale others might find their affections puzzling.
Little Mouse gets ready. Smith, Jeff. RAW Junior, LLC, 2009. [email protected], (212-431-9106). 32pp. $12.95. ISBN 978-1935179016.
This is a charming tail of a little mouse getting ready to go out to the barn for the day. He first puts on his underpants, making sure his tail fits through the hole. He then adds his socks, pants, and shirt. When his mother finally comes to get him, she is quite surprised telling him that mice do not wear clothes. His clothes fly off and he runs off to the barn without them. In the picture of the story, his mother says, “What a silly little mouse! (p. 30).” On the last page, the reader sees, “The End” and the little mouse waving and saying, “Bye!” with all of his clothes on (p. 31).
This book also uses a cartoon format. The pictures are framed with balloons carrying the dialog.
A wonderful way to remind children how to put on clothes and how people are different from animals.
Mouse and Mole: Fine feathered friends. Yee, Wong Herbert. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. [email protected], (800-597-6127). 48pp. $15.00. ISBN 978-0547152226.
This book is another addition to a series exploring the friendship between Mouse and Mole. In this story, Mouse and Mole set out to understand birds. In spite of their best early efforts, the birds are always frightened and fly away, so Mouse and Mole decide to disguise themselves as birds. Using both of their skills, they make outfits and then build a nest. The readers get to experience the fun of sitting in the nest dressed as a bird while being visited by all the birds that had fled earlier. After their day in the nest, the friends share the results of their observations. Mole has drawn wonderful pictures and Mouse has created beautiful poems. Rather than make two books of their exploits, they combine their abilities to make one.
These are endearing tales of friendship, exploring important issues with a gentle hand. Fans of Mouse and Mole will love this addition to their exploits.
Pearl and Wagner: One funny day. McMullan, Kate. Penguin Group (USA), Inc. (Dial), 2009. [email protected], (212-366-2000). 40pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-0803730854. Illustrated by R. W. Alley.
Pearl, a rabbit, and Wagner, a mouse are best friends in the same grade at the same school. Unfortunately, Wagner is not having a good day. He does not know that it is April Fool’s Day and is tricked by Pearl, and Mrs. Star, his teacher, and Mr. Milk, the goat who makes the lunch. He does not fare well in the dance contest Mr. Fox, his Physical Education teacher, has and is caught in a fib when he exaggerates his dancing ability. But Wagner prevails in the end when he convinces his class the green spots he has on his face are contagious–April Fool’s.
This book is absolutely delightful. Early readers will identify with Wagner and with Pearl as they enjoy their day at school. There is a great deal to talk about in this book from the adventures of the friends to the subtle humor of the characters. Readers will love the drawings of R.W. Alley. His work has a sense of whimsy and realism. April Fool’s will truly be a wonderful holiday with the addition of this whimsical tale.
Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves. Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. Lerner Publishing Group (Carol Rhoda), 2009. [email protected], (800-328-4929). 40pp. $17.95. ISBN 978-0822567646. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
Every child yearns for the Wild West. This book tells the fictional tale of a real life man marginalized by the features of his birth who made a difference in the lives of others. Readers will be captivated by the remarkable story of this man. Bass Reeves born into slavery escaped from the south into the then Indian territories and became a sheriff that actually searched for desperados and was feared them. He was both clever and courageous. In his career he arrested over 3000 men, including his son for murder, but only killed fourteen. He faced racism and hatred but relied on his strong sense of right and wrong to guide all of his actions. The background for the illustrations are yellowed newspapers giving the story the sense of age and history.
Mare’s war. Davis, Tanita S. Random House (Alfred A. Knopf), 2009. [email protected], (212-782-9000). 352pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0375857140.
Mare’s War is the story of a two journeys: a journey back to home and a journey away from home. Mare, a feisty irrepressible grandmother, decides to take her granddaughters on a cross country drive from their home in California to a family reunion in Alabama. While driving cross-country from California to Alabama, Mare tells the story of her own journey when she escaped from home by joining the army during World War II.
Mare’s War is the story of relationships. The changing relationship of a grandmother with her granddaughters as they drive cross-country. The brittle relationship abandoned by her mother for a man. The unwavering relationship of an older sister determined to care for her younger sister. The growing relationship of a woman with the women in her company as they move through basic training to England and France during World War II. And finally, the inexplicable relationship between an African American woman sent to fight a war in an army and for a country that discriminates and degrades her based on the color of her skin.
This book is highly recommended. For a child of color, the book raises a number of issues that can be difficult to deal with, so children should read this book with the support of adults.
My people. Hughes, Langston. Simon and Schuster (Atheneum), 2009. [email protected], (800-223-2336). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1416935407. Illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr.
Smith’s sepia photos make the luminous words of Langston Hughes glow. One cannot help but be captivated by the energy and joy of the images of African Americans in multiple generations.
Children often resonate with the sparse construction of poetry. Here the photos will deepen that experience. For children of color who see themselves mirrored in books only rarely, this book is a find that should be included in every library collection.
The negro speaks of rivers. Hughes, Langston. HarperCollins Publishers (Disney Book Group), 2009. [email protected], (212-207-7000). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0786818679. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Rivers define the African experience that extends to define the African-American experience. Through beautiful and evocative watercolors, E.B. Lewis makes a river live. The hands that reach down and up are brown. The passion for the river is real.
This book will make real the passion of those who live on the world’s rivers as well as the influence of geography to change the life experience of a people.