My boys came home from school on Friday talking about voting for their favorite books. I learned that both of their schools were collecting votes for the “Chickadee Award,” a picture book award voted on by Maine K-4 students. All 10 nominees for the 2015/16 award are picture books published in 2014 and my boys were eager to tell me about their favorites. Since my school district was having a library fundraiser at the Portsmouth Barnes & Noble this past Sunday anyway, I figured it would be a perfect time for us to go check out all the Chickadee nominees. Sadly, they only had one of the books on the shelf, so we weren’t able to look at all of them. They didn’t seem to mind, though, since the high school’s robotics team was on hand for demos and the kids were thrilled to see the robots at work and even get to drive them!
Since we couldn’t get all the Chickadee nominees at the bookstore, we read a few others too, and I ordered their favorite Chickadee nominee, “A Boy and A Jaguar” for our Kindle. (I think it’s my favorite of the day, though Iggy comes close). Read on for the results of our afternoon!
Title: Going Places
Author: Peter & Paul Reynolds
Illustrator: Paul Reynolds
Publisher/Date: Atheneum BYR (March 2014)
The “gist”: Rafael is excited to build his go-cart precisely according to instructions. But when he visits his friend Maya, who likes to think outside the box, he sees that she has no interest in making the same go-cart as everyone else. Together they build an airplane instead and go on to win the great race.
My favorite part: I liked the line about Rafael loving to follow instructions. As a mom of a son on the Autism spectrum, I am quite familiar with kids who like doing things step by step. It’s no wonder that this was that son’s favorite book
My response as a reader: This would be an awesome book for kids interested in the big “MakerSpace” movement (like both of my sons). I expected more pushback from Rafael about the fact Maya didn’t follow the instructions– it was refreshing to see him jump in and join her in dreaming of creating something another way. It reminded me a little of the “anything is possible” feeling you get watching “Chitty Chitty, Bang, Bang” (one of my favorite movies).
My “take-away” as a writer: Could Maya really have created a working flying machine given the parts she got in her kit? Unlikely. Does that really matter? Absolutely not. This book is all about dreams and where they can take you. I love that the text is relatively sparse and lets the reader fill in a lot of the story– another lesson for verbose writers!
Title: I Wish You More
Author/Illustrator: Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books (March 2015)
The “gist”: A creative list of wishes, this book goes page by page through wishes such as “I wish you more ups than downs” or “I wish you more snowflakes than tongue” or “I wish you more treasures than pockets,” complete with quietly adorable illustrations.
My favorite part: So hard to find a favorite wish– but “I wish you more tippy-toes than deep” is probably the most charming. “More we than me” is a close second.
My response as a reader: I picked this up because Barnes & Noble had it on sale at a significant discount if you bought another children’s book (I bought “Red: A Crayon’s Story” which I had reviewed last week). I picture this book as an absolutely perfect graduation gift or new baby gift. It’s not necessarily one my kids would ask for over and over, but as a sweet gift book it’s totally got my vote.
My “take-away” as a writer: Once you start in on a list like this, you can come up with a lot of things that are pretty standard: more give than take, etc. This book goes further than the usual clichés though and puts in beautiful and unexpected wishes that make the story stick out. I’ve learned as a writer that the first draft sometimes writes itself, but revisions very rarely revise themselves. I wonder how many “wishes” Rosenthal and Lichterheld crossed out in the second draft and replaced with the more creative ones shown here?
Title: How to Babysit a Grandma
Author: Jean Reagan
Illustrator: Lee Wildish
Publisher/Date: Knopf BYR (March 2014)
The “gist”: Think “If you give a mouse a cookie” turned into “If you give a kid a Grandma”– it’s told in 2nd person and gives instructions on activities to do with your Grandma.
My favorite part: I enjoyed the long list of things to do in which about every third item was “Go to the park.” Subtle, kid.
My response as a reader: My younger son pointed to this one in the store and wanted me to read it. I think he might have been looking for ideas of things to do next time we visit my mom, whom he loves. There are certainly plenty of activities in the book to choose from. And I did enjoy the warm side comments such as reminding your Grandma that Mom and Dad will be home soon.
My “take-away” as a writer: My best take-away here is probably to use the 2nd person sparingly. Honestly, I have read SO many of those “If you give a mouse a cookie” books, they all sound alike to me (fun as they are– and they ARE fun!). I read this book and its companion (“How to Babysit a Grandpa” – pub. in 2012) in one sitting and that was enough. But don’t let that distract you from reading them. They really are cute and I think kids would enjoy them. Just realize that if your audience has also read the “Mouse” books and you write something in 2nd person, there’s going to be an inevitable comparison.
Title: Iggy Peck, Architect
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher/Date: Abrams BYR (February 2016)
The “gist”: Iggy Peck is obsessed with buildings, but when his teacher forbids him from creating them, he gets frustrated.
My favorite part: Hooray for rhymed texts that do it right! On the illustration side of things, I have students who doodle buildings on their notebooks and worksheets similar to those in this book. The creativity of the illustrations was probably my favorite part. In addition to the detailed line drawings of buildings, the illustrations of the people and other objects had a great vintage quality which reminded me of some of the books I grew up with including one of my very favorites, “The Giant Jam Sandwich” (by John Vernon Lord).
My response as a reader: Like “Going Places,” above, this book sparks the imagination of those who like building and creating. Ironically, my sons were too busy playing with robots at the robotics demo to listen as I read this one in the bookstore, but I’d heard a lot of buzz about it and had to check it out. I’m anxious to read Beaty’s 2013 “Rosie Revere, Engineer.”
My “take-away” as a writer: Here’s another piece of evidence that rhymed picture books still DO get published– but they have to be good! The meter here was excellent for the most part and not at all distracting– in fact, I had to go back and look at the text to remember that it was in rhyme since the story predominated. An excellent writer’s lesson!
Title: A Boy and A Jaguar
Author: Alan Rabinowitz
Illustrator: Catia Chien
Publisher/Date: HMH BYR (March 2014)
The “gist”: The narrator stutters…except when he’s talking to animals. He makes a promise to help the jaguar, an animal whose habitat is endangered and in the end he grows up to fulfill his promise.
My favorite part: The moment when the narrator had 15 minutes to make his case in front of the prime minister of Belize was magical and reminded me of the wonderful movie “The King’s Speech,” also about stuttering.
My response as a reader: This was the favorite “Chickadee Book Award” nominee of my younger son who has some issues with anxiety and social situations. He doesn’t stutter, but he does love animals and I have a feeling the overall theme really resonated with him. Likewise, my older son, who is on the Autism spectrum, sometimes has trouble getting his ideas out and people aren’t always patient. It’s a beautiful book for both of them. It’s also an important political book with a great conservation message. I really love that Rabinowitz was able to bring both of his life stories to light so beautifully.
My “take-away” as a writer: Tell your story. In Dr. Rabinowitz’ Q&A section in the back matter of the book, he advises stutterers to find their passion and do what makes them happy. I bet Dr. Rabinowitz never dreamed he would grow up to write a children’s book, but I’m so glad he did. When I sit on my couch dreaming up cute little stories, I also need to think about the stories that only I can tell.