Jennifer and I have the great pleasure to be involved with the 2013 Cybils Awards as round one judges. While her bookshelf is getting weighed down with middle grade novels, my dining room floor is starting to resemble the children’s section of the library with a growing stack of picture books! I’m thrilled to be working with the team in the Fiction Picture Book category, and this genre of children’s literature has long been so very dear to my heart.
In between frequent trips to the library, I sit and read the nominated books either with my own children (ages 5 & 7), or by myself, and I am happy to see familiar titles from the past year that I’ve enjoyed while also being surprised at how many books published in the last year that have flown under my radar! I’d like to share as many titles with you over the next couple months of the round one time period, and I’m borrowing a recurring post theme from my personal blog- friday’s five. Each week, I’ll briefly share my thoughts on five nominated titles– it’s like five posts in one!
For this week’s roundup, there seems to be a slight theme that runs through all the books. They’re all a bit non-traditional, either taking a different spin on a familiar concept book theme, or changing up the format of a typical picture book, or engaging young readers in a different way than usual.
1. 123 versus ABC by Mike Boldt — Counting Book, meet Alphabet Book; Alphabet Book, meet Counting Book. Now, try to get along, you guys! In the opening pages of this comical picture book, the number 1 and the letter A each welcome the reader to the book, though they have very different ideas about what is in store in its pages. As they sing the praises of numbers and letters, respectively, a crowd of other numbers and letters gather, and the discussion gets spirited. Then along comes an alligator. One alligator, followed by two bears. You can imagine where this is going, right? I quite like the way in which Boldt has created a dual-concept book that incorporates humor, perfect for classroom shelves and laugh-filled reading times at home. The last page is a kicker, too, with a nod to one other common type of concept book for young children.
2. A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan and illustrated by Matthew Myers — Here’s another take on the alphabet book theme, but you won’t find the same old words being presented for each letter, thanks to a very “helpful” musk ox who has consumed that apple on the cover and offers some alternative words for the book. (The cover itself is pretty cool with an actual hole cut out where the apple used to be.) Though the associations might not be obvious at first, A could really be for Musk Ox, because they are Awesome, of course. On each page, the original word can still be partially seen, and the illustrations give clues to the word as well that astute young readers will surely delight in figuring out. Interactions between the enthusiastic musk ox and an increasingly frustrated zebra provide the humor in the book, and the end result is a very different type of alphabet book that stands out in the crowd.
3. Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Kevin Cornell — It’s already been established that Mac Barnett has a unique voice in the picture book writing field (Chloe and the Lion, Extra Yarn- both 2012 Cybils Finalists!), and his take on a counting book definitely carries his signature humor. Though the title leads the reader to believe that there will be some monkey counting going on, there are some big obstacles with each page turn, but each obstacle does bring big laughs, too. Though I’m not teaching preschool this year, I could absolutely envision reading this aloud to a class of four year olds, and I imagine that it could become quite the raucous and fun story time.
4. Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and illustrated by Suzy Lee — The idea of a book within a book isn’t too far from the norm, but how about seven books within a book? That’s what Klausmeier has created here, and though the text is short, the nontraditional format and details in the pencil and watercolor illustrations by the amazing Suzy Lee are wholly engaging. This is a perfect book for a child to read atop his parent’s lap, helping to turn the pages that get progressively smaller as each book reveals the next. I love when books celebrate the joys of reading, and this one encourages the practice in a fun way. (Incidentally, Suzy Lee was the artist for this year’s National Book Festival poster, and it was as beautiful as one would expect.)
5. Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson — This adorable picture book invites children to interact with the physical book in order to make the changes that occur to the tree, giving the impression that they are magically helping the tree progress through the seasons. I’ve found this book to be a big hit with the toddler and preschool set, and it’s definitely a formula that works. The first time I saw this innovation work perfectly was with Herve Tullet’s Press Here, and since then more books have followed suit. The collage artwork features soft colors beautifully suited to each of the seasons represented, and the cyclical nature of the story leads to immediate requests to read it again after finishing.
There are still four days left to nominate books for the 2013 Cybils Awards, so if there’s a book that you would love to see get recognized, head to the nomination form! (If you’re not sure what books are eligible or even what the Cybils Awards are all about, they’ve got all the answers for you on the FAQ page.)
All opinions offered here are mine alone, and do not represent the Cybils Awards.