It’s not just the Caldecott

Although we in the children’s literature world tend to focus on the Newbery and Caldecott, check out the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards to see all the other categories that are recognized at the same time.  Here are a few picture books that I believe are worthy of consideration for some of those.


Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Published by Versify

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I love Kwame Alexander’s poem, but I think it’s illustrator Kadir Nelson who is most likely to be recognized with a Coretta Scott King award this year for his amazing portraits of the African Americans Alexander writes about.


The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

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This one could go either way for the Coretta Scott King award: both the poems and the illustrations are pretty amazing.


Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee & Low Books

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Pity that Coretta Scott King committee who has so many worthy contenders to choose from this year.


¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raul the Third

Published by Versify

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I will be pretty surprised if Raúl the Third doesn’t get some sort of Pura Belpré recognition for his Richard Scarry-like illustrations of this trip to the market.  I was happy to learn recently that Let’s Go Eat! is coming out in March.


A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Neal Porter Books

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And one more Coretta Scott King possibility.  Of course, all of these could be contenders for the Caldecott as well.  Truth be told, I dreamed up this blog post because there were so many I wanted to put on the Caldecott prediction post, and for some reason I always limit myself to five.

Five Favorite Book Club Books

As I move into 2020 with at least 15 book clubs under my care, I’m always on the lookout for good book club books.  I like books with both strong male and female characters, some humor, and a few issues that will lead to some discussion.  I’ve already tested a few of these out, and hope to do more in the coming months.


The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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I didn’t love Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish (although everyone else seemed to), so my expectations weren’t super high when I listened to the audiobook.  But I enjoyed all the characters, there was lots of humor, and Caitlyn learned a lot at her unique new school.  I’ve used this with three fifth grade book clubs, and most kids have given it positive reviews.


Eventown by Corey Haydu

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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The premise of this book, with its slightly dystopian feel, made it an easy one to book talk.  Yes, I grew weary of books about grieving children this year, but this one had an interesting take on the theme.  I’ve got my eye on it for a sixth grade book club.


Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Master storyteller Kevin Henkes tells a funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming tale in under 200 pages.  What more can I say?


Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Published by Disney/Hyperion

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Carlos Hernandez packed so much into this book I kind of felt like he had to break the universe to fit it all in.  Lots of humor, strong male and female characters, and some cool physics make this a book club contender for sure.


A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

Published by Greenwillow Books

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I’ve already used this for three book clubs to great acclaim, and plan to use it for at least one more.  Animal story? Check.  Lots of great illustrations?  Check.  Based on a true story?  Check.  Check it out yourself if you haven’t already.



Five Caldecott Predictions

I’ve been running mock Caldecott elections at my schools this month, with a list of 22 to choose from.  It’s always interesting to see what the kids like versus what the Caldecott committee likes.

I seem to be (very) marginally better at predicting the Caldecott.  I actually had the winners on my list in 2016 (Radiant Child) and last year (Hello, Lighthouse), and have guessed a few that got Caldecott honors (Du Iz Tak? and Last Stop on Market Street).  So with that amazing record–four out of the 20 books I’ve predicted have won something–I will gaze into my crystal ball for 2020.


The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry, illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Published by HarperCollins

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It wouldn’t be a Caldecott prediction list without a book illustrated by the Fan Brothers, whose U.S. citizenship always calls their eligibility into question.  As near as I can tell, they live in Canada, but have duel citizenship, which should make them eligible (and should begin the process of changing that particular Caldecott rule).  This has been a favorite in my mock Caldecott elections.


Saturday by Oge Mora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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I liked this even better than last year’s Caldecott honor Thank You, Omu!  It’s a great lesson in resilience, and has been another popular choice with kids.


Another by Christian Robinson

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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I have to say, I found this wordless book pretty confusing.  But I’ve seen it on so many best books of 2019 lists and I left it off my mock Caldecott list, which is pretty much a guarantee it will win something.


Small In the City by Sydney Smith

Published by Neal Porter Books

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This is probably my favorite book on the list.  I loved how what the girl is looking for is gradually revealed through both text and illustrations.  It’s a great mentor text for inferencing, should you be looking for such a thing.


A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Published by Chronicle Books

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I haven’t found this one to have a lot of kid appeal, but I loved the thought-provoking nature of the text, as well as all the animal illustrations.

As with all these lists, I’d love to hear your choices in the comments!

Five Newbery Predictions

In my post-holiday fog, I forgot to write an introduction to yesterday’s post.  I’m sure most readers figured out that I’m doing my annual end-of-they year wrap-up, and will spend the next several days posting lists of my favorite 2019 books.

In case anyone is keeping track, the last time I predicted anything correctly for the Newbery was 2016.  That year and in 2015, I predicted two books that won honors, so I’ve never hit it right for the actual medal.  So proceed with caution as you peruse this year’s list below.  This year, I’m predicting choices if Newbery committees reflect the tastes of various groups from the past.


The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Dutton Books for Young Readers

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Amazing characters, evocative writing, emotionally heart-wrenching–if the Newbery committee is anything like the one that picked Bridge to Terabithia (full disclosure: neither book is a personal favorite), this is a shoo-in for the gold.


New Kid by Jerry Craft

Published by HarperCollins

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I know that graphic novels don’t often get Newbery recognition, but I’ve seen this on enough lists to indulge myself on this one.  (If I were really following my heart and not my head, Queen of the Sea would be on this list as well).  Jerry Craft definitely has a message to deliver, but his touch is so light that he makes it  fun from start to finish.  We’ll need a committee like the one that made Roller Girl a Newbery honor book.


A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Published by Atheneum

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Whoever came up with this title and cover design, in my opinion, did this book a serious disservice.  While the cover didn’t draw me in, this book grabbed me right from the beginning, and taught me about an aspect of World War II and its aftermath that I wasn’t familiar with.  Looking for a committee like the one that picked Number the Stars or The War That Saved My Life.


Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Okay, I didn’t say these were my favorite books.  But I do admire the storytelling and writing of this fantasy woven from Filipino folklore.  A committee thinking along the lines of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or The Girl Who Drank the Moon may pick this one.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Honestly, I was (again) pretty lukewarm about this book, but with six starred reviews and a National Book Award finalist designation, I feel I’d be remiss not to include it.  Not sure what kind of committee we’d be looking for here: Maniac Magee? or Jason Reynolds’s Newbery honor book A Long Way Down?

Five Favorite Graphic Novels

Meet the House Kittens (Kitten Construction Company, book 1) by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second

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Adorable kitties who do construction?  These cats have it all.  I can’t wait to introduce this series to my second and third grade students.  They are sure to be a hit.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Published by Walker Books

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Part historical fiction, part fantasy, all adventure–better not let your attention wander  or you might miss some key detail to the political intrigue underlying this amazing and complex tale.  I was on the fence about where this and New Kid should go; this could just have easily been on my Newbery contender list.

White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Even though I wish R. J. Palacio would show us she can do something besides keep building on the Wonder franchise, I can’t deny this is a beautiful and moving story, perfect for kids just a bit older than the Wonder crowd.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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I was on the fence between this and This Was Our Pact for my fifth choice, but this is a personal favorite due to my love of the original novel.  It got a number of one- and two-star reviews on Amazon due to Jo coming out.  Come on, did anyone ever think Mr. Bhaer was anything more than a convenient cover for Jo’s real feelings?

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

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Seems like we can’t have too many realistic fiction/friendship graphic novels these days, and if the blurb on the front cover is by Raina Telgemeier, you know you have a winner.  Unique characters and an unexpected twist make this a sure-fire hit with the elementary crowd.


Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  The girl telling the story is excited that her grandmother has invited her to help make the soup for New Year’s Day.  The name of the soup is Freedom Soup, and making it inspires Ti Gran to tell the story of Haiti, and how the slave revolt there led to freedom for their ancestors.  The story has been passed down from Ti Gran’s mother and grandmother, and both the girl and Ti Gran like the idea that she will someday pass it along to her own children and grandchildren.  When the soup is done, it’s time to share it with the family, and everyone enjoys it to the last drop as they celebrate a new year. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Haiti and the author’s own grandmother and a recipe for Freedom Soup.  32 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  A perfect way to celebrate New Year’s and effortlessly learn something about history and cooking in the process.  The vibrant illustrations make the story come alive.

Cons:  The recipe is billed as “kid-friendly”, but there’s a pretty long list of ingredients and will definitely require a good deal of adult help.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Fionn and his older sister Tara have been sent to the island of Arranmore to spend time with their grandfather while their mother is dealing with some mental health issues.  Tara has been to the island before and likes to lord her knowledge over Fionn; she often leaves him behind to spend time with her crush Bartley Beasley, who is searching for a secret cave.  As Fionn gets to know his grandfather, he discovers that he is the Storm Keeper, the overseer of the magic on the island. Granddad knows that his time in this role is coming to an end, and that the island is looking to find a new Storm Keeper.  As Fionn learns more about the magic, he starts to use it himself to travel through time and learn more about Arranmore’s secrets. The ending brings about the revelation of the new Storm Keeper and some healing in Fionn’s family, but there are plenty of unanswered questions to explore in book 2.  308 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A promising start to a fantasy series that ably combines magic and everyday life.  Lots of interesting characters and history have been introduced that will provide a good foundation for a sequel.

Cons:  As I was reviewing this book, I realized it was published in 2018.  Since I had to force myself to read it (generally the case with me and fantasy), this was something of a blow.  It looks like it was published in Great Britain in 2018 and in the U.S. in 2019, so that is something of a comfort to me.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.



Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

Published by Puffin Canada

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Summary:  A few months after 9/11, Shirli’s drama teacher decides to stage a production of Fiddler on the Roof.  Shirli is hoping to land the role of daughter Hodel, but instead is cast as Golde, the mother.  Disappointed, she throws herself into preparations for the show, turning to her grandfather, Zayde, to help her with props and costumes.  In his attic, she finds an old violin and a poster showing him performing with his family. Shirli knows Zayde lost his family during the Holocaust, but he has never shared the details with anyone, and has always seemed to dislike any kind of music.  When she asks him about the violin, he’s angry at first, but over the next several weeks, he slowly reveals the heartbreaking story he’s never told. When a catastrophic accident threatens to shut down the play, Zayde and Shirli are able to save it, and Zayde’s story ends up adding new layers of depth to the production.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Auschwitz. 288 pages; grades 5-8.  

Pros:  Readers will be fascinated and horrified by this moving story.  Zayde’s story is revealed slowly, and interspersed with lighter chapters about the play and the budding romance between Shirli and her co-star Ben.  

Cons:  Shirli seemed at times a little too good to be true, and Zayde’s contribution to the play felt a little unrealistic.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Published by Aladdin

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Summary:  Moth has always felt like she doesn’t belong in the small town of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts.  Her mother grew up in the same town–only it turns out it was 300 years before Moth did. Moth learns near the beginning of the story that her mom was part of a group of witches that was driven out of town by God-fearing Puritans.  The witches escaped to a paradise called Hecate, but Moth’s mother was so unhappy there that she eventually returned to her hometown. Moth discovers her own magical powers over the course of the story, eventually meeting her grandmother and getting the chance to visit Hecate.  Although she learns to love being a witch, she and her mother both ultimately decide that they belong in Founder’s Bluff. As history begins to repeat itself, they find that their witchcraft comes in handy in making sure evil doesn’t return to their town. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of graphic novels with spunky girl main characters (think Telgemeier, Jamieson, Holm, and Hale) will enjoy this story which has a little magic and witchcraft thrown in.  

Cons:  Guess I like my graphic novels to stay in the realm of realistic fiction; I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the aforementioned authors. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Fix That Clock by Kurt Cyrus

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  As construction workers head to an old clock tower to restore it to its former glory, they discover that rats and bats have made their homes among the rusted gears and rotting boards.  They get to work, doing their best to work around the animals.  Math makes several appearances in the story: “Seven steps upon a stair,/Six are tangled, one is bare./Five are red. Two are green./Four are thick and three are lean.”  The clock slowly comes back to life, and the animals scramble when the chimes sound. But the thoughtful workers haven’t forgotten about them: they use scraps of wood to build homes for them on the outside of the clock tower. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Just as he did in Billions of Bricks, Kurt Cyrus uses energetic rhymes and detailed illustrations to bring a construction project to life.  Numbers, shapes, and other mathematical concepts are woven effortlessly into the text.

Cons:  I can’t help thinking those animals might not enjoy living right up against a chiming clock.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.