Tuesday, January 15, 2008


MY DOG IS AS SMELLY AS DIRTY SOCKS AND OTHER FUNNY FAMILY PORTRAITS by Hanoch Piven, illustrated by Guy Francis (Schwartz and Wade)
A baby brother can be sweet as candy, but he never stops crying, and when he does, he's as loud as a whistle...or maybe a horn...or even an alarm clock! Turn the page, and you'll see all of these items used to describe the baby are included in the illustrations. The same goes for mom (soft as a fluffy marabou feather), dad (fun as a party favor), and even big brother (who eats like an...oink!) And what does the narrator think about herself? She stands at the top of the family pyramid, in this zany collage style.Though the writing at times seems a wee bit forced by the objects at hand, the concept is charismatic. The author used this unique illustration technique of "drawing with objects" with the children in the cancer ward of the Schneider Children's Medical Center, and their family and self-portraits grace the endpapers of this book. All children will enjoy trying their hand at this technique, also used in Piven's wildly popular WHAT ARE ATHLETES MADE OF? and the timely WHAT ARE PRESIDENTS MADE OF?, but the reason I loved MY DOG IS AS SMELLY AS DIRTY SOCKS is because it made teaching fifth graders figurative language like similes as easy as pie! (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Here are some more great books useful for informing the authors and illustrators of tomorrow about the formalistic tricks of the trade!:
THE END by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Richard Egielski (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine) "The soggy knight fell in love with the princess. The knight fell in love with the princess because...she poured a big bowl of lemonade on top of on his head. She poured a bowl of lemonade on top of his head because..." Keep reading to find out why she poured the lemonade, why an enormous tomato was rolling down a hill, why a giant was throwing a temper tantrum and why a dragon would not stop crying. The fairy tale story begins at the end and works backwards, cunningly showing kids cause and effect...or is it the effects from the cause? In any event, as a read-aloud, they won't want it to end, even if they know from the first page that they live happily ever after. (5 and up) Folks who walk in through the out door will also enjoy poetic and philosophical PREVIOUSLY by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman (Candlewick) which also uses a nursery tale theme but can be used with older kids to introduce the idea of "backstory." (5 and up)
HEAVE HO! by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Carola Holland (North-South) While some unlikely animal allies have an adventure told in a mere twelve sentences, we can examine the ordinal sequence of ideas in a story: beginning, middle and end. (6 and up)
IF YOU'RE TRYING TO TEACH KIDS HOW TO WRITE, YOU'VE GOTTA HAVE THIS BOOK by Marjorie Frank (Incentive Publications) Ahhh, now this is what I look for in a teaching book: page after page of ideas ricocheting all over the place! The double-page list of things you can write besides a "story" has been invaluable, as is the list of things to include in a classroom writing center. Dreams and love stories, a huge section on process, maintaining the young writer's integrity and ego, steps to creating a comfortable "home" for writing growth and the answer to the age old question "would a lapidary play leapfrog in a lyceum?" are all included. You can basically open this book to any random page and have a jumping-off point for teaching or a new way to look at how to skin the proverbial cat. Inspirational and informational to the point of being trippy, this one of my most dog-eared, recommended teaching titles, and a boon to anyone with writer's block. (Adult)

The big awards given by the American Library Association were announced today! And whaddaya know, if you have been following the PlanetEsme Plan, you'll find you have been on the cutting edge for the gold medal winners all along.

The 2008 Caldecott Award Winners for best children's book illustration
THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick (Scholastic) (a PlanetEsme pick!)
Silver honors:
HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX: A TRUE STORY FROM THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson(Scholastic) (a PlanetEsme pick!)
FIRST THE EGG by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook)(a PlanetEsme pick!)
THE WALL: GROWING UP BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN by Peter Sis Farrar, Straus and Giroux

For more information on the Caldecott, visit here!

The 2008 Newbery Award winners for best children's book writing
GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! VOICES FROM MEDIEVAL TIMES by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd (Candlewick) (a PlanetEsme pick!)
Silver honors:
THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion)
ELIJAH OF BUXTON by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic)

FEATHERS by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)
For more information on the Newbery,visit here!

You may also be interested in the Geisel Awards for emergent (early) readers, and the Sibert Award for informational books. And when it comes to prizes, there is still other game in town:
booklovers should definitely check out the Cybils, the children's and young adult bloggers' literary award, which I adore because of the shortlists representing a gamut of outstanding choices for readers of a variety of interests and abilities, selected by some very thoughtful and proficient reviewers.

The author and writing coach Esther Heshenhorn (who was rooting for another winner, Christopher Paul Curtis's ELIJAH OF BUXTON recently posted on our SCBWI listserv, "I love this time in January - just before the Newbery/ALA announcements. I go to sleep the Sunday night before the announcement smiling, knowing some writer's life is about to be changed forever. Lives, really, when you think of the readers too." I greatly appreciated Esther's enthusiasm for the awards and their meaning in the lives of the winners, since for a long time I have considered them the Oscar's of children's and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having made a wishful acceptance speech in front of the mirror in my time. But this year, having stepped back from publishing a little bit and not having anything at stake, I find myself thinking of a little girl named Corrina I knew when I taught fifth grade, who was very overt in her hatred of contests. Having a competitive spirit, I couldn’t really understand it, and so I hosted occasional little competitions with prizes which got the rest of the class’s adrenalin going but seemed to almost drive Corrina out of her mind; whenever I announced winners, she pulled a face that I will never forget! I figured this bad case of “sour grapes” was nothing that a taste of victory couldn’t cure, so I created a situation in which she was sure to succeed. When she won, she ran into the coat room and started to cry. Now it was my turn to go out of my mind, and I started to talk to her about the importance of celebrating achievement, but she just looked at me, exasperated, and asked, “don’t you see the faces of the kids who don’t win? What’s the point of winning over people who are already trying their best?” I have spent years trying to rationalize an answer to that question, but I have to be honest and say I guess I’m still not sure. I do still gush over people's achievements, and cry when figure skaters land their perfect-double-triple whatevers and when performers take a curtain call, but as our culture seems to have more and more opportunities for winners and losers and a tendency, at least on television, for “eliminations,” my enthusiasm is tempered by Corrina's query. Luckily, Corrina recently became a certified grade school teacher so she can pass on her wisdom and perspective.

The point is, the big awards represent the excellence of children's literature at large, and more than a popularity contest, the announcements are an occasion to remind us of the excellent body of work that exists and the efforts we should make in the year ahead to connect great kids with great books, whether these books have won a prize in professional organizations or are destined win a place in the heart of a single, special reader. Congratulations to everyone whose books I have reviewed, and to everyone who published a book this year. You dreamed it, and you did it. You win!!!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Anonymous said...

Are you going to post your annual list of favorites?

Stacey said...

I'm so glad you are back. I have checked back frequently and was so excited to see regular posts!


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