ALA Youth Media Awards 2023

Cover image of Hot Dog
What a day for a dog!

Last year, I followed the ALA YMA on Twitter while preparing to teach seventh graders online research skills; the year before, I watched in my pajamas with my five-year-old on my lap. This year, I missed the beginning of the livestream, but the timing worked out so that a third grade class was in the library when the Caldecott awards were announced, and they were so excited!

As I watched not just the Caldecotts but all the other awards roll in, it struck me more than any previous year how many deserving books there are. Not that I disagree with the committees’ choices – plenty of books I cheered for, others I hadn’t read – but there are just so. many. good. books in any given year! And because I was on this year’s Heavy Medal committee (Mock Newbery) and ran a Mock Caldecott program at my school, I was more attuned than usual to award predictions.

So rather than recap today’s winners, I’m going to list a few middle grade and picture books I think could have gotten awards, and just happened not to, but are still wonderful and you should read them:

Middle grade:

  • A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  • Violet and Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
  • Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff
  • Where the Sky Lives by Margaret Dilloway
  • The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
  • The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
  • Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternak
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser

Picture Books

  • Mina by Matthew Forsythe
  • Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
  • Sweet Justice by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall, illustrated by Vera Brosgol
  • I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
  • Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer

Squirrels that turn out to be cats, magic doors that lead to a refuge and friendship, a Mars rover with human emotions, a choose-your-own-adventure fairytale, escaping frogs, an unsung civil rights hero, some beautiful collage, and more – there’s something for everyone, and awards are only a piece of it all. Congratulations to all authors and illustrators who put something out into the world in 2022; readers are grateful.

Mock Caldecott 2023

In my first year as an elementary school librarian, I had to do a Mock Caldecott. It was one of the programs I’d heard other elementary librarians (and some children’s librarians at public libraries) talk about for years and it always sounded like a fun way to get kids engaged and excited. Plus, it’s a good chance to focus on the (incredible) art, and consider things like trim size and shape, endpapers, use of the gutter, use of color, light and dark, and media. I always look to see if there’s an art note on the copyright page about what materials the illustrator used, and kids are sometimes surprised (especially the born-digital art).

Here’s how I ran our program, loosely based on Travis Jonker’s:

Intro/practice week (first week of January):

  • Introduce the Caldecott Award. What is it for? Who decides? Which books (illustrators) are eligible? Even the youngest students grasp the difference between an author’s job and an illustrator’s job, and learn that if there’s one name on the cover, it means that person did both jobs.
  • Read two past Caldecott books, and have a vote (by show of hands). Make the tally visible on the whiteboard. In kindergarten and first grade, we read Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005) and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (2013). In second and third grade, we read Beekle by Dan Santat (2015) and Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (2022).

Week One:

  • Now it’s onto this year’s Caldecott contenders! I requested several books from my public library, using my own reading from the past year as well as The Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog and Betsy Bird’s predictions on her Fuse8 blog at SLJ. Ideally, I’m looking for books with less text, because classes are only 40 minutes and we want to do book checkout too. I use the Whole Book Approach, which means I welcome students’ observations while we’re reading – which means it takes longer to read a book aloud.
  • Kindergarten and first grade read I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by real-life best friends Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal, and Like by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Second and third grade read The Blur by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat, and This Is Not A Story About A Kitten by Randall de Sève, illustrated by Carson Ellis. I note when illustrators have previously won a Medal or an Honor.

Cover images of I Don't Care and Like

Cover images of The Blur and This Story is Not About A Kitten

Week Two:

  • Kindergarten and first grade read Somewhere in the Bayou by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, and Little Houses by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Second and third grade read Knight Owl by Christopher Denise and Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Actually, this week we mixed it up a little bit; one of the first grade classes read the second and third grade pair of books, and one of the other first grades read Hot Dog and Little Houses. Attention spans vary, and it seemed like the right call at the time.

Cover images of Hot Dog and Little Houses

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.40.44 PM

Week Three:

  • Here we started to run into a few scheduling snags, including a (planned) holiday and some (unplanned) weather-related time off (a full snow day, a delayed start, and an early dismissal). It’s winter in New England, after all. That’s okay! We’re not being super scientific or mathematical about this, though I am keeping track of the tallies and figuring out the total votes for each book each week, and noting the number of classes that read each book.
  • Kindergarten and first grade read Don’t Worry, Murray! by David Ezra Stein and Witch Hazel by Molly Idle. Second and third grade read Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall (who has already won twice!) and Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer. This final pair of books is absolutely gorgeous, and my second- and third-grade students are an observant bunch, so we’re pretty squeezed for time given that these two are more text-heavy than some of the others (and Farmhouse is all one long sentence!).

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.42.49 PM

Cover images of Farmhouse and Snow Horses

Now, are the titles we read my top picks for the 2023 Caldecott? Not necessarily, although I think a lot of them have a very strong chance and I’d be delighted to see them get a shiny gold or silver medal. A few contenders we’d read earlier in the year: Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat; Mina by Matthew Forsythe; Berry Song by Michaela Goade, John’s Turn by Mac Barnett, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. So, these are the ones that were fresh for my students, and that I could get from my public library in time.

Bulletin board of 2023 Mock Caldecott with images of book coversVisual supports: The award is for illustration, after all, so I wanted to create a visual environment to support our Mock Caldecott. Here are a few ways I did that:

  • A few years ago at a conference I got a poster with all of the Caldecott winners on it, plus that year’s honor books. I put that up on our whiteboard, and kids frequently pointed out books they’d read (even pre-readers could recognize the book covers). (Note: I would love an updated poster like this, and no one seems to make one! Let me know if you know of a source…)
  • On the easel whiteboard, I kept each week’s tally (photographing it regularly in case anyone erased it, accidentally or on purpose). Results were so different from class to class!
  • On my bulletin board, I printed out cover images of the Caldecott contenders we read, along with title, author, and illustrator info. This helped us remember what we’d read in past weeks, and make connections; for example, one third grader noticed that The Blur and Farmhouse took place over a long span of time, whereas This Is Not A Story About A Kitten and Snow Horses took place over the course of just one day/night.
  • I covered several tables with face-up Caldecott winner and honor books from past years and encouraged students to check those out – many did! (And some just wanted My Weird School or A-to-Z Mysteries or Wimpy Kid or the Biscuit books, and that’s fine too. But at least they saw them as choices, and picture book circulation increased! Though lots of students were baffled about why some books had “the sticker” and some didn’t.)

At the end of our program, I figured out all the tallies and reported our results to the 2023 Mock YMA blog. Knight Owl got the most votes, followed by Somewhere in the Bayou, The Blur, Don’t Worry Murray, Farmhouse, and Hot Dog. And today, it worked out that one of my third grade classes was in the library during the live Caldecott announcements, and they went wild for Knight Owl and Hot Dog. It was gratifying to see them throw their hands up and cheer for books they recognized (I was cheering too, of course!).

Did we predict the winner? Not exactly, but two out of five ain’t bad. Did we read some great picture books? Absolutely! Will I do it again next year? Yes! What will I do differently? Mainly, I’ll start requesting books from my public library ahead of time, really concentrating on the ones with less text, so we can focus on the illustrations without being rushed during our 40-minute periods. I could change the way we vote – I was thinking of some clear jars and colored pom-poms that kids could use as their votes after reading four or five books over the course of a few weeks, instead of having two books go head to head each week.

Overall, it was a fun program I hope to run again next year. Now, as we’re about to enter Black History Month, I’m thinking of doing something similar (minus the voting) with Coretta Scott King award and honor books. Heck, there are enough awards to focus on a different one each month of the school year…

2022 Reading Wrap-Up

It’s that time! To recap, here’s my reading wrap-up from 2021, and here’s my mid-year reading round-up from early July 2022; when I’ve listed titles below, I’ve focused on those I read between July and December. Without any ado at all, the numbers and the breakdown:

Total number of books: 558.

Partially read or started-didn’t-finish: 19. Like previous years, a mixed bag of fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, poetry, and books I started reading with the kiddo but she whisked away to finish on her own.

Picture books: 226

  • Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe WahlCover image of Mina
  • Sometimes I Grumblesquinch by Rachel Vail
  • A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall
  • Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast by David Ezra Stein
  • Puppy Bus by Drew Brockington
  • Except Antarctica by Todd Sturgell
  • How Old Is Mr. Tortoise? by Dev Petty
  • Out On A Limb by Jordan Morris
  • Mina by Matthew Forsythe
  • Don’t Eat Bees by Dev Petty
  • Tía Fortuna’s New Home by Ruth Behar
  • Watch Out for the Lion! by Brooke HartmanCover image of Like
  • Beatrice Likes the Dark by April Genevieve Tucholke
  • El Chupacapras by Adam Rubin
  • That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed
  • Gibberish by Young Vo
  • John’s Turn by Mac Barnett
  • Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
  • Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett
  • Books Aren’t for Eating by Carlie Sorosiak
  • Shoshi’s Shabbat by Caryn Yacowitz
  • Knitting for Dogs by Laurel Molk
  • Like by Annie Barrows

Early readers: 15

  • Cornbread & Poppy by Matthew CordellCover of Cornbread & Poppy
  • Ollie & Bea by Renee Treml
  • See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle
  • It’s A Sign by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey

Chapter books: 11

  • Crimson Twill: Witch in the City by Kallie George
  • Wednesday Wilson Fixes All Your Problems by Bree Galbraith
  • Twig & Turtle 6: No Hard Feelings by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Middle grade: 116

See the first half of the year’s titles in the 2022 mid-year round-up; I still stand by all of them! Between the MCBA award titles and Heavy Medal, there have been plenty of excellent middle grade titles to read this year. Here are a few of my favorites that I read between July and December:

  • Monster Club by Darren AronofskyCover image of A Rover's Story
  • The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Focused by Alyson Gerber
  • Tumble by Celia Pérez
  • The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
  • Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
  • A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  • Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King
  • Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
  • Violet and Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins

YA: 38

  • When the World Was Ours by Liz Kesslerimustbetrayyou
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  • I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Family of Liars by E. Lockhart
  • The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
  • A Year to the Day by Robin Benway
  • Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
  • The Peach Rebellion by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • I Miss You, I Hate This by Sara Saedi
  • Seasparrow by Kristin Cashore
  • Whiteout by various authors

Graphic novels (overlap with other categories): 52

  • Garlic and the Vampire and Garlic and the Witch by Bree Paulsen
  • Witches of Brooklyn: S’more Magic by Sophie EscabasseCover image of Catherine's War
  • Bunnicula by James Howe
  • The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat
  • Lightfall (books 1 and 2) by Tim Probert
  • Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
  • Marshmallow and Jordan by Alina Chau
  • Catherine’s War by Julia Billet
  • Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
  • Ducks by Kate Beaton

Adult fiction: 41Cover image of Our Missing Hearts

Picking up where I left off in June 2022

  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Rivka Galchen
  • Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
  • Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese
  • Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks
  • Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Adult nonfiction: 30

  • How Old Am I? by Julie Pugeat
  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
  • Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals by Roanne Van Voorst
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Go Back to Where You Came From by Ali Wajahat
  • Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid
  • Use Scraps, Sew Blocks, Make 100 Quilts by Stuart Hillard
  • Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson
  • Deaf Utopia by Kyle DiMarco
  • What Can A Body Do by Sarah Hendren
  • Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackall

Children’s nonfiction: 36

  • Africa, Amazing Africa by AtinukeCover image of Pizza
  • Dragon Bones by Sarah Glenn Marsh
  • Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull
  • Orangutans Are Ticklish by Jill Davis
  • Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimentel
  • Flowers Are Pretty…Weird by Rosemary Mosco
  • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Martin Briggs
  • Pizza! A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli
  • How to Build A Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela Turner

Short stories/essays: 20

  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchettofficeofhistoricalcorrections
  • I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein
  • Mother Noise by Cindy House
  • She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson
  • The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
  • We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories by Claire Beams
  • The Office of Historical Corrections and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
  • Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith and others

Audiobooks: 17 (but actually many more if re-reads count)

  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhillogressorphans
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin
  • Star Crossed by Barbara Dee
  • Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville
  • Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy
  • Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
  • A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks
  • Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Five-star ratings: 34. A pair of nonfiction books about food (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Once Upon A Time We Ate Animals), some excellent adult fiction (Our Missing Hearts, Sea of Tranquility, True Biz, The Marriage Portrait, and Hester), and plenty of middle grade fiction and picture books, mentioned above. (But you know, I think I have to mention that fantastic page turn in Mina yet again. “Oh, I see the problem…”)

Re-reads: Unknown number, mostly picture books and chapter books or middle grade audiobooks, like the Hamster Princess series by Ursula Vernon and the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker. And we listened to The Ogress and the Orphans on a road trip after I’d read it in print (it’s great both ways).

WeNeedDiverseBooks: 155, or 27.7% of the total, which is higher than last year (good!) but I plan to do even better next year.

LibraryThing Charts and Graphs: It looks like there’s an option to filter by year, but it isn’t working right now. Let’s assume that, as in past years, I’ve read more female and nonbinary authors/illustrators than male, and more American, Canadian, U.K., and Australian creators than those from elsewhere.

And that’s a wrap for 2022! Hat tip to Betsy Bird’s “31 Days, 31 Lists” for highlighting kidlit titles I might have missed otherwise.

 

Mother/Daughter Book Club: Second Year

Nearly everything is back to being in-person again, but the Mother/Daughter Book Club we started during the height of the pandemic is still going strong. It’s a great way for the “baby friends” – these first graders have known each other since they were infants – to stay in touch since we’re geographically scattered now. Now that the kiddos are older, I run book club less like a library storytime program: instead, we chat a bit till everyone arrives, I read a book or three, and then back off a bit for the girls to have their own time drawing, talking, and playing. (And I’ve heard some absolutely wild imaginative stories! Look for some truly inventive graphic novels to hit the shelves in twenty years or so.)

Without further ado, the books we read together in 2022:

Mother/Daughter Book Club 2022 slide of cover images
Jabari Jumps, Hornswoggled, The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom, The Polio Pioneer, Life, Marta Big & Small, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the Snow, Aaron Slater Illustrator, Bathe the Cat
Cover images of books
Endlessly Ever After, Molly on the Moon, When Aidan Became A Brother, Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome, Every Dog in the Neighborhood, Mina, Flowers Are Pretty Weird, A Spoonful of Frogs
Cover images of books
Summer Camp Critter Jitters, Flowers Are Pretty Weird, Not A Bean, How to Eat A Book, Books Aren’t for Eating, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Nothing Rhymes with Orange

Last year we read 13 books in 11 months, and this year we read 24 books in 11 months (Flowers Are Pretty…Weird is on two different slides by accident, we only read it once. Though I think we also read Butterflies Are Pretty…Gross by the same author/illustrator pair). As the girls have gotten more used to and comfortable with the Zoom experience, their attention span is a bit longer, so we usually read two or three books at each meeting.

Looking at the collection above, we definitely tilted toward humor this year, as well as science topics, fairytale/folktales, and books with SEL (social-emotional learning) themes. What patterns will emerge next year? We’ll see! With Betsy Bird cranking out her annual “31 Days, 31 Lists” of children’s books, we’ll have plenty of material to choose from.

Quotes from books, IX

A hundred years ago, I used to participate in Top Ten Tuesdays, and then I started doing the occasional batch of Top Ten quotes from books I’d read. The last one of these was December 2017. For every book I read, I write a review in LibraryThing, and often include quotes. Since 2017 was five (5) years ago, there’s a bit of a backlog…but here’s a new batch of ten, from books read July 27-August 27:

  1. “You’re never going to make everyone happy….It’s more important to stand up for what you believe in.” (The Secret Battle of Evan Pao, Wendy Wan-Long Shang)
  2. “Think about what you want. Don’t just react.”(The Peach Rebellion, Wendelin Van Draanen)
  3. “I think sometimes comedians are able to tell the truth about things other people won’t talk about.” (The New One, Mike Birbiglia)
  4. …if you’re fluent in a language, there’s a place you belong.” (My Broken Language, Quiara Alegría Hudes)
  5. “The richness of our lives depends on what we are willing to notice and what we are willing to believe.” (Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire, Polly Horvath)
  6. “The problem is that these squirrels are definitely cats.” [Paraphrased] (Mina, Matthew Forsythe)
  7. “The past pulled us and the future pushed us.” (Sigh, Gone, Phuc Tran)
  8. The things we do to avoid difficult things are often worse than the difficult thing.” (Just Last Night, Mhairi McFarlane)
  9. “Did I have it in me to confront the past without getting stuck in it?” (Cult Classic, Sloane Crosley)
  10. Maybe that is what drives us to make art out of the worst things that happen to us. Maybe for some of us, that is how we survive.” (Mother Noise, Cindy House)

Update: Back to School

Bulletin board with WELCOME BACK message and paper hearts and rainbow border

As the veteran educators say, August is the Sunday of months – and now it’s back to school! (For this analogy to work perfectly, September would be Monday and school would not start until September, but here we are, starting school in August.)

This year I’ll be the Library Media Specialist at an elementary school for preschool through sixth grade. I’m looking forward to getting to know the people and the space, and developing the library program, from the curriculum to the collection. (Hat tip to the excellent library staff on the MSLA listserv, who have been so generous in answering my questions lately.)

Here’s one of my first displays, featuring books that have themes of kindness and friendship:

Display of books on Kindness and Friendship

Mid-year Reading Round-Up

In an effort to make my year-end reading wrap-up not quite so much of an effort, here’s a half-year check in: some of the picture books, middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction and nonfiction books I’ve liked best so far this year.

Picture Booksmagiccandies

  • The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming, illus. Nicola Slater: The hilarious dialogue between the bird and the squirrel makes this one of the most fun fall read-alouds ever!
  • Acorn Was A Little Wild by Jen Arena: Would pair well with the above in a fall storytime. Just because you put down roots doesn’t mean you need to settle down!
  • El Cucuy Is Scared Too by Donna Barba Higuera, illus. Juliana Perdomo: Even the monster has worries about living in a new place.
  • Magic Candies by Heena Baek: Magic candies enable a boy to hear voices – of the couch, his father, his dead grandma, and the dog.
  • Sweet Justice (and many other nonfiction and nonfiction-ish books) by Mara Rockliff: Rockliff takes fascinating, less-well-known subjects and makes them interesting and accessible.
  • Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl: The richly illustrated story of the title character during all four seasons.
  • The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illus. Gracey Zhang: In Japan, a girl and her mother visit the bath house with all their female relatives.
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illus. Dan Santat: This choose-your-own-adventure style fairy tale(s) is endlessly entertaining; it was a hit in Mother/Daughter book club.
  • Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illus. David Roberts: A bath-averse cat scrambles the family to-do list, made in fridge magnet alphabet letters, creating ridiculous chores. howoldami
  • How Old Am I? 1-100 Faces From Around the World by Julie Pugeat: Black-and-white photo portraits of people at every age from 1-100 are accompanied by a few piece of information and a short biographical statement or quote from each person.
  • Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull: Sculptures made from ocean plastic are paired with small actions readers can take to reduce plastic waste.
  • I Love You Like Yellow by Andrea Beaty, illus. Vashti Harrison: This picture book poem has the cadence and message that make it a perfect bedtime book, night after night for years.
  • Don’t Eat Bees by Dev Petty, illus. Mike Boldt: Wise advice from a learned dog – just as funny as Petty & Boldt’s Frog books.

Middle GradeCover image of Different Kinds of Fruit

  • Beyond the Bright Sea and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk: Wolk has a tremendous gift for setting, character, plot, and theme – all the elements that make up a powerful story.
  • Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky: Sixth-grader Grayson tries out for the role of Persephone in the school play, and finds a supportive community in the theater.
  • A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus: Three orphans are sent out of London during the Blitz and encouraged to find a permanent family to adopt them.
  • Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki: An unusual (for Americans) perspective on the generational effects of the atomic bombing of Japanese cities during WWII
  • How to Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani: Set in 1967 after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, this book examines interracial and interfaith marriage and learning disabilities.
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
  • Garlic & the Vampire by Bree Paulsen: This charming graphic novel is a unique and appealing take on friendship and courage, with a sprinkling of humor.
  • Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac: A novel in verse, set on a reservation during the pandemic.
  • Better With Butter by Victoria Piontek: What better way to manage anxiety than with a therapy goat?
  • Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh: Korean-American Junie learns her grandparents’ stories from the Korean War while interviewing them for a school assignment, and they give her the courage to stand up to racism in the present.
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera: Award-winning futuristic sci-fi that is also a firm declaration of the importance of stories.
  • A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks: Joy is crushed when her family must sell their house and move into an apartment – and they no longer have money for her to take piano lessons, so she starts a dog-walking business with her new friend Nora.
  • Marshmallow & Jordan by Alina Chau: Set in Indonesia, this graphic novel tells the story of former basketball star Jordan, who tries a new sport – water polo – and makes friends with a baby elephant who appears mysteriously.
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat: A marvelous adventure with a determined protagonist.
  • New From Here by Kelly Yang: The story of a family that moves from Hong Kong to California during the pandemic and faces anti-Asian racism.
  • Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin: In Soviet Russia, young Sasha’s eyes are opened to reality when his father is taken away.
  • Linked by Gordon Korman: Anti-Semitic graffiti rocks a school community, but the narrator withholds certain truths for a surprising twist.
  • Where the Sky Lives by Margaret Dilloway: When developers threaten pristine land, an archaeologist’s daughter fights to save it.
  • Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly: A new kid upsets the balance in a small town.
  • Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender: A girl whose mother has disappeared is desperate to learn the reason for her absence; at the same time, she makes a new friend and begins to fall in love.
  • Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff: When new student – nonbinary Bailey – joins Annabelle’s class and they become friends, Annabelle learns a surprising family secret.
  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill: As magical as The Girl Who Drank the Moon, with similar themes about power and kindness.
  • The Witch Boy trilogy by Molly Knox Ostertag: These graphic novels follow Aster, a boy who wants to be a witch instead of a shapeshifter, and his family’s eventual acceptance of his identity.
  • Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr: What happens when you decide to “live each day as if it were your last”?
  • Star Crossed by Barbara Dee: A studious girl develops a crush on the British student playing Juliet in the eighth grade play – and then gets cast opposite her as Romeo.
  • The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy: Rahul desperately wants to fit in, but he is one of the few non-white kids at his school, and – he slowly realizes – he’s gay; the more realistic choice (championed by his white friend Chelsea) is to embrace his authentic self.

 YAwhentheworldwasours

  • The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix: “The Old World can be extraordinarily dangerous, and the greatest danger is not knowing what you’re dealing with.”
  • The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds: A Nantucket summer romance and a Jewish family history rolled into one, satisfying on both counts.
  • When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler: this is middle grade edging into YA; it starts in 1936 and goes through WWII, following three best friends from Vienna whose paths diverge dramatically during the war.
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: “Forgetting is how the monsters come back.”
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman: An unlikely premise is spun into a richly imagined world where abortion is illegal but children can be “unwound” (essentially, harvested for parts) between the ages of 13-18.
  • I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys: In communist Romania in 1989, news of the crumbling Iron Curtain sparks a revolution.
  • Family of Liars by e. lockhart: Prequel to We Were Liars, and just as compelling.
  • This Place Is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian: Two sisters react differently to racist graffiti scrawled on their garage door.
  • The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes: Having come out once and lost her best friend, Yamilet uses a school transfer to start over.

Adult FictionCover image of True Biz

  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan: An Irish Christmas story about doing the right thing.
  • Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy: In a near future in which most birds are extinct, a woman fleeing her past convinces a ship’s captain to take her on board to follow what might be the last migration of arctic terns, arguing that the birds will lead him to fish.
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin: Fast-paced and overflowing with voice and strong characters, TCWB imagines an avatar for each borough, who must come together to face a slippery enemy.
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: Alex has always been able to see ghosts, and this ability gets her recruited to Yale’s Ninth House, which oversees Yale’s other secret societies, but then Alex’s mentor goes missing.
  • Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor: A deeply satisfying feminist retelling of Gatsby from the women’s points of view (Daisy, Myrtle’s sister Catherine, and Jordan).
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: A speculative novel in which characters travel in time and space, face a pandemic and an anomaly; loosely linked to The Glass Hotel.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Space opera at its best, with high stakes and a fantastic ensemble cast.
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: An ensemble cast populates this world where one’s unconscious can be uploaded and viewed by others.
  • True Biz by Sara Novic: Multiple narrators tell this compelling story, set at a school for the Deaf; mini ASL lessons are included between chapters.
  • This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: In this time travel story set in New York, Alice travels back and forth between her 40th and 16th birthdays, trying to figure out if it’s possible to save her father.
  • When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill: Like in The Power by Naomi Alderman, women become more powerful than men: they become dragons. For a long time, the world chooses to deny this, despite the evidence, until a mass dragoning event in the 1950s.

Adult Nonfictionanimalvegetablemiracle

  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: Essays by Ann Patchett are reliably top-notch.
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell: “The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.”
  • Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals: The Future of Food by Roanne Van Voorst and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Van Voorst makes a powerful, respectful case for veganism, while Kingsolver focuses on eating local. Both books made me think more deeply about the environmental and sustainable aspects of food.
  • Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid: The Canadian-Icelandic wife of Iceland’s prime minister examines the ways in which Icelandic society has achieved gender equality, and the ways in which is still falls short.
  • Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson: White male American hubris lead to an avoidable disaster in 1900, when Galveston, TX, was slammed by a hurricane that Cuban weather forecasters knew was coming.

Picture book read-alouds to make you laugh

What makes a picture book funny? A sense of humor is unique and personal – what makes one person laugh out loud might elicit only a small smile from another, and vice versa – but there are a few themes. Slapstick, physical comedy is one; “potty” humor is another (the farting pony in The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton, Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea). Cleverness is appreciated, especially the kind that winks at the reader and lets them in on the joke; kids like the feeling of knowing more than the main character does (hide-and-seek books use this tactic). Interactive, fourth-wall-breaking humor often works equally well in storytimes and one-on-one reading, as kids are ready and willing to engage. Some readers delight in the absurd (the increasingly strange to-do list in Bathe the Cat, the pile of unlikely “solutions” in On Account of the Gum). A twist or surprise ending can be very effective as well, such as in A Hungry Lion or Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, especially if it follows a sweet emotional moment of resolution.

Recently I ran into a friend who is a youth services librarian at a public library. She said that they’d just put up a display of funny picture books, but realized they were not a diverse bunch. She thought I might have some ideas, and…I do!

onaccountofthegumTo be quite upfront, the first picture book that jumped into my head in the “funny” category was Adam Rex’s On Account of the Gum, which I maintain is one of the all-time funniest books to read aloud, and which absolutely does not get old, no matter how many times you read it. Though adults tend to think of picture books as being for little kids, this one appeals just as much or more to older kids, and even teens and adults; they can use the rhyme scheme to anticipate what’s coming next, and they have more context (e.g. they know what Picture Day is). But littles enjoy the over-the-top illustrations and the pattern and flow of the story…it’s just, hands-down, a brilliant read-aloud. Rex also wrote Pluto Gets the Call, illustrated by Laurie Keller (just think about the title for a minute) and School’s First Day of School, illustrated by Christian Robinson. (This book, narrated by a brand-new school building, contains the phrase “nose milk.”) Rex is a funny guy, but let’s move along…

Cover image of I Don't Want to Be A FrogI Don’t Want to Be A Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, is told entirely in dialogue between a young frog (who, you guessed it, would rather be a rabbit or an owl or a pig or anything but a frog), their dad, and…I won’t give it away, but this book really lends itself to the read-aloud experience, and it has delightful companions (I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep, I Don’t Want to Be Big, and There’s Nothing to Do). Dev Petty also wrote Claymates, which has some of the most unique illustrations (by Lauren Eldridge) I’ve ever seen, and plenty of humor.

wolfiethebunnyIf you can hear the title Wolfie the Bunny and NOT want to read that book immediately, then we probably don’t have much in common. Ame Dyckman’s words paired with Zachariah Ohora’s illustrations absolutely live up to the promise of the title. In a neighborhood based on Park Slope, Brooklyn, a family of rabbits finds a wolf pup on their doorstep, but only little Dot is freaked out by the new addition to the family (“He’s going to eat us all up!”).

Tyrannosaurus WrecksZachariah Ohora also illustrated Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. (Every list of picture books has to have a dinosaur book, right? Pretty sure that’s a rule.) This is a sure-bet hit for the toddler and preschool set, and there’s a sweet social-emotional learning (SEL) component in addition to the slapstick humor. (While we’re talking about Zachariah Ohora, he also illustrated Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, another very funny book, despite its serious-sounding title.)

herecomesvalentinecatDeborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda’s “Here Comes…Cat” books (Tooth Fairy Cat, Valentine Cat, etc.) star a cat that only communicates through signs (sometimes with words, often with images), facial expressions, and body language. The narrator is in dialogue with the curmudgeonly cat, and these books definitely tickle my funny bone; Valentine Cat makes an appearance at our house every February.

sparkyJenny Offill has produced such delightful gems as Sparky! (a book about a girl and her pet sloth; just look at the juxtaposition between the name – with an exclamation point! – and the sloth on the cover), While You Were Napping, 11 Science Experiments That Failed, and 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. The titles are descriptive enough, I think, and any grown-up who has read Offill’s books for adults is in for something completely different with these.

Cover image of A Hungry LionA Hungry Lion, Or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins: The sheer genius of this title, oh my goodness. And the vocabulary. And the smile on the little turtle’s face. And the moment the lights go out. And the double twist ending. And, and, and….If you liked the slightly macabre humor of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back but you haven’t read this, go ahead and remedy that now.

grumpypantsGrumpy Pants by Claire Messer: “I’m grumpy,” declares a little penguin, and it tries a number of solutions to improve its condition, finally stripping off its clothes piece by piece and diving into a nice cold bath. Children (and adults, too!) might find that a bath, clean clothes, and a cup of cocoa are just the thing to soothe a grumpy mood.

stillstuckStill Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake: You’re getting undressed and your shirt gets stuck over your head – it’s happened to everyone, right? It happens to this kid, who definitely does not want assistance from Mom, and decides to accept their new state. In their imagination, they spin out what life will be like with a shirt over their head. Despite the kid’s adaptability (or resignation), Mom does swoop in to move the bedtime process along, but there’s another snag when it’s time to put on pajamas.

mightbelobstersThere Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk: Poor little Sukie is afraid of everything at the beach, but when beloved toy Chunka Munka is swept out to see, Sukie must find her courage. This is an excellent read-aloud for summer storytimes for all ages – get kids to repeat the titular refrain together –  and if you happen to have props with you for this read-aloud (a stuffed lobster, say, or a beach ball) all the better.

Cover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom BoomThe Oboe Goes BOOM BOOM BOOM by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Lian Cho: A band director introduces instruments one by one, but little Felicity just can’t wait to bang on the drums and keeps interrupting – until she’s blown away by the sound of the tuba. There’s actually quite a lot of information in here about different instruments, and the way that Cho translates sound into a visual medium is outstanding.

notapenguinI Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong: A poor pangolin wants to give a presentation, keeping its cool while confused audience members interrupt, until a penguin arrives to steal the show. One little girl remains for the pangolin’s informative presentation. (See also: The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young, which taught me permanently that penguins live “at the bottom of the world” (i.e. Antarctica) while puffins live “at the top of the world.”)

kingbabyKing Baby by Kate Beaton might be funnier for adults than for kids, but kids enjoy it too; it’s one of my go-to recommendations for families who are about to add a sibling. And let’s not forget Beaton’s other picture book, the crowd-pleasing The Princess and the Pony (pony farts feature prominently).

bathethecatBathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts: A cat who definitely does not want a bath scrambles up a family’s to-do list as they rush to tidy before grandma arrives. Clever use of fridge magnet alphabet letters, plenty of pride, and increasingly ridiculous tasks all add to the joyful hilarity.

wedonteatourclassmatesWe Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins: Pink, overalls-wearing Penelope is nervous about the first day of school, and indeed, it doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped…she discovers that it’s hard to make friends when everyone is afraid you’ll eat them. Penelope learns to exercise self-control with the help of Mrs. Noodleman and a fearless goldfish named Walter.

Finally, every kid I know would insist that The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak be included on any list of funny picture books, and they’re right. BLURP.

What are your favorite funny picture books?

How middle grade has changed (in) a generation

Working in a middle school library for the past year, I have been more conscious than ever about what books I am putting into kids’ hands – and, if the match is right, into their heads and hearts. They might read a chapter and put it down, or they might slog through and forget it after they’ve finished a required project…or, they might remember it forever. With that in mind, I (a) always encourage kids to return a book they’re not enthusiastic about and try something else instead, and (b) am extra mindful of representation. When reflect on the books that stayed with me (list below), nearly all of them feature white, American kids, and the few books that centered Jewish characters were all historical fiction set during WWII and the Holocaust (except for Margaret. Thank you, Judy Blume).

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (1970)
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977)
  • The Devil in Vienna by Doris Orgel (1978)
  • The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop (1985)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988)
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)
  • A Horse Called Wonder (Thoroughbred series #1) by Joanna Campbell (1991)
  • The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)
  • The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (1996)

It’s a disservice to kids – to any readers – when only “mirrors” books or only “windows” books are available to them. Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in literature (and art, music, movies, TV, magazines, etc.). The presence of a character similar to you says You exist. You matter. But only reading about characters like yourself is limiting; reading about those who are different in some way provides a window into another way of experiencing the world: They exist. They matter.

I have read so many middle grade books in the past few years that I couldn’t have imagined existing a generation ago. There are books with trans and non-binary characters, like Kyle Lukoff’s Different Kinds of Fruit and Too Bright to See and Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson and Alex Gino’s Melissa. There are books with Muslim protagonists by S.K. Ali and Saadia Faruqi, Hena Khan and Veera Hiranandani, and books with Latinx characters like Meg Medina’s Merci Suárez, Celia Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk, and Pablo Cartaya’s Marcos Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. There are books that address contemporary racism and microaggressions and police violence, like Blended by Sharon Draper. There are books by and about Indigenous people, like Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac and Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith and others. There are books that explore the histories and modern experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, like Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh, Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai – the last two of which are in verse, a form I never encountered as a young reader but which is becoming more and more popular now (and with good reason). There are books about fat-shaming and fatphobia and body positivity, books that show what good therapy looks like, characters who experience mental illness or poverty, frank discussion of periods and endometriosis, and activism.

There is nothing inherently bad about the books I read and loved as a kid; I still re-read and love them, and am starting to share them with my daughter (and discuss parts that are sexist, racist, or otherwise problematic). But as a collection, they don’t show the dazzling breadth and depth of human experience that children’s literature illuminates now, from picture books through middle grade to young adult. I am so grateful to the authors and illustrators who create these works, let readers step into their characters’ shoes, learn about their lives, and grow in empathy, and I feel lucky to be able to put these books into kids’ hands.

 

 

MSLA 2022: Book Challenge Panel

Bonnie McBride, Anja Kennedy, Collen Simpson, Lizz Simpson, and Luke Steere are all librarians who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, some form of book challenge in their school libraries, whether it’s a formal challenge or “soft censorship.” Although national news has focused on widespread challenges in states like Texas and Florida, Bonnie said, “Book challenges have always been a part of librarianship….They are happening here.”

A few themes and solid pieces of advice were repeated throughout the panel:

  • Be prepared. Have a collection development policy that includes selection guidelines and a procedure for the request for reconsideration of materials. This policy should be approved by the School Board and the administration should be aware of it. “Your first line of defense is a strong policy that people can’t argue with” – not even the superintendent.
  • A challenge or ban in one part of the country affects us all: Fears of challenges may cause librarians to self-censor (avoiding purchasing or promoting certain texts), and may cause teachers to make changes to the texts they use in their curriculum.
  • Some good things can come from challenges: while one panelist said “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she acknowledged that some good things came out of it: there was a good examination of policy (which was strong), thoughtfulness about what we present in our curriculum, teachers chose more current books (in collaboration with librarian), more voice and choice in lit circles, students came to school committee meetings, increased transparency, and school committee has educated itself on public forum measures and the law.
  • “Promoting and defending our books should be a given.” A majority of the books being challenged have LGBTQIA+ content, and “there are LGBTQIA+ kids and families in every community, whether you know it or not.” Luke said, “I like using the word ‘challenge’ because it’s something to rise to” and not something to work against. Libraries are for everyone.
  • Be proactive. When a new administrator is hired, go and talk to them. They might not know the history of the district, if there have been challenges in the past and how they were handled. Ask them, “Where do you stand on this? What do we do when this happens?”
  • Keep the focus on the book. If it’s a student bringing the challenge, offer to sit with them and help them fill out the form. This can be a learning experience, and it keeps the focus on the book, not the complainant or the librarian.

Resources:

  • Library Book Challenge Resources Wakelet, curated by Bonnie McBride
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) online manuals
  • Massachusetts Library System (MLS) Policy Collection
  • ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) Challenge Support
  • the MSLA listserv
  • Library Link of the Day: there has been an significant uptick in links that have to do with censorship, book challenges, and bans in school and public libraries over the past several months.