Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Cybils is a literary award given to children's and young Adult books by bloggers.  I am excited to be a judge for the fiction picture book award this year!  Here are the different categories in which awards are given:

Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
Young Adult Fiction

You can go to the Cybils website from October 1st through the 15th and nominate one book in each category.  There are then two rounds of judging.  The first round takes all of the nominations - reads them - and narrows them down to a short list.  A lot of work!  The second round (that is me) takes the short list - reads and discusses them - and picks the winner.  I am so excited to be a part of this process.  I love picture books.  

On the Cybils website they are listing this week the judges and their blogs - a great resource for new blogs!  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adele and Simon

A friend recently gave me a copy of Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock.  This book is set in Paris and the illustrations are charming.  It tells the story of Adele and her little brother Simon meandering through the city on their way home.  At the start of the story Simon has: his hat, gloves, scarf and sweater, his coat, knapsack, books and crayons, and a drawing of a cat.  Adele tells him, "Simon, please try not to lose anything today."  But over the course of the story Simon loses everything - one page at a time.

The text is very simple and the illustrations are very detailed.  They are done in a vintage style with the end pages containing maps from a 1907 Baedeker map.  The illustrations are each of a specific place in Paris and at the end of the book it describes the location and tells more about it.  Also on the map are numbers that correlate with the locations that Adele and Simon visit so you can see where their route takes them on the map.

I think this book is a great exercise in learning to "read" the illustrations.  It is not like a typical seek-and-find with millions of items on a page with the reader's assignment being to track down the few items amidst the chaos.  Those books are fun in their own right - but this is a book with beautiful and detailed illustrations - that stand alone.  However on each page, when Simon loses an item the reader can find it hidden in the illustration.

This book is wonderfully detailed and my kids and I loved looking through the pictures and searching for Simon's (which we pronounce See - moan - it sounds so much more French than Sigh -mon) lost items.  Also if you have a free moment you should check out Barbara McClintock's website - it is very vintage and fun.  I especially loved reading about how she became an illustrator - she looked up Maurice Sendak's phone number in the phone book and called him for advice!  

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Book Festival - Recap

On Saturday, we went to the National Book Festival, and it was fantastic.  Fall on the mall is great in and of itself - and was even more fun this time because it was filled with people, tents, books and authors.  There is something wonderful about a festival dedicated entirely to books.  Here are some of the highlights:

My 6-year-old daughter and I listened to Tomie DePaula.  We found one open seat on the back row with people crowded around us standing.  My daughter had to stand on the chair to see but she was thrilled.  Tomie's presentation summed up was fun and familiar.  He has a great sense of humor, and it felt like we were listening to a long lost friend.  He spent a good amount of time teaching the audience how to blow three kisses (like Strega Nona did to her pasta pot) like a real italian: hold your first three fingers together, press them up to your heavily puckered lips, say mmmmmm really loud and long - then blow.  At the end he took questions, and my daughter bee-lined to the microphone and asked him the following question:  "I want to be an artist when I grow up - how did you learn to make good art?"  His answer was great.  Kind of.  He said that he went to art school and drew a lot.  He got paper and crayons for Christmas and he drew everywhere - on his sheets, on the walls, under the wallpaper.  Practice, practice, practice, he said.  And never copy anyone.  Great advice - let's just hope I am not bleaching sheets and scrubbing walls . . .

Brian Selznick was engaging and fascinating.  I can not wait to read his new book Wonderstruck.  The amount of research he put into it is simply amazing.  He explained the process of creating two completely separate stories - one with words only, the other with pictures only, and then making the two intersect at the end.  He said that Wonderstruck begins with illustrations, which tell the story of a character named Rose.  Then there is text, which tells the story of a second character named Ben.  And at some point the two stories come together.  As he spoke about the process, I could not help but be completely taken in.  I also found particularly impressive his acknowledgment of the sign language interpreters.  At the start of his presentation he took the time to thank her and introduce her by name.   If you have the chance to listen to Brian Selznick, I highly recommend it.

Our final author was Jane O'Connor.  She was at the family story telling stage so she did not have a presentation about her work but rather read her latest story to the crowd.  She did tell about her inspiration for her books - herself as a child.  And she was fancy.  She came adorned with lots of bracelets, a pink boa and a tiara.  She was very fun and my son and daughter both enjoyed listening to her read - although my daughter may have appreciated her "fanciness" a little more . . .

All in all it was a huge success, and my kids and I are already looking forward to next year.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Press Here

Originally published in France,  Herve Tullet’s Press Here is a very fun and interactive picture book.  The illustrations are simply dots – red, yellow and blue - and the text is basically instructions.  The story begins with one yellow dot – but push that dot and you have two yellow dots, press it again and you have three.  Then the fun really begins.  The reader is instructed to push and rub dots, shake and tilt the book and clap – all of which have an effect on the dots.  Whether the dynamic dots multiple, increase in size, or shake almost all the way off the page – kids will be thrilled. 

I brought Press Here in for a two-year-old friend to look at while we waited during a gymnastics class, and she was giddy about this book.  My four-year-old son also loved it.  I haven’t tried it out yet on my six-year-old yet but I think she will enjoy it as well.  And at the very least, I think she will love to play up the “magic” of the book when reading it to her brother and sister. 

This is a great book for a variety of ages but is especially magical for a younger audience.  I think it's going to be one of my new go-to gifts for two-year-olds.   

Monday, September 19, 2011


Argus is a new picture book written by Michelle Knudsen (The Library Lion) and illustrated by Andrea Wesson.  Sally begins a science project in Mrs. Henshaw's class, and when she is handed her egg, it is different from the others.  Not surprisingly, when the eggs crack, Sally's "chick" is - well - different. Everyone in the class has small, yellow,  fluffy chicks and Sally's is large, green and scaly.  When Sally points out that her "chick" - Argus - is different, Mrs. Henshaw tells her, "don't be difficult."  

The text tells the story of Sally dealing with being different from everyone in a very simple, straightforward and quietly humorous way.  The text leaves room for the illustrations to tell their own story.  And while the text largely tells the story of Sally, the illustrations speak mostly of Argus.  The watercolor drawings fill the classroom with details of daily school life and bring Argus's personality to the forefront.  

This is a sweet and funny story of being different.  Children will love Argus - the green, scaly "chick."

Friday, September 16, 2011

National Book Festival

I am very excited.  Next weekend on the 24th and 25th of September is the National Book Festival on the mall in downtown DC.  We took our kids last year and had so much fun.  The Let's Read Pavilion Tent is dedicated entirely to children and reading related activities - my kids loved this tent.  And while my husband and children enjoyed an activity in there I got to stand on the outside of a very crowded tent and listen to Suzanne Collins - author of The Hunger Games.  Everyone was happy.  

I am starting to do my research on which authors are coming and what times they are presenting.  With kids, we definitely can only hit a few highlights.  Brian Selznick and Kadir Nelson will both be there and have both just recently published a new book.  I would LOVE to take my kids to see Tomie dePaolo - Strega Nona and Bill and Pete are definite favorites at our house.  And Jane O'Connor will be at the Family Storytelling Stage - my daughter, who is a lover of all things fancy, would love to listen to her. And those are just a few of the many great children's authors.  Not to mention all of the other genres represented.  Ahh, book festivals.  I love them.  

How about you?  Have you ever been to your local book festival?  If not, I highly recommend looking one up and attending.  I love it as an adult but I also think it is a great way to encourage reading with children.  What is more fun than meeting an author of a story you love?   

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

King Jack and the Dragon

The book my son ultimately chose for his birthday was King Jack and the Dragon - written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. This is a fantastic book.  It tells the story of three boys -"King" Jack, Zack and Caspar - who build a castle to prepare for battle against an army the dragons.  It has a light rhyme and celebrates the best of childhood - imagination.  With nothing more than a cardboard box, sheets, sticks, a trash bag and some old broken bricks, the boys create another world of fun in their backyard.
The story is simple and well written.  The light rhyme gives it a great rhythm, but it is not overly rhymed. And Helen Oxenbury's illustrations are - of course - brilliant.  She alters between black and white pencil drawings and watercolor paintings.  The illustrations are very reminiscent of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are in that when the boys move into full dragon fighting mode, the pictures are in full color and fill the two-page spread.  Whereas before and after they move completely into their imaginations, the drawings move between the black and white drawings and color paintings and never fill the page.
This book is a celebration of the simple joys of childhood.  And while it seems to paint scenes from a bygone era of childhood, it serves also as a how-to book for children - step-by-step instructions on how to build a fort and enjoy a technology free, imagination filled day of fun.
This is one of my favorite books I have seen this year and my son - who has for some time referred to himself as "Dragon Man" - loves it as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Side of the Car

Last week on my son's fourth birthday we went to our favorite bookstore to pick out a book. We looked through and read a lot of books in search for one we were really excited about. One that we narrowed it down to, but he did not end up choosing, is My Side of the Car by father and daughter duo Jules and Kate Feiffer.  

I loved this book.  It is the story about a father and daughter who have been attempting a trip to the zoo for a very long time but things like grandparents and broken ankles keep getting in the way.  Finally one morning they get in the car and are going to the zoo - no matter what.  A few minutes into the drive the father tells the daughter that it is raining outside of the car but she quickly informs him that it is not raining on her side of the car.  So they keep driving. 

 What ensues is a fun story of a loving father and a persistent child who does not want rain to ruin her trip to the zoo.  This book is well illustrated in a colorful and free flowing style and is well written, clever and fun to read.  

My four year old and I both thoroughly enjoyed this new picture book.