It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

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I am glad to be a part of CYBILS once again – this is my fourth year as part of the Second Round Judging Panel for the Fiction Picturebook Category. My involvement with CYBILS is also one of the reasons why we always make sure that January-February for the past four years is devoted to featuring CYBILS titles. Here are the six finalists and the winner this 2015 which was just announced on Valentine’s Day. Hooray to picturebooks!


Written and Illustrated by: John Rocco
Published byDisney Hyperion Books, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I love reading the backstory of any book that I read – and this one has an equally amazing Author-Illustrator’s Note that shared how Rocco experienced the blizzard of 1978 in Rhode Island where he grew up.


I like how the entire story was gradually built up from the very first page until one reaches the jacketflap that contains a cute photograph of John Rocco as a child in 1971. I also love the endpapers – so much snow-love here, my tropical heart aches with joy.


Told from the perspective of John Rocco as a young boy, it shows how excited he and the other kids were about being let out early for school, and staying at home all week to wait out the snow. It reminded me a little bit of Komako Sakai’s The Snow Day with that sense of isolation and the overwhelming white that seems to cover everything in sight.


Technically, the entire experience should have been an exciting one – with countless nights of hot cocoa and snuggling up in bed with a good read in the cold – except that the blizzard has been dragging on for nearly a week by that time, the family supplies are dwindling, and the snowplows are nowhere in sight. The young Rocco, a quintessential explorer and adventurer, took matters in his own hands and he came up with a plan based on his extensive reading of the Arctic Survival Guide.


I so enjoyed these folded pages here – detailing the young Rocco’s map and how he managed to help not just his family, but his neighbors as well, and how he obtained the much-needed supplies from the store. There is childlike joy here, but there is also resolve, a sense of determination, and yes, exhaustion too, in the end, that is sigh-inducing with glittery snowflakes caught in one’s eyes. A hands-down beautiful read. Perfect as well for those who are still wrapped in snow this February with the spring still but a wee whisper in the wind.

In A Village By The SeaIMG_2462

Written by: Muon Van Illustrated by: April Chu
Published by: Creston Books, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about this picturebook through Betsy Bird’s very detailed Goodreads Review. And I knew I just have to find this. Do not be fooled by the seemingly placid book cover as the art found in each page is simply awe-inspiring (see image below).


The Author’s Note indicates that the story “was inspired by my father and An Bang, my ancestral village in Central Vietnam.” Muon Van’s father used to be a fisherman in their hometown, a job which he took with him even after they moved to the United States during the Vietnamese American War. They lived in Galveston, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii both cities by the sea where Muon Van’s father continued working as a fisherman and a shrimper.


Each full-page spread has three lines packed with such poignant force – all the more powerful because it is so distilled, as this story-within-a-story unfurls like a message found in a parchment paper waiting to be read. The play in perspective as the text zooms in closer and closer into the heart of the narrative is mirrored by the outstanding imagery that provides almost a cinematic-zooming-in that is done with such craftsmanship by April Chu. The illustrator’s bio found at the end of the book explains her success in executing this fine piece of artwork as she began her career as an architect – so the reader is able to appreciate not just the fine lines, but also the distance and perspective, and the multiple ways of seeing.



As one gets an aerial view (see image above), one can see the dusty hole that signifies another layer to this story:


There is the brown cricket that hums and paints a boat that is lost in a storm – the same boat that has the fisherman-father in this story, as mother and child patiently wait for him and prepare a hot meal that would be ready for him when he comes home. Whether or not the father did make it home, I shall leave for you to discover.

Bug In A VacuumIMG_9022

Written and Illustrated by: Melanie Watt
Published by: Tundra Books, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Quite an ingenious way of dealing with the stages of grief – that would most likely go over the heads of young readers but would most likely be appreciated by adult readers who would then provide the needed scaffolding for the younger reader. The word play is also something worth commenting about, as I feel that it is one of the book’s strengths (see below):

I also like the colour palette and I appreciated how text and image are tightly interwoven. The layout and design are also well-considered and the typography adds another layer to the storytelling.


I did find the book way too long for a regular picturebook. I also felt that the heavy theme seems incongruously explored in a highly flippant manner (but then again, this might be the intention of the author). All in all, I felt that this was a very intriguing way of showing Kubler-Ross five stages of grief. I can see this appealing to the occasional strange/oddball reader.

IMG_9018Hoot Owl

Written by: Sean Taylor Illustrated by: Jean Jullien
Published byCandlewick Press, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This is a clever and humorous book that I see appealing to a younger audience. I like the tenacity of the owl and the potential read-aloud power of a fun book.


I like how slick and sprightly the owl is, as he comes up with multiple disguises to capture the perfect meal.The ending was cute – with a promise of a sequel and the cyclical nature of the book – I can see some kids wanting to read this again and again.

Mango, Abuela and MeIMG_9026

Written by: Meg Medina Illustrated by: Angela Dominguez
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I really like how two out of the seven finalists deal with grandparents. I also like that there is a deep feeling of satisfaction when the story ended, it’s a feel-good kind of story, and sometimes we need more of those.


However, I just get the feeling that the young girl just seems way too perfect, it strikes me as highly unlikely – no tinge of impatience, hardly any anxieties, no egocentrism/selfishness. I also felt that the  illustrations did not really serve to add anything more to the story apart from just a straightforward drawing of the text.


The portrayal of a ‘foreign’ grandmother moving into a child’s room can serve as meaningful discussion prompts in the classroom or at home – a lot of spaces to draw the reader in – regardless of whether this is something that has happened to them (or someone they know) or not.

IMG_8910Last Stop on Market Street

Written by: Matt De La Peña Illustrated by: Christian Robinson
Published by: G. P. Putnam’s Sons: An Imprint of Penguin Group, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

There are so many great things going for this picturebook that won so many awards as of recent – all very well-deserved. More than anything, I am grateful that this was included as one of the CYBILS Finalists. I liked the colours used – muted yet with a solidity to it, reminiscent of Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.


I find that the pacing is just right – neither too dragged out nor too quick that it jumps ahead of itself. The characterization is well fleshed out – this is a Nana I wish I had – even the characters in the bus had their own distinct voices. My husband and I just had a conversation the other day about how using public transport as a child in the Philippines (we took the bus, the jeepney, the tricycle – all modes of public transport, really) helped build our character. While it was hardly what you would call the safest way to travel, it did add texture and excitement to our lives.


In this story, there is clear growth that is apparent in the young boy throughout the pages that still seems credible and isn’t too magnified as a BIG DEAL – but just is, one that quietly permeates into the child’s being – deceptively simple but …true.


I believe that the book’s strength is in how despite the fact that a message can be clearly discerned with Nana sharing her insights about the world, it never appeared to me that you are being taught something you don’t know. Somehow, I sense a matter-of-fact, everyday conversation with Nana as a whining grandson wonders about why they have to do the same thing every Sunday – an activity that is not shared by any of his friends, at that.


And somehow, the growth in the end is neither magnified nor simplified, not trivialized nor made a big deal of – it just is. A snapshot of seeing the beautiful in the ugly – and the way that this is communicated never fails to move. That, I believe, is what makes the book so powerful and timeless. It successfully navigates the lyrical aspect of language yet manages to be so colloquial and contemporary all at once.

Sidewalk Flowers – CYBILS 2015 Winner!IMG_9029

Written by: JonArno Lawson Illustrated by: Sydney Smith
Published byGroundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I have to admit that I have a weakness for wordless books. The mindfulness aspect of the book is very strong – but never cloying, keenly felt – but never too in your face. There is a quiet, meandering aspect to the story – yet with a gradual build-up to it as well that is glorious.


I appreciated most of all the book’s subtlety, the seeming-infinite capacity for wonder (without being overly-enthusiastic, but simply matter-of-fact), the appreciation for beauty and the willingness to share it, such joy, really that it oozes out of the panels.


I like how unique the entire layout and book design is with its play in perspectives, the full-page spreads, and the quiet that is never deafening but thoughtful, and still retaining a quick pace with all the hidden codes embedded in the images.


The endpapers show that immersiveness in a world of beauty and wonder, especially in the end where the girl walks off into a field of flowers.


What I like best about this story is how self-possessed the girl appears throughout – a young girl with a mind of her own. And I am very very proud to be part of a panel that gives this much-deserved award to Sidewalk Flowers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 7.27.03 PM

These books count towards the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (3/24): Read a book under 100 pages.

Currently Reading…

Finally! I finished reading Aphrodite by Isabel Allende which I hope to feature for our upcoming reading theme and Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges.

This week, I hope to read I just finished reading El Deafo by Cece Bell last night.


And so, for this week, I hope to read Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.


13 comments on “[Monday Reading] CYBILS 2015 Finalists and Fiction PictureBook Winner

  1. Oh my! I want all those picture books. So gorgeous and thanks for sharing the illustrations for me to drool over.


  2. So many amazing books, I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just say that I either love or need to pick up all of those picture books. What a great reading week. What an awesome time to work in children’s literature!!


  3. I love every one of your finalists, except have not read Hoot Owl yet. They’re all wonderful, & I did love Sidewalk Flowers, & the message of “slowing down”. It’s lovely that your group awarded it, Myra. Still haven’t read Challenger Deep, and want to! I’ve heard great things about it. Have a great reading week!


  4. Congratulations on your Cybils choices! I LOVED Sidewalk Flowers also 🙂

    Happy reading this week!


  5. Sidewalk Flowers has become a beloved mentor text in our classroom, Myra, and I feel that Market Street will become one, too. Aren’t we lucky to be living in an age when so many glorious picture books are being published?!


  6. What gorgeous picture books! I missed the Blizzard of 78 in North Carolina where I grew up, but many people here in Indiana (where I now live) still talk about it.


  7. Love seeing all of these picture book titles! I must admit I love them all. Blizzard is fantastic! I feel like I step right into that text when I read it. And lovely decision on the winner! A beautiful, beautiful book! One that I had to buy as soon as I read it.


  8. Hooray for Cybils winners! I love that Cybils exposes books that I don’t always see on other awards lists. I’ve read most of the picture books, but I need to catch up on Hoot Owl and Bug in a Vacuum. Great choice for the winner!


  9. Wow! You read some beautifully illustrated books this week! I will be requesting In a Village by the Sea and Bug in a Vacuum right now!


  10. I hope you are having a good week.

    Beautiful books.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday, What Are You Reading


  11. OK, I had to skip most of the post because I’m trying to avoid seeing who won the Cybils until after I read the finalists, but I saw Stone Mattress up at the top and I really liked that one. My cover had a giant stone on it which gave a different feel to it, so I found the different cover interesting.


  12. Pingback: [Monday Reading] The Wildness of Old Age and (Lost and) Found Memories in 2016 Picturebooks – Gathering Books

  13. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Love for Eight USBBY Outstanding International Picturebook Titles (2017) – Gathering Books

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