[Monday Reading] CYBILS 2016 Finalists for Fiction Picturebooks

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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.

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This is the first time since 2012 that I am not a part of the CYBILS Fiction Picture Book Second Round Judge. It broke my heart to realize that I was not able to sign up when the call for judges was announced. But c’est la vie. It was my fault for not having been alert enough. The silver lining though is that I get to share my thoughts about the seven finalists for fiction picturebooks even before the winner is announced, normally done on Valentine’s Day. While I loved all the titles here, I will now be ranking them from my least favourite (first here on my list) to my most favourite one (saving the best for last).


onedayOne Day In The Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

Written by: Daniel Bernstrom Illustrated by: Brendan Wenzel
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016 ISBN: 006235485X (ISBN13: 9780062354853)
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Told in rhyming text, a young, delicious, playful boy was gobbled whole by this sinuous orangey snake “one day in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree.”

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And this was only at the beginning of the story! Similar to Red Riding Hood and other faery tales, though, the young boy remained alive and quick-witted enough to goad the ravenous snake (from inside its stomach at that) to eat and eat some more.

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The cumulative aspect of the tale with its joyful refrain “one day in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree” is a time-tested formula that will most likely appeal to many readers. I just wish that it worked for me.

There’s A Bear On My Chairbear

Written and Illustrated byRoss Collins
Published by: Nosy Crow, 2015 ISBN: 0857633937
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Everything about this book reminded me of my early reader books, those I-Can-Read titles that we paid tribute to early in 2015.

Once again, told in rhyming text, it tells the fun story of a bear who has taken this cute little mouse’s chair.

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As the story progresses, the young mouse becomes increasingly frustrated as this Elvis-styled Bear drank tea, coiffed his hair, read the newspaper to Mouse’s hair-pulling annoyance. What the little Mouse did to get even, I shall leave for you to discover. Again, one of the titles that I wish I loved more.

ahungrylionA Hungry Lion Or A Dwindling Assortment Of Animals

Written and Illustrated by: Lucy Ruth Cummins
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016 ISBN: 1481448897 (ISBN13: 9781481448895) Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2016)
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Reminiscent of Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hatit’s a delightful story of a very hungry lion and all his friends who, for some reason (could it be because, well, the lion is… errr… hungry?), are diminishing, dwindling, disappearing from the face of the earth.

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I did not foresee that twist, though, in the middle; then another more-foreseeable twist in the end, and before you close the book, yet another one! A really fun book that would make for a wonderful read-aloud.

They All Saw A Cattheyallsaw

Written and Illustrated byBrendan Wenzel
Published by: Chronicle Books, 2016 ISBN: 1452150133 (ISBN13: 9781452150130) Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2016)
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

The more I read this book, the more it grows on me. The entire story is an exercise in perspective-taking, with everyone seeing a cat, yet seeing it differently too. Kind of like the story of the blind men and the elephant – how each one perceives something differently while touching the exact same thing.

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Whenever I teach qualitative research, I make mention of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon – the different facets of the same truth as perceived by various individuals perceiving the exact same incident differently. This is a child’s version of that ‘truth’…

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… as seen from the worm’s point of view, the dog’s, a child’s, a fish’s – and so on. A clever picturebook that demonstrates how creatures can “see” the exact same thing yet perceive them oh-so-differently.

idaalwaysIda, Always

Written by: Caron Levis Illustrated by: Charles Santoso
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016 ISBN: 1481426400 (ISBN13: 9781481426404) Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2016)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

Oh oh oh. We are reaching my top three titles. I have always said that picturebooks are for everyone – not just three to nine year old kids. I know that publishers, and a lot of well-meaning librarians say otherwise. I’ve even had someone I met at the book club dinner a few weeks back tell me that my reading picturebooks shows that I am reading below my age level – and that picturebooks don’t count when I consider the number of books I’ve read for the year. I know she meant well, and she said it in jest, but it just goes to show how very many people misunderstand or fail to really appreciate the power of a truly remarkable picturebook – and this, here, is one of them.

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It is a story of friendship, of love, companionship – and what it is like to lose all that in a painful, and seemingly-overly-drawn heartbeat that lasts forever and then is gone.

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The art is gorgeous, and filled with so much light despite the painful theme. Somehow, the reader feels a sense of release and letting go, and the gift of one’s life that is valued and cherished by those closest to us.

The Night Gardenernight2

Written and Illustrated byThe Fan Brothers
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 ISBN: 1481439782 (ISBN13: 9781481439787)
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

This is a story to fall in love with. Told in very sparse text, it reads almost like a wordless picturebook, with such exquisite art that provides tribute to blessed creatures who do things quietly: no noise, no fanfare, just creating beauty without asking for anything in return.

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William is this young boy who was smitten by the topiaries that the night gardener does in secret, unseen by prying eyes. I love the look of the night gardener who just seemed so calm, collected, and so together – walking around town, building beauty from trees and leaves.

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It reminded me just a little bit of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Stranger, especially with the hauntingly-real art of The Fan Brothers. But it also had a feel of Mark Ludy’s The Flower Man which, by the way, you should definitely find and read if you haven’t already.

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strictlyStrictly No Elephants

Written by: Lisa Mantchev Illustrated by: Taeeun Yoo
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015 ISBN: 1481416472 (ISBN13: 9781481416474)
Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

I am crossing all my fingers and toes that this book wins Cybils this year. It has equal parts light-heartedness, readability (oh did I mention the typography? I lovelovelove the typography), and beautiful message without it being heavy-handed.

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This young boy was so excited to bring his pet, a beautiful elephant, to the Pet Club Day – and “everyone will be there.” Yet, after carrying him the last few feet, lifting him when he refuses to walk past the cracks in the sidewalk, they see a sign that says “Strictly No Elephants.” For some reason, I was reminded of an unforgettable theatre show I watched in the Philippines And St. Louis Loves Dem Filipinos that highlights the experience of Filipino ethnic groups who were put on display in the 1904 World Trade Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri – and how some US establishments had signs such as No Dogs and No Filipinos allowed. While this story is of course, nothing as heavy-going as that, it is reminiscent of instances when people or creatures are restricted access to some place for some random reason or another.

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The plot thickens when this young boy chanced upon this beautiful girl whose skunk was also ostracized by the other pets and their owners in the Pet Club Day.

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This is a beautiful tale of friendship, acceptance, and welcoming everyone because, believe it or not, our hearts are big enough for most everyone to come in, if we so desire.

11 Comments on [Monday Reading] CYBILS 2016 Finalists for Fiction Picturebooks

  1. Oh my, I love kidlit and these all look awesome! I especially like the illustrations of The Night Gardener.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So many of my favourites here! Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree just did not work for me at all – I use rhyming texts all the time in my programs, but I just could not get this rhyme to work, no matter how hard I tried. Pretty much everything else on your list is a personal favourite. 🙂

    And ARGH ARGH ARGH picture books have no age limit!! Don’t even get me started on “reading at your level” – as one of my colleagues used to say, if we all read “at our reading level”, we would only be reading textbooks and Charles Dickens. Oh, that just boils my blood! I’m glad to hear we’re kindred spirits when it comes to the importance of letting children read the books that speak to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Myra, I am of the opinion that if more adults read picture books, the world would be a much better place. I’m in the process of compiling a list of 10 that all adults should read, but limiting it to ten is a challenge.
    I actually had problems with Ada Always. Knowing what I know about how much land polar bears traverse in the wild, and how fast it is disappearing, I went to read more about these poor animals in the zoo. It was very sad, and that’s aside from my environmental concerns. (Sorry for that rant)
    I picked Strictly no Elephants up from the library but haven’t had a chance to get to it. It sounds wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the art in the Night Gardener. Strictly No Elephants is wonderful. I haven’t read the others. They All Saw a Cat is so popular, but I haven’t yet picked it up. It looks like it has a great message about how we perceive what we see.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved the Night Gardener as well. I really want to check out Ida,Always and Strictly No Elephants. I think these sound like great reads that our children’s librarian might pick for storytime.

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  6. I know each one, but my favorite continues to be They All Saw A Cat, although each has its merits as you so beautifully shared, Myra. The Night Gardener is one my granddaughters want to read again and again. What a lovely group it is! And, FYI, I put The Flower Man on my list, one new to me. Thanks for all, and yes, I believe picture books are for everyone. I read many to my middle schoolers!

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  7. Thanks for sharing each of these. Several are already favorites–They All Saw a Cat, Night Gardener, Ida, Always–but the rest have just been added to my Must Read list. Can’t wait to enjoy them with my own kids and with students!

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  8. Ida Always is def one of my favs of the year – especially since it was ineligible for the Caldecott. I enjoyed being on the committee with you last year! This year I did round 2 for middle grade fiction – a lot more reading than the picture books!

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  9. The Night Gardener is magnificent, isn’t it? Ida Always is just a story to keep close to one’s heart. Thanks for sharing these gems, Myra.

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  10. Someone was just asking about Strictly No Elephants this week. After reading your review, I actually want to read it now.

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  11. I like the look of most of these! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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