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.
This week, I am excited to give some love to the CYBILS Fiction Picturebook Finalists. I am not going to lie – while I am grateful that I was selected yet again to be one of the Second Round Judges for the Early Reader/ Early Chapter Category, I miss being part of the picturebook group of judges. Here are some of my thoughts about the finalists for this year. I reviewed two of the titles previously, so let me begin with those first and allow me to re-share my earlier thoughts on them.
Written and Illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017
ISBN: 0735227926 (ISBN13: 9780735227927). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Imagine a book that starts off with a mistake. I remember a time when books are regarded as semi-precious objects, to be revered, or placed in a safe corner away from grubby hands. To claim that there are mistakes in books is unthinkable. Then you see a brilliant picturebook like this one:
Similar to the first book, I rejoice in the white spaces allowing my eyes to rest, and allowing me to focus more clearly on the “mistakes” – reminding the reader that you don’t necessarily have to be absolutely perfect to create a book, and that mistakes do have a place in the larger scheme of things as the artist ingeniously uses it to her advantage:
For teachers and parents, I am sure you have come across children who get frustrated and angry for every small blot, smudge, careless colouring out of the lines – this is a book to hand to them to show them how they can practice perspective-taking, and how they can see multiple things from a single mistake…
… as it is ultimately transformed into something beautiful and otherworldly. This is a book that teachers can use to teach persistence, creativity, and the transformative quality of making art as it evolves from one thing to the next. So much beauty in this book.
Written by John McCutcheon Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2017
ISBN: 1561459437 (ISBN13: 9781561459438). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Written from the perspective of a young boy named Drasko who helps out his father, Milo, sell their flowers in the marketplace, this is a searing portrayal of the tragic mortar attack in early May of 1992 which killed 22 people who were queuing up to buy bread in the market.
The story’s gradual build-up was highly effective in showing the innocence of everyday life as captured in mundane, routine tasks – and how it devolves oh-so-rapidly to a life that is mercilessly disrupted by violence, catastrophe, and uncertainty.
The focus of this narrative is not so much Vedran Smailovic, known to the world now as The Cellist of Sarajevo, but how his courage and the beauty of his music awakened something within Drasko, enabling him to continue on keeping on despite the hole in his heart.
As found in the Author’s Note:
In writing this book I decided to focus not on Vedran, but on the effect his actions had on others. Heroism has many facets. Not everyone will brave the bullets of a war-torn street. But we are each capable of finding that beauty, that kindness within ourselves that violence and hatred seek to destroy. In a world in which fear has become the dominant weapon of the weak, it is precisely this kind of defiance that will deny victory to the forces of evil.
I did not expect this book to affect me the way that it did. But I was immensely moved by this narrative that demonstrated courage, beauty, strength of purpose – without articulating all those words. One could simply feel it through Drasko’s resolve mirrored by this undaunted musician who found – and created – beauty in the Sarajevo rubble.
I searched for the music that Vedran Smailovic played each day for 22 days without fail, in honour of those who died in the bombing, on Youtube. May you find flowers blooming in your heart as you listen.
Written and Illustrated by Elisha Cooper
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2017
ISBN: 1626723710 (ISBN13: 9781626723719). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
This is a seemingly-simple story of a Big White Cat welcoming a tiny, tentative Black Cat to the household – showing him what to do, getting him essentially acclimatized to their new home:
In stark black and white illustrations paired with very accessible text, this lovely story tackles big themes such as the inevitable cycle of life – yet, done in such a way that the reader feels enclosed in warm friendship, growth, death, and renewal.
There is grief, yes, as only fierce and true love brings – but it is part of what makes our days full .. and worth living.
Written by Aaron Reynolds Illustrated by Peter Brown
Published by Simon Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2017
ISBN: 1442402989 (ISBN13: 9781442402980). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
This is an unbelievably FUN book! While I did enjoy Creepy Carrots, this Creepy Pair of Underwear, I absolutely adore. I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud this much over a book for quite awhile now, and that is saying something.
Young Jasper’s eye was taken by this fabulous display of creepy underwear – so unlike the boring old Whites that his mother had just gotten him. While Mom was decidedly-skeptical (see that left eyebrow raised, the pursed lip tilted slightly upward?), she eventually agreed to get him one pair, and that’s it.
What Jasper didn’t know was that this creepy pair of underwear glows a ghoulish green in the dark. Totally unacceptable. He removed it immediately and put on his safe-but-totally-non-threatening White undies and tried to sleep. Only to be rudely awakened in the morning with this unmitigated fact:
So this underwear will not be thwarted. It’s been shredded into pieces, thrown into a garbage bin, even mailed to CHINA! It just keeps coming back repeatedly – with patches, mud, and chopsticks as Chinese souvenirs!
This is a hilarious book I would have lovedlovedloved as a child. That ending was just cleverly done. I really wish this one wins. I know that Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown already won the CYBILS for Creepy Carrots (and I am glad to share that I was one of the second-round judges at the time). But I do fervently hope that this will be a strong contender this year.
Written by David Elliott Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Candlewick Press, 2017
ISBN: 0763660744 (ISBN13: 9780763660741). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Baabwa and Wooliam are very good friends. Wooliam is the reader while Baabwa is the knitter. I’ve been reading and reading the book, trying to find some clue as to Baabwa’s gender, but couldn’t find any. It doesn’t really matter, either way, but it truly intrigued me, this deliberate omission – or it must have just been my oversight. Anyway, these two friends, after reading and knitting (ad infinitum), felt that they should go on an adventure, and so they set forth on a journey, bounded by the stone walls as you can see below.
What does usually happen when two friends go on an adventure? There has to be danger somewhere there, right? Otherwise might as well stay at home to read and knit. Hence, these two did meet someone…
Now this wolf in a sheep’s clothing was immediately found out because, hello? Wooliam is a reader – he knows the tricks that these wolves are up to. As determined as the Wolf was to chase these two sheep, he was intrigued by Wooliam’s revelation that he read up on the Wolf. He wanted to know exactly what has been said about him in those books. The only problem is… he can’t read!
And so began this unlikely friendship brought about by an awareness of patterns (thanks to being a reader), facing one’s fears and conquering it, while at the same time honouring and being true to one’s self. Whether Baabwa or Wooliam were eventually devoured by this transformed, literate Wolf, I shall leave for you to discover.
If I were to use this with older readers, I would unpack the symbolisms and metaphors that could be gleaned from this story: in terms of what the non-reading, savage Wolf represents – and these two friends who went on an ‘adventure’ bounded by a stone wall.
Written by Dashka Slater Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
Published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2017
ISBN: 0374302812 (ISBN13: 9780374302818). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Have you ever heard of a French-accented snail? No? Well, then, you haven’t read Escargot. THIS is another favourite – I am sure the CYBILS judges this year are just about wringing their hands trying to decide which book would be the winner. I do not envy them this task.
I didn’t realize that a scarf-wearing, cheeky Snail can be trez magnifique! But he is certainly kiss-able – just look at that long neck and those tentacles.
Ok, granted, there is slime involved in this love affair, but our Darling Escargot describes it eloquently as “shimmery trails of… shimmery stuff.” So let us leave it at that. These are minor details, really, that we should not trouble ourselves with.
I like how Escargot constantly engages the reader in conversation, racing the child reader into the next page, and providing a persuasive argument as to why a snail should definitely be a child’s favourite animal. I am no child, but I am convinced. I am having escargot for dinner. Urm, after announcing of course, that snails are now, definitively, one of my absolute favourite animals (at least the sweet-talking, scarf-wearing French ones).
Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2017
ISBN: 1626726825 (ISBN13: 9781626726826). Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Picture Books (2017), NCTE Charlotte Huck Award (2018). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I’ve waited for this book to be available in our libraries for the longest time. While it is still unavailable in our public libraries (not really sure why), I am glad that our librarians at the National Institute of Education have already purchased this title upon my request.
I thought this would be another one of those fractured fairy tale that is fun and interesting but ultimately forgettable. This one, I promise you, would stay with you for a long time. This basically tells the aftermath of what happened to our hero, Humpty Dumpty, After the Fall. The wonderful men from The Kings County Hospital patched him up well and good, but as the image above says: “There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.”
It speaks of Humpty Dumpty’s trauma and anxiety with high places. His experience has made him more hyper-vigilant and extra-cautious knowing “that accidents can happen.” But as most of us readers know, this kind of fear really sinks into the bones (or eggshells in this scenario), and has the power to transform everything else that happens in people’s lives.
And so Humpty Dumpty decided to make do. While he couldn’t climb up the wall to do what he most loves to do: which is bird watching – he would fly a paper airplane of his own making instead, despite the paper cuts and the continued failed attempts.
This is an extraordinary story of courage, self-determination, and a shaky-yet-firm resolve to not allow one’s anxieties to rule one’s entire life. The transformative power of terror and climbing higher while one turns green in the face, with the knowledge that one can fall helplessly at any minute – is one of the reasons why I find picturebooks to be so enriching.
People may argue that this one has very explicit, even-didactic overtones. Yet, I never felt that I was ‘taught’ or ‘preached at’ in any way, in this story. I was just rooting for Humpty, with the certainty that eventually, he will rise above it all, as do we all – each time we fall.
#LitWorld2018GB Update: USA