First of all, these motherhood, puppy keeper, and elementary school subbing gigs are totally taking up way too much of my time and getting in the way of reading and writing about reading. And that's not to mention the laundry, which seems to react like a Gremlin every time you pour water on it after midnight.
About two weeks ago, the American Library Association announced its award winners for the best books of 2013. This is like the Oscars for book nerds, only you do not have to get dressed up nor starve for a week prior to fit in said couture gown. Alas, no Harry Winston or Jimmy Choo accessories, but it's just as exciting! And in our modern, overly-tech age, you can watch the live webcast of the awards being announced at the Midwinter Convention, which is really very cool.
So, how did all my picks fare and what did I miss when I chose my favorites of 2013? Well, this one won the big award, the Newbery Medal, for the finest contribution to children's literature last year:
Flora and Ulysses was published in October, I wrote about it here, and Santa wisely delivered it to my 8-year-old daughter a few months later. Somewhat serendipitously, she was in the midst of reading it when the award was announced. When I picked her up from school that afternoon, I told her that it had won the award for the best book written in all of last year. Her response was: "IT TOTALLY DESERVES IT MOM, BECAUSE THIS IS LIKE THE BEST BOOK EVER." (She's eight going on 14.) Seeing as I am just as cool as any third grader, I responded, "So it's really good?" Her reply: "TOTES." <sigh>
I figured it would be, seeing as how Kate DiCamillo is seriously the E.B. White of our generation of writers. She's won the Newbery before and been a runner up before that. And Because of Winn-Dixie is on my short list of top chapter books written for kids ever. It's so good, all adults should read it.
Here's what the Newbery Committee (a group of really smart people who also happen to be librarians) had to say about its choice:
Comic book fan and natural-born cynic Flora Belle Buckman and Ulysses, a flying, superhero, poetry-writing squirrel, join forces to overcome Ulysses’ arch-nemesis, Flora’s mother, and encounter a quirky cast of characters. Through poignant, laugh-out-loud episodes, this homage to comic books is a testament to the power of love.
Flora and Ulysses bends genres in that it's a chapter book combined with comic strips and full-page black and white illustrations. When it was first published, Booklist noted, "Newbery winner DiCamillo is a master storyteller, and not just because she creates characters who dance off the pages and plots, whether epic or small, that never fail to engage and delight readers. Her biggest strength is exposing the truths that open and heal the human heart. She believes in possibilities and forgiveness and teaches her audience that the salt of life can be cut with the right measure of love." This about sums up both DiCamillo's talent and the reason her novels are so subtly powerful.
And even without all that hype, when in doubt about the merit of a kids' book, the best thing to do is have a kid actually read it. My daughter loved Flora and Ulysses so much, she spent a lot of time copying some of the poems that Ulysses the squirrel writes to his BFF Flora. I just couldn't get over how much she loved this poem, which is pretty deep, when you think about it, but written just simply and perfectly enough for a kid to totally get. My daughter was totally moved by the concept of one person (or animal) being "the ever-expanding universe" to another:
Santa also brought her this book
because Santa is quite taken with and impressed by people like Kevin Henkes, who can both write and illustrate very, very well. My daughter adored The Year of Billy Miller, which is about a second-grade boy making his way through a year with all of its ups and downs, relationships, school drama, and just plain fun. The Year of Billy Miller was named a 2013 Newbery Honor Book (runner up), and so were these two books, which I blogged about last summer:
Finally, this one was a surprise winner, because it's written for slightly older kids. My 11-year-old daughter is poring over it now, and I'll try to remember to report back what she thinks:
While the Newbery is awarded annually for the best book, the Caldecott Medal honors the finest illustrations. The winner was very much deserved, and I blogged about it here, along with one of the honor recipients. I was particularly thrilled to see Flora and the Flamingo honored, because I was really pulling for it. I've just recently checked out another honor winner, Journey, which is taking me a little time to get into, although my 8 and 11 year olds pronounced it fabulous. Here are illustration spreads from the Caldecott Medal winner and honor books for 2013:
Two other American Library Association annual book awards, which are less well-known, but just as awesome, are the Sibert Award for the finest non-fiction book and the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished contribution to beginning reader titles. I cannot stress enough how far non-fiction and early readers have come in terms of quality when compared with what was available when we were kids. My nearly five-year-old son is obsessed with Ball by Mary Sullivan, a Geisel Honor recipient, which is a book that only features one word, and I bet you can guess what it is ...
It's pretty much totally fantastic, and once again a book I thought was "cute" upon first glance. Only in the hands of a child, and with repeated readings in which I could witness his reactions, was I able to appreciate its true genius.
If you're looking for more possibilities to pour over from last year's books, the American Library Association's Notable Chidren's Books is a great place to start! I also like the choices made by the editors of School Library Journal, which you can check out here.
Now I'm busy reading kids books published in 2014 and eager to share with you any that I find truly remarkable ... Just as soon as I finish another load of laundry.