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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books inside — and outside — of the classroom.
This year's winners
It was exciting to be in the audience at the press conference at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association where this year's "Youth Media Awards" were announced.
Not only does the American Library Association award the well known Newbery and Caldecott Medals, but many other significant awards such as the Coretta Scott King Award, the Carnegie Medal for outstanding video, and many others of interest to those who live and work with children and young adults.
This year's Caldecott Medal went to a quiet book. Because it was quiet, I didn't give it as much attention as it deserved — at least until it received the Caldecott. Beth Krommes' illustrations for The House in the Night (Houghton Mifflin) are done in scratchboard. They effectively evoke a nighttime setting ideal for this bedtime book. It's a fine book, well worth close examination.
I'm sure that there are those who will not agree with the choice. It's simply impossible to please everyone. But the Caldecott Committee is a new one each year and so each year we have the opportunity to read, reread, examine, and consider books that provide readers with primarily a visual experience. And I know these are people who spend a great deal of time doing so.
Even when a Caldecott Medal book isn't a personal favorite, I know that it's been vetted completely and is a darn good book. I just have to learn to see it more clearly or with different, perhaps better-educated, eyes.
Just like we try to teach children to eat different foods, we need to introduce children to different styles of illustration, helping them to see things in a different way — and nurture an appreciation for the unique point of view.
Change is in the air
Change is in the air. It was almost palpable yesterday as throngs of people — including lots of young children — witnessed the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Hope and change have become buzzwords, but you can almost feel both. They're certainly apparent in recent books for children (though not for children only), both inspired by the words of Barack Obama.
Kadir Nelson is probably best known for his luminous, full color illustrations for books such as his Caldecott Honor book Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Hyperion, 2006).
But in his new book, Change Has Come (Simon & Schuster) Nelson uses a much freer, informal style. The loose sketches combine with Obama's own words (with sources noted, by the way) in an elegant, forward looking typeface to convey the excitement generated by this election.
Another recent book by poet Nikki Grimes entitled Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (Simon & Schuster) was also inspired by Obama's own writing. Its wraparound story of a boy and his divorced mother provides an immediate connection for younger readers. Illustrations by award-winning Bryan Collier are the perfect complement to the graceful text.
Hope. Change. They're in the air and in books for young readers. Let's savor them and the moment.
The digital age for books
A recent newspaper article about books going digital led me to a blog by Alana Semuels. That books are being digitized is not new, of course, but that publishers are looking keenly at digitized books for young readers is.
In addition to large publishing houses exploring eBooks in a serious way, there are businesses like Tumblebooks that provide books from print publishers online (and a host of activities — for a fee).
There is also the International Children's Digital Library, a research (though much more) and very user friendly project from the University of Maryland College Park.
Digitization of books for children makes sense. Even the youngest child is exposed to new technologies everywhere, everyday it seems. It is simply ubiquitous — though digital books are not necessarily so.
But publishers — who are having a tough go of it — may be overly excited about eBooks taking over from traditional books. Book sales have fallen (probably not dissimilar to just about every other business in today's economy) — and like other businesses, publishers seem to be looking for the next big thing.
The possibilities for digital books are indeed huge but there's also danger in letting go of the old before the new is really replaceable.
While reading is learned individually and reader response is intensely personal, it seems to me that books build communities: communities of learners, communities around shared experiences, communities built on common interests.
What happens to the personal bond between the author/illustrator and reader when a device is put between them? And by device I mean sound, movement — a different interpretation of word and image so that it's no longer up to the reader (including the reader of images) to pull meaning, cull story, feel emotion. Are communities of readers and thinkers built using these devices?
Maybe these are moot questions but it seems to me that they — and a host of other questions — are worth thinking about.
A new year begins!
I received a letter at the end of last month from a 2nd grade boy who attends the school where my sister works. The child's letter was obviously part of a class project — but it was carefully written with one of my favorite and well traveled book characters neatly folded up in the letter.
You may know this book character; he's got a website devoted to school projects and more. His name is Flat Stanley. (The website, by the way, was created by a teacher from Ontario some 10 or more years ago.)
Anyway, even though Jeff Smith's first book about the boy, who became flat from an unusual accident, came out long ago, his adventures continue. In fact, a new series about Stanley Lambchop and his family as they continue their travels is coming out this Spring.
I've recently read an advance copy of Flat Stanley's first Worldwide Adventure, The Mount Rushmore Calamity (HarperCollins) in which Stanley and the family travel to see the Black Hills of South Dakota, save a face, and soak up some of the local culture.
I'm not always a proponent of continuing a character after its creator is gone, but author Sara Pennypacker who has taken over Jeff Brown's creation, maintains the tone and pace of his original work.
And so, teachers and Stanley aficionados will have another series that will likely inspire more letters and more pictures of Stanley around the country and around the world.
It's a nice way to start the New Year, isn't it? A bit of travel, a bit of fun, and a good letter or so to share.