Friday, January 31, 2014

Newbery/Caldecott Post Mortem

Thought I would take a minute today to reintroduce the Newbery/Caldecott winners this year.  A hearty congratulations to Kate DiCamillo and her book Flora & Ulysses that took home the shiny sticker.  I hadn't pegged it as a contender, but had recommended it as a wonderful read aloud.  You can see my review of the book below.  I think it is always fun to see what someone thought of a book before others started praising it.  And the winners are:

John Newbery Medal for "most outstanding contribution to children's literature" 

"Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures," written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Honor books

"Doll Bones," written by Holly Black

"The Year of Billy Miller," written by Kevin Henkes

"One Came Home," written by Amy Timberlake

"Paperboy," written by Vince Vawter

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the "most distinguished American picture book for children"

"Locomotive," illustrated and written by Brian Floca

Honor books

"Journey," written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

"Flora and the Flamingo," written and illustrated by Molly Idle

"Mr. Wuffles!" written and illustrated by David Wiesner

While I don't strive to pick all the award winners, I do attempt to introduce you to books that are at that caliber which are also kid friendly.  So my tally for this year .... drum roll please:

Newbery: 1 1/2 Honor Books.  Doll Bones was one of my picks.  I actually wrote a review of Paperboy but then decided that it was not kid friendly enough and never posted it so I am giving myself half credit

Caldecott: 2 Honor Books.  I called Journey and Mr. Wuffles! as possible winners.

One of the reasons I am delighted by Flora & Ulysses is because of the graphic novel component integrated into the story.  I have been preaching how this genre is coming into it's own, and to see a book honored that uses some of these techniques so effectively to convey a narrative makes me happy.

Locomotive which took home the Caldecott honor is a book I had mixed feelings about.  On one level I think it is a brilliant book.  It is a wonderful learning tool and conveys the history of the Transcontinental Railroad in an engaging and interesting way.  The reason I held back in reviewing it was because it is really for an older audience who has moved away from picture books.  But I do think we will see a growth in picture books for older readers, especially in the genre of non fiction.  Perhaps the Caldecott committee was ahead of the curve on this one, so bravo.

On a side note, the lovely book Navigating Early, which I thought had a chance at the Newbery sticker, ended up being an Honor Book for the Printz Award for excellence in young adult fiction.  Do I get any points for that?

Anyway, here is my review of Flora & Ulysses.  And please remember that your children don't need to read award winners to get the best out of books.  Many beautiful books that weren't honored here still touch our kids every day.  Let the honors simply be a guide to remind us that kid's books are still important.

Title:       Flora & Ulysses

Author:   Kate DiCamillo

Target:    Grades 3-6

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Flora is a self avowed cynic.  Her parents are recently separated, and her mother is all consumed with her romance novel writing.  Flora is a fan of the comic strip The Amazing Incandesto about a powerful superhero, so despite her cynicism, she does believe that regular creatures can “conquer villains, defend the defenseless and protect the weak.”  However, when an unassuming squirrel gets sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and develops superpowers of his own, it is up to Flora to make sure that he fulfills his destiny.

Why I love this book:
I will admit upfront that I am a sucker for anything written by Kate DiCamillo.  This book is a little unusual in that it has small sections of comic strips used to move the story along.  It was an interesting touch and they seemed to appear during the parts of the story where the most action was taking place, giving the reader a visual account of more of the physical aspects of the narrative.

This book is extremely rich in vocabulary.  Kids will not be able to leave this story without being exposed to “malfeasance” “surreptitious action”  and “a capacious heart” to name a few.  Flora is smart, sensitive and surrounded by a host of eccentric characters that make the story both comical and heartwarming.

What I love best in the story, however, is the messages of love and forgiveness that is at the heart of the tale.  The wonderfully vocabulary,  characters and poetry writing squirrel are just a bonus.

Who this book is for:
This is the hardest question for me.  DiCamillo is a wonderful author because she is able to create stories that expose our hearts to bigger truths than we see everyday.  This book is no exception.  But sometimes kids need a little help seeing something bigger than themselves, or even bigger than the basic plot in the story.  That, and the vocabulary are why I think this book will make a wonderful read aloud.  The ability to talk with your kids about the expressive word choices and the larger messages about humanity will really bring out the best in this story.

Final thoughts:
”Holly bagumba!” DiCamillo has created a lovely story.  I always feel a little guilty comparing so I will say that while this didn’t match my favorite stories by her, I certainly had a pleasant journey through this tale.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.

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