Ezra Jack Keats’ centennial, the CBC Children’s Choice Awards,
the Carnegie medal and Kate Greenaway shortlist nominations, and the departure of “To Kill a Mockingbird” from paperback are part of this week’s rundown of noteworthy news in the world of children’s books. (Click on each subhead to read the stories.)
(Reproduced with permission from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation)
Voting Is Now Open for the 9th Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards.
Young readers across the country will determine the winners by voting online at ccbookawards.com from March 8 through April 25, 2016. Last year, over 1.3 million kids and teens made their voices heard!
In this last chapter of our conversation with Jim Arnosky, we talk about the author’s favorite animals, Frozen Wild, climate change, and giving nature a chance. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this series. It was a great pleasure to speak with Arnosky, and I hope his words provide value to budding artists everywhere.
Basbanes: Your most recent book, Frozen Wild, explores what winter is throughout the globe. Did you travel into the winter landscapes?
Arnosky: Well, I couldn’t get to the Antarctic and couldn’t get to the Arctic. My concern wasn’t that yet another writer would go to the Arctic and see it and then turn around and tell us what’s there. My concern was, do children even know what this place is, or where it is? The biggest, most important thing I could tell children was that the Arctic is an ocean for the most part, with the North Pole is in the frozen center of it, and that Antarctic is a continent.
B: And that there are animals at either end.
A: That ‘s right. In the Antarctic you have the shoreline of this massive frozen continent, and in the Arctic you have this beautiful, incredible north country, all the way around the ocean up there. You also have the ocean in the Arctic, which has lots of animals in it. Whereas the heart of Antarctica is desolate. It’s so cold and it’s so uninhabitable—it’s an entirely different place, not just upside down Arctic.
I think children have to understand why we have winter–because of the tilt of our axis. What makes winter where you live? What makes winter where somebody in Argentina lives? When winter happens, what survives it? What’s under that ice? So you have all these different layers of one subject that I wanted to try and get in the book. I started at my home, and went out as far as I could go, and then came right back to my farm, my home, and my winter. I wanted to explain winter and cold weather to children, and how remarkable it is that animals can survive in these changes—you know, without having the benefit of heated homes or clothing like we have.
B: Well, some do, like the beaver, I had no idea they stay warm by building lodges.
An active beaver lodge in winter. Public domain image
A: Yes, they have a chimney in the thing because they don’t put mud around the top, so it’s just wood piled on wood from the center, but the beavers pack mud around the wood so that the air can’t get out. However, the air can go straight up. And when the temperature dips to ten below, which we get a lot of back here in northern Vermont, you can actually see the steam, the body heat coming out of the top of the beaver lodges.
When I wanted to sketch a beaver lodge in winter, I had to snowshoe down to it. Perhaps this was foolish, but when I got to the pond, I expected that the ice would be thick. As I snowshoed across the pond, the ice broke, and I fell in. I was lucky in the sense that I had always used this certain kind of a hitch—it’s a figure-eight hitch on my snowshoes rather than buckles. If those shoes had been buckled to my feet I would have drowned, but with mine, a circular turn of the foot releases you from the shoe. So I lived. This is all part of the experience of creating a story, and in my field as a naturalist, it’s doubly important to go out into nature and observe it firsthand.
B: You don’t mention climate change or global warming in the text, but you do cite quite a few books about it in your notes. Is that a conversation you think children should be having? You don’t want to scare kids, but is a topic children should at least be aware of?
A: Well, unfortunately I think that global warming is a subject that remains misunderstood because a lot of people respond to it by things they see on television.
B: And it gets very political.
A: And politics boggles it all up in people’s minds. I’ve been asked twice to write a book about global warming, and in both cases I said no. You have to write about global warming properly. You have to write about what happens to our northern oceans and southern oceans when freshwater mixes with salt water in too large a quantity. You have to talk about whether or not people or animals are in danger in by it, because in some cases, the animals just simply migrate someplace else. You have to talk about whether or not we think animals like polar bears might move a little further south eventually, at least those that survive. We don’t know a lot about it. And I thought that’s an awful lot for me to squeeze into thirty-two pages of a picture book, when I’m just trying to tell children what winter is. This is a book about what we already know about, and that was my goal—to write a book about what makes it cold outside, and how the animals survive in that cold. So I thought talking about climate change in the middle of the book would throw the whole thrust off, which I explained to my editor. And she suggested I write about it in an author’s note at the end.
B: Do you have a favorite animal?
Wood duck image source: Wikimedia Commons.
A: I’ll always love wood ducks. I’ve painted them, and I’ve drawn them, but it’s never as beautiful as the actual wood duck. I can’t duplicate what nature has done. They have a plume behind their head, they have a multi-colored bill. There’s an iridescence to them. They can look black, green, very much like a mallard in that case, then they’re almost like the harlequin duck. Yet, when you see them in their habitat, they blend perfectly! The wood duck was on the verge of extinction because of its beauty. It made a wonderful mount for duck hunters. It came back because people kept private flocks of them on their property. Their wings were clipped so they couldn’t fly away. And yet, some must not have been clipped right, because some of the wood ducks flew away, and they ended up repopulating their entire range.
There are lots of animal stories like that–crocodiles, beavers, deer. Anytime you give an animal a chance to rebound, they will, and in a big way.
What’s a boy to do when his older brother won’t join him in wintery fun outdoors? In author-illustrator Deirdre Gill’s charming picture book debut, the child ventures out alone, and builds a grand, icy fantasy world. After constructing a castle, a gentle snowman and a fire-breathing dragon, he embarks on wondrous imaginary adventures. Gill’s large oils on paper are inviting and, despite large swaths of snow covering most pages, warm. The text is minimal, but sonorous and spare enough for young readers to follow along with ease, and adult readers may notice the subtle homage to Ezra Jack Keats 1962 Caldecott winner The Snowy Day. The plucky protagonist’s imagination will likely provide inspiration to readers who find themselves staring out their own windows this winter, wondering what happens when they take that first step.
The Mouse Mansion, written and created by Karina Schaapman, photographed by Ton Bouwer; Dial Books, $18.99, 60 pages ages 5-8.
Usually when there’s a mouse in the house, the human inhabitants run for the hills. Here, debut children’s book author Karina Schaapman created a home just for those furry creatures. Her six foot wide, ten feet tall, hundred-room mouse mansion is made of cardboard boxes and paper mâché, and each room is filled with to the brim with all the trappings one would expect in a home – diapers and formula in the nursery, armoires overflowing with tiny undergarments, bookshelves bursting with miniature versions of Charlotte’s Web and Winnie the Pooh. The carefully shot photographs are by Ton Bouwer, and the folio-size pages allow for careful examination of each object.
This mansion isn’t for ritzy city murines; it gives off a warm, nubby, cozy feel, and the accoutrements appear pulled from a romp through an attic that hasn’t been touched since 1970. Families of gray and white cloth mice live here, and two young friends, Sam and Julia, scamper from room to room in search of adventure and fun. There’s laundry to sort, a bakery to visit, and even a Friday night Sabbath to attend, complete with a tiny table covered by challah, candles and wine. Schaapman’s detailed artwork is accompanied by thoughtful and informative text, and though the book clocks in at 60 pages, each chapter can easily be read as a unique tale. Pouring over the abundant detail on each page will captivate readers of all ages, and makes an excellent reading choice for snuggling up and spending a wintry afternoon with little readers.
Banish the dog days of summer with these titles by two British author-illustrators that are just puurr-fect for summer road trips, bedtime, and anytime.
“Matilda’s Cat,” by Emily Gravett; Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5. (June 2014)
Matilda’s cat doesn’t like tea parties, ghost stories, climbing trees, or drawing. Find out what the adorable creature does enjoy in this latest offering from our perennially favoriteauthor and illustrator, Emily Gravett. (Previous titles include Again! and The Odd Egg.) Charming illustrations of an exuberant, cherubic little girl and her faithful feline are rendered in Gravett’s trademark pen and watercolor style. Children will relish in the playful mischief to be discovered on each page. If you’re not sure which books to pack for summer traveling, do include this lighthearted, lovely ode to unrequited love– it’s a snappy read, and will not lose its charm after being in heavy rotation.
“Naughty Kitty,” by Adam Stower; Orchard Books, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 4-6. (May 2014)
Adam Stower follows up his popular Silly Doggy! with a case of mistaken identity. If somehow you miss the cover image of a skulking tiger, be sure to read the newspaper-styled endpapers which relate the critical backstory of a large cat missing from the local zoo.
Meanwhile, little Lily desperately wants a dog, but receives a cat instead. While the girl adores her wide-eyed kitty, she can’t understand how such a small creature manages to make major messes, some right under her nose. Lily blames the silently suffering kitty, while its larger, striped doppelganger runs amok on the property. Stower portrays all the characters – including the escaped predator – with wide eyes and humorous facial expressions, all done in watercolors.Tongue in cheek humor and a happy ending will keep the whole family returning to this book.
The American Library Association announced the winners of the 2014 Newbery and Caldecott medals on Monday.A panel of fifteen librarians from across the country gathered to honor the very best children’s books. What distinguishes the two awards? The Newbery Medal goes to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Caldecott recognizes an artist’s excellence in picture book illustration. Here they are:
“Flora and Ulysses: The Illustrated Series,”by Kate DeCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 240 pages, ages 9-12.
In this adorable ode to superheroes, comic-book aficionado Flora sets on a series of adventures with a witty squirrel appropriately named Ulysses. DeCamillo’s humor (and wonderfully rich vocabulary) is perfectly matched by comic book artist’s K.G. Campbell’s black and white illustrations.Readers will adore that this quirky action-packed novel matches a sensitive, sophisticated story.
“Doll Bones,” by Holly Black; Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.99, 256 pages, ages 10-14.
“The Year of Billy Miller,” by Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow Books, $16.99, 240 pages, ages 8-13.
“One Came Home,” by Amy Timberlake; Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99, 272 pages, ages 9-13.
“Locomotive,” by Brian Floca; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 64 pages, ages 4-10.
This year’s Caldecott winner is a picture book rich with sensory details about America’s first trans-continental railroad.The rolling text mimics the turning of the wheels and the rumbling of the train down the track.Sumptuous images will easily captivate young readers, despite the book’s length.