Archive for the ‘Award-Winning Books’ category

Radiant Art

May 4, 2017

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

I was not familiar with Jean-Michel Basquiat until I read, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Little, Brown and Company. This book was awarded the 2017 Caldecott Medal, the 2017 Coretta Scott King Award for its illustrations, and the 2017 NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Literary Work.


From an early age, Jean-Michel knew he wanted to become a famous artist. His mother was a creative spark in his life, exposing him to literature, theater, museums, and the energy of New York City. His father brought home old paper from the office on which Jean-Michel drew for hours. When his mother became ill, Jean-Michel lost an important mentor in his life. More than ever, drawing and painting were his passion. At night, he spray-painted poems and drawings on the walls in the New York City. His pieces brought attention to the city’s diverse population and its social and political issues. Basquiat’s unique style was embraced by art critics and fans, and, at a young age, he achieved his goal of becoming a famous artist.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~Edgar Degas

What makes this book truly amazing is Javaka Steptoe’s eye-catching illustrations. In the back matter of the book, he provides more information about Jean-Michel Basquiat and adds a poignant author note. Javaka Steptoe was inspired by Basquiat’s work. He saw his graffiti in New York City, read about Basquiat in the newspapers, and went to one of his art shows. In illustrating this book, Steptoe says he used his own interpretations of the artist’s works rather than using copies. The end result is a book filled with vivid illustrations inspired by Basquiat and his unique style. Through his text and art, Javaka Steptoe exposes readers to an extraordinary artist and offers them an opportunity to learn and appreciate artists and their compositions.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~Pablo Picasso



July 21, 2016

Who says I’m not lucky?

I was contemplating on what to blog about this week when I suddenly realized I had the answer in my hands all the while. I’m talking about the book I just finished reading. The Thing About Luck is a National Book Award winner written by Cynthia Kadohata, who is also a Newbery Medal winner. This middle-grade novel has diversity, a youthful crush, an intergenerational relationship, and moral dilemmas.


Summer, the main character in the story, is convinced that her family is stuck with bad luck. An unusual case of malaria, parents who must return to Japan to take care of relatives who are dying, worry about a mortgage that must be paid, a younger brother with challenges, and a harvest season spent with very traditional Japanese grandparents, are some of the difficult situations in which Summer finds herself. Through all this, Summer begins to understand her complicated relationship with her demanding grandmother, and she manages to find the strength she needs to help her family. Cynthia Kadohata has done a superb job of creating believable characters who are funny and endearing. Make this book your lucky pick!

Do You Have a Plan?

July 7, 2016

Do you have a plan? I have one. I want to read this picture book.


Shh! We Have A Plan is written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. It’s an award-winning book published in 2014 by Candlewick Press. It’s been on my list to read for quite some time. I now have it. I’ve read it. Might I say, WOW! Chris Haughton conceived an idea, and in 102 words he created an amazing picture book.


Four friends see a bird they want to catch. They make a plan, but the littlest friend isn’t quite on track with their idea. Shh! Don’t tell, but each time the friends try to catch the bird, they bungle it. They try again and again with no success. The littlest friend has a simple plan of his own that works. Birds galore appear. His friends are thrilled until a BIG bird comes along. They run. The end result is no bird – nothing – until a squirrel appears. Do the friends have another plan?


Shh, don’t tell anyone, but this review is longer than Chris Haughton’s entire story. The simplicity, subtle humor, and illustrations which are done in blues and bright colors make this book a winner. If you haven’t read it, make a plan to get it today!


January 21, 2016

If you haven’t read The War That Saved My Life, I highly recommend it. Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, the book is set in London during World War II and the German invasion. It’s a 2016 Newbery Honor Book, winner of the middle-school age Schneider Family Book Award, and Odyssey Award — well-deserved awards.

Ten-year-old Ada Smith is the heroine of this story. She has a club foot that is an embarrassment to her “mam” – a horrid person. Because of her disfigured foot, Ada is not allowed to leave their flat. She endures physical and mental abuse at the hands of her mother. Even though Ada’s life is one of misery, she makes sure to give her younger brother, Jamie, the best care she can. When the war threatens the well-being of those living in London, local children are evacuated to a safer place in the country. Ada’s mother sends Jamie away, and Ada runs away to join him. When Ada and Jamie arrive at their destination, no one chooses to take them in. They end up in the home of Susan Smith, who is unmarried and has issues of her own. Ada puts up a wall of distrust as Susan Smith desperately tries to help Ada see that she is a worthy person – even with her club foot. During their stay, Susan, Ada, and Jamie slowly begin to become a family unit. When “Mam” suddenly appears and demands to take the children back to London, Susan knows she has no right to keep them. Reluctantly, Susan lets them go. Back in London, Ada is once again subjected to the cruelty of her mother. When she learns her mother never wanted children, Ada knows what she must do. In a dramatic ending of air raid sirens and bombs, Ada is determined to make it back to Susan Smith and the new life she offers them. This is a story of courage, understanding, healing, and love. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley weaves a fascinating and heartwarming tale in this must-read book!


May 21, 2015

Last week while my brain was a blank page, I read Kwame Alexander’s book, The Crossover. The title refers to a basketball maneuver used by one of the main characters. Deservedly, Alexander received the Newbery Award and Coretta Scott King Honor Award for his efforts.

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The story, written in verse and poetry that has you moving and grooving, is narrated by twelve-year-old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother, Jordan, are talented basketball players. They’re like two peas in a pod until a love interest threatens to rupture the special bond the twins have. Kwame Alexander intertwines family, loyalty, sibling rivalry, and lessons of life with basketball skills to strike a rhythm that keeps readers turning the pages. When the boys are faced with a life-changing event, remembering the importance of a loving family pulls them together and makes for a heartwarming story. For me this book is a slam dunk.

Behind the Scenes of the Charlotte Zolotow Award

March 6, 2012

Each year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), a children’s literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, bestows the Charlotte Zolotow Award to the author of a picture book deemed to have outstanding writing and which is published in the United States the preceding year.  The Award is named in honor of Charlotte Zolotow, a renowned children’s book author and editor, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a writing scholarship from 1933-36.

This past Saturday I attended the Charlotte Zolotow Award ceremony at which Patrick McDonnell received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for his book, Me … Jane, the story of the young girl who grew up to be Dr. Jane Goodall.

Patrick McDonnell Receiving his Award

I’ve often wondered about the process of choosing the award-winning book, and along came someone who could answer my questions.

Jean Elvekrog had the opportunity to serve on the 2007 and 2008 Charlotte Zolotow Award committees. She has a passion for children’s literature and more energy than anyone I know. She volunteers at local schools, was a former elementary school librarian, and later worked at the Waunakee Public Library. Jean currently is a trustee for public library, is on the board of the Friends of Waunakee Public Library, volunteers as the church librarian at St. John the Baptist Parish, and is involved in several other civic and library organizations, including the Catholic Library Association.  Jean is also a member of the Friends of the CCBC, Inc., and has agreed to tell us what happens behind the scenes of the CZ Award committee.

Jean, tell us a bit more about yourself and why you have such a passion for reading and promoting reading for children?  I fondly recall that, as a child, I would always receive books as gifts from a great aunt of mine.  (She worked as a bookseller in Milwaukee for over forty years).  Frequently, the books were Newbery Award winners.  I used to read and re-read those books and looked forward to the next gift.  I guess I’d say it’s because of Margaret that I became such a lover and promoter of reading for children.

The Charlotte Zolotow Award committee is composed of children’s literature experts. What qualities make a children’s literature expert? I hesitate to use the word, “expert,” but I do know that everyone on the committee has a passion for reading and a deep interest in promoting quality literature for children.  Yes, some of the committee members work in school and public libraries serving children.  However, others are educators or day care providers and some work in higher education or social services.  They represent a nice cross section, which is great.  It is important that each of them has the opportunity to be able to read to/with children on a regular basis during the judging period.

Approximately how many books do committee members review?  Shipments from publishers would arrive almost daily during the three to four months we deliberated.  It rapidly became apparent that as a committee member, we needed to organize the titles in our homes or offices so they could readily be accessed for examination and re-examination!  I’m sure we received 750 books, but many of those didn’t meet the award criteria.

What is the ratio of fiction books to nonfiction books that are reviewed?  It’s hard to determine the ratio, but I can say without a doubt that fiction greatly outnumbered nonfiction.  The reason is that more fiction is published for children each year than nonfiction.  However, it’s important to note that while the number of nonfiction titles is less, the nonfiction that is published continues to increase in quality and much of the fiction has become “marginal.”  This is a good time to point out that the winner of the 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award is nonfiction; it’s the outstanding childhood story of chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.  I was very pleased with the committee’s choice.

Patrick McDonnell Signing Me … Jane

What was it you personally looked for in choosing a winner?   I not only looked for outstanding writing, but also appreciated it when the writing and the illustrations worked together.  You’d think this would always be true, but it isn’t!

Can you give us some insight into the inner workings of the committee?  In 2007 and 2008, we gathered at the CCBC approximately every 4-6 weeks, and we always met face-to-face.  I’ve heard that now the committee meets virtually during the first few months and doesn’t get together until near the end of the deliberations.  As a result, the pool of persons to be considered as members is greater because geographic location is no longer a barrier.  Conference calls, skyping, and e-mails can make virtual meetings possible.  It’s a great example of making technology work for us.

When the winner is finally chosen, does everyone on the committee have to agree with the decision or is it majority rules?  I can only speak from my experience, but I do recall that when we narrowed our choices for the final voting in 2007 and 2008, we all were very pleased with the winners: Peter McCarty (Moon Plane, Henry Holt, 2006) and Greg Foley (Thank You Bear, Viking, 2007).  It’s important to note that the committee can also name up to five honor books and up to ten highly commended titles.

Do you have some advice you’d like to impart to aspiring picture book writers?  I’ve always believed in “quality” over “quantity” in writing.  That is a trait instilled in me by my high school journalism teacher, and it has remained with me ever since.  A children’s picture book author needs to be clear and concise or he/she will lose the reader very quickly.  I maintain that one author who has succeeded in doing this in all of his picture books is Kevin Henkes.  I’ve never “lost” children from my audiences when I’ve read Kevin’s books to them!

Thank you, Jean, for your sharing your knowledge of the inner workings of the Charlotte Zolotow Award committee.


A Bevy of Winners

January 24, 2012

The wait is over. The American Library Association announced the 2012 Youth Media Award winners yesterday. Wow! Wow! Wow! Such wonderful books! Such surprises!

It’s always exciting to see who the winners are. In my “Anticipation” post, I blogged about my choices for the Caldecott and Newbery. Although none of my choices won the top prize, I was happy to see Inside Out and Back Again written by Thanhha Lai was a Newbery Honor Book, and Blackout written and illustrated by John Rocco and Me … Jane written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell were Caldecott Honor Books. Me … Jane also won the Charlotte Zolotow Award.

Another impressive book I was pleased to see win an award was Balloons over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade written by Melissa Sweet. It won the Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book for children.

Browsing through the list of winners tells me I have a lot of great books to read. There’s no time to lose. I’m off to the library to see which books I can pick up. Ta, ta for now!

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