Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2015 edition from Bank Street CBC

Besides choosing which books should receive the three Bank Street Children's Book awards each year, the Bank Street Children's Book Committee also publishes a list of best books for young readers age infant to 16 years old.

You can find past lists in PDF form from 2010-2014 on their website HERE.

The Best Book lists are divided by age and includes both fiction and nonfiction.  Within age groups, books are further subdivided by genre, e.g. Fantasy, Coming of Age, Sports etc and each book listed is annotated.  And while every book on the list is considered a best book, there are some extraordinary books marked with a star. 

The 2015 Edition of the Best Children's Books of the Year, 2015 can be found HERE.  This year there is even a print edition that can be purchased for $10.00 (plus $3.00 shipping) by contacting us at

You can also read about the committee's guidelines for choosing the best books each year HERE

I know I posted about the 2015 winners of the Bank Street Children's Book Committee awards, but in case you missed it, here they are again: 

2015 Josette Frank Award for Fiction

For older readers::
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Dial Books, 2014, 384 pages

For younger readers:
Feiwel and Friends, 2014, 240 pages

2015 Claudia Lewis Award for poetry

For older readers:
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014, 336 pages

For younger readers:
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 32 pages

2015 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for nonfiction

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Candlewick Press, 2014, 192 pages

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton

Ben Fletcher, 17, really wants to go to the party his crush Megan Hooper will be at.  Trouble is, it's for older kids and you need a bottle of booze to get him.  Under age and with no money, Ben and his friends Gex, Freddie and Joz decide to steal what they need.  But when Ben gets caught stealing a bottle of Martini Rosso and injuring a crossing guard in the process (a lollipop lady in England because of the sign she holds up), he ends up on probation.

Now, as part of that requires that he keep a daily journal, which he already does anyway, and that he gets involved in a "suitable extracurricular activity."   He is given a choice of classes at the community college, and thinking he is going to pottery with a teacher he likes, he discover too late that he has been registered for knitting, a class taught by Megan Hooper's mom.

After the first class, Ben decides to stay, but finds himself making up all kinds of stories so his dad and his friends don't find out.  It is something they might not be able to deal with very well, but Ben especially doesn't want his bullying tormenter, Lloyd Manning, to find out.

The third part of his probation is to give something back to the community and his probation officer decides it would be a good thing for him to help the widowed, elderly lollipop lady, Mrs. Frensham, doing some chores around her house.

Needless to say, this is a perfect set up for all kinds of more mayhem and misunderstandings, particularly when it turns out that Ben is not only learners to knit quickly and moves on to more difficult  pieces, but he also really enjoys doing it - finding it to be a very relaxing and helps take him away from his worries, of which he has many.

Before long, Ben is dropping into knitting stores to look and buy yarn and reading knitting magazines (you might remember that in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince it was revealed the Dumbledore was also quite fond of knitting pattern magazines)  As if liking to knit isn't enough, Ben discovers that he has a very competitive streak about it, so it is inevitable, then, that he should decide to enter the All-UK Knitting Championship regional heats.

Boys Don't Knit takes place over an eight month period, beginning in July and ending in February.   And becasue we are reading Ben's journal, the whole story is told through his journal enteries, in his very conversational tone, and we really get to know him.  It turns out that knitting not only gets Ben in touch with his feminine side, but over the course of eight months Ben learns a lot about himself and about the people around him, who are not always the kind of people we think they are.  In fact, I think knitting is a nice metaphor not only for the way Ben's story weaves together, but the way the events he describes 'knit' together a group of disperate people.

This is a fun book, definitly a book of today with its many current references to pop culture icons, and Ben is a very likable character.  And you have to admire him for sticking to a class he really didn't want to be in.  The book is a little British, but if you got throuh Harry Potter and all the other great books coming out of Britain these days, this will be not problem.  Boys Don't Knit is the first book in a series and I am curious to see the further adventures of Ben Fletcher and his wondrous knitting needles.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Roundup #8: Picture Books

Even though the first day of spring began with more snow for some of us, here are some new books that welcome spring and that I have read and liked very much.

 How Things Grow by Eric Carle
Penguin, 2015, 14 pages (Age 2+)

This is a nice soft-covered concept board book for younger readers.  What happens to an egg, an acorn, a tadpole, even to the hungry, hungry caterpillar?  Flip the flap and find out how they grow and change in this colorful book done in Eric Carle's wonderful style.  

A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books, 2014, 40 pages (Age 5+)

Here is an informative book about the different kinds of nests that animals build for welcoming their newborns.  In lovely, lyrical prose, Aston shows the wide variety of nest building techniques by different animals and insects in this well researched book, with colorful, realistic illustrations.  (Available April 14, 2015)  

 Click, Clack, Peep! by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Atheneum, 2015, 40 pages (Age 4+)

Farmer Brown is back, and now he has a newborn duckling who just can't sleep, and who just keeps peeping all night long so that none of the other farm animals can't sleep either.  Each animal tries their hand at quieting the noisy duckling, without success.  Can Farmer Brown come up with a solution?  Lewin's fun illustrations add a light note to this problem all parents know only too well.

Stormy Night by Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury, 2015, 40 pages (Age 3+)

When a nighttime thunderstorm scares Bear's floppy toy bunny, no matter what he does to try to calm and comfort bunny, nothing works - not a soft song, or even a kiss on the nose.  Luckily, Mama and Papa Bear are also scared of the storm, and come in to let Bear calm and comfort them so everyone can fall asleep, despite the noise outside.  With Yoon's bright, colorful illustrations, this is perfect for young readers who don't like storms.

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmerry
Houhgton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 40 pages (Age 4+)

Young coyote Cardell knows his Mama and Daddy love him, even if they are divorced and live far away from each other.  Daddy has a new wife, but so far, Mama has only dated and then sent her suitors on their way out the door.  Then Otis arrives and now Cardell must deal with a new serious rival for Mama's affections.  This is a great book for kids and parents dealing with this kind of situation.  Whimsical illustrations keep it light enough, without diminishing the important storyline.

Over the Hills and Far Away: A treasury of Nursery Rhymes
edited by Elizabeth Hammill, illustrated by over 70 of your favorite illustrators
Candlewick, 2015, 160 pages (Age 3+)

Over 70 artists have interpreted the 150 nursery rhymes included in this multicultural anthology of rhymes from around the world.  All of the rhymes are grouped in complimenting themes in two page spreads.  Readers will instantly recognize some of the rhymes, but some will not doubt be new to them. All beautifully illustrated.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

When Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana, West Africa, to his mother, he was perfect and beautiful.  Yet, all his father saw was his deformed leg, thinking his son would be useless, he left his family forever.

As Emmanuel grew, his mother told him he could do anything, but despite learning how to crawl and hop, how to do chores, and even earn some money, most people just told Emmanuel to beg.  Here, however, was a strong, determined boy, who managed to get himself to school two miles away, and who even learned to play soccer after saving enough money to buy a ball, aided by the crutches his grandmother found him.

When his mother passed away, Emmanuel realized he would have to support his family.  But the memory of her last words, "don't give up" rang in his ears and Emmanuel came up with a plan to show the world that disabled does not mean unable.  He boldly wrote a letter to the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego, California and they generously responded by sending Emmanuel a bicycle, complete with helmet, shorts, socks and gloves.  Before long, he had mastered riding.

Now, Emmanuel was ready to begin his 400 mile bike ride through Ghana, raising awareness and support for all the disabled people in his country.  He talked to everyone who would listen about his mission and hopes for the disabled.  Emmanuel soon became a national hero.  Oh, and he completed his 400 mile journey in just 10 days!

What a remarkable young man Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah is.  Not only did he raise awareness that people with disabilities are valuable members of society who can do great things, but he shows the young reader how one person can take action and actually change the world.

The writing in Emmanuel's Dream is fluid and spare, sometimes sounding like free verse poetry, sometimes like poetic prose, but it all works together.  Sean Qualls' mixed media folk art inspired illustrations are done in a palette of bold mat mainly oranges, browns, and turquoise blues, on a pale peach background, giving the sense of being in a warm, tropical climate.

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and
his bike today
Emmanuel, who was born in 1977, has continued working as an activist for the disabled in his county.  He eventually made his way to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) at their invitation.  While there, he was able to receive a prosthetic leg and shortly afterwards entered the CAF triathlon.  He also received $50, 000 in award money, and when he returned to Ghana, he founded Emmanuel's Dream, an organization that helps children with disabilities.

If Emmanuel's Dream isn't an inspiration for young readers, I don't know what would be.  This is a wonderful book that should not be missed, but shared with kids in schools, home schools, libraries and personal libraries everywhere.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from a friend

This is book 4 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

It's 1932 and the country is still in the throes of the depression.  But for the black residents of Bumblebee, North Caroline, the depression may be the least of their troubles after Stella Mills and her younger brother Jojo see the Ku Klux Klan burning a crossing on night across the river from their house.  And Stella thinks she recognizes who one member of the whited-sheeted group.

Stella has been sneaking out at night after everyone's in bed to practice her writing.  Writing is the one area in school where she just doesn't do well, and her notebook full of half written assignments is witness to her struggles.

After telling their parents what they saw, it doesn't take long before word about the Klan to spread throughout the whole African American community.  When her teacher suggests that Stella write about what she witnessed, she is too scared to do that.  But Stella has the eye and soul of a writer, astutely noting things all around her.  She is aware of the differences between the modern, well built white school and the shabbly school she attends where 35 students in all grades crowd into one room with one teacher and only one wood burning stove to keep them warm.   And she is painfully aware that she is not allowed to use the library even though she is dying to read books about different interesting things.

But times are also changing.  Stella's father reads three newspapers a day, complaining that the while country is tired of President Hoover and the depression, and that maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt would do a better job.  In church one Sunday, the minister announces he will be registering to vote** the next day and invites other men in the congration to join him, Stella's father and a neighbor decided it is time to do the same.

Stella is taken along to witness the registeration process and it is a long, ugly tedious one, but typlical of what went on in those days - including a long, copious exam, a $2.00 fee, and a standoff with the sheiff at the registration office.  There are cruel consequences for the men's decision to register to vote later, but for Stella those consequences meant coming into possession of a typewriter and finding her voice.

Written from Stella's point of view, Stella by Starlight is a realistic portrait of a small community of African Americans, some of whom still remember slavery, who live isolated from the white world of Bumblebee, where they earn little for working longer and harder, and where they are forced to quietly accept the hate, taunts and mistreatment by most white people.  But it is also a rich community that is seeped in tradition, stories, love and compassion for one another, relying on each other through good times and bad.

It is also the narrative of a young storyteller finding her voice.  Stella may have difficulty writing her school essays, but throughout Stella by Starlight are sample of her writing and the reader sees her developemnt from start to finish and knows that eventaully she will grow up and write about the events she witnesses and people she knows.

One of the things I really liked was the way Draper has Stella's mother talking about how knowledge and know-how are handed down from mother to daughter, generation after generation.  It really gives the story a sence of being connected to one's past.

I could have lived with fewer homespun stories and fewer song lyrics.  I thought it took away from the main story too much, and I'm not sure if young readers would be very receptive to it or just think its tto boring and end up putting the book down.  I hope not.

While I really enjoyed Stella by Starlight as a wonderful work of historic fiction, I enjoy seeing Stella's development as a writer even more.  It occured to me that it would make a wonderful companion book to Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming.  Both are about formation childhood years of developing writers, one fiction, one nonfiction.  Just think of the teaching possibilies!

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

**I wonder how many know or remember that African American men were give the right to vote with the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution on February 3, 1870.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Shannon Messenger at Books, Ramblings and Plenty of Shenanigans

Friday, March 13, 2015

Poetry Friday: Written in March by William Wordsworth

This week's poetry party is being hosted by Laura at Author Amok.  Thanks for hosting today, Laura.  Be sure to hop on over there to see what other poems are being shared today.

This is one of the poems I used to used every March in school.  The kids always liked it despite some old fashioned language (and kids being kids, I always heard a lot of doths the rest of the day).  After this wretched winter experienced by most of the country, it just seems like the right poem to share today.    

      Written in March

      The cock is crowing,
      The stream is flowing,
      The small birds twitter,
      The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun;
      The oldest and youngest
      Are at work with the strongest;
      The cattle are grazing,
      Their heads never raising;
Their are forty feeding like one!

      Like an army defeated
      The snow hath retreated,
      And now doth fare ill
      On the top of the bare hill;
The ploughboy is whooping - anon - anon:
      There's joy in the mountains;
      There's life in the fountains;
      Small clouds are sailing,
      Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin

After mowing lawns, raking leaves and shoveling snow, Leo finally has enough money to buy his dream bicycle, a red bike with 18 gears that he names Big Red.  Leo goes everywhere on his bike, but after a few years, he has outgrown Big Red.  Leo took good care of his bike and it served him well, but now it's time for a new one.

Leo tells the bike shop owner he would like to pass Big Red on to someone who needs a bike and the bike shop owner tells him about an organization that will take bike donations and send them to countries where they are needed.   At the donation area, Leo takes Big Red apart for shipping and soon his bike, along with 461 others, is sailing across the ocean on its way to someone in Africa who really  needs it.

Soon Big Red arrives in Africa, and finds a new owner.  Young Alisetta is a perfect match for Big Red.  In no time, Alisetta has learned to ride her new bike and now she can get to the fields earlier, harvest more sorghum and her family can eat better.  And she can ride to the village market, carrying items she and her grandmother have made to sell.  With the extra money, Alisetta's younger sibling can go to school.

One day, there is money to buy a second bike, but while Alisetta is away doing that, a pig tramples Big Red, ruining the wheel spokes.  Now it's only good for parts.  But Big Red's usefulness isn't quite over.  A worker from a medical clinic takes the bike, repairs it and turns it into an ambulance by attaching a trailer and stretcher on it.  Now when people in villages can't otherwise get to the clinic, Haridata can ride to them and even transport them back to the clinic using her bicycle ambulance.  Soon people in all the surrounding villages know about the wonderful bicycle ambulance that the kids now call Le Grand Rouge.  Le Grand Rouge transports many people for the next few years.  When Haridata leaves the clinic, she wonders who had this red bike before her, not knowing about what a wonderful journey Big Red/Le Grand Rouge has been on thanks to one boy's generosity.

This is one of those picture books for older readers that shows that even one person can make a difference in the world on a small but important scale.  The story of Big Red's journey is told in simple language, but includes lots of detail.  Readers probably don't need to know things like how Leo takes his bike apart for shipping but I think it adds a real touch of realism that makes this thought-provoking book accessible.

Shin's digital illustrations are done in a flat folk-art style using a soft pastel palette which makes the bright red bicycle really stand out which seems only right since it is the bike's story.

At the end of the book, there is information about what kids can do to help bring used bikes to areas in the world that need them and the organizations to contact should they have a bike to donate.  The book does make it clear that once they donate their bikes, kids will not know where it goes or who will use it or how they will use it.  As a donor, kids will just have to have faith that their bike will be loved and welcomed the way Leo's Big Red was.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley