Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

2018 Newbery Award


The Newbery Award is presented “… to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” (American Library Association)

The 2018 Newbery Award was given to Hello, Universe, written by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow). This outstanding novel is told through the voices of four different characters – Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet. And then there is Virgil’s grandmother, Lola, who explains about growing up and human nature through her ancient stories.

Virgil had long suspected that his brothers were crafted out of a factory that made perfect, athletic, perpetually happy children, and he was made from all of the leftover parts.

As hearing-impaired Valencia faced summer alone, she thought, There is plenty to do. I don’t need a gazillion friends.I don’t even need one. All I need is me, right? Solo- it’s the best way to go. It’s a lot less trouble.

Kaori Tanaka liked to tell people her parents were born in the high, misty mountains of a samurai village. In truth, they were both second generation Japanese-Americans from Ohio…Sometimes people were just delivered to the wrong birthplace.

Chet Bullens is the neighborhood bully who is taught by his father that Respect came in two flavors, fear or admiration. Sometimes both. Otherwise you’re just a weakling at the bottom of the food chain, ready to get crushed under someone else’s boot.

The judges for this year’s Newbery Committee chose three honor books: Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut illustrated by Gordon C. James and written by Derrick Barnes (Bolden), Long Way Down written by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum), and Piecing Me Together written by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury Children’s Books).


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Caldecott 2018


The American Library Association (ALA) announced their annual awards given to honor children’s and young adults’ books this week. The Caldecott Award is presented “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” This year, the committee chose more multicultural titles than were celebrated in past years.


This year’s Caldecott Award was presented to Wolf in the Snow (Macmillan), illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell. The only writing in this nearly wordless book is of animal sounds. The illustrations are inked in pen and colored with watercolors. The design of the pages varies with some being circular and others depicting more than one picture. A young girl is walking home from school when it begins to snow. She finds a wolf pup who has become separated from his pack. After she returns him to his pack, the wolves follow the girl and protect her when she, too, becomes lost. It’s often difficult to share a wordless book with more than one child at a time, but Wolf in the Snow is an exception. Cordell’s charming book should be enjoyed by young readers for years to come.

The judges for this year’s Caldecott Committee chose four honor books: Big Cat, Little Cat written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper (Roaring Brook Press), Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut illustrated by Gordon C. James and written by Derrick Barnes (Bolden), A Different Pond illustrated by Thi Bui and written by Bao Phi (Capstone), and Grand Canyon illustrated and written by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press).


While all of the honor books demonstrate excellence, there is one of the titles that received much recognition  – Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Not only did the ALA choose the title as a Caldecott Honor Book, it was also recognized as a Newbery Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor book. The King Award recognizes African American authors and illustrators, and the Newbery Medal is given for outstanding children’s literature. It’s unusual to have a picture book recognized in the Newbery category. The writing is lyrical as Derrick Barnes describes the importance of a haircut to an African-American boy.

It was worth it. It always is

You know why?

Because you’ll leave out of “the shop”

Every single time, feeling the exact same way…



                                                Like royalty.

Hello, world…


Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together.

Growing up in Atlanta, GA, Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced the unfairness of segregation on a daily basis. When he saw “White Only” signs and he wasn’t able to attend a school with white children, his mother reminded him that he was as good as anyone else. He listened to his father’s words as the elder King preached in church every Sunday. During those formative years of his life, Martin understood how powerful words could be.

In Martin’s Big Words (Hyperion Books for Children), author Doreen Rappaport shares important quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. as she narrates key incidents in his life. Bryan Collier’s colorful and detailed illustrations earned him a Caldecott Award Honor. The year it was published, this picture book biography was also named one of the best illustrated children’s books by the New York Times

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award


The Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) 2017 winner and honor books were announced recently. It’s always interesting to compare the state-wide choices to those made by our DCD readers. Often, our DCD choices come pretty close to those from all over Massachusetts. This year, we had chosen two of the four top books.

MCBA 2017 winner
El Deafo by Cece Bell
MCBA Honor Books
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Loot: How to Steal a Fortune by Jude Watson
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

DCD Voting Results
Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Honorable Mention
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
I Survived: The Great Chicago Fire by Lauren Tarshis

El Deafo is autobiographical, and it is written in graphic form. Don’t let the art fool you into dismissing the book as easy. Cece Bell handles the topic of being hearing impaired with sensitivity and humor.

Caldecott 2017


January is an exciting month for authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and fans of literature for children and young adults. The American Library Association (ALA) announces their awards for outstanding books. ALA recognizes authors and illustrators in a number of categories, and the most well- known are the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. Both of these deserve their own discussion, so let’s start with the Caldecott Medal. This specifically recognizes an artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children”.
The 2017 Caldecott Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little Brown). Steptoe introduces the talented artist to elementary school students with sensitivity. He does include some of the challenges that Basquiat faced as a child, and in his author’s note at the back of the book, he mentions Basquiat’s death at age twenty-seven.

Steptoe’s illustrations are truly works of art in their own right. I always tell children that when I was a student, I didn’t read forwards or author’s notes. It wasn’t until years later, when I learned how much wonderful information can be included in them. Across from the title page in Radiant Child, Steptoe has written “About This Book”. The illustrator described his collage…
Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, I used bits of New York to create the artwork for this book. I painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
What a testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat!

…collage is a means of survival. It is how Black folks survived four hundred years of oppression, taking the scraps of life and transforming them into art forms.” Javaka Steptoe on his website
There were four other books that were named as Caldecott Honor books.
Leave Me Alone! illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook)

They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle)

Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)

Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books)

And the winner is…


ivanSalem State University announced the winner of the 2016 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MACBA) earlier this month. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Harper Collins) received the most votes. DCD’s fourth and fifth graders had voted for this as one of their top choices, although they awarded it an honorable mention. The story, published in 2012, is told from the perspective of Ivan, a gorilla in captivity. When a baby elephant is added as an attraction at the same shopping mall, a rare and poignant friendship develops between the two animals. This book has already received many awards given by adults. Many children are touched by the story, even though there are many sad aspects to it.

Two of the MACBA honor books were chosen by our students in a tie as their number one choices. Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Random House) and The Wishing Spell: The Land of Stories, #1 by Chris Colfer (Little Brown) were immensely popular. The sequels to both books are in high demand in our library.




Massachusetts Children’s Book Award


MCBA_rdax_230x150And the DCD winners are…

What a celebration of books and reading we had this week at school! Thirty-five fourth and fifth graders participated in the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award reading program this year. Eleven students read all of the twenty-five books that were nominated.

landchrisThe discussion was spirited, and when the voting was finished, there was a tie for the best book between The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. In The Land of Stories, twins enter a magical world of fairy tale characters through a special book. Grabenstein tells the story of a group of children who stay overnight in the new town library designed by Luigi Lemoncello, a master puzzle maker in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. They form teams to solve his master puzzle.

Our discriminating readers chose four other books as their favorites:

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Honorable Mention: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesel Shurtliff and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldbery Sloan

It will be interesting to learn the statewide voting results later this month.

Award Season 2


CJ pushed through the church doors,
Skipped down the steps.

The outside air smelled like freedom,
But it also smelled like rain,
Which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.

He ducked under his nana’s umbrella, saying,
“How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?”
“Trees get thirsty, too,” his nana told him.
“Don’t you see that big one drinking through a straw?”
CJ looked for a long time but never saw a straw.

lastThese are the first three pages of Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). This picture book was just chosen for one of the most prestigious awards that is given by the American Library Association. Yes, it was named as an honor book for the Caldecott Award where the illustrator, Christian Robinson was recognized for excellence in illustration. The book was also named as an Honor Book for the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award which recognizes “… outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” More importantly, Last Stop On Market Street was also awarded the 2016 Newbery Medal. This award recognizes “…the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” The description is taken from the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal page.

Over the past two weeks, there has been much discussion on blogs that are dedicated to children’s and young adults’ literature. I wouldn’t say that the pick is controversial in a negative manner, but it certainly has brought out varying opinions. The writing is beautiful, but we (librarians, authors, publishers, booksellers) usually think of the Newbery Medal in terms of a book for older readers. Although the criteria for the award also states, “Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.” Hmm…this book certainly can be fodder for discussion by our middle schoolers, but would they find this book without being led to it by an adult? Can younger children appreciate it? I don’t have any easy answers to those questions, but isn’t it interesting to ask them?

echoThere were also three books that were recognized as Honor Books this year. One of my favorites is Echo by Pam Muños Ryan (Scholastic), which was also named as the Odyssey Honor given for excellence in audiobooks.  To read more about Echo, go to my previous post about it.




warAnother Newbery Honor book is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial), also the winner of the Odyssey Honor Medal.




rollerThe third title is Roller Girl, written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books for Young Readers). Roller Girl is a graphic novel.

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Award Season


Award Season

caldecott-medalOn one Monday morning every January, everyone who is involved with children’s books anxiously awaits the announcement of the awards that are given by the American Library Association. Librarians, teachers, students, authors, illustrators, booksellers, and publishers all wonder whether their favorites will be mentioned for the Caldecott and Newbery Awards or whether a little recognized book will be honored. Will we agree with the choices? Will there be controversy? Who will get the awards?

This year, the committees had a number of books from which to choose in many categories. As someone who promotes books to young people, I felt that there were many outstanding books published in 2015. The award that is nearest and dearest to me is the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is given “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

WinnieThe 2016 Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick (Little, Brown). I have especially shared this book with our third graders as an introduction to my Winnie-the-Pooh unit. This true story chronicles the life of a bear cub that became the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s classic, Winnie-the-Pooh. Harry Colebourn was a veterinarian in Canada. As a soldier during WWI, his unit was assigned to travel to England and France to care for the horses used in battle. On their train ride in Canada, Colebourn bought a bear cub that was being sold by a trapper at one of the train stops. He named the cub Winnipeg, and she became known as Winnie. Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter of that soldier, and she wrote the story with a nod to the style that A.A. Milne used in Winnie-the-Pooh. She wrote little asides with her son asking questions, just as Milne’s son, Christopher Robin asked his father questions during his story. I am a huge fan of Sophie Blackall’s art and spirit. Her illustrations in the book are in watercolors to depict the history of Winnie. She used Chinese ink drawings for the present day author and her son.

win2It is with a bit of serendipity that there was another picture book written this year about Harry Colebourn and his pet. Sally M. Walker’s fictionalized account of Winnie’s origins is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Macmillan). This version is interesting to pair with the Caldecott winner. The children became book critics as they examine the differences in the art and writing.


There were four books that are Caldecott Honor Books this year.

lastLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)





Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
voiceVoice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)




WaitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books)







This year’s Newbery Award books also deserve a separate and future blog entry.

Gene Luen Yang


Every two years, the Librarian of Congress selects an author to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author serves a two-year term and uses his/her position as a platform to speak and write about lifelong literacy, education, and using books and reading for personal growth. There are very specific guidelines used by the selection committee when they choose an author. The National Ambassador for the next two years is Gene Luen Yang.

Yang was born in California, and his parents are Chinese immigrants. His background is noteworthy because Yang draws on his family experiences in his work. The seeds for his writing and art began when he was in elementary school. He began drawing comics then, and he wrote his first comic book in fifth grade. On his website, Yang said, “Nowadays any kid can make a movie, but back then, it was impossible for a ten year old to make a movie, but a ten year old could make a comic book.” The fact that Yang writes graphic novels is also an important aspect of his nomination.

When he was interviewed after the announcement of his appointment was made, Yang said, “Every ambassador picks a platform, so some kind of issue that they want to talk about, and a phrase that sums up that issue. My phrase is ‘Reading Without Walls.’ ” The theme aims to encourage young people to read books that scare them. The author continued, “We want kids to read outside of their comfort zone, to pick a book with somebody on the cover who doesn’t look like them, to pick a book about a topic they previously found intimidating.”

americanHis book American Born Chinese won the Printz Award from the American Library Association for best young adult book in 2007. Boxers & Saints was a finalist for the National Book Awards. Yang’s most recent project is a graphic novel series, Secret Coders, which not only tells a story but also teaches children about computer coding.

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