Archive for February, 2011


The California Young Reader Medal Program

February 28, 2011

You have probably heard of the Newbery & Caldecott, but are you familiar with the California Young Reader Medal? I mentioned it in my last post on Princess Hyacinth (a 2011-2012 CYRM nominee), but to explain further, the CYRM is like the Newbery & Caldecott in that it awards the “most distinguished” children’s books every year. However, one could think of the CYRM as the People’s, rather than the Critic’s, Choice Awards.

As described on the CYRM website:

“Since its inception in 1974, millions of California children have nominated, read, and voted for the winners of the California Young Reader Medal. Young people suggest the names of favorite books for nomination, or teachers and librarians note repeatedly read or requested titles, and these are submitted to the California Young Reader Medal Committee. Members of the committee read the suggested books, discuss their merits and appeal to children, and then decide upon a well-balanced list of nominees.”

I love the CYRM because it accurately reflects what children enjoy, rather than what adult librarians enjoy. If you haven’t noticed already, a lot of picture books are actually written with credit-card-holding adults in mind, instead of kids (who, unlike adults, only have brightly colored monopoly money to spend). Students from kindergarten through high school read, nominate, and vote for their favorite books in five categories: Primary (Grades K-3), Intermediate (Grades 3-6), Middle School/Junior High (Grades 3-6), Young Adult (Grades 9-12), and Picture Books for Older Readers (4th Grade and up). Because young readers are calling the shots, you know that all of the nominees are going to be kid-friendly and fantastic!

The winners from the current (2010-2011) list of nominees will be announced May 1st on the CYRM website! But there is still time to have your young readers cast their votes! Check the website to print out their ballot, and be sure to mail it in by April 1st!

2010-2011 Nominees:

They also just announced the 2011-2012 nominees! Get your ballots in by April 1st, 2012!

2011-2012 Nominees:

*** = My favorites, which I will most likely blog about soon, so stay tuned!

So if you are looking for a truly fabulous, kid-approved book, go check out these amazing CYRM nominees at your local independent bookstore!

Looking for an independent bookstore in San Diego? Here is a handy little list just for you…

  • The Yellow Book Road (Liberty Station, Point Loma)
  • Warwicks (La Jolla)
  • Bay Books (Coronado)
  • Bluestocking Books (Hillcrest)
  • Mysterious Galaxy (Clairemont)

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale…

February 15, 2011

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated
Author: Florence Parry Heide
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Best for Age: 4-8
ISBN: 9780375845017
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (2009)
List Price: Hardcover, $17.99
Buy on Amazon

Girlie princess books are a dime a dozen these days, and the majority of them are just plain awful. You know the picture books that I am talking about, the ones that are wrapped in shiny pink covers, doused with glitter, and contain computer-generated illustrations and terrible stories. Factor in the multi-billion dollar, and increasingly permeating nature of the Disney Princess industry, and you’ve got a full-fledged princess plague on your hands.

An example from this nightmare of a genre, even though it is not exactly a “princess” book, would be the Pinkalicious series, by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann. I know these books are extremely popular with young girls, but I just can’t stand them. In my opinion, the illustrations are too much to handle (think if Lisa Frank and Barbie had a Candy Land themed acid trip), and the story lines are lacking. For example, in the first book the main character is obsessed with pink cupcakes, eats too many of them and turns pink herself, then throws a fit about eating green vegetables to counterbalance the popping pink hue of her skin. Even as the cupcake lover that I am, I have to admit that this is not the best message to send little girls. The bottom line is, there are so many better picture book options for young girls, even books about princesses.

Case in point: Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Lane Smith. It is one of my all-time favorites, and I was so excited to hear that it is nominated for a 2011-2012 California Young Reader Medal (but more on that later).

So why is this book so great? Because the story is silly and amazing (a princess who FLOATS?!), the language is elevated and fun, but not too advanced to go over a young reader’s head, and the illustrations are downright awesome.

Young readers will love to hear the tale of poor Princess Hyacinth, the floating female. Her mom and dad, the King and Queen, make her wear a very heavy crown strapped under her chin, as well as a very heavy robe, and even heavy socks that have little golden weights sewn into them, to keep their royal daughter on the ground. If Princess Hyacinth doesn’t wear her princess clothes she just floats up, up, up.

But Princess Hyacinth wants to float around outside! She is tired of dragging herself around the castle, and spends her days looking longingly at the children playing outside on the palace grounds (while she sits in her swimsuit, strapped down to her chair).

Needless to say, Princess Hyacinth is “terribly, horribly, dreadfully bored,” so one day she decides to go for a walk (which, of course, requires her to get all dressed up in her princess clothes). On her walk she comes across a balloon man, who she convinces to tie a string to her ankle so she can float around in the sky like one of his balloons.

But “alas and alack,” something goes wrong, and the balloon man lets go of the string holding Princess Hyacinth’s ankle, and she begins to float away!

Young readers will surely be eager to see how she gets down…

Heide’s use of dramatic, yet fun, elevated language is part of what makes this book so enjoyable. As Princess Hyacinth floats, kids love to hear how she “whirled and she twirled, she swooshed and she swirled, she zigged and she zagged and she zigzagged. She zoomed and caroomed and cartwheeled.” This type of creative language draws young readers further into a story, and increases their vocabulary with new words and expressions.

Heide’s story is brought to life with Lane Smith’s phenomenal illustrations. Smith’s pictures are whimsical and sweet, but relatable too. For example, Princess Hyacinth doesn’t look like a Barbie doll princess, but rather a cute little 8-year-old girl. Smith’s work is colorful, but it does not attack the eye, and there are plenty of things to look at on each page (kids will love to point out the different animal-shaped topiaries). The book also makes illustrations of the text itself, using different colors, fonts, sizes, and shapes to make the text playful. For example, when Heide writes that Princess Hyacinth floats “up, up, up,” the line of text floats up, up, up the page.

This book is so sweet, witty, and playful, it is sure to become a bedtime favorite. So avoid those jarringly pink, computer-generated, monstrosities, and pick up a copy of Princess Hyacinth, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Other Not-So-Princessy Princess Books I Would Recommend:


Miss Lina’s Bellerinas

February 5, 2011

Title: Miss Lina’s Ballerinas
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Best for Age: 4-8
ISBN: 9780312382438
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (2010)
List Price: Hardcover, $16.99
Buy on Amazon

When it comes to picture books, I have two general pet peeves:

  1. Books with breathtaking illustrations, but horrendous (or horrendously worded) stories.
  2. Rhyming books with inconsistent rhyme schemes.

I realize that this seems like a rather pretentious and “literary” thing to complain about, but do allow me to explain myself. Some people might say, “Cait, they are just children, they won’t pick up on an inconsistent rhyme scheme.” But trust me, they will. Especially because the true glory of rhyming books is that they are perfect for reading out loud (just think of any Dr. Seuss book from your childhood, and I’ll bet you remember it being read out loud to you). If the rhyming is done correctly, and the pattern of rhymes between lines is consistent, the reader will pick up the flow of the book, and the story will become almost like a song. However, if the rhyme scheme changes halfway through the book, or the author tries to cram too many syllables into a sentence, the reader will lose the flow of the story, and the kids will certainly notice when the fun sing-song story comes to a screeching and awkward halt.

I say all of this because Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, by Grace Maccarone, passes both of my tests beautifully! Not only does the book have some of the most adorable illustrations I’ve ever seen, but it has a sweet story as well. And, most importantly, it is a rhyming book done right.

Maccarone uses a fun and consistent rhyme scheme to tell the story of eight little girls, who study ballet with Miss Lina (pronounced LEE-NA). “Christina, Edwina, Sabrina, Justina, Katrina, Bettina, Marina, and Nina” dance in four lines of two all day long.

Little readers, especially little ballerinas, will enjoy hearing about this gaggle of girls, who, “In pink head to toe, they danced all day– plié, relevé, pirouette, and jeté.” Maccarone’s dancers prance in four rows of two all around town: at school, at the market, at the beach, at the park, and at the zoo. But when a new little girl, named Regina, joins Miss Lina’s class, chaos ensues. Despite having a name that rhymes with the rest of the girls, and lovely ballet skills, Regina throws off the existing “four lines of two” routine.

In the end the girls learn the advantages of including others, when they see the fun in dancing in three lines of three.

Maccarone’s sweet story is brought to life by Christine Davenier’s (also the illustrator of Julie Andrews’ The Very Fairy Princess) even-sweeter illustrations. Davenier’s style reminds me of a cross between Ludwig Bemelmans’ illustrations in Madeline, and Hans Rey’s original drawings for Curious George. Davenier’s use of bright watercolors (vibrant pinks, yellows, blues, and greens) are accented with crayon, giving the illustrations a fun, youthful, spring-time feel.

So, why is it worth $16.99?

  1. Little girls will love the soft, yet silly, illustrations, as well as the overall ballet theme.
  2. Parents and teachers will appreciate the book for its read-out-loud qualities, the story’s moral of including others, as well as the heightened vocabulary (“annoyed and irate, distraught and distressed”), and handy list of ballet terms on the last page.

Check out the book trailer for Miss Lina’s Ballerinas!

Other ballet books I would recommend:

Picture Books For Younger Readers:

Chapter Books For Older Readers:


The Incredible Book Eating Boy

February 1, 2011

Title: The Incredible Book Eating Boy
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Best for Age: 4-8
ISBN: 9780399247491
Publisher: Philomel (2007)
List Price: Hardcover, $17.99
Buy on Amazon

The Incredible Book Eating Boy
, by Irish author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, is one of my absolute favorites. Why? Because it is unique, witty, uses really fun language, and has an actual bite taken out of the back cover.

Jeffers’ tale follows a young boy by the name of Henry. As Jeffers explains, “Henry loved books. But not like you and I love books, no. Not quite…” To the reader’s surprise and delight, it turns out that Henry loves to EAT books. Trust me, this super silly scenario will have your little readers squealing!

Jeffers recounts how Henry got into the strange habit of munching on texts, he names which books Henry’s taste-buds like best, and most importantly, the author describes how Henry’s diet provides him with a special knack for knowledge. Readers soon understand that the more books Henry eats, the more he learns. However, young readers will surely giggle when they learn how something starts to go wrong with Henry’s digestion of the knowledge he is swallowing…

What I really love about this book, and what kids love about it too, is that it is extremely visual. From his ingenious illustrations, which combine paint, pen, and collage techniques, to the different fonts he uses for each sentence, Jeffers loads each page with lots of fun elements for eyes to devour.

“Henry loved eating all sorts of books […] But red ones were his favorite.”

So, why is it worth $17.99?

  1. Kids will love the detailed illustrations, wacky story line, and silly words.
  2. Parents and teachers will appreciate the elevated language, and final moral about the importance of reading books rather than eating them.
  3. There is an actual BITE taken out of the back cover!

Go check out The Incredible Book Eating Boy.
I promise it is truly delicious, from the first to the very last… page. 🙂

More Books by Oliver Jeffers:
Up and Down (2010) $16.99
The Great Paper Caper (2009) $17.99   <– I really love this one too!
The Way Back Home (2008) $16.99