Picture Books Revisited
Last year we found a pair of picture book texts in THE DUNDERHEADS and MOONSHOT that many people felt were Newbery caliber. We’ve already discussed CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG; DARK EMPEROR; and UBIQUITOUS, and If I was on the Newbery committee, I would have suggested those three plus at least four more–BALLET FOR MARTHA, CLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE, HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE, and SNOOK ALONE. And if any of them accrued multiple suggestions from committee members, then I would give serious thought and consideration to nominating them in November or December.
BALLET FOR MARTHA by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca
A nonfiction picture book may be a hard sell because clarity is prized as much or more than poetic use of language in this genre, but Greenberg and Jordan manage to do both: “The movements are not always pretty. Not everyone likes Martha’s new way of dancing. Audiences have booed her performances, but Martha never lets that stop her.” Nearly all of the reviews noted the language of the text: “crisp yet patient sentences” (Booklist), “spare, concise sentences” (Horn Book), “active sentences in the present tense” (Kirkus), “simple, poetic prose” (School Library Journal). Like THE DREAMER, BALLET FOR MARTHA takes the creative, artistic process out of the realm of adulthood and makes it accessible for children. Bravo!
CLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Brian Karas
MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! has been such a perfect storytime book that I could hardly wait to read the latest collaboration between Fleming and Karas and I was not disappointed. This original fairy tale has great plot, characters, and language (“the reddest, juiciest, most succulent strawberry in the land”) And once again, the reviews weighed in very positively: “The creators of Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! celebrate storytelling with a sparkling specimen of that very thing.” (Publishers Weekly), “jaunty, well-told tale” (Kirkus), “Fleming writes with rhythmic repetitions and delicious word choices that lend themselves to dramatic narration.” (Booklist), “detail-rich text” (School Library Journal). I think it’s too easy to underestimate this one because of its fairy tale conventions, but read this aloud to a group of small children and it will knock your socks off.
HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio
“What the hairy heck?” Winters has written another outstanding picture book text, this time the story of a little town that can’t get rid of its garbage. The quality of the text was noted in the reviews: “Winter’s folksy, storyteller’s voice captures the scruffy spirit of the adventure” (Booklist), “asides to the reader, comical accents, and spiky dialogue” (Horn Book), “jovial tall-tale tone” (Kirkus), “Winter revels in dialogue throughout” (Publishers Weekly). This one hovers toward the bottom of this pack for me, but I still think it’s worthy of a hard look.
SNOOK ALONE by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Eyring
Half of the stuff Nelson writes is very interesting, and the other half is absolutely brilliant. SNOOK ALONE tends toward the latter group. The reviews concur:”delicate stanzas of effortless poetry” (Booklist), “image-rich, heartfelt free-verse text . . . it could wring tears from stone.” (Kirkus), “Nelson writes with extraordinary sensitivity . . . Her prose is taut as a rope.” (Publishers Weekly), “The poetry of the text evokes all of the senses and pulls at the emotions.” (School Library Journal). Like CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG this one will resonate with the dog lovers of the world. It’s got a happier ending and a longer text with more sophisticated language.
I would still like to read PECAN PIE BABY by Jacqueline Woodson and THE ODIOUS OGRE by Norton Juster, but so far these seven picture books represent the A-list for me. I have not yet found an easy reader that I can champion with equal enthusiasm. While I liked BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee, I think that it’s dependent upon the illustrations in much the same way that Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books are. I also liked LING & TING by Grace Lin, but just not in a Newbery sort of way. What else am I missing?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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