Short and Graphic?
We haven’t given quite as much play to “outlier” formats this year as others, with exception for EL DEAFO. I posted briefly on Picture Books back in November (and am still wildly emphatic about IVAN; check it out if you have not yet), and Jonathan on Transitional Chapter Books in December. Given that we’ve laid some groudwork with EL DEAFO in appreciating text intermingled with graphics…what other contenders are we overlooking because they aren’t “typical” Newbery fare?
WINTER BEES & OTHER POEMS OF THE COLD by Joyce Sidman is another of her amazing poetry/nonfiction/picture book mash-ups. Each poem here is truly excellent on its own, and employs a variety of styles, introducing readers to a triolet and a pantoum, as well as rhyming schemes and free verse. Her rhythm and rhyme stand out in quality far above what we generally see for this audience, and her poems are even better aloud, inviting the reader into a dramatic experience. (“We sip the drips of icicles” p. 24!) Alongside the poetry, her short prose describing the science at hand is clear and informative, distinguished in plain sight.
SPARKY Leonard Kim gave us a great justification for this as a Newbery contender back at the Top Seven post, and since I have not been able to get to the front of the holds queue this week I think I should just quote from that:
1) its integrity — even with great writers like Henkes and DiCamillo, in their easy readers, I sometimes get the feeling they might have preferred more freedom of phrasing or word choice but for their audience. I never got that feeling here.
2) its economy — I don’t find any superfluous sentences or even words. For example, in just 4-5 words, statements by the different characters show distinct personalities and voices: “Let me see your new pet,” “Sparky knows tricks too,” “You look very interesting.”
3) its breadth — it’s funny and absurd but also poignant and lonely with graceful moments of unexpected, thoughtful beauty (“They survive by eating leaves and drinking the dew that collects in them,” “You could hear all the neighborhood dogs barking.”)
4) its consistency — for all its poetic qualities, the level of writing is very consistent. The sentence-level craft and voice is never sacrificed, for example, when it’s time to advance the plot.
5) its musical repetitions and contrasts and variety of sentence lengths (Example: this sequence of 4 short sentences followed by two longer ones, “We all waited. And waited. ‘Speak?’ I said. Sparky looked at me. The only thing you could hear was the wind in the trees. ‘He has a very pretty coat, doesn’t he?’ Mrs.Edwin said finally”) which enhances the story’s structure and pacing and comedic timing.
SPARKY, of course, just won the Charlotte Zolotow Award for “outstanding writing in a picture book”
TALES OF BUNJITSU BUNNY Jonathan noted we should be on the lookout for this, and I just got our copy. Isabel’s lessons and examples in the “Bunjitsu” code reveal themselves with humor and child appropriate insight, and invite a narrative”hurrah!” at the end of each chapter, making this an especially appealing and respectful book for the budding reader who may be struggling just a little bit, and is touchy about it. This suggests itself as an action-oriented transitional chapter book, but it is really structured like an easy reader, episodic and of the same character as FROG & TOAD. It gives the readers so many layers to engage with the text in different ways, with such a simple and straightforward text, I do hope the committee takes note.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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