Moving On Up: Princesses, Capers, and Crocodiles
What do you call these books in your library? Here, in Oakland, we call them “Moving Up” books. More advanced than easy readers, but not as sophisticated as chapter books. Featuring lots of pictures, but integrating more complex language. In any case – they don’t tend to get a lot of Newbery love. There are three titles, though, this year, that I think are worth mentioning. Two of them are part of a series, and one a stand-alone.
Let’s start with DARK SHADOWS: YES, ANOTHER MISADVENTURE, which is the fourth book in Doreen Cronin’s CHICKEN SQUAD series. This book is funny. The writing style suits the audience and the story, and the reader is taken on a real caper that almost feels like it is from a different time. Noir for early readers, perhaps? It is very sucessful at what it does. Distinguished, though? I’m not so sure. It would take a pretty compelling arguement to push this near the top of my list.
Next we have THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE MYSTERIOUS PLAYDATE, another series book. Similarly hilarious, and absolutely appealing, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale have written charming characters that really succeed for this age range and reading level. I worry that the illustrations do too much of the work in this story, and that the text by itself doesn’t distinguish it enough. Does the book work if you don’t consider the camouflaged monster? Does that matter? I think it does.
Last, but not least, we have Newbery alumni Laura Amy Schlitz’s PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE. Also hilarious. Also with compelling illustration. I would argue, though, with a text that does more of the heavy lifting. Schlitz, as we know, is a master of her craft. We feel the chaos of the crocodile in the pace of her writing, and we feel Princess Cora’s relief and relaxation. A single line on a page, “She sighed with happiness,” expresses so much. The dialogue is biting (pun intended) and hilarious.
I think, though, that the bigger question here, again, is the apples to oranges question. How do books like these get treated in discussion against more serious titles? How do you compare a book written for a young reader with limited vocabulary to a book written for an older reader? How do you judge humor, which is so subjective? We talk a lot about how to work with titles for the older end of our age range, and how to work with picture books, but this is an equally complicated question. Where do easy readers and moving up books fit in?
I think that it can be easy to pull out the best of the books in this category in a given year, but it gets much more complicated when you are then holding them up against books that are longer and/or more serious in topic and theme.
So, are any of these actually Newbery contendors? Heavy Medal readers have nominated PRINCESS IN BLACK and PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE, with CORA getting several nominations. I don’t think I’d use one of my nominations on any of these titles, but I also wouldn’t mind them showing up at the table. I think the most hopeful of the batch is PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE. We’ll have to wait and see if any of them get shiny medals, as that’s the only indication we will ever have in terms of what the real committee thinks.
What do you think, though?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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