Swinging a Cat

DiCamillo600

Kate DiCamillo wanted a picture with me, so of course I said . . . Okay, you know that’s not true. I’ll admit, I stalked her.

Author acquaintance Cheryl Blackford said, “You can’t swing a cat in the Twin Cities without hitting a National Book Award winner, a McKnight fellowship winner, a Newbery winner, or a Minnesota Book Award finalist. We are so very fortunate to have such talent here.”

That certainly was the case while sitting among 900 other writers, illustrators, agents, editors, librarians, publishers, and book enthusiasts at the 27th Annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala. Holy cow, it was literary celebrity Heaven. My only regret: that I didn’t take more pictures.

Finalists for the Award for Young People’s Literature:

  • Ambassador by William Alexander
  • Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Ban Dusen
  • The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Winner:

  • West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Michael Hall's lovely wife, Debra Kelley, agreed to take our picture with Michael after the 2015 Minnesota Book Award's Gala, where IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK, was a finalist. Their gesture of hospitality was especially thoughtful, as they were off to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Congratulations to Michael and Debra!

Congratulations to Michael Hall, finalist for the MN Book Award for Children’s Literature.    (Fellow reviewer and book award judge, Louise Aamodt, is pictured on the right)

Finalists for the Award for Children’s Literature:

  • It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall
  • Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster by Mike Wohnoutka
  • Water Can Be by Laura Purdie, Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija

Winner:

  • Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen

Congratulations to all Minnesota Book Award finalists and winners!

CALPURNIA TATE

Welcome to KidLit Gems, a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Planting Seeds

NameplateKristisGemITHE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE
Text © 2009, Jacqueline Kelly

CALPURNIACover460Middle
Grade

Historical Fiction

Age Range:
9-12 years

Grade Level:
4-7

Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Macmillan Publishers

AWARDS

2010 Newbery Honor Award

2010 Bank Street – Josette Frank Award

The IRA Children’s Book Award
North Carolina Young Adult Book Award
Virginia M. Law Award
Judy Lopez Book Award

We arose in the dark, hours before sunrise, when there was barely a smudge of indigo along the eastern sky and the rest of the horizon was still pure pitch. ~ The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

In The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate the beloved Callie Vee’s independent and curious nature takes the reader on an adventure into the lives of a spirited, small town Texas family. Kelly’s rich settings and attention to detail aptly fits the scientific investigations that 11-year old Callie and her cantankerous Granddaddy explore.  And like Darwinism, the strong survive! The question is, will Callie endure, or will she be like the green grasshoppers that get eaten before they fully mature? I found myself rooting for Callie to evolve beyond the southern ladylike conventions of “housewifery” so she could follow her intellectual inquisitiveness..
~ Kristi
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Great. I could see the newspaper: Girl Scientist Thwarted for all Time by Stupid Sewing Projects. Loss to Society Immeasurable. Entire Scientific Community in Mourning.  ~The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The book cover reveals that its author, Jacqueline Kelly, is not only a Newbery-winning novelist; she’s also a practicing physician and lawyer. For Dr. Kelly, Esquire, I apologize, but this cosmically lopsided distribution of brilliance made me swear in my Yosemite Sam voice, “Oooooo. I hate that woman.”

Luckily, southern charm and dry humor won me over. Calpurnia made me laugh out loud when she compared unpleasant thoughts to “a bothersome, bad smelling dog demanding attention” and wondered why dogs have eyebrows. I’m convinced that Calpurnia earned her doctorate in the sciences–and maybe a law degree and a Newbery, too. By page 340, I vicariously celebrated the victories of Calpurnia and Jacqueline. You might say I evolved.
~ Anna
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CALPURNIABackCover

Watch for The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Expected publication date: July 7, 2015.

KEM Sapphire

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What children’s books plant seeds of wisdom or wonder in you?

MAY’S THEME - KIDLIT GEMS FOR MOM

MAPLE

Welcome to KidLit Gems, a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Planting Seeds

NameplateAnnasGemIMAPLE
Text and Illustrations © 2014, Lori Nichols

MAPLE440Picture
Book

Fiction

Age Range:
3-5 years

Grade Level:
Preschool-Kindergarten

NANCY PAULSEN BOOKS

An imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group

and there was just enough room under the tree for Maple and her little sister . . . Willow. ~ Maple

Maple will charm anyone who loves Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum. Lori Nichol’s début picture book also has the sweet promise of new life; the struggles and rewards of friendship, growth, and self-identity; and a curious female protagonist who loves her name. Nichols skillfully communicates innocence and calm through white and blue space, then embraces her characters and readers with translucent leaves. The pages, with their recurring themes will make you go back to revisit. Was a bird’s nest there before?

Growing up in a family of die-hard tree-lovers, I appreciate how Nichols created special bonds between her human characters and their deciduous namesakes. I’ll admit, I’m relieved my parents didn’t do the same, because my name would be Spruce. And evergreens are harder to hug.

If you enjoyed Maple, you’ll also love Sophie’s Squash written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
~ Anna
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When she was still a whisper, her parents planted a tiny tree in her honor! ~ Maple

Full disclosure here: Maple and Willow were both on my baby name list in case I had girls. But even without my inherent bias, this endearing story following a little tree-hugger through the seasons definitely holds its own. Sparse text and uncluttered illustrations work in harmony to parallel the growth of trees and families. Maple’s sometimes clumsy attempts to befriend her tree, and later her baby sister, are sweet but not sappy. Pun intended, fir sure!
~ Lou
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Maple Book Trailer by Lori Nichols

GEM Ruby

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We want to hear from you!
What children’s books plant seeds in you?

MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS

Welcome to KidLit Gems, a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Planting Seeds

NameplateLousGemIMISS MAPLE’S SEEDS
Text and Illustrations © 2013, Eliza Wheeler

MISSMAPLESSEEDSIIPicture Book,
Fiction
Age Range:
3-5 years
Grade Level:
Preschool-Kindergarten

NANCY PAULSEN BOOKS
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group

2013 New York Times Bestseller

“Take care, my little ones,” Miss Maple says, “for the world is big and you are small.” ~ Miss Maple’s Seeds

In Miss Maple’s Seeds,  a sweet caretaker gathers lost and forgotten seeds, tenderly cares for them through the winter, and prepares them to set off on their own in the spring. Parents will certainly catch the poignancy here. Young readers will love the illustration details showing how Miss Maple treasures each and every seed, and will turn the last page dreaming of their own marvelous futures. I ‘sneak’ this book into my science class under the guise of introducing seed variety and dispersal, and my first graders adore Miss Maple’s Seeds as much as I do. Bravo, Eliza Wheeler!
~ Lou
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“. . . even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.” ~ Miss Maple’s Seeds

Throughout Miss Maple’s Seeds, Eliza Wheeler gently guides readers into picturesque settings and seasons to experience life as a tiny seed. Like a true parent, Miss Maple brings hope to her adoptive plant embryos as they dream of rich soil and warm sunshine. She warns them to “stay clear of weedy characters,” encourages them to dance in the rain, and when the time is right, she sets her infants free to take root.

Wheeler’s quiet illustrations captivate. Soar on the back of a bluebird. Explore Miss Maple’s tree home. Let Eliza Wheeler nurture your curious mind.
~ Anna
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BLUEBIRDCOMINGBLUEBIRDGOINGKEM Diamond

Watch for my pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book make you think of planting seeds or spring?

ART & MAX

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt, Kristi Janikula Herro, and me for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateAnnasGemIART & MAX
Text and Illustrations © 2014, David Wiesner

ArtNMaxPicture Book

Fiction

Age Range:
4-8 years

Level:
Preschool-3rd Grade

Clarion Books,
An Imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Well  . . .  you could paint me. ~ Art & Max

ART & MAX: Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner blew me away with this “Art”ful treat. His entertaining, sparsely worded storyline takes readers on a creative adventure through a lizard skin canvas. Art’s opaque scales flake off to a pastel then watercolor undercoating to a line drawn outline, then back again.  Look also for Max the Chameleon’s blend-action. It’ll make you snicker.

Illustrator acquaintance, Emmeline Hall, attended a recent Wiesner keynote.  Tidbits she shared: 1.) Salvador Dali’s work inspires Wiesner’s landscape and sky, 2.) and Roadrunner cartoons, his Acme props. 3.) Wiesner is pronounced Wheeze-ner, not Wise-ner. Emmeline encourages everyone to delve into his magnificent blog, especially his interactive and creative process pages. (See this older David Wiesner Blog, too. Fascinating!)
~ Anna
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Ta-da! What do you think? ~ Art & Max

David Wiesner took the classic archetype of opposites to explore the artist’s creative process. I love the idea of starting the story with a blank slate, because for any artist, any medium, it is that very freedom, that can often times be so overwhelmingly stifling. So stifling, in fact, that you may feel the need for some reptilian armor to overcome it. Unless, of course, you allow yourself room to explore and laugh, which is what Wiesner seems to hint at, when he allows the armor to crumble into a new and exciting form of expression.
~ Kristi
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More detail, I think. ~ Art & Max

What a great example of focusing first on the story, and letting the message (explore the world in your own joyful way) come subtly through. If you like those old Sesame Street videos showing how crayons or noodles are made, you’ll love seeing Max recreate his friend.

A few years ago I visited the Dali museum in Florida. I can imagine how much inspiration a children’s book illustrator would find in there. Kids don’t see the world the same way as most adults, and there’s no doubt that Salvador Dali viewed things differently, too!
~ Lou

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Book Review: Art & Max by David Wiesner

GEMrub

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We want to hear from you!
What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?

APRIL’S THEME - PLANTING SEEDS

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt, Kristi Janikula Herro, and me, for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateKristisGemITHE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND
Text and Illustrations © 2014, Dan Santat

BEEKLEPicture Book, Fiction

Grade Level:
Preschool-2nd Grade
Age Range: 3-7 years

Little, Brown Books for
Young Readers

Caldecott Medal Winner
Huffington Post Best Overall Picture Book of 2014
PBS Parents Best Picture Book of the Year
NPR “Great Read”
ALSC Notable Book for Children
A Chicago Public Library Best Picture Book of the Year

But thinking about his friend gave him the courage to journey on . . . ~ The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend

Dan Santat’s award-winning story is both a narrative and illustrative gem. Santat’s mastery is evident in his use of hues to create mood and tone. I delighted in the bursting colors of the imaginary world and felt the weight of the dark and dim “real world”. Told from the point of view of the imaginary friend, Santat wisely used varying vantage points to convey Beekle’s emotions. The breathtaking artwork has both humor and heart. The clever narrative has both wisdom and simplicity.  And, … I just bet, that you can’t read this book about friendship without asking: What would my imaginary friend look like?
~ Kristi
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Every night he stood under the stars, hoping for his turn to be picked by a child and given a special name. ~ The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend

Who hasn’t felt a bit overlooked, nondescript, or dare I say . . . lumpy? All the more reason to root for Beekle. Santat’s dreamy, rainbow-zen artwork keeps the mood sweet and upbeat. Is it too late in life to shop around for my own special friend?
~ Lou
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Her face was friendly and familiar, and there was something about her that felt just right. ~ The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend

For our writers  group’s holiday celebration, we each brought a favorite 2014 picture book. Mine was Beekle. The story proves that Dan Santat is an exemplary author as well as a Caldecott-deserving illustrator. He deserves every honor, and more. I can spend hours just contemplating Santat’s out-of-this-world end papers.

Fun story-behind-the-story facts: Beekle is a sweet tribute to Santat ‘s son. Santat is best of friends with Lisa Yee, author of the fabulous Millicent Min and Bobby series. Santat illustrated Yee’s Bobby series, which was inspired by Yee’s son. Their creative friendship inspires and motivates ours.
 ~ Anna
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Book Trailer: The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

KEM Sapphire

Watch for my Gem next!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?

IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join Louise Aamodt and me for a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Illustrative Gem

NameplateLousGemIIT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK!
Text and Illustrations © 2014, Michael Hall

ITSANORANGEAARDVARKPicture Book, Fiction

Age Range: 3-7 years

Grade Level:
Preschool-2nd Grade

Greenwillow Books,
HarperCollins Publishers

Aardvarks turn orange when they’re hungry for ants, you know! ~ It’s an Orange Aardvark!

IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK! by Michael Hall actually got me laughing aloud. The uncluttered illustrations and the fun hole punches piqued my interest. But what really tickled me was the good, old-fashioned page turns leading to unexpected surprises, each sillier than the previous.

It’s tricky to write a cumulative pattern that doesn’t read like a tedious list of chores, but Hall’s repetition rolls right off the tongue. Gentle tension builds smoothly right up to the final page turn, keeping readers guessing. As a reread, it’s refreshingly funny even when the reader knows what’s coming. In one word: surprising.
~ Lou
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Oh no! It’s wearing blue pajamas! ~ It’s an Orange Aardvark!

Since Michael Hall is a Minnesota talent, we might be biased, but orange aardvarks in blue pajamas are funny, I don’t care where you’re from. Hall’s New York Times bestselling creations are reminiscent of Lois Ehlert’s–flamboyant, mischievous, and colorful. This book will give you an edge when playing Eye Spy in rainbow order. Through Hall’s creative use of shapes, storyline, and mystery, readers will learn without trying. After all, who can resist discovery when it lurks behind a peephole?
~ Anna
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Michael Hall, New York Times Best-selling Picture Book Author and Illustrator by Amy Meythaler

Book Trailer: It’s An Orange Aardvark by Michael Hall

Michael Hall's lovely wife, Debra Kelley, agreed to take our picture with Michael after the 2015 Minnesota Book Award's Gala, where IT'S AN ORANGE AARDVARK, was a finalist. Their gesture of hospitality was especially thoughtful, as they were off to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Congratulations to Michael and Debra!

Michael Hall’s lovely wife, Debra Kelley, agreed to take our picture with Michael after the 2015 Minnesota Book Award’s Gala, where IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK, was a finalist for the Award for Children’s Literature. Their gesture of patient hospitality was especially thoughtful, as they were off to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Congratulations to Michael and Debra!

KEM Diamond

Watch for Kristi’s pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book is your Illustrative Gem?