Friday, February 25, 2022

Cybils Awards Board Book Finalists and the Winner for 2021

As a judge for the Cybils Awards Picture Book and Board Book Categories, I got to do one of the things I love -- read and talk about children's books!! Now that the judging is over and the winner has been announced, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the finalists, because they were all amazing! 

Animals Go Vroom! by Abi Cushman, published by Viking Books for Young Readers

A really cute concept! Once they learn the pattern, kids can have fun trying to guess which vehicle is making the noise. This one has actual pages like a picture book, but they are thicker to stand up to handling by toddlers.

Big Bear, Little Bear by Marine Schneider, published by Cameron Kids

This was our top pick! I really liked the humor in this book. Comparing Big Bear and Little Bear on each spread was a genius idea. This book had fun surprises and a heart-warming ending. I could picture a toddler carrying this one around as a favourite.

Caution! Road Signs Ahead by Tony Buzzeo & Chi Birmingham, published by Rise x Penguin Workshop

This fun concept book has pages shaped liked road signs, which gives young hands something to touch and explore. Many common road signs are included, like stop signs and the school bus stop.

Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins, published by Chronicle Books

What an interesting book!  It provides a way to play with shapes in a really creative way I've never seen before. I enjoyed the way it stretched my imagination!  

Comparrotives by Janik Coat, published by Abrams Appleseed

The bright colours are so appealing and go so well with the humor! This book was so funny, and I loved how it had elements toddlers could touch. 

This is Still Not a Book by Jean Jullien

This is the book a toddler will carry around and play with, filled with all kinds of non-book illustrations. Because there's no text at all, no adults are needed for reading this one! There are a couple of fold-out pages to make it even more fun.

Turn Seek Find: Habitats by Ben Newman

I really liked how this book introduced animal habitats to very young readers. This was a sturdy book that won't easily break (a definite plus for a interactive book) and I think it would also age-up with children. I know preschoolers who enjoy finding things would spend a long time exploring the pictures. 

Additional Resources: 

You can find descriptions of the books at the Cybils Awards website.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

WORDS AND YOUR HEART by Kate Jane Neal - a picture book about the power of words

child holding a white heart balloon with the title against a solid red background
Why read this book?

Many picture books about using kind words are not this direct. But for me, the simple and stylish presentation here made the direct approach really effective. 

The key message in this story is about the power of words. When I read this to my kindergarten students, they leaned in and listened a little more closely than usual. I think they could really connect to this book, since at times they may feel small and powerless, with adults making decisions for them. 

Summary from Amazon: 

This book is about your heart (the little bit inside of you that makes you, you!)

The words we listen to can affect how we feel.

Some words can do amazing things and make us happy.

And some words can really hurt us (we all know what sort of words those are).

Our words have power, and we can choose to use them to make the world a better place.

Simple, direct, and emotive, Words and Your Heart’s message is that words have extraordinary power–to harm and to heal, to create and to destroy, and to spread love.

I was lucky to find this copy of Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal, published by Feiwel and Friends, at my local library, but it's one I'm considering buying for my classroom. 

My thoughts as a creator: 

"This book is about your heart." What a great way to begin! I really liked the conversational tone of this book. The art style makes use of lots of white space and the limited color palette of black, grey and red made the illustrations and the simple, but powerful ideas on each stand out. I loved the cute cartoon-style characters -- the drawings are so expressive!

My thoughts as an educator:

The idea of how powerful words are is a key concept in learning about anti-racism and bullying. This book would be a great way to introduce any lessons on bullying and especially thinking about word choices. I also really liked the focus on the uniqueness of each individual. It could be really fun and effective to pair this up with learning about superheroes and powers.

Age Range: 3 -7


Writing & Art: Make a list of amazing words! What words make you feel good? Which words make you feel powerful? Put your word in the centre of a heart shape and add colour using your favourite colours and choice of medium. This would work really well with complimentary colours to make the word pop! 

Writing & Reading: Students could make a small drawing to illustrate a powerful word they chose for a class book. Place the class book where students can read it whenever they wish.

Social-Emotional Learning: Try a random act of kindness! Think of something you could say with your words to make someone else feel happy. Write it on the back of a happy face or a heart and deliver it to a  random student in another class, somewhere else in your school. Or create a bulletin board display of words and phrases that could lift others up.

Additional Resources: 

For another perspective and more activities to go with this book, visit Kiddos and Crayons

Monday, February 7, 2022

OUT OF MY HEART by Sharon M. Draper - an empowering story for all kinds of kids


tipped over jar of fireflies against a blue night sky with one firefly escaping

Why you want to read this book: 

For some reason, snowy winter days make me feel like reading books about the summer. If you're like me, and thinking about those fun summer days, you'll love this wonderful read from Sharon M. Draper. The main character, Melody, is positive, has a great sense of humor, and has a lot of fun, even when she's worried. 

Melody has Cerebral Palsy, and the author did lots of careful research to make sure that Melody comes across as a real person, with feelings, dreams, and friendships. One of the best things about this story is how differences become strengths for the characters. Kids will especially like the very short chapters (Chapter 1 is only a page) and Melody's very engaging voice!

If you like this one, be sure to check out the first story about Melody, OUT OF MY MIND (you can find my feature on that book here).

Additional Resources: 

Sharon Draper provides a study guide on her website (created by Kathleen Odean), with discussion questions and fun extension activities, like creating a camp brochure and researching different kinds of wheelchairs. 

Check out this interesting interview with Jason Reynolds and Sharon Draper from Politics and Prose about writing during the pandemic, joy and why Sharon keeps writing: