Cybils nonfiction picture book roundup #2

My fel­low judges and I are still hard at work try­ing to final­ize our round one short­list for the Cybils non­fic­tion pic­ture book cat­e­go­ry. It’s a dif­fi­cult task because there are so many great books this year! Here are some reviews of some of my per­son­al favorites (Note: I had many, MANY favorites this year). I enjoyed and would rec­om­mend all of these.

LITTLE DOG LOST : THE TRUE STORY OF A BRAVE DOG NAMED BALTIC by Môni­ca Car­ne­si (Nan­cy Paulsen Books/Penguin)
This is the true sto­ry of a name­less dog seen float­ing on a piece of ice down a riv­er in Poland. Ini­tial attempts to save the dog fail, and he is washed out to sea. For­tu­nate­ly, the crew onboard a research ves­sel sees him and final­ly suc­ceeds in res­cu­ing the dog and nurs­ing him back to health. The sto­ry is told in sim­ple but engag­ing text with delight­ful illus­tra­tions. I think kids and dog lovers of all ages will love this book. I know I did!

NORTH : THE AMAZING STORY OF ARCTIC MIGRATION by Nick Dow­son, illus­trat­ed by Patrick Ben­son (Can­dlewick)
This beau­ti­ful book is firm­ly on my list of all-time favorite non­fic­tion pic­ture books. Rather than talk about why ani­mals migrate south for the win­ter, this book looks at the flip side: why and how they come back from all over the world to live in the Arc­tic the rest of year. It presents a wide vari­ety of ani­mals, includ­ing many dif­fer­ent kinds of land mam­mals, birds, whales, and fish. The art­work is stun­ning, the text is both fac­tu­al and lyri­cal, and the lay­out max­i­mizes the effect on each on every page. This is about as per­fect a nature book as I could imag­ine. High­ly recommended!

This is anoth­er beau­ti­ful book by Can­dlewick. What I enjoyed most about this book is that the love the author has for his sub­ject comes through on every page, in both the text and the illus­tra­tions. Even if you’re not a big base­ball fan (which, admit­ted­ly, I’m not), there is still a lot to love about this book, espe­cial­ly Ted Williams’ admirable per­se­ver­ance and ded­i­ca­tion to his sport. The author’s note explains that Williams wasn’t per­fect, which makes him even more human. There’s also a bib­li­og­ra­phy and, for true base­ball fans, a detailed table of Williams’ career stats.

EGGS 1, 2, 3: WHO WILL THE BABIES BE? by Janet Half­mann, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Thomp­son (Blue Apple)
I thought this was one of the stand-out books for younger kids, teach­ing num­ber recog­ni­tion and count­ing as well as intro­duc­ing a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent ani­mals that hatch from eggs and what those eggs look like. The text is appro­pri­ate­ly sim­ple but descrip­tive and inter­est­ing, with the repeat­ed ques­tion, “Who will the babies be?” and a fold-out page pro­vid­ing the answer for each num­ber 1–10. The col­lage art­work gives the pages a rich, three-dimen­sion­al look and adds tons of visu­al inter­est. My only com­plaint with this book is that I don’t think the num­bers match how many eggs the ani­mals might real­ly have (nine frog eggs, for exam­ple), so it’s a bit mis­lead­ing in that regard, but it does such a won­der­ful job of achiev­ing its oth­er goals that I’m will­ing to let that detail slide.

A LEAF CAN BE… by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, illus­trat­ed by Vio­le­ta Dabi­ja (Millbrook/Lerner)
This is a decep­tive­ly sim­ple, but real­ly quite inge­nious, rhyming poem about all of the dif­fer­ent things a leaf can do or be used for through­out the year. The glow­ing illus­tra­tions pro­vide the per­fect accom­pa­ni­ment as well as an expla­na­tion of each line of the poem, plus there’s a sec­tion at the end of the book with even more details. I think young kids will love this book and it will open their eyes to a whole new appre­ci­a­tion of the nature all around them. Well done!
Dis­claimer: All of these books were obtained from my amaz­ing local pub­lic library system. 

What I Learned From the Cybils


The Cybils’ Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Book pan­el for round one, which I was thrilled to be a part of this year, recent­ly fin­ished our deliberations.
The pan­elists were:

There were 87 non­fic­tion pic­ture books to read. Of those, 23 end­ed up on my “pos­si­ble con­tenders” list, and only four of those end­ed up on my “absolute­ly must fight for” list. The sev­en of us had to ulti­mate­ly agree on sev­en (or few­er) titles to send on to the round two judges. (And, I’m hap­py to report, we did it! But you’ll have to wait a few more days to find out what we chose.)
What a thought-pro­vok­ing and edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence this was to go through, as both a writer and as a read­er. These smart, savvy, and opin­ion­at­ed book-lov­ing women val­i­dat­ed many of my own feel­ings about non­fic­tion for kids, and brought to light some nuances that I hadn’t real­ly thought about before, and the whole process real­ly made me think about the titles that I loved through both lens­es of the Cybils cri­te­ria: lit­er­ary mer­it AND kid appeal. It wasn’t enough to have one or the oth­er (which many titles did). Our job was to iden­ti­fy at most sev­en titles we felt were the best of both worlds. A few titles were easy shoe-ins: we agreed on those right away. The remain­ing spots were only filled after great debate, with some argu­ing for and oth­er against. The rea­sons not to include some­thing on the short list were often even more enlight­en­ing than the rea­sons to include something.
Major rea­sons why oth­er­wise deserv­ing titles got passed over:

  • Insuf­fi­cient back mat­ter. Back mat­ter can real­ly make or break a non­fic­tion book, even a pic­ture book for the youngest
    read­ers. If we, the adults, don’t trust you, the author, we’re not going to put that book into a kid’s hands. Authors and pub­lish­ers: it’s worth bud­get­ing the space for those extra pages at the back. Con­sid­er it your chance to show off your hard work and prove your exper­tise, as well as to share your pas­sion with your read­ers, adults and chil­dren alike. Sad­ly, I think insuf­fi­cient back mat­ter hurt both lit­er­ary mer­it and kid appeal on many oth­er­wise won­der­ful titles.
  • Art and design. Not being an artist myself, I was sur­prised how divi­sive this area could be. Some­times we loved the art, but didn’t feel the words were up to par. Some­times we loved the text, but reject­ed the art. Some­times we even loved both, just not togeth­er! And often, we had con­flict­ing opin­ions across the pan­el. Some­times the lay­out and design added to the oth­er ele­ments, some­times it took so much away as to knock a title out of the run­ning alto­geth­er. As an author, I’ll have no con­trol over this (gulp!), but it makes me even more aware of how impor­tant it is to find an edi­tor and a pub­lish­ing house that I can trust to get it all right.
  • Age appro­pri­ate­ness. There were sub­jects that seemed either too young or too old for the audi­ences they were writ­ten for, either too dumb­ed down or too sophis­ti­cat­ed to be appeal­ing to the intend­ed read­ers. It’s tough to strike that bal­ance of read­ing lev­el, inter­est lev­el, and rel­e­van­cy, but as an author (and illus­tra­tor), you just have to do it. I’ll be hold­ing up my own man­u­scripts to much greater scruti­ny in this area.

I want to thank each and every one of the pan­elists for a thor­ough­ly enjoy­able and eye-open­ing deci­sion-mak­ing process. I hope the round two judges are pleased with our choic­es and look for­ward to their choice for the win­ner. I don’t envy their job one bit!