published in the News and Observer NOVEMBER 19, 2017 06:00 AM
I began reviewing children’s books more than 30 years ago because of book-greed – and a husband who said we couldn’t spend half of our budget on my children’s book addiction.
Now, anywhere from two to 50 books – picture books, novels and audio books – come to my house daily. I probably read close to 5,000 titles a year.
Twenty-one years ago, I began bestowing the Wilde Awards on the books I deem most deserving. I consider books all year long, and each fall choose my very favorites. The awards shouldn’t be confused with the Wilde Awards that a Michigan organization gives to plays and that are named for Oscar Wilde. Though some of my presentations are on the wild side, they are known as the Wilde (pronounced Wild-ee) Awards.
So, with so many books to consider, how does a book become a Wilde Award winner? I read aloud in classrooms, test books with my grandchildren and examine them with teachers. For picture books, I chose books with excellence in illustration and story and the integration of the two. I also seek those that rank high in child-appeal.
I consider questions like:
▪ Will the book lead to meaningful discussion or understanding?
▪ Will it engage children?
▪ Is it evocative?
▪ Is it unique?
▪ Is it made to be shared?
▪ Does it have the rhythms, rhymes, word play and a thoughtfulness that make it successful when read aloud?
▪ Does it have the “read it again” quality that makes children want to hear it again and parents pleased to have them ask for it?
▪ And finally, does it have strong characters, compelling tension and a satisfying resolution?
Children’s books are not just for children and not just for holiday giving, though now is a good time to consider these titles for the holidays. I understood this better when, before the birth of my first grandbaby, I gave my son and daughter-in-law a baby book shower. Everyone brought a favorite title, and we spent all afternoon raving about the books we had shared and loved, cried and laughed over.
It might be cliche, but I believe a book is the gift that keeps on giving.
Here are my selections for the 21st annual Wilde Awards – picture books organized by age.
This year I will present the winners at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Dec. 6 and Quail Ridge Books on Dec. 7. Children’s book lovers and parents, ages 10 to adult, can attend these free presentations and get an up-close view of titles I’ve chosen after considerable thought. I know for some, choosing a book can be overwhelming. It’s always rewarding to hear people tell me they take the Wilde Award list with them to a bookstore or library and find it a reassuring support as they make their own selections.
Speaking of thought, I’m currently preparing the 2017 Wilde Awards for longer books. Be on the lookout for that column next month.
3 and younger
▪ “The Giant Jumperee,” Julia Donaldson (Dial)
The loud Jumperee scares away Cat, Bear and Elephant. Only Mama Frog has the courage to confront and end the Jumperee’s threat. Rhyming cumulative verses conclude with a satisfying surprise.
▪ “Go Sleep in Your Own Bed,” Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)
Pig “waddley-jogs” off to sleep, but finds cow bedded down in his sty. So begins a string of humorous displacements, fabulous verbs, fun sounds and a join-in refrain that completes read-aloud fun.
▪ “I Saw Anaconda,” Jane Clarke (Nosy Crow)
This singable funny book refreshes the familiar “I Know an Old Lady” tune with flaps, pop-ups, a refrain and an interesting perspective on a hungry anaconda.
▪ “Ribbit,” Jorey Hurley (Simon & Schuster)
One word per page and large, graphically-pleasing illustrations will launch discussions about the life cycle of a frog.
▪ “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” Jerry Pinkney (Little Brown)
Pinkey retells the familiar tale combining the familiar tropes with perfectly paced words and pictures.
▪ “William’s Winter Nap,” Linda Ashman (Hyperion)
Tender-hearted William is cozy in bed but finds a way to “scooch a bit” to make room for five sleepy, chilled animals who join him in a snuggle. There’s counting, word play and engaging refrains in this read-it-again bedtime book.
▪ “Full of Fall,” April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)
Brilliant photographs and a rhyming text describe fall’s beauty.
▪ “Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story,” JaNay Brown-Wood (Charlesbridge)
Counting and rhyming recount the problem when an inclusive grandmother hosts a huge crowd and a small heroine solves this large problem.
▪ “Jabari Jumps,” Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick)
Young Jabari wants to jump off the high-dive, but he’s afraid. His caring father counsels, comforts, suggests a positive perspective and celebrates Jabari when he accomplishes his goal.
▪ “Lily’s Cat Mask,” Julie Fortenberry (Penguin)
A father sensitive to his daughter’s anxiety buys her the colorful cat mask she admires. This cat mask bolsters and restores Lily in situation after situation. Fortenberry excels at wedding word and image as Lily wears the mask to parties with her closest friends (all inanimate) and uses the mask to be invisible at a party.
▪ “One Lonely Fish,” Andy Mansfield (Bloomsbury)
As graduated pages turn, a lonely fish is gobbled by bigger one who is chomped by an even larger fish … until the 10th fish is devoured, leaving one gigantic lonely fish with a big happy smile. This counting book has bold images, humor and a gentle introduction to food chains.
▪ “What Will Grow?” Jennifer Ward (Bloomsbury)
Rhyming pages describe the many ways seeds become plants. The question-answer format and fold-out pages increase the book’s artistry and child-engagement.
▪ “After the Fall,” Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press)
Santat uses the structure of the original nursery rhyme to reveal Humpty Dumpty’s emotional first-person narrative as the injured deals with issues that “couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.” The book shows the power of a character who faces his fears and flies.
▪ “Before She Was Harriet,” Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House)
The intriguing organization, layered poetic text and dramatic vignettes describe Harriet Tubman as a suffragist, general, spy, nurse who “dreamed of living long enough to one day be old stiff and achy tired and worn and wrinkled and free.” The accompanying illustrations by James Ransome are equally dynamic.