Twice a month, I get to read to two groups of second graders at a local school. It’s so much fun to share books with them, especially since I get to explore longer stories, and talk about connections between books and authors that I don’t usually get to cover in my library storytimes. They love to jump in with things they notice about the story: “This one rhymes!” or “This is a circle story!” And they often catch things in the illustrations that I never noticed.
One of my favorite things to do with them is to read the Primary level picture books that are nominated for the California Young Reader Medal, and have them vote for the one they want to win (unfortunately, I just realized that I will have to wait until April to submit their votes to the CYRM committee). The nominees are announced every February, and the winning books are announced on May 1. I had already shared the 2013-2014 nominees with them earlier in the year (here’s my post from the storytime I did based on those). This week I shared the nominees for next year.
The rules specify that in order to be eligible to vote, students have to first read or listen to all of the books nominated in a particular category. Here are the Primary Level books for this year:
Last year’s nominees included Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies, so it was funny to find yet another rhyming baseball book in this year’s batch. I hadn’t run across this one before the nominees were announced, but I can see why it was chosen. The kids loved it. It’s the story of Randy Riley, a kid genius who is terrible at baseball, but great at astronomy. One night he sees a massive fireball barreling towards his hometown. No one believes him. It is up to Randy to save the day by building a giant robot, who hits the biggest home run ever. This is a fun read-aloud in solid rhymed verse with a lot of dramatic build-up. A number of the kids recognized Van Dusen’s distinctive illustration style from the Mercy Watson series (several of them also said his drawings reminded them of the movie Meet the Robinsons, which is actually based on a picture book by William Joyce.) This book got 7 votes from the first class, and 5 from the second.
Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld
This was one of my favorite books published in 2013. I loved it so much that I gave it as a end-of-year-gift to my son’s third grade teacher. I was happy to see it in the list of nominees, and many of the kids, having heard it read by their own teacher, were excited to see it as well. It’s the story of an exclamation mark in a world full of periods. No matter how much he tries to blend in, he always stands out. One day he meets a question mark, who asks him so many questions that he shocks them both by shouting, “STOP!” And he realizes he has a gift. This is such a clever and perfectly executed metaphor about celebrating our differences, and a great punctuation lesson as well. The illustrations are whimsical and simple, and drawn on the kind of lined paper that kids use for learning how to write. Although the second class didn’t vote for it, this book got 6 votes from the first class.
A librarian book! A little girl is bothered by her school librarian’s boundless (and often goofy) enthusiasm for books, especially when she is asked to share a favorite book of her own. The girl is convinced that she will never love a book as much as Miss Brooks does, until she reads Shrek. I had fun sharing this one (especially reading all the girl’s complaints about the librarian), and the kids enjoyed pointing out characters from books they recognized, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book got 3 votes from the first class, and 4 from the second.
I hadn’t seen this book before the nominee announcement either, but the kids loved it! Before I read it, I asked them what the word “Too” in the title meant, and we talked briefly about the meanings of too, to, and two. The title is actually a pun, because there are two too tall houses in the story. The book is about a rabbit and an owl who live side-by-side until one day they get in a private war to build the tallest house. Soon their two houses are towering high above the earth, making them both unhappy until the wind blows them down. The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, and got a number of laughs from the kids. This book got 8 votes in both classes, which made it the favorite in the first, tied for first in the second, and was the clear favorite overall. It was my daughter’s favorite as well.
Before I read this one, I asked the kids what other books they knew by Mo Willems. Many of them recognized his name from the Gerald and Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon books. I pointed out that this book, although written by Mo Willems, was illustrated by someone with a completely different art style. The text is a departure from Willems’ other books too. It’s a bittersweet story about a dog and a frog who play together during different seasons. In Spring they play Country Frog games like splashing and croaking. In Summer they play City Dog games like sniffing and barking. In Fall Frog is tired, so they remember the fun times of the past. In Winter, when City Dog rushes to the frog’s rock, he finds himself all alone. Then in Spring, while he waits sadly for his friend, he meets a chipmunk, and makes a new friend. This was a somber book compared to the others, but it’s subtle and sweet nonetheless. When I asked the kids what they thought happened to the frog, most of them said that he probably died, but some thought he might be hibernating. I appreciate that Willems leaves that ambiguous. I wasn’t sure how this book would go over, given the more serious tone, but it got 6 votes from the first class, and 8 from the second (tying with Too Tall Houses for that class).
Overall, I was pleased with the CYRM book selection this year. There was a nice variety to the books, and they were all fun to read aloud. The kids seemed to genuinely enjoy all of them. Too Tall Houses was the clear favorite, followed by City Dog, Country Frog, Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, Miss Brooks Loves Books, and Exclamation Mark.
Which book would you vote for? And what would you nominate for next year? The guidelines specify that the books have to be written by a living author and published within the past four years, which is pretty broad. At the end of this school year, I think I’ll ask the second graders which books they would like to see in next year’s nominee list.