You Be the Judge: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize

My friend Sue Beckmeyer, who is the instructional media specialist at the K-8 school my kids attend, recently told me about two children’s book awards that are voted on by elementary school students: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize.  Both of these awards were created by the Center for Children’s Literature at the Bank Street College of Education in New York.

I was excited to learn about the awards because I read to two classes of second graders every other week, and they LOVE to vote for their favorites.  Sue was especially excited about the Cook Prize because it focuses on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) related picture books, which are a big part of the new Common Core curriculum.  She asked me to share the books with the third and fourth grade classes, and collect their votes.  Here are the books:

ada

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark; illustrated by April Chu

This is a fascinating story about a brilliant mathematician who was a century ahead of her time.  Ada Byron Lovelace was the daughter of the notorious poet, Lord Byron, although she barely knew her father.  Her childhood was devoted to math and invention, especially after a bout of measles left her crippled for several years.  As a teenager, she met the famous inventor, Charles Babbage, who showed her his plans to build a “Thinking Machine,” essentially the first computer.  Lovelace recognized that the thinking machine would need detailed instructions to run, and so she set out to write them.  Even though Babbage never built the actual machine, Lovelace’s code is still considered the world’s first computer program.  The two third grade classes I shared this with so far were intrigued by the idea of a computer program that predated computers, and this one got a large number of votes, mostly from girls.

horseshoe

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell; illustrated by Alan Marks

This was the favorite by far of both classes I have read to.  It describes the annual event in Delaware Bay, when millions of horseshoe crabs crawl ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, followed by millions of hungry sea birds.  The kids loved the diagram of the very alien-looking crabs on the inside cover, and seemed really intrigued by the radio tags, and the goopy green eggs.  Nature writing at its best.

mesmerized

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Iocapo Bruno

This was the most challenging of the three books in terms of the concepts it was trying to convey, but it’s a great story.  It describes Benjamin Franklin’s trip to Paris to garner the support of the French aristocracy during the American Revolution.  While in Paris, he found that everyone was abuzz with news of a man named Dr. Mesmer.  Dr. Mesmer claimed to possess a mysterious force that could make people experience strange sensations, or even cure them of various ailments.  But when Dr. Mesmer tried his powers on Franklin, nothing happened.  Franklin suspected that the force was in the patient’s mind.  In order to test his theory, he enlisted the help of Mesmer’s assistant, asking him to use his powers on people who were blindfolded.  As he suspected, when the patient could no longer see Mesmer’s assistant, they would experience sensations even when he was no longer in the room, or feel heat in a different part of the body than he was targeting.  Mesmer was disgraced, but Franklin’s experiments led to the discovery of the placebo effect, which has been an important tool in modern medicine.  The book design and illustrations are eye-catching, and the text includes side bars outlining the different parts of the scientific method Franklin employed.  This book got a number of votes as well.

The Irma Black Award

On Wednesday, I got to share the finalists for the Irma Black Award with two classes of second graders.  This award is chosen by first and second graders, and is for the best read-aloud picture books.  Here are the four finalists:

bert

You Can Do It, Bert by Ole Konnecke

This is the shortest of the four finalists: a cute book about a bird bracing himself to try something new.  He walks out to the edge of his branch, then back again, then has a snack, then finally jumps…down into the water.  The kids liked the surprise that instead of learning to fly, Bert is taking his first plunge from the high dive.  This one got several votes.

stanley

It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

I love Jon Agee, especially because he did an excellent author visit to the school when my son was in second grade.  My favorite books of his are My Rhinoceros and Milo’s Hat Trick.  In this rhyming story, the Wimbledon family keeps getting woken up by the antics of their dog, Stanley, who howls at the moon, makes catfish stew, fixes their old TV, and finally launches their whole house to the moon.  The kids loved that the space poodle Stanley meets up with showed up on the TV earlier in the book.  This one got several votes as well.

red

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

I was happy to see this one on the list, because it is one of my daughter’s favorites.  The kids were intrigued from the moment they noticed the discrepancy between the book’s title (Red) and the clearly blue crayon on the cover.  The story is about a crayon who is labelled “Red,” but somehow can’t figure out how to draw anything red.  Everyone has a theory: he needs to try harder, his label’s too tight, he’s not warm enough.  But nothing helps.  Until one day, a new crayon asks him to draw a blue ocean for her boat, and he discovers he is really good…at being blue.  This was the second most popular book in both classes.

ragweed

Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy

This was the clear favorite for both classes (and my favorite as well).  Ragweed the dog explains how to be a farm dog by taking you on a tour of the farm.  Along the way, he explains the jobs of the other animals: the rooster wakes the farmer.  That’s his job.  That’s not your job.  You will really, really want to wake the farmer, but don’t wake the farmer.  If you do wake the farmer, you can get a biscuit just to go away.  Every animal has a different job that Ragweed finds appealing, but Ragweed’s job is still the best.  His job is: to get biscuits!  The kids especially love the part where Ragweed says if you eat grass, you won’t get a biscuit.  “But you will throw up a biscuit, and you can eat that one again.”  This one is a blast to read aloud, and a hit for all ages.

I really enjoyed reading both the Irma Black and the Cook Prize finalists to the different classes, and am looking forward to trying out the Cook Prize voting with fourth graders this week to see if they make different choices.  Voting for both awards ends on April 17.  There’s a convenient form for online voting on the Bank Street web site.

UPDATE: I finished reading the Cook Prize finalists to the third and fourth grade classes yesterday.  Although all three books got votes, the fourth graders seemed to prefer Mesmerized.  The third graders tended to prefer High Tide for Horseshoe CrabsAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine was a close second for both grades.  The teachers were impressed with all three books, and so was I.  Even though I read them to five classes, I enjoyed reading them each time.  They are a nice mix of science, history, and nature, and all three are very well written.  Kudos to Bank Street for their selections!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: The results are in!  The winner of the Cook Prize was Mesmerized, the book that the fourth graders preferred.  And It’s Only Stanley won the Irma Black Award. This wasn’t the favorite of the second grade, but it did get several votes, and I’m happy to see Jon Agee receive a prestigious award.

 

 

Finding Winnie: My Favorite Picture Books of 2015

Somehow it’s already mid-December, the time of year when I start thinking about the upcoming Caldecott Award announcement.  Every year, in January, I like to do Mock Caldecott storytimes, where I share several picture books and ask the kids to guess which one they think will win.  Here’s my list of favorite picture books published in 2015.  I’m basing it mostly on the reactions I’ve gotten from reading these aloud, either at storytimes, or with my 6 year-old daughter.

frog

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty; illustrated by Mike Boldt

When a young frog complains that he’d like to be some other animal, because frogs are too slimy, and wet, and eat too many bugs, an older frog tries to counter all of his arguments.  The young frog isn’t convinced though, until a wolf tells him that he likes to eat every other animal, except slimy, wet, bug-eating frogs.  My daughter asked for this book several times, and it got laughs from both kids and parents at storytime.

stick

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

A stick and a stone are both lonely, until they meet and become friends.  When Pinecone picks on Stone, Stick sticks up for him because “that’s just what sticks do.” And when Stick gets stuck in a puddle, Stone rescues him.  This book reminds me of Kathryn Otoshi’s One, although it is a much simpler, lighter story that nicely summarizes what it means to be a good friend.  I haven’t shared this one at storytime yet, but my daughter loved it.

bear.jpg

How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder; illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

A boy builds a cozy fort out of blankets, only to find it constantly being taken over by a small bear.  He tries everything he can think of to lure the bear away from the fort– blueberries, honey, and a sink full of water and toys– and finally gets the fort to himself.  But then the bear is revealed to be his tearful little brother in a bear suit, and the boy rebuilds the fort so they can share.  A super sweet sibling story that was a hit at storytime.

tree

Little Tree by Loren Long

A little tree is afraid to let go of his leaves, even as all the trees around him shed theirs and grow new ones.  Over time, he is overshadowed by all of trees around him, until he can no longer see the sky, and is finally convinced to let go and grow.  I haven’t read this one at storytime yet, but when I brought home a stack of picture books to read to my daughter, she said it was her favorite.  It would work well for a theme about the seasons, but on a deeper level it’s a wonderful story about the pains of growing up.

princess

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Princess Pinecone wants a big, strong, fast, warrior horse befitting a warrior princess.  Instead she gets a small, chubby, gassy pony.  But her disappointing pony ends up turning the battle around in a surprising way.  This one was a big hit both with my daughter, and with the kids at storytime.

cinderella

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Meg Hunt

Although there are lots of picture book variations on the Cinderella story, this one stands out because of its plucky, mechanically-inclined heroine.  In this story, Cinderella not only has to devise her own transportation to get to the Royal Space Parade, she also rescues the Prince when his ship breaks down.  I love the ending, where Cinderella declines to marry the Prince, and instead becomes his chief mechanic.  My daughter and I had fun reading this one together.

small

The New Small Person by Lauren Child

Elmore Green enjoys being an only child, and having his own room, where no one ever moves his things or eats his favorite jelly beans.  But then a new small person arrives, and Elmore worries that people seem to like him more than they do Elmore.  Plus the new small person moves his things, cries during his favorite television shows, and even licks his jelly beans.  But over time, Elmore learns that younger brothers can be fun, helpful, and even comforting.  My boss read this one at a storytime recently, and it was met with lots of laughs and “Aww’s.”

wolfie

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Zachariah OHora

One of my daughter’s favorite books of the year, this one’s about a family of bunnies who adopt an abandoned wolf pup.  Although her parents think that Wolfie is absolutely wonderful, little Dot is convinced he is going to eat them all up, until one day she and Wolfie have a run in with a hungry bear, and have to save each other.  Funny and adorable.

red.jpg

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Red has a big problem.  Even though his label clearly says he is a red crayon, he only seems to be able to color things blue.  Everyone says he just needs to try harder, until one day a new friend asks him to color a blue ocean, and he finally discovers what he is meant to be.  This is wonderful allegory for anyone who’s ever felt forced to try and be something they’re not, but beyond that, my daughter was so taken with the story that she went on to write her own versions with different colors of crayons.

winnie

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick; illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Before there was Winnie the Pooh, there was a man named Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who bought a bear cub from a hunter at a train station in Canada.  He took the cub along with him to England, and named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg.  Winnie became the mascot of his military unit, but when Harry learned that he would have to go to France to help on the front lines, he brought her to the London Zoo, where she became a favorite among the visitors, especially a small boy named Christopher Robin.  When I was reading this book with my daughter, at first I found it jarring that it begins with a mother telling the story to her son.  But in end, the son is revealed to be the great-great-great-grandson of Harry Colebourn, and the woman telling the story is his great-great-granddaughter, the author of the book.  A lovely story, both for animal lovers and fans of Winnie the Pooh.  Funnily enough, there’s another new picture book out about this same story called Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss.  I enjoyed that one too–it has a lot more details about the antics of the bear, and the illustrations are darling– but it didn’t give me the chills the way Finding Winnie did on discovering the connections between the book’s subject and its author.  I’m looking forward to sharing this book with the second graders I read to in the New Year.

What are your favorite picture books of the year?