Last week I was on the edge of my seat, along with other lovers of children’s literature, as this year’s Youth Media Awards were announced by the American Library Association. I’m always thrilled when one of my favorites wins, and I rush to read the winners and honor books that I am not familiar with. These books exemplify the richness of children’s literature and are some of the best-of-the-best picture books from 2017.
Gail was a girl who loved stories. She wrote them and illustrated them from a very young age and created stories told with puppet shows to entertain her little sisters. She spent part of her childhood in the North Carolina countryside in a place called Shuffletown. Both of her parents were artists, and her father worked for the newspaper The Charlotte Observer. Visiting him at his workplace inspired her to pursue a career in art, too. She wanted to study in New York but compromised with her parents and attended schools in Virginia.
Leo Dillon was fascinated by Diane Sorber before he ever laid eyes on her. It was one of her paintings that caught his attention. For he did not know of any other student who had that deft, expressive technique. He was curious and a little jealous. He had a rival, and he knew it.
Born February 13, 1932, Mr. Taback grew up in the East Bronx of New York City in the 1930s and 40s. His family was Jewish, and they had strong ties to Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood was made up of many such families who together created a community rich in the traditions of the Old Country. When he was a young boy, he spoke the Yiddish language. Although he remembered little of it as he grew older, the traditional songs, stories, and ways of life made a tremendous impact on the work of this Caldecott Award-winner. In old Poland, a village such as the one he grew up in would be called a shtetl.
It was her third grade teacher who showed Peggy Rathmann that reading could be fun. She had spent the first two grades squinting at the blackboard, trying to make out the alphabet with her nearsighted eyes. But her third grade teacher used pictures to tell stories, and when Peggy grew up to be a famous illustrator, she made sure that her big, bold pictures were clearly outlined in black ink so the kids in the back of the class could see them clearly.
"Long, long ago, when the earth was set down and the sky was lifted up, all folktales were owned by the Sky God."
So begins an Ashanti tale, Anansi Does the Impossible!, retold by Verna Aardema. Anansi the Spider and his clever wife, Aso, use their wits to buy the folk tales for the Ashanti people. Verna Aardema spent much of her life retelling these folktales.
When David Small was, well, small, he was often sick and had to stay home from school. He would spend hours drawing and making up stories for fun to keep from being bored. He grew up in the very big city of Detroit, but he spent his summers out in the countryside with his grandparents. David was shy, but he enjoyed being with the animals on the farm, and he loved visiting museums with his parents and taking art lessons.
The Adventures of Beekle begins on an island of unclaimed imaginary friends, where each one eagerly waits to be paired up with the right child. When they are finally imagined by lonely boys or girls, they receive not only their best friends but also their names.
"This hat is not mine. I just stole it."
This is Not My Hat invites us into the mind of a tiny fish who cares nothing for his underwater brethren. The fish offers many reasons why he will succeed in his crime, why he deserves the hat over the much bigger fish he snatched it from. Obviously, we are dealing with a sociopath here.