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Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lots of Great Children's Picture Books in '11

Traditionally the end of the year signals a hearty round of lists touting "the best" in a variety of venues...the best movies, the best CDs, the best this, and the best that.  The field of children's literature is no different as all the major reviewing sources produce their own list showcasing the "stars" in children's book publishing.  The following titles have appeared on one or more of these lists.  In addition all of these titles share two common threads:  they were written and/or illustrated by a previous Caldecott or Newbery Medalist or Honor Book recipient and they are contenders in EVPL's upcoming Mock Caldecott program to be held Thursday, January 12 at Central Library.    Teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, or just lovers of children's literature are invited to attend this program which begins at 8:00 a.m. in the Browning Room.  To register for the event contact Beth Pieper at 428-5405. 

Here, then, are some of "the best" in children's picture book publishing this year.

Balloons Over Broadway, The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade.  If you're a fan of The Miracle on 34th Street (the classic movie as well as the book by Valentine Davies), Caldecott Honor Medalist Melissa Sweet's new book is made-to-order for you.  Balloons is a tribute to Tony Sarg ("rhymes with aargh"), the master craftsman whose childhood fascination with toys, especially marionettes, led to the development of those helium-filled behemoths that "...wobble and sway, sally and shimmy, up and down the canyons of New York City" each Thanksgiving.  Sweet's collage and mixed media illustrations delight the child in all of us.  

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures.  "Reimagined" by two-time Newbery Medalist Katherine Patterson and illustrated by Pamela Dalton, Brother Sun is a vision of sheer beauty with jaw-dropping attention to detail.  Cut-paper illustrations, reminiscent of a craft form from "...early nineteenth-century Pennsylvania German communities...", complement the words of St. Francis who penned this lovely hymn of praise almost eight hundred years ago.

Little White Rabbit.  Written and illustrated by former Caldecott Medalist (and Newbery and Caldecott Honor recipient) Kevin Henkes, Little Rabbit's frolic in the woods speaks to those of us who are winter-challenged and long for mild weather and warm breezes.  Illustrated using colored pencils in soft colors, this easy picture book would be perfect for a pre-naptime read.

Mouse & Lion.  After an absence of twenty years, 2011 marked the artistic return of former Caldecott Honor recipient Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  Joining forces with her author son Rand Burkert, the two retell Aesop's fable about the lowly rodent who helps the mighty king of the jungle.  Ekholm Burkert chose the Aha Hills (an area that borders Botswana and Namibia) for the book's setting while the exquisite drawings feature her remarkable talent (you can literally count each hair on the mouse and lion!).  Although Jerry Pinkney's more robust version of this ancient tale was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2010, the Burkert team's production is worthy of the Medal in its own right.

Stars had to be written for those times when one is feeling a bit down and needs a little cheer.  Author Mary Lyn Ray and artist Marla Frazee, a former Caldecott Honor recipient, show us that stars can be found, not only in the nighttime sky but "...on a plant as a promise of fruit to come..." or from a simple piece of paper cut in a star shape to make a pretend sheriff's badge.  A star shape, a piece of tape and a stick can make a magic wand.  Even snowflakes are stars.  How many other star shapes can you see in nature?  Ray and Frazee will show you how to find them.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature.  With simple text and detailed scratchboard illustrations poet Joyce Sidman (Newbery Honor recipient) and artist Beth Krommes (Caldecott Medalist) reveal the spiral shapes in nature.  Vibrant and colorful with lots of detail, this easy tale is just right for younger readers to pore over again and again.  "Spirals—bold, beautiful, and mysterious..."  Come discover.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Everyone's favorite nursery song has been retold by 2010 Caldecott Medalist, Jerry Pinkney.  Brightly hued watercolor and pencil illustrations feature an inquisitive chipmunk on a nighttime adventure while the soothing cadence of the lyrics will bring out the sleepies in everyone.  A visual delight.