Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s time to announce the 2013 Coveted (the word “coveted” was added last year) Robbie Awards for the funniest children’s chapter book and funniest children’s picture books of the year. A distinguished panel of experts (me) reads and ponders all year long and after hours of laughing, giggling, snorting, guffawing, chuckling, and grinning from ear to ear, make final selections (sometimes the winners are notified).
2013 Coveted Robbie Award for Chapter Book:
A father returns home late from his trip to the store to buy milk for his children’s breakfast. His daughter asks him where he has been all this time. The father replies, “Um. Yes. Well, funny you should ask me that.” He then launches into a very long, convoluted story featuring aliens bent on re-decorating Earth, a space-time continuum (time travel), pirates, piranhas, a stegosaurus-slash-inventor traveling in a hot air balloon (referred to as a “Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier”), a jungle group bent on sacrificing anybody, vampires who are unable to pronounce the letter ‘V’, galactic police, and (possibly the funniest moment in the book) a brief appearance of “three purple dwarfs with flowerpots on their heads” who do a little dance. The bottle of milk plays a big role in the father’s story. When the children state they don’t believe a word their father says, “It was all true. And I can prove it.” “How?” “‘Well, said the father, putting it down on the kitchen table, ‘here’s the milk.’”
2013 Coveted Robbie Award Honor Chapter Book:
Flora, a self-proclaimed “natural born cynic” rescues a squirrel from the grips of a gigantic indoor-outdoor vacuum cleaner. The squirrel, named Ulysses after the Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner, develops super abilities, including understanding humans and writing poetry on a typewriter. Flora does her best to watch over Ulysses despite her mother’s instructions for her father to smack the squirrel over the head and bury it in a sack. I heard that this book won some other kind of award, too. The Newman? Something like that.
And the 2013 Coveted (did I mention the word “Coveted” was added last year?) Robbie Award for Picture Book:
The different colored crayons draw up their long lists of complaints against their owner. They feel over-used, under-used, abused, misrepresented, and, well, think of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type with crayons. My favorites include the complaints of beige who points out the obvious that kids don’t get excited about coloring wheat, and pink who never gets used by the boy. Thankfully, his sister steps in so pink crayon gets a little action. In the end, the boy comes up with his artistic masterpiece that creatively utilizes the different crayons.
Finally, the 2013 Coveted Robbie Award Honor Picture Book:
A cow steals a car, goes joyriding, faces consequences. I trust that author LaRochelle and artist Wohnoutka will alert their publisher to this prestigious achievement and that the sponsors of this award will be lavishly rewarded.
Enjoy the laughs!
It’s no secret that my all-time favorite children’s song is “Walk a Mile,” written by Jan Nigro and performed by Vitamin L. It’s a moving song about brotherhood and sisterhood. It appears on Vitamin L’s recording of the same title. Go to Vitamin L’s website to hear a sample of the song and I promise you that you will be singing the catchy refrain along with the recording.
Janice recently notified me that Vitamin L’s newest video is out. It is another powerful song titled “Step Up, Step Out!” sung by a young talented ensemble. The song appears on Vitamin L’s recording Sing for Dr. King! This past week, we have been celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela and many Vitamin L songs work as tributes to both men.
In my reference book Children’s Jukebox, Second Edition, I have listings of children’s songs under the categories of “Brotherhood/Sisterhood,” “Peace,” and “Self-Esteem” that also fit “Step Up, Step Out!” My favorite songs from those categories are:
“All Across this Wide, Wide World” by Sarah Barchas from her recording Bridges Across the World,
“Brothers and Sister” by Red Grammer from his recording Down the Do-Re-Mi,
“Dreams of Harmony” written by Joanne Olshansky Hammil and found on the recording A Child’s Celebration of the World,
“Kids’ Peace Song” by Peter Alsop from his recording Take Me with You,
“My Roots Go Down” by Sarah Pirtle from her recording Two Hands Hold the Earth,
“Part of the Family” by Lois LaFond from her recording One World,
“Peace on Earth” by Stuart Stotts from his recording One Big Dance,
“Under One Sky” by Ruth Pelham from her recording Under One Sky,
“When the Rain Comes Down” by Bo Devlin and found on the recording A Cathy and Marcy Collection for Kids by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and
“World Citizen” by Stuart Stotts from his recording One Big Dance.
You can find these recordings on the various artists’ websites, Amazon, CD Baby site, and, of course, your local library and library systems.
I just had my 100th national magazine article published this month. My latest contribution to my column “Reid-Aloud Alert”appeared in the November 2013 issue of Book Links. The article is titled “Top Dog (Stories)” and features the following fairly-recently published titles as good suggestions to read aloud to children:
Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories, edited by Ann M. Martin
A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
Invasion of the Dognappers by Patrick Jennings
Lulu Walks the Dog by Judith Viorst
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth
White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan
I also make mention of modern-day classic dog stories such as Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Maylor, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith, and the works of Jim Kjelgaard.
Check your local library to see if they have a copy of Book Links to read about each book. At Book Links, we often run out of article space due to a late-minute ad placement. In that case, I confer with my editor to decide which annotation to remove from the print copy and make available for online subscribers instead. For this article, two books were held back; not because they were less interesting/successful as read-alouds than the other titles. The decision was more about the subject representation mix. Here are the two titles that didn’t make the print version, but are equally strong as the titles that did make it when it comes to being a strong read-aloud recommendation.
For those unfamiliar with my 10 Minute Selection feature, that is for those occasions when an adult doesn’t have time to read the whole book but would like to feature a captivating stand-alone passage. The time to read the passage can actually be anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes. Little or no introduction is needed as the audience will pick up any context clues to understand what is going on. If the kids are motivated to read the rest of the book on their own, that’s bonus. But the important thing with hearing a passage is that you just spent some quality literature time with the children.
The Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron (Grades 4-8): Five-year-old Ivan’s mother goes missing and he finds himself homeless in Moscow. A gang of kids put him to work begging for change. Ivan finds some feral dogs and becomes part of their pack. He goes out each day to get enough money to buy food for himself and the dogs, which includes a nursing mother and her pups. When their shelter catches fire, they are left out in the open in the middle of winter. They fall into a routine of spending the cold months in the city and the warmer days in the woods near a fairground. Ivan’s life with his dogs is threatened when he becomes the target of an intensive manhunt.
10 Minute Selection: Read most of chapter 13, “Lucky,” beginning with the sentence, “The days grew colder and there were more coats to watch.” A dog curls up next to Ivan while he’s huddled by a steam grate on a cold day. He shares potatoes with the dog and follows it to a “tumbledown shop at the end of a long alley.” The chapter ends with Ivan going into a small opening. Move on to chapter 29, “Winter.” Ivan is begging by the entrance of a fancy restaurant. A wealthy couple gives him some money. When the doorman tries to take the money from Ivan, the dogs force the doorman to back off. Ivan makes a soft gruel for the oldest dog who has a few, worn-out teeth. When the other dogs go for the gruel, Ivan growls “No!” and these two dogs “who were my friends and who could tear me to pieces” back off.
Letters to Leo by Amy Hest (Gr. 1-4): We learn a lot about 4th-grader Annie through the letters she writes to her new dog Leo. She makes rules for him like “Be a good eater and don’t waste food and don’t make faces if you don’t like the food.” She also warns Leo to not bark at people in the apartment complex elevator and to not wake up her father at 5am. We also discover how Annie deals with the loss of her mother and what she thinks about her teacher “Mrs. No-Fun Bailey.”
10 Minute Selection: Read the series of Annie’s letters that begin with the March 2 date. We learn how Leo came to live with Annie and her father. Annie is excited about an essay contest. She writes about all of the “NO DOGS ALLOWED” signs around New York City. She thinks the library should have a sign that reads “WE LOVE DOGS. BRING YOUR DOG TO THE LIBRARY.” Annie thinks the New York Yankees should have a similar sign at their stadium. Annie expresses her hatred of science, especially “saying all those human body words (hair follicles, nostrils, gallbladders, etc.) out loud in school!” End the selection with the April 2 letter. Annie draws a picture of Leo watching Annie’s father shaving. “It’s a painting about love.”
It’s a rare feat to have one picture book come out let alone three in one year. I had a chance to talk with author – AND illustrator – David LaRochelle about his banner year. We take a particular close look at David’s newly released book Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure.
Rob Reid: You have had a banner year with your books How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure, and Moo all coming out within a few months of each other. Did you write them all around the same time? How did this timeline develop?
David LaRochelle: I have never had three books published in one year before! I feel very fortunate (and a little overwhelmed). I began submitting these stories to editors anywhere from seven to five years ago, but the wheels of publishing move slowly and it’s taken this long for them to be actually published. All three are being released from different publishers, which is another reason that they are grouped together in one year; if they were from the same publishing house they would have been spread out a bit more.
RR: Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure is the first picture book you wrote AND illustrated. Did you have to do any extra lobbying with your editor to get both gigs?
DL: I’ve submitted illustrated dummies of books before, but the response has always been, “We like the story, but we’d prefer someone else to be the illustrator.” With the fantastic illustrators they’ve chosen, I haven’t had any complaints. But in this case, the illustrations are so integrated into the storyline and humor that it would have been difficult for someone else to have done the artwork. Even so, the editor and art director weren’t convinced at first that I was the right person, so they had me submit several rounds of sample drawings in various styles. In the end, they chose the style that I used in my original dummy. As my editor said, “Sometimes we have to see other ideas before we know that the first one is the best.”
RR: For the record, my favorite flap is the portrait of the admiral and the revelation he is wearing a rubber duckie floatation device. My grandson Parker’s favorite is the one with the lawn gnome. How did you come up with the ideas for the various flap images?
DL: Thinking of the ideas for the flaps was my favorite part of creating the book. I wanted each flap to be surprising and funny. I took many trips to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for inspiration and revisited all of my college art history textbooks. There was enough time between each set of revisions (sometimes a year or more) that it allowed me to look at the book with fresh eyes and come up with new ideas each time I had to do another practice dummy.
My favorite flap, by the way, is the painting of the pyramids in the desert which then becomes a castle in a lush green forest. I like the fact that only half of the picture changes, but that alters the perception of the entire scene.
RR: What was the inspiration behind the book itself?
DL: My idea was simply that I wanted to make a lift-the-flap book. Who doesn’t like peeking beneath flaps? I was either going to make the flaps into doorways that the reader would open or paintings in a museum. I picked the museum paintings.
RR: Who is the adult in the book? Mother? Grandmother? Babysitter? Anyone in particular?
DL: My editor decided that the adult was Arlo’s grandmother. Personally, I was never sure if she was his grandmother or aunt. She is a definitely a relative, and has very strict ideas about how one should experience a museum. Fortunately Arlo has more imagination, and more of an open mind, than she does.
RR: Any more books coming out in 2013? (2014? 2015?)
DL: I’m working on the revisions to a new picture book, Monster and Son, that is tentatively scheduled to come out in 2015. I also have several manuscripts being considered by editors, but even if one was to be accepted today, it might be three or more years until it was published. As I said, the wheels of publishing move slowly!