Patricia McKissack, award-winning author of more than 100 books for children, died at the age of 72 in her hometown of Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis. Born on August 9, 1944 in Smyrna, Tennessee, Patricia was inspired by her mother’s poetry reading and her grandparents’ storytelling to become a writer. Her family moved to Nashville where she graduated high school at age 16. She studied English at Tennessee A&I State University and also met her future husband and writing partner, Fredrick.
The pair shared a “missionary zeal” to write about African American characters “where there hadn’t been any before,” their eldest son Fredrick McKissack Jr. said yesterday. The McKissacks were at the forefront of creating diversity in children’s literature in race, geographical setting and social consciousness. Young readers of all ages are able to travel the world with Patricia’s books, which take children from the Deep South in America to Africa and span centuries. McKissack wrote in a wide range of genres, from historical fiction to science fiction, poetry to biography, all in an attempt to provide every young reader with a book which would spark interest and appeal.
Patricia’s work was popular with readers and also critically lauded. Her awards included a Newbery Honor and nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards. In 2014, Patricia and Fredrick’s work was recognized for its lasting contribution to literature with the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. A lifelong library lover, Patricia’s picture book Goin’ Someplace Special is a semi-autobiographical story of her weekly visits to her public library as a girl. In an interview about this beautiful book, she reflected, “The library was the doorway to freedom, to free thought when you're being told, ‘You can't, you can't, you can't, you can't.’ The library said, ‘You can, you can, you can, you can,’ and I did!” Be sure to check out some of her memorable books from this dedicated and important author in children’s literature.
If your little one is besotted by brontosauruses and infatuated with iguanodons, here are three new picture books from acclaimed authors and illustrators to satisfy their undying devotion to dinosaurs.
The latest in Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s popular series is How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? Written in perfect rhyming couplets, the first half of this picture book explains, with hilarious accompanying illustrations, how a dinosaur should not behave, before explaining the proper protocols. The dinosaurs are colorfully illustrated, and smaller versions on the inside cover let curious readers know the names of each.
Dino-Racing by Lisa Wheeler, with illustrations by Barry Gott, is the ninth book in a series about sports-loving dinosaurs. Young readers will be riveted as the dinosaurs compete in a drag race, a three-day off-road trek through the desert and, finally, a stock car race. Little ones will learn more about cars than the crustaceous period, and NASCAR families will especially appreciate this one.
In Dinosaurs in Disguise by Stephen Krensky and illustrator Lynn Munsinger, a young protagonist imagines that the dinosaurs are not extinct, but merely hiding in plain sight. Amusing illustrations depict dinosaurs disguised as camels, pilgrims and even Santa Claus. The visuals get even funnier when the boy imagines the disasters that would ensue if dinosaurs came out of hiding and attempted to integrate with modern society.
What’s more exciting than cracking open a book and recognizing your own neighborhood? Here are three new picture books featuring fun and history from the Baltimore area.
First, we have Poe’s Road Trip to Ravens Gameday written by the Ravens mascot Poe and illustrated by Brian Martin. Poe begins his week pumping iron at Merritt Athletic Club, shares his favorite story (The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, of course) on the Ravens Bookmobile, visits Maryland’s capital city, goes down the ocean, visits several Baltimore-area landmarks and ends the week on game day at M&T Bank Stadium. Anyone can appreciate this jaunt around Maryland, but football fans will be especially enamored.
For another exciting tale penned by a local bird, check out The Autobiography of a Pigeon Named Pete: A True Baltimore Story by Pete the Pigeon, interpreted by Gary Meyers and illustrated by Stephanie Helgeson. This book tells the true tale of a pigeon with ordinary beginnings in an ordinary Baltimore row home who went on to live a long, happy and extraordinary life with his “person” Muriel. Although the story is largely based on news articles, author Meyers has a special connection to this special pigeon — Muriel is his mother.
Finally, we have Night-Night Maryland: A Sleepy Bedtime Rhyme by Katherine Sully and illustrated by Helen Poole. Young readers will recognize the Baltimore-centric landmarks, from sleeping animals at the Maryland Zoo and the ducklings of Patterson Park to the quiet darkness of Fort McHenry and Port Discovery at night. The short, pleasant rhymes make for a nice final book before bed.
Like most avid readers, there are a handful of books from childhood that I became completely lost inside. I still love Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden, and reading it always brings me right back to my childhood, as well as that lonely old mansion in the English countryside. Megan Shepherd’s debut novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is sure to spark this same feeling in readers young and old. A blend of history and fantasy, it sucks readers into another world filled with mysterious characters and magical creatures.
Emmaline is one of many at the makeshift hospital for children with tuberculosis, but she is the only one able to see the winged horses in the mirrors of the once great house. Against the nuns’ strict orders, she sneaks out to play in the walled garden whenever she can. One morning, she discovers a horse from the mirror world hidden there. The horse, Foxfire, has a broken wing, which prevents him from returning to his own world. Letters from The Horse Lord begin to appear in the garden’s ancient sundial, and explain that Foxfire isn’t just wounded, but is being hunted by a sinister Black Horse. This creature hunts at night and is repelled by colorful objects. In order to save her new friend, Emmaline must find colorful objects to surround him. This is hard to do in the drab, gray hospital where all color seems to have been washed from the world.
This deeply moving story will have readers on the edge of their seats and will stay with them long after they have discovered all the secrets hidden in the pages.
Put on your jammies, grab your favorite stuffed animal and snuggle up with these new picture books perfect for bedtime.
In Bedtime for Yeti by Vin Vogel, Yeti must put on a brave face at bedtime when he discovers that his favorite stuffed animal is missing. Where could his sidekick be? And is he in danger? Will little Yeti be brave enough to save the day?
Various anthropomorphic animals perform familiar bedtime rituals in A Number Slumber by Suzanne Bloom. Then the alliterative text counts down from 10 (terribly tired tigers) to one (really weary wombat). The pastel illustrations are soft and soothing and evocative of dreaming.
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton features a simple and repetitive story, with everything from the quietest yawns from the smallest sleepy mice to the mighty yawns of Great Bear. The real pleasure, though, comes from the illustrations. The predominantly pink, purple and blue color palette gets darker as the pages turn and bedtime approaches. The inside cover offers a brief astronomy lesson with its depiction of the solar system and a map of the constellations featuring Ursa Minor and Ursa Major — the namesakes for the story’s Little Bear and Great Bear.
The most prestigious awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association in Atlanta earlier this morning. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. A complete list of awards, winners and honorees can be found in this morning's press release from the American Library Association.
The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michael Basquiat written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Basquiat was a Brooklyn-based artist in the 1980s and, while the book does not include any of his work, Steptoe brings the art of that era to the page by layering paint, paper scraps, paint tubes and photos on found-wood panels. Caldecott Honor winners include Leave Me Alone!, written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, Freedom in Congo Square, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Du Iz Tak?, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis and They All Saw a Cat, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel.
The oldest of the medals, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Kelly Barnhill for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, an epic fantasy that The New York Times Book Review said was “impossible to put down...as exciting and layered as classics like Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz." The three books selected as Honor winners are Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan, The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. Baltimore County Public Library’s own Jamie Watson served on this year’s Newbery Committee and she shares her thoughts on the process and some of her favorite past winners in this Between The Covers interview.
The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is March: Book Three, written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. Congressman John Lewis, a living icon of the civil rights movement, brings his honest and unflinching account of the movement’s most tumultuous years in this graphic conclusion to his dynamic trilogy. Printz Honor awards went to Asking for It by Louise O’Neill, The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, Scythe by Neal Shusterman and The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. It was a big day for Javaka Steptoe, who received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award to add to his Caldecott Medal for Radiant Child. And more honors were heaped upon John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, who won the Coretta Scott King Author Award for March: Book Three, which also won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.
BCPL has many of these titles in our collection—place a hold on one or more today!
The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). This annual award is given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The Newbery and Caldecott Medals are considered to be the most prestigious awards for children's literature in the United States.
The medal is decided by a committee elected by their peers and for the past year, Baltimore County Public Library’s Collection Development Coordinator Jamie Watson has been a member of this committee working hard to determine this year’s medal winner and honor books. Jamie sat down with me to share insight into the committee. Her passion for this committee work and children’s literature are evident! The Newbery Medal, along with the other ALA awards will be announced on Monday, January 23 in Atlanta.
Between the Covers: Please give us a brief overview of the process of committee member selection process for the Newbery Medal.
Jamie Watson: There are 15 people on the committee. Eight of them are elected during the American Library Association elections held in the spring. I was elected! You are nominated by your peers. Then, six more members and the committee chair are chosen by the president of the Association for Library Service to Children.
It was bittersweet being elected because one of my friends missed joining me on the committee by a mere three votes!
For librarians who might want to be on the committee, this has really been a long process of serving on other committees for the last 17 years, getting to know people, practicing book discussion skills and networking. It was something I knew I always wanted to do and I’m so pleased and honored to be doing it.
BTC: Is the committee given any criteria to choose its winners or does it come up with its on their own?
JW: There are very specific criteria, and I’ve probably read them 100 times or more over the last year! Here they are, direct from the manual:
Committee members need to consider the following:
• Interpretation of the theme or concept
• Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity and organization
• Development of a plot
• Delineation of characters
• Delineation of a setting
• Appropriateness of style
Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.
This gets challenging because you might be comparing so many different types of books. How can you compare a picture book with a biography for middle grade readers with a book of poetry with a novel for 8-year-olds? Ultimately, you apply these criteria to each and every book, and see how well they stand up to it.
BTC: How does the committee decide which books to read? How many did you read this year?
JW: Publishers will send you books all throughout the year. You will read reviews. You will hear other people talking and speculating. However, it’s up to each individual committee member to decide which books to read. Also throughout the year, the members communicate by sending “suggestions” to the chair, who then compiles them and sends them to the entire committee. So you can see what things other committee members are reading and liking. But not which person, or why they liked them. It’s just a list that says “You might want to check these out.” I tried to balance reading well-reviewed things, reading suggested things and reading things I didn’t know much about just to see what might be getting overlooked. Everyone on the committee has their own approach.
I likely read in the vicinity of 200 books from cover to cover. I likely skimmed 200 more, or read just a bit of them. Some books that are on the list of nominations I’ve read twice, and a few even three times. I’ll be continuing to re-read right up to the deadline just to see what else I might have missed.
This is why serving on committees has made me a much kinder “second guesser” of awards committees. Even the most avid readers have likely not read this intensely and with this volume for a year. We are really looking HARD at these books, because we really want to make a great decision.
BTC: How is it all kept secret? How do you communicate with one another? What is the approximate timeline for the year? Do you have in-person meetings? How does the voting work?
JW: As of now, none of us have talked about the books to each other at all. We don’t know who nominated what, who likes what — nothing. We start fresh on January 20. There is NO DISCUSSION of the books AT ALL until we are behind that closed door on January 20. The chair communicated with us throughout the year, letting us know what people were suggesting and checking in with logistics, but our communications with each other were completely limited.
Keeping it secret is hard for a big talker like me, but I respect that the surprise adds such an extra layer to the announcement on Monday, January 23. I had to quit doing Goodreads for the year, which I really missed. I couldn’t say on Facebook “OMG I JUST READ THE BEST BOOK” because everyone would assume that meant it was on the fast track to the Newbery.
My time on the committee was from January, 2016 until June 2017. After we make the announcement, the hard work is done. But the final payoff is at the ALA Annual Conference in the summer, when the award is presented at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet. Here, committee members usually get to meet the author, often having dinner with him/her, and just enjoy the fruits of their labor. The author will give a speech, which has nearly moved me to tears even in years when I was not on the committee!
So, at conference in January, we will begin to discuss the books. We have two full days of discussion, and then we vote. You only get to vote for THREE books. If a clear winner isn’t determined after the first ballot, all books that received votes get rediscussed. And then you revote. You can’t leave the room on Saturday, January 21 until you have a winner. I’ve heard stories of tears and anger, (nothing specific, as it’s all secret forever, but rumors!) so I hope our voting process goes swimmingly!
BTC: How has being on the Newbery Committee impacted your job as a librarian?
JW: The hardest part really has been my inability to recommend titles that I’m reading to keep secrecy at its utmost. I really miss being able to enthuse as I go along! The other impact has been not being able to do everything I might normally. While I hope I kept up on my day-to-day job OK, there were extras that came my way that I couldn’t do this year. There’s only so much brain power you have!
BTC: What do you personally take away from being on the Newbery Committee?
JW: This is just such a huge honor. Seeing that seal on a book and knowing that I played a part in getting recognition for a book and an author that should be recognized is a great honor and responsibility. It also reminds me what got me into librarianship to begin with — a love of reading and books and story and literature. The passion for our duty is going to be overwhelming in that room in Atlanta, and I’ll carry it with me forever!
BTC: What was your favorite book as a child? Do you have a favorite Newbery winner?
JW: As a kid, without question my favorite Newbery book, and still one of my favorite books of all time, is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.
Most of the time in recent years, because I read a lot of children’s books, I have read the Newbery before it was announced. The one that made me the happiest was Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. I’m also a big fan of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
But that’s another difference between OBSERVING and picking a winner. “Which book did you like best” is NOT a criteria. You can angle it and say “The plot was developed so well” or etc., but it really doesn’t matter if you LIKE it. You have to be impartial and unemotional and just say “DID THIS WORK?”
I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
Everything that’s new is scary when you’re a kid. Everyone remembers how hard it is to try new food, make new friends or move to new places. But what if you found out that your new neighbors really were monsters? That’s where Charles finds himself in Drew Weing’s excellent all-ages story The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo.
Charles is a conservative kid. Like really conservative. He even has his own conspiracy blog. He hates foreign food, art museums, opera and he especially hates the monster that lives in his closet. No one believes it’s real, but luckily Charles meets someone who does: monster expert Margo Maloo. Together they journey into the troll’s lair, expecting to “take him out,” but in a surprise twist, Margo knows him! His name’s Marcus. He’s actually a pretty cool guy.
It turns out that Margo is more of a monster mediator than a monster hunter. This means that sometimes she helps kids get rid of monsters, but more often it’s the other way around. We discover that monsters of the city have their own secret community whose way of life is under constant threat from encroaching humans. As Margo drags Charles along on a number of adventures involving these friendly neighborhood ghosts, goblins and ogres, he learns to be more open-minded toward his new and scary neighbors.
Inspired by '70s kid lit like Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Cricket in Times Square, Margo Maloo is an imaginative mystery comic with a strong message of empathy. To stay up to date on Margo’s whereabouts, make sure you follow her faithful assistant Charles F. Thompson on Twitter.
Many readers will be surprised to learn that Raina Telgemeier is one of the most successful graphic novelists working today. Her comics may not be the stuff of spectacular blockbuster movie adaptations, but she has an uncanny eye for the subtleties of school age friendships, romantic relationships and the pain of braces (which hits especially close to home for me). She connects with readers — especially young ones — and this has led to her books outselling popular comics like The Walking Dead or whichever superhero book Marvel or DC are pushing this week. Telgemeier outpaces them with personal, self-contained stories about children and, with her new book Ghosts, Telgemeier has taken yet another step forward as a storyteller. Retaining her signature warmth and breezy humor, her subjects now include death, family illness and ghosts.
Ghosts follows a family who’s just moved to Bahía de la Luna, a seaside town whose ocean air is especially good for Maya, the youngest daughter who has cystic fibrosis. But the protagonist of the story is Catrina, Maya’s older teenage sister.
Maya is a classic child, silly and wise. She has a peace with the world that’s hard to retain when you become Catrina’s age. But Bahía de la Luna is not your average town, and the girls begin spotting ghosts and real-life spooky, scary skeletons. Maya has questions for the ghosts, but Catrina is terrified of them and the uncomfortable feelings they stir up about her sister’s health. Through many lessons, Catrina will learn that inviting ghosts into her life may be the healthiest thing she can do.
Ghosts is the perfect all-ages read, full of beautiful landscapes, cartoonish humor and wisdom. Leave it to Telgemeier to take the heaviest of subject matter and make it jovial.