In the vein of looking at some shorter fare, let’s look a little more closely at some texts in picture book format that have been mentioned in comments here. While I like each quite a bit, I’m not sure if any of them rise to my top ten for this year in Newbery potential. Anyone feel otherwise?
AND THEN IT’S SPRING. I think most people are looking at this title for Caldecott potential, as it’s illustrated by Erin E. Stead. But it also shows the talents of first-time author Julie Fogliano, with understated whimsy tuned to a classic storyline: child plants seeds and waits for them to grow. “then it is a week // and you worry / about those little seeds // and if maybe it was the birds, // or maybe it was the bears and all that stomping, / because bears can’t read signs / that say things like / ‘please do not stomp here– / there are seeds / and they are trying’ // and then it is one more week, //” I include the slash for line break and double- for page breaks so you can get a sense of how the rhythm and pacing of the text help with the emotional tension. Notice how the lack of comma after “then it is a week” leads you straight to the worry; while the comma following “and then it is one more week,” makes you take a breath: and sure enough, when you turn that page, listening closely, something is changing. This book to me is heavily reminscent of Ruth Krauss…the story is The Carrot Seed with a little The Growing Story, the rhythm and syntax (a lot of initial “ands”) are I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, the absurd bears are A Hole is to Dig. I have a hard time not thinking of Ruth Krauss whenever I read this story, in fact. But the world could use a talented author who might have been inspired by Ruth Krauss…who does not have a Newbery-eligible book this year, anyway.
EACH KINDNESS. Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book text reads aloud beautifully, with a lively and present rhythm that nevertheless sounds and feels like normal speech or thought. Here is a story that is all emotion, yet the words describe action more than feeling. You know exactly how the speaker is feeling from what she describes happening in front of her: “And on that first day, Maya turned to me and smiled. But I didn’t smile back. I moved my chair, myself and my books a little farther way from her. When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared out at the snow. / And every day after that, when Maya came into the classroom, I looked away and didn’t smile back.” From this kind of description comes a story of respect, resilience, understanding, and regret that is perfectly pitched to a young audience.
WATER SINGS BLUE. This is, of course, poetry, but in a picture book format. These short rhyming poems about all kinds of creatures and things found in the sea are charming and fun, working with metaphor to help readers notice detail. My favorite is “Jellyfish Kitchen,” which starts: “The prim bell jar / with ruffled rim /my grandma used / to cover cake / has learned to swim. ” Though none of the poems reach beyond “good” to “distinguished” to me, it’s a wonderful collection, made more so by So’s watercolors. As I read this in the museum garden down the street, a class of third graders marched past me and every single one stared at it as they went by.