Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Being a Friend: 8 Books to Help Kids Along

from Brun-Cosme's Big Wolf & Little Wolf
There are many things parents hold their breath and wish for.

One is that their children always have a buddy to turn to -- at least one friend who stays true no matter what.

But making friends isn't always easy, especially if children feel shy or awkward, or don't know anyone.

And sometimes, even if they have good buddies, they find themselves on the outs or feeling apart from everyone else.

There's so much to learn about friendship, how to compromise and accept differences, how to stand up for yourself and be heroic when someone needs you.

You may have heard the phrase, "raising happiness." It's the idea that children will blossom if they learn to be considerate, compassionate and confident.

In celebration of that idea, I've pulled together 8 books about being a friend and some of the bumps friends face along the way.

1. Bink & Gollie

Written by Kate DeCamillo, Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Tony Fucile
$15.99, ages 4-8, 96 pages

Two pals get into spats, but discover that if they each give a little, they can work things out in DiCamillo and McGee's adorable 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner.

Bink and Gollie look nothing alike, but as they swap knowing glances on the cover of this early reader, you get the feeling they're alike where it really counts.

Though Bink is short and Gollie is tall, and their clothes and hair-dos are very different, each girl is adventurous and gets what the other is about.

Bink, with her flyaway hair, jumps into life, unconcerned with what others think, and it's that confidence that immediately endears her to us.

Gollie is reserved, but strong-willed. She longs for speed and spurs the two to roller-skate as fast as they can. She also imagines doing thrilling things, though she never goes far from her tree house.

Most of the time Gollie and Bink are game for what the other wants to do, but sometimes they're stubborn and won't budge enough to compromise.

Over three spare, energy-filled chapters, we see how a tiff between Bink and Gollie can blow up into an argument that neither really wants to have and can hide something else that's bothering one of them.

2. Big Wolf & Little Wolf

Written by Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
$16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages

When a little blue wolf starts hanging out at Big Wolf's tree, Big Wolf doesn't know what to think.

After all, this is Big Wolf's tree. It's always been that way.

What could a quiet little wolf be after? Will he try to show Big Wolf up?

As one day slips into the next and Little Wolf does nothing to eclipse Big Wolf, Big Wolf gets used to having him around, though he isn't particularly welcoming.

Then one day Little Wolf leaves the tree and Big Wolf's heart glows red through his fir. He realizes just how much Little Wolf has come to mean to him.

In this sweet, gently told story by France's Brun-Cosme and Tallec, two solitary creatures let their guards down and discover the joy of being with someone else.

3. Forever Friends

Written and illustrated by Carin Berger
$16.99, ages 2-6, 40 pages

A bird and bunny stumble into a friendship that endures through the seasons in this breezy, enchanting book about being patient and true.

As pink blossoms unfold on trees, a graceful blue bird swoops onto a branch above a log, where a brown bunny is waking from his winter sleep.

"Come Play!" the bird sings out, and immediately the bunny bounds out of the log, bursting to go on adventures.

The days are joyful and they play every moment they can through the last days of fall.

They string flowers, twirl around each other, hide under toad stools, and try to catch floating globes of fireflies.

But when the last of the leaves fall and the cool air comes, the bird tells the bunny he must go.

It's time to fly south, but he promises to come back when the air is warm again.

As the bird soars away, the bunny sadly looks up toward the clouds, his arms stretched out to his friend; he is not yet ready to let go.

4. So Close

Written and illustrated by Natalia Colombo
$17.95, ages 4-7, 24 pages

Working up the courage to say hello isn't easy when the person you want to say hello to is as shy as you are.

In this sweet book about reaching out to others, Spain's Colombo shows how one little word can transform strangers into friends.

Mr. Duck and Mr. Rabbit pass each other everyday, yet they're always focused straight ahead or down at the ground as they go to and from home.

Neither one lets on that he knows the other exists; perhaps they're too busy or they feel awkward about speaking to someone they haven't been introduced to.

At times they pass so closely, they look as if they'll brush shoulders. Colombo zeros in on their faces and you find yourself wishing they would accidentally touch, just to break the tension.

5. The Boys

Written and Illustrated by Jeff Newman
$15.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

A new boy in town longs to join a game of baseball, but is too guarded to ask if he can play until four old guys coax him out of his shell.

Wordless except for days of the week announced every few pages, this hilarious story is about wanting to fit in, but not knowing how.

As the story begins, it's Tuesday and the little boy in a red cap has just moved into his house and is eager to find a game of baseball.

He's got his glove, bat, even a ball. Now he just needs a field of kids.

But when he gets to the neighborhood park and sees a game underway, he freezes up, feeling too self-conscious to ask if he can join in.

With his cap low over his face and his bat dragging behind, the boy slumps off to a park bench, where four old guys are whiling away the day.

6. Day & Night

Written and illustrated by Teddy Newton
$14.99, all ages, 40 pages

When points of view are starkly different, you say they're as different as night and day. But if you are, in fact, Night and Day, do you have to be worlds apart?

In this delightful book adaptation of Pixar's 2010 short by the same name, two doughy shaped fellows named Night and Day discover that being different is nothing to be afraid of.

Against a backdrop of blackness, Day wakes up with a skip in his step. Birds swirl around inside him, flowers bloom in his belly and for a time he lays back soaking in the rising sun.

But as Day gets up to walk again he comes upon Night curled up on the ground sleeping and is startled because he's never seen anything like him.

Uneasy about what Night is, Day tries to slip past him unnoticed. But at that moment Night wakes up, equally out of sorts.

"Yikes!" they yell at the same time as each stumbles back from the other.

7. Don't Call Me Pruneface

Written by Janet Reed Ahearn
Illustrated by Drazen Kozjan
$16.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages

It's hard being nice when your new next-door neighbor goes out of her way to raise your hackles, but Paul is trying.

If only he could take the high road and follow Grandma's words of advice -- especially the one about him being "as good as gold."

But how can Paul be the nice guy grandma's sees and endure the ill will of Prudence, aka the Lunatic?

Since Day 1, when Paul welcomed her into the neighborhood, she's thrown one verbal jab after another.

That day she called him "Pill" instead of "Paul," and suggested a better name for his dog Bobo was, "Oops," because a boy like Paul shouldn't have a cute dog.

Grandma says, "You can't judge a book by its cover," so Paul's giving Prudence a week to change his mind and show him there's a nice girl in there after all.

However by the way things are going so far, Paul's not sure he'll make it that far. After all, even nice boys have their limits.

8. Song for a Princess

Written by Rachel Mortimer
Illustrated by Maddy McClellan
$17.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages

When a princess loses a dear friend, a bird gathers up words the girls once shared and sings them back to her in this heartwarming tale about picking yourself back up.

For many happy hours, the princess and her friend would sit in the palace garden on a blanket scattered with open books, talking, reading, singing and dreaming of faraway places and beautiful things.

The girls loved words and shared them freely: words like "smile," "friends," "rainbow," "star" and "always."

On those days, a breeze would send their happy, colorful words twirling about through the air and a little brown wren who lived in the garden would catch them like worms and line his nest with them.

"They were treasures to him," Mortimer writes. "The words made him feel safe and warm."

But then one day, the friend had to go away, leaving the princess's heart empty. As rain poured down, the wren collected the princess's words, but now they were the saddest he'd ever heard.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winners of 2011 Newbery and Caldecott

2011 Randolph Caldecott Medal
Written by Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Roaring Book Press
2011 John Newbery Medal
By Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Books

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who Will Win Jan. 10?

Every year before the Caldecott and Newbery awards are announced, I wonder what will impress the judges and whether it will be anything like what impressed me.

Occasionally, I can predict one or two books that the American Library Association judges will select because those books took everyone's breath away.

When I rooted for Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 2008 and David Wiesner's Flotsam in 2007 for Caldecott Medals and both won the top prize, it was exciting, but not surprising.

They were the A+ projects everyone knew were leagues ahead.

But this year, like most years, I am at a loss to predict whether any of my favorites will come close to winning. So instead of trying to predict, I've decided to list the books that stood out most for me.

Whereas my Holiday Gift Guide focused on fall/winter books that fit the spirit of the season, this list covers the entire year and includes books that came out before and after that list was posted, and books that aren't necessarily a light read.

Though I agree that any award-winner must be well-crafted, in the end, for me, it's not so much about the technical merits of the book, but how the words and pictures made me feel when I reached the last page.

Even if none of these books make the award lists on Nov. 10, they'll still be some of the best things I've read all year.

Which are your winners?

What Makes a Story Great?

When I finish reading a novel that's really special, certain things happen to me that I don't really think about until I'm in the middle of doing them or feeling them.

I close the book and grip it with both hands as if to feel its solidity. Then I gently run my hand across the cover with the palm of one hand, as if dusting it off, though it's hardly dusty.

For a moment or two I dote over it a little, maybe adjust the jacket just so, like a child fussing over the hair or dress of a favorite doll that's already quite perfect. Then I take in a deep, deep breath.

With my lungs filled, I feel like I could float away to a blissful place and for a few moments more, I muse over the wonderful parts I read as I exale.

Sometimes I even feel a tinge of envy for the feeling I had when I didn't know how the story would end.

Then I find a special place on the bookshelf that's at eye level when I'm standing, so that when I walk by the book days, weeks or months from now, my eye will meet the title on the spine, and I'll be reminded of where I've been.