I began reviewing children’s books more than 30 years ago because of book-greed – and a husband who said we couldn’t spend half of our budget on my children’s book addiction.
Now, anywhere from two to 50 books – picture books, novels and audio books – come to my house daily. I probably read close to 5,000 titles a year.
Twenty-one years ago, I began bestowing the Wilde Awards on the books I deem most deserving. I consider books all year long, and each fall choose my very favorites. The awards shouldn’t be confused with the Wilde Awards that a Michigan organization gives to plays and that are named for Oscar Wilde. Though some of my presentations are on the wild side, they are known as the Wilde (pronounced Wild-ee) Awards.
So, with so many books to consider, how does a book become a Wilde Award winner? I read aloud in classrooms, test books with my grandchildren and examine them with teachers. For picture books, I chose books with excellence in illustration and story and the integration of the two. I also seek those that rank high in child-appeal.
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I consider questions like:
▪ Will the book lead to meaningful discussion or understanding?
▪ Will it engage children?
▪ Is it evocative?
▪ Is it unique?
▪ Is it made to be shared?
▪ Does it have the rhythms, rhymes, word play and a thoughtfulness that make it successful when read aloud?
▪ Does it have the “read it again” quality that makes children want to hear it again and parents pleased to have them ask for it?
▪ And finally, does it have strong characters, compelling tension and a satisfying resolution?
Children’s books are not just for children and not just for holiday giving, though now is a good time to consider these titles for the holidays.
I understood this better when, before the birth of my first grandbaby, I gave my son and daughter-in-law a baby book shower. Everyone brought a favorite title, and we spent all afternoon raving about the books we had shared and loved, cried and laughed over.
It might be cliche, but I believe a book is the gift that keeps on giving.
Here are my selections for the 21st annual Wilde Awards – picture books organized by age.
This year I will present the winners at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Dec. 6 and Quail Ridge Books on Dec. 7. Children’s book lovers and parents, ages 10 to adult, can attend these free presentations and get an up-close view of titles I’ve chosen after considerable thought. I know for some, choosing a book can be overwhelming. It’s always rewarding to hear people tell me they take the Wilde Award list with them to a bookstore or library and find it a reassuring support as they make their own selections.
Speaking of thought, I’m currently preparing the 2017 Wilde Awards for longer books. Be on the lookout for that column next month.
3 and younger
▪ “The Giant Jumperee,” Julia Donaldson (Dial)
The loud Jumperee scares away Cat, Bear and Elephant. Only Mama Frog has the courage to confront and end the Jumperee’s threat. Rhyming cumulative verses conclude with a satisfying surprise.
▪ “Go Sleep in Your Own Bed,” Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)
Pig “waddley-jogs” off to sleep, but finds cow bedded down in his sty. So begins a string of humorous displacements, fabulous verbs, fun sounds and a join-in refrain that completes read-aloud fun.
▪ “I Saw Anaconda,” Jane Clarke (Nosy Crow)
This singable funny book refreshes the familiar “I Know an Old Lady” tune with flaps, pop-ups, a refrain and an interesting perspective on a hungry anaconda.
▪ “Ribbit,” Jorey Hurley (Simon & Schuster)
One word per page and large, graphically-pleasing illustrations will launch discussions about the life cycle of a frog.
▪ “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” Jerry Pinkney (Little Brown)
Pinkey retells the familiar tale combining the familiar tropes with perfectly paced words and pictures.
▪ “William’s Winter Nap,” Linda Ashman (Hyperion)
Tender-hearted William is cozy in bed but finds a way to “scooch a bit” to make room for five sleepy, chilled animals who join him in a snuggle. There’s counting, word play and engaging refrains in this read-it-again bedtime book.
▪ “Full of Fall,” April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)
Brilliant photographs and a rhyming text describe fall’s beauty.
▪ “Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story,” JaNay Brown-Wood (Charlesbridge)
Counting and rhyming recount the problem when an inclusive grandmother hosts a huge crowd and a small heroine solves this large problem.
▪ “Jabari Jumps,” Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick)
Young Jabari wants to jump off the high-dive, but he’s afraid. His caring father counsels, comforts, suggests a positive perspective and celebrates Jabari when he accomplishes his goal.
▪ “Lily’s Cat Mask,” Julie Fortenberry (Penguin)
A father sensitive to his daughter’s anxiety buys her the colorful cat mask she admires. This cat mask bolsters and restores Lily in situation after situation. Fortenberry excels at wedding word and image as Lily wears the mask to parties with her closest friends (all inanimate) and uses the mask to be invisible at a party.
▪ “One Lonely Fish,” Andy Mansfield (Bloomsbury)
As graduated pages turn, a lonely fish is gobbled by bigger one who is chomped by an even larger fish … until the 10th fish is devoured, leaving one gigantic lonely fish with a big happy smile. This counting book has bold images, humor and a gentle introduction to food chains.
▪ “What Will Grow?” Jennifer Ward (Bloomsbury)
Rhyming pages describe the many ways seeds become plants. The question-answer format and fold-out pages increase the book’s artistry and child-engagement.
▪ “Windows,” Julia Denos (Candlewick)
A soft lyrical story follows the delight of a young boy strolling in the darkening evening and viewing the diversity of his neighborhood. E.B. Godall’s illustrations are stunning.
▪ “After the Fall,” Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press)
Santat uses the structure of the original nursery rhyme to reveal Humpty Dumpty’s emotional first-person narrative as the injured deals with issues that “couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.” The book shows the power of a character who faces his fears and flies.
▪ “Before She Was Harriet,” Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House)
The intriguing organization, layered poetic text and dramatic vignettes describe Harriet Tubman as a suffragist, general, spy, nurse who “dreamed of living long enough to one day be old stiff and achy tired and worn and wrinkled and free.” The accompanying illustrations by James Ransome are equally dynamic.
▪ “The Book of Mistakes,” Corinna Luyken (Dial)
Imagination and playful illustrations show the potential of mistakes to yield amazing artistic opportunities. This is a book to grow children’s confidence and new ways of looking at art.
▪ “Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing,” Dean Robbins (Knopf)
There’s emphasis on the childhood of a thoughtful, problem-solving, gender-conscious young female who grows up to save the NASA’s Apollo 11 mission.
▪ “Shawn Loves Sharks,” Curtis Manley (Roaring Brook)
Shawn’s adoration of sharks puts him in direct conflict with a classmate when she lands sharks as her report focus and he has to investigate seals. Negotiation and manipulations end in mutual understanding and friendship.
▪ “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished,” Camille Andros (Houghton Mifflin)
An antidote to anxiety is presenting brave role models. There’s an unstoppable heroine in “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished” by Chapel Hill author Camille Andros. Charlotte, “a serious scientist” (clad in lab coat and goggles), follows the scientific method – or tries to. The curious bunny is blocked by a den full of family. Brianne Farley’s illustrations add details that contribute to the humor of a story, which is a great way to lead to a discussion of problem solving.
▪ “Come with Me,” Holly McGee (Putnam)
The uncertainties of today’s world can be overwhelming. McGhee offers comfort. The unnamed girl worries because “the news told and told and retold of anger and hatred – people against people.” Gradually the girl gains confidence to go alone into the world, and her parents muster courage to allow this. The author and illustrator, Pascal Lemaitre, presents huge emotions and abstracts with simplicity that makes them approachable.
▪ “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” Derrick Barnes (Bolden)
Voice, imagery and rhythms bring alive the dynamism of an enthusiastic boy getting a haircut in a caring barbershop. Bold pictures accent the swagger of the hero’s feelings of royalty.
▪ “The Hidden Life of a Toad,” Doug Wechsler (Charlesbridge)
Sensory imagery and similes combine with close-up photos to show the transformation of eggs to frogs.
▪ “This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World,” Matt Lamothe (Chronicle)
This book shows the lives of children from Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India and Iran. Images and words describe their homes, families, clothing, food, transportation, education and more.
▪ “The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse,” Mac Barnett (Candlewick)
When a mouse is swallowed by a wolf, she is surprised to find a roomy, pleasant home established by the duck, a previous meal. Jon Klassen’s illustrations accent the unique quirkiness of this story.
▪ “When a Wolf is Hungry,” Christine Naumann-Villemin (Eerdmans)
Edmond Bigsnout, a lone hungry wolf, is fixated on a hunting down a delectable rabbit dinner. Unfortunately (and humorously) a series of ironic twists occur as he enters an unusual apartment building. First, he loses his cooking implements, then his heart to the apartment dwellers.
Ages 8 and up
▪ “Flowers for Sarajevo,” John McCutcheon (Peachtree)
A tragedy of war transforms young Drasko’s image of a cranky merchant and proves his father’s wise words that “underneath that that thorny hide, there beats a beautiful heart.” A moving tale about the healing power of music, “a language we all understand.”
▪ “Grand Canyon,” Jason Chin (Roaring Brook)
A non-fiction text describes the passage of time in the Grand Canyon while fantastical illustrations show a young hiker who travels back in time. Foldout pages and intricate borders add strength to this fiction-nonfiction blend.
▪ “Her Right Foot,” Dave Eggers (Chronicle Books)
Eggers’ “Her Right Foot” begins as a quirky narrative about the Statue of Liberty. Shawn Harris’ bold cut paper and ink illustrations merge with Eggers’ musings, facts, humor and emotions. Together, these trace the story of the gift given by France to the United States for its 100th birthday. Nearing the end, the book’s focus shifts. This 450,000-pound statue who wears Size 879 shoes, herself an immigrant, has welcomed millions to this country. The careful layering and pacing of this book is chilling. It demands re-reading and sharing with others.
▪ “I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups,” Chris Harris (Little Brown)
Word and picture romps are great for read-aloud, laugh out-loud fun. The author irreverently, playfully traverses wacky territory from a “one-eyed Orr dripping with gore” to the food complaints of a baby dragon.
▪ “Malala’s Magic Pencil,” Malala Yousafzai (Little Brown)
In her early youth, the young activist imagines having a magic pencil that could change her world. By book’s end, one sees that her writing is that magic. Her journey from dreams to reality has powerful imagery children will relate to.
▪ “Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone,” Alice Briere-Haquet, (Charlesbridge)
Nina Simone’s recognized early that the notes of piano represented her world, for she grew up knowing that “White was whole. Black was half.” Powerful images like this strengthen this dramatic biography.
▪ “Silent Days, Silent Dreams,” Allen Say (Scholastic)
An unusual structure relates the life of the talented, little-known artist, James Castle. Castle, born deaf and mute in 1899, was probably also dyslexic and autistic. He spent much of his life locked in silence with only his rich imagination for company.
▪ “Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song,” Gary Golio (Millbrook)
This biography of the famous singer focuses on the power of her work, specifically her courage in performing this intense song about lynching. The haunting words and emotive art work well with the powerful lyrics.
Susie Wilde is a Chapel Hill-based writer. She can be reached through her website ignitingwriting.com.
Susie Wilde will present her Wilde Awards for best children’s picture books and novels at the following events:
▪ Dec. 6, 7 to 8 p.m. Flyleaf Books. 752 MLK Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill. 919-942- 7373 or flyleafbooks.com
▪ Dec. 7, 7 to 8 p.m. Quail Ridge Books North Hills. 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh. 919-828-1588 or quailridgebooks.com