This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.
Informational texts are becoming increasingly important within school curriculums in response to newly adopted standards. Winners of the Robert F. Sibert Medal, which are announced each January at the annual conference of the American Library Association, highlight significant accomplishment in nonfiction text. This year's winners provide fascinating insights into topics across ages: ballooning, drawing, elephants, the Salem witch trials, and civil rights.
Equally insightful are the winners of the Schneider Family Book Awards, also awarded by ALA, but are fictional texts, honoring those who struggle with some kind of disability.
Robert F. Sibert Medal Winner
BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PUPPETEER OF MACY'S PARADE. Written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin. Ageless. $16.99.
Colorful, charming drawings accompany this fascinating account of one of the nation's most honored holiday traditions -- the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Its history even has an Ohio connection. Knowing about blimps, inventor Tony Sarg asked Goodyear for help in making the balloons he needed. Tony's "upside-down marionettes" were a hit.
DRAWING FROM MEMORY. Written and illustrated by Allen Say. Scholastic Press. Ages 10 and up. $17.99.
Part memoir and part graphic novel, Say shares the trajectory of his career in illustrating. Estranged from his father who did not understand or approve of his passion for art, Say celebrates his mentor, Noro Shinpei, Japan's leading cartoonist, who wholly embraced Say's talent. Inspiring.
THE ELEPHANT SCIENTIST. Written by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M. Jackson. Photographs by Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 12 and up. $17.99.
Focusing on the process of O'Connell's study of African elephants, research supports -- maps, references, and "pachyderm terms" -- abound. While some research detail may be too much for younger children, the incredible photographs, alone or with their interesting captions, may capture the attention of a budding scientist or naturalist. Irresistible.
WITCHES!: THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE TALES OF DISASTER IN SALEM. Written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer. National Geographic Society. Ages 12 and up. $16.95.
The scariest part of reading this short, enlightening history of the Salem witch trials is its focus on how the fear of the unknown and peer pressure cost the lives of young women in particular -- but not exclusively -- at the turn of the 17th century.
BLACK & WHITE: THE CONFRONTATION BETWEEN REVEREND FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH AND EUGENE "BULL" O'CONNOR. By Larry Dane Brimner. Calkins Creek. Ages 12 and up. $16.95.
The most sophisticated of this year's winners, the story of Birmingham's evolution during the civil rights era is revealed, Fred Shuttleworth's battle of equality and humanity versus Bull Connor's battle for tradition and continued oppression is riveting.
Schneider Family Book Awards
The award in the Young Children category was not presented this year as none was deemed worthy.
Middle School: CLOSE TO FAMOUS. By Joan Bauer. Viking. Ages 8-12. $16.99. (Also in paperback, Puffin, $6.99.)
Twelve-year-old Foster aspires to host her own cooking show, and her cupcakes seem destined to propel her to such fame, but in the meantime, she has a reading disability. Thankfully, others in the small town seem determined to help her -- and her energy, kindness, and untiring support of their dreams create a synergy that works for all in this endearing tale.
WONDERSTRUCK. Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press. $29.99.
In a format similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this tome -- more than 600 pages -- weaves two stories, one told in exquisite black-and-white drawings of a young girl who is blind and the other told in words. Set 50 years apart, the resolution comes from the intersections of the two narratives -- in a most surprising, delightful way.
Teen Award: THE RUNNING DREAM. By Wendelin Van Draanen. Knopf. Ages 13 and up. $16.99.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica, whose identity centers on herself as a runner, loses a leg through an accident. "It [running] made me feel alive. And now? I'm stuck in this bed, knowing I'll never run again" … until she returns to school and makes friends with Rosa, who has cerebral palsy. Together in this uplifting story, they end up running, making each other's dreams come true.