Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, a special day for many loving reasons, the winners of the 2015 Cybils Awards were announced. You can find all the winners here. I'm proud to have participated in this final judging round for poetry, and excited to share our choice this year. It wasn't easy; the finalists sent to us are all marvelous and enjoyable books. I enjoyed working with the other judges in our group, Diane Mayr, Laura Shovan, Heidi Mordhorst Rosemary Marotta, and our facilitator, Jone McCullough.
The poetry winner this year is:
I read quite a bit this week, and loved them all. For those of you who have urged me to read Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder, I thank you. They are wonderful stories.
Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundell, with illustrations by Terry Fan
Many have urged me to read this book, and somehow I put it off until this past week. What a pleasure, what a sweet adventure. It’s so creative in its characterization. Like Sophie, the main character, some parts of the book made me want to sit on my hands to be sure I was not going to jump out of my seat. A ship sinks, and a one-year-old baby is found sitting alone in a cello case, in the middle of the English Channel. The man who lifted the baby out of the water was a fellow passenger, and as the book says, “noticed that it was a girl, with hair the color of lightning, and the smile of a shy person.” This was Sophie, and Charles, who became her caregiver. He had not raised a child before, and as she grew, some things became unusual, like Sophie breaking plates (no reason given) so they ate on books. And other things became wonderful, like the utter trust and love they had for each other, often shown in action (Charles gave her twelve leather-bound classic books on her twelfth birthday and they ate ice cream in the rain from the outside box of a four-horse carriage). Unfortunately, a Miss Eliot from the National Childcare Agency kept interrupting their lives with frequent visits to see if Charles was doing a good job. The story shared that she had “an expression like a damp sock.” And sadly, she was not only going to disrupt their lives, but recommend that Sophie be taken away to live in an orphanage, so she can learn about the proper way of buttons and to wear skirts, and on. That’s where the story becomes even more wonderful. There are more adventures, other good-to-know characters and hair-raising risks for Sophie and Charles. If you’ve missed this book as I have, please find and read it soon! There is so much I haven't written because I want you to discover those parts yourself.
You will see that not only did I finally read The Rooftoppers, I fairly raced through this latest one by Katherine Rundell. Oh, wow, it is marvelous.
The Wolf Wilder - Katherine Rundell, with illustrations by Terry Fan
And it begins: “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.” Within the harsh Russian cold, and out-of-control and cruel generals because the Tsar has an ill son, we find Feo, a young girl about 13, and her mother, Marina, of a family of Wolf Wilders for generations. Wolf Wilders help the wolves brought to them from aristocracy who had them as pets, but found that sometimes, they did something unwelcomed, like biting a few fingers off. Yet, these wolves have never learned to run or tear into meat, only to sit and do actions demanded by their ignorant wealthy owners. Feo is very at home in the outdoors with her wolves, helping them return to the wild. She is not comfortable at all with other humans, except her mother, and they live is such an isolated place, that’s okay, until the cruel General Rakov arrives to arrest her mother and burn her home. That’s when Feo finds more courage than she knew she had. With help from others, some humans, and her wolves, the adventure widens.
The characterization of even the lesser characters is strong, all unique in their strengths, each one contributing to Feo’s quest. After a while, one begins to love the three wolves along with the humans, also unique, but loyal to the end. Because I also recently read The Rooftoppers, I see that Rundell loves to paint unusual characters with admirable as well as quirky traits, and always strength. The language and descriptions Rundell uses are beautiful: “And there is no warmer blanket than a wolf. From her fire a smell rose up: flames burning night air, mixed with frost and the wolves’ familiar earthy tang. It was like breathing in hope.” I was sad to end this marvelous story, and liked it very much. It would make a wonder of a read aloud to a middle grade class.
Ethel & Ernest: A True Story - written & illustrated by Raymond Briggs
I have loved Raymond Briggs for a long time. You might know his wonderful book The Snowman, especially, but my children grew up laughing and reading the marvelous graphic picture books Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday, the special times with Santa, his wife and the amusing Cat and Dog. When I heard about this graphic memoir about his parents and found it at my library, it was great news. In wonderfully detailed graphic style, Raymond tells the story of his parents, and his, lives, meeting and falling in love, a housemaid and a milkman, through the vast, sometimes incomprehensible changes from the 1920s at their chance meeting to the 1970s when they died. They lived in the same home all their lives, buying it when they really didn’t have enough, but slowly earning and saving for the furniture, a new boiler, electricity, a wireless, and on. That itself is fascinating to see those household improvements. But also poignant is the move to understanding of Hitler, and withstanding the horrors of war, bombings and sending their only son, who is Raymond, to the country as so many did to keep their children safe, then changes in the aftermath--all seen in Raymond’s extraordinary pictures. I loved every bit, and hope you’ll get a chance to read this memory-laden story.
American Ace - Marilyn Nelson
There is a secret in this new book by Marilyn Nelson, and I don’t want to reveal it. I enjoyed the story, loved how she wove family and history, racism and pride into the story. She also wrote so subtly a strong underlying message of some people who still don’t want to mix with those who are different, and others make clear actions to show that all people are to be included. It’s a lovely and fascinating story.
The Red Hat - David Teague, with illustrations by Antoinette Portis
A young boy named Billy Hightower appears lonely, but across the way, in another tall, tall building, he spies a little girl. He tries his best to find her, but the wind carries his “wishes” in other directions. It’s a kind of a love story, and it does have a happy ending, but you’ll have to read it to discover what’s in the middle!
Mother Bruce - Ryan T. Higgins
Everyone seems to understand about goslings imprinting themselves on the first thing they see after they hatch, except Bruce Bear. He’s really hungry and only wants a nice meal of cooked goose eggs. Unfortunately, when he begins cooking, they hatch. Bruce Bear tries everything to get rid of those babies, but even their mother just take off south early! It’s a hilarious book, and sweet, too, because Bruce finally finds he rather likes those now-growing-up geese, and they reach a compromise. Bruce Bear becomes Mother Bruce. The illustrations are big and bold with easily recognized expressions, just right for young children.
Next: Starting Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff. I have an arc, thanks to NetGalley.