Finding A Place — 2011 Fiction Picture Books (Cybils Nominees)

Once I started thinking of categorizing some of the Cybils books as “Finding a Place,” I found that many pictures books seem to emphasize that. Although picture books don’t provide a cathartic bildungsroman arc of developing self-awareness that middle-grade or young adult books do, in many ways picture books do share the stories of the miniature epiphanies that come to children as they go through life. Below are some of the books that do so, roughly categorized for sanity’s sake.

At Home

Olive and Snowflake by Tammie Lyon (Marvell Cavendish, 2011) shows a girl and her dog who have some issues: Olive is clumsy and messy, and her dog likewise causes messes and gets them both in trouble! When Olive’s parent’s give an ultimatum (obedience school or the dog must go!), Olive wonders if she can improve her behavior too. Never fear, there is a satisfying conclusion. The illustrations are done in acrylic and pencil and are very friendly. Raisin liked this little dog and his owner. While I had a little bit of hesitation at Olive’s apparent confusion that her parents would send her away (Would a girl really worry about that and misunderstand what “obedience school” is?), overall the story is a fun one that shows how two best friends – one furry – learn to improve their behavior. (Nominated by Tammie Lyon)

At School

Poor Sam the giraffe is a painfully shy young student, but in Too Shy for Show-and-Tell by Beth Bracken and illustrated by Jennifer Bell (Picture Window Books, August 2011), he finds the courage to speak up and share some of his favorite things. Although the thought of talking to his class makes his stomach hurt in the beginning, as he watches the other kids successfully share their special items, Sam finds the courage in himself to share about his special thing: his new dog. Although it’s a simple story, young children will certainly relate to the issue, and the adorable illustrated animals in Sam’s class look friendly and welcoming. This is a recommended picture book for a shy kid, and also those kids or adults who’d love a reminder that other people aren’t as scary as we imagine them to be. (Nominated by Jennifer Glidden) Note: I was provided a review copy of this book for consideration for the Cybils awards.

Back to School Tortoise by Lucy George and illustration by Merel Eyckerman (Albert Whitman, 2011) is a perfect back to school story for the student or teacher you may know. Like many, Tortoise is a bit nervous about the first day of school. The story follows his worries and then takes him to the door of his class room, where there is a surprise waiting for the reader. This may be a great book for easing the back-to-school jitters with a little laugh. The illustrations are fun and Raisin liked the depictions of various animals. (See a family review: I loved reading this!) (Nominated by Elijah Z)

In the Community

I had mixed feelings when I first read Meena by Sine van Mol and illustrated by Carianne Wijffels (Eerdman’s, 2011, originally published 210 in Belgium) because it so frankly depicts neighborhood bullying; my son, being four, seems far from that issue and I made sure to keep it away from him. Obviously, this is a book for older children to read. The more I think about the book after the fact, the more pleased I am with the subject and development. In Meena, young neighborhood children torment a fat and ugly old woman: they send her hate notes, call her a witch, and even threaten her. When they notice a young girl staying with Meena, they begin to wonder about who this “witch” is. Meena’s sweet nature and her granddaughter win over the neighborhood, thanks to delicious cherry pie, and the children begin to understand that they have a lot to learn about their neighbor. I liked how the children came to a gradual realization, and although the bullying was quite harsh at the beginning, the point is well made by the end. (Nominated by Jann Meyers).

The Ballad of Booster Bogg by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Christine Mannone Carolan (Shenanigan Books, 2011) is a humorous rhyming story about a dog who doesn’t want an owner. He loves to be free to explore the world. Because he’s an adorable and friendly dog, different people in town try to adopt him and spoil him, but he does not want to be tied down. When a mean townsperson determines to restrain Booster Bogg, the town together finds a clever solution, and Booster Bogg is able to roam free still. The story and the illustrations are both friendly, and reader finishes the story with a smile, happy that the friendly dog kept his freedom. (Nominated by Evelyn B. Christensen) Note: I was provided a review copy of this book for consideration for the Cybils awards.

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf, 2011) tells the story of Jessie, one particular subway car built in the 1960s for the subways of New York City. She loves her life of carrying people around the city, but as the years go by, she becomes one of many outdated city cars. After years of neglect, she was recycled into the ocean (off the coast of Delaware), where fish used her structure as a man-made coral reef. I was not familiar with the ecological needs for such a structure in the ground, but the afterward helped understand it. Raisin, being a train fanatic, really enjoyed the story of a train who lived beyond her use as a train, and it opened up a conversation about recycling. The illustrations, which are acrylic paintings, showed the changing look of the subway cars and the people through the years; personally, the gorgeous art was my favorite aspect of the book. (Nominated by Adam Kesner)

The titular cumulus cloud in Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (Henry Holt, 2011) is small and seems insignificant amidst the other, larger clouds. When a wind blows her to a desert area, she finds the strength within her to make a difference in her way. The illustrations of the friendly cloud are simple but endearing, and the ultimate resolution is satisfying. Cloudette is an attractive book about a little one finding her own place. (Nominated by Jordyn)

Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan (Viking, 2011) has a basic storyline, that of Little Owl enjoying the evening, watching his forest friends and wondering why anyone would want to sleep through the beautiful night. He wants to see the sunrise so he can see if that’s any good too, but as his mother describes it to him, Little Owl falls fast asleep. Little Owl’s Night has bright graphic design illustrations which Raisin and I enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed Owl’s big eyes that soaked in all the activity and beauty around him. It’s a nice twist on the bedtime story, since for Owl, bedtime is sunrise. (Nominated by Chris Barton)

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Suzanne Beaky (Flashlight Press, 2011) is an anti-Tiger Mom story. (I happened to read it the first time the same week I reviewed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, so the timing seemed quite ironic for me.) Poor young Ernestine is overscheduled with (ridiculous)after-school tasks, from yodeling to tuba-lessons to water ballet. Although it appears she enjoys her talents, she seeks for something more, and in the end she and her parents find peace. The illustrations are clever and exaggerated, much as Ernestine’s schedule and the names of her teachers (Mr. Oompah is her tuba instructor), and the book as a whole is simply fun. It’s also a good reminder that kids need a little time to play every now and then. (Nominated by Linda Ravin Lodding)

Unless otherwise noted, books were read via library copies; I was not compensated in any way for review.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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