Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of Snow by Uri Shulevitz

Snow by Uri Shulevitz
Square Fish

1999 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Snow is a wonderful story of how a village is transformed from gray to white. Paralleling the village’s transformation is a transformation of people from curt and pessimistic to happy and cheerful. 

The illustrations follow this conversion using changing colors and facial expressions. The hero of the story is a little boy who is optimistic about the snow from the first flake. If there is a message here it is to not pay too much attention to the nay-sayers. Believe in what you believe, and hope for a change from gray yuck to white smiles.

In addition to being a Charlotte Zolotow Award winner, Show also has these honors: American Library Association Notable Children's Books, Booklist Editors' Choice, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon Award, Caldecott Honor Book,), Golden Kite Award Winner, New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year. It captures a child’s indomitable optimism from the start, even when others try to cut him off.  The illustrations convey the mood as it changes from plain and nothing into wonder and happy.

I like this book because the child does not give up in the face of pessimism.  He never gives up his hope. Something good is about to happen, he hopes, he knows, he expects. And he is rewarded as the snowflakes begin to multiply. Of course all of our wishes don’t come true,  but the book somehow makes it clear that there are people who can’t or won’t believe something good is about to happen, while the child retains his expectation. It is a story that, I think, helps us see the “glass half full” rather than the “glass half empty.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Uri Shulevitz was born in Warsaw in 1935. His family fled from Poland during World War II and settled in Paris in 1947. He moved to New York in 1959. Uri began drawing at the age of three and combined it with storytelling by drawing comic books as a child. He studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and soon started illustrating books. His first book was The Moon in My Room in 1963.  His 1969 book The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship won a Caldecott Medal. He has since written or illustrated (or both) over 40 books. They include three Caldecott Honor Books (The Treasure, Snow, and How I Learned Geography.)

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry…

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang, The Blue Sky Press (1999).

2000 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Sophie is a little girl happily playing with a stuffed monkey when her big sister comes along and tells her that it is her turn to play with the toy. When her mother tells her that it is sister’s time to play with the toy and the big sister snatches the toy away, Sophie gets angry. She yells and throws a tantrum. She is so angry she runs and runs, and cries. In the woods she begins to notice the trees and birds singing. She climbs into a tree and feels the breeze in her hair. She finds comfort, calms down, and returns home where it is warm and cozy.

This book is full of lively color – in both writing and illustration. Sophie yells a red roar and almost explodes like a volcano, and the illustrations fit the emotions perfectly.

Every parent who’s seen a temper tantrum will relate to this book. For many parents, a child's tantrum makes us angry and frustrated as well. For Sophie, she is able to deal with the anger -- to find a solution in herself, which is what we hope as parents our children will learn to do.

Since I grew up near a creek with woods, I can relate to running there and finding solace. You can be alone and (hopefully) discover when something you thought was a big issue is not worth being angry about. My only concern is Sophie's running away. For some kids, there may not be a safe place to do that.

Children will relate to this book because they are learning to deal with emotions, and they will see themselves, and perhaps siblings and friends, in Sophie's experience.

When Sophie Gets Angry allows parents to talk to their children about dealing with anger. We all face anger issues from time to time. If we can learn to resolve our anger within ourselves that is a good thing. Maybe someday we can even learn to control that initial outburst of anger and not have to scream a red, red roar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Molly Garrett Bang was born in 1943 and grew up in Baltimore. She graduated from Wellesley with a degree in French and went to Japan to teach English. She served a stint as a reporter but turned to children’s books and had her first book The Goblins Giggle, and Other Stories published by Scribner in 1973 (as author and illustrator). She’s written and illustrated two dozen books and is the illustrator on more than another dozen. Molly is the recipient of many awards including three Caldecott Honor Books for  The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher (1981), Ten, Nine, Eight (1983) and Sophie (2000). One of her most recent awards is The Lucy Daniels Award for "outstanding contributions to children's literature that supports social and emotional health" in 2011.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reviewing the Best Children's Picture Books

What criteria are used to review a children’s picture book? 

For the books that will be reviewed in this blog, I intend to look at them in several ways:
  1. What story does the book tell? What are the key elements of this story that makes it stand out – its humor, moral, surprise, wit, imagination, etc?
  2. How do the illustrations compliment the story?
  3. To make it into publication a story must have some spark of imagination. What do I think is the spark that caught the eye of the publisher, and would catch the imagination of the reader?
  4.  How does this story speak to children? Does it make them laugh, question, or understand something? Is it scary or comforting? Why would a child like this? Would they want to read it (or have it read) again and again?
  5. Is there something that makes this book unique?
  6. Finally: Why would you want to read this book to your child? What makes it so special?
  7. Summary:  How I would describe and recommend this book to a friend.

My intention is not to critique the books and say this one is bad and that one is good (although I may like some better than others.) If a story has made it through the maze of publication, there has to be some reason it got this far… so I approach each book wondering why it “made the list” and why I would want to read it to a child.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 17 Award Winning Children's Picture Books

Reviewing The Charlotte Zolotow Award-Winners

There are tons of great children's picture books on the market, but there are a select few that get chosen for special recognition. These are the Charlotte Zolotow Award Winners.

Most children's book libraries will have some or most of these books on their shelves. In a quest to look at what makes a book stand out from the many published each year, my goal is to review all of these award-winning books. In the next few months I'll give you my take on their content with an eye toward what made them outstanding. (If you would like to contribute a review of one of these books, please contact me at

The Charlotte Zolotow Award is a yearly award presented to the author of the best picture book text published in the United States in the preceding year. This award is administered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, a children's literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and is considered a top award for children’s literature.

The books, listed by year of award are:

2014    Snicket, Lemony. The Dark. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown.
2013    Woodson, Jacqueline. Each Kindness. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Putnam.
2012    McDonnell, Patrick. Me … Jane. Little, Brown,
2011    Rukhsana Khan, Big Red Lollipop. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Viking.
2010    Carmen Tafolla, What Can You Do With a Paleta?,  Illustrated by Magaly Morales. Tricycle Press, 2009.            
2009    Bob Graham, How to Heal a Broken Wing. Candlewick Press, 2008
2008    Greg Foley, Thank You, Bear. Viking, 2007.  
2007    Peter McCarty, Moon Plane. Henry Holt, 2006.       
2006    Mary Ann Rodman, My Best Friend. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Viking.
2005    Kevin Henkes, Kitten's First Full Moon. Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins.           
2004    Amy Schwartz, What James Likes Best. A Richard Jackson Book / Atheneum.
2003    Holly Keller, Farfallina & Marcel. Greenwillow / HarperCollins.     
2002    Margaret Willey, Clever Beatrice: An Upper Peninsula Conte. Illustrated by Heather Solomon. Atheneum.           
2001    Kate Banks, The Night Worker.  Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.           
2000    Molly Bang, When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry.... Blue Sky/Scholastic.
1999    Uri Shulevitz, Snow. Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
1998    Vera B. Williams, Lucky Song. Greenwillow.