March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On the Radar: Top Picks from the Editors at Junior Library Guild: Caldecott Contenders: Star-Studded Choices

Selecting “the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year,” is a daunting task. Committee members repeatedly read and discuss the candidates.  With the announcement of the Caldecott winners less than a week away, how many of these front-runners will make the final cut?

BARNETT, Mac. Chloe and the Lion. illus. by Adam Rex. Disney/Hyperion. 2012. ISBN 9781423113348. JLG Level: HE : Humor Elementary (Grades 2-6).

Mac, the author, and Adam, the illustrator, argue over which character is better for scaring poor little Chloe―a lion or a dragon. A war over the story line ensues. Which is more important―the art or the text? When Mac fires Adam for not following directions, “my-friend-Hank” is hired. The former artist is quickly eaten by Hank’s lion. Little Chloe saves the day by setting them all straight, telling the author, “You’re the writer. Adam is the illustrator. We all add something to the story.”

Barnett’s humorous tongue-in-cheek tale is charmingly illustrated with clay figures of the picture book’s creators, and cartoon-type characters for the remaining players. Using a stage as the story’s backdrop, and balloons for its text, sets the artwork apart from similar books this year. It’s a tale of friendship and teamwork in an unusual mixed-format effort that is a pleasure to read.

BARNETT, Mac. Extra Yarn. illus. by Jon Klassen. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2012. ISBN 9780061953385. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK-K).

“In a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.” So begins the tale of one little girl who made a difference. She knit a sweater for herself; she still had yarn left. She knit a sweater for her dog, and still had some left. Annabelle knit sweaters for everyone and everything she met, except for Mr. Crabtree. She made him a hat. “Things began to change in that little town.” When the archduke tried to buy the never-ending yarn from the little girl, she refused to sell. So he stole it.

Klassen’s artwork brings Annabelle’s black and white world to life. With pops of color punctuating the simple digital-and-ink shapes, the meaning of the magical yarn materializes. Use of darkness when the archduke steals the box shows the meanness of the act without being too scary for its intended audience. Though the story is moralistic, the charm of the illustrations and the happy ending produce a picture book that is sure to be a classic, regardless of whether it wins the gold.

BUZZEO, Toni. One Cool Friend. illus. by David Small. Dial. 2012. ISBN 9780803734135. JLG Level: P : Primary (Grades K-1).

“Elliot was a very proper young man,” so it’s no surprise that he liked penguins. “In their tidy black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Elliot of himself.” During a visit to the zoo, he slips a live penguin into his backpack. (He asked permission, of course.) Unbeknownst to his preoccupied father, Elliot’s new pet skates on a pond in his room, eats anchovy pizza, and swims in the family bathtub.

From turtle-patterned pajamas and footstools, to boxes of caramel candy and diagrams in the father’s office, the illustrations complement the text while hinting at the surprising outcome. Small adds a smattering of color to his simply sketched ink drawings, which along with the use of bubble captions lighten the serious tone of the dialogue between father and child. s. A perfect blend of the visual and text make it an excellent choice for story time. Readers will laugh at the tuxedoed duo’s adventures and shout “read it again” at its conclusion.

COLE, Henry. Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. Scholastic. 2012. ISBN 9780545399975. JLG Level: P : Primary (Grades K-1).

While doing her chores, a young girl discovers someone hiding in the family’s barn. Without saying a word, each person takes food to the uninvited guest. After a slave-hunting party arrives, the visitor disappears, leaving behind a cornhusk doll dressed in the napkin material as a sign of thanks.

Cole uses charcoal and pen line drawings to illustrate this wordless picture book. In a style reminiscent of Brian Selznick, character close-ups reveal the tension in the story. Readers will feel the family’s fear when the hunting party arrives. They will worry when the runaway peeks through a knot hole. Seeing the Big Dipper through the bedroom window will fill them with hope that the slave will find a safe place to rest. An author’s note shares family stories and background history about the details included in the illustrations.

FOGLIANO, Julie. And Then It’s Spring. illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. 2012. ISBN 9781596436244. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK-K).

A dedicated young boy and the animals that live around him diligently wait for seeds to sprout. In well-planned phases, readers feel the slow-moving track of time as the season of brown lingers on. He plants his seeds. He waters them. A silent chorus of anxious planters stares at the dark earth waiting for green to break through. A rainy day brings a sunny one, and with it, green. “All around you have green.”

Stead’s woodblock printing techniques brilliantly tone down the anxious wait for spring. Kids will linger over the details. A turtle uses a magnifying glass to better see the emergence of a sprout. Rabbit watches for the carrot seeds to push through the soil. Even the dog waits for his buried bones to grow. Spring bursts into view on the last double page spread, just like the seeds that were sown. Another winner for Stead and a first-winning book for Fogliano.

STEAD, Philip C.. Bear Has a Story to Tell. illus. by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. 2012. ISBN  9781596437456. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK-K).

Winter is swiftly approaching, and bear is getting sleepy, but first he has a story he wants to tell. Mouse doesn’t have time for a story; he has seeds to gather. So Bear helps his friend instead. Duck has to get ready to fly south, so Bear checks the wind’s direction. Frog needs to find a warm place to sleep for the winter, so Bear digs a frog-sized hole. The first snowflake falls, but Bear still hasn’t told his tale. When spring arrives and his friends return, Bear is delighted to remember that now he has time to tell his story. Sadly, he can no longer recall what he wanted to say. In cyclical fashion, his friends prompt him, and the story ends as it began.

Gold medal team of Stead and Stead pair up again in this star-studded effort (2 stars and a Kirkus Editors’ Choice Award). The camaraderie of the characters is skillfully painted in their faces and mannerisms. The gentleness of the big bear is believable in his efforts to help his friends, while putting his needs last. The lesson of the story (shall we say, Golden Rule?) is gently woven between the text and illustrations, allowing the reader to absorb the message with little effort.

For ideas about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at

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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.