11 August, 2011

Children's Book Council 2011 Picture Book Shortlisted Books

This post will review all six shortlisted books for the Picture Book Category of the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Awards. I also select what I think should be the winner and the two honour books. The awards will be announced on August 19, and it will be interesting to see how my judging matches those from the CBC!

The Picture Book Category is made up of books intended for children in the birth to 18 months category, although some books may be for mature readers. The six shortlisted books are:

Mirror by Jeannie Baker
Why I Love Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft
Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg
Two Peas in a Pod by Chris McKimmie
Family Forest by Kim Kane; Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo
My Uncle's Donkey by Tohby Riddle


  Family Forest by Kim Kane; illustrated Lucia Masciullo

The teller of this story (name unknown) sets out to explain her family tree. But as with so many blended families, they are lucky enough to have a family forest.

This is a lovely look at modern families. Filled with humour and fantastic illustrations, family forest delves into siblings, half siblings, step siblings, parents, step parents and partners. (instead of husband or wife) In the end is all equals the same thing family. One of the things I really liked about the illustrations in this book is the ambiguity of the narrator’s gender. At first I assumed it was a girl, but when I looked again, it could just as easily be a boy. For me this allows the reader to attach the gender they identify most with. I would see this as being a great book to use in primary schools to introduce the concept that there is no such thing as a normal or typical family. Really, the only thing it needed was a same sex couple!

 Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Mirror is told from two points of view – one a boy in Sydney, the other a boy in Morocco. Since Arabic is read right to left, the book has been designed so the

Western and Moroccan stories can be read in tandem. In classic Jeannie Baker style, Mirror is a story told in collage pictures. One of the things I love about this form of story telling is the open ended nature of it. It allows the reader to study the pictures and make their own story. What Baker does in this though, is provide the reader with the ability to compare and contrast the lives of two children in two very different parts of the world. Everything from their transport, food and recreation can be explored and examined.
Why I Love Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft
In this book, Bancroft lists and illustrates a variety of reasons she loves Australia. The illustrations in this are gorgeous - bright and bold. On the surface the text and pictures are simple, but as you look beyond you discover hidden depths. On each page is a picture of a person hold a coolamon – a type of wooden bowl – that has smoke drifting from it. This is to represent a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony which is used to show respect for another’s language group or country. Bancroft has used this figure as the host of each landscape she has represented in her pictures. This could lead into a discussion on the importance of that respect and why we need to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we inhabit. The book is also a great way to look at the large variety of differing landscapes in Australia and how they can all be part of the reason we love this country.
Two Peas in a Pod by Chris McKimmie
Violet and Marvin are best friends. They have lived on the same street together forever and are just like two peas in a pod. But then one day Violet moves. I loved the illustrations in this book. Mixed media, crazy, non uniform. It feels a little like how a kid would illustrate it. The message is lovely too. Even when friends move away (even if it is all the way to the moon!) they can still be friends.
My Uncle's Donkey by Tohby Riddle
My Uncle’s Donkey can do lots of things – most of them you wouldn’t expect a donkey to do! OK, I’m happy to admit I don’t get this book. The pictures are lovely, they text with the pictures is mildly amusing. I also understand that the picture book category can encompass picture books for older readers. However, I don’t see the appeal for My Uncle’s Donkey at any level. When I read a picture book I try to imagine what age group I would read it to and why – to provoke discussion, for fun, to illustrate a teaching point. I would see no reason to read this to any class and if I did, I think I would just get perplexed looks.
Shakespeare's Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg
Shakespeare's Hamlet completely retold in a graphic novel form.

Wow! Let me just say that again...WOW!! This was fantastic. Nicki Greenberg "stages on the page" Shakespeare's Hamlet in a form that will engage teenage readers and possibly open their eyes to Shakespeare. And here's the thing - I'm not a big reader of Shakespeare. Apart from the stuff we had to read at school, like most people, I struggle with it. Put on the stage or screen and I'm there, love it, but I don't read it. This I read and enjoyed. I've seen other works done is a story book or comic book form, but I think the reason this worked so well is Greenberg took it completely outside the norm by making her characters non human. I'm not sure what they were , part monkey, part alien, but they weren't human and it worked. And the pictures are lush and gorgeous. I hope she does more, in fact, I'd love to see Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing or Merchant of Venice!

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