A few sure winners

The Caldecott Medal, provided by the American Library Association for 71 years, has been given this year for the first time to an illustrator of a children’s fiction book. When you think of a children’s picture book, you think of a 32-page book with lots of illustrations.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this year’s Caldecott winner, is not that book. How can a book with more than 500 pages be a picture book? When you thumb through the pages, you quickly realize the book is mostly pictures. How different. How unusual. What fun.

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, $22.99; ages 9-12.

We meet Hugo as he enters the train station in Paris. Hugo watches and waits for the owner of the toy booth to fall asleep so he can take a wind-up toy. Hugo needs parts from the toy to repair an automotron. Hugo lives in an apartment behind the walls in the train station. He lived with his uncle who was in charge of winding the station’s clocks until one night the uncle didn’t return. Hugo now has to wind the 27 clocks each day. The toy booth owner is Georges Méliés, a film producer who made"A Trip to the Moon,” which inspired parts of Selznick’s book. Do a Google search of the title and you’ll find all sorts of information about the author and Méliés. What fascinating information there is to find.

The next three books were included on the 2008 Caldecott Honor list:

FIRST THE EGG, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Roaring Brook, $14.95; ages 2-6.

This is a very easy concept book for the youngest children. It starts with an egg that becomes a chicken as you turn the pages. This idea continues on to show tadpole to frog, seed to flower and caterpillar to butterfly. The last page shows a chicken again and then the egg. This book also received honor status in the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award category for beginning reader books.

KNUFFLE BUNNY TOO: A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, by Mo Willems, Hyperion, $16.99; ages 3-6.

Trixie is all excited. She is taking her one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny to school to show to all of her friends. And then Trixie sees Sonja, who also brought her one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny to school. The day did not go well for either of the girls. Ms. Greengrove ended up taking the bunnies away from both girls. All ends well at the end of the day when the bunnies are returned before the girls go home. Well, at least it seemed that way until 2:30 a.m. when both girls woke up and realized they had the wrong bunny. How do you think the situation was solved? In 2005, the first Knuffle Bunny book, A Cautionary Tale, also received a Caldecott honor award.

THE WALL: GROWING UP BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN, by Peter Sis, Farrar Straus and Giroux, $18; ages 8 and up.

Sis was born in 1948 in Czechoslovakia, shortly after the end of World War II when the country was taken over by the Soviet Union. This is an autobiographical account of what it was like for a child to grow up under communistic rule. As a youngster, Sis had the freedom to draw what he wanted. Then when he went to school he could only draw what he was told. Children became part of a group called the Young Pioneers and were told they had to report any suspicious activities, even by their parents. In 1984, when Sis was in America to work on an animated film for the Olympics, he decided not to return to his homeland. I am sure children today have a hard time understanding what it would be like to have lived under that control. Sis, with the telling of his story, will help children understand.

Judy Belanger is Chicago Parent’s children’s book reviewer and a retired elementary learning resource center teacher with four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6.

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