Judge’s Comments for 2013 Oregon Book Awards finalists in Children’s Literature

The deadline to submit books for consideration for the 2014 Oregon Book Awards is Friday, August 30, 2013. Books with an original publication date between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013  are eligible. The deadline for submission to the 2014 Pacific Northwest College of Art Graphic Literature Award is also August 30, 2013. Graphic literature with an original publication date between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2013 is eligible. Please note there are separate guidelines for the Graphic Literature award.

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. 

Here are her comments on the 2013 Oregon Book Awards finalists for the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature.

Once Upon a Toad by Heather Vogel Frederick

This modern version of a traditional fairy tale is a hilarious blend of fantasy and realism.  It is also a story about learning to cooperate.  Magical events, and an eccentric fairy godmother, seem plausible because they are combined with a realistic portrayal of daily life in a family with scientific parents.  Middle grade children will be thoroughly entertained.

Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson

Annie and Helen is a sensitive picture book biography of Helen Keller’s relationship with Annie Sullivan, who helped Helen learn, when no one else thought she was capable.  Excerpts from Annie’s letters accompany empathetic descriptions of teaching and learning with all five senses.  Raúl Colón’s radiant artwork creates a glowing sense of timeless beauty that contrasts with historic photographs. 
Calvin Coconut: Man Trip by Graham Salisbury

Despite the macho title, Calvin Coconut: Man Trip is an entertaining middle grade novel that is suitable for both boys and girls.  Children will learn the wisdom of catch-and-release fishing, along with an introduction to biological research methods, such as tagging to monitor populations.  Using an adventurous story to convey its gentle message of wildlife protection, this book pays homage to the beauty of nature.
Drawing From Memory by Allen Say

Drawing From Memory is a unique picture book autobiography that should serve as a beacon for the creative potential of nonfiction.  Allen Say blends a heartfelt memoir, dreamlike artwork, humorous cartoons, and wistful family photographs.  His unusual story reveals both ends of an imaginative childhood, and both ends of a hopeful immigrant’s journey.  It is a valuable historical record, yet emotionally honest in a way that is usually achieved only in the most skillful verse. It is the true story of a boy who lives alone at age twelve, thrilled and terrified by an opportunity to study with a mentor whose voice shines through the lyrical prose as sheer poetry.  From his sensei, the eager boy learns about a “world between black and white.”  He learns that “painting is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind of painting—they are both about seeing.”  The boy’s quest for courage is inspiring.  He longs to be daring and free, like Kyusuke, his “cartoon self.”  This simply told, yet profoundly meaningful life story is suitable for showing young people the value of perseverance.  When the boy makes an agonizing decision to emigrate, he burns his artwork and starts over.  Ultimately, this is a story about growing up, and remaining hopeful.  As the boy’s mother tells him: “Let your child journey.”
Magic Trash by J.H. Shapiro

Magic Trash is a festive picture book biography of Tyree Guyton, an innovative artist who dared to brighten his dilapidated Detroit neighborhood by following his grandfather’s advice to “paint the world.”  Energetic illustrations are perfectly matched to alternating bursts of inspiring prose and jazzy verse.  This is a book that can help children see the magic of their own creativity.


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