I was an elementary school librarian in Denver, and I have toddlers of my own. I LOVE picture books. We own far too many, and we check out (and have actually never lost any, but that's my OCD librarianess coming out) many many more.
As soon as the Caldecott Winner and Honor books were announced in January I requested the books from the library. Caldecott award is given to the best illustrated for a children's book. Here's a pretty sweet infographic on the Caldecott Medal if you like those kinds of things like me.
Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca was the grand daddy of them all. Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal this year. That means it'll get a nice gold sticker on it's book here in the future.
Last year was an anomaly where I actually liked the pictures and the story for all of the Caldecott books. I even named Creepy Carrots, a Caldecott Honor book last year, my favorite picture book in my Best Books of 2013.
I was most definitely hoping last years situation of story and pictures being fabulous would occur again. However, to be honest I didn't really love any of these books. I do agree the pictures are fabulous, but I don't love the books. I think my lack luster view on the books is the reason why I have waited to write these reviews. I kept wanting to like them.
Locomotive got 3.5 out of 5 stars in my book. The pictures are stunning, and the information was alright. My kids, in a train phase right now, actually started calling trains locomotives b/c of this book. The pictures were great, but the writing wasn't fabulous. I felt it could've been better, even if it is a non-fiction book.
Amazon had the following review from School Library Journal:
"It all started with "a new road of rails/made for people to ride" where "covered wagons used to crawl." Almost 150 years ago-just after the Civil War-the completion of the transcontinental railway radically changed both this country's landscape and the opportunities of its people. The book traces the advent of cross-country train travel, focusing on an early trip from Omaha to Sacramento. As in Moonshot (2009) and Lightship (2007, both S & S), Floca proves himself masterful with words, art, and ideas. The book's large format offers space for a robust story in a hefty package of information. Set in well-paced blank verse, the text begins with a quick sketch of "how this road was built" and moves abruptly to the passengers on the platform and the approaching train. The author smoothly integrates descriptions of the structure and mechanics of the locomotive, tasks of crew members, passing landscapes, and experiences of passengers. Simply sketched people and backgrounds, striking views of the locomotive, and broad scenes of unpopulated terrain are framed in small vignettes or sweep across the page. Though a bit technical in explaining engine parts, the travelogue scheme will read aloud nicely and also offers absorbing details for leisurely personal reading. Substantial introductory and concluding sections serve older readers. There's also a detailed explanation of the author's efforts and sources in exploring his subject. Train buffs and history fans of many ages will find much to savor in this gorgeously rendered and intelligent effort.-Margaret Bush,"
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle is a wordless picture book. Again I think the pictures are stunning, and the fun flaps to reveal more of the story (through pictures of course since it's wordless) were fabulous for my little toddlers.
I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I've been one to really love wordless books and encourage parents of beginning/just learning readers to use a wordless book to have them tell the story. Wordless books are also fabulous for older elementary, even middle school, teachers to use in their classrooms for a writing assignment. You show the book, and only half if you want, and the students write the words to the story. It was one of my favorite writing lessons when I was a 5th grade teacher.
I felt the pictures in this book were fabulous, but I didn't feel the story had much to it. It just felt blah and shallow to me.
Amazon had the following book description:
"In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!"
Journey by Aaron Becker is another wordless picture book. Again the pictures are beautiful, and the story line is creative (though the whole crayon/marker idea reminded me of Harold's Purple Crayon a little) with some substance to it. I'd give Journey 3.5 out of 5 stars. I liked this book, but I didn't love it b/c I couldn't quite connect with the character. I wish I could've been drawn in more to the book and understanding of the character through a portrayal of more emotion.
Amazon had the following review from School Library Journal:
"In this auspicious debut picture book, a lonely girl escapes the boredom of a sepia-toned world by drawing a doorway to a magical realm. Harkening back to Crockett Johnson's Harold, this child uses a red crayon and a lot of imagination to venture across a Venice-like kingdom, fly among a fleet of steampunk airships, and take off on a magic carpet ride. When an act of compassion and bravery lands the heroine in a cage, it's her magic crayon and a bit of help from a new friend that save the day. This captivating wordless story has all the elements of a classic adventure: unknown lands, death-defying stunts, and a plucky lead. Finely detailed pen-and-ink line drawings combine with luminous washes of watercolor to create a rich and enchanting setting. Becker builds a sense of suspense by varying colorful full-page spreads with smaller vignettes that feature the girl and her red crayon surrounded by ample white space. The final page shows the youngster and her new friend riding a tandem bicycle pointing onward. Endpapers spotlight all manner of transportation: ships, trains, cars, and even space shuttles. The strong visual narrative makes this an appealing choice for a wide range of ages. By the turn of the last page, children will immediately begin imagining the next adventure.-Kiera Parrott"
Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner was probably the book I was most excited for. If you look at that Caldecott infographic again you can see Wiesner has won 3 times and received an Honor now 3 times. I have enjoyed many of Wiesner's books, and he has done many wordless books like this one.
Mr. Wuffles! is a wordless book, and I would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. The pictures were fun and vibrant, the cat, the main character, is there but you don't really get attached. The book had its positives, but I feel the storyline seemed done/told before. I guess the book lacked the originality for me that would result in a higher rating. Plus, I felt there wasn't much substance to the story; it was very plainly told through pictures.
Overall, I felt the book was just alright, but nothing spectacular.
Like the books all above Amazon had a review from School Library Journal that is much more positive:
"Mr. Wuffles ignores all his fancy cat toys. Still sporting price tags, they line the hallway as he strolls by. But resting quietly among the feathers, balls, and mice is a tiny metal spaceship, and this catches his attention. His playful batting knocks around the alien explorers inside, causing bumps but no injuries. The ship's flying disks do not survive, however, and the aliens set out to explore the house and repair their craft. Barely escaping Mr. Wuffles's claws, they dash behind the radiator and discover primitive art of the cat's previous battles and make friends with the house's insects. The bugs help the aliens repair the spaceship, avoid capture, and fly away. Nearly wordless, the story is told through pictures and the languages of the ants and aliens, depicted by dashes and symbols. The book is fairly complex, best suited for elementary students, who will enjoy decoding the aliens' cryptographic alphabet. Wiesner humorously captures the curiosity and confusion of Mr. Wuffles and his human, who remains oblivious to the drama underfoot. The idea of a separate, tiny world next to ours makes a great premise, and Wiesner's engaging art and lively pacing carry the day. Visual storytelling at its best.–Suzanne Myers Harold,"
I full on realize I am a harsh judge when it comes to books and picture books especially, but I might as well be brutally honest with y'all. If a book is great I will tell you. Unfortunately, this years Caldecott winners didn't grab my heart or my toddlers' hearts like a really good picture book should.
Did you read any of these books? What did you think?