Category Archives: Winning Titles

Winner Wednesday: “The Watermelon Seed”


The Watermelon Seed, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, is the 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner, and it is no wonder why. The fun and colorful cover immediately drew me in, and the cover under the jacket did not disappoint either. Upon opening the book, it is as if the reader is actually going inside of a watermelon thanks to the pink watermelon endpapers.

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The Watermelon Seed follows a crocodile as he eats his favorite food, watermelon. Everything is going great until something extremely relatable happens: he swallows a seed! Most kids have heard that if you swallow a watermelon seed then a watermelon will grow in your stomach. This book follows the main character on a stress-filled hilarious journey as he pictures the watermelon growing in his belly and the vines growing out of his ears, among other symptoms.

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Throughout the book, Pizzoli makes use of full bleed images and double page spreads that make the reader feel as if they are actually in the story. The pink and green color scheme is very bright and combined with the simple and cute drawings, create an aesthetic that is enjoyable and very appropriate for beginning readers. Pizzoli also makes use of variety of font types and sizes and puts few words on each page. The language used is easy to understand without writing down to the intended audience. This book is really fun to read aloud, especially the pages with extra large font and silly words, such as this one:

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Luckily for our crocodile friend, he burps up the swallowed seed. He vows never to eat watermelon ever again, but very quickly gives in (I mean come on, who can resist some yummy watermelon?!). The book comes full circle as he eats the watermelon and swallows a seed once again. This comical ending is very fitting for the book.

Overall, this book is entertaining to read, relatable, and aesthetically pleasing for kids and adults alike. The watermelon theme and the crocodile main character are an unlikely pairing, but super cute and work well together in this book.


-Kelly Santiago


Winners Wednesdays: The Stuff of Stars


The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ekua Holmes is the 2019 winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrators Award.

This book explores the creation of the world from the beginnings of nothingness to the cells that make up you and me. Bauer’s poetic words are brought to life through Holme’s vivid illustrations. Holmes is able to capture the beautiful yet volatile nature of our Earth. Readers can easily follow the illustrations which show how in the beginning there was nothing, depicted by a dark void, and then suddenly there was a burst that created everything we have now. As the effects of the burst become more complex and pronounced, so do the colors of the story.


Her illustrations are abstract and flow into each other to show how we are all intricately connected to not only each other but to the Earth itself. Bauer and Holmes describe this book as a celebration of every child and the imprint that they will leave on this Earth.

Though I do not own this book yet, I definitely plan on buying it. I think that readers of multiple ages will gain something from reading this book. Readers young and old will appreciate the illustrations and adults will love the song-like words of the story. 


~Zoe Browne

Winner Wednesday: Planetarium


In schools, it is quite common to distinguish between disciplines. For example, students have a math block which is separate from their reading block which is then separate from the science block, and on. When deciding which text to use during a lesson, educators make decisions about what text is appropriate for which students. Specifically looking at the English Language Learner population, often times these decisions result in choosing texts that limit student engagement and talk down to them. The book Planetarium written by Raman Prinja and illustrated by Chris Wormell, is a text that many would not consider to be useful to read with early to young readers.

This book is large in size, and is designed to be a portable museum that individuals can carry with them. The text of the content uses challenging and advanced vocabulary, which is why many would not use it for a mentor text with young readers. I agree that the text, introduced without the proper scaffolds, may present difficulties when young readers engage with it.

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However, the illustrations of this book are where the strengths of it lie. As many in the education field argue, such as Lambert, the text of a book only composes a part of the reading experience. Other parts of the book such as illustrations, covers, end pages, and color schemes all contribute to the reading experience, and that is how Planetarium can be used as a text to engage young readers with concepts such as space and science, with artistic expressions, and reading literacy.

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For example, with the illustration above of the entire universe, the teacher could stimulate conversations regarding what students are seeing. Potential topics for discussion can include: size, relativity, colors, detail, shape, space, and any other interpretation the reader may see.

An example of a young reader engaging with this text can be seen below.

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This young reader has interpreted the images and expressed in writing what attracts his attention the most, and what specifically about them he likes. Children’s imagination will create the stories we want them to tell, all educators have to do is provide them with the opportunities. The young reader, whose writing is represented above, has made connections between these images of space and the universe with art and color. This is demonstrative of children’s sense making abilities, as they strive to connect and use what they know when approaching something unfamiliar.

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Overall, Planetarium is a great text which can introduce young readers to concepts in science such as space and relativity. The size of the book, which is very large, engages the reader as they get a sense of immersion into the text and images. The illustrations are exquisitely detailed, which entrance and captivate the readers’ attention. Much discussion can be drawn out from this text, all that is needed now is to give the children the opportunity to engage with these complex texts.


Maria Aguilera

Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem

Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem

Emily Gravett’s playful representation of the Fibonacci sequence in her children’s book The Rabbit Problem, is known for its unique use of media and style to illustrate the story.   This book is a deserving winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, for its creativity of the ilustrations that become the backbone of the entire story.  Emily Gravett truly makes the most of every single page of this book.  Even the cover page, title page, and copy right pages are illustrated, with great detail, to contribute to the story and keep the story world alive.

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Even on the first end page, before the story even begins, there Emily Gravett includes this double page spread illustration that wonderfully functions as a prologue to the book.  The subject of the story is introduced on the chalkboard, while a drawing on the chalkboard comes to life.  The coming-to-life rabbit drawing appears to be looking at the calendar on the wall, which is where the story begins…

The basis of the story is a twelve month calendar that includes illustrations of the “rabbit world” on the top page, and a monthly calendar including relevant, engaging, and interactive bits of information that are added on the bottom page.  In order to read the book, and to enter the rabbits’ world told through the media of a calendar, the reader is required to turn the book on its side; the left page becomes the top page, and the right the bottom.

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As you can see in this page that depicts the calendar page for the month of May, the calendar theme becomes the foundation of the story as a whole.  It keeps the story moving at a consistent and comprehensive pace.  The top page is an illustration of “The Hungry Rabbit Problem” where the rabbits appear to be tearing apart the edges of the page in their search for food.  On the top page, there are hand written notes, an interactive ration book, and an order form-which acts as foreshadowing for the months and problems to follow.
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I have included a close up picture of the open-able pages of the ration book on this page, to demonstrate the incredible creativity and attention to detail that goes into every single page of this book.  The unimaginable time and effort that was clearly put into the illustrations and visual aspects of this book are what really stood out to me.  As a child, I would have loved the interactivity and the playfulness of the book, but as an a adult, I feel that I am able to fully appreciate the hard work and thought that was exerted to create this book.

Each month poses a new problem for the growing rabbit population to overcome.  Not only does the rabbit population grow according to the number of rabbits depicted in the illustrations, but also in the tiny population sign in the background of every illustration that increases in number, according to the Fibonacci sequence.  The problems for the rabbits evolve each month, as they often relate to eachother in a cause and effect type of relationship.  For example, the rabbit problem for the month of September is “too many carrots, causing the problem for the following month of October to be the “overweight rabbit” problem.

Depending on the age and developmental cognition of the child, this book can be used to demonstrate and teach various different lessons, concepts, and discussions.  For a younger audience, the concept of a calendar, of different seasons and times of year, and of basic cause and effect relationships can be taught using this book.  For upper elementary and middle aged students, this book can be used to demonstrate variety in book style, importance of detail, more complex and overarching themes of cause and effect, population growth, and the mathematical Fibonacci sequence.

I would recommend this book, more specifically to elementary school teachers, but also to anyone that wants to read a really cool childrens book!  I really enjoyed taking my time to look through each page, discovering the little details in the illustrations and extras that add to the visual representation quality of the story.  I had such a refreshingly exciting and engaging experience reading this book, and I believe that any child, adult, or caregiver will too.

Casey Quinn

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe


Radiant Child won both the 2017 Caldecott Medal and the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Javaka Steptoe’s ingenious illustrations. He painted the images on reclaimed wood, photographing his masterpieces to accompany the text of the book. The book recounts the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young boy from Brooklyn who became a successful street artist, signing his work under the name SAMO©. Basquiat was born to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican-American mother. His mother always supported him in his art, even bringing him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy with which to practice drawing human forms, after he was hospitalized from a car accident. Matilde, Jean-Michel’s mother, is separated from her son due to mental health issues, but he visits her throughout the book. Jean-Michel is relentless in his search to create meaningful art, eventually finding success in creating street art. The art was “still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still beautiful.” The book investigates the crown motif in Basquiat’s art, since he considered himself and others as kings. The book ends on a positive note, with Jean-Michel “making it” as an artist.

I think this is a valuable book for a teacher of any grade level or subject to have in the classroom library. With young children, a standard read-aloud will teach them about an often-forgotten American artist, while introducing them to the genre of biographies. Older children can learn more about the struggles of Basquiat’s life, including his drug addiction, through the author’s note at the end of the book, as well as through supplemental resources. Art teachers can further investigate the motifs in Basquiat’s art like crowns, eyes, and cars. Art lessons could also center around Steptoe’s unique illustration style. Secondary social studies teachers can explore the racially-related reasons why Basquiat is generally remembered as a drug addict who caught a lucky break, rather than a genius young artist who was swept up in the times. This book explores so many themes on a differentiated level. Older learners could study mental health issues in a deeper way, including how Basquiat’s difficult relationship with his mother may have influenced his art. In general, this book teaches a great view of what art is. Steptoe writes about art as being present everywhere, not just specific styles in museums. Street art is seen by many as disrespectful vandalism, but this book directly challenges that idea. The biography’s message that hard work is key to success is applicable to any student. Overall, this is one of my new favorite books, and I will be buying a copy for my classroom.

Maddie Geller

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Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!


Andrea J. Loney and Keith Mallett’s New Voices Award Winner Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one that, according to author Loney herself, “celebrate[s] the humanity of all children.” In this case, the child celebrated is James VanDerZee, an African-American boy born in 1886 to the former butler and maid of President Ulysses S. Grant. James himself, however, has a different future in mind: He wants to be an artist. James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart,” but his drawings of people never turn out quite right…so he ends up entering and winning a contest for his very own camera. Here, James does something quite mature: he neither gives up on a dream nor remains desperately grasping at an impossibility, instead adapting his plan as he sees and learns new things. Such a nuanced message is not often found in children’s books, and I wonder whether its poignancy stems from the fact that the story of James VanDerZee is a true one.


James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart.”

This authenticity is evident in Mallett’s artistry as well. Illustrations in a book that centers on the life of an artist have high expectations to meet – but these delightful images deliver. The pictures of James with his camera are almost reverent, a beautiful glow from the device lighting James’ body and face so that he melts like butter against the soft, dark backdrop of the page.


But the book is not all beauty and light. Loney does not shy away from reality, acknowledging in no uncertain terms the racism that James faces. I admire her willingness to speak of “segregation,” of the way that 19th century “customers would not want their portraits taken by a black man” – and also the way that Loney is able to illustrate resilience of black people in the face of these obstacles. James’ foray into the Harlem Renaissance comes alongside vivid depictions that are as jubilant as the “cultural celebration” itself.


The book ends with a historical exploration: real photographs, as well as information about James that was not found in the book. It is always my hope that this type of story, told compellingly, will engage children not only in literacy and reading but in history and activism as well; the notes at the end of Take A Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! are ideal to pique a child’s interest in research after being drawn into James’ life through the narrative. 

-Addison Armstrong

Flora and the Flamingo

Flora and the Flamingo

Flora and the Flamingo is a beautiful wordless picture book by Molly Idle. Flora and the Flamingo was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2013. Molly Idle illustrates a stunning book in which two unlikely characters learn to become friends and dance as one. The book starts off with a young girl wearing flippers and a graceful flamingo. The young girl copies the flamingo’s ballet, but is quick to look away when the flamingo catches her. The flamingo does a flip and makes the young girl, Flora, flop. As Flora is upset, the flamingo reaches out to her and they begin to dance. They begin by doing the same dance apart, but soon the unlikely friends join together to dance as one. The picture book ends with a splash and a bow!

I think there are so many special features in this picture book. First, I love how the picture book is wordless. It allows the readers to create their own stories. A lot of the book is left up to interpretation. For example, one could read the beginning of the book as the flamingo purposely trying to make Flora fall, or as a dance battle between the two characters. I interpreted it as Flora copying the flamingo’s dancing because she want to be like the flamingo.

I also love Flora’s character. Flora is a little girl that doesn’t fit the typical standards of being pretty. I admire that Molly Idle did not create Flora to be a perfectly skinny ballerina. Flora is a character that kids can look up to. She is realistic. If Flora could learn to dance than so can any other young girl.

The best part of the book is the illustrations and the interactive features. Idle nailed the illustrations in Flora and the Flamingo.  The drawings contain simple, yet very detailed watercolors. The consistency of color thought the book makes it very visually appealing. Even without words, Idle finds a way to give Flora and the flamingo personalities. The interactive flaps in the book are a fun touch for reading with children. They also allow for the book to speak even though there are no words.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Molly Idle tells a story with personality and fun without using any words. The illustrations are simple yet stunning, and the soft colors engage the eye. Flora and the Flamingo’s friendship is inspiring, and I cannot wait to share this book with a young person.


By Aliya Meadows