The Bus Ride

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by Marianne Dubuc (Kids Can Press, 2015)

This delightful, mind-stretchy book is by the creator of one of my 2014 favorites, The Lion and the Bird. Remember that one?

And this book has been out for over a year, but it’s taken a while to wrap my brain around its brilliance.

It’s a little bit sweet and a little bit surreal.

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There’s our girl, a little Red of sorts. Waiting at the bus stop with her basket, on her way to visit her grandmother. Of course. And the book itself, a trim size perfect for a bus ride. A long stage for the passengers to be the stars of this show.

And red endpapers, of course.

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What’s so interesting (and challenging!) about this book is that the scene never changes. The bus stops and starts and new characters come and go, but the bus itself is the same.

Well that, and this sloth.

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This cat lady knits a scarf, a red one, that gets a teensy bit longer as the journey continues. That turtle hangs his head in boredom and the sloth sleeps.

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And on the wheels go, through a forest seen right through the windows.

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The turtle gets spooked by the tiny mole baby, and the sloth still sleeps.

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And when the bus goes into a tunnel, there’s a rumble-jumble on the bus. (According to the paper’s headline, which is a treat for any reader’s eagle eyes.) It’s a rumble-jumble that invites a prowler inside and bumps the sloth to another shoulder to sleep on.

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After the darkness, a pickpocketer. A big box. A sloth hug. A stop.

A grandma’s house.

This is a story about courage, everyday kindnesses, and adventures that are as simple as sharing shortbread cookies. I could get on that bus, couldn’t you?

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A Tree is Nice

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by Janice May Udry and pictures by Marc Simont (HarperCollins, 1987, originally published in 1956)

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I’ve always loved this girl. Hand on her hop, watering her tree. She’s totally oblivious to the rapscallions behind her, that dog and that cat. And even that tall tree back there. Her eyes hope only for this one.

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Do you see him there? The kid in the tshirt, looking up? Surely this text matches his thoughts exactly.

And what HarperCollins did here with the height of this book will not be lost on its readers. Long and tall and high, plenty of room for looking up. Plenty of height from which to hang dreams. Staircases of branches for swinging.

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And the pages. A swishing kind of breeze between the black and white spreads and the ones painted in color. A sleight of hand out in the open that slows you down to think. To remember. To watch.

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Your tree might be different than my tree. You might need it for a nap and I might need it for a climb. But we probably have the same wishes.

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A while back I wrote a piece for Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog, and if I’d had infinite time and space, this book would have been there too. This book planted a story seed of the best kind.

Dig a big hole. Plant your tree. Don’t forget the watering can.

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Apples and Robins

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by Lucie Félix (Chronicle Books, 2016)

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Here’s a book that is also a puzzle, an optical illusion, and a little bit toy-like all at once. Here’s what I mean.

So, then, a birdhouse: one small circle, two parallelograms, and a die-cut triangle.

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Or walls and a roof and a string, of course. Isn’t that what shapes are? Real, living, breathing things?

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But then wind blows and the sky rumbles, and . . .

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This book isn’t only clever cuts and shapes transforming into magic. It’s also a gentle arc of a pulsing spring. An apple, a reach, a bite, a worm.

A robin, a song, a home, a storm.

A mess, a basket, a watch, a wait.

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A winter, a spring.

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The Friendship Experiment meets A Rambler Steals Home

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The thing with publishing is that it’s always going to be easier (and more fun!) to navigate if you have some people by your side.

The thing with those people is that you didn’t know you would become friends, but you did.

I feel super lucky to have bumped into Erin Teagan along this road. We share a publisher and an editor and lots of the nitty gritties of this whole thing, and it’s been so wonderful to know her. She is smart and kind and has been the best encourager. And here’s the cover of her middle grade novel, The Friendship Experiment

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Don’t you love it? You can get it on November 1st, 2016!

I’m leaning on her every move because my book comes out a couple months later, in February of 2017. Have you seen its cover yet?

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And over the past year-ish, we’ve both been lucky enough to get to know many other debut middle grade authors. If you are looking to spruce up your shelves, this is a spectacular place to start.

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Friends stick together. Put Maddie and Derby in your get-to-know-and-read-and-love pile. We can’t wait for you to get to know them!

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Pink is for Blobfish

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by Jess Keating, illustrated by David Degrand (Knopf, 2016)

I mean, just look at that guy. How could you not love him? I do. I do, I do.

Making picture books means collaborating with the whispers of someone else’s art. And now that this particular book is off the printer and into the hands of readers, I got to eavesdrop on this conversation between Blobfish’s author and illustrator.

To Jess! And David!

JK: Hey guys! Hey Carter!

I’ve been really blown away by all of the love for my new book, Pink is for Blobfish! Working on this book was an incredible experience, and it’s so wonderful to see it reach the hands of young readers—thank you so much!

Today, I wanted you to meet one of the shining stars behind Blobfish! When I was writing this book, I couldn’t stop picturing what sort of illustration would accompany my (often bizarre) text. When my editor sent me David DeGrand’s take on our creatures, I was so thrilled! His work is hilarious, quirky, and a perfect match for the series. I’m jealous of his talent!

To celebrate David and his awesome work on this book, we got together for a virtual chat! I hope you enjoy it, and check him out online too! Without any adieu whatsoever, here we go!

Starting with a trip down memory lane, what inspired you to get into art and illustration?

DD: I started drawing cartoony illustrations and comic strips after my fifth grade art teacher assigned us to write and draw our own comic strip. I instantly fell in love with the process and so I kept writing and drawing my own comic strip that I would show my family and friends. It became on obsession and eventually a career, which I’m very fortunate for!

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JK: As a writer who is completely jealous of illustrators, I’d love to know more about your process. Can you take me through it? What happens after a manuscript like Pink is for Blobfish is sent your way?

DD: All illustration projects are a little bit different, so the process varies according to what the project entails. When I got the manuscript for Pink is for Blobfish, the first thing I did was look up as many reference photos as I could find for the different animals. I then started sketching different designs for each animal to try and find the funniest and silliest way to represent that animal in the book. It was a ton of fun!

JK: You get to pick one artist in history (alive or dead!) and have coffee with them. Who would you choose?

DD: This is really tough, but if I had to pick just one artist I would love to sit down and talk with Ed Emberley. His simple art instruction books were a big part of my childhood, so his influence has been with me as long as I can remember. But more importantly, I really admire and respect his point of view that drawing and creating should be accessible to everyone and that it shouldn’t be intimidating. He made it easy and fun for anyone to pick up a pencil and create a picture, regardless of your artistic background, and that’s something I have always admired and learned from.

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JK: A must-ask for all the kidlit writers reading this: what was your favorite children’s book growing up?

DD: Hands down it was Where the Wild Things Are, I must have read it every night for years. It started my obsession with monsters and all things strange and bizarre!

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JK: Killer journalism time: do you have any favorite snacks to munch on while you’re working? (I’m partial to popcorn.)

DD: I almost always have a bag of either almonds or pistachios on my drawing desk to munch on. I like to try and snack guilt free!

JK: Okay, time to share some DeGrand wisdom. Say a budding illustrator is reading this. What are the one or two best pieces of illustration advice that you would give them?

DD: The best advice I can give to someone wanting to be an illustrator is to simply draw what makes you happy. Sometimes I think artists can get caught up in trying to keep up with a popular artistic trend thinking that will help them in the business, but that’s not really being true to yourself. I think all artists should simply have fun with the creative process and by doing that your unique voice will always come through. When you’re enjoying what you’re creating, that joy will shine through and your art will find an audience.

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JK: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which three books do you bring with you?

DD: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey, and Robert Ebert’s Book of Film by Roger Ebert (I’m a huge movie geek!).

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JK: Lastly, when I was researching you online, I came across this photo. Readers need to know: what exactly is going on here and did you win the Showcase Showdown or what?

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DD: Oh yes, the moment I was almost famous! Here’s the story: I occasionally contribute cartoons and comics to the one and only MAD Magazine. One of the cartoons I did was a parody of The Price is Right. Drew Carey saw the cartoon and enjoyed it enough that he bought the original art from me! If that wasn’t enough, the producer for The Price is Right invited my wife and I out to LA and gave us a backstage tour and let us sit in the audience for a taping of the show. Right after the show I was able to meet Drew Carey very briefly and get the picture taken with him. It was all very surreal and amazing, to say the least!

Thank you so much, David! And a huge hug to you, Carter, for hosting us! We love ya!

(Anytime, pals. Blobfish friends are forever!)

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Ballet Cat + a giveaway!

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by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, 2016)

This post is brought to you in partnership with Disney-Hyperion.

Can you look at these covers and not smile? Impossible. They w a m – p o w you with sparkles and awesome and confidence and an difficult-to-beat title like Dance! Dance! Underpants!

But beyond the glitter and brilliant character design, these are stories with a lot of heart. These are friendship stories that get right at the gut of telling the truth and not disappointing the people you love and the silly disaster of wearing goofy-looking underpants.

They are fun, they are fresh, and they are for young readers who deserve great books.

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I can’t read these without hearing Bob Shea’s voice, and you can too if you check this fun thing out:

And you’re in luck! The fine folks at Disney-Hyperion would like to give these two gems to you along with a plush Ballet Cat (who is so cute!) from MerryMakers, Inc.

All you have to do is comment here by midnight PST on Friday, February 12th.

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Bob Shea is the author of the first book about Ballet Cat: THE TOTALLY SECRET SECRET, the Dinosaur vs. series, and several other picture books, including DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD and UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT. He and his wife have their own design studio in Madison, Connecticut.

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Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

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Ballet Cat is getting her friend Butter Bear ready for her big ballet debut. “Leap, Butter Bear, leap!” Ballet Cat prompts. But Butter Bear would prefer to just point her toe. When Ballet Cat keeps pushing, Butter Bear gets hungry, then thirsty, then sleepy . . . The bottom line is that Butter Bear would rather do almost anything to avoid making a big leap. Why? Because her bottom is covered in silly underpants! This second entry in the Ballet Cat series will have beginning readers rolling on the floor with laughter.

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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Little Red Sled: by Emily Arrow and Zoey Abbott Wagner

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There’s this songwriter, Emily Arrow. And there’s this illustrator, Zoey Abbott Wagner. And then there’s the internet, where these two collaborators met. Art showed up first, and the story followed, and they made this thing, this beautiful thing.

Music. A song. A story. A friendship, really.

Here’s what Emily had to say about it:

This is my debut video that is an original song and story! After seeing an illustration posted by one of my favorite up-and-coming illustrators, Zoey Abbot Wagner, a story concept flooded over me. With my ukulele in hand, I started imagining myself going out in the snow like the character in her sketch….but only wanting to deal with winter if I could have lots of books around! I shared the song with Zoey and she made the most beautiful, creative illustrations for our video project. We’ve had so much fun, we’re going to create a series of videos called “the Arrow of Seasons.” The characters will have season-y names and the stories will celebrate my two favorite things: music and literature. 

We love those things, right?

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Sometimes in picture books, this kind of collaboration is unusual. An in picture books, stories take years from idea to the printed page. But still, here’s one artist crafting half of a perfect thing, leaving room for the other artist’s half of the perfect thing.

Together, it sings. (Here, literally, but you know what I mean.)

I hope you’ll enjoy this duo as much as I have. Books and pictures…plus songs? Okay, yes.

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Here’s Emily Arrow and Zoey Abbott Wagner’s Little Red Sled:

And if you are a Los Angeles local, don’t miss Emily Arrow’s debut album release party at Once Upon a Time, on February 20th at 10:30 am. I’ll be there!

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Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)

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written by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking, 2016)

Picture book making is sort of a solitary thing, except when it’s not. Along the way, you gather up people who are smarter and funnier, and your writing becomes more yours by surrounding yourself with others. It’s an odd phenomenon, closely cheering for your competition, and yet: that’s how this whole thing works.

The first time we emailed was because I wanted to feature her Little Free Library on Design Mom. 

The first time we ever spoke on the phone was when she called to say, “BOOK DEAL. Book deal!” And that’s about all we said.

The first time we ever hugged in real life was a few weeks ago in Boston.

The first manuscript I ever read of hers became this brilliant book.

A friendship is made up of a bunch of firsts, and this is a pretty spectacular celebration.

Now that it’s a finished thing, it’s hard to remember those first typed words that came through my email. But back then, it wasn’t complete. It was only this hilarious half, waiting for illustrations and design and the funniest case cover of them all.

Its meta-ness is hinted at there on the cover, with Snappsy himself holding a book featuring…himself. And if those eyes don’t scream anxious alligator-ing, I’m not sure what would. The invitation to this book already feels like barging in on something, and that is a remarkably tense place to start.

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Endpapers with Snappsy’s ho-hum daily activities, of course.

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Inside we have a narrator, unseen and incorrect. According to Snappsy, that is.

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Snappsy gets speech bubbles while the narrator’s voice captions illustrations in blocks. As a professional read-aloud-er, cues like this are key for voicing characters in a story.

And when Snappsy protests, the narrator amps up his game.

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Tim Miller is a natural at populating these environments with clever details. The one above, my favorite. What is that girl reading?!

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There’s an ever-increasing zoom on Snappsy’s splinter-laden shed here that reminds me a little of that viral video with the cat. You know the one. It’s an epic moment in three panels here.

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But then, our hero loses it. I’m pretty sure this is the best use of a feather duster in a picture book ever.

What happens then changes the design, changes the story. We see Snappsy, framed through the narrator’s eyes, and yet, he’s quiet. Just for a bit.

Of course I won’t spill the beans on this one for you, but don’t forget to study those back endpapers. And the case cover.

Because really, this is the story of the beginnings of friendship. A bunch of firsts between two friends who didn’t know they were looking for each other. That’s something familiar.

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Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

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by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

I love this book for its words and its structure and its illustrations and its history, and I love that I got to stick a golden Caldecott Medal on its cover.

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From the Caldecott criteria:

The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.

Let’s look at this book’s distinguished pages. And a note: these are my opinions. It’s clear that the Calde-committee found many reasons to love this book, but there’s no way to know what the overlap is. That’s ok! But here’s what I find remarkable:

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A simple, striking case cover, reminiscent of Pooh-and-friends’ silhouettes in the A.A. Milne stories.

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An invitation to the (hundred acre?) wood on the endpapers. And see if you can spot the real-life owl and rabbit on the title page, a maybe-nod to the wise and spirited friends to Pooh himself.

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The way safe and tucked-in stories at night blur the line between awake and in dreams.

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The passage of time. (And an intriguing and evocative line of text by the author here does not hurt an ounce!)

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The way the real-life storytelling lives in black and white spot illustrations, juxtaposed with the full-bleed illustrations of the past.

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The emotion and pacing of decision-making, the kind that happens when your heart makes up your mind.

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This whole spread, which I loved for the daunting, fierce red of war, and then even more for the details of maritime flags which Sophie talks about here.

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Shifts in perspective that slip you into battle and hang on the edge of your seat.

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A second story, flawlessly entered. I love how this Bear and his boy are on the right-hand side of the spread too, and how it echoes a bear-to-boy lovelock from a few pages earlier.

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The return home, not as bustling as the crew that left for the war. An understated, powerful picture.

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This album, that’s been on the modern boy’s bedside table the whole time.

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The back cover, a mirror of the front. Bookends to the beginnings of a beloved story.

It is an exquisite book.

For more on Winnie, check out my post on All the Wonders. And don’t miss Sophie herself talking about the making of Winnie here, here, and here.

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Last Stop on Market Street

 

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A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

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You must have heard. You must have seen. You must have read.

It wasn’t me that you heard, because the me in that room that morning was a silent bucket of tears. That room that morning was an electric place, full of hoots and hollers and hows and HOLY YOUKNOWWHATS.

It was so wonderful.

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When I chatted with Matthew Winner and Julie Falatko on the Let’s Get Busy podcast last April, here are some things I said about Last Stop on Market Street, (after I expressed some worry that books published post-holidays and pre-ALAYMA-time get lost in the shuffle. Ha.):

This book came out early in January and I have loved it since I set eyes on it. (We spoke in April!)

It’s one of those books that I knew before I even read it that I would love it.

There’s not a word that is out of place.

Every single syllable of this book is total perfection and Christian Robinson’s art is like a hug.

It is absolutely the definition of a perfect picture book.

Some stay with you.

You can listen to minutes 10 through 14 here for more of my audio take on this book’s brilliance.

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And the thing that’s so sock-knocking-off about this, is that picture books are rare beasts to the Newbery table. But they are deserving, they are eligible, they are thirty-two pages of plot and character and emotion that some books don’t quite capture in three hundred and thirty-two.

I still can’t quite find words to write about how it feels to be a part of this brave, new, picture book-honoring world, so these three tweets from fifteen minutes of that morning will have to do.

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And of course, of course, Christian Robinson’s pictures here are outstanding. Intimate but reaching, somehow both old-fashioned and brand-new-brilliant.

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If you haven’t read Last Stop on Market Street yet, you are in for a treat. And for more on this book and its picture-book-Newbery-ness, read this, watch this, listen to this, and soak this in.

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PS: That first picture is what it looked like as I stickered this sucker. First the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, then the Caldecott Honor, and then the Newbery Medal. That was fun.