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  • 2019 Comstock-Gág Read Aloud Book Awards

    2019 Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Winner

     Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse written by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken, and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018.

    AdrianIllustrator Corinna Luyken sets up the conflict between protagonists Adrian Simcox and Chloe immediately on the front cover of the book. The two children, arms crossed, face each other divided by a wall created by the title of the book. The horse in question is clearly visible when viewing the front and back cover as a unit.

    As Adrian boasts about his beautiful horse, Chloe becomes more defiant insisting that Adrian couldn’t possibly take care of a horse. Horses are expensive, and Adrian gets free lunch, his shoes have holes, and he lives in town. When Chloe’s wise mother takes her to Adrian’s house, Chloe begins to appreciate Adrian’s imagination realizing: “Adrian Simcox had just about the best imagination of any kid in our school” and “he had the most beautiful horse of anyone, anywhere.” Adrian’s horse is visible on the story’s last page, as well as in the foliage of the back endpapers.

    Luyken uses mixed media of watercolor, ink, colored pencil, and graphite, as well as expertly placed white space, to expand the text. Perceptive readers will spy images of Adrian’s horse throughout the book.

    The book captured the hearts of students in grades three through five. Students pored over the pictures, made many comments about the book, and clapped after the read aloud. One third grader said, “It’s the best book—it opens my imagination.” Teachers also found the story valuable. A fourth grade teacher wrote, “This book was very relatable because lying and being unkind are both things we deal with a lot,” and a fifth grade teacher commented that the story was a “great lesson on what is really important in life and not judging others for what we assume to be true.” Students and teachers agreed: “We love, love, love this book!”

    Debut author, Marcy Campbell lives in northeastern Ohio with her family and rescue animals. She grew up on a farm with cows, chickens and other animals, but she never had a horse. Illustrator Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of the award winning book, The Book of Mistakes, and resides with her family in Olympia, Washington. [CAROL HANSON SIBLEY]

    2019 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book

    The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, and published by Candlewick Press, 2018.

    Day War CameIn this universal story for all ages, a young girl enjoys a typical morning at home and a day at school until the war comes and she is left without her family. She cries, “War took everything. War took everyone.” A double-page spread shows her grueling journey to a refugee camp. When she walks through a nearby town, adults turn away, including a teacher who tells her there is no room and no chair for you. In an act of compassion, a young boy from that classroom brings her a chair and his classmates line the road to the camp with chairs “so that all the children here can come to school.”

    Author Nicola Davies first wrote this text in anger when the United Kingdom government refused to take in 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. In an act of solidarity, artists contributed drawings of 3,000 empty chairs, symbolic of the plight of children who are denied refuge. Davies’ timely poem has now become this notable picture book. Rebecca Cobb’s pencil and watercolor illustrations capture the devastation of war, the difficult journey, and finally the kindness of fellow children.

    Hopefully this book will inspire readers to take action, perhaps in their own communities. Third through fifth graders appreciated this powerful book. Teachers commented that the first-person point of view helped children understand the emotions of the young girl and how it must feel to be a refugee. Students thought about their own classmates and commented, “We have friends who have experienced this.” The story also led to discussions about why the U.S. is not admitting many refugees. Students realized that: “kids can change the world.” The author’s note summarizes the importance of this book: “I want this story to remind us all of the power of kindness and its ability to give hope for a better future.”

    Nicola Davies, a zoologist and animal lover, has written many non-fiction science books for young readers. She lives in Wales. Illustrator Rebecca Cobb lives in Falmouth, England. In a recent interview, she commented that she wanted the illustrations to be universal and relatable to refugee children. [CAROL HANSON SIBLEY]


    2019 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Book Award Winner

    Don’t Blink written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by David Roberts, and published by Random House Children’s Books, 2018.

    Dont Blink

    Please don’t blink for the rest of the review, otherwise you have to skip it! Oh did you blink? Please continue to read anyway. Don’t Blink is wonderful, fun, interactive read with a catch. Every time the audience blinks, they have to turn the page and get closer to the end of the book (and to bedtime). Children will want to read this silly book again and again!

    Many readers thought that Don’t Blink was a great book whose main character, a friendly owl narrator “stimulates and interacts” with the audience and the story throughout the whole read. Multiple teachers commented they could not expect a “perfectly quiet class” while reading this book. This book encourages chatter, silly antics, and participation and is a perfect read-aloud choice. One teacher noted that this book “should be a strong contender for an award” (and they were right). Students agreed that the book was hilarious and that they tried really hard not to blink. A few students wanted to share this book with their family and siblings to see if they would blink. The audience also appreciated the large bright yellow, black, and white illustrations and pop-out words that are prefect for a group reading.

    Amy Krouse Rosenthal was a maker of many things, including children’s books, adult books, short films, essays and so much more. She became a writer after having what she called “a McEpiphany” one day while at McDonalds. Since then she has written 28 delightful children’s books. Amy lived with her family in Chicago and sadly passed away in 2017 due to ovarian cancer. David Roberts was born in Liverpool England and found his calling in 1997 when he illustrated Frankie Stein’s Robot by Roy Apps. Since then he has illustrated over 70 books, including great titles like: Iggy Peck Architect, The Troll, and his very own series Dirty Bertie. [CASSEY SLATER]


    2019 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Honor Book

     Blue written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and published by Roaring Brook Press, 2018.

    BlueUsing a simple rhyming text and just two words per page, Laura Vaccaro Seeger uses the color and feeling of blue to share a universal story of life and death in a new and fresh way. Seeger explores the emotions associated with the many shades of blue during the relationship between a boy and his dog as the boy grows from a child to a man. Her use of acrylic paint on canvas and die-cuts connect the life experiences of the boy throughout the book.

    This book was shared with over 300 students from preschoolers through 5th grade as well as high school and college students; proving this is a powerful, timeless, and ageless story. At first glance, this book appears to be a very elementary introduction to color. However, older students were aware of the difficulty of telling a story with such few words and were impressed with the illustrations that used strategically placed cutouts to bring a more complete understanding to the story. Children realized that this complex story was conveyed through the combination of the illustrations and the words.

    Students felt a universal response to Blue. They were often very quiet as they contemplated the story’s ending, and then would erupt with applause. There was lengthy discussion about this unique approach to a timeless theme. One student summed it up by commenting that it was “so simple, it was beautiful.” The power of its message helped both students and adults cope with the death of their pets when they heard this story.

    Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a two-time winner of both the Caldecott Honor Award and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and a plethora of other awards and accolades. She has been drawing since she was two years old and while in the fifth grade, she wrote an essay stating that she was born to make picture books. With around 20 picture books to her name and more to come, she certainly seems to be proving that is true. [CONNIE HOWITSON]

    2019 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Honor Book

    We Don't Eat Our Classmates written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, and published by Disney Hyperion, 2018.

    we don't wat

    Don’t worry, no dinosaurs ate any classmates in the making of this book! It is Penelope Rex’s first day of school and she is really nervous. There’s a big problem. All of her classmates are children and they look so delicious! Will Penelope be able to make any friends without eating them first?

    Higgin’s book was inspired by his experiences with his own children and their classmates. He created Penelope Rex to be as cute and innocent looking as possible so children would find her relatable. The story revolves around making friends and treating others the way you want to be treated. An interesting note is that Higgins used drawings of dinosaurs created by his children and their friends to decorate the endpapers. Readers found that many children were “captivated” and engaged throughout the book. One class voted this book as their classes’ “kids’ choice.” Preschoolers through second graders really enjoyed the bright, colorful illustrations, the humor, the detailed illustrations, and the surprise ending.

    Ryan T. Higgins has a degree in ecology, but he always wanted to be a cartoonist. His books, such as Be Quiet!, Mother Bruce, and Wilfred have been national bestsellers. He received an E.B. White Award and an Ezra Jack Keats Honor Award for his book, Mother Bruce. His book, Wilfred, was a Wanda Gág Read Aloud Honor Book in 2014. Ryan currently resides in southern Maine with his family and wide variety of pets. [CASSEY SLATER]