Resources for the 2012 Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts - Part 2 of 3

The children's literature Assembly, an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English, has selected thirty notable titles every year since 1997. The 2012 Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts were announced last week. It is an impressive list that will appeal to grades K-8.

I divided the thirty books into three posts. Click here to view part one.

Heart and Soul. Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray, 2011. Grades 3-7.

The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. But it is also the story of injustice; of a country divided by law, education, and wealth; of a people whose struggles and achievements helped define their country. This is the story of the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all colors who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination and triumphs.

NPR Books

"I love my grandmother to pieces, so I thought maybe I'd use my grandmother's voice because she really gives it to you straight, she's the matriarch of our family. But I also wanted to sweeten it up a little bit." -Kadir Nelson, from his interview on NPR.

Read a note from Kadir Nelson.

Kadir Nelson presented at the 2011 National Book Festival.

Inside Out and Back Again. By Linda Urban. Harcourt, 2011. Grades 4-7.

Travis Jonker and I named Inside Out and Back Again a best book of 2011.

My personal copy of Inside Out and Back Again looks like it was attacked by a pack of neon Post-it notes. Every syllable, every word, every punctuation mark screamed, "Notice me. Underline me. Re-read me. I'm important." I wanted to travel back to 1975 and help ten-year-old HÃ as she and her family traveled from war-torn Saigon to Alabama. If only I could have protected her from the insults and ignorance of her new classmates and neighbors. Many times while reading, I imagined myself as Ha's school librarian, offering her a safe and encouraging environment. The passages I marked and underlined stayed with me for months–like these:

In the distance
lighten the sky,
falls like rain.

yet within ears,
within eyes.

Not that far away
after all.

One cannot justify war
unless each side
flaunts its own
blind conviction.

Brother Quang says
add an s to nouns
to mean more than one
even if there's already an s
sitting there.


All day
I practice
squeezing hisses
through my teeth.

Whoever invented
must have loved snakes.

They chase me.
They yell Boo-Da, Boo-Daâ at me.
They pull my arm hair.
They call me Pancake Face.
They clap at me in class.

This novel-in-verse will lead to thoughtful and important discussions about war, immigration, grief, and hope. Thank you, Thanhha Lai, for telling Ha's story.

"I tell everyone, do not go into writing unless you can handle sitting still for hours and hours and hours. It’s shockingly boring. Like anything else, what you see is merely the end result of hours of practice, be it shooting hoops from midcourt or playing Chopin." -Thanha Lai

Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word. Written and illustrated by Bo Raczka. Roaring Brook Press, 2011.

Part anagram, part rebus, part riddle--these poems capture a scene from a child's daily life and present a puzzle to solve. Sometimes sweet and sometimes funny, but always clever, these poems are fun to read and even more fun for kids to write. Bob Raczka is a fresh, new voice in children's poetry who knows that fun and games can turn a poetry lesson into lemonade!

Me...Jane. Written and Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Little, Brown, 2011. All grades.

Travis Jonker and I named Me...Jane a best book of 2011.

Spend time with the young Jane Goodall and her stuffed toy chimpanzee Jubilee. Jane and her faithful companion watch birds making their nests, read about plants and animals in books, and dream of a life in Africa helping all animals.  It is no surprise Jane grows up to be an animal activist, environmentalist, and a United Nations Messenger of Peace.  Patrick McDonnell’s detailed India ink and watercolor illustrations make this the most beautifully illustrated book of 2011.  Me…Jane proves that childhood dreams can come true.

Okay for Now. By Gary Schmidt. Clarion, 2011. Grades 6-8.

Travis Jonker and I named Okay for Now a best book of 2011.

No other 2011 release has been more dissected and discussed, disputed and adored than Gary D. Schmidt's return to the world of Doug Swieteck. This companion to TheWednesday Wars places “skinny-thug” Doug in a new town with no friends to speak of. Throw the turmoil of his abusive home life into the mix and you get a book where things could explode at any moment. Doug’s refuge comes if the form of two new loves: drawing to match the wildlife paintings of John James Audubon, and for a girl who sees the best in him. The highs are more moving, the lows are more jarring than anything else you’ll read in 2011. -Travis Jonker

Download the Okay for Now discussion guide.

Vicky Smith chats with Gary Schmidt about Okay for Now.

Gary Schmidt reads an excerpt from Okay for Now.

Over and Under the Snow. By Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas. Chronicle Books, 2011. Grades 1-3.

I posted about Over and Under the Snow on November 3, 2011.

One of the stops on my literary road trip was Chronicle Books Corporate Headquarters. It's a magical place bursting with creative energy. Melissa Manlove, Kate Messner's editor, shared the F&G of Over and Under the Snow. I read it standing next to Lara Starr's desk. The words gentle and soothing kept running through my mind.

Over and Under the Snow takes the reader into a secret world under the snow. "Under the snow is a whole secret kingdom, where the smallest forest animals stay safe and warm. You're skiing over them now." It is perfect for a primary animal unit, a winter display, and a must-have for your collection.

Take a peek inside Over and Under the Snow.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People. By Monica Brown, illustrated by Barry Root. Candlewick, 2011. Grades 1-4.

Once there was a little boy named Neftalí who loved wild things wildly and quiet things quietly. From the moment he could talk, he surrounded himself with words. Neftal' discovered the magic between the pages of books. When he was sixteen, he began publishing his poems as Pablo Neruda.

Pablo wrote poems about the things he loved-things made by his friends in the café, things found at the marketplace, and things he saw in nature. He wrote about the people of Chile and their stories of struggle. Because above all things and above all words, Pablo Neruda loved people.

Passing the Music Down. By Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Barry Root. Candlewick, 2011. Grades K-3.

A young boy travels to the hills of Appalachia to meet the old-time fiddle player whose music he has admired, and so sparks a friendship that will forge a bond between generations. The boy develops under the man’s care and instruction, just as seedlings grow with spring rain and summer sun. From playing on the front porch to performing at folk festivals, the two carry on the tradition of passing the music down. This touching, lyrical story, inspired by the lives of renowned fiddlers Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, includes an author’s note and suggested resources for learning about the musicians and the music they love.

Check out the discussion guide for Passing Down the Music.


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