The American Library Association produced a long list of great books in January with its annual Youth Media Awards, including the well-known Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, which go to the best American children’s author, illustrator, and young adult author of the year, respectively. Many more awards for children’s and teen books are given annually by the ALA, all of which can be checked out here in print, ebook and eaudio formats.
For the past five years I’ve indulged delusions of grandeur and given out awards of my own for books which don’t quite fit into the ALA’s categories, which I (and no one else, since no one actually talks about it but me) call the Elpies, in a play on the Lawrence Public Library’s initials. I’ve long dreamed of a star-studded evening in an opulent ballroom where I would give out my awards, but instead, this year, like all the other years, the ceremony will take place in my mind. I don’t have a red carpet in my living room, but there is a cat who doesn’t like me much on the TiVo box a few feet away warming her backside. And since I am both emcee and the audience of this show, don’t be alarmed if I hurt my own feelings and slap myself. I promise not to involve the cat in any of that, but let’s get started before she gets creeped out and runs off.
Best Book About a Little Thing That’s Really About a Big Thing
Big Truck, Little Island by Chris Van Dusen
Writer-illustrator Chris van Dusen is best known for depicting the modern world as a candy-colored, mid-century wonderland in picture books like Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and If I Built a Car. His newest, Big Truck, Little Island, tells a quieter tale about a semi-truck stuck on an island in Maine. The truck blocks traffic on the only road, and as the adults stress out, the kids come up with a visionary solution: People on each side of the truck need only trust one another and trade cars for the afternoon to get where they are going.
Best Book About a Cat That’s Not Really About a Cat
This Story is Not about a Kitten, by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Carson Ellis
Will my cat like me more if I give an award to a cat book? I doubt it. In fact, she is asleep. But the title of this one is correct. It’s about more than just the kitten, discovered lost and alone in a neighborhood that comes together to save it. Ellis is one of the best illustrators working these days, and her paintings, along with de Seve’s “House that Jack Built” cadence, put this one on the same shelf as other classics of the cat-with-many-names genre like Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat, and Six-dinner Sid.
Best Book About a Squirrel That’s Really About a Cat
Mina, by Matthew Forsythe
Forsythe’s tale of a mouse whose clueless dad has brought home a squirrel that is obviously a cat is the funniest picture book I read last year. “Squirrels are bigger than mice and have long bushy tails!” Dad explains to the title character, Mina, who musters Lisa Simpson-esque patience to survive her new roommate. Forsythe’s distinctive color palette and understated visual wit continue the world he established in 2019 with Pokko and the Drum, and here’s hoping for dozens more stories set there.
Best Book About a Flamingo That’s Not Really About a Flamingo (or a Cat)
The Flamingo, by Guojing
I don’t know what the flamingo represents in this beautiful graphic novel for early readers, but it has something to do with a grandmother’s love. A girl raises a flamingo chick hatched from an egg she found on the beach, and years later tells the story to her visiting grand-daughter. When the grand-daughter returns home, she dreams of a huge pink bird and makes a gift of the vision for her beloved Lao Lao. Surreal sweetness and wonder give this mostly wordless book a heart as big as The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (who died in 2022, and will be missed), and the best of Brian Selznick.
Ouch! I just slapped myself. Too many awards for books about stuff that really isn’t stuff. The cat isn’t showing much empathy but she did open her eyes. She closed them again right away, but still. She was possibly concerned.
Best Book about Cannibalistic Popcorn Kernels Who Walk and Talk
Popcorn Bob in America, by Maranke Rinck, illustrated by Martijn van der Linden
It’s unlikely I’ll ever be asked to name my favorite kinderboekenscrijver, which I recently learned is Dutch for “children’s book author,” and not only because I don’t live in the Netherlands. But if I were, I would say it is Maranke Rinck, for her very weird series of chapter books about Popcorn Bob, illustrated by her husband, Martjin van der Linden. Popcorn Bob walks, talks, pops when he’s mad, and in this, his third volume, travels to the American Midwest. Greatest thing to come from the Netherlands since the Dutch oven.
Best Book About a Chicken Circumnavigating the Globe
This was an award given out the very first year of the Elpies, and amazingly also in years two, three, and four. In fact, it’s the only repeat category. Much to my chagrin, since I was planning all sorts of 5th anniversary pyrotechnics around this particular award, there were no children’s books about chickens circumnavigating the globe published in 2022. Even more frustrating, two wonderful books on this topic, published in December 2021 and January 2023, barely missed qualifying.
Ouch! I just slapped myself again. Hey me, it’s not my fault! Let’s quit beating ourselves up and mention these two books anyway. They are Priscilla Burris’s Sabrina Sue Loves the City and Sabrina Sue Loves the Sky, both easy readers about an adventurous chicken who sets out with her best friend, a frog, to see more of the world. They missed 2022 by a matter of days, but they’re both winners in my book.
Best Book about a Bird that Really Can Circumnavigate the Globe and Really Was Published in 2022
Warbler’s Journey, by Scott Weidensaul, illustrated by Nancy Lane
To make up for that, I offer Scott Weidensaul’s gorgeous homage to a bird that really can fly, from Nicaragua to the Canadian Northwest Territories, in fact. It’s the yellow warbler. Read the book and bring your young birders to our annual bird walk at the Baker Wetlands on April 29th, from 8 to 10 a.m., and you might see one migrating through our area. This is the first book for children by Weidensaul, whose adult books about birding and bird migration are some of the most readable in print.
There you have this year’s Elpies. I hope to see me apologize to myself and I for those slaps, but I’m not holding my breath. It seems more likely an apology to the cat would be forthcoming, but she has already vacated the TiVo box. Maybe I'll meet up with her at the big after-party, though, which begins on the furnace register in a few minutes when the heat kicks on.
—Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.