By Alena Rivers
Hot on the heels of this week’s ALA Youth Media Awards announcement, this week we are looking ahead to two forthcoming books from award-winning authors and illustrators. These awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Sibert, Geisel, Printz, awards, are the gold standard of excellence in children’s media. In keeping with our review of books that highlight ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), these books represent first of all excellence, and also collaboration and integrity and respect.
Life on Mars by Jon Agee (Penguin, 2017)
An astronaut arrives on Mars confident in his search for life on the barren planet. The reader follows the astronaut as he walks the planet carrying a gift to share with whomever he discovers. In the meantime, a creature reveals itself to the reader but remains unseen by the astronaut. Young children will delight in watching the creature follow the unknowing astronaut who grows more doubtful of finding life on the planet. Just as the astronaut gives up his search and leaves behind his gift, he finds life on the planet, but it is not the creature who has been quietly and curiously watching the young astronaut. Satisfied with his discovery, the astronaut makes his way back to his ship, which presents a new challenge. He no longer remembers where he left it.The remaining pages reveal clues of the creature’s existence that the astronaut overlooks but are obvious to young readers.
Agee’s text is clean, straightforward and engages readers in the astronaut’s search for life on Mars. The easily discernible illustrations are done in muted grays and browns depicting the barren planet which is contrasted by a black background highlighting the infinite space beyond. Life on Mars is an entirely amusing story perfect for a humorous read-aloud to children ages 3-8.
Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat (Penguin, 2017)
Wishing to be as brave as his father, young Nicholas secretly finds comfort from his fears of the dark, giant bugs and hidden creatures by keeping with him a constant companion in the form of a small, toy dinosaur. Nicholas knows dinosaurs are not afraid of the dark and other unknowns so, with his dinosaur in tow, he finds the courage he needs to conquer a climbing wall, sleep in the dark and score a winning soccer goal against a tough goalie. That courage disappears as soon as he discovers he has lost his dinosaur on the soccer field. After a fruitless search, Nicholas finds himself vulnerable to the fears that have been kept away by his dinosaur. A touching moment is shared between father and son when Nicholas reveals the secret source of his strength to his father who offers to take Nicholas to the soccer field to find his missing dinosaur.
Choldenko’s text is vivid and astutely balances the ideas of fear and courage. Santat’s illustrations are done in deep blue, green and orange tones that span each two-page spread building a fully immersive depiction of every scene. Young readers will identify with the sense of security a special object can provide and the comfort in sharing its secret existence with someone special. Dad and the Dinosaur is a compelling read-aloud and provides opportunity for discussion with children ages 3-8 about their fears and how they overcome them.