Marvin the beetle lives in a cupboard under a kitchen sink, swims, draws, and solves a museum mystery in Elise Broach’s Masterpiece—a favorite book of a very busy education professor, Michael O. Tunnell (EdD ’86). The novel is one of hundreds of children’s books Tunnell read last year as a member of the American Library Association’s 2009 Newbery Medal selection committee.
The 15 recognized librarians and professors on the committee are almost out of time to find the best of the 9,000 children’s books published in the United States last year. The committee will announce a medal winner and honorees on Jan. 26.
A 30-year veteran in the children’s literature field, Tunnell served on the Newbery Medal committee once before, in 1991, when the committee selected Maniac Magee for the honor. There were significantly fewer books to review then; today committee members would have to read about 25 books a day to read every book published in 2008. They share the load by reading and recommending books to each other.
What has Tunnell been looking for? Something that he says is becoming harder and harder to find. “You’ve got to have a good strong plot on which to hang character development, on which to hang your beautiful language,” says Tunnell. “It’s the tree on which you hang the other ornaments. And I think we’re not getting that as consistently as we used to.”
Though some suggest the trend toward scattered plots is part of a natural evolution, Tunnell, a children’s book author himself, disagrees. “There’s a storytelling tradition—and it’s gone back to the beginning of time—that I would argue is fundamental. It’s never changed, and I think the crux of a good story will never change.”
While some books were disappointing, Tunnell’s search uncovered others that he thinks are excellent. Along with Masterpiece, his favorites from 2008 include Climbing the Stairs, by Padma Venkatraman; When the Sergeant Came Marching Home, by Don Lemna; and The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry.
Teacher education professor Michael O. Tunnell (EdD ’86), who helped pick the 2008 Newbery Medal winners, shares a list of his favorite children’s books here. Peruse the categories below to see the titles Tunnell and teacher education professor James S. Jacobs recommend.
Biography: 10 of Our Favorites
Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life. Atheneum, 2005. With photographs on every page and special attention given to each important person, place, and project, this biography provides a portrait of a remarkable life.
Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. Clarion, 1987. Photographs and text trace the life of the Civil War president. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
Freedman, Russell. The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Clarion, 2004. Marian Anderson was a world-renowned African-American opera star by the mid-1930s, but she was often denied the right to perform in her own country because of her race—including at Constitution Hall, the largest and finest auditorium in Washington, D.C. Winner of a Newbery Honor Medal.
Fritz, Jean. And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? Illustrated by Margot Tomes. Coward, 1973. A short, illustrated biography of this American Revolution hero. (See the other titles in Fritzs series about personalities from the American Revolution: Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?; What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?; Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?; Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?; Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?)
Fritz, Jean. You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? Putnam, 1995. A biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who believed in equality for everyone. In the late 19th century, Stanton spent her time and energy traveling around the United States to promote womens right to vote.
Giblin, James Cross. Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth. Clarion, 2005. Brothers John and Edwin Booth became two of America’s finest stage actors, but their opposite political loyalties during the Civil War led them to dramatically different fates.
Hoose, Phillip. We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History. Farrar, 2001. (Collective biography.) Biographies of dozens of young people who made a mark in history, including explorers, planters, spies, cowpunchers, sweatshop workers, and civil rights workers.
Krull, Kathleen. Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought). Harcourt, 2000. (Collective biography.) Focuses on the human sides of 20 of historys most influential women: queens, warriors, prime ministers, first ladies, and revolutionary leaders. (See others in Krull’s Lives of . . . series.)
Peet, Bill. Bill Peet: An Autobiography. Houghton Mifflin, 1989. (Autobiography.) The well-known author and illustrator relates the story of his life and work, including his years at Disney Studios. A Caldecott Honor Book.
Stanley, Diane. Michelangelo. Harper, 1997. (Picture book.) A biography of the Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, well-known for his work on the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
Contemporary Realistic Fiction: 10 of Our Favorites
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Candlewick, 2000. Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni describes her first summer in the town of Naomi, Fla., and all the good things that happen to her because of her big, ugly dog, Winn-Dixie. A Newbery Honor Book.
Hunt, Irene. Lottery Rose. Scribner’s, 1976. A young victim of child abuse gradually overcomes his fears and suspicions when placed in a home with other boys.
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Atheneum, 1967. Twelve-year-old Claudia is tired of her life of responsibility, so she and her little brother run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
Martin, Ann. A Corner of the Universe. Scholastic, 2002. The summer that Hattie turns 12, she meets the childlike uncle she never knew and becomes friends with a girl who works at the carnival that comes to Hattie’s small town. A Newbery Honor Book.
Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins. Crowell, 1978. An 11-year-old foster child tries to cope with her longings and fears as she schemes against everyone who tries to be friendly. A Newbery Honor Book.
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. Bradbury, 1987. After a plane crash, 13-year-old Brian spends 54 days in the wilderness, learning to survive with only the aid of a hatchet given him by his mother and learning also to survive his parents’ divorce. A Newbery Honor Book.
Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows. Doubleday, 1961. A young boy living in the Ozarks achieves his heart’s desire when he becomes the owner of two redbone hounds and teaches them to be hunters.
Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Harper, 1972. The six mean Herdman kids lie, steal, smoke cigars (even the girls), and then become involved in the community Christmas pageant.
Sachar, Louis. Holes. Farrar, 1998. As further evidence of his family’s bad fortune, which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. Little, Brown; 1990. After his parents die, Jeffrey Lionel Magee’s life becomes legendary, as he accomplishes athletic and other feats that awe his contemporaries. At the same time he searches in anguish for a place to call home. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
Informational Books: 10 of Our Favorites
Armstrong, Jennifer. Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance. Crown, 1998. Describes the events of the 1914 Shackleton Antarctic expedition when, after being trapped in a frozen sea for nine months, their ship, Endurance, was finally crushed, forcing Shackleton and his men to make a very long and perilous journey across ice and stormy seas to reach inhabited land.
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. Scholastic, 2005. Bartoletti explores how Hitler gained the loyalty, trust, and passion of so many of Germany’s young people and includes telling interviews with surviving Hitler Youth members.
Freedman, Russell. Children of the Great Depression. Clarion, 2005. Along with photographs by famous photographers of the depression era, Freeman’s overview clearly covers the Great Depression, its causes, schooling, work life, migrant work, the lives of children who rode the rails, entertainment, and so on.
Fritz, Jean. Leonardo’s Horse. Illustrated by Hudson Talbot. Putnam, 2001. Leonardo da Vinci sculpted in clay a horse two-and-a-half stories high with plans to cast it in bronze. He never completed the project, but Charles Dent, a 20th-century airline pilot who loved art, fulfilled Leonardo’s dream almost 500 years later.
Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size. Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Discusses and gives examples of the size and weight of various animals and parts of animals.
Micklethwait, Lucy. A Child’s Book of Art: Great Pictures, First Words. DK Children, 1993. Famous paintings are used to introduce basic concepts (seasons, weather, opposites, colors, counting, etc.) to young children.
Murphy, Jim. The Boysâ€™ War. Clarion, 1990. Documents the lives of the young boys who actually fought in the American Civil War. Illustrated with archival photographs.
Sabuda, Robert, and Matthew Reinhart. Dinosaurs: Encyclopedia Prehistorica. Candlewick, 2005. Full of fascinating facts and lighthearted good humor, this breathtaking pop-up book includes fascinating, up-to-the-minute information about popular dinosaurs as well as many lesser-known varieties.
Schwartz, Alvin. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat: Superstitions and Other Beliefs. Lippincott, 1974. Superstitions collected into 23 categories, such as love and marriage, money, ailments, travel, weather, school, and death.
Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp. Crown, 1992. Describes the plight of the migrant workers who traveled from the Dust Bowl to California during the Great Depression and were forced to live in a federal labor camp. Focuses on the marvelous school that was built for their children.
English Language Books
Aiken, Joan. Bridle the Wind. Harcourt, 2007. (U.K.)
Almond, David. Clay. Delacorte, 2006. (U.K.)
Fine, Anne. Up on Cloud Nine. Delacorte, 2002. (U.K.)
Fox, Mem. Possum Magic. Illustrated by Terry Denton. Harcourt, 1987. (Australia)
Fox, Mem. Particular Cow. Illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Harcourt, 2006. (Australia)
Hughes, Monica. Storm Warning. Harper, 2000. (Canada)
Ibbotson, Eva. The Star of Kazan. Dutton., 2004. (U.K.)
Lunn, Janet. The Hollow Tree. Knopf, 1997. (Canada)
Mahy, Margaret. Down the Back of the Chair. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Clarion, 1997. (New Zealand)
Naidoo, Beverly. No Turning Back. Harper, 1997. (South Africa)
Nicholson, William. Slaves of the Mastery. Hyperion, 2001. (U.K.)
Nix, Garth. Abhorsen. EOS/Harper, 1995. (Australia)
Nix, Garth. Drowned Wednesday. Scholastic, 2005. (See others in The Keys of the Kingdom series.) (Australia)
Park, Ruth. Playing the Beatie Bow. Macmillan, 1980. (Australia)
Pullman, Philip. The Scarecrow and His Servant. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Random House, 2005. (U.K.)
Sutcliff, Rosemary. Black Ships before Troy. Illustrated by Alan Lee. Delacorte, 1993. (U.K.)
Valgardson, W. D. Winter Rescue. Illustrated by Ange Zhang. McElderry, 1995. (Canada.)
Waugh, Sylvia. How Goes Home? Delacorte, 2004. (U.K.)
Westall, Robert. Time of Fire. Scholastic, 1997. (U.K.)
Bredsdorff, Bodil. The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove. Farrar, 2004. (Denmark)
Björk, Christina. Vendela in Venice. Illustrated by Inga-Karin Eriksson. R & S Books, 1999. (Sweden.)
Carmi, Daniella. Samir and Yonatan. Scholastic, 2000. (Israel)
Chotjewitz, David. Daniel Half Human: And the Good Nazi. Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2004. (Germany)
de Beers, Hans. Alexander the Great. North-South, 2001. (Switzerland)
Duquennoy, Jacques. Operation Ghost. Harcourt, 1999. (France)
Funke, Cornelia. Inkspell. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2005. (Germany)
Gaarder, Jostein. The Solitaire Mystery. Illustrated by Hilde Kramer. Farrar, 1996. (Norway)
Gallaz, Christophe. Rose Blanche. Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. Creative Education, 1985. (France)
Goscinny, René. Nicholas. Illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé. Phaidon Press, 2005. (France)
Gündisch, Karin. How I Became an American. Cricket Books, 2001. (Germany)
Heine, Helme. The Boxer and the Princess. McElderry, 1998. (Germany)
Ho, Minfong. Maples in the Mist: Children’s Poems from the Tang Dynasty. Illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng. Lothrop, 1996. (China)
Holub, Josef. An Innocent Soldier. Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 2005. (Germany)
Lindgren, Astrid. Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. Viking, 1983. (Sweden)
Llorente, Molina. The Apprentice. Farrar, 1993. (Spain)
Maruki, Toshi. Hiroshima No Pika. Lothrop, 1982. (Japan)
Orlev, Uri. The Man from the Other Side. Houghton Mifflin, 1991. (Israel)
Orlev, Uri. Run, Boy, Run. Houghton Mifflin, 2003. (Israel)
Reuter, Bjarne. The Boys from St. Petri. Dutton, 1994. (Denmark)
Richter, Hans Peter. I Was There. Holt, 1972. (Germany)
Stolz, Joëlle. The Shadows of Ghadames. Delacorte, 2004. (France)
Yumoto, Kazumi. The Letters. Farrar, 2002. (Japan)
Modern Fantasy: 10 of Our Favorites
Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three. Holt, 1964. In the first book of The Prydain Chronicles, Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper at Caer Dallben, searches for the oracular pig Hen Wen while the forces of evil gather. (See the other four books in The Prydain Chronicles.)
Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. Farrar, 1975. The Tuck family is confronted with an agonizing situation when they discover that a 10-year-old girl and a malicious stranger now share their secret about the water from a spring that prevents people from ever growing any older.
Christopher, John. The White Mountains. Macmillan, 1967. (Science fiction.) A young boy and his companions make a perilous journey toward an outpost of freedom, where they hope to escape from the ruling tripod creatures who “cap” adult human beings with implanted metal skull plates that turn them into docile, obedient servants. (See the other three books in the White Mountains series.)
Cooper, Susan. Over Sea, Under Stone. Harcourt, 1966. Three children on a holiday in Cornwall find an ancient manuscript that sends them on a dangerous quest for a grail that would reveal the true story of King Arthur. (See the other four books in the Dark Is Rising series.)
Engdahl, Sylvia Louise. Enchantress from the Stars. Walker, 1970 (reissued 2001). (Science fiction.) When young Elana unexpectedly joins the team leaving the spaceship to study the planet Andrecia, she becomes an integral part of an adventure involving three very different civilizations, each one centered on the third plant from the star in its own solar system.
Hale, Shannon. The Goose Girl. Bloomsbury, 2003. On her way to marry a prince she’s never met, Princess Anidori is betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting and must become a goose girl to survive until she can reveal her true identity and reclaim the crown that is rightfully hers.
Hunter, Mollie. A Stranger Came Ashore. Harper, 1975. Twelve-year-old Robbie becomes convinced that the stranger befriended by his family is one of the Selkie Folk and tries to get help against his magical powers from the local wizard.
McKinley, Robin. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. Harper, 1978. Kind Beauty grows to love the Beast, at whose castle she is compelled to stay. Through her love, she releases him from the spell that had turned him from a handsome prince into an ugly creature.
Pattou, Edith. East. Harcourt, 2003. A young woman journeys to a distant castle on the back of a great white bear who is the victim of a cruel enchantment.
White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web. Harper, 1952. Wilbur the pig discovers that he is destined to be the farmer’s Christmas dinner and is desolate until his spider friend, Charlotte, decides to help him. A Newbery Honor Book.
Picture Books: 15 of Our Favorites
Alexander, Lloyd. The Fortune-Tellers. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Dutton, 1992. (Picture story.) A carpenter goes to a fortune-teller and finds that the predictions about his future come true in an unusual way.
Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno’s Counting Book. Crowell, 1977. (Counting.) A counting book depicting the growth in a village and surrounding countryside during 12 months.
Crews, Donald. Freight Train. Greenwillow, 1978. (Concept.) Colors and the names of the cars on a freight train are introduced with sparse but rhythmic text and brilliantly colored illustrations. A Caldecott Honor Book.
Henkes, Kevin. Julius, the Baby of the World. Greenwillow, 1990. (Picture story.) Lilly is convinced that the arrival of her new baby brother is the worst thing that has happened in their house, until Cousin Garland comes to visit.
Hepworth, Cathi. Antics! An Alphabetical Anthology Putnam, 1992. (ABC.) Alphabet entries from A to Z all have an “ant” somewhere in the word, such as E for Enchanter, P for Pantaloons, S for Santa Claus, and Y for Your Ant Yetta.
Mayer, Mercer. Frog Goes to Dinner. Dial, 1974. (Wordless.) Having stowed away in a pocket, Frog wreaks havoc and disgraces his human family at the posh restaurant where they are having dinner.
Parish, Peggy. Amelia Bedelia. Illustrated by Fritz Siebel. Harper, 1963. (Beginning reader.) A literal-minded housekeeper causes a ruckus in the household when she attempts to make sense of some instructions.
Peet, Bill. Big Bad Bruce. Houghton Mifflin, 1982. (Picture story.) Bruce, a bear bully, never picks on anyone his own size until he is diminished in more ways than one by a small but very independent witch.
Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. Harper, 1963. (Picture story.) A naughty little boy, sent to bed without his supper, sails to the land of the Wild Things, where he becomes their king. Winner of the Caldecott Medal.
Steig, William. Doctor DeSoto. Farrar, 1982. (Picture story.) A clever mouse dentist outwits his wicked fox patient. A Newbery Honor Book.
Turkle, Brinton. Do Not Open. Dutton, 1981. (Picture story.) Following a storm, Miss Moody and her cat find an intriguing bottle washed up on the beach. Should they ignore its “Do not open” warning?
Van Allsburg, Chris. Jumanji. Houghton Mifflin, 1981. (Picture story.) Left on their own for an afternoon, two bored and restless children find more excitement than they bargain for in a mysterious and mystical jungle adventure board game. Winner of the Caldecott Medal.
Waber, Bernard. Ira Sleeps Over. Houghton Mifflin, 1972. (Picture story.) A little boy is excited at the prospect of spending the night at his friend’s house, but worries about how he’ll get along without his teddy bear.
Wells, Rosemary. Max’s First Word. Dial, 1979. (Baby/board.) It seems Max can say only one word, no matter how hard his older sister tries to teach him others.
Wiesner, David. Flotsam. Clarion, 2006. (Wordless.) A boy spots a mysterious, old camera that washes up on the beach and discovers a fantasy-filled mystery waiting for him on the roll of film inside.
Poetry Reading List: 10 of Our Favorites
Ciardi, John. You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You. Illustrated by Edward Gorey. Lippincott, 1962. Designed so that the child reads the poem on one page and the adult reads the poem on the next page. A collection mostly of humorous verse.
de Regniers, Beatrice Schenk, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White, and Jean Carr, compilers. Sing a Song of Popcorn. Illustrated by nine Caldecott Award-winning artists. Scholastic, 1988. A collection of poems by a variety of well-known poets with illustrations by nine Caldecott medalists.
Esbensen, Barbara. Who Shrank My Grandmother’s House? Illustrated by Eric Beddows. Harper, 1992. A collection of poems about childhood discoveries concerning everyday objects and things.
Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. Harper, 1988. A collection of poems (divided into two columns to be read together by two people) describing the characteristics and activities of a variety of insects. Winner of the Newbery Medal.
Harley, Avis. Fly With Poetry: An ABC of Poetry. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2000. Harley defines and provides an example of 26 poetry forms, one for each letter of the alphabet: acrostic, blank verse, cinquain, and so on.
Merriam, Eve. Spooky ABC. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Macmillan, 2002 (1987). Each letter of the alphabet introduces a different spooky aspect of Halloween.
Prelutsky, Jack. The New Kid on the Block. Illustrated by James Stevenson. Greenwillow, 1984. Humorous poems about such strange creatures and people as Baloney Belly Billy and the Gloopy Gloopers.
Schertle, Alice. Keepers. Illustrated by Ted Rand. Lothrop, 1996. A collection of poems about personal mementos that bring to mind special moments and feelings.
Siebert, Diane. Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Illustrated Stephen T. Johnson. Chronicle Books, 2006. Mixed-media artwork and poems evoke familiar and unfamiliar places throughout the United States, including Kentucky’s famed Derby, Florida’s Everglades, and the Oregon vortex.
Thayer, Ernest Lawrence. Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888. Illustrated by Christopher Bing. Handprint, 2000. This rendition of Thayer’s immortal poem about baseball hero Casey, who strikes out and loses the big game, is illustrated with reproductions of artifacts, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other late-19th-century memorabilia (ticket stubs, coins, medals, baseball cards).
Traditional Fantasy Reading List: 10 of Our Favorites
Collections and Chapter Books
Hamilton, Virginia. In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World. Illustrated by Barry Moser. Harcourt, 1988. An illustrated collection of 25 myths from various cultures explaining the creation of the world. A Newbery Honor Book.
Manushkin, Fran. Daughters of Fire: Heroines of the Bible. Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz. Silver Whistle/Harcourt, 2001. Eleven stories about women of the Hebrew Bible who influenced the course of Jewish history through their courageous actions.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Favorite Medieval Tales. Illustrated by Troy Howell. Scholastic, 1998. A collection of well-known tales from medieval Europe, including “Beowulf,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Song of Roland,” and “Gudren and the Island of the Lost Children.”
Soifer, Margaet, and Irwin Shapiro. Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights. Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. Random House, 1957 (reissued 2003). Illustrated retellings of 10 stories of Scheherazade, along with the legend of how they came to be told.
Sutcliff, Rosemary. The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey. Illustrated by Alan Lee. Delacorte, 1996. A retelling of the adventures of Odysseus on his long voyage home from the Trojan War.
Dillon, Leo, and Diane Dillon. To Every Thing There Is a Season: From Ecclesiastes. Scholastic, 1998. The text is taken from the King James version of the Bible (Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 1–8) and each verse is illustrated in the traditional artistic style of a different ancient culture.
Grimm Brothers (translated by Randall Jarrell). Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs. Illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. Farrar, 1972. A beautifully illustrated rendition of the classic fairy tale. A Caldecott Honor Book.
Hasting, Selina. Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. Lothrop, 1985. After a horrible hag saves King Arthur’s life by answering a riddle, Sir Gawain agrees to marry her and thus releases her from an evil enchantment.
Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. Lothrop, 1987. Mufaro’s two beautiful daughters, one bad-tempered, one kind and sweet, go before the king, who is choosing a wife. An African variant of Cinderella. A Caldecott Honor Book.
Zelinsky, Paul O. Rapunzel. Dutton, 1997. The author melded several versions of the Rapunzel story in creating this unique telling. Caldecott Medal.