Beautifully Alive in Story and Language: 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts

By Smiles, Tracy; Bandré, Patricia et al. | Journal of Children's Literature, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Beautifully Alive in Story and Language: 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts


Smiles, Tracy, Bandré, Patricia, Clark, Shanetia, Miller, Donalyn, Schroeder, Jean, Sung, Yoo Kyung, Ward, Barbara, Journal of Children's Literature


The books on the 2013 Notables list create new, reimagined worlds and have the potential to help readers see the familiar differently and expand their life spaces from what is to what might be.

FALL IS AN EXCITING TIME for children, teachers, and families. With crisp new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and a renewed sense of possibility, children, youths, and teachers begin the school year. This is when we begin sharing and constructing stories together to build connections and deepen our understandings of self, others, and the world (Short, 2012). So it is fitting that fall is when the Journal of Childrens Literature unveils the annual list of Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts (NCBLA).

Story is the theme used for organizing and presenting this year's list. We believe that the books and stories we share and create with children should center on the value of the stories themselves, not for the purpose of teaching reading skills, math concepts, or models for writing but for their potential in creating new, reimagined worlds, seeing the familiar differently, and expanding children's life spaces from "what is" to "what might be" (Short, 2012, p. 12).

"To feel most beautifully alive...," said French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1990, p. 3), "means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry." Although all the books presented here adhere to agreed-upon criteria for quality children's literature, it is the careful attention to language that makes the NCBLA award list unique. Each book is evaluated carefully on the following criteria:

* Deal explicitly with language, such as play on words, word origins, or the history of language;

* Demonstrate uniqueness in the use of language or style;

* Invite child response or participation. (Children's Literature Assembly, 2011, sidebar)

It is with great pleasure that the NCBLA Selection Committee presents the 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts list. We invite readers to join us in sharing these stories that connect us to the past, create community with others, explain the natural world, engage our imaginations, and expand our notions of what it means to be human. As you read, may you find yourself more beautifully alive. (TS)

Stories That Connect Us to the Past

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II Borden, L. (2012). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 135 pages.

This book begins with author Louise Borden encouraging readers to become storytellers and share with others the life story of Raoul Wallenberg. Born in Sweden in 1912, Raoul grew up to offer hope to Jews in Hungary during World War II, a time when there was little hope. Described as a man "with energy and intelligence, / who knew the world, / who could lead others, / who respected humanity" (p. 53), Wallenberg was responsible for saving thousands of lives. This free-verse biography is beautifully written and carefully lined to invite young readers into the story. Borden worked with Raoul's family to bring this unassuming, risk-taking man to life. The book includes numerous photos of key people, places, and events, as well as relevant documents that add to the sense of tension during this historical period. Raoul is quoted as saying, "T'd never be able to go back to Stockholm / without knowing inside myself / I'd done all a man could do / to save as many Jews as possible" (p. 110). This is a compelling and heroic story well worth reading and retelling to others. (JS)

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery Grady, C. (2012). (M. Wood, lllus.). Grand Rapids, Ml: Eerdmans, unpaged.

Reading Cynthia Grady's soul-stirring poetry elicits memories of my own mother and maternal grandmother. These strong women created intricate patchwork quilts and passed the skills to their children. Just as Grady has done with words, these women deliberately and carefully stitched together pieces of cloth-old sheets, worn-out flannel shirts, raggedy blankets-with the intention of creating something to be passed along from generation to generation. …

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