2003 Chapman Awards for Best Classroom Read-Alouds

What are the Chapman awards? FAQ's
Past awardees
List of the Best Books of 2003
List of the Best Books of 2002
Super Archive of the Best Books since 1999

Picture Books

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick)
In English, of Course by Josephine Nobisso, illustrated by Dasha Ziborova (Gingerbread House)
Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynne Rowe Reed (Holiday House)
Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert (Holt)
The Hard-Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers, illustrated by John Holyfield (Farrar Straus Giroux)


The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Random House)


Mathematickles! by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Steven Salerno (Simon and Schuster)
Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books by Kay Winters, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Simon and Schuster)
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt)
We Are Americans by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (Scholastic)
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein (Roaring Brook)

Special Commendation

The illustratred field guide Zoo Ology by Joelle Jolivet (Roaring Brook)
The reissue of The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (New York Review of Books Children's Collection)

About the Winners:

In English, of Course
by Josephine Nobisso, illustrated by Dasha Ziborova
published by Gingerbread House

The members of Josephine's classroom all seem to come from somewhere else, and are called upon in turn to talk about where their families are from. But when it's Josephine's turn, she is not sure she has enough English under her belt to explain that her parents are architectural engineers from Napoli, Italy. Her limited language leads her into uncharted farm territory, where with the help of her teacher she is able to share an extravagant reminiscence about a cow, told with a lot of body language. This hilarious and honest book explores both the insides and the outsides of an extremely intelligent child who is just gathering the tools she needs to make herself understood. The splashy collage illustrations appropriately reflect the wild amounts of information that are being sorted through, along with the style and spirit of the story's heroine. ESL students and teachers will cheer here, but any child will empathize with Josephine's earnest attempt to share the best of herself with her class. "Sometimes native-speaking people underestimate the talents, dignity and wit of newcomers to a country," the author muses in her postscript. All of these attributes come through loud and clear in one of the more endearing characters and accurate classroom narratives to appear in children's literature in a long time. (6 and up)Springboards for themes/discussion: immigration, English as a second language, welcoming newcomers, storytelling, communication and misunderstandings, tolerance

Punctuation Takes a Vacation
by Robin Pulver,
illustrated by Lynne Rowe Reed
published by Holiday House

Poor Mr. Wright plods along, trying to teach about punctuation marks, but when the frustrated fellow suggests "let's give punctuation a vacation," the underappreciated notations take him up on it, hopping a plane and leaving the class in a lurch. It turns out that writing is so hard to understand without those funny dots and dashes! When postcards arrive with crytic signatures, can Mr. Wright's students (and yours) figure out who each one is from? Leave it to clever Robin Pulver to take something as pedestrian as the period at the end of a sentence and infuse it with her signature zing. This attractive, funny book earns exclamation points all the way, and is a teacher's dream come true. Overheads of the illustrations will bring grammar lessons to life (unscramble the badly behaved punctuation in Mr. Rongo's room!), and children will love preparing their own punctuation postcards for a trip abroad to the bulletin board! Language arts has never been so lively. (7 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: punctuation, letter writing, travel, appreciation

The Dot
by Peter H. Reynolds
published by Candlewick

Aggghhh, the empty paper, every artist's bane! What to draw, what to draw? "Just make a mark and see where it takes you," Vashti's teacher advises. When the dot gets kudos in class, Vashti ups her own antie and makes quite a splash at the art show. When another student asks her advice, Vashti knows just what to say. Simple lines of pen and ink, and simple lines of text, but don't be fooled. This unassuming little book is really a splendid tribute to the daring of art, and how much chutzpah it takes for any artist to make his mark. An inspiring must-have for any school with an arts program, and a double-must-have for any child who attends a school without one! By the illustrator of the Judy Moody. series. (5 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: creative process, frustration, individuality, artists and art appreciation, perseverence

Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile
by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert,
illustrated by Julie Paschkis published by Henry Holt

When Mrs. Chicken walks down to the river to admire her reflection, she becomes crocodile bait! Dragged to a reptilian lair to be gobbled upon, she cunningly convinces her foe that they are actually sisters, and feasting on family is of course in bad form. Crocodile decides to let her prove their familial ties, figuring it will give her time to fatten up her future dinner. As both bird and beast lay their eggs, Mrs. Chicken does a bit of quick change and clever thinking to save the day. No wonder why chickens always take their baths in puddles! Folksy, engaging art in bold tones and patterns is a perfect accent for this suspensful Liberian folktale. (4 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: animal classification, trickster tales, folk tales, mothers

The Hard-Times Jar
by Ethel Footman Smothers, illustrated by John Holyfield
published by Farrar Straus Giroux

Emma is one book-hungry little girl. But money is "scarcer than hen's teeth," which means "no extras" for this family of African American migrant workers, and that includes no store-bought books. So Emma makes her own , fastening brown paper pages with safety pins. When Emma starts school, it is with much trepidation, until kind Miss Miller reveals-- wonder of wonders!--a coatroom full of books! The temptation to take one home proves too much for Emma, Will her lapse be the end of her chances to read, or will it be the beginning of her mother recognizing that maybe a book is worth taking money out of the family's "hard times jar"? Beautiful paintings featuring elongated figures against lush backdrops are frame-worthy, a perfect accent to this sensitive story about the allure of literature and it's value. You'll be glad you took money out of your "hard times jar" for this one; it belongs in the collection of anyone whose heart has beaten a little bit faster at the sight of a brand-new book. (6 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: black history, sharecropping, honesty, resourcefulness, poverty, money, libraries, writing, school

The Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo,
illustrated by Timothy B. Ering
published by Candlewick

What a remarkable gift Kate DiCamillo has. Not only is she a great storyteller herself, but she turns anyone who reads her books aloud into a great storyteller. Her books are among the great pleasures of classroom teaching. She really took a departure from her other two books, and her own bravery translated into a particularly gallant story, full of poignancy but never losing her trademark good humor and generally graceful turn of the word. There has not been a book so hard to describe since Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee; in fact, it is one of those amazing books about everything. For practical purposes, though, let's say it is a book about a mouse who falls in love with a princess. It is about life in a castle where anything can happen, and usually does. It is about a terrible dungeon, and the unfortunates who must dwell in darkness. It is also about soup (great chance to tie in some cooking activities!). DiCamillo brings all these elements together in short, cliff-hanging chapters, and pauses frequently to address the reader directly, accompanying us on this very dire adventure featuring a most unlikely, and most likeable, hero. A fearless book in every respect, this title has made it on to the very exclusive Must Reads by the Time You're 13 list. Get it while the soup's still hot. (8 and up)
Springboards for themes/discussion: dichotomies, literary conventions, "happily ever after," punishment, revenge, memory, grief, hope, loyalty, forgiveness, soup

The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
published by Random House

A fantastic underground world is fully realized in this cliffhanging, heart-pumping sci-fi fantasy that even people who don't like sci-fi fantasy will enjoy. The generator that provides the lifeforce for the city has been running well for hundreds of years, creating a society that is ambivalent and content, few venturing into the darkness that envelopes the city's perimeter. But the flickering lights indicate that it may be time to generate some new ideas, and fast! Lina the messenger and Doon in the Pipeworks come off like the voices of doom, insisting that the cryptic Instructions for Egress may be the answer, if the friends can only figure it out. Timely themes of limited resources and the powerful not fully sharing their hand are provocative, and the expectation that these young people will contribute to their society through work and thought will speak to the desires of many middle grade readers. Fantastic descriptions and characters you will care about, this debut is absolutely electric and deserves every bit of buzz it has been receiving. If you could generate energy from the speed in which readers are turning these pages, you could even light up Ember…see if you can get past page three without being completely hooked! Fans of James Gurney's Dinotopia and Lois Lowry's The Giver must have this on their shelf. (11 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: natural resources, survival, maps and codes, problem solving, conspiracies, work, interdependency, perspective, the future

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
published by Harcourt

On a ranch in the Arizona desert was a family thriving on eighty acres, until the great drought drove them all to migrant work. Though their crops may have withered, a seed was germinating in young Cesar Chavez. The indignities he experienced as a shy Spanish-speaking student and the grueling conditions are honestly portayed. Children will be stirred by these indignities, and their hearts equally swelled by the huelga, Chavez's peaceful movement against threatening overlords. His three-hundred mile march from Delano to Sacramento was the longest in U.S. history, and resulted in the first ever contract for farmworkers. This is an extremely powerful book that underscores the bravery and resolve it takes to engage in non-violent protest, and rightly puts Chavez on the same scaffolding as Martin Luther King as a champion of civil rights. The lush illustrations roll across double-pages horizontally set, thoughtfully designed as to emphasize distance: how far the people had to travel both spiritually and physically to achieve the goal. A page-turning read-aloud about an important chapter of Latino history, this is a welcome and well done contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Viva la Causa! (7 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: biography, migrant workers, agriculture, discrimination, protest, Civil Rights, problem-solving, peacemaking, Mexican-American history

Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books
by Kay Winters,
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
published by Simon and Schuster

They thought he was lazy, this boy who would take a book out of his back pocket to read at the end of each row he'd plow. In fact, bigger things were in store for this young dreamer who was destined to become out 16th president. Readers are treated to a homey glimpse of this hero's boyhood, leaning on his father's lap by the fireside as yarns were spun, splitting wood, shivering with his sister in a drafty log loft. It chronicles both the dark days (like when Abe's mother dies of "milk sickness" when he is nine) and exciting adventures (such as the great wrestling match between him and Jack Armstrong, which was met with cries of "Body slam! Body slam!" by my second grade listeners). The story stops where most others begin, as Lincoln takes his seat at the White House. The unpretentious illustrations are evocative of the period and contain many details that are springboards to discussion, such as what schools were like in pioneer times, and why Lincoln campaigned from a train. To be honest, this is one of the best biographical selections to come along for young booklovers in a long time. (6 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: biography, pioneers, survival, character development, literacy, legend, presidents

by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Steven Salerno
published by McElderberry/Simon and Schuster

Words + math + seasons = mathematickles! Not sure what that means? Try this one: pumpkin-seeds+face=jack-'o-lantern! Or how about tadpole=2/3 frog? Cold air divided by breath = tiny cloud? Easily one of the most inventive books of the year, children will enjoy creating their own poetic "mathematickles," ingenious little poems that combine narrative with number games. Some poems read like problems, others like concrete verse, but all of these marvelous mixes give new meaning to the term number line! The artwork is splayed and jubilant, perfectly captuing the energy and palette of each season that provides the context of the poem. This book puts the sum in summer and factor in fall, and this clever format makes it a winner for classroom integration all year round. Well organized+ well executed+well done = a book that belongs in every classroom. (7 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: math, poetry, seasons, figurative language, creative writing

We Are Americans: Voices of the Immigrant Experience
by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
published by Scholastic

Humanizing the immigrant experience with an ethnically diverse and national view, this book covers a larger expanse of time than any other resource we have found, covering prehistoric (yes, prehistoric!) migration to recent influx of Muslim Arab immigrants, families who fled the fighting in Yugoslavia, and East Indian contributions to a Texas community. In scrapbook form, children can read first-person accounts of a child's escape from Hungary during the 1956 revolution, a Polish immgrant remembering days at parochial school, recollections of a Japanese woman who knew nothing about western cooking but was expected to prepare food for ten railroad men, Christmas mumming by a Norwegian family in the prairie Dakotas, a Filipino boy frightened by a vaccuum cleaner as well as many more stories that celebrate what great experience and perspective all cultures bring to our melting pot. Full of sidelines and photos, this is an upbeat, engaging and comprehensive exploration of the immigrant experience that beats any textbook treatment of the subject, and a true celebration of the diversity that gives our country its unique strength. (10 and up)Springboards for themes/discussion: world history and culture, immigration and migration, assimilation, maps, America, diversity, personal history, interviews

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
by Mordicai Gerstein
published by Roaring Brook

So many children have questions about 9/11 and other current events that are so tragic and distressing. This book is an excellent example of how you can use literature to answer questions and address issues that are of interest and concern to children. Here is the true story of Frenchman Phillipe Petit who, in 1974, walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The story is compelling and the line illustrations dramatic and humane, making this a children's book that would stand on it's own even without recent events. But in view of the tragedy, the story is all the more potent. This book is a great adventure, but also a reminder that even when terrible things happen, there is something beyond the bad day; look at the whole history of a thing, and you may find hope and inspiration yet. Gerstein has made yet another unique and important contribution to children's literature with this latest endeavor, and like Phillipe Petit, takes a precarious walk with seeming ease. (6 and up) Springboards for themes/discussion: architecture, inspiration, personal goals, cooperation, risk, civil disobedience, circus arts

Zoo Ology
by Joelle Jolivet
published by Roaring Brook

At 18 inches tall, this oversized illustrated field guide is big enough to fit an entire menagerie that would have been impressed even Noah. Handsome woodcut specimens are fixed and posed upon each double-page spread, and classified in unexpected, thoughtful ways: in the trees, underground, on the seabed, at night, spots and stripes, black and white, on and on! A little chameleon is hiding in each of the pictures, to help children who are overwhelmed by the grandeur of the book to focus in the face of such variety. This super safari in a book will be cherished, astounding generations of children with the variety of all of the creatures that walk the earth. A must for future biologists and environmentalists, and present animal lovers. Springboards for themes/discussion: scientific classification, endangered species, zoos, adaptation, natural diversity

The Little Bookroom
by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
published by New York Review of Books Children's Collection

A wrong has been righted, and this book which I can uneqivocally name as one of the best children's books ever written is finally back in print. Originally published in 1955, this book won Farjeon the first Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Carnegie Medal; some of you may know Farejon unwittingly as the woman who wrote the words to the song "Morning has Broken" made popular when sung by Cat Stevens . It is a collection of twenty seven classic stories that is included in the selective "Must Reads by the Time You're 13" list, and deserves a place in the canon of classics alongside the likes of "Little Red Riding Hood," Winnie the Pooh and the works of Margaret Wise Brown. In this much-needed reissue, the publisher smartly maintained the perfect sketchy illustrations of genius Ardizzone and the classic font of the original. Some of the stories have fairy tale qualities, like "The King's Daughter Who Cried for the Moon" and "The Little Dressmaker," while others deal in the magic of more everyday things, like "The Lovebirds," in which a poor girl selling shoelaces is given a strange fortune that lasts her whole life long, and I still remember reading aloud "The Connemara Donkey" from this book to a fourth grade boy who found it so evocative of the donkey he had left in Mexico that he cried tears that ran all the way down his chin, and the other boys joined in for his loss. A book like this defines why it is worth learning to read, and why some stories are worth reading aloud. Bring a box of kleenex and a full heart upon any approach to this astounding work. (All ages) Reissue of timeless short stories

Chapman Award FAQ's

What is it?
The purpose of the Chapman Award for Shared Reading is to seek out and promote work in American secular children's trade literature that are must-haves for every elementary school classroom. Besides being entertaining, beautiful, funny, moving, creative, informative, multicultural and/or groundbreaking, or otherwise posessing such qualities that make the book engaging to K-6 elementary classroom audiences, winners of the Chapman award:

  • Must be easy to read aloud to a group
  • Must be a catalyst for discussion
  • Must lend itself naturally to classroom extensions
    (such as integration into other subject areas, enrichment activity or futher research).

    A book that wins a Chapman Award is one with the power to show the young reader possibility and connections within their world. It will serve as a springboard for any adult to help a child make these discoveries.

    A book that wins a Chapman Award must demonstrate overall excellence, with aesthetic decisions that expand the reader's definition of what a book can be, and reflect the authentic voices and visions of the artists.

    The Chapman Awards seek to choose from the books reviewed in the past publication year the titles that are markedly representative of the criteria above, and which deserve to go forward in the marketplace as ambassadors of the potential of children's literature in the classroom. The award is given annually for works of the preceding publication year, and may be given posthumously.

    Who gives the Chapman Award?
    The award is given by, a privately run website that accepts no advertising and has received over a million hits in 2002. The site is run by author Esmé Raji Codell with a small advisory team of teachers and web consultants. The site's goal of "getting great children's books into the hands of great children" is largely met through the review outlet known as "Don't Miss," in which books that have been teacher-tested, kid-approved are posted and are ultimately in the running for this award. If kids don't love it, it just won't appear there. If the teachers don't love it, it just won't appear there. The book has to be fabulous to be reviewed. That's already some serious criteria. In a very real sense, all books on "Don't Miss" should be considered honorably mentioned.

    Who is the award named after?
    This award was named for John Chapman, 1774-1845. Better known in myth and legend as "Johnny Appleseed," he is remembered for his expansive orchards throughout the Ohio River Valley and for distributing seedlings to pioneers. By planting seeds every day and sharing what he had, Chapman managed to change the American landscape. The life of John Chapman serves as a metaphor for read-aloud. Like planting a seed, it is one small thing each of us can do every day that will ultimately change the American landscape. Myths about Chapman abound, but it is thought that Chapman himself disseminated the writings of his favorite author, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and read aloud to settlers. It is also thought that he loved a good story almost as much as he loved a slice of apple pie. John Chapman lived a life of peace, and left a model for peace. It is with the utmost reverence that this award bears his name.

    How many books may win in a given year?
    As many as are determined to meet the criteria. Special commendations will be given to books which make a significant contribution to the teacher's bookshelf but fall outside the usual read-aloud format.

    What inspired the award? is consistently evaluating the excellence of children's literature anyway, so it seemed natural that a further contribution of the website would be to create an award. recognizes that teachers subsidize American education with their own earnings. By using a more specific criteria that is of special interest to teachers, this award seeks to help teachers with limited funds make the most successful investments when making additions to their classroom libraries and be motivated to read-aloud, one of the few (if not the only) pedagogical techniques proven to advance children academically (see research cited in Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook for more information).

    Further inspiration behind the award was the theory that more recognition of literary achievement equals more people who work hard to make books that get recognized. More books worthy of recognition means more great stuff to read. More great stuff to read means more children who like books. More children who are literate means a stronger (and hopefully more empathetic and arts-supporting) civilian population.

    A reader's kind of math.

    When did the award originate?
    The awards are being formally announced for 2002, but were informally announced to the mailing list for some years now. It was decided to retroactively name awardees here since 2000, so we may celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the award two years early. (Please mark your calendars for the year 2100.) Click here to view past awardees.

    What do the winners get?
    At present, a certificate for the winners and award sticker that publishers may use for promotional purposes are being designed by master printmaker Jim Pollock. Further rewards and festivities will be announced as sponsors appear.

    How can a book be submitted for consideration for a Chapman Award?
    Publishers may send catalogs and frontlist checklists to, P.O. Box 6225, Evanston, IL 60204 to have their titles considered for review. Sorry, self-published material, religious literature and e-books are not being considered at present.

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