Cybils Winners Announced, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda Wins!

Today is the big day:  the 2012 children’s and young adult book winners (Cybils) for 2012 have been revealed. Go find some great books to read!

The winner of the Nonfiction Picture Book category is:

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter and illustrated by award-winning artist Melissa Sweet

We all know what a panda is, but who is Mrs. Harkness? She is not a household name, but she did something that was extraordinary for her time.

During the 1930’s, Mrs. Harkness was a dress designer and socialite living in New York City. Her husband had been traveling to exotic lands to bring back rare animals for zoos. Even though people weren’t even sure they really existed, he went to China to find a panda. When he died there, Mrs. Harkness decided to finish his expedition. What an adventure!

As a round II Cybils judge, I read this book numerous times. What I loved about it is that each time I discovered a new layer of details or meaning, almost like going on an expedition of my own. The first time I read it I was unfamiliar with the story, so I was astonished to find out about the amazing feats of the daring and persistent Mrs. Harkness. The second time I read it I savored the rich illustrations done on actual Chinese paper and the incorporation of Chinese words. The third time I discovered how well it worked as a read-aloud book. Later I noticed how the illustrations start almost as flat cartoons and become richer in detail and complexity until in the end actual photographs are incorporated. It was as if the illustrator was emphasizing how the life of Mrs. Harkness came into focus around the panda. I am sure there are still more things to be uncovered.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda supplies endless opportunities for learning. It definitely would be great to accompany a geography or history unit on China. It would be perfect for Women’s History Month, coming up in March. It also brings up science issues, and could be used with a discussion of endangered animals. The illustrations could be a source of inspiration for numerous art projects, particularly collage. Finally, it would be wonderful to add to a Chinese New Year celebration. It will be a book you will come back to again and again. Wonderful!

All due to a great group of Nonfiction Picture Book Cybils Judges

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (March 13, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0375844481
ISBN-13: 978-0375844485