Gryphon Award Archive
The Gryphon Award was given annually by the Center for Children’s Books from 2004 to 2021. It recognized an English language work of fiction or non-fiction for which the primary audience is children in Kindergarten through Grade 4. The title chosen best exemplifies those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers.
Below you will find an archive of all past award winners and honor books.
LaRochelle, David. See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog; illus. by Mike Wohnoutka. Penguin Random House, 2020.
The goofy, rib-nudging absurdity starts right from the ironic title in See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog, a book in which Max the dog battles with the text that defines his world, learning its power and figuring out how to change it (inserting a “not” in the sentence “The mad snake is going to bite the dog” or threatening to walk if he’s sat on by a purple hippo as the text describes). The stories are couched in unassuming, repetitive beginning-reader language, and the fun lies in the book’s winking through its traditional disguise (abetted by Wohnoutka’s old-school friendly illustrations) to novice readers, whose sense of humor almost always outpaces their literary skills. It’s a book that draws readers’ attention to the mechanics of narrative while snickering companionably to them about the whims of storytelling.
2021 Honor Books
Sayre, April Pulley. Being Frog; written and illus. with photographs by April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane/Simon, 2020.
This photoessay melds scientific discipline, poetic imagination, and beautifully executed visual storytelling as it tracks the life cycle and day to day existence of the frog.
Song, Mika. Donut Feed the Squirrels; written and illus. by Mika Song. Random House Graphic, 2020.
Five breezy chapters constitute this easy-reader graphic novel that tracks squirrel pals Belly and Norma and their attempts to get themselves some sweet treats from a nearby donut truck.
Stone, Tiffany. Knot Cannot; illus. by Mike Lowery. Dial, 2020.
Knot wants desperately to be as cool as Snake in this playful literacy lesson; the story pulls double duty with a reassuring message about appreciating one’s own strengths while stealthily cheering on young readers with a supportive framework.
Vail, Rachel. Cat Ears on Elizabeth; illus. by Paige Keiser. Feiwel, 2020.
In this funny, keenly observed entry from the A Is for Elizabeth series, second grade goes sour for Elizabeth when some girls start wearing cat-ear headbands, which she covets.
This year’s award committee consists of Deborah Stevenson, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; Kate Quealy-Gainer, assistant editor of The Bulletin; and Elizabeth Bush, reviewer at The Bulletin, iSchool adjunct faculty member, and longtime school librarian. The award is sponsored by CCB and funded by CCB’s Gryphon Fund. Income from the fund supports the annual Gryphon Lecture as well as the Gryphon Award for children’s literature. Gifts may be made to the fund by contacting Jill Gengler in the iSchool Advancement Office at (217) 265-6252 or email@example.com.
“Who knew you could make brilliant early readers from philosophy and quantum theory?” said Stevenson. “Drew Daywalt, that’s who. He and artist Olivier Tallec take the familiar beginning-reader odd couple (in this case, a lively monkey and a—no lie—slice of cake) to new places such as Schrödinger’s cat and set theory. The books are witty and ingenious in cutting directly to the concepts via the controlled vocabulary in ways that kids will immediately grasp, making the titles entertaining brain teasers as well as satisfying novice reads. Tallec’s playful, elastic figures have a theatrical dash as they grapple with the question of fort possession and the visibility of cats in closed boxes.”
2020 Honor Books
The Very Impatient Caterpillar (Scholastic) written and illustrated by Ross Burach, is a highly readable (and slyly scientific) early reader; the charmingly goofy protagonist, a young caterpillar exasperated by metamorphosis, will keep kids laughing, while the speech-bubbles and controlled vocabulary will support their own reading transformation.
¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written and illustrated by Raúl the Third, follows Lobo and Bernabé as they make their deliveries through the hustle and bustle of the mercado; the stylized artwork, featuring plenty of opportunities for novice readers to flex their skills in both English and Spanish, make this an absolute gem.
Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons (Millbrook) written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Mercè López, offers a unique take on the haiku format in Salas’ “riddle-ku” poems; coupled with López’s evocative illustrations, this offers readers a chance to hone their literacy skills and their riddle-solving chops.
Selznick, Brian. Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin; illus. by Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 2018. Gr. 1-3
“By making a few tweaks to familiar formats, Selznick and Serlin have created something new and irresistible,” said Deborah Stevenson. “ Playful pages with huge print are paced for maximum momentum as the titular detective solves five different goofy mysteries, stopping along the way to have a snack and put on his pants. It’s a title that will segue neatly from readaloud to readalone and invite savvy older sibs to share reading with kids just getting the hang of narrative literacy. Selznick’s soft grayscale pencil art, with significant items picked out in red, maximizes the cuteness factor on Baby Monkey but also throws in sophisticated details (identified in a concluding key) that foreshadow each mystery and add seek-and-find entertainment for readers and their grownups.”
2019 Honor Books
Perkins, Lynne Rae. Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea; written and illus. by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018. Gr. 2-4
Readers join Alix, her older sister, and their parents on a summer beach vacation for sunny days, yummy sweets, and family time. Perkins (who also illustrates in homey vignettes) writes with confiding intimacy and thoughtful accessibility; although there’s clear story arc, the chapters are each satisfying adventures in their own right, giving readers plenty of breathing space.
Scanlon, Liz Garton. Dear Substitute; by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick; illus. by Chris Raschka. Disney Hyperion, 2018. Gr. 1-2
In sixteen short entries written in direct address, our narrator chronicles the various disruptions and oddities that occur when a substitute comes to class, from troubles with the student roster to missed library time to changed class rules. Big print, simple vocabulary, and Raschka’s eye-catching watercolors make this an excellent choice for young readers.
“We’re big fans of nonfiction for transitional reading, and Wechsler’s beautiful book exemplifies that genre’s advantages,” said Stevenson. “This outstanding early reader follows the lives of toads all the way from the embryonic state to their adult life with accessibility and enthusiasm. The text varies in length and vocabulary difficulty from page to page, giving new readers a chance to stretch their skills while offering places to hone what they have already mastered; stunning close-up photos of toads and their milieu support the text and encourage kids to correlate image elements with words.”
2018 Honor Books
When the basset hound decides to park his rear on the frog, the annoyed amphibian presents a series of increasingly silly seating arrangements, giving every creature a rhyming object (or another animal) to perch upon: bears will sit on stairs, cheetahs on fajitas, and gnus on canoes. Rhyme, repetition, and absurd comedy will have readers giggling as they gain essential literacy skills.
Sure to please fans of the Captain Underpants and Lunch Lady graphic novels, this goofy royal romp features nine-year-old Edwin, a.k.a King Flashypants, whose kingdom is threatened by villainous Emperor Nurbison and his fearsome dragon (well, his cow with wings and other accoutrements).
Sam gets stuck with the seemingly boring rutabaga for a science class project but bonds fiercely with the vegetable after his sister draws a smiley face on it; kid logic, kid humor, and a sympathetic if strange friendship make this a standout among chapter books.
Urban, Linda. Weekends with Max and His Dad; illus. by Katie Kath. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Gr. 2-4.
“Urban’s book is an absolutely classic chapter book, yet it’s also completely contemporary,” said Stevenson. “Third-grader Max is adjusting to the new reality of his parents’ divorce in this story focused on the time he spends with his father, and Urban deftly employs small details and pays careful attention to Max’s emotions as father and son forge their relationship on new grounds. The prose is inviting and cozy, humorous and respectful, with a smooth flow and careful pacing that will give transitional readers plenty of momentum and frequent rewards.”
2017 Honor Books
Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan (Dlouhy/Atheneum), written by Frances O’Roark Dowell and illustrated by Amy June, features young Sam and his efforts to become a “chicken expert” with his acquisition of Helga, a hen reputed to lay blue eggs. Brief chapters and a spirited cast of characters lend a simple ease to this story.
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems (Roaring Brook), by Bob Raczka, offers poetry that packs a double punch—first with the deft shaping of the verses themselves, and secondly with visual twists built into each piece, using pictographic clues to help young readers along.
Hatke, Ben. Little Robot; written and illus. by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2015. Gr. 2-4
Wordless sequences along with short bursts of simple dialogue guide readers through this early reader graphic novel that follows our young heroine and her tiny tool belt as she repairs, befriends, and adventures with a goofy but sincere robot. The effective use of silence and panels make the reading experience an interactive one, allowing kids to create their own meaning in various places within the book.
2016 Honor Books
Paschkis, Julie. Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales; written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Holt, 2015. 3-6 yrs
This bilingual collection of fourteen animal poems invites a range of early readers to explore either or both English and Spanish text. Playful, short lined verses give more experienced kids opportunities to flex their reading chops, while solo words embedded in the illustrations give younger readers the chance to pick and choose which words they want to tackle.
Hot dogs, cold dogs, young dog, old dogs, they’re all here in this rhyming series of canine conditions. Tight structure, comic vignettes, careful patterning, and a touch of wordplay lift this well above the usual beginning reader in its cleverness, and young readers will get a kick out of following the titular long dog as he pops up throughout the book, no end in sight, until the final few pages.
English not only knows her grade-school kids but also her grade-school classrooms, and the result is a school and family story that contemporary kids will instantly recognize; the appealing protagonist’s struggle with procrastination is matter-of-factly but sympathetically treated, and it will strike a chord with many readers.
2015 Honor Books
Chin’s straightforward scientific text is clear and accessible to novice readers, and they’ll be supported and intrigued by the complementary narrative in the illustrations that turns the simple facts of gravity into a kid’s dramatic adventure when gravity suddenly fails.
The Disgusting Critters series is a triumphant blend of grossness, information, and goofy humor in text and art; our choice for its best representative is The Slug, whose starring mollusc offers animatedly commentary in the illustrations as the main text cheerfully explains slug habits, slug biology, and, of course, slug slime.
This galloping fantasy adventure in graphic novel form provides a level of action unusual in a book for early readers; the sophisticated and atmospheric visuals will especially draw movie-loving kids, and they effectively partner the accessible, dialogue-only text.
Both a sendup of saccharine period picture books and a tribute to kid invention, this deliciously comic outing follows young Alex’s savage textual and illustrative transforming of a treacly bunny tale into a saga of a thwarted attempt at world rabbit domination.
2014 Honor Books
Sophisticated cartoonish illustrations lend both accessibility and emotional heft to this subtle, poignant tale of a young girl’s difficulty in dealing with her father’s absence in the Vietnam War.
The second book in this early chapter series is a classic chapter book that hits all the right notes from its high-spirited heroine to its breezy sentence structure to its kid-friendly plot, making this tale of pet rescue one to recommend.
Sternberg, Julie. Like Bug Juice on a Burger; illus. by Matthew Cordell. Amulet Abrams, 2013. Gr. 2-3.
As young Eleanor struggles adjusting to summer camp, her tentative yet heartfelt voice is deftly conveyed in Sternberg’s ragged right prose, and this compassionate but pragmatic look at a familiar kid experience will find an appreciative audience with young homebodies.
Gorgeous watercolor illustrations are composed in full-page spreads and helpful thumbnail panels to guide young readers through the scientific study of an ecosystem and evolution.
2013 Honor Books
Simple, immediate text paired with pale, chilly illustrations tell the riveting true story of poor Dog, who was caught on an ice floe in a river that’s heading out to sea, and the humans who saved him.
The endearing partnership of polar-opposite friends Bink and Gollie is the highlight of this delightful convergence of picture books, graphic novels, and early readers.
Sternberg captures a sensitive kid’s first experience of loss with tender respectfulness in this story of Eleanor, whose beloved babysitter from birth, Bibi, moves away.
2012 Honor Books
Automotive hijinks and boyish mischief are spotlighted in this effervescent chapter book that centers on life in a small African village and the boy who is its “No. 1 car spotter,” Oluwalase Babatunde Benson.
Over a score of free-verse odes to simple elements of kid life such as the toothbrush, crayons, rain, socks, even air provide accessibility, creativity, and touches of humor, making for an appealing mix to read alone or aloud.
A touch of fantasy in the form of talking animals gives this thoughtful tale of family reconciliation wide appeal while the unique formatting makes it eminently accessible to transitional readers.
Willems, Mo. We Are in a Book! Hyperion, 2010. Gr. K-1.
Elephant and Piggie are at it again, only this time they find themselves pondering the nature of their literary existence in this delightful piece of meta-fiction that remains as accessible as it is funny.
2011 Honor Books
Lithe, lively illustrations combine with comic, compact text to tell the tale of Bink and Gollie, two very different girls and very best friends.
Readers anxiously awaiting a new school year will find a kindred spirit in Posey as she overcomes her entering-first-grade jitters in this appealing early chapter book.
Cozy, accessible free-verse poetry adds to the charm of this tale of friendship in the face of adversity as sixth-grader Bindi is forced to deal with her anger over her parents’ separation.
Through an engaging knight and dragon tale, replete with familiar folkloric elements and surprise twists, the three author/illustrators demonstrate how to transform a promising idea into creative, effective comic book format. Aspiring cartoonists and graphic novel neophytes will embrace this introduction to crafting comics and bridging readers will enjoy putting their literary and visual skills into simultaneous action.
2010 Honor Books
Best friends Nikki and Deja are planning a party for Deja’s eighth birthday, but Deja’s happy anticipation is troubled when Antonia, new girl and nemesis, preempts the birthday guest list with her own “Just Because” same day/same time party. This is a realistic portrayal of the difficult—but often unacknowledged—dilemmas that elementary age children regularly face and negotiate, and the ways in which sympathetic friends and adults (plus a fortuitous party day rainstorm) can make all
When dad suggests a family camping trip, Alvin Ho responds with a long list of fears (“I am afraid of everything, especially the woods—they are full of trees”). However, with the help of carefully selected Internet purchases, plus advice from Uncle Dennis (“Secret Tip Number One: Dryer lint can save your life”), Alvin’s anxieties begin to subside—well, sort of subside.
This graphic novel follows Kit Feeny, a comic book aficionado and pizza lover, who is forced to leave his best friend Arnold behind when his family moves. As the new kid in school, he inadvertantly incurs the wrath of “Devon the Bully Comedian” as he searches for a replacement for Arnold. Kit learns that although he cannot replace an old friend, he can find a new one who helps Kit find his own place in his new surroundings.
Bishop combines arresting close-up photos with an information-rich text featuring frogs of a range of sizes, colors (including transparent!), and habitats. This fascinating combination of accessible text and brilliant photos could well inspire a whole new generation of frog aficionados.
2009 Honor Books
Start with the fact that CATS HATE BATHS!!! Add one Bad Kitty, who really really really needs a bath! The result is a hilarious book of instructions and bath disaster slapstick as the good intentions of responsible pet ownership collide with the reality of a bath-phobic cat.
This adventure stars intrepid action toy figure Traction Man, faithful companion Scrubbing Brush, the battery-operated interloper TurboDog, and assorted household objects. both benevolent and fearsome. The text recalls comic book superhero tales, while the action-filled illustrations include the many incidental texts (product labels, cereal boxes, etc.) that comprise the newly literate readers’ world.
School picture day is fast approaching, and Billy is determined to liven his up. When his mother nixes his dream haircut (“it should have 5 points … oh, and it must be pink”), Billy’s Plan B makes the class picture even more special. This humorous anti-boredom fantasy of the ultimate school picture day is told in an exuberant graphic novel format.
2008 Honor Books
The text begins, “Spiders were hunting long before lions and tigers. They were hunting even before Tyrannosaurus rex.” This book is an absorbing account of 15 varieties of spiders illustrated with Bishop’s arresting and colorful photos of spiders in action–crawling, jumping, spinning, capturing, devouring, and other spidery activities.
Young would-be football player Rufus is benched by his clumsiness until he makes a bold leap into ballet lessons. He successfully defies his teasing teammates, and skilled instruction and ‘practice practice practice’ help him acquire the agility he needs to make that winning play. Take that, you ballet scoffers!
Stellina, a little wild finch, is found on a Manhattan sidewalk by the author’s wife. She brings the bird home to her artist husband and the two raise Stellina as their own. This book’s words and pictures tell the true story of Stellina’s eight years with her human family.
2007 Honor Books
With its detailed and muted illustrations of wood block prints and watercolor washes, this book introduces and describes the life and life cycle of the elusive seahorse.
In this second tale of Ruby Lu, Flying Duck, Ruby Lu’s cousin from China, comes to stay with the family. This initially wondrous news to Ruby Lu is tempered by the reality of her cousin’s presence and his lack of interest in knuckling under to her strong will and activity preferences. Adventures follow.
Fergus, star of this boldly illustrated picture book, is a mischievous yet good-natured young dog who is just looking for some fun. His journey takes him from potted plants (edible) to dog food with a whipped cream topping (very edible) and culminate in a cat chase (not edible but still entertaining).
Stinky Stern is the bully of the second grade class, but one afternoon he is suddenly gone, killed in a car accident. His stunned classmates share their mixed feelings of loss and bewilderment as they respond to Stinky’s death in this sensitive and honest story. How do you grieve for someone you didn’t always like?
2006 Honor Books
This black-white-and-pink graphic novel tells the story of Babymouse, a young mouse with an attitude, who is tired of the monotony of her life (get up, go to school, return overdue library books—boring!). She’d really rather be queen of the world! Failing that, she’ll settle for an invitation to Felicia Furrypants’ super-cool slumber party.
The informative text and full-color, close-up photographs depict the life of a chameleon, who journeys through the tropical forest in search of a new home: climbing, jumping, grabbing a snack, crawling, averting danger, and grabbing a snack.
Twins Fran and Kiera are the proud owners of their very own pony, Jigsaw. The two girls must work together learn the necessary skills to care for Jigsaw in this chapter book devoted to the joys and responsibilities of having an equine pet.
Little Rat wants to ride a horse, just like her daddy, but horses are so BIG! Her initial jitters are eased when she finally meets, mounts, and rides Pee Wee, a “mountain on four legs,” and the two prepare for the Big Event—the Fourth of July horse show.
2005 Honor Books
Best friends and neighbors Down Girl and Sit are “smarter than squirrels” dogs with the seemingly simple task of keeping their neighborhood safe from intruders. However, when Here Kitty Kitty moves in, the two dogs meet unexpected challenges.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together; illus. by Michael Emberley. Little Brown, 2004. Gr. 2-3.
Classic fairy tales (The Three Bears, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.) are succinctly retold in conversational rhymes designed to be read aloud by pairs of readers—adult/child or child/child. A well-arranged and color-coded text, plus humorous, cartoon-like illustrations, will attract reluctant and fluent readers alike.
In this collection of witty dog- and cat-inspired poetry, watercolor collage paintings face each poem. The art enhances the humorous qualities of the poetry (for example, the puzzling ocelot has spots made of question marks) and visually highlights the textual puns for young readers.
2004 Honor Books
Ruddy is not looking forward to spending Halloween with his stuffy Grandmother Silk. But when an early snowstorm hits, leaving his grandmother’s rural home without water, electricity or telephone, the two of them must work together to keep themselves warm and fed. In the days they spend waiting for the power to return, they also become friends.
Franny K. Stein is not like the other kids. A skilled mad scientist of unlimited mad talent, she succeeds in masking some of her geekiness in order to fit in with her classmates. But when the students inadvertently create a Giant Monstrous Fiend—which promptly kidnaps the teacher and takes her to the top of the school flagpole a la King Kong—Franny must reclaim her identity and save the day.