Friday, July 3, 2015

Book of the Week: Drowned City



Drowned City:
Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

by Don Brown
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
96 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-15777-4
Age 11 and older



An informative and deeply moving chronicle of Hurricane Katrina opens as “a swirl of unremarkable wind leaves African and breezes toward the Americas. It draws energy from the warm Atlantic water and grows in size.” As he did in The Great American Dust Bowl, Don Brown offers a factual account that makes brilliant use of the graphic novel form both to provide information and to underscore the human impact and toll of a disaster. As the storm builds and unleashes its power, it wreaks havoc—on levees and on neighborhood and on people, so many people. Some of those affected wouldn’t leave the city of New Orleans; most of them couldn’t, and this becomes an integral part of his narrative: all the failures that pile up one after another. Empty Amtrak trains leaving the city before the storm when Amtrak’s offer of transport was ignored; thousands of people in misery at the convention center with FEMA seemingly oblivious to their well-documented plight; some police deserting their posts, even joining the looting. The travesties go on and on. But there is courage and compassion, too, including many who risked their lives to help others. Brown pulls no punches in a book offering a clear and critical point of view. The straightforward presentation of grim and sometimes shocking facts paired with emotionally rich images results in a work that is powerful, poignant, and sometimes haunting. There is clear documentation with an extensive list of source notes for this notable work.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CCBC Book of the Week: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer



Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

by Kelly Jones
Illustrated by Katie Kath
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
224 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-75552-8
Ages 8-11



Adjusting to life in the country brings challenges and surprises for Sophie Brown. While her unemployed dad learns about small-scale farming, her mom is churning out one freelance article after another to stay on top of bills. Sophie, meanwhile, is learning to care for the chickens that once belonged to her Great Uncle Jim, only Uncle Jim’s chickens prove to be far from ordinary. Henrietta has a Forceful gaze—literally. Sophie has seen her levitate things. Chameleon turns invisible. And all six are the target of a would-be chicken thief who clearly knows they’re special. A funny, spirited story is told almost entirely through letters. Many are from Sophie to her Abuelita or her Great Uncle Jim, both of whom have passed away. Letters full of questions and advice also go back and forth between Sophie and Agnes, owner of Redwood Farm Supply. Agnes’s letters are mysteriously typo-ridden, but her poultry correspondence course is informative and no-nonsense. Trying to protect her flock, Sophie makes the first friend her own age in town while asserting her claim on the chickens she’s come to love. Sophie, who is biracial (her mom is Mexican American mom; her dad is white), occasionally reflects on cultural aspects of her family history and identity in ways that are genuine and unforced in this blithe but not unsubstantial debut novel featuring pitch-perfect black-and-white illustrations. (MS) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book of the Week: Fatal Fever



Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary

by Gail Jarrow
Published by Calkins Creek / Highlights, 2015
175 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62091-597-4

Age 12 and older



Sanitary engineer and chemist George Soper functioned as a “germ detective” in the early 20th century. After a typhoid outbreak in Ithaca, New York, in 1903 infected local residents and Cornell University students, Soper tracked the contamination source to a creek and recommended better practices in outhouse siting and maintenance, as well as construction of a city water filtration plant. When six members of the Thompson family of New York City fell ill with typhoid in the summer of 1906, the family hired Soper. Through a meticulous process of elimination Soper determined that a cook, Mary Mallon, was the most likely source of the bacteria. When public heath doctor Sara Josephine Baker tracked down Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary, Mallon refused to believe she carried typhoid. Mallon’s case became a civil rights issue when she was quarantined against her will on Brother’s Island off the coast of Manhattan. Finally released if she promised not to work again as cook, she was returned to the island after another typhoid outbreak was traced to her. She lived there the rest of her life, even as it was acknowledged she was surely far from the only typhoid carrier in the city. Soper’s rigorous methodology, Baker’s doggedness, and Mary Mallon’s unfortunate story illustrate the confluence of science, detective work, and social attitudes during the early decades of the 20th century. This captivating, well-researched volume is augmented by numerous photographs and back matter that includes source notes, a timeline, and bibliography. (MVL) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book of the Week: Last Stop on Market Street



Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by Putnam, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-25774-2
Ages 3-8




As he and his nana take the bus across town, observant young CJ is full of questions and more than a little wishful thinking: Why don’t they have a car instead of having to take the bus? Why do they always have to go somewhere after church? How come that man sitting near them can’t see? Why is the neighborhood where they get off the bus so dirty? In response, his nana points out everything they would miss if they weren’t right where they were at each moment, from the interesting people they get to see and meet to the realization that beauty can be found everywhere. Rather than telling CJ about what community means, she’s showing him that he’s a part of it. After an event-filled ride, they arrive at their destination. “I’m glad we came,” CJ says looking at the familiar faces in the window of the soup kitchen where they both volunteer. Wonderful descriptive writing (“The bus creaked to a stop in front of them. It sighed and sagged and the doors swung open.”) full of abundant, child-centered details propels an engaging picture book set against marvelous illustrations that have a naïve quality while reflecting the energy, vibrancy and diversity of a contemporary city.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Role Models


Shannon Hale recently commented on a school visit experience she had in which boys were not invited to the event. She rightly decries sexism in our thinking about youth literature and in our role as gatekeepers. 

Hale is commenting specifically about the assumption that boys don’t want to read books with girls as main characters: what I think of as the “genderizing” of literature. 

But the issue she describes is not unlike adults—from parents to professionals in the fields of libraries and education—who assume white kids don’t want to read about kids of color. Who assume that readers are only interested in characters who look or talk or behave like them.

Wait. No one does that, right?

Of course we buy multicultural books. 

But then, they don’t always circulate that well. Or we can’t get enough kids to take an interest in reading them.

And so we don’t buy as many the next time, because our community is diverse, but it isn’t that diverse.

Here’s the thing: If children and teens aren’t picking up books about characters who don’t look like them, it’s on us, the adults in their lives.

It’s on us.

Because chances are we’re sending the message, whether overtly or subtly, that we don’t think they’ll want to read about characters who don’t look like them.

Sure, we’re buying some multicultural books with the best intentions. We’re putting them on the shelf. We’re including them in displays—about Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, or a “Celebrate Diversity” event.  

But are we including them in everything else? All the time? Are they part of our thematic storytimes about summer or friendship or transportation or counting or food? Are they included in titles for book discussions groups and reading clubs? Are they among what we pull off the shelf and share as part of reader’s advisory, regardless of what the child or teen we’re working with looks like?


Multicultural literature and the broader spectrum of diversity is not about the “other.” It’s about us. All of us. Yes, it’s important for children and teens of color to see themselves in literature. Essential. But it’s just as essential that we not segregate our thinking, or the books we offer kids, unless we want to send the message that books about characters who don’t look like them somehow matter less.
(Yes, extrapolate from there.)


It’s the responsibility of those of us who are gatekeepers—librarians, teachers, and others—to make sure children not only have access to multicultural literature and books reflecting other dimensions of diversity, but that they see us enthusiastically and authentically engaging with diverse books in everything we do.

We are facilitators of access, and that’s critical. But we are role models, too. We need to look closely at our own behaviors and assumptions regarding kids and books and reading when it comes to diversity and gender and all other aspects of identity.

This comes more easily to some of us than others. But that is all the more reason to be intentional and mindful in the choices we make as librarians and teachers. We are learning, too.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book of the Week



This Side of Home

by Renée Watson
Published by Bloomsbury, 2015
336 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5999-0668-3
Age 12 and older



Maya Younger has always been secure in who she is and where she is going. Her plan has always been to attend Spelman University together with her twin sister, Nikki, and their best friend, Essence. But, with the gentrification of their North Portland neighborhood during the summer before her senior year, everything in Maya’s world begins to change. Nikki starts shopping at the neighborhood’s hip new boutiques and befriends one of the new residents. Housing renovations and increased rents force Essence and her mother to find cheaper housing in seedier parts of Portland. The high school’s new principal eagerly finds ways to combat the school’s rough reputation while courting the new residents as he promotes a watered-down multiculturalism over the school’s traditional black history and community events. Feelings surrounding race and class escalate both at school and in the community to throwing racial slurs and ultimately destruction of property. A thoughtful response from Maya and her friends begins to heal the community. Watson skillfully explores the complexity of experiences, emotions and politics that come from the gentrification of a historically African American neighborhood and offers a nuanced portrait of teens struggling with the shifting definitions of self, family, and community identities while facing both openly hostile and more subtle forms of racism. (ET)  © 2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book of the Week



Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights

by Ann Bausum

Viking, 2015
120 pages
ISBN: 978-0-670-01679-2

Age 13 and older



A history of the Stonewall riots sets the scene with a vibrant description of west Greenwich Village in 1969. That summer, the Stonewall Inn was a place to drink and to dance and for gays, lesbians, cross-dressers and transgenders, a place to be free and open. Everyone knew police raids happened, but the raid on June 28 was different, with its aim to shut the Mafia-run bar down. And it was different because this time bar patrons, who were so often disrespected and closeted outside places like the Stonewall, pushed back. Stonewall customers and their supporters took control against the police, who hadn’t planned on the crowd getting so angry and who didn’t know the warren of streets in the neighborhood as well as those who lived or hung out there. Ann Bausum’s riveting, detailed account includes an overview of activism in the years leading up to Stonewall, and a look at the riots’ immediate and long-term impact. This includes increased visibility and activism in events like the annual parade that began to commemorate Stonewall—the genesis for gay pride parades across the nation and beyond; the more radical activism that arose during the AIDS crisis, when lives were on the line; Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and its repeal; and the fight for marriage equality. A spare collection of black-and-white photos accompanies this fascinating history that includes source notes and an ample bibliography. (MS) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center