Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book of the Week

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces

by Isabel Quintero

Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
284 pages
ISBN: 978-1-935955-95-5

Age 14 and older

As her senior year begins, Gabi Hernandez learns her best friend Cindy is pregnant. In a narrative told primarily through diary entries, Gabi moves between revelations like this one, her preoccupation with both weight and boys, observations about her Mexican American family and community, and the mundane (just how hot is the food at Pepe’s House of Wings?). Gabi’s voice is funny, foul-mouthed, and, early on, unfocused: she’s just as likely as not to be trivial. This makes the transformation over the course of the school year all the more powerful. In Gabi’s own house and in the halls at school, she’s constantly reminded that girls are labeled “good” or “bad” based on sexual behavior—rumored or real—and that she’s too heavy to be considered beautiful. It all undeniably affects her. But as she responds to things happening to her and around her, including the revelation that Cindy was raped, she begins to reject pervasive ideas in her family, culture, and society that devalue and demonize girls and women. In the writing she does for a poetry class, Gabi explores her father’s addiction and other family issues, as well as body image, with linguistic precision initially lacking in her diary entries. In poems and in her diary, she eventually emerges as a passionate, articulate advocate for herself and others, tackling sexism and sexual violence and the connection between them with keen and sometimes raging honesty. Gabi never loses a funny edge—in fact, the humor becomes sharper as she does—but her voice is also unapologetically fierce. Family and friendships all inform Gabi’s understanding of and response to what it means to be a young woman and young Latina in this bold, welcome work.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Considering the Young Adult Memoir

To-date in 2014 at the CCBC, we've read five memoirs by young adults (usually in collaboration with other writers): 
  • I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (Young Reader's Edition: Little, Brown)
  • Laughing At My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook)
  • Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill with Ariel Schrag (Simon & Schuster)
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews with Joshua Lyon (Simon & Schuster)
  • Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela de Prince with Elaine De Prince (Random House)

I found each of these young adults' stories compelling in one or more ways and think many teen readers will, too. The young reader's edition of Malala Yousafzai's life to-date is, as she has said, her story, whereas the adult book has greater emphasis on her father. The Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews titles are an intriguing pair of books, because the two transgender teens are friends (and were girlfriend/boyfriend) and so have a number of intersecting characters and events seen from their two different points of view. Shane Burcaw's perspective on his life--he has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative muscular disease that has made him wheelchair bound--is frank and often funny. Dancer Michaela De Prince's tells how she lost her family in Sierra Leone during brutal war and was eventually adopted by a family in the United States, which is where she began to pursue her interest in dance: a life of striking contrasts.

But I also found myself asking questions as I read them.

I would imagine one of the challenges, when taking on a project like this, from an editorial perspective, is trying to balance the teen's voice with the adult collaborator's (when there is a collaborator).  My guess is that the ones that are less well written from a literary perspective are the most authentic in terms of letting the young adults' voice come through unfiltered. Is that a good thing or a bad thing in terms of evaluating the books?  I don't know. 

Occasionally, what I think of as the less-filtered voice gave me pause.  There were moments in some of the books when I thought--Oh, how are you going to feel about having said/written this in five or ten years?

They are so young, really, to be reflecting on their lives. They all have stories worthy of sharing, but at moments like that I wondered if it wouldn't have been better for their stories to be something other than first-person.

Then again, I think the first-person is also part of where the power of their narratives resides. And those occasional moments that made me wince in some of the books are also, perhaps, the very things that teen readers might find most genuine.

So, no answers, just questions, none of which detract from my overall appreciation for the existence of these works.

Monday, December 8, 2014

You Think You Know Children's Books?

Babe the Blue Ox
Last month the Friends of the CCBC hosted our first annual children's literature trivia contest, CCBC Bowl. Over a hundred children's literature aficionados participated, competing in teams of ten to win the coveted Babe the Blue Ox trophy. (Our University of Wisconsin football team competes each year against the University of Minnesota for Paul Bunyan's axe, so we thought it would be appropriate for our teams to compete for Paul Bunyan's ox.)

Quiz Master Kevin Henkes went through three rounds of ten questions. By the end of the evening the team that called themselves Wild Things were the victors, answering 22 of 30 questions correctly.

Kevin Henkes hands the trophy to the Wild Things team
The CCBC librarians made up the questions, and they were challenging. There were two questions that flummoxed everyone. Do you know the answers to either of these?

Round Two, Question Six:

What is unusual about this picture from Song and Dance Man, the 1989 Caldecott winner by Stephen Gammell?

Round Two, Question Nine:
 What was Lois Ehlert's first published picture book that she both wrote and illustrated? 
 Do you know the answer to either of these questions without looking them up?   Let us know! (And remember, you have 90 seconds.)

CCBC librarian Emily Townsend, Timekeeper

All photos (c) J. Matzner

Book of the Week

The Noisy Paint Box:   The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

by Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Mary Grandpré

Alfred A Knopf, 2014    32 pages     
ISBN: 978-0-307-97848-6    Ages 5-8

In young Vasya’s world everything is staid and proper, until the day he opens the paint box his aunt gives him. “The swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a magical symphony.” Vasya paints what he hears—the clinking of a bright lemon sun, the low vibrations of a navy blue. But no one in his family hears what he hears or understands what he’s painted. They do, however, think lessons would be a good idea. “So Vasya went to art class and learned to draw houses and flowers—just like everyone else.” Vasya grew up and became a lawyer, but a trip to the opera reawakened his urge to paint the colors of sound. “Art should make you feel….like music,” he said. Playful, lyrical language propels this picture book account of Vasily Kandinsky, who started the abstract art movement. An author’s note tells more about Kandinsky and abstract art and includes photographs of four of his paintings. The acrylic and collage illustrations wonderfully express the rigidity of Kandisky’s life and the colorful wilds of his imagination.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book of the Week

West of the Moon

by Margi Preus

Published by Abrams, 2014
224 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0896-1

Age 11 and older

A vivid, shining, artfully told story is set in nineteenth-century Norway, where thirteen-year-old,orphaned Astri is sold to a goat farmer by her aunt. Astri must cook and clean and care for the animals, all the while dodging the farmer’s harsh and eventually groping hand. The night the farmer locks her in the storehouse she discovers a mute girl inside spinning at a wheel. Spinning Girl’s identity is a mystery that Astri interprets through the many stories her mother used to tell her. The folktales have helped make her life bearable as she looks for the opportunity to escape. A breathless, terrifying effort to flee when the farmer is trying to haul her off to the village to marry him is complicated when Astri realizes she cannot leave Spinning Girl behind. Astri’s plan has been to return to her aunt’s and rescue her little sister, Greta, whom she knows her aunt will sell next, then find a boat heading to America. Astri is a girl of great strength, wit, and compassion, all of which she draws on as she devises new plans on the run. Soon all three girls are headed toward the coast on a journey that challenges Astri to rewrite her understanding of the past as she discovers new information that reveals the identity of the mysterious girl. An extraordinary novel about hope and courage, dreams and the power of story pays tribute to the pain and promise of the immigrant story—what was brought along and what was left behind—as it effortlessly blends historical fiction and fantasy.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More Than Numbers

Last week KT Horning tweeted that it would be a great year to be on the Coretta Scott King Award Committee because of all the outstanding novels by African American authors that have been published so far in 2014.  At the time, I'd just finished novelist Teresa E. Harris’s terrific debut book, The Perfect Place (Clarion), and had also been thinking about what a great year it’s been for longer books in general by African American authors.

It’s late November, and we are still waiting for many 2014 books to come into the CCBC (we moved in August, complicating our deliveries), but I've listed below what we’ve documented so far in terms of fiction and longer non-fiction we’ve received by Black authors (yes, we count picture books, too, we just aren’t listing them here):

  • Barber, Tiki & Ronde. Extra Innings. Paula Weisman Book / Simon & Schuster
  • Colbert, Brandy. Pointe. G. P. Putnam’s Sons
  • DePrince, Michaela. Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. Alfred A. Knopf
  • English, Karen. The Carver Chronicles: Skateboard Party. Illus Laura Freeman. Clarion Books
  • Flake, Sharon G. The Unstoppable Octobia May. Scholastic
  •  Freeman, Shannon. The Public Eye: A Port City High Novel. Saddleback
  • Giles, Lamar. Fake ID. Amistad /  HarperCollins
  • Harris, Teresa E. The Perfect Place. Clarion Books
  • Hegamin, Tonya Cherie. Willow. Candlewick Press
  • Johnson, Alaya Dawn. Love Is the Drug. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
  • Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. Hentry Holt
  • Mitchell, Don. The Freedom Summer Murders. Scholastic Press
  • Moore, Stephanie Perry and Derrick Moore. All In / Stand Firm (Grovehill Giants Series). Saddleback
  • Moore, Stephanie Perry and Derrick Moore. Real Diva/Man Up (Grovehill Giants Series). Saddleback
  • Moore, Stephanie Perry and Derrick Moore. Scream Loud / Quiet Strength (Grovehill Giants Saddleback
  • Moore, Stephanie Perry. Make Something of It (The Sharp Sisters). Darby Creek / Lerner
  • Moses, Shelia P. The Sittin’ Up. G. P. Putnam’s Sons
  • Myers, Walter Dean. On a Clear Day. Crown Books
  • Neri, G. Knock Out Games. Carolrhoda LAB
  • Patrick, Denise Lewis. A Matter of Souls. Carolrhoda LAB
  • Pinkney, Andrea Davis. The Red Pencil. Little, Brown
  • Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. Atheneum
  • Stoudemire, Amar’e. Standing Tall And Talented: Most Valuable. Scholastic
  • Woods, Brenda. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin
  • Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin
I haven't read them all, but besides The Perfect Place, some of my favorites from the list above include The Crossover, Kinda Like Brothers, The Madman of Piney Woods, How It Went Down, The Knock-Out Game, Love Is the Drug, How I Discovered Poetry, and Brown Girl Dreaming.  These and several others from the list above are already on our ever-growing compilation of books we’ll be including in CCBC Choices 2015, the most recent edition (still under construction) of our annual best-of-the-year list, which will be finalized by mid-January.

It’s not just the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, but all of us who are charged with reading, evaluating, and recommending books for children and teens, whether it’s through award committees like the King, Newbery, Printz and others;  through best-of-the-year lists; through reviews; or in other ways, who benefit when there are more books to consider by African American authors and all authors of color. If we take our work seriously, we know that finding great stories and great books of information that also, critically, speak to specific cultural experiences and reflect culturally diverse perspectives, is essential to the larger world of kids and books and reading, regardless of the criteria for a specific award or list.

So as we talk about numbers, which is an important dimension of the discussion about diversity and publishing, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the terrific books by people of color that are published each and every year. At the same time, it's important we understand that the more books by people of color that are published, including books by new authors and illustrators like Teresa E. Harris, the better the outcome for everyone—publishers, librarians, teachers, and, of course, young readers.

Do you have a favorite new book by an African American author from the list above? Or are you aware of other 2014 books by African American authors we haven’t yet received that we can look forward to reading?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book of the Week

Shh! We Have a Plan

by Chris Haughton

Published by U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014
40 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7293-5

Ages 3-7

Four wide-eyed hunters are trying to catch a bird in a net. Make that three hunters; the fourth—and smallest--member of their party just wants to be friendly (“Hello, birdie.”). The group’s comical, not-so-stealthy pursuit of the bird features one failed attempt after another, with a pattern emerging as the youngest one greets the bird, the others shush their small companion (“We have a plan”), and then counting to three before they pounce….on nothing as the bird has already flown away. The spare, droll narrative is set against marvelous visual storytelling. The stylized illustrations are in shades of deep blue with black and white, against which the brightly colored red bird stands out. Young readers and listeners will be reciting along and laughing out loud, with the delight heightened by two big surprises as the story draws to a close.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center