Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book of the Week: The Secret Subway

The Secret Subway

by Shana Corey
Illustrated by Red Nose Studio
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-87071-2
Ages 7-11

Alfred Ely Beach was a genius who was ahead of his time. In the mid-19th century, he came up with an idea that would help to solve New York City’s congested streets: an underground train. His vision was of a train powered by an enormous fan, but he knew the idea was unlikely to be approved by Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, so instead he proposed building a system of tubes underground to carry mail. After getting permission to proceed, he rented the basement of a clothing store to use as his headquarters and hired workers to come in each day to start digging a tunnel. They loaded wagon after wagon with dirt to carry off under the cover of darkness each night. After almost two months, they had a tunnel that was eight feet across and 294 feet long, and then Beach hired more workers to come in to paint and decorate the interior. When the work was completed, Beach invited local dignitaries and the general public to come and experience the “train of the future.” Although it was a sensation, Beach was ultimately refused permission to expand, and before too long the secret subway lay dormant – forgotten and neglected – until forty years later when it was discovered by other workers digging a tunnel for what is today the New York City subway system. Shana Corey used primary source documents to uncover this buried bit of fascinating history, and she tells the story in an engaging manner that will draw readers in. Artist Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio constructed intricate three-dimensional illustrations which aptly convey the depth of the subterranean world in which Beach labored, using characters made from wire and foam, and painted scenery as backdrops. The back of the book’s dust jacket provides an illustrated guide to how the book’s artwork was created from the initial photo research and sketches to the final lighting and photography, a story almost as interesting as the subway itself.  © 2016 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book of the Week: Where's the Party?

Where’s the Party?

by Ruth Chan
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-269-9
Ages 3-7

Georgie loves throwing parties for his friends, but on this particular day his spontaneous plans fall apart when no one can come. Feta has to make pickles. Lester has lightbulbs to change. Shy Ferdinand would rather stay home. Every other friend has a reason, too (“My ears are itchy.” “I need to fold my socks.” “My shorts are too bright.”), and Georgie, who starts the day full of optimism, is eventually drooping with dejection. The humor and heartbreak of this story extends to the visual. George is a sweet-faced gray cat. His friends include a dog, a giraffe, a hippo, a mouse, and a star-nosed mole. All of the animals are wide-eyed and full of expression, from sheepish to sly to sad. Poor Georgie. The playful illustrations are a skillful blend of full-scene and spots incorporating speech bubbles, and include a double-page spread tracing Georgie’s journey through his city neighborhood before he arrives back home to … Surprise! “We love you, Georgie!” Friendship and kindness—and, ok, cake—are all any party really needs. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, August 8, 2016

Book of the Week: The Passion of Dolssa

The Passion of Dolssa

by Julie Berry
Published by Viking, 2016
496 pages
ISBN: 978-0451469922
Age 14 and older

In 13th-century western Europe, the Inquisition is control through terror, as those whose beliefs or behaviors offend Church authorities face persecution as heretics. Dolssa is a young woman in Tolosa whose says Christ is her true love. Even the threat of death cannot make her deny that he speaks to her. But it is her mother who is burned by Inquisitors as Dolssa watches. When her bonds are cut and a voice tells her to run, Dolssa flees. Spirited Botille and her two equally confident, gifted sisters run an inn in the village of Bajas. When Botille discovers a dying young woman by a river, instinct or intuition or perhaps something else tells her to lie when a passing friar asks about a missing girl. Botille smuggles the woman—Dolssa—back to her village, where the sisters secretly nurse her back to health. Dolssa remains hidden until a crisis forces her to call on her divine gift for healing. Word about her miracles spreads and the determined friar tracks Dolssa down. A taut narrative arc in this work of historical fiction is richly embellished with vivid period details and a cast of vibrant, singular, complex, contradictory characters. The story is tragic, funny, satisfying, and scathingly critical. It also leaves space for genuine faith and miracles and mystery and devotion, however one chooses to define it (earthbound romance included). A detailed author’s note about the historical period concludes this intricate and astonishing work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, August 1, 2016

Book of the Week: Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon

by Stacey Lee
Published by Putnam, 2016
391 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-17541-1
Ages 11-15

Living in San Francisco Chinatown in 1906, teenage Mercy Wong wants to become a business woman to support her family. Smart and spirited, she negotiates her way into a prestigious, whites-only girls’ school for the educational advantage she’s sure it will provide. The racism Mercy and her Chinatown community experience is an essential part of an insightful and engaging work that is part boarding school story, with Mercy navigating relationships as a social and cultural outsider, and part riveting account of the San Francisco earthquake. Prior to the earthquake, Mercy facilitates a meeting between the leaders of the Chinese Benevolent Association and a white-owned business that wants Chinatown customers—agreeing to do so was how she leveraged the business owner’s support of her entry to the school (his daughter becomes Mercy’s prickly roommate). In the quake’s aftermath, Mercy struggles with devastating losses to her family, her community, and the city a whole. But social and racial barriers break down as she and her classmates cooperate to survive. Sheltering in a city park along with thousands of others, real friendships begin to form as the young women extend kindness across lines of race and class to one another and other refugees, reaching out with intentionality. Author Lee notes that cross-cultural goodwill like this, common after the quake, sadly did not last. She also explains where she took liberties, especially regarding the gender and racial boundaries she allowed herself to imagine Mercy was able to cross in that time. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books

Some of you may have already heard about the CCBC’s expanded effort in our work documenting the number of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations. This past April at a CCBC staff meeting we came up with the idea of taking a closer look at what is getting published. 

We knew we couldn’t possibly evaluate every book coming into the library in greater detail, so we decided to focus on the 2016 books in our Current Picture Book Collection (comprised of review copies from publishers).

KT Horning first wrote about the project in the Friends of the CCBC Spring 2016 newsletter:

The CCBC is well known nationally for the statistics we keep on children’s books by and about people of color. We get frequent calls and emails from the press and from university researchers about these statistics, and hardly a week goes by these days when we don’t see them quoted somewhere.  We have the statistics on our web site but when reporters and researchers contact us, they always want more. They want to go beyond the numbers. They ask about the kinds of books we’re seeing. How many contemporary? How many are about girls? How many have animal characters?

So this year we decided to be proactive, to drill down a bit with our data. For 2016 we are launching a pilot project to do a more in-depth analysis of the year’s picture books (excluding non-fiction titles, such as picture-book biographies). We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators? We’ll be able to tell you in early 2017.

That’s the project in a nutshell: metadata on picture books. Carrying it out is proving to be a time and labor-intensive initiative, as you can imagine.  It’s part of the reason we are only focusing on picture books. Giving the same amount of attention to nonfiction and children's/YA fiction would require time and staff we simply don’t have, although we would love to be able to collaborate with researchers on such work in the future.

Recently KT did a mid-year analysis of some of the findings.

Of the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1*:
  • 233 main characters human (49.4%) (may include more than one per book)
  • 192 main characters animal (40.8%)
  • 63 main characters other (13.3%) (e.g., truck, robot, dragon, fairy, zucchini, cupcake, screw, the number 3, the Statue of Liberty, a carton of milk)

Gender of main characters:
  • 168 female (39.5%)
  • 262 male (61.6%)
  • 37 unknown/unspecified (8.7%)

Race of main characters:
  • 148 White (63.5%)
  • 18 African American (7.7%)
  • 17 Asian/Pacific American (6.3%)
  • 7 Latinx (3%)
  • 2 Native American (.85%)
  • 4 Biracial (1.7%)
  • 33 Brown-skinned, ethnicity uclear (14.2%)
  • 23 Multicultural cast (no primary character) (9.9%)

Other statistics about the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1:

  • 4 have main characters with disabilities
  • 1 LGBTQ+ main character
  • 1 Muslim main character
  • 105 show secondary diversity (in crowd/family scenes)
  • 59 have an all-white cast of characters)
  • 45 (9.5%) are by first-time authors, with 5 of these by authors of color
  • 33 (7%) are by debut illustrators, with 3 of these by illustrators of color
(The assessment of first books will be an interesting statistic in terms of who is and isn't getting published.)

In addition to the numbers, there is also a lot to observe in taking a closer look, from ethnic or racialized non-human characters to other ways religion, culture and ethnicity are presented or explored.

The data we are collecting will have a lot to say about--and to comment on--regarding picture book publishing in general, and the publishing of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations in particular. Stay tuned!

*Totals/percentages equal more than 100 percent within and across some categories because of overlap. For example, a book can have more than one main character; a character can be both non-human and gendered, etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books about Books

Anyone who has ever been to the CCBC knows the space isn’t vast. (We loved the vision of first-time visitor Margarita Engle on her trip here to accept the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for Drum Dream Girl:  “I pictured a whole building!” Wouldn’t that be nice?). 

But we try to make good use of the physical space we do have—a more expansive space since our move to a new home in the Teacher Education Building on the UW-Madison campus two summers ago. With that moved we gained not only work space we’d never had before (there are stories), but more shelf space, too.

Most of that shelf space is devoted to books published for children and teens—a Current Collection of the newly published books we receive for hands-on book examination by Wisconsin librarians and others; a curated Basic Collection of recommended books across years and decades that we draw on heavily in our work with education and library school students and Wisconsin teachers; a small Historical Collection.  But we also have a collection of books about books for children and teens; in CCBC parlance, our Reference Collection.

Among recent additions to our Reference Collection are:

The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books (ALA Editions, 2016). This edition’s timely introductory essay is “It’s All Political: Books, Awards, and Librarianship,” by 2016 Newbery Award Committee member Allie Jane Bruce, talking about things she’s encouraged by and things she hopes for as the Association for Library Service to Children (which administers the Newbery and Caldecott awards) and our profession as a whole address the challenges and responsibilities of providing culturally sensitive and culturally competent book evaluation and librarianship.

Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs (ALA Editions, 2016).  This is such a common question for librarians—what books can you suggest for a young child who is reading far beyond their age or grade?  Opening chapters discussing the characteristics of early readers and what makes a good book for early readers leads into the chapter-by-chapter genre suggestions which include both old favorites (Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White) and new classics (Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke).  

Picture This : How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary edition (Chronicle Books, 2016). With the first edition of this essential work out of print, I was thrilled to see this new edition. It is a striking and accessible look at visual literacy for both creators, including young artists, and those looking at art. This edition includes new content (e.g., a discussion of emotions in art using Bang’s picture book When Sophie Gets Angry…Really, Really Angry).

Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures by Jane
McCloskey (Seapoint, 2011). If I had a coffee table, this book would be on it.  Robert McCloskey’s younger daughter, Jane, discusses her father’s life in a personal, conversational narrative accompanied by some of her father's sketches, paintings and illustrations. Although the artwork isn’t abundant—some page spreads are all text—the design is lovely and it’s the kind of book one can imagine getting lost in (in which case the nightstand might be a better place—but it’s a little large….)

These four new additions to the Reference Collection join many other books, from selection tools like Children’s Catalog to children’s and young adult  literature textbooks to numerous resources about multicultural literature, intellectual freedom, graphic novels, international literature, and more. From picture books to young adult literature, scholarly critiques to hands-on reading guidance, we try to build this relatively limited collection with the interest of assisting both researchers and library and education students and practitioners.  We’ve gone to online editions of a few resources, something being part of the university make technically easier, if no less costly.  But there is nothing quite like working on a reference question and being able to get up, go to the Reference shelves, and browse…

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Toshi's Little Treasures

Toshi’s Little Treasures

by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Aki
Translated by Yvette Ghione from the French

Published by U.S. edition: Kids Can Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-77138-673-2
Ages 3-7

A picture book homage to the love of collecting shared by many children is full of small treasures and small pleasures. Whenever Toshi and his grandma take a walk, Toshi collects things that interest him (e.g., a marble, a magnolia blossom, an acorn, a guitar pick, the tab from a soda can, a cricket casing). Expansive double-page spreads show each place they visit (river, town, forest, country, park, beach), with the many objects Toshi will eventually pick up scattered and labeled throughout the scene. Alternating spreads feature two single pages, one showing everything Toshi collected, the other showing objects that relate to the items (e.g., a pink magnolia tree, a guitar, a soda can), inviting readers to find the match for each of Toshi’s treasures (answers, if needed, are in the back). There’s so much to pour over, notice and love in this picture book, including the relationship between Toshi and his grandma. It turns out she also collected as a child—and still does! A delicate touch and skillful use of white space and makes illustrations full of colorful objects and detailed scenes feel uncluttered. Toshi and his grandmother are Japanese. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center