Monday, April 17, 2017

Book of the Week: Niko Draws a Feeling

Niko Draws a Feeling

by Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Simone Shin
Published by Carolrhoda, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4677-9843-3
Ages 4-7

Niko loves to draw. His pictures, inspired by what he observes, are abstract images of the in between—the feeling or action or intent—of a situation. He draws the “ring-a-ling” of the ice cream truck, not the truck or the ice cream; the hard work a mother bird building her nest, not the bird or nest. Friends and family don’t understand his pictures. Believing that no one will ever understand his art, Niko expresses how he feels in a picture he tapes to his door. When new neighbor Iris learns Nico draws she asks to see his pictures. Looking carefully at each one, she doesn’t ask what they are. When she gets to the one on his door she says, “It looks like how I feel. You know, sad because I had to move.” Niko knows he’s found someone who understands him: A new friend. A straightforward yet thoughtful narrative touches on abstract art, the complex experience of creative inspiration, and the emotions of being misunderstood. Mixed-media illustrations provide a winning accompaniment, conveying the concrete of Nico’s world, including his multiracial family, and his abstract art. (EMT) ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book of the Week: Out of wonder

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and
    Marjorie Wentworth
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Published by Candlewick Press, 2017
52 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8094-7
Ages 8-13

Twenty sparkling, original poems each celebrate a specific poet in a terrific collection that also serves as an introduction to the poets honored. The opening poem by Kwame Alexander, “How To Write a Poem,” celebrates Naomi Shihab Nye (“Let loose your heart— / raise your voice. … find / your way / to that one true word / (or two).” The final offering, also by Alexander, celebrates Maya Angelou (“Rise / into the wonder / of daybreak. … Know your beauty / is a thunder / your precious heart unsalable. ...Shine on honey! / Know you / are phenomenal.” In between are poems paying tribute to Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Bashō, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Emily Dickinson, Terrance Hayes, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Judith Wright, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, William Carlos Williams, Okot p’Bitek, Chief Dan George, and Rumi. The poems, varied and wonderful, skillfully reflect their subjects thematically and stylistically. Additional information about each of the 20 poets is found at book’s end. A singular, beautifully composed illustration serves as a perfect accompaniment for each poem, complementing but never competing with words that will open eyes, and minds, and hearts to these writers. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book of the Week: Vincent and Theo

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

by Deborah Heiligman
Published by Henry Holt, 2017
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0805093391
Age 14 and older

As a young man, Vincent Van Gogh worked at an art auction house but was neither happy nor successful. He turned to God and ministered to the poor with great humility and an unsettling passion for self-denial until he was asked to leave his post. At 27, he returned home and began to draw and paint with purpose, relentless in the desire to improve. His brother Theo, two years younger and a successful art dealer, was his greatest critic and staunchest supporter financially and emotionally. Excited by the new style called Impressionism, Theo encouraged Vincent to use more and more color in his work. There had been signs for years that Vincent could be unstable, sometimes subject to deep sadness and withdrawal, sometimes frenzied. Theo, too, battled despair. A narrative that quotes liberally from their prolific correspondence details their individual struggles, while the devotion between them is its heart and soul. This exquisite, remarkable book told in the present tense positions readers as intimate observers of Vincent and Theo’s lives. Two portraits emerge in rich detail: a deep-thinking, gifted artist who was a troubled, gentle, compassionate man; and an insightful critic who recognized his brother’s brilliant mind and work, devoting incredible energy and resources to nurturing and supporting him. Uplifting, poignant, and tragic by turns, the brothers' lives, so very human, unfold in a work of exceptional literary nonfiction weaving scholarly research (further detailed in ample end matter) into a vivid, immersive accounting. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 27, 2017

Book of the Week: American Street

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi
Published by Balzer + Bray, 2017
336 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-247304-2
Age 13 and older

Fabiola Toussaint hopes to find the American dream when comes with her mother from Haiti to live with her Aunt Jo and her cousins, Chantal, Primadonna and Princess, on the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit. But when her mother is detained coming into the country, Fabiola must navigate this very different world without her. Finding her place means navigating her cousins’ vibrant yet vastly differing personalities and the sometimes gritty world in which they live while holding on to what she values most from her life in Haiti, including the spiritualism that helps her see her path. In authentic teen voices, Zoboi offers a deft, absorbing narrative that pulls the reader along at an escalating pace. Interspersing Fabiola's keen observations and an increasingly tense plot with stories of other characters, Zoboi creates a work that is as deep and rich as it is swift and compelling. Detroit, especially American Street, is not just a setting but a powerful presence in a narrative that looks at the immigrant experience and American society through an honest and unsettling lens. Fabiola’s Haitian culture and her immigrant perspective is foundational to a story infused with possibility even as it offers a thoughtful and sharp critique of the institutional racism and classism of both countries. Immigrant or not, it turns out the American dream can be all but unreachable when you’re Black and poor. ©2017 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book of the Week: Round


by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-38761-4
Ages 3-6


“I love round things,” says the young child narrator of this picture book, who goes on to give examples of round things found in nature, from the obvious (oranges, seeds) to the harder-to-find (rings on a tree stump, small butterfly eggs). Some things that don’t start out round become round with time (a mushroom grows into its curves; once-jagged rocks smooth over many years). Round can be ephemeral (bubbles, ripples in a pond) or forever (the moon and stars). “I can be round, too,” the girl says, “in a circle of friends” or curled up alone. Intimate yet expansive, the simply stated observations are childlike, even as they suggest a deep, visceral human response to roundness: the desire to touch, the feeling of being secure. Brief examples at story’s end touch on both science and aesthetics in discussing why so many things in nature are round. Ample curves in the flat, naïve-style illustrations (featuring bright colors with a muted, slightly retro feel) complement the quiet narrative. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book of the Week: Amina's Voice

Amina's Voice

by Hena Khan
Published by Salaam / Atheneum, 2017
208 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-9206-5
Ages 9-13

Amina is unhappy that her best friend, Soojin, has recently started inviting Emily, a classmate neither of them have ever liked, to spend time with them. At home, Amina’s family is getting ready for the visit of Thaya Jaan, her father’s older brother, from Pakistan. To impress Thaya Jaan, and support their Imam, Amina’s parents tell Amina and her older brother, Mustafa, that they must complete in their mosque’s upcoming Quran recitation competition. Mustafa, who wants his parents to let him play high school basketball, agrees willingly. But Amina suffers from serious stage fright--it’s why she never tries out for a solo in her middle school choir, despite her talent and love of singing. A swiftly paced novel showing a Muslim family and community as part of the fabric of American life also includes a hateful attack when vandals break into the mosque. No one is hurt, but the damage is great and the fear and sadness palpable. So, too, is the caring. People both within and outside Amina’s faith community offer solace, support, and help repairing the damage. This welcome story has finely developed primary and secondary characters, from Amina, Soojin, and Emily (whom initially uncertain-even-jealous Amina comes to appreciate) to Amina’s family members, including her at-first intimidating uncle, who proves to have both conservative ideas and an open mind. The novel is set in the Milwaukee-area community of Greendale. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The #OwnVoices Gap in African-American Children's Books

Since 1985, the CCBC has been keeping statistics on the number of children's books by and about African Americans. For the first two years, the numbers were dismal (just 18 books out of 2,500 published in 1985 and again in 1986).  USA Today did a story about it that included one of their handy visuals to illustrate the problem.

For the next few years we began to see an increase that was enough to make us hopeful. But that didn't last. By the mid-1990s the numbers began to plateau and they have stagnated ever since.

But a couple of years ago we began to notice a dramatic increase in the number of books about African-Americans -- it nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 (from 93 to 180), and then jumped to 265 in 2015. In 2016 we saw a small bump to 278.

We're not sure what caused this. Was it the Obama effect? (If an African American can be President, why not a book character?) Was it the call for more Black books in the New York Times editorials by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers early in 2014? Was it the impact of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement? A combination of all three?

Regardless of the cause, many saw this as a reason for celebration. But the increase in the number of books about African Americans doesn't tell the whole story. It needs to be looked at next to the number of these same books that are actually by African Americans. This graph helps to illuminate what is happening:

Graph showing children's book by and about African Americans
Click to enlarge image
We can see that there are a whole lot of books being written about African Americans these days by people who are not African American. Does it matter? It certainly can. Especially when you care about authenticity.

And, more significantly, this means we are not seeing African-American authors and artists being given the same opportunities to tell their own stories. In fact, last year just 71 of the 278 (25.5%) books about African-Americans were actually written and/or illustrated by African Americans.  The graph above shows this gap quite dramatically.

There are a few hopeful signs this year already.  An African-American artist won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for a picture book that's actually about an African-American child. This marks the first time -- ever -- that the Caldecott Medal has been awarded for a picture book that is both by and about an African-American (as opposed to animal tales or an informational book about Africa). 

We're also seeing promising debut novels this spring from African-American authors such as Linda W. Jackson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Angie Thomas and Ibi Zoboi.   But we still have a long way to go to bridge the gap between the books about and the books by African Americans.  

We don't just need more African American authors and artists being signed and nurtured by publishers, we also need white authors and artists to take a step back to make room for people to tell their own stories. Let's hope that by 2020 this graph tells a different story.