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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book of the Week

The New Small Person

 by Lauren Child

Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7810-4

Ages 3-7

Elmore Green enjoys being an only child. He doesn’t have to worry about anyone messing with his stuff, and “Elmore Green’s parents thought he was simply the funniest, cleverest, most adorable person they had ever seen.” When a “new small person” arrives, Elmore Green’s perfectly ordered life is turned upside down. “They all seemed to like it…maybe a little bit MORE than they liked Elmore Green.” As the new small person gets bigger, he disrupts Elmore’s things, he licks Elmore’s jelly beans, he follows Elmore around, he moves into Elmore’s room. It’s awful, until the night Elmore has a bad dream, and the small person comforts him. Not long after, Elmore is arranging his precious things in a long line, and the small person adds his own things to the effort. “It felt good to have someone there who understood why a long line of things was SO special.” And it turns out that someone has a name: Albert. A fresh, funny take on a familiar family scenario features two brown-skinned brothers in droll, spirited illustrations that are a perfect match for the narrative’s tone. Lauren Child’s story is joyful even as it acknowledges very real feelings of frustration and uncertainty that come with a new sibling.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"You Are Me"

Over on the Read On Wisconsin website, CCBC librarian Emily Townsend has posted a great interview she arranged between author Mitali Perkins and a local high school senior, Ali Khan.

Ali participated in last spring's book trailer workshop which we did in conjunction with Madison Public Library and Simpson Street Free Press. Ali is a natural comedian (who aspires to host The Daily Show one day) so it wasn't surprising to us that the book he chose to read and create a trailer for was Open Mic: Riffs on Life between Cultures in Ten Voices (Candlewick, 2013). It's an anthology of funny short stories for teens by authors of color.  And, not surprisingly, his trailer is hilarious.

He was so inspired by the book that he started a discussion group at his high school to talk about race in an informal after-school setting. So we arranged over spring break to bring Ali to the CCBC so he could talk to Mitali directly via Skype. Funny as they both are (and imagine the two of them together) their discussion turned serious at one point when they talked candidly about race. And it turned downright poignant when Ali went on to tell Mitali how much her writing meant to him, saying "You are me." Talk about literature providing a mirror!

Thanks, Mitali, for being such an inspiration. And thanks, Ali, for a great book trailer and author interview. We look forward to seeing you one day on The Daily Show.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book of the Week: Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars

by Aisha Saeed

Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2015

304 pages  ISBN: 978-0399171703

Age 14 and older

When Pakistani American Naila’s parents find out she has a boyfriend they see it not only as a huge betrayal of trust but also worry how far from their culture and control she is moving. It doesn’t matter that Saif is Pakistani, too. Genuinely afraid for Naila, her parents take her to visit family in Pakistan the summer before she starts college. Naila doesn’t understand until it’s too late why they keep postponing their return: They’re arranging a marriage for her. After a failed escape attempt, Naila is drugged by her uncle and forced to marry Amin. He is a kind and patient young man who feels trapped in his own way by tradition. But when Amin’s mother threatens to send depressed Naila back to her family, Amin rapes Naila to consummate the marriage. It’s a short, powerful scene that underscores the warped way conservative tradition has shaped his perspective: He thinks he has no choice. Aisha Saeed reveals complexities of characters, situations, and culture in a riveting and moving debut novel. Naila has immense strength and Saif is not her savior but her ally in self-determination when he and his father finally help her get away. An insightful and powerful author’s note provides personal, cultural, and global perspectives on the distinction between arranged marriages in which a young woman has a choice, and forced marriages that still take place in many countries, including our own.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thinking About...Visibility as Cultural Diversity: A Continuum

What do Karen Lynn Williams’s A Beach Tail and Lauren Child’s The New Small Person have in common? They are both picture books offering visibility for characters of color without specific cultural substance in the narrative. Illustrator Floyd Cooper brings rich and welcome cultural content to Williams’s fine text in A Beach Tail with his illustrations showing an African American child and father. Child’s book is blithely illustrated in the same spirited style she typically uses, but her choice to make the main character and his family dark-brown-skinned in this fresh take on dealing with a new sibling is one I appreciated. Her visual style is vastly different from Cooper’s—there is far less realism and gravity to it. But it's so consistent with, and perfectly matched to, her narrative storytelling.

In Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel Roller Girl, main character Astrid Vasquez, who aspires to become a junior roller derby jammer (the one who scores points!), mentions that she is half Puerto Rican. Astrid looks as if she could be part Puerto Rican, but this dimension of her identity is not developed beyond that reference. Unlike books in which mention of a character’s race or ethnicity feels like a pale effort to incorporate diversity, it worked for me here, perhaps because there is diversity incorporated without further comment in other ways, too, most notably in the fact that Astrid's Roller Derby hero, Rainbow Brite, is African American.  Also, Astrid's heritage is simply a background fact to the story, and while I would have welcomed additional cultural content, its absence didn't feel like a failure, perhaps because Astrid’s (Puerto Rican) dad does not seem to be part of her life. Everything about Astrid feels authentic to me, including this aspect of her identity to which she is not strongly connected at this point in her life. However, as I continue to think about Roller Girl with great appreciation, I also continue to wonder about it in the context of both what it offers and what it might lack in terms of visibility and representation. 

Roller Girl felt to me akin to Varian Johnson's The Great Greene Heist in the way diversity is simply a fact of the world that its characters inhabit. On the one hand, Johnson's middle school setting and characters are intentionally diverse -- and by that I mean he was clearly making a choice as an author. On the other, his world felt to me like the one children and teens inhabit today (well, except for the Oceans 11-inspired plotting, which is a few steps removed from wholly realistic fiction, but oh, so much fun!).

I think there is both a need for reflecting this kind of broader diversity--the culturally diverse spaces children inhabit, the world in which they live--authentically, and also tension and challenge in trying to do it in a way that does not feel either off-handed or offensive.

A title that I'm far less certain about is Peter McCarty's new picture book First Snow. McCarty's illustrations feature beautifully drawn pen-and-ink animal characters in a story about a puppy experiencing snow for the first time. His name is Pedro. He is visiting his cousin Sancho and his family. I'm struggling with these animal characters having Spanish names. (There is no other cultural content.) At the same time, one could ask, given the fact there are many books with animal characters, why not give them names that might resonate with Spanish-speaking children?

Visibility exists across a continuum, from books like The New Small Person and A Beach Tail and Roller Girl  to ones that are deeply imbedded in cultural identity and experience  (Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales is one obvious and delightful example).  But I think animal characters without any cultural content are simply no substitute, and potentially problematic. (By contrast, Chato's Kitchen by Gary Soto and Susan Guevara is a book featuring animal characters brimming with cultural content.)  

A book that I think gets it right  in terms of being diverse and inclusive in a way that is exciting because it's so genuine is the new young adult poetry anthology Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick. Non-fiction is a different beast from fiction, obviously, and these days any anthology worthy of any note at all has made an obvious effort to be inclusive. But this offering, in part due no doubt to the anthologists' decision to include 100 poets, excels at reflecting incredibly diverse dimensions of identity and experiences, but the end result isn't either disparate or forced. Instead, it's unifying, because it feels so much like the world in which we live. 

Happy Día!


On April 30 each year we celebrate  El día de los niños/El día de los libros, an literacy initiative conceived by author Pat Mora nineteen years ago. Libraries and schools across the country are engaged in all kinds of creative programs to promote family literacy and diversity.

Want to join the celebration? Sing to a baby.  Read to a child. Buy a book for your family, or the family next door.  Take your kids to the library. And keep the celebration going year-round!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book of the Week: Roller Girl

Roller Girl

by Victoria Jamieson

Published by Dial, 2015

239 pages

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4016-7

Ages 8-14

Astrid Vasquez and her best friend Nicole can barely tolerate her mother’s regular Evenings of Cultural Enrichment until she surprises them with a roller derby match. For Astrid, it’s a life-changing experience: she’s hooked on roller derby, and is especially struck by the star player of the Rose City Rollers, Rainbow Brite. When she learns that there is going to be a roller derby summer camp for girls 12-17, she immediately signs up and assumes Nicole will, too. But Nicole has other plans for the summer. She wants to attend dance camp with Astrid’s long-time nemesis and Astrid feels betrayed. As Astrid go through hard weeks of training, leading up to a junior bout during the half-time of a pro roller derby game, she makes a new friend but still feels the sting of losing Nicole. Roller derby gives her an outlet for her anger as she discovers she has a fierce competitive streak. And when Astrid unintentionally hurts her new friend it’s an opportunity for self-reflection, but there’s plenty of roller derby action here, too, as novice skater Astrid gains skills and confidence but, realistically, never gets to be really good. Along the way, she gets some tips about finding her own inner strength through an on-going secret correspondence with her hero, Rainbow Brite, through notes she leaves and receives the Rose City Rollers locker room. This witty, original, and action-packed graphic novel was written and illustrated by a skater for the Rose City Rollers who is known by the name Winnie the Pow. As a result of her inside expertise, readers will get a good sense of the game and how it’s played, as well as unique aspects of derby culture.  (KTH) ©2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center