Thursday, November 21, 2013

Charlotte Zolotow, 1915-2013

Charlotte in Madison in 1997
Here at the CCBC we are still reeling from the news of the death of our dear friend, Charlotte Zolotow. She was 98 and she had lived a full life that touched the lives of so many others. But still, we will  feel her absence. We will miss her handwritten notes in green ink. We will miss her distinctive, chirpy voice. We will miss her spontaneous phone calls, which always started, "Hello, my dear. Tell me something good about Wisconsin!"

Charlotte had a special fondness for Wisconsin because she attended UW-Madison from 1933-36, where she studied English with the formidable Professor Helen C. White.  It was Professor White who first told Charlotte she was a writer, and who nurtured her talents. Charlotte once said that at the University of Wisconsin, she was taught not what to think, but how to think.

And what a thinker she became! At a time when most women, especially married women with children, did not have careers, Charlotte worked at Harper & Row as a children's book editor, under the direction of another formidable woman, Ursula Nordstrom. At Harper they worked with some of the greatest children's book authors and illustrators of the 20th century, including  Margaret Wise Brown, E. B. White, Maurice Sendak, Louise Fitzhguh, Paul Zindel, John Steptoe, M. E. Kerr, Robert Lipsyte, M. B. Goffstein, Paul Fleischman, Karla Kuskin, and Patricia MacLachlan. They didn't shy away from controversial topics -- they became the first to publish a young adult novel on a gay theme in 1969, and they continued to take risks with authors and illustrators who were pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. Charlotte once told me she took a risk on an edgy novel, knowing that it might sell only three copies, because it was a story that needed to be told. And one of the last acquisitions she made before she retired was a quirky novel called Weetzie Bat, written by a newcomer, Francesca Lia Block.

And Charlotte herself was a writer. After Ursula Nordstrom encouraged her to try her hand at writing. The result was The Park Book, published in 1944. That launched her long career as a writer of picture books that explored the emotional landscapes of early childhood, books that still resonate with children today with their psychological truths -- so much so that they are frequently reissued with new illustrations. The art may get dated over time but her words never do.

Last spring, CCBC librarian Megan Schliesman presented a thoughtful lecture about the essence of Charlotte's writing for young children called "Feeling Back into Childhood: The Picture Books of Charlotte Zolotow." Thanks to our friends at you can now view and listen to her lecture.

The words of one of Charlotte's last picture books Who Is Ben? take on special meaning this week.
"Where was I before I was born?" he asked.
But he felt the answer,
he had been part of that strange
trembling huge blackness
with no light and no sound
no beginning and no end.

"And where will I be when I die?"
But again he felt the answer,
and he felt that lovely soft enfolding blackness...
no moon, no stars,
no beginning
no end
he was it and it was Ben.
 How like Charlotte to comfort us in a time like this, with knowing that she has found herself in that lovely soft enfolding blackness.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book of the Week: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
by Meg Medina

Published by Candlewick Press, 2013
272 pages
ISBN: 9780763658595

Age 13 and older

Sixteen-year-old Piedad “Piddy” Sanchez isn’t sure what she’s done to attract the hatred of tough girl Yaqui Delgado at her new high school. Rumor has it that her newly-acquired shaking ass is the problem, or it could be her honor-student status, or her too-white-to-be-Latina skin. Piddy, whose heritage is Cuban and Dominican, is off balance even before Yaqui’s threat. Her developing body, her best friend’s happy new life in a better neighborhood, her unknown father, and her exclusion from the Latina lunch table all challenge her sense of identity. As Yaqui’s threats become real and hallway harassment escalates into violence outside of school, Piddy’s fear and loneliness become palpable. Her old neighbor Joey, whose abusive home makes him no stranger to violence, offers Piddy solace in touch without asking questions. Yet Piddy’s reluctance to reveal the bullying to family and friends only adds to her feeling of helplessness. Her hard-working, ever-anxious mother; her mother’s glamorous best friend; and even the women at bustling Salon Coraz√≥n, where she works on weekends, can help tether and support Piddy if she can bring herself to speak the truth. Meg Medina masterfully touches on many themes--class, ethnicity, individuality, identity, bullying—in this gritty yet refreshingly realistic story that is not without humor or hope. She introduces a rich and diverse Latino community full of multi-dimensional characters and complex lives, and acknowledges there is no simple solution to Piddy’s situation. But it begins with breaking her silence. (EMT) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book of the Week: The Great American Dust Bowl

The Great American Dust Bowl

by Don Brown

Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2013
80 pages
ISBN: 978-0-547-81550-3

Age 10 and older

“It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down. We thought it was our … doom.” Don Brown’s informative and affecting graphic novel look at the Dust Bowl examines its causes and effects from the perspective of both science and social history. He covers the geologic history of the Plains, and the changing ways people and animals used the land. When the grasslands were stripped to plant crops to meet the European food shortage during World War I, farmers were living high. Then prices fell, the Great Depression struck, and a drought hit. The stage was set for ecological and human disaster. Brown’s writing is straightforward and spare, at times poetic as he takes readers through the years of the Dust Bowl, sharing dramatic and painful experiences of people who lived during the devastating time. His poignant illustrations are heavily shaded in dusty tones of brown and yellow. Readers can see and feel the heat of the sun and the thickness of the dust, as well as the weight of worry, fear, and despair in the bodies and faces of people and animals alike. A final page spread discusses droughts that have taken place in the Plains since the 1930s (most recently in 2012), and offer a selected bibliography and source notes for quoted material. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center