Monday, March 31, 2014

Book of the Week

Grandfather Gandhi

by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Published by Atheneum, 2014
44 pages pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-7

Ages 5-9

Young Arun is happy to visit his grandfather in the Indian village of Sevagram, but is frustrated at having to share him with 350 faithful followers: His grandfather is the Mahatma, Gandhi. And then there is the Gandhi name to live up to, which feels like a burden to a child who can barely sit still and has trouble controlling his temper. On one rare occasion when he and his grandfather are alone, Arun confesses his unhappiness. “I stopped short of saying that I didn’t feel like a Gandhi, that peace and stillness did not come easily to me.” After he is shoved during a soccer game, Arun comes close to throwing a rock at another boy. He seeks out his grandfather, ashamed but also in need of solace. As they sit together at a spindle, his grandfather explains that everyone feels anger, but it is what you do with the feeling that matters: anger can be used to strike like lightning and cause destruction, or to illuminate, turning darkness into light. It’s a choice, and from that day on Arun not only understands this, but knows the choice he will always strive to make. The child-centered viewpoint never falters in this intimate look at a man who inspired and taught so many about peace within, and in the world. Evan Turk’s striking mixed media illustrations are full of emotion and appear nearly three-dimensional at times. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 2

The Military

Part 2 of a conversation with Eric Gansworth, author of If I Ever Get Out of Here, which took place on CCBC-Net in February as part of a discussion of his book. We're making it available here with Mr. Gansworth's permission.

Eric Gansworth

We have noted the similarities and differences between the military base George lives on and the reservation Lewis lives on, as well as the different experiences of military life represented by George's dad and Uncle Albert. Do you have any connection with the military yourself?

Lewis’s discovery of the world beyond his was like my own. My first non-Indian house visit had been at the home of my friend Chuck, the military-son friend mentioned above. So I learned quite a bit then, as we’d been very close, for a painfully short period of time. I also followed up during researching this book with one of the other guys George’s life is partially borrowed from. My two oldest brothers had been in the military. My oldest was drafted and sent over as infantry to Viet Nam, even though he was in college--deferments apparently were not available to all college students. Our next brother did not wish to share that fate, so he enlisted in the Air Force and successfully stayed on the periphery of combat in his time. My uncles and my father had all been drafted in World War II. There’s a long and complicated history of Indians, military service and patriotism, that seems very odd to me. That said, I almost wound up in the Marines, myself.

I’d been working as a laborer for minimum wage in high school and asked a guidance counselor if the SAT exam administrators took payment in installments. The counselor told me I was not really college material and shouldn’t waste my money. I didn’t know any better, so I listened to him. A number of my friends had enlisted in the Marines, and because of that, I agreed to meet a recruiter when he called my mom’s house one day looking for me. I was all ready to sign, but there was one snag.

At the time, New York State had a program for impoverished families that, weirdly now, seems sort of Hunger Games-ish. As I remember it, if you lived below a certain poverty line and had really disastrously, health-impairing crooked teeth, you could “audition” with the state health department and every year, one kid from every county was selected to have braces funded by the state. I won for Niagara County that year! Adhesive braces were available then, but as I understood it, the participating orthodontists were required to use the least expensive, base line adequate materials on these state-funded cases, so I got the braces that they hammered onto your teeth, with a spring loaded gun, fitting them by using a trial and error method, which was excruciating.

On the day The Marine recruiter picked me up to enlist, he told me I’d have to have my braces removed and reinstalled once basic training was over. I decide there was no way I could go through that again, so I asked him to turn around and take me home. I suppose I have the hierarchical nature of health-care in America to thank for my not having become a Marine. I suspect I’d have a very different life now, had I gone through with the enlistment, but the ghost of that day stays with me. I was ten minutes away from signing on the dotted line when the recruiter told me they’d have to pull my braces off and start again several months later, so na├»ve I had no idea what actual Boot Camp would have in store for me had I gone through with it.

Next up: Writing for Teens

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book of the Week

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

by Steve Sheinkin

Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2014
200 pages pages
ISBN: 978-1-59643-796-8

Age 13 and older

In the segregated military during World War II, Black sailors were responsible for loading munitions at Port Chicago on the San Francisco Bay. They were given no training in how to handle the dangerous cargo, and often felt pressure to increase their speed. On July 17, 1944, a tremendous explosion resulted in the deaths of 320 sailors on the dock and in the ships being loaded. In the aftermath, surviving Black sailors were soon ordered back to loading munitions. A group of them refused, saying they would obey any order but that one. They admitted they were afraid. And they were court martialed and found guilty of mutiny, sentenced to 15 years hard labor in prison. Steve Sheinkin offers a mesmerizing account of individuals and events surrounding the trial of the men who became known as the “Port Chicago 50,” revealing the impact of racism and segregation within the military at that time. The overtly racist Navy prosecutor aimed to show the men had conspired together ahead of time to refuse the order but there was no evidence of this in the testimony. Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, sat in on the trail and appealed the guilty verdict, but the appeal failed: to reverse the decision would be to admit the original trial was unjust. Political and public pressure resulted in the men’s release from prison after sixteen months. They were allowed to resume work as sailors, some serving on ships as the Navy began to desegregate, but the mutiny convictions were never dropped despite recurring efforts over the decades. Sheinkin’s compelling narrative, clearly positioned on the side of social justice, draws on the full-transcripts of interviews done with members of the Port Chicago 50 in the 1970s as well as transcripts of the trial. These accounts and other research is thoroughly documented in an offering that is sure to evoke strong emotional responses among y.a. readers. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 1

The Beatles

We’re trying something new on our CCBC-Net listserv this year.  Each month we’ll be discussing a particular trend or broad topic in children’s and young adult literature for the first two weeks of the month, and then discussing a couple of recent books that reflect that trend or topic. 

In February we discussed the novel If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic Publishing. The author himself joined our discussion at the end of the month to answer some questions from participants, and his responses were so enlightening (and funny) that we wanted to share some of them here on the CCBC’s blog, as well. We are sharing them here with Eric Gansworth's permission and we'll spread them out over three blog posts. The first one deals with The Beatles and Paul McCartney, the second is about the military, and the third about writing for teens. Enjoy!

CCBC-Net: Would you talk a bit about why the Beatles play such an important role in the book from your perspective as writer?

Eric Gansworth: Often I work on multiple projects at once, and whichever has the most fire, that’s the one I go with. I was working on the book my editor, Cheryl Klein, mentioned here, the one she passed on. It had a lot of pop culture (or probably fringe pop culture, since I’m not sure how popular any of it really was). I was also working on a collection of poems anchored by a section concerning The Beatles’ ABBEY ROAD.

In early stages, I work dreamily, having loose ideas about where a book is going. I enjoy this discovery stage. It allows for free associations that deliver lovely connections to me that, if I were trying, probably would not have surfaced. I trust that my unconscious often pulls real things forward for my use in work. In my first novel, INDIAN SUMMERS, I knew that a central figure was going to draw from one of my uncles, (the character shows back up here, The Bug, Lewis’s guitar teacher). That novel had autobiographical elements. The protagonist, Floyd, is an amateur visual artist, who admires one of his older cousins who draws traditional Indian images on the walls of the The Bug’s house. The Bug, encouraging Floyd, suggests he add his own drawing to the wall. Floyd, a kid, draws a super hero instead of traditional imagery. The super hero is Captain America. I didn’t even realize, at the time, what my unconscious was choosing to include because, all of that story is true; my clunky and culturally dubious Captain America is still on that wall, next to the beautifully rendered, but highly traditional charcoal drawings of my cousin. No one lives in the house, since my uncle passed, but my Captain America is still keeping my cousin’s Eagle Dancer company on those dark, lonely walls, and every once in a while, my cousins still kid me about the choice I made.

The formal composition process comes after I know what the story is, in tightening, expanding, and rearranging. I knew a few things were going to happen. When I proposed the idea to Cheryl, the story chronicled the lives of these characters in the Blizzard of 77, which now takes up only the final 50 or so pages. I knew they would attend a concert, but at first, it was going to be Queen. George’s personality and much of his history is an amalgam of a few people I knew. With the friend whose life was closest to George’s, Chuck Collins, I did share a common love of music. And we were both very interested in The Beatles, but maybe Queen, more so. Because I shuffled so many elements around to accommodate the Blizzard of ’77, the dates didn’t work out for the only time Queen ever played Buffalo. That anomaly is probably irrelevant in the larger scheme, but I’m weird that way, as a writer. Maybe it’s part of being an Indian, and being keenly aware of treaty dates and landmarks, but I am very oriented to representing real world events and correct dates in my fictional world. I needed them to be right.

Immersing myself into the emotional world of these characters, I’d included a lot more, too much more (as I’m sure Cheryl could attest to) detail of everyday middle school life into the first draft. The Beatles are never far from my daily world, even now, so there was no great leap once I knew the Queen concert was not feasible. The “Paul is Dead” passages were in that first draft because I did have that chorus teacher who was obsessed with the conspiracy, had us listen to that radio show, look at her albums, etc. and it was when I realized a large percent of my musical taste was in fact, one band, the Beatles and its members after they broke up. I’m not sure I’d made that connection before then.

With the help of the internet, I tracked down that original radio program and the date that the WINGS OVER AMERICA tour hit Toronto. I realized the two careers--group and solo--were going to be dominant forces so I explored the possibilities. I loved the ambivalence of each post-Beatles career, and the weird conspiracy theory about Billy Shears giving up his family and home to play Paul McCartney forever. Together, they seemed like such great ways to express the tension in Lewis’s life. When I hit VENUS AND MARS, and saw all it could do for the book, it was like an explosion in my head. I understood the book in an entirely different way and the places it had to go. I knew my unconscious had been working over-time on all these motifs, and I made the full commitment to go through the Wings back catalogue to see what else it offered that I hadn’t discovered yet.

CCBC-Net: Why Paul rather than John?

Eric Gansworth: It has seemed for a long time that, in the wake of John Lennon’s assassination we, as a culture, have rewritten both McCartney’s and Lennon’s history. This novel exists largely in 1976. Lennon’s last album had come out in 1975, and it was a collection of fifties covers, and his last album of new, original music before that, came out in 1974. The release of DOUBLE FANTASY, and his horrifying murder a few weeks later, did not happen until the winter of 1980. The novel’s events take place in the middle of a five year span when John Lennon had removed himself from the public consciousness. 

McCartney’s WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, by contrast, was the 1976 Billboard No. 3 album of the year and had stayed in the Number One slot for weeks that summer, even blocking a then new Beatles collection from reaching that chart position. I’m excited (naturally) to see the recent resurgence of interest and re-evaluation of McCartney’s Wings era material. The great simultaneous release last year of the box-set of WINGS OVER AMERICA and the Blu-Ray of its accompanying concert film, ROCKSHOW, is a testament to the staying power of that material. These releases originally marked the first major tour by a former Beatle and the tour was also one of the first to utilize the more “spectacle” show design that would become the standard for modern rock concerts. It would have been nice for research to have had it all released a year or two before, but I’m just delighted it’s all out there.

Because I’m a little OCD, (a lot OCD) once I see such a possibility, I go all out, so in that period, I knew the chapters would alternate between Beatles titles and post-Beatles McCartney titles. At first, I had been a little more flexible with that, but I loved the idea too much, so had to see it through.

The last part of this answer is the one people might find a little counter-intuitive to their good intentions and will perhaps put them outside their comfort zone. Writers often wrestle with the idea of how much of the real world to include in novels. I’m old enough to remember that the inclusion of brand names in Stephen King’s early novels was scandalous enough for some critics to A.) not only make note of in reviews, but B.) also to offer as proof that he was not a serious writer. This ludicrous critical distinction now seems unbelievable but I remember it as it was unfolding. Apparently, before that point, you were supposed to say “soda,” instead of “Pepsi,” if your characters were having soft drinks. Thank you, Stephen King, (for so many things). Any time I even think the word “soda,” I feel like Marcia Brady, so I’m super relieved it’s okay now to give my characters a Pepsi.

Pop culture has played a role in my work from the beginning. The Monkees and the Jefferson Airplane make an appearance in the first story I ever published. And as that story evolved into a novel, Hank Williams, The Three Stooges, Patrick Nagel, Billie Holliday, police scanners, and a whole host of other pop culture touchstones joined them. In part, those are just things I’m interested in, and if you’re an artist, those interests leak into your work. Among the most loved traditions within my young life was sitting out at a bonfire late at night, with cousins, toasting marshmallows and listening to the police scanner, hoping we didn’t recognize any names. Those memories were at odds with the broader American cultural expectations of what “standard equipment” Indians are supposed to have: spiritualism; nobility; solemnity; and inexplicable communication powers with wild animals. Those expectations, and a whole host of other qualities that people expect to see in Indian fiction, drive me crazy. Over the course of my career, people have said the oddest of things to me--usually in trying to be nice or polite--but a flattering stereotype is still a stereotype. Though I am indeed an enrolled member of an indigenous nation, and though I grew up solely on one small reservation in New York State, I am not immune from dog bites and unfortunately, birds still occasionally shit in my general direction while flying. My Indian blood has not made my “animal friends” behave better. The marshmallows and police scanners and my uncle’s guitar were the true ceremonial objects that kept my family close, not various officially sanctioned “Indian talisman.”

I realized that I was also partly to blame for keeping some stereotypes alive, and I had to face that ownership. I’d internalized the same ideas early in my professional life. I have--as many Indians do--naturally very curly hair. I’m talking: “Paul Stanley from KISS” curly hair. It does not look good long (no offense intended, Paul--it’s just not for me). I had so bought into what I thought other people expected me to look like, that I continued to grow my hair, got it regularly straightened conditioned it like crazy, and kept it tied tight in a two-foot long braid. (I can not believe the things people go through to manipulate their hair--braver than me!) I still kept my mustache and goatee and got these weird comments, like “Indians can’t grow facial hair.” People said this, directly to my hairy face. It was like the ghost of Edward Curtis was chasing me around in some nightmare Indian version of What Not to Wear. I looked in the mirror one day shortly after my first novel had been published, trying to see where I’d screwed up the braid that day, and thought: “This isn’t even me. It’s a huge pain in the ass, daily, and I don’t even like it.” I had made a conscious effort to keep that appearance and once I recognized that, in my work, I’d already begun the job of confronting the “Sacred Indian” stereotype, I got rid of the personal look too. I didn’t need the braid to prove who I was.

The Beatles’ presence here is as dominant as it is because it reflects the life I knew, and an Indian life I don’t see represented all that much in fiction. Are there traditional beadworkers and drummers and singers and dancers on the reservation? Yes, naturally, there are, but they’re not the only Indians, not even the only Indians living on the reservation. Nobody in my immediate family drummed, or made turtle rattles, or played cedar flutes. My mother played the piano, my uncle, the guitar, and their siblings all sang incredibly complex harmonies, but what they sang was an odd mix of standard church hymns and classic country and western songs, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn. When the Beatles arrived, my mother learned those songs, and songs of Queen, and the Grateful Dead. She particularly liked The Dead’s “Truckin’,” with its chorus: “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” She also had a thing for Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” even before Tom Cruise paraded around the movie screen in his tighty whities.

On the occasions that white people wind up on our reservation, it’s usually for something formal and showy, and intended for an audience of non-Indians, like the National Picnic I’ve included in the novel. These events include traditional singing, Smoke Dance competitions, “Indian Princess” contest (a culturally aware reservation take on the Miss America pageant), etc. but that’s not our every day lives. And yet, if those are the only times outsiders see us, then they somehow get the impression we’re still living in the 19th century--that every day, we’re spontaneously bursting into vocables with drums, and solemn ceremonies. I have written, for adults, a lot about this interior struggle many Indians wrestle with: how to be an Indian; am I Indian enough; am I Indian in the right ways? are my friends more Indian than I am? It’s a really wearing force if we try to live up to the expectations of others’ stereotypes. I wanted the Beatles to be so present here in part so that some kids on some reservation right now who like Jay-Z or Death Cab for Cutie can see that it’s all right, that they are not less Indian because outsiders suggest they’re not traditional enough, because they don’t chat regularly with their animal friends and dance to manipulate weather patterns.

Sorry for the length of that answer. I promise, the others will be shorter.

Next up: Eric Gansworth talks about the military

For more about the music, check out the discography and playlist Eric Gansworth created for the book.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book of the Week

The Children of the King

by Sonya Hartnett

Published by U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014
272 pages

ISBN: 9780763667351

Ages 9-13

During WWII, twelve-year-old Cecily, her mother, and older brother Jeremy are at their family estate in the north of England, where they take in May Bright, a ten-year-old London evacuee. Although younger, quiet May is more mature and independent than Cecily, who is impulsive and bossy but also self-aware and good-hearted. Their tentative friendship is sealed by a shared secret: in the ruins of a castle on the estate, they meet two brothers, formally dressed in ruffled clothes, who claim they can’t go back to London because of the danger. The girls tell no one. Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Jeremy is seething with anger. War news is grim and he wants to be back in London with their father. He wants to be doing something that matters. With these tensions in the air Uncle Peregrine begins telling a story connected to the history of the ruins, about a Duke and a king and two boy princes and the terrible, warping danger of power. Without ever calling him by name, Uncle Peregrine is spinning the tale of Richard III, his takeover of the throne, and the disappearance and supposed murder of his nephews, legitimate heirs to the kingdom. It is only as the story comes to a close that Cecily and May both realize who--and what--the two boys at Snow Castle must be. Sonya Hartnett’s manages to pen a story both cozy and comforting even as it reveals difficult truths about conflict and power and their impact on children. Loss, leaving home, and growing up and into a deeper understanding of the world, including the difference one can, and sometimes cannot, make, are all explored in a novel of complex, nuanced characters, both the living and dead. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book of the Week

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

by Christine Baldacchino
Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant

Published by A Groundwood Book / House of Anansi Press, 2014

32 pages

ISBN: 978-1-55498-347-6

Ages 3-6

“Morris Micklewhite has a mother named Moira and a cat named Moo.” He likes Sundays because Sundays mean pancakes. And he likes Mondays because Mondays mean school, where the list of likable things is a long one, but at the top is the tangerine dress in the dress-up center. “He likes the noise the dress makes—swish, swish, swish when he walks and crinkle, crinkle, crinkle when he sits down.” He pretends not to notice when other kids make fun of him for wearing the dress or nail polish, but he can hear what they say, and every day it’s something mean. By Friday, Morris doesn’t want to go to school. He stays home, where he feels safe and loved and free to imagine a boy in a tangerine dress riding a blue elephant. On Monday, he’s ready for school again “When he had the chance, he put on the dress that reminded him of tigers and the sun and his mother’s hair.” Lively, lyrical writing further distinguish a picture book already notable for featuring a child who conforms to his own understanding of who he is rather than what those around him expect him to be based on gender. And in the end, Morris’s classmates don’t see a boy in a dress, they see a boy with an imagination that can take them all far. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center