Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book of the Week: Maya's Blanket / La Manta de Maya

Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya

by Monica Brown
Illustrated by David Diaz
Published by Children’s Book Press /
    Lee and Low, 2015
28 pages
ISBN: 978-0-89239-292-6

Ages 4-8

Little Maya loves her manta (blanket), which was made by her abuelita. When the edges of the blanket fray from use, Abuelita helps Maya turn it into a vestido (dress). They later make the vestido into a falda (skirt), which they eventually sew into a rebozo (shawl), before turning it into a bufanda (scarf), and then a cinta (headband). When Maya gets her hair cut, she turns the cinta into a marcador de libros (bookmark). When she loses her bookmark, Maya realizes she can write the entire story down. And when she is grown with a little girl of her own, she tells that story to her. Based on a traditional Yiddish folk song, this lively contemporary story is grounded in Latino culture and told in both English and Spanish. Monica Brown’s engaging cumulative narrative seamlessly integrates Spanish words into the English text, defining them in context, while the cultural details and a wonderful, warm sense of family as Maya grows are brought into full visual relief in David Diaz’s richly hued illustrations that are both heartfelt and whimsical. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book of the Week: Hoodoo


by Ronald L. Smith
Published by Clarion, 2015
208 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-44525-3
Ages 9-12

Eleven-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher has a bad feeling about the Stranger in town, with good reason. The man is a servant of the devil after something he calls Mandragore, or Main the Gloire—“the one that did the deed.” To Hoodoo’s dismay, his own left hand is what the Stranger is looking for. Hoodoo’s father, lynched years before, tried to escape into his young son’s body but succeeded only as far as his hand. Hoodoo knew none of this before the Stranger’s arrival. Determined to face the Stranger on his own in order to protect his family and friends, Hoodoo goes in search of spells and knowledge beyond what his family already knows. He finds answers following clues in an old book of his father’s, and he finds great, just power in his left hand. Author Roland L. Smith takes his time—in a wonderful way—establishing setting (a small rural African American community in Tuscaloosa County Alabama in the past) and characters in a story that deftly balances real-world and otherworldly scary but never feels heavy or heavy-handed, in part because Hoodoo is such an appealing, smart, and often funny narrator who never loses his sense of goodness, or even innocence, in spite of all the knowledge he gains of darkness in and beyond this world. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 30, 2015

Book of the Week: Carry On

Carry On

by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, 2015
528 pages
ISBN: 978-1250049551
Age 12 and older

In her novel Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell referenced a Harry Potter-esque fantasy about a wizard named Simon Snow. Carry On is Simon’s story, or the last volume of it. Now 17, Simon is an orphan who’s been attending a wizarding school since he was 11. He’s considered the chosen one among wizards, and the Mage who oversees the school is a father figure to him. Sound familiar? The world of magic is threatened by the Insidious Humdrum, a force that destroys magic and manifests looking like eleven-year-old Simon. Simon’s roommate, Baz, is a privileged boy from an old, arrogant and potentially dangerous wizarding family. Simon hates Baz, and has spent countless hours over the years trying to prove he’s a vampire (he is). Now in their last year at school, Simon and Baz call a reluctant truce in their ongoing animosity after the ghost of Baz’s mother appears, leading them to investigate the attack that killed her, the former headmistress, years before. The truce is hard on Baz because he relies on hating Simon—it’s the only way he can hide the fact that he’s in love with him—while Simon finds himself acknowledging how very human Baz still is. A novel told from multiple perspectives, and as much Baz’s story as Simon’s, is full of humor (the spells!), depth and poignancy as Rowell examines love, friendship, desire, and also, more darkly, what can happen when good intentions becomes obsession as Simon discovers what he is made of, whom he loves, and what he must sacrifice to save his world. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book of the Week: Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic
by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Lee & Low, 2015
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62014-027-7
Ages 5-9 
A warm picture book collection alternates between poems in the voice of an African American girl whose mom is away in the military, and poems in the voice of her mother as a child, growing up in a military family that moved many times. The contemporary girl’s discovery of her mother’s childhood poems has inspired her to write her own, which often reflect on the differences between their childhoods, especially as she is living in one place with her grandmother while her mom is away, rather than moving from place to place. But there are many parallel experiences that play out in the two poems on each page spread, one in each voice. There is a strong sense of connection and continuity—grandmother, mother, grandchild—while in both present and past there is a child missing a parent who is away on duty. The illustrations do a terrific job of distinguishing between present and past on the same page spread. An author’s note talks more about the experiences of military children and identifies the actual U.S. air force bases which formed the locales for the places the girl’s mother lived as a child.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book of the Week: Dumplin'


by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2015
375 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-232718-5
Age 13 and older

Willowdean routinely introduces herself as a fat girl, but her feelings about her body are much more complicated than this suggests. The daughter of a former beauty queen, she’s rarely allowed to forget she isn’t thin. Still, Willowdean makes no apologies for her weight. She decides to enter the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant for her beloved late aunt, who died of a heart attack at 36 and lived largely in seclusion because of her weight. She’s also doing it for the girls she’s convinced to join her—three other teens at school who don’t meet typical standards of beauty. Together, she tells them, they can make a statement. But when Willowdean’s pretty best friend Ellen signs up with them, Willowdean feels betrayed. Meanwhile, Willowdean is growing close to Bo, on whom she’s had a longstanding crush. But she recoils when he puts his hand on her waist while they’re kissing, worried what he’ll think of her fat. She can also imagine what people at school would say if they see the two of them as a couple. It’s easier to picture herself with Mitch. Like Bo, Mitch is an athlete. Unlike Bo, he’s on the heavy side. Both boys genuinely like her. Bo is the one she’s attracted to. Mitch is the one she’s convinced herself makes sense, although she knows she’s not being fair to Mitch in letting him think she feels more. Willowdean’s ultimate struggle isn’t accepting herself, it’s accepting the love of others in an insightful, honest, funny novel that comes with a big ol’ riotous dose of Dolly Parton. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book of the Week: Queen of the Diamond

Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story

by Emily Arnold McCully
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books / Farrar Straus Giroux,   
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-374-30007-4
Ages 5-9

Lizzie Murphy grew up in the early twentieth century in a baseball-loving family. Lizzie was both eager to play and savvy, bargaining her way onto her brother’s team. By fifteen, she was playing on two amateur teams. At eighteen, she set out to earn a living playing baseball, despite her mother’s concern. “But it’s what I do best,” Lizzie replied. To the manager of the semi-pro team who signed her, as a woman Lizzie was a novelty who would bring more people into the stadium to see the game. But Lizzie was a good player and she demanded to be paid the same as her male teammates. Not long after, her mother gave her a jersey with her name across the front. “You’re a pro now….your fans will want to see your name.” Lizzie played professional baseball for seventeen years. In an author’s note at the end of this spirited account, McCully writes that Lizzie wasn’t the only woman to play on teams with and against men, but she was among a small number, and she was not only the first woman to play a major league exhibition game, but “the first person to play on the National and the American leagues’ all-star teams.” A photograph of Lizzie in uniform accompanying this note is the winning run in this surprising and inspiring volume. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book of the Week: "Malcolm Under the Stars"

Malcolm Under the Stars

by W. H.  Beck
Illustrated by Brian Lies
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-39267-0
Ages 7-10

In this sequel to Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm the rat learns Amelia, the nutter (child) to whom he is closest in Mr. Binney’s classroom at McKenna School, is leaving in a week. Her family has to move because her dad lost his job. Meanwhile, the school itself is at risk of closing because the almost 100-year-old building is in need of major repairs. The district doesn’t have the money and plans on transferring the students to other schools in the fall. Malcolm and the Midnight Academy, the organization of classroom pets who help protect McKenna School, decide to investigate the legend of a hidden stash, presumably left by the man for whom the building was named. Could it be enough to cover the costs? In the context of a satisfying mystery, author W. H. Beck excels at creating appealing and surprisingly complex human and animal characters, and the heart of her story lies with them. The students in Mr. Binney’s class are at once singular and recognizable, and as she further develops two of their characters Beck reveals, as she did with others in the first book, that they shine in unexpected ways. The same is true of some of the animals Malcolm encounters. The lesson for Malcolm? Everyone is more than they might seem. And everyone deserves a second chance. There are moments of tension and drama and a hint of scary before all is well, but the lasting feeling is one of warmth.  © 2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book of the Week: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperCollins, 2015
317 pages pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Age 13 and older

Mikey, his sister Mel(inda), and their friends Henna and Jared, are about to graduate high school. Mel has anorexia and Mikey lives with severe anxiety and OCD, neither fitting the image their high-aspiring politician mother wants their family to project. Henna’s parents plan on taking her to the Central African Republic to do missionary work, despite the war there. Jared feels the weight of being an only child on the verge of leaving his single-parent father. Jared is also a god. Well, technically a quarter-god. And there is the delicious twist in this emotionally rich story about facing a time of transition and uncertainty: The otherworldly is real. When indie kids (it’s always the indie kids) in the foursome’s small community begin disappearing, it isn’t the first time. In the past the culprits were vampires and soul-sucking ghosts; now it’s aliens. Mikey and his friends aren’t indie kids (despite Henna’s name) but are aware of the danger, which plays out in hilarious chapter openings chronicling the indie kids’ efforts to combat the threat, making for a merry satire on countless young adult novels. But the heart of this novel is the reality of change—in relationships, in circumstances, in what we understand; imperfect families; and the sustaining power of friendship. As a narrator, Mikey is real and complex, and a little bit heartbreaking. As a work of fiction, Ness’s book is funny and tender and true, and a little bit dazzling. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book of the Week: The Book Itch

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Published by Carolrhoda, 2015
36 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7613-3943-4
Age 8 and older

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson revisits the topic of Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial African Bookstore that were the subject of her singular young adult novel No Crystal Stair, here introducing her great uncle and his Harlem store in a picture book told in the engaging fictionalized voice of Lewis Michaux’s son. Young Louie shares the history of the store, which his father could not get a bank loan to open because the banker believed “Black people don’t read.” And he shares a sense of the vibrant, vivid gathering place the store is, with its “zillion books” by Black people—African Americans, Africans—and others who aren’t white; with its many visitors from the famous (Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X) to the anonymous (the boy who spends every Saturday reading at the store); with its readings and rallies; a place of activism and action. Read to learn, his father tells him, and to learn how “to figure out for yourself what is true.” In the aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, Louie is comforted by his father’s reminder that “His words will never leave us.” And Louie thinks about the importance of words, and the importance of their bookstore as a place to find them in a picture book strikingly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Nelson tells more about the store, which closed in 1975, and her personal connection, in end material that includes photographs and a bibliography. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book of the Week: All American Boys

All American Boys

by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Published by Atheneum, 2015
320 pages
ISBN: 9781481463331
Age 13 and older

Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely put the issues of police bias and violence against Blacks and white privilege front and center in this novel that alternates between the voices of high school students Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins. African American Rashad is brutalized by a white police officer who makes a snap judgment of a scene and assumes Rashad was harassing a white woman and stealing at a neighborhood store where he’d gone to buy potato chips. Quinn, who is white, shows up as handcuffed Rashad is being pummeled by the cop on the sidewalk outside. The officer is his best friend’s older brother, a man who has been like a father to Quinn since his own dad died in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the beating, hospitalized Rashad deals with pain and fear, and his family with fear and anger and tension, especially between Rashad’s older brother, Spoony, and their ex-cop dad. As the story goes viral, Quinn is feeling pressure to support Paul but can’t stop thinking that what Paul did to Rashad is wrong. He begins to realize that saying nothing—he slipped away from the scene before he was noticed—is also wrong. Silence, he realizes, is part of the privilege of being white, and it’s part of the problem of racism, something too few are willing to acknowledge, including school administrators and some teachers in the aftermath. Rashad and Quinn and their classmates are singular, vivid characters—kids you feel you might meet in the halls of just about any school in a novel that is both nuanced and bold as it explores harsh realities and emotional complexities surrounding race in America. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book of the Week: Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

by Alicia Potter
Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-75334-0
Ages 3-7

“When Miss Hazeltine opened her Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, she didn’t know if anyone would come. But come they did.” They come with all sorts of problems—fear of mice and birds; inability to pounce or purr. And then, there is Crumb, who stands out even among the shy and fearful for his timidity. Miss Hazeltine gives lessons: Bird Basics, Climbing, Scary Noises, Meeting New Friends, “How Not to Fear the Broom.” She also tells Crumb she’s afraid too, of mushrooms, and owls, and the dark. So when Miss Hazeltine trips on the way home one evening and ends up with a twisted ankle in a dark woods full of mushrooms and owls, she tries to think positive thoughts. So do the cats, who are waiting for her back home, alone and afraid. It is Crumb who rallies them all leading the no-longer-shy-and-fearful-cats on a rescue mission. Alicia Potter’s superb storytelling is laugh-out-loud funny but also offers a sensitive look at anxiety and shyness. Birgitta Sif’s marvelous illustrations range from full page to spot (on) and delightfully expand on the story’s humor and warmth. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book of the Week: Honor Girl

Honor Girl

by Maggie Thrash
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
267 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7382-6
Age 13 and older

The summer she’s fifteen, Maggie falls for Erin, an older teen and senior counselor at her summer camp. It takes Maggie by surprise—she hasn’t considered her sexuality, or relationships in general—but she senses the attraction is mutual. The times Maggie and Erin see each other become increasingly weighted with possibility but Maggie doesn’t know how to act on her feelings, and she’s worried the other girls will figure them out. For Maggie, the camaraderie and the competitiveness, the boy craziness and hijinks of her fellow campers is something that generally puzzles her. But she finds a supportive friend in Bethany, who is younger, a little less mature, and a lot less self-conscious, not to mention refreshingly open-minded. When Maggie and Erin finally connect it is heady and charged as they hold hands and eventually kiss. Then the camp director finds out. It’s clear she tells Erin to keep her distance, and this distance—physical, emotional, crushing—remains through summer’s end. The main story at camp is framed by opening and closing chapters set two years later, when Maggie and Erin reunite and their four-year age difference proves to be a chasm. Thrash’s understated graphic novel is an emotional masterwork, conveying through myriad small details what it’s like to be young, and falling, and flailing, and feeling so deeply in a memoir that is not without humor but is also aching and bittersweet. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book of the Week: When Otis Courted Mama

When Otis Courted Mama

by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-15-216688-5
Ages 4-8

Cardell “had a perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy.” His coyote family’s perfection is marred only slightly by the fact that Cardell’s daddy lives in a different part of the desert and Cardell has to “share him with his perfectly nice stepmama, Lulu, and his perfectly cute stepbrother, Little Frankie.” But Cardell doesn’t have to share his mama with anyone. Then Otis shows up, “holding a handful of ocotillo flowers in one paw and a bag of cactus candies in the other. Cardell felt a grrr form in his throat.” Otis isn’t the first hopeful beau to court Mama, although the previous suitors were dispatched by both Mama and her son. But Mama isn’t sending Otis on his way. And although Otis is nothing like Cardell’s perfectly good daddy, he does have his strengths (he can whip up a delicious prickly pear pudding and demonstrates impressive pouncing skills), which include patience. Eventually, Cardell’s stubborn grrr evaporates. Not long after, Cardell is able to count on Otis as a perfectly good stepdaddy. The challenges of changing family structures are sympathetically embodied by this coyote clan, while regionally specific details in text and illustrations and perfectly patterned language lend depth and finely tuned humor. (MVL) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Numbers So Far

Every year the CCBC releases the statistics on books by and about people of color in early March at the time our annual publication CCBC Choices comes out.  This year as we were preparing a special "Diversity Matters" display at the CCBC, we calculated the numbers for far for 2015 based on roughly 2,000 books we've received this year.  Here they are:


  • African/African-American

 By 48
About 110
By but not about 7

  • American Indian 

By 4
About 19
By but not about 1

  • Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans

By 21
About 49
By but not about 90

  • Latino

By 17
About 36
By but not about 8

We were hoping we'd see improvement over last year but so far that doesn't appear to be the case. And one trend we noticed last year seems to be even stronger this year: that Asian/Asian Pacific American authors and illustrators are creating many more books that don't feature Asian characters than those that do. Zetta Elliott blogged about this observation in a two-part post earlier this year.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book of the Week: The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit

by Jason Reynolds
Published by Atheneum, 2015
255 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-5950-2
Age 13 and older

After his mother dies, Matt finds comfort in an unexpected place: the neighborhood funeral parlor. Owner Mr. Ray offers Matt a job, and in addition to helping get things ready for the post-funeral receptions, Matt likes sitting in on the services. Observing other people who are grieving gives Matt a way to see his own pain from the outside in. Mr. Ray becomes a surrogate father to Matt, and it’s a role Matt welcomes since his own dad, also devastated, has started drinking again and ends up in the hospital. Meanwhile, at one of the funerals, the principle mourner is a teenage girl named Love. Soon Matt and Love become friends and are on their way to falling in love. It’s a sweet romance between two smart, singular, not-quite-alone-in-the-world teens. Matt and Love need, and can rely on, the larger community to take an interest in them, and vice versa: Love was raised by a grandmother who taught her to do good deeds in the world, and she draws Matt into that service. The sense of this New York City community as something both sustained by and that sustains individual lives is beautifully rendered in Jason Reynolds novel, even as it doesn’t shy away from some of the challenges and dangers in a place where there are many struggles. Distinctive, well-developed characters, including Matt’s mother—a presence through flashback—populate this poignant, sometimes funny, emotionally true and tender story. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Friday, September 11, 2015

Children's Books in Children's Hands

Earlier this year, we received a generous grant from the Evjue Foundation that allowed us to buy a complete set of the Charlotte Zolotow Award books for each of the six campus childcare centers here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The Charlotte Zolotow Award recognizes outstanding writing in books for young children (birth-age seven), especially highlighting books that we can recommend as great read-alouds, so the teachers and children at our campus childcare centers are the perfect audience for these books. 

Last month the centers' directors met here to learn a bit about the CCBC and what we can do for early childhood teachers and care providers. At that time we presented each one with their set of books. Never have I seen a more appreciative group! Until...

...a few days later when I received a lovely thank you note from Debb Shaubs, the director at Eagle's Wing, the childcare center that serves UW students with families who live in the Eagle Heights community. It read:

There aren't enough words to say thank you for writing the grant for these amazing books!!!!  It's only been a couple of days now and I'm seeing them put to very good use (photos attached).  High quality literature is so important for children - in spite of all the drool and gob!  Thank you sooooo much for enriching our environment for these precious little ones!
With much love,
Eagle’s Wing
The accompanying photos of the Eagle's Wing staff sharing the books with children made our day here at the CCBC. Debb gave us permission to share her note and a few of the photos here.

Eagle's Wing teacher Michele McDonough reads to snacking babies

A young boy enjoys the 2015 Zolotow winner, read by teacher Lew Oleksy
These pictures would have pleased Charlotte Zolotow down to her bones. She loved UW-Madison, which she attended back in the 1930s, and whenever we talked she would open the conversation with "Tell me something good about Madison."  This is something good I've like to have been able to tell her about. Her legacy lives on here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book of the Week: Bulldozer's Big Day

Bulldozer's Big Day

by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Published by Atheneum, 2015
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1481400978
Ages 2-5

A small bulldozer is full of excitement as he sets off across a construction site. “Guess what today is!” But his happiness gradually wanes as each big vehicle he encounters seems too busy to care. Digger is “scooping … scooping … scooping.” Dump truck is “sifting … sifting…sifting.” Cement Mixer is stirring. Scraper is filling. Grader is chopping. Roller is mashing. By the time he gets to Crane (lifting … lifting … lifting), Bulldozer’s blade is “dragging sadly in the dirt.” But what is Crane lifting? Candace Fleming’s text is a marvelous balance of repetition and freshness, with well-chosen verbs doing double-duty to describe both the work of big equipment and cake-making. Eric Rohmann’s colorful illustrations featuring bold black frames and black outlines masterfully personify the vehicles without veering into cuteness. A story that is immensely entertaining also has an immensely satisfying emotional arc as a much-loved little bulldozer is celebrated.  © 2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

More on "Race Neutral" characters

Don't miss Linda Sue Park's thought-provoking response to the notion of a "race neutral" character.

This issue first came up for us at the CCBC back in July of 2001 when we discussed Virginia Euwer Wolff's Make Lemonade and True Believer on CCBC-Net. We hosted quite a lively discussion about the race of the main characters -- it's never specified in the books but many readers assumed that LaVaughn was African-American, and argued the point quite assertively.

But then, ten days into our discussion, Linda Sue Park responded with a most perceptive and personal comment:
I was 'fortunate' in a way not to have read Make Lemonade until recently and so read the two books back to back. I couldn't put either of them down, and I am certain that ML has earned a place on my list of books that come back to haunt me years after I have read them. (Going somewhat against what I see as the grain, I preferred the first book for its more unusual plot line.)

That first graph of this post was easy to write. Now for the difficult bit. (deep breath) The least satisfying part of both books to me was the race question. I am not black, but as a nonwhite I can attest that my race is an everyday issue. For Asians such as myself, it has negative ramifications far less often than for blacks in daily U.S. life, but not a day passes that I do not confront the question in some form. This is perhaps the single most difficult aspect for those of the majority complexion to understand: There may be moments or even hours when my Asianness is not at the surface of my thoughts, but NEVER a whole day, much less weeks or months. I am struck by the number of readers who said that the question of race 'didn't matter to them' and would be very curious to know if readers across the racial spectrum felt that way.

Therefore, as the first book unfolded and race was never mentioned, what it meant to me was that LaVaughn could only be white. Yet in the choice of her name and other story details, I perceived that the author's intent may have been to allow the reader to 'decide' her race, which for me indicates confusion or misunderstanding as to the importance of race in the life of nonwhites. What I am trying to say, and perhaps saying badly, is that a white girl and a black girl (or a white girl and an Asian girl) can have similar experiences and do have emotional responses in common, but in this day and place cannot be one and the same person.

When the Horn Book interview confirmed that the source of my discomfort had been an actual authorial strategy I was deeply dismayed. It seemed to me not so much a granting of power to the reader as an unwillingness to confront the question. I can 'salvage' my response on this level only by seeing the strategy as an attempt to concentrate on the humanity we all share (as others have commented), and still I find it upsetting to completely ignore the question of race if LaVaughn is to be 'read' as black. There are many fine examples of books about nonwhites in which race is not the central issue, and these titles could certainly have that potential.

I have been very glad to read of the reactions of others to these books in this forum. While the books are flawed for me for the above reason, I understand that others may see the flaw as a strength, and I will forever admire the powerful use of language and the portrayal of much of LaVaughn's interior life.
I think back to her comment often, whenever I am confronted with the notion of a "race neutral" character or "casual diversity."  Thanks to Linda Sue Park, I have come to recognize this as one more idea I need to unpack from my invisible backpack of white privilege.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book of the Week: X

X: A Novel

by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
348 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6967-6
Age 14 and older

A novelized account of Malcolm X’s early life is full of both a young man’s promise and the pain of racism and struggle of being Black in America. Growing up in 1930s Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm stands out as exceptional in a family that nurtured education and achievement. His outspoken father is killed when Malcolm is six. Seven years later, his mother, struggling to keep her family together and live by her values, is institutionalized. Malcolm leaves Lansing for Boston after a white teacher makes clear he thinks college out of Malcolm’s reach. Malcolm feels betrayed by his father’s promises. “You’re meant for great things. You have nothing and no one to fear, for God is with you…He told me these things about myself and about the world like they were true. But they were only his hopes.” In Boston and later New York, disillusioned Malcolm, whose intelligence shines from every page of this first-person narrative—in how he expresses himself and the way he thinks deeply—opts for good times. Eventually arrested for theft, he sits in prison filled with anger and thinks, “They want to write a story about me that ends behind bars. They’ll say I was no good, that I always belonged here….Papa would tell a different story.” His father’s lessons still live inside him, and they are nourished by the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Structurally complex, with a timeline that moves between the 30s and 40s, the strong narrative thread makes this fearless, penetrating work cohesive and accessible, while its themes are both timeless and all too timely. End matter includes a commentary from Ilyasah Shabazz (Malcolm’s daughter), a timeline, and notes on historical figures and events.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book of the Week

Sona and the Wedding Game

by Kashmira Sheth
Illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi

Peachtree, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1561457359
Ages 4-8

Sona’s sister is getting married and her know-it-all cousin Vishal has come with her grandparents from India to attend. He can’t believe how little Sona knows about Hindu weddings, including the fact that it’s Sona’s responsibility as a younger sibling of the bride to steal the groom’s shoes during the ceremony and then bargain with him for their return. Nervous but determined, Sona comes up with a plan, and she’s even willing to involve Vishal in carrying it out. An engaging story draws readers right into Sona’s experience, with details about the wedding preparations and ceremony seamlessly incorporated as Sona describes being part of traditions that are new to her yet steeped in family and culture. And when the time comes, there’s just the right amount of tension leading to great delight as Sona successfully steals the shoes and bargains for the perfect exchange. An author’s note provides additional information about Hindu weddings, including the fact that the details may vary widely from family to family and place to place.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book of the Week

Blackbird Fly

by Erin Entrada Kelly
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2015
296 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-223861-0
10-13 years

When Analyn “Apple” Yengko gets put on the dog log—a list of the ugliest girls at her southern Louisiana middle school—she finds solace in music. It’s always been a connection to her late father, who died before she and her mother came to the United States from the Philippines. Against her mom’s wishes Apple secretly takes up guitar, and she proves to be a gifted student. She also connects with new kid Evan, the first friend she’s had genuinely interested in rather than dismissive of the Filipino culture that Apple can’t escape but has always found an embarrassment. The mean kids are sadly believable in Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut novel, as is the limited ability of adults in the school to change those kids’ behavior. That matters less and less to Apple as she immerses herself in learning the songs on the Beatles tape he father left behind, and as her friendship with Evan helps her understand that she isn’t the only outsider and she, too, can reach out. Music and friendship transform Apple’s relationship with her mother, too, who finally lets Apple see the depth of her grief while revealing the surprising source of Apple’s musical talent. This satisfying novel traverses an arc from sadness, pain, and isolation to hope and connection.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book of the Week: Knit Together

Knit Together

by Angela Dominguez
Dial, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 9780803740990
Ages 3-7

A little girl who loves to draw wishes she could also knit, like her mom. Her mother tries to teach her, but it turns out to be harder than it looks. When the girl gets discouraged, her mom points out that the little girl’s drawings have inspired many of her knitting projects and suggests that they collaborate. After a day at the beach the little girl puts crayons to paper. “We talk about our project. And then we work to make something we could never have made alone.” The result is functional art: a blanket featuring a beach-inspired design originally drawn by the girl. The bond of this dynamic mother-daughter duo is obvious in a warm, engaging picture book that also offers insight into creativity and collaboration. Both the fairly spare narrative and the illustrations are full of personality, warmth and charm. (It’s particularly fun to notice the ways the mother’s knitting reflects many of her daughter’s drawings even prior to their partnership.)  © 2015 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, August 3, 2015

Book of the Week: George


by Alex Gino
Published by Scholastic Press, 2015
240 pages
ISBN: 9780545812542
Ages 8-11

A girl born into a boy’s body, ten-year-old George hasn’t yet confided this truth to anyone. Then she decides to try out for the part of Charlotte in the fourth grade’s dramatization of Charlotte’s Web. George thinks the play will be a vehicle to let her mom know that she’s really a girl, not a boy. But Charlotte is also the part that she wants because she loves the character. George finally tells her friend Kelly the truth, and after Kelly is cast as Charlotte, she and George conspire to have George play Charlotte in the second performance. By then George has told both her mom and her older brother. Both of them had assumed George was gay, and while George’s brother looks at George as if she finally makes sense to him, George’s mom is struggling. Alex Gino’s warm debut novel is a pitch-perfect story for younger middle grade. Substantial without a hint of heaviness, the almost lighthearted tone offers a matter-of-fact presentation of George’s identity, leaving room for the delightful development of characters and the plot around Kelly and George’s plan. The support Georges receives from Kelly, from her brother, and from the school principal, as well as the range of responses of others, are all realistic. But all of the characters are more than their responses, just as George is more than her gender. She’s George, a girl with many interests delighting in chances to outwardly express an elemental aspect of her identity.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Overboard? Overthinking? Making Choices

Here at the CCBC we are constantly reading and evaluating the new books that arrive on a daily basis. We discuss some of the books face-to-face in a monthly discussion group open to anyone who wants to attend. But there are many, many more books that we discuss just among the four of us as we consider books that we will eventually select for our annual publication, CCBC Choices

Much as we all wish we could just sit at our desks and read all day, there's not enough time for that, so we do the bulk of our reading at home, in the evenings and on weekends. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we are able to discuss these books as we read them via a running Google Doc, where we indicate our yes, no and maybe votes for inclusion in CCBC Choices. Unless we have four yes votes or four no votes, we also discuss all these books again face-to-face in order to make our final decisions. There are always some books, such as Under a Pig Tree by Margie Palatini, where we decide we need outside opinions, either from our monthly discussion group or from a content expert.

Although our Google Doc discussions are in-house and not intended for public consumption, we thought it would be helpful to get some opinions on this book from our blog readers, so we've decided to share it here. We all really liked the book a lot and admired the humor of the the running joke ("fig" is mistaken for "pig"), and the way it plays out in the artwork. But there were two illustrations that raised questions, one serious and one not. Here are the two pictures that prompted in-house discussion. The discussion itself has been cut and pasted from the Google Doc immediately below the two pictures.


Palatini, Margie. Under a Pig Tree: A History of the Noble Fruit. Ill by Chuck Groenik. Abrams
MS: Yes. Hysterical!
MVL:  Yes.   I must be missing the joke on the page that reads “Some pigs are very popular and quite famous, such as Blanche, Celeste, Len, and Tena. Of course, everyone knows Judy.”  Blanche, Celeste, and Tena all appear to be types of figs.  But Len and Judy?  I’m thinking there’s some wordplay there that’s zooming over my head.
KT: Maybe. I love this but was taken aback by the pig wearing a hijab, since pigs are forbidden in Islamic cultures.  Maybe I’m going overboard but I thought that was culturally insensitive on the part of the illustrator. In terms of the celebrity pigs I don’t get Len either, but the Judy is the Garland fig (and that was my favorite picture of all. It made me laugh out loud.)
MS: Thanks for pointing that out, KT. I did notice the priest pig, which I thought some would find offensive on principle, but the Muslim pig slipped by me.  And the point is different and I think important to think about. It’s a representation issue that violates a belief in Islam that pigs are haraam---they are truly considered filthy and so to represent a Muslim that way--yikes!  (It would be the same to see a Hasidic Jew represented as such). I do love the humor in this book, but I think that is an unintentional and unfortunate oversight.
Later:  Ok. I looked again.  I think that the hijab isn’t a hijab but is meant to represent Cleopatra (her hair) for “Egyptian fig.”  (That whole page spread gave me pause re. cultural representation on my initial read-- all of it is stereotypical/tongue in cheek.  But I took Cleo for Cleo and not a hijab which is why I didn’t remember a hijab. But the fact that KT and I disagree on this interpretation makes it still potentially problematic as I can clearly be taken as a hijab.)  Re. types of figs: Len and Judy are also types of figs. I’m not sure who each is supposed by be as represented beyond “Judy Garland” as KT noted. Is Blanche Blanche DuBois? Celeste looks like Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s--?. “Len” and “Tena”--?  (Way overthinking this page.)
We'd love to know what you all think.  Cleopatra or hijab? And who is Len?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book of the Week: The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich


by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-85860-4
Ages 3-6 

“It all started with the bear.” An unknown narrator weaves an impossible story to account for someone’s missing lunch in a picture book pairing a straightforward narrative with beautifully realized illustrations made whimsical by their impossibility. The bear, it seems, fell asleep in the back of a truck full of berries and ended up in a new forest (a city), where he found “climbing spots” (e.g., fire escapes, clothes lines between buildings), “good bark for scratching” (a brick-sided building), and “many interesting smells” (garbage cans). Eventually the bear got hungry, and there was the sandwich, all alone in the midst of leafy green (on a bench in a park). An already delightful story takes an even more waggish turn in its final pages when the identity of the speaker and subject are revealed: a small black dog (somewhat bear-like) pouring out the tall tale to a now lunch-less little girl. The warm, colorful acrylic and pencil illustrations are superb, their realistic accounting of the bear’s adventure will be a source of glee for young readers and listeners, as will the play between narrative and art. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Asian-American Writers Take on Race

It's something we've been wondering about here at the CCBC for the past year or so, ever since we noted that our statistics reveal that fewer Asian-American book creators write and illustrate books about Asian characters than they do about white (or animal) characters.  With such a dearth of books with Asian main characters, why don't more Asian authors and illustrators create them?

In a year when we celebrated so much diversity in the ALA Award choices, it doesn't escape our attention that the three Asian-American authors and illustrators who were honored this year won for books that didn't feature any Asian characters. This year's Caldecott Medal winner by the prolific Thai-American artist, Dan Santat, is a case in point.  Beekle is about a raceless imaginary friend and, although the people he meets in the real world are diverse, the girl who eventually adopts him appears to be white. 

Jillian Tamaki won a Caldecott Honor for This One Summer, a realistic graphic novel that perfectly captures a summer friendship between two girls during the time when one is beginning to outgrow the other. Both the illustrator and the author are Japanese American, but the book, as far as I can tell, features an all-white cast. 

Interior from This One Summer

And author Anna Kang won the Geisel Award this year for You Are (Not) Small, a book with bear characters standing in for humans. In spite of the fact that the book has no human, let alone Asian, characters, the author talked about how the book was influenced by her own Korean-American heritage in her eloquent acceptance speech last month.  So who's to say if a book by an Asian-American author is Asian or not?

With all that in mind, we were pleased to see this eye-opening blog post by Zetta Elliott in which she asks several prominent Asian-American writers to discuss this issue. Their responses give us a lot of food for thought.