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. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book of the Week

Bone Gap

by Laura Ruby

Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2015
345 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-231760-5

Age 14 and older

Teenage Finn is the only person in Bone Gap who believes Roza, a young woman relatively new to town, was abducted. Finn is sure Roza was a prisoner in the car he saw her riding in, but he can’t describe the driver. Everyone else thinks he made up the story and was in love with Roza. In truth, Finn’s older brother Sean is the one in love with Roza, and Finn feels increasingly frustrated by Sean’s distant behavior and seeming lack of concern: Sean clearly assumes Roza left Bone Gap—and him—of her own accord. When the point of view of this exquisitely written novel switches to Roza, who is, indeed, being held prisoner, the story takes on the overtones of a thriller, one that slips into the realm of magical realism as Roza’s storyline develops. Defying all boundaries, Laura Ruby moves assuredly back and forth between small town life in Bone Gap, where Finn is marked by loss that precedes the present events and finds unexpected friendship and solace in a developing relationship with classmate Petey, and Roza’s ever-more-complex history and situation. Roza is strikingly beautiful. Petey is often seen as remarkable for her lack of beauty. Neither woman can be defined by her appearance—one of the story’s many points. Themes of small town life, family, loss, love, evil, beauty, sexuality, power and its abuse all resound in a story that can be read, among many ways, as a feminist fairy tale.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book of the Week

The World in a Second

by Isabel Minhós Martins
Illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho
Translated from the Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann 


U.S. edition: Enchanted Lion, 2015
56 pages
ISBN: 978-1592701575
Ages 6-11

“While you turn the pages of this book, the world doesn’t stop…” A picture book that begins and ends with an awareness of the book itself as both physical object and source of engagement also launches reader’s and listeners on a journey around the world, offering glimpses of things happening at the same moment in time. A boat tossed by a storm in the Baltic Sea, passengers stuck on an elevator in New York City, a soccer ball flying toward a window in Greece, a man resting on a bench in Tokyo, a thief entering a home (perhaps his own, it’s playfully noted) in Pescara, Italy. The location of these and other scenarios isn’t always stated or obvious, but the detailed, stylized illustrations offer many intriguing, and sometimes revealing, things to look at, while each two-page spread is numbered. A world map at the end identifies the locale of each numbered scene, along with the time in that location at the moment (e.g, 9:32 a.m. in Buenos Aires, 9:32 p.m. in Tokyo). The final scene, of a girl on a bed reading, states, “…And a book reaches the end.” A book ripe for discussion offers added appeal for kids who love pouring over details. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book of the Week: The Way Home Looks Now

The Way Home Looks Now

by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Published by Scholastic Press, 2015
272 pages
ISBN: 9780545609562
Ages 8-11

Peter’s Taiwanese American family is struggling since the death of his older brother, Nelson. Peter, Nelson, and their mother shared a love of baseball, so Peter tries out for a team in hopes it will spark his mother’s interest, since she’s so sad she rarely leaves the couch. But it’s Ba who gets involved, volunteering to coach Peter’s team. Angry that his father, who argued with Nelson about the Vietnam War, can’t make things at home better, Peter is now embarrassed by him as a coach. But turns out Ba has been paying attention to baseball—he even played as a boy—and to what’s happening at home more than Peter knew. A novel grounded in the perspective of a child in a family working through grief also succeeds as an accessible, engaging sports story, one that addresses changing social norms in the 1970s.When one of the team’s best players, Aaron, turns out to be Erin—a girl—parents threaten to pull their sons from the team. Ba leaves it up to the kids to decide if she should stay. Meanwhile, there are moments when Peter’s mother shows a spark, but baseball is not a magic cure. Time, says Ba. Nuanced characters, including Peter’s mother and Nelson, both developed in flashbacks, are among the story’s many strengths.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book of the Week: Drowned City

Drowned City:
Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

by Don Brown
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
96 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-15777-4
Age 11 and older

An informative and deeply moving chronicle of Hurricane Katrina opens as “a swirl of unremarkable wind leaves African and breezes toward the Americas. It draws energy from the warm Atlantic water and grows in size.” As he did in The Great American Dust Bowl, Don Brown offers a factual account that makes brilliant use of the graphic novel form both to provide information and to underscore the human impact and toll of a disaster. As the storm builds and unleashes its power, it wreaks havoc—on levees and on neighborhood and on people, so many people. Some of those affected wouldn’t leave the city of New Orleans; most of them couldn’t, and this becomes an integral part of his narrative: all the failures that pile up one after another. Empty Amtrak trains leaving the city before the storm when Amtrak’s offer of transport was ignored; thousands of people in misery at the convention center with FEMA seemingly oblivious to their well-documented plight; some police deserting their posts, even joining the looting. The travesties go on and on. But there is courage and compassion, too, including many who risked their lives to help others. Brown pulls no punches in a book offering a clear and critical point of view. The straightforward presentation of grim and sometimes shocking facts paired with emotionally rich images results in a work that is powerful, poignant, and sometimes haunting. There is clear documentation with an extensive list of source notes for this notable work.  ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center