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.