Monday, February 29, 2016

Book of the Week: Pax


by Sara Pennypacker
Published by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2016
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2
Ages 8-11

Lonely Peter’s only friend is Pax, the fox he found as an orphaned pup and raised. And Pax, who has never really known the wild world, is completely dependent on Peter. The two are separated when Peter’s dad, about to join the war, takes him to live with his grandfather miles away. Pax, abandoned on the side of the road, has to survive on his own. Peter runs away from his grandfather’s house, determined to find Pax, but an accident lays him up in the home of Vola, a reclusive veteran. Impatient to be on his way, Peter must instead take time to heal. The more time he spends with Vola, the more he sees she is struggling to make peace with all she’s seen and done as a soldier. Meanwhile Pax gradually bonds with other foxes, but never gives up hope or intention of finding his boy. Two survival stories, told from Pax’s and Peter’s alternating points of view, are set against the backdrop of a near-future second U.S. civil war (likely over water rights). The tense and moving novel is an exquisite exploration of connectedness – among humans and nature – as well as a heartrending look at the impact of war on people, animals, and the earth itself. It will grab readers from its opening paragraphs and hold them in a spell until a bittersweet but triumphant ending. Jon Klassen’s muted, elegant illustrations add to the physical beauty of the singular book.  ©(KTH) 2016 Cooperative Children's Book Center   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2015

Examining new books for our records
Continuing an annual CCBC effort of over 30 years, we’ve documented the books we received in 2015 that are created by or are about people of color or from First/Native Nations.  Here are the numbers*: 

*numbers updated April 5, 2016 (additional titles came in). The commentary that follows the bulleted numbers below reflects the numbers in our original post of February 23.
  • 268 books had significant African or African American content
    • 92 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators
  • 106 books were by Black book creators

    • 14 of these had no visible African/African-American cultural content  

  • 42 books had American Indian / First Nations themes, topics, or characters
    • 18 of these were by American Indian/First Nations book creators
  • 19 books were by American Indian / First Nations authors and/or illustrators
    • 1 of these had no visible American Indian/First Nations content
  • 113 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
    • 45 of these were by Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American 
  • 175 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage 
    • 130 of these had no visible Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
  • 82 books had significant Latino content 
    • 40 of these were by Latino/a authors and/or illustrators
  • 58 books were by Latino/a authors and/or illustrators
    •  18 of these had no visible Latino content

These numbers as well as those for previous years are available on the CCBC web site.

As always, we are drawing this information from the books we receive at the CCBC. We received about 3,400 in 2015.  While we can’t read every single book from cover to cover, we do our best to determine relevant content by hands-on examination of every title.  We work to identify authors and illustrators whose books should be included in our counts from information on book jackets, websites, social media, other online sources, and sometimes the authors and illustrators themselves.

In determining “significant” content, we are referencing visibility and inclusion. This in turn brings up two important things to note about our statistics. The first is that we are regularly faced with making decisions to determine if cover art depicting racial diversity is truly representative the book itself.  Sometimes it’s easy to note a book’s content (X: A Novel), while other times making that determination presents more of a challenge (Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-five Cents).  This is also reflected in the ongoing flood of paperback series publishing, many with a primary cast that includes at least one non-white character.

The second important thing to note is that in doing our counts, we are are not evaluating any of the books for cultural substance or authenticity. We are documenting quantity, not quality.  

How do the 2015 numbers compare to previous years?  Some numbers are up slightly from last year, but from the past we know a slight upward fluctuation is not necessarily sustained in subsequent years.  A few numbers have made larger leaps, some of which we conjecture about below.  

The number of books with significant African or African American content increased by almost 50%, from 180 in 2014 to 261 in 2015.  The number of books by Black authors and/or illustrators made a more modest climb, from 84 in 2014 to 100 in 2015.  Numbers of books with First/Native Nations content or authors or illustrators, books with Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content, and books by Latino authors and illustrators stayed virtually static, while the count for Asian/Pacific heritage authors increased from 129 in 2014 to 173 in 2015, and books with Latino content rose from 66 to 82 during the same time.

While we welcome any increase in these numbers, which have stayed largely flat for decades, we also know there are several factors that are likely responsible for some of these changes. We have always received the majority of our books from mainstream U.S. trade publishers, getting most new titles annually. We also have always received some formula series non-fiction titles. In recent years, as CCBC statistics have been cited with increased frequency in the media and online discussions, we’ve begun receiving some books from publishers outside the realm of mainstream trade publishing or educational publishing who are sending titles specifically because they know we are keeping track of multicultural books. 

We are also seeing more books with “casts” of characters that are diverse, including, as noted earlier, paperback series publishing. But it extends to stand-alone trade titles, too. While white authors writing books with characters who are people of color or from First/Native Nations is nothing new (and a topic much debated and discussed), what we are seeing that is different are more books with two or three main characters, of who one – or two – are people of color.
When it comes to our numbers documenting books by authors and illustrators who are people of color or from First/Native Nations, it should be noted they include multiple books by individual authors and artists. The 100 books we noted by Black authors and illustrators, for example, do not represent the work of 100 different Black book creators. This is important to understand because part of the essential work in publishing a more diverse body of books each year for children and teenagers--books that reflect our nation's racial and ethnic diversity and the diversity of experiences within and across these dimensions of identity--is to expand the numbers of authors and artists of color and from First/Native Nations getting published.   

Of course, as noted above, not every book by every author or illustrator of color or from First/Native Nations are about those cultural experiences. This is important to keep in mind when we're considering who is writing literature reflecting diversity for children and teens. So we see, for example, that although we documented 111 books about Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, only 42 of those were written by Asian Pacific/American authors and illustrators.   That means that 68 of the 111 books (or roughly 68%) were written or illustrated by non-Asians. Author Ellen Oh recently addressed this issue in a provocative post 

A selection of the books we documented in 2015

The CCBC began documenting these statistics back in 1985. They are one piece of a much larger effort that spans a far greater number of years. It has always been led by people of color and First/Native Nations, joined by others who also know that while books matter in the lives of children and teens, what’s in them matters, too. 

 It would be wonderful to think that a day will come when we won’t need to keep track of these numbers because publishing for children and teens will have become truly representative of the cultural diversity of the audience it serves. But we aren’t there yet. Not nearly. Year after year we can point to wonderful multicultural books that come out, and year after year that heartens us. But this work also must continue.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book of the Week: My Book of Birds

My Book of Birds

by Geraldo Valério
Published by Groundwood / House of Anansi Press, 2016
60 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55498-800-6
Age 6 and older

Geraldo Valério’s lifelong love of birds inspired this enticing album of 50 North American birds, many of which he’d never seen until moving to Canada from Brazil. “Learning about birds makes me happy,” he notes in his introduction. His delight is evident and infectious on every page of this volume that combines eye-catching, colorful collage art with conversational text providing brief descriptions of each bird in language that is both appreciative and precise. “This sweet little bird is lively and curious,” he writes about the Black-capped Chickadee. Common ravens are “skilled and daring in flight.” And “if you are lucky on a summer day, you might spot the bright male Scarlet Tanager high in an eastern treetop.” The collage art of the birds with elements of their natural settings was created with recycled paper from magazines and gift wrap. Endpapers featuring eggs and feathers (not to scale, it is noted) add to the immense visual appeal, while a brief glossary and list of sources and places for more information are included along with an index in a book that is accessible in different ways for a wide range of readers. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book of the Week: Over the Ocean

Over the Ocean

by Taro Gomi
Translated from the Japanese

U.S. edition: Chronicle Books, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4521-4515-0
Ages 3-6

“What is over the ocean? Maybe there is more ocean over the ocean.” A small girl standing on the shore of a seemingly endless sea ponders what might be on the other side. Farms? Cities full of tall buildings or small houses? Kids? If so, what might they be like? Are there animals she’s never seen, or a fair with fun rides? Is there night, and stars, or a country made of ice? Maybe there’s a beach, like the one she’s standing on. And perhaps that beach has a person just like her, wondering what’s out there. The girl’s thoughts are expressed through a spare narrative paired with lush-hued, clean-lined illustrations that convey the expansiveness of her imagination, and the rich possibilities of the wider world. Every page spread is anchored by the warm teal blue of the sea and her small figure, gazing out at all she sees in her mind’s eye. “I wish I could go there,” she thinks at book’s end. And one way or another, it seems certain she will, even if only in her dreams for now. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 8, 2016

Book of the Week: How the Sun Got to Coco's House

How the Sun Got to Coco's House

by Bob Graham
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8109-8
Ages 3-6

“While Coco slept far away, the sun crept up slowly behind a hill, paused for a moment, and seemed to think twice … before it plunged down the other side and skidded giddily across the water.” Bob Graham once again displays his masterful ability to extend a small series of moments into an expansive picture book, in this case one that traverses the globe describing the journey of the sun from east to west, across artic snow and frozen tundra, touching the tip of an airplane wing, meeting rain over a desert, passing over a small village in mountains. “Then the sun leaped whole countries, chasing the night.” Eventually, the sun comes to Coco’s, following her through the house and out the door, where they spend the day together. In words and pictures, each scene conveys a stunning, soothing sense of the natural world—-usually in winter-—or an intimate snapshot of life on our planet, both animal and human, in a playful, delightful offering. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Looking Back/Looking Forward

The following is excerpted from the brief commentary on 2015 children's and young adult books that will appear in CCBC Choices 2016, our annual best-of-the-year list. The CCBC Choices 2016 booklet will be available after March 5. ( How to get a copy of CCBC Choices 2016).

Throughout the year as we read, we try to observe trends, themes, welcome surprises, and sometimes simple coincidences among the books published for children and teens. In 2015, one of the first things we couldn’t help but note as books came into the CCBC was the continued explosion in young adult fiction. Our shelves are still groaning under the weight of all that teen drama.

Among all those books were some themes and common threads. This included quite a few titles about teens with mental illness, ranging from anxiety to OCD to depression to schizophrenia, among them the National Book Award-winning Challenger Deep. This was also the year of the road trip in young adult literature. It was a device used with varying degrees of success, with The Porcupine of Truth among our favorites.

We also continue to see books that blur the lines between young adult and new adult. Taking Hold, which concludes Francisco Jiménez’s memoir cycle, follows him through graduate school at Columbia. The intriguing graphic novel Sculptor is about a fine artist in New York City. Sculptor is one of the several books we’ve included in Choices in recent years in which not only the audience but the publisher (in this case, First Second) is a crossover, with titles that are not always distinctly either young adult or adult.
There were a number of fine works of fiction for children, including one that broke new ground: the blithe and tender George, about a transgender child. It's among a few such titles, and has solid elementary-age appeal. Gender and sexuality were also given groundbreaking treatment for children in the outstanding informational book Sex Is a Funny Word.

The new baby/sibling theme in picture books seemed more abundant than usual in 2015, explored in a variety of freshly engaging ways in books such as DoubleTrouble for Anna Hibiscus, Rodeo Red, The Nesting Quilt, and The New Small Person.

The picture books we found most arresting were those tackling difficult topics with incredible honesty and sensitivity. The extraordinary Two White Rabbits speaks in the voice of a child describing things she sees on a journey with her father. Only the essential illustrations reveal they are refugees fleeing toward the U.S. / Mexico border. The moving Mama’s Nightingale is in the voice of a young girl whose mother is in prison awaiting a deportation hearing. And reassuring Yard Sale speaks in the voice of child whose family is having to sell many of their belongings.

In nonfiction, while we continued to see fewer works of literary nonfiction, especially those of substantial length, there were again singular standouts, from Symphony for the City of the Dead to Most Dangerous to Funny Bones, among others. 

Funny Bones, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, leads us into what we consider the real story when it comes to children’s and young adult literature in 2015: increased focus on and discussion about multicultural literature. Some would say this began in 2014, with the launch of the We Need Diverse Books initiative, and that group’s work is welcome and critical. But many people of color and First/Native Nations have been drawing attention to issues of race and racism in children’s literature for years, as well as to the need for more books by authors and artists of color and First/Native Nations.

The 2015 ALA children’s and young adult literature awards, recognizing books published in 2014, were notable and invigorating regarding the diversity represented in choices across the awards (rather than seeing diversity only in awards whose purpose is to recognize books by authors and artist of color and First/Native Nations). That excitement continued with the recent announcement of the 2016 ALA awards, for books published in 2015, which reflect even greater racial and cultural diversity. The choice of Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book (picture book!), for the Newbery Award, written by a Latino author with an African American protagonist and illustrator (it also received a Caldecott Award honor citation for the art), was as deserving and welcome as the choice of Crossover last year. But the good news didn’t stop with the Newbery. Across the ALA awards, this year’s list of winners and honor books is one that reflects and speaks to multiple dimensions of the identity experience.

In the year between these two award announcements, a lot was happening in children’s and young adult literature and in our nation with regard to race and racism. It’s been a hard year in so many ways. Perhaps no book captures some of this agony as well as All American Boys, a groundbreaking look at racism, police violence, and white privilege.

Late in the year, a lot of attention in the children’s and young adult literature world focused on the depiction of enslavement in the picture book A Fine Dessert. There was also conversation about references to American Indians in the historical novel The Hired Girl. Those discussions were hard, painful, and honest in ways that weren’t always easy to read. They revealed not only how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go in our field in understanding racism and working to challenge it. Yes, what’s in a book matters. Of course it does.

The recent ALA awards make us hopeful. And so do many of the books we see from week to week and month to month, whether it’s a first book by a new author of color, such as Hoodoo or Blackbird Fly or See No Color; a new and essential perspective on historical events by a First/Native Nations author, like In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse or Hiawatha and the Peacemaker; or any of the other many other wonderful titles that we receive.

Increased diversity of representation within and across racial and cultural experiences in literature for youth, and indeed across the human experience, is not an option, it’s essential. So, too, is critical thinking in how such books are made. Children and teens deserve no less.

(Check back in the next week or so for our 2015 statistics of the number of bookspublished by and about people of color, which will also appear in the Choices 2016 publication.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book of the Week: Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

by Robbie Robertson
Illustrated by David Shannon
Published by Abrams, 2015
48 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1220-3
Ages 8-11

Hiawatha is consumed by thoughts of revenge after his village is burned and his wife and children killed by Onondaga Chief Tadoaho. Then a leader called the Peacemaker convinces him that unity, not fighting, is the path to take, and asks Hiawatha to help him carry his message of peace among the nations of the Iro-quois. They travel in turn to the Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, and finally, the Onondaga. On the journey, the Peacemaker meets skepticism and anger with quiet courage and soft-spoken wisdom and his cause is championed by the Clan Mothers. Eventually, Hiawatha’s thoughts of revenge are replaced by for-giveness. He meets his former enemy with understanding, helping Tadoaho de-feat the evil that possesses him. Robbie Robertson’s emotionally rich retelling of the origin story of the Iroquois Confederacy he first heard as a child visiting his Mohawk and Cayuga relatives is vivid and compelling. Punctuating the longer narrative is a slightly varied, repeated refrain that gives the story the rhythm of a cumulative tale, this one drawn from history. A historical note explains that Hia-watha and the Peacemaker, a spiritual leader named Deganawida, are thought to have lived in the 14th century. The story is set against strong, beautifully ren-dered oil illustrations by David Shannon that respect rather than romanticize the characters.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center