Thursday, July 28, 2016

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books

Some of you may have already heard about the CCBC’s expanded effort in our work documenting the number of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations. This past April at a CCBC staff meeting we came up with the idea of taking a closer look at what is getting published. 

We knew we couldn’t possibly evaluate every book coming into the library in greater detail, so we decided to focus on the 2016 books in our Current Picture Book Collection (comprised of review copies from publishers).

KT Horning first wrote about the project in the Friends of the CCBC Spring 2016 newsletter:

The CCBC is well known nationally for the statistics we keep on children’s books by and about people of color. We get frequent calls and emails from the press and from university researchers about these statistics, and hardly a week goes by these days when we don’t see them quoted somewhere.  We have the statistics on our web site but when reporters and researchers contact us, they always want more. They want to go beyond the numbers. They ask about the kinds of books we’re seeing. How many contemporary? How many are about girls? How many have animal characters?

So this year we decided to be proactive, to drill down a bit with our data. For 2016 we are launching a pilot project to do a more in-depth analysis of the year’s picture books (excluding non-fiction titles, such as picture-book biographies). We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators? We’ll be able to tell you in early 2017.

That’s the project in a nutshell: metadata on picture books. Carrying it out is proving to be a time and labor-intensive initiative, as you can imagine.  It’s part of the reason we are only focusing on picture books. Giving the same amount of attention to nonfiction and children's/YA fiction would require time and staff we simply don’t have, although we would love to be able to collaborate with researchers on such work in the future.

Recently KT did a mid-year analysis of some of the findings.

Of the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1*:
  • 233 main characters human (49.4%) (may include more than one per book)
  • 192 main characters animal (40.8%)
  • 63 main characters other (13.3%) (e.g., truck, robot, dragon, fairy, zucchini, cupcake, screw, the number 3, the Statue of Liberty, a carton of milk)

Gender of main characters:
  • 168 female (39.5%)
  • 262 male (61.6%)
  • 37 unknown/unspecified (8.7%)

Race of main characters:
  • 148 White (63.5%)
  • 18 African American (7.7%)
  • 17 Asian/Pacific American (6.3%)
  • 7 Latinx (3%)
  • 2 Native American (.85%)
  • 4 Biracial (1.7%)
  • 33 Brown-skinned, ethnicity uclear (14.2%)
  • 23 Multicultural cast (no primary character) (9.9%)

Other statistics about the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1:

  • 4 have main characters with disabilities
  • 1 LGBTQ+ main character
  • 1 Muslim main character
  • 105 show secondary diversity (in crowd/family scenes)
  • 59 have an all-white cast of characters)
  • 45 (9.5%) are by first-time authors, with 5 of these by authors of color
  • 33 (7%) are by debut illustrators, with 3 of these by illustrators of color
(The assessment of first books will be an interesting statistic in terms of who is and isn't getting published.)

In addition to the numbers, there is also a lot to observe in taking a closer look, from ethnic or racialized non-human characters to other ways religion, culture and ethnicity are presented or explored.

The data we are collecting will have a lot to say about--and to comment on--regarding picture book publishing in general, and the publishing of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations in particular. Stay tuned!

*Totals/percentages equal more than 100 percent within and across some categories because of overlap. For example, a book can have more than one main character; a character can be both non-human and gendered, etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books about Books

Anyone who has ever been to the CCBC knows the space isn’t vast. (We loved the vision of first-time visitor Margarita Engle on her trip here to accept the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for Drum Dream Girl:  “I pictured a whole building!” Wouldn’t that be nice?). 

But we try to make good use of the physical space we do have—a more expansive space since our move to a new home in the Teacher Education Building on the UW-Madison campus two summers ago. With that moved we gained not only work space we’d never had before (there are stories), but more shelf space, too.

Most of that shelf space is devoted to books published for children and teens—a Current Collection of the newly published books we receive for hands-on book examination by Wisconsin librarians and others; a curated Basic Collection of recommended books across years and decades that we draw on heavily in our work with education and library school students and Wisconsin teachers; a small Historical Collection.  But we also have a collection of books about books for children and teens; in CCBC parlance, our Reference Collection.

Among recent additions to our Reference Collection are:

The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books (ALA Editions, 2016). This edition’s timely introductory essay is “It’s All Political: Books, Awards, and Librarianship,” by 2016 Newbery Award Committee member Allie Jane Bruce, talking about things she’s encouraged by and things she hopes for as the Association for Library Service to Children (which administers the Newbery and Caldecott awards) and our profession as a whole address the challenges and responsibilities of providing culturally sensitive and culturally competent book evaluation and librarianship.

Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs (ALA Editions, 2016).  This is such a common question for librarians—what books can you suggest for a young child who is reading far beyond their age or grade?  Opening chapters discussing the characteristics of early readers and what makes a good book for early readers leads into the chapter-by-chapter genre suggestions which include both old favorites (Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White) and new classics (Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke).  

Picture This : How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary edition (Chronicle Books, 2016). With the first edition of this essential work out of print, I was thrilled to see this new edition. It is a striking and accessible look at visual literacy for both creators, including young artists, and those looking at art. This edition includes new content (e.g., a discussion of emotions in art using Bang’s picture book When Sophie Gets Angry…Really, Really Angry).

Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures by Jane
McCloskey (Seapoint, 2011). If I had a coffee table, this book would be on it.  Robert McCloskey’s younger daughter, Jane, discusses her father’s life in a personal, conversational narrative accompanied by some of her father's sketches, paintings and illustrations. Although the artwork isn’t abundant—some page spreads are all text—the design is lovely and it’s the kind of book one can imagine getting lost in (in which case the nightstand might be a better place—but it’s a little large….)

These four new additions to the Reference Collection join many other books, from selection tools like Children’s Catalog to children’s and young adult  literature textbooks to numerous resources about multicultural literature, intellectual freedom, graphic novels, international literature, and more. From picture books to young adult literature, scholarly critiques to hands-on reading guidance, we try to build this relatively limited collection with the interest of assisting both researchers and library and education students and practitioners.  We’ve gone to online editions of a few resources, something being part of the university make technically easier, if no less costly.  But there is nothing quite like working on a reference question and being able to get up, go to the Reference shelves, and browse…

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Toshi's Little Treasures

Toshi’s Little Treasures

by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Aki
Translated by Yvette Ghione from the French

Published by U.S. edition: Kids Can Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-77138-673-2
Ages 3-7

A picture book homage to the love of collecting shared by many children is full of small treasures and small pleasures. Whenever Toshi and his grandma take a walk, Toshi collects things that interest him (e.g., a marble, a magnolia blossom, an acorn, a guitar pick, the tab from a soda can, a cricket casing). Expansive double-page spreads show each place they visit (river, town, forest, country, park, beach), with the many objects Toshi will eventually pick up scattered and labeled throughout the scene. Alternating spreads feature two single pages, one showing everything Toshi collected, the other showing objects that relate to the items (e.g., a pink magnolia tree, a guitar, a soda can), inviting readers to find the match for each of Toshi’s treasures (answers, if needed, are in the back). There’s so much to pour over, notice and love in this picture book, including the relationship between Toshi and his grandma. It turns out she also collected as a child—and still does! A delicate touch and skillful use of white space and makes illustrations full of colorful objects and detailed scenes feel uncluttered. Toshi and his grandmother are Japanese. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book of the Week: The Borden Murders

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century

by Sarah Miller
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2016
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-49808-0
Age 12 and older

This arresting work doesn’t answer the question of whether Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892, because there isn’t enough factual information to support a definitive response. Instead, it lays out the evidence and arguments used by both Lizzie’s prosecutors and her defense team. Drawing on court transcripts from the Borden trial and other primary and secondary source material, Miller’s chronological account begins with Lizzie’s discovery of her father’s body and moves forward in gripping detail from the first hours, when it seems suspicion first fell on Lizzie; through subsequent days, weeks and months; through the trial and the jury’s eventual verdict of not guilty. It also offers a fascinating look at the role the media played in public perceptions and opinions, which shifted throughout events and were influenced by class and gender. Steps and missteps on the part of Lizzie, witnesses, police and others makes for gripping reading but also humanizes all involved. Lizzie spent the rest of her life in Fall River, neither a recluse nor attention monger, living with the sister who stood by her until a sudden estrangement later in their lives. Did she or didn’t she? The court of public opinion remains undecided. Two sections of black-and-white photographs (none gruesome), and detailed source notes and resources round out a book that invites and demands spirited discussion. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book of the Week: Little Red

Little Red

by Bethan Woollvin
Published by U.S. edition: Peachtree, 2016
28 pages
ISBN: 978-1-56145-917-9
Ages 4-8

Little Red sets off through the forest to her Grandma’s house in a tale that will not be unfamiliar to some children, at least at its outset. In the forest, Little Red meets a wolf, who growls and asks where she’s going. “Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.” Little Red, it turns out, is not only brave, but she’s smart—she’s not about to be fooled or eaten by a wolf in Grandma’s clothing. (Grandma, unfortunately, meets her demise.) A droll, fresh, spirited, singular retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” gives Little Red both the axe and the agency. “Which was unlucky for the wolf.” It’s fun and it’s bold and it’s distinctively designed and illustrated, with thick-lined gouache and digital art in black, white, gray and, of course, red. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 4, 2016

Book of the Week: Burn Baby Burn

Burn Baby Burn

by Meg Medina
Published by Candlewick Press, 2016
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7467-0
Age 13 and older

Nora L√≥pez is finishing high school uncertain about the future. Encouraged to apply to the New York City Community College trades program, she can’t imagine being able to go when her mom, Mima, struggles to pay the rent. When recent murders of young, dark-haired women in the city turn out to be the actions of a serial killer, who begins writing letters to the press signed “Son of Sam,” the growing tension and fear is tangible. It pulses through Nora’s Queens neighborhood and the city like the disco rhythms and intense heat so prevalent that early summer of 1977. And it explodes into looting following the citywide blackout, but the more pressing danger for Nora is at home, where her younger brother, Hector, is increasingly violent and out of control. Cuban-born Mima says Hector is just a boy in need of a good girl to help him settle down. Mima’s sexism and blinders infuriate Nora, but Nora is also too ashamed to tell her best friend, her boyfriend, her caring boss at the market, teachers, or anyone else what’s happening. Son of Sam is caught, almost anticlimactically, even as the threat in Nora’s personal life escalates. An exceptional novel captures the textures and turbulence of time and place and the complexities of Nora’s relationships vividly. Even before Son of Sam is arrested, it’s becoming clear that community rather than family is Nora’s greatest source safety, while her own resilience her greatest strength, especially once she breaks her silence. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center