Monday, February 27, 2017

Book of the Week: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-58650-5
Age 13 and older

High school senior Sal(vador) Silva was 3 when his mom died. Adopted by Vicente, his mom’s best friend, the love between father and son is palpable. Sal’s best friend, Sam(antha) Diaz, has a single mom so wrapped up in her own life that Sam feels like an afterthought. Sal’s friend Fito works two jobs to save money for college and to escape his family of addicts. Sal has a good life and he knows it. So why is he suddenly full of rage? He lashes out even before he learns that Mima, his grandmother, is dying. Mima means the world to Sal, his dad, and their extended Mexican American family, in which it’s never mattered that Sal is white. Sal worries his instinct to respond with his fists—to a whispered a slur about his dad, who is gay, or to a boy who treats Sam badly—is a trait from the birth father he’s never known or cared to find out about. It makes the letter his dad has given him, which his mom wrote for him before she died, too scary to open. Several explosive events disrupt the shifting currents of daily life in a deeply felt story graced with moments of humor. Exquisitely realized and genuine, it’s about living and struggling and loss and regret. It’s about changing relationships and growing up and friendshp. It’s about the power of language. Above all, it’s about expansiveness of the words “love” and “family.” ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book of the Week: Giant Squid

Giant Squid

by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Published by A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978–1–59643–599–5
Ages 6-11

Giant squids lives so deep in the ocean that few have ever been seen. Scientists have had to piece together a complete picture based on just parts of the creatures that have been found, mostly inside sperm whales caught by fisherman. Candace Fleming’s haunting narrative captures the mystery and the majesty of this amazing animal, once thought to be a sea monster. The moody realistic illustrations create a strong sense of being deep undersea, and include a stunning double-fold-out page showing a giant squid reemerging from the shadows of the murky ink it has shot to protect itself from a barracuda. An author’s note provides more information, including fascinating tidbits such as the fact that there are more photographs of Mars than of giant squid. Honor Book, 2017 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016

This post is adapted from  "Publishing in 2016: A Few Observations," an essay that will appear in the forthcoming CCBC Choices 2017 publication.

The CCBC has been documenting the number of books published by and about people of color and First/Native Nations book creators in various ways for 32 years.  For the first nine years, we only documented books by and about Africans and African Americans. Beginning in 1994, we began documenting and counting books by and about Africans and African Americans, Asian Pacifics and Asian Pacific Americans, First/Native Nations individuals, and Latinos.  (More about what we count and how we count.)

The slips designed and used by CCBC librarian Merri Lindgren for books to log and count.

Of the approximately 3,400 books we received at the CCBC in 2016, most from U.S. publishers, here’s the breakdown*:

  • 278 books had significant African or African American content
    • 71 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators
  • 92 books were by Black authors and/or illustrators 
    • 21 of these had no visible African/African American cultural content)

  • 237 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
    • 75 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
  • 212 bookswere by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
    • 137 of these had no visible Asian/Pacific cultural content
  • 55 books had significant First/Native Nations content
    • 21 of these were by First/Native Nations authors and/or illustrators
  •  22 books were by First/Native Nations authors and/or illustrators
    • 1 of these had no visible First/Native Nations content

  • 166 books had significant Latino content 
    • 58 of these were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
  • 101 books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
    • 43 of these had no visible cultural content  

(*As always, it’s important to note that these numbers are solely a reflection of quantity--or lack thereof--and have nothing to do with quality, which, as with everything we receive, varies widely. Additionally, the number of books "by" does not refelect the number of individual book creators in each category, as a number of authors and illustrators created multiple books. Finally, the numbers will change slightly as we continue to receive a stray title or two. Check the statistics on our statistics on our web site for up-to-date numbers, including a breakdown by U.S. publishers only.)

Brown-skinned Daniel.
As part of the CCBC’s ongoing work around diversity in children’s and young adult literature, 2016 marked the start of a new project for us: a diversity analysis of the picture books we receive. We haven’t quite completed the work of looking at 2016 titles in depth (that will be a future post), but, anecdotally, we can say this: in picture books featuring humans (as opposed to animals or inanimate objects) as principle characters, the default is still to whiteness (that is, white characters). Having said that, we can also say that a definite trend is to make some main characters brown-skinned, with no identifiable culture or cultural content to the stories. While this cannot and should not be seen as a substitute for books with cultural content, it is not unwelcome when care is taken to avoid stereotypes in representation. (A future post will discuss how we evaluate these books in terms of our counts.)

It was also, thanks in part but not whole to Canadian publishers distributing in the United States, an unusually bountiful year for outstanding Native picture books, including My Heart Fills with Happiness, Leah’s Mustache Party, The Owl and the Lemming, Thunder Boy Jr., and We Are Not Alone, among others.

The #OwnVoices movement was one of the most important developments of 2016 for all of us who care about books for children and teens. The hashtag, coined by author and disability advocate Corinne Duyvis (On the Edge of Gone), promotes the importance of books created by cultural insiders to the identity experience they portray. It’s an idea that is both common sense and radical, and one that underscores the importance, too, of publishers seeking out new talent. Among the debuts of new authors of color we appreciated in 2016 are The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall.

Two broad categories--Asian/Pacifics and Latinos--saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both "by" and "about." The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped. Those mixed numbers reflect our mixed feelings: It’s both an both an exciting and frustrating time for multicultural literature advocates. Some of the excitement is familiar. Each and every year, there are wonderful new books. Among the many 2016 titles we’re eager to share with librarians and teachers across Wisconsin and beyond are Ghost, Makoons, Outrun the Moon, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, and many others. Some of the excitement is a direct result of social media providing wider visibility to the current era of this advocacy work, giving the voices of people of color and First/Native Nations and their allies in the world of children’s and young adult literature greater reach.

The frustration is familiar, however. It’s explained by the fact that, overall, the numbers that haven’t changed drastically in the 32 years we’ve been counting.  It’s explained by the fact that the conversations we are having now, about the importance of multicultural literature, about the importance of publishing books by authors and artists of color and First/Native Nations, about the importance of calling out racism in books for youth, still need to take place. And it’s explained by the fact that these conversations have been going on in one form or venue or another for well over 70 years.

The field of children’s and young adult literature is not removed from our society as a whole, so the fact that we are still having these conversations is, on the one hand, no surprise. But it’s also a field in which so many of us, from authors and artists to editors and publishers to librarians and teachers, believe in the power of books and reading to change the world.

We are dreamers and we are doers, and we can change the world by showing all children that they are seen, and valued, and respected, book by book. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book of the Week: Book Uncle and Me

Book Uncle and Me

by Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Published by Groundwood, 2016
149 pages
ISBN: 978–1–55498–808–2
Ages 7-10

Nine-year-old Yasmin visits Book Uncle’s Lending Library, located on a street corner near her apartment, every day. He calls her his Number One Patron. She usually borrows longer books, so the day Book Uncle suggests a picture book, she’s disappointed but politely accepts it. After she reads the story, about doves trapped in a hunter’s net working together to free themselves, she finds she can’t stop thinking about it. “How strange that such a skinny book can leave so many questions in my mind.” When Book Uncle is told by the city that he must shut down his library because he has no permit and can’t afford one, Yasmin is devastated. Then she’s determined. Together with her friends she draws attention to Book Uncle’s plight during the mayoral campaign, challenging the candidates to support Book Uncle and literacy, and finding out in the process that the current mayor was behind the lending library’s closure (he wanted to clean up the streets before his daughter’s marriage at a nearby fancy hotel). Engaging, child-centered, and often funny, this easy chapter book set in a large Indian city is also a primer in community activism for young children. ©2017 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, February 6, 2017

Book of the Week: Watched


by Marina Budhos
Published by Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, 2016
265 pages
ISBN: 978–0–553–53418–4)
Age 13 and older

When Naeem is caught shoplifting, it further jeopardizes his already tenuous hope of graduating high school. Then he’s offered a deal by police: spy on other Muslims in New York City and he won’t be charged. In fact, they’ll pay him for information. It could even become a real job. Naeem is both enticed and repulsed by the offer. He wants to help his family, and the cops make him feel like he’s special, but he hates the idea of spying, and he hates that he doesn’t think he has a choice. When Naeem encounters Ibrahim, a boy he hasn’t seen in awhile, he realizes Ibrahim fits the officers’ “lone wolf” profile: he’s angry, isolated, and has been reading radical Islamic web sites. Naeem reluctantly reports him then becomes more and more uncomfortable as another operative steps in and further fuels Ibrahim’s anger. Isn’t this entrapment? Naeem feels trapped, too, in this taut, timely novel that addresses complex realities, from Islamophobia and police coercion to radicals who prey on Muslim youth feeling disillusioned, disconnected, and hopeless. Details of Naeem’s daily life, his worries about school, his relationship with family members, friends, and others within and beyond the diverse Muslim community, ground this riveting work in even greater poignancy and realism, while the author’s note provides background information on the truths behind this work of fiction. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center