Monday, March 27, 2017

Book of the Week: American Street

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi
Published by Balzer + Bray, 2017
336 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-247304-2
Age 13 and older

Fabiola Toussaint hopes to find the American dream when comes with her mother from Haiti to live with her Aunt Jo and her cousins, Chantal, Primadonna and Princess, on the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit. But when her mother is detained coming into the country, Fabiola must navigate this very different world without her. Finding her place means navigating her cousins’ vibrant yet vastly differing personalities and the sometimes gritty world in which they live while holding on to what she values most from her life in Haiti, including the spiritualism that helps her see her path. In authentic teen voices, Zoboi offers a deft, absorbing narrative that pulls the reader along at an escalating pace. Interspersing Fabiola's keen observations and an increasingly tense plot with stories of other characters, Zoboi creates a work that is as deep and rich as it is swift and compelling. Detroit, especially American Street, is not just a setting but a powerful presence in a narrative that looks at the immigrant experience and American society through an honest and unsettling lens. Fabiola’s Haitian culture and her immigrant perspective is foundational to a story infused with possibility even as it offers a thoughtful and sharp critique of the institutional racism and classism of both countries. Immigrant or not, it turns out the American dream can be all but unreachable when you’re Black and poor. ©2017 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book of the Week: Round


by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-38761-4
Ages 3-6


“I love round things,” says the young child narrator of this picture book, who goes on to give examples of round things found in nature, from the obvious (oranges, seeds) to the harder-to-find (rings on a tree stump, small butterfly eggs). Some things that don’t start out round become round with time (a mushroom grows into its curves; once-jagged rocks smooth over many years). Round can be ephemeral (bubbles, ripples in a pond) or forever (the moon and stars). “I can be round, too,” the girl says, “in a circle of friends” or curled up alone. Intimate yet expansive, the simply stated observations are childlike, even as they suggest a deep, visceral human response to roundness: the desire to touch, the feeling of being secure. Brief examples at story’s end touch on both science and aesthetics in discussing why so many things in nature are round. Ample curves in the flat, na├»ve-style illustrations (featuring bright colors with a muted, slightly retro feel) complement the quiet narrative. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book of the Week: Amina's Voice

Amina's Voice

by Hena Khan
Published by Salaam / Atheneum, 2017
208 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-9206-5
Ages 9-13

Amina is unhappy that her best friend, Soojin, has recently started inviting Emily, a classmate neither of them have ever liked, to spend time with them. At home, Amina’s family is getting ready for the visit of Thaya Jaan, her father’s older brother, from Pakistan. To impress Thaya Jaan, and support their Imam, Amina’s parents tell Amina and her older brother, Mustafa, that they must complete in their mosque’s upcoming Quran recitation competition. Mustafa, who wants his parents to let him play high school basketball, agrees willingly. But Amina suffers from serious stage fright--it’s why she never tries out for a solo in her middle school choir, despite her talent and love of singing. A swiftly paced novel showing a Muslim family and community as part of the fabric of American life also includes a hateful attack when vandals break into the mosque. No one is hurt, but the damage is great and the fear and sadness palpable. So, too, is the caring. People both within and outside Amina’s faith community offer solace, support, and help repairing the damage. This welcome story has finely developed primary and secondary characters, from Amina, Soojin, and Emily (whom initially uncertain-even-jealous Amina comes to appreciate) to Amina’s family members, including her at-first intimidating uncle, who proves to have both conservative ideas and an open mind. The novel is set in the Milwaukee-area community of Greendale. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The #OwnVoices Gap in African-American Children's Books

Since 1985, the CCBC has been keeping statistics on the number of children's books by and about African Americans. For the first two years, the numbers were dismal (just 18 books out of 2,500 published in 1985 and again in 1986).  USA Today did a story about it that included one of their handy visuals to illustrate the problem.

For the next few years we began to see an increase that was enough to make us hopeful. But that didn't last. By the mid-1990s the numbers began to plateau and they have stagnated ever since.

But a couple of years ago we began to notice a dramatic increase in the number of books about African-Americans -- it nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 (from 93 to 180), and then jumped to 265 in 2015. In 2016 we saw a small bump to 278.

We're not sure what caused this. Was it the Obama effect? (If an African American can be President, why not a book character?) Was it the call for more Black books in the New York Times editorials by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers early in 2014? Was it the impact of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement? A combination of all three?

Regardless of the cause, many saw this as a reason for celebration. But the increase in the number of books about African Americans doesn't tell the whole story. It needs to be looked at next to the number of these same books that are actually by African Americans. This graph helps to illuminate what is happening:

Graph showing children's book by and about African Americans
Click to enlarge image
We can see that there are a whole lot of books being written about African Americans these days by people who are not African American. Does it matter? It certainly can. Especially when you care about authenticity.

And, more significantly, this means we are not seeing African-American authors and artists being given the same opportunities to tell their own stories. In fact, last year just 71 of the 278 (25.5%) books about African-Americans were actually written and/or illustrated by African Americans.  The graph above shows this gap quite dramatically.

There are a few hopeful signs this year already.  An African-American artist won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for a picture book that's actually about an African-American child. This marks the first time -- ever -- that the Caldecott Medal has been awarded for a picture book that is both by and about an African-American (as opposed to animal tales or an informational book about Africa). 

We're also seeing promising debut novels this spring from African-American authors such as Linda W. Jackson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Angie Thomas and Ibi Zoboi.   But we still have a long way to go to bridge the gap between the books about and the books by African Americans.  

We don't just need more African American authors and artists being signed and nurtured by publishers, we also need white authors and artists to take a step back to make room for people to tell their own stories. Let's hope that by 2020 this graph tells a different story. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book of the Week: A Greyhound, A Groundhog

A Greyhound, a Groundhog

by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-49805-9
Ages 2-7

A round hound (a greyhound, curled up in a circle) and a round hog (or groundhog, for which roundness comes naturally, no effort or repose required) are at the center of a picture book following them from initial meeting (once the greyhound awakens) through their dizzying, delightful encounter. “A round hound, a grey dog, a round little hound dog. A grey hog, a ground dog, a hog little hound dog.” The story unfolds in a mirthful, rhyming text comprised of a limited number of words rearranged, and occasionally expanded (how many words rhyme with “round”?). The synergy between Emily Jenkins’s words and illustrator Chris Appelhans’s illustrations is superb. In the art, a muted palette on creamy white pages, grey (hound) and brown (groundhog) predominate in compositions that echo and extend the duo’s playful, sometimes frenzied interaction. There are also soft punctuations of other colors, as when butterflies appear and “astound and astound!” the two creatures. It’s waggish, waddling, tongue-twisting fun, perfect for playful, sound-rich reading aloud. (Jenkins offers a “debt of inspiration and rhythm” to Ruth Krauss’s A Very Special House.) ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center