Monday, February 26, 2018

Book of the Week: Voices in the Air

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

by Naomi Shihab Nye
Published by Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2018
190 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-269184-2
Age 11 and older

“Can we go outside and listen?” Naomi Nye ponders in her introduction. Or stay in. Reflect. Pay. Attention. If we do we’ll find there is no such thing as a too-small moment or memory. The poems here range topically from the treatment of Palestinians (grief), to Ferguson, where Nye grew up (more grief), to the way genuine connection uplifts her. Many poets and writers are introduced across the poems—some in dedications, some in the poems themselves—and further illuminated in Nye’s brief, personal comments at volume’s end. Nye is, above all, a poet of hope and heartening. In “Mountains,” she writes about Jesse, a young man of 21 who was once a 6-year-old child in one of her poetry workshops. “It was my Best Day!” he tells her, and wonders how he can get back to that feeling. “... You knew the truth / when you were six that your street was magical / and full of mountains / though it was utterly flat. / You wrote about the rooster’s songs / and the dog’s barkingful wonder. / You wrote Who do you think I am am am? / And knew instinctively it was more powerful to say / “am” / three times than one— / You are still that person.” Go Jesse. Thank you, Naomi. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, February 22, 2018

CCBC 2017 Multicultural Statistics

This post is adapted from  "Publishing in 2017: A Few Observations," an essay that will appear in the forthcoming CCBC Choices 2018 publication.

Brown-skinned characters
Diversity and representation are on the minds of many in publishing for youth. One of the things that stood out for us in 2017 books, especially picture books, was the presence of the brown-skinned child. Although we noted this last year, in 2017 it was even more pronounced. We are referring not to books that are specifically and authentically African American, or Asian/Pacific, or American Indian/First Nations, or Latinx, but rather books in which a character has brown skin and is of unspecified race or ethnicity, with no visible cultural markers in either the story or the art.

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? It's hard to make a broad statement either way. What we will say is that visibility is critical, and so, too, is authenticity. The question of whether books with ethnically ambiguous, brown-skinned characters offer children what scholar Rudine Sims Bishop refers to as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors is one we would love to see studied. In the meantime, when we're feeling optimistic, we hope that these brown-skinned characters are publishing's short-term response to the need for greater diversity in the books they publish, one that will eventually be replaced by more culturally specific and authentic works by an ever-growing number of diverse authors and illustrators.

CCBC 2017 Statistics on Multicultural Literature

We continue to document the number of books by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations that we receive each year. To do so, we examine every book that we receive at the library, doing additional research when needed to try to determine whether a book, and/or its creator, should be counted in our annual statistics.

Of the approximately 3,700 books we received at the CCBC in 2017, most from U.S. publishers, here's the breakdown:

  • 340 had significant African or African American content/characters.
    • 100 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators. (29.41% #OwnVoices)
  • 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters.
    • 38 of these were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators. (52.78% #OwnVoices)
  • 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters.
    • 122 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. (39.35% #OwnVoices)
  • 216 had significant Latinx content/characters.
    • 73 of these were by Latinx authors and/or illustrators. (33.8% #OwnVoices)

(The numbers will change slightly as we continue to receive a stray title or two. Check our website for up-to-date statistics, including the numbers for books from U.S. publishers only, and more on what and how we count.)

As always, these numbers are solely a reflection of how many books we received and have nothing to do with quality or authenticity of representation, which varies widely. It should also be noted that the number of book creators in each category does not represent that many individuals, as many authors and illustrators were involved in the creation of two or more books.

In addition, many book creators of color are writing and/or illustrating books without cultural content that reflects their own backgrounds. Among the 3,700 books we received in 2017, we counted 22 books by Black authors and illustrators; 0 books by American Indian/First Nations authors; 152 books by authors and illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage; and 43 books by Latinx authors and illustrators that did not reflect the cultural origins of their creators.

The unspecified brown-skinned characters we noted across many picture books are not included in the numbers of books "about," although we have tracked these books separately. All book creators we were able to identify are included in the number of books "by."

In 2016 we began what we are calling a "deep dive" into picture books, and we continued that work with the 2017 publishing year (excluding books that are classified as nonfiction). The deep dive analysis also looks at other dimensions of representation, including gender, religion, (dis)ability, and LGBTQ. The results have made for some stunning--and unsettling--comparisons.

For example, an early-November analysis of the 698 picture books we'd received so far in 2017 from U.S. publishers revealed:
  • A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child.
  • A character in a picture book was 2 times more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American child.
  • A female character in a picture book was highly likely to be wearing pink and/or a bow, even if she is a hippopotamus, an ostrich, or a dinosaur.
  • A child with a disability appeared in only 21 picture books, and only 2 of those were main characters. Most others appeared in background illustrations.
We will continue to evaluate the data for the 2017 publishing year in the coming weeks and will post additional information on this blog. At the same time, we are expanding our diversity analysis in 2018 to include a deep dive into all of the books we receive: picture books, fiction, and nonfiction.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book of the Week: Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Published by Scholastic Press, 2018
191 pages
ISBN: 978-1-338-18061-9
Age 3 and older

Marvelous visual storytelling and spare, lively word choice make this winsome novel a success for preschoolers. (Yes, you read that right.) Baby Monkey, Private Eye is on the case, or rather, five cases, each unfolding in a similar pattern: A client arrives (opera singer, pizza chef, clown, astronaut, mystery woman) with a problem (stolen jewels, stolen pizza, stolen nose, stolen spaceship, missing baby). Baby Monkey looks for clues, writes notes, eats a healthy snack, puts on his pants, and solves the mystery. The humor reaches its peak in each chapter over three almost wordless double-page spreads in which Baby Monkey, always expressive, struggles to put on a pair of jeans (so many holes to figure out!). The discovery of the culprit in each of the first four cases would be anticlimactic were it not so silly, while the fifth case reaches a resolution worthy of the best warmly reassuring stories. The patterned narrative and engaging storyline will delight young children, while the overall design and layout also makes this a great choice for beginning readers. Appealing black-and-white illustrations feature an abundance of laughs for older kids, too, including visual references to many famous figures and works of art identified in a key at book’s end. The end matter also includes a hilarious index (“Coat, trench,” “Nose, red rubber”) and faux bibliography. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 12, 2018

Book of the Week: The Funeral

The Funeral

by Matt James
Published by Groundwood Books /
House of Anansi Press, 2018
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55498-908-9

Ages 4-8

“Norma was practicing her sad face in front of her parents’ mirror.” Going to the funeral of her great-uncle Frank isn’t sad for young Norma: She gets to miss a day of school and see her younger cousin, Ray. The story’s wonderful details, as when Norma explores the contents of her mother’s purse at church, are so authentic they feel familiar. So, too, is the fact that Norma finds the service boring (“And oh, how looong they sat on those hard seats, with all that talk about God and souls, and not very much talk about Uncle Frank.”). Ray asks, “Is Uncle Frank still a person?” Norma has no answer. The wonderful mixed-media art, a blend of full-page and sequential images, shows adults around Norma often somber-faced, sometimes hugging or crying. It also exquisitely conveys the sense of release Norma feels when she and Ray are able to escape the sober atmosphere to play outside. Norma is not grief-stricken and that’s perfectly fine in this remarkably honest picture book. Still, she is not unaffected. After pausing to consider a photo of great-uncle Frank, Norma tells her mom, “I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral.” ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 5, 2018

Book of the Week: Betty Before X

Betty Before X

by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renée Watson
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-374-30610-6
Ages 8-12

Ilyasah Shabazz’s fictionalized account of her mother’s childhood, written with Renée Watson, emphasizes Betty’s resilience and compassion, showing signs of the remarkable woman she would become, as the wife of Malcolm X and in her own right. Abused and unwanted by her biological mother, young Betty spends the first six years of her life in the loving care of her aunt Fannie Mae in Georgia. Following Fannie Mae’s death, Betty joins her mother, Ollie Mae, and Ollie Mae’s husband and children in Detroit. In the late 1940s, Betty is a young teenager who loves and is loved by her younger sisters but mistreated by Ollie Mae. Betty eventually finds a home with Mrs. and Mr. Malloy, members of her church. Mrs. Malloy is active in the Housewives’ League, an organization that encourages African Americans to boycott businesses that refuse to hire them. When Betty joins the League as a junior member, her identity as an activist begins to emerge, and she gains a sharper—and painful—understanding of racism and oppression, as well as of the diversity of opinions within her community. Some, like Betty’s friend Phyllis, strongly oppose the League’s methods of effecting change. Through it all, Betty delights in friendship and chosen family, while her relationship with Ollie Mae is contentious yet slowly evolving. Notes about 1940s Detroit, the characters, and the supportive Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church community are included. (MCT)  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center