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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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1. Review of the Day: Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant ChildRadiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
By Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown & Co.
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-21388-2
Ages 5 and up
On shelves October 25th

True Story: I’m working the children’s reference desk of the Children’s Room at 42nd Street of New York Public Library a couple years ago and a family walks in. They go off to read some books and eventually the younger son, I’d say around four years of age, approaches my desk. He walks right up to me, looks me dead in the eye, and says, “I want all your Javaka Steptoe books.” Essentially this child was a living embodiment of my greatest dream for mankind. I wish every single kid in America followed that little boy’s lead. Walk up to your nearest children’s librarian and insist on a full fledged heaping helping of Javaka. Why? Well aside from the fact that he’s essentially children’s book royalty (his father was the groundbreaking African-American picture book author/illustrator John Steptoe) he’s one of the most impressive / too-little-known artists working today. But that little boy knew him and if his latest picture book biography “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” is even half as good as I think it is, a whole host of children will follow suit. But don’t take my word for it. Take that four-year-old boy’s. That kid knew something good when he saw it.

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he will make himself a KING.” That boy is an artist already, though not famous yet. In his house he colors on anything and everything within reach. And the art he makes isn’t pretty. It’s, “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” His mother encourages him, teaches him, and gives him an appreciation for all the art in the world. When he’s in a car accident, she’s the one who hands him Gray’s Anatomy to help him cope with what he doesn’t understand. Still, nothing can help him readily understand his own mother’s mental illness, particularly when she’s taken away to live where she can get help. All the same, that boy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, shows her his art, and with determination he grows up, moves to Manhattan, and starts his meteoric rise in the art scene. All this so that when, at long last, he’s at the top of his game, it’s his mother who sits on the throne at his art shows. Additional information about Basquiat appears at the back of the book alongside a key to the motifs in his work, an additional note from Steptoe himself on what Basquiat’s life and work can mean to young readers, and a Bibliography.

radiantchild2Javaka Steptoe apparently doesn’t like to make things easy for himself. If he wanted to, he could illustrate all the usual African-American subjects we see in books every year. Your Martin Luther Kings and Rosa Parks and George Washington Carvers. So what projects does he choose instead? Complicated heroes who led complicated lives. Artists. Jimi Hendrix and guys like that. Because for all that kids should, no, MUST know who Basquiat was, he was an adult with problems. When Steptoe illustrated Gary Golio’s bio of Hendrix (Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow) critics were universal in their praise. And like that book, Steptoe ends his story at the height of Basquiat’s fame. I’ve seen some folks comment that the ending here is “abrupt” and that’s not wrong. But it’s also a natural high, and a real time in the man’s life when he was really and truly happy. When presenting a subject like Basquiat to a young audience you zero in on the good, acknowledge the bad in some way (even if it’s afterwards in an Author’s Note), and do what you can to establish precisely why this person should be mentioned alongside those Martin Luther Kings, Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carvers.

There’s this moment in the film Basquiat when David Bowie (playing Andy Warhol) looks at some of his own art and says off-handedly, “I just don’t know what’s good anymore.” I have days, looking at the art of picture books when I feel the same way. Happily, there wasn’t a minute, not a second, when I felt that way about Radiant Child. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Do you know what one of the most difficult occupations to illustrate a picture book biography about is? Artist. Because right from the start the illustrator of the book is in a pickle. Are you going to try to replicate the art of this long dead artist? Are you going to grossly insert it into your own images, even if the book isn’t mixed media to begin with? Are you going to try to illustrate the story in that artist’s style alone, relegating images of their actual art to the backmatter? Steptoe addresses all this in his Note at the back of the book. As he says, “Instead of reproducing or including copies of real Basquiat paintings in this book, I chose to create my own interpretations of certain pieces and motifs.” To do this he raided Basquiat’s old haunts around NYC for discarded pieces of wood to paint on. The last time I saw this degree of attention paid to painting on wood in a children’s book was Paul O. Zelinsky’s work on Swamp Angel. In Steptoe’s case, his illustration choice works shockingly well. Look how he manages to give the reader a sense of perspective when he presents Picasso’s “Guernica” at an angle, rather than straight on. Look how the different pieces of wood, brought together, fit, sometimes including characters on the same piece to show their closeness, and sometimes painting them on separate pieces as a family is broken apart. And the remarkable thing is that for all that it’s technically “mixed-media”, after the initial jolt of the art found on the title page (a full wordless image of Basquiat as an adult surrounded by some of his own imagery) you’re all in. You might not even notice that even the borders surrounding these pictures are found wood as well.

radiantchild1The precise age when a child starts to feel that their art is “not good” anymore because it doesn’t look realistic or professional enough is relative. Generally it happens around nine or ten. A book like Radiant Child, however, is aimed at younger kids in the 6-9 year old range. This is good news. For one thing, looking at young Basquiat vs. older Basquiat, it’s possible to see how his art is both childlike and sophisticated all at once. A kid could look at what he’s doing in this book and think, “I could do that!” And in his text, Steptoe drills into the reader the fact that even a kid can be a serious artist. As he says, “In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells.” No bones about it.

How much can a single picture book bio do? Pick a good one apart and you’ll see all the different levels at work. Steptoe isn’t just interested in celebrating Basquiat the artist or encouraging kids to keep working on their art. He also notes at the back of the book that the story of Basquiat’s relationship with his mother, who suffered from mental illness, was very personal to him. And so, Basquiat’s mother remains an influence and an important part of his life throughout the text. You might worry, and with good reason, that the topic of mental illness is too large for a biography about someone else, particularly when that problem is not the focus of the book. How do you properly address such an adult problem (one that kids everywhere have to deal with all the time) while taking care to not draw too much attention away from the book’s real subject? Can that even be done? Sacrifices, one way or another, have to be made. In Radiant Child Steptoe’s solution is to show Jean-Michel within the lens of his art’s relationship to his mother. She talks to him about art, takes him to museums, and encourages him to keep creating. When he sees “Guernica”, it’s while he’s holding her hand. And because Steptoe has taken care to link art + mom, her absence is keenly felt when she’s gone. The book’s borders go a dull brown. Just that single line “His mother’s mind is not well” says it succinctly. Jean-Michel is confused. The kids reading the book might be confused. But the feeling of having a parent you are close to leave you . . . we can all relate to that, regardless of the reason. It’s just going to have a little more poignancy for those kids that have a familiarity with family members that suffer mental illnesses. Says Steptoe, maybe with this book those kids can, “use Basquiat’s story as a catalyst for conversation and healing.”

That’s a lot for a single picture book biography to take on. Yet I truly believe that Radiant Child is up to the task. It’s telling that in the years since I became a children’s librarian I’ve seen a number of Andy Warhol biographies and picture books for kids but the closest thing I ever saw to a Basquiat bio for children was Life Doesn’t Frighten Me as penned by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel. And that wasn’t even really a biography! For a household name, that’s a pretty shabby showing. But maybe it makes sense that only Steptoe could have brought him to proper life and to the attention of a young readership. In such a case as this, it takes an artist to display another artist. Had Basquiat chosen to create his own picture book autobiography, I don’t think he could have done a better job that what Radiant Child has accomplished here. Timely. Telling. Overdue.

On shelves October 25th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

Professional Reviews:  A star from Kirkus

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2. Press Release Fun: A Curious George Documentary on the Horizon

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.01.08 PM

Documentary Following Curious George Creators Hans A. & Margret Rey Announced – Ema Ryan Yamazaki Directorial Debut

New York City, NY – July 26, 2016 – In celebration of the world’s most beloved monkey, who turns seventy-five years old this year, filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki announces the first ever mixed-media documentary about Curious George. Monkey Business delves into the extraordinary lives of Hans and Margret Rey, the authors of the beloved Curious George children’s books. The Reys were of German-Jewish descent and narrowly escaped the Nazis on makeshift bicycles they rode across Europe, carrying the yet-to-be-published Curious George manuscript with them.

To tell this remarkable story, Yamazaki obtained exclusive rights from the Rey’s estate, curated by longtime caretaker to Margret Rey, Ley Lee Ong, gaining access to the over 300 boxes of the Reys’ personal archives at the de Grummond Collection, housed at the University of Southern Mississippi. Through a unique and Rey-inspired technique of animation, as well as archival photographs, the documentary tells the story of the couple’s lives, the birth of George and how the well-loved children’s book character almost didn’t come to fruition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Universal hold the publishing and merchandising rights to the literary and cultural icon, but it is Yamazaki who has been entrusted with documenting this inspiring story of perseverance, adventure, family and what it means to be a world citizen.

Monkey Business: The Curious Adventures of George’s Creators is Yamazaki’s directorial debut, after amassing an impressive editing credit list including collaborations with seasoned storyteller, Sam Pollard (When The Levees Broke). Marc Levin (Chicagoland) is onboard as Executive Producer.

Yamazaki, who claims Japan, the UK and New York as three unique homes, was inspired by the Rey’s journey and philosophy of living. She felt a kinship with the married authors of German-Jewish descent who were also multinationals having made homes in Brazil, Paris and ultimately New York City. With immigration and refugee-crises at the center of current and urgent international debate, Monkey Business reminds us that we are all world-citizens, searching for and deserving of a home.

To fund the post-production costs of Monkey Business, Yamazaki is running an ambitious Kickstarter campaign, releasing timeless original Curious George prints and digital archive downloads as rewards. The Kickstarter is also intended to be an invitation to the world-community to find inspiration in Hans and Margret Rey’s story. How curiosity & imagination gave them the power to overcome life’s greatest challenges. The link to the Kickstarter, which includes personal testimony by Yamazaki about the making of the film, can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1344946756/curious-george-documentary?ref=filmpress

ABOUT EMA RYAN YAMAZAKI (Director)

Raised in Japan and England and currently based in New York, Ema has always loved telling stories – first as a dancer, and now as a filmmaker. She has directed documentaries such as MONK BY BLOOD and NEITHER HERE NOR THERE that have been seen around the world. As an editor, Ema’s work has screened on HBO, PBS, CNN at Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, among others.

MARC LEVIN (Executive Producer)

In his 30+ years as an independent filmmaker, Marc has won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the Camera D’Or at Cannes, National Emmys and duPont-Columbia Awards. His work includes SLAM, HEIR TO AN EXECUTION, and the  BRICK CITY TV-series.

JACOB KAFKA (Animator)

The son of a rabbi and a seismologist, Jacob grew up in Massachusetts and has been making movies since he was five years old. His animated short films BASED ON A TRUE STORY and COLD FEET have played in festivals such as TIFF Kids, Woodstock Film Festival, Animation Block Party, ASIFA-East Animation Festival, and been featured on Cartoon Brew. He developed the animation software “RoughAnimator” for mobile devices, which has been used by thousands of animators around the world.

Photo Credits:

“Colored marker drawing of Curious George on flip chart”, H.A. and Margret Rey Collection, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, University of Southern Mississippi libraries

Hans & Margret Rey, Photo Credit Penny Stearns Palmer

Director Ema Ryan Yamazaki, Photo credit Adam Gundershimer

———————————————
Annie Bush

Curious George Doc title design.png

For More Information:
Annie Bush
annie@pro4use.com

 
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3. I’m So Vain, I Probably Think This Book Is About Me

B.BirdToday we’re going to talk about what happens when your name is so common, it shows up in children’s books willy-nilly without actually having anything to do with YOU.  Which is to say, me.

I took my name willingly.  No parent in their right mind should name a child “Betsy Bird” after all.  When I met my future husband it was, I will admit, one of the first things I realized. “If I marry this guy I could be . . . Betsy Bird!”  So the die was cast.  You can do something like that to your own name.  When my own kids were born, however, I realized what a great responsibility a noun-based last name is.  And not just any noun.  An animal.  So out the window went possible names like Robin, Soren, Colin (think about the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”), Claude, Charlie, Larry, and any first name beginning with the letter “B”.  My husband and I broke the “no two nouns” rule, but at this moment in time I’m the only alliterative name in the family.

Mrs.BirdWhat I hadn’t counted on was how common it would be to find my name in children’s books.  I sort of suspected.  It happens in books for adults, after all.  Little Big by John Crowley (which is definitely not a book for kids) has a “Betsy Bird” in it.  And as for the name “Mrs. Bird” you can find it in everything from Buck’s Tooth to P.D. Eastman’s The Best Nest (where Mrs. Bird is a shrieking harridan, so I try not to read too much into that one).  Mrs. Birds are a dime a dozen, it seems.

I do occasionally show up in children’s books, though.  Sometimes clearly.  Other times I try to read between the lines (and fail).  As of this post there are only two instances of clear cut references.  They are:

The Librarian in Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever

Freckleface

This is only because artist LeUyen Pham is the nicest human being alive.  So in one scene Windy Pants is discussing what appears to be Junie B. Jones with this person:

188894_1782357952530_3072414_n

In future books in the series, the librarian looks entirely different.

The only other time it happened was, in all books . . .

A Very Babymouse Christmas

BabymouseChristmas

In this book various alliterative animals are having their names called.  Including (and off-camera):

307111_2391734523551_774554479_n

There is also a bird librarian in the first Platypus Police Squad title The Frog That Croaked.  The book takes place in Kalamazoo City and the librarian is a bird.  I’m from Kalamazoo and my name IS Bird.  However, this is probably just coincidental.  After all, my mohawk is nowhere near as nice as hers.

Platypus11

This year I’ve also noticed a significant uptick in “Mrs. Birds” in middle grade novels.  Women who are NOT me.  Not even slightly.  But folks do ask me from time to time, so to set the record straight . . .

The First Grade Teacher in The Best Man by Richard Peck

BestMan

Is not me.  She a bit dippy, so you’d be forgiven for mistaking us, but though I do own the occasional corduroy skirt, she’s not me.

Nor am I the mom in the next Rita Williams-Garcia book.  A great sounding title (coming out in 2017) I can’t remember the actual title but it involves a love of jazz.  As such, the mom is Mrs. Bird, probably because of Charlie “Bird” Parker.

I suspect that there are other children’s librarians out there who have accidentally found themselves within the pages of a children’s book in the past.  Maybe even as the librarian his or her own self.  If you have ’em, confess ’em!  We the commonly monikered should stick together.  And if you’ve been in the pages of a book thanks to the efforts of a kindly illustrator, tell me that too!  I’d love to have a working list of librarians that appear in books by great artists.

Thanks to Travis Jonker who suggested that I write a post called “I’m (Not) So Vain, I Probably Think This Book Isn’t About Me”.  That is because he is a nice guy.  My post’s title is probably a little more on the nose-y.

 

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4. Historical Nonfiction Children’s Books I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Drunk History Episodes)

Recently I did a post where I mentioned several wonderful Hark, A Vagrant webcomics featuring historical figures that I’d love to see turned into picture book biographies.  Well, in a similar vein, I’m a big fan of the Drunk History series on Comedy Central too.  It’ll be returning soon for a fourth season and has a lovely way of highlighting stories that I think would adapt brilliantly into the children’s nonfiction book format.  The real stories, that is.  Not the drunk tellers.  That would be weird.

Now because this is a post where comedians get drunk and try to tell historical moments in history, I think it’s pretty safe to say that a goodly chunk of the videos embedded here are Not Safe for Work.

A quick note too that this is mostly male, just as the Hark, A Vagrant piece contained mostly women.  Kate Beaton’s better at awesome women than Drunk History.  Sad but true.

And none of these video clips are complete by the way.  They’re just little snippets of the full stories.

First up!

Jim Thorpe is named the greatest athlete of the 20th century

The Joseph Bruchac picture book biography Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path and his fiction work Jim Thorpe: Original All-American are pretty much the gold standard on all things children’s-books-about-Jim-Thorpe. Still, considering how amazing the guy was, I bet we could get a lot more books about him out there (though I’d be amiss in not also mentioning Don Brown’s Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe).  You could even do what Drunk History does here and just highlight one amazing moment in his life.  This clip doesn’t get to it, but when his shoes get stolen and he competes with a pair he finds in the trash . . . I mean, that’s amazing.

Japanese-American Daniel Inouye fights in World War II

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – We do NOT have enough picture book bios of badass Asian-American heroes.  In the Hark, A Vagrant post I made a case for Katherine Sui Fun Cheung.  Well considering Daniel Inouye’s life and contributions it is doggone weird that he has so little in the children’s biography realm.

Sybil Ludington takes her midnight ride

Sadly this clip doesn’t really get to the thick of her contributions in the Revolutionary War, but it’s a good start.  Very few 16-year-old female war heroes out there.  To be fair, this very year (2016) Feiwel and Friends published E.F. Abbot’s fictionalized accounting in Sybil Ludington: Revolutionary War Rider.  But a little nonfiction wouldn’t hurt too.

Muhammad Ali refuses to fight in the Vietnam War.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.33.43 PM

One of my favorites.  I know we’ve a fair number of Ali bios for kids.  But, again, what about highlighting this moment in his life? It makes for a fascinating story in and of itself (and lord knows we have too few pacifist bios out there on beyond Gandhi).

Despite having only one hand, Jim Abbott proves to be a great baseball players.

Again, I wish we had the full clip here for you to watch.  Abbott’s story is amazing in and of itself.  The Cuba part is nice but let’s just get into the fact that he could pitch one-handed.  How about that, eh?

Thanks for checking them out!  And with the fourth seasons of the show at hand (including one told by Lin-Manuel Miranda) more ideas are bound to come up.

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5. Review of the Day: The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow

MightyOddsThe Mighty Odds
By Amy Ignatow
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
$15.95
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1271-5
Ages 10 and up
On shelves September 13th

If you could have one weird superpower, what would it be? Not a normal one, mind you. We’re not doing a flight vs. invisibility discussion here. The power would have to be extraordinary and odd. If it’s completely useless, all the better. Me? I think I’d like my voice to be same as the voice you hear in your head when you’re reading something. You know that voice? That would be my superpower. A good author can crank this concept up to eleven if they want to. Enter, Amy Ignatow. She is one of the rare authors capable of making me laugh out loud at the back covers of her books. For years she’s penned The Popularity Papers to great success and acclaim. Now that very realistic school focus is getting a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy kick in the pants. In The Mighty Odds, Ignatow takes the old misfits-join-together-to-save-the-world concept and throws in a lot of complex discussions of race, middle school politics, bullying, and good old-fashioned invisible men. The end result is a 21st century superhero story for kids that’s keeps you guessing every step of the way.

A school bus crashes in a field. No! Don’t worry! No one is killed (that we can tell). And the bus was just full of a bunch of disparate kids without any particular connection to one another. There was the substitute teacher and the bus driver (who has disappeared). And there was mean girl Cookie (the only black girl in school and one of the most popular), Farshad (nicknamed “Terror Boy” long ago by Cookie), Nick (nerdy and sweet), and Martina (the girl no one notices, though she’s always drawing in her sketchbook). After the accident everything should have just gotten back to normal. Trouble is, it didn’t. Each person who was on or near the bus when the accident occurred is a little bit different. It might be a small thing, like the fact that Martina’s eyes keep changing color. It might be a weird thing, like how Cookie can read people’s minds when they’re thinking of directions. It might be a powerful thing, like Farad’s super strength in his thumbs. Or it might be a potentially powerful, currently weird thing like Nick’s sudden ability to teleport four inches to his left. And that’s before they discover that someone is after them. Someone who means them harm.

Superhero misfits are necessarily new. Remember Mystery Men? This book reminded me a lot of that old comic book series / feature film. In both cases superpowers are less a metaphor and more a vehicle for hilarity. I read a lot of books for kids but only once in a while do I find one enjoyable enough to sneak additional reads of on the sly. This book hooked me fairly early on, and I credit its sense of humor for that. Here’s a good example of it. Early in the book Cookie and a friend are caught leaving the field trip for their own little side adventure. The kids in their class speculate what they got up to and one says that clearly they got drunk. Farshad’s dry wit then says, “… because two twelve-year-olds finding a bar in Philadelphia that would serve them at eleven A.M. was completely plausible.” Add in the fact that they go to “Deborah Read Middle School” (you’ll have to look it up) and I’m good to go.

Like I’ve said, the book could have just been another fun, bloodless superhero misfit storyline. But Ignatow likes challenges. When she wrote the Popularity Papers books she gave one of her two heroines two dads and then filled the pages with cursive handwriting. Here, her heroes are a variety of different races and backgrounds, but this isn’t a Benetton ad. People don’t get along. Cookie’s the only black kid in her school and she’s been very careful to cement herself as popular from the start. When her mom moved them to Muellersville, Cookie had to be careful to find a way to become “the most popular and powerful person in school.” Martina suggests at one point that she likes being angry, and indeed when the world starts to go crazy on her the thing that grounds her, if only for a moment, is anger. And why shouldn’t she be angry? Her mom moved her away from her extended family to a town where she knew no one, and then her mother married a guy with two kids fairly fast. Cookie herself speculates about the fact that she probably has more in common with Farshad than she’d admit. “He was the Arab Kid, just like Cookie was the Black Girl and Harshita Singh was the Indian Girl and Danny Valdez was the Hispanic Guy and Emma Lee was the Asian Chick. They should have all formed a posse long ago and walked around Muellersville together, just to freak people out.” Cookie realizes that she and Farshad need to have one another’s backs. “It was one thing to be a brown person in Muellersville and another to be a brown person in Muellersville with superpowers.” At this point in time Ignatow doesn’t dig any deeper into this, but Cookie’s history, intentions, and growth give her a depth you won’t find in the usual popular girl narrative.

For the record, I have a real appreciation for contemporary books that feature characters that get almost zero representation in books. For example, one of the many things I love about Tom Angleberger’s The Qwikpick Papers series is that one of the three heroes is Jehovah’s Witness. In this book, one of the kids that comes to join our heroes is Amish. Amish kids are out there. They exist. And they almost never EVER get heroic roles in stories about a group of friends. And Abe doesn’t have a large role in this book, it’s true, but it’s coming.

Having just one African-American in the school means that you’re going to have ignorant other characters. Cookie has done a good job at getting the popular kids in line, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is suddenly enlightened. Anyone can be tone deaf. Even one of our heroes, which in this case means Nick’s best friend, the somewhat ADD, always chipper Jay. Now I’ve an odd bit of affection for Jay, and not just because in his endless optimism he honestly thinks he’ll get permission to show his class Evil Dead Two on the field trip bus (this may also mark the first time an Evil Dead film has been name dropped in a middle grade novel, by the way). The trouble comes when he talks about Cookie. He has a tendency to not just be tone deaf but veering into really racially questionable territory when he praises her. Imagine a somewhat racist Pepe Le Pew. That’s Jay. He’s a small town kid who’s only known a single solitary black person his entire life and he’s enamored with her. Still, that’s no excuse for calling her “my gorgeous Nubian queen” or saying someday they’ll “make coffee-colored babies.” I expected a little more a comeuppance for Jay and his comments, but I suppose that’ll have to wait for a future book in the series. At the very least, his words are sure to raise more than few eyebrows from readers.

Funny is good. Great even. But funny doesn’t lift a middle grade book out of the morass of other middle grade books that are clogging up the bookstores and libraries of the world. To hit home you need to work just a smidgen of heart in there. A dose of reality. Farad’s plight as the victim of anti-Muslim sentiment is very real, but it’s also Nick’s experiences with his dying/dead father that do some heavy lifting. As you get to know Nick, Ignatow sprinkles hints about his life throughout the text in a seamless manner. Like when Nick is thinking about weird days in his life and flashes back to the day after his dad’s funeral. He and his mom had “spent the entire day flopped on the couch, watching an impromptu movie marathon of random films (The Lord of the Rings, They Live, Some Like It Hot, Ghostbusters, and Babe) and eating fancy stuff from the gift baskets that people had sent, before finally getting up to order pizza.” There’s a strong smack of reality in that bit, and there are more like it in the book. A funny book that sucker punches your heart from time to time makes for good reading.

MightyOdds2Lest we forget, this is an illustrated novel. Ignatow makes the somewhat gutsy choice of not explaining the art for a long time. Long before we even get to know Martina, we see her in various panels and spreads as an alien. In time, we learn that the art in this book is all her art, and that she draws herself as a Martian because that’s what her sister calls her. Not that you’ll know any of this for about 125 pages. The author makes you work to get at that little nugget of knowledge. By the way, as a character, Martina the artist is fascinating. She’s sort of the Luna Lovegood of the story. Or, as Nick puts it, “She had a sort of almost absentminded way of saying things that shouldn’t have been true but probably were.” There is one tiny flub in the art when Martina draws all the kids as superheroes and highlights Farshad’s thumbs, though at that point in the storyline Martina wouldn’t know that those are his secret weapons. Other than that, it’s pretty perfect.

It’s also pretty clearly middle school fare, if based on language alone. You’ve got kids leaving messages on cinderblocks that read “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” or “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” That may be the most realistic middle school detail I’ve read in a book in a long time. The bullying is systematic, realistic, and destructive (though that’s never clear to the people doing the bullying). A little more hard core than what an elementary school book might discuss. And Cookie is a superb bully. She’s honestly baffled when Farad confronts her about what she’s done to him with her rumors.

A word of warning to the wise: This is clearly the first book in a longer series. When you end this tale you will know the characters and know their powers but you still won’t know who the bad guys are exactly, why the kids got their powers (though the bus driver does drop one clue), or where the series is going next. For a story where not a lot of time passes, it really works the plotting and strong characterizations in there. I like middle grade books that dream big and shoot for the moon. “The Mighty Odds” does precisely that and also works in some other issues along the way. Just to show that it can. Great, fun, silly, fantastical fantasy work. A little smarter and a little weirder than most of the books out there today.

On shelves September 13th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Readalikes:

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6. Picture Book / Movie Pairings: They Make Sense in My Head!

The other day I was sitting with a group of talented children’s librarians discussing Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet?  Boy, I tell ya, there’s nothing like sitting down with smart people to hear them discuss a picture book in full.  I walked out of that room with a lot more knowledge crammed into my cranium than I’d had coming in.

In the course of our talk, it was pointed out that Santat’s latest would actually pair very well with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  There’s something about the tone of both the book and the film, that madcap good-natured energy, that jells.  And so, in that vein, I present to you one of my odder posts.  Picture book and movie pairings.  I have absolutely no idea when you’d actually want to pair the two together.  I just like the couplings.

#1

Are We There Yet? + Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

 AreWeThereYet  Bill_&_Ted

Granted, there are a lot less pirates in Bill & Ted.  But the idea of traveling through history and gathering a wacky crew of folks along the way . . . that’s awesome.

#2

The Cat and the Hat + Risky Business

CatintheHat1RiskyBusiness

Apropos of nothing, the other day a woman in my library mentioned to me that she’d always been discomforted by Seuss’s classic easy reader.  There was something about the chaos of it all that really got to her.  She likened it to Risky Business, which I thought was a particularly amusing pairing.  In both cases a house experiences chaos and clean-up.  And in both cases you really don’t want to be in trouble with mom.  The big difference between the two is that Seuss’s book ends with a question about what YOU would do if your mother asked YOU what you got up to while she was gone.  Tom Cruise suffers no such dark night of the soul.

#3

Are You My Mother + Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

AreYouMyMother1Mad_max_beyond_thunderdome

I’ve often gone on record saying that P.D. Eastman’s classic feels like a somewhat post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Admittedly this comparison to Thunderdome isn’t perfect because there are no mothers in that movie (nor any sentient machines).  Still, in both cases you have motherless children, and some crazy technology, so I’d say the pairing holds.

#4:

Frog and Toad Are Friends + Elling

FrogToadFriends1Elling

This one makes a lot of sense to me.  The nature of the relationship between a laid back frog and an uptight toad pairs just beautifully with this charming if admittedly somewhat obscure 2001 Norwegian film.  I just see a lot of parallels between Elling and Kjell and Frog and Toad.  For a while there Kevin Spacey was going to remake it here in America.  It didn’t work out, but if Spacey ever wants to consider taking the role of Toad instead, I think he’d be perfect for it.

#5

Outside Over There + Labyrinth

OutsideOverThereLabyrinth_ver2

Cheating.  This one’s cheating.  There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Labyrinth was inspired, in part, by the lesser known of the Sendak picture book trilogy (the first two books being Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen).  Sendak is even thanked at the end of the credits so there’s that as well.  I don’t really have to explain why the book and movie are related.  Goblins and stolen babies = children’s classics no matter what the media.

#6

The Little House + Up

LittleHouseUp_(2009_film)

That’s a good pairing.  In both cases the house is moved in the wake of incessant industrialization.  However, if I can remember the ending of Up, the house in Burton’s book fares far better.

#7

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble + Being John Malkovich

SylvesterMagicPebblebeing-john-malkovich-poster

Yes?  No?  Am I the only one who sees this?  I think it’s the idea of being awake and alert and trapped in a situation where you’ll never be able to escape on your own.  So maybe I should have said Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and the END of Being John Malkovich.

#8

Blueberries for Sal and Grizzly Man

BlueberriesSalGrizzlyMan

ACK!  That’s no good.  Abort!  Abort!

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7. There Is a Tribe of Kids: The Current Debate

TribeKidsThis year, in 2016, a conversation has sprung up around the picture book There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith.  The discussion has occurred primarily on blogs and listservs with the occasional mention on Twitter.  I would like to summarize the points here and explain what’s going on, since, unlike A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington, I suspect this debate may likely remain within the children’s literature sphere and not branch out into the larger media.  That means that of my readership, perhaps only a small percentage is aware of what’s going on.

Here then are the facts about what’s gone down with There Is a Tribe of Kids, as we know it today.

Published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan, the book was released this year on May 3rd.  Due to the fact that the author was Lane Smith, it got a serious publicity push.  Smith hadn’t written and illustrated a picture book in this illustration style since his Caldecott Honor winning Grandpa Green, so hopes were undoubtedly high on the part of the publisher.

The book garnered five starred reviews (if we count Shelf Awareness).  On May 5th a review appeared in The New York Times by picture book author and blogger Minh Lê in which he made the following statement:

“Acceptance finally comes with the discovery of a diverse group of other leaf-clad children, kindred spirits who form their own “tribe of kids.” Within the confines of the book, this is a heartwarming finale. Unfortunately, for me the juxtaposition of the word “tribe” with the woodland utopia conjured uncomfortable associations. For example, in the final scene, as the child describes his journey to his new friends, he wears feathers in his hair to re-enact his stint among an “unkindness of ravens.” It’s a whimsical visual in isolation, but some readers may detect something ill-advised, if not sadly familiar, in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or “playing Indian” to signify wildness, especially since the word “tribe” is so central to this often captivating book.”

Months passed.  On July 8th Sam Bloom wrote about his similar concerns on the site Reading While White.  It led to about 128 comments and counting.  This was followed up with two different blog posts by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s LiteratureThe first was posted on July 9th.  After it came out there was some discussion on the child_lit listserv.  This led to a response by author Rosanne Parry where she defended the book. Debbie’s second response came on July 14th in direct response to Parry’s.  Roxane Feldmann offered her own two cents at her fairrosa blog, which also offers a good encapsulation of the debate.

Meanwhile, on the listservs, discussions have raged at both child_lit and alsc-l though the conversation changed slightly on both sites.  For example, on child_lit folks were finding themselves compared to Trump.  On alsc-l the topic turned to collection development in libraries and where this book fits in when librarians decide not to buy it for their systems.

And yet, for all the discussion, the wider world has been left largely unawares.  As of this post the book has only one critical review on Amazon, and that’s from a grandmother who thinks the title is too advanced for children to comprehend. On Goodreads it has 510 ratings and 125 Reviews, but few if any mention this debate.  It’s too early in the season for Calling Caldecott to discuss it seriously.  So in many ways the book discussion is contained entirely within a very small area online.

And that would be that.

My opinion then?  Hm.

Well, the fact of the matter is that I’m far more interested in the discussion surrounding the book than the book itself.  I’m particularly interested in how different opinions are being treated by both parties.

Because of the nature of the disagreement over the title, the book is currently garnering comparisons to A Fine Dessert and its subsequent criticisms.  And as with A Fine Dessert I included it in my Spring Caldecott prediction post and removed it for my Summer prediction post.  Why the removal this time?  Because at this point it’s clear that this book is going to be the Caldecott committee’s most interesting point of debate and with 2016 such a shockingly strong Caldecott year (it’s kind of frightening how strong it is) it’s entirely likely that the book isn’t going to go very far.  For my part, I didn’t notice the implication of the word “tribe” on an early read and would have missed it entirely if Minh hadn’t written his article.

I’ll say this much.  It takes guts to write about this topic.  No one likes to be the subject of flame wars and in-fighting.  In our current age of social media, blogging has changed significantly.  There was a time before the rise of Twitter when it took a little longer for blog posts to catch fire.  Now bloggers watch what they say with great trepidation.  The people I’ve mentioned above are brave, all of them, whether you agree with them or not.

I have read every opinion, comment, and question about this book that I could get my hands on.  I see the concerns at work here.  I don’t agree with some of the critics.  I agree with some of the others, or at least can see their point of view.  More than anything, I’m interested in hearing a wide range of opinions, both pro and con.  In the end, I suspect that the discussion may die down and then reignite as we get closer to the award season.  When that happens, I’ll watch the new debates with equal interest.

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8. Surprising Jolts of Children’s Books in Unexpected Places

Time for another post that justifies my current job.  As you may or may not know, as Evanston Public Library’s Collection Development Manager I buy all the adult books.  Which is to say, they apparently make them for people over the age of 12 these days.  Who knew?  Happily, there are plenty of connections to the wide and wonderful world of children’s literature in the grown-up book universe.  Here are a couple of interesting recent examples you might enjoy:

Textbook

Though she’s best known in our world as a mighty successful picture book author (with a killer ping-pong backswing) Rosenthal’s that rare beast that manages to straddle writing for both adults and kids.  The last time she wrote an out-and-out book for the grown-up set, however, was ten years ago (Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life).  This next one’s a memoir of sorts (I say “of sorts” because the subtitle belies this statement).  Here’s the description:

“… each piece of prose is organized into classic subjects such as Social Studies, Music, and Language Arts. Because textbook would accurately describe a book with a first-of-its-kind interactive text messaging component. Because textbook is an expression meaning “quintessential”—Oh, that wordplay and unconventional format is so typical of her, so textbook AKR. Because if an author’s previous book has the word encyclopedia in the title, following it up with a textbook would be rather nice.”

 

ClamourCrows

Sorry Permanent Press Publishing Company.  This cover doesn’t do justice the myriad children’s book references parading about inside.  I read all the reviews and tried to find the best description (the official one is lame).  Library Journal‘s was the one that piqued my interest best.  As they said:

“Jonathan Tucker lives with his dog Nip on 20 acres on Long Island, having left his job with a high-powered law firm three years earlier after his wife and two children were killed in a traffic accident. Now his mentor, a senior partner, asks for help. The firm’s biggest client, billionaire Ben Baum of Ozone Industries, has died in London under suspicious circumstances. A descendant of L. Frank Baum of Wizard of Oz fame, Ben had been obsessed with fantasy, in particular the works of Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll. Attached to his will, he left behind an enigmatic letter, prefaced by runes and filled with puzzles hinting at forces of evil arrayed against him. It’s up to Jonathan and his team to unravel what may be a deadly conspiracy with a host of suspects, each one poised to benefit from Ben’s premature death. . . . Readers may enjoy the kid-lit nomenclature—characters include Alice, Charlotte (who spins webs), Dorothy, Eloise, Madeline, Herr Roald Dahlgrens (a “peach of a man”), Frank Dixon (the Hardy Boys), Peter Abelard, and the Baums—and may not mind the sometimes too-evident craft, e.g., characters who “tell their story” at length and dialog laden with exposition.”

Admit it.  It sounds fun.  But that cover . . . I mean, did they just hire someone who just read the title and found the nearest Getty Images of crows?  No points there.

WhereLoveLies

I feel like it’s been a while since one of these round-ups included a book about a picture book author/illustrator.  This one counts.  In this story, said picture book creator has lost her inspiration.  Other stuff happens too, but with my tunnel vision that was pretty much all I picked up on.

WhereWildThingsBite

Um.

Moving on.

MostCuriousMurder

Part of the joy of my job is buying the “cozies” i.e. sweet little murder mystery novels (usually in paperback).  You would not believe the series out there.  There are quilting mysteries, yoga mysteries, jam mysteries, bed and breakfast mysteries (that one makes sense to me), you name it.  The newest series I’ve found?  Little Free Library mysteries.  I kid you not.

As for other mysteries . . .

MurderSecretGarden

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering if this is actually a book about a murder that occurs at Misselthwaite Manor.  And the answer is . . . . it’s not.  No, it takes place at a book-themed resort where a secret garden has been created for the guests.  How do folks die?  Deadly herbs!!  That gets points from me.

Mamaleh

Oh ho!  This one almost sneaked past me the other day.  I read the review, dutifully put it in my order cart, and just as I was moving on to the next book my eye happened to catch the name of the author.  Marjorie?!  The same Marjorie who writes those magnificent yearly round-ups of Jewish kids in books at Tablet Magazine at the end of each year (to say nothing of her posts throughout the other seasons)?  That’s her.  The book’s getting great reviews too, so go, Marjorie, go!

WhatWouldJesusCraft

So here’s the problem with this book.  It should be in the humor section alongside the Amy Sedaris title Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.  Instead, it somehow ended up legitimately with a “Craft” Dewey Decimal Number, a fact I’m going to have to rectify at work tomorrow.  Not that you couldn’t actually do the crafts if you wanted, but the book’s far funnier than it is practical.  No one knows what to do with the thing when they see it, of course.  So why am I including it here?  Because darned if the author isn’t Ross MacDonald, the author/illustrator of fine picture books everywhere.  I did my due diligence to make sure it was actually the same guy.  Yup.  It sure is.  So Macmillan, about that DD# . . .

And finally, just because I thought it was cute . . .

GoldilocksWaterBears

Now someone go out and write a picture book of the same name for all our budding scientists out there.

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9. Review of the Day – A Toucan Can: Can You? by Danny Adlerman and Friends

ToucanCanA Toucan Can, Can You?
By Danny Adlerman
Illustrated by Lindsay Barrett George, Megan Halsey, Ashley Wolff, Demi, Ralph Masiello, Wendy Anderson Halperin, Kevin Kammeraad, Pat Cummings, Dar (Hosta), Leeza Hernandez, Christee Curran-Bauer, Kim Adlerman, and Symone Banks
Music by Jim Babjak
The Kids at Our House Children’s Books
$19.95
ISBN: 9781942390008
Ages 3-6
On shelves now

Under normal circumstances I don’t review sequels. I just don’t, really. Sequels, generally speaking, require at least a rudimentary knowledge of the preceding book. If I have to spend half a review catching a reader up on the book that came before the book that I’m actually reviewing, that’s just a waste of everyone’s time. Better to skip sequels entirely, and I include chapter book sequels, YA sequels, middle grade sequels, nonfiction sequels, graphic novel sequels, and easy book sequels in that generalization. I would even include picture book sequels, but here I pause for a moment. Because once in a while a picture book sequel will outshine the original. Such is the case with Danny Adlerman’s audibly catchy and visually eclectic A Toucan Can, Can You? A storyteller’s (and song-and-dance parent’s) dream, the book is is a sequel to the book How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck but comes into its own as a writing assignment for some, a storytime to others, and a darn good book for everybody else.

Many of us are at least passingly familiar with that old poem, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” But why stop with the woodchuck? What other compound words can you break up in amusing ways? And so we are sucked into a delightful world of teaspoons spooning tea, spaceships shipping space, and ice cream screaming “ice!” Each one of these catchy little poems (which are set to music on the accompanying CD) is paired with art from an impressive illustrator. Part collaboration and part exercise in audible frivolity, Danny Adlerman’s little book packs a great big punch.

For a group collaboration to work in a picture book there needs to be a reason for it to even exist. Which is to say, why have different people do different pieces of art for the same book? To best justify bringing these artists together you need a strong hook. And brother, I can’t think of a stronger hook then a catchy little rhyme, turned into a song, and given some clever additional rhymes to go along with it. Let’s hear it for the public domain! It’s little wonder that the customary “Note to Parents and Teachers” found in books of this sort appears at the beginning of the book rather than the end. In it, mention is made of the fact that the accompanying CD has both music with the lyrics and music without the lyrics, allowing kids to make up their own rhymes. I can attest as someone who did storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers for years that music can often be a librarian’s best friend. Particularly if it has a nice little book to show off as well. So for the storytimes for younger children, go with the words. And for the older kids? I think a writing assignment is waiting in the wings.

I was quite taken with the rhymes that already exist in this book, though. In fact, my favorite (language-wise) might have to be “How much bow could a bow tie tie if a bow tie could tae bo?” if only because “tae bo” makes shockingly few cameos in picture books these days. Finding the perfect collaboration between word and text can be difficult but occasionally the book hits gold. One example would be on the rhyme “How much ham could a hamster stir if a hamster could stir ham?” Artist Leeza Hernandez comes up with a rough riding hamster in cowboy gear astride an energetic hog. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Obviously the problem with any group collaboration is that some pieces are going to be stronger than others. But I have to admit that when I looked at that line-up I was a bit floored. In an impressive mix of established artists and new up-and-comers, Adlerman pairs his illustrators alongside rhymes that best show off their talents. Demi, for example, with her meticulous details and intricate style, is perfectly suited to honeycombs, honey, and the thin veins in the wing of a honeybee, holding a comb aloft. Meanwhile Wendy Anderson Halperin tackles the line “How much paint could a paintbrush brush” by rendering a variety of famous works, from Magritte to Diego Rivera in her two-page spread. Mind you, some artists are more sophisticated than others, and the switch between styles threatens to give one a bit of whiplash in the process. Generally speaking, however, it’s lovely. And I must confess that it was only on my fourth or fifth reading that I realized that the lovely scene illustrated by newcomer Symone Banks at the end of the book is dotted with animals done by the other artists, hidden in the details.

I don’t have to do storytimes anymore. In my current job my contact with kids is fairly minimal. But I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old at home and that means all my performance skills are on call whenever those two are around. I admit it. I need help. And books like A Toucan Can: Can You? can be lifesavers to parents like myself. If we had our way there would be a book-of-the-week club out there that personally delivered song-based picture books to our door. Heck, it should be a book-of-the-DAY club. I mean, let’s be honest. Raise a glass then and toast to Danny Adlerman and his fabulous friends. Long may their snowshoes shoo, their jellyfish fish, and their rockhoppers hop hop hop.

On shelves now.

Like This? Then Try:

Source: Galley sent from author for review.

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10. Application for the ALA/ALSC representative to USBBY

This is so neat that I wish I could apply for it myself.  I cannot, but if you’re a member of ALSC, you could (you lucky thing).

 


 

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is seeking a personal member interested in representing ALA/ALSC on the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY).

One representative will be selected by the ALA Executive Board to serve a two-year term from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2018. If you are interested in representing ALA/ALSC on the USBBY Board, please complete the online application (http://bit.ly/29S9ojN) and submit a cover letter addressed to the ALA Executive Board, a resume/CV, and one letter of recommendation no later than Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

Required Qualifications

The applicant must:

* Be a current ALSC personal member

* Have demonstrated experience in evaluating, selecting and promoting children’s literature

* Attend all USBBY meetings and conferences during his/her term of appointment. Expenses to attend USBBY meetings/conferences are the responsibility of the individual or his/her institution. USBBY, ALA and ALSC do not provide financial support

* Have knowledge of key ALSC services and resources in order to serve as an effective liaison between USBBY and ALSC’s Board of Directors

* Be a competent user of new technologies, such as wikis and electronic chat platforms, in order to accomplish work in a virtual environment between meetings

* Have demonstrated leadership skills necessary to serve on an organization’s board of directors

 

Responsibilities of USBBY board members

  1. Attend and participate in the three annual board meetings (typically in February at CBC in New York City; in June at the ALA annual conference; and in October/November at the IBBY Regional Conference (in odd numbered years) or the NCTE conference (in even numbered years).
  2. Submit USBBY news to newsletters, journals, web sites, and electronic discussion lists of related organizations.
  3. Recruit new members, nurture current members, and make the Board and Nominating Committee aware of potentially active committee members or volunteers.
  4. Serve as the official liaison between ALSC and USBBY 5. Assist with planning USBBY board meetings at conferences 6. Assist with planning USBBY co-sponsored programs at conferences

 

Documentation needed

The ALA Executive Board requires that suggestions for nominations be accompanied by a resume/CV and cover letter which indicates:

* A short summary statement of the nominee’s qualifications and indication of present position

* Affirmation that the person can fulfill the meeting attendance and travel requirements

 

Additionally, the ALSC Board requires:

* A letter of recommendation

 

Timeline

* Sept. 6 2016: deadline to submit online application and resume to ALSC for consideration

* Sept. 6- 23, 2016: ALSC’s Board of Directors evaluates applications and selects one applicant to recommend to the ALA Executive Board for appointment

* Week of Sept. 26, 2016: ALSC notifies applicants as to the status of their application

* Early October: ALA Executive Board meets and considers ALSC’s recommendation

* Week of October 24, 2016: ALSC notifies nominee of ALA Executive Board’s decision

* Jan. 1, 2017: Appointee begins representation on USBBY Board

 

2017 USBBY Board Meetings:

*           March 3, 2017: Representatives First 2017 USBBY Board meeting

*           June 22, 2017: Chicago during ALA Conference

*           October 19, 2017: Seattle just before the IBBY Regional Conference

 

To learn more about USBBY go to www.usbby.org/<http://www.usbby.org/>.

 

Please contact Aimee Strittmatter (astrittmatter@ala.org<mailto:astrittmatter@ala.org>) for questions about the ALSC application process.

 

 

Aimee Strittmatter, MSI, CAE

Executive Director

Association for Library Service to Children a division of the American Library Association

50 East Huron Street

Chicago, IL 60611

312-280-2163 | fax: 312-280-5271

astrittmatter@ala.org<mailto:astrittmatter@ala.org>

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11. Fusenews: Worth it, if only for the clock

Hi, folks. Haven’t done one of these in a while. Let’s see what there is to see.


 

If I’m feeling nostalgic for NYC this week there’s little wonder.  Whether it’s an article on many library branches’ secret apartments (I visited 8-10 of them in my day and someday a clever photographer should do a series on them) or New York Magazine’s (justifiable) kvetching over the new Donnell, it’s like I’m there again.


 

Speaking of kvetching, this article about My Little Free Library War is amusing. When I was leaving the aforementioned NYC I found I had too many books.  The solution?  Daily trips to the local Little Free Library.  I’d fill them up one day and then come back the next with more.  I don’t care what anyone did with them.  That box was like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag.


 

WaldoWarhol

Waldo’s cool with it. He doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight.

As for my current town, how cute is this?  Our downtown is doing a Where’s Waldo / Where’s Warhol scavenger hunt.  It all begins at the wonderful bookstore Bookends and Beginnings and goes from there.


 

This next piece is fantastic and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.  A British children’s literature blogger comes to America.  Walks into a Barnes and Noble.  Immediately she is struck by the massive differences between how a major British chain (like Waterstones) sells children’s books vs. how and American chain (B&N) does it.  She writes up the differences in the post Picture book differences between the main bookshop chains in the US and UK – Paeony Lewis.  What struck me as particularly interesting is the emphasis the author makes on how American bookstores don’t promote and sell paperbacks to the same degree that the British stores do.  As a result, our books are more expensive.  What are the greater repercussions of this?  Fantastic read.


 

I got the following message from ALA last week and figured this was a good place to share.  Ahem:

Now is the Best Time to Help Dr. Carla Hayden Become Librarian of Congress
The American Library Association (ALA) is urging the library community to contact their U.S. senators (before they adjourn next week) to encourage them to confirm Dr. Carla Hayden to become the next Librarian of Congress. This is the first time in more than 60 years that a librarian is poised to take on this role. ALA offers these talking points. Visit the ALA Legislative Action Center to email your senators, contact them on Twitter, or for information on calling your senators.


 

There’s been a lot of talk about Ms. J.K. Rowling in the news lately.  Specifically, in terms of the international magic schools she’s been introducing.  I feel inadequate to speak about them, and fortunately I don’t have to. Monica Edinger has written a great piece called J.K. Rowling’s Unfortunate Attempts at Globalization.  A lot of people have focused solely and squarely on the references to Native Americans in the American school.  Monica sheds additional light on the African, Japanese, and Brazilian ones, for which I am VERY grateful.


 

By the way, having problems with J.K. Rowling in this vein is hardly new.  You can read Farah Mendelsohn’s academic paper Crowning the King: Harry Potter and the Construction of Authority from 2001 right now, if you like.


 

By the way, if you missed Jules Danielson’s interview with Evan Turk over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, turn right around, leave this blog, and go over there.  The art . . . the art . . .


 

DaddyFaceFor a while there I enjoyed a little Reading Too Much Into Picture Books series before my Fuse 8 TV interviews.  Very much along the same lines is the recent Salon piece Pat the Bunny Is Kind of Twisted and Other Lessons I Learned from Picture Books.  It’s not the same three tropes garbled over and over again.  There’s a lot of smart stuff being said here.  Enjoy!


 

Wait, what . . . The Mazza Museum has a summer conference?  Why was I not informed?  *clap clap* My chariot!  The first day is July 18th.  There’s still time!


 

There are many reasons to listen to the NYPL podcast The Librarian Is In.  Reason #24601: Check out this simply adorable photograph of a young Lois Duncan.


 

Hey there!  What Nibling just won herself a 2016 South Asia Book Award?  Would that be Mitali Perkins for her absolutely fantastic Tiger Boy?  Dang right it would!  Go, Mitali, go!


 

Because my day job requires me to keep up with adult literature I read a lot of Publishers Weekly (that sounded like a very earnest television or radio ad for PW, by the way).  The other day I was reading its articles on what Brexit is going to mean for the literary world, and I briefly toyed with the notion of doing a blog post on what it would mean for the children’s literary world.  I decided not to pursue this idea since I know next to nothing about the topic and while that normally wouldn’t stop me, Phil Nel did it best anyway.  Check out his piece Children’s Lit VS Brexit.


 

Curious about the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award?  Want to know more about it?  Interested in reading an interview with a woman who would visit Anne Carroll Moore in the library as a child?  You can get all that and more with this interview with this year’s BGHB committee chair Joanna Rudge Long.


 

LadyElaine2Um… so this one has nothing to do with children’s books and everything to do with my own childhood.  Basically, if you’ve been waiting for an article to justify Lady Elaine Fairchilde as the feminist icon she truly was, your prayers have been answered. Extra Bonus: Check out the perhaps indeed legit comment from Lady Aberline.  Or read my piece on the new Lady Elaine.  Clearly this is a trope in my life.


 

Just want to give a shout-out to Christine Inzer, the self-published teen graphic novelist whose book Halfway Home was reviewed here in 2014.  Christine got herself a real publisher and her new book just earned a stellar review from Publishers Weekly.  Yay, Christine!


 

New Podcast Alert: In case you are unfamiliar with it, The Writing Barn is the brainchild of Owner & Creative Director, Bethany Hegedus, and offers writers “ways of deepening their process and perfecting their craft, whether they travel cross-town or across the country to our retreat and workshop venue”. Now Bethany has created Porchlight, a podcast that interviews the Barn’s guests as well as folks in the world at large.  You know I’ll be listening.


 

Daily Image:

Best. Library. Clock. Ever.

libraryclock

Seriously, I want to do this with picture books.  If not in my library then in my home. I should solicit the right titles, though.  Hmmm…

Suggestions welcome.

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12. Midwestern Investigative Report: NerdCampMI 2016 – Day One

nerdcampThere are advantages to living in New York City. Good museums. Lots of books and readers.  The sweet morning aroma of hot garbage on the street to greet you at the break of day. Consumed in such a heady aroma it can be easy to forget that there are disadvantages to the city as well. Living in the center of the universe is all well and good but one has a tendency to forget that there is a UNIVERSE outside of that center. Pull yourself away from the gravity and you discover all sorts of interesting things.

This brings us to NerdCampMI.

Unfamiliar?  Here’s a quick description of the conference from its website:

“Day 1 is much like a traditional education conference.  We have scheduled speakers to get you all fired up about teaching reading and writing in the classroom.  For more specifics on day 1, please visit the page by clicking the link to your left.

Day 2 of nErDcamp is designed differently than your typical conference.  It’s an (un)conference with a focus on literacy in learning.”

What they don’t mention is that this is very much a school-based event.  Which is to say, school librarians (a few) and school teachers (the bulk) attend this event en masse.  This makes a great deal of sense, of course.  Prior to the creation of NerdCampMI and the corresponding Nerdy Book Club, there was a need for a large scale site dedicated to people working within the educational system.

Now like a lot of folks in NYC I’d heard about this phenomena. Phenomenon? Phenomeniacal? At any rate, it was like pulling teeth finding people who’d been. In spite of the fact that the con tends to pull in 1500 attendees, the majority appear to come from the Midwest.

NerdCampPano

And yet, this wasn’t everyone.

 

Now I’m a public, rather than a school, librarian. That means that my contact with teachers is entirely reliant on this blog. Yet I’d never met a teacher who had attended, though I had met the occasional author.

It was time to rectify the situation.  Oh ye folks around the country who hear about NerdCamp from time to time and think, “You mean Nerdcon? No? Camp? Wait, is that the huge thing in Parma, MI?” I am here to report and tell all.

Once, long ago, oh best beloved, I ran a conference. It was the Kidlitosphere Conference and I led it out of the main branch of New York Public Library. It was, insofar as I can recall, a success. With the exception of one Skype session, all the tech worked. It was free, like NerdCamp. There was a lot of swag, like NerdCamp. But there were significantly less people.  If we’re looking at the number of children’s literature bloggers in the country vs. the number of teachers in the country, that’s par for the course, but my point is that my con was pretty small and relatively easy. It was also not an unconference, an element that I feel ups the difficulty factor tenfold.  So when I walked in yesterday morning for Day One (Day Two is the unconference part and that’s actually happening right now) I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I expected registration.  I did not expect the epic-ly long swag line.

Swag1

Swag2

Nor did I expect that my favorite children’s bookstore BookBug would be the one selling titles.  Hooray, Bookbug!  Hooray too to the fact that they were carrying my picture book. I was not expecting that.

BookBug1

BookBug2

We all filed into a large gym where bleachers served as the seats for the massive group in attendance.

Bleachers

Once we were all seated we were ready for a series of small talks from a variety of different speakers. Each one spoke no longer than about 5 minutes apiece. And each one had a very specific topic they wanted to address.

Colby Sharp was the one who officially started off the day, but not with a long history of Nerdy Book Club and its accomplishments, as you might expect. Instead, he started in almost immediately with the story of Heidi, a small girl who lost all her books in a fire. After she thanked the audience members for replacing her library it was time for the first speaker.

Educator Kathy Burnett came up to the music of “My Shot” from Hamilton. Knowing her audience, she began her talk with a shout-out to Gilmore Girls.  And let that be a lesson to you, oh future speakers.  Mention GG at the top of any speech to librarians or teachers and the response is instantaneous.

KathyB

Kathy2

Proving that my generation is now the one in charge of the universe, Kathy also made statements like “I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and I DID those chest exercises” (which got a lot of appreciation) followed up with knowledge that by reading V.C. Andrews you learn to avoid powdered donuts. But for the most part she spoke on a personal level about how books were a way to escape from the world when she was a child and her teachers became her surrogate parents.   The speech ended with “I Rise” by Maya Angelou.  It got a standing ovation.

By the way, I’m soliciting guesses on the background behind the speakers.  I’m going to say that the high school was doing a production of The Wizard of Oz.

Teri Lesesne was next and she began by referencing a Richard Peck article about censorship, which was the focus of her talk. She talked at length about “censorship in all its forms” including disinvitations of authors to schools. The Phil Bildner and Kate Messner incident was mentioned (someone clapped during it and without missing a beat Teri said, “You can’t clap. This is timed.”). She then urged everyone to read Kate Milford’s continuing dialogue with the teacher responsible in some way for her disinvitation. There was an interesting moment when Teri said something along the lines of, “Gatekeeping is an insidious form of censorship”, which I am paraphrasing and which made me wish she had a lot more time to unpack that statement.  I wouldn’t make “gatekeeping” a dirty word, necessarily, but I’m open to learning more about why some people think it is. In relation to this, Teri talked about books that are simply not purchased for libraries. Of course there are differences between public librarians and school ones.  I guess I’d never thought much about school librarian issues of this sort.  It reminded me of that recent debate between Roger Sutton and Daniel Jose Older about the librarian’s role and when you do and don’t deny a kid access to a book. Teri ended by quoting Liberian peace activist Leyman Gbowee: “You can never leave footprints if you always walk on tiptoe”, stressing finally that every kid should see that they’re not alone.

Raina Telgemeier followed and hers was a very personal talk. Raina discussed a time when she was young and was “the artist” in class. She was quiet and had a hard time making friends, so her art was a way to stand out. Then she met a boy named Shawn who could also draw. They could both do TMNT and The Simpsons. Naturally she had a huge crush on him. And so if you read her best known book Smile, he’s the boy in it (this is where I wish that Shaun were Shaun Tan, by the way). In the intervening years lots of girls have since written and asked if she married “Shawn”, or (at the very least) if he knows he was immortalized. Raina points out to them that most 36-year-old men do not seek out her art on their own. Fast forward a little.  Raina was still friends with Shawn (not his real name) on Facebook.  Then, last year, he got Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Raina wanted to help out in some way, but since Shawn and his family are quiet, private people she was limited in what she could do. Then she learned he was in hospice. Near the end, he just wanted people to share memories of him. So she told him at long last about the book, his role in it, and she sent him a copy with a letter of thanks. He loved it, and his nephews were thrilled that a book they already knew had their uncle in it. Shawn passed away in April of this year and Raina attended his memorial a few weeks ago. There she learned that apparently an item on Shawn’s bucket list was to become a character in a comic book. Mission accomplished.  It was a nice heartfelt speech.

Now because I don’t know my average famous teachers, the name Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) was unknown to me.  No longer.  A grade teacher in WI, some speculation was made later as to whether or not she has copious experience with Poetry Slams.  Such was the energy of her talk. Pernille dove right in, recounting that it was exactly 4 seconds into the new school year (last fall) before a kid in her class loudly declared how much they hated reading. You know the type.  “You say reading and they cannot wait to say loudly how much they hate it . . . because this is how they identify.” These students beg you, “please don’t tell me I just haven’t met the right book yet, because that’s what ALL the teachers say.” This is, to Ms. Ripp’s mind, a pernicious problem, “because when they hate reading . . . then it just doesn’t matter what kind of strategies I am trying to teach them.” Nothing matters. “When they hate reading then that is all they can think about”. Then everything in school is attached to something they hate. “And I get it. Why would you want to do something more of something they despise.” Her advice to combat this?  When you get a kid who says they don’t like to read, don’t say “no you don’t”. Try asking, “Why?” “We won’t know until we ask. A question is all we need.” Asking and talking and digging is important. “Hating reading is not their end destination.” One of her more controversial statements was that if a reading program is making even one child hate reading then that program should be ended. Interesting!  Another good line regarding generations of people who don’t like to read, “Along with their genetic heritage they will also pass on their hatred of school and books.” A great talk.

Also very good? Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) .  Shared a NerdyBookClub post that she wrote last November, The House That Reading Built which you should probably read rather than allow me to summarize.  Just the same, part of what I liked about it so much was its acknowledgment of socio-economic status and disparity.  “I grew up clinging to the lowest middle class rung”. In the piece Donalyn explains how both she “grew up on her library card”, as did her husband. I appreciated that she acknowledged her white privilege in spite of class burdens and took time to mentions how so many children of poverty, disproportionately of color, grow up without easy access to books. As she then pointed out, diversity in publishing isn’t just about the publishing itself. Publishing more diverse authors and illustrators only takes us so far if children do not have access to these books. Book access is the gamechanger for our children. It means that all books should accurately reflect their experiences and the experiences of children with different stories to tell and give access to “the promise” that literacy provides. The division and hatred scrolling across our screens these days can fill us with impotence and despair. Literacy, therefore, is the way to help all of us write a different story.

Then there was a special guest in town.  Three guesses who it was and the first two don’t count.

DiCamillo

Yep, peeking above that podium there is special guest Kate DiCamillo. And the crowd, naturally, goes crazy. In an interesting twist Kate told a very fun story about an incident from her youth involving a wishing bone (how William Steig!), a girl next door with purple lipstick, and a pony.  It had a lot of good lines too like the fact that the girl next door was named Beverly Pagoda and, “I was forever trying to impress her and I had yet to succeed.” Also, “It was summer. I was 8-years-old. My heart was a small motor humming in my chest.”  I liked that she said that the art of writing is what Raymond Chandler called “being at your station”. Of course as she was talking about what you can’t find in a writing manual, one could not help but think that should she ever want to write one, she could potentially write the children’s book version of Bird by Bird.

Then it was time for my session.  Did I not mention I was speaking at this event?  Oh yes!  And look at my cohorts:

NerdCamp2

 

Travis whipped that one up.  Isn’t it nice?

Mind you, I’m a bit shaky on reading schedules so this is what I saw when I looked us up.  Mine is the one that says “Nibling” on it:

Nibling1

Oh no!, thinks I.  I’m speaking about 9/11?  Then I looked at the top of the page.

Nibling2

Oh!  That makes more sense.

By the way, this was in our room on the wall.  I adored it.

wall

I recap my talk but I’m absolutely terrible about that sort of thing.  Fortunately my panelists were enormously talented bloggers so I’m just going to hope that one or both of them write it up themselves and I’ll be able to link to it here.

For the next session, it was a tricky choice (as you can see from the form).  In the end I decided to sit in on “Author Jeopardy”, hosted by the writer Erica Perl.

SessionIt was a nice crew of authors too.  There was author Melanie Conklin who’d written Counting Thyme.  There was The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib author, Adam Shaughnessy. There was the writer behind Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (Kate Beasley) who is from Georgia and is damned adorable. She had cute shoes and mentioned (on an unrelated note) that her family farm has 120 miniature cows.  Extra points to Adam then for jumping in to ask, “Is that where those school milks come from?” Nice.  Kelly Barnhill was there to discuss The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  At one point the conversation turned to Skype visits and Kelly said she would occasionally have the kids talk to her new puppy Sirius Black or her truly disgusting guinea pig Günter. Which, right there. That’s a book. Erica S. Perl herself talked about her upcoming The Capybara Conspiracy, calling it a book, a novel, and a play all in one. Author John David Anderson of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is actually the author I’m reading right now at this exact moment in time.  And, if I might say so, his latest book has a KILLER first chapter.  He described it as “The Holy Grail meets Stand By Me meets Mr. Hollin’s Opus meets . . . . cheesecake.” And finally there was YA author Aimee Carter who has written her first middle grade book in a series.  The book was actually very interesting to me.  It’s called Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den and damned if it doesn’t look a lot like those books that came out around the time Harry Potter was hot.  We haven’t seen a book like this in a long time.  I’ll be watching its progress with interest.

The audience was pretty big and when they asked questions they asked good practical ones, how the authors connect with kids when they Skype into a classroom.

This left the final session of the day and it was a tricky choice. Do you want to see Raina Telgemeier draw from audience suggestions or Kate DiCamillo in conversation with Mr. Schu? For me, I wanted to see the aforementionedTeri and Donalyn in action. Their topic:

Taking CARE of readers: Choice (and community), Access, Response, Engagement

And what happens? I walk in and hear them asking the audience a question: Who was the first Latino to win a Newbery? Due to the fact that like a Pavlovian dog I cannot not listen to a question about children’s literature trivia without needing to be the one to answer it RIGHT NOW, I put my hand up like a fool and declared “Paula Fox” loud and proud. Which won me a bag of goodies by accident.  Oops. I just wanted to answer it SOOO MUCH!!

The gist of this final talk was about the nitty gritty aspects of getting kids to identify as readers. Folks talk so much about getting the skill set down but they don’t spend much time discussing how to get kids to the self-identify as reading kids.

LoveSecretSniperFirst off, the two presenters gave us their “reading audiobiography” over the years, in brief.  And somehow or other, Teri managed to find a real Fabio cover called Love’s Secret Sniper for the talk. Extra points for that.

These days, the two women are now what you might call Free-Range Readers, reading whatever interests them. In fact, they aren’t afraid to recommend the occasional adult book.  For example, at one point they gave a shout out to The Unpersuadables by Will Stork, which sounded absolutely fascinating.  In this book the author examines why it is that otherwise intelligent people are so willing to discount research. Donalyn has seen firsthand that you can tell people how reading is important and yet they won’t believe it even if you have the fact at your disposal.  Why is that?  Turns out, people will jettison beliefs to be part of a group that is important to them. Ignorance is tribalism in these cases, where the deniers of one thing or another find supportive friends. That is FASCINATING! I always love it when a person applies an adult book to the world in which we live and work.  Now I have to find this book.

Going back to the reading autobiography, creating one can be a great thing to do with students.  When they hand them in to you (the teacher) and you look at them, can you identify the engaged readers and the ones who aren’t engaged “yet”?  And really, do books belong to me or do I belong to books or is it some kind of symbiotic relationship?

So how do we best demonstrate our love of reading to our kids (both to your students and, I’d say to your own kids). Donalyn says that passion is key. But if you don’t like reading, they won’t either.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.14.43 AMThis led to another book recommendation: Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books by Carlsen and Sherrill. The book examines the common experiences in building readers in the early grades through high school. It’s out of print (pub date 1988)but you can actually just download the entire text. The truth is that when it lists all the factors that make a reader, they sound awfully familiar.  Owning books, sharing them with friends, setting time aside for it, teachers reading aloud, discussions, and receiving help from librarians all are there.

Then we got into the nitty gritty of it all.  Stand back for . . .

Factors Affecting Reading Identity

They are . . .

  • Time
  • Role models at home and school
  • Access to books
  • Choice of reading materials
  • Diversity.

I won’t delve into what all was said about these points, but Teri and Donalyn did say that their slides will be up on SlideShare and that they’ll post a link on their Twitter accounts soon.

Actually, I will latch on to one of their points, and it’s something I was thinking about a lot at this conference.  As Donalyn was careful to point out, diversity is more than just a hashtag. In her talk she gave the history of #WeNeedDiverseBooks (or #WNDB) with Teri also mentioning that it includes body image and socioeconomic status (YES!). And Teri said straight out that it’s not enough to get all the Pura Belpre and CSK titles in your school or classroom library. Donalyn: “The broader our collections are the more likely we are to invite readers into the communities we are trying to build”.

Since I didn’t attend that many discussions, it’s possible that We Need Diverse Books and diversity in general was covered in other sessions too.  Still, I was a bit disappointed to find that only one of the first speakers of the day (Donalyn again) mentioned it at the start of the conference.

Now let’s bring it back a bit. Let’s talk about outside perceptions of NerdCampMI. One concern that I’ve heard from others about the conference in the past is how white it is. White in terms of the speakers and the books and authors and the attendees.  So let’s unpack that.

First off, it’s true that very few people of color were attending the conference as attendees.  There were some, but even from my group shots you can pretty much see that it was somewhat white.  I don’t know how NerdCampMI organizes or if they make tweaks each and every year.  Nor do I know what goes on behind the scenes.  If I were to guess, I’d say that reaching out to teachers of color is definitely slated for the old To Do list.  As for the books, there were authors of color like Tracey Baptiste, Minh Le, and others, and there were speakers like Kathy Burnette.  Again, efforts have been made in those areas, but there’s some room for improvement.  Fortunately, as Donalyn proved, there’s clearly the inclination and the drive to be inclusive.

This is, as I say, just a recap of Day One.  For the Day Two unconference you’ll need to look for someone else reporting from the scene.

Many thanks to Colby Sharp and Travis and Minh for letting me present and visit NerdCampMI for the first time.  Thanks to the people I met and the sessions I attended.

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13. The Summer Reading T-Shirt Fashion Show

I think we’ve all learned something here today.  When it all comes down to it, and when all is said and done, summer reading t-shirts that are deeply attractive are rare, beautiful butterflies and that should be treasured and honored.  Which is to say . . . .

ARE YOU READY FOR A SUMMER READING T-SHIRT FASHION SHOW?!?!

Of course you are.

As some of you may recall, last week I was bragging something fierce about my library’s shockingly attractive summer reading t-shirt.  Here’s a group shot to give you a sense of what I mean.

summer-reading-2016

Admit it.  You’re just a teeny bit jealous.  Because good looking t-shirts for summer reading are darn hard to find.

So to see how many good looking shirts are out there this year, I put it to the test.  I made a hashtag (#summerreadtee) and asked readers to send me their shirts.

Now as some readers were quick to inform me, not every library system gives free summer reading t-shirts to its employees every year.  To those libraries I offer my condolences.  Not every system has the money to do the t-shirt thing. And after all, t-shirts in summer is a classic library trope!

Here then are the submissions for 2016.

First off, if you’re playing along at home then you know that the theme of summer reading this year is “Read for the Win”.  That means sports sports sports.  And to set this on the right note, here are the libraries that figured out how sports could equal attractive t-shirt wear.

We begin with Lincolnwood, IL, which is not too far from Evanston.  Take note of the attractive blue and white design (complete with white stripes on the sleeves) as well as the fact that they CLEARLY gave their employees size choices.  Now that is a library system that cares!

 

SummerReadTee2

SummerReadTee3

The dog is even wearing one.  The dog.  Thanks to Brita for the link.

Run across the country and you’ll see that Delaware Library had its own way of doing the sports theme:

SummerReadTee8

Extra points for sending a picture taken at a parade. Thanks to Connie for the picture.

Next up, letting Multnomah County Library play is kind of like letting a college kid play baseball with a Pee-Wee League.  That kid is just out of everyone else’s league.  Case in point:

SummerReadTee7

Sporty AND multi-lingual.  Thanks to Kirby for the link.

Speaking of multi-lingual, we’ve a couple shirts that did that pretty darn well.  First up, New Haven, CT went with my favorite color for a t-shirt: red.  You honestly cannot go wrong with red, PARTICULARLY when you cover it in a variety of languages:

SummerReadTee9

Thanks to Deborah Freedman for the link.

Worthington Libraries may win the ribbon for Cutest Submission:

SummerReadTee10

And this next one is such a good idea.  Just have a contest where the kids submit their designs and then turn the winner into t-shirts for one and all.  How crazy wonderful would it feel for the kid who got ALL the library employees to wear their design?  This one comes from the Beaumont Public Library System.

SummerReadTee6

Thanks to Robin Smith for the link.

Carl of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library had a whole host of t-shirts to share from over the years.  For the sake of fairness, I’ve chosen only one.  As I’ve said before, it’s hard to go wrong with black:

SummerReadTee5

And I never specified that the shirts had to be from this year, after all.  The Alamogordo Public Library of New Mexico came up with this shirt for last year’s superhero theme.  “They came in rainbow colors, or with white print on black.”

SummerReadingTee4

Thanks to Ami Jones for the picture.

And finally, we’re going to let this last one in, even though it was submitted by a publisher and technically isn’t a real t-shirt.  I’ll let Lara Starr explain:

“Christian Robinson created a lot of amazing art and objects for a joint summer reading program with San Francisco Public Library, Oakland Public Library and San Mateo County Library. Bookmarks! Badges! Bus Shelter Posters! BUT, they didn’t create Tshirts. BUT, that’s not gonna keep Chronicle Books from playin’!  I Project Runway-ed one of the SPFL’s totes into a kicky halter top modeled by Associate Marketing Manager Jaime Wong. The top features Leo and Jane, the main characters of Robinson’s book Leo.”

SummerReadingTee1

Chronicle Books.  Keepin’ it adorable.

Thanks for playing, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(but my library’s t-shirt is still the best)

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14. Review of the Day: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

InquisitorsTaleThe Inquisitor’s Tale or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
By Adam Gidwitz
Illuminated by Hatem Aly
Dutton Children’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-525-42616-5
Ages 9 and up
On shelves September 27th

God’s hot this year.

To be fair, God has had some fairly strong supporters for quite some time. So if I’m going to clarify that statement a tad, God’s hot in children’s literature this year. Even then, that sentence is pretty vague. Here in America there are loads of Christian book publishers out there, systematically putting out title after title after title each and every year about God, to say nothing of publishers of other religions as well. Their production hasn’t increased hugely in 2016, so why the blanket statement? A final clarification, then: God is hot in children’s books from major non-Christian publishers this year. Ahhhh. That’s better. Indeed, in a year when serious literary consideration is being heaped upon books like John Hendrix’s Miracle Man, in walks Adam Gidwitz and his game changing The Inquisitor’s Tale. Now I have read my fair share of middle grade novels for kids, and I tell you straight out that I have never read a book like this. It’s weird, and unfamiliar, and religious, and irreligious, and more fun than it has any right to be. Quite simply, Gidwitz found himself a holy dog, added in a couple proto-saints, and voila! A book that’s part superhero story, part quixotic holy quest, and part Canterbury Tales with just a whiff of intrusive narration for spice. In short, nothing you’ve encountered in all your livelong days. Bon appétit.

The dog was dead to begin with. A greyhound with a golden muzzle that was martyred in defense of a helpless baby. As various pub goers gather in the year 1242 to catch a glimpse of the king, they start telling stories about this dog that came back from the dead, its vision-prone mistress (a peasant girl named Jeanne), a young monk blessed with inhuman strength (William, son of a lord and a North African woman), and a young Jewish boy with healing capabilities (Jacob). These three very different kids have joined together in the midst of a country in upheaval. Some see them as saints, some as the devil incarnate, and before this tale is told, the King of France himself will seek their very heads. An extensive Author’s Note and Annotated Bibliography appear at the end.

If you are familiar with Mr. Gidwitz’s previous foray into middle grade literature (the Grimm series) then you know he has a penchant for giving the child reader what it wants. Which is to say, blood. Lots of it. In his previous books he took his cue from the Grimm brothers and their blood-soaked tales. Here his focus is squarely on the Middle Ages (he would thank you not to call them “The Dark Ages”), a time period that did not lack for gore. The carnage doesn’t really begin in earnest until William starts (literally) busting heads, and even then the book feels far less sanguine than Gidwitz’s other efforts. I mean, sure, dogs die and folks are burned alive, but that’s pretty tame by Adam’s previous standards. Of course, what he lacks in disembowelments he makes up for with old stand-bys like vomit and farts. Few can match the man’s acuity for disgusting descriptions. He is a master of the explicit and kids just eat that up. Not literally of course. That would be gross. As a side note, he has probably included the word “ass” more times in this book than all the works of J.M. Barrie and Roald Dahl combined. I suspect that if this book is ever challenged in schools or libraries it won’t be for the copious entrails or discussions about God, but rather because at one point the word “ass” (as it refers to a donkey) appears three times in quick, unapologetic succession. And yes, it’s hilarious when it does.

So let’s talk religious persecution, religious fundamentalism, and religious tolerance. As I write this review in 2016 and politicians bandy hate speech about without so much as a blink, I can’t think of a book written for kids more timely than this. Last year I asked a question of my readers: Can a historical children’s book contain protagonists with prejudices consistent with their time period? Mr. Gidwitz seeks to answer that question himself. His three heroes are not shining examples of religious tolerance born of no outside influence. When they escape together they find that they are VERY uncomfortable in one another’s presence. Mind you, I found William far more tolerant of Jacob than I expected (though he does admittedly condemn Judaism once in the text). His dislike of women is an interesting example of someone rejecting some but not all of the childhood lessons he learned as a monk. Yet all three kids fear one another as unknown elements and it takes time and a mutually agreed upon goal to get them from companionship to real friendship.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, religion doesn’t usually get much notice in middle grade books for kids from major publishers these days. And you certainly won’t find discussions about the differences between Christianity and Judaism, as when the knight Marmeluc tries to determine precisely what it is to be Jewish. What I appreciated about this book was how Gidwitz distinguished between the kind of Christianity practiced by the peasants versus the kind practiced by the educated and rich. The peasants have no problem worshipping dogs as saints and even the local priest has a wife that everyone knows he technically isn’t supposed to have. The educated and rich then move to stamp out these localized beliefs which, let’s face it, harken back to the people’s ancestors’ paganism.

Race also comes up a bit, with William’s heritage playing a part now and then, but the real focus is reserved for the history of Christian/Jewish interactions. Indeed, in his wildly extensive Author’s Note at the end, Gidwitz makes note of the fact that race relations in Medieval Europe were very different then than today. Since it preceded the transatlantic slave trade, skin color was rare and contemporary racism remains, “the modern world’s special invention.” There will probably still be objections to the black character having the strength superpower rather than the visions or healing, but he’s also the best educated and intelligent of the three. I don’t think you can ignore that fact.

As for the writing itself, that’s what you’re paying your money for at the end of the day. Gidwitz is on fire here, making medieval history feel fresh and current. For example, when the Jongleur says that some knights are, “rich boys who’ve been to the wars . . . Not proper at all. But still rich,” that’s a character note slid slyly into the storytelling. Other lines pop out at you too. Here are some of my other favorites:

• About that Jongleur, “… he looks like the kind of child who has seen too much of life, who’s seen more than most adults. His eyes are both sharp and dead at the same time. As if he won’t miss anything, because he’s seen it all already.”
• “Jeanne’s mother’s gaze lingered on her daughter another moment, like an innkeeper waiting for the last drop of ale from the barrel tap.”
• “The lord and lady welcomed the knights warmly. Well, the lady did. Lord Bertulf just sat in his chair behind the table, like a stick of butter slowly melting.”
• “Inside her, grand castles of comprehension, models of the world as she had understood it, shivered.”
• And Gidwitz may also be the only author for children who can write a sentence that begins, “But these marginalia contradicted the text…” and get away with it.

Mind you, Gidwitz paints himself into a pretty little corner fairly early on. To rest this story almost entirely on the telling of tales in a pub, you need someone who doesn’t just know the facts of one moment or the next but who could claim to know our heroes’ interior life. So each teller comes to mention each child’s thoughts and feelings in the course of their tale. The nun in the book bears the brunt of this sin, and rather than just let that go Gidwitz continually has characters saying things like, “I want to know if I’m sitting at a table filled with wizards and mind readers.” I’m not sure if I like the degree to which Gidwitz keeps bringing this objection up, or if it detracts from the reading. What I do know is that he sort of cheats with the nun. She’s the book’s deux ex machina (or, possibly the diaboli ex machina) acting partly as an impossibility and partly as an ode to the author’s love of silver haired librarians and teachers out there with “sparkling eyes, and a knowing smile.”

Since a large portion of the story is taken up with saving books as objects, it fits that this book itself should be outfitted with all the beauties of its kind. If we drill down to the very mechanics of the book, we find ourselves admiring the subtleties of fonts. Every time a tale switches between the present day and the story being told, the font changes as well. But to do it justice, the story has been illuminated (after a fashion) by artist Hatem Aly. I have not had the opportunity to see the bulk of his work on this story. I do feel that the cover illustration of William is insufficiently gargantuan, but that’s the kind of thing they can correct in the paperback edition anyway.

Fairy tales and tales of saints. The two have far more in common than either would like to admit. Seen in that light, Gidwitz’s transition from pure unadulterated Grimm to, say, Lives of the Improbable Saints and Legends of the Improbable Saints is relatively logical. Yet here we have a man who has found a way to tie-in stories about religious figures to the anti-Semitism that is still with us to this day. At the end of his Author’s Note, Gidwitz mentions that as he finished this book, more than one hundred and forty people were killed in Paris by terrorists. He writes of Medieval Europe, “It was a time when people were redefining how they lived with the ‘other,’ with people who were different from them.” The echoes reverberate today. Says Gidwitz, “I can think of nothing sane to say about this except this book.” Sermonizers, take note.

On shelves September 27th.

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15. My Library’s Summer Reading T-Shirt is Cuter Than Yours

Or is it?

Folks, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a library in possession of a summer reading program must produce a t-shirt of some kind.  And generally speaking, it is usually a walking eyesore.  Though I owe New York Public Library more than I can ever repay, I must confess that each and every summer I would receive my designated summer reading t-shirt.  It would be size XXXXXL (it’s much easier to give all staff employees a t-shirt if you just make it one-size-fits-all), usually white, and sporting a design that generally looked better on paper than on a living human body.

When I moved to Evanston, IL, I expected more of the same. What I got was this:

SummerReading2016

There were multiple sizes.  It was black (I still retain a New Yorker’s love for that slimming, you-can’t-see-dirt-on-me color).  The design was in red.  It was, to be frank, the most beautiful summer reading t-shirt I’d ever seen.

Which got me to thinking.  I just sort of took it for granted that, like a kind of penance to the library gods above, all summer reading shirts were supposed to be unattractive.  But maybe I was wrong from the start.

So here’s my challenge to you: Send me a picture of your summer reading shirt if it is more attractive than this one.  Then I’ll compile the results and create a Summer Reading T-Shirt Fashion Show.  Not only will this be a way you can give props to the design team of your local library, but it could give some libraries ideas for their own attractive summer reading t-shirt designs in the future.

All t-shirt designs may be sent to fusenumber8 at gmail dot com.  Looking forward to them!

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16. What Good Are Windows and Mirrors When the Windows Just Look at Your Own Back Yard?

“If we don’t offer children literature from other languages, we are starving them.” Philip Pullman (TES, 2005)

USBBYPhew! I’d been planning on doing a round-up of some of the speeches and talks I sat in on at the ALA Conference in Orlando a week or so ago, only to find that I’d lost my notes.  They have since resurfaced.

When one attends an ALA Conference in full, it is useful to decide early what kind of talks you’d like to attend.  Is your interest in copyright or preservation?  Do you have more of a yen to learn about sustainable thinking, coding groups, STEM collaboration, or small scale digitization?  This year I decided to concentrate more on international children’s literature.  It’s an interest that has grown within me over the past few years and I was curious to learn more about the topic.

First up, Diverse Books from Across the Globe.  Description: “How can the local library help voices from emerging markets and developing countries be heard? How can we make their books available to refugee populations and foreign language speakers across the United States? Join innovators from Library for All to look at how libraries can continue to support access to quality educational materials in an increasingly global context.”  The panelists included Rebecca McDonald of Library for All, Kerri Poore of First Book, and Hannah Ehrlich of Lee & Low Books.

This was right up my alley.  As I say, my interest in international literature for kids has peaked over the last few years, possibly kickstarted by an event held at The New School in NYC that addressed American discomfort with books from other nations.  With all the talk of getting kids to read more diverse books, there’s been very little talk about getting kids to read books that are from a diverse range of countries.  Windows and mirrors are great, but why do the windows always have to look at our own back yards?  Now with the rise of Donald Trump and the recent Brexit vote, nativism is at an all-time high, making me wonder why we don’t talk more about the value of teaching kids about other cultures through those nations’ books.  I’m no innocent.  I don’t think the world’s problems can be solved if kids in Texas read more books written for kids in Iraq.  Nor do I think that American discomfort with the art of other nations (whether it’s foreign films or translated novels) is relegated solely to picture books.  That said, there is value in learning, at a young age, the different ways in which other nations and cultures tell their stories.

LibraryForAllSo!  The talk!  It was such an interesting collection of speakers.  The focus of this particular panel was how to meet the needs of kids in the United States that have families from international cultures.  I confess that I’d never heard of Library for All before.  Though their primary purpose is to bring books to poverty stricken areas of the world, the organization also works closely with First Book to bring books from other countries to kids here in America.  What struck me as particularly interesting is how they will essentially become book detectives for specific cultures and languages.  Which is to say, they’ll go into other countries to seek out and find books that would otherwise never make it to American shores.

When it was time for questions I asked how librarians can work to promote international books here in the United States.  There are some problems with doing so, of course.  There is, and has always been, a marked preference for diverse American books vs. diverse international literature.  Add in the fact that such books can only win a couple awards here and there, and there’s very little incentive on the part of the publishers to promote or distribute them.

In answering it was Hannah Ehrlich who gave me quite a lot to chew on.  She pointed out to me (and this is key) that this isn’t just a children’s book problem.  The wider difficulty comes with getting Americans as a whole used to different narrative styles.  One way to do this is to get very young children used to these different kinds of books from the start.

leelowAnother factor?  The discoverability of international children’s book is key.  Visibility is, in many ways, the greatest hurdle to overcome.  That’s why we have USBBY lists like their yearly release of Outstanding International Books (you can find the 2016 list here).  But the greatest hurdle?  Getting such books into curriculum.  To do this, publishers like Lee & Low work with the school and library market.  The problem is that the text complexity of these books is often their downfall.  Books written for foreign markets don’t care two bits about leveling.  As a result, they’re often kept out of those schools that live and die by Fountas and Pinnell and their ilk.

So what can be done?  The panelists had some excellent suggestions.  First off, let’s be honest.  International children’s literature can sometimes be a hard sell.  You can’t introduce these books to Americans cold.  If you’re going to introduce a global perspective into your classroom, you need to foster a dialogue around these books.  As for librarians, do displays of translated children’s books!  Start international book clubs where you highlight a different country every month.  And be aware that some types of books simply do not exist in other countries.  Young adult literature, for example, just isn’t an age level designation in some places.

It was a good talk.

The second one I attended a little later was entitled Conversation Starter: Other People’s Voices: Using Global Literature in Translation to Reimagine Diversity in Libraries. Its panel consisted of Rachel Hildebrandt, Marc Aronson, and moderator Doris Gebel.

The problem?  I had difficulty finding the room and missed Marc Aronson’s opening remarks.  Too bad, since the man is a positive machine of good quotes.  Here’s one I was able to catch:

“It is wrong to hem our children in to a national experience when they are living an international experience.”

Since the focus on this talk was, to a certain extent, translation, I was particularly intrigued by a mention made of something called The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative.  In June there was an excellent piece in YALSA’s The Hub blog explaining what this is.  As their mission statement says:

“. . . the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative strives to raise the visibility of world literature for adults and children at the local, national and international levels. We intend to do so by facilitating close and direct collaboration between translators and librarians, because we believe translators are uniquely positioned to help librarians provide support and events to engage readers of all ages in a library framework that explores and celebrates literature from around the world.”

There are a lot of great points in the piece.  For example, when talking about the lack of international books available to a lot of kids today in our increasingly interconnected global world it said that, “Librarians play a key role in counteracting this dangerous insularity.”

ManWhoCollinsOn the panel, the panelists mentioned that our love affair with translation is a funny, fickle thing.  We do well when it comes to Pippi Longstocking, but we’re not great when it comes to contemporary literature.  That gives the U.S. book market, and American children’s books in general, cultural dominance.  To get an outsider perspective is invaluable to kids today.  For example, in 2004 Chronicle Books won the Batchelder Award for The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins by Bea Uusma Schyffert, translated from the Swedish by Emi Guner.  And let me tell you, our space program looks a LOT different when its story is told by someone other than rah-rah Americans.

Doris Gebel urged the attendees to start kids young on international literature.  Fail to do so and they won’t have a yearning for it as teens.  Show them those “strange” books that confuse you, the adult.  “Our young children need other books from other lands every day.”

Mention was made of the two major book lists/awards of translated children’s literature in the States.  One is the Batchelder Award (named after Evanston librarian Mildred L. Batchelder so HOMETOWN PRIDE!) which is given each year.  The International Books List (which I mentioned before) celebrates 40 books and breaks them down by age groups.  That’s great, but the bulk of the books are from Western countries.

bookbirdIt was at this point that Marc Aronson spoke about the importance of distinctive translations.  Take Anne Frank’s diary, for example.  The version we read in schools is a very particular rendering.  A lot of people would be shocked to hear that there are different versions out there.  This reminded me of an article I read in Book Bird (a fantastic international children’s book periodical) years ago about how translating Hans Christian Andersen changes the meaning of his stories, depending on the translator.  Until I read that piece it wasn’t something I’d thought about.  As Marc said, “Translation is a creative act.”  Mention was made at this time of the fact that for the very first time a woman has translated an edition of Madame Bovary.  Meanwhile the famous translator of 100 Years of Solitude just died.  If you think you know that book and you speak English, you only know his version.

Today, things are perking up.  In the last five years we’ve seen more small independent presses translating children’s books than ever before.  Often these publishers are their own translators.  Look at that USBBY list.  It’s almost entirely small presses.  And if these small presses don’t get reviewed in most of the journals out there (Kirkus is beloved to me because they take special care in reviewing the little guys) then the books just don’t get any attention.

When the audience members came up to speak, we heard some fascinating takes on all this.  One woman said that the bulk of books translated from Colombia in the United States are about losing weight.  She has Colombian immigrants in her library wondering aloud to her why Americans want them to lose weight so much, but that’s just what’s (weirdly) available.

So let’s talk solutions.  What can libraries do to promote translated materials?  Well, we could work with our immigrant communities more.  Doris also pointed out that storytimes of translated books and library displays of translations could be useful as well.  That got me to thinking how cool it would be if someone were to create lists like, “Top Ten Kids’ Books Translated from German” or “Top Ten Kids’ Books Translated from Swahili”.  Or by country!

ICDLWhich finally brings us to the International Digital Children’s Library.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please check it out.  Seeking to serve the international community, the site makes, “the best in children’s literature available online free of charge.”

Also mentioned was the collection at Worlds of Words, at the University of Arizona. The description reads, “Worlds of Words is committed to providing a range of resources to encourage educators at all levels to integrate global literature into the lives of children. The resources on this site grew out of work in schools around the world and the identification of needs…”

Thanks to both panels for this fascinating exchange of ideas.  Much to chew on here.

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17. Video Sunday: Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends

Aww. Didja miss these? It’s not like I see as many videos these days, y’know. Not for lack of interest. They just don’t float in front my nose the way they used to. Fortunately there are a couple that I’ve collected in my travels and I’m featuring them here today. They may be a bit old. You may have seen them 100 times before. But what the hey, right? Life is short.

First up, ALSC released the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder reaction videos.  Grab your popcorn and enjoy:

I just saw this next trailer online (thank you, Monica!) and I cannot convey to you the avarice I hold for anyone who has already seen this.  It’s Matt Phelan’s latest.  And it’s gorgeous:

Another trailer to follow.  True, the violin brings to mind a kind of Ken Burns-y feel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A couple months ago young Marley Dias put out the call for middle grade black girl books. I missed the fact that she appeared on Ellen. Problem alleviated!

EllenMarley

Thanks to Rita Williams-Garcia for the link.

I do not wish to take away from Travis Jonker his drop dead amazing compilation of peculiar I WANT MY HAT BACK videos he compiled.  So I will just put one here and tell you to go to his site to see the rest.

This does my little 1984 heart good.

It’s summer.  Everyone’s making summer reading videos.  This is my library’s.  My superintendent is sitting on a slide (at Penny Park, clearly).  It gives me great respect for the man.  Plus, check out that logo at the end.  I hate to say it, guys, but I think my library hosts the most attractive summer reading t-shirt this year.

Hm.  That would make a good blog post. . . .

And just to round this all out in a nice way, here’s the book trailer for Evan Turk’s The Storyteller (one of the most beautiful picture books of the year):

Happy 4th of July!

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18. Review of the Day: Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

FreedomOverMeFreedom Over Me: Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life
By Ashley Bryan
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1481456906
Ages 9 and up
On shelves September 13th

Who gives voice to the voiceless? What are your credentials when you do so? When I was a teen I used to go into antique stores and buy old family photographs from the turn of the century. It still seems odd to me that this is allowed. I’d find the people who looked the most interesting, like they had a story to tell, and I’d take them home with me. Then I’d write something about their story, though mostly I just liked to look at them. There is a strange comfort in looking at the faces of the fashionable dead. A little twinge of momento mori mixed with the knowledge that you yourself are young (possibly) and alive (probably). It’s easy to hypothesize about a life when you can see that person’s face and watch them in their middle class Sunday best. It is far more difficult when you have no face, a hint of a name, and/or maybe just an age. Add to this the idea that the people in question lived through a man made hell-on-earth. When author/illustrator/artist Ashley Bryan acquired a collection of slave-related documents from the 1820s to the 1860s he had in his hands a wealth of untold stories. And when he chose to give these people, swallowed by history, lives and dignity and peace, he did so as only he could. With the light and laughter and beauty that only he could find in the depths of uncommon pain. Freedom Over Me is a work of bravery and sense. A way of dealing with the unimaginable, allowing kids an understanding that there is a brain, heart, and soul behind every body, alive or dead, in human history.

The date on the Fairchilds Appraisement is July 5, 1828. On it you will find a list of goods to be sold. Cows, hogs, cotton . . . and people. Eleven people, if we’re going to be precise (and we are). Most have names. One does not. Just names on a piece of paper almost 200-years-old. So Ashley Bryan, he takes those names and those people, and for the first time in centuries we get to meet them. Here is Athelia, a laundress who once carried the name Adero. On one page we hear about her life. On the next, her dreams. She remembers the village she grew up in, the stories, and the songs. And she is not alone in this. As we meet each person and learn what they do, we get a glimpse into their dreams. We hear their hopes. We wonder about their lives. We see them draw strength from one another. And in the end? The sale page sits there. The final words: “Administered to the best of our Judgment.”

FreedomOverMe1I have often said, and I say it to this day, that if there were ever a Church of Ashley Bryan, every last person who has ever met him or heard him speak would be a member. There are only a few people on this great green Earth that radiant actual uncut goodness right through their very pores. Mr. Bryan is one of those few, so when I asked at the beginning of this review what the credentials are for giving voice to the voiceless, check off that box. There are other reasons to trust him, though. A project of this sort requires a certain level of respect for the deceased. To attain that, and this may seem obvious, the author has to care. Read enough books written for kids and you get a very clear sense of those books written by folks who do not care vs. folks that do. Even then, caring’s not really enough. The writing needs to be up to speed and the art needs to be on board. And for this particular project, Ashley Bryan had a stiffer task at hand. Okay. You’ve given them full names and backgrounds and histories. What else do they need? Bryan gives these people something intangible. He gives them dreams. It’s right there in the subtitle, actually: “Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life.”

And so the book is a work of fiction. There is no amount of research that could discover Bacus or Peggy or Dora’s true tales. So when we say that Bryan is giving these people their lives back, we acknowledge that the lives he’s giving them aren’t the exact lives they led. And so we know that each person is a representative above and beyond the names on that page. Hence the occupations. Betty is every gardener. Stephen every architect. Dora every child that was born to a state of slavery and labored under it, perhaps their whole lives. And there is very little backmatter included in this book. Bryan shows the primary documents alongside a transcription of the sales. There is also an Author’s Note. Beyond that, you bring to the book what you already know about slavery, making this a title for a slightly older child readership. Bryan isn’t going to spend these pages telling you every daily injustice of slavery. Kids walk in with that knowledge already in place. What they need now is some humanity.

FreedomOverMe3Has Mr. Bryan ever done anything with slavery before? I was curious. I’ve watched Mr. Bryan’s books over the years and they are always interesting. He’s done spirituals as cut paper masterpieces. He’s originated folktales as lively and quick as their inspirational forbears. He makes puppets out of found objects that carry with them a feeling not just of dignity, but pride. But has he ever directly done a book that references slavery? So I examined his entire repertoire, from the moment he illustrated Black Boy by Richard Wright to Susan Cooper’s Jethro and the Jumbie to Ashley Bryan’s African Folktales, Uh-Huh and beyond. His interest in Africa and song and poetry knows no bounds, but never has he engaged so directly with slavery itself.

Could this have been done as anything but poetry? Or would you even call each written section poetry? I would, but I’ll be interested to see where libraries decide to shelve the book. Do you classify it as poetry or in the history section under slavery? Maybe, for all that it seems to be the size and shape of a picture book, you’d put it in your fiction collection. Wherever you put it, I am reminded, as I read this book, of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! where every lord and peasant gets a monologue from their point of view. Freedom Over Me bears more than a passing similarity to Good Masters. In both cases we have short monologues any kid could read aloud in class or on their own. They are informed by research, and their scant number of words speak to a time we’ll never really know or understand fully. And how easy it would be to turn this book into a stage play. I can see it so easily. Imagine if you turned the Author’s Note into the first monologue and Ashley Bryan his own character (behold the 10-year-old dressed up as him, mustache and all). Since the title of the book comes from the spiritual “Oh, Freedom!” you could either have the kids sing it or play it in the background. And for the ending? A kid playing the lawyer or possibly Mrs. Fairchilds or even Ashley comes out and reads the statement at the end with each person and their price and the kids step forward holding some object that defines them (clothing sewn, books read, paintings, etc.). It’s almost too easy.

FreedomOverMe2The style of the art was also interesting to me. Pen, ink, and watercolors are all Mr. Bryan (who is ninety-two years of age, as of this review) needs to render his people alive. I’ve see him indulge in a range of artistic mediums over the years. In this book, he begins with an image of the estate, an image of the slaves on that estate, and then portraits and renderings of each person, at rest or active in some way. “Peggy” is one of the first women featured, and for her portrait Ashley gives her face whorls and lines, not dissimilar to those you’d find in wood. This technique is repeated, to varying degrees, with the rest of the people in the book. First the portrait. Then an image of what they do in their daily lives or dreams. The degree of detail in each of these portraits changes a bit. Peggy, for example, is one of the most striking. The colors of her skin, and the care and attention with which each line in her face is painted, make it clear why she was selected to be first. I would have loved the other portraits to contain this level of detail, but the artist is not as consistent in this regard. Charlotte and Dora, for example, are practically line-less, a conscious choice, but a kind of pity since Peggy’s portrait sets you up to think that they’ll all look as richly detailed and textured as she.

Those old photographs I once collected may well be the only record those people left of themselves on this earth, aside from a name in a family tree and perhaps on a headstone somewhere. So much time has passed since July 5, 1828 that it is impossible to say whether or not the names on Ashley’s acquired Appraisement are remembered by their descendants. Do families still talk about Jane or Qush? Is this piece of paper the only part of them that remains in the world? It may not have been the lives they led, but Ashley Bryan does everything within his own personal capacity to keep these names and these people alive, if just for a little longer. Along the way he makes it clear to kids that slaves weren’t simply an unfortunate mass of bodies. They were architects and artists and musicians. They were good and bad and human just like the rest of us. Terry Pratchett once wrote that sin is when people treat other people as objects. Ashley treats people as people. And times being what they are, here in the 21st century I’d say that’s a pretty valuable lesson to be teaching our kids today.

On shelves September 13th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

Misc: Interested in the other books Mr. Bryan has written or illustrated over the course of his illustrious career?  See the full list on his website here.

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19. Review of the Day: Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari

CoyoteMoon1Coyote Moon
By Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-041-1
Ages 4-7
On shelves July 19th

I feel as if there was less nature out there when I was a kid. Crazy, right? But seriously, as I grew to be an adult I was appalled at the discovery that other people in the United States had to deal with stuff like ticks and chiggers and painful jellyfish and worse. Me? The worst encounter I ever had with something stinging or biting were a couple of sweat bees on my knuckles. But the critter that seemed the most impossible in terms of everyday encounters has been, and continues to be to this day (until the moment we come face-to-face) the coyote. Coyotes were always the heroes of Wild West tales of Native American folklore. They didn’t just wander into your Michigan backyard or anything . . . did they? Now, thanks to books like the beautiful Coyote Moon I learn that coyotes live in every American state except Hawaii. Best that I get as much information as possible about them then. Thankfully, I’ve lots of help. Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline ratchet up the realism to eleven, making it hard to walk away from this book without considering the modern coyote’s plight.

The sun has set and the moon is on the rise. What better time for a coyote momma to leave her den and search for tasty morsels for her kin? Slipping in and out of the shadows of a suburban neighborhood, the coyote attempts to secure a mouse, a rabbit, and even the eggs of Canadian geese, all to no avail. As the sun begins to rise in the east, however, the coyote smells, seas, and hears a flock of turkeys. There is no hemming or hawing now. Without another thought she secures a big one for her family. Of course, before she returns home, she howls. A potentially dangerous act to perform so close to humans, but fortunately the one person who hears her is the one person who understands why she would howl in the first place. Backmatter consists of Coyote Facts, Further Reading, and Websites.

CoyoteMoon2 copyThe book is not written in verse or rhyme, but there’s something inherently rhythmic to Ms. Gianferrari’s text. Listen to how she begins the book: “Moon rises, as Coyote wakes in her den, a hollow-out pine in a cemetery. Coyote crawls between roots. She sniffs the air, arches her back, shakes her fur.” That’s beautiful, that is. Gianferrari’s text is like that from start to finish and it all gets particularly interesting near the end. What an interesting choice it was to switch into the second person near the story’s end. “You open your window… You watch as Coyote slips under the fence painted pink by the sun.” Interesting too that the coyote gets her name capitalized throughout the story. She’s the heroine, no bones about it, and refusing to give her a name keeps her appropriately wild. Capitalizing the word “coyote”, however, gives just the slightest personal bent to an otherwise impersonal descriptive name.

Which brings us to the art. I’ve been a big time fan of artist Bagram Ibatoulline for years. He’s one of those artists that are so good he’ll never ever win any American illustration awards. Such people exist all the time and this is particularly true of artists who truck with realism. Ibatoulline’s challenge here is twofold. On the one hand, he has to render the coyote and her environment in a nighttime setting without sacrificing detail. On the other hand, without giving his character any anthropomorphized tendencies, he also needs to make her sympathetic in her quest to provide food for her babies. The end result is fascinating to watch. With the aid of a full moon, Ibatoulline believably provides just enough light to justify seeing every single solitary hair on the coyote mama’s pelt. Often her eyes are the most colorful things on the page, aided in part by the streetlights as well. He even manages to give the sky that odd pink/grey color it sometimes takes on thanks to light pollution. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it so perfectly rendered in a picture book before. Then there’s his ability to accurately render the light of an early dawn. We see the light striking the trees, the day beginning on the houses, and silhouetted against the lake the mama coyote. And even then, every single hair on her head is present and accounted for. How does he do that?

CoyoteMoon3 copyI read almost every picture book I review to my kids at some point or another, and I’m glad that I do. Even after all these years, they have the ability to surprise me. For example, if you’d asked me if this were a tense or scary book in any way I’d have initially said no. Yet clearly the book is capable of touching a nerve. My staid stoic five-year-old daughter, who recently informed me that The Walking Dead couldn’t possibly be all that scary a show, was positively petrified by the image of the coyote making her first pounce. No wolf attacking Little Red Riding Hood has ever made such an impression on her as that shot. Fortunately, it’s almost as if Mr. Ibatoulline and Ms. Gianferrari anticipated this. As a parent I was able to smoothly flip back three pages and show the baby coyote cubs near the den and explain that this was their mama. The explanation went a far ways towards alleviating her anxiety. Later, when the coyote gets a big mouth of turkey, Ibatoulline frames the shot in such a way as to display minimal carnage. All you get is, on one page coyote’s face ending just under her nose and on the other the tail, drifting feathers indicating the turkey’s dire fate.

Some folks might make the argument that this book is clearly nonfiction, and you could see their point. If we take the heroine of this story to be an average coyote and not a single one, thereby making this an average situation and not a specific one, then combined with the backmatter (the copious “Coyote Facts” as well as the bibliography for both further reading and websites) you almost find yourself in nonfiction territory. So out of curiosity I decided to see how my library’s distributor, Baker & Taylor, characterized the book. Lo and behold, they call it straight up nonfiction, no bones about it. Personally, I don’t agree. For whatever reason, for all that the book is informative and interesting, I still found the storyline just a tad too fictionalized to count as a purely informational text. Why is this? Compare the book to Hungry Coyote by Cheryl Blackford. In both cases you have average coyote storylines, and both very realistic indeed. Gianferrari has the leg up in this case since her book has nonfiction backmatter, but in both cases I felt like I was hearing a story more than I was learning factual information. Certainly authors can do both, but at the end of the day it’s the librarians who’ll decide where to shelve the puppy. And for me, any picture book collection should be honored to receive this book.

After finishing Coyote Moon I truly believe I have a better sense of coyotes now, and not a moment too soon. Just the other day I was told that the house I’m currently renting is on a little street, dubbed by the neighbors “Coyote Way”. I was told not to be surprised if I see those cheerful souls walking down the road to their destination. And while I have no desire to get up close and personal with the clan, it would be cool to watch from my windows. So thank you, Ms. Gianferrari and Mr. Ibatoulline for giving me the confidence, courage, and curiosity to see this through. I have little doubt that those qualities, to a certain extent the very benchmarks of childhood itself, will resonate with curious young readers everywhere. Lots of younger kids love wolves. These coyotes are about to give those wolves a real run for their money. Beautiful work. Beautiful stuff.

On shelves July 19th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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20. Newbery/Caldecott 2017: The Summer Prediction Edition

Fickle little me. Titles appear. Titles disappear. Many of the books I placed on my Spring 2017 predictions list are gone by June, and what has changed?  Aren’t the books as wonderful now as they were when I originally propped them up?  Of course they are, but I’ve done enough book discussions in the intervening months that I feel as if I’ve a better grasp on what’s a contender.  Not that my track record is by any means perfect.  These are, as ever, just my professional opinion.  And I may have gone a little crazy with the Caldecott predictions this time around . . .

Be sure to check out the 100 Scope Notes post on books that Goodreads readers think have a real shot too.

2017 Caldecott Predictions

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales

ThunderBoy

I read this one a long time ago and liked it just fine.  Personally, it wasn’t hitting me in the same way as Yuyi’s previous two books had, but I certainly enjoyed the spirit and energy and sheer love coming off the pages.  Then I talked about it with a bunch of other librarians and when we sat down and looked at those images, one after another, and discussed how one leads to another and how well Yuyi is able to convey familial affection with just the simplest of movements . . . well, I’m sold.  In fact, I may have just been convinced that this is her best book yet.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

DuIzTak

Unlike many of my honored colleagues, I’m pretty darn neutral on Ellis. As a person she’s sweet as peaches on the vine but her art has never left me feeling warm and snuggly.  Now those of you who know me know that I’ve a weakness for weirdness.  Dark horse medal contenders are my favorites.  All the more reason that I should incline towards this strange, silly, downright odd little tale of bugs speaking their own (very comprehensible) language and the flower that inspires them.  I’ve read this book many times to my own kids and I can honestly say that it’s a perfect combination of luscious, lovely, occasionally terrifying art and kid-friendly storylines.

This House Once by Deborah Freedman

ThisHouseOnce

Dude, I was into Freedman when Scribble came out.  When I saw that book I remember thinking to myself, “This lady’s got something to her.  By gum, she’s going places!”  And yes.  I do actually use phrases like “by gum” in my head.  I’ve also been known to substitute it for “golly”, “gee willikers”, and “well slap my face and call me Bertha.”  But I digress.  I’m still parsing my thoughts on this book, which is both like every Freedman book you’ve ever seen and is vastly different from them all.  Worth thinking about.

Miracle Man by John Hendrix

MiracleMan

I mean, I put it to you. Can a Jesus book win a Caldecott in the 21st century?  Considering that the 1938 Medal Winner, which is to say the very first Caldecott ever given out, went to Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book, I’d say there was a precedent.  This is another wild card, and I don’t envy the Caldecott committee this discussion.  It’s hard to not to be in awe of Hendrix’s typography alone.

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, ill. Beth Krommes

BeforeMorning

Do you do that thing I do where if a person has won a Newbery or Caldecott Medal (not Honor) before then you sort of give them second billing when thinking about future award winners?  I do that all the time, but when you see a book as gorgeous as this one you put all that aside.  In this hot June month, something as lovely, cool, and refreshing as this snowbound wonder book is of infinite relief.  Krommes outdoes herself here, and the emotional beats of the book thump strong.  Is that a phrase?  I’m keeping it in.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, ill. Erin E. Stead

Uncorker

Mmm. Deceptively simple, this one.  Like Krommes, Stead already has a nice and shiny Caldecott Medal under her belt.  I had the pleasure of hearing Cuevas and Stead discussing this book during Day of Dialog at Book Expo this year.  Here’s a fun game: Read the text without looking at the pictures.  You might get an entirely different view of the proceedings.  Stead’s mark is so strong and her images so beautiful that it may contribute heavily to the book’s potential win.  We shall see.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead

IdeasAllAround

Mind you, he has another book out this year (Samson in the Snow) and it wouldn’t surprise me even a hundredth of a jot if he won the Caldecott for that instead.  This is Mr. Stead’s hoity-er toity-er offering.  Beautiful, no question.  But a touch on the esoteric side.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child

I have been waiting for this book for approximately five years.  Little, Brown & Co. is sick to death of me asking, “This year?  How ’bout this year?  Is it coming out this year?”  To see the art in person floors you.  Steptoe painted entirely on found wood and the storytelling of Basquiat himself is sublime.  This is one of my top picks, no question at all.  You are in for such a treat when you read it!!!

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

Storyteller1

GAH!!  So good!  So very very very very good.  I’m not going to railroad you with reasons.  Just read my review if you’re curious.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo

jazzday1

Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Books, as awarded by a clearly BRILLIANT committee *cough cough*.  Vallejo is a first timer here, but you’d never know it from the art.  As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t slot into any categories very easily.  Hopefully the committee will recognize the art for what it is – extraordinary and distinguished.

 They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

TheyAllSawCat

And, the winner.  Done.  Nothing more to see here, folks.

I’m sorry . . . you’ve not seen this one?  Oh.  Well, it’s quite simple.  Wenzel has created the Caldecott winner for 2017.  Don’t know what’s confusing about that.  You’ll understand when you see it for yourself.  I don’t want to call it self-explanatory.  Let’s just say, it’s a bit of a given.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford, ill. R. Gregory Christie

 FreedomCongo

Like Yuyi’s book, it took me a little while to come around to this one.  Christie’s art changes subtly from book to book.  Here, he appears to be channeling the ghost of Jacob Lawrence.  That’s a good thing.  An amazing solution to rendering slavery and its horrors accurately but still in a way that’s friendly to kids on the younger end of the education scale.  After you read this one, you just gotta dance.

2017 Newbery Predictions

My Newbery reads continue to lag vs. my Caldecott reads (picture books are just easier to read quickly!).  Fortunately, I’ve been lucky in what’s crossed my plate.  If the jury would be so good as to consider . . .

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

WildRobot1

A long shot, no question.  Its potential relies entirely on the kinds of readers you’ll find on the Newbery committee this year.  This book requires one to stretch their incredulity from time to time.  If you can do so, the rewards are vast.  Such a good bedtime book.  It would be a joy to see this make the list.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

FreedomOverMe

I call this one Simon & Schuster’s Secret Weapon.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read this brief plot description for yourself: “Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.”  Only it’s even better than that.  Bryan is doing something completely new here and the writing is perfect.  Don’t count this one out.  I think it has some real legs.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

RaymieNightingale

It’s good.  Deeply sad (a theme in 2016) but an honest-to-goodness page turner.  I reviewed it here but I’m still parsing it in my mind.  There is a LOT to chew on in these scant little pages.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

WhenGreen1

Poor poetry.  I’ll be your friend.  This is a book where the poems start off sounding pretty rote (this is hardly the first poetry-for-every-season-of-the-year book in the world) but then you get sucked into Fogliano’s writing.  I like the art just fine, but the text is the true star of the show.  You may read my review here if you’re curious.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

FullofBeans

Here’s a fun quiz question for you: Has a prequel to a Newbery Honor ever won a Newbery itself?  If this book continues Holm’s winning streak we may get our answer.  Mind you, Holm has never won herself a Newbery Award proper.  This wouldn’t be a bad book to do so.  Just saying.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

We had our Pax push and even a Pax backlash, so at this point I think we’re ahead of the game.  Clearly this book has legs and a LOT of people discussing it.  I think it continues to be one of the strongest contenders.  A book that could only be tossed out on a technicality.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Turner, ill. Gareth Hinds

SamuraiRising

YES!  What’s that line from The Princess Bride?  “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”  Not so many giants and monsters in this and the true love . . . well, you could make a case for it.  Otherwise, I think we’re pretty close.  Bloody but upbeat, that’s for sure.  You can read my review of it here.

Wolf’s Hollow by Lauren Wolk

WolfHollow

Originally written as an adult novel, this book was turned into one for kids with very little touches and tweaks.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s a very strong one.  I could see it going head to head with all the other major contenders.  Better go out and read it when you get a chance.  My review is here.

And that’s all she copiously wrote!  What have I missed?  Spill it.  I know there’s a gap in there somewhere a mile wide.

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21. Tru & Nelle: A Behind-the-Scenes Mini Documentary

TruNelleGreg Neri.  Now there’s a guy with range.  If he isn’t writing a picture book bio of Johnny Cash he’s doing a middle grade novel on inner city cowboys or a graphic novel on Chicago’s South Side.  Some authors fall into predictable patterns.  Not Greg.  I honestly never know what the man’s going to come up with next.  So when I heard that his next novel was a middle grade about the real-life friendship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, it just kinda made crazy sense.

Greg actually visited me here in Evanston a couple months ago with a small group of fellow authors.  Not long after, he touched base and told me that he’d gotten an invitation to speak at the Monroeville courthouse from To Kill a Mockingbird.  When that happened, his friend and filmmaker e.E Charlton-Trujillo (who wrote the amazing Prizefighter En Mi Casa) said the two of them should make a little documentary about his journey there in search of the real places and people behind the book.

Now the video is done and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  And just because you guys are so handsome and clever, I’ll let you have TWO mini-docs for the price of one.  Video #1 is the long version (9.5 minutes).  Video #2 is shorter (5 minutes).

Enjoy!

Interested in chatting with Greg about his books?  Well, if you’re headed to Orlando this week for the Annual Library Conference, he’ll be signing at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth this Saturday at 10am.

Here’s a link where anyone can read more about the book: http://www.gregneri.com/home/#/tru-and-nelle/

Thanks to Greg for the scoop!

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22. Press Release Fun: Touring with Richard Peck

RichardPeck

Photo credit Sonya Sones (who, coincidentally, did my author photo as well)

As I mentioned in my 2016 Day of Dialog round-up, Richard Peck was the kickoff speaker this year, just before Book Expo.  I was moderating the middle grade fiction panel that morning, so I got to hang out with Richard in the green room a little before the event.  Now I’ve met him in the past, but very briefly indeed (I think I moderated a table for him at a different Book Expo event years ago).  A little more recently I posted on this blog about the fact that actress Lena Dunham has a Fair Weather tattoo.  I was assured by Richard’s editor later that she sent Lena a signed copy of Fair Weather after reading my post.

In any case, long story short, Richard by all rights shouldn’t have remembered me.  The man meets hundreds of librarians monthly, and yet if he’d forgotten my face he faked it with aplomb.  “You reviewed my pocket square!” he declared, and indeed that does sound like me.  Story checks out.

When you listen to Richard speak, it’s not talking.  It’s not speechifying.  It’s pure oratory, in crisp, clean perfection.  It makes you long for a time when students were taught public speaking as an artform.  And now, you lucky ducks, you have a chance to hear him firsthand.  You see, Richard has a new book out.  The details, should you be interested, are:

THE BEST MAN by Richard Peck (on sale September 20th; Ages 9-12; $16.99)

BestMan

When Archer is in sixth grade, his beloved uncle Paul marries another man–Archer’s favorite student teacher. But that’s getting ahead of the story, and a wonderful story it is. In Archer’s sweetly naïve but observant voice, his life through elementary school is recounted: the outspoken, ever-loyal friends he makes, the teachers who blunder or inspire, and the family members who serve as his role models. From one exhilarating, unexpected episode to another, Archer’s story rolls along as he puzzles over the people in his life and the kind of person he wants to become . . . and manages to help his uncle become his best self as well.

And since Richard’s on tour for this book, you can see him yourself.  I don’t often post tour dates here, but I do make the occasional exception.  And Richard is worth seeing.

The dates:

Monday, September 19th – DENVER, CO

6 PM

Tattered Cover

2526 E Colfax Ave

Denver, CO 80206

 

Thursday, September 29th – BELLINGHAM, WA

4 PM

Village Books

1200 11th St

Bellingham, WA 98225

 

Friday, September 30th – SEATTLE, WA

Time to Be Announced

Secret Garden Bookshop

2214 NW Market St, Seattle

WA 98107

 

Sunday, October 2nd – DANVILLE, CA

11 AM

Rakestraw Books

3 Railroad Ave

Danville, CA 94526

 

Tuesday, October 4th – PLEASANTON, CA

Time to be Announced

Towne Center Books

555 Main St

Pleasanton, CA 94566

 

Wednesday, October 5th – SAN JOSE, CA

3 PM

Hicklebees

1378 Lincoln Ave

San Jose, CA 95125

 

Tuesday, October 18th – NAPERVILLE, IL

7 pm

Andersons

123 W Jefferson Ave

Naperville, IL 60540

 

Wednesday, October 19th –NORTHBROOK, IL

Time to be Announced

Book Bin

1151 Church St

Northbrook, IL 60062

 

Thursday, October 20th – CHICAGO, IL

7 PM

The Book Stall

811 Elm St

Winnetka, IL 60093

 

Friday, November 4th – Raleigh, NC

7 PM

Quail Ridge Books

4381-105 Lassiter at North Hills Avenue

Raleigh, NC 27609

Author Bio:

Richard Peck has won almost every children’s fiction award, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Newbery Medal, the Scott O’Dell Award, and the Edgar, and he has twice been nominated for a National Book Award. He was the first children’s author ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal. He lives in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23. Picture Books Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics)

Okay. So now we’re finally getting some interesting picture book biographies on a regular basis.  When I was a kid you had your Helen Keller and your Abraham Lincoln and you were GRATEFUL!  These days, people are interested in celebrating more than just the same ten people over and over again.  Why this year alone I’ve seen some incredibly interesting picture book biographies of comparatively obscure figures.  These include . . .

  • Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland
  • Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson (Ada’s really hot this year)
  • Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno
  • Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, ill. Hadley Hooper
  • Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
  • Esquivel! Space‐Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh
  • Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman
  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley
  • The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno
  • Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave‐Explorer by Heather Henson, ill. Bryan Collier
  • Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean‐Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
  • Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, ill. Raul Colon
  • To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet & Dr. Kathy Sullivan, ill. Nicole Wong
  • Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super‐Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
  • The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya

And those are just the ones I’ve seen!

It’s encouraging.  And then I wonder – do people need suggestions for more fun biographies?  Because if they do have I got the woman for you!

First off, meet Kate Beaton.  You may only know her from her two Scholastic books, last year’s The Princess and the Pony and this year’s King Baby.  But Kate has been running an online comic site called Hark, A Vagrant! for years.  There are many lovely things about the site, but I’m particularly fond of her brief biographical comics on obscure historical figures.  She’s been doing them for years and once in a while I really do see one turned into a picture book (paging Ada Lovelace . . .).  So in today’s goofy post I’m going to pull out some of Kate’s work in the hopes that maybe there’s an author or illustrator there who’d like to write a picture book biography about someone awesome and relatively unknown.

By the way, you can follow these links to read these comics in a clearer format, if you like.  And I think you can even buy prints of them, if you want.

First up:

Katherine Sui Fun Cheung

KatherineSuiFunCheung

I legitimately had never heard of her.  A badass Asian-American aviatrix heroine?  Um… how is she NOT in a picture book bio?  Because quite frankly we could use a huge uptick in our Asian-American women bios in general.  Particularly if they involve air stunts.

Matthew Henson

hensonsm

Is it weird that there isn’t a really well-known Henson picture book biography out there?  I guess his life wasn’t completely perfect (second family at the North Pole and all) but as African-American explorers go, he’s fantastic.  As it happens, this was the first Hark, A Vagrant! comic I ever read.  I was a fan for life afterwards.

Rosalind Franklin

rosalindsm

She helps to discover DNA!  She doesn’t get credit for it!  This story has everything!

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker

Baker1Baker2

She’s so often just linked to Typhoid Mary, but Ms. Baker did wonders for infant mortality rates and just generally sounds like an amazing woman. And I like how Beaton draws her hair.

Ida B. Wells

IdaBWells

I’m pretty sure we’ve had picture book bios on her before, but the only one I can remember was for older kids.

Mary Seacole

seacolesmall

Again, never heard of her. And as Kate put it regarding Nightingale, “She is no longer my favorite Crimean War nurse.”  This is timely too since as of three days ago there was a report in The Guardian over the huge furor over a statue honoring Seacole’s achievements.  Read it, when you get a chance.  Then write a bio of Seacole.

Harvey Milk

HarveyMilk

Maybe not so obscure thanks to his biopic, but sure as shooting lacking in some significant pic bios.

Of course when all is said and done, Kate should really just make her own picture book biographies.  Or, do a book for older readers of Biographies You Should REALLY Know and Don’t.

Oh, it would work.

Happy writing!

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7 Comments on Picture Books Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics), last added: 6/26/2016
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24. Reflections on a Banquet: Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder 2016

While I acknowledge that the logical way to write about the ALA Annual 2016 Conference in Orlando would be to do it chronologically, on the cusp of the banquet and all that it entailed, it makes more sense to me to write that part up first and then circle back to the conference in the coming week.  Your patience with my erratic nature is appreciated.

It had been some time. Maybe just little more than a year but too long in any case. The last time I had attended a Newbery/Caldecott Banquet I had worn a tuxedo, a hat wearing a hat, tiger gloves, and had tucked a small stuffed carrot in my breast pocket. That was the year that This Is Not My Hat [hat wearing hat], One Cool Friend [tuxedo], Creepy Carrots [carrot in breast pocket], and Sleep Like a Tiger [tiger gloves] had won the Caldecott. For whatever reason, as the years have gone by, I’ve had a penchant for kooky Banquet costumes. 2016 would be no different.

It’s difficult to come up with original costuming ideas, though. For my part, it all started simply, inspired in part by incoming ALSC president Nina Lindsay’s fabulous concoctions (one year she was Martha from the George & Martha books, wearing a gray shirt, a colorful skirt, and a single red flower behind her ear) and partly by the NYPL librarians of yore who would wear thematic hats to honor the Caldecott winners. I still remember stumbling on one of their Office Buckle & Gloria police hats with furry ears in a box at work. So you see, there is a precedent.

Having already covered temporary tattoos of book covers, temporary quotes from books, Shrinky-Dink jewelry of the winners’ covers, and the aforementioned tuxedo combination, I had only the grain of an idea at hand. What if I made a dress out of old card catalog cards? It was an odd idea. Just cards? A skirt alone or a full dress? How do you go about sewing paper together? I toyed with the notion, purchasing some children’s book catalog cards off of Ebay. Then providence entered into the equation some months later when I passed a recycling bin at work and found inside a slew of fantastic children’s literature catalog cards, slated for destruction. And not just any cards either. Newbery and Caldecott winners in abundance! Snowflake Bentley. Trina Schart Hyman’s Snow White. Always Room for One More. So You Want to Be President? And then, the crème de la crème: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn. Which is to say, one of the most highly discussed past winners of the season, due to debate as to whether or not IT was the first picture book to win a Newbery or was, instead, a poetry book.

This discovery clinched the deal, as it were, so I went to my closet to figure out what already existing dress might serve to display the wares. I found an old ModCloth number with a floaty filmy veil of black transparent fabric over the stretchy dress beneath. Perfect! My hope was that the overlying fabric might obscure the cards somewhat from a distance. I like a little flash but this isn’t Library Comic Con or anything. Decorum must be maintained. Card catalog cards already come with pre-made holes, so it was just a question of sewing them on. This left the question of what to do with my hair. I had a brief notion of fanning seven or eight cards into a perfect circle, hot gluing them to a large barrette. This plan was abandoned pretty quickly when I saw just how large eight cards are when fanned together. However, if you cut a single card apart and then glue IT to smaller barrettes, you get very much the same effect. Add in an old pin featuring E. Shepard’s Winnie-the-Pooh characters which I was given years ago for working with the original Pooh toys at NYPL and voila! Your outfit is complete:

Banquet2016

Note that the gorgeous Yuyi Morales behind me needs no gimmick to look beautiful.

God help my soul, what I do next year is unclear.  I worry I might get a little crazy. Shave the names of the winners into my hair or something. Hmm….

Because I’m not a complete fool, I changed in to this dress in a restroom that was near to the reception for the event.  I was also invited in for a little pre-dinner mix n’ mash n’ nosh in a room secured by Little, Brown & Co. After this we proceeded to the dinner where I found myself not far from the high table of winners, seated beside Nina Lindsay (the aforementioned incoming ALSC president), Jonda McNair (three-year term as chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee), some Caldecott committee members, Horn Book’s Editor-in-Chief Roger Sutton, and John Schumacher. Immediately to my left was Lindsay Mattick, the author of this year’s Caldecott Award winning book. She had the somewhat eerie experience of knowing that every single place, at every single table, was set with a program featuring Sophie’s illustrations of Lindsay and her son Cole. At some point I yelled across the table to Roger a question about whether or not a Caldecott Award winner (or Honor book, for that matter) has ever featured an illustration of the author within the story itself. Roger didn’t know, but upon further reflection I could think of one case where a Newbery Award winner did. Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, in case you’re curious. It’s times like these I particularly miss Peter Sieruta. He would have known in a heartbeat.

Lindsay, as it turns out, was a charming dinner companion and after I subjected her to a lengthy story of the sordid history of the Winnie-the-Pooh toys (something I should turn into a blog post one of these days) she told me about her own history of writing the book. As it turns out, this is a very rare case of an author of a picture book being allowed to help select her own illustrator. It was Lindsay’s idea to reach out to Sophie in the first place. That Sophie accepted is due in large part to a series of remarkable coincidences. It appears this book was meant to be.

If you’ve never been to a Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet I should explain that there are a couple givens. First off, the food is awful. This is not a slight against the organizers in any way. You walk in expecting the food to be bad and, when some aspect of it is particularly nice, you are pleasantly surprised. To sit at a table you have to buy a ticket, but that’s only if you want to eat. In the back of the room is a series of chairs. You are more than free to eat your own dinner beforehand and then sit in the chairs to listen to the speeches. Many do, as it turns out.

Between each course of the meal you may stare up adoringly at the winners and the Chairs of their committees at a high table. It’s sort of like a triple wedding, only the brides and grooms are required to give speeches that will set the world on fire. No pressure or anything, though. No pressure. So you eat, and between courses you amble over to tables where your friends are. Then you mosey back for more food. Amble. Food. I don’t know how long this particular format has been in existence. It’s nice not to masticate during the speeches, which are only given after everyone has had ample time to devour their desserts. Knowing the friendly nature of the children’s literary world, the organizers probably learned years ago that you may as well just allow folks to mix and mingle at length early on.

When at last the speeches did begin they were kicked off by outgoing President, and all around superhuman/fellow Chicago-area resident, Andrew Medlar. In the event of my death I would like to request that Andrew conduct my funeral services. He seems capable of moderating in every situation with apparent ease and wit.

Now the order of the speeches is Caldecott chair, Caldecott winner, Wilder chair, Wilder winner, Newbery chair, Newbery winner. You get a recording of each speech, since they do formally record them beforehand. In the past this has taken the form of CDs, but this year there was a code to access it online. We were also informed that past speeches are going to be digitized for easy access in the future. One wonders how many will be available! I have visions of librarians trading bootleg tapes of early impossible-to-find speeches like Madeline L’Engle’s or Ezra Jack Keats or, the rarest gem of all, Stephen Gammell’s.

Rachel Payne (an old BPL buddy) was the Caldecott Chair who introduced Sophie Blackall. Now I’ve seen Sophie speak in public before. The stereotype of the artist who fears public speaking, while not without truth in some areas, has been eclipsed over the past years by remarkably loquacious illustrators. Just look at the recent winners: Floca, Klassen, Santat.  The list goes on and on, and they’re all remarkably capable of pitch perfect eloquence. Sophie was no exception. Early on she began to get choked up, and was swift to shut herself down with a hasty, “Right. More jokes now.” She thanked her shockingly attractive children, her partner, her studio mates, Lindsay Mattick, her editor, her agent, and many more folks. I particularly admired that she kept her thanks as selective as she did. A good speech doesn’t need to thank everyone and the moon. A simple “you know who you are” is sufficient to thanking the masses anyway. And yes, I did get choked up myself a little. Sophie had a hard year (in addition to the mess-which-shall-not-be-named, a close friend passed away).  You may read the speech in its entirety here.

Next up was the Wilder Award, a biennial award that for the first time has turned annual. This year it went to Jerry Pinkney, who held the distinction of being the first and only person to win a Virginia K. Hamilton Award and a Wilder Award in the same year. He may also be the first great-grandfather to win both awards, since that is precisely what he is (though you wouldn’t know it to hear or look at him). He was introduced by Chrystal Carr Jeter who wore a magnificent hat. Undeniably the best hat in the room, no question at all. After lauding the man properly, Mr. Pinkney stood up and began to tell the story of his life. Some of it I had heard once long ago when he gave a speech after being honored by the Carle Awards. Some was new. And some hit a chord for a very particular reason.

An odd digression that has a point: Each week the shelvers in my library put together a cart of damaged materials and wheel it up to my desk. There I determine whether or not to reorder, discard, and/or repair the books. One day someone included a MAD Magazine collection that mocked syndicated cartoonists (bear with me – there’s a point to all this). It always kind of depresses me when MAD Magazine collections appear because they’re often beyond repair and yet they’re also out-of-print. As I flipped through the piece (which fortunately was salvageable) I saw the usual jokes made at the expense of Dick Tracy, Dagwood, L’il Abner, etc. Then I saw one making fun of the comic strip Henry. Do you know the strip? It was a funny piece about a kid with a big round head and his small suburban adventures. The style was distinctive, sort of what you’d get if you added Peanuts to Chris Ware with a hint of Crockett Johnson thrown into the mix. The joke in the MAD Magazine bit was the Henry never grows up and has, from the start, actually been a strip about a middle aged man. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I’d heard in Pinkney’s Carle speech lo these many years ago that as a child he befriended a syndicated comic strip artist. As Jerry tells it, he was working at a newspaper stand and, when business was slow, his boss let him sketch for fun. One day a man asked to see his art and when he saw what Jerry could do he confessed that he was an artist himself. The boy and the man became friends and the man turned out to be John Liney the LINEY HENRYsecond creator of the comic strip Henry. In the vast world of syndicated comics, I do believe that Henry has been forgotten to a certain extent. Yet Mr. Liney has gone on to be remembered by Jerry, and by extension we have many wonderful books. So, in a strange sense, Liney’s legacy lives on in his kindness to others.

Jerry talked much more than just about Mr. Liney of course. He spoke at length, and with feeling, about the limited options for African-American men when he was growing up, making it clear that there is still a long road ahead. He talked about his mentors, both the good and the bad. The ones who believed he could go far, and the ones who didn’t. He spoke of African-American art instructors who had shelved their own dreams in a time when the future seemed impossible. His was a speech that took note of the changes in the African-American landscape over a vast number of decades, using his own career to highlight the changes. It was superb, as you might imagine.  You can read it in full here.

By the way, has Mr. Pinkney ever been recorded in conversation with Ashley Bryan? Wouldn’t that be the most interesting of discussions? Just putting that out there.

After Jerry it was time for Matt de la Peña. Ernie Cox, the chair of the Newbery committee, introduced him. Not much was made of a picture book’s win of a Newbery Award and how extraordinary and unprecedented (unless you believe A Visit to William Blake’s Inn was a picture book) it was. I was curious to hear Matt speak, of course. I’ve seen him do it twice, once about Last Stop on Market Street at a librarian preview in NYC, and once to a group of librarians about his career, but only in brief. This speech was different in tone, and depth, and content, and feeling. You might not know it was the same guy.

Matt came up, took his award, and then said apologetically that this was lovely but he needed to give the award to his mom. He then proceeded to run down to the audience level, handing his mother the large heavy medal in its velvet lined case to his mom. Then he leapt back to the podium to speak in earnest. Matt talked about his youth, growing up Mexican-American and not much of a reader. He credited the teachers and librarians that fed his reading, even if it was sports magazines during a time when he was supposed to be reading books (his description of how he’d claim to be enjoying War and Peace with all that war and then all that peace is great). He spoke of how he became an author, though not at any particular length. Instead he talked about getting “the call” and how confusing it was for him. As he tells it, he wasn’t expecting to win anything, but he knew that Christian might win a Caldecott proper and that if he did their agent (they share an agent) would ring him up. So he turned on his ringer and a couple hours later a call came in. Only it wasn’t the call he was expecting exactly. Ernie Cox explained to Matt that he’d won a Newbery Award. What picture book author would ever expect such a thing? After Matt hung up he describes it this way:

As soon as we hung up, I called my wife. “Caroline,” I said, in an even voice, “I have something I need to tell you.” I paused for a long time, trying to keep myself in check. Like I have all my life.

“What?” she said. “Is everything okay?”

“I think Last Stop just won the Newbery.”

She paused. “Wait, are you sure?”

“No,” I answered.

She fired up her iPad and went onto the ALA website and looked up the 2016 award committees and asked me, “Okay, was it a man or woman on the phone?”

“A man.”

“Holy shit,” she said. “The chair of the Caldecott is a woman.”

And he could have stopped right there. Could have closed the speech with the usual congrats and approbation and thanks, but to my surprise he kept going. Discussions of “the call” often end acceptance speeches. Matt had more to say. More to say about the kids who read his books who might think that they are worthless and who can find value in themselves by reading. Amongst his stories he told one about visiting a school and giving a copy of his book to a boy who was sitting just a little to the side. And when the boy confronted him later, asking why Matt would have given the book to him, of all people, Matt just told him that he didn’t know why. There just seemed to be something special about the kid. The boy started to cry at this, and his classmates rubbed his back and comforted him, telling Matt that the boy was new to their school. Matt said that’s how he felt like when he got the call about the Newbery. That this group of people thought that there was something special about him. And that the librarians and friends and other members of the children’s literature community out there were the ones rubbing his back and propping him up and telling him it was okay. And let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen. There was not a dry eye in the house when he said this. You can read the speech in full here.

After that it was receiving line time. The winners all trooped outside while we watched a little of the most recent Weston Woods Award winner . . . I’m sorry. The Carnegie Award winner, That Is Not a Good Idea. Sadly they only showed a little. I would have liked to have watched the whole thing again. Mo Willems, as the fox, does a delicious cackle.

But there were lots of fine and fancy people to talk to, so I lingered and spoke with various folks. And when it was very late, and I was very tired, I was still able to have a tasty root beer float with friends before drifting off to beddy-bye. It was a nice banquet this year. One of the best, really.

A thank you to Little, Brown for my nice ticket and meal.

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25. Oh, What a Time It Was: The ALA Annual 2016 Conference Floor

Sweaty, sticky, moist Orlando edition.

So here’s a new way to experience the American Library Association Conference.  We’re going to tackle it in a visual way.  Which is to say, if I took a picture of it, it’s going into this post.  Here then is a look at what caught my eye on the conference floor, where the booths are plentiful, the alcohol oddly prevalent, and the carpets super sproingy.

First up, a slew of diverse picture books I hadn’t heard of before that I encountered for the first time at ALA.  In no particular order:

TheirGreatGift

This is such a cool book.  It’s the children and possibly grandchildren of modern immigrants talking about how much they owe to their forebears.  This is the perfect book to combat immigration studies in schools that begin and end with Ellis Island.  The text is shockingly simple, but very well done.  Look for it!

Other cool looking books included:

WhoIsHappy

SamSorts

BoyBindi

15Things

Police

NotOpposites

LoveTruck

LittleArtists

LibbyPearl

ItsGreatDad

GrowRaiseCatch

FriendsInFur

EarlySunday

Cici

Next up, titles that aren’t necessarily picture books that caught my eye for different reasons.  All of these look interesting to me in some way.  Without comment:

SwanLake

MidnightWar

ForgottenBones

Now for some of the more useful items from the floor.

When you walk past the booths at ALA you may find yourself avoiding eye contact with anyone aside from a large publisher.  This act has some problematic repercussions, particularly when the person at the conference is new.  Honestly, if the rep from Vox Books hadn’t called me by name I might have missed what is clearly a super cool new innovation in audio picture books.  And please bear in mind, if I’m enthusiastic about this it’s because I liked what I heard.  I haven’t tried out this product myself yet.

Meet Vox Books.  Better yet, take a gander at it.

Vox1

Okay, so what you’re seeing here is going to be a little unclear at first.  Basically, this is a picture book, normal as can be, but with a little, thin, audio component on the left.  Do you see it?  Right there.  It really doesn’t affect the closing of the book at all and it can’t be removed.

Now if you’re library is anything like the ones I’ve worked in, you may have an area where book and CD sets hang off to the side.  And as we all know, when they’re returned, half the time the book and CD don’t even match.  One library system I worked for tried just creating little pockets for the CDs within the books, but then you couldn’t tell them from the other picture books on the shelves.  And then the CDs would get lost.

In this case you have the audio right there, with a headphone jack, the ability to skip ahead or adjust the pages, and some seriously good books.  Check ’em out:

Vox2

Really quite good.  You should hear the background music they create as well. The readers are also excellent.

They’ve even covered their bases and done nonfiction books too:

Vox3

And let me tell you, that hardcore voice reading the Earth Movers book was great to listen too.

I know what you children’s librarians out there are thinking.  You’re considering the noise these could create in the library.  You aren’t wrong.  Remember The Very Quiet Cricket?  Ever have the batteries in one of those puppies die on you?  You get a sick sounding duck quack emanating from your shelves, randomly, for days.  This could be much worse, except you can actually charge these books up.  They even ding when you’re supposed to turn the page.

So yeah.  Looked neat.  Worth exploring, anyway.

Less useful items from the floor?  You got it:

First up, it seems that Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is committing hardcore to the children’s book scene.  They have early chapter books, nonfiction, board books, you name it coming out.  And they had one of their fellas doing caricatures on the floor.  Vain critter I am, I couldn’t resist:

Betsy RipleyYup.

Then there was a station set up to help people with copyright advice.  I approved of the look of the place:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.54.41 PM

Have I any regrets from the weekend?  Well, I would have liked to have known about this beforehand.  I didn’t have any ideas of what to read, but it would have been really fun.

BannedBooks

And finally, some good old-fashioned liquid nitrogen.

I’ve seen some fun gimmicks at a conference before, but dipping carmel corn into liquid nitrogen so that when you eat it you look like a dragon spitting smoke . . . well that’s pretty original.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.58.49 PM

What did the rest of you guys who went see?

Tomorrow – Actual panels n’ stuff!

 

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