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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Drawbridges Open and Close

DrawbridgesDrawbridges Open and Close; by Patrick T. McBriarty; illus. by Johanna H. Kim. Curly Press, 2014. 40pp. ISBN 978-1-941216-02-6. $15.95

Gr. K-3. I was glad I had read this book prior to my recent visit to Ft. Lauderdale, where everybody gets around by car, negotiating a host of drawbridges back and forth across the Intracoastal Waterway. Although the book opens (heh) confusingly with “Next to the drawbridge is a bridge house,” it then settles into a clear and nicely-patterned account of the six steps taken (by the Scarryesque Bridge Tender Todd, a fox) to open the bridge for passing boats and then the six to close it so that street traffic may resume. Coloring is vibrant without being over-lavish; the drawing of the all-animal cast is a little awkward but that of the bridge and boats and vehicles is neatly-lined, and the cutaway diagrams that show how the bridge works are excellently informative. One terrific spread shows the open bridge, the passing boats and the impatient cars from an amazing bird’s-eye-view. Perhaps the focus is a bit narrow, and it’s not said how generalizable the information is (do all drawbridges work this way?) but children with an eye for the way things work will be happy with this picture book. R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.]

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2. Fiona & the Fog e-book review

fiona and the fog menu“One foggy morning, Fiona sat on her front stoop, wondering what to do with the day. ‘I’m bored. I wish something exciting would happen…'” With that, the fog snatches up Fiona’s scarf and leads her on a chase around a city’s environs (it’s unnamed but the skyline is San Francisco’s; makes sense given the fog).

Author William Poor wisely keeps the text of original e-book Fiona & the Fog (2014) fairly spare, leaving his stunning illustrations to tell most of the story. From his article on Medium.com: “A couple years ago, a design fad called ‘cinemagraphs’ swept the internet – these were still photographs in which portions of the image subtly moved. Imagine a still landscape photo with actual moving, drifting clouds, or a photo of a woman whose hair is waving slightly in the breeze.”

A design fad, maybe, but one that’s used to great effect here. The background photographs ground the story in real life (cartoonlike Fiona is sitting on a real stoop, standing on a real beach, exploring a real forest), while the moving images create an intriguing air of mystery — trees sway in the breeze, waves lap, a sea lion bobs in and out of the water, fog slowly fills the screen then lifts — that’s heightened by unexpected, almost surrealistic imagery: high in a tree, for example, a bicycle tire turns, and closer to the story’s climax a rope ladder reaches down from the sky.

fiona and the fog city

fiona and the fog rocks

Atmospheric background music by Ted Poor contributes to the zenlike mood, with gentle chord progressions and soothing nature sounds. It all works beautifully as an original e-book — that rare case where conventional picture book meets technology and the result is something fresh and harmonious.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $1.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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3. Five Gay Picture-Book Prodigies and the Difference They’ve Made

depaola cover art

From the March/April 2015 cover by Tomie dePaola.

Andy Manley, a Scottish theater artist, travels the world putting on shows for children. In 2014, he was in New York doing My House, a “mostly wordless solo piece co-starring a cardboard box and a wayward melon,” according to the New York Times. That one was designed for youngsters eighteen months to three years old.

“Do you have kids?” the Times reporter asked. “No,” Manley replied, “I’m gay.”

Two thoughts occur. First, being gay is less and less a barrier to fatherhood. But in any case it’s a rare father who, qua father, has Manley’s playful imagination, his creative reach: in sum, his ability to think big on a small child’s level.

That’s what a number of gay picture-book creators — distinctively, perhaps — have been doing for the past sixty years or so. Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Remy Charlip, and Tomie dePaola differ in just about every outward way, from the look and content of their books to the course of their lives and careers. But open the covers of those books and you’ll find tenderness, wit, and imagination as a common bond — qualities that they have in common with the unfettered young.

 

Maurice Sendak (1928–2012)

Sendak drew feelings — first and last, the feelings of small children. Over the years his subjects ranged from nursery-rhyme characters to life in a Polish shtetl to heroic nudes and portrait heads, but his work is grounded in 
the life force of the young, girls and boys alike.

AHoleIsToDig_straightenedUnisexism, or gender equivalence, showed its face — maybe for the first time on record — in A Hole Is to Dig (1952), where Sendak’s drawings illustrate Ruth Krauss’s collection of kids’ off-the-cuff definitions. Along with “A hole is to dig,” in multiple embodiments, we find the indelible “Eyebrows are to go over your eyes” and “The world is to have something to stand on.”

Think of that! On his first try, Sendak had girls and boys doing what each was “supposed” to do. Krauss, a progressive thinker, pointed out that young kids didn’t behave that way and, according to Sendak, he made a few changes to eliminate the stereotypes. Altogether, he did more than that: there are no sex roles whatever in the pair-ups or group scenes, and no pat tableaux as a consequence. In an independent jacket drawing, moreover, one little boy holds a bouquet of flowers for another to sniff.

A Hole Is to Dig, small but mighty, liberated little girls from dolls-and-doilies more than ten years before Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique touched off the second wave of American feminism — and, along the way, freed little boys from being he-men.

very far awayNow, a small boy could be desolate, feel rejected. In Very Far Away (1957), the second book Sendak himself wrote, Martin heads away from home, in an outsize cowboy hat, when his mother is too busy with the baby to answer his questions. His encounters with an old horse, an English sparrow, and a cat are fanciful, whimsical — and unrewarding. Martin heads home: maybe now Mama has time for him. Or he’ll count cars, and wait.

Martin, a timorous tyke depicted in a scratchy line and a light, almost neutral wash, is the first of the M-named Sendak surrogates.

His successor, the fierce and unrepentant Max of Where the Wild Things Are (1963), returns home after working his will over the Wild Things and finds his supper awaiting him, reassuringly, “still hot.” The illustration is at once vintage Neverland and, in the play of emotions across Max’s face, high cartoon drama.

Coming next: cartoons as an extension of child life.

in-the-night-kitchenMickey, the dream-traveler of In the Night Kitchen (1970), flies off, out of his nightclothes, into a graphic panorama of Sendak’s 1930s New York City childhood. Oliver Hardy triplets appear as the Sunshine Bakers and mix Mickey into the cake they’re baking; he pops out, molds the dough into a plane, plunges to the bottom of the milk bottle…and rises to the top where (in homage to King Kong atop the Empire State), he cries “COCK-A-DOODLE DOO,” his own little penis proudly on display. Time to return to bed, more than satisfied: sated.

Power trip, wet dream, whatever: Sendak had something to crow about, however he chose. By that time, he had illustrated the endearing Little Bear books and created the larky Nutshell Library. He’d become a world celebrity and won just about every possible award. On the domestic front, he was settled in with Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, who would be his life partner.

The AIDS epidemic, in the early 1980s, was painful for Sendak, as it was for other gay men, and like many of them, he became more open about his sexuality. Those agonizing times, emotional and political, had creative issue in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), a virtual mural of social protest, panel by panel. An echo of Dickens in the backwash of Ronald Reagan.

No age range is indicated on the jacket, nor should there be. Sendak was no longer making the “kiddie books” that, he often grumbled, got no respect. But early childhood was still home ground. In a late press photo, the grizzled Sendak is seen snuggling up to a Wild Thing, his protector now.

 

Arnold Lobel (1933–1987)

With Lobel, less and less became more and more.

His first assignment, as an aspiring illustrator, was to draw a salmon for a Science I Can Read Book — the editor had spotted a realistic drawing of a cricket in his art-school portfolio.

That salmon swam, and Lobel’s career was launched. Science and history easy readers came to his hand; he took on stories of everyday childhood rigors by Charlotte Zolotow and Judith Viorst. But factual or fancy-free, his work had an identity of its own.

giant john photoBooks of his own came almost perforce. First, cartoonish stories: happy-go-lucky blends of the lovable and the ridiculous. Giant John (1964) sets out into the world to earn some money after he and his mother eat their last two potato chips. At a friendly castle, he’s a BIG help…until fairy music sets him a-dancing and the castle walls come tumbling down. Never fear: John rebuilds, after his fashion, and departs with gold and glory. He “promised to visit often and kissed the king and queen and princess and dog good-bye.” A GIANT display of affection, indeed.

With the success of his work, Lobel had less need to illustrate books by others, and more time to spend on books of his own, which quickly became more diverse and substantial, even traditional, in nature. Cartooning wouldn’t do: the illustration had to have the resonance of art.

You’d think Lobel would have taken to folklore, in high demand at the time, but he didn’t — with one exception, Hansel and Gretel (1971). In the galaxy of H & Gs, Lobel’s stands as the modest, intimate one: more the tale of two babes abandoned in the woods than the story of a brother and sister victimized by an evil stepmother.

It’s a motif that turns up repeatedly in Lobel’s work. A pair of children appears, for example, in many of his illustrations for Jack Prelutsky’s collection of monitory verses, Nightmares (1976) — a pair of small, imperiled children, helplessness incarnate, the nonsexist embodiment of Hansel and Gretel. Sometimes the boy is larger and leading, sometimes the roles are reversed.

frogandtoad1Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970): is there a more satisfying, more puzzling title in children’s lit? Friends pal around, have misunderstandings, make up; but a frog and a toad — strange. Lobel had watched frogs and toads and noticed their differences. He’d also learned that toads will overwinter in the city without ill effects; but you can’t coop up a frog. So we have energetic, adventurous Frog and his best friend and opposite number Toad, something of a sluggard and a bumbler. All told, an odd, appealing couple.

At a later, savvier time, a gay couple. Through a wide lens, the designation fits: Frog and Toad jousting, in what are essentially two-character skits, could be two old loving, teasing, mutually indulgent mates. Or they could simply be humanized animals in the tradition of Beatrix Potter et al., mimicking human behavior. Lobel may have thought of them as gay, or they may have developed as they did because he was gay.

Does it matter? Besides four additional Frog and Toad books, Lobel produced five other I Can Reads during the same years — individual books with no less individuality, perhaps more. The character studies Owl at Home (1975), Grasshopper on the Road (1978), and Uncle Elephant (1981) also reflect Lobel’s sensitivity to animal ways, and are also aptly titled. Those three idiosyncratic bachelors might well be gay, too.

One thing we know for certain: the more identities — ethnic, religious, racial, sexual — the richer life is for all.

 

James Marshall (1942–1992) & Remy Charlip (1929–2012)

No two author-illustrators could be more different than James Marshall and Remy Charlip. That’s just the point.

Marshall was an accidental illustrator. Texas born and bred, he was on track to be a professional violist, then injured his hand, took up teaching…and, as the origin story goes, lucked into picture books. Lying in a hammock one summer day, sketchpad in hand, he overheard the battling George and Martha, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on his sister’s TV, and — voilà! — conjured up the fondly parrying hippo couple of that name.

georgemartha_larger_colorfixedThe seven George and Martha books owe their acclaim to many factors. The spare illustration is flat-out brilliant, as the delicate line delineating the hippos’ bulk, a funny thing in itself, morphs into one sharp-witted, space-teasing composition after another. Take “Split Pea Soup,” the very first story. Martha keeps serving it to George, George keeps eating it reluctantly…until he doesn’t, and pours the remains of his bowl into his loafers under the dining table. The scene is tricky to picture, and a hoot as done: wit distilled to a pea-green pour.

Overleaf, George and Martha are sitting together at the table, close together, over a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Martha has caught him out: why didn’t he tell her he hated the split pea soup? “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Back and forth, that’s the theme of the stories as a whole. The delicacy of the hippos’ feelings accords with the delicacy of the line, and it, too, contrasts with their bulk. Just any old animals, conventionally drawn, wouldn’t have done at all.

Once started, Marshall cultivated his talents and spread wicked glee in one high-colored, high-energy series after another. Top grades go, though, to the kindly camp of Miss Nelson and class.

Remy Charlip, on the other hand, was a serial initiator; an adventurer.

The son of immigrant New Yorkers, he studied art at Cooper Union, helped found the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and — before filling his resume with performing, choreographing, and teaching stints — produced a picture book, Dress Up and Let’s Have a Party (1956), that’s also a performance, an improvisation.

Decked out in his mother’s pots and pans while she bakes a cake, John is inspired to ask his friends to come to his party in costume — and we wait with him to see what they’ll be wearing when, at the turn of the page, they come through the door. No dullards here: a carton on the street turns Hans into a special delivery package; a ball of string makes Vera a meatball covered with spaghetti. The final surprise comes when John carries in the cake, with the single word happy visible. In Charlip territory, nothing is all spelled out.

With Dress Up in his pocket, he got deeply into theater for young children — and for the rest of his life picture books and children’s theater figured in his career as corresponding “narrative forms.”

Every picture book was different from the others, its style chosen — 
conceived — to suit the subject matter. For The Dead Bird (1958), a brief text Charlip had plucked from a Margaret Wise Brown collection, he painted deep-toned primitivist tableaux. 
Fortunately (1964), the exuberant 
tale that seesaws between good and bad fortune, joggles accordingly between hot carnival colors and stark black-and-white. Each turn of the page — theater, to Charlip — brings a startling new composition, a new storytelling move.

charlip_arm in armArm in Arm (1969) brought Charlip’s genius for verbal play and pictorial invention to a peak. Verbal play and pictorial invention conjoined: “Two octopuses got married and walked down the aisle arm in arm in arm in arm in arm…” is exemplified by a fluorescent couple, long tentacles entwined, who could have come out of the Beatles flick Yellow Submarine.

Among the equivocal cartoons, visual puns, and other antic embodiments of the endless tales and other echolalia is many a rainbow — this, more than ten years before the AIDS epidemic and the gay community’s adoption of the rainbow flag as its emblem. Was Charlip a prophet, a visionary, a herald? When Arm in Arm was reissued in 1997, in a partially re-designed edition, it was out-and-proud: the white cover and endpapers became rainbow-hued all over, and Charlip himself appears on the last page in a rainbow-striped sweater.

 

Tomie dePaola (b. 1934)

Tomie dePaola, that most mild-
mannered of creative personalities, took the bull by the horns — gently, of course.

nana upstairs first ed_fixed2First, there was lots of freelance illustration; dePaola was a thoroughgoing pro. And there’d always be, along with the imperishable Strega Nona (1975), many other books of a folkish or religious nature. But dePaola was not long in addressing childhood joys and woes — foremost, the joys and woes of his own childhood.

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (1973), about his feeble great-grandmother and his bustling grandmother, came out at a time when the decline and death of a grandparent was a going topic in picture books, and endures when others have long vanished. For one, it’s not a demonstration model, it’s life — you couldn’t make this stuff up.

For Tommy, at four, Nana Upstairs, largely confined to her bed, is a fine companion, even a playmate and co-conspirator. On his visits they share candy mints from her sewing box and talk away about the Little People in the room’s shadowy recesses — sitting side-by-side, Nana Upstairs tied for safety into a big Morris chair, Tommy tied in his chair, too, at his own insistence. How, then, will he cope with her death? In a still, echoing picture, Tommy, who’s been told, rushes upstairs to Nana Upstairs’s room: “The bed was empty.” You may cry, too.

Oliver Button Is a Sissy (1979) is a spunky book about a spunky little boy with gay signifiers, Tommy/Tomie by another name. Oliver, in short, likes to do things that boys aren’t supposed to do — like reading and drawing pictures, even playing with paper dolls and dressing up, singing and dancing. No baseball for him, no kind of ball. So he’s sent to dancing school “for exercise,” and he thrives. Even when he’s tormented by the other boys for his tap shoes (and has to be rescued by the girls), he persists — and at the local talent show, he’s a star.

Not long before, kids might have gotten a very different message from another reputable book. In William’s Doll (1972), written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by William Pène du Bois, William is taunted by the other boys for wanting a baby doll to take care of. His father, like Oliver’s, is ready with a basketball, and William, unlike Oliver, has nothing against playing ball; he just wants a baby doll too. Leave it to grandmother: he needs the doll, which she gets him, “so that he can practice being a father.”

Not, in 1972, a gay father.

26 fairmount 1DePaola was a brand, and beloved, before he returned to the story of that budding song-and-dance man, in 26 Fairmount Avenue (1999), and, in Tomie’s childhood voice, carried it forward. The ensuing series is partly a documentary, taking in the 1939 World’s Fair, the March of Dimes, Pearl Harbor…It’s partly a family sitcom, with cameos for a host of Irish and Italian relatives. But in its naive, confiding way, it’s also an object lesson: Tomie, a born performer and artistic wunderkind, is encouraged at home and at school; on holidays and other occasions, he dresses as Mae West and the Farmer’s Wife; at five, he puts on his mother’s makeup. Never does a child tease him or an adult look askance. It’s OK.

He’s OK. You are, too.

But all is not hunky-dory. In the last book of the series, For the Duration (2009), dePaola revisits Oliver Button Is a Sissy, with a less sanguine, more realistic outcome. A group of older boys, his brother Buddy’s friends, call him a sissy and seize his beloved tap shoes — and Buddy does nothing to help him. It may even be Buddy, Tommy/Tomie comes to realize, who has egged them on. (Resentment? Envy?) The sympathetic principal will tackle the problem (discreetly), but, she suggests to Tommy, it would be better if he brought the tap shoes to school “in a paper bag or something…”

Complexity: addressed by dePaola with tenderness, wit, and imagination — as Sendak, Lobel, Marshall, and Charlip themselves did time and again. They were gay, talented, and gifted also with insight.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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4. From Page to Screen panel

When my favorite books get made into movies, I’m there. But I’m usually wearing a t-shirt with this logo (courtesy of Unshelved):

the book was better t-shirt

So when Children’s Books Boston announced its latest event, “From Page to Screen: An Inside Look at Children’s Book Adaptations,” I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I saw the range of perspectives represented. Moderator and panel participant Deborah Kovacs, senior vice president at Walden Media and publisher at Walden Pond Press, has been involved with many book-to-film collaborations, including The Giver (a feature film in 2014) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (which aired on the Hallmark Channel in 2013). Panelist Ammi-Joan Paquette, senior agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency and an author herself, has seen the work of several of her author clients begin the transition from book to film. Panelist Carol Greenwald, senior executive producer of children’s programs at WGBH Boston, helped create the television adaptations of Arthur, Curious George, and Martha Speaks. And Randy Testa, vice president of education and professional development at Walden Media, contributed to the discussion with in-depth reports of his involvement with The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

page to screen panel

L.-R.: Debbie Kovacs, Carol Greenwald, and Ammi-Joan Paquette

Almost immediately, Kovacs invoked The Giver author Lois Lowry, whose novel went through about two decades of attempts to bring it to the screen. According to Kovacs, Lowry has said that she considers a film faithful if it’s “true to the spirit of the book.” Lowry participated closely in the 2014 Giver film’s development, helping to write voiceover narration to clarify scenes that test audiences had trouble following. Kovacs and the other panelists agreed that adapters should consider the most important factors of a story’s appeal. She pointed out that when a movie has a long list of end credits, “about half of those people…have opinions” that can alter the way a film is adapted. “In their defense,” she added, “they’re putting up a whole lot of money.”

Paquette also emphasized the number of people and steps involved in the adaptation process; she warns authors not to expect that their books will be adapted for the screen. Even when books are optioned for adaptation, much in the adaptation process is beyond authors’ control. She did cite a success story, though: her client Jennifer A. Nielsen met with a scriptwriter working on the movie adaptation of her intermediate novel The False Prince. Nielsen had the opportunity to share what would happen later in the book series with the screenwriter so he could write with future events in mind.

For WGBH executive producer Greenwald, “the television series is not the book,” but part of the purpose of an educational book-to-television adaptation is to encourage kids’ continued reading about the characters. Converting brief picture books to long television series means fleshing out characters, giving them backstories, and specifying their parents’ jobs, for instance, but it’s important to preserve the spirit of the source material. The TV show’s Curious George might go on new adventures that aren’t in the book series, but (for example) the animals in his TV world can’t — and shouldn’t — talk, since they can’t in the books.

Testa spoke passionately about the Watsons film, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Although the film kept many of the episodes from the book, the bombing and issues of segregation became a more continuous part of the movie’s narrative arc. Later Testa declared, “we have to, have to, have to” depict more people of color on screen, naming Esperanza Rising and Monster as books that are waiting to be made into movies.

As you can see, book-to-film adaptations aren’t as simple as my t-shirt might have you believe, and there was a lot to talk about. Luckily, the conversation doesn’t have to end! Visit Children’s Books Boston for information on future events. Next up: a trivia rematch (date TBA)!

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5. Review of Won Ton and Chopstick

wardlaw_won ton and chopstickWon Ton and Chopstick:
A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku

by Lee Wardlaw; illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Primary   Holt   40 pp.
3/15   978-0-8050-9987-4   $17.99   g

In this sequel to Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (rev. 3/11), the cautious kitty has another reason to be worried: an adorable new puppy. Won Ton is not happy when he catches his first glimpse: “Ears perk. Fur prickles. / Belly low, I creep…peek…FREEZE! / My eyes full of Doom.” He scoffs at the ideas the people suggest for names, and ferociously warns the new pup: “Trespassers bitten.” Yelchin’s graphite and gouache illustrations depict with sensitivity and humor the sleek gray cat’s initial fear and horror alongside the roly-poly brown puppy. Pastel backgrounds cleverly incorporating shadow and light allow the funny poses and expressions of the pair to shine. Each haiku is complete in itself, capturing the essence of cat with images such as the banished and lonesome Won Ton “Q-curled tight,” and together the poems create a whole tale of displacement and eventual mutual understanding. At the end, both cat and puppy snuggle in bed with the boy, meeting nose-to-nose as friends.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Floyd Cooper Talks with Roger

floyd cooper twr

Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.


floyd cooper

In the midst of a classic Boston snowpocalypse, it was pure pleasure to talk to Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Floyd Cooper [in 2009 for The Blacker the Berry, written by Joyce Carol Thomas; Amistad/HarperCollins] about his new picture book celebrating a jubilant summer’s day: Juneteenth for Mazie, published this month by Capstone.

Roger Sutton: You grew up in Oklahoma, right?

Floyd Cooper: Yes, born and raised. Around Tulsa, Oklahoma. Spent summers in Muskogee, Oklahoma. And Bixby, Mounds, Oklahoma, where my paternal grandfather had some land. He’s one-hundred-percent Creek Indian, and he had this allotment of land that was given to some of the Indians there. We would go and work some of the farms my folks had, to supply produce to the markets and things like that. It was a typical Midwestern kind of a lifestyle.

RS: Do you find that childhood making its way into your books?

FC: Yes. I’m trying to get more and more of it in there. I was just back there last week, actually, and I got to see some sights that awoke in me things I had forgotten about.

RS: Was Juneteenth something you celebrated as a kid?

FC: Well, we didn’t really celebrate it per se, but it was talked about by my older relatives. I never really understood it fully until much later.

RS: But you’d go to a barbecue and enjoy it even if you didn’t completely know what it was for, just like in Juneteenth for Mazie. Her grandfather tells her about the barbecue and that there are going to be treats and soda there, because that’s how kids connect with traditions.

FC: That’s right. They’re just there for the goodies. But those are the ways into their memory bank. Everything is attached to those fun parts. If we’re lucky we have older folks who talk to us and make sure we at least know some of the traditions. There was a lot of that with my family. I knew my great-grandparents.

RS: Wow.

FC: They still lived on the farm they built. They moved up from Texas in a covered wagon, and they built this house of stone there in Haskell, Oklahoma. They were quite old, and they’d share stories. In fact, Uncle Mose, the character in Juneteenth, is my great-great-grandfather. He was from a plantation in Georgia. He was an ex-slave. There was a photograph of him hanging in one of the rooms at the farm that we weren’t allowed to go into. As kids we had our limits. I couldn’t quite make out the features, so it’s always been a mystery to me what he actually looked like. I’m on a search for that picture now. Maybe it’s something that will turn up in one of my books. Those things, they really do come into fine focus as you get older. There’s always that regret that you didn’t know then what you know now.

RS: Right.

FC: As a child, I would have quizzed my great-grandparents a lot more, gotten even more stories.

RS: How do you connect your own children to those stories?

cooper_juneteenth for mazieFC: Telling the stories helps keep them in my memory. It’s funny how that works. The act of giving can also, in a sense, be a gift to you. You gain more insight and awareness as you pass the stories on. One of the beauties of the oral tradition is that it helps both the giver and the listener.

RS: Today if the slaves were freed, the news would be instantaneous. There’s no way the people of Texas wouldn’t hear it.

FC: That’s right. It would be all over Twitter. And that’s probably why it took two years for the news to actually reach Galveston. It traveled slowly, but it was deliberate, as much was in those days. With the culture of the black community, even before social media, there has always been this sort of a connection. It spanned geographic regions. It crossed social borders. I don’t know if you remember, in the days when they actually named dances, like you had the Twist? This was before your time.

RS: Do the Hustle!

FC: The Hustle and those dances. They were known instantaneously across the country by everybody. I don’t know how word got around. That’s just an example. Different things — the way of speaking, the slang, the verbiage, all of that was passed on. I can’t put my finger on how that happened. How would someone in Cincinnati, Ohio, know how someone in Oakland, California, would talk and act and walk, you know? It’s just amazing, that connection. I’m sure it’s like that with all cultures, there’s a sort of thread or a link that runs through, and it persists even with acclimation, with the sort of melting pot in which we all exist. Those ties — those cultural ties — remain true to that particular culture.

RS: To take the example of dances — you’d have DJs on the radio playing songs and saying, “Here’s the new Twist record.” And the DJ would listen to other DJs, so the record spreads, and of course the record company’s going around selling the record to the DJs, but then that doesn’t work unless the kids get into it. So Sally in Philly calls her cousin Sadie in Oklahoma —

FC: That’s right. It’s like a smoke signal, or like a drumbeat. Something very primordial. We find a way. And now we have social media.

RS: How do you think that will change things in terms of helping cultures to flourish?

FC: I think we’ll evolve into the medium, if we aren’t there already. It came on pretty quickly and caught us off-guard. I still know people who do not use Facebook. But I think we will evolve and take better advantage of it, and it will evolve along with us. Hopefully the internet will still be there, cleaned up and with the vision that we want it to be, as opposed to —

RS: The cesspool that it is today?

FC: Yes. I believe it’s going to get to where it’s supposed to be, but that’s just how I am, I guess. I’m a hopeful guy.

RS: And how do you see books surviving?

FC: It was put best by Stephen Roxburgh, an editor friend of mine. He was giving a talk about media, and he said books are just a bucket for words and thoughts and stories. The bucket can change, but the stories and the words, the expressions, the things that are in the bucket — that won’t change. You’ll always need that. So you have an electronic device that supplants a book, it’s just a bucket for these things. In that sense, it’s not that important as far as affecting the actual things that are in the bucket. We still need people to create for the bucket, whatever form it is. If it’s paper, or a bright light and a little flat tablet, we’ll still need content. That need that we have, as humans, to tell our stories and to hear stories will remain a constant through whatever technological change happens. We’ll carry that deep into the universe with us as we expand out further.

RS: Do you find yourself using digital tools more, as an illustrator?

FC: No, I still work traditionally for the most part. I have done some things just to experiment, but I still prefer the light in front of the painting, as opposed to coming from behind.

RS: It’s a big difference, isn’t it?

FC: Oh, it’s huge. Tremendously.

RS: I remember watching you demonstrate how you created a picture many years ago, in Hattiesburg.

FC: Oh, yes. So you saw that?

RS: Uh-huh.

FC: Okay. All right. Are you painting that way now?

RS: Who, me?

FC: Yes, did you go home and try it?

RS: No, I did not.

FC: Are you artistic?

RS: Hell, no.

FC: You’re very convinced. No hesitation there. That’s absolute, huh? Okay.

RS: But I love to look at pictures. You need people like me.

FC: Absolutely. You’re the linchpin of the whole thing. Without you, it’ll all fall apart.

RS: Gotta have readers.

FC: That’s right. And viewers, absolutely.

RS: You’ve had a remarkably consistent style over the years. Ever want to bust out and try something else?

FC: I do, and I have attempted to do that a number of times, but there are constructs in place that help to hold you in place. People who buy the art — they want the comfort, I guess, of knowing what they’re going to get, so they tend to want what they’ve seen you do, as opposed to taking a chance and trying something new. But I am expanding on my own. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different media. Hopefully I’ll be in the position to just be able to produce that someday, and not have any other issues at hand like paying bills.

RS: Right.

FC: Social media, that will help me to have a platform, to just post something and see what happens. It may be something out of left field. I use melted chalks and some other mediums and a different palette. It’s a lot of fun, to balance what I do for books with what I play with in my down time.

RS: You know, one way you broke out years ago has always struck me — do you remember Laura Charlotte? [written by Kathryn O. Galbraith; Philomel, 1990] A book about a white child, illustrated by an African American illustrator.

FC: Yes, and I remember your statement about that. In fact, I still use it.

RS: What did I say?

FC: You said — I’m paraphrasing here — Ezra Jack Keats had done Snowy Day with Peter, and Floyd Cooper has sort of turned that around with Laura Charlotte.

RS: It really was something that was rare. Do you feel boxed in?

FC: Sometimes you do. Basically what we try to do, as artists and writers, we seek humanity first. That has no pigeonhole.

RS: Right.

FC: Publishers tend to hesitate when it comes to experimentation. But there are people who do allow it to happen. I’ve done some interesting books with Stephen Roxburgh. He’s quite a visionary. He told us maybe seven, eight years ago that the cell phone was going to be the center of the electronic universe. Everything was coming down to the cell phone and a cloud. And we didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. But it certainly has come to pass.

RS: I just walked by someone in the hall who was asking a security guard if he’d seen her wallet, and I thought, “Which would bother me more, to lose my wallet, or to lose my cell phone?” You’d think wallet, but I don’t know.

FC: I misplaced my cell phone in Nebraska once, and I couldn’t sleep a wink. I found it later, but it scared me to death, and I began to realize just how connected we are to that device. It’s like another hand. It’s scary, at the same time, to be so dependent on something.

RS: Do you read books on yours?

FC: I don’t read entire books. I’ll read the blurbs, and then I’ll get the book. I still like the book. I’d rather have the actual book and a little lamp.

RS: You know, your publisher wanted to make sure I saw the latest edition of Juneteenth for Mazie, because I only had the ARC and there were changes made to the finished book.

FC: They should ban ARCs. I’m setting a bonfire to my copies. Have you written any books yourself? I’m going to turn the interview on you.

RS: I wrote a nonfiction book for teenagers a long time ago. And then I’ve written mostly books for adults about children’s books.

FC: Is that first book still out? I’d like to see it.

RS: It’s out of print. It’s called Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community, and it was published by Little, Brown.

FC: What year was that?

RS: It was 1994, before I worked at The Horn Book.

FC: Wow. That’s ahead of the curve. Everything is so different now in the gay and lesbian community.

RS: Yes. The book would be completely dated. A kid would read it today and think I was talking about Martians. Because the world for gay people is completely different. Do you think that our latest diversity push — #WeNeedDiverseBooks — is going to open things up for you?

FC: I am not sure. I think there will definitely be ancillary benefits from anything in that arena, because it’s just coming down to having an impact, even secondhand, on what I do. But as far as affecting me personally, I’ll just continue to do what I do. I try to get involved in some of those things — We Need Diverse Books. But I haven’t had time to be as attentive to it as I should. I probably need to get a little bit more involved, pushing for that.

RS: Isn’t that more my job than your job, though?

FC: There you go. That’s it.

RS: Your job is to make the books.


More on Floyd Cooper from The Horn Book

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7. Review of The Walls Around Us

suma_walls around usstar2 The Walls Around Us
by Nova Ren Suma
High School   Algonquin   321 pp.
3/15   978-1-61620-372-6   $17.95   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61620-486-0   $17.95

Orianna Speerling — the so-called “Bloody Ballerina” — is just fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead — victims of an unexplained mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of two unreliable narrators. Violet is Ori’s affluent best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she’ll ever admit — especially if the truth might jeopardize her future at Juilliard. Amber is an inmate at Aurora Hills who pushes the library cart from cell to cell — quietly waiting out a long sentence and keeping secrets of her own, such as having visions of girls she’s never met. In lyrical, authoritative prose, Suma weaves the disparate lives of these three girls into a single, spellbinding narrative that explores guilt, privilege, and complicity with fearless acuity. Amber’s voice is particularly affecting — she narrates from an eerily omniscient first-person plural perspective that speaks powerfully to the dehumanizing realities of teen imprisonment. The twisting, ghostly tale of Ori’s life, death, and redemption is unsettling and entirely engrossing.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. The Carrot Patch comes to us

Today’s mail brought a box of (foam) carrots*,

box of carrots

buttons, stickers, bookmarks,

wolfie swag

and a very nice note from Wolfie the Bunny author Ame Dyckman. Thanks, Ame! In our March/April Magazine, Wolfie receives a starred review and Ame tells us a bit about Wolfie’s eating habits; look for the issue in your mailbox very soon.

*I have to confess we had hoped they were chocolate carrots — there are some Wolfie-sized appetites for sweets in our office!

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9. Inside and out

having-it-allNina Lindsay has a terrific article up at SLJ about this year’s ALA Award winners and What It All Might Mean.  And in my latest editorial, I write about the need to value art from outsiders as well as insiders. Can we have both? Can we HAVE IT ALL?

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10. Review of BirdCatDog

BirdCatDogBirdCatDog [Three-Story Books]
by Lee Nordling; illus. by Meritxell Bosch
Primary    Graphic Universe/Lerner    32 pp.
11/14    Library ed.  978-1-4677-4522-2    $25.26
Paper ed.  978-1-4677-4523-9    $6.95
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4524-6    $25.32

In this innovative wordless picture book told entirely through cartoon panels, three pets escape the ennui of domestication for brief, interconnected adventures in the wild. An introduction explains that readers may read across the six-by-three distribution of rectangular panels for the protagonists’ parallel plot lines — the Tweety-like yellow bird in the blue-saturated top row of panels; the orange tabby in the green-toned middle row; and the bluish-gray guard dog in the yellow-hued bottom row—or read from top to bottom to “get the whole story.” Expressive, accessible art wordlessly follows the pets’ adventures, during which each animal not only interacts (badly) with the other two pets but also comes snout-to-snout (or beak-to-beak) with a wild version of itself: a hawk, a lynx, a wolf. While the consistent panel grid sacrifices the more dynamic layout and pacing afforded by a variety of panel sizes and shapes, this structure (with its protagonist-color-complementing rows) unobtrusively guides readers along. And it’s that much more effective when that structure breaks into a dizzying and hilarious double-page spread of all six creatures in a high-speed chase through the pets’ backyard, a bemused squirrel looking on. Once they have chased off the interlopers, the triumphant pets settle down for well-deserved naps on their well-defended home turf.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Week in Review, February 23rd-27th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine preview

March/April 2015 editorial: “The Difference That Made Them

From the March/April issue: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s HBAS 2014 keynote speech “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classroom:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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12. Editorial: The Difference That Made Them

Inadvertently or not, ALA heeded the call of the zeitgeist when it honored six books (out of ten in toto) by people of color in the 2015 Newbery and Caldecott medals and honors, announced last month at the Midwinter conference in Chicago. The winners were Kwame Alexander (African American) for Newbery and Dan Santat (Asian American) for Caldecott; the honor recipients included women of color Jacqueline Woodson for the Newbery and Yuyi Morales, Jillian Tamaki, and Lauren Castillo for the Caldecott. This is all wonderful news.

Yet another honoree represents diversity of a different kind: Cece Bell, who won a Newbery Honor for the graphic-novel memoir El Deafo, is deaf. At that same ALA conference, ALSC held a day-long institute about diversity in books for young people. While speakers were careful to note that diversity included identifiers beyond ethnic group, more than one opined that what we were “really” talking about on this day was the depiction of people of color in children’s and YA literature. While that topic is more than enough for a day’s work, is it, “really,” all we are talking about?

Cece Bell presents one valuable exception; the five men whose work is profiled by Barbara Bader beginning on page 24 present another. No one would claim that these men were invisible; among them, they have fifteen Caldecott or Newbery citations and three Laura Ingalls Wilder medals. (Sendak takes the lion’s share while Remy Charlip, always ahead of the curve, has none.) And coming of artistic age at a time when such things were secret — or at least private — they all were gay. Tomie dePaola, God bless him, alone among them is still alive and flourishing: witness his glorious cover portrait of himself among brothers, convened in a party by noted hostess and self-proclaimed genius Gertrude Stein. (Who wouldn’t pay to see Jim Marshall try to make Gertrude Stein laugh? I bet he could and she would.)

Jokes about Frog and Toad being more than friends aside, none of these men ever wrote explicitly about being gay — first, one assumes, because of the strictures of the times and, second, because they created books for very young children. What enabled them to do so with such heart and intelligence? Only Arnold Lobel had children, but they all could, as Bader writes, “think big on a small child’s level.” Does their being gay have anything to do with this? I think yes.

Much is made by diversity advocates of the need to have cultural insiders create books that convey a culture with empathy, authenticity, and respect. True enough. But don’t outsiders have something to offer as well? The five artists Bader profiles grew up in an era in which gays and lesbians could not even look to their own families, never mind the wider community, for affirmation. Gay kids grew up alone, attentive to all the ways in which they did not belong. It tends to make one an extremely good observer, the first step in becoming an artist. Never underestimate the payoff of a lonely childhood.

I am certainly glad times are different now. Out gay artists, along with all those represented in the alphabet soup that is queer identity today, create picture books and novels and nonfiction for young people that forthrightly address a spectrum of sexuality and gender identity, and fewer people blink every day. But may these same artists also remember their rich legacy and continue to create wild things and clowns of God, friendly frogs and hippos, arm in arm in arm in arm to touch the imaginations of our children all.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. There Is a Bird On Your Head | Class #2 2015

thereisabirdMo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work including Sesame Street and animation, he had the perfect training to create child- and teacher-friendly easy readers. I think he deserves every one of his many awards. What do you notice in this deceptively simple book? What does he do with simple shapes and lines in the art and very few words to create distinct characters? Would you share this book with children who are learning to read?

(Note to the Mo fans out there: I recommended a road trip to Amherst MA to visit the Eric Carle Museum. While you are out there, save some time to visit the R. Michelson Gallery in Northhampton where you can see — and buy — original Mo Willems sketches of Elephant and Piggie.)

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14. Buy the book

wnbalogoI’m a judge for this year’s Pannell Award for children’s bookselling and our slate of nominees has been announced. Anything you want to tell me?

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15. Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

himmelman_tales of bunjitsu bunnystar2Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
by John Himmelman; illus. by the author
Primary   Holt   128 pp.
10/14   978-0-8050-9970-6   $13.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8050-9972-0   $9.49

Young rabbit Isabel is known as Bunjitsu Bunny for her proficiency in martial arts class. Himmelman’s thirteen short, generously illustrated chapters relate Isabel’s adventures as she demonstrates that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing…It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Each droll tale contains a lesson — about avoiding fights (with tough jackrabbits), outsmarting bullies (especially fox pirates), dealing with nightmares (of scary monsters), never giving up (when being “bearjitsu”-ed), and more. Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories. Solid brush-like strokes in black give the drawings the clean look of block prints, the only added tint a soft red used mainly to set Isabel apart from her classmates, her flame-colored martial-arts uniform aptly matching her zippy personality.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review of Smick!

cronin_smickSmick!
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Juana Medina
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-670-78578-0   $16.99   g

With minimal text, a clever use of sight words and word families, and a bounty of playfulness, Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to their new best friend: good-natured, tail-wagging, droopy-eared dog Smick. A game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”) gives way to the discovery of a new friend when Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” in the distance. Smick, stick, and the newly introduced chick, who is now comfortably situated on Smick’s head, attempt to resume the game, with mixed results (“Slow, Smick, slow!”). All ends in joyful doggy friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digitally rendered art incorporates photo images of a flower petal (transformed into the chick by the addition of a few added black lines for wings, legs, eyes, and beak) and a wooden stick. However, it mostly consists of simple black lines, stark against the expansive white space, that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy with economy, verve, and apt detail (i.e., one ear lifted in the direction of a new sound). The handful of words per page play with meaning via order and context à la Gravett’s Apple Pear Orange Bear (rev. 7/07), allowing readers to flesh out the story themselves and encouraging independent reading. “Go, Smick, go!” cheers the narrator, in homage to the classic Eastman easy reader. Readers will cheer along.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Using wordless books in the classroom

It is easy to underestimate wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books. At first glance, they can seem simplistic and their educational value can seem limited since so much focus is placed on reading in the classroom, but if used in the right way they can contribute to a number of learning objectives across a wide range of grade levels. The books below illustrate some of the types of wordless books that are available and offer some suggestions for how to make them part of your lesson plans.

arrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
This book tells a universal tale of immigration through pictures of a man travelling to an alien world in search of work and a better life. The retro-futuristic setting, sepia-toned images, and alien language will make this book relatable to any reader. Geared towards middle school or older readers, this book could be used in a social studies or history class while reading about the immigrant experience in the U.S. and could just as easily be used in a literature class to teach students how to “read” images.

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon
It might seem surprising to say that a wordless book about a robot and a dog who are friends packs an emotional punch, but that is certainly the case here. Varon successfully uses images to pull readers into the story and vividly convey emotions without the need for dialogue. The bright colors of the drawings will make this book appealing and accessible to readers in third and fourth grade, where it can be used to prompt discussions around friendship and how art can prompt an emotional reaction.

harris burdickThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Though not completely wordless, this book from famed writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is definitely not a typical picture book. It consists of a series of drawings, each of which has a title and a caption and no further words associated with it. While the drawings all share an odd, off-kilter quality that makes them mysterious and not quite of our world, they are not explicitly connected to one another. As such, they make ideal short story prompts for virtually any age. This book could be used as inspiration for creative writings projects from grade school through high school. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the new version of the book published in 2011 under the name The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, which included a story written by a best-selling author to accompany each of the pictures.

mirrorMirror by Jeannie Baker
Here the wordless format is combined with a unique physical format that has readers unfolding each side of the book to reveal side-by-side images of two families, one living in Sydney, Australia and the other living in a small town in Morocco. This layout juxtaposes life in these two locations, showing readers the differences but also the important similarities between the two families. This is an ideal book for younger readers from preschool through early grade school, who will delight in pointing out the similarities and differences between the images. It would work well for teaching vocabulary related to the images as well as for larger discussions about cultural differences around the world.

I hope these ideas will encourage some readers to reconsider the place of wordless books in their classes, but beyond this, I would also love to hear how readers have already been using them. I hope you’ll consider sharing your favorite wordless books and how you use them in your curriculum in the comments!

 

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18. Fools, rush in.

dudleybranch

Dudley Branch Library, Boston Public Library

This Saturday I will be speaking on a panel organized by Irene Smalls for people interested in writing books for children. At the Dudley Branch Library, 65 Warren Street in Roxbury, the panel, free and open to all comers, will run from 3:00 to 4:45, optionally followed by dinner (ten bucks) at Haley House. I hope to see you there!

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19. Review of Welcome to the Family

hoffman_welcome to familyWelcome to the Family
by Mary Hoffman; illus. by Ros Asquith
Primary   Frances Lincoln   28 pp.
12/14   978-1-84780-592-8   $17.99

This chatty, informative book covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. After a very brief and age-appropriate explanation of reproduction (“You need two cells to make a baby — one from a man and one from a woman”), the discussion touches on in vitro fertilization and — somewhat misleadingly — sperm donation (“when there are two mommies”) and surrogacy (“when there are two daddies”). This catalog-like approach means some information is given short shrift, which may be confusing. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one”) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” Nine kids (and one teddy) chime in with speech-bubble answers: “I’ve got two daddies”; “My foster dad was adopted”; “Me and my brothers ALL started in a glass dish.” With more detail than Parr’s The Family Book if less depth than Harris and Emberley’s It’s NOT the Stork! (rev. 9/06), this is a useful and accessible treatment.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Empathy spells understanding

harrypotter_boxedset_260x233If there’s one thing my students have come to know about their teacher, Ms. Tell, it’s that I have an extreme passion for, and knowledge of, the Harry Potter series. I won’t get too much into it (I’ll save that for another blog post), but it’s true. It’s not just the magical characters and enchanting spells that draws me towards the series; it’s that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to appreciate some of its deeper lessons, concerning the acceptance of others that may seem “different,” and the notion of taking responsibility for your actions.

It was in the midst of my daily Google search that I came across an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy?” Well, if I see Harry Potter in a headline, you can guarantee that I’ll click that link. Now, while Harry Potter was definitely used as a hook to draw readers into the article, I became more enthralled by the ongoing study being described in which research has begun to discover that reading fiction can have major impact on one’s social perceptions and understanding of different viewpoints around the world.

In lieu of the holidays and the spirit of the new year, the time that dedicates itself to appreciating what you have and offering up new resolutions to better oneself, my mind shifted towards what I truly believe to be one of the most important facets of a child’s education — shaping character. Thinking about whether or not we are raising our students to be genuine, kind men and women of society can often fall to the wayside in favor of mastering multiplication facts for the test or meeting the deadline in completing a personal narrative report. This year, my class has taken a particular look at the word empathy, which we’ve come to define as, “I’ll try to imagine how it is you are feeling before I speak or do anything.” This definition has served as a guidepost for how we host discussions in third grade, how we find our “teachable moments,” and how we select our Read Alouds!

I’ve compiled a list of Read Aloud texts (some picture books, some chapter books) that have not only sparked incredible discussion post-reading, but have also seeped their way into discussions throughout our school day. Empathy is at work when a child has a rough time losing in the competitive handball game at gym, or someone feels left out when her friends race over to the swings without her. Books have served as an indirect confidante for when those moments become too big for students to express themselves. In a moment of clarity, books can help them think about how someone else may be feeling.

Here is our Read Aloud list for empathy:

  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • The Potato Chip Champ by Maria Dismondy
  • Uncle Rain Cloud by Tony Johnston
  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Wonder by R.J Palacio
  • Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka

hundred dresses     Potato Chip Champ     Uncle Rain

Wilfrid     wonder    Yang the Youngest

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21. New swag!

“Katie! There’s a pretty package for you!” Martha said this morning when the mail arrived. For me?

Sure enough, the holographic, hot pink package was addressed to me, and inside was…

ballet cat book

ballet cat tote

a galley of Bob Shea’s early reader Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (Disney-Hyperion, May 2015), a super-cute tote bag, and a letter addressed “Dear Friend of Ballet.” Being both a friend of ballet and a friend of cats, I claimed the tote bag before anyone else even got to see it. (MY Ballet Cat tote bag! MINE!)

Another recent delivery — also from Disney-Hyperion — was more conducive to sharing. A crate of apple-shaped stress balls emblazoned “Wickedly Good!,” “Bad Apple,” “Rotten to the Core,” etc., arrived to promote Melissa de la Cruz’s novel Isle of the Lost (May 2015).

isle of the lost crate

isle of the lost apples

Isle of the Lost is a prequel to the Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants movie, which will follow the banished children of Disney villains such as Maleficent, Jafar, and Cruella De Vil. Tucked in with the “apples” was a note (which shrieks when you open it!) reading “We cordially dare you to share these wickedly good apples, produced on the Isle of the Lost.” All five stress balls went to happy homes on Horn Book desks.

Thanks, Disney-Hyperion!

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22. Week in Review, February 9th-13th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Starred reviews, March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine

February Notes from the Horn Book: 5Q for Lucy Cousins, outside-the-box concept books, PB bios about African American music icons, intermediate historical fiction, YA about sleazy corporations

Reviews of the Week:

Out of the Box:

Calling Caldecott: Shutting down the shop (for now)

Lolly’s Classroom:Empathy spells understanding

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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23. Reading rainbow? Not quite

Yo, Marsala, I’m happy for you, I’ma let you finish — but Eggplant is the real Color of the Year. At least according to this entire shelf of purple-jacketed books.

purple books

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24. Recommended reading on “the circuit”

In his 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech for The Circuit, Dr. Francisco Jiménez said, “The blowing of the horn for The Circuit will draw attention to and compassion for the thousands of migrant families and their children of yesterday and today. This sound is truly music to my ears.” These books, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide, similarly highlight the experiences of migrant farmworker families.

Primary

adler_picture book of cesar chavezUsing quotes from the subject’s autobiography, David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler’s A Picture Book of César Chávez tells Chávez’s abbreviated life story, from migrant farm work in childhood through his life of activism to his death in 1993. Marie Olofsdotter’s warm-hued illustrations reflect the man’s heritage and commitment to his cause. The book’s source notes and other ancillary material are excellent. (Holiday, 2010)

brown_side by sideMonica Brown makes a significant contribution to the increasing number of books about César Chávez by focusing equally on his partner, Dolores Huerta, in Side by Side / Lado a lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz / La historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez. Their life stories are told in parallel until they meet and “side by side…began their journey.” Huerta’s accomplishments are admirable, and she gets her due in this heartfelt bilingual volume enhanced by Joe Cepeda’s emotion-filled mixed-media illustrations. (HarperCollins/Rayo, 2010)

krull_harvesting hopeIn Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, Kathleen Krull shows how Chávez developed into an advocate and spokesman for migrant workers, focusing on the march he led as part of a grape-pickers strike. The brief text creates a complex view of Chávez, and Yuyi Morales’s mixed-media paintings are suffused with a variety of emotions. There are no sources, but this is an excellent choice for furthering understanding of racism, of nonviolent protest, and of the lives of workers before unions. Look for Spanish-language edition Cosechando esperanza: La historia de Cesar Chavez. (Harcourt, 2003)

mateo_migrantIn a straightforward first-person narration, Migrant by José Manuel Mateo recounts a child’s memories of his migration from Mexico to Los Angeles. The dramatic journey includes jumping a train, scaling a wall, and being chased by dogs. Javier Martínez Pedro’s intricately detailed black-and-white artwork is presented as one long vertical image with an accordion fold, in the style of ancient Mayan codices. The reverse side of the book presents the Spanish translation. (Abrams, 2014)

Separate Is Never Equal In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won —the desegregation of schools in California. Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans in Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. (Abrams, 2014)

 

Intermediate

atkin_voices from the fieldS. Beth Atkin’s Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories features children and teenagers of migrant workers, depicted in black-and-white photographs, speaking about family experiences, work, gangs, friends, and assorted fears, hopes, and dreams. Poetry by the young people, printed in both English and Spanish, is interspersed among the interviews. (Little, Brown, 2000)

jimenez_the circuitFrancisco Jiménez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child was originally published only in paperback (by University of New Mexico Press). The hardcover edition of this moving and transcendent book — which won the 1998 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction — includes an appended author’s note drawn from Jiménez’s acceptance speech for that award. (Houghton, 1999)

jimenez_breaking throughBreaking Through, Francisco Jiménez’s sequel to The Circuit, follows the pattern of the coming-of-age novel. Francisco and his family obtain visas that allow them to enter and stay in the United States without fear of deportation. Like its hero, the book’s pace is steady and deliberate, relying upon natural development rather than theatrics. For all its recounting of deprivation, this is a hopeful book, told with rectitude and dignity. (Houghton, 2001)

ryan_esperanza risingIn Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan’s poignant novel of the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others. (Scholastic, 2000)

 

Older

brimner_strikeIn his comprehensive history Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, Larry Dane Brimner recounts the movement for better wages and working conditions among migrant farm workers in the Southwest, from California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century to the story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers’ strike. The compelling narrative includes both textual and visual primary sources. (Boyds Mills/Calkins, 2014)

jimenez_reaching outFrancisco Jiménez (The Circuit, Breaking Through) continues the fictionalized story of his maturation in Reaching Out, here describing his character’s college years in the early 1960s. The writing is precise and evocative, with the author’s affection for family and friends being especially palpable. A quietly compelling book for older teens and an important contribution to the body of works addressing the immigrant experience. (Houghton, 2008)

young_cesar chavezJeff C. Young’s thorough, well-documented biography César Chávez [American Workers series] recounts Chávez’s progression from fieldworker in California to activist, union organizer, and civil rights advocate. Chávez’s untiring efforts, extremely modest salary, refusal to back down, hunger strikes, and growing awareness of political process are emphasized, with the United Farm Workers Union as his crowning achievement. Considerable primary material is used, and captioned photographs illustrate the text. (Morgan, 2007)

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25. “These children need a champion”: an interview with Gretchen Bircher

Gretchen Bircher is an instructional aide at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria, California. (She’s also my amazing mom!) Today she is submitting a proposal to the Santa Maria–Bonita School District, advocating that a new elementary school be named in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez — author, recipient of a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and an alum of the district’s schools.

Francisco-Jimenez

Dr. Francisco Jiménez

1. Tell us a little about Dr. Jiménez’s life and accomplishments.

GB: Francisco Jiménez was born in 1943 in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. When he was four years old, his family immigrated without papers to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where they hoped to find a better life. But things were very hard for the family, which eventually grew to ten. They moved constantly to follow the crops (working the “circuit”), living in tent camps and worse. Francisco began working in the fields at the age of six.

Only English was spoken in school, so Francisco had a difficult time communicating with his teachers. He loved learning, though, and kept a notepad with him to write down new words and ideas.

At one point, his family was deported to Mexico. Immigration officers came to Francisco’s eighth grade classroom to take him away. They were fortunate to find a legal way back to the U.S. when a sharecropper agreed to sponsor them.

Francisco realized that education was his means to escape the fields. He dreamed of staying in one place so that he could attend school full-time. That dream came true when the family settled in Santa Maria, California. He persisted in his education and was elected student body president at Santa Maria High.

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Francisco attended Harvard, then earned both a master’s degree and PhD from Columbia under a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He went on to become Chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University as well as the Director of the Division of Arts and Humanities.

In 1997, Dr. Jiménez published his autobiographical work The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, which won numerous awards, including the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. He followed The Circuit with several more award-winning books. His stories have been published in more than fifty textbooks and anthologies and have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. In Santa Maria, we have The Circuit and its sequels Breaking Through and Reaching Out in our classrooms and school libraries.

2. What would be the significance of naming the new elementary school in his honor?

GB: The significance would be twofold: first, it would honor an amazing man who, despite incredible odds, went on to have a distinguished academic and literary career. Secondly, it would give the many farmworker students in our district a role model, someone who has been where they are now and who has succeeded through education.

Dr. Jimenez deserves to have the school named after him, but even more than that, our students need it. I’ve been an aide in this school district for twenty-six years, and I’ve seen how much these children need a champion. They need someone to relate to, someone from the same background who has succeeded, to show them that the fields aren’t their destiny. It’s about time that they had a hero of their own! Dr. Jiménez is a perfect choice.

People around the world are inspired by his books, and I think there should be schools named after him all over the world! But particularly here in Santa Maria — Dr. Jiménez went to schools in our district; he worked in the same fields as some of our students.

Last March, I attended a lecture presented by Dr. Jiménez at Allan Hancock College here in Santa Maria. The auditorium was packed. I was moved and impressed by the deep affection Dr. Jiménez has for Santa Maria and the profound emotional response of the audience. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, people (including children) got up to speak to Dr. Jiménez. They were crying, thanking him and telling him how much his work means to them. It was an amazing and powerful experience.

jimenez_the circuit3. As an educator, have you observed unique challenges facing migrant children in the school system? How do your school and school district address these challenges?

GB: Not all of our farmworker children are migrant. Some move with the crops and some stay in the area all year. I worked with AmeriCorps in a tutoring program at one of Santa Maria’s subsidized farmworker housing units, which allows one parent to leave to follow work while the rest of the family stays here. But many of our students live in difficult circumstances, including multifamily housing situations.

Another challenge occurs at school registration; without birth certificates, medical records, etc., a child’s age and appropriate grade level can be difficult to determine.

Often these children are very much like Francisco was when he first attended school. They sit, look, and listen. Their parents work very, very hard in the fields and generally speak little or no English. Although it is not a bilingual curriculum, all classrooms have a Spanish-speaking teacher and/or aide. Some of our families are Mixtec — they are from Mexico, but have their own spoken language and do not speak Spanish. None of the teachers in our district speak Mixtec and we have very few translators in the district because they are very hard to find. We call on them at parent-teacher conference time.

Our district has a free breakfast and lunch program for all students, as well as a grant that provides for a daily snack of fruits or vegetables. Students from the nearby California Polytechnic University come into the classrooms with a nutrition program to teach the children how to choose and prepare healthy snacks.

An after-school tutoring program helps students with their homework. Our students’ parents are hardworking and caring, but they are often unable to help their children with schoolwork due to language and education barriers they face.

4. You mentioned the importance for your district’s farmworker students to see that “that the fields aren’t their destiny,” that there are other possible futures for them. Have you seen this in action?

GB: Some of our students won’t finish school, but others will. Some go on to our local community college. We have former students who visit the elementary school and tell us that they want to be teachers. They have that same drive, that love of education, that helped Dr. Jiménez succeed.

5. Is there a piece of wisdom from Dr. Jiménez’s writing or lectures that particularly inspires you in your work as an educator?

GB: I love this quote from Dr. Jiménez’s 1998 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech:

“I wrote (these stories) to give voice to a sector of our society that has been largely ignored. Through my writing I hope to give readers insight into the lives of migrant farmworker families and their children, whose backbreaking labor picking fruits and vegetables puts food on our tables. Their courage, their hopes and dreams for a better life for their children and their children’s children, give meaning to ‘the American Dream.’ Their story is the American story.”

For The Horn Book’s reviews of The Circuit and its sequels, plus additional recommended reading on the experiences of migrant farmworker children, click here.

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