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The Inker’s Shadow
by Allen Say; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School, High School Scholastic 80 pp.
10/15 978-0-545-43776-9 $19.99 g
This “patchwork of memories” (“and memories are unreliable, so I am calling this a work of fiction made of real people and places I knew”) sequel to Drawing from Memory (rev. 9/11) takes the fifteen-year-old Allen to Glendora, California, where he is enrolled in what seems to have been a distinctly mediocre military academy run by one of his (miserable) father’s old friends. That doesn’t go very well, and Allen soon finds himself, happily, enrolled in a regular high school, taking classes at an art institute in Los Angeles, and working part-time in a printing shop. Throughout, Kyusuke, Allen’s scapegrace comic-strip alter ego created by his revered Sensei, accompanies him in his imagination. Befitting adolescence, the tone here is sometimes sulky, even sarcastic, but, truth be told, Say can be so deadpan that it’s difficult to know when he’s kidding. The illustrations are a pleasing combination of watercolor cartoon panels — neat and nimble executions of the teen’s days — and black-and-white sketches that evoke what he was drawing at the time. Together, the two combine to provide an engaging and thoughtful view of the intersection of art and life.
Tim Hopgood is an illustrator and author I admire greatly. His brilliant Here Comes Frankie was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog, over 6 years ago now, and I’ve yet to read a book of his which hasn’t made me happy.
His use of colour is exceptional. His strong sense of design is eye-catching. His use of visual textures always has me stroking the pages of his books. Yes, I’ll admit I’m a bit of fan!
And so it’s a great honour, and an enormous delight to bring you an interview with Tim today. His latest book is something of a departure for him – up till now (at least when working with children’s publishers) he has always illustrated fiction, but Fabulous Frogs is a bold, extremely beautiful and fascinating non-fiction collaboration with Martin Jenkins (author of the award-winning Can We Save the Tiger?). I kicked off my interview with Tim by asking him about this different genre and what impact it had on his illustrations.
Playing by the book: This is the first time you’ve illustrated a non-fiction book. How was your approach different (and also how was it similar) to illustrating a fiction picture book?
Tim Hopgood: It was my first time working on a non-fiction book and my first time working with the team at Walker (Editor – Lucy Ingrams, Art Director – Beth Aves) and Author – Martin Jenkins, but what was so great was their approach was exactly the same as mine when working on my own picture books. By that, I mean the process was very fluid. We met a few times face-to-face at key stages in the development of the book and the rest of the time it was all done via email, but nothing was ever set in stone until it went to print, and that’s how I like to work. So the book was allowed to evolve in a very natural, organic way; it was a very enjoyable process.
It was also incredibly hard work. For me, the biggest challenge was trying to capture the essence and personality of each frog in my style of illustration whilst remaining anatomically correct. When working on a fiction picture book I wouldn’t be too concerned with anatomical correctness as I’d be more interested in whether my frog character had personality and emotion so this was the main difference, as all the frogs had to be easily identifiable. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn anything quite so small and in such detail as the tiny frogs from Papua New Guinea!
The other big difference was each frog belonged to a different world; so unlike in a fiction picture book where you create a world for your characters to exist in and have to stick to it throughout the book, this project allowed me the freedom to create completely different backgrounds for each frog. In some cases I kept the backgrounds white, which is something I don’t usually do in my own books.
Goliath Frog – a rough draft and the final image
Playing by the book: I think you’ve combined anatomical correctness, personality and emotion wonderfully well in this book – a huge part of its visual appeal is that the frogs have immense personality – lifting the book into something special and very, very distant from a “dry” fact based book…
Tim Hopgood: Thank you Zoe! that’s really good to hear…
Playing by the book: So is there anything about the process of illustrating non-fiction that you think you will “bring back” to your story picture books? Any way of looking at a subject which is different for you now because of the things you had to think about with your frogs?
Tim Hopgood: Although I wasn’t able to draw any of the frogs from life, I think my observational skills were sharpened because of this project. I studied lots and lots of photographs of each frog and had to work out what were the defining features, what made each frog special and then try to bring that frog to life on the page. I think working on the book reignited my interest in nature and I think this will influence my future projects.
Playing by the book: That’s wonderful to hear! Were you a fan of frogs before you illustrated the book? Not everyone loves wet slimy creatures…
Tim Hopgood: As a child I was fascinated by frogspawn and tadpoles; I think children like the way tadpoles move in the water. When my children were little we discovered frogs at the bottom of our garden so we created a small pond in the hope to encourage more (we put an old school sink in the ground and put some plants in it) and amazingly it wasn’t too long before we had a sink full of tadpoles. The kids loved watching the tadpoles grow and develop into tiny frogs.
A rough layout for an interior page from Fabulous Frogs, and the final version
Playing by the book: Which is your favourite frog in your book?
Tim Hopgood: My favourite is the striped rocket frog from Australia. It can jump five metres in one go. I love the look of this frog with its cool stripes running down its back and sides. The other one I really enjoyed drawing is the Malagasy rainbow frog.
Malagasy Rainbow Frog
Playing by the book: How did you and the author interact during the process of creating the book – like a great picture book, the illustrations in this book don’t just double up on the text – there’s a real interplay between words and images. Did Martin indicate what he was thinking of with regard to images? Or was there something of a dialogue about how text and image could play together?
Tim Hopgood: When I first read Martin’s text what really appealed to me was the humour running through it and that it was packed full of frogs I’d never heard of, so I knew this had the potential to be a very striking and informative book. Although we didn’t interact directly – it was all done via Beth (Art Director) – there was definitely a dialogue between text and image which shifted and developed throughout the creative process, but it was a team effort.
We did meet a few times at key stages in the development of the book. At our first meeting we discussed the overall approach and Lucy (Editor) explained how the text would work on two levels: there’s the main text running through the book and then there’s the more detailed information which would sit smaller on the page. We discussed initial ideas for each spread and Beth and Martin provided me with source material for each frog. The next stage was for me to respond to the text in a visual way.
For my first rough I did several versions for each spread so that we could discuss options and work out which one we all thought worked best. Throughout the process the copy would be revised and repositioned on the page to work with the illustrations I was creating. And sometimes I did new drawings to sit more comfortably with the text. Beth is the kind of Art Director I really enjoy working with, the kind that has a clever knack of getting the best out of you, sometimes pushing you out of your comfort zone, but in a supportive and encouraging way. I think a great Art Director can often see things in your work that you as an artist can’t see yourself, they can see you’ve got more to give and that maybe you should approach a subject in a slightly different way, and with the right encouragement and support you can do it! I learnt a lot from creating this book and not just about frogs, but about drawing too!
Striped Rocket Frog
Playing by the book: Whilst researching your frogs, did you come across any other non-fiction illustrator’s work on frogs that really stood out for you?
Tim Hopgood: Oh yes – Art of the New Naturalists – Forms From Nature by Peter Marren and Robert Gillmor is an amazing non-fiction book for anyone interested in art and nature. I was given this book as a present and was inspired by the vitality of the drawings and the strong design compositions of the New Naturalist covers that are lovingly recorded in this book. It definitely influenced the way I approached the artwork for Fabulous Frogs: artwork for a non-fiction book doesn’t have to be clinical it can be painterly too. Combining expressive artwork with clear-cut information produces an interesting dynamic and that’s something I intend to explore in future projects.
Playing by the book: So apart from books used for researching for work, what role does non-fiction play in your own personal reading? Now, and as a child?
Tim Hopgood: As a child, non-fiction played a big part in my love of books. I struggled to learn to read and I struggled to find books that I enjoyed reading. I was always drawn to the non-fiction side of our local library, highly illustrated books on nature filled with facts had a particular appeal.
When I was nine, my parents bought me a hardback copy of ‘More Tell Me Why’ – Answers to over 400 questions children ask most often, by Arkady Leokum, published by Odhams Books. I loved that you could dip into it, that you didn’t have to start at the beginning and stick with it all the way through to make sense of it. You could flick through the pages and see something different each time you picked it up and I loved that it weighed a ton! And although it was heavy that didn’t stop me taking it to school and proudly reading from it in assembly!
Nowadays you’ll find plenty of non-fiction titles on my book shelves; mainly cookbooks (I recently completed over 100 illustrations for the new River Cottage cookbook ‘Love Your Leftovers’), but also lots of books on artists, designers, textiles and architecture. I still love the way you can dip in and out of a non-fiction title and discover new things each time you pick it up.
Playing by the book: One last and completely different question given that you are being interviewed on Playing by the book… what’s the last thing you did / place you visited / something you made for fun having been inspired by a book you’ve read?
Tim Hopgood: Now I feel very dull! I’m afraid it’s been all work and no play here recently, but when I’m not drawing I love to cook. For my birthday I was given ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ by Anna Jones – her Artichoke and fennel seed paella recipe is delicious!
Playing by the book: A book that makes you want to cook? That’s good enough for me! Thank you so very much Tim – here’s to frogs, fennel Seeds and further success in the future!
Reading Picture Books With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See. Megan Dowd Lambert. 2015. Charlesbridge. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
In Reading Picture Books WITH Children, Megan Dowd Lambert introduces readers (presumably adult readers) to the whole book approach of reading picture books with children. The whole book approach pays attention to the whole book. Not just the text. Not even just the text and the illustrations. But to the whole book:
the size of the book--is it big, is it small; is it in landscape or portrait orientation;
the design of the book--what font(s) are used, what size font(s) are used, how does the font appear on the page, etc;
the appearance of the book jacket (front, back, spine); the appearance of the book cover underneath the book jacket; is it the same as the book jacket or different? what materials were used on the cover; how was it bound, etc.
the endpapers; are the endpapers the same in the back as they are in the front; what do they add to the story, etc.
the front matter; does the story begin before the 'first page' of the text; does it contribute anything to the story;
the arrangement of the text and illustrations; how much white space is used on a page, are the illustrations on a two-page spread connected or separate; are the illustrations small or big; are the illustrations framed; do they take up the whole page, etc.
the text itself; what it says, the story, the characters, etc.)
the illustrations; the style, the technique, the details, the art and craft of it all, etc.
She encourages adults to focus on the whole book when reading with children. Asking children questions during the reading of the book itself. Letting them interrupt the reading of the story to talk about what they're seeing and hearing and asking their own questions. She says that it only seems like it would ruin the flow of a story. She argues that in fact, the more you pay attention to the whole book the more engaged readers become. So it enhances the reading of a book.
Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of a picture book. Each chapter includes multiple examples and shares practical advice. Readers see what types of questions Lambert has in mind. Questions like: "What's going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?" She does include a chapter on sample questions. Here are just a few as an example:
How does the jacket seem like a poster for the book, pulling us in as readers? What grabs your attention here?
What information does the jacket give us about the story?
How does the way the words look tell us how to read the words aloud?
Does anyone else have a different idea about this picture?
whimperbang (US), an online journal of artistic commentary, published three times a year, invites the submission of serious, directed artistic expressions that reflect or comment upon today’s world. All literary and visual genres will be considered. Deadline: Open. Guidelines.
Polychrome Ink seeks submissions for Volume Three. Interested in diverse poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Defines diversity as anyone who: does not consider themselves to be white, heterosexual, and/or cisgender; is Intersex; is neuroatypical, and/or who is physically disabled. Pays $15-$40. Deadline: December 27, 2015. Guidelines.
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie the Pooh. Sally M. Walker. Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss. 2015. Henry Holt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: When Harry Colebourn looked out of the train window, he couldn't believe what he saw: a bear at the station!
Premise/plot: This picture book is the 'true story' of the real bear named Winnie that was eventually given to the London Zoo. The book ends by introducing readers to a young Christopher Robin who enjoys visiting Winnie at the zoo.
My thoughts: Most of the picture book takes place during World War I. You probably can't think of many picture books about World War I or set during World War I, I know I can't think of any others at the moment! Harry Colebourn is a soldier, a Canadian soldier, and the war is in the background. As an adult reader, I felt the war was rightly in the background. I'm not sure if young readers will read the book in quite the same way. Winnie, the bear, is a friend, companion, mascot, not just to one soldier--though Harry is his favorite--but to a regiment. When Harry's called to fight overseas in Europe, Winnie is left in the care of the London Zoo. An author's note fills in the details of Winnie's life after the publication of A.A. Milne's classic children's book.
Text: 4.5 out of 5 Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5 Total: 9 out of 10
Alas for poor emu. Forever relegated to be consider a second rate ostrich, it encompasses all of the awkwardness and none of the stereotypes. Does anyone ever talk about burying your head in the sand like an emu? They do not. Are schoolchildren routinely called upon to ooh and aah at the size of an emu’s egg? They aren’t. And when you watch Swiss Family Robinson, do you ever find yourself wishing that the kids would try to saddle an emu for the big race? Not even once. Emus are the second largest living bird in terms of height, coming right after the ostrich, and you might be fooled into believing that they are the less interesting of the two. There, you are wrong. Wrongdy wrongdy wrong wrong wrong. I do not wish to start a war of words with the prominent ostrich societies of the world, but after reading Emu by Claire Saxby (illustrated by Graham Byrne) I’m a bit of what you might consider an emu convert. Chock full of interesting information and facts about what a typical emu might experience in its day-to-day life, the book is full of thrills, chills, and a species that gives stay-at-home dads everywhere a true animal mascot.
Meet the emu. Do not be offended if he fails to rise when you approach. At the moment he is safeguarding a precious clutch of eggs from elements and predators. While many of us consider the job of hatching eggs to be something that falls to the female of the species, emus are different. Once they’ve laid their eggs, female emus just take off, and it is the male emu that hatches and rears them. In this particular example, the male emu has a brood of seven or so chicks but though they’re pretty big (ten times bigger than a domestic chicken hatchling) they need their dad for food, shelter, and protection. The chicks find their own food right from the start and within three to four months they’ve already lost their first feathers. They zigzag to escape predators, live with their fathers for about a year, and have a kick like you would not believe. Backmatter of the book provides more information about emus, as well as an index.
This is not what you might call Saxby and Byrne’s first rodeo show. The Aussie duo previously had paired together on the book Big Red Kangaroo, a book that did just fine for itself. Following a kangaroo called “Red”, the ostensibly nonfiction title was best described by PW as, “An understated but visually arresting portrait of a species.” For my part I had no real objections to the book, but neither did I have anything for it. Kangaroo books are not rare in my children’s rooms, though the book was different in that it was written for a younger reading level. That same reading level is the focus of Emu and here I feel that Saxby and Byrne have started to refine their technique. One of the problems I had with Red was this naming of the titular kangaroo. It felt false in a way. Like the author didn’t trust the readers enough to show them a typical day in the life of an animal without having to personalize it with faux monikers. Byrne’s art too felt flatter to me in that book than it does here. This may have more to do with the subject matter than anything else, though. Emu faces, after all, are inherently more amusing and interesting than kangaroos
In terms of the text, Saxby utilizes a technique that’s proven very popular with teachers as of late. When kids in classrooms are given open reading time there can sometimes be a real range in reading levels. With this in mind, sometimes nonfiction picture books about the natural world will contain two types of text. There will be the more enticing narrative, ideal for reading aloud to a group or one-on-one. Then, for those budding naturalists, there will be a complementary second section that contains the facts. On the first two pages of Emu, for example, one side introduces the open forest with its “honey-pale sunshine” and the emu’s job while the second block of text, written in a small font that brings to mind an expert’s crisp clean handwriting, gives the statistics about emu (whether or not they can fly, their weight, height, etc.). In the back of the book under the Index there’s actually a little note about these sections. It says, “Don’t forget to look at both kinds of words”, and then writes the words “this kind and this kind” in the two different fonts.
Artist Graham Byrne’s bio says that he’s an electrical engineer, builder, and artist. This is his second picture book and the art is rendered digitally. What it looks like is scratchboard art, with maybe an ink overlay as well. I enjoyed the sense of place and the landscapes but what really made me happy was how Byrne draws an emu. There’s something about that bright yellow eye in the otherwise impassive face that gets me. I say impassive, but there are times when one wonders if Byrne is fighting an instinct to give his emu some expression. There’s a scene of the emu nosing his eggs, his beak appears to be curling up in just the slightest of smiles. Later an eagle threatens his brood and there’s almost a hint of a frown as he runs over to the rescue. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but such images bear watching.
In comparing the emu to the ostrich I may have omitted certain pertinent details. After all, the emu doesn’t have it quite so bad. It appears on the Australian coat of arms, as well as on their money. There was an Emu War of 1932 where the emus actually won the day. Heck, it’s even not too difficult to find emus on farms in the United States. Still, culturally they’ve a far ways to go if ever they are to catch up with their ostrichy brethren fame-wise. Books like this one will help. I think there must be plenty of teachers out there a little tired of using Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse as their de facto responsible-dads-in-the-wild motif. Now kids outside of Australia will get a glimpse of this wild, wacky, wonderful and weird creature. Consider it worth meeting.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass [Scientists in the Field]
by Mary Kay Carson; photos by Tom Uhlman
Middle School Houghton 80 pp.
10/15 978-0-544-41664-2 $18.99
Carson takes readers into Biosphere 2, the research facility designed to be a self-sustaining model of Earth’s environments. There’s brief coverage of the innovative engineering and original mission of the facility (complete with photos of the first jumpsuit-clad human “biospherians” who were sealed inside from 1991 to 1993), but the focus is primarily on current research under the direction of scientists at the University of Arizona. The ability to control environmental conditions within the contained rainforest, ocean, and giant soil laboratory allows researchers to investigate questions in earth science — prominently, those related to climate change — on a scale not possible in any other laboratory setting. Biogeochemist Joost van Haren has tinkered with the composition of the rainforest’s atmosphere for twenty years, examining the effects of excess carbon dioxide on the contained atmosphere, soil, and biomass. Hydrologist Luke Pangle built a huge artificial slope to study soil production and erosion. Sustainability coordinator Nate Allen researches the facility itself, examining how this “Model City” can reduce its energy footprint. Educational efforts at Biosphere 2 are also profiled, as the ocean biome is repurposed as a teaching and research lab. Plentiful photos of the researchers, facility, and surrounding environment capture the feel of a busy research center and show the nuts and bolts of maintaining controlled conditions. Uhlman’s photographs take us into back rooms and basements to see the wires, computers, pumps, and pipes that keep the place running. A glossary, index, references (including citations to the research papers produced by Biosphere 2 scientists), and places to read about the original project are appended.
Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination is one of those not quite this not quite that sorts of books. By that I mean it is memoir but it isn’t and it is literary criticism but it isn’t. Sometimes it is more one than the other but throughout the personal is blended in with the literary. If you have read Reading Lolita in Tehran you will have an idea of what I mean. Only in this book, Nafisi talks much more in depth about the books.
Nafisi became an American citizen in 2008. I was surprised to learn she attended university in the United States, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. There she studied literature. She left her job teaching literature in Tehran in 1995 because she no longer felt she could teach it properly without attracting too much attention from the authorities. She remained in Tehran until 1997.
Republic of Imagination was inspired by a question she had from an earnest young Iranian man at a reading she gave in Seattle. He told her that Americans didn’t care about books and literature, that in Iran they cared much more and didn’t she feel she was wasting her time talking to people about literature? Nafisi of course disagreed and this book is her answer.
Nafisi focuses on three American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers with an epilogue in which she discusses the work of James Baldwin. She examines what each book says about the American character and mindset and why the book is important still. Into her examination of each of the novels she weaves personal stories about friends, attending university in Oklahoma, Iran. Some of her personal stories fit better with the book under discussion than others but they are all interesting even when there is a disconnect.
The chapter on Huck Finn is by far the longest, taking up nearly half the book. Nafisi is very attached to Huck and Mark Twain but she goes on far too long. Perhaps it is because she used to discuss Twain with a dear friend who died from cancer. Perhaps it is also because at the time she was planning on writing an entire book on Twain and Huckleberry Finn. As interesting as her discussion was, however, I felt myself drifting off about two-thirds of the way through the chapter, wondering what more she could possibly say that she hadn’t already and wishing we could just move on to the next book. Once she does move on, the pace picks up again.
As much as I enjoyed Republic of Imagination, and I did enjoy it very much, I don’t think Nafisi managed to provide a very good response to the Iranian man. If her intent was to prove the importance of literature to Americans, she failed completely. She does succeed in arguing that American literature has some important things to say and that it very often connects directly to real life.
Nafisi is clearly a woman who is passionate about books and literature and wants to share that passion with others. The book often reads like a conversation, though it sometimes veers into lecture. I can imagine sitting in a cafe with her talking books, her leaning forward and eagerly asking, oh what did you think about this part? and drinking way too much coffee in an attempt to keep up with her energy and leaps of thought. Not a bad book, not a great book but a good book, a very enjoyable book that makes you happy to be a reader.
Marianne’s Dyson and her famous co-author Buzz Aldrin made the list with their new book WELCOME TO MARS: MAKING A HOME ON THE RED PLANET. As NASA prepares for a future mission to Mars, moon explorer Buzz Aldrin offers valuable insights, based upon the latest thoughts on what it will take for human habitation on Mars to become a reality. Visit MArianne Dayso’s website for a free download of an eight-page teacher’s guide for grades 2-8. Individual downloads for each grade level are also available.
Marilyn Grohoske Evans debut picture book SPIT & STICKS: A CHIMNEY FULL OF SWIFTSrelates the life cycle of swift birds and its analogy with a human family. Informative text tells the story of the diligent swifts alongside wordless illustrations of the family on the farm. This parallel story of two very different, but both growing, families follows the changes in each as summer gives way to fall and the humans wave good-bye to the departing swifts—until next year.
Librarian Sara K. Joiner made the list with her debut middle grade novel AFTER THE ASHES. In this riveting coming-of-age survival story, a stubborn and intellectual teen must fight for her life when the mighty volcano Krakatau erupts and puts her hometown on the Javanese coast in mortal danger. Set against the backdrop of one of the most spectacularly horrifying natural disasters in human history, this debut novel is by turns exciting, funny, tragic and poignant.
Here’s this week’s events:
NOVEMBER 17, 24 & DECEMBER 1, TUESDAYS, 7-8:30 PM WRITESPACE YOUNG WRITERS CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP (Ages 14-19) COST: $75.00; Limited to 12 High School Students
In this workshop, instructor Elizabeth White-Olsen will examine aspects of craft that go far beyond high school. Students will venture deep into the process of creating stories and study crucial components of craft such as character motivation, gesture, point of view, scene-building, as well as learn to fulfill the famous writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” Along with exploring fiction, we will study poetry and poetic techniques.
Writing Real Teenagers for Real Teenage Readers (and Adult Readers, Too!)
Realistic young adult fiction is filling the bestseller lists, and books by Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and E. Lockhart are captivating the attentions of readers both young and old. But how can an adult writer craft an authentic teenager as protagonist? How do we as grown ups write stories full of the tension, excitement, longing and frustration that come with being 16?
This three-hour workshop focuses on writing realistic contemporary fiction for young adults. We’ll spend time in class studying a mentor text and discussing how and why it works, including analyzing the voice, characterization, setting, structure, pacing and plot. Participants will have time to write in class, applying our conversations to an existing work in progress, or they may choose to respond to an exercise or two. Sharing is optional but encouraged. Participants will leave with a reading list of some of the best contemporary young adult fiction from recent years as well as resources on the querying and publishing process.
Note: This workshop is geared toward writers of contemporary, realistic YA, rather than toward writers of paranormal and fantasy YA.
Breakthrough: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever. Jim Murphy. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
If I had to describe Breakthrough in just a few words, I'd choose these: fascinating, compelling, a must-read. If I had to pack it all into one sentence? Something like, Breakthrough by Jim Murphy is a fine narrative example of nonfiction for young readers at its best. Of course, I don't have to limit my review to just a few words or a few sentences. But the best books so overwhelm you with their greatness that though you want to gush about them at great length, you're sometimes at a loss of words for you know that you can never do the book you just read and loved justice.
Breakthrough is the story of three people: Dr. Alfred Blalock, Dr. Helen Taussig, and Vivien Thomas. Dr. Blalock was a doctor who spent most of his time doing research, his specialty was studying shock: what it was, what caused it, how to fix it and save lives. He was a doctor who needed a research assistant, a more-than-capable research assistant, an assistant that would be able to do his own research, experiments, and surgeries. That assistant was a black man, Vivien Thomas. He was not technically a doctor or a surgeon. So his story of how he became part of this historic team is quite fascinating. (It would have been easy for most who worked at the hospital to assume that Thomas was a janitor, a "mere" janitor, if you will. But that was so far from the case!!!)
Readers learn about all three people--their stories and backgrounds and how they came together to help save 'blue babies.' Readers also learn a bit about the field of medicine at the time--the 1930s and 1940s. Heart surgery was not done at the time; it was almost unthinkable for doctors and surgeons to contemplate operating on the heart. "Blue babies" were babies born with heart defects. They might live for a few days, a few weeks, or a few years. But all babies born with heart defects were almost surely fated to die early. Dr. Helen Taussig was a pediatrician who was broken-hearted enough about it to want to do something. Even if other doctors were hesitant or even hostile to help her in her research. She ended up working with Dr. Blalock, and his involvement meant Vivien Thomas doing much of the work: the tests, the experiments, the surgeries, all on animal test subjects of course. The author does address how some found this controversial--doing surgeries and experiments on animals, in this case on dogs--but he stresses how valuable the research was to doctors, and, how their discoveries led to life-changing techniques and practices that would never have been possible without that initial animal research. Thomas, the man doing the test surgeries, also needed to invent the surgical tools to operate.
And without a doubt this first case of heart surgery on a baby, Eileen Saxon, was life-changing. (I believe it was one of the first (successful) heart surgeries ever performed.) This surgery changed the lives of the doctors, changed the field of medicine, and changed people's perceptions of what was possible.
The books featured in this post, all of which were published in 2015, represent a variety of information writing. All of these are texts that can pull double- and even triple-duty in your classroom, thereby allowing you to use a text during read-aloud time so you can revisit it during a writing workshop minlesson and/or in a content area.
It features illustrations which look so incredibly lifelike that you think they must be photos. They are in fact hand drawn with charcoal – and lots of patience. It’s a counting book and is of course about numbers, but not only the first ten digits we learn. Rather it makes readers reflect on when numbers mean the difference between life and not just death, but extinction. It’s a remarkable book.
It’s a book to make you look, and think, and wonder in awe. Ten animals are introduced, each with a double page spread featuring Walton’s breathtaking and moving illustrations and a short poetic text giving the animals a context, introducing a few judiciously chosen facts about their lives. A tiger is described as “a flash of fire and night“. The elephants don’t just migrate, they “travel the dust paths of memory.”
Counting Lionscan be read as a learn-to-count book – one lion, two gorillas, three giraffes and so on. Young children will love the scale of the illustrations (this is an out-sized book), and I’m sure many a small hand will end up stroking the pictures, reaching out and feeling an emotional connection with the animals depicted. But don’t be fooled. This book will also capture the imagination of a ten year old who’s long past the 1,2,3 stage. The quiet, powerful language, the addition of fact files on each animal(including its status on the list of endangered animals) in an addendum, as well as links to further reading make this a springboard for anyone curious about and appreciative of the natural world.
We explored smudging, drawing fine lines, shading, removing charcoal with a rubber, “painting” with charcoal and a wet paint brush and more. Pretty soon we were quite dirty!
Charcoal is a very expressive medium to draw with – it makes such a satisfying mark even when pressing lightly. I’d definitely encourage you to use the largest possible sheets of paper if you try this out yourself as the ease with which such a juicy black line appears made us all want to make large movements whilst drawing.
We tried drawing in the dark, with just one light beaming on a “still life” (hence the lamp on the table in the picture above); this idea came from the rich darkness of the charcoal, and the sensory experience of drawing in the gloom was quite exciting! Here’s our final gallery:
Whilst we explored making art with charcoal we listened to:
The Lion by Benjamin Scheuer (do check out the video – it’s very lovely)
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Primary, Intermediate Carolrhoda 32 pp.
11/15 978-0-7613-3943-4 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4618-2 $17.99
If the central character of Nelson’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Award-winningNo Crystal Stair (rev. 3/12) was the author’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, this picture book adaptation of the same source material shifts the focus just enough to give younger readers an introduction to his singular achievement: the National Memorial African Bookstore, founded by Michaux in Harlem in the 1930s. Where No Crystal Stair had more than thirty narrators, this book has but one, Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, whose assassination provides the emotional climax of the story. Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. While middle-graders might need some context to understand that the book is set fifty years in the past, its concerns remain: as Michaux “jokes” to Lewis, “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” Nelson provides full documentation in a biographical note, and some of the bookseller’s best slogans decorate the endpapers.
In our November/December issue, our editors asked Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about revisiting the source material of her BGHB Award–winning No Crystal Stair in new picture book The Book Itch. Read the full review of The Book Itchhere.
Horn Book Editors: What compelled you to revisit the material from No Crystal Stair to create your picture book The Book Itch?
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: I was writing in Lewis Jr.’s voice in No Crystal Stair when I realized that his perspective might entice younger readers into Lewis Sr.’s world. Moved by Lewis Jr.’s story, I wanted to explore how his father and the bookstore influenced him in particular. You could say Lewis Jr. cut in line and stepped onto the speaker’s platform, making me pause the longer work.
Today is Veteran’s Day, the perfect day to remember not only the brave men and women who fought for this country’s safety and freedom, but also a war that stunned many—the first World War. November 11th, 2015 marks the 96th anniversary of Armistice Day, the date Germany and the Allies signed an agreement to stop …
On Saturday I held my monthly bookgroup meeting for 8-12 year olds at the local public library. These sessions are designed to encourage kids to discover new(-to-them) books and to become ever increasingly familiar with the library and the whole range of resources and services it offers (we don’t just sit and discuss a set book). This month, inspired by National Non-Fiction November, I took “maps” as my overarching theme and below you’ll find all the activities we had fun with, and which you might be able to adapt for use at home or school or your own bookgroup.
We started by talking about places in the UK we’ve visited outside of our home city, and then everyone found their (approximate) location of choice on this fabulous map (available from the Literary Gift Company, with other versions covering adult writers in the UK, Ireland and US)
We had a couple of “regular” atlases on hand too in case people weren’t sure where to find the place they are thinking of.
Once the kids had found the author associated with their location, their task was to find a book by that author in the library. If they couldn’t find a book by their author, we looked them up using:
Whilst this fabulous book is targeted at an adult readership, its short articles are easy for keen readers to manage.
We spent 5 minutes “tasting” the book(s) we found (looking at blurbs, covers, interior illustrations, reading the opening paragraph) and then we each shared our initial thoughts about whether our newly discovered books appealed to each of us, or if not, who we thought the books might appeal to instead.
This involved browsing a selection of map-themed/linked non-fiction books including:
Each reading group member had a set of questions to answer about the books, to encourage them to think about format, illustrations, factual content and to explore what they personally find appealing or interesting, especially when it comes to non-fiction books.
City Atlas was the overwhelming favourite amongst the kids on Saturday; “The cover is so cool”, “I like the colours”, “It’s easy to dip in and out of”, although one child was very cross with the book; she is a Catalan speaker, and under the entry for Barcelona (where native inhabitants are more likely to be mother-tongue Catalan speakers, rather than Spanish speakers, though all Catalan speakers will also have Spanish), only Spanish is listed as the language spoken.
This led to a fruitful discussion about what a fact is, how we check them and whether “simplified” facts ever have a place in books; not a bad discussion to have, though the child was still angry!
Another book which got special attention was To the Edge of the Universe. At the start of the day’s session we discussed how we might define what a map is. We ended up agreeing on this: “a picture representing a landscape or location, showing where things are in relationship to each other.” To the Edge of the Universe caught their imagination as it is a sort of map of the night sky, showing the orbits of planets around the sun, before moving further and further into deep space; the book unfolds to form a 4.3 metre long spread, allowing readers to physically walk through space and back in time. The unusual and outsized format of this book really caught the imagination of the kids, and it was taken to show the librarians and also reopened for each parent at pick-up time.
I had prepared a floor plan of the library with lots of Xs marking different locations where we would find map-related material in the library – OS maps, atlases (both in the adults and children’s section) and local historical maps. In teams the children explored the library, finding out what was at each different location, bringing back one item from each section which they thought was especially interesting. The atlases in the adult reference section of the library caused most discussion; again it was sheer size that got them excited, with one atlas being so big that two kids were needed to carry it! Whilst of course, it’s content which really matters, Saturday’s session reminded me on several occasions how important appearance is when it comes to getting kids curious about books they choose for themselves.
Had we but world enough, and time (to borrow someone else’s words), we would have also marked up on a world map all the books we’ve read as a group set in different parts of the world. This could have made for a great display, but we ran out of time! If it’s an activity you would like to try, and are having difficulties finding literature from / set in various countries, here are some of my favourite resources that could help:
Do you have any other resources you’d recommend? Please do share any other map-related activities you’ve tried as a way to get children looking at new books and excited to read outside of their comfort zone.
Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box. David McPhail. 2015. Henry Holt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866, in London, England.
Premise/plot: David McPhail has written a picture book biography about Beatrix Potter, author-illustrator of dozens of picture books including Peter Rabbit. The book focuses on her childhood through the publication of her first few books.
My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much. I really liked the illustrations. And I thought the text was very reader-friendly. It wasn't text-heavy. It was just the right amount of text for the target audience. Overall, a very nice biography.
Text: 4 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 8 out of 10
The Wise Girl's Guide to Life. Robin Brande. 2015. Ryer Publishing. 109 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Did I enjoy reading Robin Brande's The Wise Girl's Guide to Life: 100 Tips for Increasing Your Confidence and Happiness? Yes. For the most part. Though perhaps written with tween or teen girls in mind, I think some of the advice is so good, so wise, that it will last you your whole life long. In other words, even if you don't "need" all 100 tips, there is a good chance that a handful of them will be just-right for you, no matter your age.
The Wise Girl's Guide to Life reads like a devotional. Most people probably tend to associate devotional books with faith or spirituality or Christianity to be exact. And that is not the impression I want to give you. It's not. The Wise Girl's Guide to Life isn't exactly about passing along spiritual wisdom to readers. (I would never classify the advice as "Christian advice.")
No, when I say devotional, I mean that it's a short passage with an inspirational, invitational, uplifting feel. Each of the 100 readings has a concise, often practical, nugget of wisdom that you can take with you and process throughout the day.
Here's the guide you've been waiting for on Fandom 101, especially for girls. Everything is covered--how to get started, next steps to take, great books to read and shows to wath, how to make an awesome cosplay costume, tips for writing awesome fanfic, finding your people, and dealing with various levels of trolls. Parts of it are a general rah rah rah celebration of fandom, and parts are very nitty gritty hands-on practical advice (which sites you'll want to be on, but with a throw-away name/email that's not linked to any of your other social media)
It's great and interesting and wonderful with one major fatal flaw that made me want to throw it across the room. It's written right on the back-cover, but I didn't read it, because too much is obscured with library stickers. It's "The Geek Girl's Litany for Feminism."
I m a geek girl and I am a feminist... I don't have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever.
There are some great lines in there:
From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian, I accept all fandoms and ships as equally meaningful and important in our geek girl lives...I will support empowering, lady-created media and amazing female characters...
And then we get the kicker that made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head:
Buffy, not Bella
Because, all fandoms are meaningful and we support lady-created media, right? Oh... only if they're the right ones. Yeah. That's when I flipped back to where she's introducing fandoms and in the list of major fandoms, the Twihards aren't listed at all. Sure, they might be covered under "YA Book Nerds" but the Nerdfighters get their own shout-out. Potter has its own section. In non-book fandoms, Gleeks get a mention. Squints get a mention. Scoobies are mentioned on the list, despite the fact there's a whole section on Whedonites in general. Leaving off Twihards seems pretty deliberate. And telling.
Outside the Buffy, not Bella thing, Twilight only gets name-checked in the section on how to critique media. There's a general introduction about why we need to critique media and that it's ok if we enjoy not-perfect things but... it's glib and kinda snarky ("I'm not telling you... to stop reading your guilty-pleasure YA romance novels!") And in things to look out for, there's a section on "How Healthy is that relationship, anyway?"
There a lot of media out there (like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey) that glorifies abusive, controlling, or even violent behavior as a romantic relationship. When we read these books and think, "Wow, that's so sweet that he shows up at her house, uninvited, at night while she's unconscious, to watch her sleep!" we subconsciously accept that behavior as okay.
There could have been a great section on how things that are mostly liked by teen girls are automatically dismissed as lesser and what that says about us as a society and how to deal with that as a fangirl. Or, you know, it could just pile on.
Most importantly, it could have been a great section on how to reconcile how problematic our faves are. I know all about problematic faves. How? Because I am Buffy, not Bella. And even though this book is all over the awesomeness of Buffy (as it should be, Buffy is awesome) it never points out its problems. And Buffy has plenty of problems.
For instance, that whole thing there it's painted as "romantic" for a vampire to show up uninvited to watch his girlfriend sleep? Before Edward did that to Bella, ANGEL WAS DOING THAT TO BUFFY. Speaking as someone who got into Buffy late in the series and didn't go back and watch the beginning until after I read Twilight? Angel has most, if not all, of Edward's icky points. Buffy's other loves all come with major issues in the "healthy relationship" category. Maggs mentions Spuffy elsewhere in the book, and trust me, Spike over Angel any day, but Spike is ISSUES and their relationship is all ISSUES. And I really like Xander, but that guy is really a whole heap of Nice Guy (tm) problems.
When Twilight was still new there were T-Shirts and sayings of"And then Buffy staked Edward. The End" Yeah... Buffy wouldn't have. Edward and the other Cullens would have all been Scoobies. There's a good chance Buffy would have dated Edward. Or at least made out with him, or had a MEANINGFUL slow dance (note to self: see if there's any good fanfic with Rosalie and Cordelia as BFFs. Or Willow and Alice.)
I think the main difference is not the guys, or the relationships, but Buffy and Bella themselves. To save the world, Buffy killed Angel--I don't think that Bella could have killed Edward. BUT, BUT, BUT in one of my many conversations about this (hi, my name is Jennie, and I'm a fangirl) my Twitter friend @FangirlJeanne pointed out something major that has me rethinking that stance:
Buffy was THE SLAYER. She had a job given to her by the POWERS THAT BE. She was the CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with DESTINY. Of course she killed Angel. Bella didn't. Bella was just a normal girl who turned into a normal vampire and she still fought serious battles before and after to protect her friends and family. If Bella was a CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with SLAYER DESTINY, could she have then killed Edward? If Buffy wasn't the SLAYER, could she have still killed Angel? I don't know, but these are the kind of things fangirls think about late at night, both the Buffys and the Bellas.
Maggs went a snarky, easy route that ended up invalidating a lot of her book for me, undermining her main argument. We like all fandoms, but not that one.
And now I'm rage-defending Twilight, which is not a place a like to be. (This review sums up my Twilight feelings pretty well)
After reading Jim Murphy’s Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever, our current nonfiction review of the week, I mentioned it to my cousin Dr. Anne Murphy, a pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins. It turns out she knew two of those three, which is both pretty neat and means that, yes, we are old. My pal Karen Walsh at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt kindly sent Anne a copy of no-relation-Murphy’s book, and here are her thoughts:
“I walk by Vivien Thomas’s portrait every day. As a self-professed Johns Hopkins Medicine ‘lifer’, the story of the Blalock-Taussig procedure is ingrained in my DNA, and I was delighted to read the book Breakthrough which recounts this story. Although Dr. Alfred Blalock died before I arrived at Johns Hopkins, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Helen Taussig and found her to be energetic and feisty. I also heard at first hand from her former patients about her devotion to those in her care. Mr. Vivien Thomas was still teaching medical students in my day. During our two-month rotation in surgery, we students spent an afternoon a week in the surgical labs, where Mr. Thomas was a distinguished, soft-spoken instructor who took a particular interest in my classmates who were skilled with their hands. It is tragic that he did not initially receive recognition for his crucial role in this remarkable advance that has saved many lives over the 70 years since it was first performed. I am grateful that this book introduces this remarkable man to a new generation of readers.”
Anne also told me that Dr. Robert Gross, presented in Murphy’s book as a gifted surgeon but early discourager of Taussig, operated on my younger brother Rand when he was a baby. (Did you know that, Rand?) So he couldn’t have been all bad.
I spent much of my childhood in insomniac nights, immersed in my parent’s collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, each volume of which, it seemed, contained at least one gripping nonfiction account of one medical breakthrough or another. Ten-year-old me would have loved this book just as much as I do now.
When I was a kid, our town library had a whole special room filled with children’s books. It was one of my favorite places in the world. That was where I fell in love with Corduroy,… Continue reading →
Totally Wacky Facts About Space Series: Mind Benders Written by Emma Carlson Berne Capstone Press 8/01/2015 978-1-4914-6526-4 240 pages Ages 8—12 “Ever wondered what astronauts do with their dirty underwear? Or which astronaut played golf on the moon? If you’re looking for wacky factoids and out-of-this-world trivia, this book has it …
Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple, Read by Danny Campbell Scholastic Audiobooks 3.5 hours Best for upper middle grades and/or high school
I recently reviewed Lincoln's Spymaster for AudioFile Magazine. A link to my review of this biography of the nation's most famous private investigator is here: [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/107600/] Pinkerton's is a compelling story, well-told and read.
Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton ("E. J. Allen") of the Secret Service on horseback, Creator(s): Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer, Source: Library of Congress
Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations. The following nonfiction picture books present examples of this variety, with the common element being love.
In My Family Tree and Me, Dušan Petričić creates an innovative introduction to the ordinary miracle of genealogy. Reading the book from front to middle, we meet the paternal line through five generations, Pops and Nana and all the rest. Reading from back to middle, we are given portraits of the maternal line, Gong Gong and Po Po and their parents and children. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family; having met the whole gang, we can move back and forth, tracing and inventing individual stories. Cartoonist Petričić’s gift for caricature is put to joyful use here, showing one family in all its variations and particular beauty. (Kids Can, 4–7 years)
Mary Hoffman’s chatty, informative Welcome to the Family covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations by Ros Asquith 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. 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?” (Frances Lincoln, 4–7 years)
The 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage throughout the country is given a picture-book accounting in Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Richard Loving was white, Mildred Jeter’s skin was a “creamy caramel”; despite their different racial backgrounds, they fell in love and married, only to be arrested for miscegenation when they returned to their Virginia hometown after the wedding. While the book is honest about the obstacles the Lovings faced, its message and tone are optimistic, the feel-good atmosphere reinforced by the pencil, paint, and collage illustrations by Alko and Qualls (themselves partners in an interracial marriage). Sources and a suggested reading list are appended. (Scholastic/Levine, 4–7 years)
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore is a picture book adaptation of her work No Crystal Stair, a history of the National Memorial African Bookstore founded in the 1930s by Nelson’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux. Where the longer work had more than thirty narrators, this has but one: Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. R. Gregory Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)