Congratulations to the Kirkus Prize Finalists

On October 23rd, the winners of the new Kirkus Prize will go home with a whopping $50,000. While I’m sure that award will be much appreciated it is about the honor as well. Yesterday the finalists were announced and I am absolutely delighted with those in the young readers category. They are:

El Deafo by Cece Bell. I was waiting for the finished copy to post about this fantastic graphic memoir and so will soon. The more I think about it and read about it the more I admire it, so much so that I’m now planning to use it with my 4th graders in a literature circle unit later this year. I have never done a whole class look at a graphic novel so it should be interesting.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryan, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I’ve raved here already about this one. It is my top choice for the Caldecott and I think it is a worthy contender for the Sibert as well.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. My professional review for this is forthcoming, but I will say that I am very happy that the Kirkus jury is celebrating this finale to an original and complex series. Joey and Jack rule!

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnson. I read this ages ago thanks to the recommendation of a goodreads friend and thought it an extremely clever novel indeed. This honor should, for good reason, definitely kick up the buzz that is already building around this highly original title.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell.  This is the only finalist I have not yet read, but the enthusiasm even before this honor has made me eager to rectify that as soon as possible.

Avian Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth.  I took a quick look when I first received this and have been meaning to return to read it properly. I recall beautiful illustrations and puzzling over audience. Now must go back and figure it out.

 

 

 

 

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In the Classroom: Dealing with Difficult Language

As a longtime 4th grade teacher there are times when racist language appears in our classroom work. Each time I try to educate my students, but in a way that doesn’t seem hectoring, no easy task. For I think it is a fine line we teachers walk — while most of the kids may well take in all that we say, others may be quietly dismissive and go away with the opposite thought.  And I try to keep in mind that what might be horrifying to me because of the history and knowledge I bring to a word, may not be for my young students. I try to consider that even those words that shock me the most may not do the same to my students.  That said, there are certain words I cannot say and I avoid books and work that include them. But sometimes they appear unexpectedly and then there are others, somewhat arguably less charged that also occasionally appear. And I think carefully about those kids and how best to make them aware in a way that helps them throughout their lives.

I’ve been thinking about this because of the conversation over at Betsy Bird’s post about older books that include racist elements and even more so this post by Matt Tavares about his decision to take out a highly racist word in a new edition of his book, Henry Aaron’s Dream.  Because of my classroom experiences I think Matt’s decision is the right one,  discomforting though it is. Here’s my comment on his blog post:

I’m a longtime classroom teacher (31 years at my present school, most of them with 4th graders) and think this is the right decision even as uncomfortable as I am going that way. So kudos to you and Candlewick for making this hard choice.

For me, it isn’t only about the book not getting into its audience hands, but that kids in their own world do take language and own it for themselves and sometimes that can be in extremely hurtful ways. We may not like thinking this, but it can and does happen. The audience for this book is a young one and not yet at the developmental place where they are able to unpack the history around that word (as I would hope those teaching Huckleberry Finn to much older young people would do). And so putting it in may not have them understanding your book as well as you would want.

You might be interested, if you don’t already know it, of the book Desmond and the Very Mean Word — also, it so happens a Candlewick title. I’ve read that to my class and they focus on the result of the word and are fine not knowing what it was.

I really think that we need to be honest about the realities of young children — think hard about what they take in and don’t. Keep in mind where they are developmentally. Additionally, every child’s situation is different — some may know a lot and some may not know so much.

I’ve been faulted for sanitizing the harsher aspects of the Amistad story in my book, but I stand by my choices. Like Matt, I want the story to be known, especially for younger children. Here’s my thinking (in the source notes) about that:

There is no record of Margru’s firsthand description of her voyage from Africa to Cuba. Based on the many other accounts available I can only guess at its dreadfulness and feel it would be presumptuous of me to write about it in detail.  My father, a Holocaust survivor, was not able to talk about certain things and so I imagined that Margru could not either.  I also did not want to frighten the relatively young child audience I have in mind for this book and so tried to communicate the horror without the specifics.

If we want younger readers to know harsh stuff we need to think hard about them, to consider just where they are on their life journeys, what they know and don’t, and what they bring or don’t bring to their encounters with books. Matt, it was a hard decision, but I think you are absolutely right.

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Africa is My Home: Come to the Children’s Africana Book Awards this November in DC

The Children’s Africana Book Awards will be celebrated with a festival at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art on Saturday, November 8, 2014.  You can find out more about it as well as register (it is free) here.

The lovely people at Africa Access (who administer the award) created the following for those specifically interested in Sierra Leone and, thus, my book.  I’m pretty excited!

web logo
 
Did you know children were on the Amistad? 
Magulu
(Sarah Margru Kinson)

About 1830, a girl named Magulu was born in     what is now Sierra Leone.

 

At age 9 she was taken captive aboard the

Amistad with fifty-two other Africans.

Read about her in Africa is My Home, A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger.

Meet the author, Monica Edinger at the
Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival

             Washington, DC
       Saturday, November 8, 2014

Free and Open to the Public   Registration Requested

    Book Sale and Signing
 
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn96LqPS3R8bo4PiHjiqtWdNQ=
Other titles set in Sierra Leone
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http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn97dJGrBNUT3TVI20W-_gVQA=

http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn937TQ5rZairdLpIKUu4am04=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rW4rd0J64oiVqWD-6RPXuJ4lETU_HA_nWoCbT2iv4iisw==

 

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Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown

As heart-wrenching as it is for me, I have been watching this obsessively as the places are so familiar to me.  Just imagine your city or town so deserted for such a reason.

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Gregory Maguire on Writing and Inspiration (especially for Egg & Spoon)

If I can collect a little assemblage of items that put me in a mood of the book, then I find some place in my study where I can put them out. For “Egg and Spoon,” I had some wonderful things. I had a 1940’s era paper mache Baba Yaga’s cottage. It’s only standing on one chicken’s foot; it got broken somewhere along the way. I have a number of matryoshkas I’ve collected over the years. I have a number of painted eggs I’ve painted myself starting 40 years ago; I used to paint one every Easter. Some of them have Russian themes. I have little British foot soldiers. I’ll arrange them on a little altar to the muse. I don’t play with them — I don’t march them around the room and sing little songs — but the fact that they’re there is a clue to myself that the studio is open.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/09/20/new-england-writers-work-gregory-maguire/rqPRM7pgCIvI9ZeE8hRnMP/story.html?event=event25

 

via Karen Kosko

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Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “

Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say.  He begins:

It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?

And then he writes some hard truths.

Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

And

The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.

And

For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?

And concludes:

If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?

 

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Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word

This is so cool. Thank you, Erdmans!

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We thought we should mix Monica Edinger‘s great quote with an image

proving her point that:

“All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.”

(Thanks for the love, Monica!)

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