I like to think of these two books as pieces of music: One is like a work song, the other a classical concerto. In this way they are quite different and yet comparable, with one resonating for me more than the other.
Check out the lovely whole of the 2017 Caldecott winner’s decision between Congo in Freedom Square and When Green Becomes Tomatoes here.
In case you don’t know me, I’m a Carrollian; that means, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are beloved books of mine. This blog is named after this obsession and the shrinking Alices in the banner are ones I drew long ago in my days as an aspiring illustrator. (More can be seen here.) I speak, write, do, and seek out all things Alice all the time. My current WiP is centered around the real story behind the fictional ones. And because of this obsession I’m always eager to see new interpretations of Carroll’s characters, setting, and words. Sadly, too many miss hugely (Tim Burton’s Alice films are the latest travesties), but some really capture Carroll’s wit in unique and original ways. Such a one is French book creator Gilles Bachelet in his delightful oversized picture book, Mrs. White Rabbit. I picked up a copy of this several years ago in Germany and was over-the-top excited when publisher Anita Eerdmans told me that Eerdmans was bringing it out in the US.
The text is Mrs. White Rabbit’s tired, frustrated, teeth-clenched, and hilariously dry diary entries. These are wittily brought to life in illustrations large and small. There’s her oldest Beatrix who, after considering a wide variety of occupations, has decided she wants to be a supermodel and is spending all her time on the scale. A double page spread shows the worried mother’s 100 different recipes for carrots with the sad note: “nothing will do.” Alice makes an appearance (we see the poor woman vacuuming around her huge foot) and Mr. White Rabbit suggests hiring her as a babysitter. “Another one of his brilliant ideas? Who wants their children looked after by someone who doesn’t know how to stay a reasonable size?”
Poor, poor Mrs. White Rabbit whose husband is far too busy at the palace to help. She sadly writes : “My life is quite different from what I once dreamed about. I would have loved to be a writer. To invent stories full of marvelous places and extraordinary characters. But how could I find inspiration in my dull everyday life?” Of course, the illustrations show both the mundane and the marvelous.
This book is wonderful to look at — the illustrations are full of references to the original book as well as full of other wry tweaks playing off the text. There are great easter eggs through out; for example, I’m guessing the twins Gibert and George are a reference to the real-life artist pair. While those who know the original story will delight in this clever take, those who don’t will also enjoy the detail art and understandably grumpy view of this fairy tale rabbit spouse.
At the end, while Mr. White Rabbit rushes to fix things with his wife — the final image does not suggest he is successful. Perhaps in the sequel — Mrs. White Rabbit Runs Away?— we could see her having some of those fun adventures she dreamed of!
There was quinoa for dinner and I hate quinoa.
For any one like me who is old enough to have read over and over Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, you are likely to get a kick out of Mark Remy’s update at the New Yorker: “Alexander and the V Bad, FML Day.“
It is simply thrilling to be part of the team creating this Battle for the 9th year. We’ve got an awesome line-up of contenders, amazing judges, and exciting decisions. If you want to bring a contender back from the dead to compete in the closing round (judged by Kwame Alexander!) you can still vote today here. And if you want to see it all laid out, you can get beautiful brackets to download here. And if you want to learn more, do watch Kidlit TV’s first ever #SLJBOBCAST below. Shelley and I review all the contenders and judges, Mark Tuchman gives some insight into his art, and there’s even a surprise guest judge! It was great fun to do and I hope you enjoy watching it. Most of all, be sure to check the BoB site tomorrow to see how our judge for the first match, Duncan Tonatiuh, decides between Freedom in Congo Square and Freedom Over Me.
The ongoing and hugely important conversation featuring #ownvoices, diversity, and equity was most recently centered around an unfortunate WSJ journal article which Allie Bruce unpacks in her RWW post, “Why ‘Rock Star Librarian’ is an Oxymoron.” I highly recommend reading the original article (tricky as it is behind a paywall — need to go to a library perhaps!), Allie’s post, and the ongoing conversation going on in her post’s comments.
One aspect of this that I think gets overlooked is that some of the best books featuring #ownvoices come from presses other than the biggies, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Little Brown, Penguin, or Random House. I would urge all of you, but especially those with big social media platforms, those with massive followings, some of whom were featured in the article, as well as working to celebrate and feature more #ownvoices, also make greater efforts to do so with books from smaller presses. While I see a sincere effort to bring out more voices, they tend to be from the afore mentioned publishers. There are great books coming out from other places as well and those of you with big platforms could do a lot to bring them to the attention of your followers. (By the way, for those who are fortunate in having books sent by publicists, this may involve the seeking out and buying of books rather than just waiting for them to come to you.)
A terrific resource is the CCBC’s list of Small Presses Owned/Operated by People of Color and First/Native Nations. Also, I recommend attending to recommendations by WNDB, RWW, Debbie Reese, Edi Campbell, Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Kid Lit, Africa Access, Betsy Bird, Travis Jonker, Jules Danielson, USBBY, and the CCBC among others who celebrate books by independent presses regularly. (I’m sure I’m leaving many out so please tell me in the comments and I’ll add them in here.) Whenever I see mention of an independent press book that might work for my 4th grade students I order it immediately. I was delighted when serving on the New York Times Best Illustrated books jury to learn of many more outstanding independent presses. And when at conferences I come across still others at the exhibits (but many can’t afford to be there so it is important to look everywhere not just there).
Here is a collection of those I have come across over the years, some of which may be already familiar and some not. Please do mention others in the comments and I’ll add them here. (I’m leaving out some of the bigger and more familiar independents like Abrams, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Lerner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Holiday House, Scholastic, and Chronicle as I see their books already celebrated on social media by those with big followings. I do it myself.:) I recommend checking out their websites and, if something catches your eye, buy it. And if you like it celebrate it on twitter, facebook, your blog, your podcast, and/or whatever your platform is.
“It’s really the song of England rugby,” said Josh Rice, 25, a fan from Nottingham.
Arthur Jones, a music history professor and founder of the Spiritual Project at the University of Denver, said the situation reminded him of American sports teams who use Native American names and imagery, in that a group of people seemed to be free-associating with imagery largely disconnected from its history.
“My first reaction is absolute shock — and I actually understand it when I think about it — but that’s my first reaction,” Jones said. “I feel kind of sad. I feel like the story of American chattel slavery and this incredible cultural tradition, built up within a community of people who were victims and often seen as incapable of standing up for themselves, is such a powerful story that I want the whole world to know about it. But apparently not everyone does.”
When told about the awkwardness many Americans feel upon learning of the song’s repurposing, John M. Williams, the director of the Center for the Sociology of Sport at the University of Leicester in England, said, “I can understand that, and the only thing I could give them as a kind of strange reassurance is that I suspect the vast majority of people singing it have no idea where it came from, or even that it’s American at all, or that it has a black American heritage.”
From the jaw-dropping article, “How a Slave Spiritual Became English Rugby’s Anthem.”
There is a cool new feature at the New York Times Book review — Children’s Live Illustration.
Visual artists have always had an important place in children’s literature. Watch some leading children’s books illustrators draw, paint, collage, and talk about books with The Times’s children’s books editor, Maria Russo.
It started January 6th with Christian Robinson and went on, as of this writing, with the following (for the ones without links the videos are all here):