Monthly Archives: January 2017

Yesssss…Kinderguides hit a serious road block

When I first read of the Kinderguides I couldn’t believe they were real, but they were (just like  that 45th guy in DC is, sigh, real). In addition to finding the premise ludicrous I wondered how they could get away with what they were doing legally. Well, seems they can’t. Writes Alexandra Alter at the New York Times (who also wrote the earlier Kinderguides article in which I was quoted) in “Author Who Turns Classics Into Children’s Books is Sued:”

The estates of Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, with the publishing houses Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, have filed a copyright lawsuit against Mr. Colting and his partner, Melissa Medina, for releasing illustrated children’s books based on those authors’ works.

Go get ’em!

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Thoughts on Newbery: This Year’s Awards (and not just Newbery)

Yesterday was a terrific day for me for a number of reasons.

First of all, I’m on the 2018 Arbuthnot Committee which means we:

… choose annually an individual of distinction who shall prepare and present a paper which shall be a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature; to select a host institution and make appropriate arrangements for the presentation of the lecture; to arrange for publication of lecture in children and libraries.

It is a virtual committee so we made our decision long ago, but had to wait till yesterday for our selection to be announced. It is Naomi Shihab Nye and the response in the auditorium yesterday and subsequently on social media has been enormously gratifying. If you are not familiar with her work please rectify that asap! She is a a remarkable Palestinian-American poet, author of works for adults and children, and a brilliant speaker. Now for the second part of our charge — to select the location of next spring’s lecture. Betsy Bird is our chair and the other members of the committee are Wendy Lukehart, Sharon McKellar, and Tim Caphart.  Wendy, Betsy, and I were at the announcements yesterday and, after taking the official photos, the kind photographer took a bunch more on my phone. Here’s my favorite:

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Before I get to the Newbery I need to give a shout-out to the Stonewall Committee for selecting Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor.  When I read this title I was so impressed with Riordan’s portrayal of gender-fluid Alex and am over the top that the committee thought so too.  And one to the Caldecott Committee for their excellent choices, especially giving the medal to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child which is a phenomenal work of art. Oh, and then there are the multitudes of well-deserved awards for March: Book Three. Amazing, wonderful, and absolutely deserved. What an experience to be in that room, in Atlanta, to hear and see that. Loved all the other awards too — Odyssey (my good friend Roxanne Feldman served on that committee), Printz, CSK,  Geisel, Pura Belpré, and many more. What a great day indeed.

As for Newbery, congratulations to the committee for their outstanding choices.  A fantasy! When was the last time one received the medal? Bravo, committee! While it wasn’t among my own hopes for the award, I read and liked Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon very much. So congratulations to her and to her publisher, small, but might Algonquin.  Similarly, I read and admired Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow and so congratulations to her and Penguin.

But it is the other two honor books that have personal importance to me. I’ve known Ashley Bryan for a long time. He was a teacher at my school and, when I first came, regularly returned to do fabulous work with our children. And then I got to know him even more during the summers I attended the wonderful CLNE institutes. I loved Freedom Over Me, thinking more Caldecott, so am over the moon that it received a Newbery Honor. Ashley has had recent health issues so what a wonderful thing for him right now.

And then there is Adam Gidwitz’s honor for The Inquisitor’s Tale. I’ve been a huge cheerleader for Adam for years, even before his first book came out. We arranged for him then to come to my school to work with our fourth and fifth graders and he has come yearly ever since.  The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my hopes for the award so I’m thrilled it was honored. It is an ambitious, thrilling, and unique work and I am so glad the committee thought so too.

Okay, I’m beat, still in Atlanta, heading home later today. What a lovely respite from the dreadful daily stuff coming out from DC.

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SLJs Battle of the Kids’ Books, 2017 Edition — Contenders Announced!

I am so pleased to be going into the ninth year with SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. If you don’t know, it is a fun tournament-style competition involving 16 of the best of 2017’s children and young adult literature battling it out for the winning spot. Each bout is judged by a distinguished  children’s and/or young adult creator. You can learn more about it here. And today (just now, in fact) we are revealing the contenders. You can find them here. Hope you are as excited as I am!

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In Honor of Yesterday’s Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reposting this from last year and the  year before:

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922, my father Lewis J. Edinger, who passed away in 2008, fled with his mother to America at the age of fourteen; his father chose to stay, hoping to ride things out, but was deported and killed. Years later, as a newly minted PhD, my father took whatever jobs he could find; one of those was in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the bus boycott where, among other things, he met Martin Luther King, Jr.  Here are some excerpts from his memoir about that time in his life.

I got my haircuts at Maxwell Air Force Base from a black barber with unsteady hands named Raymond Parks  — a negro for polite white Montgomery society, a “n-” for most of the whites, and a darky for those who might say one and think the other. Raymond’s wife Rosa was a seamstress I had never head of until she was arrested. She had refused to comply with a city segregation ordinance that required her, like any black, to give her seat in the front of a city bus to a white man and find one in the back. Legend had it that Rosa Parks was defiant because she was simply too tired to surrender her seat. Actually it was a deliberate protest against the all-pervasive racial discrimination by a prominent activist of  Montgomery’s black community. Her arrest started the now famous, well-organized boycott of all the city’s public transport by half of its population. Fifty years after that unforgettable experience I remain proud to have had some part in it.

Early on I had an opportunity to challenge Martin Luther King Jr. on adopting Gandhian non-violent principles for the boycott. I owed our meeting to my wife Hanni and, more directly, to a mutual friend, Virginia Durr, a white woman from a prominent family who played a role in the boycott. She and Hanni had become friends through the small local chapter of the League of Women Voters that often met at our place and then through our membership in the Montgomery branch of the anti-segregationist, interracial Southern Conference for Human Welfare. At that—for me memorable—meeting with King I told him that while Gandhian tactics wore down law-respecting Englishmen in India they could not overcome white segregationists in Montgomery. Virginia Durr set the outside agitator –me — straight with an anecdote.

A debutant and prominent member of the Junior League in Mobile, the young Virginia was sent out of the Deep South where she was raised to get a degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When she came to the dining room for her first breakfast she found the only available seat was next to a black girl and promptly returned to her room, true to her segregationist upbringing. Her grandpappy had fought and died to preserve Southern ways, as she put it to me, and her family expected her to remain loyal to a tradition that put negroes in their place below and most certainly not next to whites. That’s what she told the dean to whom she rushed to explain her position, whereupon that lady told her that if she could not abide by the rules at Wellesley she was free to leave. As she found that impossible Virginia stayed on and learned to live by new rules. And that, the knowledgeable Southern insider predicted, was how it would go with the segregationist rules of Montgomery once they had been declared unconstitutional. And indeed, respect for the law carried the day after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the city ordinance that triggered the precedent-setting, non-violent protest movement led by King.

Some incidents in our direct involvement with the boycott remain unforgettable. One was the impressive evening when a few of us white supporters were just for once allowed to stand in the back of a packed church to witness one of the  mass rallies that  sustained the commitment of the blacks. It took the form of a Baptist religious service with one after another of the local clergy evoking ever more fervent supportive responses from the congregation, capped by shouts of “who is the king – he is the king” when the boycott leader appeared for the climax.

Another time Hanni was driving our young cleaning woman  home when she was flagged down by a Montgomery policeman. He gave her a ticket for an alleged traffic offense, a mild form of harassment in light of what others in our support group experienced. A librarian living alone was driven by ever more threatening anonymous phone calls to commit suicide.

When the boycott did not end quickly the board of Montgomery’s city commissioners joined the radically-segregationist White Citizen Council and that led our little group to draw up a petition in which “we white citizens of Montgomery” asked them to reconsider such an action directed against the black half of their constituents. We decided to submit this petition if we got enough signatures to make an impression and then a work colleague and I approached those we thought would sign. Some did, others would not. It was an unpleasant surprise when supposed liberals from the North lacked the courage to stand by their expressions of anti-segregationist convictions. Phony excuses were induced by fear of McCarthy-style retribution.

Our principled position was put to the test when we asked a visiting black historian Hanni knew from New York for dinner. It seemed a great idea until it struck us that the parents of children Monica played with in our complex would then no longer let them do that. Reluctantly we decided that we could not let our three-year old suffer for principles that were beyond her understanding and moved the dinner to friends who lived in a house and not an apartment.  We thought it the right decision but were never entirely reconciled to it. It left us with a better comprehension of family conformism in Nazi Germany.

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Thoughts on Newbery: My Hopes for this Year

There are many worthy possibilities this year. Here are some I’d be happy to see recognized:

First and foremost there is Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. I came across the ARC in early July and read it knowing nothing about it. I fell in love then, wrote this rave review, and am still in love. It is tight, fast paced, with beautifully developed characters, vivid description, and a fabulous voice. My heart is on my sleeve with this one.

Of course, there are many, many other wonderful books this year. Among them I’d be especially happy and thrilled to see any of the following recognized.

  • Jenni L. Holm’s Full of Beans.  I read this aloud to my class this fall and that experience reinforced my admiration for this title. It is spare with fully realized characters, a wonderful voice in Beans (interesting that two of my favorites so far have strong boy voices as narrators), and clever. It is warm, emotional, and funny. A delightful middle grade work of historical fiction that totally deserved the Scott O’Dell historical fiction award.
  • Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale.  This is a unique and compelling book. The structure is fascinating — a series of connecting stories told in the vein of The Canterbury Tales (but without the sex:) — that build to a remarkable climax. Wonderful historical material, wonderfully researched. There is a lot going on in this book, all of it good. In particular I admired the themes related to faith and religion. Wow! I had thought it would be for kids older than my 4th grade students, but several strong readers have read it with pleasure.
  • Louise Erdrich’s Makoons. This is a quiet story rich in the lives of this family, introduced years ago by Erdrich in The Birchbark House. In my starred Horn Book review I wrote, “Throughout, there are poignant moments, including the deaths of several family members and a sense of foreboding about the future as the buffalo begin to disappear. Whether encountering this community for the first time or returning to it, readers will be enriched by Erdrich’s finely crafted corrective to the Eurocentric dominant narrative of America’s past.”
  • Pamela L. Turner’s Samurai Rising. Having no interest in samurais I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It is a credit to Turner’s passion for her subject, research, and brash writing. There has been debate whether her little sardonic asides enhance or distract (“No pressure, Yoshitsune”)  — for me it is the former. My enthusiastic blog review is here.
  • Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver. With each book in this series, I feel Lin got stronger. This final one is the best, I think. Great characters, description, and a twisting narrative makes for an immersive read. While not necessary for Newbery consideration I like that every kid I know who reads this (and/0r the earlier titles in the series) loves it.
  • Julie Fogliano’s When Green Becomes Tomatoes. Many others have been articulate about this delightful title so I don’t feel I have anything to add other than the individual poems are gems and the way they connect to make a whole is masterful. I am in awe of Fogliano’s skill at writing true and genuine poetry for children.
  • Anne Nesbet’s Cloud and Wallfish. This is probably the outlier of the list, but it is a book that grew and grew on me. Having a personal familiarity with the time and place I first read it when I received an ARC months ago. Then sometime later I reread it several times for a review and each time it impressed me more. It is certainly a dark horse, but you never know! I concluded my starred Horn Book review, “This is edgy, dramatic, and emotionally rich historical fiction that provides a vivid look into an extraordinary moment in history.”
  • Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer!  I have been doing an author study of E. B. White for years with my students and am also a big fan of Sweet so this, for me, was a match made in heaven. I had thought that it might be a long shot for Newbery given how heavily illustrated it is, but was thrilled recently to see that it won Sam Bloom’s Mock Newbery at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. I adored this (you can read my review here) and would be delighted to see it honored.

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A Bit of Sun During a Dark Time: Daveed Diggs’ Rubber Duckie

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Boycotting Jason Reynolds’ S & S books is not the answer

My top Newbery hope for this year is Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, part of the huge publishing conglomerate that is Simon & Schuster.  The Wikipedia page on that massive corporation indicates that they publish an enormous range of writers, have imprints that feature a variety of opinions, and are huge, huge, huge. I have been repulsed in the past by some of their publications, am currently repulsed by their latest decision, and expect to be repulsed again. That said, I do not think refusing to buy Reynolds’ Ghost and other worthy, important, and remarkable books coming out from S & S is the way to respond to their latest disgusting choice. We are trying so hard to amplify diverse voices in children’s books, in getting them into children’s hands everywhere, and centering them in our small teeny-tiny world of children’s literature. Boycotting those very books because they are in the same universe as a horrid book is not the answer anymore than leaving our country is the answer to how to deal with the forthcoming president. Do speak up strongly against vileness, but not at the expense of goodness.

ETA Alexandra Schwartz in this New Yorker piece offers a comprehensive overview on the deal along with a similar view to mine regarding a boycott.

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