Monthly Archives: March 2017

Kwame Alexander’s Phenomenal Closing Write-up for SLJ’s BoB

….Once upon a time, a poet made a decision that since there was no rubric for judging heart and pain and soul and love and vicious clubbing and death and love and magic and the audacity to hope, the criteria for judging the School Library Journal Battle of the Books would be, get this: remembering….

Please, please, whether you follow the BoB or not, whether you approve of the concept or not, read Kwame’s post — it is magnificent.

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Indie Press Spotlight #1

Recently I wrote a post celebrating independent publishers, something I’d long wanted to do. Now I want to take the next step — start a regular feature highlighting books from these publishers. So today is post #1.

John Cage, a remarkable avant-garde composer (perhaps best known for the work 4’33” which is performed as total silence), collaborated with textile artist Lois Long in the 1980s to create Mud Book: How to Make Pies and Cakes. Happily for us Princeton Architectural Press has brought back this delightful and charming little book. (It will be out this coming Tuesday.) As they describe it, this delightful object is: “Part artist’s book, part cookbook, and part children’s book, Mud Book is a spirited, if not satirical, take on almost every child’s first attempt at cooking and making. Through the humble mud pie add dirt and water!”  It is adorable and perfect for little ones who want to explore the world of making food (real or play).

A goat on the roof a New York city apartment building? That is indeed the case in Anne Fleming’s The Goat from Groundwood Press. The lives of a diverse group of apartment dwellers become entwined in this short, but rich story. Using a third person omniscient narration, Fleming moves readers from one character to the next — goat included. It may sound fantastical, but is done so convincingly that I’m ready to go look and see if there is a goat on my building’s roof!

I have Debbie Reese to thank for drawing my attention to David A. Robertson and Julie Flett’s When We Were Alone published by Portage and Main Press. Done simply, but with devastating clearness this is the story of a woman telling her granddaughter of her time in one of the boarding schools to which Canadian First Nation children were taken. She tells of the brutal methods used to strip them of their own cultures and how they managed to quietly, but firmly resist this. The lovely illustrations further the powerful emotional clout of this important book.

This last book is a bit of a tease as it won’t be available to October, but I wanted to put it on your radar nonetheless. It is Rosalie K. Fry’s Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry,  a reissue coming from the New York Review Children’s Collection. It is the spare and lovely story of Fiona McConville, a feisty ten-year-old who is sent to live with her Scottish grandparents on a wild and remote coastal area. The natural world, folklore, and family all come together in this gentle yet wondrous story that was the inspiration for the 1994 movie The Secret of Roan Inish (which I’m thrilled to see is available to stream as it is a wonderful family movie).

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Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe

There is a certain kind of book that can be tricky for me, a quiet, but emotionally powerful book. I see such books as teetering on tightropes — balancing just right the heartstrings-tugging, the poignancy, the tenderness, the provoking-of-tears. Too much and I feel manipulated, too little and I just don’t care. It is for this reason I was wary when beginning Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe, but I needn’t have been. It is to my mind an exemplar of this sort of book —- quiet, introspective, moving, witty, and emotional in all the right ways. I liked it so much, in fact, that I’ve added it to my goodread’s Newbery list.  Yes indeed, I think it is that good.

The novel takes place in a single day featuring four middle schoolers. In the center is Virgil Salinas, a highly introverted member of a large extrovert family who call him Turtle “Because he wouldn’t ‘come out of his shell.’ Every time they said it, a piece of him broke.” The exception is his Filipina grandmother Lola who calls him Virgilio, gets him completely, and tells him folk tales to bolster him through life’s challenges. Virgil has a crush on deaf and confident Valencia Somerset, but is too shy to let her know. And so he has become a client of the young psychic Kaori Tanaka who, with her younger sister Gen, intends to help him. Last of all there is Chet Bullens who has bullied Virgil unceasingly.

An encounter in the woods with Chet leaves Virgil in a life-threatening situation. Readers are firmly with him as he reacts to this, tries to figure out what to do, and considers some of Lola’s tales as a way to build strength in a dire moment. Here is where my admiration for Kelly’s writing really takes hold as she masterfully balances the emotionality of Virgil’s circumstances on that tightrope without a misstep. The threads of the other characters move in and out of Virgil’s difficulty. We get in Chet’s head and, while we learn more about what may have turned him so mean, we don’t forgive him for it. Kaori’s adult-like serene style is delightfully balanced with her little sister Gen’s humorously typical second-grader behavior. Interestingly, while these character storylines are all in third person, Valencia’s is in first person; from her tolerance of her father calling her an endearment she could do without (but loves because it is from him) to her forthright response to Chet, we easily see how crush-worthy she is.

There is suspense as we hold our breath wondering how Virgil will be saved, there is humor (especially from little Gen), there is the slow evolution of different personalities, and of what will be, we can be certain, a warm friendship between Virgil, Valencia, and Kaori beyond the book’s ending. It may be this is a book for introverts? I can’t say, but it provided all that I want in a book for children — an intriguing plot, beautifully articulated characters, tight and elegant sentences, wit, and opportunity for thought. Hello, Universe is one quiet, emotional book that I recommend highly.

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SLj’s BoB Round 2 Starts with Judge Javaka Steptoe

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.

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Gilles Bachelet’s MRS. WHITE RABBIT

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!

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Alexander’s 2017 Very Bad Day

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.

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The 9th Annual SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books Starts Tomorrow!

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.

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