Monthly Archives: February 2018

Learning About Africa: For Those Who Want to Know More After Seeing Black Panther

I was delighted with Black Panther for so many of the reasons articulated elsewhere. The one I want to highlight is the thoughtful representation of African culture. I admit I had been a bit wary about this going into the movie, being so aware of the ways the continent is regularly misrepresented, but I was impressed with the care taken, recognizing attire, jewelry, and more that identified specific ethnic groups of which I was familiar. The plot was fabulous — not being familiar with the Black Panther comic — all new to me. Wonderful characters and acting. All in all, the accolades are deserved.

One thing I’ve seen on some of my social media feeds is a wish to be more familiar with Africa. I’m glad to see that and want to share what I can to help. I’ve got a series called “Learning About Africa” that might be a start. Much of it relates to Sierra Leone (given my own time there), but not all.

Here are some recent pieces related to Africa and the Black Panther movie that I think are worthy reads:


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Ten Recent and Forthcoming Books I Liked

Here are ten to put on your radar. (There are some others coming that are going to get solo posts, but I wanted to give these their due too.)

  • Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans. I adore this one and wrote at goodreads, “This is MY kind of whimsy. That is, this is a story pushing back on traditional whimsy in a witty and wry way that is still ultimately a journey story for a couple of kids.” Currently having so much fun reading it aloud.
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly. This is a gentle and moving middle grade novel featuring two outlier kids from different parts of the country who connect over online Scrabble — by…. this year’s NEWBERY WINNER!  (As regular readers of this blog will know — and those who follow Heavy Medal — I adore, adore, adore Hello, Universe and was so happy it got the gold!)
  • The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton is an entertaining puzzle mystery along the lines of The Book Scavenger and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Three distinctive and bright kids make their way around Chicago to find answers to clues and, hopefully, win a scholarship. There is a brisk, lively style to the book that makes it go down easily — might even do as a read-aloud.
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi is the first in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint and does not disappoint. I mean you’ve got the Mahabharata, three brave and awesome kids, fighting, weapons, bravery, humor, and a fast paced adventure. What’s not to like?
  • A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield. The publishers had me at “Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and I am happy to say I was not disappointed. This is a quirky debut featuring the brilliant outsider Nikoka, aliens, and a unique school for geniuses. There are quite a few books featuring the latter, some better than others. This is definitely in the better camp.
  • The Serpent’s Secret by Syantani DasGupta. The first in a series, this is a lively fantasy featuring Indian mythology, a strong and snarky-voiced girl protagonist, and a plot that goes down fast and furious — definitely one that kids will eat up.
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. I had thought this was the sort of YA fantasy that would not be for me (the …er …overly…swoony sort:), but I was wrong. Clayton’s world building is excellent and highly inventive — a place where those who have the magical power to alter people’s looks are celebrities, but also used in a very original way. I was swept into the book immediately and look forward to the next in the series.
  • The Last Gargoyle by Paul Durham. Another series beginning, solidly middle grade this time, Durham (who did another series, The Luck Uglies, that I liked very much) has crafted a moving story about, indeed, a lonely gargoyle (though he dislikes that word) who has been stoically doing his job (protecting) in Boston when the other remaining two of his kind are finished off, a mysterious girl name Viola shows up, and stuff happens. Gothic and dark (though still solidly middle grade), this made me eager for the next.
  • Blue Window by Adina Gerwitz. A group of siblings fall, more or less, through a window into another world a la Narnia, but with a more sci-fi vibe. Kids who enjoy portal fantasies that are long and somewhat melancholy will most likely take to this one. Curious if it is a stand-alone or part of a series.
  • The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettleson by Jaclyn Moriarty.  This isn’t out till the fall, but when I saw the egalley on edelweiss I snapped it up being a huge fan of this Australian writer. She is sorely not sufficiently appreciated here in the States, but should be. This is, I believe, her first middle grade work, and it is a complete delight.




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Thoughts on Newbery: Today’s Announcements

This was only the second time I wasn’t at Midwinter for the announcements. I went to school figured I’d see if I could watch the live stream or perhaps peek at my phone. Happily, someone was doing something with my class and I was able to watch all of it. And, boy, did I end up happy and pleased. Congratulations to all the honorees and committee members!

Here are some quick responses (while my class is out for a few minutes):

First and foremost — I’m over-the-top pleased with Erin Entrada Kelly  receiving the Newbery medal for Hello, Universe . I fell in love with this book last March and have been advocating for it ever since.

And then there are the Newbery honors, all beloved by me:

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down. Another I fell madly in love with, but since I didn’t read it until late December I wasn’t able to advocate for it on Heavy Medal until after they made up their list.
  • Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. I read and liked this, but it took participating in my school’s first ever Faculty Mock Newbery this past Saturday to really appreciate it. So much as we selected it as our winner.
  •  Derrick Barnes’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. So so happy about this as I’d been arguing that it should be considered as much for Newbery as for Caldecott.

I haven’t read the Printz winner, so can’t comment, but I adore all the honors:

  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  •  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Among the CSK honorees, all fabulous, I was especially pleased to see Charly Palmer honored for  Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song, a book I reviewed with great enthusiasm.

Jackie Woodson for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.  Absolutely!

Angela Johnson getting the Edwards — hurrah!

Debbie Reese for the Arbuthnot. Yes, yes, yes!!!


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Gentleman Bill Teale

I am remembering the intelligent, kind, pensive, thoughtful, quiet actor, beautiful, wonderful Bill Teale. I knew him first as a smart leader in the field of literacy education, later as a fellow mascot to the 2002 Newbery Committee (we both were connected to members of that legendary group and so allowed to hang around:), then as a trailblazer in educational technology who invited me to present with him, as one who so loved his wife Junko, and of his sense of fun. My sympathies to his family, friends, colleagues, and all who knew this very special man.

I spent many delightful times with Bill over the years. The photos below are of a favorite memory. During the 2012 IBBY Congress in London, Junko, Bill, Claudia Söffner, and I entered the Victoria and Albert via a back entrance and came across these spinning chairs. May you spin in joy, Bill.


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The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece is coming to NYC’s Museum of Illustration

This looks completely awesome!

The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece
On display at the Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators
February 28 – June 30, 2018.


The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece walks visitors through the story of Congressman John Lewis’s experience in the civil rights movement as depicted by the pen of MARCH trilogy illustrator Nate Powell. This landmark exhibition of Congressman Lewis’s celebrated graphic novel memoir, co-written with Andrew Aydin, takes visitors on a visceral tour of the movement, illuminating pivotal moments, people, and philosophies through the display of over 150 pieces of original art, interactive materials, and new exhibition essays by Jonathan W. Gray, Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination: Innocence by Association (The University Press of Mississippi. 2013).

The exhibition gives a glimpse into how this graphic novel was created, with behind-the-scenes process art and artifacts from Powell’s illustration process. A portion of the exhibition also shows how Eisner Award-winning Powell evolved from an SVA student steeped in the punk zine culture into the illustrator of MARCH.

The Society of Illustrators will be organizing events open to the public in conjunction with the exhibition. An opening reception will take place on Thursday, March 1st, beginning at 6:30 PM. A schedule of lectures, panels, tours and workshops geared toward students, teachers, as well as the general public will be announced in the coming weeks. More information on the exhibit and related events can be found here.
In addition, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin will be Guests of Honor at MoCCA Arts Festival. This 2-day multimedia event, Manhattan’s largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival, draws over 8,000 attendees each year. Held on April 7 and 8th, the Fest will include speaking engagements, book signings, and parties. Further scheduling information for MoCCA Arts Festival will be available in future announcements.
The MARCH trilogy has been recognized for its groundbreaking storytelling with numerous accolades. MARCH: Book One became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, MARCH: Book Two won the Eisner Award, MARCH: Book Three is the first graphic novel to receive a National Book Award, and the trilogy has spent a combined 99 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. MARCH is published by Top Shelf Productions, an imprint of IDW Publishing.

The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece exhibition is co-curated by John Lind (Creative Director, Kitchen Sink Books, an imprint of Dark Horse Comics) and Charles Brownstein (Executive Director, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund).. The mission of SI/MI is to promote the art and appreciation of illustration and its history and evolving nature through exhibitions and educational programs.

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Thoughts on Newbery: My Wishes for This Year

Before anything else I must say — I will admire and honor and applaud the winners, whether they were my personal favorites or not. For all awards are given subjectively. That is, every group of people will have their own tastes and orientations that are bound to affect their decisions, however hard they try for impartiality. As a reminder, here is a post I wrote a few years ago for the Nerdy Book Club giving a sense of how things happen: Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award. Being on an award committee is exciting, but also challenging as anyone who has served on one well knows. So let’s celebrate the work of those doing their final preparations for ALA’s Youth Media Awards — they will be making their decisions this coming Friday – Sunday and these will be announced on Monday. (ETA I wrote this before the Heavy Medal 15, of which I was one,  completed their work. Thrilled that I‘m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense was our winner. Congrats to all!)

The following are titles I’d personally be pleased to see honored this year:

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down. From my review:  “I thought it magnificent.”
  • Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello Universe. From my review: “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.”
  • Chris Harris’s I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups. From my goodreads review: “Chris Harris is a worthy heir to Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, A. A. Milne, Ogden Nash, and more I can’t think of right now.”
  • Eucabeth A. Odhiambo’s Auma’s Long Run. From my review: “Odhiambo relates Auma’s story in clear and direct prose, as practical and realistic as her protagonist. Her descriptions of Auma’s life are vivid and authentic, her scenes raw and real.  While there is indeed sorrow and sadness, there is also humor and joy.”
  • Dave Eggers’ Her Right Foot. No review, but I thought this outstanding for the voice, the information, and the theme. So did my students when I read it aloud.
  • Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride. From my review: “Best of all is the sentence level writing which is a delight.”
  • Derrick Barnes’ Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. This is getting a lot of Caldecott buzz rightly for illustrator Gordon C. James, but I think the writing is superb too.
  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. I think the sensibility of this title is remarkable; what a feat to communicate the blues, musically, emotionally, and in prose no less.
  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won. I’d enjoyed this, but it took my fellow Heavy Medal  Mock Newbery Committee members (especially here) to convince me that this an elegant and beautifully constructed work worthy of the medal.
  • Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School. Just delightful.
  • Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. In my review I wrote, “A piercingly honest view into the complicated social life of one young girl that is certain to resonate for all who have observed, participated, or otherwise experienced the difficult dynamics of school friendships.”
  • Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo. In my Horn Book review I wrote, “The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.”




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In the Classroom: Teaching About Slavery Redux

I’ve written about the teaching of slavery before and will again. It is a topic I feel is urgently important for us to grapple with in the classroom.  A couple of years ago I wrote the blog post, “In the Classroom: Teaching About Slavery” in which I described my unit with my fourth graders on this challenging yet critical topic. Since then I’ve learned more and adjusted my teaching accordingly, especially after spending a week this past summer at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Here are links to a couple of posts about that experience:

Now I’m preparing to teach my unit on forced migration from Africa and using what I learned at the museum and more to set it up anew. In particular, I’m doing a large presentation on the Atlantic World, giving a greater sense of the African Kingdoms and agency prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. And then giving a greater context for it, reaching beyond the United States.

And so how amazing to find the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance new project, Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery  working off a thorough study on what is done now as well as what we can do in the future. Here are some excellent links related to this:

I highly recommend taking the time to read all of these, especially if you are teaching.





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