R.I.P Julius Lester

The great Julius Lester died yesterday, peacefully and surrounded by family.

I first met Julius in the mid-1990s in  rec.arts.books.children — an Internet space similar to Reddit where all manner of groups formed. Not long thereafter we both joined the child_lit discussion group and became online friends. Julius was the sage amongst us, willing to ponder, engage, and smooth ruffled feathers in an intelligent, elegant, and remarkable way. Those wise posts were lost with the end of child_lit, but fortunately,  they continue to live in our hearts.

Once the discussion was about classic books we hadn’t read and I, shamefaced, said the Bible causing Julius, a devoted converted Jew, to send me his favorite edition which I treasure. Another time, a debate on the racism of Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo inspired Julius to retell the story as Sam and the Tigers  illustrated by his frequent collaborator, Jerry Pinkney. Wrote Julius in his author’s note:

The biggest challenge for both of us was history. Many whites had loved Little Black Sambo as children and were afraid their love for it made them racists now. That is not so. Many blacks, angered and shamed, resolved it be thrown into the garbage. For many years so had I.

Yet what other story had I read at age seven and remembered for fifty years? There was obviously an abiding truth in the story, despite itself. I think it is the truth of the imagination, that incredible realm where animals and people live together like they don’t know any better, and children eat pancakes cooked in the butter of melted tigers, and parents never say, “Don’t eat so many.”

Today to honor this remarkable man I read Sam and the Tigers  to my 4th graders and they, of course, loved it.

We met once in person — at an ALA convention where he was receiving a CSK award. His publisher, knowing of our on-line friendship, seated us together at the Newbery-Caldecott banquet where I also met his wife. It must have been there that he signed my copy of Sam and the Tigers.

Thank you, Julius Lester, for all you did for humanity and me too.

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WNYC, Apollo Theater Commemorate the Legacy of MLK

I spent a very moving afternoon yesterday at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater for a commemoration of Dr. King jointly presented by WNYC radio and the Apollo. First of all, there is something very special about being at such event in such a space. The audience was diverse and committed. Listening to them was as important to me as to those on the state. Of all the speakers the most electrifying was Dr. Clarence Jones, attorney, speech writer, and confident of Dr. King. There was prayer, calls to action, song, and music. You can view it here  and here.

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Revisiting Philip Pullman’s I Was a Rat!

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Regular readers of this blog will know of my appreciation for the work of Philip Pullman. Most recently I raved about his latest, the first volume of The Book of Dust, La Belle Sauvage. After reading and listening to this I went back to the full-cast audio production of His Dark Materials and was happy to find that it was as good as ever. But there are others he is written outside Lyra’s world, among them the charming middle grade fairy tale, I Was a Rat!.  Here’s the publisher’s description:

“I Was a Rat!” So insists a scruffy boy named Roger. Maybe it’s true. But what is he now? A terrifying monster running wild in the sewers? The Daily Scourge is sure of it. A victim of “Rodent Delusion”? The hospital nurse says yes. A lucrative fairground freak? He is to Mr. Tapscrew. A champion wriggler and a budding thief? That’s what Billy thinks. Or just an ordinary small boy, though a little ratty in his habits? Only three people believe this version of the story. And it may take a royal intervention—and a bit of magic—to convince the rest of the world.

Set against the backdrop of a Royal Wedding—and a playful parody of the press, I Was a Rat! is a magical weaving of humor, fairy tale, and adventure.

Over the years, as part of my 4th graders’ study of Cinderella, I’ve read the book aloud and, most recently, showed the movie. This year, after another teacher told me that her students had been captivated by the book I decided to read it aloud after not having done so in years. I quickly discovered that our current obsession with “fake news” made the book’s thread about sensationalism in the media highly relevant. My students took quickly to sweet little Roger, his love for patients (need to read the book to understand this), and the fairy tale connections as well. The story is lively, adventurous, suspenseful, and great fun to read. I highly recommend checking it out.

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The 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2018-2019 is….

Jacqueline Woodson — Congratulations!!!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
National Book Award Winner and four-time Newbery Honor Medalist encourages readers to embrace the impact reading can have on creating a more hopeful world with her platform, READING = HOPE x CHANGE

New York, NY, January 4, 2018 – The Children’s Book Council, Every Child a Reader, and the Library of Congress today announced the appointment of Jacqueline Woodson, four-time Newbery Honor Medalist, Coretta Scott King Book Award-winner, former Young People’s Poet Laureate and National Book Award Winner for her memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming, as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program, established by the three organizations in 2008, highlights the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.

Woodson will travel nationwide over the course of her two-year term promoting her platform, READING = HOPE x CHANGE (What’s Your Equation?), which encourages young people to think about — and beyond — the moment they’re living in, the power they possess, and the impact reading can have on showing them ways in which they can create the hope and the change they want to see in the world.

Woodson succeeds beloved and esteemed authors Jon Scieszka (2008-2009), Katherine Paterson (2010-2011), Walter Dean Myers (2012-2013), Kate DiCamillo (2014-2015), and Gene Luen Yang (2016-2017) in the position.

The inauguration ceremony, to be presided by the 14th Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and attended by both Woodson and Yang, will take place on Tuesday, January 9 at 10:30 a.m. in the Members’ Room of the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Tickets are not required for this event, which is free and open to the public.

“I think the work ahead of me is challenging,” says Jacqueline Woodson, “I don’t believe there are ‘struggling’ readers, ‘advanced’ readers or ‘non’ readers. I’d love to walk away from my two years as Ambassador with the qualifiers gone and young people able to see themselves beyond stigma or oft-times debilitating praise. Martin Luther King Jr. said people should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In that regard, I think young people should not be judged by the level of their reading but by the way a book makes them think and feel. By the way it gives them hope. By the way it opens them up to new perspectives and changes them. I’m excited to have these conversations with some of the best conversationalists in our country – our young people.”

“We are delighted that Jacqueline Woodson has agreed to be the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “I have admired Jacqueline Woodson’s work for years, especially her dedication to children and young-adult literature. The Library of Congress looks forward to Jacqueline’s tenure of encouraging young readers to embrace reading as a means to improve the world.”

Nancy Paulsen, President and Publisher of Nancy Paulsen Books, says: “We think Jacqueline Woodson is the perfect Ambassador for our time because of her commitment to making sure all children have access to all kinds of books, and are sure to see themselves portrayed in those books. This is exactly what’s needed to appeal to today’s readers and to grow the next generation of book lovers.”

Carl Lennertz, Executive Director of Every Child a Reader and the Children’s Book Council, added, “We couldn’t be more pleased with the selection of Jacqueline Woodson as the next ambassador. She embodies everything that we look for in this position and we can’t think of a more passionate advocate for young people and for reading over the next two years.”The National Ambassador is selected for his or her contributions to young people’s literature, the ability to relate to kids and teens, and dedication to fostering children’s literacy in all forms. The selection, made by the Librarian of Congress, is based on recommendations from an independent committee comprising educators, librarians, booksellers, and children’s literature experts.

The 2018-2019 selection committee for the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature:

  • DeAndra Beard, CEO and founder of Beyond Borders Language Learning Center, Kokomo, IN
  • Sarah Park Dahlen, Associate Professor in the Master of Library and Information Science Program at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN
  • Earl Dizon, Bookseller at Green Bean Books, a children’s bookstore in Portland, OR
  • Travis Jonker, Elementary school librarian in Dorr, Michigan and School Library Journal blogger
  • Starr LaTronica, Director of the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT
  • Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Collection, U. of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS
  • Gene Luen Yang, Printz Award-winning author, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2016-2017, 2016 McArthur Fellow, Berkeley, CA

The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program is administered by Every Child a Reader. For more information about the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, visit read.gov/cfb/ambassador/.

About Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Timesbestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award and a Sibert Honor. In 2015, Woodson was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Her recent adult book, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist. She is the author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a three-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include The Other SideEach Kindness, Caldecott Honor book Coming On Home Soon; Newbery Honor winners FeathersShow Way, and After Tupac and D Foster; and Miracle’s Boys, which received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award.
Jacqueline is also the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature, the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and was the 2013 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. In March 2018, Penguin Young Readers will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Woodson’s If You Come Softly with a special edition of the beloved story of star-crossed love between a Black teenage boy and his Jewish classmate. The Dream of America, a middle grade novel, and The Day You Begin, a picture book illustrated by Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López will publish in August 2018. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
About the Children’s Book Council
The Children’s Book Council, is the nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers in North America, dedicated to supporting the industry and promoting children’s books and reading. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. Learn more at CBCBooks.org.
Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3) literacy charity whose popular national programs include Children’s Book Week, the longest-running literacy initiative in the country; the Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards chosen by children and teens; and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program, in partnership with the Library of Congress. Launched in 1919, Children’s Book Week will celebrate its 100th anniversary in May 2019. Learn more at EveryChildaReader.net.
About the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.  Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at  loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
Press contact: Audra Boltion, The Boltion Group, PR for the Children’s Book Council: (646) 331-9904, audra@thebgpr.com
Press contact: Benny Seda-Galarza, Library of Congress: (202) 707-8732, bsed@loc.gov
Public contact: Lee Ann Potter, Library of Congress: (202) 707-8735, lpot@loc.gov

 

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Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down

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This was a book I knew I needed to be in the right place emotionally to read. Which I did, at last, yesterday.

And I thought it magnificent.

While I’ve read and admired other works by Reynolds, this may well be my favorite to date. The man has a way with language that is remarkable. Structured as a series of experiences/encounters/events for fifteen year old Will as he heads down in an elevator to take revenge on his brother’s killer, Long Way Down is powerful, gut-wrenching, and, all and all, extraordinary. Reynolds weaves together what happened, what is going through Will’s mind and his body, glimpses of the pain of others (notably his mother), layering who Will is within his progression down and engagements with a series of people from the past, some close to him, all connected to him somehow. The sensory details are blowing in your face, literally as many of the visitors are smoking, but vividly and viscerally throughout. The boy’s fear, anger, confusion, and pain are communicated in a myriad of ways, obvious and not. Reynolds plays with words in so many ways — with titles, with placement on the page, with anagrams (and these were so perfect and that isn’t always the case when writers try to do them), and far more.

This has definitely shot to the top of my list of favorites of the year.

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Action Words for 2018

Ironically, 2017 was both challenging and good for me. The challenges came in politics, in world events, in grappling with my privilege, in recognizing my need to change, in tense conversations, in pain global and personal. The good was because I was on sabbatical for seven of the twelve months, a happy and productive time that brought me back to school this fall refreshed. I don’t have resolutions as such, but here are some words I’m living by these days and will do so all the more deliberately and consciously in 2018:

  • I’m listening a lot as I follow difficult and important conversations about diversity, race, identity, gender, and more.
  • I’m pondering what I thought I knew, what I thought was true, and how to reconcile this for me today.
  • I’m avoiding assumptions.
  • I’m trying to be more outspoken and more visible as an ally — hard for me as both an introvert and shy in unfamiliar situations.
  • I’m learning always, reaching out to know more in areas that are necessary for me as a person, human being, teacher, world citizen, and more.
  • I’m reading out of my comfort zone.
  • I’m leaning into discomfort — to be honest, trying to.
  • I’m regularly rethinking my teaching so it better serves all my students.
  • I’m still championing and drawing attention to Sierra Leone in particular and other parts of Africa that I don’t know as well too.
  • I’m trying hard to be always willing to change.

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Patrick McDonnell’s Little Red Cat and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat — Relatives?

Reading Roger’s Sutton’s post about Patrick McDonnell’s Caldecott chances for his delightful The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way)*, made me think fondly of McDonnell’s  illustrations for the Mac Barnett-penned The Skunk which I, along with my follow jurors Marjorie Ingall and Frank Viva, honored with a New York Times Best Illustrated nod back in 2015. Both these books and other work by McDonnell have always felt to me full of sly homages to the George Herriman comic, Krazy Kat which ran from 1913 to 1944.  So today I did some poking around a bit and learned that MacDonnell is a longtime and serious fan, witness his 1986 Krazy Kat: the Comic Art of George Herriman (You can read an essay adapted from the book here).  And then, for another layer, I came across Gabrielle Bellot’s “The Gender Fluidity of Krazy Kat”  and Chris Ware’s “To Walk in Beauty”, reviews of Michael Tisserand’s recent award-winning biography Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White.  In these I learned that both gender fluidity and race are aspects of this ground-breaking comic that so clearly inspires Patrick MacDonnell.

I mean, just take a look at McDonnell’s little cat:

 

Here’s a taste of Herriman’s strip, one from 1917 in which Krazy gives pal Ignatz a smooch.

Here they are side by side:


A wonderful added bit of depth to a worthy Caldecott contender this year.

*Check out this delightful video of a book chat I was honored to feature, between Mcdonnell and Victoria Stapleton.

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