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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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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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Ending a Crummy Year With Something Fun

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Some Books I Enjoyed in 2016

For reasons personal and public, this past year has been a tough one. At times reading was a solace and at other times it wasn’t. Here are some titles that were significant to me during this dark time. Included are books published years ago, this year, and even a couple coming out next year. Some are for kids and some for adults. These stand out for me as titles that were immersive, often profound, informative, sometimes just delightful in a lighter way, and always memorable. I didn’t write about all of them — there are links when I did.

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I used to run and now walk for quite a lot daily. Years ago I started listening to books as I did this. Mostly adult books as most of the ones I read otherwise are for kids. Some memorable ones from this year include:

  • Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals 
    I listened to Durrell’s own reading of several of his stories after enjoying tremendously the television series, “The Durrells in Corfu.” I followed that with more stories read by Hugh Bonneville. All were much needed joyful experiences.
  • Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
    I’d read this years ago and decided to revisit it via the full cast audio production in preparation for the forthcoming television series. Given my greater (and many others) attention to cultural appropriation/appreciation I was impressed with Gaiman’s care given he’d written long before the current focus on this.
  • N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season
    Was blow away by this. While The Obelisk Gate didn’t excite me as much (perhaps because read it rather than listened to it) I think Jemisin is brilliant and can’t wait for the next in this series.
  • Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend
    This is a re-listen, and I’m not quite done as of this writing, but I’m loving it and ready to go back and listen to all my favorite Dickens. Simon Vance is a fabulous narrator.
  • Paul Beatty’s The Sellout
    This is original, scathing, and jawdroppingly smart. Not for everyone, but I thought it deserved every award it got.
  • A. S. Byatt’s Possession
    Wasn’t sure how this would hold up in terms of time and as an audio book, but it worked for me. A bit of a comfort read at a tough time.
  • Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell  
    I’d read this one too long ago and decided to listen to it after seeing the television series. Enjoyed as much as the first time.

A few other adult titles sticking with me include:

And here are a handful of books for children that I’m thinking of right now. There are many more wonderful books out this year that I also read (some of which I will mention in a future Newbery post), but these are coming to mind just now. Links are to reviews and blog posts.

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More on Those KinderGuides

“On the Road,” with its recurring references to sex, drugs and domestic violence, might not seem like an ideal bedtime story for a child. But that’s precisely the point of KinderGuides, a new series of books that aims to make challenging adult literary classics accessible to very young readers.

That is from Alexandra Alter’s New York Times piece, “Forget ‘Pat the Bunny.’ My Child is Reading Hemingway.”   Back in August I read with disbelief PW’s KinderGuides piece and wrote a snarky blog post giving my…er…strongly negative response to them. Today you can learn more about them and various responses to them (including mine) in Alter’s article. Two small bits of good news: they seem to have dropped consideration of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and James Joyce’s Ulysses, the latter “because we haven’t read it.”

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