Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

Parachute

Parachute.jpgTitle: Parachute
Author: Danny Parker
Illustrator: Matt Ottley
ISBN: 9780802854698
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (US), (First published by Little Hare Books an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont (AU)) c2013.

Toby always wore a parachute.

Toby requires a parachute to accomplish his day-to-day tasks like getting out of bed, brushing his teeth, and playing on the playground, because it allows him to feel safe. When stranded in a treehouse without it, Toby takes it step by step to get to safety, and slowly grows our of requiring his safety net. Minimal text allow the digital graphics to show the reality of the situation alongside how Toby must see things with dizzying perspectives, bringing sympathy and understanding to his fear of heights. Whether it’s a real parachute is up for debate, but the fear is definitely real and the conclusion gives hope that someday readers might also overcome their own fears, whether it is of heights like Toby or of something else. Pair with Leslie Patricelli’s Higher! Higher! for two very different view points.

Ghost

Ghost.jpgTitle: Ghost
Series: Track #1
Author: Jason Reynolds
ISBN: 9781481450157
Pages: 181 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.

So on and on it went, the whistle blowing, one by one, boys and girls on the line, sprinting down the straightaway. Each of their times being recorded. Some were faster than others. Actually, most of the vets were pretty fast, but nobody was faster than the pretty boy, Lu. Nobody. And the coach kept saying stuff like, “Lu’s still the one to beat,” which was kinda pissing me off because . . . I don’t know. It just made me think about this kid Brandon at school, who always . . . ALWAYS picked on me. Not even just me, though. He picked on a lot of people, and didn’t nobody ever do nothing about it. They just said stupid stuff like, Can’t nobody beat him. Same kind of rah-rah this bowling-ball-head coach was kicking about this kid, Lu. It’s just . . . ugh. I mean, he was fast, but honestly, he wasn’t that fast. […] (15)

After challenging and holding his own against the fastest kid on the track team, Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw finds himself being recruited to that same team by Coach Brody. Ghost however isn’t used to running for anyone but himself. Training is difficult without the proper shoes, and his natural speed doesn’t always hold up against the training that the other athletes have received. If he keeps getting in trouble at school, he’s going to find himself off the team that he never dreamed he wanted to be a part of, much less stay on.

What I liked most about this story was that it featured an African-American but the plot didn’t revolve around the fact that Ghost was African-American. It wasn’t a civil rights or slavery or gang story. It’s also an appreciated change of pace that we see a sports story that doesn’t revolve around basketball or football or even baseball, but a sport that doesn’t always get its due recognition. While yes, Ghost’s family is not perfect and he’s suffered some things that most families don’t have to face, it was primarily background and the main focus was on Ghost and the track team. His teammates suffer from a variety of issues in their home life, which are easily shared with the group during an intimate gathering, even though they are supposedly secrets that they keep hidden from everyone. Couch becomes a role model and big influence in his life with surprisingly little effort. For someone who never has played or even considered playing a team sport, Ghost also quickly acclimates to the idea of regular practices and following directions and decisions made by this guy he just met. While I can’t speak for the realism of the track meet scenes, I’m glad the focus was on the track practices and events directly related to Ghost’s membership on the team, instead of slowing the pace of the story with extraneous scenes in school or at home. I expected more attitude from Ghost, especially after we see how he and Couch are introduced. But that bravado falls away and never resurfaces to the levels we witnessed initially, which is slightly disappointing that we can’t see a person of color maintain his attitude and assured nature and still succeed. Supposedly the first book in a series, I wonder if future titles are going to focus on Ghost, his other teammates, or some so far unmet character. Overall, an engaging read if you’re willing to overlook the ease with which the characters come together.

The Hueys in the New Sweater

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Hueys in the New Sweater.jpgTitle: The Hueys in the New Sweater
Author/Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
ISBN: 9780399257674
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2012.

The thing about the Hueys . . .
. . . was that they were all the same. (unpaged)

The Hueys, clumped like Minions but with pill shaped bodies and stick arms and legs, all look and act identical. Until Rupert decides to knit himself a sweater, punctuating the black and white illustrations with a spot of orange. His differences are first frowned upon but then everyone mimics him and all become different in the same way. Although younger readers might not get the joke, older readers could appreciate the tongue-in-cheek social commentary about trends and individuality in society, and it might lead to a thought-provoking conversation about what differences that are accepted, admired, and desired in society and which ones are not.

Geisel Awards 2017

WINNER

We Are Growing!.jpgTitle: We Are Growing
Series: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!
Author/Illustrator: Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems?)
ISBN: 9781484726358
Pages: 53 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Winner (2017)

Possibly taking a page from Dr. Seuss’s Bright and Early Book Readers, Mo Willems has created Elephant and Piggie like reading. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult to determine how much Willems contributed to the story within, but I wasn’t impressed. Elephant and Piggie introduce and conclude the story of grass growing. Yep, you read that right. Each of the blades of grass can claim to be the most something, whether it be curliest, tallest, crunchiest, or pointiest… you get the idea. When a lawn mower removes some of their unique attributes, they are all reassured with a page turn and a rather abrupt ending that they will grow again. It’s unfortunate that they all had to be the best at something, although refreshing that not every attribute was physical in nature and that they were cut down to size (quite literally) during the telling and had to deal with their loss of individuality, however temporarily it might be. Obviously a necessity due to Willems’s association, but I had trouble finding the humor, charm, and character that made the originals so enjoyable.

HONORS

Infamous Ratsos.jpgTitle: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
ISBN: 9780763676360
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

The Ratso brothers live in the Big City. They live in this apartment with their father, Big Lou.
“There are two kinds of people in this world,” Big Lou likes to say. “Those who are tough, and those who are soft.” […]
Let’s do something,” Louie says to Ralphie. “Something to make us look tough.” (1-7)

Fifth grader Louie and his brother, third grader Ralphie, want to be tough like their father. Every time they try to be tough — including stealing hats to covering their neighbor’s windows with soap — their actions are mistaken for good deeds. Due to the length of the book, the brothers are basically interchangeable and the supporting cast is barely developed. However, the pranks pulled would make this a unique selection for April Fool’s Day, and are mostly harmless. It’s also an informal introduction to perspective and perception, as the brothers think they are being tough and bad, but everyone else sees them as being kind, generous and helpful. The illustrations reinforced this idea, with the opening page showing the brothers with armfuls of water balloons, and the very last page closing out the story with an image of how those balloons are used. Their father also offers a lesson that “Life is tough enough […]. We might as well try to make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (55) Classroom connections like these make this a welcome addition.
Go Otto Go.jpgTitle: Go, Otto, Go!
Author/Illustrator: David Milgrim
ISBN: 9781481467247
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon Spotlight, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

See Otto go.
Bye-Bye, Otto! (unpaged)

Author and illustrator David Milgrim returns after a decade-long hiatus for a sixth adventure featuring his little robot named Otto. Otto yearns to return to his home among the stars, but the rocket he builds takes him “up, up, up” and then develops a glitch, redirecting him down, left and right, and here and there. Finally depositing him back where he started, Otto realizes that this is his home, surrounded by all his friends. Extremely reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane stories, the repetition of the simple text (only one word has more than one syllable) should encourage beginning readers.

Good Night Owl.jpgTitle: Good Night Owl
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781484712757
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Owl was settling into bed when he heard a noise.

A baby blue owl with a heart-shaped face and pink bathrobe is preparing for bed when hears a “SQUEEK!” (which is never detailed in the text but solely in the pictures). After searching outside, in the cabinet, and under the floorboards. When he eliminates those possibilities, his blame turns to the house itself, tearing down the roof and walls before finally learning the cause of the noise is a mouse, which readers have seen as he hides around the house. What starts as an amusing game escalates quickly, and while the owl doesn’t seem phased by the destruction of his house, you can see by the mouse’s sliding smiles that he at least is getting concerned. Owl though seems content to sleep under the stars (aren’t owls nocturnal?) and even invites the mouse up into his bed to spend the remainder of the night (don’t owls eat mice?). Regardless of what adults might see as inconsistencies, children will love knowing before Owl the cause of the noise, the repetition, the building suspense, and the over the top actions that Owl takes. The pictures include nods to previous works by Pizzoli, and the only reason I didn’t miss the beautiful cross-stitched cover underneath the jacket is because Rotem Moscovich’s work was referenced on the copyright page.

Oops Pounce Quick Run.jpgTitle: Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper
Author/Illustrator: Mike Twohy
ISBN: 9780062377005
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2016
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Asleep
Ball
Catch
Dog

So starts the adventures of a mouse, who wakes up from his nap when a dog’s ball bounces into its whole in the wall. The dog scrambles, the mouse skitters, and the chase is one through the house until the dog recovers his ball. Cleverly bookended with sleep (Asleep followed by “ZZZZZ”), the story is told primarily in pictures with one alphabetically appropriate word or phrase per page accompanying them. The accompanying background is minimal, with almost no color and the focus is squarely on the participants and the ball. A missed opportunity might have been using “victory” instead of “very cool,” but all of the words are ones children would use and hear in daily conversation.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Snow White Graphic Novel.jpgTitle: Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763672331
Pages: unpaged (216 pages)
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.

Mostly monochromatic watercolors with selected highlights of red and blue and sparsely phrased supplemental text retells the story of Snow White set during the Great Depression. Samantha White’s father suddenly passes and bequeaths his fortune to her. On the run from a murder attempt by her jealous stepmother, she encounters a gang of seven children, who come to her aid. I see allusions to West Side Story in the gang’s movements and Wizard of Oz when the happy ending finally opens into technicolor drawings. It’s a nit-picky point to wish the text had been hand lettered instead of jarringly added in obviously computerized font, especially when period details were so seamlessly incorporated into the plot. This winter themed adaption is a solid addition to graphic novel collections.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington

Sunday Shout Out series was created to remind/encourage me to provide links to news stories, blog posts, and other things that I think are interesting and noteworthy. If you’re interested in participating or being featured in my next Sunday Shout Out, just drop me an e-mail. Do you have some news or links to share? Feel free to link to your own Sunday Shout Outs in the comments.

Birthday Cake for George Washington.jpgTitle: A Birthday Cake for George Washington
Author: Ramin Ganeshram
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
ISBN: 9780545538237
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2016.

In the kitchen, my papa, Hercules, is baking an amazing cake. But there is one problem: We are out of sugar.

Hercules, a slave owned by President George Washington, is a valued member of the White House Staff as the cook for the president. When Washington’s birthday arrives, Hercules is tasked to bake a cake, but there is no sugar to be found anywhere in the kitchen. With a little improvising of using honey instead of sugar, the cake is successfully made. The charcoal pencil pictures are supplemented with Photoshoped images of actual cookware. The enslaved kitchen staff are shown with a variety of skin colors.

Upon publication, there was quite a bit of discussion regarding this book. My library was one of the few to purchase and receive a copy before Scholastic discontinued publishing the title due to public outcry regarding the portrayal of the “smiling slaves”. I’m unaware if the reviews influenced the artist’s note at the back of the book, which stresses that “While slavery in America was a vast injustice, my research indicates that Hercules and the other servants in George Washington’s kitchen took great pride in their ability to cook for a man of such stature. That is why I have depicted them as happy people. There is joy in what they have created through their intelligence and culinary talent.” An author’s note attempts to separate fact from fiction, clarifying that while Hercules’s daughter (who is the narrator in the story) doesn’t seem to have ever been at the center of government in the Philadelphia house, Hercules’s son Richmond was present for at least a while as a favor to the cook. The author’s note also emphasizes that Hercules along with the other slaves were rotated out to avoid allowing them freedom under a Pennsylvania law that freed slaves who resided in the state for more than six months.

I’m unsure how much control the author had over the illustration process, but it seems that the text taken by itself does not promote a “happy” situation. At various points in the story Hercules “roared at the kitchen maids”, “growled at Chef Julien” (a white chef from France) and at the kitchen boy, “scowled at the swirling, whirling snow” and “Only when Mrs. Washington comes into the kitchen does Papa turn his scowl into an easy smile.” I can imagine an imperialistic tone as he orders his staff around, repeatedly voicing “You! […] And you!” While the pictures show a smiling group of workers, the text reflects an uncertainty and anxiousness as they try a new recipe for the very first time to be presented at a Presidential birthday party. The cake (and the feast in its entirety) that is finally produced seems rather small for the number of guests one would expect at a birthday party for George Washington. The text presents an enslaved chef who is hiding his anxieties in front of his owner to avoid any disciplinary action, who takes responsibility for the entire cake so if something is wrong he saves others from being reprimanded, or worse. “No one seems to breathe until the cake platter comes back” empty, and Delia’s heart is “pounding” as the President approaches afterward. This is not the presentation of happy, accomplished culinary chefs confident in their ability, but slaves who know if they do something wrong it could mean dire repercussions.

When the controversy first surfaced, author Mitali Perkins publicized how she would have corrected the book to further stress the condition of slaves during that time period. While her rewriting of the text certainly stresses the dangers of not successfully caring out the orders of their owners, it’s a minimal change to a text that ultimately portrays a story that is intended for young children with a limited exposure to the concept of slavery.Writers portraying slavery and other historical social issues must balance a fine line of keeping it factually accurate but also factually appropriate for that age group. This book also provides a glimpse at a slave who was an anomaly, one who was well-known and dare we say respected, as evidenced by Washington allowing father and son to work together as a “favor”. My opinion is a different illustrator may interpretation of the text may have negated the controversy.

I am a huge admirer of Mitalie Perkins’s Bamboo People and thought that she also raised several issues regarding Scholastic’s decision to pull the book from production. Is it censorship? I find myself asking the same question, especially in light of other books being questioned post-production. It’s not only children’s books, but adults books as well. Back in 2012, The Jefferson Lies by David Barton was pulled from store shelves, and the publisher’s Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton was quoted in an NPR article asserting that:

“There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all.” […] “The truth is, the withdrawing a book from the market is extremely rare. It’s so rare I can’t think of the last time we’ve done this,” Hampton said. But, he said, “If there are matters of fact not correctly handled or the basic truth is not there, we would make a decision based on that.”

Since then, we’ve had titles like A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall, where the smiling slave portrayal was questioned even as it won award recognition. Ghosts by acclaimed graphic novelist Raina Telgemeir is having its portrayal of Dia De Los Muertos questioned because it was slightly fictionalized and Telgemeir’s own experience in that culture is being questioned. And recently When We Was Fierce by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo is being “postponed” for “further reflection”. I must say I have not read any of these yet. Is this concern over cultural portrayals a desired response to the We Need Diverse Books movement, or will it backlash and yield even fewer depictions out of fear that they offend or prove too fictionalized? I’ve read reviews where factual inaccuracies have been brought to life in nonfiction books that don’t prevent their publication. Are we then being hyper-vigilant regarding fiction for a particular reason, and should we pass that same scrutinizing eye on nonfiction? If readers, reviewers, and the public in general are more willing to challenge a fictionalized publication, then we should evaluate why.  How much license should be allowed? I don’t have any of these answers, but they should be questions that are broached when discussing these and future incidents. In regards specifically to A Birthday Cake for George Washington, I think reprinting with a different illustrator and making a few minor corrections, like Perkins suggests, would make it more acceptable. However, I’m not a member of that African-American culture, and recent conversations seem to imply that I must defer my opinion to those who are members. That doesn’t mean I can’t voice them here.

Study Hall of Justice

Study Hall of Justice.jpgTitle: Study Hall of Justice
Series: Secret Hero Society
Author: Derek Fridolfs
Illustrator: Dustin Nguyen
ISBN: 9780545825016
Pages: 175
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc., c2016 DC Comics

This school is weird!
Yesterday I felt a kid blur past me. Today I witnessed a girl flying through the air. I’m not kidding. Not to mention there’s a ton of clowns and . . . I think I’ve even seen ninja lurking about.
It’s crazy.
My mind and body have been trained by the very best (Alfred saw to that with private tutors). My eyes aren’t playing tricks. So there must be a logical explanation for it.
My investigation continues. But I must also make time to beat level seven of Vigilante Fighter Turbo. Resist the urge to download a cheat code. (28)

Bruce Wayne has recently been accepted to the prestigious Ducard Academy. Upon arrival however, Bruce keeps noticing unexplained things happening. With the administration ignoring the warning signs and possibly aiding in the classroom chaos, who can Bruce turn to for assistance? Equally confused Clark Kent and Diana Prince are also hiding something, but they seem the best options to aid in his investigations. Now the key is to solve the mystery without getting suspended.

This book is a fast read described by some as a hybrid graphic novel, which confused me for a while as to where to put it. After it arrived though, it obviously belonged with the graphic novels. While the primary story is told in panels and pictures, supplemental information is provided in paragraph format in illustrated diary entries, memos, reports, and text messages. Told in short vignettes that propel the main plot of finding out the school’s secrets, many readers with only a cursory knowledge of the DC Comics world will recognize superheroes and super villains featured, including the Joker, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane, Lex Luthor, and of course the three main characters. Clark is shown as a bumbling do-good, who on more than one occasion either spills or comes close to spilling information about his secret. Diana is shown as slightly more competent, but also more assertive and angry than either of the boys. Bruce is portrayed as a lonely know-it-all, although my favorite line is when he questions the lack of masks for both Diana’s and Clark’s secret identities. There are passing nods to future events, such as Clark becoming a reporter and Alfred’s at the time off-handed comment to Bruce that “I certainly won’t be a willing partner in your flights of fancy, sir!” (151)

The whole story however is relatively anticlimactic. While yes there are strange things happening in the school, no one is ever in any real danger, and even the weirdness is relatively low-key (getting pied in the face in the hallway, Brainiac as a library monitor, and even the ninjas repeatedly noticed don’t interfere with day-to-day operations until the very end of the book). Although it appears this is a start of a series, the resolution leaves me wondering how these three investigators are going to be able to combine their efforts again in the future. Overall, it becomes a nice introduction and mash-up for super fans or those who like their superhero stories light.

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