Posts from the ‘Not a Book Review’ Category

Leave Me Alone!

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.

Leave Me Alone!.jpgTitle: Leave Me Alone!
Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
ISBN: 9781626724419
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishings Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

Once there was an old woman.
She lived in a small village in a small house . . .
… with a very big family.

The nameless old woman is simply looking for some peace and quiet in order to finish her knitting for her family before winter arrives. Asserting herself with a shouted “Leave me alone!”  she retreats to the forest, to the mountain, and to some literally out of this world locations in search of solitude. Vocabulary is slightly advanced for this audience (I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but pre-reading is a must) but the illustrations convey the meanings. Each locale has its own color scheme, which separates them from each other, but the double page spreads provide reference to how far the woman has gone in her search. Something totally unique and sure to spark conversation. How far and where do you go to be alone? Perfect pairing with Let Me Finish by Minh Lê.

Preaching to the Chickens

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.

Preaching to the Chickens.jpgTitle: Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
Author: Jabari Asim
Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
ISBN: 9780399168567
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016.

Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.
John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed.

Before John Lewis became a civil rights activist, a protester, and a congressman, he was a boy on a farm in Pike County, Alabama. Caring for about sixty chickens, he got up early every day to feed them, water them, line their nests with straw, and preach to them. He cared for those chickens, even going so far as to naming them, and that concern for poultry would eventually translate to people he helped and professions he held. A gentle story that extols the attributes of practice, persistence, hard work and faith, the watercolors provide a hazy backdrop for the words to lay on, which would perfectly suit the reading on a porch swing looking across a foggy farmstead similar to John’s home at a steamy summer sunset. Slow down and invoke the attributes of a time where feeding the chickens was a right, a responsibility, and a privilege.

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.

Tell Me a Tattoo Story

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.

Tell Me a Tatoo Story.jpgTitle: Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Author: Alison McGhee
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
ISBN: 9781452119373
Pages: Unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2016.

You wanna see my tattoos?
Why, little man, you always want to see my tattoos. Here we go then.

Pastel pens and watercolors depict the meanings behind a father’s many tattoos. He tells very short stories (more like explanations) of reading with his mother, meeting and marrying his wife, traveling overseas in the military, and finally one commemorating the birth of his son. Several of the tattoos seen aren’t explained, providing the possibility of readers developing their own story behind the ink. Portraying a rarely depicted portion of the population, it’s refreshing to see an inked father doing dishes instead of the stereotyped selling drugs or getting arrested. A necessary addition to collections, especially those serving less conservative populations.

Mousetronaut

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.

Mousetronaut Goes to Mars.jpgTitle: Moustronaut Goes to Mars
Author: Mark Kelly
Illustrator: C.F. Payne
ISBN: 9781442484269
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Reader, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2013.

Meteor the mousetronaut returns in his second adventure, this time to Mars. When after two years of training he isn’t picked for the six month mission, Meteor stows away and stays hidden. He’s content to just see Mars from the rocket window, but a technical problem might mean mission failure unless Meteor reveals himself to the crew. Age appropriate details are included in the story, with a more thorough afterword separating fact from fiction and explaining the difficulties of space travel. A female African-American is featured prominently among the space explorers, although it’s never remarked upon in the text, and Mouse trains with Claudia, Claire, and Charlotte, proving that women can participate in this space race. Give this to space enthusiasts and be prepared for their imagination to lift-off just like Meteor’s rocket.

Hammer and Nails

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.

Hammer and Nails.jpgTitle: Hammer and Nails
Author: Josh Bledsoe
Illustrator: Jessica Warrick
ISBN: 9781936261369
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Flashlight Press, c2016.

Darcy crumpled up her playdate plans and plopped onto her bed.
Her best friend was sick, and now Darcy’s entire day was ruined.

Father and daughter take turns completing their to-do lists, including mowing the lawn, laundry, dressing up, doing their hair, and *gasp* manicures! Is Darcy’s Daddy man enough for a manicure? Brightly colored illustrations invoke small details, like grass stains and the slowly deteriorating hair styles. Aside from a blurry background wall photo and the too-big heels Darcy clumps around in, her mother is never mentioned in the text. While children will laugh upon seeing stocky Daddy dressed in plaid with a pink tutu, the message is clear that Darcy is loved and dads and daughters can do anything they want.

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.

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