Posts from the ‘Picture Book’ Category

Monday is Wash Day

Monday is Wash Day.jpgTitle: Monday is Wash Day
Author: MaryAnn Sundby
Illustrator: Tessa Blackham
ISBN: 9780991386666
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Ripple Grove Press, c2016.

Rain or shine, Monday is wash day.

A quiet story of a family’s efforts to keep up with the wash, fans of Little House on the Prairie would greatly enjoy this slice of life story taking place during simpler times. It would also work well as an inter-generational read-aloud, where great-grandparents can discuss with their grandchildren what life was like for them when they were young. The unnamed narrator and her sister Annie (possibly twins) aid their mother and baby brother in washing, rinsing, and hanging to dry the clothes, all without the use of appliances.

The illustrations are stunning show stoppers! With hand-painted, cut paper collages, debut illustrator Blackham brings debut author Sundby’s story to life. Look closely enough and you’ll swear you see shadows being cast by the dog and cat as they scamper across the pages after the girls. The clothes flutter on the line, the rug is rumpled, and it certainly appears that the slats on the house are individual pieces! This was most certainly a labor of love. Tiny little clothes pins are photographed on a suspended line, adding dimension to the endpapers. Your own wash can wait, slow down and savor this story.

Quit Calling Me a Monster!

Quit Calling Me a Monster.jpgTitle: Quit Calling Me A Monster
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Bob Shea
ISBN: 9780385389907
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016.

Quit calling me a monster!

In this tongue-and-cheek criticism, purple furred Floyd Peterson (who looks like a cousin It with limbs, facial features, and a bad dye job) insists that people refrain from calling him a monster. He’s frustrated that just because he hides under beds, makes noises when sleeping in your closet, and admits “technically” IS a monster, doesn’t mean you can’t call him by his name. Several lessons could be covertly gleaned from the book, including name calling is not nice, words can have different meanings, and confronting/naming your fear can make things less scary. Floyd’s bright purple fur means he pops regardless of what solid colored background illustrator Bob Shea places him on. The choice to give Floyd a snazzy bowler and matching bow-tie certainly makes him less scary than other monsters we could meet, and the roaring and snoring necessary for an enjoyable monster story is included.

Warning Do Not Open This Book

Warning Do Not Open This Book.jpgTitle: Warning: Do Not Open This Book
Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Matthew Forsythe
ISBN: 9781442435827
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2013.

Maybe you should put this book back.
You don’t want to let the monkeys out.

Meta-fiction featuring monkeys!? As readers progress through the story, not only do they let out the monkeys (who paint their own scenery to swing from) but also troublesome toucans and a very rampaging alligator. There’s only one thing left to do: set a trap and hope they end up back inside the book. With a satisfying direction on the back endpapers, children will love slamming the book shut, only to release the creatures again with the inevitable reread. The color scheme reminds me of Jon Klassen’s hat series, with rustic reds, muddy greens and mustard yellows, and very little background except for what the monkeys create. In fact, there is one monkey in possession of a hat that is reminiscent of Klassen’s, and gets stolen by a toucan. The beginning endpapers set the mood as Lemony Snicket meets Mo Willems fashion, cautioning danger ahead which children will enthusiastically ignore. Add this one to your next monkey themed event.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion.jpgTitle: Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion
Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
ISBN: 9780545914383
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2016.

This is Little Red. Today she is going to be gobbled up by a lion.
This is the Lion! (Well, that’s what he thinks is going to happen anyway.)

Little Red’s aunt wakes up covered in spots, so Little Red heads off past a handful of African animals to deliver spot medicine, her frizzy black pigtails bobbing on top of her African-American head. Upon meeting with the lion, Lion races ahead, locks Auntie Rosie in the cupboard, and attempts to fool Little Red. Little Red though is MUCH smarter than her original counterpart, and is “going to teach the naughty Lion a lesson” … by doing his hair, teeth, and changing his clothes? This debut author’s saccharine ending becomes a didactic lesson in manners, which completely undermines any attempt at ferociousness on the lion’s part. The very last page makes a last ditch effort at adding humor to the story, with mixed results. The primarily red and yellow hued illustrations add more humor than the text, with Lion’s mane being braided into multiple strands that pinwheel out of his head and are capped with little bows. In a clever use of page orientation, readers must flip the book sideways to read the text as Little Red peers into the lion’s open jaw. An uneven adaptation of the classic Red Riding Hood tale. If you’re looking for a very hungry creature, stick with Carle’s Caterpillar or Wood’s Big Hungry Bear.

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.

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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