Posts tagged ‘Picture Books’

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.

Thunder Boy Jr.

Back in June, I did a Father’s Day craft and story time, and I’m finally finding the time to blog about it. Rather than stick with the more tried and true “I love you” stories, which I didn’t think would capture the attention of the older kids in attendance, I intentionally chose three newer books that show three more unconventional relationships between child and father. This was one of the ones I used.

Thunder Boy Jr..jpgTitle: Thunder Boy Jr.
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
ISBN: 9780316013727
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, c2016.
Awards: 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honoree

But I am named after my dad. He is Thunder Boy Smith Sr., and I am Thunder Boy Smith Jr.
People call him Big Thunder. That nickname is a storm filling up the sky. People call me Little Thunder. That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart. (unpaged)

Thunder Boy Jr. hates his name. He understands the importance of where it comes from, being named after his dad who he loves. However, he wants his own name, that “sounds like me” and celebrates him. Trying out several new names throughout the book, his father realizes the problem and together they come up with a name that reflects where he came from, as well as the boy’s own individuality.

I choose it because it presented a “stereotypical” family (mom, dad, two kids, dog) but with dark skin, and my current community is heavily diverse. The family was slightly unconventional (mom rides a motorcycle –how cool!) but it presents a very typical problem of a child being unhappy with their name, and explains the thought that might have gone into choosing a name. The pictures by Yuyi Morales are bright, colorful and full of action, quite frequently bursting off the edge of the page.

However, when presented to a group of children in conjunction with a father’s day program, they laughed at the names the little boy came up with as possible replacements. Although that ensured they were more engaged in the reading of what is essentially a laundry list of names and life events, I was unsure (and still am) on how to respond to the delightful mirth that came from the suggestions. I can’t speak for the validity of those types of suggested names, and whether they are offered in jest or in all seriousness. Some of them, like “Full of Wonder” and “Star Boy” sound to my admittedly untrained ear as a legitimate option. Others, like “Old Toys are Awesome” present as absurdly unpractical and possibly meant to elicit laughter, like Phoebe in the television show Friends changing her name to “Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock”. Written by well-known and well-respected award-winning author Sherman Alexie, does the author’s Native American heritage prevent us from seeing what could be construed as mocking the naming conventions of different cultures? Does Alexie realize that the name finally chosen, Lightning, is also the name of a popular cartoon sports car character in a multi-film franchise, or did he do that intentionally so that it would be more accepted by the audience as a “legitimate” name? Lightning is no less unusual in the modern world than Thunder Boy, although it is slightly shorter.

After some quick searching, I found Debbie Reese over at American Indians in Children’s Literature also had some of my same concerns about the book, with an equally mixed reaction. With the recent uproars over the presentation of African American history in books like A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George, and the long standing arguments that sports teams named after Native Americans are cultural misappropriation, where are the calls of misrepresentation here? Does diversity only apply when it is something as politically divisive and visible as African American history?

I still like the book, as the problem of liking or disliking and choosing names is universal. I’m still hoping to use it again for other story times, but I feel like I may need to add some context the next time I use it. The audience laughter over what the little boy himself calls a not normal name still bothers me.

Pingo

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.

Pingo.jpgTitle: Pingo
Author: Brandon Mull
Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
ISBN: 9781606411094
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Shadow Mountain, c2009 Creative Concepts LC

This books is unfortunately not what I expected. Pingo is Chad’s imaginary friend, looking mostly monkey with oversized ears, small horns, and a eerily human face. It’s all fun and games for Chad and Pingo, until Chad has had enough of the teasing and wants to abandon Pingo. As the text states, Pingo’s against the idea and Chad now has “an imaginary enemy” who keeps him up and pulls mean-spirited pranks. When Chad is finally alone in a nursing home setting, he welcomes Pingo back and they resume having adventures together. Personally I’d be trying to get rid of Pingo if he pulled those pranks on me, not welcoming him back. It’s a surprisingly unoriginal story by an author who gave us such a fantastical and well loved world in his Fablehaven series. Maybe that’s why, although there is a sequel, he’s since stuck with the middle grade audience.

The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have

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.

Dog that Nino Didn't Have.jpgTitle: The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have
Author: Edward van de Vendel
Translator: Laura Watkinson
Illustrator: Anton Van Hertbruggen
ISBN: 9780802854513
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Originally published in Belgium in 2013 under the title Het hondje dat nino niet had by Uitgeverij De Eenhoorn BVBA, c2013.
First published in the United States in 2015 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

An unusual book that tells the story of Nino’s dog, who happens to be imaginary. You know this initially by Van Hertbruggen’s retro drawings that portray a light-colored dog with dark spots that readers literally see through. Then the text reveals that everyone else has trouble seeing this creature. When Nino finally gets a real dog, it’s different than the one he imagined, but that’s okay because this lonely boy can still find joy in both the real and imaginary creatures he calls friends. The final double-paged spread showcases all these animals watching over Nino as he sleeps. The beautiful pictures help readers decipher the sparse but carefully worded text, and I’m curious to learn what children’s reactions have been. This is not a book to be read quickly, but slowly and reflectively, possibly before bed time.

We Forgot Brock!

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.

We Forgot Brock.jpgTitle: We Forgot Brock!
Author/Illustrator: Carter Goodrich
ISBN: 9781442480902
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

The weird thing about Philip’s friend Brock, dressed in garb reminiscent of a pirate, is that nobody else can see him and everyone calls him “Philip’s Imaginary Friend.” After a day at the fair, Philip falls asleep and Brock gets left behind. Luckily, a girl named Anne and her own imaginary friend named Princess Sparkle Dust find Brock and bring him home with them. Will Brock and Philip ever find each other again? Watercolor illustrations portray the imaginary friends in childish, crayon like states very different from the rest of the more detailed drawings, although if you look carefully you’ll notice they still cast shadows. The problem is neatly solved and everyone makes a new friend in the end. The story is realistically childlike, down to Philip posting “Lost” flyers, which prove surprisingly effective! A sweet story perfect to share with children who may have their own imaginary friend.

The Price of Freedom

Price of FreedomTitle: The Price of Freedom
Author: Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
ISBN: 9780802721662
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Walker Books for Young Readers, c2013
Publication Date: January 8, 2013

Trouble began in early September 1858, when a ten-year-old boy spied several “rough-looking” men on the porch of an Oberlin flophouse. Suspecting that they were slave hunters, Oberlinians posted lookouts around the hotel.
Indeed, the men were slave hunters. They were led by Anderson Jennings, a Kentuckian who had been promised $500 per slave (equal to about $13,000 each in today’s money) for returning John and Frank to their former owners.

John and Frank had escaped from their master in January, 1856. Fleeing Kentucky, they crossed into Ohio where Quakers sheltered runaway slaves. Even though Ohio was a free state, they could still be legally captured, so the original plan was to continue on to Canada. Upon arriving in Oberlin, Ohio and learning the route was blocked, the two friends stayed in the friendly town, taking up jobs and living among its residents. That all changes when slave catchers come to town, and John is captured. With the law against them, residents of Oberlin demanded John’s release. But are they successful in this time of divided ideals and conflicting politics?

I was slightly disappointed by this book. While the story is unique, based on fact, and one I’d never heard of, the writing lacks the suspense that should probably be present. Almost half the story contains very short non-sequiturs introducing the people involved in rescuing John, which quickly bogs down and confuses the story. The artwork starts strong, and I was especially struck by the page where we see John and Frank peering over a fence with the moon lighting their path visible behind them. Surrounded by spooky, bare-limbed trees, it’s astonishing how well the mood is struck with that one picture. In contrast, the scene where the townspeople have gathered, demanding John’s release, looks hastily colored, with none of the details and only vague impressions and blobs of paint for some of the faces. Eric Velasquez’s artwork seems to lose something when doing larger scenes, and if he had stuck to the closeups and featured only a handful of people in each of his drawings, then I think it would have worked better.

The other thing missing from this book is map! While I’m impressed that the book provides a bibliography, further reading, and websites lists, along with a small note in the back, there is no map of either the route John and Frank took, or a state map simply identifying where Oberlin is located in correlation to Cleveland. On the suggested Oberlin College website, readers can view a picture of a monument dedicated to the Oberlinians who fought for John’s freedom, but there’s no mention of that monument in the book. Instead, it mentions a sculpture that “honors the role of the college and town” but there’s no picture of it in the book or on the website.

Overall, I feel like this very short story would have worked better in a compilation of little known tales involving either the underground railroad or civil war history since so little is known about the participants. Libraries in Ohio have a unique link to the story, and would do well to have it on hand for young school children. However, I’m not sure how much demand there will be outside of the immediately mentioned area. If this is a diamond in the rough, I think it still needs a little polishing.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

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