Long Time, No Write!

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Been busy, y’all…

Hi everyone,

*blows dust off website*

It’s been a while. Sheesh. I’ve been very, very busy doing some really cool stuff that I’ll share with you RIGHT NOW. 🙂

 

  • I was appointed to the 2020 Randolph Caldecott Committee!! **AHHHHH** Anyone who’s been following my blog a while knows how passionate I am about picture books. This is a dream, y’all. And to be APPOINTED?! I’m SO grateful and EXCITED. Thank you ALSC for seeing my hard work and believing that I can do a great job on this committee. I can’t wait to spend 2019 reading and reflecting on EVERY ELIGIBLE PICTURE BOOK PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES! I’m also looking forward to excellent discussions with my committee members! This will mean I can’t blog about any 2019 book with illustrations next year but I hope to blog about older books.

 

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

13 Ways of Looking At a Black Boy Cover

Image Credit: Penny Candy Books, Tony Medina & 13 Artists

 

Black boys have bones and blood / And feelings

Black boys have minds that thrive with ideas / Like bees around a hive / Black boys are alive with wonder and possibility / With hopes and dreams

 

This is a gorgeous collection of tanka poetry inspired by the brilliance of black boys, the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, the poetry collection Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man by Raymond R. Patterson and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s essay collection Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.

Medina celebrates black boyhood through thirteen thoughtful & resonant poems. Readers are also treated to artwork from thirteen of children’s literature’s top black illustrators. Many of the poems in this collection were originally paired with photographs of residents of Anacostia, Washington D.C., a historically black neighborhood originally home to Nacotchtank Native peoples.

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Image Credit: Penny Candy Books, Tony Medina & 13 Artists

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Always Anjali

Always Anjali Cover

Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

“Be proud of who you are Anjali. To be different is to be marvelous.”

Many children (and adults!) can relate to the frustrations that arise from having a name that’s different and unique. Growing up in the 90s, my name (ALIA) confused the heck out of most people. Everyone insisted on spelling it like the singer AALIYAH did and most people struggled with the pronunciation (AH-lia). Nevertheless, I knew that my name was special, that it suited me, that it had Arabic origins and meant “the highest” and “sublime.” Most importantly, it was the name that my parents gave me, and that made me feel pretty dang special.

So often when we feel different and start to wonder why we “can’t be like everyone else,” it’s because society is telling us that some element of our being is “not normal.” “Fitting-in” has, since the beginning of time, all over the world, been a huge part of human society. Society dictates what is considered “normal” and quite often, when indigenous people and people of color (who very often have names that reflect their cultural background) are in white spaces, any bit of “difference” can lead to unkindness, bullying and racism. That can be very tough on a young child!

Always Anjali 1

Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

In Always Anjali, Anjali wakes up on her seventh birthday to a shiny new bike. She excitedly heads to a carnival with her best friends Courtney and Mary (take note of their Anglo-names). At the carnival, they stop by a booth to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes. Anjali can’t find her name, though, AND a bully makes fun of her name! This frustrates and maddens her and that night, she declares to her family that she is no longer Anjali! She wants to be called ANGIE instead. Her parents tolerate none of this, of course, and lovingly tell her the meaning of her name. Her name is sanskrit from India and it represents all that is powerful and beautiful about her family and her culture. Late that night, Anjali is inspired and comes up with a beautiful piece of art to share with her friends the next day.

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

Sheth doesn’t shy away from topics of race, stereotypes and bullying in this story. At the carnival, class-bully Zachary taunts her by calling her “An-Jelly.” Sheth & Blank take this situation a step further; in the next scene, Zachary’s shadow is against a red background, and as he holds a ketchup bottle to his forehead, angry white letters shout “PEANUT BUTTER AN-JELLY. CAN I GET A PEANUT BUTTER AN-JELLY WITH A DOT ON TOP?!” Zachary, a white male, stirs up a tired, racist stereotype of Indian people (“dot”) by saying these words to her and putting ketchup on his head to mock a bindi & her culture. He intimidates a young Indian American girl into being ashamed of her name. This is a frustrating but important scene because it’s a situation that many indigenous children and children of color can relate to, especially when they occupy predominantly white spaces/spaces not within their communities.

Though this picture book touches on tough topics, there’s also a lot of joy and brightness to balance. I love the cheery, vibrant illustrations in this book. Blank does an excellent job of portraying Anjali’s positive and colorful energy. She also shows us Anjali’s passion and frustration. The digital illustrations have a hazy, soft feel at times and Anjali’s emotions are on full display through her large, expressive eyes & eyebrows.

Always Anjali is a delightful story of confidence, friendship and family. Names are important. We are always a reflection of those who’ve come before us and names tell the world who we are. This book reminds children, especially children with special names & names that reflect their culture, that they have absolutely no need to hide their shine.

 

 

P.S. The book Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal pairs perfectly with Always Anjali!  😉

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Confidence, Family, Peer Pressure, Friendship, Cultural Diversity, Indian American, Self Esteem, Pride, Bullying
Book InfoAlways Anjali by Sheetal Sheth/Illustrated by Jessica Blank, 2018 Bharat Babies, ISBN: 9781684019687

ALA Annual 2018 in New Orleans!

 

Hi everyone!

Here are some highlights from my trip down to New Orleans for ALA Annual (June 21st- June 26th). This was my first ALA Annual Conference and it was absolutely invigorating. Not only did I get to meet many authors and illustrators, I was able to catch up with friends doing crucial diversity, equity and social justice work in libraries and schools across the country. In many ways, it was a chance to re-charge and get inspiration for the work I do at home in Cincinnati.

 

On the first day, I got up early and waited in line for opening speaker Michelle Obama with my roommates Kazia and Stacy (<3). Though we waited in line for five hours, we had a fun time talking, exploring the massive Morial Convention Center and relaxing. Carla Hayden, our Librarian of Congress, walked by our line and everyone freaked out. It was surreal being in the same room as our Former First Lady AND our Librarian of Congress, two powerful and intelligent Black women. Before Michelle came out to speak, talented young musicians from Trombone Shorty’s foundation came on stage and performed for us and soon after, Trombone Shorty joined them. That was a really special way to welcome us to the city.

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COVER REVEAL: Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac

 

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Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) is the author of more than 130 books for children and young adults. His beautiful books (folk-tales, poetry, contemporary & historical fiction, post-apocalyptic sci-fi & more) explore various aspects of Native American life and history, from being an urban Native to stories about Navajo Code-Talkers. Bruchac is a vital force in Native American children’s literature and his contributions to the field are numerous. Coming this Fall from Dial Books, TWO ROADS is Bruchac’s return to middle grade historical fiction and I have the pleasure of hosting a cover reveal for the title.

 

Here’s the book description from Penguin Random House’s website:

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Muhiima’s Quest

Muhiima's Quest Cover

Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

Muhiima wakes up with a special feeling on her birthday; she has no idea that an adventure is coming her way! Because she’s Muslim, she usually doesn’t celebrate her birthday, but on this day, her family has a surprise for her. Her mother gives her an old map that leads her to family members and friends around town. All of these people tell her positive affirmations, encourage her to continue being a smart, kind and intelligent girl and give her small purple boxes. Her grandmother, while knee deep in the rich earth of her garden, says to her:

“Don’t forget your roots; they are what ground you, nourish you and make you who you are. Your roots contain your history and support you as you grow into the future.”

Muhiima makes her way back home to discover the meaning of the purple boxes; everyone’s small gift makes one beautiful & meaningful gift, just for her! As a Muslim girl, she often wonders why she can’t be like other kids who have fun birthday celebrations. Her family gifts her with a quest to teach her that even though she doesn’t get a birthday party every year, they’re proud of her and are always behind her, rooting for her! What an important message for a young child.

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Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

 

This is a quiet story of familial love, religion and growing up. Muhiima has the constant support and encouragement of her family; it takes a village to raise a child. I love how central religion is in this book; Muhiima is reminded to always be a faithful servant of God by being a good person (they go hand in hand). This book is also about the every day life of a contemporary Muslim family; Muhiima’s dad owns a bookstore, her aunt has a henna salon, her uncle plays pick-up basketball with friends and she stops at her mosque to visit her Sunday school teacher. There are not enough picture books that celebrate Muslim families and Muslim children. One thing that I would’ve loved to see in this story is more of Muhiima’s thoughts. She receives a lot of knowledge from her elders but other than knowing how sad she is to not have a fancy birthday party, we don’t get to learn more about her. That being said, I think this is an important book and I’m so glad to have it to recommend!

The illustrations of this book are so sweet. Soft pinks, reds, browns and yellows fill the pages. Watercolor is the perfect medium for this story’s art; the colors are bright and full. From the beautiful pink of Muhiima’s bedroom to the deep browns of her grandparents’ backyard garden, color is important to this story. I love the scene where Muhiima visits her stylish Auntie in her henna salon. Her aunt’s dress is stained with henna as she smiles fully, happy to see her niece. The mood of the salon is warm and inviting.

I hope you’ll take a moment to seek out this awesome self published book by Rahma Rodaah and Daria Horb! Here’s to more stories about young Black Muslim girls on our bookshelves and in our homes!

 

Recommended for: All ages!
Great for: Family, Love, Religion, Islam, Community, Relationships, Celebration, Black Girl Magic, Discussion, Self Published, Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity
Book InfoMuhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah/Illustrations by Daria Horb, 2017 Library and Archives Canada (LAC)/Rahmarodaah.com, ISBN: 9780995922907/9780995922921

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

Take a Picture of Me,James VanDerZee Cover

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Andrea J. Loney/Keith Mallett

I’m so last minute this year, y’all! But bear with me…It’s still Black History Month and I got a post for you… 😀

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Another year, another Black History Month, another influential black soul to celebrate. I’m currently basking in the glory of the smash hit film Black Panther. All the black excellence in that film reminded me of another Black Creative who made it his life’s work to represent black excellence through photography.

James VanDerZee made black people look

Glamorous. Regal. Distinguished

at a time when black photography was very static. VanDerZee made it his business to show Black People Shining.

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one of my favorite non-fiction picture books of 2017. In it, we follow young VanDerZee from boyhood to his elderly years. Born into a middle class black family in Lenox, Massachussetts, he was frustrated as a child by his inability to capture fine details and accuracy when drawing people. When he discovered photography, he became fascinated and worked diligently to get his own camera (becoming only the second person in his town to have one)! VanDerZee, always a people person, had natural talent and worked to make his subjects feel comfortable; he wanted to make people look AND feel good while in his studio. At age 18, VanDerZee moved to bustling and vibrant Black Harlem, where he soared as a young artist. He’d later start his own studio where he’d photograph middle class Black Harlem as well as dignitaries, celebrities and athletes. VanDerZee is famous for his high level of skill in retouching (essentially early Photoshop) and photomontage.

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Patina (Track #2)

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Image Credit: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds/Vanessa Brantley Newton

 

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m kicking off this year on Read It Real Good by inviting a friend to share a review. I met Chisom Onyeuku last year at Kweli Journal’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in NYC. Not only is he a kind person, he cares a lot about diverse books, representation and great stories, so it was a no-brainer to invite him here to share a bit of his writing with you. 🙂 He’s currently working on a middle grade novel titled Life in the Flats. If you’d like to talk to him about his review, you can find him on Facebook.

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Review by Chisom Onyeuku

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Sports stories have always been some of my favorites. When done right, they can encapsulate action, adventure, romance and highly personal stakes. For that reason, I was excited to pick up the first book of Jason Reynolds’ Defenders track series, GHOST, especially after I found out it was about a black boy coming into his own. GHOST was easily one of my favorite reads of 2017 and so when I found out that there would be a sequel, I knew I had to read it. PATINA picked right back where GHOST left off. What makes PATINA great is that although it takes place in the same “Defenders” universe, Patina’s story feels markedly different from Ghost’s. I love how the track becomes a catalyst for Patina to find comfort amidst some difficult circumstances and I enjoyed the interactions between Patina and her teammates.

When I encountered Patina at the beginning of the book, I was elated that, through her eyes, we get to watch Ghost finish the race from the end of the previous book. I won’t spoil the race but Jason expertly plays on the audience’s expectations to create a suspenseful scene. From there, we fully cross into Patina’s story arc.

Like Ghost, Patina has deeply personal reasons for running track that resonated with me as a former athlete. More importantly, they resonated with me as a person. Like every great novel, I found myself not only empathizing with the main character but also her friends and teammates. I appreciated that Jason introduces Patina’s surface motivations for running track before delving deeper into the story.

The pace of the book is much like a 400-meter dash. Out of the gate, Patina is running to prove to everyone that “Patty ain’t no junk.” By the 200-meter mark, she’s dealing with challenges of school and adapting to her new teammates. And the last 100 meters are focused on her family. After all of these stretches, we finally have a moment of quiet with Patina and her uncle. Like the diner scene from Ghost, I was caught off guard by how close that moment brought me to tears. It gave me time to appreciate Patina’s journey and growth but I was also reminded that no matter what she had been through, she still had her family and friends. She didn’t have to bear the weight of her struggles alone; a lesson that we should all be reminded of from time to time.

Like Patina, I had teammates that became friends who I now consider family. I feel like I’m watching that bond form between The Defenders. A large portion of the story revolves around Patina’s work with her relay teammates. Luckily, Ghost, Sunny and Lu are never too far away. You can see how much their bond has evolved since their formation. Even though PATINA stands alone, the story still feels part of something bigger. I consider that one of the markers of great series writing.

Jason has a knack for drawing you in with his writing and taking you on an emotional roller coaster. Growing up, I didn’t see myself in a lot of literature. However, I did when I encountered Ghost for the first time. Patina could have easily been a teammate and friend of mine. As I walked with them through their respective journeys, I was reminded of why I love sports stories so much. No matter what you bring to the track or to the page, you will always walk away with more than you brought to it.

 

 

Recommended for: 5th Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Diversity, Teamwork, Track and Field, Sports, Middle School Life, Determination, Black Girl Magic
Book InfoPatina by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2017 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450188

 

 

Where’s Halmoni?

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Image Credit: Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? works on so many fantastic levels. It’s an #ownvoices graphic novel/picture book about two Korean-American siblings and their experience over their grandmother’s house. Simple right?? Nope! Just like the Korean folktales and characters that inspire this work, there’s a delightful mix of fantasy and realism. Kim’s portrayal of everyday Korean life (it’s in the little details) adds another important level of depth to this epic debut.

So let’s start with the story. Details, Details, Details! The story actually begins and ends on the endpages (cool right?). Grandma receives a package from Korea and inside the box is a wooden window she places on the wall of her bedroom. A tiger’s head pop out the window and the next thing we know, Grandma says “Aaah! Bad tiger!” in Korean and the story begins. Joon and his Noona (“누나 older sister” her name is not Noona, it’s what younger boys call older girls in Korean) let themselves into Grandma’s house only to find…that she’s missing!! There are clues to her disappearance though (enormous cat paw prints and a disheveled kitchen) and the kids discover the curious window in her bedroom. In a very Narnia-esque turn of events, they step through the window into a world straight out of Korean folklore. On the search for their grandma, they run into a tricky (and silly) rabbit 토끼, a rowdy and hungry bunch of goblins 도깨비, and finally, an untrustworthy tiger 호랑기 fighting over Grandma’s pot of delicious red bean porridge 팥죽 with a nine-tailed fox 구미호 (who suspiciously looks a bit like grandma)!! How far will they go to find and save their grandma?

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All the Way to Havana

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2017 and there’s a lot to love about it. All the Way to Havana celebrates the resilience of Cuban people, Cuba’s car culture, the importance of family and…it’s really pretty. Like REALLY pretty. It’s nothing new that Mike Curato is a very skilled illustrator, but he really stepped it up for this book.

All the Way to Havana is a flowing poem full of onomatopoeia. It’s a fun and lively read-aloud for little ones. The story starts with a little boy ready to head into the big city of Havana for his cousin’s zero-year birthday…but ACK! their old car, Cara Cara, doesn’t want to start, so he has to tinker on it with his dad to get it running. Once the car is running, it’s a crowded journey because his family gives rides to their neighbors, but before they know it, they arrive in Havana! At the party, the baby is too little to know what’s going on but the family has fun playing, eating and resting together. The trip home is a quiet one and the next day, the little boy is back working on the car with his dad, never giving up on it.

I love how Engle compares the hard metal of Cara Cara with nature. Cara Cara sounds like a chicken (cluck cluck & pío pío) and looks like the blue of a clear sky. The old car is a part of their family and they treat it lovingly. As much as All the Way to Havana is a book about family, it’s also a book about the gorgeous vintage cars of Cuba! Just take a look at the pretty endpapers! Even though the US still imposes trade restrictions upon Cuba (this is why they have so many old cars), Cubans take what they have and make it beautiful and lasting!!

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

The gorgeous illustrations bring readers to Cuba; they are so SMOOTH. The story starts in the country on a clear, beautiful day. Curato introduces us to smiling, blue-eyed brown boy holding a big present for his baby cousin. Curato’s mixed media illustrations are earthy, bright and super detailed. This is a CAR book, so almost every spread centers and highlights the beauty of Cara Cara and other cars just like it. The little boy is a friendly narrator; it’s fun to follow him and his family as they glide along the dirt roads to the city. It feels like we’re also cramped in the back seat of the old Chevy Delray. As we travel to the party, we pass a barber, a busy market, kids playing in the streets and many happy brown people of all shades (woo hoo!). There’s so much to look at in these illustrations but they’re not busy at all.

It’s crucial in kidlit to get it right. To do research. To be invited in. I like to reference Jacqueline Woodson’s article Who Can Tell My Story (check it out, really) because in it she discusses the importance of being invited (“My hope is that those who write about the tears and the laughter and the language in my grandmother’s house have first sat down at the table with us and dipped the bread of their own experiences into our stew.”). Mike Curato went to Cuba to research this book and Margarita Engle’s cousins showed him around. That is AWESOME & important. 🙂

All the Way to Havana is a beautiful collaboration between two master storytellers. I’m really excited to own this book. Let’s celebrate it, y’all!! Please add this one to your collections. I hope this book wins a Caldecott and/or Pura Belpré award next year. It is a delight.

 

P.S. Check out Mike Curato discussing All the Way to Havana and doing a live-drawing of Cara-Cara (and Little Elliot!) here. Also, make sure you take off the book’s jacket for a surprise. 😉 Vroom-Vroom!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Cuba, Cuban Culture, Cars, City Life/Country Life, Perseverance, Determination, Colors, Read-Aloud
Book Info: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Mike Curato, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781627796422