Classics, Colonization and a Call for Change by Padma Venkatraman

No brainer re-blog. I’ve talked before about pushing against a white canon of children’s literature. Why are our “classics” our classics? Excellent piece that educators, librarians and parents should read.

Nerdy Book Club

Last year, I gave in to horribly un-American behavior. Confident that my citizenship would not be revoked if indulged in censorship, I picked up a thick sharpie and blackened out offensive words in A Child’s Garden of Verse on my daughter’s shelf.

Other “classics” just plain aren’t on her shelf. I’m confident her childhood can be quite complete even if she isn’t exposed to every classic. After all, there are many brilliant authors influenced by modern sensibilities who write equally marvelous books. Instead of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, she’s read Louise Erdich’s Birchbark House series. Has she missed something? Sure. Yes. But our time as children is limited, and really, aren’t those children who haven’t visited the Birchbark House because they’ve been so busy following Laura from one Little House to another, also missing something? Or, worse, perhaps they’re unquestioningly absorbing age-old prejudices…

show way

I’ll confess my desire to…

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Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

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Image Credit: Farrar Strauss Giroux Books for Young Readers, Debbi Michiko Florence/Elizabet Vuković

Whew! It’s been a while, yeah? Today’s review celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Let’s go!!

The first in a delightful new beginning chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen is a great addition to your bookshelves. I’m so excited to welcome this new series about a Japanese American girl & her family. Two areas of children’s literature that are lacking in diverse/#ownvoices stories are Beginning Chapter Book Series & Board Books, so it’s encouraging to see this new series *hopefully* flourish.

Every year, Jasmine’s family hosts a mochi-tsuki; they make sweet rice cakes to celebrate the New Year. But this year, OH THIS YEAR, Jasmine is determined to help make the mochi (even though she’s too young). Her bossy big sister Sophie is finally old enough to help the women roll the mochi…but she can’t! She thinks up a clever plan though; she’ll help the men of the family pound the mochi! In order to lift the big wooden hammer, she has to build up her strength first. Jasmine pushes against traditional gender roles in order to accomplish her goal of joining the men in the physical work.

I like how Florence invites the reader inside of Jasmine’s home; we’re placed right in the middle of the drama, love and mochi-tsuki. In addition to dealing with a bossy big sister, Jasmine battles a visiting cousin who’s a bully! Jasmine is eager, as most young children are, to do the same thing her big sister does. She’s also eager to show everyone how capable she is. Readers follow her ups and downs and by the end of the book, will admire and respect her fortitude. Jasmine is one determined kid!

I love Elisabet Vuković’s ink and watercolor illustrations; they really enhance the story. She’s great at characterization; Jasmine has confident body language and her spunky facial expressions are hilarious.

I hope your child will enjoy Jasmine’s story as much as I did! Don’t miss this one; libraries & bookstores, please add this one to your beginning chapter book sections!

 

P.S. Coming July 11th, 2017, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen includes an easy mochi recipe at the back of the book! How fun! Also, the second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth, releases the same day!! Say, what?  😉

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Family, Friendship, Siblings, Determination, Humor, Girl Power, Diversity, Japanese American Culture, Japanese Food, #Ownvoices
Book Info: Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vuković, 2017 Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780374304102

 

 

Finding Community at the 2017 Kweli Conference in NYC

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This Cincinnati girl hopped on a plane and became a New Yorker for a few days!

On April 8th, I woke up bright and early and took the train to downtown Manhattan for the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. As I walked down the massive hallway of The New York Times building and rounded the corner, I saw conference organizer, Laura Pegram’s smiling face and I knew I was at home. I felt immediately welcome and energized for a day of connecting with authors, illustrators and publishing industry professionals. My friend/debut author Traci Sorell found me right away and gave me a huge hug; it was so great to finally meet her in person!  Continue reading

New York is My Playground

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Image Credit: POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), Jane Goodrich/Bob Raczka

City life. Movement. Happy kids.

New York is My Playground is a joyful romp though New York City. Goodrich’s vibrant photographs accompany Raczka’s playful words in this simple and beautiful book. It’s more of a collection of photographs with text than a story; one huge spread shows a little boy “holding up” a large red sculpture and he says “I feel like I can do anything in New York.”

This book showcases the hustle & bustle of New York but also explores the fact that you can find a quiet, restful spot when you need it. Curious kids twist, run, jump and play on every page. I love the diversity of the kids and the energy of the photography. Goodrich’s shots are dynamic! The typography, with its vibrant colors, is fun; it looks like graffiti covering the city landscape. Instead of sitting in straight lines on the page, the typography is blended & bended into the city landscape. It’s really visually interesting.

This is a fun one! Kids in New York might recognize familiar spots and kids not in New York have the opportunity to check out a new city. New York is My Playground, with words like “running,” “dancing,” and “jumping,” is great for getting kids up and moving during story time!

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: City Life, New York, Movement, Diversity, Read Aloud, Friendship, Family, Photography, Exploration, Feelings, Colors
Book Info: New York is My Playground photographs by Jane Goodrich/Text by Bob Raczka, 2016 POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), ISBN: 9781576877890

Ghost: Track #1

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

2017 LIS 7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature

Excellence. Check out this reading list!

sarahpark.com

Here it is! My LIS 7190 Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature reading list for summer 2017!

Almost-Final Reading List (in alphabetical order)

  1. Alko, Selina. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
  2. Austrian, J.J.. Illustrated by Mike Curato. Worm Loves Worm
  3. Budhos, Marina. Watched
  4. Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale (eds.) Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices
  5. Cohn, Diana. Illustrated by Francisco Delgado. ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes We Can! Janitor Strike in LA
  6. Elliott, Zetta. A Wish After Midnight
  7. Favilli, Elena. Illustrated by Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
  8. Friedman, Darlene. Illustrated by Roger Roth. Star of the Week
  9. Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here
  10. Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Call Me Tree/Llámame Árbol
  11. Harris, Duchess and Sue Bradford Edwards. Hidden Human Computers
  12. Herrington, John. Mission to Space
  13. Jensen, Kelly (ed.) Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World

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Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), Jeanne Walker Harvey/Dow Phumiruk

This Women’s History Month, I’m sharing an upcoming (May 2017) picture book about the talented and influential, Maya Lin.

Maya Lin grew up in a creative household; her father a clay artist and her mother a poet. She was encouraged by her immigrant parents to dream and create. Nature was very important to young Maya and would continue to be influential as she grew and developed as an artist and architect.  When she was a senior in college, her understanding of nature, space, design and sensitivity would lead her to win a design competition for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lin received a great deal of push back for her design but held her ground. She showed the world her strength and stood her by creation. What’s special about the memorial is its symbolism, seamless integration into nature and how it makes those who experience it feel. Her art is meant to be experienced; the reflective granite of the memorial, with its thousands of names, elicits reflection.

Phumiruk’s soft, detailed digital illustrations suit this story. I love the first spread of the book where we see the mossy green “Lizard’s Back” hill Lin explored with her brother as a child. I like how Phumiruk uses an aerial perspective for a few key spreads. Seeing Lin from above, surrounded by nature & as she admires the architecture of her college library, highlights how much she was affected by her surroundings as a young artist. The cover of the book is striking too; Maya Lin gazes at her creation, seeing herself reflected while reading the name of a friend’s father who died in the war. The cover illustration reminds me just how important “mirrors” are for children of color and native children.

I really enjoy biographies for children that tell the lives and experiences of people who are living; children take a lot away from the fact that the person is STILL out there dreaming and making change. There simply aren’t enough books about Asian American creatives, let alone Asian American female creatives and I’m glad for this one. Walker Harvey’s great storytelling and Phumiruk’s lovely illustrations make this an important book to add to your collection.

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Biography, Architecture, Women’s History Month, Strong Women, Asian American, Chinese American, Girl Power, Girls In Stem, Determination, Dreams, Creativity, Family, Memorials, History
Book Info: Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781250112491

 

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas

 

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Gwendolyn Hooks/Colin Bootman

Historical dramas like Hidden Figures have me thinking about all the stories of black excellence I don’t know about; stories that we’ve yet to discover and celebrate. Though I was fortunate to grow up with a decent education on Black History, there’s always more to learn.

In Tiny Stitches, Gwendolyn Hooks tells the story of the incredibly gifted Vivien Thomas. We meet Vivien as he’s examining the tiny needles he designed. The needles are for an operation he invented but wouldn’t get credit for for twenty-six years, all because of the color of his skin. As a teenager, Vivien worked as a researcher at the all white Vanderbilt University for Dr. Alfred Blalock. He absorbed everything very quickly, but when he learned that his official job was “janitor” (and that he made less than his white counterparts) he refused to work until that changed.

When given the chance, Vivien moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland to assist Dr. Blalock at John Hopkins University. Even though he faced more discrimination and segregation there than in his home of Nashville, Tennessee, he thrived. When presented with the challenge of how to treat “blue babies” he excelled. Though he got no credit for his procedure until he was much older, he became a respected technician, always eager to share and teach his knowledge. Vivien Thomas pioneered open heart surgery on children and his compassion, intelligence and bravery has saved countless lives.

Hooks does a great job chronicling Thomas’ life & explaining medical procedures clearly for children to understand. She also includes interesting back matter about “blue babies” and more information about Thomas. Bootman’s use of cool colors gives the story a calm feeling; Thomas seemed to be a calm and collected person and the watercolor illustrations reflect that.

This is a really nice addition to non-fiction picture books for children and even better, it’s about a black man! It very deservedly just won a 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. If you have a child who is interested in the body, medicine and stories of perseverance, check out this book!

 

 

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: History, Medicine, Pioneers, Perseverance, Determination, Discrimination, Segregation, Black History Month, African American, Dreams, Role Model, Non-Fiction, Science
Book Info: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks/Illustrated by Colin Bootman, 2017 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781620141564

NightLights

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children

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Image Credit: Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), Sandra L. Pinkney/Myles C. Pinkney

First of all, Happy Black History Month!! I always learn something new this month, so I hope you do too.

I really enjoyed Shades of Black; I recommend it as a board book and as a picture book.

Why is this book important?? Self love. It celebrates the complexity and beauty of black identity. Black people have a long history of complicated feelings about our skin color that’s connected to racism, mixed-heritage, and social constructs of beauty (White as most beautiful). For example, have you heard of the The Brown Paper Bag Test?  It was a way in which upper class & lighter-skinned Black people discriminated against darker-skinned Black people. During American slavery, lighter-skinned slaves were usually house slaves. In many cultures around the world, lighter skin is more desirable; some people even bleach their dark skin to be lighter. Hair is another complicated issue intertwined with skin color in the Black community; there’s “good hair” & “nappy hair”…

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A well worn loved copy of Shades of Black

So…a book for children that celebrates all shades of Blackness as beautiful? I’m all about it. Plus, it’s available as a board book for toddlers? This is awesome. Toddlers may not be thinking about their skin color just yet, but seeing positive images of children that look like them, that they can smile at, is important for healthy development.

Sandra L. Pinkney begins Shades of Black with “I am Black. I am Unique” in large, bold letters and it’s repeated several times throughout the text. Her words are paired with Miles C. Pinkney’s beautiful & vivid photographs. Sandra compares various shades of brown skin to colorful foods; the children in the photos are joyful and curious. She also talks about Black hair (“My hair is the soft puffs in a cotton ball and the stiff ringlets in lamb’s wool.”) and compares our eye colors to those found in semiprecious stones. At the end of the book, she reminds Black children that they come from ancient kings and queens; a fact that the institution of slavery tried to snuff out!!

I highly recommend Shades of Black; it shows that books written by #ownvoices are necessary…and beautiful! Pick up this book and read it with your child; the children’s smiles are infectious. Black children are gorgeous! ❤

**P.S. Shades of Black won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work!

 

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Empowerment, Positivity, Kid Faces, African-American, Black History Month, Happiness, Black Hair, Colors, Foods, Opposites, Diversity, Own Voices
Book Info: Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney/Photographs by Myles C. Pinkney, 2006 Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), ISBN: 9780439802512