PCP Two of Spades: Born in the Wild

born in the wildBorn in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents

by Lita Judge

Roaring Brook Press, 2014

This bright, instructive exploration of different mammal families offers lots of concrete information about what mammal babies need and how mammal parents meet those needs. Sections feature a brief identification of a particular need on a single spread, followed by a few pages with specific examples of different species attention to it. The text is full of fascinating explicatory zoological detail about everything from food to shelter. But the star of this charming outing is Judge’s open, inviting portraiture that finds a perfect balance of natural authenticity and friendly accessibility. The informative text provides the facts and figures, delineating our common place in the natural world, and the warm, soulful imagery makes good on that promise, allowing the reader to feel the connection as well as understand it. In a world where growing up can feel like a daunting endeavor, how comforting it is to know that we’re all in it together.

PCP Two of Hearts: The Thing About Luck

the thing about luckThe Thing About Luck

by Cynthia Kadohata, with illustrations by Julia Kuo

Atheneum, 2013

I am a huge fan of Cynthia Kadohata’s work. Huge. I was on the committee that selected Kira-Kira, her first book for children, as the 2005 Newbery Medal winner, and I have loved every subsequent book. There is a quiet, raw honesty that runs through her writing, a transparency of language that sneaks up on you and, out of events that seem mundane, delivers something exquisite and profound. It’s like magic.

The Thing About Luck tells the story of a Japanese American farming family toiling amidst a flurry of bad luck. Sunny’s parents have been called away to Japan on emergency family business, leaving Sunny and her little brother Jaz in the care of her grandparents Obaachan and Jiichan, saddled with the back-breaking work of itinerant, contract wheat harvesting. Kadohata paints the circumstances in vivid, albeit plainspoken detail: Sunny’s fear of mosquitoes (she had malaria once); Jaz’s difficulty connecting; Obaachan’s strict, traditional ways; Jiichan’s tireless effort; and an impossibly thorough explanation farm machinery. And somehow, in the spaces between these definitions and explanations, she offers a tender, immediate, indelible portrait of family that is as touching as it is unique. These are people who love one another deeply, and Kadohata’s ability to show us that love, in the conflicts and struggles that would threaten it, is simply staggering.

LeUyen Pham to deliver the Butler Lecture!

LeUyenPham

Award-winning and best-selling author/illustrator/graphic novelist LeUyen Pham will deliver her lecture “Wandering Wonderland: An Immigrant’s Story Told Through Books,” on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Pham’s work includes a delightful variety of picture books, from the Orbis Pictus honor The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman and the Freckleface Strawberry books by Julianne Moore to her own stories Big Sister, Little Sister and A Piece of Cake; illustrations for the New York Times best-seller The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale and the Scott O’Dell Award winner Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill; and a range of graphic novels with Jordan Mechner and Alex Puvilland, including Prince of Persia, Solomon’s Thieves, and Templar. For this, the third annual Butler Lecture, Pham is literally “drawing” on her own childhood, producing a series of comic panels that explore her earliest experiences with particular books for children.

The lecture will take place at 6 p.m., followed by a reception with refreshments and a book sale and signing; it is free and open to the public, though registration is required. This an evening not to be missed.

To register, please visit: http://gslis.dom.edu/newsevents/butler-lecture-2015-featuring-leuyen-pham

For more information, please contact me at tbarthelmess@dom.edu.

The Butler Lecture is generously underwritten by the Butler Family Foundation.

PCP Two of Diamonds: My Book of Life By Angel

my book of life by angelMy Book of Life By Angel

by Martine Leavitt

Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2012

The grief surrounding her mother’s death and the havoc it wreaks on her family pushes Angel to breaking. She slips onto the streets, and soon is in thrall to charming, malevolent Call and his “candy.” At first she’s doing favors for his friends, but in short order she finds herself working a corner to support herself and her habit. She is broken and resigned, until Call shows up one evening with eleven-year-old Melli in tow. Angel searches her soul to find an untapped store of resilience and resolve, and sets out to rescue Melli, and maybe, herself.

Leavitt writes in stunning, atmospheric free verse, and somehow manages to craft crystalline beauty from brutal, harrowing circumstances. Angel’s first-person narrative swings between blunt resignation and fierce defiance, beautifully articulating the confused despair of her gradual destitution and the clambering strength of her willful climb back up. It’s a staggering piece of writing–searing and evocative–and leaves the young reader with a profound understanding of the complex circumstances some teens face, full of empathy and free from judgment.

YMA thoughts

There were lots of surprises at the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday morning (you can read about all of the winners here) and they have already been much celebrated, dissected, and critiqued. I have my own thoughts (don’t we all) which I offer as a list, because I fear if I started writing something long form I’d be here until April. And I have some snow to shovel.

So, in no particular order, here’s what I think:

1) Diversity won the day. Everywhere. The Newbery medal and both honor books. The Wilder (ALSC lifetime contribution) and Edwards (YALSA lifetime contribution) awards. The Caldecott medal and three of the six honor books. The Arbuthnot lecturer. Three of the five Sibert honor books. The Geisel award author. Not to mention the slates from the Belpré, the Coretta Scott King, the Schneider Family, and the Stonewall, all of which are diverse by nature. Everywhere!

2) Back in December, in a comment on the Calling Caldecott blog, I suggested that it was entirely possible for This One Summer be recognized by both the Caldecott and Printz committees. Nobody was buying it. This is me, gloating.

3) Some of my favorites were overlooked. Harlem Hellfighters, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Turtle of Oman. But I still get to love and champion those books, and now I get to (re)acquaint myself with other books that other folks find to be extraordinary. It’s hard to think of that as a problem, really.

4) Some things I really don’t like were recognized, too. And that’s a terrific opportunity to remember that people see books differently from how I do, and people see the awards differently from how I do. And, ultimately, that the greater the variety of taste and appreciation we have among our ranks, the better able we are to meet the many different literary needs of the young people we serve. Win win, as it were.

5) What did you think?

harlem hellfighters Levy_Front_final 91xfx6cxaRL._SL1500_

 

PCP Two of Clubs: Denied Detained Deported

denied detained deportedDenied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration

by Ann Bausum

National Geographic, 2009

Negative space is an artistic construct that looks at the visual space around or between subjects as a place in an image where meaning can exist and communicate itself: objects can be defined by their own outlines, or by the outlines of adjacent objects. The construct has application in the study of literature, too, as we consider how an idea is shaped not only by its own definition but also by the definitions of related concepts. As we seek to understand “belonging” in books for young people, then, let us look not only at books that celebrate someone’s place in a particular community, but books that consider the refusal of such membership, too.

Ann Bausum applies such an approach to American history in Denied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration, seeking to understand how people came to this country, by looking deeply and carefully at a number of situations where that arrival was thwarted. She begins with the familiar Emma Lazurus poem that appears on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a contemporary poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that offers a decidedly less welcoming vision of the US border. From there Bausum investigates a number of historical events, each titled with a different form of alienation. “Excluded” looks at the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which left Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship until 1943. “Denied” tells the story of the St. Louis, a ship carrying hundreds of German Jewish refugees that the US turned away in 1939. The author captures the events with arresting clarity, engaging the reader’s empathy and outrage with her precise language and documentary research. And on top of the harrowing stories Bausum posits questions about our contemporary treatment of those newest to our country, often subjected to xenophobic mistreatment and persecution.

By exacting the nature of fearsome, systematized alienation, Denied Detained Deported delivers a powerful picture of how important it is to belong.

PCP Ace of Spades: The Disenchantments

11699055The Disenchantments

by Nina LaCour

Dutton, 2012

Colby and Bev have been saving for years (and years) for their year-long-backpack-around-Europe-before-college-trip. It’s going to be the best. They’re best friends, after all, and, well, Colby is pretty much in love with Bev. Except Bev isn’t going. She’s going to college instead. She applied ages ago. Sorry.

To make matters worse (or not quite so bad), Colby will be spending the summer before he’s not going to college traveling around with Bev and Meg and Alexa, The Disenchantments, managing their Pacific Northwest tour from his Uncle Pete’s VW van. There is some road-trip revelry here, and a goodly amount of deep adolescent angst, that keep things moving and give us plenty to think about along the way. But the novel’s real genius comes from profound clarity and resonance with which LaCour paints Colby’s circumstances. To be sure, not many of us have experienced this particular turn of events, but she makes something universal of the skittish confusion and achy disorientation that come when the dependability of high school gives way to the unknown of what comes next. It’s no easy path to tread, and Colby’s way through is thrilling and sad and powerfully affecting. By getting the trauma just right, LaCour makes the resultant growth immediately recognizable and especially gratifying.