A Review of The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Just in time for the changing season and upcoming Halloween celebrations comes Lindsay Currie’s first book for middle grades.

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Tessa Woodward is less than thrilled about her family’s move from Florida to Chicago, and their house doesn’t seem to be too pleased either, based on the moving items, flickering lights, and eerie drawings appearing in Tessa’s sketchbook. When Tessa reveals to her classmates that her house is haunted on her first day at her new school, she is afraid her social life is over, but a group of unlikely friends decides to help Tessa solve the mystery of who used to live in her house – and who is making it difficult for the Woodwards to live there now.

Lindsay Currie’s in-depth research on the haunted settings and ghost stories featured in The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street shows in the details of this mystery, and makes for a satisfying read. Tessa is a smart, sensitive, and curious protagonist, and her relationship with her parents and younger brother is genuine. Readers will want to cheer her on as she works to solve her own problems, with the help of her peers, who are proud to explore their interests. The pacing adds to the spook-factor without being too dramatic and makes you want to keep reading (preferably with the lights on!).

A Review of Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

This is one of the most remarkably affecting books I have ever read. When a baby is born, he or she doesn’t know s/he is deaf, autistic, or any different from anyone else; it is positively heartbreaking to read about this one’s introduction to a world that was almost unfailingly cruel.

Born in in 1899 in rural Idaho, James Castle was deaf, unable to speak, and autistic. Through straightforward narration, his nephew attempts to show the world through baby James’ eyes: “James opened his eyes to the world and saw things that moved and things that were still. Anything that moved seemed to scare him. He cried as his parents bobbed around him with darting eyes and flapping mouths. But James couldn’t hear himself shrieking. For him the world would always be silent.” It is truly the stuff of nightmares, interpreted hauntingly by Say’s mixed-media art, some in smudgy grayscale and some in color. Images of young James engaged by various scraps of paper, charcoal, and other “found” art materials are almost peaceful; they are juxtaposed by harrowing scenes of him holding his arms around his ears while other children scream taunts at him.

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Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2017)

James’ own parents were no doubt as terrified and perplexed by their son as he was by the world; unfortunately, they were ill-equipped, or unable or unwilling, to figure out how best to rear him. At first, they gave him old paper or other throwaway items, since those things seemed to keep him entertained or at least occupied. They sent him to a school where he appears to have found some level of engagement: looking books and printed materials in the library, although he could not read; watching teachers sew books together; and doing “well in shoe repair class.” But the school considered him a failure because he could not learn to speak. There is no judgement made explicit in the text on the principal who advised James’ parents “…not to give James and drawing materials at home. He said James should learn to read and write and not waste time on drawings.” Readers will come to their own conclusions about the humanity, or lack thereof, in this approach.

As an adult, James became extremely isolated, essentially living in a barn where he had his “studio” and a mattress on the floor. Continually tormented by kids stealing his artwork, and called names such as “Dummy” and “Crazy Jimmy,” he nonetheless persisted in doing the only thing that seemed to give him any pleasure: using whatever he could find (soot with spit, charred sticks, and the like) to create art. Say’s portrayal of the type of illustrations James was creating at this time show eerie pictures of people with boxes or blank circles where faces should be, as well as quotidian images of small wooden houses and little puppets of dolls, farm animals and birds. We’ll never really know, but it’s possible James was expressing his wishes, desires, and silent dreams for home and companionship in the only way he knew how.

There is some redemption to James’ story with an art show organized by his nephew’s teacher in art school, and an eventual trailer in which he could live that was a big step up from the shacks he’d inhabited for most of his life. Nowadays, “found” or “naïve” art is a recognized genre, and James Castle is a respected contributor to it. Say’s closing portrait shows James as an adult, standing in front of his “Dream House,” with what might be a hint of a smile. The text reads “I think he was happy.”

An author’s note, bibliography, and photos of some of the found materials Say used to create the art round out this haunting picture book biography for older readers.

Celebrate International Day of Peace With New Picture Books

The Butler Center is excited to share two new picture books to celebrate International Day of Peace today. Both feature song lyrics accompanied by vibrant illustrations, and both invite readers to spread their messages of world peace.

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Imagine by John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books 2017

Using John Lennon’s iconic song as the text, Imagine follows the journey of one pigeon as she shares tolerance and peace with her fellow birds. Jean Jullien’s illustrations highlight the pigeon’s travels from land to sea with bright colors and an emphasis on diversity and equality. We see her share olive branches, hoping others will join her “and the world will live as one.”

With a foreword from Yoko Ono Lennon and published in partnership with Amnesty International, Imagine makes a beautiful statement in support of peace and human rights.

 

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Salam Alaikum by Harris J, illustrated by Ward Jenkins, Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads, 2017

Harris J is a relative newcomer to the music world, but he also has a message of peace to share. His debut single, “Salam Alaikum,” is featured in this eponymous picture book, along with colorful illustrations from Ward Jenkins. Salam Alaikum, or Assalamu Alaikum, means “Peace be upon you” and is used by Muslims worldwide as a greeting. In Salam Alaikum, this message plays out in a chain of “pay it forward” actions. Readers with an eye for detail will enjoy tracing one act of kindness to the next as each character does their part to spread “peace on the Earth every day.”

 

Fall 2017 Mock Award Series

Youth media awards give us a unique opportunity to hone our evaluation skills, from literary quality to art appreciation, to figuring out what “outstanding” and “excellence of presentation for an intended child audience” mean. For this fall’s Butler Book Banters, we are kicking off a series of “mock” award programs, in which we’ll apply the real award criteria to books that are really eligible this year, then compare our results when the real ones are announced at ALA’s Youth Media Awards Press Conference during the Midwinter Meeting in January 2018: A Mock Pura Belpré Award on 11/9/17 and a Mock Coretta Scott King Book Award on 12/7/17. Books will be out at 5 p.m., we’ll have discussion from 6:00-8:00, and we’ll vote from 8:00-9:00. Pizza and drinks will be provided and participants may feel free to bring refreshments too!

MOCK PURA BELPRE AWARD: Thurs. 11/9/17, 5:00-9:00 p.m.

The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA: the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

MOCK CORETTA SCOTT KING BOOK AWARD: Thurs. 12/7/17, 5:00-9:00 p.m.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.  First awarded in 1969, they are administered by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table of the American Library Association.

A Review of Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

by Hal Patnott

In her acceptance speech for her 2017 Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore said, “The time we need fairy tales the most is when we think there is no place in them for us.” Her work continually offers readers searching for representation a path to find themselves in “once upon a time.” Continuing with our theme of selecting titles that demonstrate ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), Wild Beauty stands out for inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and leadership and responsiveness. This upcoming release deserves starred reviews. Our copy of Wild Beauty is an advanced review.

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends (2017)

La Pradera blooms with the magic of the Nomeolvides women. They bless the land with their flowers, but in return they are cursed. Their lovers vanish and they can never leave their garden. If they try to run, the vengeful earth knows and poisons them until they return or die choking on pollen and blood. One hundred years ago, before the Briar family let the Nomeolvides women live at La Pradera, they were “las hijas del aire,” forced to flee from place to place and hide their magic. Like the generations of women before them, Estrella and her cousins feel the weight of the curse and their family’s sorrow. They hold their hearts close and protect each other from breaking. When the arrival of a new Briar threatens their home and a mysterious boy with no memories appears in the garden, Estrella and her cousins unite to save the people they love.

Anna-Marie McLemore contributes yet another original fairy tale for young adult readers packed with themes of identity, family, love, and home. She spins the narrative in the alternating perspectives of Estrella Nomeolvides and Fel, a boy who has forgotten his past. They learn to open their hearts to one another while discovering themselves. Place holds special significance in Wild Beauty. Through La Pradera’s curse, McLemore explores how the history of a land impacts the community who lives there and how oppression poisons the soil.  The resolution blossoms with healing and hope. Once again McLemore demonstrates her power to enchant with lyrical prose. Although McLemore’s past work already shines with excellence, this upcoming release is her richest and most thought-provoking book yet.

A Review of All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

by Hal Patnott

This week’s featured title is a highly anticipated September release by Victoria Jamieson, creator of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. In keeping with our theme of selecting titles that uphold ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), All’s Faire in Middle School demonstrates excellence. Stop by the Butler Center to check out our advanced reading copy of All’s Faire in Middle School.

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Penguin Random House/Dial (2017)

Every year, Imogene and her family work at the Florida Renaissance Faire. Her dad plays a villainous knight and her mom runs a shop selling flower crowns. For the first time ever, Imogene has a quest of her own—middle school. As much as she loves her geeky Ren Faire family, she isn’t sure what her new friend group will think. Between mean science teachers and learning the rules of popularity, the year ahead turns out to be a more fearsome challenge than Imogene expected.

Victoria Jamieson returns with another full-color graphic novel about navigating school, friendship, and identity. Not unlike Astrid from Roller Girl, Imogene shows determination throughout the story, even when she must confront her own mistakes. Although Imogene dreams of becoming a knight, she learns to recognize the dragon and the princess inside her heart too. All’s Faire in Middle School fully embraces the Ren Faire aesthetic. Each chapter begins with a page designed like an illuminated manuscript with dragons and jousters in the border art. This upcoming graphic novel is the perfect back-to-school read for tweens.

Groovy Joe Returns

by Hal Patnott

One of my favorite story time dogs is back with a second book. This week, I am excited to share Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown. In keeping with our theme of selecting titles that uphold ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), this week’s featured title represents collaboration and excellence. Stop by the Butler Center to check out our advanced review copy of this September 2017 release.

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Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown by Eric Litwin, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, Scholastic (2017)

Groovy Joe, the ice-cream-loving dog, returns with all new moves—bow wow. He’s dancing and singing at his own disco party when all of a sudden he hears a knock at the door. More dogs show up to join his fun. Although Joe has less room to dance each time, he never gets upset. “Goodness no!” He is happy to share his rocking fun with all his friends. At the end Joe invites the reader to join in on the action.

Fans of Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs will recognize Joe’s upbeat and welcoming personality. Readers who enjoy Pete the Cat’s go-with-the-flow response to new challenges will discover the same laid-back attitude in this title.The purple and disco patterned backgrounds set the mood for Joe’s party. Rhyming and repetition make Dance Party Countdown an excellent read-aloud for story times. Litwin introduces simple addition skills every time more guests arrive to dance. An invitation at the end of the book presents an opportunity for readers to join the fun with a dance party of their own. Like the last Groovy Joe title, readers can download the “Disco Party Bow Wow” song from Scholastic’s website. Overall, Dance Party Countdown provides a fun story with a positive message about sharing and inclusiveness.