Banned Books Week at Butler

By Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

As graduate assistants in the Butler Children’s Literature Center and current students of the Master of Library and Information Science program at Dominican University, we are continuously exposed to new and classic children’s and young adult literature. We are challenged to read with our eyes wide open to the impact that a story can have on its young readers who, intuitively, look for books that relate to their own interests and experiences and shed light on their developing personalities. As librarians-in-training, we are learning how important it is to share books that encourage our readers to think beyond their experiences in order to build a bigger picture of the world around them.  Books with diverse characters benefit more than the populations they represent.

This week, we will be participating in a Mock Book Challenge as part of our LIS 777 : Issues of Access, Advocacy, and Policy course. The subject of our book challenge is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This exercise is serving as excellent preparation for what may be an inevitable experience for us during our library careers. Within this course and others, we have discussed intellectual freedom, the ALA’s position on censorship, and how censorship differs from selection. We have discussed how librarians can use their library’s collection development policy to support their stand on book challenges, and how crucial it is to have a clear and comprehensive policy to follow. Our discussions have been insightful but they have also generated questions that go beyond what happens when a book is challenged or banned.

Over the course of our first year in the GSLIS program, we have witnessed the critical reviews of several children’s and young adult books including A Birthday Cake for George Washington, A Fine Dessert, and more recently When We Was Fierce, There Is a Tribe of Kids and Ghost. In these cases, books have been pulled before publication, published but not recommended by reviewers, or recommended by mainstream review sources but not by others in the children’s/young adult literature community. How does censorship play a role in these early stages of a book’s introduction to its readers? How is communication about a book’s content impacted by censorship, which, in effect, tries to silence communication?

Nearly every one of these books has arrived in the Butler Center and their presence has generated discussion about the process that comes well before a book is challenged or banned in our school and public libraries. We see books before they are published and there is a whole conversation that happens before the books end up in, or get weeded from, a library based on outdated content. We wonder about the occasions, though, when a contemporary book, as opposed to one published in a long-ago, less-enlightened era, misrepresents an oppressed group of people. Books like those mentioned above are new and coming under fire, rightfully so, because of misrepresentations of characters and their experiences.

In our quest to delve deeper into these topics and to write our own reviews with a critical and informed eye on the content of the books we have found that more and more, what others in children’s and young adult literature already know; there is a great absence in the number of authors/illustrators, publishers and reviewers from diverse backgrounds who can create and evaluate stories dominated by diverse characters. The incident at VOYA this last week is a prime example of the thoughtless and hurtful errors that can occur because of a lack of diversity and understanding.

Another issue arises when we put authors on a pedestal because of their previous acclaim. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier received starred reviews in Booklist, SLJ, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. Her work was praised in these reviews for its diversity, but as Debbie Reese pointed out in her review, the diversity was superficial. We expect better of authors like Telgemeier, but ultimately they aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. As Diane Foote commented last year on the Coretta Scott King Book Award electronic discussion list, “We expect a crappy book to be, well, crappy, and if its crappiness is also evident in poor cultural competency, well, that’s just to be expected, and we dismiss such a book. But in an otherwise high-quality production, the failure of even the most basic historical accuracy or cultural competency insults all of our high expectations, and insults young readers most of all.” If we stop reading with a critical eye because the author is someone whose past work we love, then we will miss opportunities for much needed conversations. Those conversations are an important part of intellectual freedom.

What conversations are you having this Banned Books Week?

Butler Book Banter 10/26/16

It’s nearly October again, and it’s time to announce our discussion titles for our upcoming Butler Book Banter on Wednesday, 10/26/16 “Spooky YA (and Tween).” We listened to you and added some tween titles to the YA roster this time! Be prepared to be scared:

The Inn Between
The Inn Between
by Marina Cohen (Roaring Brook, 2016)


The Killing Jar
by Jennifer Bosworth (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016)



The Last Bogler
by Catherine Jinks (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)


Teen Frankenstein
by Chandler Baker (Feiwel and Friends, 2016)

Bonus reading!
We’re starting to prepare for Holly Black’s 2017 Butler Lecture, and her oeuvre fits nicely with B3 this month. Revisit Newbery Honor Doll Bones (Simon & Schuster, 2013) or teen faves The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little, Brown, 2013) and The Darkest Part of the Forest (Little, Brown, 2015).

Whether you’ve read all, some, or none, join us for a spooky time on October 26. Books and snacks will be out at 5:30 and we’ll discuss from 6-7. Boo!


Picture Books Featuring the Caring Nature of Children

By Alena Rivers

Acts of kindness can be simple gestures or complex, thoughtful ones. Either way, the effects on the recipients can be heartwarming. Stories that express the multiple ways that children show their concern for others help young readers explore how they can positively interact with individuals and the world around them.

The stories featured today each demonstrate the ways children share their compassionate sides. The books present a quiet simplicity in style but they reveal a clear message; our kind gestures have a strong impact on those with whom we come in contact.

The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Guridi (Kids Can, 2016)

A young boy falls in love with his classmate, Sylvia, on their first day of school. He discovers that Sylvia is in love with birds but she does not seem to notice him. In order to win her attention, the young boy builds a bird costume to wear to school. Becoming a bird is not easy. Not only must he endure the stares and giggles from his classmates, but navigating the bathroom and the soccer field in a large bird costume has its challenges. Still the boy’s determination to connect with Sylvia makes him indifferent to these obstacles. Wearing a bird costume during school for several days may seem like a grand gesture for the attention of another, but the protagonist’s efforts pay off in a satisfying and sweet ending.

Originally published in Spain, this book gently portrays the story of a young child’s admiration for his classmate. Illustrator Guridi  uses pencil drawings and photoshop to create both realistic images and the costumed version of the birds that are central to this story. The Day I Became a Bird is an inspiring story that demonstrates how taking risks to show you care can be worth the effort.

Look Up! By Jung Jin-Ho (Holiday, 2016)

Look Up! takes on the perspective of a young child in a wheelchair peering over a balcony above a busy neighborhood street. Like the child, the reader can only see the tops of people’s heads as they walk along the street without noticing the child above, who only wants them to “Look Up!”. Finally, a young boy looks up and notices the child on the balcony. He lays on the ground so the child can see him. This act starts a chain of pedestrians who stop to see what he is doing and, in turn, lie down so they, too, can look up.

Jung Jin-Ho’s black-and-white sketches give readers a unique perspective beyond the bustle of daily life to remind us that through our busiest moments, we can stop to see someone who may otherwise be overlooked.

Lucy by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2016)

As though in a theater production, Lucy is told in four acts. Each act starts the same as the previous one but builds on the story of a tenacious stray dog who visits the front door of an apartment building.  It is here that he is greeted each morning by a young girl who dangles her leftover food by a string from her bedroom window to provide breakfast to the little stray. The young girl lives with her father who is a store stock-person by day and an aspiring vaudeville performer with stage fright by night. The story comes full circle when we learn how the small dog became a stray and how she finds a place to call home.

Randy Cecil’s black-and-white oil textured illustrations strongly support the text that, in turn, nicely frames and punctuates the images. As if through a telescope, the reader gets a glimpse of the small dog’s day through images rendered in a circular frame in the center of each page. Lucy is a charming story that young children will enjoy watching unfold.

The Big Read Bibliography

The Butler Children’s Literature Center has partnered with Dominican’s Crown Library, the Oak Park Public Library and several other local libraries for the Big Read program to create a bibliography of books for elementary and middle school readers inspired by this year’s Big Read, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. The bibliography contains fiction books published between 2014-2016 that explores the multiple aspects of the immigrant experience. You can find The Big Read Bibliography on the Butler’s Pantry blog under Bibliographies.

B3 Butler Book Banter

Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 6-7 p.m.

Exploring Farms and Food

From classic picture books such as Lois Ehlert’s Eating the Alphabet (Harcourt, 1989) and Growing Vegetable Soup (Harcourt, 1987) and Elisha Cooper’s Farm (Orchard, 2010) to more contemporary middle-grade fiction such as Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (Knopf, 2009) and informational books including the young readers’ edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Dial, 2015), food and where it comes from has been a perennial topic in children’s lit.

Fall season is harvest time, and for our first B3 of the year we’ll focus on food, farms, and farmers’ markets. There is a full crop of newly-published foodie books this year, and we’ll focus on these:

Board books: Edible Colors and Edible Numbers, both by Jennifer Vogel Bass (Roaring Brook, 2016)
Picture books: Grow! Raise! Catch! How We Get Our Food by Shelly Rotner (Holiday House, 2016); On the Farm, at the Market by G. Brian Karas (Holt, 2016); and Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle, illus. by Becca Stadtlander (Chronicle, 2016)
Informational: The Story of Seeds by Nancy F. Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Whether you’ve read all, some, or none, please join us in the Butler Center to talk about kids books about food, and enjoy some farmers’ market treats. We’ll have the food and, um, books out at 5:30 for perusal and partaking.

A Review of It Looks Like This

By Hal Patnott

It Looks Like This

Stop by the Butler Center to take a look at our copy of It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt.

It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt (Candlewick 2016)

When the sun rose at Mill Point Beach, they listened to the waves “surrounded by an eruption of colors.” That sunrise is what Mike wants to remember when he lets himself think about Sean, not all the bad things that came after. The summer before Mike’s freshman year of high school, his family moves from Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin to Somerdale, Virginia, a small, oceanside town with mild winters. Unlike his little sister Toby, Mike doesn’t mind the move or the megachurch their father insists they attend. Although one of his classmates, Victor, accuses him of staring and bullies him for no reason, Mike doesn’t completely hate his new school. He loves French class–that’s where he meets Sean. When Mike and Sean decide to partner for a class project, they start to explore their feelings for one another. Their attraction is a huge secret that Mike must hide from his conservative parents and Victor, who will jump at any chance to make his life hell.

It Looks Like This is a far-from-uplifting coming-of-age story. No one knows about Mike’s doomed relationship with Sean until Victor films them kissing on the beach on New Year’s Eve and calls their parents. Even Mike’s friends–who eventually stand by him at the end of the book–casually throw around homophobic slurs. Sean’s father responds with violence when he learns about his son’s relationship. Mike’s parents coerce him into attending conversion therapy camp, where he learns all the “negatives” of being a “practicing homosexual,” such as “depression, drug use, and relationship instability.” His roommate tells their discussion group, “There are all these obstacles to being a homosexual already, and that’s before you consider that it goes against the obvious purpose of sex. I’m just saying that maybe the natural world is trying to tell you something.” While Mike does escape the camp, he returns home to learn that Sean got drunk and died in an all too familiar car crash. It takes Sean’s death for Mike’s parents to start trying to support him. Decades after Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982) broke the mold of books about gay and lesbian youth by offering a happy ending, It Looks Like This feels a bit like a return to the bad old days. Certainly, It Looks Like This offers a realistic portrayal of the isolation of being an LGBTQ teen in a small, conservative town, but the progress Mike makes toward self-acceptance in the resolution doesn’t fully overcome the overwhelming sense of hopelessness present throughout the novel.

Graphic Novels

By Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

This week we decided to feature a review of one new, and one upcoming graphic novel. Often we select works for our posts based on thematic similarities, but this week we wanted to explore a format we haven’t written much about in the past. Check out our thoughts on Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon and the advanced review edition of Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro.

What graphic novels are you looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon (Macmillan/First Second, 2016)

Sara Varon has published several praise-worthy graphic novels. Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories contains eight stories from her first published book in 2003 titled, Sweaterweather. Nine additional short stories were included in this expanded version. Each of the stories is accompanied by a short introduction explaining the thought-process behind the story, giving readers a sneak-peak into the progressive development of the author’s text and illustrations. The stories are simple in nature, often depicting illustrations of brief moments in the daily life of her anthropomorphic characters. These moments range from the common, such as preparing a meal for a dinner guest in the story titled “The Dinner Guest, to the more imaginative of events like those in “The Flight” where a non-flying character barters for feathers from birds so the character can experience flight. Descriptive panels on the ins and outs of beekeeping or what it’s like to ride a subway in Mexico City provide informative insights into the author’s experiences.

The color palette is a modest deep blue and stark white for most stories, while some of them include shades of pink and purple. The author includes summaries of interviews she conducted with other work-from-home artists in her attempt to discover the secrets to successful work-from-home endeavors. Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories is an illuminating, behind-the-scenes dive into an author/illustrator’s making of a comic that will appeal to both graphic novel novices and long-time fans of the format.

Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (Macmillan/First Second, 2017)

In fifteen-year-old Angela’s Velocity Suburb of New Fleet Tempopolis, life never stops accelerating. That’s “the Go Guarantee, Go” (3). At Hyper High she takes classes in Brief Lit, and during Health, her teachers hand out Rapid Jo supplements to keep students alert. Angela’s parents sleep standing up to start their morning more efficiently. No one uses adverbs or adjectives in conversation. The Guarantee Committee holds everyone to the highest standards of speed, monitoring the citizens through surveillance cameras and by implanting tracking chips in their arms. Desperate to escape the regulation of her society, Angela joins forces with a secret, underground civilization that lives slowly in defiance of the Guarantee Committee.  When she discovers their haven beneath the ground, she knows she can never return to her old life. She refuses to live in a haze ever again.

Decelerate Blue is a fast-paced, dystopian adventure.  The sharp-angular design of the characters and backgrounds brings Angela’s efficiency-obsessed world to life. Within the first five pages, Rapp and Cavallaro introduce the steep consequences of defying the Guarantee Committee, which adds to the suspense when Angela runs away from home. Although Decelerate Blue is initially engaging, the resolution arrives abruptly. Angela’s love interest, Gladys—a girl Angela meets when she moves underground—receives a tragic and brutal end when the Guarantee Committee roots out the colony. Ultimately, Decelerate Blue offers an exciting premise, but it lacks a satisfying conclusion.