A Review of The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

by Hal Patnott

Over the last two weeks, we have looked at titles that stand out for their representation of ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness). This week’s selection, The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan, demonstrates three of these values—collaboration, excellence, and innovation.

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2016)

A man promises his daughter to the devil. Two children stumble across the house of a witch in the woods. Jealous and spiteful, a queen casts a spell on her step-sons and turns them into swans. Unable to resist his nature, a cat betrays and devours his mouse friend.  Shaun Tan presents a new contribution to the vast treasury of retellings and works inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales. Seventy-five photographed sculptures accompany excerpts from each of the selected tales. Crafted from papier-mâché, air drying clay, and paint, the texture and the shadows in every piece bring to life a haunting atmosphere. In the forward, Neil Gaiman writes, “They feel primal, as if they were made in a long-ago age of the world, when the stories were first being shaped, and that perhaps the sculptures came first.” Along with the plates for seventy-five tales, The Singing Bones includes a forward, a historical introduction by Jack Zipes, an afterward with more details about the art from Shaun Tan, an annotated index, and suggested further reading. This collection is worth exploring for long-time lovers of fairy tales and newcomers alike.

A Review of Same But Different by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete and RJ Peete

By Alena Rivers

The Butler Center continues to feature books from our collections that highlight one or more of the core values of children’s librarianship (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness). This week’s book, Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express embodies “inclusiveness”, “collaboration” and “responsiveness”.

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Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete and RJ Peete (Scholastic, 2016)

Callie and Charlie are the fictional representations of real-life teenage twins, Ryan and RJ Peete. They share their story, which resembles those of many other teenagers on the autism spectrum and their families, to let readers into the intimate thoughts of Charlie, who is autistic and his twin sister, Callie, who is not. Each chapter is told in the alternating voice of each twin as they explore the range of challenges and triumphs typical of young adults but complicated by the life-altering effects of autism.

The story begins with their reflection on how they feel about their first day of school where the twins are separated for the first time as Callie enters 10th grade and Charlie repeats 9th grade. Their separation is met with both a sense of freedom from their constant partnership and trepidation as they experience school without their twin. Callie, who has been a perpetual supporter and advocate for her brother worries that, without her help, Charlie will be too vulnerable and taken advantage of by less sensitive classmates. Charlie is anxious about starting a new routine and being placed in a special education class which comes with its own negative stigma. The Peetes take turns lending their perspective to what it is like to attend school, date, eat meals and vacation together. Both of their voices provide insight into their actions and reveal the rationale behind them, giving readers two sides of the story to consider.

Members of the Peete family have taken on a follow up to their picture book, My Brother Charlie (Scholastic, 2010), told from Callie’s perspective about her 10-year old brother Charlie’s autism. Same But Different is an honest and courageous exploration of the thoughts and feelings shared by their now teenage counterparts. Their story is straightforward and engaging. Their experiences can be appreciated by readers with and without autism. A substantive resource guide on autism and transitioning through adolescence with autism is included with links to websites, guides, fact sheets, education and training opportunities, and videos.

A Review of NewsPrints by Ru Xu

by Hal Patnott

In keeping with our reaffirmation of the core values of children’s librarianship (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership, and responsiveness), we are intentionally highlighting books for children and teens that exemplify one or more of these. Many of the titles will of course be appropriate for more than one core value. We feel today’s entry, NewsPrints, exemplifies “collaboration,” “inclusiveness,” and “leadership.”

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NewsPrints by Ru Xu (Scholastic/Graphix 2017)

Ten years of war with Grimmaea orphaned the children of Nautilene. Instead of attending school, the girls sell cookies and the boys sell newspapers to fund their food and shelter. Blue, one such orphan, finds a new home as one of the Bugle Boys, selling papers on the street. She loves her family of fellow orphans and respects the Bugle’s dedication to print the truth. The only problem is that Blue isn’t a boy. If anyone finds out her secret, she could lose everything. When Blue meets Crow, a boy who has also been cast aside and denied the opportunity to be himself, she decides to stand up for herself and for her new friend to give others the courage to stop hiding who they are.

NewsPrints, a debut graphic novel by Ru Xu, begins in the midst of action and never slows down as mysteries unravel around Blue. The full-color art and dynamic layouts bring Blue’s world to life. Although the story is set in a made up country with elements of science fiction, Blue’s struggles to be herself, protect her friend, and fight for truth are real. The adults in Blue’s life are complex—while some have good intentions, they don’t’ always do the right thing. Ru Xu crafts a narrative with a strong theme of the need tolerance and inclusiveness without providing overly simplified solutions for how to achieve this. Her characters have to take risks with life-altering consequences, but even when they do, they don’t necessarily save the day. The resolution suggests there is more to look forward to of Blue’s adventure.

Stop by the Butler Center to check out our advanced reader’s copy of NewsPrints.

At the Core of Librarianship

by Diane Foote, Hal Patnott, and Alena Rivers

Collaboration. Excellence. Inclusiveness. Innovation. Integrity and respect. Leadership. Responsiveness.

These are the core values of children’s librarianship, as articulated by our professional association, ALSC. These values offer all of us a framework for our philosophy, goals, and actions; particularly today, but really, every day. The children we serve deserve all of our efforts to collaborate with them, their families, and our communities; they deserve the very best in books and media. All children deserve to be included in the radical promise of universal access to information and education. Young people deserve our best new ideas. All children deserve to be treated with integrity and respect. Young people deserve our leadership in modeling and fostering all of these values, and young people need us to respond to their needs, and the needs of a changing society.

We can do all these things. It is easier and more effective to do all of these things if we do them together (collaboration). Here in the Butler Center, we feel we do these things naturally, organically, and in the course of our daily work. However, sometimes it becomes important to be more intentional and disciplined about beliefs we may take for granted, or assume are universally shared. Today and going forward (leadership), we are going to intentionally focus on these values through the lens of children’s literature. We encourage all of you to talk about these values with the children you serve, and we will make recommendations for books to use as discussion anchors. The beauty of children’s books is that the best of them are compellingly written and effectively illustrated (excellence); we’ll showcase ones here that exemplify these values without didacticism, with appeal to kids.

Our commitment to young people doesn’t stop as they grow up. The mission of young adult librarianship, as articulated by YALSA, keeps us focused: “Our mission is to support library staff in alleviating the challenges teens face, and in putting all teens ‒ especially those with the greatest needs ‒ on the path to successful and fulfilling lives.”

Stay tuned in this space, and join us in moving forward with inclusiveness, integrity and respect. Young people deserve nothing less.

Tell Me a Bedtime Story

By Alena Rivers

This week we spotlight two picture books in the Butler Center sure to help slow down busy nights and provide a comforting bedtime story. Both books feature animals and a familiar bedtime experience where children can watch a young bear cub deny sleepiness or speculate about what animals dream.

Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton (Candlewick, 2016)

Nighttime approaches in the forest. All of the forest animals are ready for sleep with their eyes drooping or completely closed; all except for a small bear cub whose eyes are wide awake. Little Bear wanders the forest home looking for a playmate asking the sleepy mice, hares and deer if they will play. They each yawn and reply they are too sleepy to play. As the story progresses, Little Bear grows more and more sleepy. Little eyes begin to droop until Great Big Bear carries Little Bear off with a kiss and a snuggle where sleeps finally catches up with the small bear cub.

Characteristic of Haughton’s earlier books, Little Owl Lost and Oh No, George!, one color palette is emphasized in the digitally created images which are saturated in shades of blue, pink and purple. Oranges and greens punctuate some of the images depicting an approaching evening glow as the sun begins to set. The text repeats throughout the book creating a predictable and gentle tone. Preschoolers will enjoy following Little Bear’s quest to find a playmate and will notice how Little Bear’s eyes gradually move from wide open to completely closed, signifying the final surrender to slumber.

When the World Is Dreaming by Rita Gray, illus. by Kenard Pak (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

What do little woodland creatures like snakes, newts, deer and mice dream? Young readers are asked this question for each woodland animal featured in the story. Amusing images of each animal’s dream follow, from a snake that becomes a flying kite tail to a bunny flying over a tree with wings of cabbage. The final Little Dreamer is a young child in bed dreaming of all the woodland creatures visiting her bedroom while she sleeps and they approach the gifts from nature that she has collected for each them.

Recalling a similar style as Pak’s recent Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, the images are done in a combination of digital media and watercolor. The color palette features soft pastels and alternates between spreads with plenty of white space and spreads filled with watercolor images. Rhyming text is repeated throughout the story to allow young readers to anticipate upcoming lines. Preschoolers will delight in the gentle rhymes and the whimsical dreams of each woodland creature.

Twists on Myth

By Hal Patnott and Alena Rivers

This week we decided to take a look at two books that share a tie-in with Greek Mythology. Check out our advanced reading copies of Bull by David Elliott and The Icarus Show by Sally Christie at the Butler Center.

Bull by David Elliott (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)

Most stories remember Asterion the Minotaur as a monster, the terror of the labyrinth. They never tell us that he was a boy, half-human and half-bull, rejected by his family, unable to fit in anywhere. Bull, in verse, reimagines the famous Greek myth of the minotaur as a tragedy about a lonely boy struggling with his identity. While the structure of the myth remains in tact, Elliott fleshes out Asterion’s youth and explores his relationship with his half-sister Ariadne. In the backmatter Elliott explains how he altered the myth and the choices he made for poetic form. Poseidon, Minos, Pasiphae, Asterion, Daedalus, and Ariadne share control of the narrative. Each character speaks with their own poetic style. Playful use of modern slang and swearing bring the story into the present and defy the notion that myth should be highfalutin. As Poseidon says, “You think a god should be more refined…[Never bawdy, raunchy, racy, rude]? News Flash: You don’t want a god. You want a prude.” Elliott’s retelling of the myth of the minotaur is part tragedy, part dark comedy, and entirely engaging.

The Icarus Show by Sally Christie (Scholastic, 2017)

Do you believe a boy can fly? Students in Alex Meadow’s Year 7 class at Lambourn Secondary School are suspicious but no less curious when they start receiving mysterious messages in their school bags leading to an invitation to see the Icarus show. While the other students speculate about who is behind the messages, Alex discovers that the showman orchestrating all of this is closer than he would have imagined. Despite the distraction of the upcoming show, Alex must continually work hard to steer clear of the taunting and bullying doled out by Alan Tydman and his “Battalion” of boys who lord over his classmates. Alex has developed rules to help him survive his secondary school years; stay in control, “Don’t React”, “Trust No One.”

Over the course of the weeks leading up to the Icarus show, Alex cautiously befriends a classmate, David “Bogsy” Marsh who, since the start of secondary school, has been a target of Alan Tydman and his Battalion. Together Alex and Bogsy share a secret that eventually allows them to trust one another.

Christie identifies how trust and patience are required to overcome loneliness and how courage is required to confront that which makes us feel different. Issues of bullying and suicide are handled in a subtle manner that allows youth to reflect on these issues while challenging them to explore the big and small ways they can have a positive impact on others.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

by Hal Patnott

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (Penguin Random/Dutton, 2017)

The day after her grandfather disappears into the ocean forever, Marin boards a plane from San Francisco to New York determined to disappear too, even if it means leaving behind the people who care about her. At her college in the city, far away from her old life, she can become someone new, pretend her phone is secondhand and that the girl named Mabel sending her messages is a complete stranger. However, some relationships mean too much to end. As Marin’s grandfather once tells her, “[Sometimes] two people have a deep connection. It makes romance seem trivial. It isn’t about anything carnal. It’s about souls. About the deepest part of who you are as a person.” Neither Marin or Mabel can forget about their bond. After months of silence from Marin, Mabel still refuses to give up on her best friend, the girl she fell in love with during the summer of their senior year. She’s willing to fly three thousand miles to learn the truth and convince Marin to come home to the people who want to support her.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a haunting coming-of-age story about love and moving on after betrayal. The novel is written in first-person from Marin’s perspective. Chapters alternate between the present and flashbacks to her senior year of high school. LaCour’s lyrical prose and her sparing use of dialogue beautifully convey Marin’s loneliness and longing. Despite the heavy sorrow that fills the pages,the book ends on a note of hope. Grab a box of tissues. We Are Okay is a must-read of 2017.

Check out our advanced reading copy of We Are Okay at the Butler Center!