March B3: We Can All Be Brave

Whether it is standing up to spooky monsters in the dark, tackling a big goal or facing real-life fears, we all need to be brave sometimes. Often all it takes to remind us of this is a friend to be brave by our side.

Join us in the Butler Center on March 28, 2018, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. to discuss the following books about bravery in all its forms.

Picture Books:

Nothing Can Frighten a Bear by Elizabeth Dale, illus. by Paula Metcalf (Nosy Crow, 2018)

Nothing Can Frighten a bear

Voices from the Underground Railroad by Kay Winters, illus. by Larry Day (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018)

voices from the underground railroad

Children’s Non-Fiction:

Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias (Scholastic Press, 2018)

marley dias

Teen Fiction:

All We Can Do is Wait by Richard Lawson (Razorbill/Penguin Random House, 2018)

all we can do is wait

PCP Three of Diamonds: Separate is Never Equal

separate is never equalSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

by Duncan Tonatiuh

Abrams, 2014

In 1943, Sylvia Mendez, her two brothers, and three cousins all go to the local 17th Street Elementary School to register. Sylvia’s light-skinned cousins are accepted, and she and her brothers are told they’ll need to enroll at the inferior Mexican school, father from their home. Sylvia’s parents aren’t having it, and push back, filing file suit, undertaking multiple appeals, and ultimately prevailing. Tonatiuh’s account details the family’s many struggles, from the complexities of the legal process to the personal attacks Sylvia experiences. After rigorous research, and interviews with Sylvia herself, Tonatiuh delivers a story that is both compelling and inspiring. And his archetypal artwork, with its Pre-Columbian influences, connects the contemporary fight with its formidable ancestry. The strong lines, simplified postures, and fixed profiles convey the family’s resolute determination; theirs is a victory that comes from strength, and a strength that comes from family.

Mal Peet

life: an exploded diagramI met Mal Peet when his gorgeous, expansive novel Life: An Exploded Diagram won a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor the year I served on the jury. I sat beside him at dinner after the Awards ceremony, and reveled in his gruff, take-no-prisoners affability. He somehow managed to be warm and exacting, all at once. It’s that quality that I love so much about his work. His observations are searing and precise, yet grounded in an unmistakable affection.

And boy, howdy, could he spin a sentence.

He got a late start in the author business–his first novel was published when he was 56–but he leaves behind a wonderful body of work defined by its ambition and uniform quality.

Mal Peet died Monday at the age of 67. I’m going to revisit some of his writing today. You should, too.

PCP Three of Clubs: When I Was the Greatest

when i was the greatestWhen I Was the Greatest

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum, 2014

This funny, gritty, tender story follows three young men growing up in Bed-Stuy, navigating the pressures and tensions that would pull them up or drag them under as they make their way to manhood. There’s Ali, bright, respectful and curious; Noodles, tight, irascible, and full of bravado; and his brother Needles, sweet, fragile, and genius. Needles struggles with Tourette’s, a syndrome his neighborhood doesn’t really understand, and finds solace in knitting (Ali’s mother’s very good idea), something else not everybody gets. Ali and Noodles have his back, until one night, at a house party, all hell breaks loose, and everything breaks apart.

There is so much to love here. The crisp writing crackles with wit and rings with authenticity. The exploration of maleness, and the ways in which young men are called to define themselves, is bare and nuanced. Every single character lives and breathes in three dimensions. But for our playing card purposes, it is these boys’ inextricable relationship that beats at this marvelous novel’s heart. Theirs is a special bond, and no matter what comes at them, they belong to one another.

For those looking for an especially immersive and gratifying experience, I recommend Random House Audio’s extraordinary audiobook recording, narrated by J.B. Adkins.

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!


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:

For more information, please contact me at

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