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.

PCP Ace of Hearts: When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

when the beat was bornWhen the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

Roaring Brook, 2013

“Clive loved music.” So begins this spirited, affirmative biography of the inventor of Hip Hop, and right from the start we are primed for an exposition of how that love would manifest itself, on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, and around the world. The story offers a straightforward, linear account of DJ Kool Herc’s childhood in Jamaica, move to NYC, and self-propelled rise to prominence as DJ and legend, noting such innovations as inviting rapper friends to “MC” his parties, using dual turntables to extend the “break” between songs, and encouraging break dancing, calling out the b-boys and doing play-by-play of their acrobatic moves. The color quality of the illustrations is decidedly dark, with a predominance of murky grays,greens and browns, and strong, definitive shadows. Yet the book itself is remarkably positive and bright. On court, in line, and around the park, smiles abound. Indeed, everything we learn about DJ Kool Herc, from his devotion to his little sister and party partner, to the way his friendships played such a central role in his music, gives us a picture of an artist excited to share his world, replacing fighting with dancing, and loneliness with community. Ultimately, this is an affectionate portrait of an affectionate man, someone who loves his music and loves his people, all at once.