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.

PCP Ace of Diamonds: Roller Derby Rivals

roller derby rivalsRoller Derby Rivals

by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins

Holiday House, 2014

I love a book that looks at yesterday and makes me think hard about today. This is one of those books, a rowdy, rock-em-sock-em snapshot of a bygone rivalry that positively hums with contemporary resonance. Macy and Collins set their sights on the roller derby, in its day a hugely popular sport built of speed and spectacle, profiling two incandescent women and their fierce, secretly friendly competition. Gerry Murray is beauty, Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn is brawn, and their fabricated opposition reflected the shifting cultural conventions of post WWII America. Their battle unfolded on television, indeed roller derby itself gets some credit for helping to cement the medium’s popularity, and the orchestration of the conflict makes for an eerie predictor of what we now call reality television. Unlike so much of that contemporary entertainment, however, this was a valiant fight between worthy opponents (despite contrivances to the contrary) and the book follows suit, offering up an account built on respect and honor. Diamonds are our cards of strength, and there is so much of it expressed here, from the physical strength necessary to perform feats of derring-do (while whizzing around a track) to the more spiritual fortitude required to bypass cultural expectation and chart a different course. These were some strong women, and strength like that is just as admirable, and just as crucial, today as it ever was.

Boom.

To learn more about the Playing Card Project (PCP), visit our first entry, here.

Playing Card Project (PCP) Ace of Clubs

Welcome to the first post in the Playing Card Project, a year-long series for 2015 through which we’ll build a deck of playing cards, one Tuesday at a time. We’ve established four suit-based themes and will investigate each theme in terms of how it is expressed in 13 different books for children and teens. 52 weeks, 52 cards, 52 books. Get it?

Our suit themes are as follows:

♣ Clubs – stories of belonging

♦ Diamonds – stories of strength

♥ Hearts – stories of affection

♠ Spades – stories of growth

And, yes, we will produce a physical deck of cards at year’s end, to be distributed widely, and free of charge, to anyone who is a friend of the Butler Center (so now would be a good time to start following this blog, btw).

I think things will make sense as we go, so let’s get to it!

For our first entry, the Ace of Clubs, I present

cradle meCradle Me

by Debby Slier

Starbright Books, 2012

This book is so full of charms it is hard to know where to begin, so I’ll begin with the babies. Each board page features a different baby ensconced on a cradle board, with a single word describing the baby’s disposition (peeking, crying, yawning, etc.). Individual babies represent different Native American tribes, with a color-coded key in the back (the background color on the baby page matches a decorative frame on the key page) to identify each nation. We know how much babies like looking at other babies (they LOVE it) and a board book built around that fascination is well-conceived. Add to that the exquisite photography, the easily manipulable trim-size, and the especially appropriate dispositional content, and this makes for a winning baby book.

We consider it here, though, not for its infantile excellence but because of its powerful message of belonging. On the surface, we see each individual baby, with specific dress and cradle board construction, as belonging to his or her nation. But in their universally recognizable circumstances and expressions we see that the babies belong to one another, too. And they belong to us, and we to them. Indeed, this is a book that proclaims our universal belonging, in the simple juxtaposition of eleven beautiful babies whose distinct identities serve, mostly, to demonstrate their community, and invite us right in.

One down, 51 to go. See you next Tuesday.