A Review of Looking for Group by Rory Harrison

by Hal Patnott

This week I am excited to share Looking for Group by Rory Harrison. It’s, without a doubt, one of my favorite reads of 2017 so far. If we starred our reviews here on Butler’s Pantry, I would star this one. Continuing our theme of selecting titles that uphold ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), Looking for Group stands out for excellence, inclusiveness, and integrity and respect.

Looking for Group

Looking for Group by Rory Harrison, HarperTeen/HarperCollins (2017)

Dylan might not be dying anymore, but he isn’t well either. His cancer is gone, but he doesn’t know how to start his life over again. It doesn’t help that he’ll never convince his mother, who works a late night shift, to come to his high school so he can re-register for the spring semester. Instead of starting classes, he steals his mother’s car and drives to Amaranth to find his only friend Arden, who he met online in World of Warcraft. Arden is perfect—“Everything dark burns away when she smiles”—but they come from different worlds. She has everything and has been everywhere, while he has nothing except the fifty dollars in his pocket and some Tic Tacs. Still, Arden wants to escape from her father who won’t accept her gender identity and she’s ready for adventure when Dylan invites her on an IRL quest. Together they embark for California to find a sunken pearl ship lost in the Salton Sea. Along the way they discover friendship, life, and love.

Funny, geeky, and hopeful all at once, Looking for Group explores what it means to love others and yourself. Dylan struggles with his feelings for Arden, because he has always been sure that he’s gay. He doesn’t want to love her for the wrong reasons. Overcoming self-doubt and rekindling his desire to live are central to his character development throughout the novel. Harrison’s portrayal of Arden, a transgender teen, is strong for its resistance of cisnormativity. The character’s identity and expression are never glossed over or depicted as a deficit. While over the last few years transgender teens have become more visible in mainstream young adult literature, books often focus on characters who “pass” as cisgender or who aspire to pass. What makes Harrison’s portrayal of Arden special and groundbreaking is that Arden does not pass, but she is unashamed and beautiful. Although the last chapter brings the book to a sudden ending, it doesn’t detract from the overall value and quality of the narrative. This 2017 Spring release deserves a place in every young adult collection.

April B3: Immigration Stories

These days, it’s more important than ever for us to share stories about immigration with the young readers we serve; both for the sake of immigrant kids in our communities, and to encourage understanding among others of these kids’ experiences.

Join us on April 5, 2017 in the Butler Center from 5:30-7:00 (books & snacks out at 5:30; discussion from 6-7) to discuss the following list of recently published books with an immigration theme, from picture books to children’s fiction to teen fiction. We’re focusing on fiction this time; we know there are lots of excellent informational books too. You may remember the Butler Center’s “Big Read” bibliography from last year; this month’s list complements the selections recommended there.

PICTURE BOOKS

CallingtheWaterDrum
Calling the Water Drum
by LaTisha Redding, illus. by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2016)

PieceofHome
A Piece of Home
by Jeri Watts, illus. by Hyewon Yum (Candlewick, 2016)

CHILDREN’S FICTION

LongPitchHome
A Long Pitch Home
by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2016)

OnlyRoad.jpeg
The Only Road
by Alexandra Diaz (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2016)

TEEN FICTION

GirlMansUp.jpeg
Girl Mans Up
by M-E Girard (HarperTeen, 2016)

Watched
Watched
by Marina Budhos (Random/Wendy Lamb, 2016)

April B3: Poetry Open Call

April is National Poetry Month, and here at the Butler Center we’re looking forward to celebrating at the April 20 Butler Book Banter (B3) with a Poetry Open Call. Bring your favorite book of poetry for youth (ages 0-18; backlist or new; Myra Cohn Livingston, Jack Prelutsky, and everything in between; or books about poetry or poets) and share it with the group.

We’ll share some of our favorites too, from our examination collection as well as our historical collections, including the following:

Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks, illus. by Faith Ringgold (HarperCollins/Amistad, 2007) from the Effie Lee Morris Collection

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2016)

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (Dial, 2015)

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann (Greenwillow, 2014)

We’ll meet Wednesday, April 20 from 6-7 p.m. and refreshments will be served (no poisoned apples, we promise). No need to RSVP, although if you’d like to tell us you’re coming please do at butler@dom.edu. Happy reading!

Holiday Suggestions

There’s no more fun time of the year than the END of the year, when “best of” lists come out; everyone’s mock award results are announced, and we need to buy presents for all the young readers in our lives (and/or hunker down in the cold with some great reads for ourselves)!

This list isn’t a “best of,” nor is it the result of any structured decisionmaking process (stay tuned for our Mock Caldecott results next week). What this list IS, is a brief list of Butler Center staff favorites from 2015 that would make great gift choices, or for personal reading, on a variety of topics.

Happy holidays, and happy reading!

PICTURE BOOKS (suggested by Diane Foote, Butler Center Curator)

Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illus. by Ed Young (Candlewick)
This book’s remarkable design and construction sets it apart from all other books on the topic of jazz music…it unfolds (literally) as the melody and harmony unfold, or it can be read more traditionally by turning the folded pages. Read and listen along with some of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s compositions for the most complete and fulfilling experience.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illus. by Christian Robinson (Putnam)
This brightly colorful picture books hits numerous high notes: it’s an intergenerational story; it portrays a nicely diverse neighborhood of folks; and conveys a gentle yet powerful message about grace and appreciation, as CJ and his Nana travel across town on the bus to work at a soup kitchen.

Night Animals by Gianna Marino (Viking)
The nervous-looking possum on the cover gives a hint  of the hilarity inside; one by one the forest animals, portrayed in shiny gray and white against a black nighttime background, get terrified in turn by whatever “night animal” is following them. The joke is on everyone when kids camping in a tent and the bevy of creatures all scatter, each yelling RUN!

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illus. by Zachariah Ohora (Little, Brown)
A wolf in bunny’s clothing stars in this cheerful story about overcoming perceptions. Baby Wolfie is left on the Bunny family’s doorstep, and when they take him in big sister Dot has to get used to her scary-at-first little brother. In the tradition of great new sibling stories (Julius, I’m looking at you), Wolfie and Dot find common cause against an outside threat and the rest is history.

CHILDREN’S FICTION (suggested by Alena Rivers, MLIS student and Butler Center graduate assistant)

Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau (Candlewick)
Dolls of Hope is a follow up story to Ship of Dolls. Both novels were inspired by the Friendship Doll exchange of 1926 between the U.S. and Japan as an act to prevent future wars. Dolls of Hope tells the story of an 11-year-old Japanese girl, Chiyo Tamura, who has been asked to help create one of the dolls for Japan and keep it safe until it is sent to America. ‘Tis the season for an inspiring story of peace and friendship!

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad)
I can’t wait to read this follow up to Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven! Why not spend my winter break reading a story set during the summer of 1969 in Alabama? Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are back! This time the three sisters are sent from Brooklyn, NY to stay with family in Alabama. Ma Charles and her half sister Miss Trotter aren’t on speaking terms. Delphine and her sisters discover there is more to their family’s history than they knew and they learn the importance of family ties.

The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox by Nigel Quinlan (Roaring Brook)
A magical phone booth that siblings Liz and Neil call the Weatherbox rings only to signal the changing of the seasons. The keeper of the Weatherbox is their father; when the Weatherbox fails to ring and signal autumn’s arrival, Liz and Neil suspect their neighbor Mrs. Fitzgerald has something to do with it. They must work quickly to discover Mrs. Fitzgerald’s secret and restore the Weatherbox so the seasons continue to change.

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (Dial)
I am intrigued by the idea of girls attending a boarding school called “Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents.” The headmistress has an exceptional way of teaching the girls lessons on bravery and friendship through the likes of adventures the girls would never imagine! I consider myself a busy parent but, thankfully, not quite so busy that my children need a special boarding school!

The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam)
I can’t pass up an opportunity to read a book inspired by one of my favorite holiday stories, The Nutcracker! My family just saw the ballet performance and I’m excited to read a new tale featuring Stefan Drosselmeyer, the son and apprentice of a toymaker who has been kidnapped. Stefan and his cousin Christian must find Stefan’s father and, along the way, their adventures include saving a princess and battling the Mouse Queen’s seven headed Prince of Mice.

INFORMATIONAL BOOKS (suggested by Diane Foote, Butler Center Curator)

Drowned City by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The latest entry in Brown’s collection of graphic nonfiction brings the disaster of Hurricane Katrina to life for a contemporary audience, many of whom may have been too young at the time to fully comprehend the horror and scale of the tragedy.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri, illus. by A. G. Ford (Candlewick)
At the author’s note states, Cash’s popularity surged in the 1980s after a period in the doldrums. That means parents today, as well as grandparents who remember hearing Cash’s music when it was first released, will be eager to share this success story with their own kids and grandkids. Painterly illustrations and a design that recalls an album cover with liner notes add to the appeal.

Water Is Water by Miranda Paul, illus. by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook)
The water cycle is of course an essential element of all life on earth, and there are several outstanding books for kids on the topic, including A Drop of Water by Walter Wick. Even so, this one stands out for its clever embedding of a friendship story that unfolds only in the illustrations. Clever!

TEEN FICTION (suggested by Hal Patnott, GSLIS student and Butler Center grad assistant)

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman (Holt)
Alex is she. Alex is he. Gender is not as simple as “boy” or “girl” for Alex, because Alex is both at once. This important, coming-of-age story explores the struggles of defining your own identity when the world around you is trying to tell you who you have to be.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Simon Snow may be the Chosen One, but he struggles with school like any teen. I fell in love with Simon Snow and his evil roommate Baz the vampire when they first appeared in Rainbow Rowell’s 2013 novel Fangirl. Now they’re back, but this time in their own adventure full of magic, mystery, and romance.

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
Sedgwick links together four stories across centuries with the image of a spiral. Each narrative takes a different form, mixing poetry, prose, and points of view. The concept reminds me of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, one of my favorite books. I am excited to experience each character’s struggle for survival.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick)
Fifteen-year-old Kivali doesn’t believe it when her guardian Sheila, a nonconforming artist, decides to send her off to CropCamp, a program for indoctrination into their government-controlled society. I look forward to reading Kivali’s adventure, because it’s not just another dystopian fantasy. Along the way to finding herself, Kivali wrestles with gender identity, first love, and friendship.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
I can’t resist an epic, fantasy adventure. Nimona is the story of a plucky and impulsive shapeshifter who teams up with a super villain to expose the fraud of a so-called legion of heroes. Full of dragons, battles, mischief, and humor, this National Book Award finalist subverts the traditional tropes of fantasy. Originally published as a webcomic, Nimona is Noelle Stevenson’s debut graphic novel.

 

YMA thoughts

There were lots of surprises at the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday morning (you can read about all of the winners here) and they have already been much celebrated, dissected, and critiqued. I have my own thoughts (don’t we all) which I offer as a list, because I fear if I started writing something long form I’d be here until April. And I have some snow to shovel.

So, in no particular order, here’s what I think:

1) Diversity won the day. Everywhere. The Newbery medal and both honor books. The Wilder (ALSC lifetime contribution) and Edwards (YALSA lifetime contribution) awards. The Caldecott medal and three of the six honor books. The Arbuthnot lecturer. Three of the five Sibert honor books. The Geisel award author. Not to mention the slates from the Belpré, the Coretta Scott King, the Schneider Family, and the Stonewall, all of which are diverse by nature. Everywhere!

2) Back in December, in a comment on the Calling Caldecott blog, I suggested that it was entirely possible for This One Summer be recognized by both the Caldecott and Printz committees. Nobody was buying it. This is me, gloating.

3) Some of my favorites were overlooked. Harlem Hellfighters, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Turtle of Oman. But I still get to love and champion those books, and now I get to (re)acquaint myself with other books that other folks find to be extraordinary. It’s hard to think of that as a problem, really.

4) Some things I really don’t like were recognized, too. And that’s a terrific opportunity to remember that people see books differently from how I do, and people see the awards differently from how I do. And, ultimately, that the greater the variety of taste and appreciation we have among our ranks, the better able we are to meet the many different literary needs of the young people we serve. Win win, as it were.

5) What did you think?

harlem hellfighters Levy_Front_final 91xfx6cxaRL._SL1500_

 

Snow Days

Across the country these days folks are busy carping about the weather. It’s a dangerous business, that. In Chicago, at any rate, complaints about snow or temperatures (don’t even MENTION the wind) are met with furious dismissal. Give it a try. The next time a cashier asks you how you are, offer up something like “I’m freezing, thanks, how are you?” Dollars to donuts there’s someone a person or two behind you in line at the ready with “We do live in Chicago, Wimpy McPutyourbootson” or some other upbraiding that’s just as helpful.

I grew up in Cleveland. I get it.

But if all of us are mentioning the weather all of the time, there’s probably a reason. And rather than complaining about the complainers, I’m fixing to join in the fun.

So, here are a few wintry picture books to make something magical, or at least memorable, of all of that brrr.

first snowFirst Snow

by Peter McCarty

HarperCollins, 2015

Pedro has never seen snow before, and he’s not sure he’s interested. His canine cousins assure him it’s the best, and set out to convince him, with all of the best things about snow. They sled and snowball, make angels and catch flakes on their tongues. Who could resist? Not Pedro. He’s a convert, and so, perhaps, am I. McCarty has a magical way with texture. Working in graphite, he manages to create the softest, fuzziest creatures, and contrasts that incredibly tactile fur with flat, solid bundle-wear, producing a cast of characters impossible not to warm to. Time for some hot chocolate.

supertruckSupertruck

by Stephen Savage

Roaring Brook, 2015

The city depends on trucks, to fix power lines, tow stranded school buses, and put out fires. The lowly garbage truck occupies the glamourless place at the bottom of the heap until a seasonal snowfall brings the city to its knees (shoulders?). With a plow affixed to his front (and without his Clark Kent spectacles) Supertruck saves the day. As he did in Little Tug, Savage imbues his transportational characters with extraordinary personality, especially given their simple, iconic colorations and blocky nature, and sets them all against a mid-century-style city brimming with life. Little kids will welcome Supertruck’s arrival. I’d be happy for him to drive past my house, too, right about now, come to think of it.

winter beesWinter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

HMH, 2014

While there are surprises in this life, so are there predictabilities. When winter arrives in Chicago, it will be cold and snowy. When I go outside to shovel my walks, my dogs will ruin something inside. When Joyce Sidman produces a book of nature poetry, it will be lovely. In Winter Bees she examines the winter activity of various flora and fauna, combining poetry and science in her trademark way. Individually the entries, with their bright language and crisp, polychrome linoleum prints, celebrate the variety of life happening beneath the snow. And together they communicate the delicate ecological symbiosis that sustains us all. It’s all too easy to forget that winter has its purpose and its place, and I’m happy for this elegant reminder.