Back to School with Historical Fiction: A Review of Finding Langston

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Holiday House, August 2018

Langston doesn’t like much about his new life in Chicago – not the small apartment he shares with his father, or the noisy streets and sidewalks, and definitely not his new school, where classmates call him “country boy” and make fun of how he speaks. Langston misses Alabama, where his mother died and where his Grandma still lives, though his father sends her part of his paycheck each week in the hopes of helping her move up north with them. It’s only when Langston discovers George Cleveland Hall Library, open to all Chicago residents, that he starts to feel at home.

In the safety of the library, Langston also discovers his namesake, a poet who seems to have inspired a few of the love letters written by young Langston’s mother to his father. Reading the poetry of Hughes helps Langston work through his grief at losing his mother, but it’s a new friend who recognizes that reading poetry “is a way of putting all the things you feel inside on the outside” (p 99).

Cline-Ransome mixes poetry and history in this slim fiction novel for elementary and middle school children. The post World War II era of the Great Migration is explored through the story of one family, and Langston (the character) also learns a great deal about Langston Hughes and other African American poets and writers of the time. Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and Chicago Public Library’s Hall Branch are both highlighted and given extra detail in an Author’s Note at the end of the book. Told with heart and thoughtfulness, Finding Langston belongs in personal libraries and on classroom shelves alike.

Birds and Bugs: Informational Picture Books

By Alena Rivers

Some recent additions to the Butler Center’s 2017 nonfiction collection include picture books for young children exploring birds and insects. In keeping with our review of books that highlight ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), the books selected for this week’s post exemplify integrity and respect for the learning needs of young children. Both books are published by Holiday House; a publisher known for their strength in delivering informational books of this nature.

birds-make-nests      my-awesome-summer

Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland (Holiday, 2017)

More than 20 birds and their nests are featured in this illustrated picture book for young children. Readers will enjoy exploring birds of all sizes in a variety of habitats that will prompt discussion about the various colors of birds, their environments and the materials birds use to build their nests. Short sentences describe the location, materials, shape or other special features of each nest type.Large illustrations done in woodcut and digital tools give images of the birds and their environment an etched and slightly, textured feel. The color pallet is realistic and respectful of the blue, green and brown tones found in nature’s color pallet while highlighting the variety of colors found in a myriad of bird species.

A list of additional resources is not included but would be helpful for further exploration of the subject. Birds Make Nests is a clear and understandable introduction to birds and their distinctive nests.  Recommended for ages 3-8.

My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel (Holiday, 2017)

Young children are introduced to P. Mantis, a praying mantis who shares the daily habits that characterize it as an intriguing insect. The lifecycle of the praying mantis is portrayed over a 5-month period from mid-May to mid-October in a first-person, diary format describing selected days’ events. Through the narrative, readers will feel they are getting to know P. Mantis as they learn interesting facts about the praying mantis’ birth, eating habits, living environment, predators and tricks used to keep predators at bay.

Colorful and realistic illustrations are done with acrylic ink and digitally enhanced.End papers are used to provide additional facts about the praying mantis that are supportive of the text and should not be overlooked. Web resources and a short glossary are included on the end papers as well. Recommended for ages 3-8.

 

 

Picture Books Featuring the Caring Nature of Children

By Alena Rivers

Acts of kindness can be simple gestures or complex, thoughtful ones. Either way, the effects on the recipients can be heartwarming. Stories that express the multiple ways that children show their concern for others help young readers explore how they can positively interact with individuals and the world around them.

The stories featured today each demonstrate the ways children share their compassionate sides. The books present a quiet simplicity in style but they reveal a clear message; our kind gestures have a strong impact on those with whom we come in contact.

The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Guridi (Kids Can, 2016)

A young boy falls in love with his classmate, Sylvia, on their first day of school. He discovers that Sylvia is in love with birds but she does not seem to notice him. In order to win her attention, the young boy builds a bird costume to wear to school. Becoming a bird is not easy. Not only must he endure the stares and giggles from his classmates, but navigating the bathroom and the soccer field in a large bird costume has its challenges. Still the boy’s determination to connect with Sylvia makes him indifferent to these obstacles. Wearing a bird costume during school for several days may seem like a grand gesture for the attention of another, but the protagonist’s efforts pay off in a satisfying and sweet ending.

Originally published in Spain, this book gently portrays the story of a young child’s admiration for his classmate. Illustrator Guridi  uses pencil drawings and photoshop to create both realistic images and the costumed version of the birds that are central to this story. The Day I Became a Bird is an inspiring story that demonstrates how taking risks to show you care can be worth the effort.

Look Up! By Jung Jin-Ho (Holiday, 2016)

Look Up! takes on the perspective of a young child in a wheelchair peering over a balcony above a busy neighborhood street. Like the child, the reader can only see the tops of people’s heads as they walk along the street without noticing the child above, who only wants them to “Look Up!”. Finally, a young boy looks up and notices the child on the balcony. He lays on the ground so the child can see him. This act starts a chain of pedestrians who stop to see what he is doing and, in turn, lie down so they, too, can look up.

Jung Jin-Ho’s black-and-white sketches give readers a unique perspective beyond the bustle of daily life to remind us that through our busiest moments, we can stop to see someone who may otherwise be overlooked.

Lucy by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2016)

As though in a theater production, Lucy is told in four acts. Each act starts the same as the previous one but builds on the story of a tenacious stray dog who visits the front door of an apartment building.  It is here that he is greeted each morning by a young girl who dangles her leftover food by a string from her bedroom window to provide breakfast to the little stray. The young girl lives with her father who is a store stock-person by day and an aspiring vaudeville performer with stage fright by night. The story comes full circle when we learn how the small dog became a stray and how she finds a place to call home.

Randy Cecil’s black-and-white oil textured illustrations strongly support the text that, in turn, nicely frames and punctuates the images. As if through a telescope, the reader gets a glimpse of the small dog’s day through images rendered in a circular frame in the center of each page. Lucy is a charming story that young children will enjoy watching unfold.

B3 Butler Book Banter

Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 6-7 p.m.

Exploring Farms and Food

From classic picture books such as Lois Ehlert’s Eating the Alphabet (Harcourt, 1989) and Growing Vegetable Soup (Harcourt, 1987) and Elisha Cooper’s Farm (Orchard, 2010) to more contemporary middle-grade fiction such as Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (Knopf, 2009) and informational books including the young readers’ edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Dial, 2015), food and where it comes from has been a perennial topic in children’s lit.

Fall season is harvest time, and for our first B3 of the year we’ll focus on food, farms, and farmers’ markets. There is a full crop of newly-published foodie books this year, and we’ll focus on these:

Board books: Edible Colors and Edible Numbers, both by Jennifer Vogel Bass (Roaring Brook, 2016)
Picture books: Grow! Raise! Catch! How We Get Our Food by Shelly Rotner (Holiday House, 2016); On the Farm, at the Market by G. Brian Karas (Holt, 2016); and Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle, illus. by Becca Stadtlander (Chronicle, 2016)
Informational: The Story of Seeds by Nancy F. Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Whether you’ve read all, some, or none, please join us in the Butler Center to talk about kids books about food, and enjoy some farmers’ market treats. We’ll have the food and, um, books out at 5:30 for perusal and partaking.

We Have a Way with Words!

by Alena Rivers

Summer is upon us and that has many librarians, teachers, parents and caregivers thinking about the summer reading programs that will encourage children to continue reading over their school breaks. As much as we love reading, we also love the creative writing process that brings to life the stories our children encounter.  Reading books will always be a worthwhile endeavor but, this summer, let’s also encourage our children to explore the creative writing process. The Butler Center has a few nonfiction selections that can help children expand their vocabularies and give them a better understanding of the origins and definitions of commonly used word phrases. Then pull it all together with some imaginative activities that challenge a child’s writing process, or get them inspired by reading an author’s biography to see how the creative writing process develops. Stop by and take a look at some of these books!

You’re Pulling My Leg: 400 Human-Body Sayings from Head to Toe by Pat Street and Eric Brace, illus. by Eric Brace (Holiday, 2016). Humorous illustrations of animals demonstrating human-body part phrases and an index of body parts referenced throughout the book will give children plenty of possibilities to include in their next writing experience.

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illus. by John Shelley (Charlesbridge, 2016). Children will be surprised to see how many common phrases we use today were created or popularized by William Shakespeare’s plays. The author includes a note about William Shakespeare, a timeline of his life and a bibliography.

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). Words have multiple meanings and young children will discover several animal words and their active counterparts, when noun meets verb!

Koob: The Backwards Book by Anna Brett, illus. by Elle Ward (Scholastic, 2016)Try out this activity book that includes some creative ways to think outside of the box when writing. A fun option to address the summer mantra, “I’m bored”!

Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 2016). Melissa Sweet wrote and illustrated this biography about E. B. White’s early love of writing and how he became the author of the classic stories, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. This book will be released in October. Come see the advanced reader’s copy in the Butler Center, today!

 

B3 for November: Kids’ Books about Music on 11/10, 6-8 p.m.!

The third (and final) fall Butler Book Banter (B3), the Butler Center’s popular youth literature discussion group, is taking place Tuesday 11/10/15, 6:00-8:00 p.m. All GSLIS students and youth-services colleagues are welcome!

This month, we’ll be talking about kids’ books about music; primarily those that attempt to present a song or a genre in picture-book format. How do authors and illustrators “translate” an aural medium to a visual/textual one? What works? What doesn’t? I’m thinking specifically of Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young (Candlewick, 2015). I’m reminded of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka (Scholastic, 1992), an old favorite that gave my own son his very first spoken words (“fisk, fisk”).

We’ll also take some time to look at some new biographies of musicians; there seems to be a large crop out this year that follow in the tradition of classics such as When Marion Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002) or Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Clarion, 2010). This year’s offerings include Elvis by Bonnie Christensen (Holt/Christy Ottaviano, 2015) and Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Holiday, 2015).

There are many, many other types of books for kids about music, from music appreciation such as Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers (Holiday, 2003) or M Is for Music by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (Harcourt, 2003); to presentations of single songs such as God Bless the Child by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr., illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (HarperCollins, 2004).

We’ll be specifically talking about the books from 2015, but we’ll have lots of old favorites on hand to use for comparison and discussion. Feel free to bring your own favorite and share it with us!

We’ll also be listening to some of the music under discussion, so we can hear the sounds that inspired the words and pictures. See you next Tuesday!

Bird & Diz by Gary Golio, illus. by Ed YoungElvis by Bonnie ChristensenSwing Sisters by Karen Deans, illus. by Joe Cepeda

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.