Two of a Kind: Fiction in Verse

With National Poetry Month coming to an end, here are two new novels in verse featuring young teens navigating difficult situations:

ebbandflow

Ebb & Flow – Heather Smith
Kids Can Press
April, 2018

Jett has not had a great year – after his father goes to jail for his involvement in a drunk driving accident, he and his mother move away for a “fresh start” that doesn’t go the way either of them wanted. Now, Jett is back on the Eastern coast to spend the summer with his Grandma Jo, who speaks in puns and tells him stories about herself at his age, a young Joanna. Slowly, Jett tells his own story, and struggles with wanting things to go back to how they were while also hoping the summer will help him move on from the mistakes of the past year.

As Grandma Jo says:
“…life is like the tides.
In, out.
Back, forth.
Push, pull.
High, low.
You just have to go with the flow, you know?” (p. 177)

Told in verse from Jett’s perspective, Ebb & Flow mimics the tides it refers to – swelling with emotion, pulling back, and surging again as Jett reveals his truths and secrets.

 

knockout

Knockout – K. A. Holt
Chronicle Books
March, 2018

Levi was born prematurely, and as a result he’s smaller than most of his classmates. And while sometimes he needs an inhaler or gets tired easily, he’s still mighty, and wants to prove he’s not as weak as his mom and brother think. When his dad offers to pay for a sport – any sport – he chooses boxing. That will show everyone how strong he is, right?

Shape poetry and Levi’s quick and punchy voice give this novel in verse plenty of heart. Readers will cheer for Levi as he makes his way through seventh grade, trying to avoid drama, keep his friendship with Tam, and impress everyone with his boxing.

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.

To Grandmother’s House We Go!

by Alena Rivers

Not all of our summer excursions can be tropical vacations. Whether taking time for staycations or logging miles and miles on the road to visit family, for children, time spent in a different place, or traveling to it, can spark imaginations and inspire new adventures. Long road trips and quiet summer days provide great opportunities for children to explore their surroundings and give their brains the freedom to daydream. Here are a group of newly-published picture books in the Butler Center that feature children and the imaginative ways they spend time with grandparents or passing the time on warrior-style road trips to visit them.

Are We There Yet? By Nina Laden, illus. by Adam McCauley (Chronicle, 2016)

A boy and his mother take an extended drive to grandmother’s house. Not long before they are on the road, the boy asks his mother, “Are we there yet?”. The mother simply replies, “No.” This familiar-to-adults exchange is repeated across each two-page spread of the book while readers are taken on an illustrated journey through cities, over bridges past farms and deserts until they reach grandmother’s house. The story is a simple reminder for kids and their adult caregivers of the excitement just outside the car window that can be easily overlooked on long road trips.

Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat (Little, Brown, 2016)

Caldecott medalist, Dan Santat creates a larger-than-life visual voyage when a young boy and his parents embark on what feels like the longest car ride ever to his grandmother’s birthday party. The boy’s initial excitement about the road trip is soon stunted by the bland scenery outside his car window. Santat illustrates imaginative scenes and uses minimal but complimentary text to depict what can happen when you let your brain run wild during the most mind-numbing, tiresome treks to the fun waiting at the end of the road.

The Bell in the Bridge by Ted Kooser, illus. by Barry Root (Candlewick, 2016)

Charlie, a young boy, makes annual, two-week summer visits to his grandparents’ farm. Not much happens during these summer visits so Charlie amuses himself by playing near a stream with tadpoles and turtles. Charlie discovers that by using a rock to hit the railing of a bridge over the stream, the result is a bell-like sound with its faint echo following it. One day after banging the bridge, an extra sound, just like his, is returned in the distance. Who or what is causing this additional sound? The mystery adds just the right amount of excitement to speed up the slow summer days that remain before Charlie’s parents come to pick him up. Soft water color and gouache shades of green, yellow and orange enhance the feeling of quiet warmth indicative of summer mornings and late afternoons.

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen, illus. by Irene Luxbacher (Kids Can, 2016)

Young Theodora, or Theo as her grandfather, Poppa, calls her, decides that a trip on a streetcar to a nearby beach is the perfect birthday present for her adventurous grandfather. The journey takes time but there is much to see along the way. When they finally reach the beach, Theo and Poppa spend the day discovering its many treasures and dreaming up big adventures. Their trip ends with a refreshing meal of gazpacho soup and another surprise waiting for Poppa in his apartment. Colorful, mixed-media artwork provides vivid illustrations of the city, beach and all the places in between.

May B3: Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are more popular than ever! We could probably run Butler Book Banters weekly, all year round, to have enough time to really discuss all the fabulous selections out there (hmmm…..). Fiction, nonfiction, books for kids, books for teens, fantasy, history, and then some; pretty much any genre you can think of is now available in a graphic or comic format.

This is great news for kids who may not learn to read in the traditional way but who gravitate toward this highly-visual medium; not such great news for people who think all kids need to learn to read in the same old way. Frankly, it’s great news for anyone who loves excellent text, excellent art, and excellent interplay between the two.

Join us in the Butler Center on Wednesday, May 18 from 6:00-7:00 to discuss this selection of graphic novels, when we’ll welcome Keary Bramwell, youth collection librarian at Mount Prospect Public Library, as our guest moderator.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illus. by Emily Carroll (Candlewick, 2015)
Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, illus. by Claudia Davila (Kids Can, 2015)
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash (Candlewick, 2015)
Only Child by Guojing (Schwartz & Wade, 2015)

Animals at war

Bunny the BraBunny the Brave War Horseve War Horse: Based on a True Story

by Elizabeth McLeod, illustrated by Marie Lafrance

Kids Can Press, 2014

Bunny, a magnificent horse, and two brothers, Bud and Tom, ship out to Europe in 1914 among a group of police horses and officers sent to fight on the battlefields of WWI. Bunny is initially assigned to Bud, and when he is killed he becomes Tom’s horse. The two form a close bond, and survive the conflict together, performing acts of heroism and sacrifice along the way. At war’s end, however, the two are separated; Tom returns to Canada, and Bunny is sold to a Flemish farmer. McLeod tells Bunny’s story with a combination of poetic license and narrative restraint. Her straightforward prose tells Bunny’s story simply, without drama or sentiment. We experience the hardships of war–the hunger and danger and death–but the matter-of-fact tone with which they are expressed establishes Bunny’s and Tom’s resolute, impenetrable bravery. Lafrance’s folk-like illustrations reinforce this sense of plain strength. Spread across double pages, the images are a bleak amalgam of murky greens and greys, setting a desperate tone broken only by the brilliant poppies immortalized in Dr. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” McLeod includes an author’s note in which she explains just how much isn’t known about Bunny’s story (even “Bud,” the name given Tom’s brother, is an invention), and confirms the heartbreaking conclusion. The Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication assigns fiction subject headings to this title, and I’m inclined to agree. This is a fiction with roots in fact. But it is no less a powerful and touching evocation of the perpetual price of waging war.

stubby the war dogStubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog

by Ann Bausum

National Geographic, 2014

In stark contrast to Bunny, Stubby the War Dog is a presentation of a bodacious collection of scrupulously documented facts surrounding one formidable dog. Sergeant Stubby, as he was known, was a dog with a personality as outsized as his antics. He presented himself as a stray to the 102nd Infantry, training at Yale University in 1917, and so endeared himself to the soldiers that one Corporal Robert Conroy smuggled him onto their ship bound for the theater in Europe. From there Stubby’s infamy grew and grew. Bausum offers a series of almost unbelievable anecdotes–Stubby saluting the officer who discovers him as a stowaway, Stubby rescuing a French toddler from oncoming traffic, Stubby recovering from grievous injury sustained on the battlefield–which establish his irrepressible persona. She also surrounds Stubby’s own story with rich and extensive context, offering lots of information about the greater war and its impact on everyone it touched. The narrative follows Stubby back to the United States after the war, where he travels, parades, and generally contributes to the post-war effort, and even chronicles his story after death, and the eventual inclusion of his remains at the Smithsonian Institution. What is most striking about this masterful exposition, to me, is the journalistic integrity of Bausum’s language. She makes it crystal clear, at every juncture, what she knows and what she wonders, and how she knows the difference. At no time does the reader question the veracity of the facts being presented, yet the narrative’s careful precision never intrudes on the accessible flow of the story. It’s easy to imagine kids enthralled with Stubby’s bigger-than-life life. And it’s just as easy to imagine them fascinated by the curiosity that prompted the investigation and the research that followed. I consumed the story through the Recorded Books audiobook version, narrated by Andrea Gallo, and even the experience without a single image was riveting.

These two books differ from one another in interesting ways. One uses snippets of history as a foundation for a largely fictionalized story while the other offers a detailed account sourced from the (admittedly much more plentiful) historical record. Yet, almost counterintuitively, it is Stubby’s “true” story that brims with outlandish, colorful flourishes, while Bunny’s “imagined” account offers a much more reserved and stoic vision of the animals-at-war experience. And this juxtaposition, in a nutshell, is what I love so much about the work of librarianship for the young. It is not ours to determine which is the better, truer, more legitimate approach, We get to put these books on the self, together, and invite kids (metaphorically, or directly, too, if we want) to ponder them both.

Mock CaldeNott!

the bear's songOn Thursday, January 16, our regular Butler Center book discussion group, B3, resumes with a bang. This time out we’re conducting a Mock Caldenott Award. Yes, you read that right. CaldeNott. We’ll be using the official Caldecott terms and criteria to evaluate picture books ineligible for the actual award, due to their foreign provenance, and pick a winner.

I am as likely as the next person to get swept up in the drama and intrigue of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I attend the press conference where the winners are announced to the world without fail, and had the great honor of presiding over the festivities in 2010 (the year we announced The Lion and the Mouse as Caldecott winner). And I love all of the handicapping and arm-chair quarterbacking that goes on. But there’s a little part of me (OK, a big part) that feels bad about the incredible books that don’t get their due. We spend so much time searching for the most distinguished American books of the year that books from other countries get lost in the shuffle. And some of those books are fan-freaking-tastic.

mapsSo, we have a short list of a butler’s dozen (that’s 13) extraordinary picture books vying for the Caldenott crown. You can find the titles here. Hey, why don’t you join us?!

As always, we meet on the third Thursday of the month in the Butler Center at 7:00. This time we’re opening up a few hours early. From 5:00-7:00 you’re welcome to drop into the center, enjoy a sandwich and a snack, review the books on the table, and consider the terms and criteria that will guide our discussion. If you can come only be with us for part of the evening, that’s fine. If you haven’t seen any of the books yet, that’s fine. The point is, you should come.

It would be great if you’d RSVP in the form below (but do still please come, even if you don’t get around to it).

the big wet balloonHope to see you there!