We’ve been accepted to the Explorer Academy!

nebula secret coverI was fortunate to spend my Wednesday afternoon with a lovely group of fellow book-lovers; professors, lit experts, book-sellers, and publishing industry insiders (oh, my!) at the lunch and launch of the new National Geographic Kids series Explorer Academy. The series will include seven fact-based fiction adventures for middle-grade readers that are inspired by the real scientists and explorers at the National Geographic Society. The first title in the series, The Nebula Secret, follows 12-year old Cruz Coronado and his fellow students as they travel the globe to become the next generation of explorers and possibly solve the mysterious death of Cruz’s mother. The blend of adventure, STEM topics, and world cultures is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

exp acceptance 2

trueitTrudi Trueit, the series author, is a weather forecaster turned writer that couldn’t help sharing her love for science with young readers. In our brief conversation, she proved to be a passionate advocate for readers, libraries, and scientists! She has tapped the knowledge of National Geographic Explorers (they are like the rock stars of the National Geographic Society) for the series to bring their real life discoveries, research, and innovations into the action-packed plots. Nizar Ibrahim, paleontologist and National Geographic Explorer, joined us to share his experiences with the NGS and a top-secret (sorry!) hint at some new discoveries.

Stop by the BCLC to check out the ARC in our signed books collection (as soon as I finish reading it) and keep your eye out for publication this fall by Under the Stars, the new fiction imprint of National Geographic.

PCP Two of Clubs: Denied Detained Deported

denied detained deportedDenied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration

by Ann Bausum

National Geographic, 2009

Negative space is an artistic construct that looks at the visual space around or between subjects as a place in an image where meaning can exist and communicate itself: objects can be defined by their own outlines, or by the outlines of adjacent objects. The construct has application in the study of literature, too, as we consider how an idea is shaped not only by its own definition but also by the definitions of related concepts. As we seek to understand “belonging” in books for young people, then, let us look not only at books that celebrate someone’s place in a particular community, but books that consider the refusal of such membership, too.

Ann Bausum applies such an approach to American history in Denied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration, seeking to understand how people came to this country, by looking deeply and carefully at a number of situations where that arrival was thwarted. She begins with the familiar Emma Lazurus poem that appears on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a contemporary poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that offers a decidedly less welcoming vision of the US border. From there Bausum investigates a number of historical events, each titled with a different form of alienation. “Excluded” looks at the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which left Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship until 1943. “Denied” tells the story of the St. Louis, a ship carrying hundreds of German Jewish refugees that the US turned away in 1939. The author captures the events with arresting clarity, engaging the reader’s empathy and outrage with her precise language and documentary research. And on top of the harrowing stories Bausum posits questions about our contemporary treatment of those newest to our country, often subjected to xenophobic mistreatment and persecution.

By exacting the nature of fearsome, systematized alienation, Denied Detained Deported delivers a powerful picture of how important it is to belong.

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.