Some lists were already announced and included in other issues of FCL Sunday Select. They are not repeated here. It is always of interest to note the varied opinions from different venues: booksellers vs professional review publications vs popular review platforms.
I can’t change the color of my skin or where I come from or what the teacher workforce looks like at this moment, but I can change the way I teach. So I am going to soapbox about something after all. Be the teacher your children of color deserve. In fact, even if you don’t teach children of color, be the teacher America’s children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.
So teach the texts that paint all the beautiful faces of our children and tell the stories of struggle and victory our nation has faced. Speak openly and freely about the challenges that are taking place in our country at this very moment. Talk about the racial and class stereotypes plaguing our streets, our states, our society. You may agree that black and brown lives matter, but how often do you explore what matters to those lives in your classroom?
— words from a speech by Emily E. Smith
as reported by Valerie Strauss “Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then.’” for The Washington Post
Thanksgiving Weekend — A Single Highlighted Selection
It was interesting to hear my White students say that they think that books do a good job of representing diverse characters. My students of color at this time did not say anything. I did not add to the conversation and I ended the conversation at this point.
It was eye opening to my students. My White students seemed surprised by what my students of color were sharing. I then wrapped up our conversation saying that history and books often overlook certain groups of people and that this year we will be learning about many points of view.
While the burden of mistakes can be placed on the author and illustrator, in truth publishers share an equal part of the responsibility in making sure that the books they produce are accurate and do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.
This week, I am featuring only ONE industry news link here, because I don’t want to dilute its significance. Hopefully, we’ll start hearing from other publishers, large and small, that take their staff on this worthwhile journey. As an educator who partook in similar trainings in recent years, I have to say that I believe everyone in the United States should have the experience of going through such tough journeys: self-examining, questioning, and re-affirming ideologies that will help create a more equitable society for our own future.
Updated — I have now included also the entire Panel discussion — which Sean Qualls & Sophie Blackall also shared their views. They all do not agree with each other.
Around 26:00 — Sophie Blackall talked in details about her own reactions toward the controversy over her book A Fine Dessert; 35:00 – Sean Qualls starts talking; 38:00-ish, he touches briefly on A Fine Dessert; keep watching and you’ll hear Susannah’s views as well.
— Daniel Jose Older “Daniel José Older on A Fine Dessert”
A Fine Dessert – Multiple Conversations
Collected below are various online articles, conversations, and comments about the picture book A Fine Dessert written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, published by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint at Random House. The book has been under careful scrutiny by many – when it was highlighted as one of the Caldecott hopefuls, when it was among the 10 illustrated books of 2015 chosen by The New York Times, and when it received objections by readers who found certain text and images hurtful. I did not read or look at the book until this past Monday, after many others already grappled with the book for a while. The conversations are important to note and should continue, not only about one book, but about the entire Children’s Publishing industry. More on that from my own viewpoint is forthcoming. Since Debbie Reese has been diligently documenting and collecting all the pertinent links. I’m providing only ONE link here in this section. Do read as much as you can and consider and re-consider!
Those words nearly broke my heart. I could have sobbed in the convention hall. Instead, I swallowed them as a reminder that I need to do a better job, too. That I’ll always need to do a better job. That there is no arrival point. I’ll never arrive at some point where I’m outside the system of systemic racism—I’ll always be in it, and because I am, I have to do the best job possible calling people into the conversation that recognizes it, in order to do the work to try to deconstruct it. I’ll always need to do a better job “calling people in” rather than “calling people out.”
These past couple of weeks we saw sparks flying with opposing views over specific children’s books and general thoughts on children’s book publishing – mostly centered on the “writing the other” notion. It seems to me that many practitioners (authors, librarians, critics, etc.) have been thinking hard and deeply and some have tried to sort out strongly held convictions when they clash against others’ beliefs. Selected here are a few strands that I found especially powerful and am currently struggling with. I lead the list with one article by Brendan Kiely, whose proposal for “calling people in” to the conversation and discussion on diversity issues in children’s and YA literature seems most sage and hopefully can serve as a reminder that we are ALL in this together and our final goals are to provide the best literary work for the young people in our world.
About Meg Rosoff’s next book…a collection of links to various responses to a following facebook blow-up while discussing Large Fears, the book under discussion in “This Book is Creating a Space for Queer Black Boys in Children’s Literature” — from American Indians in Children Literature
Diversity Matters: …digital media today reflect the real world as children perceive it. Cultural diversity must, therefore, be built into digital media, not added later as an afterthought. Cultures should be represented richly and with integrity and dignity. This is another potential opportunity for children to learn about the world through screen media.
— from “Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium” prepared by American Academy of Pediatrics
This week’s selection is not a lengthy one but the image quote pins a moment in history that I hope to be a turning point in the United States’ public psyche: and I truly believe that children’s and young adult literature can play a big part in our communal effort to raise conscientious and compassionate next generations.
Quote of the Week
— by Jonathan Schmock from “Dear Congress” on http://jonathanschmock.com/dear-congress/
So You Want to Be A Jedi: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back by Adam Gidwitz, with original concept arts
Really enjoyed much of the book — many of the Jedi lessons are great fun and with the trade-mark Gidwitz caring for a young person’s mind and character. The second person narrative device worked for me and the added extended training segments made me happy. The third person narrative parts about Han & Leia are faithful to the movie but to someone like me who saw the original movie and re-watched it a few times in the past few decades, they can seem a bit bland. I could tell that the imagined audience is actually those who’re young and not exactly familiar with Episode V. Waiting to hear from my 4th & 5th graders of their view.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmerby Kelly Jones
Definitely a breezy read with some fun bits and pieces. I really like Kelly Jones’ portrayal of Sophie, level-headed, with plenty of normal kid concerns and normal kid courage. Jones included some not-too-heavy-handed tidbits about how others perceive Sophie, being half Mexican American, being viewed as poor, being “presumed” in not-so-flattering ways.
Since my taste runs more toward more saturated kind of fantasy, I wanted the chickens’ powers (and they are amazing powers) to manifest more, stronger, and add more tension to the story. However, I can also see how this can be quite attractive to those who just want their magic to be more like everyday happenings — not too many world-altering encounters.
My narrative device-detector antenna was definitely alert for this one and wish that the letter-writing device had worked all the way through. The really really long, as-it-happens, climatic sections did not work all that well for me: not sure when/where Sophie would have been writing to Agnes in the middle of rescuing the chickens and participating in the Poultry Show (and it is apparent that those letters weren’t written after all the excitement as a report, since Agnes would have known all that had happened and wouldn’t have needed such narration of events.)
For the most part, the story works, and I did care about the main character and what he was hoping for. The ending is the kind that kid readers always want: the young protagonist actually GOT to enter the fantasy realm, rather than learning some precious lessons on how to hold the magic in one’s heart but knowing that “fantasy world” does not quite exist. So, kudos to Beasley on that front. I was hoping that once we learned the back story of the aunt, I would have had more sympathy toward her behavior but she remained a two-dimensional device and not fleshed out character all the way through. Definitely felt that the writing is a bit plain and some details could be trimmed to tighten the pacing, but totally see it appeal to certain young readers.
Are you ready for a revolution? As an African-American librarian, I am. Think about it. It’s 2015, and we still need to campaign for “more diverse books.” ————- The question we librarians need to ask ourselves is: Are you exposing your users to the full range of authors and literature out there? Are you going out of your comfort zone and reading and learning about authors and sharing that with the community you serve?
So many of my esteemed colleagues have reviewed this book extremely favorably and some of them told me exactly why they love this book. They cite the energy in the narrative, the honesty in the young man’s anger, and the eventual growth and redemption of this lost soul.
So I feel like walking on thin ice to say that I didn’t find the novel or the protagonist quite compelling all the way through. I found the beginning of the narrative strong and powerful. I was moved by Red’s emotional ties to his mother and siblings; I was convinced that he would find justification of he must steal. His slow realization of his “place” in the world saddened me. The refrain of “Just a n****r” is both chilling and makes my blood boil! And one cannot easily forget his witnessing a lynched body and the connection to the song “Strange Fruit.”
But then… we have 200 pages more of Malcolm engaged in various illegal activities, and continuously excusing himself because of his sorrowful past, family situation, societal reality, etc. I understand that all of these are based on real events, family stories, and Malcolm’s own words. I can only speak for myself as a reader how after a while it felt more tedious than compelling. The pacing went from tight to sloppy. I got quite impatient and did not feel empathy or sympathy toward him. Perhaps that’s not the intent of the author but it was difficult for me to want to follow his next missteps since I stopped caring.
The final payoff of X’s enlightenment comes very late and lasts very briefly within the confine of this novel. The book ends before his important life’s work begins. For many who already know quite a bit about Malcolm X, his personal narrative, his rage, and his complex relationship with the Nation of Islam, the ending is but a beginning — we know what he would become. And the book includes extensive after matter to detail Malcolm X’s achievements. I just wonder what impression this “novel” of Malcolm X leaves a younger reader.
I also wonder how the pacing feels and my emotional engagement might have been different if the narrative voice had been a more universal third person, so that I could understand his internal struggle and also observe his external charms and charisma (and not just being told by the protagonist that “people seem to be drawn to me” or “girls like me.”)
American audiences are capable of so much more than some in your industry imagine. And if we can break that down to what I really mean, I mean this: White Americans can care about more than just themselves. They really can. And the rest of us? We are DYING to see ourselves anywhere.
To be clear: I’m not asking for altruism here. I worked in corporate America for 20 years before I put my book out; I know the stakes, the economics. What I am saying makes solid, actual business sense: There is a vast, untapped audience out there. You need to get to us.
— by Mira Jacob,
from “I Gave A Speech About Race To The Publishing Industry And No One Heard Me” via BuzzFeed
Race & Cultural Literacy
Why a White Blog? by Allie Jane Bruce — from Reading While White (This is the inaugural post of the new blog.)
It is long past time for the industry to move past concerns over what–if anything–dominant voices lose when publishers actually choose to publish and promote minority voices over dominant ones. It is long past time to move past that old debate of who-can-write. Moving past that debate means I want to see publishers actually doing what Lasky feared so that more books by minority writers are actually published.
The Three Body Problem (三体）by Liu Cixin（刘慈忻)，translated by Ken Liu
This is a rare experience for me since my encounters with Science Fiction tend to be on the “soft sci-fi” end: where the details of the science employed by the authors are often quite flexible to suit the narrative needs of the tale. This is Hard Science Fiction and I was absolutely fascinated (even while I didn’t quite understand them) by the explanation of the Three-Body physics problem, the unfolding of protons into various dimensional modules, and how radio waves are delivered and received, etc. However, what compelled me to keep on reading was the realistic and unflinching depiction of the story’s backdrop (from Cultural Revolution era to contemporary China,) the underlying multiple and somewhat conflicting philosophies about human nature, the life story and struggles of one of the main female characters, and the kinship I feel with a specific type of online gaming.
The author honestly and boldly laid out the views of his characters (and one can choose to side with or against whichever view) and the translator faithfully captured and presented the analytical and yet deeply emotional landscape of the story.
Let’s celebrate this book’s 2015 Hugo Award win for being a solid hard science fiction and for being the very first Hugo novel winner penned by an Asian author.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith was a baffling read from the beginning to the very end. Baffling but fascinating, engaging, engrossing, moving, and thrilling. I didn’t know where the story was heading and in the end, I wasn’t quite sure where I have been: spanning time and space, from the icy pole in the 1800s to the summer heat of an American summer camp now (?) — encountering the Melting Man (literally,) the refugee boy, the eccentric scientists, the Dumpling Man, and many others. Or even where we eventually arrived — are we to be pleased with Ariel’s final situation, bonded with his adopted brother and their new found friend, no longer being closely monitored? Are we to continuously be paranoid of how our lives might be closely examined by unknown forces and crazy scientists? At least I know to unconditionally love Ariel for his intelligence and compassion.
Since earlier this year’s brouhaha about Andrew Smith’s “lacking” in inclusion of positive female characters in his work, I couldn’t help but noticing that in this book the readers only encounter two real life women: one is a completely ineffective mother figure and the other is a terrifying scientist whose goal is to eliminate all males from the human species. (I’m not counting the two imaginary women in the Melting Man’s schizophrenic head.)
Of course, introducing compassionate and caring characters (male or female) will result in a completely different story: one that simply wouldn’t have been as brutal to such extreme and thus wouldn’t have had the same level of impact. If the point is to portray a world for Ariel and his buddies to “survive” in without the physical or emotional support of kind souls, Smith succeeded brilliantly.
And I must mention his ability to effortlessly switch into drastically different narrative voices! A skilled writer, indeed!
Don’t even think about publishing until you’ve actually started writing, and don’t even think about writing until you’ve done a whole lot of reading. And not of websites or how-to guides; that’s just dilly-dallying. Read children’s books. Lots of children’s books. Although my grumpiness is resurfacing to tell you that if you haven’t already read lots of children’s books, for love, I’m probably not going to be interested in what you think you have to contribute. Harshing your buzz? Deal with it and dig out your library card.
— by Roger Sutton,
Editorial of the September/October 2015 Issue of The Horn Book
Books & Book Lists
Goodbye Strangerby Rebecca Stead, reviewed by Elizabeth Bird– from School Library Journal
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith, reviewed by Jason Reynolds — from The New York Times
George by Alex Gino, author interview by Kiera Parrott — from School Library Journal
How does an author who already won so many accolades to continue pushing herself for such new heights?
This book has no surprising twist ending: magical or SciFi-esque; it has no flashy mystery elements; it is set in an ordinary school with ordinary middle school students — but yet, one cannot stop reading it because we as readers care so much about the interior lives of the characters (three “main” plus the supporting cast). It makes one feel compassion and empathy towards all who behave “well” and who might have some questionable motivation. It also makes readers marvel at the author’s ability to write a “quiet” book that speaks so loudly on the reality of being a young teen who must navigate the treacherous waters of friendship, social dynamics, and power-structure.