Category Archives: Views

Sunday Select, September 6, 2015

FCLSSQuote of the Week

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 Stranger by 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

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Recent and New Releases by Alyson Beecher — from Kid Lit Frenzy

3 Filipino Folk Tales That Would Make Great YA Novels by Angel Cruz — from Book Riot

Happenings and Musings

Read Before You Write by Roger Sutton — from The Horn Book

Diversity Survey Deadline Nears by By Jim Milliot — from Publishers Weekly

The Opposite of Colorblind: Why It’s Essential to Talk to Children About Race by Hannah Ehrlich — from Lee & Low Books

Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric by Charles Blow — from The New York Times

Literary and Entertaining

The Bay of the Dead, a Facebook Photo Story by M.T. Anderson — from Facebook

17 Things We Wish Had Happened in Harry Potter by Gwen Glazer — from The New York Times

Where the Magic Happens: Children’s Illustrators Open Up Their Studios – in pictures by Jake Green — from The Guardian

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Sunday Select, August 23, 2015

FCLSSQuote of the Week

Learning the alphabet gave you night terrors, and even now you have a deep seated fear of being mauled by a bear.

— by Bridey Heing,

from “How to Tell If You’re in and Edward Gorey Book”  (referring to The Gashlycrumb Tinies)

Children’s Literature Happenings & Book Lists

How To Tell If You’re In an Edward Gorey Book by Bridey Heing — from The Toast

Kwame Alexander BeatBoxing The Crossover at Singapore American School

ABC Books Beyond Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Karina Glaser — from Book Riot

Getting Graphic by Julie Danielson — from Kirkus

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #445: Featuring Matt Phelan by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Good Questions and Great Answers

Where Are All The People of Color in Sci-Fi/Fantasy? by Anthony Vicino — from SF Signal

Bedtime Stories for Young Brains by Perri Klass, MD. — from The New York Times

10 REASONS TO READ DIVERSELY — from Lee & Low Books

I’m Latino. I’m Hispanic. And They Are Different, so I drew a comic to explain. by Terry Blas — from Vox

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Notes from Beijing, Day 2

FCLBeijingSince posting on WordPress has proven quite challenging using my phone alone (didn’t travel with a computer) and most of the pictures are on my camera (and I didn’t bring all the cable connectors), my posts will be short and with just a couple of pictures. More to come after I am back to New York.

Day two in Beijing was split into three segments: The Summer Palace (Ye He Yuan); the newly developed areas of restaurants near the Palace ground; and the Hou Hai area of bars and live music. One sentence summary: The city seems to be a happy but awkward mixture of the very old and the aspirationally new; the responsibility to maintain the heritage of the Chinese past and the drive to catch up with the global future.

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Sunday Select, August 16, 2015

FCLSSQuotes of the Week

What few people understand and some people don’t want to understand is that the chattel slavery inflicted on blacks in America was distinctly different from slavery in Africa, Russia, Ireland, Rome, Greece, or Egypt. The notion that a person and their descendants would be held in generational perpetuity without any hope of liberation was only featured in America… for hundreds of years, affecting millions of people. Slavery is America’s original sin. Many of our fellow citizens continue to suffer horrific injustice and inequality because we haven’t learned our history and we lack the moral courage to deal with what happened then and what is happening now.

— Laurie Halse Anderson (public facebook comment)

Authors must be allowed to focus on the topics and ideas that contain personal meanings, that they feel passionate about examining in their work, and that they can feel proud of creating.  Solely focusing on what an author hasn’t given readers can mean we risk missing an awful lot of what they have.

— Shelly McNerney
from In which I think about gender of authors and characters…

Authors and Reading Lists

andrewsmithweird
A sampling of YA author Andrew Smith’s Facebook Profile Photos: with two new books out in 2015 (Alex Crow and Stand Off) Smith is not only hard at work keeping his YA novels weird (and they ARE weird, in the best way) but also making sure that Facebook remains equally weird.

How Brian Selznick Created a Delightful Book Trailer for ‘The Marvels’ by Jennifer Maloney — from Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal

How to (Re)Tell a Story in Pictures by Gareth Hinds — from TeachingBooks.net

M.T. Anderson: ‘Seeking Out the Truth’ for Teens — from Shelf Awareness

Italy: Diary of a Wimpy Kid translated into Latin — from BBC News from Elsewhere

Meet Marvel’s newest female superhero in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Andrea Towers — from Entertainment Weekly

SUMMER READING compiled by Crystal — from Rich In Color

The Best Feminist Books For Younger Readers by Brandi Bailey — From Book Riot

Looking for a Back-to-School Chapter Book Read Aloud? Don’t Miss These! by Daryl Grabarek — from School Library Journal

Important Perspectives

In which I think about gender of authors and characters… by Shelly McNerney — from macstackbooks.com

Kids’ Thoughts on Censorship (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 1) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Rewriting History: American Indians, Europeans, and an Oak Tree (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 3) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Allie’s Reflections (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 4) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Representations (and the Lack Thereof) of Race and Hair (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 2) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Monticello’s whitewashed version of history by Desiree H. Melton — from The Washington Post

Follow-up discussion on author Laurie Halse Anderson’s public facebook post regarding the above article.

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Who Publishes Newbery Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Last Monday, I published the statistics of Caldecott publishers from the last 20 years.  This week, I offer the results of my spreadsheeting for The Newbery Award.  Sampled years: 1996 to 2015 (20 years.)  Two comparative highlights:

The Newbery gold and silver medals have gone to fewer publishers than the Caldecott medals.  (28/13 for Newbery and 32/17 for Caldecott.)

The Newbery Gold Medal winners are mostly female while women have only won four Caldecott gold.  (13x vs 4x)

Again I ask the Children’s Lit experts in the field to correct information when you spot errors so I can update and make this report more accurate for everyone.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:

Authors

  • 84 Winning and Honored Titles total (20 winner and 64 honor)
  • 19 Individuals won — (Kate DiCamillo won the gold medal twice.)
  • 12 women are named award winners (63%)
  • 4 Winners are POC: Kwame Alexander, Christopher Paul Curtis, Cynthia Kadohata, and Linda Sue Park
  • 41 Honor titles are written by women and 23 are written by men (64% vs 36%).
  • Multiple winners of Gold + Silver seals: 4 times: Jacqueline Woodson; 3 times: Christopher Paul Curtis (1 gold), Kate DiCamillo (1 gold), Jennifer Holm; 2 times: Richard Peck (1 gold), Jack Gantos (1 gold), Nancy Farmer, Sharon Creech (1 gold), Kevin Henkes, Laura Amy Schlitz (1 gold), Jim Murphy, Gary D. Schmidt, and Patricia Reilly Giff.

Imprints & Publishers

  • 28 Different Imprints
  • 13 Different Publishers after consolidation*

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (FSG, for example, was independent, then part of Macmillan.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.

Newbery Wins by Imprint

The reddish area represents about 50% of the total, split between 7 imprints while 21 other imprints share the rest 50%.  Clarion had a large share and now counts as part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. FSG did exceedingly well as a small publishing house (Frances Foster and Melanie Kroupa were both acknowledged as their imprints) before becoming part of Macmillan.  So did Henry Holt, now also part of Macmillan.

Nancy Paulsen, Joanna Cotler, Frances Foster, Richard Jackson,Melanie Kroupa, and Wendy Lamb are all editors with their own named imprints, making up for almost 10% of the total.


Newbery Wins by Publisher

The reddish area represents about 89.5% of the total, split between 8 publishers while 5 other publishers took home 10% (7 titles) of the win. Penguin and Random House are still counted separately even though they are technically merged.  Together, these two publishers combined would have 30% (25 titles) share of the total wins for the last 20 years.  Front Street is no longer a stand-along publisher and their backlist titles are now sold by Boyds Mills and also absorbed into Namelos, under the steerage of Steven Roxburgh, former publisher of Front Street.

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Sunday Select, August 09, 2015

FCLSS

Quote of the Week:

“There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the ‘Whites’ toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.”

Albert Einstein, “The Negro Question (1946)”

Children’s Lit Happenings!

Announcing the 2015 Golden Kite Winners — from Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

2015 Teens Top Ten Nominees Announced — from Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

Ashley Bryan Talks with Roger by Roger Sutton — from The Horn Book Magazine

A Notable Summer by Andrew Medler — from Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC)

Author Name Pronunciation Guide — from TeachingBooks.net

Interview with Phoebe Yeh by Jenn Baker — from Minorities in Publishing (MiP)

Roundtable: The New Archie by Brigid Alverson– from School Library Journal

Important Points to Consider:

Einstein: The Negro Question (1946) by Albert Einstein — reposted on On Being

Teen Girls and the Persistence of Gender Stereotypes by Randye Hoder from The Atlantic

Diversity: What Can We Do About It? — from The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

INDIAN 101 FOR WRITERS – A Five Part Series, Part I — from A Fresh Pot of Tea (link provided for Part II and so on)

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Who Publishes Caldecott Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Inspired by Barbara Genco’s Caldecott by the numbers: Brooklyn edition (math is fun!), I did a little bit of my own unscientific investigation playing with a spreadsheet and a couple of charts: for the past 20 years of Caldecott winners and honor titles.  There are people more knowledgeable about the publisher/imprint situation and also where they are located (and were located when each individual title won the award) so please feel free to comment and correct.  I will update the blog entry when corrections are received and verified.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:

Illustrators

  • 87 titles received gold and silver medals (20 winner, 67 honor)
  • 18 individual Caldecott winning illustrators (David Wiesner and Chris Raschka both won twice)
  • 4 women were named medal winners (20%)
  • Out of the 67 honored titles, some illustrators were named more than once like Jerry Pinkney: 4x, Mo Willems, Brian Collier, and Peter Sis: 3x, Kadir Nelson, Melissa Sweet, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Jon Klassen, 2x — not an exhaustive list, and some honored illustrators were also winners in other years, such as Jon Klassen, Brian Selznick, and David Wiesner.
  • 58 out of the 87 titles are illustrated by men (67%)

Imprints & Publishers

  • 32 individually named imprints
  • 17 publishers were named (after some consolidation*)
  • 10 titles are from publishers that do not operate mainly from the NYC offices – as to the best of my knowledge: Candlewick: 4x, Chronicle: 1x, Eerdmans: 2x, Harcourt: 3x, Beach Lane: 1x (11%)

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (Roaring Brook, for example, was independent, then part of Millbrook, and now part of Macmillan, which in turn is actually a part of an even bigger company, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.  If you can’t see them here, please click on the links.

Caldecott Wins: By Imprint — The reddish area represents about 60% of the pie

Caldecott Wins: By Publisher — The reddish area represents about 87% of the pie

The information gathered for these charts are from the Official Caldecott Award Page. Readers might find it of interest to browse older winners and honor titles and discovered more facts, such as:

Finding some publishing names no longer with us: Lothrop, Bradbury, Scribner, Four Winds and the “original” Macmillan Children’s publishing group.

Some years the same publisher is awarded 2-3 times, for example: Orchard in 1997, 3 wins; Macmillan in 1972, 3 wins; Harper in 1971 2 wins

Before 1980s, Newbery and Caldecott were the SAME committee.


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Sunday Select: August 2nd, 2015

FCLSS

Quote of the Week:

“When you hear, ‘black lives matter,’ don’t instinctively respond that all lives matter, as if one statement negates the other. Instead, try to understand why people of color might be compelled to remind the world that their lives have value.”  — Roxane Gay

Mostly About Children’s Books:

What Children’s Publishers Read at Home with Kids” Compiled by Diane Roback — from Publishers Weekly.

Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet Speech Videos” — from Association for Library Service to Children

2015 LIS 7210 Library Materials for Children List” by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen — from sarahpark.com: musings on korean diaspora, children’s literature, and adoption

#WeNeedDiverseBlogs: Reviewing & Reading Diversely” hosted by Nicole Brinkley — from Twitter Discussion thread

Important Points to Consider:

Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel DuBose and Cecil the Lion” by Roxane Gay — from The New York Times.

American Racism in the ‘White Frame’” interview of Joe Feagan by George Yancy — from The New York Times

The Hololcaust and White Privilege” by Monica Edinger — from Educating Alice

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The Ever Expanding Bubble of Knowledge and Facts

A former student shared this article by Jef Rouner, “NO, IT’S NOT YOUR OPINION. YOU’RE JUST WRONG” on facebook and I reshare this here.

It is definitely a quick and worthwhile read, especially for those who are in the profession of educating young minds and often struggle with how to guide young people toward more fact-based opinion forming, something that I have to face frequently.  As mentioned in the article, young children often believe that what they know is the totality of certain area of facts (about dinosaurs, about Star Wars, about the Civil Rights movement, etc.,) and thus they easily believe that their opinions, based on all that they know, are 100% accurate and valid, even sacred, and cannot be challenged: by peers or teachers whose knowledge bases are a lot bigger.

But my students are in their pre-teen and early/mid-teen years and are still quite flexible in becoming better informed. I just have to keep pointing out (and sometimes bursting) the bubbles they find themselves in.  In fact, we all operate within our own knowledge/information/social bubbles.  All our knowledge bases have to have some sort of limitation, even when we are well-informed.  In order for me to be less limited, I need to keep identifying the boundary of each bubble and see how to expand the size of that bubble to include more facts and thus strengthen or even alter my opinions.  I hope I can continue modeling this behavior in front of my students so they can accept when their bubbles are being challenged or burst!

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Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/

 

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ( (ねじまき鳥クロニクル) by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin
read by Rupert Degas

I felt so lost when the recording of this book ended. A small part is due to the sense of irritation by the vague and unresolved ending. But that was easy to get over with: as a reader, I never need tidy endings. Indeed, if all the loose threads and baffling aspects all get tied up and connected neatly, I would probably have been quite disappointed.

The real reason of the sense of loss is that now I no longer “live” in that hyperrealistic, half-true and half-dreaming world Murakami created for his readers.  Starting with a very small story of an insignificant person, the narrative slowly opens up and expands to encompass both History (especially the Sino-Japanese War) and the unexplainable force of the entire Universe.

My admiration of Murakami’s philosophical exploration of what it means to be alive and to be connected to the rest of the humanity did not sway me from questioning one assertion of his ideology: That BOTH the Chinese and the Japanese were engaged in fighting a Senseless War. In theory, I believe that War is evil and senseless.  But, growing up Chinese (and with my mother’s entire family in Fake Manchu murdered by the Japanese) made me also realize that China’s RESISTANCE against Japan’s INVASION into our country might not be so senseless after all. On a scale of Japan on one side and China on the other, the weight of who’s responsible of all the senseless killings and deaths should definitely tilt heavily on the Japan side.

I finished the book back in April.  Three months later, I can still hear and feel some of the scenes and dialogs in my mind.  However, I will not recommend to listen to this particular audio recording: I found Degas’ voice acting as the young girl, May, more distracting than enhancing and I wish that he could have pronounced the Japanese names with more accurate intonations.  One day, I will go back and read the book itself and who knows, I might be able to teach myself enough Japanese to read in its original form!

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The INjustice in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 8.04.06 AMI posted this to Facebook just now, thinking that it has little to do with Children’s or YA literature so the paragraphs do not belong on this blog. However, when I consider the reason for We Need Diverse Books movement and the imagery of young black males portrayed in some “gritty” modern teen novels, I found myself compelled to post my facebook update here as well:

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” for status update. What’s been on my mind so much lately (because I’m listening to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow) is the INjustice in our Criminal Justice system. Looking to verify some of the scenarios she cites in her book, I looked up the current prison fact sheet and found this (and other facts) on the NAACP site:

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

What I now realize is that — these African American prison inmates do not just serve time and endure unfair punishment, they also lose many of their civil rights: including the basic right to vote to change the societal bondage of such unfair conditions.

We need to be aware and demand and SEE change in our Criminal Justice system and not allow the local and federal governments to keep funnel precious resources and huge amount of money into maintaining a penal system that does nothing to improve our society for all (building more prisons instead of training teachers and supporting education, for example!)

Link to the CRIMINAL JUSTICE FACT SHEET

Link to the PDF of “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers” by The Sentencing Project

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Whom To Thank? Considering The Caldecott/Newbery Acceptance Speeches

Sunday evening, June 28th, was a highly anticipated night for those involved in Children’s literature:  the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet at the American Library Association’s annual conference where honor authors and illustrators were recognized and received their official citations from the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the three winners gave their acceptance speeches.

The speeches have always been the highlight of the evening — they are often enlightening, finely crafted, and always genuine.  This year was no different.  We heard how Kwame Alexander wooed his wife with sensual poetry, how Dan Santat turned down a cushy job at Google to continue his passion as a children’s book illustrator, and how Donald Crews collaborated with and still misses his late wife, the brilliant Ann Jonas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.41.11 AMAnd of course, they thanked many people.  Their agents, editors, publishers, loved ones, and the librarians who bring books to young people.  The usual.  And they thanked the Committees for their collective work. But this time, as I sat in the room, listening with rapt attention to Dan Santat: his Google story, his conquering of the relentless self-doubt, his Asian identity (Dan is Thai,) I also noted the way he thanked several bloggers and twitterers (is this even a word?) who publicly supported his work through the years, personally acknowledging those individuals by name. In contrast, his appreciation of the Caldecott Committee, although heart-felt, seemed formal and definitely not personal.  Later on, I was reminded by a friend that in 2013, “my own” Newbery winner, Katherine Applegate, also specifically and heartily thanked the same group of social media children’s book promoters by name in her acceptance speech.  (I myself had no recollection of this and had to read the speech in the Horn Book to confirm.)

I have been pondering this in light of the author/reader relationship (especially via social media) ever since.

It is simply natural for the authors or illustrators to want to thank people whom they consider champions of their books, and with whom they have formed close bonds via social media and real life interactions.  However, I do hope that naming book champions (and sometimes it feels like they are also “author champions”) does not eclipse the fact that public opinions or support from certain individuals or blog sites have absolutely no influence over the Award Committees or Committee Members in selecting winners and honor books.  I also hope that all who listened to or read the speeches realize that just because most librarians or teachers do not promote specific titles on public forums such as blogs or twitter feeds or interact with authors directly on social media, it does not mean that the front-line librarians are not also champions of the winning titles, before or after the award announcement.  (Librarians are usually also thanked collectively in the formal and generic “you’re good people who bring books to children, yay” way.)

I am probably one of those who straddle a bit of both worlds: when I I LOVE love love a book (which I do, a lot!) I might write a really positive review of the book and tag “highly recommended” here on this blog.  And then, I go into my real life, school librarian mode and “push” the book like mad. The beloved book goes on my summer reading lists, it is purchased for a bunch of teachers who attend my monthly faculty children’s book club, and gets recommended whenever I book talk or conduct one on one reader’s advisory. It might even make its way to become a finalist of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.

The difference?  I simply do not record all these enthusiastic actions in details on my blog or twitter feed.  I also rarely become close friends (online or in RL) with children’s book creators, even when I absolutely admire all their work with all my heart.  Partly because I’d like to maintain my objectivity when reading and writing about their next books.  Thus, I know that I will probably never be thanked by name as a champion for a particular book or book creator in an award acceptance speech.

My name will especially not be cited individually if I have served on that year’s Newbery or Caldecott Committee.  Why?  Because serving on these major children’s literature award committees means to go into a sort of review hiatus and anonymity.  According to ALSC regulation, during the year of service, Committee members can not publish personal opinions on eligible books (as blog posts, tweets, or in published reviews with bylines.)  There are multiple reasons for this regulation. One is to avoid public perceptions of inappropriate lobbying of any specific title.

After serving on two wonderful Newbery Committees with great Chairs, I came to truly value the process.  I value that we collectively examined hundreds of books in a wide range of genres, themes, age brackets, styles, and forms, from large and small publishers (and self-published work.)  I value that we always adhered to the criteria and discussed the literary merits and drawbacks of each and every nominated title with care.  I value that we all understood that the discussion would change our original thoughts on many books and that not one single book was a shoo-in, ever.  I especially value that we all went into the discussion without knowing much (if any) of each other’s opinions on the group of books we had to discuss, so we could really listen without preconceived biases. This is why I came to value ALSC’s tough rule against reviews, online or in print, by Award Committee Members.  Since social media have greatly enabled instant, and continuous, connection between readers and book creators, it is much easier for an author or illustrator to note what has been the reception of his or her book and who is or isn’t supportive of that title.  It does not help the process (or the perception of the process) if some of the Committee members appear to have close ties with certain authors or have shared strong opinions on eligible titles in the public arena.

Newbery or Caldecott award committee members must come to terms with the fact that in the winners’ minds (and in the acceptance speeches) we are just that: a collective whole.  In 2012-2013, I served, along with 14 other dedicated, thoughtful, passionate book champions, on the Newbery Committee.  We voted and decided that the Newbery Medal would go to Katherine Applegate for The One and Only Ivan.  I could not have interacted with Applegate when Ivan was published (early in 2012) or when it gained wide appreciation through the year in the blogsphere. I could not have told her how I might have thought her skill in getting inside Ivan’s mind stunning. Or how much attention I might have paid to the rhythm of the sentences.  Or how I might have felt that everyone, regardless of age, should read this book because it is important and because it possesses layers of meanings.  And I could not have shared with her how lovingly my students might have reacted to Ivan.

So, it was only natural that Katherine thanked the Committee as a whole and thanked individually a few bloggers who were free to gush publicly and to tell of their acts of admiration for her to witness and appreciate.

No one can dictate whom the authors or illustrators feel compelled to thank in their speeches.  In the formal speeches, the Committee as a whole often comes across as a collective, impersonal, cool headed group who sit in judgment of books.  I simply wish to emphasize that Award Committee members are just the opposite of cool or impersonal: they are as warm and passionate and would incessantly push books wherever they go (much like the individually thanked bloggers and twitterers) even if they do not publish blog posts, tweet, or form close individual relationships with the award winners.

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What is Akimi's mother?

Finally got around to reading a book favored by many of my students.  So far, the writing is crisp and fluid, the storyline is intriguing, and the main character is easy to like. Then, I ran into a sentence that caught me by surprise: “Akimi’s mother is Asian, her dad Irish.”  I tried to imagine why the narrator decided to name the COUNTRY of origin of this character’s father — IRELAND, and to name the CONTINENT of origin of this character’s mother?  The symmetry would have been, “Akimi’s mother is Asian, her dad European,” or “Akimi’s mother is Japanese, her dad Irish.”  (Akimi is a unisex Japanese name.)

By naming the father’s specific country, we acknowledge that different European countries have different cultures and traditions and also different background/immigrant stories.  By naming the mother’s origin as from one generic and vast continent, we erase the differences of the diverse cultures and heritages, and fail to acknowledge the different background/immigrant stories.

Of course, one cannot know what went into writing and editing such sentences: I don’t know whether the author originally put in the ethnicity of the mother and was advised to change it; I don’t know whether there are reasons I am unaware of that naming the mother’s heritage might be offensive; I don’t know that it is not just so common a narrative convention that no one on the editorial team would be able to catch the inconsistency and correct it.  

Few people would even notice this unessential sentence unless they are like me who reads statements like this and see the bright neon sign of frustration: when will American, non-Asian writers start realizing that Asians and Asian Americans belong to many different sub-groups, all carrying with them drastically diverse beliefs, traditions, and histories? And if they’d like to put in some ASIAN characters to “diversify” their stories, perhaps some more understanding of where those characters came from, what kind of back stories they and their forefathers might have would have helped to raise the authenticity meter? And also perhaps consider: whether they behave more like those from their countries of origin or more like your “common” Americans… (by the way, what IS a “common” American?)

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Intersectionality

Thinking about how this has been a recent buzz word when it comes to discussing diversity topics.  It is truly the reality of our identities: one cannot just be Asian, but Asian and female, Asian and female and middle class, and Asian and female and middle class and not 100% straight, so on and so forth.  And I always want to honor others’ views and feelings when in a heated discussion.  However, it seems that sometimes when intersectionality is mentioned, it is someone’s way Out of the more uncomfortable strain of the topics.  If talking about Race is the most uncomfortable, then let’s introduce the intersectionality of Race and Class.  Then let’s shift the focal point to Class.

So can I ask this question in future discussions when intersected identities are introduced: which topic makes one the most uncomfortable?  Then I will insist on not wavering from That one because it is obviously the topic most needed addressing and worked on.

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What Do Covers Say?

Working on making a poster in anticipation of Jacqueline Woodson’s visit to my school next week — and finding images of the book covers of middle grade and YA titles by her.  The fact that quite a few of the covers feature brown people without their faces shown feel uncomfortable to me.   Don’t know how others might feel… Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.13.42 AM

Of course, there are plenty of other books and different editions featuring prominently the characters’ faces.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.59 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.40 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 8.18.11 AM

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I did not get to read this article…

I did not get to read this article until today even though it was published last year — but What White Children Need to Know About Race should be a Must Read for anyone involved in the lives of our children — teachers, school administrators, librarians, and parents. Especially parents. Because, when it is all said and done, “professional” educators (like me, a middle school librarian) only have your kids in our hands part of the day, part of the week, and part of the year, and part of their lives while you (parents) influence your children all the time.

Actually, this article is also informative even for those who are NOT directly involved with educating children — it probably should just be called, What White PEOPLE Need to Know About Race (and how to engage in meaningful and courageous conversations!)

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April 14, 2015 · 10:15 pm

Children’s Book Publishing, Hot Men, and Sexism

After reading and posting comments on Roger Sutton’s blog post from yesterday presenting questions and a snapshot regarding gender representations in YA and children’s books, I recalled another similar post from a while back (8 years ago) The other g-word and all the impassioned, albeit a lot less heated, and eye opening comments following that post. 

Many of the comments, including my own, allude to the Hot Men phenomenon of children’s publishing: both behind the scene in the publishing process and in the front line at promotional and other events.

I was definitely trying to stir up the pot a bit but I still wonder if so many of the comments, especially from female children’s book creators, don’t tell quite a bit of the truth! 

Such as this one: When I got my first book illustration job at a major publisher, I noticed something that made me feel instantly uneasy. It was a male illustrator’s headshot taped to the wall with hearts around it. I asked about it, and got giggles and swoons about his cuteness from the all female dept. My first thoughts when I saw this photo were: is this just a little office joke or is he actually be more likely to get offered a ms. then a similarly talented female or male? and: does he feel weird when he comes into the office and sees that?

Or this one: When I was studying illustration, a teacher took me and some of the other female students aside for a talk at the end of the year. He said he had no idea what was going on, but he wanted to warn us of something. He said that in his experience, year after year, he not only had more female illustration majors then males numbers wise, but that in his opinion they were overall better illustrators, and that after graduation most of the women faded from the scene while more men made it. He was utterly perplexed, had no answers, but urged us to be aware of this and to please not quit and to press on despite the odds. He literally begged us not to get discouraged and quit the field.

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Over at Read Roger Horn Book a small…

Over at Read Roger (Horn Book,) a small word/ideology battle over female representation in children’s and young adult books. Gender by The Numbers. Take a look!

I posted a couple of responses — here’s the most recent one, in response to two other commenters:

Maia said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if having female authors or protags guaranteed that what was being written reflected a feminist worldview?”

Yes, wouldn’t it? From earlier March to now, one of my thoughts was: how many women writers who write stories with female protagonists have pretty much “subjected” their main characters to fit the negatively stereotypical young women mold? Vapid, romance-crazed, hyper-appearance-conscious (toward themselves, their peers, or their love-interests), etc.? I’d rather take Avi’s Charlotte Doyle or M.T. Anderson’s Violet (from Feed) over Stephanie Meyer’s Bella (Twilight Saga) or Cecily von Ziegesar’s Blair or Serena (Gossip Girl) any day.

So, the bottom line: numbers definitely do not always tell the whole story. If any of us wishes to engage in truly fruitful discussions on these issues, we all have to first do our homework and read A LOT of the books under examination and THINK carefully about our initial, intuitive responses and then THINK again and again about whether these responses have solid basis in reality — and then LISTEN to each other and CONSIDER the many other sides of the same issue.

And, by the way, as a middle aged woman who has lived in the States for the last 25 years, I must agree with Maia that, to me, rage, pent-up or otherwise, is never a good starting point to initiate a conversation and is definitely not a valid excuse to ignore facts or to lash out at random strangers. I am almost offended by Mike Jung’s sentiment that these women are somewhat excused for their bad behaviors because of their rage — would you excuse men the same way? Can they lash out at women? If not, then perhaps you are still thinking that women are not sensible creatures who should have the ability to engage in logical and reasoned discourses even when they feel wronged? Are we so unreasonably emotional that we cannot be held accountable for our actions?

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April 1, 2015 · 1:56 pm

But I NEVER imagined him as being like me. In my head, he’s white.

With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, many gatekeepers and practitioners of children’s literature have been publishing thoughtful articles and having deep conversations on the urgent need to publish and promote books featuring diverse characters.  To highlight how important this movement is and how decades of mostly “white” books have “trained” our young readers what to expect from books, I’d like to swing the spotlight directly on some young readers themselves:

The Setting

Time: A sunny Monday morning in winter.  3rd period.  Individual choice time.

Place: A comfortable School Library Reading Room, Upper East Side of Manhattan.  This is an independent school where 60% of students are white and the rest are made up of darker skinned students (if we also consider East Asian as “darker” skinned.)

Character List

F – The Librarian, Female, Asian American, 50-something

A – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Half Black, Half Jewish
R – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Twin of A.
W – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. African American.
J – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Caribbean Black.
N – Student, 7th Grade.  Female. Jewish/White.

A, R, W, J, N are all devourers of books, especially action packed Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.

The Scene

The students sprawled on the comfy chairs and benches with their laptops, half participating in a discussion on books featuring African American characters and history as they had just finished a unit on African American Authors and Stories (Day of Tears, Carver, We Are the Ship, The Other Wes Moore, Brown Girl Dreaming, among others.)

Suddenly, A exclaimed, “Oh my god.  The main guy in the book I just finished is black! He’s super cool! But I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

R, J, and W immediately jumped into the conversation and were all in agreement how they also never imagined a superhero with their own faces.  N, usually talkative, remained silent.  The kids and the librarian then started talking about how there are also so few black action heroes in movies except for perhaps Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson.

The period ended.  Everyone picked up their new reads and left the Reading Room.

End Scene

The previous was based on a recent informal conversation I had with those five kids.  I didn’t detect any sense of outrage or dismay.  The boys simply accepted the lack of dark skinned heroes as the norm.  I, on the other hand, could not stop wondering about that one statement, “I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

Is this a shared sentiment across the country by non-white young readers who seldom see themselves on book covers or between the covers?  When they do encounter people of color in books, most of these characters seem to always need some form of “saving” — from poverty, from political or racial injustice, or from other dire situations (human trafficking, child soldier, etc.)

Isn’t it high time for us all to change that default and reshape the landscape of American children’s books?

Let’s have non-white heroes and let their faces show on the covers.

interrogation ofmetalandwishes tankborn
2014, Candlewick Press
Australian Import
Vol. 1 in Tseries
2014,
Margaret K. McElderry
Vol. 1 in series
2011, Tu Books
Vol. 1 in trilogy

 

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