Bar-tailed godwits’ tale of migration is extraordinary, even compared to other shorebirds’ migrations. Each year, the godwits fly from their northern home in Alaska to their southern home in Australia and New Zealand. They make this 7,000 mile journey before the Arctic winter begins. When they return to the north, they stop to feed in the wetlands of Asia.
Jeannie Baker’s latest book, Circle (Candlewick Press), is a lovely testimony to these amazing birds and their journeys. Her art is depicted in stunning collage. Besides depicting the birds, she also adds in a young, physically challenged boy who dreams of flying.
Ironically, it was my students who taught me to be a writer, though I was hired to teach them.
Richard Peck’s novels for children and young adults have received many awards and commendations: the Newbery Medal, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Edgar Award, and as National Book Award finalists. All of this recognition means nothing to a fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth grade reader. They aren’t impressed. They want to read books that speak to them where they are. Richard Peck does just that.
After serving in the military, Peck became a teacher, first in a high school. In many interviews, he speaks of then being involuntarily transferred to teach English in a middle school. While his educational career wasn’t long, it was there that he observed so much about adolescents. His keen insight comes alive on the page as a reader becomes immersed in his stories.
My favorite character that Peck has created is Grandma Dowdel, first introduced in A Long Way from Chicago. His descriptions of her have brought her to life for me. Maybe she reminds me of one or both my own grandmothers, and that is a gift from this author. Thank you Richard!
Richard Peck’s latest book, The Best Man (Dial), is contemporary fiction. His protagonist, Archer Magill’s voice is that of an average (if there is such a person) sixth grade boy. He often doesn’t recognize the enormity of the personal events around him. His best friend, Lynette discusses that with him when he witnesses a bullying situation at school. Archer and two other boys have found a smaller classmate tied up in the bathroom with the word “gay “ written on his forehead in fluorescent marker. The student teacher, whom all of the students admire, handles the situation with the bullies and their class by explaining that being gay is not just a word, it’s an identity. Mr. McLeod says that it is his identity. Archer never even considered that, and Lynette talks with him about it.
You really take your sweet time, don’t you, Archer? Time to what? Mr. McLeod must really have put it out there if you picked up on it. He must have spelled it out. It got spelled out all right, on Russell’s forehead.
Archer’s family members help him navigate the daily decisions that he makes that define him as a person. There is a great deal of humor in the author’s sensitive descriptions of bullying, homosexuality, divorce, and the hierarchy in middle school. Even though the author is addressing these weighty topics, he does so in a highly entertaining way, recognizing them as aspects of everyday life. In my opinion, this is another award winner for Richard Peck.
In the following clip, Richard Peck discusses the importance of reading aloud to your children. The Best Man might be just the book to read aloud with your pre-adolescent or adolescent. It would open up some important areas of discussion for you all.
As an African American child growing up in the 1960s, at a time when I didn’t see others like me in children’s books, I was profoundly affected by the expressiveness of Keats’s illustrations. Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963. This honor is for the illustration of a children’s book, and Keats’s art was groundbreaking. Keats was inspired by photographs, which he had saved for over twenty years from Life magazine. The photos were of a young black boy who was going to get a shot from the doctor. In the first picture, the child emits a joyful confidence of life. This child’s spirit inspired Keats when he created the illustrations for The Snowy Day. He made a bold move by depicting a child of color in his picture book, and he opened the door for multiculturalism in children’s illustrations. This door still needs to be opened wider, but it is important to celebrate Keats’s wisdom so many years ago. Andrea Davis Pinkney does just that in A Poem for Peter, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Viking). This picture book biography is a work of art written in narrative verse.
Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz was born in 1916 to poor, Polish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. From an early age, it is apparent that Jacob had a special talent for drawing. When he was in third grade, he earned money by painting signs for stores. Even though he won awards for his art in high school and was offered scholarships to art school, Jack had to stifle his dreams to help support his family when his father died. He was able to maintain his artistic growth when he began taking classes at The Art Students League that led to work during the Great Depression through the WPA. Through this government-sponsored organization, Jack was paid to paint murals. Then he was hired as a comic-book artist. During WWII, Jack used his artistic talent for the Air Force division of the Army.
When WWII ended, Jack experienced the same discrimination that many Jewish people experienced. That was when he shortened and rearranged his name to Ezra Jack Keats.
Yes, yes – Ezra Jack Keats.
Had a nice ring to it – for some.
It was a name that only hinted at
Only winded at where he’d
but never came out and said. from A Poem for Peter
He illustrated books for other authors, and then he was given the chance to write and illustrate his own work. His character, Peter, came to life, that little boy from the photographs. In The Snowy Day, Keats used collage and handmade stamps, which were techniques that were new to him.
A Poem for Peter delighted me and brought me back to the wonders of The Snowy Day.
When I was young, the first book that I ever owned was an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables. The book was larger than most and lushly illustrated. I fondly remember pouring over this version for hours as my introduction to this spunky heroine. Anne is fearless and imaginative as she tackles the hurdles of finding a family. While she stands her ground and won’t be intimidated, she has a gentle soul and a kind heart.
Lucy Maud Montgomery based her novel on a story that she had heard about a couple who were sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they requested to help on their farm. She used experiences from her childhood as well as her home in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada as the foundation of the story. Montgomery went on to write many sequels to the original (1908) Anne of Green Gables.
Be sure to mark your calendars for this Thanksgiving evening when PBS will premiere a new film adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. In 2017, Netflix will also be presenting eight episodes of this beloved story.
When those involved in nominating books for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) at Salem State University choose titles, they look for representatives of different genres. There are selections that represent non-fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction. Recently, there have also been graphic novels as nominees. It’s important to understand that a “graphic novel” is not a genre, it is a format. A graphic uses art that is similar to comic books, with sequential panels and dialogue telling the story. Graphics are conceived in every genre: fiction, non-fiction, history, science fiction, or fantasy.
Two nominees for the 2017 MCBA are in graphic form. El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams) is a memoir. In this 2015 Newbery Honor Book, Bell uses humor to tell her unique story of growing up as a hearing impaired child. She was equipped with a bulky hearing aid that included a box like piece strapped to her chest. This made it difficult to make friends, so Bell imagined herself as a superhero.
Our other selection is The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet by author Ian Lendler and cartoonist Zack Giallongo (Roaring Brook Press). When the zoo closes at night, the animals come out of their cages. They are all actors, and they stage one of the world’s classic plays.
One of the rights of passage for our eighth graders is their study of the United States Constitution and Supreme Court cases. Every year, one of the popular choices to study is the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. In this decision, the US Supreme Court made school segregation unconstitutional, saying separate is never equal. While this case is well known, there was an important trial over a hundred years previous to Brown. The Massachusetts case, Roberts v. City of Boston, began the fight for an equal education for all children.
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Bloomsbury) introduces Sarah Roberts, a young African-American girl who was evicted from the Otis School because it was only for white children. The Otis School was close to Sarah’s home, but Boston had a rule that children who weren’t white had to go to a separate school that was just for them. The school that Sarah was told to go to was the Smith School, which was far away from her home. The Smith School only owned one book, subjects like history and drawing weren’t taught, and there was no area to play outside.
Adeline and Benjamin Roberts decided to fight for their daughter’s education, and they hired a young African-American attorney, Robert Morris. The case was filed in 1848, yet it wasn’t until late in 1849 that it was heard in court. By then, Morris had asked Charles Sumner, a lawyer and staunch abolitionist, to help him. The two attorneys, one black and one white, argued that Boston children should attend schools that were closest to their homes. Sumner spoke eloquently and said that all children deserved an equal education. The Massachusetts Supreme Court announced the decision in 1850 that segregated schools were legal.
Sarah’s father went on to fight for equal education outside of the legal system. He traveled around Massachusetts to speak on the subject. Wherever he went, he passed out copies of Charles Sumner’s speech from court and carried petitions to be signed. In 1855, Boston became the first major city to officially integrate the public schools.
Fast forward to the 1950s…Linda Brown had a long and arduous journey to school in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents joined with other families and called the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to file a suit. The better school that was closest to her home was only for white children. It was the Charles Sumner School. Serendipitous?
In this informative and intriguing account about the fight for educational equality for all children, Susan Goodman writes about taking steps forward and then steps back throughout history. As a Boston resident, the author includes a timeline with information about the busing crisis during the 1970s. There are other valuable sections at the back of the book when Goodman writes about what happened to those involved in the Roberts’ case. She also describes her research and sources. The illustrator, E. B. Lewis has won much recognition for his artwork.
Louise Bourgeois’ (1911-2010) art has been exhibited in museums all over the world. She worked in many mediums, although she is probably best known for her sculptures of spiders. In 2011, one of her works, Spider, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a woman’s piece of art, when it sold at auction for $10.7 million. In 2015, that same piece resold for $28.2 million. In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers) the author explores Bourgeois’ life story. Louise was a young girl who was born in Paris into a family who restored tapestries, and she became one of the premier contemporary artists.
As a twelve year old, Louise learned the family trade, and she began to repair missing fragments of the tapestries that were brought to the shop. Her mother taught her about the styles of textiles, form, color, weaving, dyeing, and stitching. As a child, Louise also kept diaries of her thoughts and ideas. When she went to university in Paris, Louise first studied mathematics. After her mother’s death, she went to the Sorbonne where she became fascinated with sculpture as well as painting.
After moving to the United States with her husband and children before WWII, Louise struggled with entering the art exhibition world in a new country. As she explored new areas in her own work, she began to be recognized. Bourgeois exhibited and taught for years, and she influenced many other artists.
Some of her signature pieces and themes are very large spiders. She wrote that (Drawing was) “like a thread in a spider’s web.” And “If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.”
Readers, both children and adults, can learn some amazing facts from books that are published primarily for children. An interesting example of this is The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio (Wade Books). While I’m wary of using too many superlatives when I write about books because they can be overused, this book is a true original. The subject is little known to most people, and the illustrations are very unique.
Alfred Ely Beach was a dreamer and an inventor in the 1860s. He was also a publisher whose father owned a newspaper, and most importantly, he was a man of action. Beach imagined building a train powered by an enormous fan underground where there was no traffic. At first, he was denied the permits from the city. So, he proposed a mail tube instead. He got Boss Tweed, New York City’s powerful and unofficial mayor to approve of his plan, so the actual city offices agreed to his construction.
Beach secretly moved out all of his excavated materials at night so that no one would question the enormity of his project. He turned his underground tunnel into a tourist attraction. It was later closed when Boss Tweed rewarded his friends with building more transports underground.
The talented illustrator, Chris Sickels, develops his art as Red Nose Studio. He tells stories through puppets and animation.
I just have to share two videos. One is about Alfred Ely Beach and his underground invention. The other is a clip that shows Chris Sickels’ work on The Secret Subway. Both videos have the same opening picture, but they are different.
It has become commonplace to see women as sports reporters on television or covering sports on the Internet in 2016. This is a fairly recent occurrence though. Contemporary female professional sports writers and commentators owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Garber (1916-2008), a pioneer in that field. Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is a picture book biography that brings Mary to life.
Mary Garber’s family moved from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina when she was eight years old, and Winston-Salem was Mary’s home for the rest of her life. Growing up, Mary enjoyed many sports, especially tackle football with the boys. As a youngster, she was the quarterback for the Buena Vista Devils, known as the BVDs. In school, she played softball and tennis, two sports where it didn’t matter that she was only five feet tall and under one hundred pounds. Her father took Mary and her sister to many athletic events, and he made sure that they understood all of the rules of the games.
After college, Mary knew that she wanted to be a reporter, although her first assignment was as a society reporter and then a general news reporter. During WWII, she began covering sports when all of the men enlisted. After the war, there was a year that she went back to general reporting, but after that brief interlude the sports beat was hers. There were many obstacles that Mary had to overcome just to do her job. Jackie Robinson became a role model for her. While he was facing taunts and jeers, he remained dignified and kept silent. The discrimination that she faced as a woman in a field of men didn’t match the prejudice that Robinson experienced, but Mary and Jackie were both breaking stereotypes. (Photo from Wikipedia)
During her career, Mary had to fight for admittance to press boxes, stand outside of locker rooms, be ignored by coaches, and even once sew a tear in a basketball players uniform because she was a woman. Along the way coaches began to admire her determination, and readers enjoyed her insights. One of her most significant accomplishments was her advocacy for fighting segregation. She began reporting on games played in Winston-Salem’s all-black schools. No reporter had ever done that. Mary said, “It seemed to me that black parents were as interested in what their kids were doing as white parents were.” Mary cared.
The Mary Garber Pioneer Award is given annually by the Association For Women in Sports Media.
Once again, we will be promoting the nominees for the Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards (MCBA) during the 2015-2016 school year at DCD. Even though I’ve written about this program before, I would like to explain it to parents who have never had a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader before now. This voluntary reading incentive program has become a popular event for many students. Started by Dr. Helen Constant in 1975, it is administered through Salem State University. Twenty-five books are nominated for the award, and our voting for the DCD favorites will take place in late winter.
There are many obvious benefits to reading along with us for the next few months. Students are often introduced to authors who are unknown to them before this, and they return looking for other books by them. Some of the authors, like Jennifer Holm and Lauren Tarshis, are already favorites of many intermediate readers. An important benefit that may not be obvious is that our readers become critics. They learn how to evaluate literature through plot, characters, and interest, and they have fun doing so. Throughout the next few months, I’ll highlight some of the nominated titles. Links to the reading lists and our required journal pages can be found on our DCD Library page.
From time to time, I’ll be reviewing some of the titles under consideration for the award. So…let me write about two today. Both of the books fall into the same genre, which I term realistic fantasy or magic realism. The (often) contemporary characters live in a world or society that we recognize, but magic happens. When this is portrayed to a reader by a talented author, one accepts this different reality and enjoys the story.
Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood (HarperCollins), introduces a delightful family who own a bakery that is beloved in their town. The protagonist, Rose, suspects that her parents employ magic when baking some of their special foods. When her parents go out of town, Rose and her siblings are supposed to protect the family’s Cookery Booke, that is kept under lock and key. They are surprised when a flashy and an unknown aunt rides into town on her motorcycle. Rose is drawn in by her new-found aunt, and she begins playing with powerful magic. This is the first book in the Bliss Bakery Trilogy. The other books are A Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.
Jennifer Holm’s book, The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House for Young Readers), is a humorous book that tackles the subject of immortality. Humor and immortality? Yes, the main character, Ellie, is a sixth grader who is struggling to navigate middle school. She misses her best friend, and she learns that her mother had been replacing her goldfish every time it died without her knowledge. When a new, weird boy approaches her, he reminds Ellie a lot of her grandfather who is a scientist obsessed with immortality. Many readers may know Holm from her graphic novels featuring Babymouse.