Read On!

Mrs. Farquharson’s musings about books for children and young adults

Awards’ Season


Every year, a Monday in late January is awards’ day for librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, and readers. For us, it’s as big as the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s, and the Oscar’s because it’s the announcement by the American Library Association of their awards for children’s and young adult’s books. There were a number of outstanding books published in 2019.

It used to be that there were two major awards, the Newbery Award (literary award given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”) and the Caldecott Award (given to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children”).

The categories have expanded though and the others now carry great prestige.
• Corretta Scott King Awards – now given in five categories to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
• Michael L. Printz Award – excellence in literature written for young adults
• Schneider Family Book Award – books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience
• Pura Belpré Award – honors a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience
• Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award – most distinguished informational book for children
• Theodor Seuss Geisel Award – most distinguished beginning reader

Some of these books and categories deserve to be singled out, especially New Kid by Jerry Craft. The author/illustrator received the 2020 Newbery Medal and also the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. Craft’s book is the first graphic novel to ever win the Newbery Award, and I have enjoyed promoting this title to our readers. We have three copies of it, and they are always out.

There’s an interesting interview with Jerry Craft on Publisher’s Weekly’s website. They aptly described this outstanding graphic novel:

New Kid introduces African-American seventh grader Jordan Banks, an aspiring artist who leaves his home in Washington Heights each morning and takes the bus to his new, private, mostly white school in the Bronx. In his sketchbook, he chronicles what it’s like for him to navigate his two different worlds, the ups and downs of middle school, and the various micro-aggressions he faces each day. The book was inspired by Craft’s own school experiences, as well as those of his two sons…

On January 10, 2020, Craft created a Sketchbook Piece for the New York Times.

I highly recommend New Kid!

Victoria Jamieson


Author Victoria Jamieson gained many fans with her graphic novel, Roller Girl (Dial). She garnered many awards, among them a Newbery Honor, for the story of a girl who is trying to navigate friendships while being true to herself. More accolades are coming her way with her newest graphic, All’s Faire in Middle School (Dial) which incorporates the same themes.

Imogene (Impy) is a feisty main character who has been homeschooled by her non-conformist parents. They work at the Florida Renaissance Faire where Impy and her younger brother, Felix help out. Life changes for Impy when she begins middle school with all of the unwritten social rules, the teachers, the “in” crowd, and the bullies. Even figuring out how to dress is problematic because Impy and her family have their own bohemian style.

As other students give her attention for her artistic talent, Impy goes too far by making fun of teachers and a student whom she respects. When her unkind drawings are pasted all over the school, she must face the consequences. Impy learns to become invisible at school as she strives to regain her parents’ trust at home.

She carries her confusion and problems at school to her home and faire life. When Impy is down-hearted and feeling guilty about some of her behaviors, she over-reacts and takes it out on her six-year-old brother. Felix always carries around his stuffed squirrel, and he is heartbroken when he loses it because Impy threw it into the lake.

Each chapter of All’s Faire in Middle School is cleverly introduced by inferences to the medieval tale of Sir George and the Dragon. By comparing one of the beginning chapter introductions to one towards the end, readers can understand the confusion and complexity of growing up.

Squires are not, of course, distracted by fears about popularity or other such poppycock. And so, our heroine puts these petty distractions behind her as she begins training in the Knight’s Code of Honesty, Chivalry, and Bravery…and swordplay. (Chapter Two)

Dearest fellow travelers, it saddens me to say we are nearing the end of our journey together. If thou believest in happily ever afters…you obviously have never attended Middle School, but perhaps our hero will come close enough. (Chapter Thirteen)

All’s Faire in Middle School is popular with readers in grades four, five, and six.



More MCBA Nominees


There are two graphic novels that are nominated for this year’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Awards: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third (Chronicle) and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial).

When I was a child, I never paid attention to author’s notes in books. Now, I try to impress on young readers that there is often a treasury of background information that will often add to their enjoyment. There is “A Note About Lowriders” in the back of Camper’s graphic novel that should really be at the beginning of Lowriders in Space. A lowrider is a customized car with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road. This custom was created by Mexican-Americans in Southern California after WWII. The author took this idea and created a fantasy about a car that travels out of this world.

Roller Girl is entertaining with a message about growing up. Astrid is a twelve-year-old girl with a best friend, Nicole. The summer before middle school, Astrid signs up for roller derby camp while Nicole goes to ballet camp. It’s a difficult time for Astrid as she struggles to learn to skate, and she watches her friend slip away from her. Even so, she grows and learns about herself as she becomes a secret pen pal with the adult roller derby star. The author, Victoria Jamieson, was a professional roller derby skater herself.


Graphic Nominees


mcbaWhen 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.

elTwo 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.

zooOur 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.

Gene Luen Yang


Every two years, the Librarian of Congress selects an author to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author serves a two-year term and uses his/her position as a platform to speak and write about lifelong literacy, education, and using books and reading for personal growth. There are very specific guidelines used by the selection committee when they choose an author. The National Ambassador for the next two years is Gene Luen Yang.

Yang was born in California, and his parents are Chinese immigrants. His background is noteworthy because Yang draws on his family experiences in his work. The seeds for his writing and art began when he was in elementary school. He began drawing comics then, and he wrote his first comic book in fifth grade. On his website, Yang said, “Nowadays any kid can make a movie, but back then, it was impossible for a ten year old to make a movie, but a ten year old could make a comic book.” The fact that Yang writes graphic novels is also an important aspect of his nomination.

When he was interviewed after the announcement of his appointment was made, Yang said, “Every ambassador picks a platform, so some kind of issue that they want to talk about, and a phrase that sums up that issue. My phrase is ‘Reading Without Walls.’ ” The theme aims to encourage young people to read books that scare them. The author continued, “We want kids to read outside of their comfort zone, to pick a book with somebody on the cover who doesn’t look like them, to pick a book about a topic they previously found intimidating.”

americanHis book American Born Chinese won the Printz Award from the American Library Association for best young adult book in 2007. Boxers & Saints was a finalist for the National Book Awards. Yang’s most recent project is a graphic novel series, Secret Coders, which not only tells a story but also teaches children about computer coding.

Remembering Julia


In 2012, there were two children’s books about Julia Child that we added to the library’s collection.

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland (Schwartz & Wade Books) is a graphic novel that includes numerous details about Julia’s life, from her childhood through her successful career. Because of the design of the book, this title is better suited to our intermediate readers and the adults who read with them. Hartland begins the book with a quote from Julia, “People who love to eat are always the best people.”

For our picture book enthusiasts, Susanna Reich’s Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, illustrated by Amy Bates (Abrams Books for Young Readers), is a better choice. Minette was a cat that Julia and Paul had as a pet when they lived in Paris, and the story is told with her as an important character. In the author’s notes, Reich wrote that she took all of the dialogue from My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme and Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch.

Bon Appetit!

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