Thursday, April 13, 2017

Poetry Month Reviews

By Miss Audrey, Youth Services Dept. Librarian

The real challenge of writing a blog post for National Poetry month comes from the sheer number of excellent books for kids that feature poetry that come out every year. Not only are rhyming picture books for younger kids constantly in vogue, but the “Novel In Verse” format is becoming more popular every year. Narrowing this list down to just a few examples published in the last year or so was tricky, but the following selections definitely include (some) of the crème de la crème of 2016/2017.

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell
Ages 3 – 6
This adorable little book doubles as a guessing game! Each page presents a “guess who” style riddle in haiku form, with illustrated hints by the excellent Bob Shea. Kids will enjoy putting their animal knowledge to the test, while simultaneously being introduced to a popular form of poetry. Fun, easy, kid-friendly: a sure-fire win for classroom or family use.

Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost
Ages  3 – 7
Illustrated entirely in gorgeous photographs, this picture book poem tells the story of how two specific fireflies (a female and a male) find each other, even when surrounded by other fireflies. They identify each other by their particular pattern of light flashes, and they follow that “clear silent song” until they finally meet. A page at the end of the book explains more about the fireflies’ method of communication and the importance of nature education and conservation. Nature science, lovely language, and detailed photographs add up to a dreamy choice for any firefly fan.

Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks by Skila Brown
Ages 6 – 9
Sharks are a perpetual favorite in the Children’s Department, and this selection does not disappoint! Each two-page spread features a different type of shark (14 in all) and contains a poem about the animal, a big illustration, and a fact presented in a smaller typeface. The sharks include some well-known varieties (great white, hammerhead, tiger), as well as a couple rarer types (goblin, frilled). The poems are amusing and clever and vary in form. An excellent choice for kids who prefer poetry and science with some bite!

Are You An Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by Misuzu Kaneko, Translated by Sally Ito, David Jacobson, and Michiko Tsuboi
Ages 7 – 10
Half biography, half poetry collection, this book is tender and beautiful. The first part discusses Misuzu Kaneko’s life: childhood, education, writing career, family, final illness, and suicide at age 26. While this sounds very heavy for the intended audience, it is handled with a light touch, and is ultimately child-friendly. The biography is punctuated by samples of her poetry, and more poems are included in the back. The verses are full of empathy and a childlike observations, and the illustrations are lovely. This is a more serious selection, and it is one of the most gorgeous children’s poetry collections available. Perfect to share in a quiet moment.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
Ages 8 – 12
Eighteen fifth graders, the last graduates of Emerson Elementary before it’s razed, are assigned to keep a poetry journal for the year. Some kids take to it more enthusiastically than others, but they all write about their changing lives and families in this diverse and thought-provoking book. All the kids have things going on in their lives – ailing grandparent, absent father, military deployment, poverty, adjusting to a new country, etc – and it’s easy to connect to them emotionally. As the year progresses, the students show major growth as they learn how to make their voices heard. This is a solid choice for independent reading and classroom sharing.

Unbound: A Novel In Verse by Ann E. Burg
Ages 9 – 12
Grace and her family are slaves on a Southern plantation near the Great Dismal Swamp. When Grace – light-skinned and blue-eyed – is sent to serve up at the Big House, her elders warn her to keep out of trouble. It’s hard, though, when the Master and Missus are just plain mean, and Grace has to choke back her feelings about the injustice of it all. When the final straw breaks, Grace and her family have to make a run for it before they are sold: after all, even the Swamp must be better than the auction block and permanent separation. This page-turning historical novel in verse is strongly rooted in fact, and Grace’s narration is honest and emotionally packed. A powerful selection for any young American.

Booked  by Kwame Alexander
Ages 10 – 13
Nick hates words as much as he loves soccer, but his father is obsessed with the English language and insists that Nick read the dictionary he’s written about obscure vocabulary. Other than that, his life is going pretty well: star of the soccer team, great best friend, cool mom, his romantic interest seems to be mutual. But then he gets news that changes everything, and not for the better. Suddenly, his home life’s a mess, bullies are bringing him down, and even his soccer life is being affected. How can he reconcile everything? Much like the author’s award-winning book The Crossover, this novel in verse stars a likable, believable main character trying to figure out life, sports, and everything in-between. You can hand this book to practically anyone.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance  by Nikki Grimes
Ages  10 – 14
In this homage to the Harlem Renaissance, award-winning Nikki Grimes reprinted some works by the era’s most iconic poets. She then used those poems to create her own, unique “Golden Shovel” poems, a challenging form that incorporates lines from the Renaissance poems. The effect is stunning, showing that while a great a deal has changed, even more has stayed the same, but hope is never misplaced. Vivid illustrations by some of the best African-American children’s artists of the day are scattered throughout the book. Altogether, this book is a tour-de-force and should be checked out immediately.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Need For Diverse Books

By Miss Audrey, Youth Services Dept. Librarian

Here at the public library, we serve people from all walks of life. Our community has every combination of race, family structure, religion, orientation, and ability, all looking for books to read, movies to watch, and groups to join. It’s impossible for a librarian to read every book and know each plot. It can be hard, sometimes, to know which materials pass the bar of quality, and which ones only serve to further stereotypes. Which books will validate our kids by properly representing them? Which books will introduce our young customers to people who are different than themselves in a way that will build compassion, empathy, and kindness? Which books manage to accomplish all of this in a way that is fun, exciting, thought provoking, and otherwise likely to encourage a love of reading? From all the many, many books that are published in a year, which books stand out?

Luckily, we have help. Conversations revolving around these questions have been taking place for a while now, and they have resulted in some excellent book lists and award programs. Some of these awards, like the Coretta Scott King author and illustrator awards, have been around for decades (founded in 1969, first award given in 1970). Other booklists are fairly new.

Some of our favorite resources are listed below, with a brief description and quotations from their websites.

We Need Diverse Books:   Their mission statement:  “Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”  Their vision:  “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”  This is a relatively new organization, but they’ve already put a lot of work into their vision, and when they’re discussing diversity, they’re discussing ALL its aspects: racial, gender, religious, cultural, sexual, disability, etc. One of the best features of their website is their booklists. Organized by age and reading level, they help guide kids to make excellent reading choices based on the child’s own reading interests.

Coretta Scott King Awards   “are given annually 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.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”

Pura Belpré Award:  “The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

Schneider Family Book Award:  “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

Stonewall Book Awards:  “The first and most enduring award for GLBT books….[it is] sponsored by the American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table.”
This is another award that has been around for a long time (1971), and the website contains a treasure trove of content for children, teens, and adults.

Disability in Kidlit blog:  “is dedicated to discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult literature. We publish articles, reviews, interviews, and discussions examining this topic from various angles—and always from the disabled perspective.  We believe that a thoughtful portrayal of disability requires more than memorizing a list of symptoms; we hope that sharing disabled people’s thoughts on stereotypes, pet peeves, particular portrayals, and their own day-to-day experiences will help our readers learn about the realities of disability, which are often different from what we see in popular media.” 

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that this site will not be updated much past this spring. However, the site administrators assure us that they will keep up one of the blog’s best features: their Honor Roll, a list of the contributors’ vetted favorite books, many of which have attached reviews. The Honor Roll can be searched by age (middle grade vs. young adult novels), disability, genre, and publication year.

Below, you will find reviews of some of our recently published favorites that feature diversity:

Flying Lessons &Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh
Short stories
Ages 8 – 12

This stunning anthology features ten stories by some of children’s literature’s biggest names: Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, and more. The themes, settings, and characters vary widely from story to story: a modern Native American man teaching his nephew how to tell tall tales, an African-American girl who feels isolated as the only child of color in her small town, an athletic wheelchair-using boy trying to connect to his basketball playing father, and more. While these sound like very specific stories, the result is a collection of tales that is universally relatable and filled with optimism and truth. This is a recommended read for everyone.

Ages 9 – 12

Pinmei, a shy little mouse of a girl, lives with her grandmother, the Storyteller. People from their village and the surrounding Chinese countryside come to listen to her tales for hours. All this changes when the Emperor comes, kidnapping all the men of the village to build a giant wall in the North. As if that weren’t bad enough, he takes the Storyteller, too. Now Pinmei and her best friend, Yishan, must go on an epic quest to get her back. This wondrous story features fantastic Chinese folktales, settings, and creatures, weaving them together for a gloriously satisfying conclusion. Perfect for any fantasy lover.

Garvey’s Choice  by Nikki Grimes
Novel in verse
Ages 8 – 12

Garvey’s main enthusiasms in life are books (specifically science fiction) and astronomy. His father doesn’t understand why he can’t be more like his athletic older sister, and the kids at school constantly needle him for being overweight. Still, this resilient African-American boy has good friend in Joe, who encourages him to try a new hobby – the school choir. Soon, Garvey has found a new passion, has made a new friend, and has possibly discovered something he has in common with his dad. This easy-to-read story depicts a kind and honest protagonist dealing with realistic school and family issues with intelligence and budding self-awareness. A perfect gentle read.

The Other Boy  by M. G. Hennessey
Ages 8 – 12

Shane is your average middle-school age, baseball-playing, aspiring graphic novelist. Though his life isn’t perfect (his dad tries, but doesn’t really understand him), his relationship with his mom is pretty great, his best friend Josh is solid, and his crush seems to return his interest. But Shane also has a secret, and eventually rumors start to circulate – rumors that he used to go by she – and the foundation of Shane’s new life starts to shake. When all is said and done, who will Shane have left? This is a heartfelt story about families, friendship, sports, and how we all need a little help from our loved ones. Excellent realistic fiction for anyone, regardless of gender.

Some Kind of Happiness  by Claire Legrand
Ages 8 – 12

Finley Hart has never met her father’s family, but now she’s going to spend a summer with them. Finley is filled with trepidation – not only about getting along with her relatives and her parents’ crumbling marriage, but also over her “blue days,” when everything becomes scary and sad and hard. To cope, she keeps a notebooks filled with her stories about the Everwood. When Finley realizes that the forest behind her grandparent’s home IS the Everwood, and that her friendly cousins are adventurous, her hopes rise. But the forest is harboring secrets and Finley’s Blue Days are starting to show. Can her family learn to deal with the truth? A compelling read for fans of both fantasy and realistic fiction.

The Nest  by Kenneth Oppel
Ages 10+

Something is wrong with Steve’s baby brother. He came home from the hospital, but something about him isn’t working right, and it’s adding to Steve’s worries. Steve worries a lot – about washing his hands, about the knife sharpener man who’s roaming the neighborhood, about the giant wasps’ nest outside the baby’s window and his new-found allergy to their stings. Then, angels arrive in Steve’s dreams, offering to fix the baby. All he has to do is say yes. But what is the price and meaning of perfection? An intensely creepy and thought-provoking book, this one will stay with readers for a long, long time.