Monday, March 20, 2017

Book of the Week: Round


by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-38761-4
Ages 3-6


“I love round things,” says the young child narrator of this picture book, who goes on to give examples of round things found in nature, from the obvious (oranges, seeds) to the harder-to-find (rings on a tree stump, small butterfly eggs). Some things that don’t start out round become round with time (a mushroom grows into its curves; once-jagged rocks smooth over many years). Round can be ephemeral (bubbles, ripples in a pond) or forever (the moon and stars). “I can be round, too,” the girl says, “in a circle of friends” or curled up alone. Intimate yet expansive, the simply stated observations are childlike, even as they suggest a deep, visceral human response to roundness: the desire to touch, the feeling of being secure. Brief examples at story’s end touch on both science and aesthetics in discussing why so many things in nature are round. Ample curves in the flat, naïve-style illustrations (featuring bright colors with a muted, slightly retro feel) complement the quiet narrative. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book of the Week: Amina's Voice

Amina's Voice

by Hena Khan
Published by Salaam / Atheneum, 2017
208 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-9206-5
Ages 9-13

Amina is unhappy that her best friend, Soojin, has recently started inviting Emily, a classmate neither of them have ever liked, to spend time with them. At home, Amina’s family is getting ready for the visit of Thaya Jaan, her father’s older brother, from Pakistan. To impress Thaya Jaan, and support their Imam, Amina’s parents tell Amina and her older brother, Mustafa, that they must complete in their mosque’s upcoming Quran recitation competition. Mustafa, who wants his parents to let him play high school basketball, agrees willingly. But Amina suffers from serious stage fright--it’s why she never tries out for a solo in her middle school choir, despite her talent and love of singing. A swiftly paced novel showing a Muslim family and community as part of the fabric of American life also includes a hateful attack when vandals break into the mosque. No one is hurt, but the damage is great and the fear and sadness palpable. So, too, is the caring. People both within and outside Amina’s faith community offer solace, support, and help repairing the damage. This welcome story has finely developed primary and secondary characters, from Amina, Soojin, and Emily (whom initially uncertain-even-jealous Amina comes to appreciate) to Amina’s family members, including her at-first intimidating uncle, who proves to have both conservative ideas and an open mind. The novel is set in the Milwaukee-area community of Greendale. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The #OwnVoices Gap in African-American Children's Books

Since 1985, the CCBC has been keeping statistics on the number of children's books by and about African Americans. For the first two years, the numbers were dismal (just 18 books out of 2,500 published in 1985 and again in 1986).  USA Today did a story about it that included one of their handy visuals to illustrate the problem.

For the next few years we began to see an increase that was enough to make us hopeful. But that didn't last. By the mid-1990s the numbers began to plateau and they have stagnated ever since.

But a couple of years ago we began to notice a dramatic increase in the number of books about African-Americans -- it nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 (from 93 to 180), and then jumped to 265 in 2015. In 2016 we saw a small bump to 278.

We're not sure what caused this. Was it the Obama effect? (If an African American can be President, why not a book character?) Was it the call for more Black books in the New York Times editorials by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers early in 2014? Was it the impact of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement? A combination of all three?

Regardless of the cause, many saw this as a reason for celebration. But the increase in the number of books about African Americans doesn't tell the whole story. It needs to be looked at next to the number of these same books that are actually by African Americans. This graph helps to illuminate what is happening:

Graph showing children's book by and about African Americans
Click to enlarge image
We can see that there are a whole lot of books being written about African Americans these days by people who are not African American. Does it matter? It certainly can. Especially when you care about authenticity.

And, more significantly, this means we are not seeing African-American authors and artists being given the same opportunities to tell their own stories. In fact, last year just 71 of the 278 (25.5%) books about African-Americans were actually written and/or illustrated by African Americans.  The graph above shows this gap quite dramatically.

There are a few hopeful signs this year already.  An African-American artist won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for a picture book that's actually about an African-American child. This marks the first time -- ever -- that the Caldecott Medal has been awarded for a picture book that is both by and about an African-American (as opposed to animal tales or an informational book about Africa). 

We're also seeing promising debut novels this spring from African-American authors such as Linda W. Jackson, Tiffany D. Jackson, Angie Thomas and Ibi Zoboi.   But we still have a long way to go to bridge the gap between the books about and the books by African Americans.  

We don't just need more African American authors and artists being signed and nurtured by publishers, we also need white authors and artists to take a step back to make room for people to tell their own stories. Let's hope that by 2020 this graph tells a different story. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book of the Week: A Greyhound, A Groundhog

A Greyhound, a Groundhog

by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Chris Appelhans
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-49805-9
Ages 2-7

A round hound (a greyhound, curled up in a circle) and a round hog (or groundhog, for which roundness comes naturally, no effort or repose required) are at the center of a picture book following them from initial meeting (once the greyhound awakens) through their dizzying, delightful encounter. “A round hound, a grey dog, a round little hound dog. A grey hog, a ground dog, a hog little hound dog.” The story unfolds in a mirthful, rhyming text comprised of a limited number of words rearranged, and occasionally expanded (how many words rhyme with “round”?). The synergy between Emily Jenkins’s words and illustrator Chris Appelhans’s illustrations is superb. In the art, a muted palette on creamy white pages, grey (hound) and brown (groundhog) predominate in compositions that echo and extend the duo’s playful, sometimes frenzied interaction. There are also soft punctuations of other colors, as when butterflies appear and “astound and astound!” the two creatures. It’s waggish, waddling, tongue-twisting fun, perfect for playful, sound-rich reading aloud. (Jenkins offers a “debt of inspiration and rhythm” to Ruth Krauss’s A Very Special House.) ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 27, 2017

Book of the Week: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-58650-5
Age 13 and older

High school senior Sal(vador) Silva was 3 when his mom died. Adopted by Vicente, his mom’s best friend, the love between father and son is palpable. Sal’s best friend, Sam(antha) Diaz, has a single mom so wrapped up in her own life that Sam feels like an afterthought. Sal’s friend Fito works two jobs to save money for college and to escape his family of addicts. Sal has a good life and he knows it. So why is he suddenly full of rage? He lashes out even before he learns that Mima, his grandmother, is dying. Mima means the world to Sal, his dad, and their extended Mexican American family, in which it’s never mattered that Sal is white. Sal worries his instinct to respond with his fists—to a whispered a slur about his dad, who is gay, or to a boy who treats Sam badly—is a trait from the birth father he’s never known or cared to find out about. It makes the letter his dad has given him, which his mom wrote for him before she died, too scary to open. Several explosive events disrupt the shifting currents of daily life in a deeply felt story graced with moments of humor. Exquisitely realized and genuine, it’s about living and struggling and loss and regret. It’s about changing relationships and growing up and friendshp. It’s about the power of language. Above all, it’s about expansiveness of the words “love” and “family.” ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book of the Week: Giant Squid

Giant Squid

by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Published by A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978–1–59643–599–5
Ages 6-11

Giant squids lives so deep in the ocean that few have ever been seen. Scientists have had to piece together a complete picture based on just parts of the creatures that have been found, mostly inside sperm whales caught by fisherman. Candace Fleming’s haunting narrative captures the mystery and the majesty of this amazing animal, once thought to be a sea monster. The moody realistic illustrations create a strong sense of being deep undersea, and include a stunning double-fold-out page showing a giant squid reemerging from the shadows of the murky ink it has shot to protect itself from a barracuda. An author’s note provides more information, including fascinating tidbits such as the fact that there are more photographs of Mars than of giant squid. Honor Book, 2017 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016

This post is adapted from  "Publishing in 2016: A Few Observations," an essay that will appear in the forthcoming CCBC Choices 2017 publication.

The CCBC has been documenting the number of books published by and about people of color and First/Native Nations book creators in various ways for 32 years.  For the first nine years, we only documented books by and about Africans and African Americans. Beginning in 1994, we began documenting and counting books by and about Africans and African Americans, Asian Pacifics and Asian Pacific Americans, First/Native Nations individuals, and Latinos.  (More about what we count and how we count.)

The slips designed and used by CCBC librarian Merri Lindgren for books to log and count.

Of the approximately 3,400 books we received at the CCBC in 2016, most from U.S. publishers, here’s the breakdown*:

  • 278 books had significant African or African American content
    • 71 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators
  • 92 books were by Black authors and/or illustrators 
    • 21 of these had no visible African/African American cultural content)

  • 237 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
    • 75 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
  • 212 bookswere by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
    • 137 of these had no visible Asian/Pacific cultural content
  • 55 books had significant First/Native Nations content
    • 21 of these were by First/Native Nations authors and/or illustrators
  •  22 books were by First/Native Nations authors and/or illustrators
    • 1 of these had no visible First/Native Nations content

  • 166 books had significant Latino content 
    • 58 of these were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
  • 101 books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
    • 43 of these had no visible cultural content  

(*As always, it’s important to note that these numbers are solely a reflection of quantity--or lack thereof--and have nothing to do with quality, which, as with everything we receive, varies widely. Additionally, the number of books "by" does not refelect the number of individual book creators in each category, as a number of authors and illustrators created multiple books. Finally, the numbers will change slightly as we continue to receive a stray title or two. Check the statistics on our statistics on our web site for up-to-date numbers, including a breakdown by U.S. publishers only.)

Brown-skinned Daniel.
As part of the CCBC’s ongoing work around diversity in children’s and young adult literature, 2016 marked the start of a new project for us: a diversity analysis of the picture books we receive. We haven’t quite completed the work of looking at 2016 titles in depth (that will be a future post), but, anecdotally, we can say this: in picture books featuring humans (as opposed to animals or inanimate objects) as principle characters, the default is still to whiteness (that is, white characters). Having said that, we can also say that a definite trend is to make some main characters brown-skinned, with no identifiable culture or cultural content to the stories. While this cannot and should not be seen as a substitute for books with cultural content, it is not unwelcome when care is taken to avoid stereotypes in representation. (A future post will discuss how we evaluate these books in terms of our counts.)

It was also, thanks in part but not whole to Canadian publishers distributing in the United States, an unusually bountiful year for outstanding Native picture books, including My Heart Fills with Happiness, Leah’s Mustache Party, The Owl and the Lemming, Thunder Boy Jr., and We Are Not Alone, among others.

The #OwnVoices movement was one of the most important developments of 2016 for all of us who care about books for children and teens. The hashtag, coined by author and disability advocate Corinne Duyvis (On the Edge of Gone), promotes the importance of books created by cultural insiders to the identity experience they portray. It’s an idea that is both common sense and radical, and one that underscores the importance, too, of publishers seeking out new talent. Among the debuts of new authors of color we appreciated in 2016 are The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall.

Two broad categories--Asian/Pacifics and Latinos--saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both "by" and "about." The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped. Those mixed numbers reflect our mixed feelings: It’s both an both an exciting and frustrating time for multicultural literature advocates. Some of the excitement is familiar. Each and every year, there are wonderful new books. Among the many 2016 titles we’re eager to share with librarians and teachers across Wisconsin and beyond are Ghost, Makoons, Outrun the Moon, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, and many others. Some of the excitement is a direct result of social media providing wider visibility to the current era of this advocacy work, giving the voices of people of color and First/Native Nations and their allies in the world of children’s and young adult literature greater reach.

The frustration is familiar, however. It’s explained by the fact that, overall, the numbers that haven’t changed drastically in the 32 years we’ve been counting.  It’s explained by the fact that the conversations we are having now, about the importance of multicultural literature, about the importance of publishing books by authors and artists of color and First/Native Nations, about the importance of calling out racism in books for youth, still need to take place. And it’s explained by the fact that these conversations have been going on in one form or venue or another for well over 70 years.

The field of children’s and young adult literature is not removed from our society as a whole, so the fact that we are still having these conversations is, on the one hand, no surprise. But it’s also a field in which so many of us, from authors and artists to editors and publishers to librarians and teachers, believe in the power of books and reading to change the world.

We are dreamers and we are doers, and we can change the world by showing all children that they are seen, and valued, and respected, book by book.