Okay, add another picture book (this makes four) to my list of short books that can make you cry. Jerdine Nolen’s Pitching in for Eubie (Amistad, $16.99), illustrated by E.B. Lewis is a quiet story about love and commitment. Eubie, the eldest daughter in the family has been accepted to college. She’s even gotten an academic scholarship! But the amount the family must pay toward her room and board seems insurmountable. There is a moment of elation when the acceptance letter arrives, follow by stunned silence. Papa breaks the silence, declaring: “We can do it! We can raise that money if we all pitch in! We have the whole summer. After all…dreams are meant to come true.” Okay, I teared up again just thinking about this poor family committing to their eldest daughter—a girl! Lily, the baby of the family at about eight years old or so, wants to help, too. But what can she do? She tries several options and none work out. It means a lot to Eubie that Lily is trying so hard. Daddy’s working Sundays, Mama’s taking in sewing, brother Jacob gets a job in town, so Lily has to do more at home: feed the chickens, do the dishes. But this just isn’t enough to satisfy Lily. In the end, there’s a wonderful solution. And it comes about as a result of Lily’s determination to help her sister. This isn’t just a book about the importance of family and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone else. It’s a book about stating to the universe your intentions, and having those intentions met in a way that you couldn’t originally see.
Monthly Archives: January 2008
Another book about intentionality and, okay, one of my all-time favorite rabble-rousers follows Eubie. I must say that picture book biographies often err on the side of too much text, but Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells (Peachtree, $18.95) by Phillip Dray, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, balances illustrations and information in a way that really works for the picture book format. Ida Wells, born a slave, rose to become one of the greatest advocates for social justice this country has ever seen. When yellow fever killed her parents, she became the head of her family of eight at 16 years old. After receiving her education and becoming a teacher, Wells worked tirelessly as a journalist and speaker, educating the public about the violent aftermath of slavery, particularly the lawless practice of lynching. Wells’ life was often in peril, but she managed to stay one step ahead of her tormentors. While this is a hard subject for children, Dray’s illustrations do a great job of symbolizing the aggression without making it too frightening. These moments in history are not ones that teachers or parents like to share, and yet bravery such as Wells’ needs to be celebrated. Dray’s afterword is succinct, but sums up Wells’ career and personal life admirably.
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day! To celebrate the day, revisit some of Dr. King’s writing. Dr. Roger Gilles (my husband), a big fan of King’s, recommends these three: “A Time to Break Silence,” King’s speech about the Vietnam war; “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” an essay King wrote about his philosophical education; and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he responds to liberal clergymen who had encouraged him to slow down the pace of his civil rights’ efforts and strive for incremental change. What a great day and time to reflect on what King stood for; how we could benefit from his wisdom today. We must content ourselves with what we have—his speeches, his essays, his sermons, his legacy.
In honor of Dr. King, I want all of you to introduce kids to their counterparts around the world with The Milestones Project: Celebrating Childhood Around the World (Tricycle, $12.95). The purpose of the Milestones Project is to document childhood experiences in vastly different cultures. There are more than 30,000 photos—and growing—at the website, www.milestonesproject.com. The creators of the project, Dr. Richard and Michele Steckel, aim to “make a more peaceful world by encouraging the recognition that, beneath our beliefs or skin color, we are all the same.” So the book is filled with beautiful photos and short essays by writers like Cynthia Rylant and J.K. Rowling about their milestones: birthdays, losing a tooth, and getting a new sibling, among them. It’s amazing how similar children’s reactions are. Around the world, kids often get scared when their hair is cut. From whence does the compulsion spring to stick your tongue into the space left by a missing tooth? There are also quotes from children, ‘out of the mouths of babes’ quotes’, like this one from Gracious, age 9, in South Africa: “I need a year to stop hatred. First, at my own country. After, I try by going to each country, talk to people province by province, and hear their problems and why they hate another people…I can stop hatred by communication.” There is so much to be gleaned from this book. Conversation topics and writing prompts suggest themselves at every turn. Have fun reminiscing about your own milestones and then document them to report about your corner of the world.
Please permit me a little bragging. In addition to starred reviews in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, my book Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson (Knopf, 2007) has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2008, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). We also learned that the book is a finalist in the NAACP Image Awards in the Children’s Literary Awards category. The other books are so amazing. Here’s the whole slate. The winners will be decided on February 14 at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A.
Outstanding Literary Work – Children
- “A Friendship For Today” – Patricia C. McKissack (Scholastic Inc.)
- “Elijah of Buxton” – Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic Inc.)
- “Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals” – Ashley Bryan (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing/Atheneum)
- “Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson” – Sue Stauffacher, Author; Greg Couch, Illustrator (Random House)
- “Young Pelé: Soccer’s First Star – Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author; James Ransome, Illustrator (Random House)
Happy New Year! Happy 2008! May you find the books and the stories this year that will wend their way into your hearts and change you forever.
My artist friend, Molly, who works with me on the literacy comic, Wireman, was given Shaun Tan’s wordless picture book/graphic novel, The Arrival (Scholastic, $19.95), by her husband for Christmas. “It’s a beautiful book,” she said, “but it’s not going to teach anybody to read.” My first response was au contraire, Molly. I mean, it’s not going to literally teach a child to read…that is correct. But it will interest children in reading. And it will also do a bang-up job of teaching narrative strategies, prediction, and comprehension.
We’re all pre-readers as we enter Tan’s world. For reasons we cannot know, a man is separated from his family and must undertake a difficult journey to another country. Adult readers will overlay the European immigrant story on this one as the traveler makes his way by ship across an ocean. He has to undergo tests in a quasi-Ellis Island, and then make his way in this new world where he doesn’t understand the culture or the language. It makes no sense to us, either! As we puzzle over the pictures, strange and fantastical elements are introduced. The man is befriended by a creature that is unknown to us. He must communicate his need for a place to sleep and food to eat. He undergoes some horrifying experiences. This is a major work, one that requires several readings, and I’m still pondering it. What a great book for older low skill-level readers who are often very good at decoding picture narratives.
You can see how limited our designations for children’s books are when you see that Scholastic has classified it as appropriate for ages 3-5. This not for pre-schoolers, folks. This is for older kids and adults.
Okay, so another not-really for pre-schoolers book is Robot Dreams (First Second Books, $16.95). I’m so excited about what this lovely imprint of Roaring Brook Press is doing. Wowee! When I did my mental title association for Robot Dreams, I came up with The Little Prince. That’s high praise from me as excerpts of the latter were read at my wedding! This is a simple story and a deep story. There are some words on the sides of boxes and in letters, but nobody ever says anything, so we shall call it another wordless picture book/graphic novel. It’s the story of a friendship between a robot and a dog. They’ve got a good interspecies vibe going…seriously. They luv each other. After an idyllic day at the beach, robot gets wet and rustifies. Ouch! What should dog do? He doesn’t know what to do, so he does the unthinkable. He abandons his friend. And then, of course, is haunted by the action. His life becomes an effort to reclaim robot. Robot’s life consists of dreaming himself into better situations than the one he finds himself in. It’s pretty darn deep. Okay, here’s another title association: A Separate Peace. The plot lines of their lives weave through dog trying to create another robot and robot being re-created into something else. In the end, they both end up satisfyingly, wistfully…okay. Love the end!! So if you think you’re not into graphic novels, you better try this one just to be sure. It would provide loads of discussion for students and kids and parents. I’ve got my regret stories all ready for when someone decides to ask me.