Nov 25, 2013

Thanksgiving and Hannukkah Converge

This year Thanksgiving and Hannukkah together to make Thanksgivukkah. Rarely does Thanksgiving fall this late on the calendar, nor does Hannukkah come as early. In this case, though, as rare as it is, digital communication has landed this new word in Wikipedia, on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube,  and it even has a hashtag on Twitter (#Thanksgivakkah). 

What I couldn't find, even in these times of instantaneous publishing, was a picture book about it. You'd think that when two such important celebrations converge every 150 years it would merit a picture book of its own, wouldn't you?

Instead, I'll feature a few titles about the more conventional annual event, spelled in a variety of ways:
Chanukah, Hanukkah, Hanukah, Hannukah, Channukah, and at least ten others.

Blue Apple Books, 2008
HANUKKAH HAIKU, written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Karla Gudeon provides an ideal starting point. It's vibrant colors and traditional images in figures, symbols, and border trims combine with simple and descriptive haikus to describe and celebrate the story of Hanukkah. The successively cut-page design is dramatic and gorgeous, concluding with a look resembling an heirloom quilt or tapestry. Back matter offers the explanation of the blessing said at the lighting of the candles each day. This book offers something for everyone, regardless of ethnicity or age.

Harper Collins, 2004

A more sober but uplifting title is by the prolific and incomparable Eve Bunting: ONE CANDLE, illustrated by K. Wendy Popp. The muted, sepia-toned illustrations are as powerful as the text in revealing one family's tradition of using the first night to retell the story of Great-Aunt Rose's Hanukkah as a thirteen-year-old girl in a concentration camp. "It has to do with being strong in the bad time and remembering it in the good time. And for the women in Grandma's barracks and others who didn't live to come out." This, too, captures the true meaning of Hanukkah.

Harper Collins, 1995
Then there's THE TIE MAN'S MIRACLE: A CHANUKAH TALE, written by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson. It's out of print now but available in libraries and online. This is actually a somber story, perhaps for older readers. It, too, sees the candles through the eyes of a holocaust survivor. Despite having a more vague description than ONE CANDLE, its tone is darker and conveys more fully the horror of those events. The miracle, though, is the ability of the survivor to hold out hopes that wishes can come true, that young children can believe in better things.

For even more suggestions check this November 16 Nerdy Bookclub blog post by Stacey Shubitz : Top Ten Chanukah Books.

Chronicle Books, 2013
Then, whether yours will be a traditional Thanksgiving or a blended Thanksgivakkah, you'd do well to have on hand GIVING THANKS: POEMS, PRAYERS, and PRAISE SONGS OF THANKSGIVING.  Edited with reflections by Katherine Paterson and illustrations by Pamela Dalton, this collection draws on sources from ancient to current, from cultures as diverse as native American, Celtic, Vietnamese, and the prolific "anonymous". The poems and thoughts reflect on shared meals, family, inner spirits, and community. The paper cut art is as complex and direct as the text, inviting careful examination and providing ample reasons to return again and again. (If you're a fan of papercut art/ illustrations, Pamela Dalton's name above for more incredible cut-paper art that you can imagine!)

Whether these titles, or holidays, or thoughts of mine matter to you or not, I thank you for reading them, and wish you and those you care for an opportunity to share your blessings and memories together in peace throughout the holiday season.

Nov 21, 2013

It's Still Picture Book Month: Celebrate Caldecott!

After the calendar pages turn on the season of holiday happiness (and stress?), the new year brings us to the American Library Association awards season. I'm always invested in these decisions, anticipating the announcements eagerly and with some strongly held opinions of my own. (Anyone out there surprised by that?) There are awards for nearly any category you can imagine, and that's fine with me. These awards focus public attention on stellar offerings and we can't possibly do enough to celebrate and spread the word on quality literature for young readers. Is anyone surprised that the Randolph Caldecott award for distinguished illustration in picture books is my favorite among them all?
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux (BYR), 2013

Using non-fiction text with readers has always been essential, and I've advocated frequently for the use of picture books to do that effectively, especially biographies.  This is the perfect time of year to share RANDOLPH CALDECOTT: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing, by the incomparable Leonard S. MarcusThe opening spread of this fascinating and authoritative book is Caldecott's undated self-portrait, the pre-digital approach to a selfie.  I find it ironic that the Oxford English Dictionary has declared "selfie" to be the word of the year. Caldecott was every bit as cutting edge and open to visual engagement as today's digitally-crazed generation.

Reading Marcus's account of Caldecott's obsession with art and visual story enhancement offers abundant evidence of the pivotal role he played in changing the world of children's literature. Younger readers will be enthralled by the power of his images, even though they are clearly of a time long past and tame in comparison to modern visuals. Despite that, his illustrations engage with emotion, action, detail, and humor.

 Even the youngest will enjoy hearing a condensed summary of how this man single-handedly set the stage for the world of picture books, apps, and book trailers they know and love today. Older readers will find rigorous content, richly detailed back matter, and revealing specifics about the time and place in which Caldecott lived. The potential for close reading and discussion are unlimited.

Kids love taking part in Mock Caldecott Award activities in these months leading up to the actual award. Any search using "Mock Caldecott" will lead you to examples, guides, and suggested titles from among the very impressive 2013 releases being considered. A good place to start is the post on ONE BOOK, TWO BOOKS, OLD BOOKS, NEW BOOKS. Take a look and consider participating, in your classrooms or among your family members. 

Whether you do so or not, I urge anyone who loves picture books to read all about Randolph Caldecott in this book that is destined to be a classic.

Nov 13, 2013

Anniversary Reflections: JFK and Daughter Caroline

As we near the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, several generations are viewing iconic images for the first time.  Mental images of the days surrounding that news and the subsequent memorial and burial ceremonies are burned in my memory. Anyone who lived through that time is likely to say the same. In the following years we witnessed a series of assassinations, never numbed to the horror but each time able to build on our prior experiences in coping and resolving the pain. To some extent we could at least anticipate the cycle of grief and acceptance.
Via Wikipedia
When Kennedy was shot we had no collective consciousness of coping on which to draw. For me, at least, that means every moment of the experience, including my nightmares about it, felt intensely personal. My empathy and engagement were magnified by the Kennedy family's youth and energy. The romantic idealism they projected was pitch perfect to the ear of my young teen self, steeped in an emerging commitment to civil rights, women's rights, freedom for all. The attack on Kennedy felt like a personal assault.

Images of Caroline and John-John Kennedy throughout those painful days were the most soul-piercing of all. To this day it feels like a fist clenching my heart just to mention John-John's salute and Caroline's grip on the edge of the flag draping her daddy's casket. Jacqueline Kennedy achieved a remarkable level of privacy and apparent normalcy for herself and her children in the years that followed, if reports are to be believed. They did recede from the public eye for the most part, despite the efforts of paparazzi and the relentless appetite for coverage by the public.

Caroline is the only survivor of that iconic family. Now she has accepted the post as Ambassador to Japan. I see her parents in her adult face, especially as she's reached the age range at which we most often picture her father; she mirrors both. Composed, committed, and competent. She's grown into this role in politics in her father's footsteps, just as she did in her mother's literary ones. 
Disney Press, 2013
In an earlier post on poetry I featured two of the anthologies she edited, both illustrated by Jon J. Muth: POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART and A FAMILY OF POEMS, My Favorite Poetry for Children. Reading was reportedly a lifelong comfort to each of her parents, as was sharing books, music, and conversation as a family. She reportedly shared poetry, including rote memorization, as a child and with her own children. 

Disney Hyperion,  2005
As this anniversary brings forward more and more images and commentary, memories flood back. Even after all these years there is pain and loss, on a surprisingly personal level. 

Poetry can comfort us still. 

Anyone else feeling especially affected by the anniversary?

Nov 9, 2013

Ta-Da! November is the Second Annual PICTURE BOOK MONTH!

To celebrate ALA sponsored Picture Book Month, I'll reserve two short reviews for the end of this post and devote the bulk of my comments to sharing/linking to other posts featuring the celebration of PICTURE BOOKS! 

(Let's all hum along to the Oliver tune: FOOD, Glorious FOOD! Substitute the words PICTURE BOOKS, Glorious PICTURE BOOKS!  It's a stretch, but you can do it! All together now, 1...2...3... HUM!)

For starters, try this post with comments from leading picture book creators about WHY picture books are so important (and always will be). Who better to comment than Rosemary Wells, Tomi DePaola, and other award-winning stars of the kid-lit world?

Then there's Mr. Schu's remarkable homage to Picture Book Month on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  You won't want to miss this one: video book trailers, outstanding titles, and the announcement of his Mock Caldecott list for 2013 picture books.

An impressive variety of outstanding titles is featured in the @YourLibrary blog, too. A quick glance at the book covers and brief reviews offers a sampling of the wide-ranging topics, targets, and tones within the world of picture books.

Wrap up your tour with BookLovingGrandma'sBlog post. She reminds us that picture books from the past are worth celebrating, too. In fact, the timeless quality of picture books is one of their most amazing qualities. For example:

Chronicle Books, 2002
RUBY'S WISH, written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, offers a glimpse into the life of an exuberant young girl growing up in China. This takes place at a time when boys were favored with education, privilege, and the best of everything, while girls were educated in domestic skills and expected to marry and tend to a family. Ruby's wise grandfather heard the truth in her poem, listened to her wishes, and helped them to come true. Based on a the real life of the author's grandmother, Ruby, whose grandfather supported her with finances and his love to attend university and shape a life for herself outside the expectations and conventions of her time.

Capstone: Picture Window Books, 2014

With a story created by Patti Kim and pictures by Sonia Sanchez, HERE I AM is a 2014 release set in modern day New York City. When a young Korean boy's family relocates there he finds himself overwhelmed and confused, unable to read his new environment, literally and socially. Self-imposed isolation is his solution. When his special seed, his familiar source of comfort, drops out a window he braves the unknown and gradually discovers a welcoming array of people, places, aromas and activities in his new city. This is a wordless book blending picture book illustration patterns with graphic panels to reveal a story that is both specific and universal. The author note indicates it, too, is based on a true story, the author's own. 

In both cases there are fascinating visual details, emotions, and cultural references. The story lines are location referenced and anchored in specific times, separated by an ocean and more than a century. Yet both address the question of a young person feeling alienated from his or her home life and society's expectations. 

The power of picture books lies in this remarkable versatility and universality. What are you doing to celebrate and share picture books this month? (Or ANY month!)

Popped back in to add a post from the incredible Debbie Ohi on this topic just posted on her InkyGirl blog.

Nov 2, 2013

Who Doesn't Love Dogs- and Reading About Them?

A version of his post also appears on my website blog this week.
Dogs and service are a great match.
Dogs are unfailingly devoted, attentive, intelligent, energetic, and eager to please. Okay, some are more of the above than others. But even the sluggish or slow-witted among canines define themselves in terms of their relationships to humans, and that alone is service, pure and simple.
This week the first National Military Working Dog Monument was dedicated in San Antonio. A granite pedestal features the U.S. military’s four most often used working dog breeds since World War II: Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Labrador retriever and Belgian Malinois. (Link)
Lt. Gen. James Holmes, Air Education and Training Command vice commander said, ”As a nation we owe our war dogs a tremendous debt of gratitude. Their selfless service, loyalty and sacrifices to our country must never be forgotten. The U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument is a treasure for us all to ensure they are honored and remembered forever.”
This AP report tells the background story of veteran military dog handler John Burnham’s decade-plus campaign to make this monument a reality. His story is very compelling, and the recognition is long overdue.
Enslow Publishers, 2010

SERVICE DOG HEROES, by Linda Bozzo, is one of many examples of titles featuring remarkable  dogs doing even more remarkable things to serve their human partners. At 48 pages, including photo illustrations, text features, and engaging non-fiction text, this is a non-traditional picture book that has something to offer every age. These are not military service dogs, yet the training, temperament, and chemistry required of them is comparable. Their life-saving roles may not be on the battlefield, but are no less heroic and admirable.

Bearport Publishing, 2008
Another book that is sure to win young hearts and minds is DOG SCOUTS OF AMERICA, by Shelley Bueche and Chris Puhls. Another photo-rich selection, the information inbcluded here is likely to have readers searching for more information about this organization in their own communities.
"Young readers will learn all about Dog Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of dogs and their handlers. From encouraging owners to play sports with their four-legged friends to promoting dog participation in charity events, Dog Scouts of America's goal is to help dog owners get to know their pets better so that dogs can have more fulfilling lives. Filled with real-life stories about Dog Scouts around the United States, this book is sure to please all dog lovers." - (Bearport Publishing Co., Inc.)

National Geographic Early Chapter Books

An early chapter book, COURAGEOUS CANINES and more True Sotires of Amazing Animal Heroes, by Kelly Milner Halls, uses more extended text to share the story of Lilly, the rescued pit bull shelter dog. Lilly in turn rescued her owner from an oncoming train. Rich with side bar content about the often abused and misunderstood breed, this is a great book to recommend for kids hooked on stories about the incredible accomplishments of dogs and other animals.

In truth, whether trained for military service, disability support, or as a family pet, each dog-human partnership is a monument in itself. Their mutual devotion attests to the equal (and even superior) contributions dogs are capable of making to our work, our relationships,  and to then richness of our lives. 
The video embedded in this news article (link)has been viewed by millions, but on the off-chance that you haven’t seen it, take a look. Dogs and service are a great match, it’s true. But dogs and the people they love are at the heart of that service.
What are some of your favorite dog books, fiction or non-fiction?

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.