Jan 25, 2014

Multicultural Children's Book Day: January 27

Here's a heads up on another one of those special days (weeks, months) that focus on a particular theme or topic of value. It's the kind of frustratingly time-specific, fleeting event that drives me up a wall, in case you haven't read any of my prior rants.  The painful reality is that these are topics, theme, and issues that deserve our attention 24/7/365. 

But I'll take what I can get.

The good news is that the minimal representation of cultural diversity in all children's literature, picture books included, has been on ongoing topic of discussion this past year among social media literati.

Read more about MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN'S BOOK DAY here. With the annual Black History Month just around the corner, classrooms and social media will be overflowing with suggested readings on African American history, largely centered on the periods of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. While there are significant numbers of picture books on these topics, they are too often relegated to back shelves or boxes when the month ends. Please, resist the urge and keep those books prominent, circulating, and under discussion.
Ezra Jack Keats was way ahead of the curve in creating timeless books with universal appeal using images not often seen at the time. Maurice Sendak shook things up even earlier in his collaborations with Ruth Krauss. His were some of the first picture book illustrations to portray diverse, middle-European children instead of the typical blond, blue-eyed stereotypes.
"Sendak's dark, moody illustrations were a shocking contrast to the usually light and happy fare found in a typical children's book of the time. The main character Max, like many of Sendak's protagonists, acted like a real child, not some idealized version of youth." 

Titles featuring characters with ethnic or cultural heritage beyond the mainstream as anything other than sidekicks or background images are few and far between. The ever-helpful KIDS READ blog shares this single link to prior posts with some suggested titles.  By the way, can we all agree that "mainstream" should be seen as a massively broad flow, one large enough to include all humans?
As for me, I refuse to wait for designated months or days to celebrate great resources for kids. Here's  a link to my resource pages for BLACK HISTORY TITLES and APPRECIATING DIFFERENCES.

I hope you'll suggest some titles with similar diversity and share them with kids.
Throughout the year, throughout their lives.

Jan 19, 2014

Quick Updates on Picture Books

As I mentioned in the last post, I've shifted this particular blog to the back burner for a few months while I attend to details related to the release of ODIN'S PROMISE this spring. 

And yet… with the ALA Midwinter Conference just a week away, I have to spend a little time here, sharing some love for picture books. Not that I'll be able to attend, but I'll at least view the live presentations for the Youth Media Awards via social media on Monday, January 27. As I explained in a recent post, it's not so much because I'm a fangirl of award-winners and lists. I am, however, a huge fan of anything and everything that shines a spotlight on quality literature for young readers. 

Having one of those shiny silver or gold award seals on the cover assures that these titles will stay in print, and will continually be referenced in recommended lists. This year I again happen to know the creators of several picture books that are undoubtedly under consideration. (They shall remain nameless in order to avoid any possible "jinx" effect.)

But… there are only so many awards to go around. 

Last year is a good example of that, especially in the Caldecott category. Despite awarding a veritable bouquet of honors titles, the amazing Z IS FOR MOOSE, by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, was not among those honored. In fact, Horn Book gave Moose their own award, the WTF,ALA? award, in recognition of their surprise at this oversight.

Eligibility for Caldecott consideration is limited to illustrators from the USA, so no jinx-factor can come into play by sharing this Nerdy Book Club blog post by Carrie Gelson. In her post, 

she brings to the front of the stage her ten favorite Canadian illustrators and sample titles. Each and every one appeals to me, and the ones I haven't yet read are now on my library hold list.   Check them out. 

Greenwillow Books, 2012
In the meantime, I'll continue to read picture books, add my reviews on Goodreads, and return here to share titles as often as I can. The beautiful nature of picture books is that they are complete, compact, and compelling, able to communicate stories, emotions, and inspiration in relatively little time. They are bite-sized experiences with literature, often of the highest possible calibre. 

Stay tuned for my intermittent posts here over the next several months. When it comes to picture books sometimes I just can't contain myself! 

Jan 4, 2014

Dreams, Imagination, Resolutions: Yo, Vikings!

This post also appears on my website blog.

It's another new year.

Rather than reflect on resolutions, plans, and goal-setting, I'm taking a different tack. This is only one of many (MANY) new years I've welcomed in with well-considered, constructive resolutions. Truth be told, that's worked out well for me over the years.
Writing has always figured prominently among those plans. With resolutions to guide me, I've managed to write more, write in wider genres, learn more about writing, develop professional associations, find writing partners, and share my writing with wider audiences, including social media.
No regrets there. All of the above, and more, have led me to where I stand today, anticipating the release of Odin's Promise in just a few months.

What if I had been bolder, more imaginative, and even a tad foolish in the scope of my earlier intents?
What if I had been more  like a Viking?
Dutton Children's Books, 2002

Or at least like the daring protagonist in Judith Byron Schachner's picture book, YO, VIKINGS!  My previous methodical resolutions led me to become an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), including attendance at conferences. At our  October Wisconsin gathering I was privileged to hear Judy speak about her work. In the course of a lively, informative presentation on her process, her inspirations, and the irrepressible SkippyJonJones, she shared the family story behind YO, VIKINGS!
Click here to read about her bold and imaginative daughter Emma, and to view a news video of the real thing- Emma, Judy, and their backyard Viking ship!

This book is a treasure on many levels: compelling characters, vibrant and richly detailed illustrations that extend the text, delightful language, and the most improbably true story you'll ever read.

YO, VIKINGS! nudges me outside the comfort zone of my previous resolutions. Meeting Emma in the pages of this book inspires me to imagine beyond the "reasonable" or even "possible"  and set my sights on the vast unknown. Emma didn't hobble her dreams to methodical steps, nor wait for Star Trek Captain Jean Luc to "make it so".  She spoke her dreams publicly, she recognized the hand of fate when it showed itself, and she took its hand eagerly. The results were beyond even her wildest dreams.

The fact that Emma's imagination happened to land in the realm of Vikings is my signal that fate is offering me opportunities and adventures in 2014 that could lead beyond my annual steady pace. Rather than approaching this new year with plans and objectives, I intend to follow Emma's lead. I'll keep Judy's book propped on my desk as a reminder to sail into this year with true Viking bravado! 

There. I said it publicly. Watch me.

In coming months I may not maintain a weekly posting schedule on this blog, shifting focus to my website blog as the release date approaches. I have no doubt, though, that the amazing picture books releasing in 2014 will be featured here over the course of the year. I hope you'll continue to join  me for the ride!

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.