Aug 25, 2015

Election Picture Books: Vote for Monsters, Ducks, and Teachers!

The primary debates have begun. Whether you're anticipating the coming presidential campaign hoopla with glee or grimaces, kids will be viewing a flood of media on the topic. Take a  proactive approach to help them learn that elections, civic responsibilities, and campaign issues are about more than ranting, self-serving, and attacks. If we are to have any hope of sustaining a true democracy, it's essential for young people to see government as something other than a warped and orchestrated reality show. 
To make those discussions age-appropriate and FUN, here's a new release and several favorite picture books to launch you on your way. It's both sad and ironic that books featuring a monster and a duck as candidates may offer more legitimate discussions of democracy than actual campaign media.
Mighty Media Kids, 2015

First up is MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE, written by Paul Czajak and illustrated by Wendy Grieb,  hot off the press just in time for the fall campaigns. This is not Monster's first starring role in a book, but he certainly has ambitions. If you love candy (or power of any kind) why not run for president? Then you can have and do anything you want, right?
This story suggests that his monster-ous persona turns off voters and his promises aren't enough to win them back to his side. 
Monster's visual qualities combine "scary" elements with an awkwardly winning smile, expressive eyes and eyebrows, and soft, fuzzy colors. Metaphors for actual candidates abound. Anyone seen as "perfect" should be viewed with a strong dose of skepticism. Candidates are flawed humans, and it is up to voters to do the analytics needed to evaluate and select the one(s) who can best lead our communities, digging deeper than appearances and campaign slogans..
Monster's kid-sidekick plays an essential role in helping Monster redefine public service as his mission. There's potential for comparing this to the traditional EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES, too, in which those in power are blinded by flattery and it takes an honest kid to see and proclaim the truth.
Touch-points of reality include underfunded libraries and schools, and Constitutional requirements for becoming president. Kids who have met Monster in earlier titles will welcome this one, and those who meet him for the first time here will want to read about his other adventures. The conclusion of this story sets a fine example that individuals can "campaign" for their worthwhile causes without running for public office. 

Simon and Schuster, 2004

DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin 
Titles produced by this author/illustrator/cast of characters-combo have become classics, making Duck's exploits and ambitions even more appealing. The animal antics in this series aren't just comic, but are recognizably human and universal. If you've ever asked someone (of any age) what they would do if they were president, their responses are likely to be as cluelessly-warped in their assumptions as Duck's  and Monster's are. 
Fun discussions of that question after sharing these books will be an ideal preliminary to sharing the next offering.

Dutton Juvenile, 2004
MY TEACHER FOR PRESIDENT, is written by Kay Winters and illustrated by Denise Brunkus. The premise here is that students nominate their teacher to be president, offering concrete examples of her practices and values that PROVE she would be the best possible president. 
Facing spreads display the teacher in classroom settings and then applying the same judgment and character traits in a presidential role.
There are plenty of laughs (or at least chuckles) in these pages, along with recognition and analysis of the way character traits and habitual practices have value in every day lives. 

Bloomsbury Books, 2012, with updates
For older readers don't miss Susan E. Goodman's SEE HOW THEY RUN: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the Whitehouse. Goodman's thorough and resourced research offers page after page of election anecdotes and expanded stories that seem too incredible to be true. As they say, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, they are! Illustrator Elwood H. Smith brings to hilarious life these ludicrous but illuminating historic vignettes. Kids will pore over the images  time and again, and repeat many of the facts to incredulous adults. Some of these stories make Ducks and Monsters for president sound close to feasible!

While you're at it, share some of our nation's history regarding voters' rights with resources offered in this previous post. Sounds like a perfect way to get families engaged in productive discussions of elections. If you have other titles to suggest, share them in the comments!

Paul Czajak, author of MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE, contributes articles to HUFF POST: EDUCATION blog. Here's his recent piece on engaging young people in the election process and the essential principles of democracy and voting (here).

Look for MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE and other election titles at Barnes and Noble "Kids' Corner" table displays this fall, and check Monster's CAMPAIGN headquarters  to find other interesting election-related facts at this link. 

Aug 16, 2015

A Legacy of Literature: Author Ann McGovern

The world of children's literature lost a legacy recently when author Ann McGovern died at age eighty-five. 
As the New York Times obituary stated, 

"Her books carried artwork by some of the foremost picture-book illustrators of the era, among them “Too Much Noise” (1967), illustrated by Simms Taback; “Zoo, Where Are You?” (1964), illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats; “Nicholas Bentley Stoningpot III” (1982), illustrated by Tomie dePaola; and “Little Wolf” (1965), with pictures by Nola Langner, a friend since grade school who illustrated a half-dozen of Ms. McGovern’s books."

 Many of her books are out of print, but well worth tracking down. One in particular that I always shared with students, regardless of their grade level, is THE LADY IN THE BOX, written by McGovern and illustrated by Marni Backer. It's a sensitively told story in which urban siblings are torn between their street-savvy awareness of "stranger danger" and their instinct to offer support and human contact to a homeless woman in their neighborhood. It unfolds convincingly and opens hearts and minds to homeless people as actual individuals in our communities.

In addition to this and other classics, I remember her for the popularity of her titles in the Scholastic ...If You Lived... series. 
I began this blog several years ago when trends in digital media and school testing-pressures led some to question if picture books were becoming relics of the past. Since then that question has been refuted by many voices beyond my own. Picture book publication has trends of its own, including reduced word counts and a renewed emphasis on nonfiction content.
 On both counts McGovern's titles remain timeless. Some of her out-of-print titles in my classroom were taped, rebound, and held together with love and luck. Like magpies, kids are attracted to glossy crisp covers, but fascinating information told in an appealing voice overrides a crumbling cover to win kids' attention and loyalty.
The same is true for her fiction titles noted in the NYT quotation.
Nothing says "read me" like stories revealed through the perfect pairing of language and illustration.
An example of that magical combination is  TOO MUCH NOISE, illustrated by the incomparable Simms Taback. This, too, is a story that spans ages from the earliest lap-sitting listeners to the oldest readers in the room. The story, the flow of language, the comic and colorful images, and the story itself offer  timeless delights.
The awareness that her work will find its way into the hearts and minds of generations to come should comfort the family and friends who enjoyed the privilege of having her in their lives. Check out her books today.

Aug 6, 2015

Happy Birthday, Voting Rights Act!

Fifty years ago today (August 6, 1965) the landmark VOTING RIGHTS ACT (more here from NPR) was signed into law. 

I remember the day. 
I was an adolescent during a decade experiencing its own extreme social adolescence. Within a span of ten years we were whiplashed through unforgettable events, amazing accomplishments, and unimaginable losses. Emotions didn't ebb and flow, they ricocheted between extremes depending on the events and the impact they had on polarizing beliefs that make today's differences look moderate by comparison. 

In fact, a surprising number of current  issues are deeply rooted in those tide-turning events, laws, and shifts from the sixties. To learn more about those years, check out this quick look at the decade via HISTORY.COM. (here).
Or explore this timeline of voting rights in our country.

Among the many stories of that era, those in a two-volume graphic history, in my opinion, tell it best. The primary author is Congressman John Lewis, a pivotal figure of those times and events.

Top Shelf Productions, 2013

MARCH: BOOK ONE, by John Lewis,  Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, released in 2013 and takes the reader through the March on Washington in 1963.  

Top Shelf Productions, 2015

Planned as a two volume set from the start, MARCH: BOOK TWO, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, released earlier this year. 

Both offer intense, realistic,and accessible entry to those times and issues for younger readers, but offer the same  benefits to adult readers who may have an intellectual awareness of that history but no emotional investment or connection to the reality of these events.

Schwartz and Wade, 2015
For even younger readers the story is brought to life through an even more recent release. I'm anxious to read Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans. 

I've read excellent reviews about it written by people I trust, like librarian Alyson Beecher on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy. I hope you'll read the book, and her review, including this truth:
"Unfortunately, we do not seem to learn from our past mistakes.  Consequently, it is books like this that can help keep awareness alive in new generations."
Let's hope that books like these and their readers (of any age) will provide a perspective on current actions to undo voting and other rights. 

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.