Jan 28, 2019

Facing Our Fears- With Help

If snow and sub-zero temperatures have you feeling worried, check out my previous post to enjoy a kinder, gentler, more hopeful version of WINTER. 

you could escape to indoor activities. I was in awe of my parents for many reasons. Among them, I was especially impressed when they continued their weekly indoor swim sessions throughout the long cold months of midwest winters. They enjoyed joining their friends in the water exercise group, and the activity helped them feel better physically. At least Mom did. She loved the water, but Dad existed in a borderline state of hating/fearing water activities. He went with her, joined in with her, because he was always one to face his fears. 

To overcome this somewhat threatening wintery spell, let's shift gears and read about swimming, of all things. Then let's also reflect on facing fears.

SATURDAY IS SWIMMING DAY is written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum. Here's the gist:
When little Mary wakes one Saturday morning feeling ill, there's no malingering involved.(That's Mary on the cover.)  She feels AWFUL! Those Saturdays circled on her wall calendar were not marked in happy anticipation. They indicate the mornings she will be going to swimming lessons. Her misery is deeply felt. She is worried about this process, fearful of that pool. 

On the surface (my pun on that threatening water surface is intentional), this is clearly a story for little kiddos who are afraid of the pool, or some other mundane childhood experience. Her fear is there, her resistance is there, and Yum's illustrations, pacing, and spare text capture it all well.
But I'll argue with anyone who says it is ONLY that. 
Just as readily as Mary's classmates plunged right into that pool, we can dive deeper and see that this is a universal human story. Granted, there are many kids (and older folks) who embrace adventures, challenges, any kind of change with a full-throated 

I believe, though, that even those brave souls have occasionally encountered something that caused a twinge in their guts, put a wobble in their chins. It would be a something that they recognize as scary for them, even if embraced eagerly by peers. A something that doesn't appear to have the least bit of scary attached. 
And yet... that gut feeling screams danger!
May each of us find someone willing and able to coax us through those times. Someone like Mary's swim teacher. Someone who knows when to stay within reach and when to step away.
Someone whose wise guidance allows us to own our success and face the next challenge confidently.

SATURDAY IS SWIMMING DAY is an outstanding example of the truth that picture books are not only for the young. It could be the right book for you (adults). If there's something lurking in your life that gives you that gut-punch feeling, lift your head just a little higher. Stick your neck out, look around for your own "swim teacher". Somewhere there's someone who will help you find your own strength, your willingness to face your fears, even if it takes some handholding along the way. Each out and take that hand, accept that help.

Another outstanding picture book about facing fears with steadfast help standing nearby is JABARI JUMPS, which I shared in a past post, here.

If these kids can face their fears, you can, too. 
I know it.
Feel free to share experiences in comments.

Your success stories could be the helping hand to someone else.

Jan 26, 2019

WINTER IS HERE According to Kevin Henkes, and Mother Nature

I'm writing here in Wisconsin, where author/illustrator Kevin Henkes lives, where describing winter is a very subjective endeavor. Those in areas near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or living on the shores of Lake Superior experience winter very differently from those near Lake Michigan's southern shores, or in the heartland of the state, or along the Mississippi. Packers fans are all too aware of how widely winter ranges during games in Green Bay. 
Greenwillow, 2018

This recent picture book, WINTER IS HERE, is written by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek. This third title in a series by this talented pair follows WHEN SPRING COMES and IN THE MIDDLE OF FALL. 
The latest of these titles includes return appearances by familiar characters and settings, and features the spare and poetic (not rhyming) text that invites read-aloud and repeated readings.  The arc of winter begins with flakes and mittens on the opening endpapers, concluding with springy blossoms and butterflies on the final endpapers. The process of getting there is not at all abrupt or threatening, and includes mundane scenes (ZIPPERS!) and sensory images and descriptions.

I resist naming favorites among books, texts, or even lines, but in this case I do have a favorite double page spread. Influenced perhaps by the recent Super Blood Wolf Moon eclipse (January 19-20),  I appreciated the contrast between the bleaching effect of snow during the day and the saturated coloring effects of night lighting, making the familiar utterly fascinating. 

Winter Is Here, Greenwillow, 2018

Don't miss this lovely book, or it's related titles. All are available as board books, too, and a set of the books in either form would make a fabulous gift-- one that will be thoroughly enjoyed in the present, and saved to share with future generations. I believe that will be true regardless of where you live in Wisconsin, or any other part of the country.

As  I write the conclusion of this post the snow is falling, layering on a prior six inches and predicted to continue for another 24 hours. Whether you are living with four seasons in the northern hemisphere as we are, or enjoying a life in the tropics with year-long simmering sunshine, I assure you that young readers will enjoy snuggling on a lap and hearing these books  read to them, again and again.

Jan 23, 2019

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I began this blog in 2012, I posted quite a few personal reflections.  I feel determined to return to a more reflective approach this year. I'll still write summaries, reviews, interviews, and suggest activities, but in light of the "instant" nature of society and news these days, I feel compelled to slow down, think more deeply, and explore more often. 
As I write this, it is officially Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The federal government is shut down, but not for the holiday, A political stand-off. is underway, with American people being held hostag.  Trump and Pence spent all of two minutes on the capitol mall placing a wreath at the MLK Jr. Memorial. Pence later managed to compare Trump to MLK Jr., -- favorably! 

I won't comment on the above, because this is not a blog for political punditry. 

But these and other events did trigger some reflections. The official holiday does not occur on King's birthday, and this post will not go live until after the holiday ends. That is intentional. If you wonder why, take a few minutes to read one of my earliest posts sharing my thoughts on why specific days and designated months can be misconstrued, even abused, when those singular days or months become the "official" times to share history, or lay a wreath,  while not pursuing values that should be a part of daily life all year long. 
January, 2007. Caldecott Honor Book

I had been planning to share a post featuring two recent picture books involving kids in boxes. (Keep reading, I'll get to that). 
Those two titles combined with recent events to remind me of one of my favorite books, HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX. Written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, this biography of Henry Brown reveals his struggles as an enslaved man, married to an enslaved woman. The hardships he survived over the years are described and pictured with wrenching  but age-appropriate clarity. Even so, the scene in which he witnesses his wife and children being sold away to the deep south pains me beyond any descriptions of his physical suffering or humiliation. 
Once that horror occurred, he determined to escape slavery and was aided in doing so by sympathetic abolitionists. In this true story, he was nailed into a shipping crate and sent North by rail. This biographic tragedy has a satisfying resolution, for Henry. 
I hardly find it  satisfying, let alone tolerable, that 2019 finds us immersed in a social climate that fosters and protects voices of racism, anti-semitism, and bigotry of all kinds. It more than unsatisfying to see people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds suffer with little or no recognition of the price they pay for a political debate.
I do admire and recommend this book for all ages, with special attention paid to the informative back matter, the revealing illustration details, and the surrounding history of the time. 

One encouraging outcome of years of movement toward a more fair society has been the admittedly slow trend toward equitable representation in the publishing business. Children's literature has failed to represent or support diverse creators, stories, and business leaders. Now there is finally some growing attention to producing books that reflect our diverse society, with images and stories to serve as mirrors, windows, and even prisms of possibility. 
Flowerpot Press, 2018
The recent release with a "kid in a box" that triggered my reflections is BEAUREGARD IN A BOX, written by Jessica Lee Hutchings and illustrated by Srimalie Bassoni. Beauregard's big dream is told in rhyming text. He dreams of traveling around the world, but his fear of flying limits him to read, write, and learn about the amazing world from home. Not one to travel virtually, though, he executes a plan to mail himself around the world. His romp across oceans and continents carries him, postally, to all the continents and eventually back home, touching on iconic highlights along the way. 
This modern day FLAT STANLEY doesn't need to be flattened and folded into an envelope, and the pals he meets along the way are diverse, healthy, and friendly.
I reread this several times to be certain, but I find no indication in the text that Beauregard is brown-skinned. In the past, that would have led to a default of Beauregard being portrayed as a white boy. The current illustration decision is a good example of the ease with which picture books can reflect the diversity of life and the wide world in which we live it. That, in turn, opens the eyes of young people to acceptance and appreciation of differences rather than suspicion, resentment, or stereotyping. End papers include Beau's "must-see" list of locations around the world. Maps on interior spreads and on the final endpapers encourage exploration of geography. All in all, this is a book that belongs in the world, and on library and classroom shelves.

One last "kid-in-a-box" book to mention is by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko: MOVING DAY! In his signature style, Munsch tells a story involving a family situation with parental stress, sibling struggles, confusions, and solutions with emotional punch. In this case big sister Danielle is told to help out on moving day by tending to her younger siblings. While her parents box up belongings, Danielle boxes up the baby, the little sister, and the younger brother, who is the only one issuing protests. Naturally, they all arrive safely, and Danielle learns that what goes around comes around. It's straightforward and fun, but it's about as simple as a story can be. 
I nearly passed on including this last selection, not because it isn't a fine picture book.  Munsch doesn't need my help to enhance his sales. Then I considered the initial direction of this post. I was second-guessing myself about this being too lightweight to include. Then I realized that it was the idea of being in a box that started the post in the first place. 
These three titles reflect the various ways we can all end up in a box. 

  • Danielle's well-intentioned but impulsive behavior led others to want to "get back at her".
  • Beauregard boxes himself up to avoid his fear of flying, but realizes his travels make it  worth the effort to overcome fear,  releasing him from that box. 
  • Henry Brown risked being shipped to freedom when his only reasons for living were stolen from him. Climbing into a box that could have ended as a coffin allowed him to escape the box of slavery.
Wouldn't this make an interesting exploration with readers of any age?

Jan 19, 2019

Cybils Finalists: Fiction Picture Books and Board Books

I've taken a short breather from news, reviews, and interviews here. I'll admit that serving as a panelist for CYBILS AWARDS for both board books and fiction picture books categories was nearly as exhausting as it was fun and exciting. I'm so grateful to have a chance to serve on the round one committee, and I don't envy the group of judges choosing from among the outstanding finalists. There were spectacular books in 2018 and naming just one among them is an extreme challenge.

That announcement of the 2018 winners in these and all other categories will be on February 14! (Oh, it just so happens that is also Valentine's Day, isn't it?)

For now, I encourage you to take a look at the blurbs we've written about these finalists and "hie thee" to a library or bookstore to take a look for yourself. To check out the finalists in ALL the categories, click the links on the Cybils Awards announcement page, HERE. 

With literary awards season nipping at our heels, take a look at what other groups/organizations/fans are naming as their favorites. For example, selections called 2018 FANFARE from Horn Book can be explored here, and the 

The esteemed Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards for 2018 are already announced and you can see the lists, as well as read interviews with winners by following links HERE.

Meanwhile, stay tuned. I'll be preparing some new posts for some special 2018 titles that I didn't have time to share (yet), not to mention some of the upcoming 2019 titles that are already celebrating book birthdays faster than I can type!

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.