Feb 14, 2019

VOICES that Inspire: What Would You Do With a Voice Like That?

Beachlane Books, 2018
In the current political climate, and even in past decades, "raising your voice" tends to suggest protests, demands, arguments. The ratio of strident voices to inspiring ones has become so disproportionate as to be overwhelming. That's why I am sincerely  excited to share a recent (and acclaimed) picture book: WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A VOICE LIKE THAT? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes.
I've lived long enough to realize that a book about Barbara Jordan is now viewed as historic biography, though, in my mind and heart, she is a contemporary hero, one whose life ended far too early but whose voice will last forever. Her voice, "a voice like that" resonates throughout my life. That's not only because of the timbre and authority and eloquence of her voice, but because Jordan's choices of words to frame with that voice felt as if each syllable should be chiseled in granite.

It was hard for me to imagine any book that could do justice to the amazing Barbara Jordan, but this one does. As her name came up many times over many years, I've praised her messages and her voice often. Had she lived a more typical lifespan, in good health, I'm convinced she she would have been our first black and our first female president. 

That should give you a clear idea of the immeasurable esteem I have for her intellect, her values, and yes, her voice. I doubted any book, even such a glorious picture book as this, could elevate her remarkable life and impact to a heartfelt awareness in contemporary children (and the adults who read to and with them). This book does just that, or at least it opens the door to further research and appreciation.

It's been a while since we've had a female voice in the public venue that has so effectively  inspired, celebrated, guided, and challenged the public to become our better selves. Certainly, there has been none, in my opinion, that even begins to equal the voice and inspiration of Jordan. There may never be. But her voice resonates even more clearly now than it did during her life. 

Barton's author note reveals that he has worked on the text for this book since 2013. The hard work shows. From Jordan's childhood years through to her death from advancing multiple sclerosis and related complications at the age of 59, Barton reveals the personal and public perspectives and progress of a very private but dedicated woman whose voice helped to shape our nation. Barton's back matter provides a detailed timeline of Jordan's life, links to view and hear Jordan's historic commentary and challenges, and suggests important options for further research. His author note also reveals that Jordan's tombstone is inscribed on one side with the word TEACHER and on the other with the word PATRIOT

One thing I enjoyed most about this book was the reminder it provided for me to access digital recordings and simply LISTEN to that voice. The dramatic and interpretive illustrations paired with the spare but potent text to provide a near-to-real experience of walking with Jordan through her life. Her strength magnifies our own, just as it did during her life. 

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.

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.