Dean Robbins is an award-winning writer based in Madison, WI. His first book, Two Friends, chronicles a conversation between suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass over tea. With vibrant illustrations and actual quotes from the two historical figures, Two Friends is a heartening tale of friendship that introduces important historical topics in an approachable way for all ages. Be sure to check out the accompanying Reading Guide for instructional ideas.
The premise of Two Friends was inspired by a statue of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in their hometown of Rochester, NY. How did you come across this statue, and what about it was so moving to you?
I’m dedicated to my personal pantheon of heroes, and that involves traveling to their hometowns in hopes of feeling their presence. In this case, I took a road trip to Rochester because I knew that both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass had lived there, making it sacred ground to me. On a tour of the Susan B. Anthony House, the guide mentioned that Anthony often invited her neighbor Douglass to sit in her parlor for tea. The tour also included a look at the statue of the two friends having tea in a nearby park.
As much as I’d read about 19th-century reform movements, I didn’t know that Anthony and Douglass lived so close to each other and socialized. It was stunning to think that two of the world’s greatest champions of freedom shared ideas, worked together, and supported each other over tea. I’d felt similarly elated as a kid when I read comic books in which Batman and Superman teamed up as an invincible pair. It seemed too good to be true.
Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, both of whom will be appearing at ILA 2017 this July, illustrated Two Friends. How would you describe the interplay between your text and their mixed media illustrations?
Two Friends is less a straight biography of Anthony and Douglass than a poetic evocation of their tea party on a snowy day. The friends enjoy a moment of serenity before going out, once again, to face adversity and change the world. With painterly richness, Sean and Selina brought this mood to life. They also included so many lovely details that I discover new ones every time I pick up the book.
Their masterstroke was embedding words within the images: bits of printed and handwritten text that show up in clothing, trees, snow—even butterfly wings. This design element is visually striking but also thematically relevant. In the book, Anthony and Douglass are always reading, writing, and talking about freedom and equality. The text-drenched images emphasize that Two Friends is a story about the awesome power of words.
Two Friends is geared toward readers ages 4 to 8. What compelled you to write this particular story for this particular audience?
Anthony and Douglass are among the bravest heroes in U.S. history. In spite of fierce opposition, they insisted that the country live up to the highest ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s important that children learn about them at an early age, but concepts like abolition and women’s suffrage can be difficult to explain to elementary school students. That’s why I liked the idea of a tea party. If kids have a hard time grasping 150-year-old political issues, I know they can relate to two friends coming together for the grown-up version of a playdate.
Kids are also very sensitive to unfairness. Two Friends introduces Anthony and Douglass’s egalitarian vision without delving into details that might be confusing for young readers.
This book was written long before the contentious 2016 presidential election in the United States, yet could not feel more timely. How has the current cultural climate generated new interest in the year-old publication?
Two Friends is probably getting this kind of attention because it’s clearer than ever that Anthony and Douglass’s work remains unfinished. They championed the dignity of all people and showed what’s possible when oppressed groups refuse to be dominated. If they were alive, they’d surely try to level the playing field for every citizen. In that sense, they can inspire today’s activists who want to make the United States a better place.
Which historical figure would you most want to have a tea party with, and why?
My heroes include Louis Armstrong, Abraham Lincoln, Alice Paul, Emily Dickinson, the Grimké Sisters, and Jackie Robinson, and I’d happily sit down for tea and cake with any of them. But the first names on my fantasy guest list would be Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. There’s little documentation of what they said to each other during their tea parties in Rochester, and I’d give anything to eavesdrop!
Read-alouds are for everyone. Reading aloud a picture book, a short story, a poem, or a passage from a chapter book is an effective way for teachers, librarians, and parents to introduce young people to new topics. At all ages, read-alouds can be starting points for discussions, including difficult ones that require safe environments. The sense of community that comes with the experience of sharing a good story is more important than ever. Keeping in mind the joy that comes from the reading of a well-crafted story, this week’s column includes some stories that are fun to read aloud, and to listen to, because of their playful language and inspiring messages.
Antoinette. Kelly DiPucchio. Ill. Christian Robinson. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Antoinette, a poodle, has three bulldog brothers, each with a special talent: Rocky isclever, Ricky is fast, and Bruno is strong. Antoinette, however, still hasn’t discovered what makes her extra special. One day Ooh-La-La, the sister of her best friend, Gaston, goes missing while the two doggy families play in the park; Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno put their special talents to work but fail to find the missing poodle. Then Antoinette, who “felt a tug in her heart and a twitch in her nose,” sets out through the street of Paris, tracking Ooh-La-la to the Louvre. Evading the guard, who loudly proclaims, “No dog allowed,” Antoinette runs through the galleries and arrives just in time to save Ooh-La-La from a perilous fall. She’s discovered her special talent: bravery. Robinson’s flat, childlike, warmly colored acrylic paintings beautifully detail the Parisian setting. For a perfect read-aloud session, you’ll want to read DiPucchio and Robinson’s Gaston (2014), too.
Everybunny Dance! Ellie Sandall. 2017. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.
“EVERYBUNNY DANCE! / And clap your paws, / and twist and twirl, and shake your tail, / and wiggle and whirl.” And that’s just what a large bunch of colorful bunnies do across double-page spreads. They also play musical instruments and merrily sing “Fa-la-la-la, tra-la-la-lee, doo-dooby-doo, fiddle-de” until they notice a fox watching them. “EVERYBUNNY RUN!” Unaware of his hidden audience, the fox dances, plays a clarinet, takes a graceful bow, sighs, and tears up—until “EVERYBUNNY CLAP!” Then they all run and jump and dance and play, “all together, every day” as new friendships are made. Young children will enjoy counting bunnies and spotting the ones that wear bowties, tutus, and ballet shoes in the illustrations—and will be eager to get up and frolic along with everybunny and the fox.
I Am (Not) Scared. Anna Kang. Ill. Christopher Weyant. 2017. Two Lions.
The big orange-brown bear and the small purple bear from You Are (Not) Small (2014) and That’s (Not) Mine (2015) are back for another discussion. Expressive watercolor-and-ink cartoon illustrations on expansive white backgrounds keep the focus on the two friends in their back-and-forth debate. “You are scared. / I am not scared. Are you? / No, I am brave. This will be fun! / You look scared.” There are visual clues as to what has them worried, and they are really scared as the rollercoaster approaches with a huge green snake in one of the cars. They bravely decide to be scared together, and by the end of the thrilling ride, they are ready for another one. This time the “WE ARE SCARED!!!” cries of the two bears and the snake are gleeful. This is a fun book with a gentle lesson on acknowledging fears and facing them with friends.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! Carmen Agra Deedy. Ill. Eugene Yelchin. 2017. Scholastic.
Everyone and everything in La Paz had a song to sing, making the village a happy but very noisy place, where it was hard to hear, sleep, and think. The solution: Elect a mayor who promises peace and quiet. Once in office, Don Pepe’s restrictive laws make La Paz as silent as a tomb—until the rooster who would not be quiet defies the laws. After repeated efforts to silence the rooster’s Kee-kee-ree-Kee! fail, Don Pepe threatens to make soup of him. Hearing the rooster’s declaration that he sings for those who dare not sing or have forgotten how to sing, the villagers take up his song and their chorus of Kee-kee-ree-Kee! drives Don Pepe out of town. Once again, the village is a very noisy and happy place. Yelchin’s sunny mixed-media illustrations are joyful and humorous. Deedy’s appended note provides a context for the allegorical tale: “There are always those who resist being silenced, who will crow out their truth, without regard to consequence. Foolhardy or wise, they are the ones who give us the courage to sing.”
The Alphabet Thief. Bill Richardson. Ill. Roxanna Bikadoroff. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
In the dark of night, the Alphabet Thief creeps through the city, creating havoc as she steals letters from words in alphabetical order. As a’s are stolen, coats became cots, fairs turned into firs, and boats became bots—and so on through the alphabet. The clever Alphabet Thief handles the q-with-u problem by removing them as a pair, so that queasy was easy and squash became sash. Having nearly reached the end of the alphabet, the Alphabet Thief seems unstoppable until the red-headed narrator, who has been following her, turns y’s into slingshots and fires z’s at the thief, forcing the thief to release the stolen letters: “When I open her sack, the letters spring back / And hurry on home to their words.” The clever and silly story in rhyme and playful ink-and-watercolor illustrations of word transformations may inspire readers to try some letter thievery of their own.
A Trio of Tolerable Tales. Margaret Atwood. Ill. Dušan Petričić. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
“Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes,” “Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda,” and “Wandering Wendy and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery” are a trio of tolerable—and tantalizing— tales about intriguing characters who find themselves in incredible situations. Margaret Atwood imaginatively tells these short stories with nonstop tongue-twisting alliterative wordplay. For example, Wenda, a waif who is taken by the Widow Wallop to work in her Wunderground Washery, is “a willowy child with wispy hair and wistful eyes,” whose “wise and watchful parents were whisked away by a weird whirlwind” when she was just a wee one. All three stories are ridiculously silly and totally entertaining. They are fun to read independently but even more fun when read aloud.
Scar Island. Dan Gemeinhart. 2017. Scholastic.
Twelve-year-old Jonathan Grisby has been sent to Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, a remote island fortress-like facility that was once an asylum for the criminally insane. Under the direction of the sadistic Admiral, the fifteen boys (ages 10 to 14) at the reform institution are subjected to hard work; horrible living conditions in dark, dank cells; starvation diets; and the constant threat of torturous punishment on a horrible device called the Sinner’s Sorrow. On the day after Jonathan’s arrival, the Admiral and all his staff are killed by lightning in a freak accident. Jonathan, who willingly accepted his ten-month sentence as just punishment, dreads the thought of returning home and proposes that the boys remain on the island for a few days to enjoy freedom from adult supervision. However, one of the older boys, as dictatorial as the Admiral, declares himself leader, and as a severe storm brews that may sink the island, Jonathan must come to terms with events in his past and assume leadership if he and the other boys are to survive. The short, action-packed chapters of this suspenseful and unusual adventure/survival story make it a good choice for a chapter-a-day read-aloud.
The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories. Terry Pratchett. 2017. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins.
In an introduction written in 2015 (the year in which he died), Terry Pratchett tells of the origin of the collection’s 14 short stories, written when he was 17 and originally published in a local newspaper when he was a junior reporter. Pratchett states, “I tinkered here and there with a few details, added a few lines or notes, just because I can—and because as I’ve got older my imagination has got even bigger so I can’t stop myself from adding bits and bobs.” Pratchett’s stories take readers to strange and quirky places, where colorful people and creatures have wildly imaginative adventures. Pratchett fans will enjoy these tales as the beginning of his popular body of work; for others, they are the perfect introduction to a master writer of imaginative and humorous fantasy.
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. Elizabeth Zunon. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
This picture-book celebration of Lena Horne, one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century, begins with a quote from Horne herself, “You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.” Weatherford clearly shows how this belief was important throughout Horne’s life as a singer, actress, and civil rights activist in which she was, literally, a voice for African Americans. Zunon’s expressive oil paint and cut-paper collage illustrations put Horne in the spotlight whether she is performing as a vocalist for an all-white big band, singing at President Truman’s inaugural ball despite being blacklisted from movies and television, or singing the spiritual “This Little Light of Mine” at a 1963 rally with civil rights leader Medgar Evans. Back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a “Further Reading, Listening, and Viewing” list. Also included is The Essential Lena Horne: The RCA Years (2010), an excellent CD for sharing some of Horne’s songs with students as a follow-up to the read-aloud.
Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
The need to belong somewhere and to be accepted by others is universal. All of us have faced the challenges of fitting in or will face them in the future. This week, we explore a variety of titles highlighting the theme of fitting in and finding a place to belong.
Leaping Lemmings! John Briggs. Ill. Nicola Slater. 2016. Sterling.
The adage “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” comes to life in this story of Larry, a lemming who doesn’t fit in with other lemmings. He eats pizza with hot sauce and wears hula skirts and top hats when he pleases. He tries fitting in with seals, puffins, and polar bears, but he doesn’t belong with them, either. When Larry returns home, he is horrified to see lemmings about to jump off a cliff! Larry’s quick actions save the lemmings from a terrible fate and make him a hero. Themes of thinking for oneself and bucking conformity are presented in a whimsical and humorous way. The illustrations feature shades of blue and green, fitting the story’s polar setting, and the use of gold as an accent color matches Larry’s sunny outlook. Short, rhythmic sentences make this book a perfect read-aloud.
North, South, East, West. Margaret Wise Brown. Ill. Greg Pizzoli. 2017. Harper/HarperCollins.
In this previously unpublished story from the celebrated Margaret Wise Brown, the time has come for a little bird to make her own way from her mother’s nest. She travels to the north, south, and west, yet none of these places feels quite right. But when she flies back home to the east, the little bird realizes that this is where she has belonged all along. She builds a nest and starts a family of her own, and it isn’t long before her baby birds wonder which direction they should fly. The story has a quiet, calm tone, making it well suited for bedtime reading and offering a reassuring message that one will always belong at home. It can also be enjoyed on another level by young adults leaving home for the first time. The illustrations by Geisel Award winner Greg Pizzoli incorporate pastels and warm tones that add to the story’s soothing qualities.
Confessions From the Principal’s Kid. Robin Mellom. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Fifth grader Allie doesn’t know where she fits in. During the school day, she feels alone and friendless. After all, no one wants to hang out with the principal’s daughter, especially one with a reputation for snitching—and worse, her ex–best friend, Chloe, won’t speak to her. But after school, Allie is an insider, a friend to the staff and a member of the Afters, a secret club for teachers’ kids. Allie wants nothing more than to feel like she belongs in both worlds. When she has the chance to rekindle her friendship with Chloe, Allie risks betraying the Afters and must make a choice of where she wants to belong. The plot is simplistic and predictable, yet it has a lighthearted, engaging tone. Allie is a realistic, immediately likable character with a strong voice. This story will resonate with teachers’ children and anyone who has ever wondered what really happens after school is dismissed.
Forever, or a Long, Long Time. Caela Carter. 2017. HarperCollins.
Flora and her brother, Julian, have never known where they belong. Shuffled from foster home to foster home for as long as she can remember, Flora wonders if she and Julian were born or if they simply just appeared one day. After two years of living with Person (her secret nickname for her adoptive mom), the trauma of Flora’s early years still haunts her. Her words stick in her “lung filter” and come out wrong when she speaks. She sabotages her chances of passing fourth grade and constantly worries whether she will be a good big sister to the baby growing inside Person. Flora and Julian must confront the painful realities of their troubled past before they can truly understand what it means to belong to a family forever. The plot is sometimes slow-moving, but the emphasis on Flora’s worries and fears makes it a good choice for exploring the inner lives and motivations of individuals. Readers will appreciate this story’s gritty realism and melancholy beauty.
Let’s Pretend We Never Met. Melissa Walker. 2017. Harper/HarperCollins.
Mattie is distraught when her parents move their family from North Carolina to Philadelphia in the middle of sixth grade. It means leaving behind her best friends, Lilly and Jo, and the only home she has ever known. Mattie worries about fitting in at her new school and hopes she will become just a little bit popular. When Mattie meets Agnes, the girl next door, who happens to be in Mattie’s class, things begin looking up. Although Agnes is odd and kind of immature for a sixth grader, she hatches some fun ideas. But when winter break is over and Mattie starts at her new school, she realizes the other kids think Agnes is a freak. Mattie fears their relationship will jeopardize new friendships, especially with Finn, a cute boy who seems to like her. Caught between her friendships with Agnes and more popular students, Mattie must decide where her loyalties lie. In this fast-paced story, Mattie’s problems are realistic, and her decisions may be instructive for young people navigating the complexities of the middle school social scene.
In a Perfect World. Trish Doller. 2017. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
Just as Caroline is poised to become captain of the soccer team and start her first job at Cedar Point, an amusement park, her mother lands a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity and moves the family to Egypt. Living in an apartment building overlooking the Nile and the bustling streets of Cairo is nothing at all like Caroline’s life back in small-town Ohio, and she wonders if Egypt will ever feel like home. Things begin to change for Caroline when she meets Adam Elhadad, a handsome Muslim boy hired to drive her family around Cairo. As Caroline and Adam’s hesitant friendship blossoms into romance, Caroline must confront the sharp differences between Adam’s culture and her own and decide whether their relationship is worth the disapproval of his family, friends, and Cairo society, especially as reports of violence against foreigners in the Middle East pepper the daily news. The story demonstrates the differences between Adam’s culture and religion and Caroline’s identity as a Catholic from America’s heartland, but it also highlights common human values and the possibility of forming genuine, lasting friendships across cultural boundaries. Readers will enjoy the tenderness of Caroline and Adam’s romance and may learn a thing or two about Egyptian history from the history-rich Cairo setting.
Blood Family. Anne Fine. 2017. Simon & Schuster.
Until Eddie is discovered at age 7, much of his childhood is spent locked in a room where he is forced to witness the abuse of his mother at the hands of her partner, Harris. Eddie is taken to a loving foster family and later adopted by a well-to-do couple. Although he seems remarkably well-adjusted, Eddie often feels like an outsider and is picked on by other children. The adults in his life wonder if the trauma of his past will catch up with him, and Eddie’s turning point occurs when he is a teenager and learns that Harris is his biological father. Eddie begins to fear he will become a monster like Harris, and his fear spirals out of control as he turns to drugs and alcohol and destroys his relationships with the people who love him. Not until Eddie hits rock bottom does he realize that he—not his blood family—is in control of his choices. Eddie’s early circumstances will pull at the reader’s emotions, evoking empathy and outrage. At times, the motivations of characters are difficult to discern, yet readers may enjoy piecing together inferences from facts shared by multiple, alternating narrators. The story is dark, but the theme of finding strength in oneself offers a hopeful message.
City of Saints & Thieves. Natalie C. Anderson. 2017. Putnam/Penguin.
Tina, a self-described thief and member of the notorious Goondas gang, doesn’t belong to anyone but herself. After her mother was murdered, Tina lived alone on the streets, nursing a grudge against Mr. Greyhill, her mother’s former employer and one of the richest, most corrupt businessmen in the Kenyan city she calls home. When Tina and the Goondas hatch a plan to steal data from Mr. Greyhill’s hard drive, Tina can’t wait. She has long suspected Mr. Greyhill of murdering her mother, leaving her orphaned and separated from her beloved sister, Kiki. But on the night of the burglary, inside the seemingly empty Greyhill mansion, Tina’s plan is foiled by Michael, Mr. Greyhill’s son and her estranged childhood friend. Tina and Michael cut a deal: She will return the data if he helps her prove his father murdered her mother. Soon Tina and Michael, along with Tina’s business partner Boyboy, embark on a dangerous journey taking them deep into war-ravaged Congo. As Tina, Michael, and Boyboy uncover the dark secrets leading up to the murder, the loyalty of her friends and unexpected help from a figure in her mother’s past teach Tina what it means to be loved and to belong. Riveting, action-packed, and with a touch of romance, this story will hold the reader’s attention until the final page.
Noteworthy. Riley Redgate. 2017. Amulet/Abrams.
Jordan begins her junior year at the prestigious, hypercompetitive Kensington-Blaine Academy for the Performing Arts while still reeling from an unexpected breakup. To add to her troubles, she isn’t cast in the school musical yet again, and money and health problems plague her family back home in San Francisco. When a spot opens in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s most-lauded a cappella group, Jordan sees a chance for redemption. But the Sharpshooters are an all-male group. Undeterred, Jordan dresses in drag and auditions. No one is more surprised than Jordan when the Sharpshooters select her as a tenor. Now she must be one person belonging to two worlds: Jordan Sun to her classmates and Julian Zhang to the Sharpshooters. When the Sharpshooters have the chance to win a spot on an international, career-changing tour, Jordan becomes even more desperate to keep her identity a secret. Her problems catch up with her and threaten her future at Kensington just when triumph is within her reach. Although copious descriptions of the setting occasionally slow down the pace, Jordan is a dynamic and believable character. An enjoyable read for fans of Glee and Pitch Perfect, the story is thought-provoking in its examination of the fluidity of gender boundaries and identities.
Danielle Hartsfield is an assistant professor in the Teacher Education Department at the University of North Georgia in Oakwood.
Getting into the mind of a character is one of the greatest parts of reading, whether you’re finding a new one or rediscovering an old favorite. The books in this week’s column include a story about the further adventures of Edward Lear’s Owl and Pussy-cat, a retelling of the Arthurian legend The Sword in the Stone, and enticing stories with memorable characters in realistic or fantastical worlds.
The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat. Julia Donaldson. Ill. Charlotte Voake. 2017. Candlewick.
While the newlyweds from Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy-cat slumber in a Bong-Tree, a crow steals the wedding ring tied with a bow to Pussy-cat’s tail. Their adventurous voyage in a beautiful blue balloon to recover the ring is filled with references to places, things, and characters from Lear’s nonsense poems. In Chankly Bore they find the crow, who has sold the ring to the Pobble who has no toes: “So they crossed the sea, and the Jelly Bo Lee, / To the Pobble’s improbable land.” The Pobble is reluctant to part with the ring, so the resourceful couple visit the Calico Doves, “[w]ho flapped in the air while they knitted a pair / Of impeccable gossamer gloves, / Two gloves, / Two gloves, / Two impeccable gossamer gloves.” A swap is made, and the Owl and the Pussy-cat return home to celebrate with friends, including the Jumblies and the Dong with a luminous nose. Extend the fun of this adventure with a reading of The Owl and the Pussy-cat (simultaneously published with Charlotte Voake’s whimsical watercolor-and-ink illustration) and more of Lear’s classic nonsense verses.
A Greyhound, a Groundhog. Emily Jenkins. Ill. Chris Appelhans. 2017. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
“A hound. / A round hound. / A greyhound. / A hog. / A round hog. / A groundhog.” As the round little greyhound awakes from a nap and the brown little groundhog pops out of his hole, the two begin a romp “around and around and around / and around!” The playfully rhythmic mix-up of words in this tongue-twister of a tale starts out quietly, then speeds up as the greyhound and the groundhog whirl across the pages. “A round hound, / a grey dog, / a round little hound dog. / A greyhog, / a round dog, / a hog little hound dog.” Following a chase of colorful butterflies and a run through a bog, the exhausted new friends settle down side by side for a rest. Chris Applelhans’s full-of-motion watercolor paintings featuring the greyhound and the groundhog at play against expansive white backgrounds perfectly match Emily Jenkins’s clever text in this joyful picture book, which is best shared as a read-aloud.
Tidy. Emily Gravett. 2017. Simon & Schuster.
With rhyming text and colorful mixed-media illustrations filled with humorous details, Emily Gravett tells a story with a gentle environmental message about Pete, a badger, whose tidying up of the fauna and flora of his forest home goes too far. He grooms the fox’s fur (using a hedgehog for a brush), spruces up the birds (having them use toothbrushes for beak cleaning and giving them sponge baths), vacuums up fall leaves (creating mountains of black plastic trash bags), and digs up all the trees. Following a flood that leaves a muddy mess, he paves over the forest floor. Not a good solution. Realizing he’s made a mistake, Pete enlists the animals’ help in a forest restoration project: “They put everything back, as it always had been. / (But maybe less ordered and not quite as clean.)” Pete promises to tidy up less, but the final two-page illustration, which shows the animals enjoying a spring picnic, includes a detail suggesting that Pete might not be cured of his tidying-up habit.
Uncle Holland. JonArno Lawson. Ill. Natalie Nelson. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Holland, the eldest of the three Lawson boys, was always getting into trouble. Unable to resist pretty things, he couldn’t help stuffing them into his pockets. When he is caught for the 37th time, the police give him a choice: go to jail or join the army. Holland opts for the army and is sent to a very pretty place in the south, which is full of pretty things—“but not the kinds of things you can put in your pocket.” Holland takes up painting them instead and soon finds he’s making money selling pictures of the extraordinary fish he sees. Natalie Nelson’s digital collage artwork is the perfect match for JonArno Lawson’s story of a choice well made, which is based on a true story about his Uncle Holland.
Harry Miller’s Run. David Almond. Ill. Salvatore Rubbino. 2017. Candlewick.
Eleven-year-old Liam just received his official T-shirt for his entry in the Junior Great North Run and is eager for a Saturday morning of training with best friend, Jacksie. His mother, however, wants him to help her clear out elderly neighbor Harry Miller’s house in preparation for his move into a nursing home. Seeing Liam’s T-shirt, Harry begins to relate memories of the 13-mile run he and two mates made from Newcastle to the seaside in South Shields on a hot summer day in 1938, when he was 11. Looking through an old box of photographs helps Harry recall details of the memorable run. David Almond uses a regional British accent in the narration as Harry shares memories and imparts words of wisdom regarding a life well lived—“Me great achievement is that I’ve been happy, that I’ve never been nowt but happy”—before falling asleep in his big chair. Salvatore Rubbino’s expressive mixed-media artwork, with gray-toned paintings for Harry’s day with Liam and his mother and full-color paintings for Harry’s remembrances, perfectly complements this intergenerational story.
The Wizard’s Dog. Eric Kahn Gale. Ill. Dave Phillips. 2017. Crown/Random House.
Nosewise, a stray dog rescued by wizard Merlin, is eager to increase his repertoire of tricks beyond Sit! Shake! and Lie down! When Merlin’s apprentice, Morgana, places her magic Asteria stone around his neck, Nosewise is delighted to find that he can Speak! This new trick becomes important when he sets out on a rescue mission after Merlin is kidnapped by Lord Destrian (Oberon, king of the Fae, in a glamour state), who intends to use the wizard to obtain Excalibur. Using his nose, Nosewise, joined by a young Arthur, the “poop boy” (the cleaner of chamber pots in Destrian’s castle), tracks Merlin’s scent from the castle into the Haunted Forest, through a portal into the Otherworld, and eventually to Avalon, where they do battle with Oberon (in his Destrian disguise) and the Fae’s magic-eating worms. In this retelling of the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone, readers learn how Arthur became the rightful king of the human world. A hint: Excalibur can only be taken by “a worthy soul who loves man and would never do him harm.”
An Eagle in the Snow. Michael Morpurgo. 2017. Feiwel and Friends.
In 1940, 10-year-old Barney and his mother, whose home has just been destroyed in the Coventry blitz, are aboard a London-bound train on the first leg of their journey to Aunt Mavis’s in Cornwall when a stranger enters their compartment. As German planes attack, the train enters a tunnel, abruptly stops, and plunges into darkness. During the long wait for their journey to continue, the stranger calms Barney’s fears of the darkness by telling stories about his friend Billy Byron’s experiences as a soldier in World War I. This courageous young British soldier’s decision not to kill a German soldier with whom he had a face-to-face encounter near the end of the war comes to make him feel responsible, 20 years later, “for whatever Adolf Hitler had done or might do in the future.” He could have stopped him, but hadn’t, at the Battle of Marcoing. In an afterword, Morpurgo provides a brief history of Private Henry Tandey VC, to whom An Eagle in the Snow is dedicated and whose personal story of service in World War I was the inspiration for the book.
Flying Lessons & Other Stories. Ellen Oh (Ed.). 2017. Crown/Random House.
We all need diverse stories, and the short stories in this anthology, written by 10 talented authors (Kwame Alexander, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jaqueline Woodson), introduce middle graders to memorable characters who all want to belong and be accepted for who they are. Although the stories stand alone, readers will find that each story draws them to read another. Reading the stories aloud in classrooms and libraries is an excellent way to introduce young people to the We Need Diverse Books movement. The back matter includes an “About We Need Diverse Books” section by Ellen Oh, cofounder and president of WNDB, and brief biographies of the 10 contributors.
Poison’s Kiss. Breeana Shields. 2017. Random House.
Seventeen-year-old Marinda is an assassin—a visha kanya, or poison maiden—who can kill with a kiss. As a baby, she was repeatedly subjected to being bitten by snakes until she was immune to their venom. Gopal, her handler, has led Miranda to believe that she is using her poisonous kisses as a weapon in service to the Raja by killing the enemies of the kingdom of Sundari. Marinda feels guilty about what she does, and when she is instructed to kiss Deven, a young man who is kind to her and Mani, her sickly 7-year-old brother, she is determined to save Deven's life. Breeana Shields's complex fantasy, which incorporates aspects of Indian culture and mythology, is intriguing. As Marinda learns who turned her into a killer and why, she is eager to destroy them—and readers are set up for a sequel.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA.
School librarians should not be surprised by two of the largest gaps identified by ILA’s 2017 What’s Hot in Literacy Report. These gaps present an opportunity for educators to work together to address both students’ access to books and content and literacy in resource-limited settings.
The 2017 What’s Hot survey responses were gathered from 1,600 respondents from 89 countries and territories. Using a Likert scale ranging from not at all hot/important to extremely hot/important, respondents identified gaps between what educators recognize as hot (or trendy) and what they believe should be hot (or more important). Two of the largest gaps in this year’s survey should be of particular interest to administrators, school librarians, and their classroom teacher and specialist instructional partners.
Second largest gap: access to books and content
In the report summary, access to books and content was an area respondents thought should be more important. One way ILA literacy educators and leaders can think about addressing this gap is to better understand the role school librarians and school librarians play in providing access. Research shows that in schools with state-certified school librarians facilitating library services students’ access to materials and their reading proficiency increases. In addition to classroom libraries, readers need well-stocked school libraries that provide students, educators, and families with the widest possible array of reading materials across content areas at all reading levels and in multiple formats.
Third largest gap: literacy in resource-limited settings
Equitable access for readers from all socioeconomic backgrounds is another area where school librarians and libraries can help close the gap. When schools and school districts make a commitment to hiring full-time state-certified school librarians and providing funding for school library collections, all students, including those in high-poverty and rural locations, can access resources and technology tools. In these schools, librarians partner with classroom teachers to provide equitable access to reading materials and coteach resource-rich literacy learning experiences.
Equity of opportunity
Literacy leaders have a shared responsibility and commitment to an equitable education for all students. We know access to resources increases learners’ opportunities for choice, voice, and empowerment through literacy. In the United States, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains specific language related to how school librarians and libraries ensure equitable access to resources for all students (ESSA, 2015, “Title IV, Part A”).
If you are a U.S. classroom teacher, specialist, school administrator, or educational decision maker concerned about the quality of students’ access to reading materials, please find out how you can ensure that school librarians’ work is specified in your state- or district-level ESSA Plan. By incorporating language related to school librarians and libraries in ESSA, we can collaborate to close the gaps identified by the ILA survey and support all students and educators in having access to the print and electronic resources and the instructional support they need to succeed.
Judi Moreillon, MLS, PhD, is a literacies and libraries consultant, former school librarian, and retired school librarian educator. She tweets at CactusWoman and blogs at Building a Culture of Collaboration. She is the chair of the American Association of School Librarians Innovative Approaches to Literacy Task Force.