Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: We Sang You Home

by Richard Van Camp. Illustrated by Julie Flett. Orca Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4598-1178-2  Click to preorder

The same team who brought us Little You has created another beautiful board book that celebrates a new baby. 

Richard Van Camp, a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation, has a special gift for writing short but eloquent board book texts aimed at the very youngest of listeners (and their parents).  The second person narrative here is the voice of parents speaking to their infant: 

We sang you from a wish
We sang you from a prayer
We sang you home
and you sang back...

The words are simple yet sophisticated in their meaning as they communicate the unconditional love parents feel for their child. They also communicate a deep respect for the child, something you don't often see in picture books when a parent speaks to a child. 

Thank you for joining us
Thank you for choosing us
Thank you for becoming
the best of all of us

It's as comforting as a lullabye and the elegant illustrations by Cree-Metis artist, Julie Flett, complement Van Camp's text perfectly. They initially show a mom and dad sitting outside, singing up to the sky. Next we see them with a tiny baby in a carrier, watching a flock of birds move across the sky. Succeeding pages show the baby growing just a bit older until he or she is crawling. And the final wordless page the parents in the same outdoor setting as the first page, this time the baby is joining them in their singing to the sky. A sibling on the way, perhaps? Or just a song of thanks. 

If you haven't yet added the Van Camp/Flett board books to your go-to list of new-baby presents yet, this would be a good time to do so. After all, how many copies of Goodnight Moon does one family need?  Little You and We Sang You Home would make welcome baby gift.  They should also be basic purchases for all libraries serving young children.

Reviewed by KT Horning

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices:
How to Build a Museum

By Tonya Bolden. Smithsonian/Viking, 2016. 53 pages ISBN 978-0-451-47637-1 Click to purchase

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture had its grand opening just a few days ago, so this book is especially timely. 

Bolden recounts the 100 year (100 years!) history behind getting the museum built which started at a GAR gathering of African-American Civil War veterans in 1915 (1915!) with a desire to build a national monument to honor these men. With little to no power to lobby Congress, the members of the National Memorial Association didn't make much progress but kept going. All the while their dream was growing until it had expanded into a full museum to honor African-American history. By 1929 a bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on his last day in office. Yes, they could build a museum --  if they could raise half a million dollars to help fund it. 

The dream was put on hold from several decades but always had its champions, including Senator John Lewis who, starting in 1988, introduced the modern version of the bill for the first time. It wasn't until 2001 until the bill finally passed and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

After that, plans were submitted, an architect and builders were selected, and collections were acquired. Bolden describes each of these steps in vivid detail, showing how each one relates back to the original vision.  Her text is generously illustrated with photographs of the people involved from 1915 to present, as well as some of the amazing artifacts that have been acquired. They include a plane that was used for training by the Tuskegee Airmen, a train car from the Jim Crow era so visitors can experience what the segregation felt like, and Louis Armstrong's trumpet.

Individuals have also donated treasured family heirlooms. Most moving perhaps is the plain cloth sack that had been in one South Carolina family for five generations. It has been sewn in the 1850s by a woman named Rose, packed with a few belongings for her nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, who was being sold. On parting her mother told her "It be filled with my love always."  This one artifact illustrates the vision of museum Director Lonnie G. Bunch: "We want to bring everything to a human scale. Rather than coming here ans saying I've learned about slavery, you'll say, 'I've learned about the people who went through that experience.'" 

This book will be an excellent resource for anyone planning to take children to visit the museum. And for those who can't make the trip in person, it offers a bit of vicarious experience. 

Last week Edi Campbell wrote "a somewhat biased opinion piece" on the book; that can be found here.

reviewed by K. T. Horning

Monday, September 26, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: Salsa - Un Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem

Salsa by Jorge Argueta, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh
Salsa: Un poema para cocinar by Jorge Argueta, Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Groundwood Books, 2015. 32 pages. ISBN 978-1554984428.  Click here to purchase.

“In my house / there is a stone bowl. / It’s black as the night / and stands on three little feet. / It’s called a molcajete.”  So begins this most crave-worthy of books.  Bilingual poetry instructs the reader on how to make red salsa; metaphors and similes connect the cooking process to music and dance (salsa dancing, naturally).  Since I am not a competent Spanish-speaker, I review only the English.

The first-person narrator (who does the cooking) has a child's voice, and teaches readers about the history and culture embodied in red salsa.  "[M]olcajetes were / our ancestors' / blenders", the narrator tells us, and later references Nahua, Aztec, and Mayan ancestors (who Tonatiuh also includes in the illustrations).  Music lives in the text and illustrations, both in the salsa dancing and in the metaphors to a symphony of flavors (“I am ready with four tomatoes. / They are bongos and kettledrums. / My onion is a maraca. / Cloves of garlic are the trumpets, / and the cilantro is the orchestra conductor / with his shaggy, green hair”).  

The big family in Duncan Tonatiuh's illustrations clearly loves food, music, dancing, and each other.  Tonatiuh's art draws on Mixteca techniques and is a joy to behold.  Figures are flat silhouettes and highly stylized; red splashes through the book both in the ingredients and in characters' clothing.  The vegetables in the recipe (tomatoes, onions, peppers) line the tops and bottoms of pages.

“I squeeze a river of lime into the salsa, / and we stir / with my saxophone spoon.”  With its musical language and expert use of poetic devices, Salsa could be useful to poetry teachers, chefs, or enjoyed on its own.  Beware subsequent cravings--you may wish to stock up on ingredients before you read the book.

Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: Marisol McDonald and the Monster / Marisol McDonald y el monstruo

By Monica Brown. Illustrated by Sara Palacios. Spanish translation by Adriana Dominguez. Lee & Low, 2016. ISBN 978-0-89239-326-8.
Click here to purchase.

Marisol McDonald loves the letter m, but there is one “m word” she does not like: ¡MONSTRUO! She knows that monsters are not real, but she hears them beneath her bed and her vivid imagination gets the best of her. After begging family member after family member to stay with her before she falls asleep, she tempers her fears by crafting her own monster out of an assemblage of soccer socks, knitting yarn, a purple polka-dot skirt, and a green-striped shirt. She names it Melody and fits it in a box beneath her bed. (“I know there’s a monster under my bed, but it’s my very own monster.”) But the bumps in the night don’t disappear! After Marisol’s family tiptoes downstairs together, they discover the source of the noise. SPOILER ALERT: the family’s dog, Kitty, is bouncing a ball against the wall. (“It turns out the monster...does have eyes and fur and teeth, but he isn’t scary after all.”)

The mixed-media illustrations are vibrant, textured, and reflect the family’s Peruvian-Scottish-American background by the possessions included in each scene as well as the blended nature of the medium itself. The images are presented at straightforward, predictable angles (almost like a television sitcom). Marisol’s energy and creativity are further communicated on the endpapers, which bookend the story with pale yellow backdrops featuring child-like crayon drawings of monsters and other fantastic beings.

The title, author’s note, glossary, and creator biographies are displayed in a balance of Spanish and English, with each language drawing attention. English words are introduced in the Spanish narrative, and vice versa. This, as well as Marisol’s endearing first-person voice, will come as no surprise to fans of other books by Dr. Monica Brown and Sara Palacios, including Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina and Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash / Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual. This book’s smaller trim size (relative to the other Marisol books, at 8.5 x 9.9 inches) makes it just right for shared reading—and a perfect before-bedtime pick. Find this book and start sharing tonight.

Reviewed by Elisa Gall

Saturday, September 24, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices:
Rudas: Niño's Horrendous Hermanitas

by Yuyi Morales. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2016. ISBN 978-1-62672-240-8 Click here to purchase

Niño's back and this time he's completely upstaged by las hermanitas -- the lucha queens. In lucha libre there are two kinds of wrestlers -- the Técnicos, those who play by the rules, and the Rudos, those who don't. The toddler twins are definitely in the second category. 

First introduced at the end of the popular Niño Wrestles the World when they awakened from their nap, here they are fully awake and running the show. 

The story opens with Niño quietly minding his own business, creating the drawings for a picture book, when the twins show up, ready to take on all comers. And the same cast of adversaries returns: El Extraterrestre, Cabeza Olmeca, El Chamuco, La Momia de Guanajuato, and La Llorona. None of them, not even Niño, can defeat the Rudas. 

The genius here is that all the Rudas' tactics are typical toddler behaviors. They defeat El Extraterrestre with the Poopy Bomb Blowout, and when the Olmec Head steps in to vanquish them with a diaper change, they go for the famous Nappy Freedom Break.  They teethe on El Chamuco's tail and then point to the Guanajuato Mummy as the culprit and, most hilariously, grab two of La Llorona's children, saying "Gimme!" and "¡Mio!"  In the end, only Niño can defeat them by employing a classic older sibling move. 

As with the first book, there is a playful blend of Spanish and English, and plenty to look at in the illustrations -- El Extraterrestre trying to sneak up on Niño with his net, the perpetually open onesie that results  from the Nappy Freedom Break, and a clever cameo appearance by Señor Calavera, just to name a few.  What I most appreciate about the book, in addition to the brilliant artistry, is the way in which it captures young children at play, working things out for themselves without any adult interference. ¡Vivan Niño and his hermanitas!

Reviewed by KT Horning

Friday, September 23, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Clarion Books, 2016. 978-0-544-61231-0. Click here to purchase.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  When Zomorod Yousefzadeh reads this line from A Street Car Named Desire during her 6th grade drama class she stops and returns to it several times.  Tennessee Williams perfectly describes Zomorod’s (aka Cindy because no American mouth seems capable of producing her Iranian name) experience as an immigrant in the United States in the late 1970s. The most recent move from Compton to Newport Beach, California has produced another town of strangers for Cindy and her family to encounter.

These interactions are often difficult, embarrassing, and scary – the perfect mixture of emotions to make middle school in a new town an anxiety filled journey. The first such meeting happens immediately upon arriving at their new condo in Newport Beach.  The condo manager (who reminds Cindy of Mrs. Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island) responds to the accented English of Cindy’s father by speaking slowly and loudly and repeating phrases. Introductions with new peers and neighbors usually follow a predictable pattern:

Cool person:  “Hi, what’s your name?”
Me: “Zomorod Yousefzadeh.”
Cool person (stepping back, looking scared): “What kind of name is that?”
Me (being extra cheerful and not scary): “I’m from Iran.”
Cool person (looking more scared): “Where is that?”

Cindy is again put in the role of needing to educate American's about the history and geography of the wider world.  This changes when she meets an aspiring (sixth grade) journalist Carolyn.  Carolyn is sincerely interested in Cindy’s life and background and they become fast friends. Trips to Carolyn’s house become a reprieve from the gloom of Cindy’s mother who refuses to learn English and sits at home watching everything from Three’s Company to The Brady Bunch (contemporary middle grade readers will need to reach for Youtube or reference the memory of an adult to understand some of the references to these shows). Carolyn even interviews Cindy’s father, a petroleum engineer, for a social studies project.   These conversations provide a vehicle for Dumas to trace the history of Iran.   That history takes an unexpected turn during their 7th grade year when Ayatollah Khomeini leads a religious revolution in Iran.

These events throw the Yousefzadeh family into turmoil. Updates from relatives still in Iran report a complete restructuring of the social order. Women have less rights and career options, wealthy people are being harassed and their belongings are seized, and many Iranians are being imprisoned and tortured.  Not long after Khomeini’s rise to power several Americans are taken hostage.  The Iran hostage crisis is covered every night on the evening news and suddenly many of Cindy’s neighbors and peers are very aware of her family’s home country.  The tension of the crisis drags on into the 8th grade year of middle school. Cindy’s father loses his job; her mother falls into a deeper depression, and now outright hostility begins to bubble up from neighbors and other kids.   When the crisis finally ends the kindness of strangers comes to the rescue of Cindy and her family.

Firoozeh Dumas has created a middle grade character with boundless humor and hope. The events of the late 70s are now historical fiction for contemporary readers.  Dumas deftly weaves the geopolitical facts and pop culture aesthetic of the time into this immigration story.

Reviewed by Ernie Cox

Thursday, September 22, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices:
Super Indian

Super Indian Vol. 1 by Arigon Starr
As part of our Spotlight on #OwnVoices in September, we will feature books not published in the last year on Throwback Thursday. Today Allie looks at a graphic novel published in 2012.

Super Indian by Arigon Starr. Wacky Productions Unlimited, 2012. ISBN 978-9870985952. Click here to purchase.

Super Indian opens with an image of a lone figure on horseback. This "mighty Native warrior", who seems to speak Bear and levitates during meditation, "holds the mystical knowledge and secrets of the ancient shamans".  The stereotypes last only one page, however, as the narrator abruptly informs us, "That warrior and his story are told in another comic book."

Cut to mild-mannered Hubert Logan, who as a child ate some government-provided cheese tainted with "rezium" and subsequently developed super strength, fire breath, and more ever-emerging super powers. After escaping from the clutches of an evil anthropologist who traveled to Leaning Oak Reservation in search of ancient artifacts, Hubert decides to try his hand at blogging.  Big mistake.  Three identities--Hubert, Super Indian, and Rez Boy--prove too much even for Super Indian, especially when an imposter starts tagging as Rez Boy.  All will be resolved, but not without the help of Hubert's dog, Diogi, and his friend General Bear/Mega Bear, who help Super Indian save the day.
"At last... everything I wanted to know about
string theory but was afraid to ask..."

There's so much to love in this uproariously funny comic.  Stereotypes are flouted at every turn, the Twilight series is parodied, and Diogi--the dog--loves string theory.  Villains include Wampum Baggs, who possesses a magical Wampum belt, and Cal Van Erik, who "despite his suspect Native heritage [is] the most well-known 'Indian' actor".  One-page bonuses include information about Real Super Indians, e.g., Maria Tallchief, an internationally-renowned ballerina.

As an outsider to Native culture, I can tell that there are many in-jokes and references that I miss when I read Super Indian, and that's a good thing.  Despite the inclusion of a "guide to rez speak", Super Indian firmly centers Native experiences and counters, rather than comforts, White ideas about Native identity.  For that reason, it's something that every library--especially those serving primarily-White populations--should have.

Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce