Three Month Blogiversary

Tomorrow is my three month Blogiversary. My first post, on July 28, was a review of Jessica Love’s Julián Is a Mermaid. I had given a presentation about it as well as Thomas Scotto’s Jerome by Heart at ChLA in June and wanted a larger audience for my work.

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Since then I have completed dozens of reviews about socially relevant children’s literature. My blog has nearly 800 followers, my Twitter account, which I also started this summer, has over 700 followers. Even more, I am a Cybils Round One Judge for Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books, and am creating reviews about the amazing work I am coming across as a judge.

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I am continuing to present my work about children’s culture at national academic conferences like NWSA’s 2018 conference in Atlanta this November.

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I am so glad I started RaiseThemRighteous! I have met tons of wonderful bloggers, activists, writers, illustrators, publishers, and academics invested in diverse children’s literature. This blog is just one of many venues I use to circulate my work, but it is the most immediate and accessible.

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A huge “thank you” to everyone who has followed, commented, retweeted, or just taken a moment to read my reviews! I appreciate you! Email me at jlmiller1@gmail.com if you want to talk kid’s culture!

Jennifer

 

 

Bai Phi’s A Different Pond

A Different PondIn A Different Pond, author, Bao Phi, and illustrator, Thi Bui, both Vietnamese Americans, create a necessary and impactful story that is both a tribute to their working-class new immigrant childhoods and a valuable #OwnVoices contribution to children’s literature. The story is anchored in a purposeful fishing trip a father and son take to secure food for the family. Rich colors and a creative use of panels provide intimate portraits of the duo.

This accessible first-person narrative, told from the child’s perspective, unfurls like an intimate memory.

The story engages myriad social themes gently, enveloping them in the primary story of a father and son’s unique bond. But that doesn’t mean they are buried. Issues of war and death, poverty and hunger, immigration and xenophobia, are presented with sophistication and dignity.

The story begins with father and son quietly preparing to exit their home in the middle of the night. The two will go fishing to secure dinner, a trip they have taken before. On their car ride, the boy-narrator introduces an experience of xenophobia, noting that his father’s accent reminds his peers of “a thick, dirty river.” However, he doesn’t let this interpretation stand, asserting that to him it “sounds like gentle rain.”

The challenge of feeding one’s family is subtly explored when father and son stop at a bait store to purchase minnow and the “bait man,” himself at work in the middle of the night, asks why they are out. The father explains that he has begun working a second job on weekends and must catch fish for the family’s meal before he goes to work. In another instance, the boy-narrator describes his father’s hands as callused.

A sense of loss is captured when the father reminisces about fishing at a similar pond as a child and the boy asks if he fished with his brother. The father turns away at the mention of his brother. The boy-narrator confides: “Dad tells me about the war, but only sometimes. He and his brother fought side by side. One day, his brother didn’t come home.”

Father and son share a quiet intimacy gorgeously portrayed by Thi Bui. In one image they are represented facing the lake, father has one hand on a fishing pole and another on his son’s back, sweetly portraying their relationship.

When they arrive home the rest of the family is awake. The boy and his mother clean the fish before his parents must go to work, leaving the young boy in the care of his older siblings.

As the child sits on his couch waving good-bye to his father, who rides off to work on a bicycle, he shares that he is sad, but not too sad. Then he imagines the dinner his large family will share and is proud of his contribution.

Socially relevant, artistic, and lyrical, this book belongs on everyone’s bookshelf. A Different Pond is a story that needs to be told and both writer and illustrator render it with specificity and depth. This is an immigrant story like none I have read before and I am so glad books like this are available for young people.

(I am not the only one raving about it. A Different Pond is a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book).

Paul Czajak’s The Book Tree

The Book TreeWritten by Paul Czajak and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, The Book Tree reads like a love letter to books in all their sensual glory. Czajak lingers on descriptions of the scent and sound of books as his story of a tyrant’s failed attempt to destroy all books, and a boy’s desire to awe and be awed by stories, unfolds. Kheiriyeh’s textured illustrations complement Czajak’s story and enchant with a bold and deliberate color palatte of red and teal with hints of yellow. Each illustration contains elements at once familiar and unfamiliar: teakettles precariously balanced on heads, oversized dandelion puffs blowing boys away, and regal ladies unsure how to use umbrellas. A story about pleasure, passion, and wayward pages, The Book Tree manages to be both timely and timeless.

The story begins: “Nested in the branches of a tree,/ Arlo opened his book and breathed in./ Beginnings were always the best part./ They smelled as if anything were possible.” The vibrancy of the town center is reflected in a two-page spread that captures newspaper readers, keyboard players, bicyclists, motorists, and one rushing mayor. On the next two-page spread the word “BONK!” serves as a soundtrack to the image of the star of the story’s book hitting the mayor on the head. Although the protagonist, Arlo, quickly apologizes, the mayor decides to outlaw books. He argues that they plant seeds that grow into ideas and asserts that he will tell everyone what to think. The mayor then parades through town blissfully tearing up books as Arlo trails behind him. One lone page flies loose and Arlo chases after it until “the muddy earth swallowed it.”

The book void is felt in schools, theaters, and libraries where, without stories, scripts, and recipes, the town loses its vitality. In a sparse two-page spread Arlo cries over the spot where the mud ate up the last page: “He missed the crack and creak of a book’s spine the first time you open it.” He absently traces the words “the end” in the dirt. The act of writing snowballs and an excited Arlo begins spinning tall tales that he starts to read aloud to passersby. Although he is ignored by his fellow citizens his words nourish the page planted underground and it sprouts. The sprout grows into a tree heavy with books and the townspeople’s love of reading is rekindled.

Coincidentally, the mayor is hit in the head by another book, a loud “BONK” reverberating across the page. This time, the mayor reacts differently. Although he initially demands the tree be cut down, he quickly grows to enjoy the tasty meals, cleaver theater performances, and creative stories that books encourage and that the good life demands. The book ends with Arlo and the mayor smiling as they hold a book between them.

Writer and illustrator are brilliantly paired in this delightful story that foregrounds the importance of creativity in community building and world-making. Without the Arts there is little to enjoy. Czajak paints a grim picture of a world lacking delicious cuisine to consume, clever plays to delight in, and books to lose or find oneself in. Although it is a world you can get used to, and the townspeople do, at first ignoring Arlo’s stories, it is not a world anyone would choose; and, like Arlo, we do have a choice.

You may purchase The Book Tree and other Barefoot Books products from me here.

@BarefootBooks

@PCzajak

#kidlit

Anna Humphrey’s Megabat

In Anna Humphrey’s Megabat, a boy named Daniel leaves his friends, school, and home behind when his family moves to a new city. He is unenthusiastic about his creaky, kind of creepy, new house and resolutely refuses to try to make friends; that is, until he is jolted out of his loneliness by a talking bat who has taken up residence in his new attic bedroom. The two quickly bond over shared sadness and Star Wars. It turns out the bat, who is from Borneo, wandered into a shipping container and accidentally ended up half way around the world. Once Daniel meets the talking bat, who he names Megabat, the central conflict of the story shifts from getting Daniel comfortable in his new home to getting Megabat home.

Daniel enlists his new neighbor, Talia, to help him care for Megabat. Talia’s antisocial brother, Jaime, who is constantly at war with the local pigeon population, finds out about Megabat and threatens to tell their parents. Emotions soar as Talia and Daniel plot to help Megabat return home while pacifying Jaime, so he will keep their secret. Several failed attempts to get Megabat back to Borneo ensue.

I devoured this delightful early chapter book, giggling, while feeling deeply for all the characters. Daniel and Megabat’s stories parallel, allowing Daniel to learn from his small winged friend. Children are bound to fall in love with Daniel, Talia, and Megabat. Many will likely wish for a talking bat to befriend and all will surely enjoy Humphrey’s whimsy, humor, and cleverly unfurled life lessons.