M.B. Goffstein Fans Rejoice! Reissues Are Coming!

Cindy: I first encountered M.B. Goffstein‘s books at my first professional job as a public children’s librarian in 1984. I read Sleepy People (1966) and was hooked. I still yawn even thinking about that book with a small family living in a slipper drinking hot cocoa. I’ve wanted to purchase it, but rare copies sell in the hundreds of dollars. You can imagine the joy of finding a review package from The New York Review Children’s Collection on my doorstop with not one but TWO M.B. Goffstein reissues inside! Fish for Supper and Brookie and Her Lamb will be back in print on March 2nd.

Brookie and Her Lamb (Farrar, 1967) is the only Goffstein book I own so I am able to compare the second edition with this new NYRB release. Gone is the paper jacket and the little pink flowers surrounding the cover illustration. Gone, too, is the jacket flap information that tells readers the message of the book. The rest of the book is delightfully intact. Opening it to see Goffstein’s pen and ink spare illustrations is a joy all over again. A drawing of Brookie taking her lamb for a walk with the jaunty pair viewed from the back just makes one smile. This is a story of unconditional love and so much more. “Brookie had a little lamb and she loved him very much.” She taught him to sing and read, but he could only sing “Baa, baa, baa.” And he could only read, “Baa, baa, baa.” She loved him anyhow. I always found it magical how Goffstein could say so much with so few words and such nuanced, but seemingly simple, illustrations. According to the press release, “Goffstein once said it took nine hours to draw a vacuum cord just right.” Mary may have had a little lamb, but I’ll take Brookie and Her Lamb any day! And, here’s to more Brooke Goffstein reissues…PLEASE!

Lynn: the New York Review is also re-releasing Goffstein’s 1977 Caldecott Honor book, Fish for Supper. This was the first Goffstein book that I remember meeting. This is the charming story of the determinedly independent old lady who goes out early, fishes all day, eats her catch and prepares to happily do it all over again the next day. I fell in love with it all over again, perhaps because I’m a grandmother now myself!

These new editions are in the small trim size and the covers look much the same although the tiny flowers on the first editions have been removed for a cleaner look. Don’t miss these!

Pandemic Comfort in a Picture Book: Outside, Inside

Cindy: Adults have been struggling for the past year during our Covid-19 Pandemic, but we all wonder how the children doing who may not understand the changes around them, or who are having trouble coping with them? Awarding winning author-illustrator LeUyen Pham’s latest picture book Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook, 2021) is just the literary vaccination and we all need.

“Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was OUTSIDE…went INSIDE.”

So begins this story about empty streets, learning from home, drive-by birthday parties, and people who did what they needed to do because, well, it was the right thing to do. Pham shows people all over the world responding to the virus and pandemic, neither ever named, and highlights how we have changed and grown and reached out to those in need. The book is quiet, just as the outside world quieted a bit from fewer vehicles. As tired as the phrase might be, “We are all in this together,” and this story gives us hope that we’ll come out the other side of this pandemic improved in some ways, despite our significant losses.

Lynn: How do you explain the past year to a small child? How do we adults help them to understand, to cope with the changes, the sacrifices and the fear? I don’t know the answer to that question and I suspect it is going to be several years before all of us completely heal from the many ways this virus has afflicted us. A wonderful starting point though is this incredibly skillful and moving book.

LeUyen Pham speaks directly to small children here. She writes in simple sentences, with simple vocabulary and pairs her text with images that children everywhere will recognize. Pham’s illustrations are warmly comforting, showing everyday people and families, the world inside and the world outside. Vignettes include scenes of health care and front line workers in their important jobs and also scenes of families trying to live as normally as possible. The virus is never actually mentioned, instead Pham reflects the abrupt change in lives of people everywhere and the hope we all have of being outside once again.

How do you explain COVID shutdown to children? I don’t know that there is any other answer than the one found here.

“So why did we all go inside? Well…

there were lots of reasons. But mostly because everyone knew

it was the right thing to do.”

There is a wonderful Author’s Note that mustn’t be missed! In it Pham reflects on the past year. She says that her “career has been devoted to drawing the world as I would like to see it….This is the first time I have cataloged the world as it is.” I love the simplicity of this book and the way that it offers children a reflection of their often baffling experiences as well as the important message that we are in this together. I was so moved by this book! It is a quiet gem and one that our children need to experience. I think the biggest challenge when it comes to sharing this will be for adult readers to make it through without weeping! But that too is part of what we all need to acknowledge as we move forward together.

Unsolved Case Files: D.B. Cooper

Cindy: Have we got a new series for you to put on standing order! Escape at 10,000 Feet (Balzer+Bray/HarperAlley, March 2020) by Tom Sullivan is the first book in the new Unsolved Case Files series based on real FBI cases. This graphics-intensive nonfiction title features the D.B. Cooper case, the only unsolved U.S. airplane highjacking case. On Nov. 24, 1971 a man in his 40s wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase entered the Portland International Airport and bought a $20 one-way ticket to Seattle. Once seated in the back of the plane he lit a cigarette and handed a note to a flight attendant. The note?

Miss, I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit next to me.

From there, readers not familiar with the case learn about D.B. Cooper’s demands, the heist of $200,000, and the decades-long search for Cooper and the money. Young readers will be riveted with the details, including the astounding discovery of $5800 of the marked bills by an 8-year-old boy in 1980. Did Cooper survive the jump? If so where is he, and where is the rest of the money? A year or so ago a sixth-grade boy asked me if I had any books about D.B. Cooper. I wish I’d had this book then. The next in the series is Jailbreak at Alcatraz (Sept. 2021). I can’t wait!

Lynn: I know that there is crime and possible death at the heart of this unsolved crime but honestly, what a total hoot this book is!! Today’s kids are far too young to remember the show Dragnet but Tom Sullivan writes with a terrific deadpan Dragnet’s “Joe Friday” voice that is perfect for the topic. OK—most of you faithful readers are probably way too young to remember Dragnet too. So just take my word for it, this is Joe Friday with a sly sense of humor. Since this unsolved crime took place in 1971 when a LOT of things were different, Sullivan had to provide some background information for kids. The hijacker, for example, simply carried his briefcase/bomb on board with him, so one sidebar explains that, yes, in 1971 you just walked on a plane without ever having your baggage security checked. After settling into his seat, the hijacker ordered a drink, lit a cigarette, and handed a note to the stewardess. Here the sidebar assures readers that in 1970 people could smoke anywhere as astonishing as that sounds today. Sidebars also add a wild assortment of related ephemera that is irresistible, such as a diagram of the critically important rear staircase or what all the markings are on a $20 bill or a map of where the 3 bundles of marked bills were found nine years later by some campers.

I love the illustrations in this graphic novel too. Not to mix my references but the style reminds me of another icon of my childhood, the comic Dick Tracy, the crime-fighting hero with a geometric square jaw and unsmiling visage. The drawings are a perfect match to the just-the-facts, ma’am text. I read this in galley so I haven’t yet seen the promised photos from the FBI Files on the case that are to be included in the finished copy but I’m eager to.

Elementary and middle school librarians—you are going to need a zillion copies of this book to meet demand once the kids see it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Talk Like a River – A Perfect Pairing of Text and Illustration

Cindy:  It mystifies me that people can still be mean to others for their looks, their disabilities, and other things out of their control. Little is more isolating or heartbreaking than the loneliness of being singled out or mocked or bullied for something that is just a part of who you are. No matter how many “Kindness Matters” or “Be Kind” movements there are, we still have work to do to spread compassion. I Talk Like a River (Holiday/Neal Porter Books, 2020) by Jordan Scott and illustrated beautifully by Sydney Smith, shines a light on one such effort. The young boy in this book stutters. With poetic metaphor, Scott writes of words that take root and stick and turn to dust in his mouth. Speaking aloud in front of a class often makes for a “bad speech day.” His father can tell and offers to “go somewhere quiet.” They head to the river, a favorite place, where his father one day points out the movement in the river, the bubbling, churning, whirling, crashing. But after the rapids are calm places where the river flows smoothly and he tells his son, “You Talk Like a River.” That line comes from Scott’s own father, who helped him with his own stuttering. This will make a beautiful read aloud in a classroom and would pair well with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness.

Lynn: We were lucky enough to see this book in galley at a Midwinter preview a year ago and it has been on my to-read list ever since. The finished copy is even more outstanding than I remembered. Sometimes the text of a picture book and the illustrations aren’t always equal in quality but that is not the case here. Rarely have I seen a case of the two coming together so perfectly. The text is deeply moving with writing that is ideal for a young audience and metaphors that every child can grasp.

“The P in pine tree grows roots in my mouth and tangles my tongue.

The C is a crow that sticks in the back of my throat.”

The illustrations are perfectly partnered with the text. Some are luminously beautiful, especially the scenes of the river. Some are ominous and threatening such as when the class has turned to stare when the boy is called on to answer in the classroom. Using watercolor, ink, and gouache, illustrator Sydney Smith’s art doesn’t just extend the text, it amplifies each emotion and experience. There is a gatefold center spread that opens to a shimmering image of the boy standing in the river backlit by the sun that is stunning! There are no words here but the images refract the overall healing sense of the place, the experience, and the father’s love and support.

Readers will come away from this book with a clear sense of the struggles the child experiences with his stutter and that is valuable. Perhaps more valuable is the underlying knowledge that the child is loved, supported, and understood and the strength that provides.

Update: We had this post in the queue and missed getting it published before the book was honored at ALA Midwinter with a 2021 Schneider Family Book Award for Younger Children. Congratulations!

 

2020 Just Won’t Let Up…Grim Books

Cindy and Lynn: You’ve got to be kidding? We’re in the middle of a pandemic, economic depression, and an unprecedented post-presidential election transition and you should see the books the publishers are sending us to read! We understand that reading builds empathy and provides survival and coping strategies, but we need cuddly puppies, comfort food, and beach reads since we can’t travel to beaches. Instead, take a look at the depressing topics the authors and publishers are offering up:

Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison (Amulet, 2020)

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but that just makes it all the more depressing to think about reading since it illustrates in words AND pictures the horrors that happened at this prison. Important stories, to be sure, and about a subject most of us know little about, but hardly the beach read that the picture postcard-inspired cover promises.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party by Allan Wolf (Candlewick, 2020)

Narrated by Hunger, the tragic story of the men and women and children who end up stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with nothing to eat but their dead does make our toilet paper shortages of 2020 seem lame, but really? Is this the book you want to read NOW?

Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown by Ann E. Burg (Scholastic, 2020)

As if the natural disasters the world has been facing all year aren’t enough, let’s revisit one of the most horrific manmade disasters, which at its root was due to class divides and social injustice.

The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar (Peachtree, 2020)

You know things are bad in the reading world when even the promise of sweet candy leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Welcome to the world of black market candy rings…

Good grief! This list looks like the Goodreads account for Count Olaf! What books have you seen that you just can’t pick up right now? Or, please….tell us what you are reading that is bringing you comfort!!!

Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Cindy: When my middle school students and I read Alan Gratz’s novel, Refugee (Scholastic, 2017)  we were introduced to the St. Louis, a ship of 900 Jewish refugees headed to Cuba in 1939. They did not know that story, and I did not know that another ship, the Mexique, left France two years earlier carrying 456 children, without their parents, for what was hoped to be a temporary exile from the dangers of the Spanish Civil War. Mexique: A Refugee Story From the Spanish Civil War (Eerdmans, 2020) by María José Ferrada is one of the most moving picture books I’ve read and it is a story for adults and teens as well as children. The “Children of Morelia” were bound for Mexico, for what they were told would be the length of a summer holiday, but history would tell another story. Older children on the ship comforted the younger ones during the long, scary voyage, while others played “war” on the ship’s deck. Their holiday would be anything but, and most of them would never see their parents or their country again. Spain, under Francisco Franco’s rule for the next four decades, remained dangerous for those people associated with the Spanish Republic he had defeated. Ferrada’s writing is poetic, and the illustrations haunting, based as they are on historical photographs from the Mexique. Reading this book the week that we learned that the parents of 545 children cannot be located after being separated by our government, is heartbreaking. Mexico took in these Spanish child refugees 83 years ago and when it was not safe to return them to their parents, they gave them homes and kept them safe. We are housing Mexico’s children (and children from other Latin and South American countries) in dog kennels in 2020. This story should be required reading for the adults “leading” our country today.

Lynn: Like Cindy, I was unaware of this chapter in history and grateful once again for the power of picture books. For her illustrations here, Ana Penyas worked from period photographs using a dark palette with an occasional and dramatic highlight of red. The result is a grim and foreboding mood foretelling the children’s future without their families. One of the most jarring two-page spreads juxtaposes scenes of the war in Spain and the children “playing war” on board the ship. That one is haunting my dreams and will for days to come.

Ferrada includes an Afterword which provides information about the fates of the young passengers destined to remain in Mexico far longer than anyone had imagined. This powerful book would be an excellent choice to use in a secondary classroom studying this period in history.

 

Alphabet Books Never Cease to Amaze Us

Lynn:  If you thought there could be nothing really new in alphabet books, think again! Alphabet books have been some of the very earliest in the history of picture books but authors and illustrators continue to bring their boundless imaginations to this topic. We have two of special note to review today and I’m leading off with an exceptionally original book, The Invisible Alphabet (Penguin/Rise, 2020) by Joshua David Stein.

Here Stein and illustrator Ron Barrett present their fascinating take on an alphabet representing things not seen. A is for Air, C is for Clear, E is for Erased and J is for Just Missed It. This is a conceptual breath of fresh air (B is for Brilliant), a nudge to children’s imaginations, and a unique approach to thinking about the alphabet for kids who have the knowledge solidly acquired.

On solid white backgrounds, Barrett used pen and ink and added bright orange in Photoshop to create fascinating scenes depicting something unseen or actions happening off the page. A drawing of an empty birdcage with an open door and a small orange feather is captioned F is for Freed. An exploding orange balloon illustrates P is for Popped and 2 blank pages represent N is for Nothing.

Each page turn is fascinating, challenging kids to think about this familiar concept in a totally new way. Every scene asks readers to imagine what has already happened. This is absolutely ideal for use as writing prompts or story starters in classrooms of all ages of students.

W is for WOW!

Cindy: ABC Animals (Peter Pauper, Oct. 15, 2020) by Christopher Evans is stunning. Each spread of the books features a letter of the alphabet and an animal whose name starts with that letter. On the left are the large capital letter, the name of the animal, and a silhouette of the animal in what appears to be scaled to size in comparison with each animal in the book. At the top of that page are two sets of upper and lower case letters, one in a serif font and the other in a more modern style. Both sets are positioned on a lined and dashed line space resembling those in a writing practice book. I could see young readers practicing their own letters on the space between the two sets! The Robin and the Quetzel are perched on those lines like wires while the Orangutan swings from them. On the facing page is a digital woodcut of the animal representing the letter. A for Alpaca, B for Badger…H for Hedgehog, etc. until Z for Zebra. What is a digital woodcut, you ask? Good question. Lynn and I aren’t sure we completely understand, but Evans says it is the “modern-day equivalent of wood engravings…images drawn by hand in an illustration software, point by point, and shape by shape.” Whatever they are, we are agreed that they are gorgeous. Each one is presented on a contrasting color background. If I were an early elementary teacher I would buy three copies of this book. One for students to read, and the other two to cut up and post around the perimeter of the classroom or on a bulletin board. Aspiring graphic artists will want a copy of this book as well. Brilliant.

 

FRIDAY! Online & Free: KPL Youth Literature Seminar

Cindy & Lynn: What are you doing Friday, November 13th? We’ll be presenting our Best Books session at the 2020 Youth Literature Seminar for Kalamazoo Public Library. Headling the day will be authors Candace Fleming, Varian Johnson, and Paula Yoo.

Here is the description from the seminar’s website:

The Time is Now

The traumatic events that have occurred during most of 2020 have drawn many comparisons to similar events in U.S. history. A pandemic, racism, political and civil unrest, and a floundering economy have not only caused many people to experience severe emotional and mental distress but have also torn open old scars for those who have survived similar events.

This year’s Youth Literature Seminar will focus not only on how our present echoes our past, but also how historical trauma affects how we respond to current tragedies. Join us as we examine our past, its impact on our present and our future, and how books can help guide us through a process of healing, growth, and unity.

We’re delighted to be a part of this fabulous seminar again and hope you will consider tuning in for all or part of the day. We’ll be presenting books for middle and high school while Ed Spicer presents for the preschool and elementary grades. In addition to the featured speaker authors and our book talks there are other breakout sessions to examine the theme more deeply. When should you register? The Time is NOW! A full schedule and the link to online registration is available at the 2020 Youth Literature Seminar website. See you there!

 

Scary Stories for Middle Grade

Cindy: I just retired from almost four decades as a middle school librarian and I’ve been reading Mary Downing Hahn books for almost as long—her first book was published in 1979, the year I graduated from high school—and now that I’ve made us both feel old, let’s move on. My students have remained big fans throughout my career. Wait Till Helen Comes has always been a favorite booktalk of mine, and even before the fabulous new cover art it’s gotten in recent years, the book had brisk circulation. Hahn’s new book, The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales (Clarion, 2020) is her first collection of short stories and with its arrival, I realized that we’d never blogged one of her books. I was equally surprised to read in her afterword that she was afraid of everything as a child never read scary stories and wouldn’t have gone near WTHC if she’d seen it as a ten-year-old. Certainly, she’s channeled that fear into an ability to bring just-right frights to her young readers. The title story in this collection is a “Monkey’s Paw” tale of a sort for a younger audience. Be careful what you ask for…you may not be able to get rid of it. In this case, though, a toxic teacher eventually gets her due. In some of the ten stories, it is our young protagonists, instead, that are forever cursed by their interactions with the supernatural in these tales. For young writers, in the Afterward, Hahn includes a story she originally wrote in high school. The story eventually was reworked into “Trouble Afoot” for Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters, and it is reprinted in this book. Her comments about her teacher’s B- grade and then her own later assessment that it should have gotten a C+ made me laugh. “Were adjectives on sale cheap that year?” It will be fun for readers to compare the two stories and maybe they will be inspired to work on their own B- story. Thank you, Mary Downing Hahn, for decades of scary stories; I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say so. My students and I are grateful.

Lynn: As Cindy says, our middle school students seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for scary (but not too scary) books and Mary Downing Hahn was always our go-to author. But did I mention our readers were always wanting MORE books. So I am happy to say that we have some new offerings to help fill the scary book demand. Thirteens (Penguin/Viking, 2020) by Kate Alice Marshall is a great choice for the kids looking for a shivery read.

Eleanor has just moved to Eden Eld to live with her Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ben. Just about to turn 13, Eleanor has just survived a house fire that seems to have been set by her own mother who then disappeared. Eleanor wants desperately to be normal, to settle in here, and try to forget her past, which includes sightings of strange monsters. Lovely Eden Eld seems like a picture postcard town but Eleanor’s mother had warned her to NEVER go there and right from the start Eleanor senses that something is very wrong.

Eleanor is immediately befriended by two schoolmates, Pip, daughter of her new school’s headmistress, and Otto, who has a love of research, marshaling facts, and logical analysis. But it quickly becomes clear that Eleanor’s new friends can also see the monsters and that something is deeply wrong in Eden Eld.

This is a deliciously scary start to a series. It is packed with all the elements readers will love: Odd sightings, a huge mansion bulging with cleverly planted clues, a menacing stranger, palindromes, and a crisis coming to a head just at Halloween! Be prepared for a gigantic cliff-hanger which will have readers begging for the next installment.

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth

Cindy: Can we talk? A few years ago when one of my white 8th-grade students read The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas, she talked with me about it afterward. She expressed her shock at learning about “The Talk,” the one that black parents need to have with their children as they become drivers to help keep them safe during traffic stops. She said to me, “My parents never had that talk with me.” It was an important awakening for her. The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth (Crown, 2020) edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson will cause similar awakenings for some children and teens, and for others, the experiences and stories related here will be all too familiar. This illustrated collection of stories, poems, and essays illuminates the need for many different “talks” as parents help their children navigate prejudice due to race, religion, gender, sexuality, and other ways that people find to categorize people as “other,” “less than,” and “dangerous.”

Renee Watson launches the collection with a powerful talk for black girls in “Remember This,” as she reminds them of the many black heroines who led the way, of the power of your voice, and the encouragement to be your best self even when others around you cannot be theirs. Grace Lin takes on Asian stereotyping and female diminishment in “Not a China Doll, an illustrated letter to her daughter at ten (five years in the future). “Why Are There Racist People,” was generated by a school visit question asked of Mexican author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh, one that he struggled to answer. This talk is the result of his research, reading, and thought. Tonatiuh illustrates his own entry, others are done by other talented artists. I read this in an advanced reader copy and I’m eager to see the finished copy including the unavailable backmatter. Talking to our children and to each other is a powerful way to build relationships. Let’s talk.

Lynn: This year especially has seen the publication of several outstanding books for teens on the subject of racism and authored by the voices of writers who have first- hand experience. All of them have informed and challenged me. Perhaps it is the teacher in me but this slim book tops the list for me. Its format of short contributions is perfect for reading aloud in a classroom where instructional time is often highly regimented. Each piece is powerful, moving, and absolutely ideal for use as discussion starters or writing prompts. The wonderful variety means that there is something here for every reader and every reader will find a favorite.

My own favorites start with Derrick Barnes’ story about a kitchen-table conversation with his young son while helping him with math homework. It is an experience most of us, young and old, have had and the commonality of it contrasts starkly with the racism the little boy has just experienced. For young readers of color it will be instantly recognizable and for white readers it will be, as it was for me, jarring. For all readers it will be incredibly moving and deeply memorable.

There are so many powerful pieces here and I also especially appreciated Tracy Baptiste’s driving lesson advice to her son, Nikki Grimes’ poem about choosing “not to pick up the hurtful words thrown like stones,” and Adam Gidwitz’s essay that brought a wholly different look at racism. The black and white illustrations are as varied and as effective as the text contributions and add greatly to the overall impact of the book.

This slim but important book should be in every classroom and library collection in the country. It is truly a gem and opens the door to conversations among all of us about racism, discrimination and the social condition of our country.