Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Building Confidence

Is there anything more endearing--especially for parents--than watching happy kids rush toward school, eager to learn?

THIS IS NOT A CAT! By David Larochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

At the Sunny Hills Mice School, the first lesson will be about DANGER. Or CATS.

Note: on the first page, one little mouse doesn’t look all that happy and the “something” peering around the tree at two skipping mice and one mouse dragging his feet is licking its lips. That creature does not look like a cat. Hmmm. Anyhow, turn the page to see the teacher introducing the lesson of the day: How to recognize danger.  Glowering from the easel is a large picture of a CAT.

To the mice kids’ delight, the teacher shows them pictures of a bunny, a butterfly, an ice cream cone—none of these is a cat. And then, a huge cat appears.

After that, the action is wild, zany, and chaotic. The child on your lap or in the reading circle in pre-K, is laughing so hard, you might need to take a breathing break. I will not spoil the ending.

David Larochelle is a former teacher, and Mike Wohnoutka has illustrated over 20 children’s books and written and illustrated 3 picture books. The pair also collaborated on an award winning book, Moo!  I can imagine them in a brain storming session. Again, there must be a time-out to breathe. Oh, do visit their websites.

Now, why did I call this book a confidence builder? All the words in the book are written using only the words in the title. Young children will be reading this one on their own before you can say, "SCAT!"

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Time To Talk

My first child valued her library card. When the time came that the books she checked out were of her own choosing, not mine or a teacher’s, I discovered that books open doors to discussion. That’s especially helpful when the discussion is not easy.

Bullying is always a concern, but as school bells announced the end of summer this year, at least one news source reported that the group most vulnerable to bullies in academic settings is the LGBTQ community.  If you want to begin a discussion with your kids, here are a couple of books that might open a door. One is for parents, the other for teens.

PLAYING A PART by Daria Wilke, Translated by Marian Schwartz, Arthur Levine Books, imprint of Scholastic, 2012.

Grishka’s mother and father are actors in a puppet theatre in Russia. This is Grishka’s whole world. His friend, Sam, a talented young adult actor and puppeteer, has announced he will leave the theatre soon and go to Holland to escape the risks of homophobic persecution in Russia.  A number of subplots involving family and friends lend themselves to the coming of age moments Grishka experiences, including standing up to his grandfather who is homophobic.

I saw the Jester puppet as a metaphor for Grishka’s personality and growth. How and why do people play the part of the Jester? What made them be that way? What happens when the role of Jester doesn’t work?

Author Daria Wilke was born in Moscow and grew up surrounded by the art and craft of puppetry.  Marian Schwartz is an award-winning translator of Russian literature.

This is a beautifully written thought-provoking book, and the translation preserves its quality.

CROOKED LETTER i: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin, NewSouth Books, 2015

The contributors to this enlightening collection of first-person narratives are professional writers who are Southerners. They are also gay, lesbian, or transgendered. Readers will applaud their courage to share some of their most painful growing up experiences.

The thread that caught this children’s writer’s eye was not the Southern connection, but the childhood experiences of each writer.  Parents who simply didn’t understand what they were doing tried to do the right thing. In most cases this turned out to be the very worst thing to do to their much loved children. The same thing could be said for the community, teachers, pastors, many who thought their actions were helpful when in fact, they were hurtful and their impact destructive.

In reading this book a second and third time, which I often do before I review a book here, I kept returning to the essay by Merril Mushroom, “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” for a sense of history in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Were others being persecuted? Yes, the McCarthy hearings were in progress. And then there was Brown vs. Board of Education. Whatever the term “civil rights” means to you, capitalized or not, the circle of those who should have them and don’t is wide.

The essays can be read out of order. If you are looking for a shorter essay that ends with hope and acceptance, “Coming Home,” by Logan Knight is a good choice.  It is the second essay in the book, but it would also be a good one to read last as a way to remember the book. Hope and acceptance between generations is always a positive sign.

May you find doors to walk through to discussions that will keep leading you and yours forward together.

Hillview School Library