Raise Up #OWNVOICES

The year has begun. We will have a new president in two weeks. The Southern Poverty Law Center is gathering data that shows an initial increase in hate crimes and hate speech, followed by a slow down.

Twitter is … well … Twitter but more so these days.

I still haven’t figured out Instagram or Tumblr. They make me feel old.

And so, 6 days into 2017 and people are wondering what can be done to make things better, more civil and less frightening. Well, I am all about DOING. So, I have a small project I think you can help with. I might be biased, but I think we should be doing more reading. Reading outside ourselves. Reading good, authentic representations of people, places, and histories that have NOTHING to do with us or our lived lives. And so thanks to a bunch of people who contributed (link if you want to add to the list) I have a pretty good start on a list of books written by authors that come from marginalized communities.

These marginalized authors are writing books – good books and great books – that are not getting enough attention.

I want readers to amplify the voices of these authors who are members of marginalized communities because books are being written by actual marginalized people with great characters, authentic settings, and solid story telling.

How can I help? What can you do?

Well, I am glad you asked.

As a member of Reading America you can do two things.

A) Read these books.
Get the book from the library. If they are not in your libraries holdings, ask for them.
Or purchase the books, direct from the publisher or a local bookseller.

B) After reading, write a review and add your voice to amplify these authors. You can help create buzz and excitement around their works. You can change the direction of publishing (maybe) and prove that White, straight, able America can read and enjoy literature that does not center White, straight, able America. Give it a shot.

How do I do that?

Again, thanks for asking.

  1. Read a book that is on this list (it is a vetted list that is growing)
  2. Write a positive review (don’t panic, I’ll help with this bit)
  3. Upload your review up on Goodreads or Amazon or both.
  4. Repeat

But, how can I write a review? I’ve never done that? It makes me nervous and I avoid things that make me nervous. 

Don’t panic Reading America! I’ve got a book review starter kit here for you. You can copy and paste this (fill in the blanks) and then BA-BAM! Review written!

I read — BOOK TITLE — by — AUTHOR — and absolutely loved it. << Write something specific that you loved about the book: Characters, Voice, Plot line, Setting work here>> This is the first book by this author that I have read, and I am glad I stepped out of my usual comfort zone! I highly recommend this book for — NAME SOME SORT OF HUMAN BEING WHO MIGHT ALSO LIKE THE BOOK — and plan on reading — TITLE — next!

Here is what I wrote for March, Book 1, on Goodreads using this template.

I read March, Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell and absolutely loved it. I was completely blown away by the powerful black and white illustrations and the intricate ways the text and illustrations work together. This is the book first in this series that I have read, and I am glad I stepped out of my usual comfort zone! I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about the beginnings of the civil rights movement in America and plan on reading March, Book 2 next!

Thats it. Read, write a little, post it and read some more.

What Are You Reading? December 15, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I’m catching up on my reading list and I finally got around to opening up Andi Watson’s Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. it’s a fun black and white graphic novel with just a hint of romance. Watson is a comics author that is trying his hand at a longCover form graphic novel and he’s pulled off a brilliant balance between simple lines and illustrations and a charming story.

The book begins in the Underworld with Princess Decomposia dealing with her bedridden father (the king), his crazy neediness, all the kingdom’s business dealings, the responsibility of finding a new chef. She is crazy busy, trying to keep all the balls in the air, and stressed beyond her limits.

What I appreciate about Princess Decomposia (Dee to her friends) is that she is the quintessential caretaker to the entire underworld. As she walks from one end of the castle to the other she receives state papers, long letters, and updates about the political goings on. In addition, she spends her days negotiating with foreign dignitaries trying to balance her fathers wishes, the good of the kingdom, and peace.

On top of her more than stressful duties she must hire a new chef. She finally settles on one, Count Spatula. His first action, before even getting the job, was to take careDecomposia of the princess which is something no one else in the castle thinks to do. She has been running around all day, hasn’t eaten and feels lightheaded. He not only rushes to her side, he also pulls tea and muffins from his chefs hat and gets the job. But more importantly, he begins a friendship with the princess.

The illustrations are lighthearted and simple but that is not to say they are simplistic. Instead, Watson takes care to use very few lines to communicate emotion and humor. Although the counts face is not much more than a heart shape with a few lines, he is able to convey a full range of emotions. The other characters are less simply drawn but no less expressive.

Count Spatula is a good guy, even for a vampire, who loves sweets and has a flair for the dramatic. At one point he concocts a set of dessert that rains delicious lemon curd into the guests. His meals are a success, maybe too much of a success for the kind to be happy.

The king is taking an extended, hypochondriac-induced vacation from his royal duties but he is more than happy to direct the court from his bed. And Dee (princess Decomposia) is stuck trying to be both a ruler and a servant to her father. Eventually, with the thoughful council of Count Spatula she begins to delegate and gain some control over her life and her sanity. But, that isn’t what the king wants … he wants to have his cake, and eat it too.

The king decides the count has to go and so he sends her away for a day in the above world. When Dee decides to take the count with her, it leads to a terrible confrontation between the king (who not sick but is rather lazy and selfish) and the princess.

In the end, Dee is in charge of the kingdom and Count Spatula is in charge of the kitchen, but more importantly they are in charge of supporting and loving each other. This is a great story for emergent readers, readers are are just beginning to read graphic novels, and romantics alike.

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What Are You Reading? December 8, 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I just returned from a great Literacy Research Association (LRA) conference held on Marco Island, FL. Like many in my field I have few colleagues in my sub-sub-sub field (graphic novel reading) and LRA gives me a change to catch up on everything. It leaves me exhausted and invigorated.

So, I came into the office – it is something like 19 degrees outside and 87 degrees inside – ready to grade papers, talk to students, Ares-Cov-300rgband change my syllabus for next semester’s children’s and YA literature course to reflect the research I saw at LRA. But, before all that started, I found the latest in George O’Connor’s Olympians series in my mailbox!!!

 Like so many graphic novel readers I have loved this series since Zeus (Vol. 1) but truth be told Hades (Vol. 4) was by far my favorite and remains so today.

Ares: Bringer of War is another solid edition to the series. The color red runs throughout the book, beginning with the cover. In this book O’Connor does some interesting work delineating Ares and Athena early on. Athena (Vol. 2) is given a cool shade of blue-gray as her color and it reflects her appreciation for strategy as a way to enter into war with a clear and levelheaded strategy. She is not swayed by passion or emotion, or so she would have us believe.

Page 4

Ares on the other hand is the epitome of passion and madness of battle. The image of Ares and his sister Eris plunging into war provide a beautifully disturbing starting point for the story. The blue gray calm of the bottom left portion of the page is ravaged by Ares and Eris’s flaming chariot as it rips through the troops. The soldiers fear and confusion is apparent as their wide, white eyes that stand in shocked contrast to the rest of the page.

Ares: Bringer of War highlights the connections between the Olympian gods and the Trojan War. First as a comparison between Athena and Ares, then as a stage for the continued competition between Hara, Aphrodite and Athena (see Aphrodite: Goddess of Love). After all, it was the competition between these three which began the Trojan war in the first place!

And so it is with this volume that O’Connor provides us with another view of the gods and the whimsy they took with human life. The treatment O’Connor gives to Hara, Aphrodite and Athena is oneof the most interesting aspects of this book. Each one takes a champion in the war to represent their godly interests with no regard for the mortal himself. O’Connor provides a visual of the ways champions were mere puppets for the gods: Athena looming like a large shadow over Diomedes as she takes him into battle against Ares, and Hara feeding words of encouragement to her army through Stentor as she stands behind him.

Ares, like many of the gods of Olympus, lost a son in the battle for Troy, but unlike the other gods he truly grieves the loss. His grief becomes the catalyst for a short lived brawl between the gods, but the war rages on between the mortals well after the gods have lost interest.

 The lively images and playful treatment of some of the gods makes it a fun and exciting read. But as a retelling of the Iliad it lacks the coherence I have come to expect from O’Connor. Because he dips in and out of the traditional story, this volume might be confusing for readers who don’t know the Iliad, or the divisions between the the Greeks and the Trojans. Given the shortcomings of the text, I think this volume would be a great supplement Homer’s Iliad.

The battle of troy rages on even after the gods loose interest, except for Zeus and Ares. They remain to the bitter end. Ares understands his own nature, and in the end he realizes he is much like Zeus, his father. And this realization brings no relief to Ares or, as it turns out, to man.

2014 Releases: LGBTQ Young Adult Literature

Yes to all of these — especially the ones I’ve actually read. Nice to see some lesbian characters.

wrapped up in books

Queer characters and stories are underrepresented in YA fiction. Though many YA novels featuring LGBTQ characters and themes are award-winning, there are not enough being published, which makes it all the more important to recognize those books that are actually hitting shelves.

I’ve always been interested in yound adult literature with LGBTQ themes or characters. Here’s a look at the 2014 releases in YA that feature lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer characters that I’ve been able to find so far.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kiklan

This is nonfiction—interviews and portraits of six transgender or gender-neutral teens, due out in February.

Shadowplay by Laura Lam

This is the follow up to last year’s Pantomine, available now.

Changers, Book One: Drew by T. Cooper and Allison Glock

This is a paranormal book in which certain members of the population change genders each year. It got a good…

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What They Read and How They Read It- Part 2

Here is Part 2 in a 2 part series. I wrote it all at once but I have gotten some great feedback, so I’m adding a bit to this second part.

Again, I feel like I need to make things as clear as possible. I write and think and teach children’s literature, and a big part of that wok is looking for, evaluating, and talking about literature by and about underrepresented people in America. I am a member of several of these underrepresented groups, but I am not now, nor have I ever been, Native American.

I have been trained to read children’s literature for general misrepresentations, as well as obvious and subtle stereotypes. My background and my training provide me with the skills and interest to recognize when stereotypes are being employed. What I try to do with this blog is provide information not on specific books per se, rather on what books do well or where they miss the mark

Now that we have that as clear as I can make it, here goes the second part of my 2 part series on Native Americans in graphic novels.

BigFootBoyCover 1Into the Woods by J. Torres , illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. This is the first of the Bigfoot Boy series by KidsCan Press.

I received this book, along with the second book in the series (The Unkindness of Ravens) and read through both books with high expectations. Finding what are termed “all reader” graphic novels is a challenge and I think of KidsCan as a very good publisher with some very smart and funny books. After all, these are the people who brought us Scaredy Squirrel (a series I love).

The Bigfoot Boy series is about a city kid, Rufus, who goes and visits his grandma for a weekend. She  lives on the edge of a forest where Rufus has a big adventure. He finds a “totem”, a small carved figure with the word Sasquatch etched into the back,  that turns him into Bigfoot Boy. He gains the ability to speak to and be understood by the animals of the forest and lots of other cool things. He quickly becomes an enemy of the local wolf pack and gains a smart alack squirrel as a side-kick.

All of that seems fair game, if a tad far fetched. Unfortunately, while reading the book a number of issues came up, specifically around the supporting characters in the book. Rufus’s grandma’s neighbors (do you need a diagram for that?) are a couple of cute Native American girls, Aurora and Penny. Rufus is immediately attracted to the older sister, Aurora, as illustrated by the floating hearts emanating from him as he watches her hang laundry.

BFBPenny is less friendly, but that might be because she is so busy being one with nature. Her sister refers to Penny as a “skunk” because she a) has a shock of white hair interspersed with  her jet black, straight hair and b) is someone who is hard to get to know but is friendlier than they appear. As a matter of fact, Penny’s “animal spirit guide” is a skunk! Aurora explains all this to a fascinated Rufus.

BigFootBoy25

The issue I have with Bigfoot Boy is not that Native Americans can’t be part of other people’s stories. As a matter of fact I love stories where people’s ethnicity are shown to be a part of them and thier lives but that is not the center piece of the story.

The issue I have with Bigfoot Boy is the use of Native Americans as supporting characters and the subtle and confirming stereotypes the book possesses. I’ll illustrate a few of them.

  1. The first issue I saw with the novel was the fact that Aurora and Penny’s tribal affiliation is non-existent. When Native Americans are treated as if there is no difference among them it is another way of negating their culture. HERE IS THE BIT I ADDED — For me this is an obvious mistake that shows an egregious lack of understanding. I consider it in the same way I do when people throw the word “hispanic” around, or assume all Latinos are Mexicans (this happens a lot in California), or think that all Latinos are basically the same. Mexicans are not the same as Colombians, or Puerto Ricans – just look at our tamales to see the differences!
  2. Next, Aurora is first seen as an object of Rufus’s desire. I understand that young boys are sexual beings and have sexual feelings (I also understand that young girls do, too). My issue is that Aurora’s first appearance in the book is in the roll of some kind of Indian Domestic Goddess. HERE IS THE BIT I ADDED – Again, this view of women and girls simply being a place holder or a vessel for male desire! Aside from her dark skin and black hair Aurora has almost no features. She is a flat character that acts as a) road sign for Rufus and Penny, and b) a sexual object. Might as well post a centerfold on a sign post.
  3. Penny, adhering to a long  tradition of vaguely American Indian characters in literature, is first seen being “one with nature”. This is a problem that comes up repeatedly with the way American Indians are represented in literature  and in children’s literature in particular. HERE IS THE BIT I ADDED – Native Americans can be one with nature but it is the prevalence of this single attribute that bothers me. It is as if there is a genetic marker that makes Native Americans commune with nature and it goes without question. Instead, why didn’t the author provide a bit more information about Penny? Why does she spend so much time in the forest? Also, why does she go around calling it her forest if she’s all about the Native American ideal?
  4. Most bothersome to me is that although Penny is constantly being “one with nature” it is Rufus, the White kid from the city, who discovers the mystic totem and becomes the forests protector. Some might accuse me of reading too much into this but all I can say is REALLY??? The great White male is going to be the savior? Again? Why can’t Penny, guided by her stinky, off-putting animal spirit guide find the totem that turns her into Bigfoot Girl, and back again?

BFB_sesq

Some of the issues I have with the book might be what is termed benign stereotypes, like “all Asians are good in math”, “Jews are good with money”, or “gays are so fashionable”. The problem with these kinds of stereotypes is that they do not allow for individuals to be anything more than the one dimensional caricature created by the dominant culture. So, yes, taken one at a time, these issues might not be so bad, but the preponderance takes this graphic novel out of the “fun filled” category and places it squarely into the “should be avoided” zone.

It’s Monday … What are you reading?

http://thereisabookforthat.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/imwayr.jpg

From Teaching Mentor Texts

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.”

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I’m going to give this a shot. I read a lot of graphic novels but I also read everything from picturebooks to YA novels. This will give me a chance to talk, in brief, about those books as well.

Scaredy Squirrel prepares for Holloween by Mélanie Watt from Kids Can Press

Scaredy

I have long been a huge fan of Scaredy Squirrel. He is a total hypochondriac, pretty OCD, and generally anxious to a degree that makes me feel pretty good about myself. This Halloween edition is a mix of surprisingly helpful advice on things like carving pumpkins, and silly stuff like “The apple: A Scary Fruit”. I’m usually not a big fan of themed books, but this one is pretty funny.

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If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan from Algonguin Young Readers

IfYouCouldI have been searching for lesbian stories in YA novels for a while now. There are simply not enough out there so anytime I find one, I read it. I have been disappointed more times than not at the quality of writing, the flat characters, or the general sense of disgust at yet another doomed romance. It feels like no one wants lesbians to be happy. So, it was with great trepidation that I started If You Could be Mine.

It is all of those things I just complained about – a doomed lesbian teen romance. But, it is so much more. The characters are alive and breathing. The setting, modern Iran, reads less like a ravel log and more like the authors back yard that she is letting us see for awhile. And, although the romance is doomed, the characters are, amazingly, not.

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FANGBONE! by Michael Rex from Putnam Juvenile

Michael Rex Fangbone 1

I’ll be blogging about this one soon. Let me just say … AWESOME!!! Full of silliness, honor, dodgeball, and gnarly big toes that must be kept safe. Enough said ….

Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

Cardboard Cover

One of the issues teachers face when trying to integrate graphic novels into the classroom is a lack of general knowledge about the medium. Some interesting research shows that teachers want to use these books but do not know enough about how to read comics in general or how to evaluate graphic novels in particular (see Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s blog).

Although I started this blog with SUMO, I must admit it is not a great book for novice graphic novel readers. On the other hand, Cardboard by Doug TenNapel is a great graphic novel to start your exploration of the media. TenNapel is the author of other works such as Ghostopolis and Power Up (you might see a resemblance between Mike, the father in Cardboard and Hugh the protagonist in Power Up).

What makes Cardboard a great  graphic novel for novice readers is something I call alignment. The words and images in graphic novels should support each other and push each other to make a greater whole than either one or the other is capable of on it’s own. When images and words are closely aligned, they support each other without pushing too many boundaries. When the alignment is irregular, disturbed, or even completely disconnected (in works such as V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloydor, or American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang) the works are more complex and difficult to read and understand. For some books,the complexity of story, words, and images makes for genius, but that may not be where you want to start.

One metaphor I have been playing with for understanding how words and pictures work together is that of constructing a house. You can think of the words as the framing of the room. What shape does it take? Are there lots of windows or just a few? Are the ceilings vaulted? The words  provide the structure for the story. Then there are the  images, which make up  the walls, floors, paint, carpet and furniture that give you a sense of what the room should be used for and for whom it was constructed. You can have the frame or the finishes, but you need both to have a room.

Cardboard uses a rich but straightforward palette of warm tans and browns that provide a kind of  comfort, even when people and cardboard monsters are at war – but I’m getting ahead of myself and the story.

Cardboard pagesMike is a construction worker who is out of work. He’s also a father, a very bad cook, and a widow. He has no job, no wife, no support of any kind but he does have a great kid, Cameron.

Cam_Close upThe novel begins on Cam’s birthday with Mike realizing he doesn’t have a dollar to his name for a present. He ends up buying a big cardboard box from roadside toy stand for 79 cents (yeah, people in stories actually stop at those stands). Turns out the big cardboard box is full of magic or alien technology or space voodoo and one thing leads to another – including the creation of a cardboard-come-to-life boxer named Bill, Cam’s arch nemesis, Marcus, stealing the technology to make more magic/alien/voodoo cardboard which of course leads to an evil cardboard King Marcus attempting to take over the world, or at least the neighborhood.

The story is fast paced with Good and Evil clearly demarcated with a sprinkling of personal redemption. Best of all everything, literally, works together to solve the problems that come alone (and alive) int eh story. The coherent narrative is a pleasurable experience with just enough creep-factor to keep it from edging into a  moralistic contrivance. TenNapel’s drawings are closely aligned with the words giving the reader a good story. The people looks like people, the rats look like rats, but when they combine, they look awesome!cardboard3TenNapel’s use of a connected color palette full of tans and browns, along with his consistent use of regular paneling that only breaks in times of high stress. There are  brilliant/gross touches throughout- such as when Marcus’s best friend Pink Eye defends himself by giving a one eyed cardboard monster an instantaneous and massively nasty case of conjunctivitis. There is references to body functions (including cardboard blood, a beating cardboard heart, and cardboard spit). All of this combines for a solid story where the images and the words support each other.