And the Winners Are…

Every year I look forward to the book awards that exist for works of adult literature such as The Man Booker Prize, The Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award. However, the most exciting awards that I wait for all year are the ALA (American Library Association) Youth Media Awards. Yesterday, the 2018 award ceremony was held in Denver and many awards were given to distinguished Children’s and Young Adult books.

Recently, I was reading a post in a library Facebook group I belong to and a librarian had written about children’s picture books. One of her coworkers at the library told her that in his eyes picture books had no merit whatsoever. As a Youth Services Librarian and parent, I was shocked to read this. Children’s books and Young Adult literature support youth in many different capacities from emergent literacy to becoming accomplished readers. Rudine Sims Bishop writes about how children’s literature can act as both a mirror and a window. Kids can see themselves in stories, but they can also see others, expanding their view of the world and the society in which they live.

The Youth Media Awards are a celebration of the amazing literature that exists for young people throughout the United States. Awards are given to a wide cross-section of books that include both fiction and nonfiction. I have highlighted many of the award winners below. For a full listing of all of the winners, go here.

Caldecott: “Awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book.”

Winner: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

This almost wordless picture book tells the story of a girl on her way home from school who discovers a wolf pup left behind by his pack. She embarks on a journey with the pup to find his family. The pen and ink drawings with watercolors convey a story of warmth and kindness even in the midst of adversity.

Newbery“Awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

Winner: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, Universe is told in four different voices–all sixth grade students on summer break. The book explores the friendship that develops between three of the kids while taking on other topics such as bullying and cross-generational relationships. The author maintains a sense of humor while telling a poignant story of kids making sense of and finding their place in the world.

Coretta Scott King: “Designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards annually recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience. Further, the Award encourages the artistic expression of the black experience via literature and the graphic arts in biographical, social, and historical treatments by African American authors and illustrators.”

Illustrator Award: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, illustrated by Ekua Holmes and written by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderly and Marjory Wentworth

Mixed media collage paintings by Ekua Holmes are paired with poems written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. The poems are written in the style of famous poets such as Rumi, Maya Angelou and Naomi Shihab Nye. The paintings expand the experience of the poem and are sure to inspire kids to read and write poetry. This was Kwame Alexander’s hope when he began working on this book.

Author award: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This multi-layered novel tells the story of Jade, an African-American teenager living in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her single mom and sometimes sees her father when he can keep his promises. Jade is an artist and she is so smart that she has a scholarship to a cutting edge private high school on the other side of town. She constantly struggles with the feeling of being broken up into little pieces whether it is at her private school or with her wealthy African American mentor. This story addresses tough topics such as race, gender, white privilege and intersectionality.

Pura Belpre“The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

Winner: La Princesa and the Pea by Juana Martinez-Neal

This is a diverse retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, The Princess and the Pea. The story is set in Peru and features whimsical illustrations throughout. It makes for a great read-aloud and Spanish words are found throughout the text.

Stonewall“presented to English language books that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.”

Winner: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater and Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

bus

This work of Young Adult Nonfiction tells the true story of Sasha and Richard. They saw each other every day during the week on the 57 bus in Oakland, California. They never spoke because of how very different they were. Sasha lived in a comfortable middle class neighborhood and attended a private school. Richard who was African American lived in quite different circumstances and attended a large public high school. One day on the bus, Richard does something that will change his and Sasha’s lives forever. This story is not just a retelling of the events. Instead, it is an exploration of gender identity, crime and justice.

little

Suzette has just returned to Los Angeles from her boarding school on the east coast. Home is definitely Los Angeles and she is not sure if she wants to leave again. She has a crush on a boy, here friends are there, and her stepbrother Lionel has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is a source of support for him, but things become complicated when Suzette realizes she has a crush on the girl who he loves. His illness spirals and she is forced to reckon with herself and find a way to keep her brother safe.

Printz: “The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.”

Winner: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

okay

Marin has started her first year of college and is trying to forsake her best friend Mabel. Before her grandpa died, she and Mabel were starting to fall in love. Her grandpa’s death pulled her into a deep grief and she realized the many things he kept from her while he was raising her: pictures of her mother who died surfing when Marin was just a baby; stories and memories of her mother; and his own grief. She left for college immediately after his death without telling anyone including Mabel and her parents. But now Mabel has come to visit for winter break and Marin is challenged to open her heart and let those who love her come back into her life.

Skin Deep

When it comes to animals, everyone loves cute. If you need proof just visit your local zoo. People will be lining up and jostling each other to see the bears, lions, elephants and monkeys but you will have no trouble getting into the reptile house. This phenomenon is reflected in the book world as well. The majority of titles seem to be dedicated to animals we can relate to and that many see as cute or lovable. But there are exceptions. A dedicated few choose to write about, and often champion, the animals that we find odd, frightening and sometimes disturbing. While I would hesitate to call it a trend, I have noticed a number of new books that seek to appreciate the animals many find unlovable. Read on for a few recent examples.

Vulture: the Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon

Often seen in films circling a dead or dying victim and, let’s be honest, not being the most photogenic of birds, vultures are definitely in need of some good PR. Luckily, author Katie Fallon is up to the task. She creates a sense of empathy by following a typical North American turkey vulture throughout the year. Along the way the reader learns of the crucial role turkey vultures play in cleansing the landscape of carrion and the dangerous pathogens such as anthrax, rabies and botulism that carcasses can harbor. You will also come to appreciate the vultures’ keen sense of smell and its ability to soar on six-foot wings for extended periods of time. While few will ever consider the vulture cute, this work will make you appreciate them and reconsider their negative stereotype.

The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister

Getting readers to appreciate a creature that many swat without a moment’s hesitation is a tall order but Erica McAlister manages to do just that. While there is plenty here to make you a tad nauseous, with a whole chapter dedicated to ‘the coprophages,’ you will also learn of the important role flies play in pollination and as a food source. Most importantly, the author realizes that many see those who study flies, a dipterist for those in the know, as rather odd and the flies themselves as, well, pretty disgusting. She counters this with a healthy sense of humor and curious fly related facts: Flies were the first creatures sent into space and are still being studied on the International Space station; vinegar flies enjoy alcohol and when imbibing they become more amorous and less able to choose an appropriate mate; there is such a thing as the The Society for the Study of Flies. In the end, you can’t help but be interested.

Squid Empire: the Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf

Perhaps it is the tentacles or maybe the large, sometimes saucer size eyes that put people off, but squid, and cephalopods in general, don’t get a lot of love from humans. But as the bold title of this work implies, squid don’t need your love. You see, they have been around a long time and I mean a long time: before the mammals, before the dinosaurs, and even before the fishes. Sure there are fewer of them around today, but they had a glorious 400 million year run as the ruling class on the planet. Danna Staaf charts their rise, dominance, fall and comeback in this fascinating work with humor and narrative skill. The key to their survival turns out to be an amazing ability to adapt. Starting out in shells, the cephalopods went on to develop tentacles, beaks, ink, and a masterful camouflage ability all to keep one step ahead of the competition. Long live the Empire!

Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald

While beautiful when seen floating behind plexiglas in a tank, getting close to a jellyfish in the wild can be a harrowing experience, especially while swimming. In this mixture of scientific inquiry, travelogue, and memoir Juli Berwald examines the prolific and ancient jellyfish and tries to allay some of those fears while describing its role in the ecosystem today. While this book is definitely packed with fascinating jellyfish facts, they are made of 95% water and have barbs that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity, it is also about the jellyfish as a bellwether of a changing planet. Their incredible success, with huge ‘blooms’ of billions of jellyfish causing damage to fisheries and infrastructure, says much about the acidification of the oceans and a warming climate. Finally, this book is also a tale of the author’s rediscovery of her love of science, and jellyfish in particular, after raising a family.

Three Decisions

There is a moment in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a book that I adore, when the narrator, Starr, is debating with her friend Khalil the merits of Tupac’s music. Khalil begins to excitedly talk about Tupac’s definition of Thug Life: The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody. It’s a deep and powerful moment, which obviously lends the book its title, but also serves as a thesis statement for the interactions of the books characters with each other and with the inequalities and discrimination that they face. Angie Thomas skillfully shows the power of hate and the terrible ways that it ripples through a community, impacting lives from birth to death.

Recently I’ve happened to read three incredible books, all in a row, that also deal with the impact that hate can have on young people. In each of these books a young man must come to grips with the violent deaths of loved ones and make a critical decision; whether to allow the hate they experience in the world to consume them or to find some other path forward. These are powerful, empathetic novels that I could not put down and am eager to share.

1101939494Nic Stone’s Dear Martin opens with a young black man named Justyce McAllister being handcuffed and detained by a police officer, all for the crime of trying to stop his girlfriend from driving under the influence. Justyce has no doubt that he has been profiled, but tries to channel his anger in a productive way by writing letters in his journal to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. about his troubles, while trying to live his life as he believes the King would.

Justyce is a scholarship student at an affluent private school and often feels singled out both because of the color of his skin and the knowledge that he comes from a poor, underserved neighborhood. Despite his emotional maturity and keen intellect, Justyce struggles to live like Martin. When a terrible event throws his life into chaos, making Justyce a key figure in a national news story, he must decide whether to continue his fight, forcing the world to give him the respect and dignity he deserves or to give in and embrace the violence and strife that white eyes seem to expect of him.

91kb+HdA-hLTwelve year old Lolly Rachpaul faces a similarly difficult decision in The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore. Lolly’s older brother was recently murdered, leaving Lolly devastated by a mix of grief, anger, and guilt. Lolly finds himself lashing out at the people around him, taking pleasure in small acts of cruelty even though he knows these acts are wrong and fall outside his typical behavior. This is a terrible burden for Lolly, but he is also surrounded by adults who seem genuinely invested in his well being. When a Lego project he undertakes at his after-school program begins to blossom into a massive architectural project, Lolly begins to feel like himself again.

Unfortunately, outside forces conspire to mar his new joy. Lolly lives in a Harlem housing project and he and his best friend Vega face a daily mix of intimidation and coercion by members of various “crews.” The message they’re being sent is the same that many young people face across this county every day: You can’t survive on your own. Join us and we will take care of you. As the bullying worsens, Lolly and Vega’s choice becomes clear. They can continue to pursue their passions, even if it makes them targets, or they can succumb to the pressures that surround them and risk following Lolly’s brother’s violent path.

Jayson Reynolds’ verse novel, Long Way Down, feels like a combination of the experiences of Justyce and Lolly, distilled into harsh, mean truth. This is the story of Will, a fifteen year old who just lost his older brother to senseless gang violence. As Will explains, there are rules that dictate what comes next:

The Rules   

No.1: No Crying

Don’t.
No matter what.
Don’t.

No. 2: Snitching

Don’t.
No matter what.
Don’t.

No. 3: Revenge

If someone you love
gets killed,
find the person  
who killed

them and
kill them.

The Invention Of The Rules

ain’t come from my

brother,
his friends,
my dad,
my uncle,
the guys outside,
                the hustlers and shooters,
and definitely not from
me.

Another Thing About The Rules

They weren’t meant to be broken.
They were meant for the broken

to follow.

9781481438254_custom-d4b85ee7b3c6660233d89d931357c32bb6528316-s400-c85These inescapable rules lead Will, with his dead brother’s gun tucked into his waistband, to his building’s elevator that will take him down 7 floors. He will then walk to another building and wait for the man that he believes took his brother’s life. He will take his gun and kill that man. But first he must travel down these 7 floors. As it happens, on each floor Will encounters the ghost of someone in his life who has been taken by gun violence. And as he revisits each death, Will is forced to reckon with the destruction that is tucked in his pants and whether the violence he is about to bring into the world will set things right or will simply feed a beast that devours young people far too soon.

These books all deal with deeply upsetting events and are not easy reads. I worry that by writing about them together, I am contributing to an idea about violence in the lives of young people of color or at least the depiction of these young people in fiction. For this reason, I want to emphasize that all of these novels feature nuanced portrayals of their characters. In particular the violence in Dear Martin and The Stars Beneath our Feet is almost entirely secondary to the characters’ rich inner, social, and academic lives. These violent events, however, do help reinforce the terrible trauma that many young people experience and the ways that inequality, institutional neglect, and racism force too many people to make impossible choices every day.

Did You Know? (Cassowary Edition)

That the most dangerous bird on earth is the Southern Cassowary?

National Geographic Angry Birds by Mel White shows 50 birds that you don’t want to mess with. It talks about the cassowaries on page 144. While Cassowaries are the most dangerous bird, the Australian Magpie is rated the angriest bird, dive bombing anyone near their nests.

Birds are living dinosaurs. This is something that serious paleontologists now agree on. Birdology by Sy Montgomery explains this on page 49. He has a very informative chapter on cassowaries, with photos of their deadly feet and dagger sharp claws.

Other birds can appear to be very angry as well… here in the northwest there are crows that dive bomb people when they walk too close to their trees! The PBS documentary DVD A Murder of Crows: Birds with an Attitude and the book In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John M. Marzluff both describe this phenomenon and explain the behaviors.

Cassowaries live in New Guinea, northeast Australia and nearby Islands. While they are one of the 10 most dangerous birds on earth, there are other critters in these areas I wouldn’t want to mess with either. As cute as koala bears are, they can be quite vicious, and kangaroos can kick as badly as the cassowaries but without the deadly damage of the claws. The largest predators in Australia are the crocodiles that grow up to 20 feet long, and can pull a grown water buffalo from the banks and drown it!

While cassowary babies are chicks, I wouldn’t mess with them or with Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J Gomez. And you probably shouldn’t confuse them with the very talented musical group the Dixie Chicks either. You wouldn’t want to make those “chicks” angry!

Spot-Lit for February 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Sail in and Saddle up!

If one of your goals this year is to join a book club or simply get out of your comfort zone and try something new, then look no further!

Everett Public Library’s Evergreen Branch Southside Book Club commences its first book discussion of 2018 on Tuesday, February 13th at 6:30. We will be talking about Before the Wind by Jim Lynch and you can expect a welcome atmosphere, light refreshments, and an enjoyable exchange of insights and comments. Consider yourself invited.

If you are participating in the 2018 Reading Challenge at the Everett Public Library, Before the Wind is the perfect match for the month of January. This book is a classic Northwest story by a local author. It is set on the inland waters of Puget Sound where boating in all its forms is a way of life for many. The story follows the Johannssen family. A family that is a portrait of dysfunction bound together by their love of sailing.

Locals will recognize landmarks and your knowledge, or lack thereof, of sailing will not affect your enjoyment of this book. Lynch captures the nuances of Northwest living (for example “rain becomes your roommate”) and he appreciates the mystical love affair men and women have with their craft, be they seaworthy or not. My colleague Leslie blogged on this very same book two years ago, sharing first hand her families own experience.

If book club or sailing isn’t your thing, saddle up and come out for an evening with author Craig Johnson, best known for the award-winning Longmire mystery book and TV series. Johnson will be speaking at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 10th at 7 pm followed by a chance to meet and socialize with the author. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Everett Public Library and, appropriately enough, Rainier Beer: Walt’s favorite drink.

The series is about sheriff Longmire and is set in Wyoming. Local law enforcement and a nearby Native American population are the perfect mix for solving crime and creating the Wild West tension of lawlessness. My husband and I just started watching the TV series and are hooked by the credible characters and adventure. Both the books and DVDs are available at the library.

More Favorite Music From 2017

Welcome to Part 2 of my favorite 2017 albums. Today we explore the varied worlds of punk, country and blues. As always, please do not adjust your sets until the transmission is complete.

Punk, in various forms and incarnations, is alive and well. Whether it be straight ahead, Celtic or post-punk (I know, this is a stretch), it can be found on an album released in 2017.

Group1

Seekers and Finders by Gogol Bordello
Question: What do you get when you combine elements of traditional Gypsy music with punk, dub and other genres? Answer: A passel of fun known as Gogol Bordello. If you’re looking for something unusual and exciting, Seekers and Finders is a good place to start.

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory by Dropkick Murphys
Speaking of unusual mergers, Celtic music and punk make for a powerful combination. Dropkick Murphys have a catalog of solid albums and the latest does not disappoint.

Life is Good by Flogging Molly
Speaking of Celtic punk… Well, Flogging Molly is another band that creates outstanding music by mixing diffuse and disparate sources. Their emphasis is a bit more on the Celtic end of the spectrum, a reeling and rollicking mix of dancing and drinking tunes.

Group2

English Tapas by Sleaford Mods
Demonstrating a minimalist approach reminiscent of early punk/post-punk groups such as The Adverts and The Raincoats, Sleaford Mods take a traditional punk stance on lyrics. Their groovy, repetitive songs touch on subjects ranging from unemployment to social injustices. For a truly unusual and excellent 2017 album, check this one out.

Nothing Feels Natural by Priests
Perhaps the most unusual of these 2017 releases, Nothing Feels Natural borrows elements of funk, darkwave, post-punk and a variety of other genres. Strongly political lyrics combine with this mix of styles to create a riveting and infectious album.

Country music and blues also flourished in 2017.

Group3

Down Hearted Blues by Eilen Jewell
Eilen Jewell takes her amazing, honey-infused voice and turns it loose on blues and country for her latest album. The tunes, they are great and the performances, they are superb. Sure to please even the most curmudgeonly.

50 Years of Blonde on Blonde by Old Crow Medicine Show
This live tribute to Bob Dylan, served up with a typical OCMS old timey flavor, has a little something for everyone. Whether you love bluegrass or love Zimbo (the internets assure me that this is a Bob Dylan nickname) you are certain to love this album.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm by Robert Cray
Straight from the guitar of Portland blues legend Robert Cray we find a new release filled to the brim with soulful licks and catchy tunes. Cray continues to put out high-quality material nearly 40 years after his debut.

Group4

Northern Passages by Sadies
Perhaps you’re not ready to commit to full-on country music. The Sadies deliver another great platter of alt-country tunes, which is a fancy way of saying music with some sort of country flavor. If you like the band Cracker, this might be just what the psychiatrist ordered.

Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues by Various Artists
Speaking of old-timey, this collection of jug band tunes from the 1920s and 1930s is a must-listen for blues and country enthusiasts. A fine collection of songs presented in their raw and original form.

The Last Shade of Blue Before Black by Original Blues Brothers Band
Including only one member of the Blues Brothers band, the Original Blues Brothers Band, along with many guests from the original Blues Brothers band (get it?), have put together a fine album of, well, blues. Check out this unexpected gem.

And there you have it. Great music never went away, but you might have to hunt a bit to find it. And perhaps, oh I don’t know, Everett Public Library is a good place to start? As always, check it out.