Friday, July 24, 2015

Female Graphic Novelists on the Rise

Cherie Priest

With the explosion of illustrated books in general, and graphic novels in particular, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, illustrated by Kali Ciesemier, demonstrates even more innovation with this melding of prose and comics.

The prose portion describes a friendship between two girls who invent a comics character, Princess X, at recess one day and who become inseparable--until the day one of them disappears. The comics featuring Princess X provide the clues to the missing collaborator's whereabouts. The innovation here is the book's hybrid aspect. Like Brian Selznick's work in The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, readers must immerse themselves in the visual narrative as well as the prose narrative in order to get the full story.

I Am Princess X--a story bout a strong female character, invented by two fictional female friends, and brought to life by a female writer and female graphic artist--is a kind of microcosm of what's happening in graphic novels overall right now. On Tuesday, I got to be part of a panel hosted by the Children's Book Council called "The Rise of Illustrated Books," and Gina Gagliano, associate marketing & publicity manager at First Second Books (an imprint dedicated to graphic novels), had just returned from San Diego Comic Con, where the 2015 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced. Gina pointed out that, for the first time, women were beginning to infiltrate the awards.
Kali Ciesemier

Best Writer/Artist went to Raina Telgemeier for Sisters (Graphix/Scholastic); Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12) was awarded to El Deafo by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams); and the top award, for Best Graphic Album–New, went to This One Summer by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (published by First Second).

It's worth pointing out that El Deafo also received a 2015 Newbery Honor (the first graphic novel to do so), and This One Summer was named both a 2015 Caldecott Honor (the first graphic novel to do so) and a 2015 Printz Award. Graphic novels are on the rise, women creators of graphic novels are on the rise, and graphic novels have earned their well-deserved accolades in the literary establishment.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gamers Are Readers

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Photo: Joseph Jestes Photography

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is a book lover's book. It's also a book about gamers.

Twelve-year-old Emily Crane, who loves reading and solving puzzles, moves to San Francisco with her older brother, and two parents whose goal is to live in all 50 states. Her new neighbor, James, is not as into reading, but he is into games. So when Emily stumbles upon a book that she believes is part of a new game by Mr. Griswold (the Willy Wonka of the reading world, and a San Francisco native), she becomes determined to figure out the rules. James helps her navigate San Francisco. There's a bit of geography, and a lot of logic and detective work (in the solving of the mystery of whether or not Emily's discovered a new game by Mr. Griswold).

At the Nielsen Children's Book Summit last December (which studied the reading and leisure habits of children from preschool through teenage), Nicole Pike shared her analysis of the data collected about gaming for Nielsen Games. Pike said kids who game also read: "92% of kids and teens claim to game on a weekly basis; 68% say they read for pleasure on a weekly basis," she said. That's a significant overlap in a Venn diagram. What do they have in common? Gamers and readers are both thinkers. They like to guess, to anticipate, to figure things out. So it's no surprise that readers like to game, and gamers like to read.

At the ALSC Institute a few years back, Eric Nylund, then head writer at Microsoft Game Studios, said that kids wrote to him to tell him they "hate reading" but enjoyed Nylund's books based on games (such as HALO) and asked if he had any other book suggestions. He said he pointed them first to Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. "They'll come back a week later," he said, asking for another suggestion. "Try Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld," Nylund told them; he called this "breadcrumbing." If they come back a third time, it's Tolkien, "and then I know they're hooked," he said. Book Scavenger has plenty to offer both dedicated readers and gamers who read.

Friday, July 10, 2015

An Undervalued Gift

In a world where games beep and TVs blare, the wordless picture book Float by Daniel Miyares emulates the silence of being alone in nature with one's own thoughts.

Interior from Float by Daniel Miyares

Readers get a sense of what the boy is thinking through his actions. He creates a boat from a sheet of newspaper, jumps in puddles and follows his boat along its path. We see the scope of his world in the reflection of a large puddle created by the rainstorm on which his boat sails. The boy's yellow slicker, hat and matching boots result in splashes of yoke-colored action across the otherwise variegated grays of the pages, acting as a golden spotlight on the young hero's progression.

Interior from Float by Daniel Miyares

When his boat goes down a drain and gets waterlogged, we watch the boy start over with another newspaper page and a new improvised mode of transport. He's completely content keeping his own company.

Summer camp, swimming lessons and art classes are wonderful organized activities. But the freedom to explore the world and be content in solitude is an undervalued gift.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Limitless Play

Yusuke Yonezu

 Moving Blocks by Yusuke Yonezu models for youngest children how creative they can be with basic block shapes: squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles. With minimal text, the pages show rather than tell examples of how children can construct the familiar things in their world and let their imaginations soar.

Yonezu uses predominantly primary colors (with the occasional touch of secondary color green) and bold black outlines to reveal the modes of transport children uses every day: a car, a bus, a train, ship, plane and rocket. Each page appears like a giant mosaic, a puzzle to be unlocked with the turn of a page. For each two-page spread of small blocks neatly fitted together into a giant rectangle, a die-cut hole reveals the hidden vehicle on the next page, and a telltale sound provides another clue ("Sssssh, big doors opening... It's a bus"). The stark-white background helps young eyes easily distinguish the colorful bus on the page.
Interior from Moving Blocks

These are blocks that move, and the answers children discover from page to page move people from place to place. Yonezu proves that the simpler he keeps the ideas, the more possibilities they open up in the imagination of a child.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Whose Justice?

Sabaa Tahir

Neither all brains nor all brawn is enough to conquer the society depicted in An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It's the classic story told throughout human history. But Tahir takes a fresh look through the eyes of two teens--one a Scholar, the other a Martial--at the center of the conflict.

The Scholars may be the group that's oppressed now, but they were the oppressors until 500 years ago, when the Martials took control by force. Laia, a Scholar, must live with the fact that her parents chose the Resistance over their children. The only family member she has left is her brother, held prisoner by the Martials. In her quest to enlist the Resistance members' help to free her brother, she learns that someone within the movement betrayed her parents. She also learns how the Scholars played a role in their own demise.

As her life becomes entangled with that of Elias, an elite member of the Martials called a Mask and a favorite to become the next Emperor, Laia must decide for herself who is on the side of justice--so must Elias. Sahir portrays a fictional society with realistic conflicts. Must justice for one group come about at the expense of another? What do you, as an individual, do to stay true to your ideals when others around you are corrupting them for selfish ends? How do you know when you yourself have crossed a line? If you gain power and prestige, is it because of your leadership qualities, or through force and fear? How can you be sure?

History is littered with examples of those who used an ideology or force (often both) to achieve goals they felt were good, but whose means resulted in imprisonment and death for many. Tahir demonstrates that it's harder to recognize an ideal gone wrong when it's unfolding in the present. Laia and Elias observe the corruption going on around them, but can they stop it, or at least stand up to it? And the implicit question to readers is: What would you do?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Standing at the Crossroads

Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins gives readers a journey to an exotic land in flux in her novel Tiger Boy. The village itself mirrors young Neel's predicament. A developer, Mr. Gupta, has arrived in the Sunderbans of West Bengal, who wishes to exploit its resources, using its sundari trees for his buildings, and pressing the villagers to take the wood from reserves where the trees should be protected.

Then a Bengali tiger cub escapes. Mr. Gupta wants to sell it on the black market, and Neel becomes determined to find it first and return the cub to the rangers. It's a crisis of conscience for Neel because his father has begun working for Mr. Gupta to pay for Neel's mother's medical bills and a tutor so that Neel can win a scholarship to go to Kolkata and study--a path Neel does not wish for himself.

Change is in the air, and Neel is resisting it. His country is at a new stage, just as he is. Perkins exposes the differences accorded to the genders in West Bengal without judgment--it's a way of life that requires a girl to drop out of school to tend to the cooking and washing if her mother becomes ill. Yet the focus remains on Neel's choice to remain in the village he loves or go out into the world and try to bring back his knowledge and experience. The author also exposes the moral crossroads of the villagers--namely Neel's father.

As with her Bamboo People, Perkins smoothly conveys the all-too-brief childhood of young people forced to grow up quickly because of the changing nature of their way of life. She transports readers to faraway places yet endows her characters with problems that feel immediate and universal: the importance of safety, food, clean water, family and community--and standing up for the ideals you hold dear.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Last of Its Kind

Jean Craighead George
In Galápagos George, Jean Craighead George wrote about the last of the great Pinta Island tortoises of the Galápagos Islands, Lonesome George, who lived for 100 years. Her longtime collaborator, Wendell Minor, in realistic watercolors, illustrates this awe-inspiring creature in a way that makes children empathize deeply with him. Lonesome George was the last of his kind.

Galápagos George won the 2015 Cook Prize, for the best read-aloud STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) title for third- and fourth-graders, voted on by children. Yesterday, at the Irma Simonton Black Award and Cook Prize ceremony at Bank Street College of Education (televised live and archived on KidLit TV), Twig George, the author's daughter, described what it was like growing up with Jean Craighead George. The author did not live to see the book published, but she lived nearly as long as her tortoise hero. She was 92 when she died, three years ago today.
Wendell Minor
Photo: Charlie Craighead

Jean Craighead George wrote more than 120 books. Twig George described her mother as "a force of nature" who "brought the animals she wrote about into the house. Literally into the house." George added, "So we had crows knocking on the window in the morning to come in and have breakfast, and owls sitting on your shoulder in the shower." Twig George said that her mother wanted to put as much information in her books as she could. "She wanted to put kids there, their feet in the sand and their toes in the mud,"Twig George recalled.

At 80 years old, Jean Craighead George traveled to the Galápagos Islands. She was working on her writing until about 4 days before she died, according to Twig George. She was a trailblazer, writing about the environment and nature for children long before anyone else. As Twig George put it in her beautiful afterword to Galápagos George, "Jean Craighead George and Lonesome George passed away within weeks of each other in 2012. They were both one of a kind."