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.