ALA Media Awards – Books I love!

In February, I eagerly watched the announcements for the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards. These awards are a professional highlight and the final selections never cease to surprise me! Though there will always be debate over what makes the final cut, at root I see these awards as a way to highlight great books for my students and discuss collection development.

For the past several years I have presented an overview of the award winning books and authors during our lower school morning meeting. The girls and the faculty look forward to seeing familiar titles and surprises as much as I do. The presentation is also a vehicle for informing students about the numerous awards for which the American Library Association recognizes books and authors with distinction.  The following books are selections that I was so pleased to see earn recognition!

El Deafo by Cece Bell

2015 Newbery Honor Book: El Deafo by Cece Bell – It was such a pleasure to see this book gain recognition at the national level! Written as an autobiographical account of her own deafness brought on by childhood illness, this book was a title I had pre-ordered through Amazon months in advance and I was not disappointed after I spent an afternoon reading it straight through. Ms. Bell does a masterful job capturing her own isolating experience of deafness in all its complexity.  The author’s struggle to make friends, survive school, and find a place within her family, are all so expertly captured and illustrated that I cannot wait to reread it.

Frida by Yuyi Morales

2015 Caldecott Honor Book and 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – I have long been an ardent admirer of Frida Kahlo and although there are several biographies for children about her, this is the most authentic one I have read. Frida Kahlo was such an incredibly unique artist that encapsulating her dynamic force in modern art is a challenge for an author that writes biography for children.  In this exploration of the imagery of artist Frida Kahlo, the ethereal narration in both English and Spanish, guides the reader through the heart and soul of Frida! The art for the book was created using stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool. The artist illustrator Yuyi Morales also employed painting and digital manipulation of the photographs to create a warm, accessible view of her career. Viva Frida uses technology in a way that makes the pictures truly captivating for the reader. Through Yuyi Morales’ work we get a chance to follow the life of Frida and discover her own world of fantasy that is full of animals, love, and creativity. I am going to use this book to compliment Frida: Viva La Vida! Long Live Life! by Carmen Bernier-Grand to promote National Poetry month in April.

Roget and his Thesaurus

2015 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet – Established in 2001, this medal is awarded annually to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. I love Melissa Sweet’s illustrations and she has carved a niche creating visually accessible non-fiction for some of our youngest students. This book details the life of the Peter Mark Roget who created the original thesaurus first published in 1852 under the full title: Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged so as to facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.  The list of principal events provide context to Roget’s accomplishment and give the audience a lot to explore beyond his own contribution to writing. My favorite passage from the book was one that I will invariably use in time to come!

“Peter’s family moved often, so making friends was difficult.

But books, Peter discovered, were also good friends. There were always plenty of them around, and he never had to leave them behind.”

What were your favorite 2015 ALA award winners?

Oh yes, the books!

Do you ever feel so busy juggling your <insert a thousand library related duties here> along with ‘big projects’, faculty meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, collaborative meetings, research lessons, EMAIL, Libguide design, and oh yes, working with students, teaching classes, and other various non-library related school responsibilities that sometimes you look longingly at the cart of new books that you’ve  purchased, knowing you won’t get to many of them until summertime?

This comes to mind:

I drew a line in the sand for myself a month ago. It might have been around the time that reeeeeaaallly cold temperatures arrived and I went into hibernation, I’m not sure, but I basically said “no more putting the kids to bed and escaping into mindless Netflix, no more half-hearted attempts at professional journals when I’ve been neck deep in the issues all day long. Nope, I’m escaping into the books.”

I’ve read three books in three weeks, people. I’m in heaven. I thought I would share them with you here and then maybe you’ll reciprocate with some good reads of your own?

I started with two National Book Award finalists:Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The most beautifully written dystopian book I believe I’ve ever read. The premise is this: set in the present day United States, an absolutely deadly, fast moving flu has wiped out over 99% of the world population. The entire infrastructure has collapsed: there is no gasoline, no electricity, no medicine, no security. A troop of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians makes a loop through a region, risking much, honoring the Star Trek quote that dons the side of their makeshift caravan, Because Survival is Insufficient. This is a survival story and so would be most appropriate for mature middle schoolers or high schoolers, but it’s a good one that I highly recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If you or your students are fans of historic fiction, this is your book! Written in alternating perspectives, it’s the story of Marie-Laure, the French daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, who has gone blind at a young age and whose natural curiosity is in itself a thing of wonder. You then get to know a German orphan named Werner whose gift at assembling radios and deciphering radio frequencies gains the attention of German officials as Hitler begins his quest for world domination. The story weaves together like a beautiful, albeit tragic wartime tapestry.

It’s quite clear why both of these books were nominated for the NBA. They are excellent. Now onto my third book, which I’m honestly still reeling from. It’s not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned.

It’s An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Ms. Gay is coming to visit our school this spring so I purchased both of her highly acclaimed books (Bad Feminist, a collection of witty, culturally and politically charged essays is her other).  Our faculty book club selected the novel as our February read so I went ahead and read it over the weekend. I knew from the blurb that it would be tough: an affluent woman of Haitian descent, living in Miami, living a pretty idyllic life with her loving husband and adorable baby boy, goes to visit her parents back in Haiti. As they leave the family compound to go spend a day on the beach, three SUVs pull up with masked armed men, the wife is kidnapped, and a mighty ransom is demanded. Her father refuses to pay and the ultimate stand-off begins, one in which some pretty graphic torture scenes take place and Mireille does her best to survive with her sanity intact.

If you have a strong fortitude, I say read it. It’s brilliantly written, the character development is superb, there are some really interesting relationships, and the tension is palpable when you experience the desperation that abject poverty brings. My blinders were removed regarding how routine kidnapping is in other parts of the world and this story, the good and the bad, is going to stick with me for a very long time, I can already tell. All marks of a good book in my opinion.

So now I ask you, what books have you read lately that you would suggest? Ready, set, comment below!

Inventing a Special Bond: Book Review of Sue Monk Kidd’s Invention of Wings

Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, once assessed the value of reading as not just developing IQ, but developing HQ—the heart quotient. The desire to create bonds through reading drew me into the career path of librarianship 23 years ago, and I still delight in discovering books with memorable characters that connect readers to the human condition.

Here is a book that features memorable characters and, as I later discovered, a narrative infused with historic details.  Sue Monk Kidd (author of Secret Life of Bees) wrote Invention of Wings after being inspired by the story of Sarah Grimke–a woman born into a wealthy slave-owning family from Charleston, South Carolina, but who later became a famous abolitionist along with her younger sister Angelina.  The detail of Sarah’s life that sparked Sue Monk Kidd’s curiosity was that Sarah Grimke, at the age of 11, was given her own slave, a young girl named Hetty.  The author created a beautiful story that imaginatively weaves the tale of the growing bond between Sarah and Hetty in alternating chapters, showing both the horrors of slavery and Sarah’s emerging desire to become an abolitionist.  What saves this story from being an overly sentimental and sanitized depiction of slavery is a wealth of historic details that make the struggles and inner resolve of Hetty and her mother, mauma, so believable.

Author Sue Monk Kidd spoke at Nashville Public Library’s Salon@615 (Salon@615 is a literary endeavor of Nashville Public Library, Humanities Tennessee, and Parnassus Books—the independent book store started by author Ann Patchett). Sue Monk Kidd is an animated presenter, and in her selected readings from the book, one sensed the humor and pathos that shine in her believable characters.  Below is a brief snapshot as Hetty relates what the plantation mistress (Missus) thinks of her compared to Miss Sarah’s estimation of Hetty:

Missus said I was the worst waiting maid in Charleston.  She said,
“You are abysmal, Hetty, abysmal.”

I asked Miss Sarah what abysmal means and she said,
“Not quite up to standard.”

Uh huh.  I could tell from missus’ face, there’s bad, there’s worse,
and after that comes abysmal.

That first week…I spilled lamp oil on the floor leaving a slick spot,
broke one of those porcelain vases, and fried a piece of Miss Sarah’s
red hair with a curling tong.  Miss Sarah never tattled.

Hetty’s mother, mauma, is an expert seamstress, and she teaches Hetty her art.  Both Hetty and her mother find making quilts as a way to tell their stories and preserve their hopes for a better life:

  That summer, I turned eleven years, and mauma said the pallet I slept on upstairs
wasn’t fit  for  dog. We were supposed to be working on the next ration of slave clothes.
Every year the men got two brown shirts and two white, two pants, two vests.
Women got three dresses, our aprons, and a head scarf. Mauma said all that could wait.
She showed me how to cut black triangles each one big as  the end of my thumb,
then we appliqued two hundred or more on red squares, a color mauma
called oxblood. We sewed on tiny circles of yellow for sun splatter, then cranked
down the quilt frame and pieced everything together. I hemmed on the homespun backing
…and cut a plug of my hair and plug of mauma’s and put them inside for charms.

As the reader connects to the lives of Sarah, Hetty, and mauma, historic details provide believable dramatic tension in the plot.  After I finished reading Invention of Wings, I attended a workshop on “Slaves and Slaveholders” hosted by the Tennessee State Museum and Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS).  I learned facts about slavery that reminded me of aspects of the novel Invention of Wings.

1) Slavery was based on economy.  Slaves were assigned a monetary worth along with other possessions in ledger books.  Below is a scene in which Hetty searches out the slave holder’s ledger book to discover her “price” as well as the price of her mauma so that they can plan to buy their freedom:

             Goods and chattel. The words from the leather book came into my head. We were
…the gold leaf mirror and…horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I  didn’t believe this,
never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough,
some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder. All that pride about what we were
worth left me then. For the first  time I felt the hurt and shame of just being who I was.
After a while, I went down to the cellar.  When mauma saw my raw eyes, she said,
“Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth.”

2) Slave holders used a “task system” to gain compliance from slaves. The threat of punishment was just one method used to control slaves; slave holders also used the task system to keep slaves compliant.  In the task system, a slave completed a task agreed upon by the slave holder and with any “free time,” the slave was allowed to have independent time off or even hire themselves out for extra pay.

In the novel, both Hetty and mauma take advantage of their skills for sewing to hire themselves out and earn money to secret away as they plan to purchase their freedom. Time away from the plantation home also allows them opportunities to explore explosive ideas in the city of Charleston, such as plans for a slave rebellion.

3.) Slaves found subtle ways of rebellion to have a sense of freedom. Deliberately breaking a tool, feigning sickness, or religious gatherings to share songs and bible passages with promises of freedom were just some of the ways that slaves quietly rebelled from their owners and asserted their independence.  In the novel, when mauma becomes lame through a brutal physical punishment, mauma plays up her lameness to convince Missus that she needs a place of her own on the ground floor to do her sewing.  Missus gives her a room separate from the house, and mauma revels in setting up her independent room, free from the prying eyes of her mistress.

A final appealing aspect of reading Invention of Wings was that it is an Oprah 2.0 Book Club selection.  Though I do not like reading e-books and seeing which passages someone else has marked as significant, Oprah’s annotations in the 2.0 version of Invention of Wings offered a legitimacy to Sue Monk Kidd’s characterizations of the black experience.  Though Sue Monk Kidd is a white author, Oprah’s comments affirm that she found the characters of Hetty and mauma to be believable.

As I read the book, I was surprised that the most interesting characters, the characters that touched my heart, were those that were mainly fictional creations—Hetty and mauma.  Sue Monk Kidd states in the book’s preface the following:

In writing The Invention of Wings, I was inspired by the words of Professor Julius Lester…
“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart
and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”

Sue Monk Kidd successfully creates empathy by inventing characters that will make your heart soar. I invite you to consider entering the lives of Sarah, Hetty, and mauma by reading Invention of Wings.