Lazy Saturday Links

  • Uri Shulevitz shares a really interesting tutorial on storyboarding and layout for picture books.  I love how he talks about the movement and rhythm over the course of the book.
  • This trailer from the New Zealand Book Council is so unbelievably cool.  (Hat tip to Anne Mazer)
  • A transcription of How to Destroy the Book, Cory Doctorow’s must-read speech on the future of books and copywright.  If you only visit one link in this post, make it this one.
  • I really really really really want this to be the next Pigeon book.  Make it happen, Mo!
  • The Onion has got our number.  This absolutely cracked me up.  Green Man jumps HIGH!
  • There were a lot of delightful tributes to our former Ambassador of Children’s Literature earlier this month, but my favorite was Book, Booker Bookest on learning how to spell Scieszka. (Which, I’m proud to say, I can do without looking!)  Also check out a collection of his video highlights at Fuse #8.
  • Even before the most recent cover controversy really got going, there were a couple of very thoughtful posts going up around the blogosphere about the representation of people of color in kids and YA lit.  I would especially recommend Chasing Ray’s post Demand Diversity in Publishing and Reading in Color’s post on people of color in historical novels.
  • A really wonderful story from Carol’s Corner about two things you might not think go together: promoting reading and lowriders.  These are the moments that make it worth doing.
  • On Booklist, Anastasia Suen shares a list of early chapter books and easy readers featuring multicultural characters.  I definitely plan to add some of these to my collection – the ones we have are constantly in use.
  • Maureen Johnson tries to kill Printz-winner Libba Bray, using an unexpected method.  And if that’s not enough Libba-Bray-awesomeness for you, read her post on winning the Printz.
  • The Coretta Scott King award overwhelmingly goes to repeat winners, with over 60% of the illustrator awards going to the same 11 people.  And while this is definitely an issue that the CSK committee needs to look at, it’s as much of a message for publishers.  Where are the new authors and illustrators of color?
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8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

“‘When I was little I thought God was like a superhero,’ I say, keeping my eyes down.  He doesn’t respond, so I look up.  ‘I wanted to be a superhero, too.  Not like I wanted to be God, I mean.  Just… you know.  I wanted to have some kind of power that zapped everything perfect.'” (page 111.  Quoted from ARC – language may change.)

That’s Reggie.  He writes about a superhero called Night Man, hangs out with his intensely socially-conscious best friend Ruthie, and mostly tries to stay out of the way in school. Apparently, he also likes to spend his time making unsuspecting librarians fall completely head-over-heels for him.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so charmed by a character.  From the very first page, Reggie McKnight put some kind of vice grip around my heart and didn’t ever let go.

Reggie had no intention of running for class president.  In fact, ever since a public speaking incident on the first day of school that led to his nickname – Pukey – Reggie has done whatever he can to stay out of the spotlight.  He’s certainly not looking for responsibility – not in the school government, or at the homeless shelter where his church youth group volunteers.  But other people in his life recognize what Reggie does not – that his strong sense of empathy, his willingness to put others first, and his ability to work hard when he cares about a task make him a natural leader.  And while his parents, teachers, and friends have never forced leadership on him, they are more than willing to push Reggie along when he finally decides that he’s seen enough of the status quo and begins to seek out ways to foster change in his school and community.

My favorite thing about Reggie is his willingness to change his mind.  Not in a wishy-washy way – in an open-minded way that many adults still haven’t figured out.  And when he screws up – which he certainly does, sometimes – he has the guts and the grace to admit to his mistakes and work to fix them.  As Reggie figures out while talking to his partner in a Big Brother-type program,

‘Even Night Man makes mistakes.’

‘Even though he’s a superhero?’ asks Charlie.

‘Yeah,’ I say.  ‘Being brave enough to make mistakes is, um, um, part of what makes him a superhero.’ There’s a click in my brain when I say that. (page 184.  Quoted from ARC – language may change.)

This is a book that doesn’t shy away from touchy subjects – religion, unemployment, race, homelessness, and bullying are all part of Reggie’s story.  But Rhuday-Perkovich has a light touch, and works with these topics in a way that is very personal and never without humor.  Religion, for example, is an important part of Reggie’s life, and is written about in a way that is forthright and positive while still allowing space for questions and doubts – something that is too rare in books for children that have a religious element, which so often seem either blandly proselytizing or flatly anti-religion.  (On a side note – I do think this is changing, with wonderful books like this one, Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, and others coming out recently.)

While Reggie’s background as a Jamaican-American is central to who he is, it isn’t what the story is about.  Stories about slavery or racism can be great books, but those are stories that obviously can’t be told without characters of color – and those subjects are at the center of the majority of books for children that feature African-American characters.  This is a story that could easily have been told with a white protagonist, and it’s important that it wasn’t – kids of color have many experiences and stories to tell, and I hope that we will continue to see more and more books that reflect the variety of those stories.  (Especially if those books are as good as this one!)

While the topics that the book tackles are important and are handled with grace, it is the characters who make this book special.  Every character is nuanced, and almost every character surprised me at some point in the book.  The novel is populated by characters like Reggie’s father, with his hierarchy of Caribbean countries (and as a man of Jamaican ancestry, you can guess what country he puts on top!) and his frustration during a period of unemployment; George, an addict from the homeless shelter where Reggie volunteers who, despite his grumpiness, has an incredible capacity to create a feeling of hope in a tough situation; and Reggie’s older sister, who is transitioning from terrifying star-athlete to still-terrifying-but-maybe-not-really girly girl. But the core of the story is with Reggie and his two best friends, Ruthie and Joe C.  They’re three very different kids, and sometimes those differences can threaten to pull them apart – when Ruthie tries to forcibly drag her friends into her one-woman revolution, or when white Joe C. tries to teach his black best friends about the history of hip-hop, or when Reggie grows out of the project that was the initial connection between himself and Joe C.  But they are three truly good-hearted young people who care about each other deeply.  It is only with the support of this network of friends, family, church, and others that Reggie can grow into himself and become a confident young man.  They help him learn that he doesn’t have to be a superhero to make a difference in his world.

I know that it’s only January, but I cannot imagine many better books for young people being published in 2010.  In fact, I would count this among the best middle grade novels I have ever read.  One year from now, I hope that we will all be whispering about how 8th Grade-Superzero is poised to pick up some heavy hardware at the ALA Youth Media Awards.  (And now I’m off to bed so I can get up early for the ALA Youth Media Awards!)

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich on the web.

My 2009 Reading Year in Review

2009 was the first year in which I kept a complete reading log, and I’ve been looking forward to taking a closer look at my reading habits.  In other words: fun with graphs!  Most of this is probably only interesting to me, but if you scroll on down to the bottom you can see a quick list of my fifteen favorite books read in 2009.  One other note: I did not keep track of picture books and easy readers, so none of those will be included in this little breakdown.

Books read in 2009: 221

Of those 221, 13 were re-reads.

I started an additional 6 books that I chose not to finish.  For some reason I thought this number was going to be much higher.

120 were from the library.  51 were review copies.  24 were purchased.  23 were mooched.  3 were gifts.

Of those 221 books, 195 were fiction.  (Ouch!  My reading goal for 2010 is definitely to add a little bit more nonfiction into that mix.)

More than 50% of the books I read in 2009 were Young Adult fiction.  Here’s the full breakdown:

My most prolific reading month was June, with 21 books read.  Least books read was a three-way tie between May, August, and November with 16 books read in each of those months.

While I started out the year reading almost entirely YA fiction, I’m glad to see that by the end of the year I had diversified my reading a little bit, adding more middle grade fiction and graphic novels – a habit I plan to continue into 2010!  The adult books are pretty steady, as I expected – I try to read one or two adult books every month.

Taking a closer look at fiction, since that was the majority of my reading, I can see that the genre I read most was contemporary realistic fiction, with fantasy close on its heels.  (Lots of these books, of course, fit in more than one category – I chose a primary category for each book.)

And finally as promised, here are my 15 favorite reads from 2009.  These are not necessarily published in 2009 – I’m just going on when I read them.  I did not include any re-reads in this list, and it is not in any particular order.

December 2009 Reading Log

YA

Middle Grade

Graphic Novels

Adult Fiction

Currently Reading