Books December 2013: A Young Friends Bookshelf
By Kadir Nelson. Katherine Tegen Books, 2013. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4-8.
Reviewed by Emilie Gay
Nelson Mandela, a book with words and paintings by Kadir Nelson, is a masterpiece. The words read like poetry and the illustrations are inspirational. The cover is one large beautiful painting of Nelson Mandela. There are no words on the cover. Each reader will find his or her own deep personal meaning. The painting on the cover conveys that Mandela’s spirit cannot be captured in words. The story is a poetic narrative of Mandela’s life from birth to his presidency of a healing South Africa. There are cover notes and endnotes that fill in the details of Mandela’s life. Kadir Nelson’s book uses vivid pictures and simple words to describe the roles Mandela played while inspiring, encouraging, and leading the people of South Africa. This is an important book for any First-day school library. Let us always hold Mandela’s spirit in the Light.
Emilie Gay is a member of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Meeting.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children
By Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 40 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 5-10.
Reviewed by Alison James
Every once in a while, someone comes along who, through her very stubbornness, changes the way of the world. Before Anne Carroll Moore advocated for children’s libraries, children were seen as a nuisance, and libraries were pristine places for silent reading. Beginning with New York City, and eventually launching her ideas around the world, Miss Moore showed how children could be welcomed, engaged, entertained, and respected. She began with the children’s room at the Pratt Institute Library, went on to supervise all the children’s libraries in NYC, and then designed a room just for children, with child-sized furniture, window seats, Italian-rose-colored tile for the floor, and the entire library guarded by two grand lions. This room of course was in the New York Public Library. Here, Moore led the way by giving well-written books to children instead of pandering moralistic tales.
Quakers often speak about equality for all kinds of oppressed people, from prisoners to Palestinians. Moore was a friend to children, seeing their worth and seeking their delight. Even now, people everywhere can look online at the recommendations from the librarians at the NYPL for the best children’s books each season.
This is Jan Pinborough’s first book, and the strength of her heroine supports the writing, while illustrator Debby Atwell’s deceptively simple palette pairs youthful greens with the rose of the library’s Italian tile, and yellows with navy blue in such a way that the primitive art springs from the page; even the end papers are rose like the tile. Atwell includes wonderful references to children’s books, with Miss Moore floating on the page like Mary Poppins, and significant winks to the art of Virginia Lee Burton, particularly on the final page showing a winding white road. Moore’s little red car appears again and again as she goes from town to town teaching libraries how to create a welcoming room for children, complete with books, puppets, and story time.
In this time of disintegrating budgets and libraries being overcome by electronics, it is important to remember Moore’s simple mission: well-told stories in a cheerful, well-lit room provide the nourishment young minds need to thrive.
Alison James is a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting.
The Girl with a Brave Heart: A Story from Tehran
By Rita Jahanforuz, illustrated by Vali Mintzi. Barefoot Books, 2013. 40 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $7.99/paperback. Recommended for ages 6-9.
Reviewed by Dee Cameron
Shiraz, the Cinderella of her family, traces her lost ball of yarn to the home of a disheveled woman who promises to return it only if the girl will perform some surprisingly destructive tasks. Instead, Shiraz uses her own judgment and does what she thinks will benefit the woman, even though she must spend more time and effort. Later, when her selfish stepsister, Monir, sees how richly Shiraz has been rewarded, she sets out to replicate her success. Monir follows the woman’s instructions to the letter with disappointing results.
Jahanforuz’s inspiration came from a story her grandmother told. Both Israeli, the author and illustrator, originally from Iran and Romania respectively, have created a book that sounds good when read aloud and looks beautiful. First-day school teachers of middle grade students might want to pair this book with The Talking Eggs, a Louisiana Creole folktale retold by Robert San Souci and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The stories are similar, but in San Souci’s version the successful sister is the one who follows directions. This combination might spark interesting discussion.
Dee Cameron is a librarian and a member of El Paso (Tex.) Meeting.
Waterloo & Trafalgar
By Olivier Tallec. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012. 64 pages. $17.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 5-9.
Reviewed by James Foritano
Waterloo and Trafalgar posits a world where two enemies, two tiny soldiers—one blue, one orange, both defined by the color and size of their helmets, which are, proportionally, about one third of their bodies—shed their suspicions and ultimately embrace not only each other, but a multi-colored world. Can we embrace a fable that seems true only within the confines of its own telling? It depends.
One of the dangers of being a reviewer is that, just as in an attorney-client relationship, one often becomes very close to one’s subject, seeking strengths where a harsh world seems to point out only weaknesses.
Here’s our case: author Olivier Tallec, my client so to speak, uses no words, depending solely on the power of images to propel his tale to its, admittedly, unlikely conclusion. And what images!
Despite resembling an orange and lacking in speech, Tallec’s introductory figure wins our attention, if not approbation, with an eloquent display of soldierly qualities: he is tireless as he runs to his post, balletic as a compressed spring as he grabs his (orange) rifle and stretches his body, uncomplainingly, into a fighting fitness. Then, alertly mindful of his more intellectual duties, our citizen/soldier becomes all eye as he views the enemy’s every weakness through his long (orange) telescope. To be completely fair, Tallec’s blue soldier is just as athletically dutiful on his side of this unexplained, and perhaps unexplainable, enmity.
The wonder of these varying attitudes, at least to this reviewer/advocate, is the range and nuance of emotion (and motion) Tallec’s dynamic pen coaxes from figures with only the scant artistic resource of tiny limbs and pinpoint eyes. Smiles stretch from ear to ear and frowns frighten the most stalwart viewer as they vibrate from every inch of these barely inches-long characters. I found the children beside me awakening the child within as we looked on Tallec’s mercurial characters and gave delighted voice to our observations.
But can such characters ever truly embrace? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if (and I can say “if”) Tallec is guilty of wishful thinking, glance at this indiscretion only after you’ve absorbed its abundant virtuosity, wit, and charm. And then judge.
James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad
By Henry Cole. Scholastic Press, 2012. 38 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
Reviewed by Anne Nydam
Unspoken is an unusual book. It’s entirely wordless and the full-page illustrations are soft pencil sketches on a cream background, inviting children to slow down, quiet themselves, and look carefully. There are lots of details to pick out, and many of them contribute to the story. The story itself is quite simple: A girl living in the U.S. South during the days of the Confederacy discovers an escaped slave hiding in a shed on her family’s farm. At first, she is frightened, then she helps the hidden guest, and finally finds a gift of thanks.
Although the story is simple, the fact that children have to discover it for themselves invites them to think more critically about what’s going on. Some things are never made clear, allowing the viewer to ask questions, look for clues, and find multiple ways to interpret the events depicted. What changes the girl’s attitude from fear to pity? Does her family know about the refugee in their shed? The escaped slave is never shown, leaving the imagination to determine whether this hidden person is a man or a woman, old or young.
I think this book would be lovely to share with a lower elementary child just beginning to learn about the Underground Railroad. And even though it is a picture book, upper elementary children might also enjoy looking at its pages. Instead of giving facts or statistics, the story invites us to remember that history is made up of the people who lived it. Because the pictures reward close examination, it’s probably better to share one-on-one or with a very small group of children, unless the pictures can be enlarged and projected for all to see clearly. This book is appropriate for ages 6 and up, but more important than the age is that the child has been introduced to at least a little of the history of slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil War. Sometimes, this lesson does not occur until second or third grade.
Anne Nydam is a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting, where she teaches First-day school.
Forest Has a Song: Poems
By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley. Clarion Books, 2013. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 6-9.
Reviewed by Lucinda Hathaway
Lovely poems and beautiful illustrations about the woods and the critters that live there through all of the seasons . . . that about sums up the book. I won’t stop there though as I’d like to share some things to think about should you introduce your children to poetry. First of all, poetry must be read slowly and savored. “Slowly” and “savor” are not part of the vocabulary of most of today’s children. As many of us know, there are things in life that slowly and savor make better. Reading this book is a chance to introduce these two concepts to children and to introduce the idea that those concepts also apply to a walk in the woods, a long sit under a tree, a concentrated look at a caterpillar inching up the side of a wall, or a total uninterrupted listen to the raindrops on your roof, as well as to reading poetry.
Another thing to consider for parents or teachers of children who are slow in learning to read is that reading poetry often hooks those children on reading and gets them going to where they want to be and need to be to succeed in school work. One must read poetry slowly! The child who reads slowly can read poetry slowly and understand it. Find more poetry for kids from authors Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.
Forest Has a Song is the perfect book to take on summer vacation or on a long drive. You can read the poems in the car as you go and maybe memorize a few favorites. Once you arrive, you can use it as an excellent introduction to the forest and its creatures. If you live in the woods, this collection of poems can act as a springboard for children to stop, think, and write some poetry of their own. This book would, of course, be a welcome addition to any First-day school library to introduce peace and contemplation to our children.
I loved it and can’t wait to read it to my grandchildren!
Lucinda Hathaway is a member of Sarasota (Fla.) Meeting and the author of Takashi’s Voyage and ’Round the World.
Gandhi: A March to the Sea
By Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Two Lions, 2013. 42 pages. $17.99/hardcover, $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Dave Austin
This summer marked the fiftieth anniversary of the historic March on Washington, which featured the landmark “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. With that event in mind, now might be a good time to also give recognition to a man and a moment which helped set the stage for that incredible day, even though it occurred 33 years earlier and on the other side of the planet.
In March 1930, Mohandas Gandhi set off on a 24-day march of his own to draw international attention to the injustices being perpetrated against the Indian people by the British and to promote the cause of Indian independence. As befitting so much of Gandhi’s philosophy, he chose to focus on simple things, in this case, salt. The British taxed salt, an essential staple of Indian life. Extracting salt from the sea without paying the tax was a criminal act. The empire derived a relatively small amount of revenue from this tax, but because it affected every member of Indian society and because it seemed to be so profoundly unjust, the salt tax was the perfect target for Gandhi’s Satyagraha (“soul force”) movement.
The March to the Sea began with uncertainties. Would the people follow Gandhi? Would they all be arrested or perhaps, even worse, attacked? Would Gandhi be targeted for assassination? And as he proceeded down the road, Gandhi himself raised the level of anxiety by not only preaching nonviolent disobedience against the salt tax and others like it, but also challenging Hindu custom by meeting with and embracing the Untouchables, the “unclean” group at the bottom of the Indian social hierarchy.
When Gandhi and his fellow marchers finally reached the sea, the tiny man with the big ideas knelt in the water and drew up some wet sand, and with it, salt. In the days that followed, thousands would follow his example, peacefully. They would be arrested and jailed and then let go, as the empire learned the futility of their repression. It would take 17 more years before Gandhi’s dream of Indian independence would be realized, but the March to the Sea had laid the foundation for how that moment would finally come to pass.
Alice B. McGinty’s carefully researched text is spare and poetic, as befits its subject; the book’s finely crafted structure creates a subtle cadence. Illustrator Thomas Gonzalez, who also did the beautiful illustrations for one of my favorite children’s books, 14 Cows for America, again shines here.
This gorgeous book would make an excellent addition to any meeting’s library. And its story would serve as a good, informative way to spark discussion in a First-day school lesson (or two) focusing on the peace testimony and/or the power of creative nonviolence. A brief introduction is included, along with historical notes at the conclusion. Even though this book is intended for younger readers, it tells a story which most Americans don’t know much about, but one that should resonate with all of us in terms of its impact on our own recent history.
Dave Austin is a member of Haddonfield (N.J.) Meeting. He is a middle school social studies teacher.
Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity
By Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Margot Thompson. Kids Can Press, 2013. 32 pages. $18.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Sandy and Tom Farley
What’s new and good for kids to read about the environment? Hot off the Canadian press comes Planet Ark, released this past April. A beautiful book with gorgeous illustrations and a sense of visual flow that enhances the text, it begins with the story of Noah and how he saved many diverse creatures from the flood. How is our planet now like that ancient ark?
Earth’s biodiversity is something to celebrate. It is also a precious heritage that needs our protection, because today, Planet Ark is sailing in troubled waters. Biodiversity is under threat as more and more species become extinct. Thankfully, there are many modern day Noahs (groups and individuals) who are working hard to preserve Earth’s biodiversity.
The book is laid out in 14 chapters, each a double-page spread. Each chapter focuses on a particular aspect of biodiversity, such as habitat preservation or over-consumption. The science is accurate and clearly presented without talking down to a younger reader. The writing style is direct, and the content is geared toward what would interest children. Adrienne Mason is not afraid to use big, yet necessary words, which are usually defined when they first appear and are listed in the glossary.
Vast global issues are examined at the local level. For example, when the problem of invasive species is discussed, two of the examples are the kudzu vine, introduced to the United States from Japan and which has been called “the vine that ate the South,” and Eurasian milfoil, an invasive aquatic plant which was spreading from lake to lake in Canada. The two concluding chapters are about modern-day Noahs, including many children around the world, who are working to preserve the world’s species and habitats.
We can imagine reading one or more chapters a week in First-day school, adding some related activities from other sources, and culminating in some diversity affirming event in which the children lead the community. We find Planet Ark appealing. It is part of a series of books that have come out under CitizenKid Central, an imprint of Kids Can Press. There are 11 titles now, and we particularly like If the World Were a Village, One Well, and Tree of Life, their first book on biodiversity.
Sandy and Tom Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting. They serve on the board of EarthLight bookstore and are the primary authors of Earthcare for Children.
By Wendy Anderson Halperin. Simon and Schuster, 2013. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $12.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 9-13.
Reviewed by Margaret Crompton
How can we bring peace to the world? Through a multiplicity of brief quotations from the likes of Anne Frank, Whoopi Goldberg, and Mother Teresa, and illuminated by a bright tapestry of vignettes, Wendy Anderson Halperin explores this universal question. The richly colored double-page spreads lead the reader through message strips illustrating different versions of the saying, “For there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in . . .”: nations, cities, neighborhoods, schools, homes, and our hearts, then back through the sequence to our world.
Images of children in many lands and situations illustrate behavior changing in accordance with the developing theme. It was interesting, but quite hard work, to trace each pictured narrative, as the children portrayed exchange selfish behavior for sharing and cooperation. The children I consulted found this format difficult to follow and would not have been sufficiently engaged to pursue the complex structure on their own. The quotations, too, were sometimes hard to follow, particularly when split in the middle.
The highlight is the center spread comprising 30 drawings by young children responding to the quote: “For there to be peace in homes, there must be peace in our hearts.” This spread has a simpler layout and is more accessible.
My granddaughters (ages 10 and 14) and I enjoyed exploring the pictures together and agreed that this book would be a valuable resource to share among children and adults. They consider the optimum age group to be 9–13 years old. I recommend it as a useful and attractive addition to a meeting’s or school’s library.
Margaret Crompton is a British Friend. Her most recent publication is the Pendle Hill pamphlet, Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Well-being.
Peace Pilgrim: Walking Her Talk Against Hate
By Merry Brennan. Riding the Waves Publishing, 2013. 167 pages. $7.99/paperback; $2.99/eBook. Recommended for middle school age and up.
Reviewed by Judith Favor
Do you think it is possible to live in a world without war? Peace Pilgrim did. Never heard of her? Read this book and you will never forget her.
Peace Pilgrim’s life was as simple as her message: This is the way of peace—overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. For 28 and a half years, she did just that, walking across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. She lived off the land and the kindness of strangers.
Author Merry Brennan mixes imagination with the facts to capture the truth of one woman’s spirit. She writes the real story of Mildred Lisette Norman (1908-1981), who changed her name to Peace Pilgrim in 1953 when she began walking across the country. In 28 short chapters, she shows how even a small person with a small life can make a big difference.
If you saw Peace Pilgrim walking through your neighborhood, what would you do? Stare in silence or approach her and ask a question? Invite her to your house for a meal? Offer her a warm bath and a good night’s sleep? Ask her to give a talk at your school, meetinghouse, or community center? When Joe, a troubled high school student, punched her in the face, Peace Pilgrim responded kindly. “Tremendous energy comes with anger,” she told him gently. “Put that spark out front.” What do you imagine she meant? Why do you think she referred to her black eye as “a worthwhile shiner”?
This biographical novel is aimed at middle-school-aged readers and older. I found it quite inspiring and expect many Quaker parents and grandparents, teachers and students will too. I can readily imagine girls and boys in my meeting’s First-day school taking turns playing Peace Pilgrim, acting out her encounters with antagonists in barns, TV studios, patrol cars, and jails. The author’s reflection questions invite us to walk in Peace Pilgrim’s sneakers, responding to critics with humor and integrity, living in simplicity, and acting with equality, one step at a time.
Judith Favor delights in the imaginative parents and enthusiastic youngsters who embody Quaker testimonies at Claremont (Calif.) Meeting.
Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam
By Sumbul Ali-Karamali. Delacorte Press, 2012. 224 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $7.99/paperback; $5.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Reviewed by Lisa Rand
Sumbul Ali-Karamali has written a thorough, thoughtful, and highly accessible introduction to Islam. This book is suitable for readers age 10 and older, and detailed enough to engage teen and adult readers; I highly recommend it.
Whether you live in a community with Muslim neighbors or want to be an informed reader of world news, reading this book is useful in increasing understanding. The author, who grew up in southern California, uses her personal experiences to provide context for the narrative.
Religion teachers will also appreciate Growing up Muslim. Its 16 chapters could be the basis of an 8-week First-day school class. Readers interested in pursuing topics further will be glad to find an excellent bibliography.
Lisa Rand is a member of Unami Meeting in Pennsburg, Pa. She writes the blog Light to Read By at Lighttoreadby.wordpress.com.
By Vince Vawter. Delacorte Press, 2013. 227 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $6.99/paperback; $9.78/eBook. Recommended for young adults.
Reviewed by Paul Buckley
Vince Vawter sets this book in 1959 Memphis, Tenn.—in the days when the civil rights movement was still just gaining momentum—before a strike by garbage collectors brought Martin Luther King Jr. to town and eventually his death. It is peopled with a combination of African American and white characters who mix and separate according to a set of mostly unspoken rules. But this is not a story about an innocent age lost.
The central character is an 11-year-old boy, privileged by his color, but handicapped by an incessant stutter. He lives in a middle-class city neighborhood (white flight is also some years in the future) and seems to be raised more by Mam, the live-in African American maid, than by his parents. For a month in the summer of 1959, he fills in for a friend, delivering newspapers. In the course of that month, he bumps up against the unwritten rules and discovers some of the shady boundaries they enforce. Along the way, he is introduced to several alternative versions of what it means to be an adult. These portraits are sketched out in broad terms and could have merely been viewed as stereotypes (the drunk, the adventurer, the bully, etc.), but Vawter gives them life by letting them interact with the young boy stricken by a speech impediment.
For its intended audience, this book is about growing up. The plot revolves around little things: an errant pitch in a sandlot baseball game, a knife that needs sharpening, a ladder left standing against a house, a hidden document. Each one is a small step in itself, but opens up options on the road to maturity. This is a book about making choices and seeing the consequences of those choices. As such, where and when it is set is scarcely relevant. All 11-year-olds face a critical month, day, or year when they realize that the world does not stand still and that growing up will involve change. It’s not a smooth path—sometimes a mistake is made that imposes real costs, both on the child and on those who love him. This story shows that mistakes need not be final and that caring adults can guide the way to adulthood.
It is dangerous for a middle-aged white male author to tell this story. He risks being accused of excessive nostalgia or cultural imperialism, but this is the world Vawter grew up in. It is a lost culture, one we did well to leave behind on the road to national maturity, but one we need to remember and tell our children about. For that alone, young people will benefit from reading it.
Besides that, it’s a good story.
Paul Buckley attends Community Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. A Quaker historian and theologian, he occasionally teaches at Earlham School of Religion.
By Mark Goldblatt. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013. 288 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $6.99/paperback; $9.78/eBook. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Reviewed by Kody Hersh
Julian Twerski, the 12-year-old protagonist of Twerp, does not want to talk about what happened over winter break. He’s already been punished (suspended for a week) and besides he doesn’t think it was that big of a deal. But when his English teacher offers him the chance to get out of reading Julius Ceasar by writing about himself and the incident instead, he decides journaling is better than Shakespeare. And so we are introduced to Julian—little brother, Hebrew school student, fastest kid in Public School 23—and his life in 1960s New York City through his own words as imagined by novelist Mark Goldblatt.
I started reading Twerp in June 2013, a few months after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and within weeks of the Boston Marathon bombings. In the aftermath of both events, as people grappled with the questions and emotions raised by these seemingly random acts of violence, some of the most powerful responses that I heard were those that challenged us not to dehumanize and “other” the perpetrators. Many compassionate people came forward to aid and comfort the victims because they recognized their shared humanity—the reality that under different circumstances, it could have been them. But these commentators also argued that another kind of compassion is equally needed in order to fully understand and interrupt cycles of violence—the compassion that says: the perpetrator shares my humanity, and could have been me. This quest to find humanity in people who act with violence and cruelty towards others—to identify without condoning and to empathize without excusing—is at the heart of Twerp, as it explores the identity and conscience of a child who hurts another person for reasons he does not entirely understand.
The narrator’s lively, opinionated voice is what makes Twerp compelling, accessible, and ultimately powerful. Most readers old enough to handle the thematic content of the novel (intense bullying, some depictions of injury and violence) will find the language easy to understand, with a directness and informality that hold the reader’s attention. Julian’s frank, earnest likability as a character, combined with the intimate experience of riding around in his head for the duration of the book, make the final chapter, in which he describes the act that resulted in his suspension, all the more significant.
Twerp does not read like any historical fiction I’m familiar with. In fact, as I progressed through the book, I sometimes forgot that the setting is not contemporary. Goldblatt’s focus as an author is on those things that are more consistent in human experience over time: the importance and complexity of friendship, the anxiety of understanding and navigating social status, the nervousness and excitement of pre-adolescent crushes. Historical context is present, but usually subtle.
Challenging exceptions to this subtlety occur, however, around the presentation of race and gender issues in the novel. When I’d almost forgotten that the book takes place more than a half century ago, suddenly the narrator would comment on how disgusting the Chinese neighbors’ food smells, or describe his 40-meter race the previous year against “this Negro kid, Willie.” In general, Julian’s attitude toward women and people of color—awkward and ignorant, particularly from a contemporary standpoint, but not malicious or hateful—seems believable given his historical context. I think it’s important for kids to understand how racism and sexism have functioned in different times and places. However, the absence of contextualization within the text itself makes me think that Twerp may be best read in a classroom or book group, where these comments can be discussed and contextualized.
Without ever being dense or difficult to understand, Twerp packs enough meaning, emotion, and humor into its pages that I read it twice through in two months, and enjoyed and benefited from both readings. Readers who are 12-years-old or older (including adults) will find Twerp full of content that is not only interesting and easy to relate to, but also important as we seek to build in ourselves and others the resources of compassion and empathy that interrupt cycles of violence in the world.