WELCOME

WELCOME! Once a month, usually on a Thursday evening, a group of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians meets in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to discuss children's books. Usually we talk about one picture book and one middle grade or YA novel. After the meeting, Sandy Schuckett, a retired LAUSD librarian, summarizes our discussion. Here are her reports of our thoughts about the books we have read. We'd love to have your comments too!
Thanks to Nancy Hayashi for our wonderful title art! Our group has been meeting since 2007. It was organized under the auspices of the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC).

Thursday, September 20, 2018

THE CAMBODIAN DANCER by Daryn Reicherter and THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Perez

At our last meeting we discussed our picture book, The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter, first. Two readers really liked it a lot. They felt that a very simply-told text was used to explain to young readers (or listeners) how a young girl, Sophany, was driven to keep dancing even though chaos was breaking out all around her as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia during 1975-79. They felt it spoke to her courage and dedication to dance throughout her life, even after migrating to America as an adult and continuing to teach Cambodian dance to other young girls. We all mostly liked the illustrations, especially the ones that showed the dancers' hands and outfits, as well as the shadow puppets, but we felt there were some inconsistencies with the visual portrayal of Sophany, who looked like a different person in different illustrations. One reader who had been to Cambodia, and had actually seen many of the ruins illustrated in the book felt that there were several inaccuracies. Many of us felt that the text was too simple, and didn't really say much other than the fact that Sophany loved dance. We thought that the part where she saw herself as a shadow after the atrocities occurred would be confusing for children. We felt that the Author's Note at the end of the book, which might have been very helpful, did little to provide additional information.

We all liked our novel, The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez a lot. One reader stated that she wished there had been books like that when she was a young teenager. We liked the fact that Ma Lu's parents, though divorced, had an amicable relationship, and that both were involved in their daughter's life in a positive way -- each focusing on different strengths and talents she had. We thought the portrayals of the various young characters, their dialogue, and their middle-school interactions were very realistic, and we also felt it was a good depiction of a mixed Latina/Caucasian teenager who was just trying to figure out her place in the world -- encompassing parts of both of her inherited cultures. We liked the portrayals of the various adult characters also. We liked the illustrations of Ma Lu's 'zines,' where she expressed things she liked (or not) and things that were important to her. We thought that for all of these reasons young readers of today would like this very accessible story.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

AHIMSA by Supriya Keljar and HER RIGHT FOOT by Dave Eggers

We felt that Ahimsa by Supriya Keljar, the story of 10-year-old Anjali and her family in 1942 as India was fighting for it's independence from British rule was important, but that this particular book left a lot to be desired. We all agreed that it was quite preachy and didactic, not so beautifully written, and plot-driven rather than character-driven. In fact, many readers said they felt absolutely nothing for the main character or her parents and friends, even though their life was a series of trials and tribulations, and a couple of readers couldn't even finish it. We all agreed that it provided a good glimpse into the culture of that specific Indian village, as well as details of some of the unrest, discrimination and other political situations that occurred there. Although the Author's Note at the end provided some additional information about the struggle, we felt that some more specific back matter -- a Timeline, for example -- would have been helpful to young readers who had no awareness of this segment of history. An important story, but sadly -- not well told.
All but one of us loved our picture book, Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, although a couple of readers felt that it was far too long (104 pages) for a picture book, and could have used some tightening up in the editing process. We mostly loved the humor in the telling and the illustrations showing the diversity of Americans and the history of the Statue of Liberty and the details of her right foot that show her literally 'walking out toward the sea' to welome the newcomers with her torch. We felt that this was an important message for these times, and that the book provided a good starting point for talking about the meaning of immigration and of America's promise to the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." We liked the photos at the end that showed the actual monument and the plaque containing Emma Lazarus' famous poem.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

GHOST by Jason Reynolds and THE ANTLERED SHIP by Dashka Slater

We had a small but vocal group at our last meeting. We began with the discussion of our novel, Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Everyone found something to like in this story of a young boy becoming involved with track running in order to help him forget a bad experience in his life as well as to prepare to become a great basketball player. We all liked how the story developed as he learned many things about himself--getting along with others, discipline, being honest, and receiving consequences for his mistakes. A couple of readers loved the book; others liked parts of it, but felt that some of the language was confusing: changing from vernacular in the dialogue to quite literate prose (in 'Ghost's' voice) as he described what was happening. Some also felt that all of the adults portrayed were just "too good," and that this wasn't realistic. We all agreed that this book served very well in the role of "a mirror and a window" -- a story where black youngsters like 'Ghost' could see themselves and their community reflected in the story, while others could learn about a community about which they might have no knowledge or experience. Upon learning that this book was the first in a series of four books about different members of 'Ghost's' track team, a few people expressed desires to read the other three books also. We commended the author on his compelling storytelling.

Stunning, gorgeous, exquisite -- we could not find enough adjectives to describe the magnificent illustrations in our picture book, The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and illustrated by brothers Terry and Eric Fan. We loved the intricate details of the ship, the expressions on the animals faces, the geographical elements, and the various 'props' that were included on the animals' sea voyage in search of a 'wonderful island.' The story however, was another matter. A couple of readers loved it. One (a traveler) loved the aspect of how travel is always a learning experience. Another said she couldn't wait to have a grandchild to whom to read this story. But some of us felt the story would not be so interesting to young children as a read-aloud since it had issues that seemed too obscure, and generally just fell flat. And so it goes...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Kelly and WOLF IN THE SNOW by Matthew Cordell

We had great discussions at our last meeting, filled with a variety of opinions and reactions to our books, both of which were recent winners of major children's book awards. We started with the novel, Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Our reactions varied from great to 'not-so-great'. One reader listened to the first few chapters on an audiobook, and was put off by the alternating male and female voices in the first few chapters...so much so that she sadly didn't continue. Others of us liked the fact that each chapter was the 'voice' of a different character, and felt that maybe reading the words made it easier to 'get inside their heads'. We all felt the book was quite predictable; when Virgilio fell in a well, and had to spend a great deal of time there thinking about his life as a very shy boy, we all knew he would be rescued. We also knew that the bully, Chet, would get his comeuppance, and that Virgilio and Vanessa, who were in the same 'Resource Room' class (and had the same initials!) but didn't know each other, would eventually meet and find that they had a lot in common and become friends, with the help of the 'mystic' Kaori and her little sister's pink jump rope. (We also vowed to not read another book that had someone falling in a well!) One reader remarked that this book 'hit all the buttons': a Filipino boy, an Asian girl, a bully, a deaf girl, a pesky little sister, etc. etc. Some felt it was all a bit contrived. But -- several of us still liked the story, and felt that a 9- or 10-year-old reader would like it also. We all loved Virgilio's 'Lola' (Grandma) and we also all loved the one word ending.

We had equally mixed feelings on our picture book, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell. It was almost a wordless picture book -- the only words being the sounds that animals made -- HOWL, ARF ARF, etc. Some readers absolutely did not like the illustrations -- many of which showed a 'Red Ridinghood' clad, triangular-shaped little girl walking across a field of snow to save a lost wolf cub. A couple of readers didn't like the way her face was portrayed, except in the illustrations at the front and at the end when she was with her family. We also liked the close-up illustration of the mother wolf. Others felt the illustrations on the whole were ok, even though there were some problems with perspective as different scenes were shown. One reader said the book had been used in her school in teaching children sequencing in a story, and we agreed that would be a good use for it. At the end of the evening we wondered how and why these two books were award winners...the answer to which we may never know.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT by Elisha Cooper and PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE by Laura Amy Schlitz


Our picture book, Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper (OR 'Cats Being Cats') garnered an A+ rating -- not just from the 'cat people' among the ten of us, but unanimously. We all loved the simple-seeming black drawings of the big and little cats, and realized that they so enhanced a simply, but wonderfully-written story that moved full circle from the beginning to the end. We loved the way it dealt with the cats becoming acquainted, learning together, having fun, growing, and just enjoying life, until one of them 'had to go and he didn't come back.' Although there were no humans in this story up to this point, we were all so moved as the next page turn showed a family in silhouette, and all, including the (now big) cat were now very sad. But then -- a new little cat came, and it began anew. A perfect picture book!
 
We had mixed reactions to our novel, Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz. Everyone loved the crocodile, sent by the princess' fairy godmother, but only a few of us loved the story too. Some thought it was a bit boring and didactic, as well as predictable, and couldn't 'buy' the fact that the crocodile's actions helped to turn Cora into a little girl who thought for herself. Others of us loved this aspect of it. We agreed that it spoke to the 'overprogramming' of many kids these days, and we thought it might be a good 'first thick book' for young 2nd or 3rd grade readers, as well as a good read-aloud -- a chapter a day -- for a classroom. A couple of readers felt that this award-winning writer was not at her best in this particular book.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

TEACUP by Rebecca Young and CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko

We discussed our picture book first -- Teacup by Rebecca Young. One reader stated, "Teacup is just not my 'cup of tea'!" We all pretty much agreed. Although one reader felt that the illustrations were exquisite, most of us felt that they didn't work for a picture book -- either as a read-aloud, or for new readers. The text, mostly printed in white over light grey or blue seascapes, was practically invisible, and this was the situation for most of the double-page spreads. We also questioned the story of a boy who leaves home -- alone -- in a small boat, carrying only a few things, including a teacupful of soil from the place he's leaving, and then bounces around on the sea for a looooong time -- long enough for an apple tree to grow in the teacup. (huh??) The bulk of the story describes his journey, but we felt that it probably wouldn't hold youngsters' interest for very long. We also questioned his life alone on an island he finally found, and then the arrival of a young girl, which presumably made him very happy. The final illustration showed footprints in the sand: large ones, smaller ones, and then very tiny ones. (again -- huh??) This was not among our favorite picture books.
 
We all liked our novel, Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko. We agreed that although the text was very simple and straightforward, it served the well-told story very adequately. We loved the characters, and the issues the story dealt with in a very non-didactic way: the roles of women and girls in 1900 San Francisco, racism toward the people of Chinatown, the strength of the friendship between Lizzie and Noah even though it was in secret, the relationship between Lizzie and her father, and the issue of telling the truth when it's important to do so. We loved the research that Choldenko had done about this historical period and the plague epidemic, and we appreciated all of the additional information provided in the back of the book.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

LEAVE ME ALONE by Vera Brosgal and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

We discussed our picture book, Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgal first. We all liked it a lot. We thought it was an 'old-fashioned' type of story of a grandma who just needed some peace and quiet from her many grandchildren, who prevented her from doing her always-important knitting. When she left them, carrying only a large bag full of yarn and traveling through time and space, she finally found a place where she could just sit and knit, and enjoy tea from her samovar. She finally came back with new sweaters for all. We all liked the illustrations a lot; one person liked the pictures of the grandma, with all of her expressions, better than those of the children. We liked the fact that an old lady was the main character, without being a witch, as usually happens in many children's stories. We talked about whether children would relate to an old woman as the main character of a story, but agreed that probably all children had at some time experienced an adult (or older sibling) saying, "Leave me alone!." One of our members had read it to a group of young children, and she reported that they giggled and laughed throughout, and loved it. A couple of us wondered how Grandma was able to bring the large samovar, plus a broom, in her bag on her journey, but -- oh, well -- it's a story! So we suspended disbelief. and gave it a unanimous 'A'!
 
We had a great discussion of our novel, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We all agreed that it was a very important book for the times we are living in, and a few readers felt that this story of a 16-year-old black girl, Starr, who witnesses her friend shot to death by the police while she is in the car with him should be required reading for all white people. Along with the aftermath of the shooting, and whether Starr can testify about really happened, we liked the fact that this book provides a detailed window into one black community -- the strength of the family, the interrelationships between people and the support they give each other, the idea of having to live in two worlds (the community and a mostly white private school), the usual teen-aged angst and relationships in high school, and the fact that things are not always how they look on the surface. A couple of readers expressed that they had learned so much from this book, and that they would probably look at some of the similar situations in today's news arena with different eyes. A couple of readers were put off by the first chapter, which was told in black vernacular, and said they just couldn't go on reading -- although the voice ultimately changed as the story went on, and was quite comfortable for us to read. So -- though a very important book, and a great story, an 'A' rather than an A+.