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, 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+. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

GRAND CANYON by Jason Chin and THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon

For our holiday dinner get-together at our last meeting we enjoyed delicious food and fun. We discussed our picture book first, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. We all agreed that the illustrations in this book were stunning, and we also loved the amount of information it contained about the Grand Canyon. Many of us felt that the writing was quite dry and 'textbook-ish,' but we felt it could be a very useful book, both in classroom situations and for families planning to visit this noted American landmark. A couple of readers were a bit put off by the illustrations of the dad and his daughter on their trek through the canyon, as well as the many small illustrations of Grand Canyon plants and animals shown throughout in the margins of many pages. Others of us thought these were fine. We mostly liked how the design of the book showed a small 'hole' in the page on a particular illustration, and then after turning the page you could see how this fossil or other formation had happened from a historical point of view. We also liked all of the information presented in the 'back matter,' which made it obvious that the author/illustrator had done extensive research. So, though we weren't thrilled by the writing, we all agreed that this was a good, important book.
 
For our novel, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, there was a definite divide between the 'romantics'  and the 'nonromantics' among us. All of the 'romantics' loved it. A few readers spoke of sobbing, or at least tearing up at the end. We felt it was a plausible story, which dealt with the many issues of a Korean-American teenaged boy and a Jamaican immigrant girl falling in love -- all in one day -- after a chance meeting in New York City. We liked that it included their families, their cultures, the issue of immigration and possible deportation, and the idea that we never really know what 'the universe' has in store for us -- and how within just a single moment everything can change. Many of us liked how the story was told in different voices: the two protagonists, their relatives, other characters with whom they came in contact, and 'the universe.'  A couple of readers just didn't like it at all, and in fact couldn't finish reading the book. They thought it seemed contrived, 'fairy tale-ish,' and just unreal. But those of us who loved it really loved it, even with the seeming 'fairy tale' ending. We thought it was an important story that needed to be told, and we loved the format in which it developed.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

MY FAVORITE PETS: BY GUS W. FOR MS. SMOLINSKI'S CLASS by Jeanne Birdsall and ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

We had a large group at our last meeting and we discussed our picture book first: My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski's Class by Jeanne Birdsall. All of our comments were favorable. Many liked the book, some loved it, and one reader liked it but thought it was a little too "comic-bookish' due to the dialog balloons in many of the illustrations. But -- that being said, we all loved the illustrations, including the expressions on the sheep. We thought they were humorous, and perfectly fit with the text which was Gus' actual report on sheep, done in 2nd-grade-type manuscript writing, shown realistically on each page. We liked the arc of the story as the sheep's activities became more and more ridiculous, and the way Gus teased his little brother and the way his parents reacted. We thought the book could be useful in a classroom setting as an example of writing a simple report, and even as an introduction to the study of animals on a farm. We liked the ending, where the teacher's grade (B+) and remarks were shown in red pencil on Gus' report. Basically positive reactions all the way around.
 
We had a great discussion of the novel, Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. Everyone said they loved the beginning, and were brought immediately into the story by the descriptions of the nine orphans on the seemingly perfect island, and the various personalities and interactions between them as they learned about using elements of their natural world to survive, and followed a hierarchy of 'power' according to age. When Jinny's best friend, Deen was called to leave in the green boat, and was replaced by the newcomer, Ess, a little girl, Jinny suddenly had new responsibilities as a caretaker, since she was now the oldest. As her character was developed,and various crises occurred, it became more and more obvious that this role was difficult for her, and she learned many things about herself. But -- when the green boat returned (we assume a year later) for her, she decided not to leave. Suddenly things became very chaotic on the island, and she felt responsible since she had disobeyed the rules. This is when many of our opinions about the story changed. Many of us felt that the remainder of the book was not so much fun to read, as the narrative was more and more in Jinny's head -- the angst of a 12-year-old girl -- and it just became cumbersome. No-one liked the ending, although it was obvious that there would be a sequel. Some said they would never read it; others would. We also had many questions about how the island got 'organized' in the first place, who decided which children went there, who made the rules that everyone followed, where the green boat went when it left, and more. Perhaps a prequel would have been a good idea? Everyone agreed in their dislike for the character Ben, who was a year younger than Jinny, did all of the cooking, and seemed to know everything and always have the answer. He was just too perfect for words! So....mixed reviews altogether, and some curiosity about what might come next from this author.