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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Spirit Seeker John Coltrane's Musical Journey, Gary Golio, ill.Rudy Gutierrez

Guess where I saw this book?  Yep, on another Caldecott list, and this one is up there in my estimation.  Meaning?  Yep, you guessed it again, it probably has no chance.

But it is awesome and you should definitely read it if you are
*interested in music, especially jazz
*looking for a picture book biography with a little meat
*interested in spirituality
*interested in stories of recover from drug an alcohol addiction
*interested in black history

I really knew nothing about John Coltrane before I read this book, and now I could tell you many, many interesting facts about his challenging and oh, so gifted life.  John Coltrane grew up surrounded by music but faced some devastating family losses at a fairly young age. He struggled for most of the rest of his all too short life to overcome the addictions to drugs and alcohol.  Ultimately, he found that spirituality and music provided the solace he needed to survive, and he sought to share those gifts with the world. Sadly, he died at just 40 years old from cancer, likely as a result of the drug and alcohol abuse.

The story itself is very, very interesting.  It's well told and is much longer than many picture book biographies.  Each page has one or two paragraphs of information. There is additional information in the author's note as well. But what brings this book to the top for me is how the art in this story adds another dimension to the storytelling. At times it's bright, others, dark, but always powerful and engaging. There's lots going on in every illustration. Sometimes I found myself so sidetracked by the art that I had to go back and re-read the text because I hadn't really absorbed it.  The pictures convey mood beautifully as well as plot.  Another reviewer (clearly one way smarter than I), described it this way, "Wisely, Golio lets the pictures carry the melody while his text supplies the backbeat." Booklist (November 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 5))

This book is gorgeous as well as being informative and is suitable for older elementary school as well as middle schoolers looking to get information about this jazz giant. Watch for it on the podium in January!

Just found THIS link to an interview with Gary Golio talking about the book!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Crow, Barbara Wright - a Newbery contender?

This historical fiction set in 1898 in Wilmington, NC, was a fascinating read and taught me a whole lot about a horrible historical event I'd never even heard of: The Wilmington Massacre.  This book is on Newbery contender lists and ballots all over the country. I, however, am thinking it's more likely to win a Scott O'Dell historical fiction award and/or a Coretta Scott King.  It's definitely award worthy, but I'm not so sure, as I have seen other reviewers mention, that this book meets this guideline for the Newbery:

b.Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.

The story is told in the 1st person by 11 year old Moses Thomas, an African American boy born to a black father and a mixed race mother who can pass for white.  Moses' grandmother, Boo Nanny, plays a large part in the story as well. Aside from the clear "white people against black people" issues, there are many race issues in this story that would not be clear to child audiences who were not reading this without guidance from an adult, particularly child audiences in the younger age range.  Even the title Crow, which refers t Jim Crow laws that were not yet in place, is likely to be a reference lost on many child readers. Again, I am no judge of the judging, as it were - my choice never wins - but it seems to me that this book will be held back from the Newbery for this reason IF the judges seriously take that into account.  There have been other winners that I felt didn't meet this criteria either, though, so we'll just have to wait and see.

However, like I said, it should win a Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction. It's an excellent presentation of an event that should be told. The storyline of the coup staged by white residents to overthrow their town government is exciting and suspenseful, at times even terrifying.  The characters are well developed, particularly Moses, his father, and Boo Nanny, but even some of the minor characters who have few appearances in the story are skillfully created to shine. 

I keep catching myself thinking how imposible this situation seems, and then realize once again that it's based on a true story and that while there are now laws in place to prevent coups, and while the majority of people of every color do live in harmony in our country, it's not entirely the case, and that's why books like this are so important.  We need to have some radical stories highlighted t illustrate what racism can lead to and why we need to fight it at every opportunity.  This story definitely highlights bullying in addition to racism.

I'll be looking for at least one shiny sticker on this book come January.  Have you read it?  What do you think?