The Children’s Literature Council of Southern California’s 2016 Fall Gala

In September, 2016, I was honored once again to be asked to write the feature article for the CLCSC’s annual gala. It was, as always, a wonderful event, a literature lover’s heaven. Below is my article. The article with event photographs can be found on  CLCSC’s homepage.

October 8, 2016

The 2016 Fall Gala: Connect, Support, and Celebrate
by Rita Zobayan

Something about being in a room packed full of book lovers speaks to my heart. Maybe it’s the like-mindedness, the understanding that books are important not only in education but also in life. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that whether your favorite genre is picture books, middle grade, or young adult, your appreciation of children’s literature provides a common ground. So it was with a happy heart that I attended the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California’s 2016 Fall Gala held in the Luminarias Restaurant.

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President Laurie Reese welcomed the attendees–librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, book reviewers, and literature lovers. She recognized the Board and presented the organization’s mantra of “Connect, Support, and Celebrate.”

Katherine Loeser, Co-First Vice President, then introduced the keynote speaker, the venerable Sharon M. Draper, explaining how Out of My Mind “changed me as a person. These are real people. Thank you for introducing me to histories and stories I didn’t know.” Ms. Draper, an author with a multitude of honors to her credit, began by describing her appreciation for the connection between books and learning. She spoke about the power of a story, the power of words and how words “make us whole. We have the privilege of reading, writing, and sharing them. If you know how to tell a good story, you can do anything.” Ms. Draper’s exposure to the power of words began at age three, when her mother took her to a library. The gleaming floors, sunlight dancing through windows, smell of books, and the card catalogues written in perfect cursive mesmerized Ms. Draper, and she knew she’d found a place for herself. By age ten, she’d read all the books for elementary students, and was given a card for the adult section. Ms. Draper explained, “I learned a lot at the library.” She never noticed as a child that there were no books with children that looked like her. No one questioned it because that was the world they knew. At age 12, Ms. Draper read Forbidden City, which was her first venture into a culture outside of the USA. She recalls that the book “stayed with me,” and she later became the State Department’s Literary Ambassador to the children in China. She read chapter one of her book, Out of My Mind, and explained, “I knew I had to give voice to someone who was voiceless. The books come to me.” A very touching story was Ms. Draper’s recollection of her father’s request to write a story about his mother, who had to quit school at age 10 to work. She kept journals and would write on her porch, and one of the journals was passed down to Ms. Draper. Stella by Starlight is the product. Ms. Drapers’ grandmother’s words aren’t in the book, but the premise of Stella writing a journal on the porch is.  Ms. Draper concluded her speech with “There is a book for a child. Just one book can make an impact.”

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Maxine Lucas then presented the award for Outstanding Work of Fiction, which was awarded to Pam Munoz Ryan for Echo. Ms. Munoz Ryan was on tour and sent her thanks for the honor.

The Outstanding Picture Book Award was presented by Meredith Kent McGowan to Antoinette Portis for Wait. Ms. Portis recalled her journey to becoming an author/illustrator from writing and drawing in sixth grade to working in advertising and for Disney to taking classes at UCLA Extension and the Art Center.

Katherine Adams presented the winner for the Excellence in Illustration Award, Vincent X. Kirsch for Gingerbread for Liberty. Mr. Kirsch recounted his work as a designer of gingerbread cookies for Dean and DeLuca. He stated, “I had so much fun with this book. It was a game for me. I am in the business of ‘wild imaginings’ and they can turn into anything. Pursue your wildest imaginings because you never know…they could become a book one day.”

The Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature was presented by Rachel Lizotte to Noelle Stevenson for Nimona. Ms. Stevens was unable to attend but sent her thanks.

Laurie Reese took the stage once more to present the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Children’s Literature to Marjorie Arnett. Ms. Arnett is a former educator and one of the three individuals who helped found the annual Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival. A major influence on Ms. Arnett was her parents’ examples of hard work and community service. Her father read a lot of Little Golden Books to her, and by age four, Ms. Arnett was reading to her younger siblings. Her parents advised her to “follow whatever path made you happy,” and that lead to education. Her siblings and she were the grandchildren of sharecroppers, and all of them went to college. Ms. Arnett’s mission has been to bring children and books together through “mirrors and windows”: having children see themselves portrayed in literature.  Whatever she has been involved in, she has pursued with the lesson she learned from her family: “to attack life with a passion.”

The event ended with the joy of feeling connected, supported, and celebrated.

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We Need Diverse Books: The Children’s Literature Council of Southern California Spring Workshop

The Children’s Literature Council of Southern California  hosted a workshop titled “We Need Diverse Books.” Authors and Illustrators, as well as CLCSC members and guests, discussed the state of the children’s publishing industry and their own experiences with diverse books and the lack thereof. The event was emceed by Stacey Lee and included Lisa Yee, Nicola Yoon, Brandy Colbert, Stephanie Diaz, Lissa Price, Rodolfo Montalvo, Joe Cepeda, and Dan Santat. I had the honor of writing the official newsletter article, “We Need Diverse Books,” The CLC Spring Workshop: A Thought-Provoking Afternoon.” You can find the article in its entirety here.

 

 

Fun and Fruit

My review for Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature.

Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona

FUN AND FRUIT
Written by Maria Teresa Barahona
Illustrated by Edie Pijpers
Translated by Jon Brokenbrow

Fun & Fruit CoverFun and Fruit is a tale about sisters Charlotte and Claire who live surrounded by magical trees which grew wonderful fruits with thousands of different colors and aromas. They devise a game in which over the course of a week, they pick a color a day, think of fruits with that color, create stories based on the fruits, and eat the fruits as snacks. On Friday the color was green, and Charlotte told her sister why pears were her favorite fruit. “When I eat them, I close my eyes and feel little sparkling stars in my mouth that make me dream.” Claire thought about grapes. “They’re little, they’re always cuddled up close together, and they remind me of the friends I always want to be with,” she said. Charlotte and Claire include their friends in their game, and all have a good time eating the healthy snacks.

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The artwork by Edie Pijpers is just darling and the bright, bold colors really capture the essence of the story. The page with the children making a fruit-infused milk shake had me practically salivating: the colors are so lush and the food looks scrumptious. The illustrations of the magical fruit trees and the birds with music notes are delightful, and the moon as a banana shining over a landscape of fruit put a smile on my face. The simplicity of the children’s features, which adds to the innocence of the storyline, also drew me in.

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I must mention that I feel there were lost opportunities here. With the push for diverse books and multicultural inclusion within the United States’ children’s book industry, I really wish that the characters’ Spanish names had been kept. When I’m reading a story about Spanish children living in Spain, I want to see CarlotaClaraEmilia, and Josue, not CharlotteClaireEmily, or Josh. Keeping the original names would have added to the authenticity. Also, I think it would have been ideal to include Spanish words and phrases, as many parents and teachers look for opportunities to incorporate another language into children’s education. For example, when mentioning apples, it would have been opportune to say manzanas, for oranges, naranjas, for red, rojo, and so on. However, Fun and Fruit is a story that emphasizes creativity, as well as healthy eating, and is worth reading.

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Watch the book trailer by clicking here.

On a related note, another of Cuento De Luz’s titles,
Cyparissus, features incredible, whimsical artwork
by Sonja Wimmer that is worth a look.

Food Trucks!

My review for Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature.

Food Trucks! written and illustrated by Mark Todd

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The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.

Amigo (Taco Truck)

What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!

Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!

Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.

Dare to add the habanero/If you like it REALLY hot!

Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)

The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!

Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.

Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.

Read Across America

Reading is a cornerstone life skill that is the basis of classroom success. The abilities to learn about new subjects, to find information on topics, and to conduct research depend on reading. On Monday, March 2, schools, libraries, and bookstores throughout the USA will celebrate the memory of Dr. Seuss. For many children, Dr. Seuss is their first introduction to reading. Let’s help children develop the life-long joy of reading on what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 111th birthday.  Check with your local schools, libraries, and bookstores for events that promote this celebration.

At home, model an example and read with your family throughout March. Research shows that when children read outside of the classroom, they do better in schools. Worried about reading to your child? Don’t be. Use different voices for characters, hand gestures, and movement. For emerging readers, point to easy sight words (for ex., I, he, she, am, in, on) and have them read. Ask your children what they think will happen next in the story.

Make it fun, not stressful. You can find more ideas at the National Education Association site. Most of all, kids will love the attention and the time they spend with you.  Reading is a skill, and one that can bring joy and fulfillment throughout life. Give your voice and your time and read.

(Some content was adapted from Councilman Mike Gatto’s Read Across America notification.)

Found by Salina Yoon

My review at Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature.

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Salina Yoon has created a wonderful story with Found (Walker Books for Young Readers /Bloomsbury 2014; $14.99, Ages 2-6.) Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and wants to find its owner, so he posts “found” flyers in the forest. Time passes and no one claims the bunny, and Bear becomes attached to it. It is, after all, “the most special thing he had ever seen.” But eventually Moose, the owner, spots Floppy, and Bear must prepare to part with his new, treasured toy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it has just the right touch.

The magic of this picture book is its simplicity. The storyline is straightforward and the words are chosen perfectly for the young audience. My kindergartener greatly enjoys Found, and is transported into Bear’s world. When Moose arrives to claim Floppy, my little one’s thumb goes right in her mouth (nervous trait), and when Bear sheds a tear at the thought of parting with Floppy, my little one’s eyes well up, too. Children understand simple, pure emotion and Found presents that to them through the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and love.

The artwork is colorful and appealing. The characters are just adorable. Parents will appreciate the clever play on words and the cultural and historical references on the “lost” flyers. My favorites are “Lost Seasons 1-6,” Peter Pan’s “Lost shadow,” and “Lost my marbles! HELP!”

Your child will get lost in the world of Found, and that’s a good thing.

There Is Good in This World

Today is remembered for terrible, awful, tragic events. It’s also a day that people everywhere felt the loss and sent out messages of hope, support, love, and sympathy.

To honor 9/11 and to remind ourselves, and especially children, that good is still the predominant force in this world, here is a book that focuses on good people.Good People Everywhere

Taken from my review at Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find reviews on great children’s literature.

Within reading three pages of Good People Everywhere, I’d fallen in love with it. Written by Lynea Gillen and illustrated by Kristine Swarner, this beautiful, touching book is inspiring and empowering. Its message is simple: there are good people doing good things everywhere, every day and in many ways. In a world where we too often hear of the destructive, unethical and terrible acts that people commit, Good People Everywhere offers a powerful juxtaposition to the idea that there are bad people everywhere. It presents the notion that people, including young children, can and do good in the world.

The prose is written in plain language and provides examples that children will find familiar. Numerous examples show children of various ages engaging in good deeds, the kinds that are readily managed by youngsters.

Teachers are teaching math, spelling and reading skills,/Today, people are planning seeds, picking fruits and vegetables, and driving them to grocery stores all around the world, so you can have a ripe, juicy orange in your lunch./Today, a first grade boy is helping a friend who has a skinned knee, and a big sister is holding her baby brother.

The illustrations are warm and engaging, and depict the text in a childlike fashion. They are a perfect complement to the heartfelt message. The bonus activities help children recognize and celebrate the good people around them.

As a mother, I have shared this book with my daughters and discussed how people we know do good things and how they, even at their young ages, can bring good into the world. As an educator, I plan on sharing this uplifting book with my students as our school continues with its theme for the year of giving back. Good People Everywhere provides examples, inspiration and comfort not only to young children