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Picturebooks That Focus on Black Children and Their Families

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Cover of Tiara's Hat Parade depicting a young black girl smiling with a blue hat on her head as her mother smiles down at her while making a green hat.

As I continue sharing topics or theme that seemed to be predominant in the many books read by our Notable Children’s Books (ALA) committee, in this WOW currents I will share picturebooks focused on Black children and their families. While this is not a new topic within the books published each year, children’s literature advocates are quick to note that among our diverse populations, the demographics, as continuously recorded by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center regarding populations does not align proportionately with the books published that reflect diverse children. Books sharing the stories of Black / African American children have been continuously increasing in terms of rich tapestries of historical events, previously untold stories of significant individuals, and general narratives of childhood across genre. However, this past year I found interesting, important, and pleasing, the continuous and abundant submission of realistic fiction picturebooks to our committee that specifically focused on the contemporary Black child and family relationships. Among these many books from 2020, I noted culturally specific stories, universal narratives around Black families, and books that celebrate and affirm identity for a child within these families. The seven titles shared here are merely a sampling of these books that stood out for me over 2020 but ones that uphold the potential of children’s literature to serve as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990) for children across the globe. Continue reading

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Picturebooks Created by Authors and Illustrators Outside the USA

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Recently, I was asked if I saw any particular trends in children’s books in the USA over the past few years. It didn’t take long for me to respond given that during the past two years, I had the privilege of working with other educators and librarians on ALA’s Notable Children’s Books committee. As stated on its web page, “As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” Continue reading

Authors' Corner

Author’s Corner: LeUyen Pham

Megan McCaffrey, Governor’s State University in Chicago, Chicago, IL

Profile photo of LeUyen Pham with her black hair up against a bright white backgroundLeUyen Pham prides herself on providing multicultural representation in her books whenever possible or, as she has stated, to make sure children do “not feel excluded.” She, more than most, can firsthand relate to more than one culture and believes children should see themselves in books. LeUyen was born in Saigon, Korea, in 1973. She and her family were several of the last refugees on the roof of the United States (US) Embassy rescued by helicopter during the fall of Saigon in 1975. She was only 2 years old at the time Saigon fell and her family escaped. Her family made their way to the United States via several stops along the way with the help of a sponsor and settled in Temple City, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Besides both her Vietnamese and American culture, she also has strong French connections. The most immediate connection being her mother who is half Vietnamese half French. Her husband is French graphic artist Alexandre Puvilland and her two children with Puvilland attend a French School in Los Angeles. Another French connection comes from her own Vietnamese heritage; Vietnam was occupied by the French from the late 1800s until the mid-1950s, leaving its cultural marks throughout the larger Vietnamese culture and most likely LeUyen’s parents lives. Hence, LeUyen is not only part of multiple cultures but also is also part of a culture that she did not see represented in children’s literature while growing. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Brother’s Keeper

Cover of Brother's Keeper, depicting a girl and a young boy climbing an icy mountain.
North Korean, 1950. What the world comes to know as the Korean War is imminent. Determined to escape the North Korean regime during the chaotic days at the onset of conflict, the Pak family joins the stream of evacuees headed to South Korea while they feel they have a chance to escape. But then there is a napalm bombing, and the throng of refugees is thrown into turmoil. What happens next is chronicled in Brother’s Keeper, a piece of historical fiction for middle grade students. Continue reading

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Hidden Stories of Hope: Relevant Picture Book Biographies for Science Classrooms

by Karen Matis with Charlene Klassen Endrizzi

In our last WOW Currents entry of the month, Charlene and I consider the challenges of supporting science preservice teachers. In past weeks we examined the usefulness of Young Adult picture book biographies to humanize complex content in ELA, history and math classes. We believe middle school learners deserve occasions to study change agents whose lives demonstrate a bridge between complex school content and purposeful use of this content in everyday lives. Continue reading

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MTYT: Charlotte and the Quiet Place

by Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and Melissa Wilson, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Rounding off the first month of 2021, we discuss Charlotte and the Quiet Place and take one last look at how mindfulness may help us during this stressful times.

The texts discussed this month may offer readers (and listeners) some peace during these most turbulent times. They are books that thematically deal with the concept of mindfulness through a narrative. There are many new books being marketed for children that are guides to mindfulness practices. A quick browse on Amazon yields pages of “activity books” that offer to help children process feelings, step-by-step manuals for doing meditation with children, and even books to help teach children “growth mindsets”.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a difficult present and an uncertain future is to lose yourself in someone else’s story. Through reading, or being read to, you can experience different ways of living on a deep level. These experiences can give much succor and “practice runs” at figuring out how to live a life well.

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Hidden Stories of Determination: Relevant Picture Book Biographies for Math Classrooms

by Charlene Klassen Endrizzi and Karen Matis

This month of WOW Currents invites readers to examine adolescent picture book biographies providing relevant disciplinary points of connection for middle school math learners. Three books focus on determined female mathematicians with an additional text featuring a football player of note who pursued his passion for art following a professional sports career. Continue reading

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Hidden Stories of Change: Relevant Biographies and Non-fiction for the History Classroom

by Charlene Klassen Endrizzi with Karen Matis

Cover of The Grand Mosque of Paris depicting Jewish families walking into a blue mosque.

This week we continue our exploration of “Hidden Stories” by revealing historical personalities too often overlooked. We zero in on adolescent books highlighting change agents chosen by history preservice teachers.

“I took many history courses in high school and college. Why have I never heard of these events?” (Makenzie, history major). This refrain, in response to Isabel’s Learning Invitation on the nonfiction book The grand mosque of Paris: A story of how Muslims rescued the Jews during the Holocaust (Ruelle, 2010), became a familiar response as we delved further into our hidden stories exploration. Continue reading

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MTYT: After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

by Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and Melissa Wilson,Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Happy New (Gregorian) Year! To welcome in 2021, we, Seemi and Melissa, are going to explore the concept of mindfulness through critical readings of powerful children’s picture books. We have come to understand that visual and written narratives work simultaneously to add to the understanding and comprehension of children and adults in the present, increasingly visual, world. As the worldwide pandemic of Coronavirus rages on, we all need resources to cope with constant disruptions and uncertainty. Mindfulness is a resource that may benefit both adults and children and one that can be explored through picture books.

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally… it’s about knowing what is on your mind.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

The above quote nicely defines mindfulness for our purposes. Rooted in ancient religious practices, mindfulness came to the United States in the 1970s as a secular way to help people through the work of Kabat-Zinn. In the ensuing half century, the concept has become part of western culture.

Throughout this month we will discuss specific picture books to explore mindfulness with children. The specific texts are: After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty got back up again by Dan Santat, Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin, and The Three Questions by Jon Muth. As we unravel the narratives, we will add other titles that reinforce the concept of mindfulness. Continue reading