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MTYT: A New Kind of Wild

By Seemi Aziz, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

As we conclude our week of introducing titles that for us speak to the many aspects of displacement, A New Kind of Wild shares a story that represents how local and applicable the notion of displacement can be for young readers. There are many ways that children are displaced in their daily life—required family moves to other communities or cities, family separations, feelings of not belonging, bullying, and other ways that emotional and physical displacement can occur. A New Kind of Wild is best described by the author’s dedication: “And to anyone who has had to leave a place they love for somewhere new, this is for you” (Hoang, 2020). Ren has always lived in the rainforest where, during the day, he imagines adventures with dragons, unicorns, fairies and kings while surrounded by nature. He must move to the city where he was lonely and finds nothing that stirs his imagination. Then he meets Ava who has always lived in the city and shares with Ren the imaginative wonders of her city life.

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MTYT: Soldier for Equality

By Seemi Aziz, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

This third week continues a focus on displacement but as it is found in picturebooks. In particular, this week uses a historical context in emphasizing the sociohistorical nature of this issue.

This story is about José de la Luz Sáenz (Luz) who believed in fighting for what was right. Luz’s life was permanently displaced due to his heritage. Even though he was born in the United States, Luz faced prejudice because of his Mexican heritage. Resolute in helping his people, even in the face of discrimination, he taught English to children and adults… children during the day and adults in the evenings. As World War I broke out, Luz joined the army. He had the ability to learn languages and that ability made him an invaluable member of the Intelligence Office especially during war. Luz discovered that prejudice does not end even if you serve your country during war. Even though he was asked by superiors for his translating abilities he didn’t receive credit for his contributions. After returning to his Texas home, he joined with other Mexican American veterans to create the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which presently is the largest and oldest Latinx civil rights organization and continued to teach English to his people so that language does not become a barrier and they should not be discriminated against. The author uses his typical illustration style and Luz’s diary entries to tell the story of a Mexican American war hero and his fight against prejudice and for equality for his fellow
Latinx.

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MTYT: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

By Seemi Aziz, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

This story is set in 2002, a year after 9/11, a politically turbulent time, especially for someone who is a Muslim living in the U.S. like the 16-year-old Iranian/American girl Shirin. As fellow teenagers stereotype her and are verbally and physically reactionary towards her hijab through stares and derogatory comments, she learns to fight back by ignoring them and focusing on her love for music and break-dancing. Her family believes in minding their own business and play down her issues because they have gone through much more under their own regimes in Iran. Her relationship with her older brother is strong. She has been pivotal in aiding him in his studies as he suffers from dyslexia and studies have always been a challenge for him even though he suffers from none of the stereotypes his sister does. He is physically attractive and popular with girls and bears no outward signs of being a Muslim. Shirin lowers her guard once she meets Ocean James. He comes through as a person who genuinely seems to want to get to know her, looking beyond her wearing the hijab. As their relationship evolves the reader comes to know Shirin’s culture and her struggles. Even though we don’t observe displacement in the typical sense of the word in this story, Shirin’s displacement points towards her existence in the U.S. after 9/11.

Decorative Header for A Very Large Expanse of Sea has bibliographic information also available at end of post. Continue reading

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MTYT: The Bridge Home

DecorativeBy Seemi Aziz, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ and Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

As we read contemporary stories about immigration, developing identity, bullying, children facing inequities and challenges in their families, schools, communities, and many other social issues that serve to give voice through story to children everywhere, we see that displacement is a theme woven throughout these stories. Both physical and mental displacement are experiences not uncommon to all young people since the world ‘displacement’ implies being removed from that which is known, comfortable, or expected. If approached in a way that points to the many aspects of displacement that align with everyday experiences, as well as to those experiences that are the result of conflict, trauma or conditions out of the control of the child, these characters can reveal personal attributes that support actions, decisions, and personal perspectives in times of displacement. Such attributes are demonstrations of resiliency and agency in the face of challenge.

In the past few months, globally, both children and adults have been dealing with a variety of forms of displacement–removed from their daily workplaces, activities, interactions with others, and even how they attend to everyday needs. The displacement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic involves both mental and physical challenges, and yet, we need reminders that these can be met critically, creatively, and successfully. Therefore, this month, we wanted to respond to books that reveal children placed in situations of displacement with the hope that the way in which they handle their situations reflects attributes and actions that speak in hopeful ways to the challenges of readers. For the first two weeks, we will share a novel each week in which a global context reveals children dealing with extreme situations of displacement. In the following weeks, we will suggest other books, inclusive of picture-books, that provide diverse perspectives and situations around the topic of displacement–books that examine displacement in everyday situations and for varied ages of readers.

My Take header with bibliographic information on The Bridge Home, which is also listed at the end of this post. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Stormy

Cover of Stormy features a small, curly-haired dog and his ball created in soft hues with pencil and watercolorStormy, by Chinese author/illustrator Guojing, captures attention from a first look at its cover: a small, curly-haired dog and his ball created in soft hues with pencil and watercolor. The assumption can easily be that this is another lovely dog story, potentially appealing to both young and old. However, opening this book reveals a visual narrative whose art goes beyond just “another dog story.” Continue reading

Cognitive Relationships between Music and Language

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Timbaland cover features an African American child with a cupped hand to his ear, listening to the city generally and specifically to the subtitle text Nighttime Symhony curving into his ear.For this last post focused on the role of literature in supporting music’s importance as a multimodal approach to living and learning in the global society, we consider books that reflect the cognitive support between language and music. The development of both music and language for young learners has been revealed as a somewhat reciprocal process. Recent research, has revealed that the brain regions that process syntax are also responsible for other communicative forms such as music. Concepts about print, conventions of print, rhythm, rhyme and patterned texts are each nurtured by music. Phonological awareness and auditory discrimination of letters and notes, important in language learning, are also important in developing communication through music. Literature offers resources that support these processes. Poetry, obviously, provides rhythm and often rhyme; onomatopoetic words within text can sharpen listening skills; language can help develop a sense of dynamics, tempo, and emotional qualities; and books that point to the importance of listening to the sounds around us link the natural world as a form of communication. Continue reading

Books Provide a Glimpse of History through Music

by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

A Is for Audra cover features six leading ladies of broadway sharing a stageAs we realize, music has been part of mankind’s history since its beginning. The 2019 published books shared here reflect only a few of the ways it has been woven into lives but can encourage readers to seek instances across genre. Broadway is known as the place where music and story intersect in powerful ways and the voices of Broadway impact how these stories are told. A Is for Audra, written by John Robert Allman and illustrated by Peter Emmerich, informs readers about leading ladies who have performed through song, dance and drama on some of the world’s most important stages. With an A-to-Z format, this book celebrates women of Broadway and their noted roles. There have also been biographies of musicians during 2019 that reveal music’s significance in their lives and, thus, their impact in bringing varied music to others. Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid-Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World, written by Kim Tomsic and illustrated by Brett Helquist, speaks to invention as well as music. Elvis is King! by Jonah Winter relates details of Elvis’s life with 3-dimensional, hand-built and photographed illustrations by Red Nose Studio. Continue reading

Literary Insights to Social, Traditional and Cultural Aspects of Music

by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Music is often a focus in literature as readers learn about this communicative art form. It is also a way of contextualizing a character, an event or a culture–revealing a diversity of insights into the daily lives and cultures of the people within the stories told. The books shared here, all published in 2019, represent just a few of the ways music exists in our lives. Three of the books are picturebooks sharing family joy that is supported and expressed through music.

Freedom Soup cover shows a Haitian grandmother in a head scarf dancing in kitchen with child in braids.Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara is a Haitian story told around the Haitian new year custom of making and eating Freedom Soup, a tradition reflecting the Haitian Revolution. As Ti Gran teaches Belle how to make Freedom Soup, readers experience the process as well as the music that enlivens the experience. The kompa not only provides music as they dance around the kitchen, but most importantly, it provides background for Ti Gran as she tells the story of the Haitian Revolution. Both text and illustration afford readers the jubilant feel of the music. Continue reading

Literature that Engages Readers In Music

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Music and Literature

Skating Over Think Ice by Jean MillsMusic as a multimodal form of communication can be traced back to primitive societies where it served in many cultural roles, for example in religious rituals, healing processes or sharing societal ideologies. Throughout history, music has been an aesthetic engagement for both performers and listeners, a source of hopefulness and encouragement, as well as a cognitive practice. Music aligns with literature in that both enable us to share our stories (often with stories embedded in music), learn more about ourselves and others and comprehend the world around us as it supports the development of intercultural competencies. It is more recently acknowledged that music and literacy are processed through the same cognitive areas of the brain, pointing to an even closer connection between language and music (Mathis, 2019). Continue reading

Books that Invite Smiles

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

As this week brings to a close my sharing some personal highlights of this year’s Outstanding International Book Award list, I wanted to mention a few titles that left me smiling for a number of different reasons. While many of the rich international titles are ones that challenge us to be responsible readers and take on new perspectives and difficult topics, there is also the universally shared pleasure in reading. What makes us smile could be that the situation in the book is one we have experienced or one that is ironically silly; a smile could come from how the illustrator depicts a character with personality, often with the simplicity of lines and positioning; and we could just smile because of the satisfactory solution to a problem that a character finds. While humor and laughing out loud are not outside the reading experience, a smile can be that satisfactory emotional expression that connects us in many ways to our reading.

I Really Want to See You, Grandma cover Continue reading