"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

3.10.2016

A Conversation with Agatha Rodi

Agatha Rodi
A couple of months ago, I was pleased to review Amelie Gets Busy, written by Grecian author Agatha Rodi. The story concerns a young girl and her relationship with her grandmother, or yiayia. I was curious about Agatha's real-life yiayia, and also how the Greek financial crisis has affected her life and career as a picture book writer.

You dedicated the book to your mother and grandmother. Did your grandmother live on a farm similar to the one in the story?

Oh yes, my grandmother still lives on a farm in our village! She is around 93 - though her real age is not known to family members. You see, back then parents registered their kids years after their birth!

My yiayia's name is Athanasia, meaning Euthanasia. She's a very sweet Greek-type yiayia, thinking only of cooking and cleaning. Her witty remarks can make you wonder for days, and although she is illiterate, her comments on serious issues are very wise! I always admired her courage when she lived up in the mountains, without electricity, only having water from a spring far from the peak.

I also admired the way she confronted life in general. I would choose the word stoicism to describe her attitude towards life's dramas and great joys. I always have her in my mind, thinking of her daily life when visiting her, the way she reacted and how she treated her animals with tenderness. She was a real devotee and she introduced all her grandchildren to farm work and to the secrets of good cooking! The smells and the images are always there, even after so many years! Her cooking is still exceptional, that's why I couldn't resist writing about cookies, spinach pie and Feta cheese. She prepared dairy products on her own in the traditional way, too.

When recalling her special bond with trees and animals, I can only tell you she was very affectionate and respectful towards nature. She taught me to take care of everything and be patient till the fruits or food came out in their season. Her yard was full of chickens and roosters, birds and smelly roses. I couldn't stop playing with all the animals or not help her with the housework. I love my yiayia for being so alive and realistic about life, she is a true philosopher for me. She has been deprived of a lot, but she enjoys life's moments in a unique way, every time she has the chance.
My mother Nikolitsa has faced similar challenges in her life, and I dedicated my first book to both of them since their determination and persistence are truly exceptional. I could not do differently but refer to these two Greek warriors!

Τell me how the Greek financial crisis has affected you.
It is for us a constant reminder of tensions, stress and a fear which changes face almost every day. This is the simple truth of how people of any social status feel about our situation here. The feeling of insecurity prevails over any type of decision and makes you wonder about tomorrow and the future in general. Being both a school owner and a teacher working full time, even on weekends, to keep my school while paying new added taxes every month makes the situation unbearable and it has been 5 years now that this is happening.
There is no chance of economic recovery when the unemployment rates have risen frantically. Families are supported by in-laws, grandparents, close relatives or volunteers in every municipality, getting food and if they are lucky enough, finding a place to sleep. Unemployment means homelessness since mortgages aren't paid, then banks seize the houses. Is it a Greek Drama? Well, yes, unfortunately these two words fit best to what we experience.
It is unfair for all the Greeks who have worked very hard in their course of life, to struggle to have a decent life. The ongoing austerity measures from the government's part along with sentiments of disappointment and excessive frustration displayed by the Greeks, facing lack of peace and health problems are apparent. From my point of view, the Greek Financial Crisis functions as a means to steal everybody's joy and hope.
I personally don't intend to let this happen, no matter what the obstacles will be. I can't surrender to it. Here is a challenge to everybody, learn anew to compete with challenges that favor as well as the growth of character and wisdom!
 My grandmother Athanasia and my grandfather Gabriel outside their mountain home. 

How has it impacted you as a picture book author?
It is a fact that Greek publication houses face significant issues. The most renowned of them were forced to close down after being around for many decades.
The imposition of Capital Controls brought a freeze in the market so this has caused a series of events including writers, too. At the same time there has been a very promising community of entrepreneurs, either publishers or writers, whose purpose is to urge new writers to come out and are open to new things. Children's books sales were not affected so much, but books' prices have lowered so much that books are sold mostly at bazaars or at open markets for 2 euro. Financial crisis doesn't permit Greek buyers to give 15, 20, or 25 euro to buy a book from the bookstore.
If a Greek writer considers all the above seriously, then s/he may find no purpose on pursuing their writing goals. But this is not the case. My thinking is that a writer exposes their personal experiences on their book's pages and speaking for children's stories, they offer a vision to learners and a perspective. Although the Financial Crisis has left its scars I could never stop writing my children's stories.
I am surrounded by different age groups at my school on a daily basis. Both younger kids and teens dream big of their future and most of the time are impressed with what they have read in a book, asking for more details or even making inspirational comments. I teach English and French, so the texts used in different age groups cause a stirring of discussions and comments!
This kind of curiosity sparks my own imagination, both as a teacher and a writer. I need to escape from the harsh reality, to imagine and learn more from my stories. When I want to write, I forget the financial crisis and whatever is involved with it, I only expect to lose myself in the story. I consider myself lucky for being able to write what I like, to give hope and offer joy!

As a teacher, are you paid by the Greek government? How does that work out?

I am paid by the parents of my students. Although English and French Language is taught at primary, High School and Senior High School, the Greek educational system doesn't provide the kind of knowledge and practice needed for a Certificate or Diploma in a foreign language. This gap is covered by the private Centers of Foreign Languages that have mostly their students from kindergarten till Senior High school years. Parents have to pay for the annual fees and some of them choose to have private lessons at home.

It may sound strange but this is what happens here in Greece, having the Centers of Foreign Languages (CFL) being in a turmoil, especially this year when for three months, a special tax was imposed to parents who were obliged to pay 23% added tax for their kids teaching. After a great struggle, both by the parents and the CFL Owners, the tax was annulled at the beginning of December 2015 but the damage was already done.

Due to the financial crisis, unemployment, and the 23% tax, the CFLs had a 50% reduction in the number of their students.
 The view from my grandmother's house to the village of Santameri,
How is your yiayia dealing with the crisis?

You may think I am joking but I have asked her so many times about how she thinks of her children and grandchildren experiencing this situation, and how she feels about the future. Any time I recall her face and deep gaze, there is no sign of worry.

You see, for her it's the third time in her life she’s experienced economic destruction. The absolute poverty she experienced as a child can't be described or even compared with that of today, when she feels like a queen in our village house, having all the necessary provisions to live a decent life.

Her answers show us that she worries a lot, because she wants us to be happy. At the same time, her eyes tell us not to give up. When she is pressed - especially by me on how to overcome the whole situation since there is no way out - she chooses to pose questions to me, making me wonder about life's worth. She repeats that things will get better and I only have to be strong and not to lose hope or my inner energy. The future may be far away for her, but her belief is that things will be better since this is how life is.

"Everything is a circle and this one is not completed yet, so stop wondering and let's do what kind of chores we have for today!" What can I say? My grandmother Athanasia is one of a kind!

And what does she think of your writing?

Well, at the beginning - about 7 years ago - it seemed to her like a task I was assigned at school, or maybe she connected it with my job as a teacher. When I started interviewing her on clarifying certain information about our customs and celebrations, and daily village routines, she answered me in detail, but wondered who would be interested in those things.

She now has a smile of gratitude and an amazing spark on her face, this says so much than any words spoken. I do believe she is happy about me and feels very proud of what I do. As we say, her eyes' smile is Love winking at me!

2.29.2016

A Conversation With Christopher Stanley

Christopher Stanley is the author and illustrator of the beautiful self-published picture book, The Tree Watcher, which I reviewed on the site last month. The focus of the story is the beauty of trees, as seen from the point of view of a child. It was his first picture book, but not his last!

Can you describe the day you had the idea for the book?

It was mid-summer, and there were many things on my mind. From issues at work, to dealing with simply trying to keep my house clean when four children live there, I felt very distracted and was definitely not being mindful of my many blessings.

I decided that I wanted to walk down to the park, and I took Sam along so that he could have a change of scenery. As we started walking, I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings. When we were down the street a bit, I looked down at Sam to see how he was doing - and that's when everything changed. You should have seen his face! Here was this baby boy, all of 9 months old, teaching me about wonder, joy, and mindfulness. The way he was looking up at the trees, I could see how amazed he was.

And he was right! I stopped to look as well, and it was really quite extraordinary. We are fortunate enough to have many mature trees in our neighborhood, and I was overcome with their beauty and just their... dignity.

As we continued along, I joined Sam in being mindful of my surroundings, and many of those questions and scenarios from the book happened on this walk. It's truly amazing what we can experience just by paying attention.

You were a fan of picture books to begin with?

Indeed! They have always had such an impact on me. I remember getting The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base when I was about 10 years old, and I was just obsessed!

In seventh grade, I read MAUS for the first time – and that changed my life! Reading this graphic novel, which really is just a fancy picture book, set me on the path toward becoming a history teacher.

As picture books were such big parts of my life, I always wanted to make my own. I made simple ones as a child, but I really started wanting to make a picture book when I was 26. I had a good idea, and even wrote an outline, but never did anything with it. It really wasn't until that walk with Sam that "The Muse" spoke to me, as it were, and I decided to actually follow through with my life-long dream.

So it took almost ten years, but I'm happy to report I'm following through. What a walk that was, huh?



I'm a fan of Art Spiegelman as well, and I like that you conflate graphic novels with picture books. Do you use picture books / graphic novels in the classroom?

I did! I used Maus quite frequently. In fact, my local comic shop has an entire section devoted to educational graphic novels on many different historical topics. I fully support the use of graphic novels in the classroom - it makes learning so much fun for everyone involved! What a great way to relate any story!

How did you create the images for you book?

My artistic medium has always been photography and digital art. For this story, I decided to capture some of the actual trees that Sam and I had encountered on our walk. So over the course of a couple of months, I took pictures. Some I had Sam pose in, others not.

The image from the cover is actually a Beech tree in my front yard! One of my favorite pages, the page with the autumn leaves, is on a street by my eldest daughter's middle school. I turned down the street and knew right away I needed this picture for the book. So after I took the photos, I started manipulating them on my computer.

Some photos took little time and effort, while others I spend a lot of time getting what I wanted.

Overall, it took about four months to get them all done.

As you manipulated them, what exactly were you looking for?

I was looking for images that were both aesthetically pleasing and which captured the essence of the message.

For the page that accompanies, "Can you feel the branches whisper with the wind?" I didn't really know what I was looking for, but knew I couldn't find it. Then one day at a park I don't normally frequent, I saw this row of trees lined up at an angle with the sun shining through the outer branches and the wind lightly blowing across. I knew I had found it!

"Can you feel the branches whisper with the wind?"

From there, I attempted to have the branches appear to be "reaching out" upon the wind - I think that page turned out well for accomplishing both goals. I was going for a surreal effect - I wanted the reader to feel a touch of magic when looking at the pictures, because it was magic that I felt that day on the walk.

What do you generally do with your graphic art, if not for picture books?

I used it a lot for teaching/educational purposes, and then mostly on items that I turned into gifts for my family and friends. This was certainly my most ambitious project, and it was quite the educational experience. I really felt like I was creating something, and putting a little bit of myself into each page. A friend suggested I should start creating puzzles out of some of my pictures, so who knows, maybe I'll add that to the list someday!

And now you have another book coming out? Is it thematically connected in any way?


I do! It's looking like around the end of February/early March and it's called, I Dreamed I Was a Bird. It's from a poem I wrote, where I imagined what kind of things a child would see and do if they had a dream where they turned into a bird. It's not thematically connected to The Tree Watcher, apart from being able to see things from a different view than we normally do.

1.26.2016

Why Juan Can't Sleep (2012)

Written by Karl Beckstrand

Illustrated by Luis F. Sanz

Hey, this is a really intriguing book, I read it twice through just to make sure I got everything. There's a lot going on with the design and the typography, filled with the mundane and the fantastic. A disheveled David Letterman makes an appearance, in the way our dreamscape tries to make sense of the day's events.

Lots of really fun vocabulary... A dreary dream of drooling druids... And the rhyme scheme knows no bounds:

A plane, a train, thunder and rain, police in the lane... Urp! Last night's lo mein.

He counts in his brain, the strain, the pain! (He's bursting a vein)

He's going insane.

On it goes until both Juan and the creature beneath his bed manage to find some shut-eye.




I was sent this book and asked to participate in Multicultural Children's Book Day. What, you may ask, is Multicultural Children's Book Day?


Our Mission

The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

Sponsors:





Co-Hosts

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can us the links below or view them here.

All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share,Educators Spin on it,Growing Book by Book,Imagination Soup,I’m Not the Nanny,InCultural Parent, Kid World Citizen,Mama Smiles,Multicultural Kid Blogs,Spanish Playground

Classroom Reading Challenge
Help spread the word on our Classroom Reading Challenge. This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children's book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.

1.24.2016

Xalien the Purple Alien (2015)

Written by Michelle Path

Illustrated by Charlotte Roberts

Xalien the Alien has crash-landed on Earth - in the rose bushes of three children, to be precise. They discover the fun alien, but cannot let on to their parents, because parents spoil everything! Better to dress Xalien like their hip, new friend and take her to the carnival, no?

Things don't always exactly add up, from one world to the next:

There was no such thing as a merry-go-round on Xalien's planet. Aliens raced slug-like creatures for fun. It was strange that humans chose to ride on plastic creatures, but Xalien had fun riding anyway.

It's a bit of a retelling of E.T. but for much younger readers. The children try their hardest to keep Xalien out of trouble and entertained, while the little alien herself is attempting to phone home for an intergalactic pick-up.

I'm sure the story will get a lot of laughs, and the illustrations are colorful and lively and filled with expression. This is the first of a series of picture books featuring the alien and her adventures. Michelle says that she 'draws her inspiration from nature and the environment, working these themes into her stories to encourage children to have an interest in and appreciation of our planet, in a fun, unique way.'




1.18.2016

Monkeys and Crocodiles Play Baseball (2015)

Written by Angel Krishna

Illustrated by Angel Alvarez

Global Publishing Group

The monkeys are fresh out of coconuts, so how shall their baseball game continue? Further coconut replenishments can only be attained by riding on the backs of the crocodiles across the river... but why should the crocodiles do the monkeys a favor? It's not as though they're ever invited to play baseball with them!

A story of sharing and teamwork is really strengthened by the wonderful illustrations... each monkey and crocodile are drawn with such precise facial expressions and body language that they practically tell the story on their own. Very animated, and very engaging.

In the end, the coconuts are successfully procured and - as the title foretells - both the monkeys and the crocodiles are able to play together... but I liked the final twist on the last page which you'll have to get the book to see!





1.09.2016

The Tree Watcher (2015)

The Tree Watcher
Written and Illustrated by Christopher P. Stanley

A Jump Splash Book

I thought it was interesting that I received two books almost back-to-back which both concerned trees. You will recall, last week I reviewed Chloe Bonfield's beautiful and whimsical, The Perfect TreeThis week, the book is The Tree Watcher, by Ohio teacher and artist Christopher P. Stanley.

He takes an approach which is at once both more realistic and more magical. The images for the story carry this duality... glanced at briefly, they seem quite photo-realistic... some of them almost look like actual photos. He captures the essence and details of different types of trees quite well. However, looking at them more closely, I see the slight unreality to them, the way the leaves swirl like wet paint.

The clouds and the grass have the same effect, like heat waves rising from the pavement, a desert mirage.

Have you ever stopped to stare up at a tree?

The eyes of a child is the POV, and the narration invites us to look at the trees with the same childlike wonder, to marvel at their height, their age, all of the things they offer. The magic of the natural world.

The story is a love letter to the young child, Sam. The trees are just the beginning of the wonders the world holds.

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher



1.02.2016

Amelie Gets Busy (2015)

Amelie Gets Busy
Written by Agatha Rodi

Illustrated by Joanna Scott

BookBaby

Young Amelie is very impressed! She announces this right up front, in case there was any doubt, but to discover by what exactly she is impressed, one must read on.

Amelie spends her days in the village farm with her yiayia - Greek for 'grandma' - and with all of the plants and birds and animals therein.

She is a bit trepidatious at first, but yiayia is there to comfort her and to show her the wonders of life in this small, Greek village.

The flowers, the hedgehogs, the birds feeding their young, they all contain wonder.

Here I come, blooming garden! Oh, I am so impressed!

Finally, after a long and full day of gardening and eating delicious foods - like pink crusted biscuit cake - Amelie takes some of the treasures she has collected and forms a keepsake box so that she can keep the wonderful - and impressive! - memories.

A jay of yiayia's favorite cherry jam
Some pieces of spinach pie and feta cheese
Full of spices and crispy dough.
I always take my village with me,
The blue light and the hues of the rainbow
That make me say wow!
That's why I'm so impressed! 

Amelie Gets Busy

Amelie Gets Busy

1.01.2016

The Perfect Tree (2015)

The Perfect Tree
Written and illustrated by Chloe Bonfield

Running Press Kids

I found this to be a very beautiful, sweet story about a young boy's quest to find the perfect tree - though a bit sinister, a bit macabre, in the atmospheric-sense, which of course I liked. Chloe Bonfield enjoys silhouettes, and she employs them to great effect. The quest seemed epic indeed, and with each tree I felt I was being led to a different planet, a completely different environment.

The text makes it quite clear that Jack is not interested in hugging any trees. He has one mission and one mission only: to chop.

A perfect tree to hack! A perfect tree to stack.

But as he goes from to the next, he comes to realize that there are a great many other uses for trees. Trees can be used as shelters, as homes, as storehouses for the winter, as each forest creature he comes across explains and demonstrates until finally he declares:

"Every tree in the forest is perfect!"

The illustrations really transport the take elsewhere. Chloe is an illustrator and animator living in London, and this is her first picture book, published by Running Press right here in Philadelphia. Knowing now that she's an animator makes sense... I can easily imagine that silhouette scaling that textured and multi-layered mountain


The Perfect Tree

The Perfect Tree

The Perfect Tree

12.11.2015

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingerbread Men (2015)

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingerbread Men
Written by Alyssa Gengeri

Illustrated by Chiara Civati

Mascot Books


The weather outside is frightful, and Mimi has the day off from school. Initially, she is excited to rush outside and make snow angels, have snowball fights... However, her mom still has to  go to work of course, and so Mimi and her little brother, Danny are off to her grandmother's house - or,  Nonni, as they call her.

I like those small details that fill in the minimalist world of the picture book. Too often, parents in picture books don't seem to actually work for a living, they're just always there when the story needs them to be, absent when they're not narrative needed. But with just a couple of sentences, part of the background of Mimi's life is sketched in with some realism.

A quick jaunt through the snowy city, and they've arrived at Nonni's. Now that we've seen a bit of the outside world, people walking with hats and mittens and earmuffs while large flakes fall all around, the interior of Nonni's home seems all the more warm and inviting, exactly the place you'd want to spend your snow day.The activity for the day? Yup, baking gingerbread men.


Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

This is the third title in the Mimi's Adventures in Baking series, each one focusing on baking a different item. Chocolate chip cookies and 'allergy-friendly treats' were the previous entries. The author gives the complete recipe, and then shows Mimi and Nonni as they follow it step-by-step.

While Nonni preheated the oven to 325 degrees, Mimi measures 3/4 cup of brown sugar, packed it down tight, and poured it into the mixing bowl. Next, she measured 3/4 cup of soft butter, added it to the sugar, and blended them together until creamy.

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Alyssa Generi, the author, is no stranger to the world of baking. She's an accomplished pastry chef in New York City. She's writing these books to inspire children to bake, and to show them that cooking is something that can bring the generations together, as it does Mimi and Nonni. I found it to be a very warm, earnest story. There is no conflict, and the only thing at stake is a pressing desire for sweet, baked treats, which is achieved in spades.

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Alyssa Gengeri
The author, at work




12.10.2015

A Conversation with Barry Dunlap

Barry Dunlap
Barry Dunlap lives near Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife and four children. He earned a Master's of Arts in English at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he studied under Tim Gautreaux. Barry's poetry, stories and reviews have been published in a number of literary journals.

Most recently, he has ventured into the world of picture books with Mr. Mosquito, illustrated by Ellen Howell.

Why picture books?

About seven years ago, I participated in a training on The Six Traits of Writing. I’d been working as a consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education. It was a "Train the trainer" model. I was trained in order to provide training for teachers in 15 school districts.

The 6 Traits are for all genres of writing. The trainer - Bev Flaten - used different picture books to illustrate different strengths. She used several Cynthia Rylant books, some Margaret Wise Brown… many more. As a result, I developed an appreciation for the medium.

And so where did this particular picture book come from?

It just came to me one morning as I sat at the computer with a cup of coffee. I'm guessing I had probably swatted at a mosquito during the night. My wife and I had discussed in conversation weeks earlier the tidbit about female mosquitoes being the "biters," so I just thought about the humor of a poor, misunderstood male mosquito.

The beauty of the picture book is that big ideas can be communicated through just a few images. Mr. Mosquito conveys the concept of something being threatened because of ignorance. That idea is present, but really, I intended it to be a short, fun way to communicate a fact that many people don't know... that male mosquitoes do not bite.

Mr. Mosquito

It seemed to me that the illustrator really imbued the character with a lot of personality beyond what your words suggested.

Ellen Howell and I have been friends for over ten years. I knew she did fabulous work and had illustrated at least one other children's picture book, so I contacted her to see if she was interested. She told me to send the draft to her and she would see if it inspired her.  It's obvious that it did.

I shared a few descriptions concerning how I envisioned Mr. Mosquito, and her wonderful illustrations made the character come to life.

Why French?

There's a ton of French influence here in south Louisiana, and I thought it would be appropriate to have the mosquito-- what we jokingly call the state bird-- speak with a French accent. Then, I thought, subtitles would be a great way to introduce young readers to the French language. Finally, in hindsight, I think the Henri Le Chat Noir videos had some subliminal influence on the character's accent.

Mr. Mosquito


What would be your dream come true for Mr. Mosquito?

I would love for the book to be used by educators and parents to introduce the French language to their English-speaking children. A friend who has three young children told me recently that when the kids see a mosquito that doesn't try to bite them, they say, "There goes Mr. Mosquito!" Hearing something like that is a real treat to me!

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.

12.04.2015

Good Shabbos, Everybody (1951)

Good Shabbos, Everybody
Written by Robert Garvey

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education


This one is a bit of an enigma, it seems to me. It was published in 1951, the same year as The Wonderful Farm. I found a first edition for $1,500, and several editions in poor condition which were likewise worth several hundred dollars. So, it's quite collectible. But I couldn't find any other real information about it, other than this brief synopsis:

"Little Mimmy's excitement mounts as she helps mother prepare for the Sabbath and then daddy walks in the door."

But what happens when daddy walks in the door? What? Looks like I'll never know. There were no critical reviews to be found. In his biography of Sendak, Hal Marcovitz completely glosses over this book, and instead refers to A Hole is to Dig, published in 1952, as Sendak's third book. Yet, as far as I can tell, this is his third book. It clearly exists.

I did find some images from various bookseller sites, but unfortunately, they shed little light on Little Mimmy's Daddy:

Good Shabbos, Everybody

Good Shabbos, Everybody

Good Shabbos, Everybody

I can see Sendak has yet to fully come into his own. He was still just 21, hadn't yet developed the look and the style for which he will later be known. Nonetheless, something tells me he was having a lot of fun!

I am Jazz: Transgender picturebook controversy in Wisconsin


From deep within my batcave, I am able to keep my eye on the media as stories about picture books stream past. This past week, two stories left impressions on me, both involving the 2014 picture book I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas.

Jazz Jennings is a 15 year old transgender spokesperson with a very popular series of YouTube videos, and has been profiled by Barbara Walters and others, and is considered o be one of the youngest known people to be diagnosed as gender dysphoric. The picture book was published in 2014 and is written from her point of view.

Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia in Orange is the New Black had this to say about the book:

"This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty."


Regardless, on November 30th, this headline graced my Facebook feed:


My first thought was, I wonder if these were the same parents who are boycotting ABC because the new Muppets TV show is 'too adult?' Apparently, a Wisconsin elementary school was planning on hosting a reading of the book, due in no small part to the fact that they have a transgender student, and thought it would be a good show of support and community education. The Liberty Counsel - apparently acting on behalf of several of the parents - did not agree. They threatened to sue the school, and so the school backed out of the event.

I looked up the Liberty Counsel and found that their mission in life is "Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family." In October of this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized them as a hate group. In 2005, they threatened to sue another Wisconsin elementary school in for changing its Christmas pageant lyrics to be 'more secular.'

Prior to that, in 2000, they 'threatened legal action' against a library which hosted a Harry Potter party. "Witchcraft is a religion," they claimed. "And the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."

So, sounds like a swell bunch of folks, is my point.

The second headline, posted just a few days later, read thus:


A co-author of the book, Jessica Herthel, flew in from California for the event outside of Madison, in which the book was read to over 600 people crowding the library. It was a great show of support
from the community. The library staff had been hoping to get at least 15 people there, but were soon overwhelmed by the positive response.

I am Jazz reading


The parents of the transgender student wrote a statement:

"In the midst of all of the media attention that this important matter has stirred up, we just want everyone to remember that at the center of this is a brave little girl who can now be who she really is. And you have all helped to make that happen in a positive way for her and her family. For that, we are, and always will be, truly thankful.”

Herthel said of the event:

“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society, I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.”

Meanwhile, from the depths of Florida, the Liberty Counsel seethes, biding its time, plotting its next attack.

Sources:

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