Archive for July, 2019

Review of The Story Girl, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, July 12th, 2019

The Story Girl

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1987. First published in 1910. 258 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy

It’s really happening! My two childhood friends and I are going to Prince Edward Island this coming September, during the week when all three of us are 55 years old. We first conceived this trip when we were 50, but decided to put it off – and now our rooms are booked!

And this time I’m getting serious about rereading my L. M. Montgomery books. This time, I decided to reread them in the order they were published. I have already reread Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Kilmeny of the Orchard. Now it was time for The Story Girl.

The Story Girl is about the children of the village of Carlisle on Prince Edward Island. It’s told from the perspective of Beverley King, looking back as an old man on the joys they had as children.

[Incidentally, I have learned from L. M. Montgomery’s books that if a man’s name ends in Y, women will eventually steal it. All of these names appear in her books as names for boys: Beverley, Shirley, Lindsay, and Hillary.]

When I was a young adult reading L. M. Montgomery’s books, I preferred the ones that had romance. But now as I myself am “old” (by her standards – I’ve been shocked that “old” characters in her books are only in their forties!) – I’m reading these books with my own nostalgia.

The Story Girl was one of L. M. Montgomery’s own favorites. I think she liked to think of herself as a sort of Sara Stanley, who was called by everyone “the Story Girl.”

Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories and selling them to magazines. I think as a consequence, short stories are her natural form. And she does a nice job of weaving them through this book, with the Story Girl telling them family stories about objects in their home or stories about people from their village or fairy tales about something that happened.

There’s a lot that’s old-fashioned in this book. Sara and her cousin Felicity are fourteen and twelve years old, but they seem younger by today’s standards. And they have different abilities from children today, with Felicity completely able to run the house while the grown-ups are away for a week, including having baked all afternoon so their pantry is “well stocked with biscuits, cookies, cakes, and pies,” so that she is able to entertain an influx of visitors, as is proper.

Cecily set the table, and the Story Girl waited on it and washed all the dishes afterwards. But all the blushing honours fell to Felicity, who received so many compliments that her airs were quite unbearable for the rest of the week. She presided at the head of the table with as much grace and dignity as if she had been five times twelve years old and seemed to know by instinct just who took sugar and who did not. She was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and was so pretty that I could hardly eat for looking at her – which is the highest compliment in a boy’s power to pay.

I was amused how often the episodes between the children had to do with church and the Bible. When the paper reports that someone in the States has said the day and time for Judgment Day, they all get into a tizzy. Another time, they have a preaching contest (boys only, of course) with very amusing results. And there’s an incident with a picture of God and the question of praying for their cat to get well. Did prayer end up healing him – or was it their request to the local woman they all think is a witch?

All in all, it was delightful to be transported back into L. M. Montgomery’s world. This one doesn’t have romance, but it does have two other things L. M. Montgomery did exceptionally well: short stories plus the escapades of children.

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Review of Educated, by Tara Westover

Thursday, July 11th, 2019


by Tara Westover
read by Julia Whelan

Penguin Random House, 2018. 12 hours on 10 compact discs.
Starred Review
Review written June 11, 2019, from a library audiobook

This audiobook is not for the squeamish. Tara Westover tells the story of her childhood in the mountains of Idaho. Her family were radical Mormons, her bipolar father not trusting the world on the outside and convinced that the government would come after them, and they were going to be prepared. They stockpiled food and weapons and made their own medicines. They didn’t trust the medical establishment or schools, all those being of the devil.

The reason the book is not for the squeamish is that the family did plenty of physical work, running a junkyard and doing building projects – and had some terrible accidents. Accidents for which they did not see doctors. I’m going to tell you ahead of time that everyone survives the accidents described in this book, and maybe that will make it easier to hear about them. I don’t fault the family for calling the various healings miraculous. There are a lot of accidents described, and some of them are horrific.

But that’s only part of the story. There’s also some violent abuse going on at the hands of her older brother, but the family is invested in denying it ever happened. With the help of another brother, Tara makes a partial escape by studying to pass the ACT and going to Brigham Young University.

Once at the university, she tries to hide that she has never been to school before in her life. She has major gaps in her knowledge, such as not knowing about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement. Her whole way of thinking has to adjust.

One thing leads to another, and Tara travels to Cambridge and to Harvard, continuing her education but also trying to deal with her past and present. When she refuses to deny the abuse, she has to choose between her family and her own perception of reality.

This is an amazing and mesmerizing story. It’s a story of growing up and having your whole perspective on the world undergo a dramatic shift – and doesn’t minimize the cost of that.

This book came out when I was on the Newbery committee, so several of my friends read it before I did. They universally declared that it wasn’t one to miss. Now that I’ve finally joined the crowd of readers, I completely agree with them.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

2019 ALA Annual Conference Summary Post

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Here’s a post to consolidate all the links to my 2019 ALA Annual Conference in one place.

First, here’s a picture of all the goodies I picked up at the conference this year. It’s actually less than usual because I didn’t go to the exhibits at all on Sunday.

The conference began with an ALSC preconference on Friday featuring the Honor Winners of various awards.

Friday night, I got to hear Jason Reynolds speak and have dinner with the Newbery Honor Winners.

Saturday began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast where I received the Allie Beth Martin Award and Ann Patchett spoke.

The middle of the day Saturday featured the Margaret Edwards Lunch with M. T. Anderson and the auditorium speaker series with Eric Klinenberg and Carla Hayden.

Saturday evening was an amazing dinner with the Newbery committee and winner Meg Medina.

Sunday was the grand and wonderful Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday began by hearing George Takei speak.

The next speaker I heard was Tomi Adeyemi.

And I finished off the conference with the Printz Awards.

This also wasn’t nearly as many sessions as I usually attend at a conference, but this one was given over to celebration.

Here’s a pile of just the things I got signed over the conference:

Conference Corner: Printz Awards

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

The final event I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC was the presentation of the Michael Printz Awards. These are the top young adult books of the year. The only one I read in my Newbery reading was the winner, Poet X. I hope to fix that situation soon!

For the Printz Awards, even the Honor winners give speeches. First up was Elana K. Arnold, who wrote the book Damsel.

Her book was an exploration of embodied female rage.

It’s an original fairy tale. The prince must rescue a damsel and kill a dragon.

Damsel is a book about how patriarchy hurts everyone.

All of her books end with a girl stepping alone, head high, into her future.

It’s a book about boundaries.

As children, we operate inside borders. The teen years are when we notice the walls. Do we keep them or tear them down?

Examining real world problems through a fantasy lens.

She’s pushing down walls along with other writers.

Next up was Deb Caletti, Honor winner for A Heart in a Body in the World.

This book is about a marathoner who runs across the country after a horrible crime against her.

The author just made the same journey by plane, Seattle to DC.

She didn’t know all the places, but she knew her character’s heart.

She was a kid who needed books. They told her, “I see you. I understand you. Keep going.”

Then she repeated her childhood and chose a sometimes scary partner.

After some time, she went from voiceless to having a voice.

Then she read in the news about a kid who committed violence against his “dream girl” who broke up with him.

She wanted to tell what she knows about the story, about the slow progression of guilt and fear.

Misogyny sneaks in, barges in, rages in.

It’s confusing — we’re told we’re responsible.

Are we powerful? We can make men do awful stuff! Or are we powerless?

She’s heartbroken that the book is called timely. It’s been timely for way, way too long.

She still believes in the power of one voice and in the voice of her readers.

Then came Mary McCoy, who won Honor for I, Claudia.

She works at Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a book about politics and power.

This is about a girl who leaves her quiet life and grabs power.

Nixon’s people ratfucked their opponents. But fifteen years earlier, they’d done the same thing as students at USC. Corrupt politicians practice.

When she first wrote the book, she thought it was a tragedy that Claudia went into politics.

After 2016, she’s not sure anyone has the luxury of staying out of politics.

She would vote for Claudia — because she’s there to make a difference.

As people who work in libraries, we give a lot of fucks.

We know something about being a force for good in the universe.

And the final speaker was Elizabeth Acevedo, who won the Michael L. Printz Award for Poet X.

She’s talking about inscriptions.

When she was in high school, a teacher put Heaven, by Angela Johnson, into her hands. It was the first time she read about a teen father in a book. She had questions, and her teacher told her to write to Angela Johnson.

She didn’t answer, but then a book about that teen father was published — The First Part Last. It was inscribed to Elizabeth Acevedo and the students at her school. It was the first time she saw her name in print. That book won the Printz Award.

Later, as a teacher, she just tried to get the kids to love reading.

A kid asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She pulled authors who write about people of color. They read those and kept asking, “What’s next?”

That’s why she wrote Poet X.

She wasn’t going to make accommodations.

That’s why the inscription — to that student. This girl gets to see her name in print.

She’s thankful the family she married into supported her going to grad school in creative writing.

Her book ends: “Isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”

She hopes young people will allow themselves to be opened up.

Her role as a writer is to empower other people to write.

We’re here and deserve to be here.

We are still here and we can still heal.

Conference Corner: Tomi Adeyemi

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

On my final day of ALA Annual Conference in DC, I spent far too much time in line to get to meet George Takei and get a signed excerpt from his book. After that, I roamed the exhibits. I did manage to get some free copies of two of Meg Medina’s backlist titles as well as some other goodies and then had lunch. By that time the afternoon was getting on, and I went to the Auditorium Speaker Series to hear Tomi Adeyemi speak. She is the author of a bestselling Western African Fantasy series.

The moderator was Dr. Rose Brock.

RB: Why did you choose a fantasy setting?

TA: A story embedded in my DNA is Avatar: The Last Airbender. She wanted such a fully formed world. Before this story, she hadn’t realized there could be black gods and goddesses — not even in her own imagination.

She was in a Brazilian gift shop and saw art of gods and goddesses with black people in them.

From two paintings with black people in them, The Children of Blood and Bone was born. It shows the importance of representation. This is what can happen when you see a little bit of yourself.

The story was also influenced by The Hunger Games and the ugly backlash online that happened when good characters were black. It was also the year Trayvon Martin was shot.

She realized that it’s real and it’s deep. An unraveling started.

It got her feeling hopeless. Why dream? Why work hard? Why achieve anything?

At first, she thought her story would take something like the form of The Hate U Give.

When she made her plan, she discovered her Police Brutality story and her West African Fantasy were the same story.

She reclaimed common tropes from fantasy.

Every obstacle in the book is based on real things black people have gone through.

We all have prejudice on all sides. Zalie gets to hit people and express anger the author feels!

A fantasy world simplifies things. Fewer people have objections.

We experience it as a human empathizing with another human.

People in pain lash out. Hurdles on both sides, even where there are good intentions.

She didn’t admit to herself that she wanted to be a writer. She started a blog because she heard it helps you to get published — and it was very satisfying and could be finished.

Writers don’t want to say they’re writers.

Her first draft is literally a deformed potato. And she says that to demystify the process. Stories come together in revision — that’s important to know.

Hey, it’s all going to be bad for several drafts. It’s all failure.

Book Two is still in “failure mode.”

Before this, even the stories she wrote for herself were white people. She brought childhood stories where the characters were named Tomi — and they were white. She didn’t think she could write about black people.

Not only do I need to learn to love me, the world needs to learn to love me.

All it takes is seeing people to humanize them.

The hardest part of the book to write was the Author’s Note. Then she couldn’t hide behind fantasy.

RB: How do you take care of yourself?

TA: Terribly with the first one!

She did realize she’d have to change. She’s become a workout nut to get the book out of her head. She’s learned to say Yes to things.

Her allegiance is always to the story and the reader.

It has to be a powerful story first.

“The only thing more American than racism is capitalism.”

She’s trying to write good stories with things that haven’t been seen before. Five years earlier, she might have been told to make her characters white.

Racism isn’t over. We need to keep working. It’s a system and one title doesn’t fix it.

The only other book she knows of with a black face in detail on the cover is Michelle Obama’s book.

Her second book is a bigger adventure — but gets to be a step away from pain.

Question from the audience: How do you put your voice out there?

TA: I pump myself up. But being apologetic is inefficient. Only you are fully you and that’s what resonates.

Pump yourself up. Then do what you need to do.

Conference Corner: George Takei

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

On the final day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC, I made sure to get there by 10:30 to hear George Takei speak.

This program was telling about his upcoming graphic novel memoir, They Called Us Enemy. These are my notes on his talk.

George’s family was interned during World War II. When he was five years old, he was classified as an enemy and a threat by his own country.

When Pearl Harbor happened, young Japanese-Americans rushed to recruitment centers but were denied military service and were irrationally called enemy aliens.

It was completely irrational. They were born here.

Next, there was a curfew. Japanese-Americans must be inside from 8 pm to 6 am.

Then bank accounts were frozen.

On February 19, 1942, FDR signed executive order 9066. All Japanese Americans were rounded up and imprisoned in ten barbed-wire prison camps in some of the most desolate places in America.

George still remembers that morning.

Armed soldiers pounded on the front door. They were ordered to leave at gunpoint.

They were taken from Los Angeles to a camp in the swamps of Arkansas.

He remembers the spotlights that would shine on him at night. He thought it was nice that they lit the way for him to pee at the latrines at night.

He was five years old, so he didn’t know any better. It all became routine.

There was a barbed wire fence and a sentry tower outside the school where they recited “liberty and justice for all.”

In his upcoming graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, he tells this childhood story.

It also focuses on what his parents were going through — so much harder for them.

This is an American story.

The imprisonment was ordered by the president of the United States.

George became curious as a teen — but the books were silent about his childhood experiences. He learned about it through long and heated discussions with his father.

His father told him that our democracy is a people’s democracy. People have the capacity to do amazing things, but people are fallible and sometimes make horrible mistakes.

That conversation drove him to the Adlai Stevenson campaign headquarters to volunteer.

For democracy to work, people need to act.

There are many similar chapters in American history to this one he tells.

He tells the story because of hope.

We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants saw the Statue of Liberty — and it underscored their hope.

His grandparents turned what was considered wasteland into rich farmland. His other grandparents built a newspaper.

When they came back to LA, they felt like immigrants again.

But hope makes our people’s democracy better.

Then George introduced the people who helped make the graphic memoir happen: Harmony Becker, Steven Scott, and Justin Eisinger. They continued the talk as a discussion.

HB: She’s half Japanese. She learned in libraries about Americans of Japanese descent being interred. It was jarring to realize as an adult that not everyone knew about that.

SS: Met George working on Archie comics.

JE: This book exists to pass this information on to another generation.

GT: He hopes librarians will convey the story to as many people as possible. Harmony did a great job capturing his parents’ love for each other.

His mother actually smuggled into the camp her favorite portable sewing machine.

Harmony nailed it through the eyes of children.

JE: It’s a history book. It’s George’s story, but also how it happened in history.

GT: His mission in life is to tell everyone: We all need to participate and make our democracy a truer democracy.

We’re a majority who uphold these values. It’s shameful that less than half the population vote.

He hopes the next generation will be better Americans, and the Parkland students give him hope. Young people will encourage more young people.

The story is continuing on the southern border.

We find many enemies through our history. Our country’s diversity is our strength.

An acronym from the starship Enterprise: IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. On the ship they represented Asia, Africa, America, and Aliens.

They had to update the book after the Muslim ban and detention at the border.

SS: They could not have predicted how relevant the book would be.

GT: A lot of the text is from his book To the Stars. It’s unsettling to know that American citizens can be deprived of their citizenship during wartime.

Many younger Japanese Americans don’t even know about this because the older ones were too ashamed to talk about it. Many don’t even know in which camp their parents or grandparents were detained.

I got in line while he was still taking questions.

The line was very, very long. It turned out, they were giving out a very short excerpt, but I didn’t find that out until I was almost to the front.

I met Brad Takei, too! (Or at least I was this close to him.)

The other creators of the new book signed as well.

I thanked George and said how sorry I am that the book is so timely. That did get me eye contact! I’m looking forward to telling kids in the library about this book. The excerpt is amazing!

Conference Corner: Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday, July 8th, 2019

On Sunday of ALA Annual Conference, I had big plans. I had a full day’s schedule worked out and was planning to change clothes for the banquet in a hotel restroom. And I managed to get out of bed. And I thought to myself Why? And I went back to bed.

I ate a late and leisurely lunch and got dressed for the banquet and left around 3:30 to get to the 5:00 Cocktail Party for those sitting at the HarperCollins table, including Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Brian Lies (Caldecott Honor winner), their family members, and some more committee members.

The party was on a top-floor terrace of the same hotel where the banquet was happening. I do not know why I did not take any pictures. It was lovely.

Around 5:45, we went to the Green Room. There, lots of pictures were taken. I’ll just include ones I took, though many of them aren’t very good. (My camera doesn’t do a great job in low light.)

First, we met the John Newbery Baby! Yes, Emily gave birth the Saturday before deliberations began on Friday! Yes, she came and deliberated! And her baby is completely adorable!

With Lali:

With his Mom:

I was all dressed up:

Ellen Riordan, our committee chair, with our winners: Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Veera Hiranandani, and Meg Medina:

All the winners! Left to right, back row: Veera Hiranandani, Christopher Myers, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Oge Mora, Brian Lies.
front row: Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Sophie Blackall, Juana Martinez-Neal

With Meg (and noticing we have almost identical glasses):

With Veera and Catherine:

At the banquet, I got to sit next to Catherine! There are always really wonderful programs made by the Caldecott Medalist.

With Ellen during the break after the meal:

I decided for once not to take notes on the speeches, because they had a card with links to the speeches on the table, and I knew they’d be printed in Horn Book Magazine.

First was Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott Speech:

Then Ellen took the podium to give out our awards!

There we are! (Rats! I was in a hurry to take the picture before standing up, so it’s blurry.)

I got a close up look at Catherine’s Honor Citation!

(I tried to take Veera’s picture collecting her citation, but it came out too blurry, alas!)

Then it was time for Meg’s speech!

I noticed I had a nice angle on some committee members and Meg’s daughter watching the speech:

A couple things happened at the actual speech that weren’t in the pre-written speech that is on the website. Meg did name all committee members in her speech — but instead of listing our full names, she called us all by our first names, and she used Sondy for me instead of Sondra. She also mentioned the amazing evening we’d had together the night before.

Another thing was that the night before Candlewick had given us bicycle bells in honor of Merci. Written on them, it says, “Take a deep breath and ride” — Merci Suárez

Well, naturally I brought mine to the banquet to ring every time the crowd was applauding Meg. Toward the end of the speech, she thanked Candlewick for the bicycle bells, and naturally I rang the bell then — but this time everyone heard me do it and the entire enormous ballroom laughed! (I immediately hid the bell and pretended it wasn’t me.)

The next speech was Christopher Myers accepting the Children’s Literature Legacy Award on behalf of his father, Walter Dean Myers.

And finally, when the banquet was all done, I got a picture with one of my all-time favorite authors, Shannon Hale!

The whole thing added up to an amazing evening, the culmination of our two years (really) on the Newbery committee!

Sonderling Sunday – Das Buch der Tausend Tage – Tag 268

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, sort of a Very Silly Phrasebook for Travelers.

A couple weeks ago at the Newbery Banquet, I met Shannon Hale again, and she mentioned that she’d sent me a copy of the German version of Book of a Thousand Days, Das Buch der Tausend Tage, for Sonderling Sunday. So in her honor, I’m going back to this lovely book tonight.

Last time we looked at this book, we left off at the start of Day 268. The first sentence of that day is one I’d really like to know how to say in German:

“She’s devoured our dried fruit, every crumb, and all the sugar’s gone but dust.”
= Sie hat unsere Trockenfrüchte verschlungen und vom Zucker ist nur noch ein wenig Staub übrig.

Too bad. This one lost the image in translation:
“Though I grumble enough to put any piglet to shame.”
= Aber ich bin besorgt deswegen.
(Google translate: “But I’m worried about that.”)

“wheel of cheese” = Laib Käse (“Loaf cheese”)

“The rats will be heartbroken.”
= Das wird den Ratten das Herz brechen.

“careful” = sorgsam

“coffin” = Sarg

“dizzy” = schwindelig

“I swore an oath.” = Ich habe einen Eid geschworen.

“dimple” = Grübchen

“How she droops and moans”
= Wie sie stöhnt und sich hängen lässt

“purpose” = Lebenszweck

“chief of animals” = Tieroberin

“real person” = leibhaftigen Menschen

“headache or bellyache”
= Kopfschmerzen oder Bauchweh
(“head-pain or belly-woe”)

“whatever troubles her inside”
= was sie innerlich quält

“wail” = Wehklagen (“Woe-complaint”)

“throat” = Kehle

“curled up against me”
= schmiegte sich an mich

“pea toss” = Erbsenwerfen

“progress” = Fortschritte

More images disappearing in translation:
“crooked-brained” = verdreht (“twisted”)

It always surprises me when German is shorter:
“perhaps daring one another to draw near”
= vielleicht in einer Art Mutprobe
(“maybe in a kind of courage-test”)

“uncovered hole” = deckellose Loch

“haul (up)” = hochhieven

“shivering dark” = bebende Dunkelheit

“She looks at the whole world as though it crouches over, ready to pounce.”
= Sie betrachtet die ganze Welt, als ob sie nur darauf warten würde, ihr wehzutun.
(“She looks at the whole world, as if it’s only waiting to bring woe to her.”)

“Her eyes wandered.”
= Sie konnte den Blick nicht stillhalten.
(“She could her gaze not steady-keep.”)

“where the barest slip of breeze comes through the crack between bricks”
= wo sich nur der Hauch einer Brise durch die Ritzen fädelt

“arrows” = Pfeilen

And the final sentence for tonight, the last sentence of Day 640:
“The heat is so huge, I have no space left for thoughts.”
= Die Hitze ist so gewaltig, dass für Gedanken kein Platz mehr in mir ist.

That’s all for now! Now the challenge is to try to use your new German words this week!

Review of When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Lee & Low Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 2, 2019, from a library book

I’ve read several picture books that explain children being transgender, but I like this one the best. Maybe it helps that the focus is not completely on the child Aidan’s transition, but more on Aidan’s new baby sibling.

Still, I love the way Aidan’s story is introduced. I’m going to quote the text of the first several pages, because I think it’s explained so perfectly. It’s even better with the accompanying pictures:

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name. His room looked like a girl’s room. And he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing.

But as Aidan got bigger, he hated the sound of his name. He felt like his room belonged to someone else. And he always ripped or stained his clothes accidentally-on-purpose.

Everyone thought he was just a different kind of girl.

Some girls had rooms full of science experiments and bug collections.

Lots of girls didn’t wear dresses.

But Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl. He was really another kind of boy.

It was hard to tell his parents what he knew about himself, but it was harder not to.
It took everyone some time to adjust, and they learned a lot from other families with transgender kids like him.

Aidan explored different ways of being a boy. He tried out lots of names until one stuck. They changed his bedroom into a place where he belonged. He also took much better care of his new clothes.

All this is only the introduction – but I thought it was wonderfully done.

The main part of the book is about Aidan’s family expecting a new baby, so Aidan’s going to be a big brother. He does all sorts of things to prepare for being a big brother (but decides he can wait on learning to change diapers).

Aidan worries, though, when everyone asks his mother about whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. What if they get it wrong, like people had with him? He doesn’t want the baby to feel bad about that. They choose a gender-neutral name and paint the baby’s room with a sky and clouds. When Aidan’s mother is asked if the baby is a boy or a girl, she answers, “It’s a baby!”

Now, I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of giving a baby a gender neutral name – after all, most babies really do turn out to be the gender you think they are at birth.

However, since the story is told from Aidan’s perspective, it would make sense that his loving parents would be sensitive to his concerns. They are being good parents to Aidan when they acknowledge that babies aren’t always the gender you think they are at first.

They do remind Aidan that even though they made mistakes with him, they were able to make them right.

Maybe everything wouldn’t be perfect for this baby. Maybe he would have to fix mistakes he didn’t even know he was making. And maybe that was okay.

Aidan knew how to love someone, and that was the most important part of being a brother.

We never are told what gender Aidan’s new sibling appears to be. But we do know the baby is deeply loved and that Aidan will be a great big brother.

This story is beautifully told and a wonderful way of explaining gender to children. I also enjoyed the Author’s Note at the back, where he explains that his experience was similar to Aidan’s, though not exactly the same. I especially like this paragraph:

You might also feel like Aidan in other ways. He knows what it’s like to not quite belong, and you might feel that way sometimes too. People don’t always see Aidan how he wants to be seen, and you might know what that feels like. Maybe you worry about making mistakes. Aidan is a transgender kid, but he’s also just a kid. Like you.

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Conference Corner: Newbery Winner Dinner!

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

On Saturday of ALA Annual Conference, Candlewick Press hosted a dinner for the Newbery committee and the Newbery Medalist, Meg Medina.

It happened at a restaurant with a light and airy room. At first, we milled around and chatted.

When we were seated, we were all at one big table, and this time we could hear not only the person next to us, but what anyone had to say.

That night was extra special because after eating, we had a great big conversation together. First we asked Meg some questions.

She told us that one surprising result of winning the Newbery was that past winners got in touch with her. They urged her to learn right away to say No to speaking engagements and to take time for herself.

She told a fun story about when she’d been at a conference with Kate DiCamillo, who has won the Newbery three times. Kate called her hotel room and bought her burgers and talked her through a lot of things she’d need to think about. It was super sweet.

I asked Meg about a story she’d told a year before at a breakfast about Merci. I’d been mentioning this in my booktalks, I wanted everyone to hear it, and I wanted to make sure I had the details right.

It turns out that yes, the incident in Merci Suárez Changes Gears where a kid’s eyebrows had to be cut off to get out of a plaster cast really did happen! When Meg was a brand-new 6th grade teacher, she was super enthusiastic about projects. (She said that she was childless at the time, and the parents must not have appreciated it.) She had them transform the classroom into an Egyptian tomb.

She remembered the name of the boy they used to make the mummy case. They put garbage bags around his body, but for the mask, they forgot to put Vaseline on his eyebrows — and he had to be cut out. She said she used round-tipped scissors in hope she wouldn’t poke his eye out! Meg did a wonderful job of putting that mortification onto the page!

Meg also asked the committee questions. She had said during the initial call, “I know how little separates the books.” It turns out that she had once served on the National Book Award Committee — so she really did know how difficult the decision is and how a different committee would probably pick a different book, because there are so many good ones. She thanked us for picking Merci.

Next, Meg signed a new book for each one of us.

We’d also been given a bicycle bell in honor of Merci. It made joyous applause!

And the night finished with more talking and hugging and picture-taking!