Thursday, October 31, 2013

Raising awareness about something truly scary this Halloween: Bullying

Traditionally Halloween celebrates all things “scary”—like witches, goblins, and ghouls, oh my! But the month of October revolves around another matter that truly is scary: bullying.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The month-long campaign, first conceived in 2006 by the PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights), is meant to raise awareness about bullying and address how to prevent it via events, activities, outreach, and education.

The PACER National Bullying Prevention Center puts the number of kids who experience bullying at nearly one in every three kids, or over 13 million students. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article on the topic, bullying incidents reported in the news in the past several months alone have led to school transfers, arrests, and teens contemplating—and at times carrying out—suicide.

Books about bullying can raise awareness about the issue in ways that few other outlets can. They show bullied kids that they are not alone, teach kids how to deal with bullying, and address how and when bullied kids should seek help. So it makes sense that books about bullying have exploded in recent years as kids, parents, and teachers have recognized the increasing importance—and scariness—of bullying.

In its bullying article, Publishers Weekly compiled a number of recent and upcoming books on bullying that kids and parents alike should seek out. Among these is the JVNLA middle grade memoir Gabe and Izzy: Standing Up for America's Bullied. The book is written by Gabrielle Ford with Sarah Thomson and is coming out from Puffin in March 2014.

Gabrielle Ford, or Gabe, has a rare genetic neuro-muscular disease. From a young age, the disease slurred her speech and made her walking unsteady—before it eventually put her in a wheelchair. In school, her classmates bullied her relentlessly for being different. As a result, Gabe grew depressed and she isolated herself from her community. But when Gabe's parents got her a dog, Izzy, Gabe's life changed forever. Izzy became her best friend when no one else would. And then, when Izzy developed a condition mysteriously similar to Gabe's, Gabe reentered her community to speak out so Izzy could get the best treatment available.

Gabe's memoir is an inspirational story (perfect for pet lovers, too) that gets right to the heart of how hard it is to overcome bullying and yet how important it is to speak out against it. Today, Gabe travels to schools and conferences across the country to speak about bullying prevention. Considered one of the original anti-bullying advocates, she and Izzy have been featured on Animal Planet's A Pet Story, and she has been named “Greatest Person of the Day” by The Huffington Post, among other accolades.

Several other JVNLA books from recent years also deal with issues of bullying.

Ellen Potter's Slob is a middle grade book like Gabe and Izzy, but it is fiction. The novel was published by Philomel in 2009 and was a selection of the Junior Library Guild.  

Slob relates the story of Owen, a boy who is bullied by his gym teacher and classmates for being the fattest kid in school. Though Owen is a science genius, there are some things he just can't understand, like how to stop others from humiliating him and who keeps stealing his Oreos. Owen must deal with these issues while also trying to unravel a mysterious family mystery.  

Kirkus Reviews called Slob “intriguingly offbeat...humorous, suspenseful, and poignant.”

Hershey Herself by Cecilia Galante is another middle grade novel dealing with bullying. It was released by Aladdin in 2008 and was called “touching, frank, and sincere” by The Compulsive Reader.

Hershey is bullied by her classmates for being overweight while her best friend Phoebe is bullied for dressing differently. Yet even as the story revolves around their school bullying conflicts, it also addresses how aspects of bullying can bleed into adulthood: In another central conflict, Hershey and her mother must run away to a women's shelter to escape her mother's abusive boyfriend.

The Summer of May is another middle-grade novel by Galante involving bullying, which Aladdin published in 2011. In this book, however, the main character is a bit of a bully herself.

May is going through a particularly tough time because she and her family have recently moved into a new, rundown neighborhood; her father works long hours and often gets into yelling arguments with her; and her grandmother is withdrawn and depressed, mourning the absence of May's mother. May detests her eighth-grade teacher, makes fun of her, and even goes so far as to graffiti her classroom with a mean insult. Her punishment is to attend summer school with the very teacher she has insulted. But when everything becomes too much for May, she turns on her best friend and goes too far in fighting with her father. May must confront her anger and its consequences if she wants to prevent her life from spiraling completely out of control.  

Publishers Weekly praised The Summer of May for “investigat[ing] the impact of loss and the importance of making amends” and said the novel was “brimming with emotion and insight into adolescent rage.”

Each of these books tells a phenomenal story in addition to teaching kids how they can deal with bullying head on. Though Halloween's arrival means October is ending—which also means National Bullying Prevention Month is coming to a close—these books are truly timeless reads. So pick up your copies whenever you have a chance, and dive in!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Words and color: Republished memoirs and art exhibition offer new opportunities to explore Anne Truitt's life and legacy

This month saw the re-release of Anne Truitt's memoir series, The Journey of an Artist!

Truitt, who was born in Baltimore, MD, in 1921 and passed away in 2004, became famous across the art world for her art that united shape and color to make statements about reality. Her art took the form of wooden constructions painted in subtle layers of color, fabricated in accordance with scale drawings.

During her lifetime, Truitt received fellowships from the Guggenheim and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work continues to be showcased in major museums throughout the U.S.--including The National Gallery of Art, The Whitney Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art—as well as throughout the world.

The Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City is the exclusive dealer of Truitt's works. When the gallery planned a new Truitt exhibition for September and October 2013, we at JVNLA knew Truitt's memoir series needed to be put back into publication!

Daybook was Truitt's first memoir exploring her life as an artist. Originally published by Pantheon in 1982, it was followed by Turn (Viking 1986) and Prospect (Scribner 1996). In each, Anne used journal entries to take readers through her world as her relationships to her family and art evolved.

Among other widespread praise Truitt's memoirs received after their publication, Art in America called her writing “unflinching and at every moment, possessed of the inevitable dignity that attends a genuine commitment to telling the truth about oneself.”

Last year, Scribner bought rights to the previously out-of-print series, and they brought Audrey Niffenegger on board to write an introduction.

Daybook was released in print paperback this month, with the full three books in the series released as an e-book omnibus at the same time. Audible also re-released each book in audio, with Daybook and Turn narrated by Truitt herself and Prospect narrated by Alice Rosengard.

Print re-release
E-book omnibus re-release

Truitt's art--and her life--have influenced many.  Several years ago, PBS NewsHour's Art Beat did a video about her lasting influence in the art world. Check it out below!

In the video, Project Runway's Tim Gunn speaks about how Truitt was a huge role model for him—both due to her artwork and her way of living. Filmmaker Jem Cohen notes how Truitt, in her own words, attempted to find “a way to set color free in three dimensions.” And Hirshhorn Museum curator Kristen Hileman speaks about a Truitt exhibition that was going on at the museum at the time of this video's creation.

The Matthew Marks Gallery will continue exhibiting Truitt's work until October 26--so if you're in the New York area, be sure to visit!

JVNLA went to the exhibition opening last month. The event was a roaring success, with many in attendance and much to admire about Truitt's stunning work! Some photos are below--but there's nothing like seeing Truitt's art work in person if you have the opportunity.

Below is a brief sampling of the stand-out reviews Truitt's The Journey of an Artist series has received over time:

“The clear as a mountain stream, often quite beautiful. Her artist's eye sees the meaning--and she then finds feeling--in ordinary stuff...Prospect is one of those books that reveal what is at total risk of imperceptibility in one's life, lying there, waiting to be discovered.” --The New York Times Book Review

“Each phrase is neatly turned, each idea crafted...You'll find much to ponder here, much to treasure.” --The Washington Post

“Polished...Moving.” --Library Journal

“Truitt's outlook...makes her an optimistic, even exemplary guide through this territory [of old age] that awaits us all.” --The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Adorable and charming: Trapani creates an exciting rendition of a classic

Last month, author-illustrator Iza Trapani's newest children's picture book, Little Miss Muffet, was released!

Many of you know the classic nursery rhyme, which goes,

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Trapani's book takes this nursery rhyme, adds illustrations, and expands it to include many more antics with animals to create a new classic!  The animals get larger and larger along the way.

Her book trailer gives you a glimpse of her story additions, as well as a sense of her gorgeous illustrations:

Trapani was recently interviewed at Robyn Campbell's Blog about how she crafts her picture books. In response to how long it takes her to write them, she responded,

The writing varies. Sometimes I can conceive a story in a few hours.  I wrote a rough draft of The Itsy Bitsy Spider on an hour-and-a-half bus ride. Other  times it may take months or even years for an idea to germinate. But generally, once I have  a plot, I can write a story in a few days.

Trapani writes all her books in rhyme, and she noted this about the revision process:

Writing for children is much harder than most people think. Exult in your writing, but keep a critical eye. Do not get too attached to your words. This is especially true of rhyming verse, where rhythm and meter are critical. A clever or beautiful line is worthless if the meter is off.

Read about Trapani's illustrating process, too, as well as many other insights in the full interview here.

Below are some of the fantastic reviews that have come in so far for Little Miss Muffet:

Readers will barely be able to contain themselves when they spy the spider climbing up the tuffet leg. Indeed, Trapani slyly inserts clues as to what might next befall the hapless Miss Muffet in her brightly colored illustrations, which humorously capture both Miss Muffet's primness and her fright...A fun romp...Those with similar fears may feel empathy for Miss Muffet's plight; others will just giggle at the improbability of it all.” --Kirkus

“Rediscover this adored, classic nursery rhyme with delightfully charming illustrations by acclaimed author and illustrator Iza Trapani. Incorporating all the directional words kids need to learn early on in this silly story, Trapani creates a wonderful rendition of a perennial favorite that's sure to have kids hoping for the little miss to find a safe space from all those fearful creatures.” --New Age Mama Blog

“Adorable...Beautifully and richly rendered. And funny, too. Poor Miss Muffet’s face is animated and hilarious...Lively, descriptive words.” --Sing Books with Emily Blog

“A joy to read (and sing) aloud. [Trapani's] accompanying art is warm and inviting, a safe-haven for young children, full of comfort, perfect for bedtime or anytime...A must-have!” --Susanna Hill Blog

Sky Pony Press, September 2013