Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Ethel L. Payne was born in 1911. She went to school with white people, even though she was harassed and beaten for it. The school paper wouldn’t let her work for them because she was black, but they published her first story. Payne went to college and studied writing. She went to Japan and wrote about how Black American soldiers were treated.

When she returned to the United States, Payne worked for the Chicago Defender, one of two Black daily newspapers at the time. After 3 years of covering politics, Payne became one of three Black journalists to be given a White House press pass. She was outspoken and became known as the “First Lady of the Black Press.” Payne died in 1991 and has since been honored on a US stamp - one of only four female journalists to be featured.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Here's Beaver!

This is Beverly Cleary's third and final Leave It to Beaver book. I liked this one more than Leave It to Beaver but not quite as much as Beaver and Wally. Cleary wrote more about Wally in this book, even if it was mostly how Beaver looked up to him. But I find Wally, and the way Cleary writes about him, to be more interesting than the situations Beaver himself gets into.

That being said, I'm definitely biased and prefer Henry Huggins and Ramona as Cleary's mischief-makers, but Wally could fit in nicely with Cleary's "first love" young adult books.

Again, this book has illustrations but I can't find the artist's name anywhere. Credit is given to Beverly Cleary and the show's creators, and the copyright is held by Gomalco Productions.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora

I love an inspirational, educational picture book, and The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora fits the bill.

I can’t believe I didn’t know about Mary Walker, but I’m glad I learned about her in this book. She was born into slavery in 1848. After being freed at 15, someone gave her a Bible. She wanted to read it, but had never learned. She couldn’t write, so she just made marks in the front to note her sons’ birth dates. She outlived her entire family and finally decided to learn to read. She was scared she was too old to learn, but she worked hard and never gave up. At 116, she could read! She lived to be 121.

Mora’s illustrations are amazing, showing the reader the way Walker sees scribbles all around her, then words after she learns to read. The endpapers include real photos of Mary Walker.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Beaver and Wally

Another book based on episodes of Leave It to Beaver, but this one seemed more light-hearted and fun. I got more invested in the boys' adventures. The writing style reminded me more of Cleary's young adult books because a lot of the spotlight was on Wally. I also wonder if Cleary was more comfortable with the project guidelines by the second book and let herself have more fun with it, but that's just speculation.

This book also has illustrations, but I can't find out the artist's name. Credit is given to Cleary and the show's creators, and the copyright is again held by Gomalco Productions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel

I worked as a library page in high school. One shift I was “reading” the nonfiction section and this title caught my eye. I have to admit, I started reading it right then on the clock and then checked it out and took it home with me.

At the time, I was envious of Nissel. Not because she was broke - I was too! But how she had so much humor about it, and such an engaging writing style. I remember taking the book to school and showing the girls in my math class and they passed it around and laughed at the entries.

I actually bought the exact copy I first found, years later after the library discarded it. It’s been on my shelf since, and I read Mixed too, but The Broke Diaries remained my favorite.

I wanted some humor in my life after all of...this, and I can’t believe that the book still cracks me up so much. Like laughing out loud reading on my front porch, because now it’s in the 60s after last week’s ice and snow. But I digress. This book is hilarious and makes me miss the 2008ish period of blogging because that’s exactly how it reads now, even though it was written way before then. You should read this. Then let’s laugh about it together.

Just to note, if you don’t believe me about Nissel’s humor: she’s been a writer on Scrubs, the Boondocks, and Mixed-ish.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Leave It to Beaver

Did you know Beverly Cleary wrote book adaptations of the TV show Leave It to Beaver? (Do you know how hard it is to make sure you type Beverly Cleary for the author and Beaver Cleaver for the character? Those names are WAY too similar...try it!) She wrote three Cleaver books in 1960 and 1961. 

According to my research, each chapter in the book relates to an episode of the TV show, or combines a couple episodes in one. My mom loves the show and has the series on DVD, so I'm going to borrow it and watch at least the episodes Cleary wrote about to see how they compare. I'm also going to loan the books to my mom and see what she thinks about them.

I went into this book knowing a bit about Beaver Cleaver because of my mom, so I thought he'd fit right in with Cleary's other mischievous kids, but this book is a little stilted. I thought I just didn't really "get" Beaver Cleaver until I found out that she was hired to write the books and had to work within some requirements and word counts, so the stories don't flow like her normal writing does.

Note: This book has illustrations, but I can't find an illustrator credited in the book or online. Credit is given to Cleary as the author and the show creators, but the copyright is held by Gomalco Productions and no other names are mentioned.

If you want a laugh, check out this never-before-published "script" of Beaver Cleaver finding out about his books.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: The Real Hole

Original illustrations by DyAnne DiSalvo, though my copy is
a re-release with illustrations redone by Carol Thompson.

I have this story in Two Times the Fun, a collection of the Janet and Jimmy stories. It seems like an Easy Reader story on its own, but Google shows they were kind of a picture book/Easy Reader hybrid. I like them as a collection because I think they work well as a beginner chapter book. The twins are only four, though, so I can see the reasoning behind making it a picture book parents would read to their four-year-olds.

Janet loves to play pretend, but Jimmy loves things that are real. When he digs a real hole, Janet wants to pretend it's a nest or a fishing pond. Jimmy doesn't like that, but he doesn't know what he could use the hole for.

This book is pretty simple but it's fun and light-hearted, and I think kids would love it because it's definitely how kids act.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw read part of “Peach Cobbler” at an event I attended not long ago and I was hooked from the first line: “My mother’s peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.”

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this collection, and once I got it I was torn between racing to finish it and wanting to drag it out so I’d have longer with these multi-layered characters. I can’t pick a favorite from this collection because they’re all that. damn. good. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, and that includes you. It’s the perfect mix of gossip, drama, and breathtaking storytelling you need in your life.

I usually try to not re-read a book until a year after my last reading, but this is one I’ll be coming back to more often than that. I can’t stop thinking about it and I want more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: The Hullabaloo ABC

 Illustrations by Ted Rand

This might be a picture book, but the kids definitely have the same vibe as the kids in Henry Huggins' neighborhood. The book is more engaging than ABC books that just list words or show pictures of items starting with that letter. Instead, The Hullabaloo ABC takes a loud, fun walk around the farm, meeting animals and making noise.

There are a lot of fun things to see in Ted Rand's illustrations, which look like classic paintings with a lot of motion to engage young viewers.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Jean and Johnny

 No illustrations because this is another young adult book.

I don't know why the book cover has hamburgers on it because I don't remember them going out for burgers in the book, but clearly, as a burger fan, I'm here for it. They do talk on the phone so I get the phones, but hey.

This is another Beverly Cleary young adult book, but it's a bit more real than the previous two. Jean is hoping to meet her celebrity crush when an older boy from school approaches her and seems to take an interest in her. Jean is infatuated with Johnny and starts shifting her life and routine ever-so-slightly to "keep" him.

This reminded me a little too much of my first middle school crush, though Jean is 15 in the book. It's just that real, though it still seems pretty innocent compared to present-day relationships. I appreciate Cleary exploring something not as sunny as the YA books she's written before, where hurt feelings were just misunderstandings and the boy and girl were equally invested in each other.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: The Luckiest Girl

No illustrations because this is another young adult book.

Shelley feels stuck in her Oregon life, so when she has the opportunity to live her junior year with family friends in California, she jumps at the chance. Everything is so new and different that she feels confident being her real self in a way she didn’t in Oregon. On her first day of school, she meets Hartley, but she has her sights set on Phil, the tall, handsome basketball player who sits next to her in biology.

Again, this book is low stakes when compared to contemporary young adult fiction. “Quaint” is an appropriate term, but it’s a feel-good story and I think it’s worth the read for the fun of it, if not to also get a peek into how teenagers used to socialize and date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Henry and the Paper Route

Illustrations by Louis Darling, though my copy
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

Henry has been filling in on Scooter’s paper route for a few books, but now he’s determined to get his own. However, he’s not old enough, so he has to wait. Or, in true Henry Huggins fashion, try to prove his worth. Except how can he, when four kittens need to be rescued and old papers need to be collected for a school drive?

A new boy named Murph moves into the neighborhood at the end of this book. Henry wants to become his friend, but Murph seems like a genius! He’s building his own robot and doesn’t have much in common with Henry, except that he’s also interested in a paper route...

Monday, February 8, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Fifteen

No illustrations because this is Beverly Cleary’s first young adult book. Fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy wants to find a boy to date and spends a lot of time imagining how things will play out. Jane does meet a boy and starts to date him, but has to navigate that new part of her life and how insecure it makes her feel.

There was a nice balance of Jane being young but independent with her babysitting business and being unsure of how to handle herself on a date, with how she learns by experiencing things and becomes wiser for it.

This book definitely seems pure and innocent compared to contemporary young adult - and of course, it was a different time. The writing and plot reflect that, so overall the book seems classic and graceful. The first young adult book is thought to be
Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, published in 1942. (I have this on my TBR stack to read, so I’m interested in comparing the two.) It’s also worth considering Robert Cormier didn’t start publishing “dark” young adult books until 1960. To put things even more in perspective, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders was published in 1967 and Judy Blume’s Forever was published in 1975.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Beezus and Ramona

Illustrations by Louis Darling.

The first book starring these two ladies! I remember SO MUCH of this book! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve randomly thought about Ramona taking a bite from every apple. Or pictured the candy dragon Beezus drew. I’d bet money I’ve thought of those at least once a month since I read this book in childhood. I’m sure I re-read the book many times, too.

Despite what I remembered on my own, on my re-read, I think I most loved Ramona writing her name all over her library book to make it hers. This is where Beverly Cleary’s background as a children’s librarian really came through - that and the sections where she talks about reading aloud. Henry is a minor character in this book, just as Beezus and Ramona have appeared in his books, so it was nice to “see” a familiar face.

It’s funny reading this as an adult and recognizing how you act with kids who are Ramona’s age and who are Beezus’s age. I also remember how I felt reading it as a kid, getting frustrated by Ramona’s antics while realizing I was the younger sibling...

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Henry and Ribsy

Illustrations by Louis Darling, though my copy
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner. 

I didn’t remember as much about this book, though it was definitely a re-read for me. There is something calm and cozy about Henry’s life that is like an escape for me. I love how small things become adventures for Henry, like riding up in the car while the mechanic works on it.

In this book, Henry had a long-term goal of keeping Ribsy out of trouble so Henry could go on a fishing trip with his dad. I appreciate the reality of how Henry works to achieve this goal and then how the fishing trip actually plays out in the end.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Otis Spofford

Illustrations by Louis Darling, though my copy
has a revised cover by Alan Tiegreen.

I’ve already made the disclaimer that I love Henry and his friends most, but I’m trying to be fair to Otis and his friends as well. Otis was the antagonist in Ellen Tebbits, and Ellen and her friends appear in this book as well.

In his own book, Otis’s misfit behavior takes center stage. As an adult and a librarian who has worked in public schools, reading about some of his antics gave me PTSD. I think we all know kids who do things just to do them, not to cause trouble and not to be mean, but they’re disruptive and exhausting all the same. But I can see how kids would love to read about how Otis gets in trouble without getting in trouble themselves. A friend and I used to play Ellen and Otis (I was Otis, what does that say about me?) so I guess I liked them just fine when I was a kid!