BtB Celebrates Black History Month: Break Out! Poems and Art from C.S. 21

February is Black History Month, and BtB is celebrating by recognizing the fantastic work our students have done reflecting on Civil Rights, desegregation, and freedom.

This week, we’re excited to feature the work of Ms. Johnson’s 4th grade class from C.S. 21 in Bed-Stuy. Break Out! is a collection of poems and art by the students under the guidance of author Doreen Rappaport. Doreen’s stories focus on biography and African-American history, including No More! Stories and Songs and Slave Resistance and Escape from Slavery, copies of which were given to the students at the start of the program; students then set out researching and writing biographical poems. Some examples of the beautiful results can be found below, and the entire book can be accessed here.


Photo of the Week with Youme

After the craziness that was Hurricane Sandy, we’re finally able to post Youme’s photo of the week, which comes to you from… the jungle?

Florida certainly looks verdant and beautiful, and Youme gives not only book recommendations, but also an inspiring faith in your own power to create.

This is a picture of me holding up a mirror. The stories I love best are your stories, the ones you write, the ones you tell and the stories that you live. I can recommend life shaping picture books for me, such as, A Flower Pot Is Not a Hat ( but if I put it on my head it is) by Martha Moffet, illustrated by Susan Perl and Hubert the Caterpillar Who Thought He Was A Mustache by Wendy Stang and Susan Richards, pictures by Robert L. Anderson. I can recommend the worldview of the Moomin family by Tove Jannson, the heart of Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers, the power of Lac Su in his book, I Love Yous Are for White People, the cartoons of Walt Kelly, all of Virginia Hamilton, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and beloved Thich Nhat Hanh.  I believe that one of the great things about stories is finding more than one.

But Behind the Book has asked for one recommendation and so I wholeheartedly endorse Your Story! Share it!

Be sure to check out the last Photo of the Week with Victor LaValle.  Happy Reading!

Photo of the Week with Victor LaValle

During September’s KBG Bar reading, Victor LaValle took some time after he had read from his book, The Devil in Silver, to get his picture taken with his son’s favorite picture book, Charlie Parker Played Beboop by Chris Raschka.

A friend gave me Charlie Parker Played Bebop by Chris Raschka as gift for my fifteen-month old son. At first I wasn’t sure how this book would go down. I thought that since jazz can sometimes be atonal and ambitious even a book about a jazz musician would require a more sophisticated palette than the one my kid had formed so far. Nevertheless, the friend was quite smart and had a daughter of her own and swore Charlie Parker… was one of her child’s favorites. My wife and I gave it a shot.

            If you know this book, then you already know that I’m an idiot. My fears were baseless. Chris Raschka is a crazily gifted artist, one who charmed my son, my wife, and me right from the jump. The book manages to sound like bebop even as it tells you some essential facts about Charlie Parker. For instance, that he played be bop. Every day now our son picks this book up, walks toward me or my wife, shouting,“Be ba! Be ba!” The smile on his face is as beautiful to me as Charlie Parker’s music.

Be sure to check out the last Photo of the Week with Kam Mak.  Happy Reading!

Photo of the Week with Kam Mak

Knowing all about the special power of beautiful illustrations, Kam Mak, author and illustrator of My Chinatown, has chosen a book with especially captivating drawings. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is Kam’s pick for this week, and he hopes you’ll enjoy the chiaroscuro.

Kam Mak loves The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for its chiaroscuro (among other things)

In my senior year of art school I discovered Chris Van Allsburg’s book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. When I saw his drawings in this book I became a huge fan of his and this book became my all time favorite children’s book. The black and white illustrations were done with the utmost precision and sensitivity. His use of Chiaroscuro (the use of extreme dark and light) in the illustrations create a sense of mystery, magic and drama. I just love how his pictures alone can invite the viewers to exercise their imaginations.

Be sure to check out the last Photo of the Week with Paul Griffin.  Happy Reading!

Photo of the Week with Paul Griffin

Paul Griffin, author of Ten Mile River, can’t play favorites among the books he loves.  So this week he has gone above and beyond the call, and has recommended three outstanding books that he thinks you should read too.

Paul Griffin with three of his favorite books:
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Every Day by David Levithan and Tyrell by Coe Booth

My favorite book is usually the one I’m reading, and I’m usually reading a few books at a time, in this case re-reading.  I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Every Day by David Levithan and Tyrell by Coe Booth are amazing for many reasons, but I’m rereading them this time for voice.  Coe is just a beautiful soul, and I feel that so deeply in Tyrell, the way he sees the world, with sympathy and the courage not to be afraid of the ugly and the sad.  He’s a poet, like Coe.  David is one of the most empathic people I know, and Every Day is a tour de force of empathy as his protagonist A, literally a lost soul, inhabits the lives of so many different people.  Like David, A has love for everyone.  Being around that kind of generosity makes me feel really good.  Barry is fearless, like his protagonist Jazz, who wonders if he’s going to end up a serial killer, like his dad.  Barry puts this psychologically messed up kid right in our faces and says, “Understand this guy,” and you know what?  We do.  We do more than that: We love ‘im.  Three perfect end-of-summer reads by three perfect writers.

Be sure to check out the last Photo of the Week with Jim Shepard.  Happy Reading!

Photo of the Week with Jim Shepard

After Friday’s post about his law firm reading, Jim Shepard is back on our homepage to tell us why he, his family and his dog all love William Steig’s Rotten Island.

The only kinds of children’s books in my house when I was growing up were non-fiction books (as in, All About Volcanoes or The World of Dinosaurs or The American Heritage History of the Civil War) since my parents, who hadn’t gone to college, believed that if you were going to read a book you might as well learn something.   So I encountered all of those children’s books that everyone else knows only glancingly, at other kids’ houses, until I met my wife Karen and she showed me how wonderful the books she loved as a child really were.   And then of course we had children and I got to see for myself how much kids loved those stories. 

Rotten Island is a particular favorite because all three of our children – now 20, 15, and 9 – loved it; in fact, it’s been such a family favorite that, as you can see from its upper left hand corner, even our newest addition – Cosmo, another beagle – enjoyed it, at least until it was taken away from him. 

As a disconcertingly cheerful rendition of the world’s most awful place – the kind of place where there’s “an earthquake an hour, black tornadoes, lightning sprees with racking thunder, squalls, cyclones and dust storms,” and your best chance for some R&R is bathing in the volcanoes’ lava, or stretching out on hot embers in the broiling sun – it’s perfectly in keeping with our family ethos.  The drawings, in their spastic aggression, are wonderful.   The humor is deadpan.   The result is joyfully unruly, if not subversive.   Sort of like childhood itself.

Be sure to check out last week’s Photo of the Week with Alex Simmons. Happy Reading!

Photo of the Week with Alex Simmons

This week, Alex Simmons offers his thoughts on a classic favorite that you have probably read and loved too.  But if you haven’t here’s hoping that his post will inspire you to pick this book up too.  Because this is something that everyone should read and enjoy.

Alex says, “I’ve read Holmes since I was a kid and certainly have seen 90% of the films. His philosophy about careful observation and deduction has been part of my thinking process all these years.  Just ask my kids (family and students).

Alex Simmons isn’t alone in his love for Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.  The famous detective has a vast, international fan base and a special society, devoted to studying these great books and most importantly, connecting all the people who love reading about Holmes.  Before Arthur Conan Doyle published his famous stories, the detective novel had not yet solidified into a distinct genre, but with the Sherlock Holmes stories, the genre took off and became a mainstay of literature.  In a time when the literary market was split between dense highbrow works and penny horror novels, Sherlock Homes showed that popular fiction can be smart and intensely interesting, and you don’t have to be an English professor to enjoy great books.  The stories of Sherlock Holmes inspired many people to read, and for that we thank Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

Be sure to check out last week’s Photo of the Week with Tony Medina. Happy Reading!