I was lucky enough to catch the musical Allegiance on Broadway last month, in one of its last performances (it closes Feb. 14). Loosely based on George Takei’s childhood memories of his family’s time at a Japanese-American internment camp, it’s a stunning story, and a crash course on a part of American history that’s often skated over (spoilers below).
As the title suggests, the musical explores allegiance in all its forms. What makes it so wonderful is how every character responds differently to how, or if, they should be loyal to the U.S. government after it’s labeled all Japanese-Americans as enemies and locked them behind barbed-wire fences.
The main character, Sam Kimura, joins the army because he thinks it will restore the public’s trust in Japanese-Americans. Sam’s father can’t understand how his son could fight for a country that’s treated them so badly, and when the government sends out a “loyalty questionnaire” to sniff out traitors, Mr. Kimura answers honestly (no, he isn’t willing to serve in the armed forces, and he can’t swear absolute allegiance to the United States), even though he knows it will land him in a labor camp away from his family.
Meanwhile, Sam’s sister Kei falls in love with a young man at the camp named Frankie, who burns his draft papers and refuses to serve in the army. Kei just wants to keep her family safe, so she finds herself torn between her brother and her boyfriend–who are at odds with each other–and doesn’t find her own brand of allegiance until the end. Hannah, a white nurse at the camp, has a different kind of struggle, as she tries to reconcile her love for Sam with societal expectations.
The boldest statement about allegiance comes from Sam and Kei’s grandfather Ojii-chan (the Japanese word for “grandpa”). In a lovely moment of resistance, he takes the hated questionnaire and folds it into an origami flower, which Kei wears in her hair. (more…)
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I’ve updated my ALA Youth Media Awards spreadsheet with the results from 2016 (scroll over to column BI). It’s an encouraging trend: 6 of the 11 books that got Newbery, Caldecott or Printz recognition have diverse protagonists (Last Stop on Market Street; The War that Saved My Life; Echo; Out of Darkness; Trombone Shorty; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement).* That’s a better percentage than last year, which had 5 books out of 13. Other noteworthy facts:
- The National Book Awards this year only had one book starring a diverse character (Challenger Deep). In previous years, it wasn’t unusual to see two or three among the five finalists.
- Three books this year got overlapping recognition from what I call category I awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, National Book Awards) and category II awards (Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, Stonewall and Schneider). The books were Last Stop on Market Street, The War that Saved My Life and Trombone Shorty. There were four such books last year.
- Since 2005, 12 books with Coretta Scott King award recognition have also earned some kind of category 1 award. But only 3 books have done so with the Pura Belpré. (The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Viva Frida). I’m not sure what’s responsible for the discrepancy, but it’s significant. Since both the CSK and Belpré give out author and illustrator awards, there should be, theoretically, equal opportunity with both to get overlapping category I awards. Thoughts?
*The word “diverse,” in this case, means a character from an under-represented group, ie non-white, LGBT, disability experience, etc.
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Last year I wrote about various authors’ favorite motifs, and what you can tell about their real-world obsessions based on their books. I’ve thought of a few more, including:
E.L. Konigsburg: when I read The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, I couldn’t stop thinking about the similarities to The Mixed-Up Files. Now I’ve picked up The Second Mrs. Gioconda, and it’s clear that Konigsburg had a real appreciation for art, and a fascination with the creators and caretakers of that art. We’d all be more art-savvy if teachers taught art history the way Konigsburg wrote her books.
Maggie Stiefvater: any reader of the Raven Cycle will recognize Stiefvater’s obsession with cars…and as her blog confirms, she owns a racecar with a license plate that makes law enforcement nervous.
Rick Riordan: This one’s so obvious it’s almost cheating, but when you consider all three of his kids’ book series are based on ancient world mythologies (Greek/Roman, Egyptian and Norse), it’s a pretty good bet that mythology is more of a hobby or obsession than a convenient plot device.
On a related note, Kathi Appelt probably has a similar interest in myth, though she’s more about folktales and legends, which she transforms to fit her stories. The mermaids in Keeper are self-explanatory, and the Sugar Man is based on the Sasquatch, but the ancient snake in The Underneath is harder to pin down. Perhaps she’s based on a local legend or Native American myth?
Jeanne Birdsall: music, of course, with a preference for classical and Broadway tunes. Now that Jeffrey and Batty are both accomplished musicians, I can’t wait to see the music referenced in the next and final Penderwicks book.
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The 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards were remarkably diverse. We’ve got the obvious standouts, like The Crossover winning the Newbery medal, and the outpouring of love for graphic novels. In the wake of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and other recent efforts, it’s a welcome change. And that got me thinking about the larger trend of diversity in children’s book awards, which led to an insane exercise where I cataloged the winners of eight kidlit book awards over eleven years.
One thing that became immediately obvious is that this year’s ALA awards bucks the trend. Consider, for instance:
- 2015 is the first year since 2005 (Kira-Kira) that the Newbery Medal-winning book stars a character of color. Think about that. Two winners in 11 years.
- Now compare that with the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, where 6 of the past 11 winners have starred a protagonist of color (The Thing About Luck; Inside Out and Back Again; Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party; Brown Girl Dreaming)
- If you consider protagonists from other under-represented groups (disability, LGBT, etc), then the NBA gets one more (Mockingbird), and the Printz Medal has four winners (In Darkness, Ship Breaker, American Born Chinese, I’ll Give You the Sun), but the stats for the Newbery remain unchanged. These “diverse” books (for lack of a better catch-all term) are even rarer as Caldecott Medal winners. There’s just one: Chris Raschka’s The Hello, Goodbye Window from 2006.
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Sequels: they’re everywhere. It seems like half my reading life is consumed by the reading, or consideration of reading, a book that’s part of a series. Sometimes the decision is easy, as I impatiently waited for The Whispering Skull in the wake of The Screaming Staircase. At other times, I didn’t think a sequel was necessary, but I was glad for the chance to plunge back into a familiar world (The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing).
Then there’s my vague confusion when I’m confronted with a sequel whose prequel is just a distant memory, and I’m torn between reading the sequel and hoping the author reminds me of everything I need to know, or giving up altogether and succumbing to reader’s guilt. Case in point: I enjoyed How to Catch a Bogle, but I honestly can’t recall single character’s name at this point. So do I read the newly-released A Plague of Bogles? Or do I use the time for other books, which, given the proliferation of multi-volume series, will probably open the door to another book whose sequel will come out in another year, thereby setting off the conundrum anew.
Surely I can’t be the only one with this problem? To help ease my indecision, I’ve created a flowchart: may it assuage your sequel confusion and free you from the guilt of giving up on certain books.
Click to zoom in.
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NBC’s Peter Pan Live was certainly filmed live, but whether there was any spark of life to it is debatable. Critics were hoping the production would be one big hate-watch snarkfest in the tradition of last year’s The Sound of Music Live!, and but while NBC’s Peter had its issues, the show wasn’t substantial enough to evoke such strong opinions as much as a general sense of confusion. To borrow a line from the Baker’s Wife from Into the Woods–whose film trailer during the commercial break might have been the high point of the evening for me–what. was. that?
All the actors were perfectly acceptable in their roles, nothing Broadway level (expect, perhaps, Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling; sorry Christian Borle, even though you were amazing as Black ‘Stache in parallel Peter Pan universe), but also nothing to mean-tweet about. Even Christopher Walken, who Christopher Walken-ed his way through every song, dance, and line reading of the three hour broadcast. But when the standouts are Mrs. Darling, Nana the dog, and a creepily psychedelic turquoise man in a crocodile suit, what more is there to say?
Well, we could talk about the generally confusing production, both the source material (which I’d just read recently) and the director’s vision for it. The enduring popularity of J.M. Barrie’s original still baffles me, and I’m not sure why it enchanted audiences in the 1950s as a musical. Was it the flying? Or the fact that it lined up nicely with the gender norms of the time?
For modern day viewers, though, it was just plain weird watching one woman defy gender norms by cross dressing while subjecting another woman to pocket-making and other archaic gender rules. Weirder still to a modern audience is that Wendy–who was written a hundred years ago, mind you–seemed to genuinely enjoy her dual role of mothering and cat-fighting with Tiger Lily. (Was the Victorian era that boring?) (more…)
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Once in awhile it’s nice to get a refresher course on why [insert genre here] is so great. Such was the case when I sped through three graphic novels in a row: El Deafo by Cece Bell, and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. Aside from the great storytelling and fun artwork, each memoir took advantage of the graphic novel format, doing things that are difficult–if not impossible–to do in text-only novels:
1. The bunnies. El Deafo is Bell’s memoir of growing up as the only deaf kid in her school/community. Her hearing aids made her conspicuous at a time when all she wanted was to be a normal kid with a true best friend. So, what better way to emphasize the importance of hearing than to depict every character as a rabbit? Those long ears sticking out of everyone’s head made it impossible to forget Bell’s fixation on sound. And it made the humor in the book that much goofier. (more…)
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