Spare, tense, and ultimately joyful, Shane W. Evans masterfully paints the vigilance and fear of travelers escaping slavery via the underground railroad.

A. LaFaye and Keith D. Shepherd continue the story of emancipation with a depiction of the desperate search for family members after freedom.

2012 IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award

The IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, initiated by the International Board on Books for Young People and sponsored by the Japanese newspaper company, Asahi Shimbun, is given every two years to two groups or projects making a lasting contribution to reading promotion for children and young people. The 2012 awards were announced on March 19th at the Bologna Children’s Book Festival, and the winners are:

Abuelas Cuentacuentos (Storytelling Grandmothers), Argentina. This program is aimed at inspiring a love of reading in the country’s poorest children. Elderly people visit schools, orphanages, and hospitals to read stories aloud to children. These volunteers, mainly unemployed women between the ages of 50 and 70, delight in this new and productive way of sharing their time, affection, and talents as storytellers. 

SIPAR, Cambodia. During the regime of the Khmer Rouge all books had been destroyed and their creators killed. No publishing houses existed in the country. In 2000, SIPAR (already working to build libraries across the country) started training workshops for publishing, writing, and illustration, mostly for children's books. Today SIPAR has a small Cambodian-run publishing department which has published 70 titles and printed 130,000 free copies for the 200 SIPAR libraries and students at teacher training colleges.

Here are all seventeen wonderful projects nominated for the 2012 IBBY-Asahi Award:
  • Abuelas Cuentacuentos : Grandmother Storytelling Programme, Argentina, proposed by IBBY Argentina
  • New Education Kids' Reading Promotion Plan, China, proposed by IBBY China
  • SIPAR, Cambodia, proposed by IBBY France and supported by IBBY Switzerland
  • Room to Read, proposed by IBBY Germany
  • Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation and Library, Pireaus, proposed by IBBY Greece
  • PaanPoee Vachanalay, Pune, proposed by IBBY India
  • Give us Books, Give us Wings, Iran, proposed by IBBY Iran
  • Nati per Leggere / Born to Read, Italy, proposed by IBBY Italy
  • Sod Nomun / Nomadic library, Mongolia, proposed by IBBY Mongolia
  • Kelompok Pencinta Bacaan Anak / Society for the Advancement of Children's Literature, Indonesia, proposed by IBBY Netherlands
  • Institución Educativa Parroquial Cristina Beatriz, Lima, proposed by IBBY Peru
  • Slovene Reading Badge: Crossing Boundaries to All Kinds of Minorities, proposed by IBBY Slovenia
  • Llibre Obert, Spain, proposed by IBBY Spain
  • White Elephant / Domrei Sor, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, proposed by IBBY Sweden
  • Book Aid International: Book Corners, Kenya and Tanzania, proposed by IBBY UK
  • Dagdag Dunong Project, Manila, Philippines. proposed by IBBY USA
  • Lubuto Library, Zambia, proposed by IBBY USA and supported by IBBY Zambia
The next award will be in 2014 with applications due spring 2013. If you know of a project you would like considered or would like to read more about this award, go to your national section of IBBY. For those in the United States, contact members of the USBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award Committee. I'm on the committee, so you can contact me or better yet, send an email to Pamela Jewett, chair of this year’s committee. You may also download an application from the University of Arizona School of Education's Worlds of Words website.

The 2012 jury:

Jury Chair Mingzhou Zhang (China), Marilar Aleixandre (Spain), Hasmig Chahinian (France), Wally de Doncker (Belgium), Jehan Helou (Palestine), and Kiyoko Matsuoka (Japan).

The prize money of US $10,000 for each winning project will be presented at the 33rd IBBY Congress in London, UK, at a special festive occasion on Thursday, 23 August 2012 at Imperial College London.

Favorable Odds to Jumpstart your Kid/YA Writing Career!

Tired of huge conferences? Try this intimate class of ten or so at the Highlights Foundation's wonderful new retreat center, with editors Alvina Ling of Little Brown and Stacy Whitman of Tu Books/Lee and Low, authors Donna Jo Napoli, Kathy Erskine, and me. The odds are ever in your favor, people.

One-on-one critiques and guided writing workshops are included, and the drive from Boston or New York isn't bad at all. The chance of a lifetime to jumpstart your career! I know the tuition's steep, but there is financial aid, and you've got to invest in yourself somewhere, right? Here's our tentative schedule to entice you:

Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice
April 26-29, 2012
Workshop Leaders: Donna Jo Napoli and Mitali Perkins
Special Guests: Alvina Ling, Stacy Whitman, and Kathy Erskine

Thursday, April 26, 2012
5:30 PM                      Hors d’oeuvres
6:30 PM                      Dinner and Welcome, Mitali Perkins

Friday, April 27
7:30 AM                     Breakfast        
8:30 AM                     The Pillars of Writing Culturally with Mitali Perkins
10:00 AM                   Writing exercise with Donna Jo Napoli
12:00 PM                    Lunch 
1:00 PM                      One-on-ones
4:00 PM                      Writing exercise TBA
5:30 p.m.                     Hors d’oeurves
6:00 p.m.                     Dinner, Stacy Whitman, speaker

Saturday, April 28
7:30 AM                     Breakfast        
8:30 AM                     Who Has the Right to Write Multiculturally with Donna Jo Napoli
10:00 AM                   Writing exercise with Alvina Ling
12:00 PM                    Lunch 
1:00 PM                      One-on-ones
4:00 PM                      Writing exercise TBA
5:30 p.m.                     Hors d’oeurves
6:00 p.m.                     Dinner, Kathy Erskine, speaker and book signing

Sunday, April 29
7:30 AM                     Breakfast        
8:30 AM                     Writing exercise with Mitali Perkins (dialog)
11:00 AM                   Final Comments from faculty
12:00 PM                    Lunch and Departures

Lent Read 31 and 32: YOU CAN BE A FRIEND by Tony and Lauren Dungy | YASMIN'S HAMMER by Ann Malaspina, Illustrated by Doug Chayka

An inspiring story about a Bangladeshi girl who wants to go to school but must work as a bricklayer. Thanks to hard work and a loving family, Yasmin's dream comes true. I hope with all my heart that she is representative of the children we'd see in Dhaka working from dawn to dusk. A wonderful read; highly recommended.
Finally! A picture book featuring a suburban African-American family that has nothing to do with slavery or racism. The message about friendship is beautifully told.


Last week was full of speaking and preparation for a weekend retreat, so my kind son dashed to the library, grabbed a few picture books, and kept my Lent practice alive. Here are the first two he chose:
"What in the world is this thing? Oh, now I get it."
Bird needs a nest. Bunny to the rescue!

Lent Read #28: LOWJI DISCOVERS AMERICA by Candace Fleming

What? A funny chapter book featuring a South Asian boy? I thought they didn't exist. And they didn't, until Candace Fleming wrote her charming LOWJI DISCOVERS AMERICA (Atheneum). Perfect for a 3rd or 4th grader, this short, quick read stars nine-year-old Lowji, a newcomer to Illinois from Mumbai, and a vivid cast of human and animal characters. My favorite thread was Lowji's relationship with Landlady Crisp, an aptly-named harassed and lonely woman who is transformed by Lowji's desire for animal companionship.

Lent Read #27: THE LONELY MOOSE by John Segal

THE LONELY MOOSE by John Segal is the story of a mutually enriching friendship between two very different creatures. Published by Hyperion, this delightful picture book is exactly what our boys would have loved when they were about five. There's a "scary" scene or two, filled with enough tension to make small fingers eagerly turn the page to see what happens next, and the joy-filled ending gives readers the satisfaction of closure that defines all good stories.

Lent Read #26: THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami

Bubbly, colorful, and exciting, THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami is as entertaining as the best Bollywood "fillums." A middle-grade read stuffed with romance, adventure, and mystery, this entrancing book published by Atheneum was starred by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Travel with Dini to Swapnagiri, India, where practicing a little "dekho, dekho" (look, look) and "shuno, shuno" (listen, listen) will lead to a happy-ever-after ending that makes everyone feel like dancing.

Lent Reads #23, 24, 25: A Trio of Picture Books

I'm back in Boston after a week of author visits in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C., so here are my last three quick, wonderful reads:

History, art, and innovation, all given in joyful service to God.

The life cycle of a tortilla reads much better in Spanish.

They weren't allowed to knead Wonder Bread dough back in the day,
but they could--and did--change the world.

Lent Read #22: RAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford

What if you had to build your school with your own hands before starting the school year? You might treat it with more respect, and eagerly receive your lessons, like the children in RAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford, published by Houghton Mifflin.

In this vibrant, cheerful picture book set in Chad, we meet a smiling, beautiful teacher and a group of eager, hard-working students. My favorite line? "The students' minds are fat with knowledge. Their notebooks are rumpled from learning." Even when the rains wash away the building, it can't take away what's been learned. That stays forever, whether it's here or in Chad.

Lent Read #21: LALA SALAMA by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

I'm on the road for author visits, so this week will feature several picture books. But with my nest recently emptied, what joy to return to this genre after so many years! Obviously I'm going to have to borrow babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers on a regular basis.

Along the shores of a Tanzanian lake, a young mother and father carry their baby through a day of work, love, laughter, and peace. This spare and lovely lullaby by the Newbery Medalist, published by Candlewick, is an excellent way to introduce even the very tiny to the existence of other cultures beyond our borders. Yes, the paintings inside by Elizabeth Zunon are all as glorious and joyful as the cover art. LALA SALAMA means "sleep peacefully" in Swahili, and I did, taking a nap in my quiet inn this afternoon after reading this book.

Lent Read #20: CYCLE OF RICE, CYCLE OF LIFE by Jan Reynolds

As Jan Reynolds explains in CYCLE OF RICE, CYCLE OF LIFE, a stunning photo/picture book from Lee and Low, the so-called Green Revolution almost destroyed sustainable farming practices in Bali. CYCLE OF RICE is a tale of hope, illuminating for kids how an ecologist with vision can help local people restore the land and revitalize their economy. Read this with your kids before eating a bowl of rice.

Lent Read #19: TWICE AS GOOD by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

In TWICE AS GOOD (Sleeping Bear) Richard Michelson tells the true story of the late, great golfer Bill Powell, architect of Clearview in Canton, Ohio, the only course designed, built, and owned by an African-American. Perseverance, big dreams, and the sheer love of sport defined Powell's against-the-odds success—not handouts, reliance on outsiders, or backing down an easier road. Eric Velasquez's paintings glow with life and movement, making readers feel like we've met Bill and his family in person. An inspirational sports read, and even more so when you consider Powell's daughter's contribution to the planet.

Lent Read #18: THE YEAR OF GOODBYES by Debbie Levy

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said George Santayana. In THE YEAR OF GOODBYES (Hyperion), Debbie Levy recounts in simple verse the gripping story of her mother's escape from Hamburg, Germany in 1938.

Levy stays true to an eleven-almost-twelve-year-old's voice, and as we follow the narrative of one girl's family, we realize with great unease that (1) the ascendancy of Hitler and the Holocaust happened not too long ago, and (2) such a tragedy could happen again. I'm not surprised that this powerful book was starred by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.

Meticulously researched and poignantly illustrated with handwritten excerpts from Jutta Levy's poesiealbum, THE YEAR OF GOODBYES is a perfect readaloud for parents who want to remember with their children. The afterword will and must break your heart, as Levy describes the fate of each friend who inscribed poetry in her mother's treasured album.

Lent Reads 14, 15, 16, 17: A Quartet of Picture Books

Since I was in bliss for four days (see above and name that beach), whisked away by my love, I'm posting briefly. Here are four days worth of picture books I read and enjoyed for Lent, each encapsulated by one word.




Lent Read #13: SWEET MOON BABY: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark

"Was it something I did?"

"Is something wrong with me?"

A child who is adopted asks questions, some aloud and some in secret, about why she doesn't find herself with her birth family. In SWEET MOON BABY (Knopf), a peaceful picture book by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton, the text starts with a clear declaration about the worth of the child: "One summer night in China, a baby girl was born. She was perfect."

Next, in a tribute that's rarely found in books dealing with adoption, Clark and Barton devote two full spreads to the child's birth parents. They are both "happy and sad," acknowledging the difficult gains and losses of adoption for a family unable to keep a child. A wise reader will pause, let the child's eyes dwell on the loving hands tucking the baby into a basket, and wait for questions.

If none come, we move on, reading and seeing the miracle of protection through the baby's wait for a family, and the growing love and desire of the waiting parents (also "happy and sad," as are most people waiting for babies through adoption.)

With each quiet spread, the reader and hearer of the story are given space and grace to comment, notice, and question—a key part of healing in the adoption journey. Through this soft, loving story the child grasps the fact that for her, too, the adoption experience is allowed to be both "happy and sad."

Lent Read #12: THE WAKAME GATHERERS by Holly Thompson, Illustrated by Kazumi Wilds

Cook up a steaming pot of Wakame Miso Soup (recipe included in the book) and settle down to read this tale of two grandmothers. THE WAKAME GATHERERS by Holly Thompson, illustrated by Kazumi Wilds (Shen's Books), introduces us to the joy of gathering wakame seaweed in the surf crashing on a Japanese shoreline. Thompson's heartfelt story and Wilds' lively art illuminate the tension of inheriting two cultures which in the past have been enemies, as well as underline this generation's call to retain a costly peace.

Lent Read #11: YUMMY by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke

Can a children's book help redeem a senseless tragedy? It can certainly play a part, at least in the case of YUMMY: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, a graphic novel stunningly illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Lee and Low). In this gripping true story, we're introduced to a Chicago boy who at age 11 not only murdered but was murdered. Was Yummy villain or victim? In either case, he did have some choices, and young readers must grapple with the reality of them as his story goes from bad to worse.

As I read it, I was struck by the fact that now, through the gift of a many-starred and lauded story, this young man's life is given meaning and value of which he had no inkling when he died. Readers who reflect on the circumstances, challenges, choices, and consequences of Yummy's short life are likely to "choose wisely," as Neri advises in his postscript, and help others to do the same.

Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

Lent Read #10: WAITING FOR THE BIBLIOBURRO by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra

I remember how much I anticipated Saturday afternoons, when my sister would walk me to the Flushing Public Library for my weekly fix of books. Ana, a girl growing up in rural Colombia, shares that eagerness for stories in WAITING FOR THE BIBLIOBURRO (Random House) by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra. Like me, Ana also discovers the joy of creating her own stories.

Recommended by my librarian, Jean Holmblad of the Newton Free Library, this gorgeous picture book is inspired by another librarian, Luis Soriano Bohórquez. A visionary man who grasps the power of books to change the world, Bohórquez spends hours transporting them to children around Colombia on two donkeys, Alfa and Beto.

I'd love to read this story to kids and let them feast their eyes on Parra's paintings. Then I'd ask, "Why did the man go through so much trouble to bring the children books to read?"

Check out this trailer of a 2011 PBS documentary on the mission and work of Bohórquez:

Watch Biblioburro - Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.

Lent Read #9: FRIDA by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

A feast for the eyes and mind, FRIDA: ¡VIVA LA VIDA! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Marshall Cavendish), portrays the life of painter Frida Kahlo through poetry, photographs, and reproductions of the artist's work. Bernier-Grand's terse, powerful verses convey Kahlo's strength, beauty, and passionate need to paint, despite a life of suffering and sorrow.

Inspiring for teens and adults alike, this Pura Belpré Honor book explores the tension between love and art—apparently they can feed and destroy each other, but can never live apart, much like Kahlo and her husband, painter and muralist Diego Rivera.