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Archive for January 11th, 2019

by Sam Juliano

The last time a picture book featured a take-charge dog was a few years ago when Jon Agee’s irreverent It’s Only Stanley introduced us to the most intrepid and resourceful canine children’s literature has yet seen.  But while that comedic space-fantasy showcased an animal inherently gifted in handyman mode, the pink poodle in the titular Nanny Paws fosters domestic anarchy in the responsibilities of  caring for a family’s young twin daughters Allie and Mae via a series of  episodes underlined by unabated mischievous exuberance.  Nanny Paws rarely plays by the rules, but in her own dysfunctional manner, she gets things done.  But as veteran West Coast-based author-illustrator Wendy Wahman confirms in a series of idiosyncratic vignettes, one doesn’t necessarily have to play by the rules of a human to achieve success in completing tasks.  While pre-schoolers with a dog in the house might be tempted to encourage Nanny Paw’s unorthodox behavior, older kids will gleefully connect with the playful insubordination, which sure beats doing things by the book.  After all, wouldn’t it be far more fun to defy the norm and turn everything upside down?

Wahman brings her special brand of illustrative mayhem to the fore via supple use of pencil and watercolor with digital enhancement and her favorite color is pink, which is announced in hard-core terms on the end papers and sustained throughout in the figure of the book’s undaunted protagonist.  The spirited tale launches with an early morning bedroom depiction where Nanny Paws peaks around the door to eye her two charges, fast asleep and clinging to fondly regarded stuffed bears, one a doctor and the other a basketball player.  The place is a veritable comfort zone, with floral decor and heart decals with the children’s’ names on the inside of the door.  Wahman flashes back to the previous Tuesday when Nanny Paws woke the twins in  a scenario that delighted Mae, but disgruntled Ally, though in a subsequent tumble both are receptive to her unique method of washing their faces.  Helping them get dressed turns in a tug of war with a sock and breakfast preparation includes Nanny’s personalized cookie jar maneuvering, where she manages to chomp her own way to the spoils.  With a scattering  Chomp, Slurp, Crunch! the table is cleared and this tenacious pink poodle “bags” their lunches as the author announces to readers: Good morning, Nanny Paws!   (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Don Brown’s The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking picture books of this past decade.  Actually the proper classification for this 103 page work is a graphic novel, a specialty of this gifted and diverse author-artist who previously won deserved acclaimed for similar non-fiction examinations about Hurricane Katrina and the Oklahoman dust bowl of the 1930’s.  There is a timeliness and an urgency to The Unwanted that make it stand apart, and there are stark illustrations that make your blood boil and provoke the deepest level of empathy for people born in the wrong place, in the wrong time under the worst of circumstances.  There is great tragedy in natural catastrophes, but nothing can be as dehumanizing than rejection from one’s fellow man during a time when lives hang in the balance.  At the outset of this bleak chronicle, Syrian teenage boys graffiti “Down with the regime” on a wall and are promptly arrested by the police who do the bidding for the tyrannical rule of the country’s President Bashar al-Assad.  This brutal regime are responsible for torture, summary imprisonment and unconscionable street massacres, which were aimed at suppressing a civil war that continues to the present day in pockets of resistance where Kurds and other rebel forces have continued to fight Asad, incurring a mounting toll of death and destruction.  With the recent decision of President Trump to pull United States out of the country, Asad’s hold will be strengthened, and the events so woefully related in The Unwanted will be encored, necessitating further forced evacuation and hardship.  Unlike the Czech Holocaust drama from the early 60’s, Higher Learning, in which a brilliant and beloved student was murdered by a firing squad for scrawling satirical drawings of Hitler on a classroom slate board, the children in question in Brown’s book are eventually released after a massive public outcry, but the incident emboldens further indignation and kindles a revolt, where many other innocent citizens are killed.  The fighting forces droves of people to evacuate and seek refuge in neighboring countries, and this mass exodus, still ongoing, is the main focus of The Unwanted.

The dire situation in Syria has now become more complicated with the recent decree by President Trump that American forces stationed in the country will be withdrawn, an act that be undoubtedly strengthen Assad’s hold, and leave his Russian allies in a far more commanding position.  In addition, the worldwide disdain for refugees, has been further fueled by Trump’s dogged commitment to honor a campaign promise to his supporters by funding a wall along the United States’ southern border, aimed at holding immigrants for scrutiny by border guards and denying access to hoards thought to be illegal refugees.  In any case, as Brown documents in uncompromising terms the Syrian crisis is one of the world’s most avoidable tragedies, even with the understanding that both sides of this humanitarian impasse offer arguments that are not so easily set aside.  Yet, in the end there can be no matter honored before the suffering humanity the crisis has brought forth and Brown makes that clear in his heartfelt plea in the behalf of those caught in the proverbial and literal crossfire. (more…)

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