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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

Night-School_web_1

by Sam Juliano

A high school diploma is now seen as a given in lower middle class America, as opposed to a time decades ago when education took a back seat to survival necessities.  Education at that time was a luxury many simply couldn’t afford.  The difference today isn’t that there aren’t poverty-stricken neighborhoods or families with more life-defining priorities, but rather that there is still hope for missed opportunities, and that as people move through their lives they develop a sense of self-worth and direction, aiming to make up for what was lost to life’s unavoidable, inordinately difficult challenges.

Today there are opportunities for those who have succeeded in uncovering a time window in hectic schedules that helped to foster a more mature outlook on what it might mean to have a career instead of a job aimed solely at a paycheck to paycheck existence.  For his stirring documentary Night School director Andrew Cohn  travels to Indianapolis where he focuses his magnifying glass on three people in an area that registers a dubious distinction of having one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.  This is not remotely a one-off for inner city environs, and what Cohn means to imply here a la The Naked City is that three scene specific stories are merely a microcosm of a building nationwide phenomenon allowed by educational advances that nonetheless in any case fails to hide the deplorable state of education in areas of economic deprivation and bad luck for being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  Night School rightly means to point a finger at urban school districts and the unequal allotment of scholastic opportunities and benefits, but it also accentuates the old adage “where there is a will there is a way” and those willing to psychologically adapt a “water under the bridge” mindset will come to understand their own capabilities are far more pronounced now than when they were toiling in isolation, minimum wages and criminal activities. (more…)

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minor 1

by Sam Juliano

This past week world famous theoretical physicist and renowned university professor Stephen Hawking issued a dire warning that if the human race were not careful they could bring about their demise before one-hundred years have eclipsed.  He specified three major fears -nuclear war, climate change and genetically engineered viruses as potentially lethal to the continuation of the human race, but sustained abuse of our resources and the planet we live on remains in the view of most scientists as our primary concern.   Hawking warned that we were at least a hundred years from having the ability to live elsewhere in space, so the next century will tell if we will still be around to to enact that relocation.  The picture book authors Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander in a newly published work pointedly titled This is the Earth, have also asserted that man is responsible for the plundering of our natural assets because of greed and gross carelessness, but also because our designs have been so notoriously self-serving and our claims excessive and unnecessary.  Yet, Shore and Alexander have not thrown in the towel, nor have they opined that we are past the point of no return, indeed their environmental plea, couched in verse patterned after The House That Jack Built, is meant to keep our alarming rate of pollution and contamination in check by adapting the practice of recycling, riding bicycles and maintaining gardens, even in urban areas.  While young readers may well be unnerved by the confessional aspects of a race prone to overindulgence, they are nonetheless invited to make their own individual donations towards an ecological equilibrium too often knocked out of whack by unrestrained narcissism. (more…)

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waterfall

by Sam Juliano

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.   -Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

Environmental philosopher and activist John Muir dedicated much of his life toward the preservation of the western forests, and today is referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.”  From both a political and recreational sphere of interest this master of many pursuits has also been dubbed “one of the patron saints of twentieth century American environmental activity.”  Such a rich and diverse life would no doubt yield some specific events that in and of themselves would yield the basis for promising books.  John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg and Jamie Hogan is the outgrowth of a very close brush Muir had with death during his acute immersion with nature during the time he spent at Yosemite Valley.  Certainly this is not the kind of defining life event that is brought up when the author and naturalist’s name is broached as it would be in the life of Civil War politician Charles Sumner, who was nearly caned to death in the congressional chambers by a furious southerner, but ironically enough the Sumner incident was condemned by famed transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson who visited with Muir at Yosemite, and was deeply impressed with his oneness with nature that he tried to convinced him to travel east.  Muir declined but twenty years later, he met Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall employs the same kind of two prorogued narrative presentation as last year’s Winter Bees.   Muir’s activity is chronicled in free-spirited prose, while on at the bottom of each right side panel  the historical and biographical context enriches one’s understanding of Muir and his daily wilderness investigations.  Muir was ravished by Yosemite’s expansive soulful sublimity, and the only surefire way to become immersed in the nature experience, to take it in by experiencing it and living in a simple solitary cabin with equipped with observational capacities.  The central object of his fascination and appreciation was a springtime waterfall, where as described by Danneberg it “cascaded, crashed and careened over the side of the mountain.”  In the hang-nest room at the sawmill  he maintained journals, sketches and books, and saw the heavens and Yosemite Falls through window roofs. (more…)

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skunk 1

by Sam Juliano

The droll humor on display throughout The Skunk is the creation of one of children’s literature’s wittiest luminaries, who for the first time has pooled his inimitable talent with celebrated cartoonist Patrick McDonnell.  The result is one of the best picture books of 2015.  The review of this most curious Theater of the Absurd fever dream is the final act in the 2015 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  Every imaginable artistic component comes together flawlessly in this irresistible confection that has many of us crossing our fingers for a re-teaming of this inventive duo.  McDonnell, who presently is writing a screenplay for an animated film with a major studio, previously won a Caldecott Honor for Me…Jane, and Barnett, ever-prolific, authored two books with illustrator Jon Klassen that also won Caldecott Honors, Extra Yarn and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.  Barnett’s Battle Bunny, an irreverent homage to Golden Books, left the box like few picture books have, and this year’s teaming with Christian Robinson on Leo: A Ghost Story was a big winner.

The Skunk, surrealist in essence and execution is far more convincing as a dream than as a slice-of-life friendship story, though the budding friendship, never acknowledged as such by either of the conspirators is the emotional hook that will resonate most compellingly with readers.  In this sense it seems McDonnell’s decision to scale back on the details and place emphasis on the bare essentials bring this bizarre relationship more emotional heft.  From the very fact that the mammal chosen for this story of human and animal bonding is just about the most detested creature out there alone underscores the improbability of such a development, again pointing towards horizontal nocturnal imaginings.  The title page is the one place in the book where we get to see a drawing of real skunk, and it ain’t a pretty sight, nor was it meant to be.  As those who live in areas where these stenchmeisters can attest to the odoriferous residue from a skunk spraying have maintained astonishing staying power, with seemingly no logistical panacea other than prompt relocation. (more…)

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drowned-city-by-don-brown

by Sam Juliano

The very first page of Don Brown’s Drowned City practically leads young readers to believe that they are about to experience a horror novel.  What is basically just a “swirl of wind” gains energy as it moves across the Atlantic.  Baby boomers remember such a scenario in the 1958 film The Blob, which is another story about something that becomes a huge mass, gaining energy and enveloping everything in its path.  But the thing of it is that Drowned City is a horror novel.  It chronicles in uncompromising terms one of the worst calamities in American history.  The wind that began benignly, gained enough monstrous force to wreck damage on a city that included the flooding of 80% of its land area, inflict 100 billion in property damages, but most tragically snuff out the lives of over 1,400 people.  Hurricane Katrina as it was dubbed by meteorologists was a catastrophe that brought a state to its knees, a nation in shock, and a government into an unacceptable period of non-action that till today even has brought into focus the question if relief efforts failed the city of New Orleans for the unconscionable event of August 29, 2005.

As the people of New Jersey found out in October of 2012, the devastation from a hurricane can change lives permanently.  Hurricane Sandy was the second worst storm behind Katrina in destructive force and monetary damage.  It can also prove to an area severely in need of help how long it will take to acquire it.  By the time Katrina closed in on New Orleans it was downgraded from a category 5 hurricane to a category 3, (the same strength as Sandy) but with 155 mph winds there was sure to be some serious devastation in a low lying city that requires levees and pumps to keep it dry even during drought seasons. (more…)

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Whisper_hres-813x1024

by Sam Juliano

One would be hard pressed, stroke for stroke, image for image, idea for idea to find a more imaginative or phantasmagorical picture book in 2015 than Pamela Zagarenski’s surrealist The Whisper, the first book this celebrated two-time Caldecott Honor winning artist has also written herself.  The Whisper, which made me think of Lewis Carroll is a book within a book, and an indescribably beautiful visualization of a time-worn creative writing assignment, where students are asked to write a story based on a series of pictures.  But alas no students have yet been given the kind of ravishing art Zagarenski has been known for throughout her career, nor perhaps have been temped with such imaginative provocations, nor with such challenging, intricate tapestries.  Zagarenski’s sensibilities  are Felliniesque though her mixed media application, elaborate design and kaleidoscopic imagery.  The Whisper is about the power of storytelling and the limitless imagination, but it is also a fever dream, with connecting images, designs and colors, that carries over the artist’s previous preoccupation with crowns, teacups wheels, tigers and the heavens.    There is wonder, enchantment, and magic in a story where the words fly out of the book while the girl carries it home from school, but a fox catches them with a net in the central conceit.    This is the Seven Voyages of Sinbad meets Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, though Zagarenski’s dreamy ideas are far more benign if suggestive. (more…)

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Emmanuel's Dream cover

by Sam Juliano

Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles were born blind yet went on to become justly celebrated  writers and singers. (Charles was actually seven when he lost his eyesight).  Wilma Rudolph, born premature and sickly, developed polio almost immediately, necessitating leg braces, yet won three gold medals at the Olympics.  Perhaps the most famous “disabled” person was Helen Keller, who was born deaf and dumb, yet mastered braille to become a major author, lecturer and political activist.  Their triumphs were made possible by a dogged refusal to surrender to their limitations, and subsequently to achieve the level of success not attained by some of their peers who never had disabilities.  Yet they all benefited by societies that encouraged getting beyond their limitations, societies that offered money and support groups.  Hence it is unconscionable to perceive that in some places in the world it is seen as a curse on a family who give birth to a compromised child.  In Ghana in West Africa a boy named Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in largely perfect order, save for one of his legs, which was limp.  The crushed father left the family never to return, but the mother was driven by her faith and named her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

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