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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

airport-1

by Sam Juliano

Lisa Brown’s The Airport Book is a study in words, pictures and voice bubbles of the unique experience of traveling on a plane.  Specifically it chronicles the fast and furious pace that greets an interracial family of four from the moment they wake to complete the packing of their suitcases, on through the taxi ride to the airport , and the seeming mass confusion and endless lines that invariably challenge even the most patient of passengers.  Brown’s vision of a travel day is one rife with confusion, tight security, and long lines that inform each and every new step of preparation leading up to takeoff.  People of all ages, races and vocations are united in their enlistment for air travel, and no matter what walk of life one hails from they must all play by the same rules.  Much like a visit to a theme park, or a tour of our nation’s capital every requirement or imperative activity requires toiling on a line from the moment one enters the airport.  Brown’s vibrant and vivid India ink and watercolor on paper vignettes project urgency, but also a measure of exhilaration.  Aside from business travelers who spend a good part of their weeks in the air, planes are filled by first-time passengers, those who rarely fly and some that may board maybe once or twice a year.

Brown sets her travel day in motion by spotting some of the family members in their apartment house on the end papers.  The boy is readying for a shower while the young girl is seen with her sock monkey.  Throughout the book she haunt the rest of her family for its whereabouts in a narrative thread that recalls Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny.  Mom and Dad hasten the pace before entering a taxi that takes them over a “flat ground” highway during a cloudburst to an international airport, which intimates their geographical destination.  Upon arrival on the departure deck the air is prevalent with emotional send-offs, physical embraces and tears.  Curbside check-in includes some items -like a violin case – as easily discernible, while other makeshift pieces are insoluble.   A crosswalk procession features travelers with carry-ons, cases on wheels and backpacks, while the age old airport declaration of insecurity is heard in an air shuttle when a wife curtly asks her husband if he remembered the tickets, to which he responds in the affirmative.  Meanwhile our quartet of adventurers, having checked in are heading inside. (more…)

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preaching-1

by Sam Juliano

Chickens are far more intelligent and cognitively sophisticated than previously believed. Recent studies have resulted in findings that assert they are able to recognize faces and remember voices, even in the case of people who have long been absent.  Furthermore, this cognitive process involved in representational thinking in chickens is similar to those required for associate learning in humans. When one considers that about ninety-nine per cent of all animals killed for food in the United States comes from the combined chicken and turkey fraternities, one is left with a profound sadness that includes even those who partake in the consumption.  Children’s literature has always held the chicken in high intellectual regard, and favorites like Chicken Little, The Little Red Hen and Click Clack Moo show them as enterprising and purposeful.  The British animated film Chicken Run, features a band of chickens who pin their hopes on a smooth-talking Rhode Island Red to help avert their death at the hands of their farm owners, who are looking to convert from selling eggs to chicken pot pies.

In a soulful picture book Preaching to the Chickens the acclaimed writer Jabari Asim has disseminated these human qualities on a flock of barnyard fowl in adherence to a real-life ritual from the childhood of a famed civil rights activist.  Indeed, Asim admits in an afterward that he was always a fervent admirer of John Lewis whose “brave participation as an original member of the Freedom Riders – Americans who in 1961 rode buses into the Deep South to protest the segregation of black and white travelers who were forced to sit on separate benches and drink from separate fountains – bellied the struggle to achieve equality for all.  Asim further relates that he was proud to meet Lewis shortly after reading his powerfully vivid memoir Walking with the Wind, a personal account of the harrowing events that led to long overdue social freedoms.  But it was the passages in the memoir that documented Lewis’ childhood in Pike County, Alabama that moved the author to create his own work, one primarily aimed at an impressionable audience.  Lewis dreamed of becoming a preacher and of moving audiences with powerful sermons.  He found just the captive audience he was looking for in a riveted congregation of chickens “who would sit very quietly moving their heads back and forth” fully attuned to the voice delivering the daily oratories. (more…)

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adas-violin-cover

by Sam Juliano

Inventing instruments wasn’t easy.  But they fiddled around, discovering which materials hit the right notes.  They transformed oil drums into cellos, water pipes into flutes, and packing crates into guitars.                         -Susan Hood

There could hardly be a more inauspicious setting for a child growing up than in a town sitting adjacent to a land fill in a third world country.  Surrounded by squalor and extreme economic impoverishment families faced the bleakest prospects for security and well-being, if indeed survival was in the cards for some.  In many towns such dire conditions invariably lead to crime, drugs and even worse.  Gangs have been known to take the law into their own hands, and violence in such hapless neighborhoods is a regular occurrence.  The 2002 Brazilian film City of God by Fernando Meirelles depicted a Rio de Janeiro district overcome by a drug trade that enlisted the services of children.  Many books and other films have sordidly chronicled this social plight, one where expressions like “Only the strong survive” and “the survival of the fittest” have been validates by a series of unconscionable events.  Once in a great while you do hear of stories of some enterprising youths beating the odds, and finding joy and creativity from the seemingly losing hands they were dealt, and some of the times the arc is from rags to riches as is the case with kids from dirt poor families finding out they possess enormous athletic potential.

In the afterward of Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, a non-fiction picture book written by Susan Hood, the most extreme picture of abject poverty is painted in the town of Cateura, which functionally serves as the garbage dump for Paraguay’s capital and largest city, Asuncion, which lies on a border with Argentina.  Hood reveals that this geographical aberration is “one of the poorest slums in all of South America” and that astoundingly “twenty thousand people live there on less than two dollars a day”.  The author further adds another incredulous statistic for the reader: “They endure fourteen hour days picking through the trash in the landfill to find things they can recycle and sell.”  The book’s resilient heroine, Ada Rios is immediately established as someone who believes in that light at the end of the tunnel.  The garbage dump did after all give opportunity for recyclers -known as gancheros to scour through the refuse to earn five cents for a pound of cardboard and ten cents for plastic, and Ada’s thoughts were enlivened by the memories of her father finding “appliances, toys, perfumes and antique watches” and a woman lucking into a box of jewelry.  Ada, her younger sister Noelia and the other friends in their circle of hope saw every arriving garbage truck as a potential opportunity for coming upon something of value. (more…)

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frank-1

by Sam Juliano

Though Lynne Rae Perkins’ Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is brilliantly conceived and is astonishingly diverse in its unique unfolding of its domino structure, it remains a moving story of friendship from the moment boy meets dog till the final autumnal vignette  when it is revealed that the human protagonist values his beloved black lab’s company more than anything in the world.  This was the message too in Peggy Rathman’s Caldecott Medal winning Officer Buckle and Gloria where a policeman and his trick performing dog served as a team to introduce students a host of imperative safety tips, but in the end it was their relationship that mattered most of all.  Books about the intractable bond between an impressionable laddie and his cherished canine companion are plentiful,  some like Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, William H. Armstrong’s Sounder and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh -the latter two winners of the Newbery Medal- are now seen as literary classics and classroom favorites, as well as prime examples of coming-of-age stories with baptism-under fire denouements.  Rawls’ novel, shattering and beautifully written ended with the bleakest resolution ever posed in this genre when a boy’s two redbone coon hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann save him from a mountain lion, but at the steepest price when the former is mortally wounded and succumbs the next morning.  Little Ann is so devastated that she loses her will to live and dies on Old Dan’s grave, leaving the young owner disconsolate and grief-stricken.  But he returns later to the graves to find a giant red fern growing between them.  Some vital lessons about life and responsibility are integral to a true appreciation of these books, all of which can also be framed as slice-of-life adventure stories.

Perkins, an eminent writer who won the coveted Newbery Medal in 2006 for Criss Cross, is also an extraordinary illustrator, and her dual talents are stunningly showcased in Frank and Lucky, which takes no sides in favoring either component.  The art in the book is varied in style, density and canvas size but the pen, ink and watercolor tapestries are as sublime as any of the more pictorially conspicuous picture books of 2016, and to boot, it is accompanied by Newbery level prose. (more…)

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peddles-1

by Sam Juliano

Studies have revealed that pigs are as cognitively complex as dogs.  Furthermore, they are emotionally and socially sophisticated, they register sensitivity and hurt feelings and they possess sound long term memories.  Some have been known to read people’s temperaments.  Pigs like to play and are also easily bored.  It shouldn’t come as any kind of a surprise then that pigs have fared exceptionally well in literature, both as revered and intelligent animals in children’s literature but also as enterprising characters in some of the most celebrated works by authors as diverse as George Orwell, P.G. Wodehouse and Beatrix Potter.  They were hunted and decapitated in the popular high school novel Lord of the Flies, and they are often the butt of false declarations that intimate they are dirty animals, when in the fact the reverse is true.  Even the phrase “You sweat like a pig” is a fallacy as pigs don’t even sweat!

To be sure the pig has generated some of some of the most affectionately engaging stories and picture books, and in the eyes of children they can do little wrong.  The Little Little Pigs remains one of the most popular fairy tales, and David Weisner won a Caldecott Medal for his own anarchic, multi-dimensional  take on it.  Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith beguiled readers with their irreverent The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, though the big bad wolf was really the star, and the beloved James Marshall imparted his own measure of incomparable humor to his own take on the tale.  Ian Falconer’s Olivia has led to a multiple entry series about the incorrigible female pig with human traits. The most beloved pig of them all is Wilbur, the fun-loving object of the spider Charlotte’s affection in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the most celebrated American children’s book ever written.  The pig was the hero of the critically-acclaimed movie Babe, which spawned two sequels. (more…)

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this-is-the-earth-1

by Sam Juliano

Several months ago 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 misplaced priorities, may own sadly included. (more…)

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tree-1

by Sam Juliano

The story of the extraordinarily perspicacious fifteen-year-old German/Dutch girl Anne Frank, enshrined in a diary she maintained during two years of Nazi occupation, has remained a staple in classrooms, has been translated into seventy languages, and according to some accounts has a wider circulation worldwide than any book other the Bible.  It is hardly a wonder that such a treasured document would hold such emotional sway in view of its brilliant young writer’s tragic end, yet her her life-affirming resilience in the face of this impending doom has inspired and moved readers to their cores. Volumes upon volumes of critical studies of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and the continued research into her short life have been the bane of historical scholars, and there can be no doubt this impassioned life force has moved mountains across the globe, no doubt precipitating more tears than any document ever written.  Stage plays, films and documentaries on her life and the twenty-five months she spent holed up in a series of tiny rooms, sealed off by a bookcase have been plentiful and sustained, yet there are other angles that haven’t been explored both as a narrative aside or as a symbolic extension.

In the achingly poignant picture book, poetically written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by the Caldecott Honoree Peter McCarty, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window, a horse chestnut tree standing outside a secret annex that shields eight people from concentration camp doom during the height of the Holocaust takes on the dual role of guardian and as a gateway to the sealed off outer world.  In an afterward Gottesfeld confirms that young Anne made reference to the tree three times, though it is clear enough from the most stirring entry -the one the author showcases on the book’s opening page- that there is a metaphysical kinship with this venerable gateway to the outside world, one that encompasses beauty in its most unadulterated incarnation:

“The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.” (more…)

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