I’ve had dogs on the brain these past few weeks. Well, more like one dog on the brain: my escape artist, Peanut, a little mutt who gets himself into real trouble every few months. Whether it’s getting his head stuck in the fence for a few hours or mysteriously cutting his paw while running in the yard, this little guy definitely keeps my husband and I on our toes. (He’s lucky he’s captured our hearts with his cuteness!) Of all the trouble he’s gotten into, no time is worse than coming home to find Peanut had escaped the yard and was lost in the neighborhood. This emotionally charged memory is what drew me to Chris Raschka’s Daisy Gets Lost.
As a newbie to the kidlit world, I was not surprised to learn that Raschka has published over fifty children’s books. One glance at the cover of the distinctive dog Daisy, and it’s easy to see how these illustrations capture the reader’s imagination. Who is this curious-looking dog made of energetic swirls of paint and daubs of color? The story is a simple one: Daisy, distracted by her instinct to chase a squirrel, gets lost in the woods, far away from her girl. All it takes is a unique perspective on paint and illustration to transcend words in this nearly wordless picture book.
Art and the fun stuff!
Raschka uses his signature mix of ink, watercolor and gouache to give Daisy her inquisitive expressions, create an intriguing world, and illustrate the love between a young girl and her pup. Raschka uses playful brushstrokes, big, watery stains of paint, and rich earthy tones to capture the emotions of adventure, the uncertainty of getting lost and the comfort of being found. Daisy Gets Lost and so many other children’s books illustrated by Raschka, prove you don’t need intricate, precise illustrations to create a captivating story and a familiar situation many readers can connect with.
Kids will love it because…
who wouldn’t love a book about a playful pup with a little scare and a happy ending? Let’s face it- most kids have experienced the fear of getting lost, even if it’s only for a few minutes in the freezer aisle of the supermarket. There’s nothing like the waves of relief that come from seeing the familiar face you thought you’d never see again, a feeling for the one who was lost, and the one finding her lost loved one.
Can’t get enough of Daisy? Check out Daisy’s first appearance in A Ball for Daisy, a 2012 Caldecott Medal winner.
Curious to see Peanut, the little trouble-maker who first drew me to Daisy? Check out my Instagram: @sarahmomoromero
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Look out for her first picture book coming out in
You can find more of Sarah's musings and drawings here:
Facebook: thepeanutprojectla + Instagram: @sarahmomoromero + Twitter: @sarahmomoromero
Beyond Sissy: the evolution of gender identity and sexual orientation in picture books
Because it's PRIDE month, I wanted to take a look at gender identity and the depiction of sexual orientation in picture books. Charlotte Zolotow's 1972 classic, William's Doll (HarperCollins), was seen as cutting-edge and feminist, saying that boys should have dolls so they can practice being daddies. The word sissy appears six times and creep is used three times, just to clarify how deviant William's desires were. The book was adapted into musical form by the incredible Mary Rodgers and included in the 1972 book Free to Be...You and Me. Free to Be...You and Me was an essential tome for children of my generation and the record album of the same name was in heavy rotation in the homes of my school chums. It was wildly liberating to think that a boy could have a doll. Sissy was a terrible and loaded (and coded) word that boys were called; they would go to great lengths to prove that they were not one.
Oliver Button is a Sissy, by Tomie dePaola (1979, Harcourt) is so sissy-centric that the word appears in the title. Oliver is bullied (even by his own father, sadly) because he is not interested in sports. Graffiti on the walls of his school labels him a sissy. Oliver finds his way into the world of dance and taps his way to respect; although he does not win the talent competition, he returns to school to find that the graffiti has been changed to read "Oliver Button is a Star!"
But what if William and Oliver really were sissies? American culture was bursting with sissies in the 1970s; Paul Lynde in the center square, Charles Nelson Reilly camping it up with Brett Somers on Match Game, Wayland Flowers and Madame, and the unbelievably popular Village People. Gay men were everywhere in pop culture, yet the subject was absolutely off-limits, especially for children.
I'm seeing contemporary picture books addressing gender fluidity in direct ways and I see families seeking out these books. Drag Queen story times have become well-attended crowd-pleasing events at urban libraries across the U.S. and Canada.
Books like Michael Hall's Red: a crayon's story (2015, Greenwillow) never mentions gender at all. It skillfully uses a blue crayon in a red wrapper to represent a trans child whose outward appearance leads to a set of expectations from others, but whose insides are nothing like the wrapper. This accessible analogy makes this a very strong book.
Jacob's New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman (Albert Whitman & Company, 2014) focuses on the "pink boy" phenomenon, which is described in the book's backmatter. A pink boy is gender nonconforming, but not labeled trans or gay. I found it to be a bit clunky, but it definitely could be used for bibliotherapy and to increase acceptance for pink boys.
10,000 Dresses, by Marcus Ewert (2008, Seven Stories Press) was perhaps the very first picture book that featured a trans character, Bailey. Bailey dreams about dresses and says "But...I don't feel like a boy." Bailey's family is not at all supportive, with her brother going as far as to threaten to kick Bailey. Bailey runs away and meets Laurel and they collaborate on some amazing dresses. While some of the other books I looked at depict supportive families, 10,000 Dresses has a narrative that is more painful than reassuring. Children do face hurtful comments and rejection when they come out as trans, but the message that a kid needs to run away in order to find acceptance and love is pretty heavy for an elementary school aged audience.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. email@example.com
To pick up a guitar, or to just pick up your chin and sing, is to amplify the voices of millions who pick up protest signs. It’s to speak even for those who don’t dare to open their mouths.
Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, with illustrations by Adam Gustavson (Bloomsbury, 2017), begins with an infectious rhythm. Pete Seeger plucks and strums a banjo, calling out words for a crowd to sing along with him. To Pete, whose youth was impacted by the crash of ’29, when he was ten, “it didn’t seem fair that some folks were rich and some had nothing.” This is a picture book I’d like to see in every classroom across this nation, the biography of a man who, as Peter Yarrow writes in the foreword, “fully lived the message of his music.” The illustrator’s realistic, earthy palette enriches the story of an enterprising young boy, growing up in a socially conscious, musical family, who lived in the best sense of the word. Through many eras— Depression, World War II, McCarthy Witch Hunts, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the ongoing struggles for peace and to save our planet— Pete never changed his tune to suit those in power, “spreading his folk music seeds song by song and child by child.”
Born just four years before Pete, in 1915, but in drastically different circumstances, Billie Holiday became a jazz legend. Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated with lush, painterly strokes by Charlotte Riley-Webb (Millbrook Press, 2017), dares to make a song that describes a lynching the subject of a picture book. Billie thought that performing it “might make things better, even though she knew that black people had been killed for less.” The photo that inspired the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Abel Meeropol, to write “Strange Fruit” is not described, but the metaphoric text is included.
By the time we get to that page, we’ve traveled a long way with Billie, starting from the moment when she quit a profitable band gig over the racist policies of performing venues. “Enough,” as she put it, became “more than enough.” Mr. Golio does not gloss over her rape, at age ten, though it’s not explicit (“a terrible thing done to her”). Like Mr. Golio’s award-winning book on Jimi Hendrix, the throbbing heart of this brave book is music.
Some of the questions it will surely spark may be answered, for older readers, in Carole Boston Weatherford’s Becoming Billie Holiday. This book of poems, with stunning art by Floyd Cooper (Wordsong, 2008 ), is daringly told in the first person. Each poem has the title of one of Billie’s songs. They pull no punches, literally. In the poem entitled I’m a Fool to Want You, Billie says, about her romance with famed tenor sax player Ben Webster, given to slugging her when drunk, “Ben was bad news/I was slow to read.”
Copious back matter details the rich, historical underpinnings of these marvelous books. Their characters are fully human. No racial or ethnic groups are glorified or demonized. They remind us that art has a vital role to play in bending societies towards social justice.
Orel’s fourth picture book, Thelonious Mouse (FSG), won a Crystal Kite, 2012, from SCBWI. Her third was a Bank St. Best and the second made the NY Times Ten Best-Illustrated list. A Thousand, Peaks, Poems from China (with Siyu Liu) was selected for the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list. A Word’s a Bird, her animated, bilingual (English/French) poetry book for iPad, was on SLJ’s list of ten best children’s apps, 2013. Her book for teachers, Metaphors & Similes You Can Eat (Scholastic) has inspired great poems from children in grades 4-8. Orel won the Oberon poetry prize in 2010 and commendation in other reviews and anthologies. She teaches at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Huntington Station, New York. www.orelprotopopescu.com
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