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My Boyfriend is a Monster #1: I Love Him to Pieces // Evonne Tsang

1) Culture or group portrayed

Asian American

2) Bibliographic information

Tsang, E. (2011). My Boyfriend is a Monster #1: I Love Him to Pieces. Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Universe.

3) Brief summary

Outgoing Dicey Bell is the all-star female player on her school’s baseball team. Jack Chen is science aficionado who spends his free time conducting research and tabletop gaming. A school project brings the two together and an unlikely romance begins to blossom. While on their first date, the couple catches wind of a terrible brain eating infection taking hold of their city. Dicey and Jack must work together to survive until a cure is found.

4) Multicultural evaluation

I chose this delightful graphic novel for the first read in a (HYPOTHETICAL) Public Library’s Teen Book Club (9th-12th grade) series on “Monsters, Magic, and Dystopia.” These genres are overwhelmingly popular and it’s so important that we introduce teens and young adults to wonderful novels that don’t always receive the attention of so many of the more mainstream books pushed by publishers within these categories. It’s vital that teens are exposed to books written by authors from marginalized communities about characters from marginalized communities. It’s also important that these characters are written realistically with diverse experiences. Evonne Tsang’s graphic novel, I Love Him to Pieces portrays characters from different backgrounds, a multicultural romance, and a strong female protagonist kicking zombie butt and breaking gender norms! Since the book takes place in Florida, it’s especially interesting for teens to follow along Dicey and Jack’s travels around St. Pete!

5) Verdict

Highly recommended!

The book club discussion:

The book club meeting runs from 6:30pm-9pm beginning with 20 minutes for socialization and 30 minutes for an open-ended book discussion. A teen librarian will moderate and suggest prompts and discussion questions if a lull occurs. However, most of the conversation should be guided by the teens themselves.

Discussion Prompts—

How did this zombie story compare to other zombie stories in popular culture today?

The first half of the story presented itself as realistic fiction and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the outbreak took hold. What did you think of the story’s pace?

Did the illustrations enhance the story? Would the novel be as good or effective if it were written in a different format?

Why do you think graphic novels might be more appealing to some readers?

The activity:

After the book discussion, snacks are provided along with a brief overview of Zines (https://zines.barnard.edu/definition). For this activity, the teens will have the opportunity to create their own zine. Zines are small self-published comics that people create to share their stories, thoughts, and experiences. A Zine can be produced in a variety of formats, the simplest being the eight page, single sheet. This activity will utilize the zine folding resource found here: http://blog.umamidesign.com/2013/09/zines-2/
There are no strict guidelines for creating a zine! It’s all about creativity and self-expression! The materials needed for this activity include a typewriter, a photocopier, markers, glue, colored pencils, construction paper, scissors, and magazines. After the teens create their zines, they will have the opportunity to photocopy them and start a zine collection at the library.

Promotion:

To draw attention to the event, I created the promotional materials in a similar aesthetic to many of the most reblogged images on popular teen blogging sites (such as tumblr). The event posters will be posted in the physical library and virtually on the library’s webpage and facebook accounts. The bookmarks will be printed and distributed at the event.

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Discussion: School Libraries, Reforms, and Collaboration

With educational reforms, it is necessary for students to acquire and perform specific skills on cue. Tests are developed to gauge progress and assure that students are prepared to move forward with their education. The reforms have redirected benchmarks of the past: Kindergarteners were expected to focus on social skills, but new emphasis has been placed on reading and writing. The pressure on teachers from the strict state-mandated requirements provide opportunities for librarians to reinforce concepts and introduce creative play.

Leadership restructuring has shifted the role of the superintendent from educator to business person. Funding is often sparse and the allotment of funds must be justified (often by student performance). With the arrival of No Child Left Behind and Common Core State Standards (CCSS), performance is evaluated by standardized testing. These educational reforms often leave teachers exhausted with the overwhelming task of preparing students for specific tests rather than allowing them room to focus on lifelong learning and skill development. The Mandate for Change discusses teacher quality. The notion that the quality of the teacher can be determined based on their student’s standardized test scores is hotly debated. Librarians are able to lessen the burden on teachers by helping implement materials to prepare students for these tests – all the while teaching both educators and students to use innovative technologies that aid in the development of necessary skills for lifelong learning. A major aspect of these new technologies centers around online education. This innovative learning style is encouraged not only for academic achievement but also for its impact on the learning process as a whole.

Policies and technologies are always changing: as such, it is vital that school libraries and librarians are constantly learning, adapting, and paving the way for students, educators, and administration. Educational reform policies have made it even more necessary for school librarians to assert the importance of themselves and their centers. Funding is limited. By adopting an engaged leadership position; pioneering new technologies; and advocating for students, the librarian assures both the allocation of funds and job security.

It is essential for teachers and school librarians to work collaboratively to help students find, evaluate, and synthesize information (especially with the constant evolution of new technology). Librarians can reinforce concepts and integrate meaningful technological tools and learning skills that teachers often overlook or don’t have time to emphasize on their own. School librarians strive to be leaders of new technologies: they aid educators in the navigation of programs such as online classes and virtual learning. More appropriately titled, “Resource Brokers,” librarians assist teachers by providing materials and instructional guidance to build a curriculum that promotes a vision of lifelong learning.

“Finding Yourself in the Shelves: Diversity in Ethnicity and Language For Your Teens” at the ALA 2016 Orlando Conference.

At the ALA Conference in Orlando I attended a session called “Finding Yourself in the Shelves: Diversity in Ethnicity and Language For Your Teens.” This was a compelling discussion that emphasized the importance of diverse books for kids and young adults. The board was composed of a group of young adult writers from diverse backgrounds. Each writer started by providing some information about their background and acknowledged their positions as role models for teens from marginalized communities.

Lamar Giles (author of Fake ID) explained the necessity of showing young black males that there are career options out there beyond what is presented in the same old tired narratives. Too often society tells the story of the “successful basketball star!” “the street kid who rose out of poverty!” These authors urge readers, writers, and publishers to acknowledge that there is no one representative story.  Some children love art, poetry, and theater, and some like sports. These stories should be told.   When people see themselves and their interests reflected in a story it legitimizes the experience. (It is possible to _____!)

Diverse authors often act as mentors for marginalized youth and it’s vital that libraries share their work. Meg Medina (a prolific Cuban-American YA author) addressed “Multicultural” stickers on library books. She described the stickers as creating a separatist atmosphere when these stories should be celebrated as universal stories not “multicultural stories”. She urged libraries to appeal to patrons thematically rather than with multicultural labels. For example, here’s a display of really great fantasy books! – include diverse authors within the displays you’re already using. We need to normalize diverse books, rather than siloing them off as “other”.

The authors also urged writers to craft more nuanced and developed books; do your research, vet the books with other people, and hold yourself accountable. Describe everyone the protagonist encounters so the default assumption isn’t that they’re a white able-bodied individual. Again, there isn’t just one universal experience!! These communities are already marginalized, don’t pile on the pain with ridiculous stereotypes. Most of what we read is problematic. Publishers are the gatekeepers so it’s important to speak out and let them know we want TRULY diverse books; not whitewashed problem stories, not multicultural stories that fit into a neat little box. We want stories that smash the stereotypes and reflect stories beyond the canon we’re typically presented. The board noted the importance of reaching out to publications that praise problematic books while helping kids develop the skills to be discerning readers. The authors noted that nearly everything we love is problematic, the important thing is recognizing that and having conversations about these problems through the discomfort.

No Two Alike // Keith Baker

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Title: No Two Alike
Author and Illustrator: Keith Baker
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Year of Publication: 2011

No Two Alike is a children’s non-fiction concept picture book intended for PreK through grade 2. Baker uses large pictures that extend simple text to convey the concept that though many things are similar, nothing is exactly alike. The book emphasizes the uniqueness of objects and individuals (snowflakes, nests, tracks, branches, leaves, forests, fences, roads, bridges, houses, friends). The language is vivid and enhanced by large images with striking red accents (particularly birds). The simple language excites children – “I can read this!”

Keith Baker is a former teacher turned children’s picture book author and illustrator. He prides himself in engaging students and teaching reading comprehension and concepts. The subject is adequately covered and extends beyond the natural world into the man-made world. Nothing is alike “almost, almost, but not quite.” No Two Alike fosters the spirit of inquiry. Young readers are inspired to explore the world and notice the differences between the birds, the leaves, the trees, and even the people around them.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret // Judy Blume

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Title: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Author: Judy Blume
Publisher: Random House
Year of publication: 1970

Blume’s popular novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, is a middle-grade novel that can be appreciated by children and young adults from about 4th grade on. It’s the story of Margaret, a sixth grader trying to navigate growing up while adjusting to a new town. She faces the usual coming of age difficulties: making friends, fitting it, stressing over puberty. It’s Margaret’s interest in religion that sets this coming of age story apart from others like it. Margaret is raised in a non-religious household but she often sorts through her problems by talking to God. When assigned a year-long project for school Margaret decides to focus on religion and attempts to hear or feel God. It’s a children’s book with a whole lot of depth. Though Margaret doesn’t exactly figure out where she stands when it comes to religion her personal relationship with a God she believes in is strengthened when her prayers are answered and she finally starts her period.

Though written in 1970, the issues dealt with in Blume’s novels are universal and timeless. The realities of growing up are still the same. Fitting into a group, talking about cute boys, and stressing about puberty are part of the general reality of growing up as a young female. Margaret is a relatable character, even more so today since society is increasingly secular. Much like Margaret, more children are being raised without a religion of which they are required to strictly adhere. Though religion is often a contentious topic, Blume handles the subject with grace. Margaret explores Judaism, Christianity, and Catholicism and even when she doesn’t connect with a certain belief system the subject is still handled with respect.

The Little Prince // Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Title: The Little Prince
Author and Illustrator: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Translator: Katherine Woods
Publisher: Harcourt

The story begins with the tale of a whimsical child excited to share his drawings of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. The adults in his life don’t understand his drawing, seeing only a hat, and encourage the boy to attend to more practical pursuits. Disheartened by the grown-ups constant lack of understanding, the whimsical boy eventually heeds their advice and turns his focus onto becoming a pilot. Though the story begins firmly grounded in reality, it takes a plane crash and the thought-provoking questions of an alien child to redirect the pilot’s concerns from “matters of consequence” to poetic truths of the human spirit coveted by the simplicity of childhood and forgotten during the desolate desert of adulthood.

The Little Prince slowly shares his story with the lost pilot. His journey away from his home planet (asteroid B-612) bounces him along a number of other planets in which adults are all preoccupied with power, pride, greed, and work. Descriptions of The Little Prince’s home are precisely detailed (he owns three volcanoes, one of which is dead) and charming illustrations aid in constructing a highly creative new world. The Little Prince doesn’t understand the concerns of grown ups and regrets leaving his vain little rose on his home planet.

The metaphors throughout the story serve to open the young reader’s eyes to a new perspective (or in the case of adult readers, re-open their eyes to a forgotten old perspective). In essence, The Little Prince aims to remind us that relationships provide purpose and adults are too concerned with the wrong “matters of consequence.” The Little Prince doesn’t push us to reprioritize but his existence urges us to ease ourselves into doing so. His relationship with the beautiful rose mirrors the crushing weight that relationships can hold over us – even so it is these relationships that provide meaning.

Though considered a children’s book, it’s truly a story that speaks to the forgotten child that resides within each and every adult. Young children ages 9+ will enjoy the fantastic elements of the story but this is a book that certainly grows with the reader.
The edition evaluated herein contains an abundance of black and white pictures intended to be the line drawings of the pilot protagonist. These drawings add to the whimsical nature of the story. Their simplicity mirrors the loneliness and the isolation both the pilot and The Little Prince feel. They’re outsiders in thought and it sets them apart from the other people they come across during their journey through life.

This timeless story is filled with some really beautiful passages. I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this wonderful fantasy “fairy tale” classic.

“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox.
But he came back to his idea.
“My life’s very monotonous,” he said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me.
All chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike.
And in consequence, I am a little bored.
But if you tame me, it’ll be as if the sun came to shine on my life.
I shall know the sound of a step that’ll be different from all the others.
Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.
Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow.
And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder?
I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me.
The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad.
But you have hair that is the color of gold.
Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!
The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.
And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”

The Golden Sandal A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story // Rebecca Hickox

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Title: The Golden Sandal A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story
Author: Rebecca Hickox
Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand
Publisher: Holiday House
Year of Publication: 1998

Hickox adapted this picture book from an Arabic folk tale called “The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold.” This picture book is a wonderful addition to any introductory lesson on traditional literature and multicultural folktales. It teaches one of the origins of the modern day Cinderella story with Middle Eastern elements. Much like Yen-Shen A Cinderella Story from China story, a dainty slipper and a magical fish both play important roles in an ill-treated stepdaughter’s quest for happiness.

Maha is the beautiful daughter of a widowed fisherman. After her mother’s death, Maha grows fond of the kind single mother next door. She convinces her father to marry the woman. The family gets along until the stepmother grows jealous that Maha’s beauty overshadows that of her own daughter. One day Maha is delivering fish from her father’s boat to her stepmother at home when she hears a little voice in her basket asking for help. A little red fish asks Maha to save him and she lets him go. He tells her she can call on him anytime and ask whatever she wishes. When the daughter of a merchant is to be married the family hosts a henna party where all the mother’s scope out eligible wives for their sons. Maha’s mean stepmother and her stepsister intend to attend the party without Maha. Desperate to attend the ceremony, Maha asks the red fish for help. He supplies her with clothes to wear and the most beautiful dainty slippers. The fish instructs Maha that she must leave the party before her stepmother. As she rushes out of the party, she loses her slipper. After the wedding, the bride’s brother is riding his horse when he stumbles upon the lost slipper. After discovering the beautiful shoe Tariq tells his mother he wants to marry its owner. She eventually finds Maha and the two are blessed with many children and a happy life.
Hillenbrand’s utilizes oil paints, pastels, and vellum to create highly textured illustrations. These images reflect the intricacies of the beautiful culture from which the story arose.

Yeh-Shen A Cinderella Story from China // Ai-Ling Louie

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Title: Yeh-Shen A Cinderella Story from China
Retelling by: Ai-Ling Louie
Illustrator: Ed Young
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of Publication: 1982

The modern reissue of this story is retold in the original block printed page format. The oldest European Cinderella story is an Italian tale from 1634. The Yeh-Shen telling predates that version.

Yeh-Shen is a beautiful girl forced to live with her wicked stepmother and ugly stepsister. She is responsible for all the difficult chores. Yeh-Shen’s only solace is her friend, the fish. One day stepmother deceives the fish and cooks him for dinner. Distraught, Yeh-Shen meets an old sage who tells her there’s magic in the fish’s bones. She talks to them and they provide her the things she needs to survive in the home of her awful family. When stepmother and stepsister go off to the holiday festival to find a husband, Yeh-Shen is told to stay home and watch the fruit trees. Instead, she talks to the fish bones and finds herself in a beautiful dress with a beautiful pair of magic slippers. While fleeing the festival for fear she’s been recognized, Yeh-Shen loses one of the slippers. With the slipper lost the bones are no longer magical. The slipper is found and sold to a king who longs to find its owner! For it’s the daintiest, most beautiful slipper he’s ever seen and surely its owner must be as lovely. Eventually, the King locates Yeh-Shen and she’s swept off to his beautiful home. Stepmother and stepsister aren’t nearly as lucky. They spend the rest of their days in their cave until they’re “crushed to death in a shower of flying stones.”

Young’s soft, seemingly glowing, illustrations mirror the beautiful Yeh-Shen herself. The delicate and m minimalistic images are strewn across four blocks which are etched across both the left and right sides of the book. The images flow across the boundaries of the individual boxes mimicking the swimming movement of Yeh-Shen’s only friend, the fish.

The Kissing Hand // Audrey Penn

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Title: The Kissing Hand
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Year of publication: 1993

The Kissing Hand is a story about anthropomorphic raccoons. Young Chester is nervous about heading off to school. He doesn’t want to leave his mother, his toys, his friends, and his books. The story opens with a full-page depiction of Chester with tears in his eyes asking his mother if he can stay home from school. His mother, Mrs. Raccoon, gently explains that doing seemingly scary things is part of growing up. In order to ease his anxiety, Mrs. Raccoon lets Chester in on a secret. She kisses his palm so he can take her love wherever he goes. This physical and visual reminder helps comfort Chester and before he heads off to school he gives her a kissing hand as well. Full of his mother’s love and encouragement, Chester bounds off to school, ready to take on whatever life has to throw at him. The gift of Chester’s kissing hand to his mother also warms Mrs. Raccoon and provides a way for both mother and child to ease into school without an abundance of sadness and separation anxiety.

Young children are drawn to books about animals. Anthropomorphic raccoons are a great way to engage children and maintain their attention Harper and Leak’s watercolor illustrations beautifully capture the mood of the story. Chester’s time at home with his mother is depicted with warm autumnal tones. The warm colors represent the comfort of home and the known world. As the time for Chester to head to school draws near, the colors grow cool. The blues and greens represent the unknown. Chester is heading out into the dark (both literally and metaphorically). Important events have standalone pages without text. After Mrs. Raccoon kisses Chester’s hand a soft portrait of his hand in her hand exudes warmth and love.

The Kissing Hand effectively deals with issues of separation anxiety. It would be an appropriate book for children ready to head off to school for the first time. While the book would certainly comfort children with a strong familial support system, a child who doesn’t have a supportive parent could face even more anxiety based on the presentation of this book. The Kissing Hand is a perfect book for a parent to read to a nervous child but due to the multitude of different family situations, I would not recommend it for a story time program or something of that nature.

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