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July 2006

"Vamos a Cuba" Stays for Now

If you've been following the Vamos a Cuba story in Miami (see previous entries here, here, and here), you'll be interested to hear that a federal judge has said that for now the children's picture book (and others in the series) should not yet be removed. Matthew I. Pinzur, the lead education reporter at the Miami Herald, has the latest:

A series of children's books banned this month by the Miami-Dade School Board must stay in the district -- and possibly in the schools -- until a federal judge holds a preliminary hearing in late July.

Copies of Vamos a Cuba and 23 other titles in the same series remain in school libraries, according to School Board attorney Luis Garcia. U.S. District Judge Alan Gold told the district today to keep possession of the books, saying he wanted to ''hold the status quo'' until a July 21 hearing, but he did not specify whether the books need to remain on shelves and accessible to students.

''One way or another, these books are going to remain here until I rule on this case,'' Gold said.

To read the entire piece at the Miami Herald, click here.

On his blog, Pinzur notes that a school board member, who is running in a hotly contested election, sent a memo to schools chancellor Rudy Crew asking the status of the book removal, stating, "With all due respect, neither your or the school board attorney have the authority to override or delay the decision and directive of the duly elected school board members, as represented in this majority decision, reached after much scrutiny and debate." Crew responded, and you can read what he said on Pinzur's blog.

Needless to say, it looks like the Vamos saga will continue well into the summer, at least.

Nature Carnival

Field Day, a blog carnival about nature study, is up at By Sun and Candlelight. (A blog carnival is a roundup of links to various blog posts on a particular subject.) I haven't read through it yet, but it looks like you'll get lots of ideas for nature projects. A link to my post on Snowflake Bentley, the picture book biography, is included. Thanks! I can't wait for some time to spend at this brand-new blog carnival! The reading looks grand.

Visiting with Mr. Putter and Tabby

With school out, we have a chance to catch up with Mr. Putter and Tabby, the kindly older man and his cherished pet who star in a series of advanced beginning readers by Cynthia Rylant. Junior, who's six and a half,  really likes Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book (2004). I wouldn't have predicted that; the theme seems a little like something only an adult would get. I guess not.  In this one, Mr. Putter decides to write a mystery, but gets carried away making snacks and taking naps instead. I can relate. Junior found something funny in Mr. Putter's procrastination, too.  Ultimately Mr. Putter is inspired to write about Good Things instead of "The Mystery of Lighthouse Cove." On his list Mr. Putter writes, "Yellow cats, Old sweaters, Cinnamon toast," and so on. Junior and I made our own list to which Junior contributed the following Good Things: Money, Kittens, Ghosts, and Candles. Only the "kittens" comes close to anything that I thought he would say. I have to laugh. You just never know.

Pinkwater on "Bats at the Beach"

Daniel Pinkwater has a new children's book pick over at NPR. The latest one, "a whiz-bang summer book" that he talked about last Saturday, is Bats at the Beach, by Brian Lies.

In our stack of recent favorites is Pinkwater's November selection, The Bake Shop Ghost, written by Jacqueline Ogburn and illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman. The picture book concerns a humorous battle of wills between the new and old owners of a town's most popular bakery.

Happy B'day, QE2

Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 80th birthday by hosting a children's literature festival at Buckingham Palace. Some 2000 children, accompanied by 1000 adults, attended. See the story at the Daily Mail. Another guest was J.K. Rowling, who, according to Reuters,  confessed that she is sad that the Harry Potter saga is ending; Rowling is currently writing the 7th and last of the Potter books.

Call for Quinceanera Submissions

No, not from me! I am a wee bit past the age of 15. Just a wee bit. Go see my friends at La Bloga for more information on this call for submissions for a quinceañera anthology. The title is Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and Other Quinceañera Stories. The book will be published by Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins, next summer.

Is it my imagination or is quince-lit blooming all over? Last week Jen Robinson considered Chasing the Jaguar, a young adult novel that featured the traditional Latina 15th birthday celebration, and I reviewed Malín Alegría's new YA novel about the same subject. Then MotherReader published her positive critique of Nancy Osa's Cuba 15, another quince tale. The new edition of  Family Pictures, which I wrote about back in January, includes a terrific painting of a quinceañera.

"The Edge of the Forest" Is Up

The June-July issue of The Edge of the Forest, an online magazine about children's books, is up and ready! I have rounded up some fun links from authors' blogs for the magazine. Highlights also include the following, which I have filched directly from the Edge's editor, Kelly Herold, at her blog, Big A little a. (Thanks, Kelly!)

Kelly writes, "Because it's a double issue, it's jam-packed with features and reviews. Here's the short of it:

Enjoy. The Edge of the Forest will be back August 15 with Issue No. 6."

Miami Book Ban Headed to Court?

Last  week the Miami-Dade school board voted to ban the book Vamos a Cuba and its English-language counterpart, A Visit to Cuba, from all schools in the district, and it also voted to remove from the schools the rest of the same series about children in various countries. The informational picture books are published by Heinemann Library.  (See previous stories on Chicken Spaghetti here and here.)

Today Matthew I. Pinzur reports in the Miami Herald,

The Miami-Dade school district's own Student Government Association joined the American Civil Liberties Union in filing a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the School Board's decision to ban controversial children's books about Cuba and 22 similar books about other countries.

The Herald also notes,

Most board members said they personally read only a few, if any, of those other books.

Pinzur, the Herald's lead education reporter, also has a blog, Miami Gradebook: Inside South Florida Education.

Snakes and Armadillos

School ends tomorrow, and we have a couple of weeks before summer day camp begins, so we'll see if that time off leads to more reading...or not. It may lead to more beach-going, in which case maybe I could come up with a nature-related post for Field Day, a blog carnival at By Sun and Candlelight. (Thank you to Melissa Wiley's new blog, the Lilting House, for pointing out the new carnival.)

Speaking of nature, last summer Junior liked reading A Gathering of Garter Snakes, by Bianca Lavies, a photo-essay about a place in Manitoba where snakes spend the winter in a big pit. Perhaps that book is what encouraged him to snatch up every garter snake he sees in our yard without fear and put it in some carefully constructed "new home," which bears a striking resemblance to a salad-bar container. (He frees them at the end of the day, and although he wanted to bring one in for show-and-tell, the idea was not met with enthusiasm by the teacher. Frankly I was not that anxious to drive around with it in the car, either, being fairly certain it would escape the salad-bar house.)

Recently at the library I spied another book by Lavies called It's an Armadillo!, and this one has been a hit, too, even though Junior has never seen an armadillo in person. You'll learn a lot about the odd-looking mammal; I never knew they jumped when scared. I don't have to worry about any armadillos being nabbed and re-located, since we don't have them in our neck of the woods. But Junior is really looking forward to seeing some the next time we visit his grandparents down South. Watch out, armadillos! (You are forewarned, too, Granma.)

"Estrella's Quinceanera"

Malín Alegría begins each chapter of her funny first novel with a definition of a Spanish word. Chapter One's entry succinctly lays out the dilemma of Estrella Alvarez, age 14:

quinceañera...1. traditional party (one that I refuse to have). According to my mom, a girl's fifteenth birthday is supposed to be the biggest day in her life. The quinceañera is like a huge flashing neon sign for womanhood. Back in the olden times, it meant that a woman was ready to get married and have babies. 2. The way I see it, it's just a lame party with cheesy music and puffy princess dresses.

Estrella lives in the San Jose barrio but attends a fancy private school for girls on a scholarship. Her school chums are rich and Anglo, and Estrella, who is working-class and Mexican-American (she would say American), knows, just knows that her new pals would find a quinceañera celebration to be the height of tackiness. She doesn't even have to ask them. Oh, and her parents embarrass the living daylights out of her, too. Then there's that boy, the one who dresses like a cholo, a guy from the 'hood. He is so cute, but Estrella's dad has told her that she cannot date until she turns the ancient age of sixteen.

As a girl with feet in two worlds, Estrella must reconcile her past and present, but I won't spoil the party by saying how she does it. The closeness of family, even when they drive you crazy, is an underlying theme, and Alegría writes with wit and a flair for drama. I mean it as a compliment when I say that I can see the characters from Estrella's Quinceañera in a television show.  I'd watch it!

I recommend this book to teenage girls and fans of programs like "My So-Called Life." I finished it long after the deadline for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, so I can't count it in my final tally. Está bien—that's okay.