by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
Big book news this week!
On Sunday night, I was in New Orleans getting ready for a press conference for the NOLA Book Festival when Hair Love—one of my personal favorite picture books (and a favorite at Scholastic Book Clubs)—won an Oscar for best animated short film.
This NAACP Image Award–winning picture book by former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, is the story of the first time a father does his daughter’s hair. The author wanted to “give kids a character that normalizes and celebrates black hair”—a mission that was embraced by the nearly 5,000 supporters who made Hair Love the most funded film on Kickstarter. Needless to say, when the award was announced, I could practically hear the cheering coming from Scholastic Book Clubs staff and Book Club teachers watching the Academy Awards.
“I love that Hair Love is highlighting the relationship between a Black father and daughter. Matthew leads the ranks of new creatives who are telling unique stories of the Black experience. We need this.” —Jordan Peele, actor and filmmaker
For my #SaturdayReads, I stayed put on the couch (in one can’t-put-it-down sitting) with Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid, about seventh grader Jordan Banks and his first year at Riverdale Academy Day School, which won both the 2020 Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award.
On Tuesday, World Read Aloud Day, I visited Montclair Community Pre-K with a few Scholastic Book Clubs colleagues. We read aloud Clifford the Big Red Dog to a super-excited group of three-, four-, and five-year-olds and their almost-as-excited teachers. My colleagues and I also brought some boxes of books for the kids, and, as always, it was fascinating to see which ones the children picked out for themselves.
I don’t really need reminding—but it’s still important to see in action—that even very young children have strong tastes and preferences in what they want to read. Our job at Scholastic Book Clubs is to make sure there are always excellent books, on all topics and at all reading levels, available for the millions of children—and their teachers—we serve with the Book Club program.
On Friday, I did my first-ever Skype classroom visit with Mrs. Kerry-Ann Reeves’s fourth graders in Westchester, New York. I told the 19 kids in class that while I have done lots of in-person school visits, I have never done one remotely before. They promised they would help me along (if I needed it).
I read these incredibly attentive and interested kids the first chapter of last week’s blog title, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, and then they asked me some amazing, smart, and interesting questions.
All of the questions were really great; however, one sticks out in my mind. A student named Audrina asked me, “What motivates you to read?”
Audrina’s question is at the core of why I—and I believe many others—read. I’m motivated because reading books both lets me escape from the real world—to imagine fictional new places and meet wonderful new characters—and helps me learn more about the real-life world we live in now.
(Plus, as I explained to the kids in Mrs. Reeves’s class: I love words! I know it sounds corny, but I love to learn new words and read how authors use words in new and interesting contexts. The very best way to build an excellent vocabulary and be able to express yourself is by reading all kinds of books!)
Kate DiCamillo’s novel The Tiger Rising is a great example of a book that transported me to a world with new characters and situations. My experience with this week’s Book of the Week, Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, is a wonderful example of how a book can help me learn more about the world and real people who make important contributions—in this case, Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
When I was growing up, we watched the Vietnam War on television in the kitchen every night during dinner. This was the first time in history that real military combat had been televised so widely, and many people were glued each night to the iconic Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on the Huntley–Brinkley Report on NBC. The fighting we watched felt terrifying, yet so remote. And it was very confusing to understand this war since there was also so much coverage of the antiwar protests and student demonstrations around the country. To be honest, no one really helped me and my friends sort out the issues so we could understand what was going on. There weren’t any books for kids written yet about the topic!
In my personal life and in our community, I had friends and family members on both sides of the Vietnam War: some were drafted to serve in Vietnam and some were protesting and even avoiding the draft.
Decades later, our family went to visit Vietnam. It was an incredible trip. We found the Vietnamese people welcoming and very interested in American culture and life. And for us, it was both fascinating and surreal to see up close the former war zones and areas we had read about and seen on TV.
Though I know about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I didn’t know very much about its designer, Maya Lin. Once again, a new book helped me learn so much about the brilliant visionary whose design for the memorial was chosen from 1,421 entries, some by famous artists and architects.
That’s where Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, comes in, and why it’s this week’s Book of the Week.
“A fine celebration of a renowned woman artist.” —Kirkus Reviews
While reading this engaging picture-book biography, I learned that Maya Lin was an undergrad student at Yale (and just 21 years old) when she submitted her idea to a competition to design a memorial for American veterans of the Vietnam War.
When her design was chosen and she was revealed as the creator, though, she was met with a barrage of controversy—critics disliked that she was so young.
After reading Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, I had a deeper appreciation for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is impressive on so many levels, but it is also not political.
Family trips to national monuments and historic sites were a part of David Vozar’s childhood, and after reading Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, David recalls what they did—and didn’t—mean to him at the time:
“My dad loved to take our family to national monuments that were within driving distance. Some of them, like historical homes or museums, I found interesting and enjoyed very much.
“However, there was one summer when, each weekend, my dad would take us to different Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields. As an adult, I can now appreciate their historical significance—but as child, mostly what I saw was an empty field or a pile of rocks.”
This week, we’ve put together some supplemental materials to help you and your students get the most out of Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. It’s also a great title to use in March for Women’s History Month!
• Discover interesting facts about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Book Boys.
• Read an exclusive author interview in Behind the Scenes.
• See how one library teacher uses this book to encourage her students to engage with other subjects in Book Talks.
• Download a free and engaging “design your own memorial” activity in Cooked Up from a Book.
I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to get the Book of the Week, Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, at a special price. And please feel free to share with me what your class learned from this book; any experiences you or your students have with visiting memorials; and, as always, the reasons why you all love books and reading.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs