Monday, March 23, 2015

Kids' Killer Comics : Graphic Novels About Consequences and Horrors of War

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers and Saints (First Second)
In honor of ABCWednesday's "K" week, I thought I'd share some of my favorite comics and graphic novels that teach kids (of all ages) about the consequences (and often the horrors) of war.

Comics, and graphic novels in particular, have come a long way over the

last few years. They are exquisitely written and drawn and the number of school and curriculum-appropriate books continues to expand. While engaging and empowering all levels of readers, the images make it easier for readers in relate to and incorporate their content. This makes them powerful classroom non-fiction tools - especially when teaching, relaying and depicting the devastating affects of war.

Here are a few of my favorite graphic novels for kids, that relay the truths, the horrors, and the consequences of war - all for middle grade readers and older. [Note some have links for greater discussion or exploration.]:
Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gap of San Francisco)

  • Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, translated by Project Gen (Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2004 - ages 12+), chronicles the aftermath of the Pacific War. Barefoot Gen is an important work and classroom addition. It's considered one of the most important anti-war manga ever written. First, it relays an informed accounting of Japan’s role in World War II and is a strong anti-war piece that cannot and should not be silenced. Second, Nakazawa relates a strong geopolitical perspective of the war, discussing the power of political machines, “divine rule” versus democracy, and the power individual citizens must exercise to secure their rights and uphold their values. Finally, this work provides a window for understanding and comparing Eastern and Western cultures — where they meet, where they clash, and what we can and cannot assume.

Gene Luen Yang (First Second)
  • Boxers and Saints (First Second - ages 10+) by Gene Yang - National Book Award finalist and two-book set that recounts the Boxer Rebellion (1900) from both sides - that of the Boxers (Chinese peasants who believed they could invoke ancient Chinese Gods/heroes to help them battle Western Imperialism and the Chinese Catholics they converted) and the Saints (the Chinese converts who wanted to  bring peace to war-torn China.
  • Dogs of War (Scholastic - ages 9+) by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox, consists of three different stories set in three different wars: World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. While the stories are fiction, they've been meticulously researched and relayed in rich detail. Each vignette relates the trails and traumas,and dangers the dogs, their handler and fellow soldiers risk in battle, and the tolls the wars took on all concerned.
    Sheela Keenen and Nathan Fox (Scholastic)
Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi (First Second)
  • Jerusalem by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi (Ages 12+) - about the personal and political issues and decisions various members of a Jerusalem family must face in war-torn Jerusalem 1940-48. The story begins with the British Mandate giving way to a United Nations Partition Plan that then gives way to civil conflicts and the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. It follows Yakin's family's history while following the history of Jerusalem as its characters wrestle with ideals, faith and hopes. 
  • Marathon by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari (First Second Books, Grades 6+) tells the story of Eucles and The Battle of Marathon. Eucles, an Athenian messenger in the year 49 ran over 300 miles to save Ancient Greece from being subjugated into the Persian Empire. The Battle of Marathon was the turning point in ancient history, and the foundation of the modern Olympic games. 
From Marathon Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari (First Second)
Image result for maus
Art Spiegelman (Pantheon)
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman is a retelling of his parents' Holocaust experience which Spiegelman tells through conversations with his father. The Nazi's are depicted as cats, and their victims as mice.  This cartooning approach makes the story more accessible and somewhat less threatening, empowering readers to more comfortably explore the realities, fears and guilt the holocaust raises. Maus has won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 (recommended for mature middle school readers and older).
Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (ages 10+) is the story of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood and coming of age within a loving, educated family that lived in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq War. It is drawn in simple, stark, black and white ink with style, poignancy, and elegant detail as well as occasional flourishes (usually in the dream sequences) traditionally found in Eastern art.
Jablonski and Purvis (First Second)
  • Resistance Trilogy (First Second - ages 9+) by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis  - a graphic novel trilogy is about life in occupied France during World War II.  The main characters must decide whether to collaborate with the Germans (to gain 'favors') or delay gratification and face rationing of supplies as well as struggle through the war without knowing whether their father has survived. This trilogy is a wonderful (historical) fiction story that accurately relates life in France in the late 1930's to early 1940's. 
  • Rust (ongoing series, Archaia) by Royden Lepp (Ages 9+)  Rust, brilliantly illustrated in sepia tone (giving the story a Dust Bowl and post World War I feeling) is all about life after a horrific war fought by men and robots. The land, the people and their families have been devastated.  With flashbacks from the war, the three volumes (there's a fourth on in the works) chronicle one robot and a family who harbors him. For more, please read this Review of Rust detailing each book and containing teaching and book group discussion suggestions.
Jet Jones escapes his creators in "Rust: Secrets of the Cell." (Archaia)
Royden Lepp (Archaia)
  •  Zahra's Paradise (ages 12+) is a webcomic and graphic novel by Amir with illustrations by Khalil (both have chosen to remain anonymous for political reasons), published in 2011 and published by First Second Books. Its story takes place in Iran, June 2009 after one of the great street protests following the elections. And, while it is a story about human rights and the turmoil of a troubling time, it also about the love of a people who help this mother through her heartbreaking ordeal.

Amir & Khalil (First Second Books)
These are some of my favorites.  
As always, thank you for your visit.
Please leave your favorites, or your opinion about these books in the comments below.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Just Suggesting... Neil Gaiman On The Importance of Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming

The following is a speech I found at posted October 15, 2013. It advocates the importance of reading, of fiction and of libraries as well as our obligation to support them.

If you're anything like me there just isn't enough time in your day to get to everything you want to.

So for you (and actually for me as well), I want to park an article I found here. I've already read it once, but this is the kind of thing that writers, teachers, and folks interested in creating, need to look at and read more than once. I warn you, it's long, but worth the time when you find it. This article was found at and posted online Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

So read (or re-read) it now, read it on the train or bus to or from work, read it while waiting for someone, or leave it parked here and revisit it later when there's more time. It's empowering.

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

Neil Gaiman
'We have an obligation to imagine' … Neil Gaiman gives The Reading Agency annual lecture on the future of reading and libraries. Photograph: Robin Mayes

It's important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members' interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I'm an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living though my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So I'm biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And I'm here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.
And it's that change, and that act of reading that I'm here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it's good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.

It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

Enid Blyton's Famous Five book Five Get Into a Fix
Enid Blyton's Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy
I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children's books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I've seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

No such thing as a bad writer... 
It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen King's Carrie, saying if you liked those you'll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King's name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.
Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:

The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if "escapist" fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

Tolkien's illustration of Bilbo Baggins's home
Tolkien's illustration of Bilbo's home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Another way to destroy a child's love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children's library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children's' library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

A boy reading in his school library
Photograph: Alamy
In the last few years, we've moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That's about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It's a community space. It's a place of safety, a haven from the world. It's a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.
Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.
According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the "only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account".

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.
I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us – as readers, as writers, as citizens – have obligations. I thought I'd try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.
We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.
We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it's the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we 've lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I'm going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It's this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.
We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

• This is an edited version of Neil Gaiman's lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agency's annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

Thanks as always for your visit.
I hope you'll leave a note in the comments before moving on.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How To Make The IDEAL Chocolate Chip Cookie: Add A Pinch of Science

Image result for chocolate chip cookies
While baking relies on recipes, those recipes are all based on science - mostly chemistry. Whether you're a teacher hoping to inspire future chemists/scientists, or just in search of THE IDEAL Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, hopefully this post has it all.

First, the Science:
Put the cookie dough in the oven and the heat triggers a series of chemical reactions, transforming dough into cookies. 

  • When the dough reaches 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the butter inside melts...causing the dough to spread out. This occurs because butter is an emulsion made of two substances that don't want to stay together. Butter is made water and fat along with dairy solids that help hold them together.
  • As the butter melts, the water is released and as it continues to get hotter the released water expands into steam.
  • Beating the butter and sugar adds air to the cookie dough. It also dissolves the sugar into the butter adding more air which will help leaven the cookie.
  • NOTE: Baking soda spreads the cookie, baking powder puffs it up.
  • This expanding water pushes against the dough from the inside, making the dough rise.
  • When the dough reaches 136 degrees Fahrenheit, salmonella bacteria often found in raw eggs, die off.
  • At 144 degrees Fahrenheit, changes begin in the cookie's proteins (found mostly from the dough's eggs). Exposed to heat, protein strings unfold and give substance to the dough and making it rise.
  • At 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the cookie stiffens, cracks are created and steam from the boiling water is released, creating airy pockets that make the cookie light and fluffy
  • There is also a leavening agent - baking soda - sodium bicarbonate.  The baking soda reacts with acids in the dough to create carbon dioxide gas which also makes airy pockets in the cookie.
  • At 310 degrees Fahrenheit, maillard reactions occur. During maillard reactions, proteins and sugars break down and rearrange themselves forming ring-like structures that reflect light. This gives the cookies (or thanksgiving turkey or bread and muffins) their rich brown color. But, even more important this reaction results in a range of flavor and aroma compounds that continue to interact with each other... and drive those waiting around for their cookies to near mayhem in anticipation.
  • Finally, at 356 degrees Fahrenheit, the final reaction in the cookie is carmalization. Carmelization occurs when the sugar molecules break down causing the sweet nutty flavor we've all come to love in our cookies.

Customizing your ultimate chocolate chip cookie is all about science - mostly chemistry.

  • Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.
  • Pale, chewey cookies: Set oven at 310 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Chewy: Substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour.
  • A nice tan: Set the oven higher than 350 degrees Fahrenheit (maybe 360-390). 
  • Crispy with a soft center: Use 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
  • Thick (and less crispy): Freeze the batter for 30 to 60 minutes before baking. This solidifies the butter, which will spread less while baking. 
  • Cakey: Use more baking soda because, according to Nyberg, it "releases carbon dioxide when heated, which makes cookies puff up."
  • Butterscotch flavored: Use 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (instead of the same amount of combined granulated sugar and light brown sugar).
  • Uniformity: If looks count, add one ounce corn syrup and one ounce granulated sugar.
  • More flavor: Chilling the dough for at least 24 hours before baking deepens all the flavors, Arias found.
  • TIP #1: Butter provides more flavor than shortening or butter substitutes (in a large part due to the amount of water in butter).
  • TIP #2: Creamed butter will make cookies lighter, cakier and firmer while melted butter will make the denser and chewier
  • TIP #3: Extra egg whites will make cookies rise more; extra yolks make cookies more tender and fudge-like.
  • TIP #4: White sugar yields  thin, crisp cookies while brown butter yields tall and moist coolies.
  • TIP #5: Baking soda yields craggy, coarse cookies while baking powder yields cakey, smooth cookies
  • TIP #6: Less kneading yields craggier cookies with better texture.
  • TIP #7: Hand-chopped chocolate yields more intense flavor and better texture.
  • TIP #8: There are two special ingredients that influence the texture and look of the cookie (according to Thomas Joseph at Martha Stewart: Butter and Sugar.
    • For chewy cookies - use two sticks of butter. 
    • For thinner and crisp cookies use two and a half sticks. 
    • For a cakey cookie use one and 3/4 sticks.
    • For soft and chewey cookies use one cup of brown sugar and a half a cup of granulated sugar. It's the brown sugar that adds the cheweyness, because it has molasses in it.
    • For thin and crisp cookies, you want a higher ratio of granulated sugar: 1 1/4C granulated sugar to 3/4C brown sugar.
    • For a cakey cookie you need to reduce the overall sugar in general, Thomas Joseph uses 3/4C granulated sugar and 1/4C brown sugar.
  •  TIP# 9: ALWAYS use non-salted butter - you want to adjust the amount of salt on your own.
Image result for chocolate chip cookies
This post took much of its material from the following posts. Please visit them for further details:
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Thank you, as always for your visit.

What's your favorite type of chocolate chip cookie?  What are some of your favorite baking tips?  Please leave them in the comments below and feel free to experiment. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Honors: Caldecott + Printz = This One Summer

This One SummerThis past February, This One Summer (First Second, 2014) by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki rocked the publishing, library, and literary world by being the first graphic novel to receive the Caldecott Honor for “Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children” and the Printz Honor for “Excellence in Literature for Young Adults.” It has also been the subject of book challenges since receiving these honors. In this post, we examine This One Summer’s merits, issues of concern, and teaching elements to empower educators, parents, and librarians to make their own decisions (for ages 12+).

Here's a bit about the book:

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Told in warm prose and exquisite monochromatic blue images, This One Summer delicately balances the nostalgic power of summer traditions with the often harsh and intruding lessons of life. It embraces readers of all ages as two tween girls, local townie teens, and one set of parents all tangle in the delicate balances of friendships and relationships, grapple with the pains of growing up, deal with the torments of depression and of wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and cope with the heartbreaks and hopes of life. This One Summer has received outstanding praise and unprecedented honors for its stunning art and thoughtful, sensitive content.

In This One Summer, the art is as powerful as the prose and they work brilliantly together, delicately weaving the troubles and traumas of Rose’s summer at Awago Beach. The beach’s bright summer days are mixed with endless wet heavy rain, both helping to sustain the luscious trees, vines, bushes, grass, milkweed, and verdant undergrowth of the surrounding woods. Then, there are illuminating summer night skies full of stars and striking moonlight. The details of the beach, the lake, the woods, and even Brewster’s convenience store are breathtaking and contrasted by the less-detailed characters. The story and art are richly relayed and juxtaposed, giving extraordinary depth and presence to the story and its true-to-life characters.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

For example, Rose and Windy are often seen swimming, diving, splashing in the water, and readers wonder if they are literally and figuratively out of their depth. Alice, Rose’s mom, and Dunc, the store clerk Rose develops a crush on, are both drawn with strong angles reflecting their short straight hair (that they run their fingers through in exhausted exasperation) and lanky, wiry physiques. They also both wrestle with unwanted aspects of pregnancies. While Dunc refuses to acknowledge Jenny and his role/responsibility for her pregnancy, Alice wrestles with facing her infertility and miscarriage.

Themes embraced and delicately tackled in This One Summer include:
  • The tugs of friendship as Rose and Windy (a year and a half younger than Rose), face adolescence at different paces and stages;
  • The pains and torments of depression felt by individuals and their families;
  • The importance and frailties of communication;
  • The challenges of dealing with unwanted pregnancies and failing at wanted ones;
  • The stresses and responsibilities of teen sexuality and group pressure.
This One Summer byMariko and Jillian Tamaki

In This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki’s prose and Jillian Tamaki’s lush art invite us to watch and learn about real life issues in a sensitive and hopeful manner. We meet tweens fantasizing about what their developing breasts will look like. We learn how one family deals with the mother’s growing depression. We watch along with Rose and Windy as we observe, overhear, and deal with older teens. We see how long, comfortable summer friendship is stressed and strained by a one-and-a-half-year age gap between the girls as they enter adolescence. And finally, we observe (along with Rose and Windy) how older teens and adults deal with their own relationships and sexuality.

Jillian Tamaki’s monochromatic blue images and the wide range of textures and details in the artwork add incredible depth, passion, and complexity to Mariko Tamaki’s prose. This One Summer is truly a feast for mind and eyes. The beauty, power, and serenity of the beach, the expansive night skies, the milkweed plants and pollen, and the woods of Awago Beach balance the secrets, sorrows, and unfolding drama of the characters. What makes this book so outstanding is the sensitive manner in which important real life issues and challenges are faced honestly and imperfectly by the very real characters of Awago Beach. The out-of-depth feelings the characters experience are beautifully offset by the power of the water and the beach. As their secrets unfold, all but the tweens are reluctant to talk about them. As a result, this book can be a powerful resource and jumping point for healthy, open, non-threatening discussion about powerfully challenging life issues.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Elements of Concern
This One Summer earned a Caldecott Honor, which covers children’s book for readers up to age 14, putting the book at the high end of the age spectrum for the honor. First Second recommends this book for ages 12 and up because it contains mature content. Despite having rightfully received this honor, there may be some confusion by consumers unfamiliar with this book and who believe the Caldecott honor is given exclusively to books for younger readers. To clarify, please note that there is some profanity, especially dealing with the older teen characters (the girls are labeled “sluts”). There is also a teen pregnancy and the burgeoning questions of sex and sexuality that the tweens experience in parallel subplots.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
That said, these issues are sensitively and realistically developed through a warmly complex and penetrating story that delicately deals with questions young teens have. Furthermore, the characters are true to life, flaws and all. While mature content may cause some concern, this book is wonderfully appropriate for mature tweens and young teens as they explore adolescence, sexuality, and the increasingly complex relationships they find themselves facing.

For classroom lessons or book club lesson suggestions, please see my post "Using Graphic Novels in Education: This One Summer- a featured column I write for The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund


In the meantime, below is an excerpt from an interview I did with Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki right after hearing they received the Caldecott and Printz Honors. [For the full interview, please visit my post "CBLDF Talks with Caldecott and Printz Honor Winners Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki"

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer has taken the children’s books and graphic novel communities by storm, being the first graphic novel to win the Caldecott Honor for “Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children” and Printz Honor for “Excellence in Literature for Young Adults.” It is a coming-of-age story that embraces readers of all ages as two tween girls, some local townie teens, and one set of parents all look at growing up, pregnancy, and babies from very different perspectives. What makes this book so special is how it sensitively and somewhat magically deals with these very difficult and mature issues through the growing awareness of two girls one summer. CBLDF is thrilled for the recognition graphic novels are beginning to get outside the comic book communities (hoping this will be just the beginning), we are thrilled for the recognition this gem of a book has received for its breathtaking prose and art, and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki just after receiving these honors.

CBLDF: First, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us.  We know you’ve been getting tons of interview requests and appreciate the time and consideration you’ve given us.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Jillian and Mariko, what were your first thoughts/reactions when you heard you won the Caldecott Honor AND the Printz Honor?

Jillian Tamaki: What more is there to say except for it’s really, really cool? I never expected to win the Caldecott, given it is not a picture book.
Mariko Tamaki: It was an honor to be honored.

CBLDF: What were your later thoughts about winning these prestigious honors?
Mariko Tamaki: Wow, I must be prestigious now.  Better get back to work.
Jillian Tamaki: It’s only been a few days!

CBLDF: Mariko, you’ve written both graphic novels and prose. What made you decide this story was a graphic novel? (Jillian, feel free to jump in here too).
Mariko Tamaki: I think in this case the setting felt really ripe for a comic.  Also so much of this was about atmosphere.  Not just the visual details but the little noises in the silence that Jillian captured so well.

CBLDF: You’re cousins, and some swear it’s best to keep work and family separate. How does your familial relationship affect the ways in which you work together?
 Jillian Tamaki: Ehh, that’s usually good advice, probably. Oh well. I think we share a similar Tamaki humour. Very dry.
Mariko Tamaki: I think it makes it all the more important to make sure we don’t wear the same thing when we appear in public.

 CBLDF: I loved This One Summer for so many reasons. What struck me while reading this was how many subtle layers there were in the prose, art and story lines and yet how exquisitely seamlessly it unfolds. It’s a thoughtful, sensitive journey exploring love, relationships, life and growing up, but feels as light and warming as the magical milkweed pods that float up and around the beach on pages 32-33. The dialogue, the characters, and situations in this book ring so true and personal. Were they taken from your own lives, were you channeling you or your friends at Rose and Windy’s age, or is this story purely fictional?
Jillian Tamaki: I don’t think anything is purely fictional or purely autobiographical. You’re constantly weaving in elements of your life and personal philosophy in ways that are conscious and subconscious.
Mariko Tamaki: Exactly.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

CBLDF: There are so many stories going on here between tweens Rose and Windy, the mystery around Rose’s parents’ marital issues, and even around the local teen scene. In short, this coming of age story for tweens has mature topics and some mature language, especially with Dunc the Corner Store Guy and his friends. Was there an editing process around the book, story and its rating?
Jillian Tamaki: Sure. There was some discussion about the sex terms. But, to be honest, that’s not something Mariko and I consider too much. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to make the books we want to make and reflect what we believe to be a true experience.
Mariko Tamaki: I think half the fun of this is remembering the ways we talked about stuff when we were little.  Which were probably FAR TAMER than the way kids talk about things today.

CBLDF: As a follow-up, have you received any challenges for this book from tween or younger reader communities?
Mariko Tamaki: I believe the book was removed from one shelf in New Jersey, but the decision, thanks to an amazing librarian’s fighting the good fight, was reversed.  Beyond that I tell people that the book addresses the existence of sex, when they ask if there’s anything inappropriate in it.  I follow that up by saying that I, myself, do not think that is inappropriate.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
CBLDF: As mentioned earlier, you won the Randolph Caldecott Honor for most distinguished American picture book for children AND the Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in literature for young adults. Two awards for one book covering two different age groups.  What does this tell you about your book, your story and the graphic novel format?
Jillian Tamaki: I feel like a lot of those distinctions are marketing decisions. I try to make books that appeal to myself and maybe a few ideal readers. I love that people of different ages can take various things away from the story, though.

CBLDF: Thank you so much for your time and awesome responses. We are thrilled for you and we’re thrilled for the industry.  We’ll definitely be looking out for your next projects.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

For extended reading here are some Paired Reading Suggestions:
  • I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura: About an 11-year-old girl who struggles to face and understand an untimely loss, first through escapism and then gradually through acceptance.
  • Chiggers by Hope Larson: About growing up, friendships, funs and foils of summer camp.
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: About the trials and tribulations of growing up, particularly for adolescent girls.
  • Chinese Born American by Gene Luen Yang: Another Caldecott Honor winner about a teenager’s need to fit in.
  • Before You Go by James Preller: About Jude, who takes a summer job flipping burgers at Jones Beach while dealing with his mother who is kept in a darkened room ever since his little sister drowned several years before.
  • The Color of Earth Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa: Like This One Summer, the Color of Earth Trilogy is a beautifully balanced blend of prose, poetry, and art that tactfully and sensitively deals with a girl’s growth from adolescence to adulthood.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
For further discussion, here are some additional Links and Resources:

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki