The Stories Julian Tells

StoriesJulianTells The Stories Julian TellsThe Stories Julian Tells is the first book in an ongoing series about brothers Julian and Hughie, and their neighbor Gloria. This is an early chapter book, for readers who have acquired some fluency but aren’t ready to tackle longer books yet. The chapters are fairly short, there’s lots of conversation, the plot is easy to follow, and there is a clear central character.

What do you think of Ann Cameron’s writing? Is the story engaging enough for children who are still struggling a bit with reading? And how do you feel about a white author writing a book in which all the characters are African American?

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Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the designer and production manager for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's and adolescent literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees.

Comments

  1. Mark Loring says:

    I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be engaging, easy to read, and imaginative. It really brought me in with the vivid language (tastes like a whole raft of lemons and the sea at night). Julian is a very relate able character as he gets in trouble but seems to have a good heart. I loved the Dad as well because he made everything fun and didn’t sweat the small stuff (boys eating pudding, Julian making up the catalog cats). In terms of the format, I thought the pictures, although limited, helped add to the story. This is a great book for kids just starting with picture books and it is one I kept in my class often (although I had never read it before).

  2. Luisa Sparrow says:

    Julian is such a great character! It can be hard to have real character development in short chapter books, but this book does that well. The trouble he gets in is good-natured and funny, and who likes a character who’s always doing the right thing? I didn’t remember reading this book before, but I definitely knew the stories, so I think it must have been read aloud to me when I was in elementary school. The pudding in the first story tastes delicious, and the lighthearted exploration of boy-girl friendships in the last story is very nice. If I had to pick a favorite story, it would be the Catalog Cats one, as I found the moment when Huey cries upon not seeing any cats in the garden catalog, and their father’s subsequent response, very sweet.

  3. Carli Spina says:

    I agree with Mark and Luisa that this is a really fun book. It feels like it would be a good next step from the Ling and Ting book that we read last week. The stories were all short enough that they wouldn’t intimidate readers and they had a lot of humor to keep kids engaged. I really liked the family relationships in the story too. While I agree with Mark that the dad is a great character, I also really liked Huey because I think that lots of kids who are the older sibling will relate to the Julian-Huey relationship. And, while Julian does trick Huey, their relationship is nevertheless a positive one.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this book while a librarian. At the moment I concentrated on recent titles but this is a good one to compare with. The characters were great as were the family relationships

  5. Stacey-Ann M. says:

    I am going to try to tackle Lolly’s last question: ” And how do you feel about a white author writing a book in which all the characters are African American?”

    I am very happy to see a child of color as the protagonist in this series. I don’t have a problem with a white author writing a book with all characters that are African American. I think it is extremely important that our books reflect the cultural makeup of our country. Plus: Children of color are itching for characters that reflect them. HOWEVER, I do think that there is an underlying problem in the publishing industry. The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) has been tracking numbers on African American authors. If you check the site, you will see that in 2008, more children books were published by white authors about blacks than were published by blacks. There are PLENTY of African American children authors out there, who are trying to break into the scene. However, their books are marketed to “readers of color” and not the mainstream audience . Therefore, they do not get the mass appeal, and you barely see them in the bookstores or libraries.

    Here is a link to CCBE’s stats: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

  6. Kim Fernandes says:

    I loved the format of this book, since each chapter could be read on its own (which would be a good exercise if the book was to be split between different groups in a class for a reading comprehension activity). I especially enjoyed that the chapters told different stories (and yet not entirely unrelated stories) that could be read in any order, which I know a lot of my kids liked to do. With regard to the question about African-American authors and the possible problem with a book about black children being written by a white author, I thought Stacey made a fascinating point about how the books are marketed, and how this limits the audience each book is able to reach. I definitely agree that children of color want characters that they can identify with and see themselves reflected in, but am not familiar enough with books written by authors of color vs. white authors about children of color to be able to comment on the differences in style and quality.

  7. Ashley Foxworth says:

    I agree with the comments that this with a lovely book full of funny stories about well-developed, likable characters. And I appreciate that Ann Cameron brings related black characters into libraries and classrooms full of diverse students. Often, as Stacey-Ann points out, stories about black characters written by black authors are relegated to black schools. Most of the children’s books about black characters that I’ve read have been written by black authors. And this book was very different from those.

    I hesitate to say it was “white-washed,” as black children grow up in all different types of families, doing all different types of things, and the stereotypes, dialects, cultural details, story lines etc. often presented in books about black characters cannot accurately depict all black children. And there certainly are some black children who grow up planting gardens and eating figs with (seemingly) stay at home fathers. (My own childhood was probably more like Julian’s than like characters portrayed by Walter Dean Myers, for instance.) But, even before I looked to see if the author of this book was white, after reading it, I was sure she was. The stories, the way they’re written, the familial relationships, the setting, the language–they didn’t feel like they were written by a black author. Assuming the author was white as I read, certain things bothered me: the father’s seeming threats of corporal punishment, which is possibly more commonly used in black families but clearly frowned upon at least in the mainstream, and although later we discover he didn’t intend to beat the kids, the boys still had some fear of their dad and seemed to expect a severe punishment for their infractions; the mother’s saying that the boys looked darker than the garden after playing in it, although she may have just meant they were darker because they were covered in mud, it felt weird to me; and, this is just my personal experience, perhaps, but I’ve only ever heard white people say “turn a cartwheel”, although I’m sure that there must be black people somewhere who say that. Those things probably wouldn’t bother me if I thought the author was black, so perhaps it’s wrong that I’m bothered by them from a white author. Just sharing my thoughts!

  8. AnneMarie M. says:

    I am half black and half white, and since I have grown up with both a “white” culture and a “black” culture, I usually find myself able to see issues related to race and its portrayal from two different angles. That’s how I feel about The Stories Julian Tells. Like Stacey-Ann, I have no objection to a white author writing about a black family – provided that the author does it well and respectfully, which obviously is a tall order. It can be an incredibly powerful experience to represent other cultures through literature, and it is incredibly important for young children of color to see themselves represented in literature, as my colleagues suggest. As a kindergarten and first grade teacher of classrooms entirely composed of African-American children, I saw this book flying off the lending library shelves constantly. Now that I have read it, there are things that I like and things that I think are rather inappropriate. Like Ashley, I find it disturbing that the dad screams at the boys and that his face looks angry and scary in the illustration, and that the boys say “I’m scared.” I do not like that the dad grabs the boys’ legs. While my sensitivity to issues about race might be particularly activated in this scene (i.e. someone not of a race portraying people of a different race unfavorably), I would not like this scene even if it depicted a white father doing that to his white sons. That is important for me to reflect upon. How the dad reacts – by making the boys make new pudding – is positive, but I do not particularly appreciate the pun on words about the “beating” and “whipping.” I also do not necessarily like the dad’s suggestion to use pliers on his son’s teeth (I know this is a joke but I don’t imagine that joke being entirely clear to all young readers and it is unclear if the dad actually and his teeth pulled out with pliers when he was a child – something that might make children be judgmental). While I think it is completely okay to show negative emotions and events in books, I think that those emotions and events need to be juxtaposed with more positive portrayals, especially when matters of cultural difference come into play. Only alongside other books that portray African-Americans in different (and more positive) ways, would I use this book for children of all races and ethnicities. However, it is a little disturbing to think that some children might have this book be one of the only books that features kids who look like them – or kids who don’t.

    NOTE: I do want to note that most of the other chapters, particularly the “Catalogue Cats” one are much more favorable to me.

  9. Zohra Manjee says:

    I really enjoyed reading this chapter book and found the stories to be engaging and humorous. Particularly, like Mark mentioned, I appreciated the vivid language as I think this is really important to draw young readers into to visualizing the story in their minds as they are transitioning from picture books to easy readers with less images on the page. This vivid language helps to bring the dynamic emotions and relationships to life. Relatedly, I liked the explicit use of dreaming as a way of exploring one’s imagination and this space within one’s dream was used to identify an alternate ending or wishful thinking, in the case of the fig tree and catalog cats.

  10. Norah Rivera says:

    Julian is a mischief-maker and I love him for it! He really is a fun character and someone many kids can probably relate to. I agree with the comments previously made. I think that this is a great book for young readers. The story is engaging, fun, and with plenty of dialogue, which also makes it a great book to read aloud. I also think that the presence of extensive dialogue is inviting and prevents the reader from being intimidated by long paragraphs. Finally, I think that the illustrations are also very helpful. For a reader who is m,oving from picture books to chapter books, the presence of some illustrations might make the transition easier.

  11. Felicity Fu says:

    I really appreciated the design of the cover of the book, as I can imagine the age group of readers who are reading the book. The combination of a real life picture of hero with imaginary fictional characters would satisfy the urge of young kids to imagine, especially the content of adventures. The combination of pudding as real food causing trouble sounds like an adventure experienced at home but with a twist of excitement for the readers.

  12. Jennifer Stacy says:

    I really enjoyed reading about Julian and his family. As I was reading, I tried to think about a conversation I might have with my own child as he were reading the book. I had a similar reaction as a previous commenter to the use of the words “whipping” and “beating.” On one hand, I thought it was clever….and yet it also made me a little uncomfortable. One of the things I enjoyed most was Julian’s imagination. I loved reading about how he connected the fig leaves to hos own growth and the story of the catalog cats.

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