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New England Literary News

A new graphic novel from MIT Press, Eric Carle Museum celebrates 20 years, students write ‘Letters About Literature’

A new graphic novel from MIT press emphasizes the importance of diversity in computer science.Charis JB

Graphic novel tackles AI

A group of four high school pals sit around at a diner, drinking lemonade, catching up, scrolling through their phones, and one sees the news of a white cop misidentifying a Black man using AI technology and killing him. It sets the foursome on a conversation about computer science in this informative, impactful graphic novel put out this spring by MIT Press. “Power On!” by Jean J. Ryoo and Jane Margolis and illustrated by Charis JB follows the group as they head back to separate schools and have divergent experiences in their computer science classes, their eyes opened to the powers of AI — its use in medicine, music, fashion, climate change, sports, and interplanetary exploration, for example — as well as some of its dangers: Can AI be racist? The authors deftly weave factual information (only 26 percent of people in computing occupations are women; of those only 7 percent are Asian, 3 percent are African American, and 2 percent are Latina) in with the computer science narrative, and the texture of teenage life in the early 2020s: quizzes, parental pressure, Black Lives Matter protests, bullying, family strife, a Juneteenth barbecue, crushes, and frustrations. They come to know, and show the reader, the importance of diversity in the computer science field, and the empowerment involved in not only understanding it but moving the field forward.

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Collage at the Carle

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and is honoring the milestone with a series of exhibitions and events running through summer and into the fall and winter. The merriment begins this Saturday, June 25, with the opening of “Celebrating Collage,” an exhibit highlighting collage work by picture book artists, and inspired by the iconic collage work of Carle himself, who died last spring at age 91. The show includes 90 pieces by 20 artists, including Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, Carle, Ekua Holmes, Thao Lam, and Nina Crews, among others. From 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, five of the artists included — Bryan Collier, Crews, Lam, Susan Roth, and Elizabeth Zunon — will sign books, give gallery talks, and read stories. The end of summer will see the opening of “Eric Carle: Book Birthdays,” which focuses on 14 of Carle’s books that celebrate their 20th, 25th, and 50th anniversaries in 2022 and 2023. The annual Carle Honors Benefit Gala and Art Auction will take place in September, and an exhibit shining light on recent acquisitions, with work by Maurice Sendak, Raúl Colón, Charles Robinson, Wanda Gág, and Remy Charlip, among others, will open in November. For more information, visit carlemuseum.org.

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Take a letter

For over 20 years, Massachusetts Center for the Book has run a program called “Letters About Literature,” inviting Massachusetts students in grades 4-12 to write a letter to an author whose work has had a big impact on their lives. They received thousands of letters from students all over the state addressed to authors both living and dead. Past letters have been written to Jacqueline Woodson and Rainbow Rowell, Willa Cather and A.A. Milne, Angie Thomas and Amy Tan. A virtual award ceremony was held honoring the top letters on May 25. For grades 4-6, the top honor went to sixth grader Asma Al Ashabi of Hopkinton for her letter to Pam Muñoz Ryan about “Esperanza Rising.” For grades 7-8, eighth grader Daniel Ng of Arlington took top honor for his letter to Gene Luen Yang about “American Born Chinese.” For grades 9-12, ninth grader Felicity Zhang of Concord also received top honor for her letter to Yang for the same book. In the awards ceremony, Mass Center for the Book’s director Sharon Shaloo noted, “The students’ reflections reassure us that the young people in our Commonwealth will be articulate and thoughtful contributors to life in Massachusetts and beyond.”

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Coming out

Heart First Into This Ruinby Wanda Coleman (Black Sparrow)

The Wallby Marlen Haushofer, translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside and Claire Louise-Bennett (New Directions)

More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetryedited by Kayo Chingonyi (Canongate)

Pick of the week

Meaghan Stanley at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., recommends “Elektra” by Jennifer Saint (Flatiron): “Jennifer Saint’s ability to weave a tapestry of originality from stories so old is simply astounding. ‘Elektra’ is an awe-inspiring read that gives voices to characters who previously had none, despite being some of the most famous women in ancient Greek literature.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.