By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Mutanu is excited. As she goes about her chores, she thinks about the day to come and what surprises it might bring. For today is no ordinary day at the orphanage she lives in. Every year, the orphanage honors its newest arrivals by creating a birthday day especially for them. From that moment forward, the orphans have a day that they know is theirs–a day to celebrate, a day to enjoy, a day to remember. And today is the day!
I would cautiously recommend this one. It’s a sweet story. One the one hand it exposes children to the idea of orphanages, orphans, and issues in Kenya with poverty and illness. On the other I think it plays into the narrative of poverty stricken Africa. It is also written by a white man and illustrated by a white woman. So it isn’t #ownvoices and that makes me nervous around the larger narrative it taps into.
I know that at one point we did have a little girl in our school who was adopted from an orphanage in China and I know there are kids out there that have a story similar to this. They deserve to see themselves in books. Today Is the Day wasn’t depressing, in fact the focus around a birthday party made it really upbeat. But I prefer Michaela dePrince’s story. It too taps into the idea of orphanages and West Africa’s problems with war and poverty, but her story is told by her and has a lot more nuance because you follow her through her hard work to become a ballerina.
I don’t feel totally sure that our collection of books set in various countries around Africa show them as modern and not poverty stricken. It’s on the never ending list of pieces of the collection to examine. In the meantime I will hold off on purchasing this book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: The first national museum whose mission is to illuminate for all people, the rich, diverse, complicated, and important experiences and contributions of African Americans in America is opening.
And the history of NMAAHC–the last museum to be built on the National Mall–is the history of America.
The campaign to set up a museum honoring black citizens is nearly 100 years old; building the museum itself and assembling its incredibly far-reaching collections is a modern story that involves all kinds of people, from educators and activists, to politicians, architects, curators, construction workers, and ordinary Americans who donated cherished belongings to be included in NMAAHC’s thematically-organized exhibits.
This was really fascinating, but being a museum and history nerd it isn’t surprising that I was hooked. But would a kid be?
The book is not overly long and it focuses on the entire history of the museum, from the inception of the idea way back in the early 20th century, through appointing a head, to construction of the building, to building the collections. The process for how they acquired artifacts was clever and well done. There were the typical auction acquisitions, but they ran an Antiques Roadshow style event in several cities across the US. There they had people bring three items from their family heirlooms and they would give them some historical context. Any they were interested in they asked to keep and restore (and I believe purchase). Each chapter takes on a different piece of building the museum. Some of the more technical aspects, like signing it into law and finding a director may be less interesting to kids, but it isn’t overly detailed and lengthy.
The final two-page spreads focus on a variety of the exhibitions in the museum. There are pictures of artifacts with captions and some text that gives the context behind the exhibit. There is a music collection and an athletics collection that may really pique reluctant reader interest.
I was pleased to see a shout out to Sacramento. A white couple had bought a plane to restore and it turned out to be a plane that had been used to train Tuskegee Airmen. A number of them had even signed the cockpit. The couple did restore the plane and ultimately donated it to the museum. They also flew it across the country to deliver it!
This is the kind of nonfiction I want to be curating in my older/harder nonfiction collection. It’s engaging without being too long. It has a mix of pictures and text, but isn’t so busy it’s hard to read and follow the narrative. I would say this book would work for kids in fourth grade on up into middle school (and maybe even high school for lower readers or students that are particularly interested in the topic). It’s certainly timely and important. Arguably it’s interesting in that you don’t see the creation of these spaces discussed or focused on in children’s nonfiction much. History buffs may take particular delight in this one.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A Quaker family living in Ohio in the early 1800’s makes peace with a Shawnee Indian tribe during a very troubled time.
This is actually a book that is on our easy reader shelf. On seeing it I immediately pulled it, worried that it contained stereotypes and racist content. Judging by the cover and style it looks like a book from the 1960s. It’s not. It was written in 1987. I will say upfront this book is not perfect, but I am leaving it on our shelf. Here’s why.
I was reminded of Joseph Bruchac’s The Arrow Over the Door so I turned to that book’s author’s note for good historical context and research into the actual events these books are based on. Bruchac did extensive research into both white and native perspectives on dealings between native tribes and the Friends (Quakers). There was an actual event similar to the one featured here and most similar to Bruchac’s story. The biggest differences being that The White Feather takes place in Ohio and Arrow takes place in New York and in Arrow the Native Americans come to a meeting of Quakers, not an individual homestead. The use of the broken arrow is also more accurate than the use of a feather.
I found some evidence that the book was written by a Quaker couple who were probably familiar with the story Bruchac researched. It has, over the years, become changed and exaggerated (as you might expect). Problems with The White Feather include the lack of acknowledgement that the Quakers were still taking land from the native tribes. And being kind didn’t exonerate them from this injustice. This is not a true story so the way it’s fleshed out is not as accurate as it could be. The historical context provided in the back is short and not overly informative. The natives all look the same, but I kind of think the white people do too. I think it’s the style? It’s pretty simplistic and not great art.
The story is, however, tribe specific (Shawnee) and accurate to the tribes living in the area of the story. Their clothing is close to what was worn (although maybe not totally true to the times they would have worn it (feathers I’m looking at you). Bruchac’s is also tribe-specific, but because of the setting it is a different tribe.
One of the first scenes in the book has the little boy making a war cry and scaring his mother and sister and their neighbors. He is very quickly reprimanded and corrected by his mother who angrily shames him “Abe, never, never do such a thing again! You know the Indians have always been our friends!” She later tells him they are worried because the Shawnee are angry over settlers taking what is not theirs and cheating them. She is nervous they will be targeted, and this is why she was frightened, but she is also makes the point that what the white settlers are doing is not okay and the Shawnee are justified in their anger.
In the next chapter Abe accompanies his father on a trip to visit the Shawnee tribe. There the father speaks with them “in their own language”. We are also told this is not his first trip to visit them. He has a relationship with the tribe. When the men of the tribe return the visit a few days or weeks later, they are not violent (although they do make a mess eating the biscuits and molasses the mother provides) nor are they unreasonable. They are a bit abrupt, but I think that has more to do with the fact that Abe, the boy telling the story, doesn’t speak their language the way their father does. The father provides some context for the children as the events unfold.
This would make a decent book to have a discussion around. It’s a little grey-er in the open collection. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I also spent the summer weeding our Native American resources and know that is a strong collection. Kids picking up this book will also be having conversations in their classrooms and will be exposed to all kinds of good resources and #ownvoices. The cover is unfortunate in that it makes the Shawnee look war-like and the white settlers look peaceable. If you read the story though, it’s considerably more nuanced. Like I said, it isn’t perfect and Bruchac’s book is much better and longer, but Bruchac also takes some liberties with the story. I think in the context of our collection it works. I do like that it provides an entree into Bruchac’s book and I would eventually point children interested in this book to that one. I would not recommend going out of your way to purchase this (but do go out of your way to purchase The Arrow Over the Door), but if it’s on your shelf take a look at the collection as a whole.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Oct 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’m back this October with numbers and ideas about our easy reader collection. I have a couple goals here. The first is obvious, I want to be aware of what kind of diversity is visible in our collection with the intent of making it a stronger, more diverse collection. The second, I would like to restructure the collection so it’s more of a learning-to-read collection. These books don’t check out very much and I would like to help boost their circulation by leveling them and marketing them as books to help kids learn to read.
Now, I despise book levels, but I think with this collection they might really help kids find just-right books. I think having a really basic level system with them will also make them more friendly to browse. Currently they’re crammed into some small book racks. It isn’t terrible, but it’s really hard to browse because they’re in there so tightly and they aren’t easy to see. Plus they’re about to explode out of their little corner. We also have some popular titles (In a Dark, Dark Room for example) in two places in the library- the easy reader shelf and the holiday collection- so I’m not worried about kids shying away from some fun classics because of a book level sticker on it.
Beyond this post with the statistics of the collection and thoughts on what we need to do to make the collection better, I’ll be reviewing books in the collection and new books that I want to buy for the collection. I will also be sharing information about what we are doing to level the collection. (Although that may take longer as we have a long list of projects going in the library.)
There are approximately 260 books in the collection. A good number of them are checked out so I did a report that pulled up a list of books with the sublocation “Blue Easy Reader” in order to create the tallies. This may have missed a handful of titles that were not on the shelf and are not marked properly in the catalog (that kind of happens a lot, but I’m working on it). The collection seems fairly old with a handful of new books added over the past few years and it ranges in reading ability/reading level. There are a lot of different reading series, such as I Can Read and Ready to Read. Nearly all the books are fiction with our easy reader nonfiction sorted out into the regular nonfiction collection. If/when I start leveling the books I will pull the majority of easy reader nonfiction off those shelves and bring it back to this collection.
In creating these numbers I lumped series together. So Henry and Mudge has quite a few books in the series, but I only counted it once. Same with things like Poppleton and Amelia Bedelia.
Thoughts & Concerns
Well, we could certainly be doing better. There are actually more animal stories than there are stories about white kids. And those two categories make up the bulk of main characters. It doesn’t look much different than overall statistics of children’s literature or the other collections I have examined. I do worry that it’s going to be nearly impossible to find easy readers featuring Indian Americans and Native Americans and even Latino/as. If they’re already such a small part of what is being published they’re probably going to be even harder to find in easy reader format. But I will be looking and if you know of any, please, please, please let me know.
The one big surprise here was how many female authors there were in the collection. I do have to wonder if that has to do with the fact that women often get relegated to little kids and little kid stuff. I didn’t bother to look at the race/ethnicity of the authors. It’s nearly all white with a few exceptions.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.
I have had a copy of this book for years now and always trot it out around Grandparents’ Day. It’s such a lovely little story that doesn’t have to be about grandparents (the idea for the escaped balloon is more about comforting Sam than about thinking of grandad), but turns into a really lovely connection between them. I might also have a soft spot for this one because his grandfather is clearly Egyptian.
I think, beyond the fact that Sam and his family are of Egyptian descent, it’s lovely to see a book about families and grandparents where the grandparents live far away. It always seems that books featuring grandparents and grandchildren show them living close by or together. But plenty of families do not live near grandparents and it’s wonderful to see that reality reflected (it’s also why my school changed Grandparents’ Day to Grandparents and Grand Friends Day). Certainly many children have grandparents that live in another state, and I think the book could have shown a family like that, but I think this makes the story all the more special for showing a family that has immigrated and does not live near this grandfather.
Whether or not children have had a balloon escape from them I think the whimsical story of the balloon traveling over the mountains, ocean and desert is very appealing. Children can imagine their own balloons going on a journey and the whole concept feels very magical. I’ve read this book to second graders and they have enjoyed it. It might also work for slightly older students, but I think it’s best for second grade and down. I would pair this one with Mango, Abuela, and Me for a deeper look at grandparents from other countries and another side of that situation.
A Balloon for Grandad appears to be out of print, but if your library has a copy hang onto it. If not, and you want to go to the trouble of ordering it used, it would make an excellent addition to libraries that celebrate families and grandparents.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Momo can’t wait to use the red boots and umbrella she received on her birthday. All she needs now is a rainy day! Soft illustrations portray a thoughtful story about patience and growing independence.
At it’s heart Umbrella is a story about independence. When Momo recieves a new umbrella and rain boots she is so excited. The first day she is able to use the umbrella she focuses very hard on walking carefully like a grown up lady and on not dropping the umbrella. This means, though she doesn’t realize the significance, that she cannot hold her father’s hand when walking to and from school.
Umbrella is also a slice of life story. A small memory that grown up Momo doesn’t even remember. But the narrator shares the significance: it was the first time she walked on her own without holding a parent’s hand. The book moves fairly slowly and doesn’t have a big adventure. There are no mishaps on the walk. It’s just a little girl and her umbrella. I don’t think that kind of book appeals to all readers, but it makes for a very special, contemplative reading experience.
Yashima nails the childhood experience from the excitement, to the music made on the umbrella, to the thoughts of Momo as she walks. When she first receives the umbrella she isn’t able to use it because it’s not raining. She’s so excited to use it though, she comes up with several ideas for why she should (the sun is too bright, the wind bothers her eyes). Then there is the sound made on the umbrella: bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo, ponpolo, bolo bolo ponpolo. It’s so wonderful and evocative of that rainy day.
Yashima’s illustrations are always beautiful. The shading is lovely and mixes in all sorts of colors where you least expect them. It also lends itself to showing the rainy day. I think it’s interesting that none of the adults’ faces are shown giving the book the impression of a small child’s perspective.
This is a lovely little book to have on library shelves. It shows a Japanese-American girl (her parents, we are told came from Japan) living in a city and experiencing a little step toward independence. I think it would easily appeal to preschoolers, but even older children who don’t mind quieter stories will be captivated by Momo’s experience and may see their own first experiences reflected in the story. Be sure to check out Crow Boy, also by Taro Yashima. It’s set in a small Japanese town or village, but features a boy who is probably on the ASD spectrum.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’m falling down here on the #100daysproject! I was waiting for a couple books to come into the library and they haven’t yet, so I’m going to finish up my challenge with some oldies, but goodies.
From Goodreads: A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing dinner, and sitting down to eat. Lively read-aloud text paired with bright collage illustrations.
We have had this book on our home library shelves for several years now and it’s always a favorite. Even now that I’ve tucked the board books into a basket and most don’t see the light of day, this one comes out from time to time (I make sure to pull it out around Thanksgiving). It’s just such a charming book that centers around a family coming together to make a meal.
I love that this is an interesting take on the counting book. Usually I see these concept books count related objects with no real story between them. Feast for 10 has a simple story arc that follows a family through the grocery store counting from 1-10. Then it follows them home where they prepare a meal for ten, counting, again, from 1-10. The meal seems pretty traditionally Southern to me, fried chicken, cooked greens, mashed potatoes, etc. (it’s what my father in law occasionally requests as a throw back to his childhood in rural Mississippi and Louisiana) and it always makes us hungry. The format is, I think, more engaging for older kids (preschool-kindergarten age).Certainly many kids can count to ten by that point, but this is more than just counting objects arranged on a page, so those kids are just as attentive to the story as kids who are interested in the numbers.
The book is not an #ownvoices, unfortunately, and I would certainly recommend one of those over this one. Otherwise I think it’s well worth having on shelves where there are concept books. It’s a great picture of a family coming together and working together to put on a feast!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.
I think every kid in the nineties had a Super Soaker or at least had a friend with one. But when picking out this book I wondered if it was just nostalgia for people my age or if it would resonate with kids today.
Lonnie Johnson spent his childhood (and adulthood) tinkering with things. He took odds and ends as a kid and put them together to make creations. He took things apart to harvest parts and see how they worked. Then, as he got older, he moved on, with his robot Linex, to make inventions that worked and kept on inventing. He was also persistent and determined, even in the face of failure, an important skill that kids can learn in the makerspace and need to be seeing modeled.
I thought it was refreshing to have a biography of someone who is still alive today. Even better to be adding more diversity to our biography collection. The author’s note adds a bit more context to the story and Barton shares his inspiration for writing the book.
Johnson grew up in the South in the late sixties and into the seventies. Whoosh! does touch on some of the race issues (segregation and racism), but it’s a light touch. I think it was a good balance here where the the purpose of the book was to expose children to a scientist who is black and his inventions instead of dwelling on how he overcame racism. We have a number of those books, and they are excellent, but as I’ve said again and again they create a certain narrative that is not a full picture.
I definitely think children can find inspiration and humor in this story, whether or not they own a Super Soaker or have seen one and it’s the perfect makerspace book. I would hand this to kids who like to invent and tinker. I will also be adding it to our summer reading lists so kids can go out after reading it and have a water fight. I don’t think the time period or nostalgia of the book make it irrelevant for kids today. The message of perseverance and fun in it are timeless.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Welcome to Mammoth Cave. It’s 1840 and my name’s Stephen Bishop. I’ll be your guide, so come with me, by the light of my lantern, into the deepest biggest cave in all of the United States. Down here, beneath the earth, I’m not just a slave. I’m a pioneer. I know the cave’s twists and turns. It taught me to not be afraid of the dark. And watching all these people write their names on the ceiling? Well, it taught me how to read too. Imagine that. A slave, reading. But like I said, down here I’m not just a slave. I’m a guide. I’m a man. And this is my story.
As soon as I read the review of this in the Horn Book I purchased it. Not only does our second grade study slavery (in the context of the Underground Railroad) in the spring, but our third grade does a science unit on caves in the fall. It felt like the perfect bridge between the two grades.
Like all picture book biographies there is a storyline that follows Bishop’s life that is followed up by a historical author’s note that provides more context. I have mixed feelings about that format because I think that kids often skip the two pages of text unless they’re really interested. I suppose that’s fine if they’re getting some good tidbits and thinking points in the story (they do here). However, I think it makes these books perfect for classroom settings where teachers can provide further context and connection and will also be able to read the note aloud to students, ensuring they get that extra information.
I thought the idea of having Bishop tell his own story was an interesting choice. It certainly brings the reader into his life story. I think it also gives the man a voice when he really didn’t have one. According to the note at the end he didn’t leave any real personal record of himself and there wasn’t much left by his white owners or other historical records either. I will point out that this is not #ownvoices, so take that into consideration especially since the book does give a voice to a slave who never really had one.
I’m not sure these are the absolute best illustrations I’ve seen by Collier, but they really tell the story. I actually think the print job on the book could have been better and that the paper and print quality diminished them a bit. Most, if not all the pages (I’m sorry I don’t have the book in front of me right now) have a split level. You see above ground and also below ground which fits perfectly with the idea of the split in Bishops life: above ground- slave, below ground-just a man. There are white people in the pictures, but Bishop is, appropriately, front and center.
Both the cave system and Bishop made for a fascinating picture book biography and would make a good addition to any biography collection.
Side note, going back to print quality. The paper was kind of thin and a little too shiny. It felt kind of cheap. And the dust jacket was like a good several centimeters too long for the hard cover which made it strangely floppy and weird to put into a Gaylord cover. Wth print company? Wth, publisher? Do better. Make nice picture books that will last. The lack of quality kind of makes your second-rating of books about people of color show.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Sep 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Like her classmates, builder Iggy and inventor Rosie, scientist Ada, a character of color, has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!
I don’t have much to add about this book that won’t be said. It’s great because Ada is a girl scientist. Even better she is black and her family doesn’t look like a stereotype. All great things. Add to this that the book can serve as a jumping off point for talking about the scientific method and scientific inquiry.
What I will say is that, personally, the rhyme scheme of all three of these books (and Dr. Seuss, too) drive me absolutely bonkers. I can’t read other books afterward because my brain keeps looking for those irritating rhymes. It also causes me to rush through the story. And in general I find it annoying and precious.
The organizer in me loves that the background of many pages, including the end papers, are those nice graph paper squares. I’ve already bought the book for our collection as these are incredibly popular with students, parents and teachers alike. I think purely for the representation it’s worth the money, but I also feel a little hesitant because the author is white. Nothing here points to black culture and Ada and her family are simply colored brown so I don’t think they’re being misrepresented per se. I just wish more of the books about African Americans and blacks were #ownvoices. That’s all. In the meantime, I buy what I can that’s #ownvoices and try to be sure I’m getting good representation with the books that are not. I suppose this one is neutral in that regard. I also kind of hate purchasing it because I know it will be such a big success. That means it will tell publishers that we’re okay with white authors simply shifting to telling stories with characters of color instead of demanding #ownvoices. Still, we need books like this. Girls that are scientists. Black girls that are scientists. Just black girls, period.