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30

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Jazz written by Jazz Jennings

On 30, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-jazzI Am Jazz written by Jessica Hershel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

From Goodreads: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

So this book needs to be in everyone’s collection. There aren’t very many books about transgender kids or gender non-conforming kids, but those kids are out there and it’s important for them to be reflected in our collections.

The book itself is well written and clear. It isn’t particularly text-heavy, but does have more information in the back of the book including some pictures of Jazz both before and after. I think the text could be helpful both for children who are confused by the feelings they may have and for parents who are also confused and scared. The illustrations are lovely and soft and inviting and really add to the quality of the book.

To be sure the this is an issue book. It follows Jazz Jennings as a young child through her struggle to understand why she wasn’t born female and her family’s struggle to understand as well. It’s all incredibly upbeat, which I think is appropriate for the intended audience. I would love to see books where transgender kids are just par for the course, but these books will strengthen our collections. Both types of books will play a role in making our collections windows and mirrors for all out students, children, and families.

As a side note, I’m seeing nearly all these picture books that focus on what could be transgender kids center around boys who are transgender or feminine. Like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress or One of a Kind Like Me. Most of these books feature boys who like to wear girls clothing, an interest that is not necessarily gay or transgender, but more to the point where are the girls who are transgender? I wonder if this is in part that girls being more boy-like (i.e. tomboy) is more acceptable and we just haven’t seen as much of a need to write about them yet? (Which isn’t to say those books aren’t needed. They are.) Or if that’s just a harder thing to show in picture books? I would like to see some more books that feature girls, though.

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28

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

On 28, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

happy-in-our-skinHappy in Our Skin written by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

From Goodreads: Just savor these bouquets of babies—cocoa-brown, cinnamon, peaches and cream. As they grow, their clever skin does too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them one of a kind. Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family—and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.

This would be the perfect book to pair with Shades of People and it’s geared toward that age of audience (pre-school and below). It’s also a great starting off point for talking about how we all look different. While there isn’t exactly a plot to the story, the illustrations seem to tie the text to something like one. The loose plot of the illustrations follows a biracial family around their city as they encounter other people. The families shown in the book are a mix of colors, religions, parents, and abilities (as you can probably tell from the cover).

This is definitely the type of book we want on our shelves as it obviously celebrates the diversity we see in people and families. It reminds me a lot of concept book in both it’s plot and subject matter. For that reason I think it would make an excellent addition to storytimes.

The joyful and fun illustrations and gentle text will certainly hold an audience, but it might not make this a book kids are clamoring to check out. My own daughter really enjoyed reading it, but never picked it up on her own to have me read it again. Bear that in mind when thinking about purchasing the book.

 

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23

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: Freckleface Strawberry

On 23, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

backpacksFreckleface Strawberry: Backpacks! written by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

From Goodreads: Freckleface and her best friend, Windy Pants Patrick, each have something secret in their backpacks: sticky, gooey gum and a squished, messy donut. When it comes time to pull their homework from their backpacks to hand in to the teacher, suddenly their snack choices seem like a really bad idea.

loose-toothFreckleface Strawberry: Loose Tooth! written by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Lexile: 380L

From Goodreads: Everyone’s favorite red-haired seven-year-old has a loose tooth! And if it comes out at school, she gets a special prize from the nurse. But what if it doesn’t budge before the bell rings? Kids who are at the stage of wiggly teeth will laugh along as they read this light and funny story about Freckleface’s pursuit of the ultimate loose-tooth prize.

So this is a cute little series. It’s a good addition to the actually-easy, easy readers (although it still requires some reading skill and knowledge of sight words). I read the above two titles and one other in the series, but know that neither is the first in the series. I have not read the first book so I cannot speak to how hard/easy it is in terms of reading ability. My hold at the library was cancelled, but it looks like it might be a bit harder than these. It is not part of any of the easy reader series and the trim size makes it look more like a beginning chapter book than easy reader. While all the books appear to be numbered on Goodreads, they did not need to be read in order. They made perfect sense being read out of order and with gaps (I read 4, 5, and 6 but not in order).

The reason I picked these up to see about purchasing them is that Freckleface’s best bud, Windy Pants Patrick, has two moms and it isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, they do not make appearances in Loose Tooth! or Lunch or What’s That? (the other I read) only Backpacks! Now, they could appear in others and I’m hoping they do, but what I loved best is they were shown right alongside Freckleface’s hetero family and it isn’t even really something of note. It’s just a stated fact, naturally part of the text, and the reader moves on. Perfect. This is exactly the kind of representation that I am looking for and am struggling to find. These aren’t gay-family issue books, they’re messy-kid and loose-tooth issue books.

All in all, the books are cute and funny. I wish we saw Windy Pants’ moms in more books (and they may appear in others, I’ll be checking before buying). The author and characters are white and I don’t especially need more of those books, but the illustrator is a woman of color (Vietnamese-American) and if Windy Pants’ moms make an appearance those particular titles are worth it to me.

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21

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Home At Last by Vera B. Williams

On 21, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

home-at-lastHome At Last written by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Chris Raschka

From Goodreads: After Lester is adopted by Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich, he develops a big problem—he can’t fall asleep. Night after night he creeps into his parents’ room and attempts to crawl in between his two daddies, confident that if he’s with them and their dog, Wincka, nothing bad will happen to him ever again. But every night, Lester’s new dads walk him back to his own room, hoping that eventually Lester will get used to the new house and his new family and feel as though he belongs. They buy him a bike and take him for ice cream. They make cocoa and introduce him to his cousins. But no matter how happy Lester seems during the day, he still gets scared and worried at night! It’s the sweet dog Wincka who finally solves the problem when she climbs into Lester’s bed and promptly falls asleep, serving as both his pillow and his protector. Lester feels home at last.

While from the cover you might think this is a story about a family with two dads, it’s actually a story about adoption. Lester has been living in a children’s home for over a year when he is finally adopted by a family. It just so happens that this family is made up of two dads.

And while the story is about Lester’s struggles with adapting to a new home and a new life while still dealing with the trauma of his earlier life, it’s also just a story about a kid who is afraid of the dark and ends up in his parents’ room every night. As nice as it is for kids to see new situations reflected in their books, this book presents a familiar situation for families with small kids.

I will say the story wanders a bit and could have focused a little more sharply. There is a point where I always think the book is over and then there are a couple more pages. It also has an odd timeline that when reading feels like it stretches over months, but appears to only cover a few weeks at most. To me it felt like it could have used a bit more editing. The text is long, however my own five year old is totally engaged with the story and has asked to read it over and over.

The amazing thing is that this is NOT a book about a family with two dads. It’s a story about adoption and the issues the family faces as parents with an adopted child. Lester is adopted by two dads, but that is just par for the course. There is zero commentary about that and that is such a beautiful thing. In fact there are even a couple illustrated spreads that show the two dads in bed together. I’m sure more prudish and conservative readers will find this scandalous. And in one of those spreads Lester talks about wanting to snuggle up between his two dads to feel safe. I know that will really send some (parent) readers over the edge. But it’s no different than other books I have read showing children snuggled between their heterosexual parents.

I think this is an important book to have on library shelves. It’s there for kids with two dads and adopted children to reflect their lives and it’s there for kids who live with biological, heterosexual parents who will see their peers reflected and come away with a new sense of empathy. It’s there for all kids who have struggled with nighttime fears and loneliness. All in all the sweet story and importance of showing a family with two dads where it isn’t a big deal far outweighs any complaints about it.

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16

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: Buzz Beaker by Cari Meister

On 16, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

race-to-schoolBuzz Beaker and the Race to School written by Cari Meister, illustrated by Bill McGuire

Lexile: 290L

From Goodreads: Buzz Beaker keeps oversleeping. He misses the school bus. He wears his pajamas to school. He knows he can’t be late again, so he finds a way to win the race to school!

growing-gooBuzz Beaker and the Growing Goo by Cari Meister, illustrated by Bill McGuire

Lexile: 370L

From Goodreads: Buzz is excited when a toy store owner hires him to sell science kits at her store. After trying a few different sales tactics, Buzz finds a hit with a science show with goo, but then he faces a new problem. The goo won’t stop growing! What will he do with all that goo?

These were the perfect little easy readers. They feature Buzz Beaker, a kid of color and a scientist. The books are also humorous In The Race to School, Buzz ends up at school in his PJs. In The Growing Goo, Buzz entices customers to buy science kits at the toy store by showing off some goo that ends up getting out of hand. A funny punch line at the end will make readers think and laugh as they get the joke. I cannot stress how much we need humorous books on our library shelves. They are what kids want and yet it seems they aren’t what is there. Many of our easy readers seem so serious! Not depressing or sad, but serious. And the ones that are funny seem to have a pretty sophisticated sense of humor (Owl At Home I’m looking at you).

The focus isn’t really on the actual science Buzz is doing. He’s presented as enjoying science, so much so that he is constantly late for school and wants to help sell the science kits at the toy store, but he never talks about his experiments or gets into jargon. I think this keeps these easy readers from getting bogged down in difficult vocabulary and concepts, so to my mind it isn’t a problem. Your diehard nonfiction fans might not buy into it or might give one or two a try. On the other hand, they might really relate to Buzz and his mishaps and inventions and get into them. Either way they should end up on your shelves if they can.

I know Ada Twist is a girl scientist, but for the kids who like her I would recommend these books to read by themselves. As I’ve said my library desperately needs to add more diversity to the easy reader collection. I also feel like libraries can’t have too many easy readers. They’re short reads even if kids are just learning so they need lots of books in that easy reader range to practice with. These are on the lower end, but feel more sophisticated, which seems to be a rare combination. Buzz Beaker is a fantastic option to add to your collection.

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14

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

On 14, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

i-am-not-a-numberI Am Not a Number written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

From Goodreads: When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?

This was the book I read to my daughter the day after the election. I decided it was important for her to start learning the history of how Native Nations have been treated over the years. It isn’t necessarily a new conversation with her, but I think this was one of the most real. Her newest thing is to ask, is this a true story? And this one is.

I can’t say the book is a beautiful story, but it is a beautiful book. It tackles a dark and difficult topic. Irene and two of her brothers are sent off by the local official to the residential school. They last one year and upon returning home for the summer spill the atrocities that they have encountered. Their father comes up with a plan, stands up to the government official, and manages to prevent them from having to go back. Many were not so lucky. A personal and informative author’s note at the end adds a little more detail to the story.

The illustrations fit this beautifully. The sombre color palette and the simple, clean settings perfectly reflect both the mood and place of the book. The nuns are creepily white as I’m sure they probably seemed in their dour habits.

This is a long picture book. Many pages are full of text with a picture on the facing page. I do think it’s intended for a slightly older audience and I think you could use it as a read aloud well up into middle school. But I will say my five year old sat through it with no complaints. The story was captivatingly told.

I can’t stress the importance of having these books in your library collection enough. They reflect accurately the experiences of many Native families and the history of many Native peoples (not just the ones in Canada). They can start conversations, albeit hard ones for us white teachers and parents, around the deep seated racism in our country and how that has played out over the years. They can also ensure that children are being exposed to this history. It is unlikely that most schools are teaching about this in any classroom, even in high schools. If you work in a middle or high school library I recommend putting this on your shelf, but if you can’t or won’t put a picture book out, get Fatty Legs and promote that.

I had a private school education and as an adult I find myself asking what the hell my parents paid for. I learned nothing. Nothing. Ignoring the difficult parts of history and literature, I still learned nothing. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your students.

 

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07

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: Get a Hit, Mo! by David Adler

On 07, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

get-a-hit-moGet a Hit, Mo! written by David Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks

Lexile: 220L

From Goodreads: Mo Jackson is a small boy with a big passion for sports. He may not be the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest kid on the team, but he won’t let that stop him from playing!

I would call this a cute story. Mo is the youngest and smallest on his baseball team. He’s kind of bummed because he always bats last and he always plays right field. He is also pretty terrible at bat. Through the course of the game he thinks about how to bat well enough to get a hit. He also thinks he wants to get a home run. In the last inning and after two strikes Mo turns to hear what his coach is yelling and accidentally gets a hit. It’s not a great hit, certainly not a home run, but Mo gets to second base and bats in two other runners, winning the game. Mo realizes home runs are nice, but not necessary to win.

I loved that the crowd and players on the team were diverse. There are girls and boys and various skin tones. Mo himself, as you can see on the cover, looks African American. I particularly like that. It seems that usually these books feature a white main character and you see the diversity in the background.

The reading level is fairly low which is just right for those emerging readers (but not very beginning readers). I think I have first graders and some low second grade readers who would be confident reading this. There are a handful of sight words and a few more advanced spelling patterns, but otherwise it’s totally manageable.

My only complaint is that it’s baseball. We really don’t have any kids that play baseball right now (okay, maybe one or two?). I suppose they may enjoy reading about baseball even if they don’t play it, but it seems to be our basketball and soccer books that check out more regularly. Regardless, I’ll be purchasing a copy of this one for the easy reader collection. I would recommend it if you are looking to add diversity to that collection too, or if you need some easier readers or if you want a sports themed book.

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01

Nov
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: Elephant & Piggie Like Reading

On 01, Nov 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

cookie-fiascoThe Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

From Goodreads: Four friends. Three cookies. One problem. Hippo, Croc, and the Squirrels are determined to have equal cookies for all! But how? There are only three cookies . . . and four of them! They need to act fast before nervous Hippo breaks all the cookies into crumbs!

we-are-growingWe Are Growing by Laurie Keller

From Goodreads: Walt and his friends are growing up! Everyone is the something-est. But . . . what about Walt? He is not the tallest, or the curliest, or the silliest. He is not the anything-est! As a BIG surprise inches closer, Walt discovers something special of his own!

So Elephant and Piggie are kind of back. They introduce these new easy readers which have totally different characters and stories in them. Both books seem to follow that funny and successful format of the Elephant and Piggie books. The characters want to do something, but there is a problem. Everyone overreacts and then a solution presents itself.

I think kids will like these books. I know in my library we have to limit the kids to one Elephant and Piggie book per check out otherwise there aren’t enough to go around. The similar format will help pull them in. They have a similar sense of humor which kids L-O-V-E, LOVE. The illustrations are great and they have the same quality as Elephant and Piggie so I suspect they’ll hold up as long as those.

In terms of difficulty of spelling patterns and vocabulary, they aren’t for your very first readers even if they don’t have that many words in them. They’ll require some knowledge of spelling patterns like -ing and a good ability to blend sounds. They also have a fair amount of sight words in them. I would say they’ll work for first grade and early second grade and any low readers. Certainly anyone who has read Elephant and Piggie will be able to manage them.

I’ll be buying these, but they don’t feature any diversity. It’s all animals and grass. We don’t need more animals books in our easy reader section, but I know our kids will love these and I have to balance my desire to improve the collection with getting things I know the kids will go bananas over. Which isn’t to say there aren’t diverse readers out there that the kids won’t go bananas over, I just haven’t found them yet.

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27

Oct
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Easy Reader Review: When Andy Met Sandy by Tomie dePaola

On 27, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

when-andy-met-sandyWhen Andy Met Sandy written by Tomie dePaola, cowritten with Jim Lewis

From Goodreads: Andy is small. Sandy is tall. Andy is quiet. Sandy is LOUD. But when these two seemingly opposites meet at a playground one day, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Written in simple words and short, declarative sentences, this book is perfect for little ones just learning to read on their own.

So my own daughter just started reading a week or so ago. She’s been asking about letter sounds and sounding out words for a few months, but she really started putting it together about a week ago. And this has given me a huge new appreciation and perspective on easy readers.

When Andy Met Sandy is a really sweet friendship story between two little kids. They both arrive at the playground where one is new and the other is familiar with it. The see each other and dance around playing with one another because they are both a bit shy and afraid of asking the other to play. They visit different structures that can be played on by individual kids, but eventually end up at the seesaw. Since they both want to play on it they have to ask the other to join. Once they do, they realize they both wanted to play with each other and can have a lot of fun together.

As an introvert and kid who didn’t always want to join in with other kids, I appreciated that the story doesn’t have them miserable and not having fun when playing alone. They do realize they can have fun together, but it isn’t set up as bad that they played alone and worked up the courage to talk to the other child.

Andy is clearly not white, but it isn’t stated or obvious what he is. He has no last name, no parents in sight, and doesn’t speak in another language. It isn’t necessary to have it made clear and I think allows non white kids to read their own identity into Andy’s. I am looking for books that have diversity in them and this certainly fits the bill there.

Finally, the actual reading level. The text is easy. “I am Sandy.” and “I am Andy.” are the first two sentences, but they get a bit more complicated. Easy readers are supposedly designed to be read by an emerging reader, but I find many if not most of them are only for those with a fairly decent working ability to actually read. Children like my daughter who are just learning to read need a lot more predictability in the word/letter sounds (i.e. more short vowel sounds and short words, fewer digraphs and consonant blends). When Andy Met Sandy has some vocabulary that a new reader could sound out (phonetic) and use the pictures to help them figure out more difficult words. But, there is a fair amount of vocabulary that would have to be in a child’s sight word vocabulary (words like through, could, climb, yourself, etc.) or would require an adult sitting next to the child to help tackle those words. Some of them would also require a knowledge, either explicit or internalized, of long vowel patterns.

This is on the easier end of what I have in my library collection, but it still requires some ability to read. I do need books like that because they are few and far between in our actual collection (our classroom libraries have a lot more targeted and leveled books that help develop reading skill). Andy’s ethnicity and the sweet story also make this an excellent addition to any easy reader collection.

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25

Oct
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: That’s Not Fair! by Danielle McLaughlan

On 25, Oct 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

thats-not-fairThat’s Not Fair!: Getting to Know Your Rights and Freedoms written by Danielle McLaughlan, illustrated by Dharmali Patel

From Goodreads: This unique addition to the CitizenKid collection, written by by Danielle S. McLaughlin, provides an accessible exploration of the rights and freedoms of citizens in a democracy through a series of six short stories starring Mayor Moe and the councillors of a sometimes wacky city. In each story, the councillors are first presented with a problem, and the group then makes a decision to address the problem with a new law, only to discover later there were unintended consequences. There is one councillor, Bug, who objects to each decision being proposed by commenting, “That’s not fair!” — a sentiment familiar to children, who have an innate sense of justice.

I loved this book. I thought it did a fantastic job of explaining rights and freedoms in a way that would both make sense to kids and would appeal to their innate sense of justice.

The book would work best as a parent-child or teacher-class read aloud. Certainly a fourth or fifth grader could pick this up on their own and read it and I would put it in any library for that reason. But the conversations that can and should come up around the rights and freedoms are what will really make this book.

It could easily lead into how our democracy works. It looks at the issues from a lot of perspectives and taps into SEL ideas we work with in our school. It think it would also be an excellent jumping off point to talk about how not all people enjoy these freedoms we like to think of as being fundamental and essential.

I do wish Mayor Moe wasn’t such a bungling idiot because things in life are not quite so cut and dry and I think children are very capable of grasping gray-area conversations. Mayor Moe is pretty much always the culpable party for taking away freedoms. Injustice comes from a lot of places and not just one person which is how the book makes it seem. On the flip side, I know kids will grasp that Mayor Moe is a stand in for those people and ideas.

Considering our current political climate and the circus that is our presidential election this would be an excellent book to have out. I will be working through it with my daughter soon and if I had third grade in the library this year this would have been the first half of our year.

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