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18

Oct
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Gender Wheel by Maya Christina Gonzalez

On 18, Oct 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Gender WheelThe Gender Wheel: A Story About Bodies and Gender written and illustrated by Matthew and Maya Christina Gonzalez

From Goodreads: This body positive book is a powerful opportunity for a supportive adult and child to see a wide range of bodies, understand the origins of the current binary gender system, how we can learn from nature to see the truth that has always existed and revision a new story that includes room for all bodies and genders. The Gender Wheel offers a queer centric, holistic framework of radical gender inclusion in a kid-friendly way for the budding activists who will change our world. This is our world!

You can’t claim to want to diversify your shelves if you aren’t also including books about gender diversity. Fortunately there are a few good resources out there to help you with that, including this gem from Maya Gonzalez and Reflection Press.

Let’s be clear sexuality and gender are NOT the same. The book does talk about the outside and inside of bodies, but sexuality is not a part of this discussion.* Gonzalez does a phenomenal job explaining in child-friendly and appropriate language that people and bodies come in all different forms. She begins by decolonizing the idea of gender. She very bluntly calls out the history of European colonization that set up the damaging girl-boy binary of gender. She addresses it, notes that it is just plain wrong, and then moves on to affirm and explain that gender is fluid, infinite, and natural using a circle.

Gonzalez has published two different versions of this text, one with naked bodies and one with clothed bodies.She has drawn some children with bodies that look ambiguous and that have parts that match what we think of as male and female but aren’t. If at all possible, include the one with naked bodies on your shelves. Nakedness is not something to be ashamed of or feared and teaching children to be ashamed of, to hate, and be ignorant of naked bodies, especially their own, does them a major disservice. DO NOT let this fall into some sort of cisgendered obsession with body parts, but know it can help kids grasp these concepts, especially younger kids who need more concrete explanations. I know for my own daughter it was helpful to understand that there is a lot of in between with genitalia. That being said, plenty of schools may not be comfortable or able to have naked kids on their shelves, so you will have to take that into consideration.

In addition to the outside circle which deals with how a body looks and feels on the outside, Gonzalez also includes an inner wheel which addresses both inside parts (body parts that can’t be seen) and how a person feels about their gender and identifies themselves. This includes pronouns and labels. The two wheels can move separately so that the body does not always match the same pronoun, label, or feeling/identity. This is brilliant. Children will grasp this concept. For young audiences you can hop over to the Reflection Press website and download the wheel from their free resources and actually make it to use as a prop.

There is one more VERY important piece to this book that must be mentioned. The Gender Wheel is part of a larger set or series that includes a wonderful simple, easy reader and a workbook. Gonzalez has developed a curriculum around this that would be wonderful for schools and libraries to have available for their teachers and families. But her work was stolen by some other authors who are published by a larger publishing house. You can and should read about this here on Gonzalez’ blog. BUT BE SURE TO SUPPORT HER AND HER WORK BY PURCHASING THIS BOOK AND SERIES AND NOT THE PLAGIARIZED ONE.

So, to diversify your bookshelves look to The Gender Wheel and the Gender Now curriculum.

*To be clear, you need books that deal with sexuality on your shelves too and it also needs to be an ongoing discussion. It can also be intertwined with gender, but for this book it is not. Sexuality can be a hard sell in libraries so don’t shy away from this book on account of that. But if you are shying away from books that tackle potentially controversial topics unpack that feeling and go read my post about how that kind of thought process upholds white supremacy culture.

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15

Oct
2018

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Soft Censorship and White Supremacy

On 15, Oct 2018 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

The JourneyThis is a bit of a long post and requires some context. Bear with me.

Last year the other librarian I worked with purchased the book The Journey by Francesca Sanna. The story follows a family from their home country, where a war has broken out and the father has died, to a new country. Along the way they encounter unfriendly border guards, a wall, a smuggler, and an ocean they must cross. It’s certainly a nod to Syrian refugees and North African refugees fleeing to Europe, but it’s also reminiscent of immigrants from Central America and Cuba. It’s not a warm fuzzy story, but it also isn’t without hope. It’s the kind of book that can open up conversations. Prior to this I had purchased a copy and read it to my daughter and we talked about a lot of things that are going on in the world right now.

While the book was being processed with another immigration story by a parent volunteer she raised concerns about both books being too scary for children and something she would never have shared with her own children. I came into the conversation late in the day and am unclear if she didn’t want us processing the books at all or if they needed to be put into a higher reading level section.

When I spoke to the parent I explained that I could respect that she would not want to choose to read the book to her children, but that I did want to (and had read) it to my child. My point being, there are families and teachers in our community that do want these types of books. She also kept fussing over the possibility that a parent who wouldn’t want it read to their child might still find it in their child’s backpack. So I explained that it was not appropriate to remove it from the shelf or hide it for those parents. It is a book that is written for children and is totally appropriate if you want to share those ideas with a child. Her own personal preference to shield her children from ugly truths about our world is her right, but it does not give me the right, as a librarian, to force other parents to make that choice by hiding or removing the book. Moreover our collection development policy allows us to purchase materials that support our curriculum, support our community and support literacy. This book hits all those points. The other librarian thanked me for talking to the parent volunteer.

I went ahead and processed the book and put it in the picture book section (a blue label). But I came in the following Friday morning to discover that the other librarian had changed it to a red label (early chapter book section). This made me extremely upset and uncomfortable and here is why:

  1. The color coding labels denote reading level not content. This book has a relatively low reading level and is clearly a picture book. The library does have a few red and yellow picture books, but they also have very high reading levels and are clearly written for older audiences (third grade and up).
  2. The (higher level) red and yellow picture books do not check out. They are up high on a shelf where the kids can’t reach them. They are tucked away. But mostly, by the time the kids can read chapter books, the teachers and parents do not want them to check out picture books and the kids have internalized that idea and almost never choose to read them.
  3. The picture book (blue) section has books that tackle slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, other immigration stories, gay families, residential schools and many other difficult, uncomfortable, and potentially controversial topics.
  4. The youngest patrons who check out books (Kindergarten and first grade) do not browse the shelves. The librarian pulls books and puts them out on the tables for them to select from. To keep this book out of those children’s hands is very easy: simply do not offer it as an option.
  5. Professional reviews of the book have placed this on many children’s literature award lists and note that the age range for the book can be as young as 3 up to about third grade.
  6. Finally, the other librarian consulted another non-librarian teacher about her opinion and made a decision based on that. She did not consult the upper school librarian. I also caught her consulting with an administrator who is the head of the diversity committee (and a not particularly woke white man). When I accidentally came upon them discussing the book they quickly hid it away, stopped talking, and he quietly slipped out of the library without saying a word to me.

With all those factors considered, they intentionally put a book that might make some families uncomfortable into a section where they know it probably won’t check out or be seen. This is called soft censorship. It’s not an outright ban of the book, but for all intents and purposes it renders the book unavailable. The library/school can still point at it say, “But it’s on our shelves! We’re not stopping kids from checking it out.” Yet, in reality, the patrons of the library, the target audience of that book, will never have meaningful or real access to it.

But here’s the thing with that kind of behavior and why I think I’m so uncomfortable with this whole situation. It’s white supremacy at work. Plain and simple. Those families that might be uncomfortable are going to primarily be white and immigration is almost never about white immigrants*, certainly not in this political climate we’re in. These books, and The Journey in particular, that make white families uncomfortable are about black and brown people. Hiding The Journey where children and families, for all intents and purposes, will not have access to it erases that difficult experience in favor of white children’s comfort. It places white children above black and brown children. Also this is how systems of oppression (i.e. white supremacy) work and are perpetuated, quietly and seemingly innocuously. As a librarian and a person fighting to stop white supremacy, I disagree with that soft censorship with every fiber of my being. It is wrong.

I went and spoke with the teacher the other librarian consulted and heard her piece. It was half the point I made to our parent volunteer. Not all families would talk about this topic with their child. I then explained the censorship issue with the book and she immediately told me that she agreed with the library/librarian standpoint, that it belongs in an accessible place on our shelves. I also consulted with the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. They were incredibly helpful and supportive and affirmed that I was right to call this soft censorship. They wrote a letter to the head of the Lower School supporting keeping the book in the picture book section (you can see this in my Instagram photo of the book).

Picture books can be read by children whose reading is fairly well developed, but in reality they are books that are meant to be shared between a fluent reader (often an adult) and a child. This is the kind of situation where an adult can read this book and help the child understand what is happening. If a family doesn’t want to have that conversation, they do not have to read the book (although I highly recommend they unpack that impulse and ensure it isn’t actually upholding white supremacy). Nothing in the library is required reading. But there are families who do want to have these conversations and need resources and the library is there for them. There are also classroom teachers who are having these conversations with their classes and the library is there for them too.

I quit that job last year for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons was because of how my daughter was treated when we applied to the school compounded by the headmaster’s incredibly misogynistic response to my speaking publicly about the incident and how it made me feel. He took particular umbrage at the language I used. You can read more about that here and here if you are so inclined. But during the long conversation I had with him in which he tone policed me and said some truly appalling things, he also told me if I was upset about this I wasn’t entitled to make the call about this book. Not only did he show his complete ignorance about what my job title and position was, he also showed an ignorance that is common outside the library community about the function of the library as a line of defense against censorship and social justice. (Although his stance toward white supremacy is unsurprising considering his level of bigotry in the conversation.)

This is why it’s vitally important that people outside the library community know about soft censorship and how it works and one of the primary reasons I’m putting this out there. I also quit that job because I do not want to work in a place that is comfortable soft censoring materials. In this day and age that is particularly dangerous. We know that children internalize bias incredibly early and we as educators and parents need to be very intentional in addressing the inequalities in this world. We need kids who know what is going on in the world and learn compassion and empathy so we can strive toward a world with equity and freedom for all. We also need parents that are willing to break down systems of oppression. If we wait until white parents think they’re ready to handle the material, it’s too late. Way too late.

*This not entirely true. There are plenty of kids books about Irish or Italian immigrants in the 1800s. Yet, while they are now considered white they were not at the time, which means those children’s books are not accurately representing that immigration experience, but that’s for another day.

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11

Oct
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Young Water Protectors by Aslan Tudor

On 11, Oct 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Young Water ProtectorsYoung Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock written by Aslan Tudor, co-written by Kelly Tudor

From Goodreads: At the not-so-tender age of 8, Aslan arrived in North Dakota to help stop a pipeline. A few months later he returned – and saw the whole world watching. Read about his inspiring experiences in the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. Learn about what exactly happened there, and why. Be inspired by Aslan’s story of the daily life of Standing Rock’s young water protectors. Mni Wiconi … Water is Life

I picked up a copy of this book to read on Indigenous People’s Day with my own daughter, but felt it warranted a review here. When I was working in my last library I spent a lot of time combing through the collection that featured nonfiction titles on Native Nations. I weeded old, racist, and inaccurate titles and added a lot of titles that came recommended by Native/Indigenous scholars and librarians or were written by Native/Indigenous authors. This was a particularly important project to me because so many grades in elementary school study Native Americans, either during Native American Heritage Month, with units of study like the California Mission System (ugh), the Gold Rush (ugh, again), or as part of an attempt to incorporate diversity into their curriculums (problematic at best).

One of the most difficult pieces of Native American culture to incorporate and find reflected in kidlit was the fact that Native Americans are still very much alive and here. So. Many. Books relegate them to a sad, wimpy past and that narrative, besides being dangerous, is patently untrue. Children need to see that Native Nations are sovereign and alive and vibrant. There is Jingle Dancer, Powwow Summer, and a handful of others, but they weren’t easy to discover.

I think Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL protest was a very powerful movement and moment to bring that current history (current event?) into the classroom, but I suspect that most teachers were either not aware of it or were fearful of being “too political”. Young Water Protectors, however, allows teachers, parents, and librarians to open a discussion with their students, children, and patrons. Aslan Tudor is a ten year old boy who was eight when he and his family went to the Oceti Sakowin Camp. This is an incredible resource for everyone. Not only does it introduce the idea of sovereignty, it tackles the fact that the land (the whole US, but specifically the Dakotas) were stolen from the people who lived by white colonizers. It also does a really great job of sharing history that led up to the protest, the issues at hand, and Tudor’s personal experience at the camp. Add to this that it can be used to inspire budding authors to pen their own stories of resistance. It can be used in conjunction with units on Native Nations, environmentalism, and social justice.

For those of you who are fearful of being “too political” I suggest you look long and hard at that statement and the privilege it carries. The book does a good job of skirting around finger pointing, while still calling out the politics and economics that allowed the pipeline to happen. The photographs are quite nice and illustrate the subject well. The book is also an #ownvoices, as Tudor is a citizen of the Lipan Apache Tribe. Be sure to add this to your shelves and collections. Pair it with The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson which I will be reviewing soon.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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28

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Look for Me written by Frank Minikon, illustrated by Mark “Mas” Stewart

On 28, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Look for MeLook for Me: A Snippet in the Life of Marcus Garvey written by Frank Minikon, illustrated by Mark “Mas” Stewart

From Goodreads: Young Marcus Garvey was a person with a big dream. He dreamed of gathering people all across the globe so they could come together and work collectively using each other’s strengths. Garvey created a newspaper company, a shipping company, and several organizations with the idea that we could progress as a people and take care of each other like a big family. He was educated, organized, and dedicated. In this story you’ll read about his message, and how he inspired people all across the globe. Marcus Mosiah Garvey was a man of the people and, despite the many challenges of life, he swirled around the globe with the energy of a whirlwind saying to one and to all: “Look for Me.”

I am always fascinated by people from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. From the ones I’ve read about they seem to have been able to just go out and get jobs doing things. Exciting things. Like writing for newspapers, starting companies, jumping from field to field. And I can’t quite figure out if that’s because they were just braver than me, or if it was just easier for them. Like maybe regulations weren’t as strict and expectations weren’t so narrow?

Marcus Garvey is a great example of this. He traveled around and worked as an editor for newspapers in Central America. He organized and started a shipping company that transported goods. He was a speaker in London. Sure, he may not have gotten rich off any of these careers, but you can’t just walk into a newspaper office these days and be an editor. No one is about to have you come speak to their organization without major credentials and even with crowdfunding I think you’d be hard pressed to start in import/export company.

Look For Me is the latest title in the “Snippet in the Life” series from publisher Melanin Origins. It’s also the longest and probably most like a traditional biography of all the books thus far. From the book we learn where he was born and several of the careers he had. While other books in the series have shared similar information, such as Louisiana Belle, in this one it feels much more like a chronological, non fiction, accounting of Garvey’s life. It also talks about his legacy and the final pages feature a timeline of Garvey’s life with his picture.

Despite this, the book is still geared toward younger audiences. While it’s longer than the others, it’s still brief. The actual text doesn’t include any dates or specifics that would be meaningless for small children. But the list in the back of the book is perfect for for parents or teachers who want to extend the learning and history lesson. The illustrations feature more modern looking children which, as I’ve said before with this series, draws kids in. And again, the series focuses on a historic black figure that was very important, but rarely shows up in children’s literature.

Another solid addition to the series. Be sure to round out your collection with it.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

The book releases on December 1st. I will link here when it does so you can order your own copy.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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21

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Not All Superheroes Wear Capes by Alecia R. Heffner

On 21, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

SuperheroesNot All Superheroes Wear Capes written by Alecia R. Heffner

From Goodreads: Not All Superheroes Wear Capes is a children’s book designed to teach African American students the opportunities available to them in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. This inspiring book combines positive images of African Americans engaging in exciting careers with a powerful message of how these individuals help others in their daily life.

Kids always love superhero books and this one will give some new superheroes to admire. Not All Superheroes Wear Capes showcases everyday heroes from doctors to dentists to chemists. I love that this book covers STEM careers. I love that it shows women in some of these careers (and not just as a nurse). And I love that it’s a really different mix of STEM professions. There is a chiropractor, a nurse practitioner, and a pharmacist, as well as your typical doctor.

 

In calling these doctors and scientists superheroes, I think the book really encourages children to look around at the real people in their lives doing extraordinary things in ordinary circumstances. They’ve all been to a doctor or a gotten a shot or visited the dentist. Normally those experiences are mundane (or menacing, depending on how they feel about shots), but Not All Superheroes nudges kids to realize that their doctors and nurses have worked hard and are committed to helping people, like them, and that makes them super.

While all children can be inspired by the book, all the characters are black and will speak directly to children of color, showing them they can be these things. That kind of representation, while on the rise, is still rare. There are even few nods to HBCUs in some of the illustrations. The text also emphasizes the hard work ahead of kids who may want to pursue a career in a STEM field, but assures them it’s within reach.

The one issue you might run into with it is length. It covers a lot of territory and might need to be split into more than one reading for your youngest storytime patrons. But it’s a trade off, right? You wouldn’t get all these great careers covered if you don’t have a longer book. The book would be perfect on a classroom shelf or in a school library, but public libraries would also do well to ensure the representation seen in this book is included on their shelves too. Not to mention it would make a great book to share at a superhero themed storytime.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

 

 

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14

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

On 14, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Vine BasketFrom Goodreads: Things aren’t looking good for fourteen-year-old Mehrigul. She yearns to be in school, but she’s needed on the family farm. The longer she’s out of school, the more likely it is that she’ll be sent off to a Chinese factory . . . perhaps never to return. Her only hope is an American woman who buys one of her decorative vine baskets for a staggering sum and says she will return in three weeks for more. Mehrigul must brave terrible storms, torn-up hands from working the fields, and her father’s scorn to get the baskets done. The stakes are high, and time is passing. A powerful intergenerational story of a strong, creative young artist in a cruelly oppressive society.

I previously wrote this about the book:

“This was an interesting one to compare to A Girl Called Problem as they were both written by people who were not from the culture they were writing about but had traveled to the region and were taken by the people. But the writing in this one was so polished. It was such a beautiful story that focused less on the historical event of what was going on, although it did emphasize the plight of the Uyghr people (I’m sure I spelled that incorrectly, but they are an ethnic group in Western China), and more on developing the characters, the relationships, the setting, and the story. It was a quiet story without a lot of dramatic plot points, but it was beautiful and hopeful.”

I have new thoughts about the book, but I want to first say that I’m rerunning this because China is currently cracking down on Uyghurs, sending them to “re-education camps” (sound like something the US and Canada did to the Indigenous people here?) and imprisoning them. They are even reaching out to Uyghurs living in different parts of the world including the US and threatening to do things to family still in China. It’s an ugly, ugly situation that is not getting enough media attention.

The Vine Basket is a very problematic book, but it’s also the only one I’m aware of that introduces kids to this minority. My recommendation is to educate yourself on the Uyghurs, their history and their current plight, and then read this book with your kids and use it as a tool to open up conversations.

To start with the good, this was a beautiful, quiet story. As I said before it really develops the characters and their relationships. You also get a good feel for the region the Uyghrs live in and a glimpse into their culture. The writing did a really good job of invoking the place where the story takes place and the author had visited so I get the sense that she drew on her experience there. I think that despite all the problems you can come away from the book with a feel for the Uyghurs homeland and a sympathy for the people. The other really key piece to notice here is the Mehrigul’s brother is said to be a part of the resistance to the Chinese government. We don’t really meet him in the book, but he comes up on several occasions. This opens up the conversation about how the Uyghurs are fighting for their rights and engaging in activism, meaning they aren’t passively needing white ladies to come save them *ahem*.

So this is certainly a hopeful story, but it’s also a story with a white savior. It doesn’t give all the power to the white woman who comes in and discovers the baskets as the story centers Mehrigul, but it’s a white savior nonetheless. I also don’t think it’s untrue that Mehrigul’s family might need to send her off to work in a factory to help them make money, but the framing around that sets it up so Mehrigul needs to seek help from the white lady who comes along. I also don’t know how accurate the relationships are within the context of the culture. Mehrigul’s father is not interested in supporting her making baskets to sell and isn’t particularly kind to her and that may be the lack of an #ownvoices story giving the relationship an outsider, Western view. I can’t say how the Uyghurs truly feel about girls, it’s entirely possible that there are father-daughter relationships like this, but it’s also equally easy to find those same relationships here in the US, so it’s hard to blame this distance and lack of support solely on the Uyghur culture. I also really despise that fact that the book description calls it a “cruelly oppressive culture”. That sounds like an outsider’s opinion and it sounds inappropriate given the source.

I don’t really think buying this book sends the right message, but if your library has it you should hand sell it to your activist parents noting the timeliness of the topic. If you’re a parent or classroom teacher, see if your library already has a copy and use that to discuss what’s currently happening around the Uyghurs now. Share the problems with this book while reading the story. Learn about the Uyghurs (from Uyghur sources and more open Western sources) and compare what you learn to what the story shows. Again, I’m recommending not buying the book, but using it to carefully bring attention and sympathy to what is shamefully happening right now.

If you want a book that is more #ownvoices (as much as book written from the perspective of a dog can be) and set in Western China, check out Black Flame which is an incredible book.

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10

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis

On 10, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Troubled ToucanThe Mystery of the Troubled Toucan: A Pack-N-Go Girls Adventure by Lisa Travis

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s world is coming apart. So is the rickety old boat that carries her far up the Rio Negro river in Brazil. Crocodiles swim in the dark waters. Spiders scurry up the twisted tree trunks. And a crazy toucan screeches a warning. It chases Sofia and Júlia, her new friend, deep into the steamy rainforest. There they stumble upon a shocking discovery.

Heads up! Not all of these feature diverse settings and girls. Some are set in Austria. That being said the Pack-n-Go Girls adventures are a lot of fun. The main character, in this book, travels to Brazil with her dad. Her parents are getting a divorce and it’s a trip for her father to get away and spend some time with Sofia. As in all the books in the series I’ve read, Sofia quickly makes a friend when she arrives at the hotel they’ll be staying in. Together the two girls uncover a poacher trapping pink dolphins and they decide to try and discover who it is and bring them to justice.

These are definitely wish-fulfillment books to some extent. The girls get themselves into situations that, in real life, would be incredibly dangerous and difficult for them to resolve. But that’s okay! I think girls are looking for those types of stories, the ones where they can be the heroes even though they are young and female. I think it also encourages girls to stand up when they see things that are not right. Often the girls are scared and eventually they loop adults into what they’re doing to get back up when needed.

Libraries should absolutely have these books on their shelves. They’re quick chapter book reads, not to easy and not too difficult, great transitional reads. If kids like the conservation efforts in this book they can move on to Manatee Rescue and Carl Hiassen. There are several different places visited by different girls including Mexico, Thailand, and Austria so if readers aren’t ready to move on they can stay with the series. I will say proceed with caution with the others. I haven’t read them and cannot vouch for how well they handle other cultures and countries. Still, they are well worth looking into if you would like to build up your chapter book collection.

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07

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book: Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja

On 07, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ilyas and DuckIlyas and Duck Search for Allah written by Omar Khawaja, illustrated by Leo Antolini

From Goodreads: Ilyas and Duck search for Allah is an adorable storybook for kids about a boy’s quest to find God. “Where is God?” is a question that any muslim parent teaching their kids will one day have to answer. This book helps parents answer that question from an Islamic perspective while conveying the profound mystery of it all in a fun way. In this story, lovable Ilyas pairs up with Duck to ask the one question repeatedly in different scenarios. With whimsical and poetic replies, Ilyas slowly begins to realize what his question truly means. 

This was a beautiful book gifted to us by some friends. I saw it at their house and was amazed at how simply and beautifully it took a very deep and complex idea and distilled it down into something children can easily understand without taking away the majesty of the concept. Plus the illustrations are adorable.

Ilyas and Duck wonder exactly where they can find God and they head out on a rather silly search. In every place they look the pair encounters an animal who clearly knows, but is rather cryptic about answering their question. Slowly, Ilyas comes to realize that God is all around, reflected back in the places and things they meet, and not person to be found in one place.

Children will really appreciate this book for not speaking down to them. It merely puts the idea of God into a form they can grasp. They’ll be drawn in and kept entertained by the silliness of the hunt, especially once they’ve read through it once and heard the punchline (so to speak). The pictures, with darling little Ilyas and cute Duck, will also keep them interested in turning the pages and returning to them.

You should definitely include this in your collection if one of two things is true for your library or classroom. One, if you have Muslim children or families that you serve. This book is written for them to help families explain a complex and abstract concept that is fundamental to monotheistic religions, but can be incredibly difficult for children to grasp. Two, if you have Christian themed books on your shelf. Now be aware these books can be subtle and you may have a blindspot for them in you were raised Christian or are white. Remember, although highly commercialized and nationalized respectively, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are Christian holidays. Chances are good you have books that take a Christian perspective, so balance that out by having books available for your non-Christian families to use.

I’ll admit school libraries may have a harder time making the case to add this kind of book to their collection, but I think it’s also important to point out that while the book uses the Arabic word for God, it doesn’t feel exclusive to Islam. If you have families wanting to explain the concept of God or god or a higher power this book does a phenomenal job of doing just that. The book is probably meant for younger preschool/Kindergarten age kids, but I think because it does such an incredibly job explaining a difficult subject you should consider it for collections that serve older students and children as well, say up into third grade.

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05

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott

On 05, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Mother of the SeaMother of the Sea written by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: When her village is raided, a teenage girl finds herself on a brutal journey to the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic. Her only comfort is a small child who clings to her for protection. But once they board the slave ship, the child reveals her rebellious nature and warns that her mother—a fierce warrior—is coming to claim them all.

While I love all books by Zetta Elliott, the cover alone on this one would have convinced me to buy it if I hadn’t known who she was. It is gorgeous. You will draw readers in just by placing it cover out on the shelf (you do do that, right?).

This is the kind of book that should be read in history classes and English classes. Elliott is a world class author and her language is beautiful. There is no reason not to study the book from that angle. There is also an important perspective and piece of history that is not typically studied in social studies curriculums. The slave trade is mentioned in history class, but in a very clinical, sterile kind of way. A way that ignores the humanity of the people captured and forcibly brought here. That’s probably to make white students, families, teachers, and text book authors more comfortable with their white guilt, but it is neither fair nor wise. White students need to look at their own complicity in a system that was built on that trade and students of color, particularly black students, need to see people like them in books depicted as human. Elliott does that here in a way that we don’t often see in traditional publishing or school.

The subject matter is difficult here and rape is referenced in an oblique way. Mother of the Sea brought to mind two other books, one a picture book and the other another YA novel. In the Time of the Drums by Kim Siegelson deals with slaves drawn into the water to return home. Sharon Draper’s Copper Sun begins in the same brutal way with the Middle Passage.

While you could hand this to just about anyone who enjoys historical novels or magical realism, Mother of the Sea is perfect for reluctant readers. Suspense, beautiful language that draws you in, short, and captivating readers won’t want to put it down. High school libraries or libraries with high school age populations absolutely must have this on their shelves. These stories are important and Elliott is a top-notch writer. While a brutal story, she lulls you with the beauty of her words and her craft as a storyteller. Middle school libraries, well, your mileage will vary. I personally don’t see a problem with having this on your shelves. Most middle school American history classes discuss slavery and the slave trade, so clearly it isn’t a taboo subject (and it shouldn’t be anyway, preserving innocence of students only protects white privileged students, no one else). But I also recognize that it could be an uphill battle if this book gets challenged by a disgruntled parent. You as a librarian will have to make that call.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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03

Sep
2018

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Rumplepimple by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

On 03, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RumplepimpleRumplepimple written by Suzanne DeWitt Hall, illustrated by Kevin Scott Gierman

From Goodreads: Life isn’t easy when your big sister is an annoying cat and your moms can’t understand a word you say. But that doesn’t stop Rumplepimple from saving the day in a most unusual way. Find out how a car ride transforms a naughty terrier into a grocery store hero.

I bought this earlier in the year to put in my Read-T0-A-Dog basket in the library. I bought my own copy a week or two ago and my daughter has been asking to read it frequenly ever since.

I love that this book has a lot to talk about in it. The most obvious is how Rumplepimple stands up to a bully. When a little boy has snatched his sister’s blanket from her in the grocery store, Rumplepimple hears her cry and rushes in to give the blanket back. When I read this with my daughter we talked about how Rumplepimple saved the day and did a good thing by intervening when something wrong was happening.

Of course this is not what his mom sees. After he slips out the car door and rushes into the store he loses his mom. She ultimately finds him peering in the meat department case licking his lips and assumes he has been up to no good. This is also a great conversation starter about doing the right thing even when no one is looking and even if you don’t get recognized for it. It can also lead to discussing doing the right thing even if you get in trouble for it.

While all this is well and good, my daughter and students loved it because Rumplepimple is a cute dog. The story sounds like the thoughts that go through a dog’s head and are quite funny. Or at least what I imagine does. :) I love the nod to The Farside comics with the “Blah, blah, blah, Rumplepimple” line when he’s being scolded in the car after being recaptured.

I have a few design issues, but they’re minor and neither my students nor my daughter noticed them. I wish more of the illustrations filled the page instead of the spot illustrations. There’s a lot of white space in the book and it feels sparse. I think it could have been a couple pages shorter too, but again it’s all minor.

If you want a cute dog story (don’t all kids?), then this book is well worth adding to your collection. It’s paperback so get the book tape out. Rumplepimple has two moms and, while their relationship is not specified, I think it’s implied that they are in a relationship. This is a great book to get some incidental diversity into your storytimes and collections!

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