By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy have been friends forforever. They live on the same street—a street in New Orleans where everyone knows everybody. They play together all day long, every chance they get. It’s always been that way. But then people start talking about a storm headed straight for New Orleans. The kids must part ways, since each family deals with Hurricane Katrina in a different manner. And suddenly everything that felt like home is gone.
I picked this one up because I gave to the I, Too, Arts Collective which is being spearheaded by Rene Watson. The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up on Monday too. It seemed like a timely book. I guess my only concern is that a lot of kids, particularly here in California, don’t have much of an idea of what Hurricane Katrina was. That’s not to say they can’t read books about it or can’t connect, just that you get a lot of blank stares when you ask about it. With flooding in Louisiana right now they might have a better chance of connecting events.
I loved this book. The text was brilliant and was told in an interesting format. There is a group of friends and each page has a free verse poem narrated by one of them. They establish what it’s like to live in their vibrant neighborhood. Neighbors wave, the kids play together, music plays. As the storm approaches each child we’re following does something to prepare. Most leave, two families stay. Time passes quickly, but you see that some people had to be rescued off roofs and others ended up at the Superdome. I especially loved the two-page, wordless spread of the submerged neighborhood. Slowly the families come back and the neighborhood comes back to life. I thought the book did an incredible job of packing an emotional punch and covering the horror that was Katrina, but didn’t offer up too much information.
The illustrations were perfect too. The kids are darling and Strickland captures their expressions so well. I love the purple sky as the storm approaches. The dark room where Tommy watches the news. The neighborhood after the storm. There are frequently pictures with interesting perspectives and interesting details to notice. Strickland also does a really nice job of matching the illustration with the picture and adding just a little something to show emotion or a little more detail than you can glean from the text.
I know it might seem like this would have a limited audience, but I think if you have money it’s well worth purchasing. I like the idea of having modern events in our collections, especially those that focus on the people.
So as a little tangent, my husband and I have a friend who is a homicide detective in New Orleans (omg, that job, wow). He stayed through the hurricane. My father in law is from that area and he took us in 2009 to visit. While there our friend took us around and it was incredible the destruction that, four years later, was still there. Incredible and heart wrenching. You could tell the city was still empty. He drove us through the lower Ninth Ward and it was stunning. He pointed out where there had been boats washed up on streets, where there had been dead bodies, the marks on the houses from the rescue operations still spray painted on houses, where there had once been buildings, and streets he had boated over. I know kids out here don’t know much about what happened, but it was a human tragedy and I think there is value in sharing about it so they can understand what happens in natural disasters and give them some empathy.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A little boy plants an apple seed, and as soon as it sprouts the boy can see the apple tree it is meant to be. But the little apple tree isn’t so sure. Young and impatient, the tree begins to doubt its calling, especially after apples fail to appear that first October. How can the little boy encourage the tree to give the seasons and years the time to work their magic?
I saw this one recommended on Debbie Reese’s site and bought it to replace some of the many Native Nations books I withdrew this summer.
I thought this was a nice gentle story and it’s so sweet. It’s also a quick read. It brought to mind The Giving Tree, a book that I know is beloved by many, but I find incredibly disturbing. Here the little boy helps his apple tree feel better until it can produce it’s own apples. He talks to the tree and interacts with it. Which also brings to mind the book Maple.
Someone in the comments section of AICL noted that Kirkus did not review the book well and that the reviewer was confused by the story. Another commenter posted some quotes from the review. I don’t think the book is confusing at all and found the complaints of the Kirkus review more confusing than this story. If you understood The Giving Tree, you won’t have trouble with this story. Neither will your students.
The text is presented both in English and Cherokee which is a really cool talking point for students. We have a biography of Sequoyah. I can’t speak to how accurate it is (so much of children’s nonfiction is terrible!!), but we are using it. I suggested my second grade teachers pair these two books. Debbie Reese also recommends that you show children the Cherokee tribal website.
It’s a far less disturbing story like The Giving Tree. I highly recommend it for libraries looking to strengthen their collections of Native Nations books. I also suggest it if you have classrooms that do fall themes, trees, or want a story about patience.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 23, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: On a hot day at the end of summer in 1973 Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party at a park in the South Bronx. Her brother, Clive Campbell, spun the records. He had a new way of playing the music to make the breaks—the musical interludes between verses—longer for dancing. He called himself DJ Kool Herc and this is When the Beat Was Born. From his childhood in Jamaica to his youth in the Bronx, here’s how Kool Herc came to be a DJ, how kids in gangs stopped fighting in order to breakdance, and how the music he invented went on to define a culture and transform the world.
This is another one that I have mixed feelings about. I found the story of DJ Kool Herc really interesting. It’s a neat American music story. It’s a great story about an immigrant playing an important role in shaping popular culture. I like the idea of having an artist who is Jamaican-American on the shelves to balance out all the white Classical composers (although our music collection is looking quite diverse after weeding and new additions). I also like that this is a modern black artist and not a slave narrative. We need more modern biographies in our collection.
But! The text is a little long, as it can be in picture book biographies, which make them a hard sell to the kids. I think the hip hop aspect will pull students in, but we don’t have a high circulation of picture book biographies in general. I also wasn’t super captivated by the text. I took an interest in it but didn’t find it terribly memorable. I don’t think either of these things means that it shouldn’t be on my own library’s shelf, just that it might see less circulation. That also means I need to do some leg work to get the kids reading it.
I love the color palette in the illustrations. There are a lot of quiet earth tones with pops of red and aqua. I think it gives an interesting feel to the city setting.
I don’t think this is an essential purchase for every library. If you have kids interested in hip hop, definitely buy it. But an overt interest in hip hop isn’t necessary to enjoy the book. If you have funds I would certainly say you should add it to get some diversity in the music section of your library. If you have a music collection that circulates you should add it. I’m adding this to my ongoing list of books I want to buy. It’s not that long of a list so this will end up on our shelves at some point this year, but our budget is in flux right now so I’m only buying stuff that directly supports our current units of study.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Born to parents who were former-slaves Florence knew early on that she loved to sing. And that people really responded to her sweet, bird-like voice. Her dancing and singing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired songs and even entire plays! Yet with all this success, she knew firsthand how bigotry shaped her world. And when she was offered the role of a lifetime from Ziegfeld himself, she chose to support all-black musicals instead.
You can be forgiven for not knowing Florence Mills. No recordings or film of her performances exist. And according to the author’s note at the end of the story, what we know about her singing is through what other sources report about her. It brings to mind the lighthouse of Alexandria.
The book is a little text heavy, but is really captivating. I read the story to my test subject (my four-year-old daughter) and she asked to re-read it several times. Mills was a woman of principle and she used her fame to support others and not just herself. She gave to the poor and helped other black performers. She also faced a lot of racism. Watson addresses it rather matter of factly without dwelling on it. The text also provides enough context for kids approaching this on their own to know it was Mills’ race that caused the discrimination and they see how she tried to combat it. I think this provides a very good opportunity for parents and educators to discuss racism. I also think teachers can introduce other black performers who helped break the racial barrier, such as Marian Anderson. Combined with other picture book biographies I think this could make a very interesting study of black entertainers and the discrimination they faced even when they were invited into white spaces. Watson has also woven in lyrics from various songs which, if you know the tunes, could make for a really great read aloud experience.
I love Robinson’s illustrations. The big-eyed Florence is totally endearing. The cut paper/collage style of the pictures and bright colors match the liveliness and adventure of Florence’s life. The scene of her funeral is particularly moving with the blackbirds silhouetted against the white sky and earth-toned buildings. Small blackbirds appear first on the endpapers and make cameos throughout the story as a small nod to Mills nickname. I thought that was clever and it was fun for my daughter to find them as we read.
I think this book is well worth adding to biography collections in libraries. There are more famous entertainers from the same era that could be argued to be more essential, but if you have money I highly recommend it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Ash Mistry Series by Sarwat Chadda
Book 1: Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress
Book 2: Ash Mistry and the City of Death
Book 3: Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness
From Goodreads: Ash Mistry hates India. Which is a problem since his uncle has brought him and his annoying younger sister Lucky there to take up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage. But Ash immediately suspects something is very wrong with the eccentric millionaire. Soon, Ash finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Savage’s masterplan – the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept Ravana, the demon king, at bay for four millennia…
I really, really enjoyed this series. Growing up, like many kids, I was totally into Greek and Roman mythology. Then I found Ancient Egyptian mythology and culture. Back then there were was very little YA and MG literature that I could get my hands on that featured good Ancient Egyptian content (I eventually started reading the Elizabeth Peters mysteries, which had a lot of romance and stuff that I wasn’t all that interested in) or even really Greek and Roman mythology and history. Now that Rick Riordan has written all those Percy Jackson books there’s plenty of Greek content out there. There are also the Kane Chronicles. And now it looks like Norse mythology is catching on. I think it’s great that there is a lot out there for kids who are interested in mythology and ancient cultures, but it’s really mostly focused on the Greeks and Romans. Which is why I think series like this one are awesome.
Ash Mistry is based around Indian mythology and it’s so rich. It helps that Chadda appears to know his Indian mythology, ideology, and history inside and out. It’s so seamlessly woven into the story of Ash. From Ash’s rebirths to the Carnival of the Flesh that appears in the third book. It all plays such an important role in the story. Chadda never panders to the Western audience by having asides that explain various aspects of the mythology, but there is explaining. You don’t need to know Indian mythology to understand and follow the story.
I did find the third book moved more slowly for me. I don’t know why. It was by far the most violent in action and depiction. Otherwise the books move along at a nice clip. They are full of action, but aren’t just plot driven. Ash grows and changes through the series into a wiser character. There’s a tiny bit of romance. Ash has a crush on a girl and there is something brewing between him and Parvati, but it’s never really the focus of the story and there’s only one kiss at the very end of the series. Ash is also incredibly devoted to his family which I thought deviated from the standard YA hero story and was a nice touch.
The series is definitely for older audiences. I had originally picked up the first book to see if it was something I could get for our fifth grade students. I don’t think it’s the best fit. There is a lot of violence. A lot. And it’s a lot more graphically depicted than, say, the Riordan books. That makes me think these books are really more YA than middle grade. Darn. They’re so good. I’m mulling it all over. Since we don’t have anything else that features Indian mythology I would consider having the first book on our shelves. That one is probably the least violent or graphic. I highly recommend this for libraries with middle school and high school age patrons. It’s so engrossing and mythology is certainly a popular subject.
There is one big, big problem with the series, though. Only the first two books have been released here in the U.S. I got the first two books from my public library and had to buy the third from a British dealer on Amazon. Why would the publisher do that? It was incredibly frustrating.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?
I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of Jewel Parker Rhodes middle grade novels at this point and I have loved them all. This was no exception.
I think it would be a mistake to sell this book to kids as only a September 11th book. It needs to be about the friendships and family themes in the book. Most kids in our elementary schools are vaguely aware of 9/11. It’s important and upsetting to those of us who were alive then, but not so much to our young students. I know they can grasp the importance and we’re certainly seeing the ripples of it still with our conflicts in the Middle East, but that’s Over There and way more abstract for these kids. Deja, the main character, struggles with understanding that and it makes the book all more relevant to kids today.
So, Towers Falling is not really a story about 9/11. It’s more a story about how families cope with trauma (or don’t). It’s about how parents and adults give their baggage to children and have expectations of them they can never meet because they don’t know the rules to the game their playing. It’s a story about a family that has fallen on hard times, like so many over the past years, and how it disrupts the children’s ability to function. It all coincides nicely with the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 and provides a way to talk about those as well, but I think in the years to come the book will have staying power because it is about teaching children to look past the surface of a person.
Deja is deep and she’s hurting and things are hard. She lashes out, she says inconsiderate things, she behaves poorly, not because she wants to or doesn’t know any better, but because there is a lot going on in her life and in her past and those things make it impossible for her not to. She’s been taught to be tough and mean and unfeeling and hurt others before getting hurt herself, but is being held to a standard that expects her to not do those things. Towers Falling is a story about how the past ripples out into the present. Again that happens to be the 9/11 attacks in this story, but it could just as easily be any other event- a shooting, an illness, a car accident. It’s also about how Deja grows through good friends, a conducive environment and learning about the root of many of her family’s troubles (which happen to be the September 11th attacks). It’s about how Deja becomes more aware of what is going on around her.
I found the book incredibly powerful. I realized I have never actually watched the footage of the attacks. I’ve seen the clips of the second plane and I remember a few photographs from the newspaper and that’s it. But I remember that day very vividly. I think it’s hard for me to say with certainly this book is an important part of collection development because I have an emotional reaction to the 9/11 attacks. I believe it’s important for kids to know about them and I think this is a good story to learn about them through. I also think the story itself is only partly about 9/11 and has a lot of value and merit on its own. Recent history is important and I can’t figure out why we’re happy to talk about things like slavery and WWII, but deem 9/11 too hard for kids to learn about. This is a good book, but I know there will be resistance to putting it on shelves in elementary and middle school libraries. I think it should be on all library shelves and do think we need to consider putting this out there.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Long ago in what would come to be called Mexico, as Mama Alma and her granddaughter, Bella, recall happy times while walking in the garden they have tended together since Bella was a baby, Mama Alma asks that after she is gone her family remember her on one special day each year. Includes facts about The Remembering Day, El dia de los muertos.
I bought this one for our Spanish collection and because I know several classes, including our music class, study El dia de los muertos. Mora imagines a time when the tradition of El dia de los muertos began in this sweet story about Bella and her grandmother. The story is fairly quiet as the two remember the happy times they have had together. As Mama Alma realizes she is going to die she asks Bella to start a celebration of those who have died in their village.
I think this one would make a great addition to any collection. While it has the cultural component of looking at El dia de los muertos, it’s meaning and possible origin, it is also a story about a grandparent dying. I think it would be a good story to offer to children and families who have lost someone. My own family celebrates the Celtic version of a remembering day each fall and this would be a fantastic book to read at that time.
I loved that Mora’s first line makes it clear that this is something that started before colonizers from Europe came and she touches on it again in the note at the end of the story. Remembering the dead is not uniquely Catholic or even Christian and the practice goes back much further into our human history. I think it’s important to acknowledge that with our students and children.
The illustrations are warm and inviting. They show Bella and Mama Alma working in their garden, weaving, and playing together. The soft, warm colors enhance the nostalgic and gentle mood of the text. The text is a bit on the long side so your mileage may vary with very young audiences. I bought this specifically for my second grade classes, but I think it could be read up into fifth grade and down into Kindergarten. The story is just so worthwhile.
I am curious, the title in English is The Remembering Day while the Spanish title is El Dia de los Muertos. I understand that the holiday is about remembering and respecting the dead, so does that mean The Remembering Day is a more accurate translation? I like it better. Calling it the Day of the Dead always brings Halloween to mind for my students and sort of sucks the meaningful significance out of the holiday (we are actually one of those families that do not celebrate American Halloween, for the record, so this could just be a personal bugaboo). To my limited knowledge of the holiday The Remembering Day seems a lot more inline with what the holiday is about.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Form Goodreads: Born in Persia more than a thousand years ago, Ibn Sina was one of the greatest thinkers of his time — a philosopher, scientist and physician who made significant discoveries, especially in the field of medicine, and wrote more than one hundred books. As a child, Ibn Sina was extremely bright, a voracious reader who loved to learn and was fortunate to have the best teachers. He memorized the Qur’an by the age of ten and completed his medical studies at sixteen. He spent his life traveling, treating the sick, seeking knowledge through research, and writing about his discoveries. He came up with new theories in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy and education. His most famous work is The Canon of Medicine, a collection of books that were used for teaching in universities across the Islamic world and Europe for centuries.
So I wasn’t totally captivated by the text in this one. It was in first person which I understand brings the reader closer to the subject, but it also made for a few awkward places. In looking further at the book I discovered that it was originally published in Arabic, which might explain the awkwardness. Things lost in translation.
Otherwise, Ibn Sina made me feel totally inadequate. NBD. He just finished his medical studies at 16. I mean I know it wasn’t like medical school these days, but still. 16. Clearly the man was a genius. The story of his accomplishments was really fascinating. He did a lot and was very interested in life long learning. He studied philosophy, education and even advocated for what we might today consider respectful parenting and teaching.
I wish there had been a little more historical context. He moved around a lot as an adult, but there was only a brief mention that one of the cities he lived in was frequently fighting with another. I think kids in the US will not be particularly familiar with the geography or history of the area or era and need more information. But I also understand that it could potentially make the book unwieldy and boring. A longer more detailed author’s note might have sufficed. I did appreciate that Sharafeddine noted that Islamic contributions to the world are rarely taught in US schools and that was a driving factor in bringing out this book.
I really like the illustrations. They’re done on a speckled brownish paper that makes the colors pop and is different from the usual white paper. The lines are so soft and the shading is spectacular. Everyone has these huge half moon eyes that make them kind of darling and friendly. The illustrations were done in colored pencil and are so saturated and rich.
I’ll definitely be buying this as our budget allows this year. We need more Islamic biographies and I don’t think we have anything on the Islamic Golden Age. The illustrations will entice my students to pick it up. My complaints about the text aren’t significant enough for me to not purchase it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 17, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Louis loves to watch birds. He takes care of injured birds and studies how they look and how they move. His father wants him to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being a bird artist. To achieve this dream, he must practice, practice, practice. He learns from the art of John James Audubon. But as Louis grows up, he begins to draw and paint living, flying birds in their natural habitats.
I think these are very loosely poems, but it flows so nicely. Not that poetry can’t or usually doesn’t, but it feels more like prose. I’m just not positive it isn’t technically in verse? If that makes any sense. I suppose it doesn’t matter. The book is very interesting and the format really lets you into Louis Fuertes’ life.
The illustrations add little peeks into his life as he ages. The little boy becomes a young man. Children and a wife appear next to the bathtub hosting a loon while Louis sketches. His hairline recedes and grays. Neighborhood children gather around him in his study. While the text mentions all these things the illustrations really bring the small details to life.
One illustration features a picture from Audubon’s book of North American birds. My own daughter is familiar with Audubon’s work and I explained why Fuertes was important in changing how birds were observed and drawn. Audubon killed all his models and drew them. Fuertes observed live birds and kept them that way. Teachers and parents reading the book could use it to start a conversation about how our scientific methods and ideas have changed and improved over the years.
Amazon had the book nearly 50% off so I purchased it right away. Our first grade does a bird unit and I thought this would make a fantastic addition to the collection to support that study. I would certainly pair it with the picture book biography of Audubon that came out a couple years ago, but I thought this one felt warmer and more inviting. Maybe because I’m a bird person and find Audubon’s method a little disturbing. The text and illustrations feel youngish, but totally appropriate for lower elementary down to preschool.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 16, Aug 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: In moving verse, Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis gives new voice to seventeen heroes of civil rights. Exquisitely illustrated by five extraordinary artists, this commanding collection of poems invites the reader to hear in each verse the thunder that lies in every voice, no matter how small. Featuring civil rights luminaries Coretta Scott King, Harvey Milk, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Sylvia Mendez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mamie Carthan Till, Helen Zia, Josh Gibson, Dennis James Banks, Mitsuye Endo, Ellison Onizuka, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Yunus, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
This is definitely for older audiences. The poems are unflinching in what they look at- KKK murders (Freedom Summer), racially motivated murders (Emmett Till), deep seated hatred (Harvey Milk, Sylvia Mendez, Japanese Internment)- and the back matter includes more information.
I am reminded a bit of Rad American Women by this book, I think simply because it’s a book of activists and probably by the broad range of people examined. But the format it completely different. These are poems introducing children to people who have fought for civil rights all across the globe and for different groups of disadvantaged people. I didn’t personally click with a lot of them, but that’s just me. I think they will give kids exposure to a lot people they are probably not familiar with, but should have some awareness of- Harvey Milk and Aung San Suu Kyi to name two.
I don’t know why on my first pass through I didn’t realize that there were a number of illustrators including John Parra who I just saw in Marvelous Cornelius and who has a distinctive style. I really loved all the pictures here and I think they could serve as a good entree for reluctant poetry/nonfiction readers.
When Thunder Comes would be so worth putting on our shelves and I will add it to the collection development list, but it’s going to be a damn hard sell. It’s for older readers; it’s a picture book with picture book trim size; and it’s poetry. Those are three types of literature that do not leave our shelves all rolled into one. But I also very strongly believe that marketability can be created. I know there are teachers that would use this and with good readers advisory kids will pick it up. If you talk to your children about civil right struggles or if your school does anything with civil rights I suggest looking into adding this to your library purely for the range of people introduced here.