Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to Top

To Top

2015 September

25

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 25, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello OceanHello Ocean written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Mark Astrella

From Goodreads: Spend a day at the beach, and take in the ocean through the senses of sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell in this lively romp through sand and waves. Glorious illustrations of water, sun, and sky accompany brief, evocative verses, making this a perfect keepsake of a seaside vacation or a striking introduction to the pleasures of a day by the ocean.

Hello Ocean skews a little young since it’s essentially a book about senses. But Ryan doesn’t make it feel like a silly book for little kids, she uses great vocabulary and interesting slant rhymes. Books about senses, at least in my experience, can feel very didactic and very similar to one another. It’s refreshing to see the topic tackled from a nature perspective and a little less heavy-handed with the lesson.

Of course that makes me wonder if this book is better suited to kids who have actually been to the ocean, particularly because it focuses on all the senses instead of just sound and sight, which could be gotten from a video. The book was perfect for a bedtime story in our house this week because we were just at the ocean and it was a nice reminder of our vacation and of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings my daughter had while running around on the beach.

It would certainly make a nice addition to classrooms studying the ocean, ocean conservation, senses, and poetry. It would also pair well with other beaches although there is specific mention of the salty water.

Reading all of these varied books by Pam Munoz Ryan has been interesting. She’s clearly a talented author, but she manages to handle everything from poetry to picture books to middle grade well. I think any of her books would make great additions to home, classroom and library collections.

Tags | , , ,

24

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Mice and Beans by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 24, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

K350_Sch_M_B_TWP_jkt_9780439183031Mice and Beans written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

From GoodReads: Recipe for a Festive Story Time: Mix 1 birthday party, 1 delicious Mexican meal, and lots of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and surprise guests into a fun romp. Add comic illustrations, jaunty rhythms, and playful refrains. Spice with mystery, and stir everything into a book.

Serve aloud to large groups or small. Finally, store leftovers on a shelf in a child’s bedroom, library, or classroom. Enjoy!

Another terrible book description. Mice and Beans does focus around the grandmother making food for a party, but there’s no recipe or real focus on actual cooking. Little Catalina’s birthday is coming up next weekend and her grandmother is preparing for a party in her small house. Remembering her mother’s advice, Rosa Maria knows her small house can hold all the family, but not mice. Each day of the week she preps something new for the party, from food to having Little Catalina’s present assembled in the backyard. Each night she sets a new mousetrap which mysteriously disappears in the night. Rosa Maria, however, forgets to fill the piñata, but when the party rolls around it has candy in it. Where did the help come from and could she have been remembering her mother’s advice incorrectly?

This couldn’t have come at a better time since my daughter just had her birthday. It’s such a sweet story with the mice creeping about the illustrations helping out. There is plenty of gentle humor in the book as well as the doting grandmother. And be sure to keep your eye out for Rosa Maria and Little Catalina’s mouse counterparts. Give this to kids who enjoyed the story in Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales which features another grandmother preparing for a birthday celebration. It’s also a great read aloud.

Tags | , , , ,

22

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 22, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

No titleRiding Freedom written by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Brian Selznick

From GoodReads: In this fast-paced, courageous, and inspiring story, readers adventure with Charlotte Parkhurst as she first finds work as a stable hand, becomes a famous stage-coach driver (performing brave feats and outwitting bandits), finds love as a woman but later resumes her identity as a man after the loss of a baby and the tragic death of her husband, and ultimately settles out west on the farm she’d dreamed of having since childhood. It wasn’t until after her death that anyone discovered she was a woman.

This one could actually be a chapter book based on it’s length, larger format, and the pictures scattered throughout. The reading level is a 720L, which isn’t especially high.

Beware a horse dies right at the beginning. It’s not overly dramatic or gory or anything. She just dies of a fever, but for those tender-hearted readers this may be difficult.

Okay I included the description which I got off GoodReads, but assume came from the publisher. But it’s so far off the mark. All that stuff about finding love, having a baby, resuming her identity as a man- NONE OF IT IS IN THE BOOK. Not even in the author’s note where Ryan gives a little more history of Charley. Did the publisher not read the book? I’m confused.

The book follows Charlotte through her years at the orphanage where she is put to work and treated poorly. When her best friend, Hayward, is adopted she decides to run away and make a new life for herself. In forming the plan, she realizes she’ll have better prospects and more safety if she travels as a man. After hopping the stage coach Charley, as she renames herself, finds work as a stable hand and works her way up to being a stage coach driver. This job takes her from Rhode Island all the way out to California where she loses an eye and has to relearn driving “six-in-the-hand”. Eventually she saves up enough money to buy land and horses. She also decides to vote since everyone believes her to be a man.

Ryan has taken a story that is already very interesting and compressed it’s timeline to make it more accessible to younger readers. Riding Freedom is not a biography, but a fictionalized account of Charlotte’s life and I think it would really appeal to third and fourth grade readers. It’s not exactly packed with facts, but there is a good story and enough that I could see it inspiring kids to want to explore more about Charlotte, women’s rights and the Gold Rush.

Charley/Charlotte Parkhurst was an interesting woman/man. From my limited research, I can’t tell if she was dressed and passing as a man because she wanted better opportunities or if she genuinely felt like she was male. Either way, she was fascinating. Here’s the Wikipedia page about her which provides a little more information than the author’s note at the end of the book.

Tags | , , , ,

21

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: How Do You Raise a Raisin?

On 21, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RaisinHow Do You Raise a Raisin? written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Craig Brown

From Goodreads: People have been gobbling up yummy, nutritious raisins for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans awarded them at sporting events and astronauts have taken raisins into space. Find out how grapes become raisins, who introduced the seedless grape, and the many uses for raisins.

Oddly enough we picked up a copy of this book four years ago at the SunMaid Raisin factory. At the time I had no idea who had written it (I just didn’t pay any attention), but we liked the information and how it was presented.

The book is clearly informational, but Ryan writes little rhyming questions and then answers them. This makes for a more engaging nonfiction book. My own daughter has been willing to read the book for a couple years now despite it being rather long. Everything is very interesting. I had no idea how prevalent raisins are or how naturally they are made. After three weeks of drying in the sun, it only takes 10 minutes to get them into the factory and then into a box. This is a good book for all those people who want kids to know where their food comes from.

I will say, I’m not personally overly fond of the illustrations. Some of them are great, but others feel like they fall a little flat. Some pages don’t have a full illustration, but one or two smaller pictures to illustrate one or two questions and answers. The white space around those doesn’t feel intentional. It feels almost lazy. There is also some funny formatting with where the questions and answer paragraphs are placed on the page that can make it a little difficult to follow the text properly. And I really don’t like the font they used for the title and questions, but that’s totally a personal preference.

The book is probably best suited to classrooms and library collections, unless your family is really into food and how it’s made (or if you love the SunMaid factory like we do!). There’s a lot of science and history here so it’s a book you could use in a number of different units of study, such as food science, nutrition, and farm-to-fork.

Tags | , , , ,

20

Sep
2015

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

On 20, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve been aware of Pam Munoz Ryan for years now, but for whatever reason I haven’t read anything by her. I was inspired to add her to the list when I saw her speak nearly a year ago at the ALSC Institute. I hadn’t realized she was from California which was neat to me. I was also really impressed with all the things she had to say about the importance of diversity in children’s literature.

Here’s her website where she has a lists of all the books she’s written. She is a prolific author! For any teachers out there, she’s got readers theatre scripts for four of her books.

Schedule for the week:

Monday: How Do You Raise a Raisin

Tuesday: Raising Freedom

Thursday: Mice and Beans

Friday: Hello Ocean

Tags | , , ,

16

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Graphic Novel Review: The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

On 16, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Shark KingI am desperately trying to beef up our graphic novel selection in the library. There are a lot of readers who would really click with them if we just had them. I hadn’t heard of Toon books until I went to ALA and saw a few of their publications. I particularly like that they have lower reading levels in a many of their books so that even our emerging readers who want something more grown up can read them.

In looking for books to book talk with the kids about on that first day of library I had picked up a copy of the The Shark GodThe Shark God by Rafe Martin and was kind of underwhelmed. The illustrations by David Shannon were pretty engaging, but the story fell really flat. It’s a retelling and some of the alterations and the length just really didn’t work for me. I was, however, interested in seeing if I could find the same story done better. That led me to The Shark King.

The story itself in The Shark King is really engaging. Young Nanuae is the son of a mortal woman and the shark god Kamohoali’i. His father disappeared around the time Nanuae was born and has not been there to help him with his identity. All he left was a cape to help hide the shark’s mouth that appeared on his back. As Nanuae grows he wonders about his father and feels lonely living with only his mother in a small cove on the shore. After a man and his son visit their cove to fish the boy follows them back to their village where he gets into some trouble over stealing fish from the fishermen’s nets. The villagers tear off his cloak in an attempt to grab him and see him as a monster. They chase him off with the intent to kill him and he must dive into the sea for protection.

My biggest concern is that the story is simplified for children. I think having fairy tales and folk tales in their original form (or as close to it as possible) is important for maintaining the important messages and lessons they were meant to convey (I’m looking at you Disney).  I did some really cursory poking around and found other similar versions to this retelling. Is that good or bad? I’m not sure yet. I also came across this post on the author’s blog. In it he shares some of his research and why he made the changes he did. He did apparently tone the story down, which originally had Nanuae eating passing fishermen. Maybe not the best topic for our emerging readers, but it might have been a good sell for some of our boys. On the other hand, does that detract from the authenticity of the story? Again I’m not sure yet. I wonder if this would pique a child’s interest in reading more stories about Kamohoali’i. The author is from Hawaii so that’s a point in the book’s favor for sure, although he doesn’t identify as native Hawaiian on his website, in his bio on Goodreads or in the author bio in the book.

I should note that this is NOT the same story that is told in The Shark God, so unfortunately this one can’t replace the other. I need more Hawaiian myths and legends in our collection too. If they involve Kamohoali’i, the shark god, they are incredibly appealing and exciting. The verdict on this particular book is still not clear.

Tags | , ,

15

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis

On 15, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

HarlemHarlem Hellfighters written by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Gary Kelley

From GoodReads: They went by many names, but the world came to know them best as the Harlem Hellfighters. Two thousand strong, these black Americans from New York picked up brass instruments—under the leadership of famed bandleader and lieutenant James Reese Europe—to take the musical sound of Harlem into the heart of war. From the creators of the 2012Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor Book, And the Soldiers Sang, this remarkable narrative nonfiction rendering of WWI — and American — history uses free-verse poetry and captivating art to tell century-old story of hellish combat, racist times, rare courage, and inspired music.

Told with incredible illustrations and spare chunks of text, Harlem Hellfighters is not just a story of WWI, but a story of race relations during that era. The small pieces of the story help pack an emotional punch but also shield young readers from the true horrors of WWI.

The 369th, an all black unit, was assembled and sent to France. The men hoped they would be fighting on the front lines, but that evaded them for a long time because of their race. Instead they found themselves doing grunt work far behind the fighting. Under the direction of James Reese Europe, ninety of the men played a fusion jazz that inspired and excited many soldiers and civilians.

Eventually they were sent to the front where they fought admirably and tenaciously. They earned the German nickname Harlem Hellfighters. Many of the men were killed and wounded, but many earned medals of honor, including Henry Johnson who earned a Croix de Guerre, the first American to do so.

The color palette of the illustrations is wonderful. Dark grays, black, blues, browns and purples give them a cold and gritty atmosphere. The text is lyrical and poetic which also contributes to the atmosphere of the book.

This is definitely a worthwhile picture book. A picture book that shows they aren’t just for preschoolers. The language is complex, beautiful and evocative. Although it’s not packed with facts, it will definitely spark interest in race relation, WWI, and jazz. And would be an excellent book to read together, either as a class or family, to process the events. There’s a lot to think about here.

Tags | , , , ,

09

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

On 09, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

JumbiesFrom Goodreads: Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

This book is perfect for the fall/Halloween season coming up. Or really any season in which you like to read spooky stories. Baptiste does an incredible job setting the tone in the book, contrasting the dark forest with the bright sunny towns and beaches of the island. There’s plenty of action and suspense too.

Corinne is a fun heroine to follow even if her independence gets her into some tight spots both with the jumbies and with her friends. I particularly liked the sweet relationship she had with her father. Her mother died many years earlier and, unlike many books, her father doesn’t retreat into himself or stop parenting. He steps up and fosters a close, loving relationship with Corinne. A relationship she treasures and knows she needs to fight for when Severine, the disguised jumbie pushes her way into their home.

I also enjoyed the addition of Malik and Bouki. They were great comic relief, but they were also clearly more. Not only did they make excellent friends and allies for Corinne, but they had a backstory that made them unique. Corinne’s other new friend, Dru, I just found exasperating. She was so afraid of everything and had no convictions. But my objection really was me looking at her as an adult, not as an intended reader, so I don’t think it detracts from the book at all.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a huge chicken when it comes to horror and while I was creeped out by the book it wasn’t so scary I was thinking about it days later at night. Give this book to kids who want something for Halloween or want to try out scary stories, but aren’t sure they want to be terrified. I think this is technically a sixth through eighth grade book, I would certainly give it to a strong fourth or fifth grade reader. It’s got mostly short chapters and is exciting and suspenseful enough that the pages will keep turning.

Tags | , , ,

09

Sep
2015

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Diversity Baseline Survey Petition

On 09, Sep 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I signed the petition a few days ago encouraging publishers of all sizes and stripes to fill out a baseline survey that would create transparency in the publishing world around who is in that world. This is tied in with #wndb in that the publishing industry is a gatekeeper and if there isn’t diversity and authenticity in that diversity there it’s going to be very hard for there to be diversity in what’s published.  Here’s the link to learn more and sign for yourself.

08

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Children of the Midnight Sun by Tricia Brown

On 08, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Midnight SunChildren of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska by Tricia Brown, photographs by Ray Corral

A series of profiles of eight native Alaskan children. Profiles feature pictures of the kids in their everyday lives and often in native dress.  

I looked this one up first on Debbie Reese’s AICL blog and she doesn’t appear to have a review. However she mentions another book that recommends it with reservations.

From my own reading of it I thought it was an interesting book. I love that they were little slices of life and it talked a lot about how many of these kids are trying to recapture their cultures that were forcibly taken from them. The essays don’t go into detail about it, but many of them do mention it.

It does use the word Eskimo which I thought was something you weren’t supposed to do, so I found that a little confusing. The pictures are a bit dated as well and I couldn’t help but wonder how different life might be today with Internet access and more technology.

I also wondered how these children, who would now be in their twenties, are passing their cultures on to their children and if they’ve kept up with their desire to keep their cultures alive.

What surprised me most was that while reading it at bedtime to myself, my four year old daughter was captivated by it. She asked what it was about and, not wanting to engage her too much, I said it was a book about children who lived very far up north in Alaska. Instead of putting her off she became very curious and kept asking questions about the children. Where did they live? Did they live in houses that far North? What kind of clothes did they wear? What did they eat? I explained to her that they were native people and that they had a culture and celebrations and languages that were different than ours, but that were like our German culture and celebrations. I finally had to promise to read some of the profiles to her the next day.

I know there may be reservations about the book and how it portrays and handles native culture, but the book piqued my daughter’s interest. Not only can it be exposure to these tribes and children, but it can be a jumping off point for learning more and for discussions about why these children are needing to bring their native cultures back. I suspect this would be a good book to add to a collection that features other strong books about native Alaskan cultures.

Tags | , , , ,