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2016 June

30

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

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

Roll of ThunderRoll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

From Goodreads: Why is the land so important to Cassie’s family? It takes the events of one turbulent year—the year of the night riders and the burnings, the year a white girl humiliates Cassie in public simply because she’s black—to show Cassie that having a place of their own is the Logan family’s lifeblood. It is the land that gives the Logans their courage and pride—no matter how others may degrade them, the Logans possess something no one can take away.

Considering this won a Newbery Award I’m surprised I haven’t read it before. I was only vaguely aware of it’s presence in middle school. Such a shame because it was a fantastic book. It should be taught in more English classes instead of some of the boring, male- and white-centric novels we read in middle and high school (Catcher in the Rye, I’m looking at you).

Our library has one or two of the Logan series so I picked this up both because of its awards and because I was curious if we should add it to our collection. I’m sort of torn. It isn’t the longest of the Logan books and it was certainly interesting and engaging. But it was also a tough read in terms of reading level. Plus this is a much more introspective book and I think kids who aren’t already strong readers won’t have the stamina to get through it. If I had picked it up in late elementary school and even into middle school I wouldn’t have finished it, let alone appreciated and enjoyed it. It would have just been too hard.

I think if one of our classes studied Reconstruction Era and/or the Depression I would highly recommend it as a book to read as a class. With a teacher guiding fifth graders through, it’s possible. The book takes place during the Depression, but you can see threads of slavery and Reconstruction and Jim Crow in the story that would make for excellent tie-ins with history studies and bring on tough, but necessary, conversations about institutional racism and systems put in place to keep anyone who isn’t white, down.

The story was absolutely heart-wrenching and heart-warming. The Logan family faces a lot of challenges from racism, to white supremacists, to poverty, to a father being away at work. Plus a lot of hardships befall them. Their mother is fired from her teaching job for teaching black pride and history. Their father breaks his leg and is unable to go back to his job on the railroad. And payments on their land and farm are coming due because white people who don’t like them are fiddling with the system and trying to force them into foreclosure. But they also have a large close-knit family that promises to see them through. Cassie makes for a great narrator for all these events. While realistic and at times introspective about their situation, she is also optimistic. Plus she gets some AWESOME revenge on the white school’s bus and on the girl who humiliates her. The book itself is also nuanced in its look at Southern life. There are out and out racists and bigots and there are white people who support and help the Logans and other black families, overtly and covertly. There are African Americans who are afraid and timid and there are African Americans who stand up for what they believe even if it means putting themselves out there as targets. In other words there is no binary here.

Although this is technically book four in the series that chronicles the Logan family, it made perfect sense picking it up and reading it. There were a few references to events that had happened in earlier generations, but they were explained within the context of the story and didn’t leave me wondering if I needed to go back to earlier books. This may be in part due to the order the books in the series were written and published. I don’t think they necessarily came out in chronological order.

I really think that this is truly a middle grade book suited to middle school age. I don’t think elementary students can’t handle anything in it, but the reading itself might be very taxing. I’m going to have see what others we have in the series and if they need to be passed up to our middle/high school library or if I should flesh out the series a bit. I will note that the first book chronologically is The Land and clocks in at 400 pages!! Yipes, that would be a looong book for a fifth grader.

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29

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller

On 29, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Quickest KidThe Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison

From Goodreads: It’s the day before the big parade. Alta can only think about one thing: Wilma Rudolph, three-time Olympic gold medalist. She’ll be riding on a float tomorrow. See, Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee, just like Wilma once was. It doesn’t matter that Alta’s shoes have holes because Wilma came from hard times, too. But what happens when a new girl with shiny new shoes comes along and challenges Alta to a race? Will she still be the quickest kid?

So, I don’t really have many runners that I’m aware of in my library. We have several biographies of famous runners, including Willa Rudolph and Jesse Owens, but I haven’t gotten any of the kids to pick them up. Which means that may not be the best selling point for this book. At least not in my library. Fortunately the story is more about competition and friendship, finding a common interest and working together. I suspect this is the kind of book that a handful of kids would pick up off the shelf and take home.

I really love the illustrations of the little girls. They have these long athletic legs that really emphasize the running theme. And Morrison totally captured their facial expressions, body language (look at Alta on the cover!), and their motion. The girls completely come to life on the page and for the casual browser that’s going to be a point in the book’s favor. Again, it lends itself to being picked up off the shelf and making the cut.

As far as the deeper meaning in the story, the one about working together and making friends, makes this a great story to share at the beginning of the school year when we’re getting back into the swing of having lots of kids around. Or around Valentine’s Day when I prefer to highlight strong friendships instead of romantic love. Another great addition to all library shelves.

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28

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Celebrate Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr by Deborah Heiligman

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

Celebrate RamadanCelebrate Ramadan & Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting, and Charity by Deborah Heiligman (National Geographic Holidays Around the World)

From Goodreads: Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, and Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the fast’s end, are sacred times for millions throughout the world. Celebrate Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitrexamines the reasons for the month-long dawn-to-dusk fast and observes some of the wide variety of celebrations at the end of the fast worldwide.

I was surprised when I saw the author on this one. It’s Deborah Heiligman who wrote Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith (a phenomenal, fascinating, and well researched book). Her authorship here strikes me as problematic, though. She’s written two others in this series, but on holidays more typically celebrated by Americans. The text is also written in the first person (“During Ramadan, we get up very early in the morning…” p.8, emphasis mine) which adds another layer to this issue. I trust her ability to research based on her other books, but I wish these companies would hire insiders to write these texts. I find it incredibly hard to believe that there are no Muslim authors out there who are willing to write nonfiction about their religion.

Authorship aside, the content in this one is good. It has some larger text on each page that acts like a topic heading and often an informational picture caption. Then there is a longer section of text. It makes the book good for sharing across an age range. Read the headings and picture captions (and maybe some of the smaller text) to younger children, read the whole page to older audiences. It’s also a book new readers could tackle on their own, I’m thinking third and fourth grade ages.

Nonfiction makes for a tough read aloud, or at least it can, but this one has engaging text and would work so long as you are able to skip text to keep interest and engagement high. I would also highly recommend asking questions and helping make connections as you go along. The fact that the book does use the first person really helps move the text along and engage the reader, which is why I would be willing to overlook that.

The pictures in the book are awesome. They show a mix of families and people including Muslims who are American, girls in hijab practicing martial arts (!!!!), and Muslims wearing traditional clothing. There is a picture of Muslim kids in Jakarta and one of a boy in Washington DC reading the Qur’an while wearing his soccer uniform. The caption explains that he will spend two years memorizing the Qur’an and is an avid soccer player with his friends. (I can’t decide if that is the publisher trying too hard to make the scene look casual and familiar or if it gives the reader a glimpse of another aspect of the boy’s life, does he come right from soccer practice? does he always read Qur’an in his soccer uniform and cleats?) There are kids in Afghanistan, girls in Nepal, women in China and men in India. For these books that share Islam with non-Muslims I think it’s important to show that they are not confined to the Middle East, but are all over and look like anyone else.

The back matter is pretty good too. It includes a recipe, a list of books and websites to discover more. Best of all there is an explanation of the lunar calendar and how it differs from the Gregorian calendar. Something I haven’t seen well explained in other books about Islam and Ramadan.

If you can put aside the authorship and use of the first person, then this is well worth having in your library (or home) collection. If not, that’s very understandable. I would go for Ramadan written by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi.

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27

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: My Id-al-Fitr by Monica Hughes

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

My EidMy Id-al-Fitr by Monica Hughes (Raintree Sprouts Festivals)

From Goodreads: This series introduces readers to a variety of religious festivals. Each title looks at the preparations that go into each festival, what people wear, where it takes place, the food that is eaten, when it happens, who celebrates it, and why it’s celebrated. A case study approach is taken, following a young child as they get involved in the preparations and celebrations.

This is clearly geared toward young children and the amount of information is certainly good for the audience. There just wasn’t a whole lot of information in the book. And over half of it didn’t seem especially pertinent to Eid al-Fitr. I did like that the family appears to Pakistani and not Arab which is not usually the case in these books.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that these were awkwardly posed photos. The expressions and poses just didn’t feel quite natural and that really bugs me. Do kids care? I’m not sure. They certainly don’t have adult quality standards, but they might have higher standards when it comes to representing their world in a realistic way, e.g. with photography.

I think you could pass on this one. There are much better designed and more tightly focused books on Ramadan, Eid and Islam.

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26

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Ramadan Islamic Holy Month by Terri Sievert

On 26, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramadan Islamic Holy MonthRamadan: Islamic Holy Month by Terri Sievert (Facts First)

From Goodreads: Provides a description of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, how it started, and ways people celebrate this cultural holiday.

This was another good nonfiction book about Ramadan. It was also the only one that is strictly about Ramadan and doesn’t contain any extraneous information about Islam. On the one hand, I like that it’s so tightly focused and keeps kids from confusing basic information and tenants of the faith with the holiday. On the other hand, kids who would be reading this book will primarily be non-Muslim and might really need a little extra context. Particularly because the book is very simple and easy to read and is, therefore, geared toward younger audiences who will probably not have a lot of context or general knowledge to draw on to make sense of the book.

The book covers all the basics of the holiday, from fasting to zakat. There is also a little inspirational story about a basketball player, Hakeem Olajuwon, who is Mulsim and fasted during “some important games” despite the difficulty. There are also instructions at the end for making a collection jar. I have mixed feelings about that, too. It’s kind of  a one-off sort of “celebration” of the holiday, but collecting money for the poor isn’t a bad thing either. The photographs show a mix of Muslims, which is good.

I guess, in the end, this is a worthwhile book to have in the collection, particularly if you don’t have many other books on Ramadan. I still think you only need a small handful of informational books about holidays and are better off having storybooks.

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25

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi

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

RamadanRamadan written by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi, illustrated by Omar Rayyan

From Goodreads: Hakeem and his family observe Ramadan together — the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. They fast, they pray, all according to the belief of Quran first revealed fourteen centuries ago. It is a time to reflect on one’s actions, to give to charity, and to celebrate one’s faith.

To be honest this is one of the best books about Ramadan I have read thus far.The loose story follows Hakeem, a young Muslim boy, through the month. The book covers the meaning of Ramadan, how it is celebrated, and about Eid al-Fitr in a lot of depth (for a children’s picture book). There is a lot of text in this one making it better suited to older readers and children with longer attention spans, which is too bad because the information it contains puts all those easier-to-read books to shame. Again, if I’m honest, this is the type of book I would prefer to share with my students.

I did think there was an odd disconnect here between the amount of text and complexity of it which made it seem more suitable to a third or fourth grade audience (or older) and how young Hakeem seems in the illustrations. Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not. I know getting older kids to read picture books is hard and it might be harder with a young looking narrator. It’s such a beautiful book, though.

I am a huge fan of Rayyan’s illustrations. They are so beautiful. He has an Etsy shop that you can purchase prints of some of his works on. He does such an incredible job painting intricate patterns and his use of color is stunning. Oftentimes when illustrators draw people in a realistic way they can come out looking strange or distorted. Rayyan captures people’s expressions beautifully.

I think that this is a book best suited for sharing in a classroom where teachers and students can pore over it and study various aspects of the holiday around the book. Because of the length I’m just not sure how many kids will pick it up on their own. I still encourage you to have it in your school library where you can lend it out to teachers during Ramadan or read it to your students when they come to you. You might even be able to read parts and entice some kids to check it out to read the rest.

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24

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews

On 24, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Magid FastsMagid Fasts for Ramadan written by Mary Matthews, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

From Goodreads: It is the first day of Ramadan, the month when good Muslims eat nothing and drink nothing all day, every day, from sunrise to sunset. Mama and Baba have told Magid he isn’t old enough to fast, but even Magid’s sister, Aisha, is fasting, and Magid doesn’t want to wait.

I thought this was a nice little story about honesty and also feeling left out of something “grown up”. Magid is your typical kid. He finds a way to get around the restrictions placed on him without really thinking through the consequences. I thought Matthews nailed that. The illustrations dated the book somewhat, but it was nice to see an average looking, modern Egyptian family (as in, the family doesn’t look like they lived 300 years ago). The story is about Magid wanting to fast for Ramadan and to be a devout Muslim. But it’s also about honesty and how something that is meant well and done with good intentions can still be dishonest.

Aaaaand then I read the reviews on Amazon. It seems like a fair number of Muslim parents have chimed in on it. Some like the story, others don’t. Most didn’t like that Magid was actively discouraged from fasting even though he wanted to and that his sister was such a pill. All valid points. On the other hand many liked the story for its message about honesty and weren’t perturbed by Magid being discouraged from fasting. I can’t find much about the author and I’m not sure where she got the idea for the story. I’m also relatively sure that she isn’t Muslim so there is very much the issue of authenticity here.

I think in the end, it has a Message with a capital “m” (it didn’t bother me, but that was my personal opinion) and if you don’t want a book that explicitly teaches something, you don’t want this book. I think it’s worth buying for library collections as there are obviously Muslim families that like it, but if you’re looking at it for your family see if the public library has it first and see if it fits with your conception of Ramadan and Islamic values.

The book itself is an odd hybrid of chapter book (it has chapters) and picture book (most pages have an illustration spread much like a picture book). The text is longer, like a chapter book, but the amount of illustrations make it feel younger. I would encourage you to share it with many age levels, as the story is worthwhile. I wish the publisher would reissue it in a small, chapter book trim size. I think it would fit better in the collection and would circulate better. We do have chapter books that have lots of pictures, but they need that seemingly more grown-up size to appeal to those readers who are moving up.

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23

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Fasting and Dates by Jonny Zucker

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

Fasting and DatesFasting and Dates: A Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr Story (Festival Time!) written by Jonny Zucker, illustrated by Jan Barger

From Goodreads: Books in the “Festival Time” series describe the activities of typical families as parents and children celebrate some of their culture s major holidays. Attractive color illustrations on every page will appeal to younger children. The simply yet delightfully told stories describe the festivities while giving children background information about holidays in many different cultures. A two-page spread at the back of each book contains information for parents, and includes suggestions on ways to communicate the holiday s meaning to kids.

The book, narrated by a little Muslim girl wearing a hijab, is a mix of story and non fiction. While she shares the various points of Ramadan, what it is, what they do during the month, its culmination in Eid, it’s clear that the book is following her family through Ramadan. It’s nonfiction, but reads and looks more like a storybook.

The simple text, gentle pictures and easy-to-understand language make this a great book to read with very young children (I might even say it would be a good one for storytime). I think you could share it with a young Muslim child to help explain the holiday they are celebrating. I do think Muslim kids can/would appreciate this more at a younger age than non-Muslim kids simply because they will have experienced the holiday before. The mix of story and fact make it feel less like an explanatory text for non-Muslims and more like something any child could enjoy.

My one complaint is the author. He was clearly hired to write this book and several others in the series. From his biography that I could find, he doesn’t appear to be Muslim. However, the information here is meant for young readers and isn’t overly complicated so, at least to me, another non-Muslim, it rang true. This was certainly better than the Rookie-Read About Ramadan book I reviewed yesterday and it’s geared toward the same age group. I would recommend it if you have a younger population in your library and want to share information about Ramadan.

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22

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Non-Fiction Review: Ramadan by David Marx

On 22, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramdan RookieRamadan written by David F. Marx (Rookie Read-About Holidays)

From Amazon: Following the well-known and much-loved Rookie Books format, these fun and informative books introduce early elementary-school children to the basic facts about major holidays. Each book explains the development of the holiday and how it is celebrated today, and includes holiday games, traditions, crafts, and foods.

I usually like this series and have even bought a couple titles in it for my own daughter, but this one, particularly compared to others that I will review this week, just fell very flat. The biggest issue I took was that it didn’t feel very informative about Ramadan. Don’t get me wrong, there is information here about the holiday, but it felt almost too simplified to make it sound particularly special or celebratory. It also has other facts about Muslims inserted into the text that made it feel discombobulated.

I will say, it has one very big thing going for it and that is a depiction of all kinds of Muslims. There are Arabs, Southeast Asians, blacks (they look American to me, but I’m not sure), people who look Indian and Pakistani, people who look Iranian. I haven’t seen a lot of books that show a mix of Muslims. Admittedly most of the books I have reviewed up to this point feature one family in a story as opposed to a non-fiction narrative, still seeing non-Arab Muslims seems to be rare.

I wouldn’t say don’t buy the book, especially if you have a younger population. Don’t buy it for your Muslim patrons, it’s way too basic for those kids. I would buy other books for your collection first unless you need something super inexpensive or want to have lots of books on the shelf.

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21

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis

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

Peas and CarrotsPeas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis

From Goodreads: In this new YA novel by Tanita S. Davis, the Coretta Scott King Honor author of Mare’s War, a white teen named Dess is placed into foster care with a black family while her mother is incarcerated.

Dess has had a hard life. And things have gotten more complicated since her mother is incarcerated for her own protection. She is going to be a witness against Dess’s father, an abusive drug dealer who her mother has been tied to for years by her drug habit and children. Dess has endured years of abuse and neglect and has a baby brother she has tried to help care for, but ultimately they were put into the foster care system. Dess struggles with being separated from her brother and with the sudden appearance of controlling adults.

Dess has a grandmother, but she is just too old to care for Dess and her brother, something Dess doesn’t understand and cannot forgive her for. After causing trouble by running away from the group home, the family that took in Dess’s brother has offered to foster her as well. Now Dess has to recenter herself in this new family and find her place in it.

As much as the story is about Dess, it’s also about Hope, the biological daughter of the foster family who is the same age as Dess. The two really struggle to build a friendship and sisterhood with Dess constantly sniping at Hope and Hope’s selfishness.

Despite sounding like an incredibly depressing read from that description, it’s not! Peas and Carrots was a quick, fun read. Hope and Dess both come across as teenage girls and as an adult I kind of wanted to slap them both, but you understand where they’re coming from. This would be a great book to hand to girls who like girl drama and friendship in their books. They get in some funny jabs and Dess is totally bowled over by Hope’s handsome uncle which is hilarious.

I am not wild about the cover. I think it’s not particularly interesting and the font and colors are kind of an odd choice, BUT it did make me check my biases! I assumed that Dess, the foster girl, was the black girl (the description from Goodreads above was not the one I had read) on the cover. Ouch.

As always, Davis has delivered a fantastic book about family, friendship and finding yourself.

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